Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cheers to England!

We boarded the Queen Mary 2 in Southampton on Tuesday.  From this massive ship, we watched the shores of England recede from our view.  The day before, we bid farewell to our wonderful friends, Chris and Terry Gradidge.  They were the masterminds behind our itinerary, acted as our tour guides, and were our daily travel companions.  We are so grateful for everything they did, for all the memories collected and shared as a result of this trip, and for their friendship.

In ten days we stayed in six towns and villages, and explored many more in between.  Of course, we had to experience a little of London; but other places were on paths less traveled… Those will perhaps be our favorite to recall.

From our hotel in Windsor, we walked across the Thames to Eton (where Princes William and Henry went to school).  The flag was flying at Windsor Castle, so we knew we were sharing the town with Queen Elizabeth.  Preparations for celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June are underway everywhere.

In Woodstock we stayed at the MacDonald Bear Hotel and walked to the grounds of Blenheim Castle, home of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough.  Chris ably chauffeured us through winding roads surrounded by hedgerows and filled with fields blooming yellow with rape, to other small villages in the Cotswolds.

The Old Court Hotel in Symonds Yat West (near Ross-On-Wye) provided dewy morning walks along the Wye.  We discovered an old chapel and the crypts of John Graves Simcoe and his wife Elizabeth, who used to make their home in what is now the Old Court Hotel.  Wales was a quick drive away.  It was interesting to see public signs there in both English and Welsh (a language that seems to need more vowels).

Perhaps my favorite stop was Polperro, a small, picturesque fishing village on the coast.  We could easily walk into town for a Cornish pasty and a pint along the river Pol.  Walks along the ocean yielded incredible views.  My attempt to get a review of the soup of the day from the barkeep at the Blue Peter was an amusing exchange that I will always remember.  (After a few minutes of creative description, he admitted that he hadn’t tried it and fetched me a taste.)

England’s New Forest is a national treasure.  Its wildlife gazes peacefully among the small villages and in its fields, protected by law.  We saw ponies, sheep, donkeys, pigs, and horses everywhere.  What an amazing, fairytale environment!

Our journey ended in Southampton, a busy city and shipping center.  The White Star Tavern’s rooms were modern and comfortable, and Cunard’s port was just a short taxi ride away.

Our England experience will be with me forever.  My withdrawal from pub food is made easier this week, as the Queen Mary has a pub on board.  I’ll miss whitebait (tiny fried fish that you dip in mayonnaise and eat whole) and beef or game pies.  I can devise my own version of a ploughman’s lunch for home, and learn to make chicken liver pate.  For both, I need to find somewhere to buy the ever-present English condiment – Branston’s.

Cheers to England, and the Gradidges.

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