A Guide to the Cotswolds

There's a distinct genre of grime produced by an international flight. The ghosts of recirculated air, a sleepless night, and microwaved curry dinners always seems to haunt me for days after any length of time on an airplane. After hundreds of flights, I think I've found the cure for the air travel grunge: three days in the Cotswolds. 

A few weeks back I landed at Heathrow and hopped in a car bound for Gloucestshire. I felt a tinge of sacrilege in deferring an immediate visit to beloved London upon arriving in the UK, but I was quickly convinced that the Cotswolds was the place to go. Some friends and I rented a crooked stone cottage in the honey-colored village of Winchcombe, around which I kept expecting to find a Weasley or two. After a cup of tea, we wandered through velvet green fields of wildflowers and grazing sheep, past the local castle, and through the storybook town center. Nothing makes you feel cleaner than cool grass and late summer breezes in the dusky English countryside. 

As the jet leg settled in, I sat on the downy white bed and watched a gentle rain put the village to sleep. I was overcome with an irrepressible, incandescent happiness to be back in my misty, merry England.

We spent the next morning at Hidcote Manor, a National Trust site with one of the Cotswold's most beautiful gardens. We wound through the grounds for hours and basked in the English quintessence of tangled flowers and thatched roofs. Every acre held a distinct little universe – hollows of ferns, fields of billowing wheat, huge hydrangea beds, and stone paths lined with pale roses – all wonderfully alive and just a bit wild. I don't spend enough time in the company of flowers and an afternoon at Hidcote reminded me of what great friends they can be. (If you'll be in the UK for more than a week, look into getting a National Trust membership. You'll get to see a ton of magical sites for one low fee.)

We soon found ourselves in Broadway and, using some type of built-in sweets radar, immediately located Hamilton's Chocolates. After some tea and Victoria sponge, we ambled the winding lanes of the tiny town. 

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Driving through the Cotswolds felt like hopping from oil painting to oil painting. Every twist in the narrow roads brought a new panorama of rolling hills or wildflower fields, grazing sheep or villages built of glowy amber stone. We marveled at every perfect scene en route to the bustling market town of Chipping Campden, where we went full-British with a Sunday roast at the King's Hotel

In the UK businesses close shop fairly early, especially on Sundays. We hurried around Chipping Campden in an attempt to leave no bookstore or antique shop unexplored before the "Closed" signs appeared. The Covent Garden Academy of Flowers and Cherry Press stood out among the cuteness.

As the daylight dimmed and the rainclouds rolled in, we rushed to find one lasat Cotswolds experience for the day. The National Trust index led us to Crickley Hill where we stumbled upon a breathtaking view of the countryside. I've always thought England looked like a perfect patchwork quilt when viewed from above. Crickley Hill let us see the full spread of emerald and jade patches, stitched together by crooked stone walls and dirt roads. We drank in the soul-nourishing scene until the rain finally won and we escaped to the cozy fireplace of our Winchcombe cottage, where a Princess Diana Netflix special and leftover Chinese takeout awaited.

Our final day swept us away in a whirlwind tour of what seemed like every village in the Cotswolds. Our first stop was Burtron-on-the-Water. We walked along the canal and through the residential streets, where we stumbled upon my drug of choice: a locally-made ceramics shop! We then popped over to both Upper and Lower Slaughter and as we walked the public footpaths, we contemplated how such beautiful villages could have such gruesome names. Hilly Burford also made the itinerary and introduced me to my first ever bookstore-hat-shop-combination-platter, The Mad Hatter. I bought a copy of Sense and Sensibility, which I lost within ten minutes.

My very favorite stop of the trip was the Daylesford Farm Shop. Farm shops are universally delightful, but the Daylesford Farm Shop was particularly perfect – bright, airy, and crisp. The shop was filled with delicious local foods, gorgeously understated home goods, and fresh flowers. The store also had a workshop space for beekeeping and flower arranging courses. If I disappear for a while, you know where to find me.

Stow-on-the-Wold is perhaps the Cotswolds' most well known market town, so it seemed like the best place to end our brief but sweet stay. A piece of Pimms cake at the Old Stocks Inn and a lunch of figs and burrata at England's oldest pub (in that order) rounded out our wonderful weekend away.

We made it halfway back to London and decided an hour in Oxford might help ease us back into city life. Now that I've found the cure for international flights, I need to find a cure for leaving the Cotswolds.

A Guide to Cornwall

Have you ever carried a backpack so long that you forgot how heavy it was until you took it off? That's what my trip to Cornwall felt like – taking off a really heavy backpack. Six hours of driving in Bank Holiday traffic took us across the little British Isle from Surrey to the coziest stone cottage in Mousehole, Cornwall – a place where proverbial backpacks come off. We turned in for the night and as I sank into the cottage's big white bed, I felt so deeply happy. A kind of happy conceived by early autumn air and sea breeze and oceanside villages and cottages with clawfoot bathtubs. I felt like a cloud – floaty and buoyant and pleased as punch to have the ocean nearby. My theory: one need not be in an ocean to float; one need only be near an ocean.

The adventure began in quaint, cobblestoned Truro where we intended to stop only to pop into an American friend's new deli. The town's friendly people and happy flags and endless alleys of shops quickly beguiled us and we threw out our afternoon plans for a few more hours in Truro. We ducked into chic boutiques, vintage stores, and more than a few coffee shops before grabbing an asparagus risotto at Swell. Truro was friendly and pleasantly bustling and spangled in rainbow banners.

We scooted down to St. Ives in time to sit on a hill and watch the sun sink behind the animated little toy town below us. After making our way down to the harbor (peering into every closed shop and gallery along the way), we popped into Fudge Kyst for a slab of Cornish fudge. We ambled down on the water's edge and tried to name the rowboats that bobbed in the harbor. A wedding party burst from a nearby chapel and we were #blessed enough to witness a barricade of bridesmaids blocking the bride as she changed from her white dress into a flannel shirt and shorts. Then, of course, the bride made her way (barefoot) to the nearest pub with her groom in tow. A little clique of pub-goers gathered in the street for an impromptu Cornish folk sing-along, which provided the soundtrack for the greatest plate of fish and chips on this planet.

St. Michael's Mount is a curious place – sometimes accessible only by foot, sometimes only by boat. We checked the tide schedules and made an low-tide, early morning trek across the drained seafloor to the little green island. St. Michael's Mount is home to a castle and it's accompanying village, where we spent hours exploring the gardens and ancient buildings. We climbed a stony turret and soaked in the expanse of the Atlantic, the sea and sky only marginally different in their shades of steely grey.

We wound our little red car around Cornwall's craggy coast and arrived at the stunning Kynance Cove, which I may consider the most unmissable sight in Cornwall. The narrow rock path from the parking lot twists down a hillside, then drops into a sage green cove, dotted with perfect climbing rocks. We claimed a spot on an especially nice rock and spent the afternoon reading and napping. The rising tide eventually forced our exit, like dinner guests who overstayed their welcome. On our way back to Mousehole we swung by the Minack Theatre, an outdoor theatre with a sweeping view of the turquoise ocean. There was nothing playing at the theatre that particular evening, so we took advantage of the free parking and climbed down to beautiful, chilly Porthcurno Beach.

Apparently dinner reservations get snatched up quickly in Mousehole's three restaurants (we had our hearts set on the Michelin-recommended 2 Fore Street but were laughed out the door), so our spectacular trip closed somewhat unceremoniously in a nondescript pub next to the harbor. The burgers were just okay, but I was happy nonetheless. Cornwall was a feast in itself.

Other noteworthy Cornwall spots:

Land's End | Eden Project | Penzance | Tintagel Castle

2016 in Squares

I always dread January 1st. There's something cold and raw and empty about wintery beginnings. The warm yellow lights of Christmas disappear along with our temporary civilization built on celebration and cheer. I'm trying really hard to like New Year's Day, but I'm not quite there yet.

Until I get comfortable with new beginnings, I'll continue to flip through the thousands of beautiful mental (and digital) snapshots I took in 2016. Here is my year in squares, specifically squares from my life in England. Ringing in the new year means placing the last full-stop on my life's chapter in the United Kingdom.

This sure was a gorgeous year. One I didn't deserve. I am thankful for 2016.

I am choosing to be thankful now for 2017 and the rainbow of snapshots it holds.