Sep 1, 2009
|Heading off on an eight day walk into new territory is exciting. Being woken at 3.15 am by the guest in the room above tramping up and down the creaky ancient boards is at first just annoying but as he settles into a rhythm of repetitive crunching that lasts for 2 hours it becomes plain exasperating. I considered dressing and banging his door down and throwing the maniac into a dungeon however it then crossed my mind that he may well have been a dinky-di maniac. We suffered and we tired.
Eventually he flushed his toilet, ran taps and showered and with a racket that shook the doors, plummeted down the stairs adjacent to our room. A few moments later he was racing back up the stairs only to repeat the cacophony of a few moments previous. By then it was after 5 am but there was silence. We slept past our arranged awakening time by about an hour and awoke exhausted.
The Cotswold Way runs over about 165 kilometres, a distance which we had planned (sort of) to conquer over 8 days. ‘Sort of planned’ because at this stage I had only booked the next two nights accommodation with our first stage being a mere 16 km in order to assess how Peggy-Ann’s ankle would cope.
Peter obligingly took some photos of our robust selves and we headed out of Chipping Camden in sparkling sun, past thatched cottages and flower enhanced gardens. Soon we were within the picturesque countryside that was to mark our way for the next 8 days as we followed the erratic scarp of the Cotswolds southwards to Bath.
It was a pleasant and relatively easy day’s walk along mainly soft grassed, sometimes narrow, paths passing through park, wood and farmland, wandering down small dells, sidling the occasional hill and nearly always in peaceful silence.
Our eyes were often enticed to wander west taking in the neat fields of greens, browns and fawns of the hedge-rowed fields within which were scattered villages and towns looking resplendent even from afar. We stopped by the impressive Broadway Tower sitting on a grassy knoll and wondered at the need of a fellow photographer waiting impatiently to snap its form unspoilt by any human in the same frame; she appeared quite frustrated that the pesky walkers kept wandering in and out of her desired image. Our physical exertion was punctuated by a stop for lunch at Broadway, the first of many splendid villages we were to visit on this trail, but early in the afternoon as we approached Stanton, the sky greyed, Thor let loose some roars and we were protected by rain jackets when we knocked at the door of the Shenberrow Hill Bed & Breakfast, our lodging for the night.
With so much time on our hands before the pub opened for dinner at 6 pm and with the soft rain tapping at the windows, we indulged in watching the ‘Oldie but Goldie’ movie ‘Guys and Dolls’ (Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando) on the small TV in our room, completely destroying my goal to catch up on some of this journal.
Stanton is your quintessentially English village with impossibly cute pretty houses adorned with vines and set off by the equally quintessential English country gardens. The warm honey coloured Cotswold stone buildings, their interiors protected by stone shingles, add seamlessly to the sumptuous sensory pleasure of this quiet hamlet that appears to have escaped the worst of a ravenously touristy world. Perhaps one reason for the lack of those seeking the ultimate photograph or tale to be later wrapped in whimsy, is that there are neither shops nor accommodation in the village - save for two or three Bed & Breakfasts; ‘We don’t believe in signs around here’ explained Virginia, our B& B hostess, when we remarked that her home had no indication that it was such an establishment.
However, I’m sure a village can’t be truly a village, without a pub or inn. And so it is at Stanton can be found the ‘Mountain Inn’ (without accommodation), where bookings for dinner ‘are recommended’ on account of the ‘excellent food’.
We pushed our way through the main door to the bar, deposited our dripping umbrellas, and glanced around. The interior could have been the scene from an eighteenth century canvas gracing some Duke’s sitting room. The panel timbered walls with cut glass inserts effortlessly displayed the pride of a successful day’s shooting - deer heads, foxes and other game – along with riding paraphernalia and carefully selected framed pieces of art or words of wisdom. It was an immediately welcoming and comforting space with a few benches, chairs and tables already occupied by folk in full bonhomie or enjoying a quiet ale alone before heading home for their supper,
The young lady behind the bar, whose name was soon revealed to be Pip, allowed me to try a couple of wines before she poured me a full 250 ml of the nectar into an appropriate glass. We have found that the English do like their wine, obligingly offering the stuff in various sizes (125, 175 and 250 ml although, as one inn keeper commented, ‘we don’t serve 125 ml anymore, no one ordered it because it was too small’).
Lager and wine in hand, we gazed around to find a gentleman, dressed in trousers, sports jacket and cravat with a dog by his side as it surely must be in this neck of the woods This picture of country propriety turned out to be Michael, our host’s husband. He recognised us from an earlier brief encounter at his home and we struck up a conversation that included a reference to the low flying Royal Air Force fighters that had broken the peace during our walk that day as they thundered magnificently across the sky. And so a story is told (in very correct Queen’s English)..
Michael’s mother of 90 something had had enough of the sky speedsters and their damn noise and the rattling that followed their passage, so, determined to put an end to her discomfort, she penned a long missive to the Royal Air Force. She explained, with some vigour, that the noise of the damn fighting planes with their trailing deafening sounds were causing her great distress in her advanced years, shattering prized collectables as they were coaxed off their shelves then heaved to the floor and, additionally, cracking many window panes.
Mother received a response. This was a very polite and respectful response from a Wing Commander. He regretted the distress that the young pilots, doing their duty, caused Mother. He went on to explain, that the young pilots guiding these lethal machines were learning how to fly as low as possible to avoid enemy radar and that the Cotswolds were the most sparsely populated part of England thus a minimal number of fine folk were occasionally inconvenienced. He concluded his letter by pointing out that training these lads was as vital to the defence of the realm as water was to a body, going on to thank her for her understanding and, as a resident in the Cotswolds, for her own contribution to the defence effort.
Mother no longer harangues against the flying machines nor will she hear of any complaint from her friends or neighbours regarding them as she passionately expresses her support and admiration for ‘our young pilots, always at the ready to defend our country.’.
We move to the table for dinner. Decisions, decisions. Should it be the Scottish poached salmon, the steak and ale pie, the white and brown crab salad or the ‘Old Spot’ sausages and garlic mash with onion gravy. We are told that, ‘Old Spot’ is an ancient breed of pig, its survival assured in these parts as it was resurrected from obscurity by some enlightened farmers and providores. The salmon is ‘as close to wild salmon as can be got’ we are also told and the ‘pie is to die for’. OK. We take on entrees of crab salad and delectable thick vegetable soup followed by mains of salmon and the exalted pie. They are exceptional dishes augmented by a very fine Rioja; I wouldn’t die for a pie any time but this was certainly a ripper.
Pip returns with the desert and cheese menu and we are about to banish it before we load more calories when the chef, Carl, arrives, splendorous in his whites and toque and a suitable corpulence complementing the whole. Carl is passionate about food. He visits all his suppliers regularly even to selecting the individual cow, pig or pheasant for his cuisine. He has found a wonderful local cheese maker who produces not one or two but four exceptional cheeses. He wants a long term relationship with his suppliers and to be contributing to the cheese maker’s five year old daughter’s education by being a regular and good client for years to come. He and Pip took on the pub lease for the long term about a year back, their first real business venture, and are determined to make a name for themselves. He can’t get good garlic though so I promise to email him a good Australian supplier.
We fall for the cheese plate and I am tempted into a Port wine by Carl who insists I try each of his three best before committing to ‘just any port’.