Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Travels West goes to England

II: The Cotswolds

England’s Cotswolds always make me feel at home. I have been there so many times, even before I had ever been there. J. R. R. Tolkien brought me there first, then Shakespeare. Tolkien lived and taught at Oxford. Shakespeare was born and spent his youth and later years in Stratford-upon-Avon. The Cotswolds lie between, a rolling, green hill country. They are the “green and pleasant land” of The Bard, and they are The Shire on Tolkien’s gentle hobbits, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. They are for me the romantic epitome of all that is right and wholesome and peaceful and proper on Earth.

I lived for a short time—too short a time—in Stratford-upon-Avon, as a student, with an English family. Mrs. H. and her boys, S. and C. are still great friends. During my stay Mrs. H. and I tramped all over the Cotswolds. Castle hopping we called it. Among the objective for my trip was to return to this magical place and breathe life into the memory for my father, who had heard me speak of it, but who had never himself been there.

Driving north from Portsmouth to Mrs. H’s house in Stratford, we turned off onto the country lanes less traveled and motored through the hedgerow country. After Oxford, we headed up through the little towns and villages of ancient, thatch-roofed, golden Cotswold stone houses and descriptive two- and three- and four-word names: Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold, Moreton-in-the-Marsh, Chipping Campden. A “wold” is a hill, the “chip” in Chipping Campden refers a marketplace, while “camp” indicates the site of a ancient Roman fort. History abounds.

My father, appreciating the beauty of the thatched roofs, asked Mr. H., “How long will those roofs last? Twenty or 30 years?”

“More like 200!” Mrs. H’s laughed.

Green and pleasant land
The Cotswolds: the green and pleasant land, The Shire, in the glory of summer. Among the many small glories of the region are the footpaths that allow you to tramp all over, the result of a time-worn tradition of right-of-way that allows foot travelers access to many quiet and lovely places across the English countryside.

Old, very old

We took a narrow hedgerow road along the top of a low ridge through the towns—crossroads really—of Great Rollright and Little Rollright to the ancient Rollright Stones. The stones are a sort on mini-Stonehenge; an ancient pagan place of worship, probably used as an astronomical and sidereal calendar. The oldest of the stones is some 6,000 years old

Chipping Campden

After stopping to ponder the deep past at the Rollright Stones, we sped on up the road into Chipping Campden, one of the most picturesque towns in the Costwolds. We were too late for tea, however, though we did manage to get some chips and eat them at the war monument in the town square. Afterward, Mrs. H. drove us up to look at one of her favorite views in the hills behind the town.


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