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Posted April 4, 2010 on my Slow Travels blog (no longer online).

For the past several years Steve and I have been planning to do "A Year in England". We love England for many reasons - the beautiful countryside, the abundance of good walking and hiking trails, the charming villages, the people, the tea - and we want to do a longer stay.

We spent five months in England in the late 1980s (fall and winter) but did not return until 2000 when we spent a month in the Cotswolds during a glorious May. After that trip we returned to our Italy obsession, so did not start yearly trips to the Cotswolds until 2004. Since then we have spent at least a month in England each year, skipping only summer 2007 when the floods in the Cotswolds caused the water to be shut off in the cottage we had booked, so we canceled the England part of the trip. In early 2008 we spent two months in a cottage in Nailsworth and were lucky to be there for a mild and sunny winter. Last summer we had the best trip ever to England, during a hot and sunny May/June, where we spent six weeks in three different cottages in the North Cotswolds.

If you add it all up, we have already done "A Year in England", in bits and pieces. But bits and pieces is a vacation and a year is living there. In May we return to the cottage in Nailsworth that we rented that 2008 winter to spend five months - May through September. It may not be "A Year in England" - more of a long summer in England - but it is a start at living there.


View towards Minchinhampton Commons

Santa Fe to Boulder to Nailsworth

We recently moved from Santa Fe, where we spent the last 20 years, to Boulder Colorado. We are in a house and town that we love. We will have been here less than six months when we leave for England. While I would like to spend the summer in Colorado, we have been waiting for two years for the Nailsworth house to become available, so need to act now before it gets rented out long term.

It is not easy to find fully furnished and equipped long-term rentals in the Cotswolds. I have been watching the rental listings for the past two years and not many are available. We could consider an unfurnished rental, but even if we went for the full year, I think it would be too much work to buy a household worth of furniture and get rid of it after.

We are lucky with this house rental because we know the house, the neighborhood, the neighbors and the owner - so we know what we are getting. Plus we don't have to fly over to see the house before booking it. That is probably what has stopped us from renting a house - the logistics of doing it. Each time we did a trip to England we planned to look for a long-term rental, but gave up after a day or two, not wanting to spend our vacation time looking at houses. If we had found one, we would have had to rent it, fly home, spend a month packing and organizing, rent out our house, then fly to England - too overwhelming and we kept putting it off.


Cottage in Nailsworth

I think we were also wanting to settle our US living situation before taking on "A Year in England". We loved Santa Fe, but knew we were ready for a change and had been looking for a new home for several years. Last fall we were deciding between going to England for a year or moving to Boulder. We moved to Boulder.

Finding a Long Term Rental

Vacation rentals (holiday cottages) are popular in the Cotswolds, so if someone has a furnished house, they turn it into a vacation rental, not a long term rental. There are some furnished long term rentals available, but not many. Most rentals are unfurnished with a one year commitment. One option that we thought of was to find a rental in the fall when some people rent out their vacation rental cottages long term over the winter, but then you are looking for another rental for the summer.

How We Are Making it Work

: Steve and I are both self employed. I run travel websites: Slow Europe and Cotswolder. Steve produces software for schools and works on Slow Europe with me. We plan to work part time (on the rainy days) while in England. We are lucky that the work we do allows us to do long trips, but this was a decision that we made more than 20 years ago - to find work that we can do from home or while traveling, and that we can do full time or part time. Over twenty years of great living and travel experiences, but no pension.

We will take our notebook computers. Steve set up a PogoPlug on our home network and has attached large disks where we can keep our backup files and anything we think we might need for working. We can access this online.

Our House: Usually when we travel to Europe, even for a two month trip, we have a house sitter look after the house and our cat Buddy. We had a great house sitter in Santa Fe and various friends who liked Santa Fe and our house and Buddy and would house sit for free. It always worked out for us.

Five months is too long to leave the cat behind and too long to pay someone to look after him or to coordinate paid and unpaid house sitters, so we decided to take the cat with us (more about that in another post). We thought about offering our house to friends for the cost of utilities, but after figuring out the costs for this trip thought we would look into getting some income from the house.

I posted on SabbaticalHomes.com and sent an email to everyone in our Homeowner's Association (about 50 houses in our neighborhood). I immediately got a reply from a couple that we know (T & P) who were renting a few houses away and had to leave but had not found anything they liked. I also got some replies from SabbaticalHomes.com. We agreed to rent the house furnished to T & P. The income from renting the house will cover some of the expenses for the trip and I won't have to worry that the house is sitting empty.

The only downside to renting the house is spending the time getting it ready. We are doing all those projects we put off when we moved in, so the house will be "complete". We have a huge closet in our guest room and I am putting all our personal things there - filing cabinets, boxes of travel books, my boxes of "stuff" and wool. We will move all our clothes and office things into that closet too. Then T & P will have a furnished house with empty closets (except that one) and drawers. We will leave our car in the garage.

Money: We set up UK bank account several years ago because it makes it easier for us when traveling in England. Before a trip we wire transfer money to the UK account, then use our UK debit cards or checks for expenses in the UK.

Mail: Most of our mail goes to a UPS Store mail box and we will have them forward it to us each week. We did this when we spent two months in England and it worked well. All our house utilities are on autopay and I can do other banking things online.

In the late 1980s we spent two years traveling in the US and one year in Europe. No internet, no cell phones, no Skype, no online paying of credit cards. Our accountant received and paid our credit card bills. We were "homeless" back then, so did not have to arrange anything for a house, but it was a very different travel experience from what we do now. Now it is all pretty easy.

What are You Going to Do for Five Months?

Five months to explore every corner of the Cotswolds! Five months to do every single hike in the Cotswolds!

The main focus of our trip, as it is with most of our England trips, will be walking/hiking. We love the walking trails in England. Some days we do a two hour stroll, other days a longer five hour walk - nothing too strenuous and we usually stop in a village for tea or have a picnic on a hillside.

We plan to do day trips to areas near the Cotswolds and a few overnights into London (one and a half hours by train from Stroud). We are planning a few one-week trips to France and Italy. We can fly EasyJet from Bristol Airport or take the train from Stroud.


Hiking near Winchcombe

The Details

The United Kingdom allows travelers to spend up to six months in the country with no visa (Home Office - UK Border Agency). Steve and I are both US citizens and Irish citizens (my father is Irish, so I am a citizen - Steve became a citizen after marrying me), so we are able live and work legally in the UK. For this trip, because it is under six months, we will travel as US visitors.

Our costs over and above normal living and travel expenses will be $3,000/month, but our rental income will cover almost half of that.
  • To rent a two bedroom plus office, two bathroom, furnished house - £1,000/month (approx $1600/month plus utilities)
  • To lease a new VW Golf from a local agency - £160/week (approx $256/week - $1100/month). We may look into buying a used car, especially if we decide to stay longer.
On Our Way Very Soon

There were a lot of things to do for getting the cat ready to travel (more in another post), but they are done. Buddy will fly one day ahead of us because the wait at pet customs can be long and I do not think I could deal with that in my jet-lagged arrival state. A pet agent will pick him up and take him to a kennel near the airport. Then he will have a day to recover before being tossed into a car and driven to the cottage in Nailsworth.

We fly the next day. I arranged for a car service to meet us at the airport, get us and our luggage, go to the kennel and get Buddy, then drive us to the Nailsworth cottage. The owner of the cottage offered to get some groceries for us so we can arrive and collapse. I ordered some cat supplies (litter box, scratching post, etc.) to be shipped to the cottage before we arrive, so Buddy will have his stuff. The car we have leased will be delivered to the house the day after we arrive.

We won't be traveling light, but we don't need to since we are staying in one place the whole time. We can bring three bags each on British Airways (Premium Economy upgraded to Club World with miles). We won't over pack, but we will need all our hiking stuff, plus clothes for warm, cold and wet, plus some of my Cotswolds travel books and maps, plus things for working. And Buddy's cat toys. Okay, maybe I am over packing.

I plan to do more posts about getting organized for this trip and to post regularly while we are there. Let's hope we have thought of everything!


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May in the Cotswolds
Posted May 21, 2010 on my Slow Travels blog (no longer online).

A quick post to say that we arrived, the cat arrived (actually he arrived a day before us) and we are all settling into our cottage in Nailsworth. The weather was cold and sunny at first but summer started this week. Everything seems to be in bloom. The bluebells are just ending, but we did several walks when they were at their peak. The garlic flowers (ransoms) are still at their peak and are everywhere.

Friends from London are visiting this weekend and we had a blissfully lovely day driving around the nearby villages, having lunch at The Kitchen in Minchinhampton (my favorite Cotswolds tea room), walking along the no-longer-used Cotswold Canal near Sapperton, shopping for vegetables and having tea at The Organic Farm Shop near Cirencester, visiting the beautiful exit of the canal tunnel that runs from Sapperton to Coates, then back to our cottage to make dinner and sit out in the garden. It is after 9pm now and the sun is just setting.


Wild Iris along the Cotswold Canal

At one point today we were walking along the canal in beautiful woods where the only sounds were the birds singing and the running water, walking along hillsides covered in white garlic flowers, with wild Irises growing in the marshy areas, when we came to a part of the path under an apple tree and the pink blossoms had covered the path like the walkway to a church after a wedding and I thought, this is it - perfection.

We have done several wonderful hikes. The new VW Golf that we leased is perfect for the narrow lanes and we are sharing the driving now that I am a competent English side of the road driver. We have been to Waitrose several times (my favorite upscale supermarket), shopped at the fabulous Stroud Farmers' Market, even went to Ikea to purchase the desk that I am using right now.

Buddy (the cat) is learning about life at zero altitude (Boulder is at 5,000 feet, Santa Fe at 7,000) and came face to face with his first chicken. He got chased out of the chicken area because the neighbor thought he was a fox. Whiz, the cat next door, is keeping Buddy in his place, but they seem to be working out a truce.

Looking forward to having the whole summer in the Cotswolds!


Forums Admin
My Daily Life from a Different Angle
Posted July 7, 2010 on my Slow Travels blog (no longer online).

In many ways living in England is very much like living in the US, but there are small differences. The longer I stay in a new place, the more I get used to things and forget the differences, so I am making a few notes here while I still see them.

I have been working on this post for two weeks and am giving up and publishing when I still have a lot more to say on the subject.


The thing that you think will be the biggest difference, driving on the left, turns out to be nothing. In a few weeks we were both adjusted (but both of us have driven here before). The main difference driving is the width of things - the narrow lanes through ancient villages, the country lanes wide enough for one car and bordered by tall hedgerows, the two lane road that turns to a one lane road without any warning (when they stop painting the middle line, the road has become too narrow for two cars, but we all keep driving). Driving in England is easy-peasy - it just takes a bit of time to get used to it.

Gas (Petrol): Shockingly expensive, but the cars get many more miles per gallon, so we still only fill up every two weeks. We are driving a VW Golf and it gets 40 - 50 mpg using diesel. Gas is £1.20 per liter - approx. $7.30 per US gallon. Wow! We are not doing many long day trips, just short drives around our area.

No Billboards!: Are billboards an American thing? We don't have many in Boulder (they have banned them), but in England there are none. The roads are lined with gorgeous countryside. All the commercial signage is toned down, so much that it is sometimes hard to find a shop you are looking for.


Our Cottage in the Cotswolds

Household Things

: The mail service is great, six days a week like in the US, but don't hand your mail to the mailman, he won't take it. Instead look for a red post box - there is one in every neighborhood. I miss putting my mail in my mailbox for the postman to pick up. Our postman knows us now and stops to chat if we are out in the garden.

When you order something online, it arrives in a couple of days with standard shipping - no need for express shipping - mail delivery is fast here.

Newspapers: Instead of local daily papers like we have in the US, in England there are several national daily papers. The paper that you read in many ways shows your class and political leanings (The Times - conservative, well off; Daily Mail - left-wing, working class). In the US we read our town's daily paper - the Boulder Camera. In England we read the Guardian, a national newspaper (left-wing, well-offish).

The local paper for Stroud comes out once a week and is fun to read. I love knowing all the local tidbits.

Each town has a "newsagent", a shop selling magazines, newspapers and some office supplies. This is where you go to arrange for newspaper delivery. You pay the price of the paper plus a delivery charge per day - they leave a bill for you once a month (we pay £1.00 for the paper plus £0.40 for delivery). In the US you contact the local newspaper company and it is cheaper to have it delivered than to purchase each day.

We get up in the morning to find our paper sitting on a table in our entrance way (I always leave out outer door unlocked, the inner door is locked). No longer do we have to go out and search the driveway and nearby bushes. Or, in the winter, dig into the snow looking for the paper.

Netflix: No Netflix in England - but LoveFilm.com! Almost the same, a bit more expensive. So our DVD movies still arrive in the mail. The envelops arrive with a lot of advertising and are not that nice distinctive red that Netflix uses.

Garbage: I had heard horror stories about garbage pickup in England - that you were only allowed a small amount of garbage, that it was very expensive to get rid of cardboard, etc. But garbage pickup here is the same as in the US with one very funny difference - they leave a new garbage bag for you! Friday morning they pickup the garbage bag I leave out and in its place is a rolled up new garbage bag. When Cameron (the new Prime Minister) is yammering on about budget cuts and suggestions from the public for ways to cut, I scream out "duh - get rid of the free garbage bags!" The savings would probably pay for a new Stonehenge Visitors Centre (a project they just canceled).

The garbage people have a great technique of tying the garbage bag into a tight ball, so there are these balls of garbage bags on everyones' driveways. I laugh about this, but in Santa Fe for years we went to the city offices once a year to get a box of free garbage bags, but they finally canceled that program. There is something special about free garbage bags.

Recycling: Just like at home, pickup every two weeks and a list of things you can recycle. Some things like cardboard and what they call "card" (thin cardboard like cereal boxes) and phone books they don't collect from the curb, but you can take to your local recycling center. Ours is about 15 minutes away in Horsley (great town name!).

Light Bulbs: 60w is the highest! and soon we won't be able to get them either. Our landlady has energy efficient bulbs everywhere and I can barely see in the kitchen so I went to get some regular, brighter bulbs, but could not find anything higher than 60w. Turns out they are no longer allowing 100w bulbs (a "green" initiative), but a local electrician told me where I can find them (it's a secret). Traditional 100 watt light bulbs to be phased out in favour of low-energy alternative (Telegraph, Jan 2009) It is a good thing that it stays light until 10pm in the summer, but winter is going to be dark.

Laundry: I miss my dryer! Not my dryer in Boulder, which I hated, but my wonderful Asko washer and dryer that I had in Santa Fe. Our washing machine here has a long cycle, like the Asko, but things come out with stains. And there is no dryer. The poor, evil dryer and all the energy it wastes. Instead I am always lugging wet clothes around, spending hours hanging things on racks, checking to see if they are dry, then wearing very wrinkly things because I have promised myself I will not start ironing our t-shirts.

I ask everyone if they have a dryer and the typical answer is "yes, but I never use it". People do send out sheets and towels to a laundry. We have not tried that yet. I wait for a sunny day (lots lately), wash the sheets first thing, then hang them outside. They dry in minutes.

Ironing: I love ironing in Europe. The irons get hotter, which sounds strange but it is true - probably because of that 220 - 240 voltage. Things iron beautifully - tablecloths, kitchen towels, napkins, handkerchiefs, clothes - the list of what I iron (no t-shirts).

Baking Bread: Whole Wheat flour is called "wholemeal" and I think it is lighter than our whole wheat because the bread that I make here (1/3 white, 2/3 wholemeal) is much lighter than what I make in the US.

The Language

Every time I speak, the person I am speaking to knows that I am not from here. I think they can detect this if I just clear my throat. It has a downside - you stand out in the crowd - but has an upside too - people love to talk to us. They want to know where we live in the US, they apologize for assuming we are American because maybe we are Canadian? and Canadians don't like to be mistaken for Americans in their experience, they tell us where they have traveled in the US, they want to know where we are staying and for how long. We get to meet a lot of people who we might not have met if we sounded like them.


(Almost) Everything is closed on Sunday - Restaurants, Fish & Chip shops, shops, bakeries. The supermarkets (called "superstore") will be open, but usually close early, around 4pm. Even the 24 hour Tesco in Stroud is not 24 hours on Sunday.

Most shopping is pretty much the same as in the US, but there seem to be fewer chain stores here. The supermarkets are chains, but most of the other shops in a town are locally owned. Nailsworth has a Morrisons supermarket (part of a national chain) but also has a very good green grocer (fruit and vegetables - many of them local), a deli-type shop, small pet shop, great hardware shop - all independent shops.

Some shopping things are surprisingly similar. We went to Ikea to purchase two desks and chairs for our office and it was exactly the same the as last time I was in an Ikea - in Vancouver, Canada about 20 years ago. Cribbs Causeway is a big mall on the outskirts of Bristol and it was just like being in a mall in the US (fun at first and then not fun and then we left).

John Lewis is my favorite department store in the world, but I have not been able to spend enough time there. We did buy a bunch of kitchen things, including a Nespresso so now we have to order those coffee pods online but the coffee is great.

Haircuts: I have had two haircuts, neither of which I like (but I am going through a rough phase with my hair), and they cost about the same as in the US - £35. Steve found a barber in Cirencester and pays only £11.50 - cheaper than what he paid in Boulder. He is getting great haircuts.

Sandwiches: There are large sections of packaged sandwiches in most supermarkets, with a variety of sandwiches and snacky things. We frequently stop at Waitrose to pick up sandwiches to take on a walk/hike. My current favorite is the Ploughman's (cheese, tomato, lettuce, some interesting pickle thing) and Steve's is a Wild Alaskan something.

My favorite lunch, and one we have been having several times a week, is a packaged sandwich and an apple sitting out in the forest on one of our hikes.


With Europe at our doorstep it is amazing that we have not gone anywhere yet, but in a few days we will be in France. The idea of going to France for just nine nights is a new one for us - we always do these epic one to two month trips since getting ourselves to Europe is so much effort (and money). For this trip we drive an hour to Bristol airport, fly to Paris (one and a half hours), then drive a few hours to the Loire Valley. Not so much effort.

Once we get tired of these perfect English countryside days, we will do more travel to the continent.

My Daily Life

Our days here are different from our life in Santa Fe or Boulder but only because we are still at that over-excited stage of being in a new place and are either out walking/hiking all day or driving around and exploring our new place. Plus lots of conversations about "should we stay longer", "can we stay longer". The answer is yes, we are staying longer - probably for another year. We really love it here.


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An Afternoon Around Stroud
Posted August 13, 2010 on my Slow Travels blog (no longer online).

One of the things that I love about traveling in England is the density of historic sites to visit. Last week our friends Wendy and Richard were visiting from London, so we decided to do some local exploring. We have all traveled in this area and have seen most of the villages and historic sites, so I pulled out my Cotswold guidebooks and maps to find some things we had not seen. This is what we saw within a 15 minute drive from our home in Nailsworth on an overcast Friday afternoon.

Medieval - Frocester Tythe Barn

Frocester is a small village on the flat fields below the Cotswold Escarpment, just a few miles west of Stroud. In the 1500s, Henry VIII gave Frocester estate to Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. There had been a settlement on the land since pre-historic times. The present houses were built during Queen Elizabeth's time - the first Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII. It is still a working farm and the current owner lives in the timber-framed medieval house beside the barn.

We parked on a lane near the barn. A sign says to knock on the door if you want to see the barn. The man who came to the door answered it with a funny troll speech from something that I should have recognized but didn't - "Ho ho, who'se at my door then?" - I told him just some American tourists wanting to see the barn. He gave us a brochure explaining the history of the estate and barn and pointed us towards it. His dog put huge muddy paws on my purse. The cat ignored us.


Frocester Court Medieval Barn

We walked through the beautiful gardens, into the barnyard and into the large medieval barn, which is still in use. It was built in the late 1200s and is one of the longest barns in the country - 186 feet long, 30 feet wide, 12 feet to the eaves, 36 feet to the top of the roof. The oak timbers creating the roof were replaced in the 1500s after a fire. How wonderful to find such a well-preserved, historic building as part of a working farm and to be welcomed into the farmyard to have a look.

Industrial - Saul Junction

The Stroudwater Navigation, a canal built in the late 1700s to bring coal to the mills in the Stroud valleys, starts at the River Severn on the western edge of the Cotswolds and joins the Thames and Severn Canal in Stroud to connect to the River Thames at Lechlade. Today these two canals are called the Cotswold Canal.

These canals were abandoned in the 1950s. In recent years parts have been restored, but this is not yet a functioning canal. However, there is a good walking path along the canal from Saul Junction to Lechlade, so the whole canal is accessible to walkers.

There is an interesting two mile canal tunnel between Sapperton and Coates (caved in now but the entrances have been restored). To get through the tunnel, the canal boat workers used their legs to push the boat through - and that is where we get the term "legging it".

Saul Junction is near the start of the Stroudwater Navigation, where it crosses the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, and is one of the best restored parts. We parked on the road by the canal and walked along the Gloucester Canal to reach the junction. Even though it was a gray afternoon, there were many people about. There is a large dock area with many parked narrowboats, the long and narrow boats used to travel along the canals.


Saul Junction, Cotswold Canal

The Cotswold canal is narrow and boats can only go about 200 feet along before reaching the unrestored portion where they have to stop, but the Gloucester Canal is wide and fully restored. Boats can go all the way from open seas near Bristol, up the very wide River Severn and then by canal into the center of Gloucester. The canal was built because the River Severn becomes shallow when it gets near Gloucester.

Canals in England are no longer used for transporting goods, but many have been restored as waterways. People travel the canals on narrowboats, living on them for weeks at a time and making their way slowly through the countryside. The towpaths along the canal that were originally used for the horses pulling the boats are now used by walkers and bikers.

Currently work is being done on the Cotswold Canal on a bridge at the edge of Stroud. When this project is finished, boats will be able to go along the canal through Stroud. I don't know how long this project will take, or when the entire Cotswold Canal will be restored, but when completed it will be a big change to this area. The canal paths are used now by local walkers and runners, but there are no boats. In the future this will become part of the extensive British Waterways system and visitors will come into the southern Cotswolds by narrowboat.

Arts & Crafts - Selsley, All Saints Church

I have long wanted to see this church, but never made time for it. I figured one day we would be driving by, since it is just over the hill from us, and we would stop.

Selsley is a pretty village on a hillside overlooking the Stroud-Stonehouse area. Above it is the Selsley Common, smaller than the Minchinhampton and Rodborough Commons to the east, but with nice open spaces and views to the River Severn.

All Saints Church sits on the edge of the village, just below the common. It was built in the late 1800s and designed in the French Gothic style. It was the last of the great Cotswold wool churches, built when this area was made prosperous by sheep farms and woolen mills.


All Saints Church, Selsley

What sets this church apart from older and larger wool churches is the Arts & Crafts decoration inside. The stained glass windows were made by Morris and Company. Artists William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown and Phillip Webb (the Pre-Raphaelites) designed the windows based on medieval style stained glass. There are many other Arts & Crafts touches in the church - choir stalls with fleur-de-lys finials*, ironwork, painted Biblical text on the doorway and walls. The church is beautiful.


Rose Window, Selsley Church

We were the only ones in the church that afternoon and were able to spend as long as we wanted looking at the details and taking photos of the windows. They had a table with cards, postcards and books about the church for sale (put your payment in the box) and we all bought a few things. I got the small book about the church with good photos of the stained glass windows.

The church at Fairford, east of Cirencester, has finished restoring their medieval stained glass windows and they are magnificent. An interesting combination would be to see the Selsley church with its Arts & Crafts version of medieval stained glass and the Fairford church with the real thing. We have seen both, and both are exceptional.

* I don't know what a "fleur-de-lys finial" is - I copied that description from the book I bought at the church. See how travel makes you cultured?



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Two Teas and Two Gardens
Posted August 23, 2010 on my Slow Travels blog (no longer online).

Summer in England 2010 - one of my best summers ever. The weather has been perfect and we have walked miles and miles through the Cotswolds. In the last few weeks we have had some overcast days, some drizzle and now there are hints of fall in the air. Today was warm and sunny and felt like June, but rain is heading our way tomorrow. Wendy and Richard were visiting for the weekend and as they left, we got them to drop us off in Selsley (they wanted to visit the church again) and we did a long walk up Selsley Commons, through Dingle woods and then along village lanes back home. A lovely lazy Sunday afternoon walk. But what I want to write about are two different days out we had last week.

Tea in a Garden Along the River Severn

Last Sunday we did a late afternoon walk along the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal from Frampton On Severn. This area, called the "Vale of Severn", is a flat area that extends from the edge of the Cotswold Hills to the River Severn. It is about 15 minutes by car from our house. Frampton On Severn is a charming village with the longest village green in England. They were playing Cricket on the green the day we were there.

We parked the car and walked to the canal. The Gloucester and Sharpness Canal is different from others we have been on. It is short, running from where the River Severn starts to get shallow and into downtown Gloucester, and was made for larger boats - 16 miles long, 16 feet deep and has 16 bridges. It is like walking beside a wide river instead of a narrow canal.


Tea at Saul Lodge

As we started on the canal path we saw a sign saying "Tea Garden 2 - 6pm". We saw more signs as we walked and then a sign pointing to a wooden door in a garden wall. Interesting. We continued our walk along the canal and decided to stop on the way back. We pushed open the wooden door, walked on a path by a shed and came out into a large garden with a tables set up for tea.

Some tables were in a clearing under a few large trees. Others were scattered in private corners around the garden. Most of the tables were occupied. We found an empty table in a corner behind a fruit tree and sat down. These were not boring plastic outdoor tables and chairs, but an eclectic mix of wooden tables, covered by table cloths, and mismatched chairs.

The menu was made of two blocks of wood with paper glued to them and a wildflower pressed between them. And what was on the menu? Cream Tea £4.50. And a note about not letting children visit the pond on their own.

A young woman brought out a big tray of tea to a nearby table, then came to get our order. Two cream teas. A few minutes later she was back with our tray. Pot of tea, pot of hot water, jug of milk, plates of scones, bowls of strawberry jam and clotted cream. Nothing matched. The tea pot was brownish and modern, one cup was white and wide, the other was a typical "old lady" style with a pattern on it.


Tea at Saul Lodge

I loved every thing about this "tea room".

I don't have the words to express how delightful this experience was for me. It was an idyllic summer afternoon on a warm sunny day, in a rambling garden, sitting peacefully and enjoying a good cup of tea with scones. We sat and talked and watched the other people who were obviously as happy as we were.

Highgrove Garden and Tea

In April Wendy got tickets for all of us to tour Highgrove Garden. Tickets are hard to get and last Friday was the earliest date available. Highgrove is the country home of TRH (Their Royal Highnesses) The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, or Charles and Camilla as we call them.


Highgrove Website

No photos for this section. Passports and tickets were presented to the guard at the gate. Cameras and cell phones (mobiles) had to be left in the car.

It was overcast and gray when we arrived for the 1:25pm tour. We were in a group of about 25 people. The tour lasted two hours. We started by watching a short video of Charles welcoming us to his garden. Then we set out. The tours are run by enthusiastic volunteers. There was no formal garden when Prince Charles bought Highgrove almost 30 years ago; he personally designed these gardens. He has a team of gardeners but also works in the garden himself. No chemicals are used - everything is done with organic methods.

I am no garden expert, but we have visited several in England, and Highgrove Gardens is the best I have seen. Everything is beautiful, but it is not overdone. It looks and feels cared for but it is also casual. This is a garden where you want to put down a blanket and spend the afternoon.

The open meadows had recently been cut. If we had been there earlier we would have walked on paths through high grass and wildflowers. They mow the meadows in mid-July, around Saint Swithun's day. In the spring these meadows are full of blooming bulbs.

There are areas with trees, open meadows, walled gardens, beautiful small buildings tucked into corners, ponds surrounded by ferns, a kitchen garden - it is like walking into different rooms in a house, but better because you are outside and the flooring is grass, moss and dirt.

One part of the garden has over 700 stumps used as wind breaks and walls. Charles got them from an estate that had many trees knocked over in the great storm of 1987. Plants grow in the stumps. Wendy told me that this is a modern take on a Victorian garden tradition. It made the garden seem wilder and more interesting.

The kitchen garden has espalier fruit trees growing along the walls and over iron forms making walkways in the garden. You walk into the covered path and large apples are hanging down from the top. I have never seen trees this large bent to grow along a form.

We got to walk through the gardens beside the residence see the views that they have from their windows. The tours are held when no one is in residence, so you do not feel like you are invading someone's privacy. The tour guide tells you about the plantings, the history of the garden and some personal stories about why things were planted. They also give you time to wander around some sections on your own.

The sun did not come out during our tour and it even poured rain for a few minutes, but nothing took away from the beauty of this place. At the end of the tour we had tea in the Orchard Room and even the tea was excellent. We lined up and ordered "tea for two" and picked out cake, then carried our trays into a big beautiful room full of tables where everything matched.

They have a Highgrove shop with things for the home and garden - expensive, but beautiful things. I purchased two kitchen towels (made in France) and two egg cups - reminders of a perfect garden tour. I hope to do this garden tour again next year.


Two very different gardens and afternoon teas, two very different days weather-wise, but both were powerful experiences of beautiful and welcoming places.


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Smoke in the Air
Posted September 17, 2010 on my Slow Travels blog (no longer online).

People are really into their gardens here, and by "garden" I mean what I would call a "yard". I figured out this wordplay recently. To me, a garden is a part of your yard where you grow flowers or vegetables, but here "garden" means the area surrounding your house and "yard" is a measurement. This is just one of the verbal mistakes that I make here on a daily basis. I am at that point with many words where I can no longer remember which term is American and which is British. Yard? Garden? Might as well be safe and say "your flowers are lovely".


Sweet peas from the garden

Our next door neighbor is retired and her main occupation in the summer is her garden. We benefit from some of the things she grows - this summer we had raspberries, zucchini (courgettes) and wonderful green beans. She also grows flowers and bushes which seem to need endless attention.

Our lovely landlady planted our garden mostly with trees and bushes, so they don't need as much attention. She did plant some Sweet Peas that my neighbor insists that I keep cutting so that more will grow. I don't quite see the logic there, but cut them and put them in the house (where they look nice, then die, then I put them into the compost out in the garden).

After 20 years in Santa Fe where things grow slowly, if they grow at all, I am shocked at the rate of growth here. Every month I have to go out and hack down the vines growing on the fence in front of the kitchen window so that I can have a view.

In July we had some friends from Italy stay in the house while we did a trip to France. They had a friend from Scotland down to visit. She is a "master gardener". Master gardener from Scotland and master gardener from next door met together over a tree in our yard that neither of them liked, so they pruned it severely. My landlady, who had big plans for that tree and was letting it grow before doing a major trim, was not happy. I had a similar experience with my hair last year in Colorado when I asked for a trim and instead got a crew cut. Luckily, like my hair, the tree will grow back and the memory of these disastrous short cuts will fade.


Cottage Garden

What remained from the pruning was a huge pile of branches which our neighbor informed us we had to haul down the road to a field where a neighbor was making a heap of things to burn. The heap was huge, about 10 feet across and 20 feet high. So as to not burn down nearby Woodchester Park, they waited until it had rained, to make the grass damp, then set the heap on fire. Smoke and the smell of smoke filled the neighborhood.

Last night someone else was burning their garden remains and the neighborhood filled with the smoke. Even with all the windows closed, the smoke smell gets into the house. Cough. This has been happening every few days for the last month. Our neighbors seem to spend the summer growing things, then they cut them all down and burn them. Next year - repeat. Perhaps I don't totally understand life in the countryside.

We walked by our neighbor's "yard" today and I saw that he is building a new heap of things to burn. We asked him if anyone ever starts a forest fire here with these garden fires and he said he had never heard of it. He told us there was a "gentleman's agreement" that you don't start a fire until after 6pm to protect your neighbor's laundry from the smoke fumes.

Fire is a Whole Different Thing in Colorado

Last week a wild fire swept through the mountain communities just a few miles from our house in Boulder, Coloardo. The Fourmile Fire was started by a small fire that was not put out correctly, just like the ones that are frequently burning here. The mountains of Colorado were dry after a long, hot summer and high winds came along and turned that smoldering fire into a major wildfire that destroyed 169 homes.

I spent the week reading the local newspaper online (the Daily Camera), following conversations from Boulder on Twitter and emailing our friends who are living in our house. We watched as the fire spread, as a cloud of smoke covered Boulder, as a large area around the fire was evacuated and as our neighborhood was put on notice for possible evacuation. I saw photos of fire fighting helicopters loading up with water from Wonderland Lake, the area where we went for our walks this winter.

After an idyllic summer in the Cotswolds I was yanked back to reality and the possibility of losing my house and things in Boulder. But the fire was contained and our north Boulder neighborhood was not evacuated.

I am still smelling smoke. Lucky for us, even after a long, hot summer, it is still too damp to get a forest fire going here.


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Waking Up Before the Alarm Goes Off
Posted October 6, 2010 on my Slow Travels blog (no longer online).

If I have to be up early for some reason, I set the alarm, but I always wake up ten minutes before it goes off. My internal body clock keeps track of the time. It is the same with flights. We were scheduled to fly back to Colorado last week. We decided at the end of June that we were going to stay until next May (or longer), but I kept our booking in case we needed to go back for some reason.

The week before the scheduled flight I started to crave Boulder and Santa Fe. I wanted to walk around Wonderland Lake, sit in my living room full of light from the big windows, get takeout Chinese food from the place beside Lucky's Market in North Boulder. I wanted to breathe in that crisp morning air in Santa Fe, walk in the Ponderosa Pines on the mountain trails, get nachos from the drive-thru at Bumblebee. I wanted to go into the closet where I have all my things stored and root around in the boxes pulling out the things I want here. I even wanted to drive our old 4 Runner down I-25 along the Front Range despite having done that trip countless times in the past year.


Open space behind our house in Boulder

We spent a few days thinking we would take the scheduled flight back and have a weekend in Boulder, but there was a Buffs game and all the hotels were booked. Then we thought we would reschedule to go back in November.

When planning a trip, one of the things I like to do is spend time visualizing what the trip will be like, to see if my itinerary works. We talk through every detail of the itinerary, thinking about how much time we want in each place, picturing what our days will be like. We did this for a trip to Boulder in November and could not convince ourselves it would be worth the effort. So I phoned British Airways, changed our flights to return in April and coughed up the change fee ($250 each).

So, the decision is made. We won't go back to the US until the spring and it will probably be a short visit to Boulder and Santa Fe. Then we will return to England for the summer. It has been an emotional time for me, these past few weeks. I love it here and want to stay forever, but who knows how I will feel in a year? So we take it in six months chunks. We can rent this cottage until next spring. We may need to find a different rental then, but there are lots of lovely places for rent in this area. We could take the opportunity to move to a different part of England or even to another country in Europe.

If I ever doubt my choice of spending a year here, I drive (or walk) up to Minchinhampton Common, my current "favorite place in the whole world". Wide open spaces (like New Mexico and Colorado), big blue sky (with a few more clouds), fresh cool winds. The 600 acre commons is full of cows, cars, golfers (there is a golf course in one corner), walkers, runners, people flying kites, sometimes an ice cream truck - and there is plenty of space for everyone. It is heaven up there. The cows are still roaming free but soon they will be sent back to their barns for the winter and the commons will seem empty.


Cows on Minchinhampton Commons

What I really want is to have parallel lives, to not have to make a choice, to experience everything. Having to do this serially takes time and patience.


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It's Cold Outside!
Posted December 26, 2010 on my Slow Travels blog (no longer online).

We were here in the Cotswolds four winters ago. January was cold and it snowed once, but it melted the next day. In February we had spring-like weather. We were test-driving England in winter and it passed.

However, each winter since has been cold and snowy. This country is not prepared for snow. It seems like people hope these three cold winters are coincidence and not a change in weather patterns.

The snow falls and much of it does not get cleared up. The temperatures never go above freezing in December and the snow does not melt away. The main roads are plowed and gritted but the side roads are not. The local government (council) have barrels of grit (a mixture of dirt and salt) throughout the neighborhoods and people use this on the lanes. Home and shop owners do not shovel the sidewalks (pavement*) and walking in town is difficult.


December Frost - At the start of December the weather turned cold. We had a dusting of snow and beautiful frost.

Many people live in old stone cottages or brick row houses (terraces). We don't have garages - we are lucky if we have a parking spot - so cars sitting outside are covered in ice and snow. Cars are parked in odd places along the lanes because they can't get up their driveways.

Last week Heathrow airport, the busiest in the world, could not cope with the snow and cancelled flights for several days. Trains to Europe and within England were shut down. Drivers had problems on the motorways.

This bad weather changed the Christmas season this year. Concerts were canceled. People did not do the usual Christmas shopping. When we got a day with milder weather and clear roads, the towns and parking lots were packed. We made it to the Cirencester Christmas Market but did not make it to the one in Bath. I wanted to visit some of the other market towns to see their lights and decorations, but we only took the car out when absolutely necessary.

We live down a mile of narrow lanes, ending with the very steep and very narrow lane that we are on. It takes us 30 minutes to get the snow and ice off the car and get it warmed up. We don't need to go out often and can walk into town to get groceries, so for most of the month the car sits in our parking spot. The doors froze shut, so now I open and close them once a day.

I stopped telling people that "we are from Boulder and Santa Fe and are used to real snow and this is nothing" when we got our car stuck in our lane and had to be pushed out by three people who happened to be walking by. I blame the steep lane and the gravity force-field that grabbed our car and dragged it sideways down the hill. We don't have snow tires or even a snow shovel, although we are on the waiting list for a snow shovel at Brutons in Nailsworth (fabulous locally owned hardware store).

Our cottage has a very good heating system but it broke down at the beginning of the cold snap (is this a cold snap when it has been going over four weeks?). Our neighbor gave us some electric heaters and the boiler was repaired two days later. There is a lovely cast iron fireplace in our cottage living room. We drove to a wood yard in the Toadsmoor Valley near Stroud and filled the car trunk (the boot) with cut wood for about £20. The cottage keeps warm and we keep bundled up. I put on wool long underwear when we go outside.


Buddy outside in the snow

Buddy (our cat) spends most of the day sleeping on the floor under the radiator. He goes outside but comes back in after a couple of minutes howling loudly in frustration. He races around the house, up and down the two flights of stairs, in and out of the rooms. Then collapses under the radiator or sits on my desk staring at me, as if I control the weather.

Am I complaining about this winter? A bit. Maybe this is the price we pay for that perfect summer that stretched from May to September. I am happy to be past the shortest day of the year. It is pitch black at 4:30pm now and the sun does not hit our house or garden on our north-facing slope. All the neighbors complain to each other about this. Every day I look across the valley to Amberley which seems to sit in never-ending sunshine. I keep watching for houses to rent in Amberley - none so far.

So, here we are, spending the winter in England again - this is our third English winter. This time we have been here for almost eight months. I miss all my "stuff" back in our house in Boulder. When I am scraping the ice off the car, I think about the garage and the four wheel drive car that we have there. When I start a new knitting project and have to purchase needles, I think about all my knitting things in a box back in Boulder. I bought a few household things in the winter sales today, building our nest here.

We are settling in. We know many of our neighbors - we all live close together on this hillside, almost literally on top of each other. People are very friendly and helpful. There is a sense of "we are all in this together" which makes daily life here very pleasant. Once people admit that winters have returned to England (like they were 30 years ago), they will take it on and deal with it well, as they do everything else. But then again, I am not buying snow tires - maybe it won't snow again!


Our steep and narrow drive

Happy Holidays

We had a lovely Christmas and I hope you did too. Christmas day was cold with daytime temps well below freezing but the sun was out. Our friends in Stroud took us on a wonderful walk through woods and farmer's fields. We had views over the Golden Valley towards Rodborough and Selsley and back to Stroud. It felt more like a Colorado or Northern New Mexico winter with cold, crisp air, blue skies and fields of deep dry snow.

A day of snow followed by days of warmer temps are in the forecast for next week. Maybe this was our winter. The snow drops should be blooming soon and the days are getting longer.

* Yes, the British term for sidewalk is pavement. Makes no sense to me. Isn't the road also pavement?


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The Snowdrops Are Blooming
Posted February 7, 2011 on my Slow Travels blog (no longer online).

December and January seemed to last forever. In early December a cold snap hit and lasted for weeks. We had snow in the southern Cotswolds, but not as much as other parts of England. For a couple of weeks driving was difficult and, with the short days (pitch black at 5pm), we did not venture out of the house much. By the end of the month I felt "cabin bound".

In January the typical English winter weather arrived - overcast, drizzle, rain - bleak. We are both working on a new website project, so have been spending our time coding instead of hiking for the last several months. In contrast to the "best summer of my life" where we were out hiking all day long, now my life takes place in this cottage, with occasional outings for groceries and walks.

We had an exciting short break planned in Rome for the end of January, but we both came down with a flu and had to cancel at the very last minute (the morning we were supposed to be driving to Bristol airport). So instead of walking the Archaeological sites of Rome and Lazio, dropping into cafes for a quick coffee, having lovely long dinners together, we were both in bed exhausted and queasy.

Now we are recovering, the days are getting longer, the weather is mild, the sun is hitting our northern slope neighborhood and yesterday when walking in Woodchester Park, we came across a hillside of snowdrops. Spring is in the air.


Snowdrops in Sapperton

See the Snowdrops

In England the Snowdrops arrive in February to tell us that Spring is just around the corner. Many estates and park areas open up on February weekends.

This week we have garden enthusiast friends visiting and will be heading out to the Painswick Rococo Gardens who are famous for their Snowdrops. We visited these gardens last summer and they are lovely.

I hope to also visit Colesbourne Park, north of Cirencester and Rodmarton Manor, south of Cirencester.

I think the Snowdrops are going to yank me out of my winter malaise and get me thinking about the wonderful spring and summer ahead of us.

Hey, the sun is out! Gotta go ...


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A Very British Summer
Posted July 20, 2011 on my Slow Travels blog (no longer online).

Last year in England it was sunny and warm - even hot on some days - from mid-May to mid-September. Our rain jackets never left the boot of our car. I wore short sleeves all summer long. It rained for a few days in July, but we were traveling in France and missed it. For us it was the perfect British Summer.

But people said it was not a good summer. The school holiday schedule is different here than in the US. In the US students have a long summer break. School lets out in May or June and starts again in August or September (differs by region). In England schools have week-long mid-term breaks throughout the year at seemingly random times. One week I hear the laugher and footsteps of children walking down our hillside to the local school; the next week the mornings are silent. The summer break is August. Hence, August is the summer.


Spring at Ozleworth

If we get two weeks of not-perfect sunny days in August, it is declared a bad summer. After last summer I read in the newspaper "the promised barbeque summer never happened!" I don't barbeque, but it sure seemed like a barbeque summer to me!

This year summer started in March with a couple of weeks of sun and warmth. We spent many days hiking. On the warm days we headed to the woods for shade, as we do in summer, but the leaves were not out on the trees yet!

The weather changed to typical cool and wet for the first week of April when we were conveniently visiting Boulder and Santa Fe in the US (where we had 70 degree temps one day and snow the next - Rocky Mountain weather).

We returned to three more wonderful weeks of summer. Bluebells and Ransoms (Garlic flowers) bloomed in April, a month ahead of time. Farmers complained that their crops were not getting enough rain. A drought was declared in southern England.


Bluebells in Woodchester Park

This perfect weather lined up with a longer than usual mid-term break. They combined the long Easter weekend which came late this year (holidays on Friday and Monday) with the Royal Wedding (everyone got a day off for the Royal Wedding - no separation of Royal Family and State here) and the first May Bank Holiday (May has two Bank Holidays - one at the start, one at the end). People could take an 11-day holiday by combining these holidays and taking three days off work.

The people who decided to holiday in Britain got summer-like weather and avoided the crowded airports. Those who flew south to Spain, France or Italy has worse weather than we had here. A small victory for English weather.

I said "If this is all the summer we get this year, that will be okay". But I didn't mean it.

May started out good. We spent a hot and sunny week on the east Devon coast. After that it turned cool and wet. Followed by June which was cool and wet. And now we are half way through a cool and wet July. Is this the very British summer?


Blossoms Along the Cotswold Canal

We had visitors from Santa Fe in June who dressed in layers of sweaters and jackets and sometimes even wore ear muffs when we were out hiking. We had to cut back on the number of hikes because they didn't want their travel clothes to be covered in mud.

In July we had a visitor from Portland, Oregon who is used to rain, so we hiked in the rain and through the mud. We did a four night mini-break with her to the Dorset coast and had good weather - we even went swimming in the sea! But after that the bad weather returned.

I am not complaining. It is just that when you have visitors, you notice the weather more because every day you want to be out and about.

Bad weather is not rain all day. Instead it is very changeable weather - sunny one minute, clouds rolling in and drizzle the next, sometimes a sudden strong downpour. Very nice, sunny days come along. There is an underlying warmth so even on the bad days all you need is a light jacket. When the day looks good, we go out hiking. When it looks dismal, we stay in and work.

I kind of like this weather. But I am looking forward to August and hoping for a barbeque summer.


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Moving House
Posted December 31, 2011 on my Slow Travels blog (no longer online).

We spent much of this year looking at houses for rent. We had not intended to stay longer than a year in the first cottage we rented, but we ended up staying a year and a half because we could not find something that we liked better.

I came to England with a North American sensibility towards housing. It did not matter that I had stayed in many English vacation rentals on our vacations. I did not understand housing here – how people live, what you can expect in a house and a location, the types of places available. It took me six months of looking at rental houses to figure it out.

We found a good rental and moved in October. We are in a new village (Painswick), a new valley (Painswick Valley) and a very different type of house (in a converted mill complex beside the river). All this change and we are only 10 miles north of where we lived before. The views are not as good, but the walking trails are better. We are further from Bath, but closer to Cheltenham.


View of Painswick from our favorite walking trail

Renting a house in the Cotswolds is all about compromise. Okay, I barely fit into the shower and I have to walk up two flights of stairs from the front door to the bedroom, but I have a parking space! I live with the constant noise of a waterfall that 100 years ago drove the machinery in the mill, but I am a mile from the nearest busy road (not that I could hear the traffic anyway, over that waterfall). My neighbors are an inch away on both sides, but I have a lovely garden that gets the sun!

We moved from a furnished rental to an unfurnished house. This explains why I have not been writing any blog posts – I have been shopping. We have a household of furniture now, but it is a bit sparse, which is nice and makes it easier to clean. We went for a combination of Ikea (cheap), John Lewis (expensive), antiques (well priced compared to the US), used furniture (good value) and charity shop things (cheap). Our walls are decorated with paintings and interesting framed things loaned by a friend. On these dreary winter days we sit in a living room with thick stone walls, windows on three sides and a gas fireplace. Very comfortable. When the weather clears, we put on our boots and walk out through the fields and woods.

I have a lot more to say about what I learned during this search and will be posting more in the new year.

But for now – Happy New Year!! – can you believe it will be 2012?


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American Small Town vs English Village
Posted March 12, 2012 on my Slow Travels blog (no longer online). This post received a lot of comments, many telling me what a stupid post it was. I think they had a point. I have not explained my idea well but I will post it here anyway.

Lately I have been thinking about the differences between small town USA, where we used to live, and a village in the Cotswolds, where we live now. I have been comparing my daily life here and to my life in the US. The differences are not big, but there are differences and I think they are caused by the way the towns and villages are situated here. The physical layout of this place affects how I live.

England is a small and crowded country, with a population of 51 million and a density of 1023 people per square mile.* It is the second most densely populated country in Europe (Malta is first), and it is densest where we are in the south. Everything has to be smaller so that it will all fit. The cars are smaller, the roads are narrower, the houses are smaller, things have less space between them.

The only way that I have come up with to describe the differences is to start with a model of an American small town and then turn it into an English village.

Create a Model of an American Small Town

Get out your lego pieces. Make a grid. Put down rows of houses on straight roads. Each house sits in the middle of its property and has a driveway, a garage, a front yard and a back yard. Main Street in the center of town has the shops. Let’s ignore the hideous box stores and strip malls for now (we have those here too). The town sprawls out and ends, then the countryside begins. If you are lucky there is a National Forest or State Park outside town for hiking, or some good parks in town.

Now, let's turn this American small town into an English village.

Transform the American Houses to English Cottages

The average house size in England is 800 square feet. You get a small kitchen with an under the counter fridge. No laundry room because the washing machine is in the kitchen. Forget the clothes dryer, we hang our clothes on racks that spend a day or two in a hallway or near a sunny window. There will be a dining room if you are lucky, or maybe an eat-in kitchen – or you may have to squeeze a small table into a corner of the living room (which they call a lounge). The bedrooms are smaller than American bedrooms. What they call a "single", I call a "closet".


Village Street

Now you have the typical English cottage, but we are not finished. Stretch it up to three levels. Remember this island is small so the houses must have a small footprint. There are houses on one level (bungalows), but most houses are two, three, even four levels. Make the staircases narrow and steep because you don’t want to waste too much floor space on them. (You have to have healthy knees to live in an English cottage.)

Change the American Town into Villages Scattered Around a Town

Next we change the layout of the town. In your model divide the town into segments. One segment will be the larger town, the rest will be villages.

Create your first village. Wrap your hands around a group of houses and streets and squeeze them all together into the center. You get a heap of houses surrounded by green space.

The houses are no longer in nice rows – four or five of them may be lined up and attached (a terrace). Sometimes two stick together (semi-detached). Occasionally one falls into its own space (detached). Frequently they jumble together so that you have to go through the garden of one house to get to the house behind. Instead of each house having a good sized front and back yard, some have gardens, some have small courtyards, some have no garden. Hardly any of them end up with a driveway and a garage - waste of space anyway when you can park on the street.

A few houses fall back the way they started - detached house, garage, driveway, front and back gardens. These are the 1980s housing estates built on the edges of English towns and villages. Driving through these areas I feel like I am back in the US (except these houses are much smaller than you find in US neighborhoods).

During this transformation the roads become narrow, usually one lane. Maybe a little wider to let everyone park their cars. Driving on roads in villages is always a challenge - you dodge and weave your way down a street.

Create the rest of your villages and then the town, which is just a slightly larger version of a village. What you end up with is a dense small town, surrounded by countryside and dense villages. Villages back onto farm fields or woods or open common land. No matter where you live in a village, you are close to the countryside.

The Special Ingredient - The Countryside and Public Access to Private Land

And that is what makes all the difference in the English village - the proximity to rural life. Sheep, cows and horses grazing in some fields, crops growing in others. Large areas of protected woodland. Working farms outside the villages.

The countryside is crisscrossed by footpaths. Some of them go along rivers or through protected woodlands, others go through farm fields. We have walked on some footpaths that go right into someone's garden and out the other side. I am waiting to find a footpath that goes through someone's house!

England's "public access to private land" means you can live close to your neighbors but be walking in beautiful countryside in a few minutes. You don't have to own your piece of the countryside, it is there for us all to use.

My English Village

Our house is in a group of five attached houses. Its footprint is small because the house is on three levels (one and half rooms per level). We are on the edge of a village with farm fields and woodland outside our front door. We put on our hiking boots and head out on the miles of trails. When we get bored with these trails we drive over to the next valley.

Instead of living in a small town like Santa Fe and driving through town to different neighborhoods, I drive through farmlands to the next village. Or to town. I drive to the Waitrose in Stroud for groceries. For the Post Office or to pickup a newspaper I walk up the hill to the center of my village. The best bakery is in Nailsworth. For afternoon tea we go to Minchinhampton. If I need something from a department store like Marks and Spencer, I drive to Cheltenham. Everything is within a 30 minute drive.

The reason that we are living in an English village, instead of an American small town, is the access to the footpaths and walking trails. We used to vacation here for a couple of weeks each year, just to go walking. Now we are lucky enough to go walking year-round. The sun just came out - time to put on our boots and go for a walk!


We spent 20 years in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe is as close to a European small town as you get in the US - it is a few hundred years old with neighborhoods of historic houses, the center of town does not have high-rise buildings but is a collection of historic buildings around a plaza (like the “piazza” in Italy or the “village green” in England), houses are jumbled together and many of the roads are narrow. Our house in Santa Fe was historic and small, probably about the same as the one we are in now, but on one level. And we had a driveway and a garage. We had good access to hiking trails in the Santa Fe National Forest, which was close by, but nothing like the amount and variety of trails that we have here.

* From Wikipedia - England, 395 people per square kilometer (1 square mile = 2.58998811 square kilometres).


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April Showers
Posted April 29, 2012 on my Slow Travels blog (no longer online).

At the start of April, the MET Office announced that most of the south of England was officially in drought. Watering restrictions (hose pipe bans) were implemented in the south east counties.

It turns out that England has been in a drought since we arrived. Friends in the US ask me how can I stand the weather in England, picturing a constant downpour of rain. It does not rain as much here as it does in Vancouver, Canada where we used to live. The winters are milder than in Santa Fe. Here it snows once or twice and they think an inch of snow is a disaster, whereas in Santa Fe I remember Steve shoveling our roof because there was so much snow we thought it might collapse.


April sunshine in 2011

Overall, I like the weather here. We can hike year round. Some times of the year it is muddier than I would like, but walking through the fields after a heavy rainfall is delightful. The main problem with the weather is the inconsistency - you never know what it is going to be like. Last summer we had friends visit in June, which the year before had been sunny and hot, but last year was cold and wet. Another friend visited in July and, thank goodness, we had a few brilliant days, but the rest of the time was overcast and drizzly. No one visited when it was sunny and hot for all of April and September.

It is no wonder I think the weather is good - we have been in a drought the whole time we have been here!

Even in a drought, the ground is moist. In Santa Fe the ground is hard and dry, nearly impossible to dig and loose dirt blows around in the spring winds. In England the dirt is dark and damp and has a rich smell. I used to think I was smelling mold but then I realized it was the smell of the outdoors - earthy, moist. Maybe it is because we are on a small island, surrounded by water, criss-crossed by rivers - water everywhere - that the ground stays constantly moist.


Spring hiking in Boulder

No sooner was the drought announced than it started raining, and raining, and raining. We went back to the US at the end of March and missed the one week of hot, sunny weather here. We arrived back to a month of rain. Today it is pouring and the wind is howling and the MET has announced flood warnings. We live in a house beside a river that flooded in the July 2007 Cotswold flood. The upside is we have a new kitchen on the lower level because the old one was destroyed by the flood waters; the downside is obvious. (But rentals are scarce here and we figured what are the chances of a 100 year flood happening twice in a decade? Hmm ... )

Every day I look at the weather forecast for the week. Seven days of rain, temperatures in the 50s. Occasionally a picture of sun with rain. Then I look at Santa Fe - sun and 70s. Paris - rain (that makes me feel better). And Northern Portugal because we are going there in July - rain. April was a rainy month for much of Europe.

We have friends from Canada arriving next weekend. The forecast is saying rain. May 1 is on Tuesday - please bring us May Flowers!!


MET Office - UK's National Weather Service


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Jubilee Weekend
Posted April 29, 2012 on my Slow Travels blog (no longer online).

Bunting everywhere. Long lines of traffic in and out of Stroud. Empty shelves at the Waitrose. Endless TV specials about the Royal Family. It must be the Queen's Diamond Jubilee weekend (celebrating the Queen's 60 years as Monarch).

I wish I could get more excited about this, but after living here for two years I have decided that I am not one of the 70% who want to keep the Monarchy. I really don't see the point. In England someone who does not support the Monarchy is called a Republican, but for obvious reasons from my American background, I just cannot call myself that. :)

I will participate in some of the events this Jubilee weekend but I won't go so far as to cover the house in bunting. The photo above shows flags and bunting from a couple of weeks ago when the Olympic Torch passed through our village (the torch is there in that photo, but you can't see it). The amount of bunting has grown since and now Painswick is looking very festive.


Flags and Bunting

Bunting? I had never heard of it before we moved to England. A string of triangles (sometimes small flags) stretched across the front of a house, or above a window or along a wall. You can see some in the photo. You can purchase cheap plastic bunting, or expensive beautiful bunting, or make it yourself. I had planned on knitting some, but then we got a streak of hot weather and I forgot about it. It doesn't have to be patriotic - it can just be pretty.

A Four-Day Weekend

Usually there are two Bank Holidays (long weekends) in May - one at the beginning and one at the end. This year they moved the second one a week later to the first weekend of June. Then they added a second Bank Holiday for Tuesday. The Royal Family gave us an extra day off! On the news they are already blaming the four-day weekend for the recession, I guess because sales of bunting and flags won't keep the UK economy going.

The Big Jubilee Lunch

The main day of festivities is Sunday. Our village celebrations start with a church service (of course), then a group photo of everyone in the village in front of the church, then a picnic lunch in the churchyard (bring your own lunch). After lunch the village is providing a Jubilee Cake for everyone. There will be music and other live entertainment and Jubilee medals will be handed out to all school children.

At 3pm the church bells will ring, as part of a nationwide Jubilee ringing of bells across the country.

While the Big Jubilee Lunch is going on in towns and villages across the country, the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant happens in London. From 2pm - 6pm over 1,000 boats will parade on the River Thames in London, from Battersea Bridge to Tower Bridge. It will be the largest flotilla ever assembled on the Thames.

Cold and Wet?

The last time I looked at the weather forecast it was cold and wet for Sunday. We just had a week and a half of beautiful sunny and hot weather. Today it is overcast and colder but still nice. By Sunday the temperature is dropping another 10 degrees F. But, the weather forecast changes all the time here - lets hope for sun!


Last Week on Minchinhampton Commons

Beacons of Fire Across the Country

On Monday the big events are a concert in London followed by the Diamond Jubilee Beacons. I assume that a beacon is just a fire and that some are on hilltops. At 10:30pm the Queen will light the National Beacon in London. Then over 4,000 beacons will be lite across England and some of the Commonwealth countries.

The Painswick Beacon is on a high hill just outside of town, but it was decided that the area is too fragile so our beacon fire will be further down the hill. (BBC News - Jubilee beacon will not be lit on Painswick Beacon.)

Let the Diamond Jubilee festivities begin! And then - onwards towards the Olympics!


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The Summer of Mud
Posted October 4, 2012 on my Slow Travels blog (no longer online).

On April 1 it began raining and it continued raining until September. There were some good weeks throughout the spring and summer. The Jubilee Weekend in June was a washout, but anyone who watched the London Olympics knows that we had warm, sunny weather for most of those two weeks. By September it was declared that this was the wettest summer on record in England for over 100 years (or longer - it depends how you define "summer").

This was our third summer in the Cotswolds. We moved here in May 2010. Our first summer was beautiful with hardly any rain, many warm sunny days and even some hot days. We moved here for the hiking and that first summer was a dream come true. Most days we packed a lunch and headed out on the endless footpaths. We hiked along rivers, through meadows, across farm fields. On hot days we walked in the woods.

That fall was nice and the winter mild. We kept hiking all year.


Beautiful day on the Cotswold Way above Edge

Our second summer, 2011, was also very good. Most Brits consider “summer” to be the school holidays which are in August. In 2011 we had great weather from May to July, but there was rain in August, so it was declared a “bad summer”. For us it was a pretty good summer, again with lots of hiking, lots of picnics.

In October we moved to our new house in Painswick and did even more hiking in the fall and winter because the weather was mild and several hiking trails start right from our house.

In spring 2012 we found out why we thought the weather was perfect in England – southern England had been in drought conditions for two years, the two years that we had been living here. Hosepipe bans were declared in the south east, warnings given for our area, the south west. Then, on April 1, after we arrived back from a short trip to the US and Canada, the rain started. Within a month the hosepipe bans were lifted. England was no longer in drought and the reservoirs were full.

I think it rained continuously in April, but I don’t really remember because I had a bad chest infection and was ill for most of the month. This was my body’s reaction to the change in weather. For the next months it rained a lot but we had a good warm week of sunshine each month. One week of glorious weather in England makes up for three weeks of overcast and rain, almost.
"Sitting in an english garden waiting for the sun.
If the sun don't come, you get a tan
From standing in the english rain."
I Am The Walrus, Beatles, 1967
We kept hiking, but trying to avoid the rain (detailed weather forecasts helped). One day while walking on the Cotswold Way near Haresfield we stopped to talk to a man from London who was doing the 100 walk from Chipping Campden to Bath. It had been a very wet week but he talked about the benefits of hiking in the rain – the fresh air, the beauty of the woods in rain, the soothing sound of the rain. It was a mind opening conversation for me.


Mud on the Cotswold Way near Cranham in July

Before we moved here, we came to the Cotswolds on vacation in spring for several years. We always hiked with rain gear and expected, and frequently got, downpours or drizzle. For our first month living in England we kept up the old habits, always carrying rain jackets and backpack covers. Eventually we realized that it never rained, so we stowed away the rain gear. On the occasional wet days, we didn’t hike. Our rain jackets stayed in the back of the closet for two years!

But the wet weather had returned and we were pretending otherwise. It was time to adjust to the new reality. I found our rain jackets, rain trousers, backpack covers and we went back to hiking in the rain. The man from London was right, it was delightful.

Delightful until months of rain resulted in mud like I have never experienced before. We no longer avoided the rain, but we had to try to avoid the mud. Walking trails that are also bridle paths are bad because the horses chew up the trails making perfect conditions for rain to form puddles and mud. There is frequently a lot of mud at the entrance to a field of cows. For some reason the gates into a field are where the cows like to congregate and all those hooves create perfect conditions for mud.

You find the worst mud in fields of grain right after a rain storm. The dirt turns to a wet, concrete-like glue that attaches to your boots and splatters up your legs.


Walking from Winchcombe to Hailes Abbey

We had a friend visiting in August and took her on a short walk from Winchcombe to Hailes Abbey. Half way there, at the edge of a field of wheat, the rain started to pour down. We sheltered under a tree, had a nice conversation with a woman from Holland walking the opposite direction, waited for the storm to pass, and then continued our walk. The field was almost impossible to get through. Our boots where thick with mud. We were mud splattered and soaking wet. Winchcombe is a "Walkers are Welcome" town so after the walk I insisted we would be welcome in a tea room. I was wrong. The three of us stood dripping inside the tea room door, asking if there was a table, attracting a lot of attention - and they asked us to leave!

We had a different version of this experience years ago at The Bell in Sapperton, when we asked if we were too wet to come in and they said "Nonsense!" and pointed us to a table and a place to put our backpacks. Then they gave us a very good lunch. Maybe in Winchcombe they were at their wits end after a very wet summer and too many very wet walkers. Too bad, because what we really needed was tea and cake and a dry place to sit. We went back to the car, changed out of our boots, toweled off a bit and then went to another place where we had coffee and cake.

We ended up having a good walking summer after we realized that we had to adapt to the rain and mud. The cooler temperatures made the walking pleasant. We increased the number of days we walked and the lengths of our walks. We aren't doing the 10 hour walking days that many people do on the long distance trails but two hours is our usual walk several days a week and we like to do a four to five hour walk once a week.

In August we booked a cottage on the Dorset coast two days ahead when we could see there was going to be a sunny week. We had a lovely week in Bridport and went swimming twice.*

A warm, sunny Indian summer arrived in September just as we left for two and a half weeks in France, where we also had good weather. Towards the end of September, just before we got home, torrential rain hit with parts of England receiving a month's worth of rain in a day. I had been hoping to return to dry footpaths, and maybe they did dry out in September, but the mud is back again.

Here's hoping for a dry fall and mild winter. And fingers crossed for next summer!

* This week in Bridport becomes important in a few years when we decide to move there!


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Four Years in England
Posted May 6, 2014 on my Slow Travels blog (no longer online).

Four years ago today we flew from Denver to Heathrow with our cat and a lot of luggage, intending to spend five months in a cottage in the Cotswolds. Four years later we are still here with no plans to leave, but we have not made the decision to stay either.


May 6 2014 - Pauline and Steve (selfie) - 4 years in England

As each year goes by, my memory of our life in the US fades. We returned to the US each of the first two years, but only because we had return tickets. After the second trip back, we let the return portion expire and have not been back since. Last year we sold our house in Boulder, where we had moved six months before we left for England. We have our house in Santa Fe, where we lived for 20 years, and all our possessions are in storage.

At times I think that at my age I should be settled down, not living the kind of uprooted life that we lived 25 year ago, before we settled in Santa Fe. But I am not the only person starting over. Other people my age are making big changes - downsizing, moving to be closer to grand children, changing how they live as they start retirement. So I should stop my whining.

Our life here has become more permanent. We own furniture, we have a car, we pay UK taxes, we have UK credit cards. We don't own a house, but love the house we are renting (our third house in four years). When we travel in Europe, we use our UK (me) and Irish (Steve) passports and our UK driving licenses.

If we return to the US, we will have had several fabulous years in England. We have done miles and miles of walking in the countryside. Last year we walked the length of the Cotswolds on the Cotswold Way. We have traveled in England, to Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. Two or three times each year we travel to France. One summer we went to Portugal. This year we went to Sicily, a part of Italy that we had always wanted to visit. We have done much of the European travel that we wanted to do while based in England.

I still feel "American" because I sound American and people here frequently comment on it. I don't think I will ever feel British. I have my complaints about England, but overall I really like it here and the way of living works well for both of us.

I have set our five year anniversary, a year from today, as a deadline of sorts, to decide if we are staying here. Let’s see how everything looks in a year. Right now I am looking forward to another wonderful English summer!


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December 11, 2019
Reader, we stayed.

We stayed in that Painswick rental until October 2015, when we moved to Bridport, Dorset. We have been here over four years. We sold our house in Santa Fe in 2015. We managed to do this, with the help of good friends, without going back to the US. We rented a house in Bridport for a few months and then bought the house we are living in now. We had our remaining US possessions shipped to us in Dorset.

Our cat Buddy died in February 2015 while we were in Painswick. He was 15 years old and had five good years in the Cotswolds (as did we).

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