England Part II, The Cotswolds and Oxford

The morning we left Cornwall for the Cotswolds was the only really rainy time we had during our entire trip. While packing for the trip, we’d prepared for the worst after hearing how damp and cold England can be this time of year, but we had almost no rain and lots of sunshine during our entire stay. And that one rainy morning was spent traveling to the Cotswolds. (No, we didn’t drive—we decided that would be too stressful, and the train connections were not workable, so we hired a driver to take us.)

We arrived at the Kings Head Inn in Bledington around 1 pm, just in time for lunch.  And the rain stopped. The whole area was just charming.  Bledington is a tiny little hamlet, and, like all over the Cotswolds, all the houses and buildings are made of the same beige-colored stone.  According to Wikipedia, there are about 490 people in the village. The only commercial building we saw was the inn itself.

The Inn described itself as more a pub/restaurant with rooms than a hotel, so we weren’t sure what to expect. But our room was certainly adequate. It was in a separate building across a lovely courtyard from the actual inn. The room was small and somewhat dark, but nevertheless comfortable. And although we were a little concerned about noise—especially from the rooster who spent much of the day strutting around and crowing—we slept well, and the rooster had the decency not to start crowing until about 7 am.

During our first afternoon, we decided to take the “easy” walk suggested on a brochure distributed by the inn.  It was easy in the sense of not being physically challenging, but following the instructions turned out to be quite a challenge. Truly, it was not the fault of the person writing the directions, but rather the person who was interpreting them, i.e., me. Somehow I misread the first step in the directions and ended up walking the trail backwards! But I didn’t realize that until we were nearly done with the two hour walk. It’s not worth explaining how or why, but despite following the steps backwards, we ended up finding our way without any trouble, thinking we were doing the walk in the right direction. I am still mystified by how that could be!

For example, the directions included a step that described going under an archway formed by trees.  I thought this was what they meant.

Only when we passed the actual archway much later and were almost done with the walk did I realize that something was off.

Making it even more embarrassing was the fact that another woman had joined us on the walk, thinking I knew what I was doing. I kept acting like I did, and neither she nor my husband suspected anything. I only confessed to my husband after we were safely back at the inn. (As my good friend Art would say, “Frequently wrong, but never uncertain.”)

Even though we did it backwards, it was still a scenic and enjoyable walk, passing through fields with cows and sheep, going along a lovely little creek, and walking along an abandoned railroad path.

After dinner at the inn, we took another shorter walk, enjoying the light on the houses and the church from the late-setting sun. That time I knew what I was doing.

The next morning we were picked up by Peter of Cotswold Electric Bike Tours for our day of bicycling around the Cotswolds. We drove to Burford, which is about eight miles south of Bledington. It is a much larger town than Bledington with lots of shops and a big church, but also all in the same beige-colored stone. We met up with three other people joining us for the day—Carolyn and her adult daughters Meghan and Rachel from Salt Lake City (which, of course, led to a conversation about the Family History Library). After a quick lesson on how to use an electric bike, we were off on our thirty-mile trip around the area.

This was our first time on e-bikes, and we loved them. What a pleasure it was to get that “assist” going up some of the steeper hills. But for the most part the ride was relatively flat (or so it seemed after walking in Cornwall) and extremely scenic. We traveled from Burford to Windrush to Sherborne to Northleach to Bibury to Westwell and back to Burford.

Here are some of the images we captured during our almost seven-hour ride:

Burford

Flowers along the way

Norman doorway in the church in Windrush

Interior of Windrush church with Romanesque and Gothic features

Church graveyard, Windrush

Windrush

In Sherborne we saw some Morris dancers, a form of English folk dancing dating back to the fifteenth century. We also stopped for a short tea and cake break in Sherborne.  .

We continued on our way, going through Northleach and seeing its beautiful church.

Northleach

We stopped for a late lunch in Bibury, a town once described as the most beautiful in England and thus packed with many tour buses and tourists. It is beautiful, but the crowds and buses and traffic made that harder to appreciate.

Bibury

 

After lunch we continued on to Westwell before returning to Burford and the end of our tour.

The six of us all had a wonderful time with lots of laughs and good conversation, and Peter also taught us a great deal about English history and the history of the region, pointing out the architectural characteristics of each era as seen in some of the churches we visited. It was a fun and educational day and gave us a good overall view of the Cotswolds.

The next day we decided to take the train to Oxford, which is only half an hour by train from Kingham, the town next to Bledington. We walked the mile to the station, itself a pretty walk.

Cows in someone’s yard. Really.

We arrived in Oxford at 10:30 and signed up for a 1 pm walking tour. We then spent the rest of the morning walking through the city.  The city was filled with young people—university students and teenagers coming to tour the university. Everywhere we went there were large groups of teens touring together. And lots of impressive architecture.

The tower from the old northern wall of the city

We walked to the south end of the city to Christchurch—which is both a college within Oxford University and a church. Some of the scenes in the Harry Potter movies were filmed at Christchurch, we were told. It certainly has the feel and appearance of a proper English school.

Exterior of Christchurch, a college at Oxford

 

Grounds of Christchurch

Refectory at Christchurch

Refectory

Quadrangle at Christchurch

The church at Christchurch was magnificent, especially the stained glass windows.

At 1, we met up with our guide and a group of fellow tourists—about sixteen in total. Out of that group, we were the only Americans. There were people from Germany, France, Scotland, England, Australia, and India. The guide was very knowledgeable, and the tour focused on Oxford University and its unusual (by US standards anyway) college-university system.

I am still not sure how it all works, but from what we were able to understand, students apply to individual colleges within Oxford and study in tutorials with a tutor and just one or two other students in that college for their three years of undergraduate study. They produce papers each week for the tutors and have exams at the end of their first year and then at the end of their third year. Every college has its own library, church, and faculty, and the students eat and learn and live in their chosen college. But there are also some university-wide courses. I may have this all wrong. I still don’t know whether students have distribution requirements across several fields as in US schools. I also am not sure whether they take only one tutorial at a time or multiple courses in different subjects each semester. So if there are any Oxford experts out there who can explain this all, please let me know.

Our guide showed us many of the different colleges as well as some of the main libraries and other buildings.

House where Shakespeare stayed when he visited Oxford

Jesus College

Old bookstore

Sheldonian Theater

We enjoyed the comment about Bill Clinton

Bridge joining two parts of Hertford College

New College

Merton College

Corpus Christi College

Corpus Christi College

Radcliffe Camera

Bodleian library

Our guide pointed out the students who were finished with their last exam and the wild way they decorated themselves to celebrate the completion of their studies at Oxford.

When the tour ended, we walked a bit more and then made our way back to the train station, back to Kingham, and back to Bledington and the Kings Head Inn.  The following morning we left Bledington for the last stop on our trip to England, London.