“Unprecedented Cold Hits the UK”, “Airport Closures and Stranded Travelers”. Just a couple of the headlines emanating from England as we boarded our flights, then scrambled at connection points for re-routing from Gatwick to Heathrow. We were determined to make the trip, and against all odds (and with the extraordinary assistance of the Most Capable Air Agent, Wayne B) we made it. Atlanta, Birmingham and Richmond, two sisters, mother and nephew all managed to meet in Oxford at the Randolph Hotel within 15 minutes of each other.
The excuse for the trip was to meet nephew, Will, at the end of term at Oxford where he’d been studying with a group from the University of Georgia. After a pot of coffee at the Randolph, thanking our luck and pluck, our merry band of 4 had a hearty British Pub lunch at the Eagle and Child, where Tolkein and C.S. Lewis used to meet for a pint and hold court. The atmosphere was sliceable.
Our gaity subsided a bit, looking at the time: 2:30 pm. Ms. Ellen had warned: “Be on the road to your final destination by 3:00 pm”. We had yet to pick up the rental car and schlep Will’s belongings from his dorm room. I’ll skip the part where Mom tripped on the doorstep to the UGA house, banging her nose and knee. By the time we were on the road to the cottage in Bourton-on-the-Water, it was after 4 and well-dark. Driving in heavy fog and traffic, clutching and gasping at the left-sided traffic patterns, peering at the map we inched along.
The “Victorian Nights” annual Christmas lighting festival was in full-swing when we arrived. The village of Bourton-on-the-Water is the most picturesque, story-book village I have ever imagined. The lights and merriment began to melt our stress. When we found and entered Pear Tree Cottage, we were completely spell-bound and again congratulating ourselves for persevering. What a loooong day. We were whipped, but managed to stay up talking and stoking the wood stove until after 10pm. So cozy!
Pear Tree Cottage
Saturday brought a lazy day enjoying the cottage, not wanting to push Mom’s wounds (she rebounded like a trooper). Sally and Will drove back to Oxford to finish the clean-out and see the sights. We had a great evening meal together in the village as the rhythm of winter days in the UK began to sink in: There is simply not much daylight. The Christmas tree in the river with the ducks quacking round charmed on the walk home.
Sunday the sun broke through. Hurray! Off to Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Churchill. The drive past the snow-sprinkled fields of sheep with hedge fencing, and villages like Chipping Norton was a real pleasure this time. We could see and enjoy. And Blenheim was decorated for Christmas. An Indian wedding was to take place that very evening, so tables were being prepared with loads of silver-rimmed goblets and finery. The history of the palace is imaginatively told on the upstairs tour, Sir Winston’s story is woven into the timeline of the more recent Dukes of Marlborough on tour two. The library is currently displaying memorabilia from the movie, Gulliver’s Travels, recently filmed here starring Jack Black as Gulliver. Must see the movie.
Afternoon shopping back in Bourton netted Sally a cardigan and I bought salt & pepper shakers from the pottery behind the cottage.
Monday morning saw Sally and Will off to Geneva via driver to Heathrow. Mom and I walked about the village and toured the perfumery. Our evening meal at The Old Manse in front of a roaring fire was so cozy. My roasted chicken smothered in goat cheese and tomato sauce was delicious. I think the Guinness Mom enjoys was a key to her rapid recovery.
Before we leave the Cotswolds, I must mention the lighted fresh Christmas trees decorating the store fronts, angled on the sides of buildings, tilted into flag holders.
Tuesday and the two of us head to London: Car, taxi, bus, whew! Arrive by 12:30 and have a light lunch at The Rubens at the Palace, perfectly located for two quick days of sightseeing. We walked through the weak sunshine (poor sun was really making an effort) and wind past the Royal Guard’s band practicing on the way to the London Eye. Perfect timing. Our 30 minute “flight” came to an end as the sun set in rosy hues over the Houses of Parliament. It was 3:30 pm.
Taxi back to The Rubens, feet up on the bed to rest. Small but well-appointed room at The Rubens with crewel work spreads, heavy taffeta curtains and fabric-covered walls in soft pinks, browns and greens. Enjoyed a toast to our good fortune, compliments of the GM, Malcolm Hendry. Then off to the 7:30 performance of Billy Elliott at the Victoria Theatre, just around the corner and down a couple of blocks. Wonderful story, great performance; that boy can dance!
Wednesday was a half-day private touring set up by Celebrated Experiences. Our guide, Donna picked us up at 9 am and whisked us off to Westminster Abbey for a thorough tour. A Blue Badge guide makes a welcome difference for many reasons: access to alternate entrance; walking through corded-off areas; vast knowledge, as guides must pass tests to qualify, etc. We will really appreciate the Royal Wedding in April now that we’ve explored the Abbey.
It was so cold and bitter outside that we elected to stay in the car after Westminster Abbey. Donna drove us down the Embankment road pointing out several historical points, telling stories and giving historical and cultural references. We stopped at St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London for more stories. We ended with a drive through Hyde Park. Donna was a fountain of knowledge and delivered in an easily-digestible style. Wonderful experience. Don’t know how she could drive through city traffic and talk at the same time; she was great. We alighted from her car at the Milestone for a quick walk-through. What a special little hotel! We were impressed with the fresh flowers and finery in a variety of interesting public rooms. The concierge was very obliging. The setting overlooking Kensington Gardens is beautiful.
We finished our short stay in London with a late lunch and shopping at Harrods. The windows were decorated in Narnia themes (C. S. Lewis again!).
I can’t say enough about the location of The Rubens for our purposes. Thursday morning we trotted a couple of blocks to Victoria Station for the Gatwick Express to the airport; so convenient!