Kathryn and Ken's European Vacation

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Day 6: Chippenham
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Day 6: Chippenham
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United Kingdom


Travelodge Chippenham


Sunny with a high of 24°C

Day 6: Sunday, September 10, 2006     Chippenham, England

A Drive Back in Time Through the Cotswolds

We slept in this morning and didn't hit the road until about 11:00 am.  We headed west to the Travelodge which was on the M4 motorway at Chippenham in the western part of England (see photo below left).  This was to be our base for the next two nights as we explored southwestern England and Wales.  The first thing we did was stop and buy a large book of maps.  England has thousands of roads ranging from 6 lane motorways to one lane back roads.  There was no direct route from Cambridge to Chippenham so the map was a godsend.  As Kathryn often reminded me, driving on English roads is completely different than driving in Canada.  What looks like it should be an hour on the map, was often 2 or 3 hours of driving.  Although it took us a long time to get there, we got to see more of the country by staying off the motorways.  We had decided that we could save a lot of money (more than $1000 overall) during our vacation by renting manual transmission vehicles rather than automatics.  Unfortunately this meant Ken had to do all the driving.  So with Kathryn safely ensconced with her map in the left-hand navigator's seat we set out.  By the end of the day, I had gotten used to the left-handed roundabouts and found them to be a very efficient way of keeping traffic flowing.  (Okay, so I drove over top of one in a small village but I didn't realize in was a roundabout, so it doesn't count.  It was just a large circle of gradually raised pavement that you were supposed to go around and I went straight through).  I did have one problem which Kathryn had warned me about.  If you drive on the left-hand side of the road and don't stay focused, you have a tendency to drift to the left because your eyes are used to being on the left side of any lane you are driving in.  Fortunately, most of the major roads had those small reflectors (affectionately called Kennybumps by us) that rattle and let you know that you going out of lane.  However, the smaller roads did not always have them which lead to much screaming of "THE CURB!  THE CURB!" coming from the navigators position.  After several near heart failures by the driver, we agreed that a simple "Watch the curb" was sufficient if I was just drifting and that we would leave the shouting for when I was about to hit something.  I did manage to crunch the odd curb in the first few days but, by the end of our time in Britain, I was no longer getting any warnings from the navigator.  Also, nobody honked at me today.

As we drove across central England, I was amazed at how wide-open it was.  I had pictured England as being a crowded island but the part we drove through was hundreds of acres of green farm and pasture land divided into smaller plots with hedgerows and stone fences. 

Kathryn had read about the natural beauty of the Cotswolds in our travel book and wanted to go there.  Popular with both the English themselves and visitors from all over the world, the Cotswolds are well-known for gentle hillsides (‘wolds’), sleepy villages and for being so ‘typically English’.  During the 13-15th centuries, the medieval period, the native Cotswold sheep were famous throughout Europe for their heavy fleeces and high quality of wool. Cotswold wool commanded a high price and the wealth generated by the wool trade enabled wealthy traders to leave their mark by building fine houses and wonderful churches, known as “wool churches” .  The area is characterized by attractive small towns and villages built of the underlying honey-brown Cotswold stone.  You can also see thatched cottages which are protected by law.  We drove through many quaint towns and stopped for lunch and a pint in Chipping Norton.  Even though I only had one pint, I decided that driving on the left side of the road was difficult enough when completely sober and did not drink in England again if I was going to be driving that day.

Our book recommended several small villages that are basically unchanged since medieval times.  We decided to stop in the village of Bibury, where we took lots of photos (see slideshow at the bottom of the page).  The Victorian poet William Morris called it England's most beautiful village.  Unmatched for its scenic beauty and purity, Bibury is unspoiled by modern intrusions.  On the banks of the tiny Coln River, Bibury is noted for Arlington Row, a group of 17th century gabled cottages protected by the National Trust.

Arlington Row in Bibury

As we walked back to our car through the trees (at right in the photo above), we saw the most amazing site.  Nestled in the trees along the river were several cows with broad white belts around their stomachs.  Because it was dark in the trees and they were half-hidden, I foolishly didn't take any photos and we never saw any more on our trip (Error of Omission).  I got the photo at left off the Internet and have since found out that they are Belted Galloway cattle. 

Belted Galloways

After leaving Bibury we drove on to see the Roman ruins at Cirenchester.  Cirenchster is the unofficial capital of the Cotswolds.  Dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, many well-preserved old stone houses are still intact, some having bow-fronted shops of the type familiar to Charles Dickens.   We explored the Market Place, the Church of St. John the Baptist and the abbey grounds.

Kenny on the ruins

We had planned to go to Oxford today but the afternoon was fading away and we were tired, so we drove on to our hotel at Chippenham.  This gave us our first experience of a Moto, one of the huge motorway rest-stops that punctuate the highways.  Unlike Canadian rest stops, which usually have restrooms and picnic tables, a “Moto” usually has a shop full of useful items for road travelers, like snacks, drinks, books, magazines, car accessories and souvenirs. It also has a burger-type restaurant (usually Burger King), and a couple of fast-food outlets , small grocery store (Marks and Spencer) lovely clean restrooms (sometimes even with showers), ATMs, game arcade, petrol station and an on-site hotel (our Travelodge).  There were hundreds of trucks, cars and vans in the parking lot of this rest stop out in the middle of nowhere and the shops were full of people.

What they didn't have was ice for Ken's knees. 

Click here for a slide show of Day 6 photos.

Day 7

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