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Cats, Cathedrals and Ciders: The South of England: Day 10

Sat. May 21, 2016:
Cotswalds

The instant coffee in the room was old and stale, but I was desperate and I drank it regardless. It was not the worst, as I did get to dunk my Speculoos cookies in it. I had woken up with a headache and my immediate first thought was that it was going to rain. The weather forecast confirmed this, calling for rain in the afternoon. As we drove up to Broadway Tower I noticed a sign that said “bunker tours on weekends.” I was instantly intrigued. Parking the car, we saw however that Broadway Tower does not actually open until 10:00am, not 9:00am as the internet had stated. We had about 20 minutes of time to kill. We went into the gift shop/café to get our tickets. We ordered a light breakfast as well. The coffee walnut pound cake was just the pick-me-up I needed after the stale coffee and headache.

Our tour of the bunker was not slated until 10:15am so we took the opportunity to climb to the top of the tower and have an unobstructed and tourist-free view from the top. We would have to go back for the exhibits after our tour. It was cloudy and slightly foggy, not the best visibility. The mountainous hills in the distance were barely visible, we guessed that they were Wales (which apparently you can see from up there). Down below we could see some deer and sheep. We were definitely coming back to the top for a second view afterwards.

It was just us on the tour of the nuclear bunker. I had tried to spot it from the tower and turns out I had been way off. It was not at all what I had expected. It was just a small metal hatch atop some cement steps in a field near the tower. It was a 20 foot climb down a narrow ladder shaft. The bunker itself was a small room with a bunk bed in the corner and a small desk. I had been expecting a giant room with blinking lights, old computer screens and a red count-down clock and a world map with pins in it. There was a pipe in the ceiling through which the crew would measure radiation, it was now leaking rainwater. Apparently without proper maintenance and upkeep a bunker can develop leaks. It was unsettling. Climbing out of the bunker was just as awkward, as I was terrified of slipping and missing a rung and falling. It was an awkward exit, having to step off the ladder and find my footing on the cement platform. Brent held out his hand to help me and immediately the opening credits to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt popped into my head and I felt like her. It was an awesome moment. The tour guides were amazing and so nice, we learned a lot from them and it was a highlight of the trip.

Back at the top of the tower the weather had only gotten worse and the visibility poorer. It was now rainy and windy as well. We would have to Google it later to confirm whether or not the mountains had been Wales. Up next we drove to the main street in the town of Broadway. There were lots of antique shops and inns. Off in the distance we could hear dogs barking. I thought nothing of it, assuming there was a rowdy dog park or kennel nearby. Brent suggested that they were hunting dogs. I laughed it off, no way were they hunting dogs! He Googled it on his phone, lo and behold the town of Broadway is known for hunting. I still felt I needed solid proof. I followed the sounds and led us to the kennel where, in fact there were hunting dogs being kept. The dogs were so energetic, one literally jumped at least 5 feet in the air against the fence. On our way out of town we walked by a guy photographing another guy’s shoes, it was the weirdest photo shoot I had ever seen.

From there we drove to Chipping Camden. I was worried we would not find parking as there was an antiques fair going on. At the last second we found an easy spot to pull into. Walking down the street I noticed a place called the Lygon Arms. In Broadway we had almost stayed at the Lygon Arms Inn. This one had a pub and thus our lunch plans were settled. It was a quaint and old pub full of locals. One couple had their teacup Yorkie dog with them. This was my kind of pub, dogs allowed. To go with my ham & cheese toasted sandwich I had a delicious half pint of Stowford Press cider. For the sandwich I had asked for thinly sliced bread. And it was still really thick! The cheese and the ham were so flavourful and the sandwich was stuffed. It was the best toasted ham and cheese I had ever eaten. One shop had a sign advertising “super natural” Cotswalds ice cream but they only sold it in small tubs and all I wanted was a scoop.

The rain had finally let up by the time we got to Hidicote Manor Garden and now the sky was just cloudy. The gardens were stunning and absolutely gorgeous. The hedges were meticulously sculpted and there were so many flowers in bloom, we could actually smell them in the air. Couple that with the birds chirping and it was a wonderfully spent afternoon. There were sheep in field in the distance grazing. Towards the end of our tour it started raining again but oh-so-softly.

Driving back, there was a squirrel in the road. He was running in a zig-zag down the middle of the road, afraid of our car but unable to jump off on the right side because of a stone wall. We had to slow down and let him pass to the left side of the road and off into the bushes. As we passed by Broadway Tower we briefly considered going back for one last look but the clouds had not let up and the conditions appeared to be the same as earlier. Back at the hotel I tried to dry my shoes with the hair dryer and I hung my socks on the heated towel rack. The Orchard Premium cider I had was not that great, the only thing it had going for it was the cider-y taste as opposed to a juice taste. I had finished my book Primates of New York the night before, but thankfully I had downloaded The Torrents of Spring by Hemingway as well. I found the chocolate-toffee popcorn. Apparently when we had double-bagged everything yesterday it fell between the two bags. I spent the whole afternoon reading as it rained outside. I could hear the sheep bleating and the cows mooing off in the distance. I had thought dinner was at 7, turns out it was not until 7:30, meaning it was time for some TV. The channels took a second to load, leading me to unnecessarily worry that we were without TV. Luckily I found a channel playing the border security reality show.

Dinner was at the Buckland Manor House. The dress code was “smart casual,” whatever that means. Once again we got all fancied up and feared we would be surrounded by people in khakis. For once we actually fit in with the people around us. All the men, save for one, were wearing ties and jackets. Driving up to the manor I saw the cutest, fluffiest, fuzziest, littlest bunny ever and he hopped right into my heart. Walking up to the hotel I noticed a cat asleep on the outside bench and I had to stop and pet the cute calico, simply had to, even though we were running late. She did not even mind being petted, she just kept on napping.

Dinner was amazing, an absolute stand-out. All of the dishes were amazing- even the bright green pre-dinner amouse bouche. It was a green garlic foam (they called it a soup) with a parmesan breaded thing that sank to the bottom and tasted like a fry from McDonalds. Brent had the lamb, and even that was quite good. It still had a slight funky taste to it, but it was not nearly as noticeable as usual. At dinner I also found out that the poussin I had ordered was a baby chicken no more than a month old. I felt bad until I took a bite, it was so tender and delicious. The pre-dessert amouse bouche was amazing. It was a raspberry mousse with chilled mandarin pieces and coconut whipped cream. The apricot mousse and frozen yogurt dessert was equally amazing. The whole meal got an A+.

On our way out I had to stop again to pet the cat. They guy at the hotel told me that the cat was a wanderer from elsewhere and that she had a morning ritual of hunting on the property and then napping on the bench. She was so cute and soft, I wanted to take her home. Driving back we had just missed the sunset and it was starting to get dark. But it was not yet pitch dark. In the car I discovered I could loosen the strap on my heels. My feet were dented from it and it was such a relief once loosened. I wish I had known about this before.

 

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Cats, Cathedrals and Ciders: The South of England: Day 9

Fri. May 20, 2016:
Bath to Cotswalds

Once again breakfast was included and once again Brent had the full English breakfast, I stole some of his toast to go with my yogurt, granola and fruit. This time though the full English breakfast had blood pudding instead of baked beans. Because we were in a fancy hotel with a no-running-shoes dress code in the dining room we had to get dressed up all fancy- for a complimentary hotel breakfast! Before heading into the dining room we stopped at the car to check what time we had to leave at and whether we would have to rush through breakfast. I was not expecting to see cows on the other side of the fence, past the field near the parking lot (the supposed helipad). Therefore we would indeed have to hurry through breakfast so we could pack up and I could take pictures of the cows before they left. The blood pudding was ok, I just could not get past the weird texture- it was lumpy and grainy, I had been expecting something more like a pâté. So far this place had the best granola and the best breakfast sausage. The in-house-made danish was amazing. It was so delicious, owing to how fresh it was.

On the way down to the car, after packing as fast as I could, I looked out the window to ensure that the cows were still in the field. I slowly crept towards them, there were so many and they were so cute! Half of the front row started staring at me, it felt so good to have so many cows looking at me. Suddenly two of them started head-butting each other for no apparent reason. A third one came over to join in the fray, leaving a gap in the frontline, allowing the second row of cows to see me. They instantly perked up. A cow far off on the left started mooing, causing a wave of moos to pass over the herd. Apparently this was the call to head over to another part of the field. On our way out Brent rolled down the window and slowed down so I could get one last look at the cows.

We were off on a tour of the Cotswalds and the English countryside. Our first stop was Bibury. There were some cute little cottage houses going up a hill near a creek full of baby ducks and some swans. The place was full of tourists, a bus having just arrived. A man tried to take a picture of his (I assume) wife on the bridge over the creek, however a child from the family who had just crossed the bridge stayed behind to ham it up for the camera. The lady leaned in and posed for a photo with this stranger child, cheek to cheek with him. It was too weird and awkward, I had to look away.

We parked on a side street in Burford behind another car, there were enough other cars parked that there that sure it was street parking there. We were down the road from the Lamb Inn. We decided to start with lunch and then walk down the main strip. As was quickly becoming the usual, I had a half pint of cider. Symonds cider was bubbly and slightly sour, not at all like apple juice (therefore good). We were about ready to order when we realized that there was a backside to the menu! We ended up getting a charcuterie board each because on the menu there was the option of serving size for one. We would get to try two different ones. Mine was piled high with meat, Brent’s had some cheeses and a pork pie. The brie was surprisingly good. I had never seen a charcuterie board piled so high with food. On the side were two really thick slices of white bread, making for some colossal sandwiches. This was the first (and probably last) time I was too full to finish a charcuterie board.  “Downtown” Burford had some little cottages and some antique shops. One shop had the most gorgeous leather riding boots I had ever seen.

On the way to Cheltenham (stop #3) we passed a sign warning us of a toad crossing, so weird. Cheltenham was a more developed town, we walked down the main shopping arcade. I popped into H&M, continuing my desperate search for the shirt and coming up empty handed. The weather was awesome, it was warm and the sun was shining. Adding to the awesomeness, the mini Toffee Crisps I had stashed in the car were hitting the spot.

Our second last stop of the tour was in Bourton-On-The-Water. This was the picturesque ideal little village. It had a creek running through the middle of town, with union jack banners strung over top between the trees. I could just imagine a Sunday afternoon rubber duck race on the creek. I was tempted to get ice cream but none of the flavours stood out to me.

Our last stop was in Stow on the Wold but it had been added to the tour later on and we did not have a proper map or address for navigation. Trying to get there, it did not seem like it was 700m away as the GPS insisted. No sooner had I said that, we saw the town sign. We followed a sign for parking but it had lied. We kept going down the one road with no sign of parking, getting further and further from town. Going back the way we came was out of the question, as the whole time we were passing a traffic jam of cars. We turned onto a side street and made our way back in a circle around the traffic, taking a detour and going back to where we had seen the town sign. This time around we drove straight through the intersection and through town. Thankfully there was another parking lot downtown. It was a nice walk, there were beautiful old buildings. We stopped in at a grocery store so I could get my Fanta fix. At the last second I grabbed a Cadbury Crème Egg because apparently in the UK the recipe had recently been changed. It did indeed taste different, much less sweet than usual. It was finally possible to eat it without the horrible too-sweet tooth pain.

We were staying at the Snowshill Bed & Breakfast but it did not have an address. The Google maps directions only gave left & right directions and only one street name. We opened up Google maps on Brent’s work phone as a backup. We eventually found it via road signs. As we pulled into the parking lot I saw two chickens but they immediately ran away as I tried to take their picture. As chickens would, based on the reputation I suppose.

The little B&B was in the heart of the Cotswalds. There was no one at the B&B, we found Brent’s name in a note with the key on the floor in the entrance. There was no in-house restaurant and we had not passed anything on the way in, nothing but farm fields and forests. I was about to start panicking that there was no coffee maker, but I found it in a cupboard. The nearest McDonald’s was a 20 minute drive away and it seemed like our best option for dinner. The nearest grocery store, Tesco was 13 minutes away. The only food we had left was half a pack of Speculoos cookies. We were lucky to at least have wifi, even if it was slow. We immediately headed back out for food and snacks to last us the next two nights at the B&B. We were worried about having to navigate back in the dark.

On the way we passed by Broadway Tower which we would be visiting the next morning. That Tower turned out to be a great navigation tool while we were in the area. On the way to Tesco we saw an Aldi grocery store and went there instead. It was so unbelievably cheap! We got two bags of chips, chocolate covered toffee popcorn and some more Jellie Babies. The McDonalds was in an industrial park like a strip mall. It was incredible how busy it was. The place was packed. Who knew that McDonalds was the place to be on a Friday night? We had to park across the street because the lot was full. I swapped out the drink in the chicken nugget meal for a frozen soda, a genius plan.

Back in the hotel the internet was still really slow. I was legitimately surprised that Netflix had loaded and we actually managed to watch an episode of TV. The Älska Nordic berry cider I had tasted like juice. But then again Aldi had limited selection, so who am I to complain? Once again we were in a hotel room with a heated towel rack. Because we were staying there for two nights I saw the perfect opportunity to do some sink-laundry, with the perfect place to hang it to dry. It was a genius idea. One of two that day. I was mildly afraid that my laundry on the towel rack would cause a fire, so I kept the door open to monitor it as I read my book. Apparently we had grabbed a different brand of Jellie Babies and different companies can all claim to produce Jellie Babies candy. The Dominion brand we had now were not nearly as good as the ones we were used to, the centre was not as chewy. I couldn’t find the toffee popcorn and I was worried it had fallen out of the bag and was in the car but I was too tired to go check. The mojito flavoured kettle cooked chips were weird… but exactly what was to be expected.

 

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