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August 29, 2019

England | Our Trip to London, Cotswolds & Bath

Traveling Abroad, Again

Mike and I went to Italy for our honeymoon.  It was both of our first times traveling abroad.  We were so inspired by that trip - the food, the old villages, smell of the woodsmoke in the tuscan air and the easy lifestyle.  We loved it.  Even now, we are always referencing it - this reminds me of that wine in Florence, or doesn’t this look like something that would’ve been in Tuscany?  It really enlivened a spirit of savoring and enjoying these little nuances of life for us.  We couldn’t wait to explore other parts of Europe.  

That was nine years ago.  Three months after our trip, I got pregnant with Emma, we moved to the New England area and explored around there instead.  We moved back home, renovated a home, built a business, bought a school house, explored the country side and got into the nice rhythms of repeat vacations - Seaside for spring break, Colorado in the summer, Boston/Vermont/New England in the Fall and a long weekend trip in January just for the two of us.  

When Emma was younger I wanted to go to places that were easy, places that seemed friendly, places to relax.  We were tired and wanted to spend our free time watching Emma play and piddling with her in beautiful hotels and surroundings.

Lately I’ve been feeling that unsettling itch.  I wanted to get out and go someplace.  To feel the air of a new place in my lungs.  To set my eyes on places I’ve only seen in photos.  To awaken a bit.

This spring, our church started planning a trip to Scotland : Cathedrals & Golf-courses.  We were instantly intrigued.  Emma would be 8, that would be an ok age, right?  We tentatively put it on our calendars.  Then this past spring, it seemed like everyone I knew was traveling in Europe - funny how Instagram can make you feel like that.  Some with kids that were older, some with a daughters Emma’s age… hum, maybe we could swing it earlier.

Then there was the small detail of the fact that I don’t like flying.  I can do it, and do, but it is stressful for me.  I still plan trips for us, but try to avoid trips that are too long, or have connections.  I remember talking to Mike about it just a couple of months ago, how did I do it going to Italy?  I don’t even remember being concerned about it?  Do you think I’ll ever be able to do it again?  

So here I was, itching to explore, but afraid.  Once I recognized was was really holding me back, almost instantly, I decided : screw it.  We are going to go.  I wasn’t going to let my fear get in the way of enjoying life and breathing in new air.  So at the beginning of June, I planned our trip, just 7 weeks before we would depart.

Our Objectives

Because I began planning a little later in the game, I wanted to make our trip simple.  Also, I didn’t have a huge agenda - I just wanted to see it.  I wanted to see the English countryside, the cottage villages, the rolling hills, the quaintness.  I wanted Emma to experience touring buildings that have been there 1,000 years and walking on roads that have existed even longer.  I think when you are exposed to history, you gain a sense of your place and prospective.  When we visited the little weavers cottages, we talked about what it would’ve been like to live during that time, where hundreds of years passed the same for generations, to breath the same air that they would’ve breathed.  When we visited the Roman Baths, we talked about what ailments might have brought different kinds of people there to find healing - their children, their loves and their worries.  When we toured churches that were 800 years old (at one point, Emma wasn’t sure she could tour one more church…), we thought about what people would have been praying for when they entered those doors so long ago.  These ancient people, all with the same worries and concerns we have today - the people that walked these lanes and through these villages had families, and senses of humor, love and grief.  These thoughts help me bring my own life into prospective.

Ok, so now that we got past all of the barriers, let’s talk about the trip : )  

Sources Used :

Of course, I asked Tessa for all of her recommendations since they were there in the Spring.  I also relied on Rick Steves England Book - great resource for planning.  I really didn't use other resources besides endlessly looking for Inns and Restaurants via google.

Rick Steves

Pre-Day 1 : Fly from KC to Boston.  Spend the night.

Because of the flying thing, I didn’t want to be on too long of a flight.  When you live in the midwest, international flights can look something like 10-12 hours.  I wan’t quite up for that.  So, we took baby steps.  We flew to Boston where we met Mike (he was working), then we flew out to London the next day.  We flew during the day, as opposed to overnight since our flight was only 6 hours.  I knew it wasn’t enough time for anyone to get a good nights sleep and I didn’t want to start the trip off with an exhausted Emma.

The flight was so easy and so smooth.  Whew.

Weary travelers glad to have landed in the UK... only to be sent back to the airport.  For the night.

Day 1 : Fly from Boston to London, Stay in Windsor

Last year, during the Royal Wedding was when I really set my sites on England.  The arial coverage of the wedding, watching the motorcade through Windsor looked just so charming.  It is just 20 minutes from the airport, so we had decided to head there from the airport, spend the night then wake up in the morning a tour the castle first thing.  When we arrived at our hotel (I won’t mention there name here…), they informed us that there had been water damage to the room and we would not be able to stay there.  It was 9pm at this point and a great start to the trip - ugh.  They had a sister property that we would be able to stay in at no charge… back at the airport.  I wanted to throw a huge fit, but the truth is that Windsor wasn’t very charming after all.  And this hotel that was out of rooms, wasn’t very lovely - at all (which I was expecting - not a lot of great options there).  Their sister property was a 5-star modern hotel, and we had plans to return to the airport after the castle tour to pick up our rental car anyway.  So, we accepted their offer.  They arranged our travel back to the airport hotel and told us we could park our car there tomorrow during our tour.  While it wasn’t the original plan, it was maybe better.

Day 2 : Tour Windsor Castle, Drive to Bath

In the morning, Mike grabbed the rental car and we headed the 20 minutes back out to Windsor.  He adapted to the driving on the other side of the road easily - even though I was constantly reminding him to stay to the left, which I’m sure he loved.  Actually I found crossing streets on foot more difficult!  I couldn’t remember which way to look for the life of me!

Windsor Castle was a really great start to our trip.  I found it to be the perfect way to set the scene for our trip.  It didn’t seem crowded because the grounds are so large, but there were long lines.  Once inside the castle, there was so much to look at.  It really does feel like a historic 1,000 year old castle - collections of swords, armor, shields and tapestries.  It is very dark inside, just as it would’ve been, with such large scale rooms.  I loved it much more than Buckingham Palace.

Back the next morning with our tourist faces on!

We drove out to Bath from Windsor, about 1 1/2 hours away.

Tips : 
- Per Rick Steves recommendation, we bought or tickets online and brought out the printed confirmation.  This sent us to the front of the line - which wrapped around the entire block.  I felt very smart.  

- I would just stop in to visit the castle, don’t spend the night, the town feels very touristy and tired.


We loved Bath!  I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did.  It was mostly developed in the Victorian era, which means lots of attention was paid to stately architecture, gardens and terraces.  It was a lovely town to stroll in.  

Our hotel, The Royal Crescent was perfect.  It a little removed from town, up on a hilltop.  It had a pretty courtyard garden with lavender lining the path to our room in the carriage house.  It was just the kind of place you would imagine a Londoner might retreat to for the weekend to get refreshed.  Wonderful service, elegant meals, lush gardens.  

After setting in, we went out for dinner then explored the town.  To our surprise, after dinner at about 8pm, the town felt all but deserted.  We set out to tour the Ancient Roman Baths in the evening, for the torchlit tour, per Tessa’s recommendation.  We had the place basically to ourselves.  A 2,000 year old discovered Roman bath all to our selves to stroll around and take in.  It was one of our favorite stops of the trip.  

Mike loved the food.  He is a big meat and potato kind of guy, so he was in heaven with English Roasts and all of the sides - Yorkshire pudding, rosed vegetables and a side of shepard's pie.

Day 3 : Bath

On the third day, we visited the Botanical Gardens, a park for Emma to play, then strolled around the city.  We came across some pretty buildings (everywhere) and pretty shops.  We also had our first Tea, which Emma loved.

For dinner, we walked to an estate hotel property near ours outside of the city center.  Now, this is going to sound strange when I say this, but I’m fairly sure that The Barefoot Contessa has been here at some point and that she had found a lot of inspiration.  At every turn, something that could have been in her garden, or in her cookbook was here.  There were these huge pots planted in monochromatic color schemes, huge beds of Russian sage and lavender.  I ordered a pea risotto that I’m pretty sure is in one of her cookbooks, Emma had a crudities platter with a dip that was exactly her herbed formage blanc… the table even set with her same placemats.  Of course, I loved it.  This meal was a turning point for me on the trip.  I was getting the feels!

Day 4 : Drive to Cotswolds

The Cotswolds (aka the reason for our trip) were just 30 minutes from Bath.  We took our time getting to our hotel, making stops along the way.  It is as you might image, beautiful at every turn.  The entire area is very protected to keep it natural and historic.  We stopped at the first large estate we saw for a tour.  It wasn’t a fancy tour that was listed in guidebooks, but more of an in-progress country estate being brought back to life.  I loved it.  The acreage was stunning.  A 10 minute long walk down through pastures with cows, fields of deer, and orchards down a big hill to get to the home.  The home itself a mix between English country and dutch influence with paintings and pottery, surrounded by formal gardens and natural pastures.  I’m so glad we stopped.

The rest of our drive was magic.  You know I’m a country girl and this is why we came.  To see the countryside.  Driving on these tiny lanes (literally about 8ft wide, sometimes both sides of our car touching the hedges on each side), over the rolling hills is what I will remember most.  

Our hotel was darling.  Bibury is a really small little village, with just this hotel, a school, church, a trout farm, a pub, and about 30 homes.  Across the road from our hotel sat Arlington Row, historic weavers cottages that are a big draw for tourists to photograph.  While the buzz of tourist busses sort of crowded the little town during the day, it was nice to have this gorgeous scene all to ourselves in the mornings and evenings when we went out walking.  But seriously, this town is a pilgrimage for Japanese tourists.  Something about an emperor that stayed here on his trip a long time ago that has made it a destination for all of them.  All of them.  It became almost humorous after 9am to see buses and buses full of Japanese tourists wondering around this tiny town.

Dinner : The Swan Hotel in the Pub

Day 5 : Cotswolds, driving around day

On our first full day, we decided we wanted to drive around to as many towns as we could to get the lay of the land.  We popped in and out of villages, loving some more than others, stopped and some and buzzing by others.  Just enjoying the scenery and quirks each little village had to offer.

This is the scene that I knew would be my painting for the trip.  The mossy colors, the unassuming sheep, the stone walls, the grey overcast clouds.  This is what it feels like to be there and I wanted to remember it.

I've created Framed Prints of the painting, here in my store.  Unframed copies are also available.

We think they might be related to our Mr. Darcy.

Right after this photo, we hoped back in the car to keep driving and exploring.  Emma said, "Ouch!  I got poked!"  I didn't see anything and thought she was maybe being dramatic, then about 20 seconds later...

She had this rash!  Apparently she brushed by a nettle.  So, we sped around looking for some calamine lotion : )    It went away after a couple of hours, to my (and her) great relief!

Thatched Roofs in Stow

Cute shops in Stow-on-the-Wold... but we got there just was they were closing.

Per Tessa's recommendation, we went to the Wheatsheaf Inn for dinner.  It was perfect.

They also had a lovely garden patio with the most amazing huge potted boxwoods.

And a Pudding Menu

We visited an other estate with lovely gardens and stately rooms.

Charming Cafe

Private Chapel for the Estate

The most gorgeous stone floor in the chapel.  

Amongst all of the traditional and quaint, the modern farm-to-table movement is definitely alive here.  Daylesford Farm is a market, collection of restaurants, spa and home goods store at which we managed to make two stops.  Once for browsing and picking up fruit and snacks, the second time we came back for dinner.  I was so inspired by their packaging and presentation.  They use many of the same containers and packaging that I carry in my store (Wooden Baking Baskets & Cello Bags) .  I used their inspiration last week and made the Salted Caramel Brownies in Wooden Baking Baskets.  No more brownie squares cut up on a plate the next time you have to take a dessert to a friends home…. Love this!

Shop Wooden Baking Baskets & Cello Bags

Crudites Platter Extraordinaire 

When we realized Mike matched the patio furniture.

Day 6 : Cotswolds, walking around day

I planned to get up everyday with the sunrise to enjoy the quiet early mornings of the countryside.  It only happened once, the entire trip, but it was wonderful.  I set my alarm for 6am, and forced myself out of bed, put on my wellies, grabbed a hot tea and set out with my big camera.  I felt like Elizabeth Bennet, walking through fields, along stone walls, through pastures, on hilltops and down valleys, before anyone else was awake.  

After breakfast, we took a family walk, between two neighboring villages, Lower & Upper Slaughter.  We started in Lower Slaughter and took the footpath to Upper Slaughter.  It was about 1 mile, the perfect amount for Emma, and me since I had walked in the morning, too.  This was our favorite activity of the trip.  It sounds so simple, and it was, but we felt like we were really experiencing the countryside in a way that you can’t from a car.  Yes, from a car you can see so much, but really boots on the ground is the best way to get it into your heart.

My solo breakfast after my solo walk.

Things you miss if you are in the car.

Burford Garden Company

On our last morning in the Cotswolds we had breakfast at a Garden Store.  I'm obsessed with our local garden stores here, so I wanted to really see what a true country garden nursery looked like in the Cotswolds.  All of these beautiful gardens?  I wanted to see where they shop and find their flowers and those huge pots.  It was a cafe, bakery, home and garden center... and my dream come true.

Our 18th scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam.

Bulb planting time!

They even had a children's festival going on so Emma got in some structured kids activities (making the flower headband, caramel corn and painting a figurine) while I went crazy with my camera, drooling over everything.

Day 7 : Drive to Thornbury Castle

We planned one part of the trip that was just for Emma.  I searched all over the country for an actual Castle to spend the night in.  It was harder to find than you’d think.  Emma loved this night.  It is the first thing she tells everyone about when they ask about our trip.  

Tea & Dinner at Thornbury Castle

Day 8 : Drive to London, Hotel Number Sixteen

The next morning we headed to London, the last stop of our trip. We dropped the car at the rental office at the airport and grabbed an uber to the city.   We loved our hotel, Number Sixteen in South Kensington.  I had debated on reserving a standard chain (Marriott, Hilton, etc.), since it was our last part of the trip.  I worried that our other stays would be a little too charming and I’d be ready for some good 'ole fashioned American AC and a sterile hotel room.  I’m so glad we went with the boutique hotel instead.  This was one of our favorites of the trip.  It had a beautiful garden and public areas that were so comfortable and relaxing.  It really felt like a refuge after traveling (and the night at the castle…) and public transit around a big city.

Tower of London

We just hit a couple of highlights in London, since we were only going to be there two days.  First stop was the Tower of London.

London Eye

In the evening, we set out on foot to the London Eye, then walked to Covent Garden.  It felt great to be in a big city, with street performers, beautiful architecture and a magical sunset.  We loved our first night.

Day 9 : London

We went to Buckingham Palace on our second day.  It is only open for tours during July and August, so we really lucked out.  It was very grand and memorable, especially since we’ve watched Victoria and The Queen recently, so I really felt like I had a feel for the history.

Day 10 : Fly from London to Boston

Back in Boston and a lobster roll for lunch : )

Post-Day 1 : Fly from Boston to KC

Finally home!  It took us about 2-3 days to recover.  Thankfully, we only took about 6 outfits each, so laundry was easy when we got home - less clothes than we wear in a normal week.  We had about 5 days at home before Emma started school and suddenly, summer had gone too fast.

Thanks for taking the time to scroll through my way too many photos.   It felt good to be out on a real adventure again.  I can't wait to see what we dream up next.

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