A Bloody Good Start to the London Weekend

The transition from countryside to big city came about slowly on the train to London. And the moment we stepped off at Marylebone station, I had the feeling of Mumbai at the enormous station, teeming crowds, black cabs, and the need to rush about.

We were staying with our friends, Mann & Aditi, who’ve recently moved to London but have been travelling there for years. Our first time in London couldn’t get any better.

We set off on Saturday morning at a leisurely hour, straight away to the Tower of London. There wasn’t enough time to get in and look at everything, but we happily settled for admiring the poppies installation, the official name is Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, remembering the British fatalities of WWI. To be able to see the poppies, you have to be able to look over the sea of people first. It is well worth the effort. The structure is more fortress than tower, started by William the Conqueror in 1078, and subsequently expanded in the 12th & 13th centuries. Of course, it has a long and varied history of sieges, wars, imprisonment and execution. (Click on the links, there is a wealth of information there.)

The Tower Bridge connects the banks of the river Thames at this point. We walked across, just taking in the big city sights and sounds, enjoying the weather, admiring the architecture. I was especially fascinated with the Shard.

And we couldn’t NOT have lunch at a pub, could we?

London sights London sights

More walking in the evening to Covent Garden and Piccadilly, meeting a friend over coffee, an entertaining bus ride, and a delicious Persian dinner at the family-run Lavash in the neighbourhood.

All Good Things Cometh to an End, as doth Fancy Titles Penned*

Friday morning I was torn between going back to the Cotswolds, exploring Blenheim Palace and Baddesly Clinton, all in different directions from Warwick. But common sense prevailed, and I decided to stick around Warwick.

First stop: Jamie’s office. Who wouldn’t want to work here?

Warwickshire Golf Club Warwickshire Golf Club Warwickshire Golf Club

 

As the sun was out, the Mill Garden behind Warwick Castle was open, and I had my chance to get up close with pretty flowers. There’s a £2 entry charge that you drop in the box at the gate. I even got to see the launch of the trebuchet at the castle from a distance.

 

Then, after a couple of rounds of Warwick town, because of diversions (the MOP fair has come to town), looking for parking, to the Lord Leycester Hospital. This is not a hospital at all, but a retirement home for ex-servicemen, with plenty of character and loads of history. And picturesque too.

Lunch was at the Tilted Wig, amidst all the chaos of the Mop set up right outside, in the town square. Then it was time to pick up Souvik, return the car, catch the train and find our way to London, to party the night away with our dear friends.

    *By which time you take this service for granted!

The beauty of Cotswolds to behold, the Contents of Haggis Ne’er to be Told

Back from Cotswolds

Hah! That was Not how the day started**. Sunshine brightened my day and made everything beautiful.

Driving in England for the first time was a little stressful, as they have far more rules than I’m used to in India and Indonesia. I was committed, though, and a few minutes into the drive, guided by the efficient SatNav, I was well on my way into the beautiful countryside.

It was a Herculean task to keep my eyes on the road, when I wanted to admire the landscape. The sun shone fiercely, and an hour later, as I drove into Stow-on-the-wold, I wanted the drive to end fast! My plan was to drive as far as Northleach and work my way backwards to Bourton-on-the-water and Stow. However, I wasn’t able to go past Bourton-on-the-water because a) it looked so pretty, and b) how foolish I was being sitting in the car when I should be out walking in the sunshine.

The decision was rewarding – picture-postcard views of the riverside, charming honey-coloured cottages, tempting shopping. I had my fill of all.

I had to tear myself from this village to get going to the next stop at Northleach. Stopped there for lunch at the Wheatsheaf Inn and had a little walk around the village after that.

The village Painswick had stuck in my brain while reading the Lonely Planet, and with the few hours of sunshine left, I chose to drive there. But not before detouring into some farm roads and getting in a few pictures.

Cotswolds Cotswolds

Painswick was unique in its landscaping of the church of St Mary and the 99 yew trees that have legendary status, but mostly built in the same Cotswold stone that I am now in love with.

I couldn’t linger, thinking that there might be just enough time to enjoy a cup of tea at Stow, and started the drive back. This time, there was much less traffic, and a few good spots to park by the roadside to collect some evidence of the famed Cotswolds landscape.

Cotswolds Cotswolds

As it turned out, the photo ops ate into tea time, and I couldn’t stop any more.

Back into Warwick, it was time for the haggis dinner with Jamie and Denise. I had the veggie adaptation which was yummy, and Souvik overate as usual.

** It was the end of the day scene, just as I pulled into the Premier Inn car park.

Ruins and glory is history’s lot, Oh the thrill when the car was got*

It was the day to pick up the car in the afternoon, which meant that I couldn’t venture too far in the morning. There was some frantic tossing of the coin to choose from a ride to Henley-on-Thames and Oxford some 100 miles away to Baddesley Clinton and Kenilworth next door. After a sumptuous breakfast, the decision was made and Kenilworth won.

Kenilworth is just 6 miles from the hotel, but I wanted to save my energy for traipsing around the castle, so a 10-minute taxi ride it was. I’m still marvelling at how short the distances are, and how little time it takes to drive from one place to another.

The Kenilworth castle has hundreds of years of history associated with it, some wars, some sieges, some romance. It was first built in the early 12th century as a single structure, then was expanded by successive rulers into a palace fortress surrounded by a ‘dammed’ lake and finally a renaissance palace before it was destroyed, and now is preserved as a heritage structure.

The self-guided tour is wonderful; the history and architecture dished out in bite-sized doses, as you walk around the various points of interest. There was a school trip in progress while I was there. It was almost as much fun to watch them learn about the castle from the teacher who was making it come alive with stories about kings and battles and lots of playacting.

A significant part of the tour is dedicated to the story of how Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, wooed Queen Elizabeth I, by buiding new sections to the castle and a beautiful garden for her. There’s an exhibition on this piece of history in the gatehouse. And I have to go back and watch the movie Elizabeth by Shekhar Kapur.

The stables now house a cafe, where I had my lunch of cheese and chutney sandwich and a pot of tea with a fudgy brownie. Set off by bus to Leamington, picked up a very nice car with satellite navigation, and got back to the hotel to spend the evening planning out the route for today.

Jamie and Denise had promised us a Scottish dinner of haggis (veggie for me), but Tammy put her foot down and we ended up at a fabulous Italian restaurant instead. The menu sounded like Italian-English fusion, and I thoroughly enjoyed my beetroot risotto with grilled goat cheese tart and caramelised onions. Souvik had chicken with butternut squash. The food was delicious, but the company was super, and we had a madly entertaining evening.

*Now there’s a pressure to do this daily, and Souvik has started to protest!

Tread boldly in Garden Yonder as Banished is Thy Dog Poo

I had expected all of England to be well-connected by bus and train, but apparently Warwick is not on that map. The best connected town from Warwick is Royal Leamington Spa (which is not really a spa any more), so that’s where I headed, with a half-baked plan to hire a car to drive myself around.

The bus to Leamington is easy access, and I had my usual late start. This place is now known best for its shopping, and how! I made a quick getaway from the shopping-focused Regent street to the visitor information centre. Not that much to ‘see and do’, but I did the no-brainer tour of the Royal Pumps Room gallery that showed what the town was like in its heyday of mineral spa treatments and baths.

Walking in LeamingtonWalking in Leamington

The walk through Jephson Gardens was much more rewarding from the ‘eye-candy’ aspect – the colours of autumn were a joy to behold. I missed my Friday Photo Club friends on this walk!

Next was a quick peek into the All Saints’ Church before grabbing a sandwich at the Big Cup Cafe across the street.

Walking in Leamington Walking in Leamington Walking in Leamington

Finally I mustered up the courage to walk up to the car hire people and booked myself a small car for the next 2 days. Once that deal was done, I walked all the way back to Warwick, past pretty neighbourhoods and leafy lanes, for a well deserved coffee and cake in town.

Walking in Leamington Walking in Leamington Walking in Leamington

And if you would like to know the exact path I walked on, here it is:

Met Souvik & Jamie for a delicious Thai dinner at The Art Kitchen for a much needed dose of spice.

When all seemeth lost, hope shalt not*

It was one of those days when nothing wants to go right.

Souvik went to work, and I had a easy morning with a late breakfast, still digesting that enormous roast dinner at Jamie’s the night before. The forecast was cold and wet, and I thought, perfect for walking off all the big meals. The walk was very pleasant, not raining when I started off, but the drizzle started soon after, just as I stopped for a photo on the bridge.

Walking in Warwick

A short brisk walk later I was in the town centre, and walked up to the Collegiate Church of St. Mary. As I settled down to take some photos, I had the scary realisation that my purse was no longer around my neck. Exercising extreme self-control to not curse inside the church, I frantically texted Souvik, and dashed out to retrace my path. I was quite sure it would have fallen off on the bridge above, when I stopped to wear the rain poncho. Right near the hotel, so I would have to walk back all the way. Didn’t notice the rain and almost ignored the traffic, trying to get the internet connection on my mobile phone to look for Inna Aji’s mantra for recovering lost things. Couldn’t find the mantra, so repeated “Inna Aji’s mantra” over and over again! In the meantime, Jamie and Souvik had swung into action and started off to pick me up. We drove to the bridge, and voila! There was the purse in the exact same spot where I’d dropped it. I thanked the Lord, and the weather gods, and Inna Aji’s mantra, and we picked up Denise to have a quick lunch at the Rose and Garden.

After lunch, it was back to St. Mary’s Church to begin my tour. This church dates back to 1123, but was later rebuilt by Thomas Beauchamp. There were further additions, and a restoration after the church was mostly destroyed in a fire, but the crypt from the original structure is still persevered.

There was no more complaining about the weather; I was determined to walk everywhere. The Warwick Museum was closed, as was the Lord Leycester Hospital (it being Monday). I walked on to the St. Nicholas Park, only for a sighting of Warwick Castle from the bridge.

Walking in Warwick Walking in Warwick

Took a chance walking down Mill Street but the Mill Garden was closed too, because of the weather, I think. More great views of the castle from here, and some sneaky pictures of the garden from the fence.

A short foray into Smith Street, but now I was looking for someplace warm, and so headed back to the Thomas Oken Tea Rooms. My phone battery had died a while back, and there was no way to contact Souvik. I was chilled to the bone, but entering the Tea Room, I was charmed by the decor, and warmed by the hospitality, which included an iPhone charger to bring alive my phone.

Walking in Warwick Walking in Warwick

Souvik caught up with me a couple of hours later. Having spent all day indoors, except for the lunch drive, he couldn’t tolerate the cold and rain, so we settled for dinner at the hotel. I had risotto, Souvik his weekly quota of Chicken Makhani. Whoa, what a day!

*One of those titles by Souvik that actually makes sense

Whilst kings battle history rivers runneth crimson*

If you wanted to have glorious sunshine all the time you should’ve stayed back in Jakarta. In England, you should be thrilled to experience the wet weather, mixed with the cold, freezing your toes, noes, and everything in between. We did. The Mop left town in the dead of night, and the town square was restored to its former glory.

Walking around Stratford

The river that shone in the sun before could barely be seen, though the energy of the swans and ducks continued unabated.

Walking around Stratford

We ran into a Sunday market outside the RSC:

Walking around StratfordWalking around Stratford

Then it was time to pack and bid goodbye to the charming town of Stratford-upon-Avon, especially our hosts, Sue and Simon at the adorable Adelphi Guest House.

Walking around Stratford Walking around Stratford

Our friend, Jamie drove us from Stratford to our next destination, Warwick. Our first stop was Warwick Castle, their biggest attraction. The words ‘attraction’ and ‘theme park’ put a fear in my heart, and this one is owned by Tussaud’s. To our very pleasant surprise, not only is the castle very attractive, that is, well preserved and impressive, but the scenes depicting life in the medieval times are done beautifully, and you can see the stamp of Tussauds in the expressions of the models. Climbing up the turrets in the castle, you can see the beautiful views of Warwick town and the landscape beyond. The river below is Avon. The theme shows we saw were fun too, especially the Trebuchet launching the fireball.

Did you see the very realistic expressions of the wax models above? Hah, one of them is a real person. Can you guess which one? He appears in a couple of different scenes.

Warwick Castle was first built in 1068 by William the Conqueror, then rebuilt in stone in the 12th century, and fortified over the years. Click the link to learn more about its history. The visit took up a good 3 hours, plus some more with kids I suppose. We loved it!

*Title credit – guess who!