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U.K. Travel Diary – Day 4

April 25, 2011
Stow on the Wold

We drove out of Bath through the hilly Cotswolds country – where all the cream-colored stone houses dot the landscape.  When you think of quaint English villages (reminded me of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd), you think of the Cotswolds.   There were even plenty of border collies…

We passed by the gates to Charles’s and Camilla’s country house near the town of Tetbury, then stopped in Stow-on-the-Wold (whose name means “sheep pens on the hills”) for a loo break.  Basically, our driver Tom is required by union law to have 40 minutes of uninterrupted break time every 4 hours.  What a charming town it is, too.  There’s even a picturesque little inn tucked into a close off the square.

Anne Hathaway's House

Next we were off to the tourist haven of Stratford-Upon-Avon, Willy Shakespeare’s humble but proud birthplace.  We are visiting on the Ides of March, which made the literary nerd in me rejoice – how perfect!   We first stopped at Anne Hathaway’s cottage, which is across from a charming little stram with Mallard ducks lazily floating by.   The Hathaways were well-to-do merchants during Tudor times and they had quite a nice plot of land off the city centre, and the house has been restored pretty close to the original design, complete with thatched roof and a splendid garden.

The Shakespeares, by contrast, lived on one of the busiest streets in Stratford.  John, Will’s father, was a successful glovemaker.  The birthplace itself has been changed into a combination of library, research center, and tourist destination.  Such a tiny house, which would have been home to adults, children and possibly even William and Anne after they first got married.   One of my most iconic moments in England was to be able to walk around the same house where one of the world’s most important and dynamic writers was born and lived many of his early years.

in front of Shakespeare's House

I have no doubt that Willy is amused that his humble childhood dwelling has become the 2nd largest tourist attraction in England (after London itself). 

We finally had our first English fish and chips experience in Stratford for lunch, at Barnard’s Fish – a famous hole-in-the-wall shoppe that overlooks the river Avon.

Then, back on the bus for a short drive to Wales.

Llangollen (pronounced THLAN-GOTH-LEN) is a little Welsh town in the North that is known for its picturesque canal which goes over a historic Roman aqueduct.  It was also the home of the “Mary” in the famous nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.  The rhyme was written by Mary’s American nanny on the day that Mary’s young lamb caused a town ruckus by following her to school. 

main street in Llangollen

We took the canal ride 45 minutes up the river Dee in a long boat.  Llangollen is tucked inside a valley (called a “vale” over here) – crossing the border was an instant change of landscape.  There are large hills with timbered houses built right into the side.  On the day we arrived, it was misty and had a romantic, rolling fog about the scenery.  It is a friendly, cute town.  Everyone was greeting each other warmly (and even greeting each others’ dogs with a pat on the head).

The canal ride was lovely, and then we stopped at a Georgian-era pub with a cavernous working fireplace.  It was right out of a period film – heaven for me.  I had a pint of Guiness and enjoyed the view over the Llangollen valley.

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