London is easy to get to by train from our hotel in Rugby. Alie was not feeling great, however, so we decided another car trip would give us more flexibility. First we went to Royal Leamington Spa, recommended by our waiter the night before, and then headed south into the Cotswolds.Leamington had been famous for its natural springs before 1838 when a young Queen Victoria gave it the title Royal Leamington Spa. Thousands came to the fashionable spa with broad boulevards and extensive Regency architecture. We wandered through a lovely garden. It had been bestowed on the city by its creator, but originally it was a commercial tourist attraction.
The Cotswolds are a range of hills between Stratford-on-Avon, Oxford and Bath. In between these large towns are beautiful farms bounded by dry-stone walls, winding little rivers, country roads and numerous charming villages.From the 13th through the 15th century, the area was famous for the quality of its wool. Wealthy land owners and wool merchants donated buildings and so-called “wool churches” to the communities.
Our first stop was in Chipping Campden, known as the best preserved of the Cotswold villages. Actually, our first stop was a the Eight Bells, an inn where we had a great lunch. The Eight Bells was originally built in the 14th century to house the stonemasons who were working on St. James Church and was used to store the peel of eight bells later hung in the church.
There was an early Norman church on the site of St. James and it went through many additions and transformations over the centuries, but the basic building dates to around 1500. There are elaborate memorials to Sir Baptist Hicks, wealthy wool merchant and benefactor for the town (church, 1627 market building). But we were particularly interested in a recently restored but ancient vestment.It may have been the best preserved, but Alie found the sameness of its architecture and scant visual relief to be boring. So we moved on. On our cruise, two women had recommended Upper and Lower Slaughter. Getting there involved driving the most narrow roads of the trip filled with blind corners and tight spots navigated only by bringing in the car mirrors. But perhaps that is why the villages were so free of tourist traps when we reached them. We then drove on to Bourton-on-the-Water, the most visited town in the Cotswolds. Imagine a better looking Gatlinburg, Tennessee but every bit as mush a tourist trap (Cotswold Brewing, Dragonfly Maze, Model Village, Cotswold Perfumery, Motor Museum, etc.). We didn’t stop.