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October 8, 2018

The Cotswolds

by Rosemary West

The Cotswolds is a rural area of England known for its grassy, rolling hills and picturesque villages. We stayed in the town of Moreton-in-Marsh, in a charming but creaky 17th-century inn where King Charles I stayed twice, a few years before his execution.


The furniture has been updated since Charles was here.

There isn't a lot to see in Moreton, but it is a transportation hub, with a train station and bus stop that make it a convenient place from which to take day trips.

Our first trip was to Oxford, home of the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Its alumni include saints, prime ministers, Nobel Prize winners, and high achievers from all walks of life. The city was founded in the 7th century and the university in the 12th. Oxford escaped the bombs of World War II, so it is filled with original buildings, most built with the local yellow limestone.


One of the first things we saw was the brick cross in the middle of an intersection, marking the spot where the three "Oxford Martyrs" of 1555 were burned at the stake for the crime of being Protestants under the rule of Catholic Queen Mary (aka Bloody Mary).


Just down the street is the Bodelian Library, founded in 1602. It receives a copy of every book printed in the UK, and today has a collection of over 11 million books, stored on over 100 miles of underground shelves. In the old courtyard are the entrances to the original classrooms.



Nearby is Hertford Bridge, sometimes known as the Bridge of Sighs, even though it doesn't really look like the one in Venice.


The circular building known as Radcliffe Camera is a reading room for the library.


It is possible to rent boats for punting along the River Cherwell. However, it was cold and damp the day we were in town, and we saw more swans than boats.


Our walk through Oxford was a collage of historic buildings, architectural details, old stone walls, and the occasional cow.


We visited Magdalen (inexplicably pronounced "Maudlin") College. Its chapel has an unusual monochromatic stained glass window, inspired by Michelango's "Last Judgment". Originally completed in the 1630s, it was damaged by a storm in 1702, repaired 90 years later, damaged again in an attempt to protect it during World War II, and finally restored in the 1990s, so carefully that it isn't possible to tell the old glass from the new.




Looking into the quad through an old cloister window.

Magdalen's 217-year-old plane tree is a scion of the tree that was planted in the botanic garden in 1666.


Our next trip was to the town of Chipping-Campden. The bus dropped us off near the old Market Hall, built in 1627. It still has a traditional roof made of stone tiles, held together by wooden pegs.




From inside the hall, we can see how the roof tiles are held in place.

Roofs like this cover many of the buildings in town, and often have settled into interesting dips and waves. In Campden and many other towns in the region, building codes require all structures to be made of Cotswold Stone, in order to maintain the historic look.


A few houses still have thatched roofs. Today they are held in place with chicken wire.


We often saw dry stack stone walls, skillfully put together without mortar, like boxy jigsaw puzzles.


And, of course, sheep.


Looking across the old graveyard at St. James Church, we could see how lovely and green this area is.


The best-known tombstone here belongs to Simon the cat. His inscription reads, "Thank you Lord for Simon, a dearly loved cat who welcomed every one to this Church. Died 9 August 1986."


No visit to England would be complete without a tour of a stately home. Our next day trip took us to Blenheim Palace, home to the Duke of Marlborough. The first Duke was John Churchill, ancestor of Winston Churchill, who was born here. The present Duke lives here part of the year. When he is not in residence, tourists can visit his private apartments; when he is in (as he was when we were here), there are still plenty of state rooms and other public areas available.

The rooms are decorated and furnished in traditional royal style. There are portraits of many generations of the family, tapestries and paintings commemorating battles and other historical events, elegant furniture, and beautiful antiques. Even the ceilings are special.




As a large royal residence surrounded by gardens and parks, Blenheim Palace is sometimes compared to Versailles. We visited Versailles when we were in Paris several months ago, and we enjoyed it. But we found Blenheim more relatable, because unlike Versailles, it isn't just a museum, but is still a real home to living people.




After several busy days, we were ready to leave Moreton and take the train to our next destination, Stratford-upon-Avon.


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