We joined a Meetup.com group for a day trip to the Cotswolds yesterday. The Meetup had collectively rented a bus for the two-hour trip out, which may sound weird, but given that the trains are SO EXPENSIVE here- Concord flights are cheaper per mile on some routes– a £20/per person bus ride was a screaming deal. I’d wanted to see the Cotswolds for some time, so we were off at (ugh) 7:30am Saturday morning.
The Cotswolds are…how shall I explain…a region of veddy British, Beatrix-Potter-precious villages, all made from cream Cotswolds stone. The British love their Cotswolds. Visiting them is a bit like going back in time to the glory days of Englishness, when all that mattered was tea and pip-pip jolly good mate and colonizing 90% of the globe into the British Empire. However, outside of Britain, the Cotswolds aren’t very well-known. Before I emigrated, I’d heard of the most famous town, Bath, but that was it.
Our first stop was the Broadway Tower, a peculiar British vanity project from 1799. It’s a tower. Built in the middle of a field. On a hill. Essentially, some bored, rich English chick wanted to know if this tower could be seen from her house. Yep, sure can. And they’re quite proud of this tower, because it’s the second highest viewpoint in the Cotswolds. (Those of us from mountainous regions snickered quietly and derisively.)
By the way, in that photo, my hair isn’t in a ponytail. It’s being blown straight back by the most bone-chilling August wind I’ve ever experienced. In fact, we’d chosen this trip in August so as to enjoy a lovely summer’s day in the English countryside. However, apparently there are no such days in the Cotswolds- the wind shrieks and the rain pours just about year-round. How lovely. I was wet. And cold. In fucking August. Them’s fightin’ words.
Over the course of the twelve-hour day, we visited the preciously-named villages of Mickleton, Moreton-in-Marsh, Stow-on-the-Wold, Nauton, Bourton-on-the-Water, Lower Slaughter, Kingham, and Snotsby-upon-Scrotum (that last one is a joke). But know what’s NOT a joke village name? Dicks Mount, Suffolk; Crotch Crescent, Oxford; and the piece de resistance, Fudgepack upon Humber, Humberside. (side note: I must visit that place.)
So with that many towns on the itinerary, each visit was a very rushed forty-five minutes. But after the first few villages, I began to realize that a short hour in each was more than enough. Why? Well…in my opinion, you kind of have to be British to dig the Cotswolds. They’re beautiful, don’t get me wrong…but as with most charming British places, they’ve been given over to cars, overcrowding, and serious tourist trappiness. I mean, if you want a kitschy tea room, each village has about ten of them, out of fifteen total businesses. And those other businesses, without fail, sell tourist trinkets, fudge, cheese, ice cream, or beer. There’s nothing to suggest real life goes on in these towns; no theaters, no community centers, no sidewalks, no groceries, no laundrettes….just rows and rows of identical cutesy houses and stone tourist shops.
Once upon a time, these were sweet thriving villages, but today, the only inhabitants are working the tourist trade, retirees, or worst of all, Über-rich Londoners with their second “country home” and a Ferrari in the cottage’s driveway. Gag. (I have a colleague who grew up in the Cotswolds, and now that I’ve been, I can’t figure out what he did to stave off boredom, aside from heavy drinking and biding his time until he turned eighteen and could flee to London.)
There is literally nothing going on but the constant influx of tourists in their cars, and the cars also contribute to the overall ruining of the traditional village feel. So while the Brits may ooh and aah over the Cotswolds and their countryside views, they have nothing on the rolling wineland hills of Tuscany, Provence, Portugal, even Napa (also: NO WINE). And unlike the Cotswolds, many of these adorable villages have banned cars- because as I had noticed, it’s pretty fucking hard to feel like you’re experiencing a historic region when you’re constantly getting nearly run over by a 4×4 in a medieval alleyway.
There is history here, though it seems to be quietly getting crushed under the weight of all those tea shops and parking lots. I found some very cool pubs with both historical and literary importance: The Bell Inn in Moreton-in-Marsh, J.R.R. Tolkien’s inspiration for The Prancing Pony in “The Lord of the Rings,” and The Porch House in Stow-on-the-Wold, which claims to be Britain’s oldest pub, from 947 AD. Now, I’ve been around Europe enough to take that claim with a grain of salt– like the ten different places in Spain which all claim to have THE Holy Grail- but in the spirit of international cooperation I will choose to believe this claim.
Overall, while it wasn’t really my cup of tea (pun intended), I’m glad we took the time to see the Cotswolds. Because now, when I am told by Brits how amazing this place is, I can resist the urge to book a weekender trip there, only to be slowly lulled into a coma of boredom, interrupted only by yet another tea shop offering me afternoon tea at £10 a pop.
Next weekend: LYON!!