It all started with a Christmas gift. In December 2017, my parents were visiting from Canada and I gave them a calendar featuring the Cotswolds. I thought it might be nice for my parents to see beautiful places near where I live each month. As I looked through "The Cotswolds Calendar 2018," I realized that I had only visited one of the twelve destinations. Rather than gift my parents a book full of places I have never seen, I decided to rectify the situation.
I soon concocted a plan wherein I would visit the featured destination each month. It seemed the perfect way to soak in the beauty of the Cotswolds, and much less stressful than choosing the villages to visit on my own. I convinced my friend Dave to be my travel buddy, ordered two more calendars, and we set the plan in motion. Dave said that he liked the idea of a "find it in real life game."He also was trying to honour his partner Jerred's wishes that he, "get out of the condo at least once a month," which I think is a gross exaggeration of the situation as I am quite certain that Dave has been to Paris at least three times since September first.
Interestingly, "The Cotswolds Calendar 2018," is the last of it's kind. Salmon calendars (it's even my family name) is a family business that has been producing beautiful diaries and calendars for over 100 years. Early in 2017, they announced that they were closing the business forever, and that 2018 would be their last product line. It's almost as if I was meant to embark on this quest!
January's destination was Cirencester, specifically, the Church of St. John the Baptist. Previously, I had only driven through or taken the bus through Cirencester on my way to and from London. It's so beautiful that I once took photos with my phone through the dirty smudged bus window in a desperate attempt to record the beauty. I researched parking the night before and made certain that I had a lot of change to pay for it. Jerred took the day off of work and joined Dave and I on our day out, he obviously had a horrible time as he didn't ever join us again but we somehow managed to remain friends. We also had my five year old twins with us, as they did not start school until after their fifth birthday. The church was the largest landmark around and easy to find.
Nearly every destination we visit involves an ancient church. Construction for St. John the Baptist in Cirencester began in 1115. So it's pretty old, although we have visited older. It has a fantastic cemetery, which becomes another theme for our Calendar Adventures. As we walked through the large bare January trees, and discussed the beauty of the stones covered in chartreuse moss, we felt badly for accidentally stepping on graves occasionally, as it wasn't always clearly marked. Dave suggested that this was fine as long as we didn't dance on the graves. We then turned around to see Mr. G and Mr. L, my rambunctious five year olds, energetically dancing on an obvious grave. We left soon after, but not before Mr. L informed us that Krampus lived in the basement of the church. This caused us to leave more quickly. Why did my four year olds know about Krampus? You should ask their father.
One of my fears when starting out on this journey, was that we would not be able to find some of the locations. Many were a specific cottage or even tree, without an address and only the village name to pull from. This fear was not unfounded, as in February, we drove right past our destination in Beverston Village and had to back track. Further, Beverston Castle was located on private land and we had to trespass to get to the photo spot. We had Mr. G and Mr. L with us once again (but no Jerred as we definitely scared him off), and I drove trepidatiously down the private lane. We found the tree being held up by large pieces of wood, as well as snowdrops, snowbanks, and gardeners tending to the grounds. We pretended that we belonged there and took a few photos. Dave also saved the twins lives in this location by running after them and ultimately stopping them as they ran for the main road whilst scream laughing maniacally. My children are a real treat. I told Dave that he should feel free to tackle them at any time for their own safety.
Another difficult to find location, March's "cottage at Broadway." That's really not very specific, and Broadway is one of the largest villages we visited. Luckily, I had been struck by this cottage's beauty on my way to Cotswold Lavender in Snowshill previously, and I REMEMBERED IT. But really, what are the chances that would have been the case? I told you this adventure was meant to be! So I knew where it was, even though I had never been to Broadway before, we did a quick photo op at a strangers front door which literally opens right onto a main road with cars moving fast and then left this idyllic dangerous spot to further explore the village of Broadway.
It was in Broadway that all of Dave's dreams came true. There was an amazing playground, with most of the equipment too large for children, obviously designed for adults (and very large children- wait isn't that the definition of adult) to enjoy. I acquired enough blackmail footage of Dave playing to last a lifetime of friendship and I think the twins had fun too. We did hear a lot of barking dogs, enough to be disturbing, and did not get a straight answer when we asked a local about it. So Broadway is a little scary. That's fine though. It has a lovely deli.
In April we visited The Village Cross in Stanton and earned ten points for Gryffindor for finally being smart enough to bring the calendars along with us rather than rely on our memories to recreate the photo and find the correct spot. This is also when we started looking like we were proselytising Christians carrying our literature to save souls as we walked along the village streets each holding a matching calendar on a Wednesday morning. Sadly, Mr. G and Mr. L had now ditched us to obey the law and attend full time school with uniforms and homework and everything at the tender age of five. So no more slightly haunted village parks or dancing on graves for them. They were missed. We continued to frequent toy stores and look for playgrounds even though they were not around. Even though we looked like creepy missionaries.
At Redesdale Hall in Moreton-in-Marsh, we were disappointed that we could not remove all the parked cars. We were also disappointed that the tree in front of the hall had been pruned and that there were no lovely petunias to frame our shot. Calendar Adventures can make one grumpy. Why did they re-thatch their roof? How dare they paint that door? It's just rude that they are remodelling/roofing, undergoing restoration work. Or the ever popular, this photo was clearly not taken in the month it represents in the calendar! Finding photo destinations can really create an unhealthy expectation for the location to look as perfect as it does in the calendar. I now suffer from Cotswold Village dysmorphia.
We visited Painswick during a heatwave and were dissatisfied with the colour of the grass. Despite this, St. Mary's Church was utterly charming, and we met a friendly historian who told us all about the over one hundred numbered and labelled Yew trees in the churchyard. Clippings from these trees are used as a raw source for the main ingredient in the anticancer drug Paclitaxel. Excellent work Painswick! And you are so close to my house, I need to come back now that the grass is green again.
Wick Rissington Village was our second case of truly trespassing. We parked beside an "absolutely no parking" sign and hid in the bushes to take photos of someone's private residence. We are not creepy at all.
Arlington Row, Bibury! Is there anything cuter in the world? I would recommend this spot if you want to see true unspoilt Cotswold charm. You cannot even park a car in front of this row of houses so your photos will not be ruined... by cars. They may be ruined by tourists, as this was an unexpected tourist spot, with buses of tourists being dropped off to wander this particular lane. There is nothing to see beyond beautiful homes. People do live here. There were ladies taking their dogs for walks, exiting their houses wearing expensive wellies and charming knits as we were practically peeping in their windows. I say practically, but I was full on peeping. I think I even posed for a photo with my hand on a doorknob. I apologize to all residents of Bibury for my behaviour. I suppose I wouldn't want to live here. But it is so beautiful, it's like the pages of a storybook come to life. There is also a very friendly or hungry goose that you might want to stop and greet, but maybe don't wear open toe shoes or sandals.
September's location, "High Street, Burford," was another riddle. Burford is a medieval town known for it's long stately high street. Trying to find a specific section of the high street was not easy, but we did it after a lot of walking and cursing any updates to the exterior of the buildings. Remember when I carefully researched parking options for our first adventure in Cirencester? By the time we got to Burford, I was parking the wrong way (that's not really a thing in England as you can park whichever direction you choose) and pulled up on curbs (sorry kerbs) with the locals. After parking we would usually jaywalk, which is known here as crossing the street, and be on our merry way.
Dave and I both agree that our favourite village was Chipping Campden. This may be because it was snowing magical fluffy flakes, the type that you often see in the movies and as a Canadian with a plethora of snow experience assume are fake. This may also be our favourite because we found the most amazing pub, with the meat hooks still hanging from the crooked plaster outside the door, low ceilings, exposed beams, and roaring open fireplaces that we happily sat near to sipping coffee and hot chocolate. Reasons it shouldn't have been our favourite, someone had the audacity to begin restorations to the Market Hall before we could get our photo, and we had to leave an hour earlier than planned to pick up one of my children who was feeling poorly at school. Despite this, we love Chipping Campden. I assume it's always snowing there... please don't tell me I am wrong.
Oh the Slaughters. Such a violent name for such a sweet place. Our calendar location was Lower Slaughter, but we made sure to visit both Upper and Lower. With a population of 236, soon to be 241 because my family would like to move here, Lower Slaughter has been inhabited since about 1000 AD and boasts beautiful views of the River Eye, which is more of a stream, but lovely nonetheless. Upper Slaughter has a pretty church. Whilst exploring inside, the bells were ringing, doors were opening and closing, there we large bangs and then the lights went out an we were illuminated only by the prayer candles. We were the only people in the church so I conclude that it must be haunted, I'm sure the gale force winds that day had nothing to do with it.
Our last destination was Bourton-on-the-Water. Although I could write a blog post about Bourton all on it's own, I must admit that for this location we did a drive by shooting. Dave and I had both been to Bourton-on-the-Water multiple times, so I parked along high street, we jumped out of the car and took some photos and moved on. It was special to see the Christmas tree in the River Windrush (even this I had seen before, but I love it nonetheless). Bourton will always have a special place in my heart because it is the first Cotswold Village I visited after moving here and it has a model village. The model village is a one ninth scale exact replica of the actual village. It even has a model village within it, with a model village within it... It's the coolest thing and it makes me realize that I do indeed live in the world of the film, "Hot Fuzz." Simon Pegg grew up twenty minutes from where I sit right now typing, and I sincerely hope that this blog post does not offend but will be seen as contributing to "the greater good."
So what now? Should we collect castles? I quite like the sound of that. Maybe we could visit all the nearby English heritage sites. If Bill Bryson taught me anything, it's that there is no possible way to see everything in England, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. I've learned so much in our Calendar Adventures. I'm no longer anxious about parking, I've learned a lot of history and done a lot of reading inspired by the places we visited. I've learned that if you are tired all the Cotswold villages can blur together... where are we? I've learned that you should never cancel plans due to weather and that there is always a pub to escape the rain and cold. I've learned that if you are in your favourite village a child will inevitably become ill and call you away. I've made a lifelong friend and I have fallen in love with the Cotswolds. I am so grateful that I get to live here for a time and I promise to continue to take in as much as possible. Thank you to Dave and to Salmon Calendars for making this year so fun!