It had been six years since I’d been back to England after studying abroad in London. My time there, (like many have experienced, or joke about on late night sketches) would always be marked by a blur of drunkenness, a time before hangovers, and some of the best months of my life. 2013 also marked a time before iPhones could switch a SIM card out, restricting communication to Nokia brick phones, and recommendations for places to eat, bars to drop in on, and overall general things to do relayed via word of mouth and the beginning stages of Pinterest.
All these years later, with Instagram as my job, I was ready to take the countryside of England and London by storm, and a lot less alcohol. I had blanketed our predetermined destinations with bookmarked images and stars on Google Maps of where I planned to go, what to eat, and overall photographable moments. As a component of my job will always be to capture images that are aesthetically pleasing, it was equally as important for me, this trip, to find moments within the backdrops to find myself present; no data, social media, texting, or any other distraction accessible.
England is not a place you’d think first would offer a large opportunity to disconnect. The history that built the cities and villages are evident in their architecture built between each break of green and yellow farmland. As of late, I have found myself on the search for destinations that bring an overwhelming sense of peace rather than what city I can cover in a matter of a few days. There is something special about the English countryside that almost breathes for you. Looking out onto open spaces with sheep and horses, between the jagged stones that build the side streets as they bend and slope upwards, without a haze of iPhone in hand, heads bowed to their servers, the exception of a few small High streets, life here is slower, the air smells of baby’s breath flowers, and still, without the need for alcohol this trip, there’s always rationale for a pint.
Bath > Castle Combe > Tetbury > Woodmancote > London
Having been founded by the Romans, built by the Georgians and exploited by the Victorians, the city’s namesake can be briefly toured, but holds so much more history in the divets between the cobblestone paths, winding alleys and upward climbs to the classic British framework of buildings that surround the city.
Where We Stayed
Guised in the facades of nearly identical rows of homes on top of the hills of the city, The Queensberry Hotel sits above the quiet energy of the city. Allotting ourselves just enough time to rest before sitting down to dinner at the restaurant downstairs, I indulged myself in research of the restaurants of the countryside soaking in a deep bath that overlooked the rows of apartments outside.
The hotel itself is a renovated boutique hotel is spread across four beautiful Georgian terrace buildings right near the centre of the Bath World Heritage Site. Our room, one of 29, was individually designed and furnished following Georgian tradition with twists of contemporary comfort and colors. Downstairs houses a number of sitting rooms, a full bar as well as a walled garden.
The hotel is also home to a Michelin star restaurant, The Olive Tree, in the basement of the building, a perfect locale for its wine cellar, while still drenched in the English sunlight that lasted until 9pm.
My friend and I both went with a seven course menu - one meat and one vegetarian which I will describe down the menu:
Raw Orkney Scallop with horseradish, pink grapefruit and dill
Ox Tongue with Isle of Wight Tomatoes and a tomato foam, Worcestershire sauce and nasturtiums
Brill on the bone, asparagus, baby fried shrimp, salted lemon and sherry
Wooley Park Farm Duck, BBQ beet, sea beats, hazelnut and blackcurrant
Tor (Goat cheese), golden raisins, Bonini Modena, and chicory
Fed and full to the brim, a light coating of New Zealand white, we slept hard and woke up early the next morning for a quick walk around the city before heading to the Cotswolds.
Truth be told, I suppose I heard about the Cotswolds first from The Holiday. A classic Christmas movie starring the likes of Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jack Black and Jude Law (if you’ve been living under a rock for the past 15 years). The little home in the countryside described in the movie fit the exact getaway any overly stressed out individual might breathe into, though never sat high on my list of places to visit because of just that.
The rows of yellow stone buildings zigzag up and down the hills of the little towns they reside in, inaccessible by Uber. Seemingly untouched by time and change of cities that continually grow upward to accommodate the overflow of individuals trying to make a name for themselves, the Cotswolds are a place in a Western world that juxtaposes its mentality en mas for consumption and growth.
As with any trip, I didn’t take nearly enough pictures to capture, what I assume I want to be, the feelings and emotions these destinations evoke while wandering their grounds. The sleepy towns slow you down the moment you roll into them; little villages seemingly out of nowhere in the countryside, are only recognizable by a street or two of shops and homes clustered together between farm and forest.
There could be more to say in the imagined lives of those whose striped clothing hang on the lines in the backyard, visible only through a break of foliage beyond hand-built walls than what the towns say for themselves. They are calm and simple, and inevitably, the reason to venture to them in the first place.
In the region of the Cotswolds, we stayed in two towns: Tetbury and Woodmancote - both of which no one in London we’d talked to ever heard of, which is exactly what we were looking for.
Where We Stayed
The pub houses only six en suite rooms, and under the string lights that drape back and forth across a green patch of land, livens in the late afternoon and evening as a favorite spot for locals.
The room itself was thought out for maximum comfort and the staff was warm, welcoming and hospitable to our every need.
Truthfully, there wasn’t much more to do than to explore a bit of the town’s antique stores, and we stayed an afternoon at a cafe writing, reading and talking, and that’s all the activity there to do.
In the evening, we called a cab from the front desk to bring us to The Rectory Hotel where we ordered matching plates brought to our gold table overlooking a garden, croquet game played by two handsome older couples and local church. Indulging in another cocktail we couldn’t say no to, we sipped as the bells rang on the hour with the birds in echo.
We took a quick the local transportation service, Pink Cab to our next destination of Woodmancote, whose nearest pub was more than a mile away. Painted by the brushstrokes in yellows of the canola oil flowers and greens of the first gasps of summer, the area verged on farmland in its entirety. Within an oasis of the empty land, we found The Old Tailors, a stunning new Airbnb, an homage to its rustic exteriors and chic in its upcycled juxtapositions. The team behind it is a husband and wife who are dealers in decorative antiques, vintage and industrial furniture and lighting - quite evident in the design of their cottage.
In addition to the cottage which just opened a week prior to our visit, the couple owns a showroom, The Original House in the Cotswolds down the road, which is open by appointment only, and has supplied pieces to inject character and a sense of history to modern spaces like Soho Houses and award winning restaurants and the likes of Ralph Lauren, Jack Wills, Nike and More.
Taking a short walk, suitcases dragging behind us, and satisfied from a quiet night’s sleep, fitted with croissants and jam (also thoughtfully supplied in the cabin), we watched the last bits of the Cotswolds fade from village to village. Craning our heads, we soaked in the remains of our peaceful getaway, as much as was possible on a city bus to a train, in between research and writing, back to our certain realities outside of a fairytale weekend.