I’m lucky enough to have a close friend named Sophie who lives in the Cotswolds. I didn’t know how beautiful this part of the world was until I came to visit her last year. I have known her for over 20 years. We met when we both lived in Saigon, Vietnam in 1994. She and her family are among the most lovely people I know. They are like family to me. They are also so very English, which means they are proper yet welcoming. And they are all smart enough to have left the hustle and bustle of London behind to find cozy homes in this incredible English countryside known as the Cotswolds.
I managed to sit down and reflect during my trip this past June about what the Cotswolds mean to me. Here goes…
It means a cradling quiet nestled behind thick stone walls in Sophie’s cottage. A cottage called Windrush, named after the river beside it.
A river that rushes beneath a small stone bridge. A bridge that sits at the mouth of Burford’s high street. A street that slopes, cars snaking up it’s narrow passage past the inviting flowers and pints of ale held over wooden tables at the Cotswolds Arms, where I stand to admire the Shakespearean buildings.
The buildings that line Burford’s high street could tell such stories, each one more historical and adorable than the next. I want to live in each, I want to curl up inside each one and nap and sip tea and hear it’s full story.
The sense of constancy here blows my mind. I feel it has all been standing here like this since time began. I also feel without any doubt that it will never, ever change.
In the heart of town lies Huffkins tea shop, which is the spot I took my teenagers in a jet lagged haze last June. One year later, to the day, it is where I meet up with my old boss from London, to have a photo-album filled reunion and walk down memory lane.
The Mermaid Pub sits just below Huffkins with it’s pretty leaded windows and I’m drawn toward it, as the live music still rings in my ears from last year’s fun night spent within it’s embrace.
The little 3 French Hens chotskies shop makes me laugh out loud each time I enter, with it’s funny little sayings for sale.
The Cotswolds also mean poppy fields to run or walk in with Sophie around Swinbrook on damp trodden paths with farm gates made of wood and iron to open and close carefully. It means my travel-tired eyes relaxing as they settle on the distant horizons of rolling green fields with gated pastures of sheep and sunflowers.
It means mud, the kind I feel grateful for, on my shins and sneakers after the rain set in on our walk. It means lichen-licked stone barns and that damp smell that makes me think of grandma’s house in Bermuda.
The sheep stand stockstill and cock their heads up as we walk by. I feel rooted and yet rootless, amid a scene from 200 years ago. I wish I could stay right here forever in this green space, in this feeling of peace and simplicity. I celebrate it in my mind by singing and dancing through the field and scenery a la Julie Andrews, only my voice is even better.
The air fills my skin and my hair with its balmy earthiness. Rain is a just a footnote in this place where time stands still. A cozy muffle descends over time and place, while earth and sky connect in rural purpose. Had a painting been made of our walk, not a single brush stroke would have been needed to paint that same walk in the 1800’s.
The hub of London sits only an hour away, yet it might as well be a hundred. The Cotswolds are largely untouched by the modern-day world. The past is the present in this quintessentially English countryside haven. I am subdued by the medieval permanence of this place, and the pastural pace slows my inner ADD and jet lag joins in to solidify my new daze. And as I linger and poke around every nook and cranny of it all, a calm contentment burrows into my chest.
I wish the buildings could tell me their stories. If only each leaded glass window and stone tile or thatched roof could speak. The chimney and that vine-covered wall full of lichen and moss need a voice. The green hills are old, settled and full of past. I sleep within quiet thick stone walls. A lush damp green world the industrial age forgot lies outside. I dream simply of love.
The next day I am filled with coffee and fruit by Sophie, the astounding, and then whisked around in a red stick-shift mini cooper that she drives expertly, with abandon. Skyler, all 11 months of her, hollers from her car seat which makes Sophie take the turns ever so lightly faster as she races to get us to Chipping Camden to have tea with her mum.
We arrive and Skyler smiles at being released from her seat. Eveline is more beautiful than ever. She does not seem to ever age. It amazes me every time I see her. She is my own personal British royalty, full of style and strength and so impeccably British. I have known her since Vietnam, and loved her ever since for her strength and regality.
She serves us tea in her sumptuous living room along with homemade christening cake that is rum-soaked with a marzipan middle. I eat two pieces and want a third. I can’t believe how good it tastes. I wash it down with earl grey tea. Nowhere else in the world does tea taste this good.
Eveline makes every house a home and this is the fifth home of hers that I’m blessed enough to have been invited into to have tea. She loves her dogs and her kitchen is always her pride and joy. The house in Vietnam was an amazement to me, then Chiswick, where I vividly recollect battling extreme jet lag within her Laura Ashley curtains and duvet with soft white sheets.
Then there was a historical old treasure named Toll House that meandered, matching it’s setting. They moved back to Chiswick where a conservatory and gorgeous garden graced that home. And now here they are, in the most beautiful home of all.
The next day Sophie and I stroll Skylar around the quaint little shops of Woodstock and we relax like royals on the grounds of Blenheim Palace.
We browse the gift shop and I buy a little book of about great walks in the Cotswolds. In it there are 2 great quotes about Chipping Campden that come to close to capturing how I feel and so I copy them down:
“When I from Campden town depart, I leave my wits, I lose my art, a melancholy clouds my face, I feel as though I fell from grace.” John Masefield 1905 From Chipping Camden.
“There are no nerves or apprehensions in the architecture of Chipping Campden.” Sacheverell Sitwell, 1986.
I leave on a high with a dinner fit for kings at the Feathered Nest in Nether Westcote. We saddled up at the bar (honestly sitting on real horse saddles) drinking warm flat British beer from the tap,
then eating creamed duck eggs with peppery pencil thin asparagus and melt in your mouth lamb chops.
We succumbed to the decadent carmel bliss and sweetness of the uber-English sticky toffee pudding before heading back to crawl under a down comforter in cozy cottage that Sophie calls home, and I call heaven. 🙂