Every now and then, an opportunity comes along that’s simply too good to pass up. I had such an opportunity when a group of friends that I met in Edinburgh several years ago decided to meet together in London over a long weekend at the beginning of July.
With London as the base, I flew in the evening before everyone else to avoid getting up at the crack of dawn on the first day of the gathering in order to make it around the same time as the others. One might assume that being relatively close to a huge airport like Frankfurt makes travel faster and more convenient than when I lived in Edinburgh, but in reality I still have the same number of connections that I needed to get from Edinburgh to Indianapolis (at least one) plus the added inconvenience of needing about 2 1/2 hours to get to the airport now instead of the 25 minutes I needed for Edinburgh airport. And let’s not even talk about how much extra time one also needs for simply navigating Frankfurt vs. compact and user-friendly Edinburgh airport. But I digress….
After an enjoyable evening of catching up with the friend who lives in London, we looked forward to meeting the rest of the group the next day. We spent the day doing some of the things that we love best: perusing independent book shops, shopping in Cath Kidston, and eating cupcakes. Well, okay, the last activity was 100% at my request. Germans may be into cake, but cupcakes slathered in thick, buttercream frosting is a foreign dessert concept to them. You can find cupcake shops all over London these days, and one I desperately wanted to check out is called the Hummingbird Cafe. I bought a dessert cookbook put out by them and I’m always reading about the interesting cupcake flavors they have on their Facebook page. I have to admit that the visit was a bit of a disappointment for me. While the cupcake I bought was really good, it was also rather plain: chocolate with vanilla frosting. I was under the impression that they had all sorts of interesting flavors (like Watermelon) ALL the time, rather than just one “odd” flavor a day (on our day, it was Grapefruit…and they were already sold out :(….) Nevertheless, it was a delicious cupcake that definitely hit the spot after a long dry spell of no buttercream frosting.
The next day, we headed out of London and towards the Cotswolds for a two-night stay in a B&B in the countryside. If you’re ever looking for a beautiful and unique B&B in the Cotswolds, I can now highly recommend North Farmcote Bed & Breakfast. (Seriously, check out the website here. If you’re at all into B&Bs or want to give one a try, it’s a fantastic place to stay.) The house is filled with all sorts of beautiful and interesting antiques, and the owner, David Eayres, is welcoming and personable as well as being incredibly knowledgeable about the area; exactly what one hopes for in a good B&B. And it doesn’t hurt that the back garden was jaw-droppingly gorgeous with lush flowers in bloom and a breath-taking view of the surrounding Cotswolds hills. The full English breakfast, sourced locally and made by David, was the most delicious I’ve ever eaten.
In the area, we visited Chastleton House, a Jacobean country house, built between 1607 and 1612 that has been virtually unchanged for nearly 400 years. Although we were able to walk around the beautiful gardens and see the house from the outside, sadly we arrived too late in the day to secure a ticket for the interior.
Because of the delicate nature of the house, only a certain number of visitors are allowed to tour the inside on a single day and they had already allowed the maximum number on that day. Regardless, we enjoyed walking the gardens and had a lovely cup of tea and slice of cake in front of the chapel served to us by local residents raising money for the church.
After the refreshments, we made our way towards the interestingly named “Lower Slaughter,” a village that is actually much lovelier than one might expect. In fact, the name is actually pretty benign as it apparently stems from the Old English name for a wet land ‘slough,’ or ‘slothre’ (Old English for muddy place) upon which it lies. We parked the car down the narrow country lane (parking is sort of a nightmare in these tiny villages) and had a look around. It didn’t take us too long to discover a cute little shop with the following sign:
There are two points of interest here, really. Firstly, I have only *just* realized that the top of the sign does not, in fact, say “Organic Handmade” as I initially thought and one might expect in a small, quaint village in the Cotswolds in England. Scandalous! And secondly, you might just be able to make out that “brown bread” is one of the flavors of ice cream. Although we were going to get some dinner soon, I knew I couldn’t leave this place without trying brown bread ice cream. And I have to say, it was orgas–uh…really, really good. Yes, it was smashingly good (she says with proper British decorum.) Ahem. That’s better.
The next day, we visited Sudley Castle, which is now the home of Lord and Lady Ashcombe, but at one time belonged to Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last surviving wife. Only a small part of the interior of the castle was open to tour, but the outside gardens were lush and extensive. The highlight of the gardens for me was the Tudor Physic Garden, a collection of various herbs and plants that were used to create medicines and cures during the Tudor period. A couple of years ago I visited a “Poison Garden” further north in England, and for touring that garden you had to be accompanied by a guide (it was always locked) and you were given specific instructions to obviously not touch or eat anything. I found it interesting that Sudley Castle’s Physic Garden also contained some poisonous plants like Deadly Nightshade, but there were none of the same restrictions. (Granted, the Poison Garden also had cannabis, which is tightly regulated in the UK.)
What I loved most about the garden was that all of the plants had interesting or sometimes even humorous descriptions. Over the past few years, I’ve become really interested in learning more about plants and their medicinal qualities, and I’ve been trying to find more natural solutions to any medical problems that might ail me. I would love to have space in a garden someday to plant my own herbs and medicinal plants.
All of them were interesting, but my favorite description of the day was:
The final stop of our Cotswolds tour was West Wycombe Park. This Palladian villa is “among the most theatrical and Italianate in England,” and was featured in films and television series, including Cranford and Foyle’s War. While the house tour we did was interesting, I would have really loved to have visited the nearby Hellfire Caves. These supposedly ancient caves were extended in the 1740s by the “infamous” Sir Francis Dashwood (who owned West Wycombe Park less than a mile away), and were where meetings of the Hellfire Club took place. (Having read X-Men comics as a kid, I had no idea until a few years back that the Hellfire Club was, in fact, a real club.) According to Wikipedia, “The Hellfire Club was a name for several exclusive clubs for…’persons of quality’ who wished to take part in immoral acts, and the members were often very involved in politics. Neither the activities nor membership of the club are easy to ascertain.“We didn’t have time to visit both the house and the caves, so it’s given me an excuse to find my way back there at some point.
We managed to get the car back at exactly (no joke) 6pm on the dot when the car rental office closed, and enjoyed an evening in eating fantastic Indian food, celebrating a birthday, and watching the BBC’s 2008 version of Sense and Sensibility. Yep, it was pretty much a perfect ending to a perfect long weekend.