2013 was the summer of England and France. My husband, Brent, and I hit seven cities in three weeks, taking in a mix of city and country. This is part of a series of blog posts recounting our adventures over July of 2013.
I’m not going to talk about leaving London. I don’t want to remember the door clutching, breath holding, sheer fear of riding in the passenger seat on the wrong side of the car, getting lost before we even made it out of Heathrow airport. I don’t want to relive how we got to Chipping Campden.
I just want to tell you about the most quintessentially English experience that we had while in England.
Chipping Campden (in the Cotswolds region) is the English equivalent of a stereotypical small Canadian town – you know, a place where lumberjacks actually exist, people punctuate sentences with “eh,” and everybody likes Maple Syrup. But picture it with all the British stereotypes. It sounds like something that an uninformed, generalizing jerk would make up, but it’s real.
And we went there. On purpose. And it was amazing.
In Chipping Campden, we stayed in a holiday home called Cosy Corner. Even the name still makes me giddy with the quaintness of it all. At Cosy Corner, we actually had horses pass by our windows, their riders sitting properly in English saddles, sharing the single lane road with two lanes of cars.
We also had an authentic floral tea set. I had a cuppa and drank it out of a teacup decorated with flowers. I even used a saucer. My mondo mug at home does not compare. Having tea in Chipping Campden made me feel amazingly English.
In Cosy Corner, there’s a stack of tourist information left by our wonderful host (who came to find us in town and lead us to our temporary home when we got lost) and previous guests. We looked at these the first night we were there, and were immediately struck with déjà vu. Ever seen “Hot Fuzz”? Yeah, villages like that really exist! And Chipping Campden is one of them. Though I think there was less “For the greater good” cult-like behavior going on, the town newsletter in which envelopes of cash were listed as “found” and minor cases of vandalism were called “anti-social behavior” made us feel like we were liable to hear the mantra at any time.
But instead, we heard arguments about tea-cozies. Really. And the best part? This was at the Tourist Information Centre, where they were trying to receive a purchase order of souvenir items, but couldn’t find the tea-cozies. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the awesomeness of this scene. We walked into the centre looking for a map, and came upon two older ladies so distracted by missing tea-cozies that they didn’t even notice us. Tea-cozies demanded their full attention – an item that would be hard to find over here, let alone cause for stress if they weren’t received when expected.
But we got our map. It was a map of the High Street, with background information about the buildings in town. The history geek in me was thrilled, but we didn’t do the walking tour until our last night in Chipping Campden. We started at The Red Lion Inn, where we Brent noshed on his first authentic pub fish and chips. During our meal, a small group of patrons toting instruments started to form, and we realized that it was folk music night at the Red Lion. In my city folk, Canadian brain, this meant that the folks who were arriving were the band, and they’d be playing that night.
I was even partly right.
When we made it back to the pub after our walk, we could barely squeeze into the room. At least twenty-five people, ranging in age from early-twenties to mid-seventies – were crammed into the small pub, each holding a fiddle, flute, drum, guitar, accordion, and even spoons. Some came with only their voice, but they all played together. One person would start a song, and the rest of the room would join in, creating harmonies and supporting with whatever instrument they had brought.
It was a giant folk-music jam session, and we – two Canadian tourists – found ourselves in the middle of it, singing along to choruses once we caught on. And we were welcome. The group that had been there during our dinner smiled and waved in greeting, inviting us into their world of community, generation-less songs, and understated pride in their heritage.
Then, we left. Three nights in Chipping Campden, a place where there’s nothing to “do” wasn’t enough. I long for the serenity, the friendly people, the cooing of the pigeons, and the dogs in the pubs.
We couldn’t take the Cotswolds home with us, but we can return. And we will.
We just won’t be driving there.