Monday, September 28, 2009

Close to home: walks and drives

Tea with Merlin
We've been enjoying things a little closer to home since our vacation. The Sunday after we got back was the first annual Cheltenham Cricket Club Beer Festival. We biked over, enjoyed a few pints -- I had a pint of Centurion's Ghost and a pint of Bristol Stout, and this was Tea's introduction to all that is the Old Rosie 'scrumpy' cider -- and burgers, and the beautiful view of the surrounding hills; Cleeve Hill, the highest point in the Cotswolds, is visible from there. (Unfortunately, I forgot my camera!) Then we got to sample many of those ales and ciders again at the Jolly Brewmaster pub a few weeks later; I've heard they have the best selection of real ale in the town.

The weekend past, we rented our first car! Before I go on, a few general points about driving:
  1. It's much tougher than it looks! We decided to split the driving over the weekend, with Saturday being Tea's day. Well, I was completely laid back in the passenger seat, thinkin' all was well, and then Sunday came. Driving on the other side isn't so bad, roundabouts are O.K., but the narrow roads and quasi-intersections are really very nerve-racking.
  2. You know those folks that drive down the highway for 10 km with their signal light on? I'm bettin' they're Brits. The signal indicator clicks back to neutral immediately here, with the light going out after the turn as you'd expect.
  3. Our Garmin Nuvi GPS (or sat-nav as they say here) can be configured to stick to paved roads, but that really doesn't save you over here: I swear some of the roads it sent us down were only suitable for horses.

We became English Heritage members soon after arriving, and decided that we'd start the weekend by visiting one of the sites close to home: the Belas Knap neolithic long barrow. I don't know if it's typical of the heritage sites, but it was so understated: the number of times we looked at each other, after walking for 10 or 15 minutes, wondering whether we were going the right way was really funny; small signs offered only the slightest of encouragement. When we finally found it, Tea's arms flew up in the air in a victory 'V'. :-) As we were making our way back down the steep slope towards the car, wishing we'd brought some water, we spotted a town in the distance, and that's how we ended up in Winchcombe.

We found ourselves outside the Plaisterers Arms pub, and I'm so glad Tea suggested we stop -- I'd been leaning toward the White Hart Inn that I'd read about in our book of Cotswold walks and cycle rides (more on that in a bit). I think it's my favourite pub so far; even above St. Georges Vault and the Jolly Brewmaster. It has so much character, a fantastic selection of real ale, great food -- the steak and ale pie was amazing -- and an award-winning garden out back.

Our new pig friends
With our whistles wet and bellies sated, we set off on one of the Level 1 walks in our guide book that would take us past Sudeley Castle. Navigating the first part was a breeze, but as we were trekking across a field, avoiding the sheep and their droppings, we came across this description of the next leg:

Maintain your diagonal course through a break in the middle of the right-hand hedge until you reach a protruding corner and then turn with the fence up the hill to a stile in the overgrown corner.

What the heck is a stile? I know now, but we were pretty far from Wikipedia at the time. Still we made due, cutting across a farm and being chased by some really big pigs! It was one of those train-wrecks where the pigs started walking faster, then we did, 'til we were practically running and scrambling over the gate just as they caught us. Good times!

Sudeley Castle
At that point I was able to sync up with our guide book again, and just as we were running out of steam, Sudeley Castle appeared on the horizon. They gave us a discount on admission since it was close to closing time, and we still had time for some refreshments in the cafe, got to see a few exhibits, and took in the beautiful gardens and church as well. Then it was back to the White Hart Inn for a pint and a Ploughman's platter; strange music, but the Jouster went down well. (It's so much better on draught than in the bottle, incidentally.)

The boot sale meat auction!
After all that walking, a slower day was on the bill for Sunday. We started with the boot sale -- car boots, that is -- at the Cheltenham Raceway, which was basically a big garage sale, and then went to Staples to buy the printer that we never could've gotten home without a car. While Tea was setting that up, I kicked back to watch the Sunderland vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers Premier League match on our new Sky TV set-up; even paused it while I mowed the lawn. Ah, the comforts of home. :-)

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