As we were approaching our departure date from Portugal we were looking ahead to our next stop on the schedule; Marrakech, Morocco. We thought the temperatures in Southern Europe were high, the forecast for Marrakech made the hollows of hell look down right chilly. After our brush with heat stroke in Seville at just over 40 Celsius, the temperatures in Marrakech were expected to be at least 47 Celsius. Clearly that would be extraordinarily unpleasant for more than just me in my personal menopausal heatwave, but for the rest of the family too. The thought of trying to do anything in those high temperatures seemed impossible so we made the decision to re-route ourselves.
This is when it got a little tricky. Our Schengen Tourist Visas were set to expire on August 1, so we need to get out of the EU. We were scheduled to be in London after Morocco so that was easy. But what to do in the meantime? Croatia was just too far to consider for only 5 days. Maybe Edinburgh, but that required more flights and the weather there was practically autumnal. We didn’t have the clothes for that. What about The Cotswolds? Under a two hour drive from London, we could fly from Lisbon to Heathrow, rent a car and drive to the countryside. After a few days we could then drive ourselves right back into Central London and resume our pre-planned itinerary. This would eliminate a flight from our schedule overall which was also a nice bonus seeing as airline and luggage delays were still a going concern. Luckily we found a centrally located Airbnb that was available in the market town of Burford so we locked it in. We were very sad to miss Marrakech, but this seemed like the most sensible solution.
The Cotswolds are so charming. You can see how Beatrix Potter and Lewis Carroll were inspired by the pastoral, rolling hills. It’s also a fantastic central location from which to explore this part of England. We decided to take full advantage of that.
Our sweet little cottage was right on the Main Street of Burford with a pile of charming pubs right outside our door. All plans to take advantage of finally having a kitchen to cook in after a month went out the window after our first pub dinner at the Cotswold Arms. The steak and ale pie accompanied by fresh peas, mash and loads of other veggies was the most comfortable of comfort food we could imagine and we welcomed it with open mouths! We also had one of those fun, stars-aligning travel moments at the Cotswold Arms. We started chatting with our server S. He was re-counting to us his Covid experience and coming home after working and travelling abroad for many years. He is currently building a new career as a professional photographer. Lighting strike! We had the idea at one stage of our trip, to get some family photos taken to commemorate our adventure. We asked S if he might be interested and available to take them for us and he was! Lucky thing! We made a plan to meet up in a few days.
In the meantime we managed sample many more meat pies at several of the other cute pubs in Burford. The Highway Inn, The Angel and The Royal Oak were all highlights. The Highway Inn was particularly good – perhaps it was the sautéed kale served with the pie or the fact that it was about 4 doors down from our cottage? I’m not sure but we ate there twice. Pub food in The Cotswolds is excellent and we had meals that rivalled any of our best in Italy. So there.
Our first day in The Cotswolds was deemed a day off to mess around, do laundry and wander the village of Burford. We were happy to stay close to home. Peanut butter and jelly on toast for breakfast. Hummus on crackers for dinner. We were very happy for a chill out day. But not wanting to miss the action, day two was far more jam packed.
We were up early to drive the hour plus to Highclere Castle better known as the location of Downton Abbey. As long time Downton fans, we nerded out on the long walk up to the castle and as we toured through the house. This is the room where Lady Mary slept with Kamal Pamuk and then he died and she was nearly ruined! And here, this is the spot where Lady Edith threw her veil after being jilted at the altar by Sir Anthony. And over there, that’s the door where Mr. Bates surprised Anna after he was released from prison. Ahhh, memories.
Following our scheduled visit at Highclere and the obligatory swing through the very flowery gift shop, we mapped our next destination – Stonehenge. Just over 30 minutes away and growing by the minute as the throngs of tourists were beginning to descend. Our plan was to hop on the motorway and drive past Stonehenge, waving and snapping a photo. From there we’d swing back northwards and stop in the town of Swindon to visit the nearest Nandos to Burford for lunch. Easy. Except we underestimated the encroaching tourists. The Google Oracle was mapping us, constantly diverting us as we got closer to Salisbury to avoid the ensuing traffic jams. Turn left here, take the second exit at the roundabout, turn right here and so on and so on. Before we knew it, we were turning into the parking lot for the Henge. F**k. Google sent us off the motorway so we had taken the long way round and were taken straight to the visitors centre. Well, now that we’re here at this ancient monolith we can’t very well turnaround and go without seeing it.
So we followed the line-up into the parking lot. We trudged across the lot and found the line-up for ticket sales. With luck, tickets were still available for today. Then we wandered around until we found our way to the bus stop. We waited for the bus that would take us the 2 miles up the road to see Stonehenge – 2 miles return seemed a little too far to walk when it was way past lunch and people were hankering for their Nando’s fix. We rode the bus, arrived at The Henge, got out, walked over to the site, took 4 photos (one was crap), turned heel and got back on the bus to head back to the visitor’s centre. Probably 45 minutes of rigamarole for a 5 minute visit to see the Henge.
Back at the Visitor’s Centre we dropped 20 quid in the gift shop – check out the Little’s Stonehenge shaped pillow – we were back in the car and racing to Swindon before anyone got VERY hangry. Swindon is a town that tourists definitely skip, but the Nando’s was nice and everyone was happy for some good South African/ Portuguese fast food.
The following day, we pre-booked tickets to visit Blenheim Palace. The ancestral seat of the Duke of Marlborough but also perhaps more famously known as the birthplace of Winston Churchill. The Palace is modelled a bit after Versailles and is extraordinarily grand. We spent some time googling the current Duke of Marlborough who still resides on the Estate, he seems to have recovered well from his addiction issues and brushes with the law. Ahhh the British Aristocracy, how the other half live!
Blenheim is located in the town of Woodstock just a short drive from Oxford. We figured we should take the chance to see the town and famous University. Oxford is a very cool place and would definitely warrant a future visit for a longer period of time. A city filled with students from all over the world lends an international flair. Not to mention all the incredibly famous university buildings through the centre of town.
On our last day in The Cotswolds, we decided to try and see some of the other famous little towns in the area. We visited Bourton-on-the-Water with its shallow river and real Wind in the Willows vibes. We also drove through the town of Stow-on-the-Wold. Such charming little communities where you expect the squirrels to have names and for the ducks to start speaking out loud.
At the end of the day it was time for our photo shoot. S gave us coordinates to a place called Minster Lovell. A tiny village with an abandoned manor house that would serve as the backdrop for our shoot. S took some great shots of us that afternoon that will serve as a great memory of our trip.
While it was MUCH less exotic than Marrakech, The Cotswolds were a lovely place to spend a few days. The slightly cooler temperatures made the days bearable and the nights comfortable for sleep. The people were so kind and gracious, happy to have tourists coming back through their doors. We loved our cozy cottage and imagined that it would be a lovely place to visit in winter as much as it was now in summer. We have now added another great place that we’d love to visit again.