The majority of clouds had lifted and the overcast day had turned mostly sunny, but in the long shadows of late afternoon it felt uncomfortably cold to this sleepy California girl and made me anxious to get indoors. I was even more anxious to get my blasted backpack (which, at this point, felt like it was loaded with rocks) off of my aching shoulders and dump it in a heap!! I made my way into the pub at the Volunteer Inn, my home for the next two nights… and the first thing I noticed was how blissfully warm it was inside (much to my delight, this was about to become a recurring theme in this particular village!) Several gentlemen (I assumed they were “the regulars”) were at the bar having a pint and, beyond acknowledging my presence with a quick nod and a half smile, really didn't give me a second look (I must confess, this was an instant relief) but a woman sitting by herself at a corner table gave me a warm, reassuring, and much needed smile. I was soon greeted by the bartender as she appeared from a back room, dropping steaming plates of food to the men at the bar and refilling their drinks. She was a young, energetic woman and a multitasker, indeed! In addition to tending bar and taking and serving food orders, she checked me in, gave me a tour of the inn and showed me to my room on the first floor. It was quite large and had sliding glass doors that led to my private patio, with views of the back garden, creek, and rolling fields beyond. It wasn't particularly fancy but this would do quite nicely, thank you very much! She apologized for the chill in the air, explaining that they had upgraded my room at the last minute; they had a group coming in and decided to put them all together upstairs, and felt this room would be quieter for me (YAY!!) She proceeded to crank up the radiators saying “Now let’s ge’cha some heat!”… ahhhh music to my ears!! Asking if there was anything else I needed (let’s see: bed, shower, internet, coffee maker, and heat on the rise… nope!! I’m good!!) she closed the door behind her and left me to the heavenly peace, quiet and solitude of my room... which fully enveloped me and draped over me like a quilt, muffling all sound. I hadn't realized it until that very moment but, quite frankly, other than various restroom stalls, it was the first time I’d been alone in what seemed like an eternity. It was so silent… and such a profound and unexpected relief to my ears. I just stood there alone in the middle of my room and stared into the semi-darkness. The curtains were closed and tiny particles of dust gently swirled and danced in the slices of sunlight that cut between the panels of the drapes. The difference between the constant, frenetic energy of my journey and stepping into the sanctuary of that room was distinct, audible, and palpable… like Dorothy’s house getting dropped out of the twister into Oz, it was as if I landed with a thud and everything went quiet… and I stood there and let it surround me. I could stop now. I was finally there. I was in England. I was in the Cotswolds. The first time traveler who set out alone on this crazy, incredible, lifelong dream of a journey had actually arrived. Car, bus, plane, train (train, train, train, train… yeah, I think it was 5 trains, but whatever), car. Approximately 5,750 miles…. and about 40 years. It was no longer a dream and had now become my life. I just stood there for a minute and really took that in. I know what you’re thinking… you’re thinking I cried again, right?? Wrong. I cracked a smile, started laughing, ripped that bloody backpack off of me and (chalk it up to sleep deprivation) jumped up and down like a lunatic saying “Oh my God!! I did it, I did it, I did it!!” Woo HOO!!!
As much as I wanted to get out of my scuzzy “airplane clothes”, take a ridiculously hot shower and drop directly into bed, the village beckoned, as did my desire to reset my body clock as quickly as possible… so I decided to unpack a bit and go for a quick walk down the main street.
The rest of my night consisted of a delicious dinner at Maharaja, the Inns East Indian restaurant, finally taking that MUCH needed shower, checking in on Facebook as I needed a touchstone with “reality” and home, and a good long sleep…
When I woke the next morning, I opened my eyes, looked around the room and (ever the lady) said to myself “Holy s***!! I’m in England!!” My first morning came rife with possibility!! A new country to delve into, a new town to explore, people to meet and, of course, my first real “Full English Breakfast”, about which I have four things to say: 1) It does not disappoint. 2) It is not for the faint of heart. 3) It is not for vegetarians. 4) It probably shouldn't be eaten everyday. (I’m no doctor… I’m just sayin’) Two eggs, two pieces of toast, two slices of bacon (mmmm… bacon…), two large sausage links, a fried tomato, fried mushrooms, baked beans, juice, coffee or tea, breads, butter, jam, yogurt, fruit... OMG. Now THAT, my friends, is BREAKFAST!!
After breakfast (and although I was so dang full I couldn't take a full breath) I ventured (read: waddled/lumbered) off to explore the town. My first destination was up the hill to St. James Church. I found it utterly mesmerizing. The soaring spires, the curve of the arches, the physical and psychological immensity of the huge wooden doors, the cemetery… the vivid imagery of the bursting bright green and yellow Spring Daffodils juxtaposed against the ancient stone and feathery, pale lichen of the markers, the sweeping views of the countryside beyond. A church has stood on this site since 1180 AD and the West Tower of the church was constructed in about 1500 AD. I felt it a privilege to be meandering these grounds and found it all so very moving. I spent the better part of an hour there all alone… and found myself, once again, just trying to take it all in. Imagining the centuries of people who have walked these paths before me… those laid to rest here… what their lives may have been like. I thought about those who will walk where my feet have just been, many years after I’m gone. I felt I was physically experiencing history. These very moments are why I came to England. I could have visited that church and gone back home and my mission would have been fulfilled… the experience left me awestruck and humbled.
I walked back down the hill into the town and began to explore all the delightful little shops. Their windows irresistibly displaying all sorts of goodies that lie within… delicate tea sets and hefty mugs, whimsical items for the home, gorgeous wool coats, scarves and sweaters, woven tea towels and linens, beautifully handmade crafts, scrumptious scones, tea cakes and breads… their fresh baked aroma filling the air and luring you in! I was graciously greeted as I entered each shop, but what I was taken by the most, even beyond the warmth of the welcome, was how deliciously, cozy warm in temperature they all were! The heat was turned up, woodstoves were stoked, and so many of the shops had real wood burning fireplaces, flames dancing and welcoming all visitors inside! I’d never experienced anything like it in regular places of business! It was so inviting and made the chilly outside temperatures so much more tolerable! I shopped in leisurely comfort, sipped English tea at a tiny table next to a woodstove, and I happily entered a restaurant, shed my coat and scarf and enjoyed a meal in front of a fire… I was practically purring like a cat!! All in all… it was my observation that the fine people of Chipping Campden, England are NOT afraid to light a fire or crank the heat and, from a woman who has gone through life on a spectrum of personal comfort that ranges from chilly to freezing, 90% of the time, for as far back as I can remember… I say resounding and heartfelt thank you!! I blissfully wandered the town into the late afternoon…
My second day was spent much like my first. I was lost in my own little word of roaming the village, browsing shops, sightseeing , taking pictures, and, as I would be biking from village to village over the next week, being outfitted and getting ready for the bike ride. Ohhhh…. the bike ride… *sigh*
But that’s another story… and I’ll tell it next Monday!!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY:
"YOU DON’T NEED MAGIC TO DISAPPEAR, ALL YOU NEED IS A DESTINATION"