Oxford, The Cotswolds, and My British Mum

The Cotswolds is the quintessential English region, where it feels like time is in an indefinite standstill and you are transported back at least 300 years. From the acres and acres of land to the tiny ancient limestone villages, from the undulating hillsides (‘wolds’) to the winding rivers, from the wide open spaces to the beech woods, the Cotswolds is and always will be a very special place to me.

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A Cotswold Cottage | Great Rissington, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom

I arrived at the Cotswolds for a Trusted Housesitters (refer back to the London blog about this phenomenal way to save money and meet new people) house sit, which was arranged back in December. We were super excited about this house sit because one, we were going to live in an actual Cotswolds cottage; two, we would be pet sitting two adorable golden retrievers; and three, our host adopted us into her home and became our British mum. You see, I’ve met quite a few remarkable people in my travels, but Jo is one of my absolute favorites and I was lucky enough to become good friends with her daughter, as well.

Jo is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. She’s the bursar for Balliol College at the University of Oxford; was accidentally blessed by the pope when she got lost in St. Peter’s Basilica; went on a date with Alan Rickman but refuses to believe it was a date; had her house party crashed by Princess Fergie (and reminded her of that a few years later when the princess was meeting members of the Royal Air Force and didn’t remember Jo); had a celery eating contest with the Prince (I don’t remember which one); drinks at least two glasses of wine a night; and does a bit of sailing in Greece on her yacht.

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Balliol College, University of Oxford | Oxford, United Kingdom

We all got along so well, that we ended up staying with her a week after her return from holiday in the French Alps and still keep in contact to this day. Jo even took us with her to work at Oxford, where we had the opportunity to witness history as the very first female Vice Chancellor ever was inducted into this esteemed place of learning. She snuck us into the Grand Hall, which was the inspiration for the Great Hall in the Harry Potter movies, and especially looked it that day as the greatest minds in the world were all there to celebrate their new female Vice Chancellor. I’ve never felt more inadequate. We explored the grounds of Oxford, both in and outside the university, and I fell more and more in love with this university. I happened to be sitting in the bookstore at Oxford when I heard the news of Alan Rickman’s passing. It was a bit surreal, to be in a place where he walked and breathed and worked. It was my second time to the University of Oxford, having visited it in 2009, but I was able to appreciate and love it much more this time around.

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Induction of Vice Chancellor, Grand Hall, Balliol College | Oxford, United Kingdom

Anyway, back to the Cotswolds. Marissa and I had this beautiful cottage all to ourselves for a week, and Jo was kind enough to insure us on her daughter’s car so we could explore a bit, as we were right in the middle of a tiny village of around ten cottages and the nearest store was a 20 minute drive away. However, the car was manual, and unlike in the U.K., we aren’t taught how to drive stick shift.

Right. So. We are in this gorgeous house in the English countryside, but have no food for the week and neither one of us know how to drive stick shift. It has always been a small dream of mine to drive in England (the whole opposite side of the road, opposite side of the car thing), so I was determined to teach myself how to work this thing.

Let me put this into perspective for you: I had absolutely no idea how to drive manual, so I was attempting to teach myself via self-help guides I found on the Internet and YouTube, while having to remember to drive on the other side of the road from the other side of the car.

Seven stalled attempts later, I finally managed to put it into first, then into second, and drove straight on until the road ended and I stalled it on the dirt road in front of someone’s cottage. Five more stalled attempts to put it into reverse later, I get out and decide to ask for help. I trek up the small hill to the farm that is located behind the cottage and ask the lovely British gentleman who is knee-high in mud and clearly in the middle of some hard manual labor if he wouldn’t mind helping me back the car up and turn it around. He encouraged me to rev it a bit more and slowly release the clutch and if that didn’t work, then come and find him and he’ll come down and help.

So I went back to the car to do exactly the same thing, revved it a bit more, and it WORKED. Thanks, Mr. British Farmer Man! After stalling it a few more times trying to get it to go from reverse to first gear, I finally got it back into second and drove straight back to the house, emailed Jo I was quite useless at driving stick but thank you very much for insuring me, and promptly ordered food by Tesco delivery (Thank God grocery stores deliver here!). To further how amazing my British mum is, she responded by telling me to drive her automatic BMW, and she’ll insure me on it within the hour. She is just too kind.

We took the car to the tiny town of Stow-on-the-Wold, where we had our very first High Tea experience, and it was adorable. Like I mentioned in my London post, tea quickly became one of my favorite pastimes and a necessary British experience. It was a beautiful drive through the countryside, but after spending so much time in the cities and populated places, we didn’t use the car again and instead enjoyed the quiet and peace of Little Rissington.

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High Tea | Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom

Traveling is so special because there are moments you experience that you can’t quite explain. You see, there was such fog on one of our morning walks that captivated me. It was a beauty like I’ve never experienced, and a feeling that has never been replicated. We took the dogs on our morning walk through the pastures; the trees are sparse and barren, as the winter cold made itself felt. There was one tree that stood all by itself in the middle of the field: strong, tall, isolated.

As we make our way back, I look again to the bare tree and decide this place, this morning, is the most romantic place I have ever existed in. It’s beautiful, mysterious, eerie, and alluring – the perfect romance. I’m in a small village with centuries old houses; a foreigner in a land built of tradition; a traveler in a place rooted in history; an explorer in an area protective of its secrets; a human in a trance embracing her surroundings. I’ve never been in love, but the respect this place demands captivates me more than any man ever has.

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Early Morning Fog | Great Rissington, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom

The last story I have about this place is about the stars. Since I was is in the middle of the English countryside, lights were scattered and dim, and there were plenty of country walks to take. We walked the dogs every day to the pastures through the woods, passed the Narnia-esque Cotswold manor, said hi to the two llamas that lived up there, walked through the fog of the morning, lit the fireplace every evening, and sipped on tea while reading books. It was so peaceful.

One night, a particularly clear winter night, I was keen on seeing the night sky. We took one of the dogs with us and walked up to where the llamas lived, which was a wide open space without any houses surrounding it. Once we exited the wooded area, the sky opened and there were more stars than I’ve ever seen in my life. We sat on the wooden fence for close to an hour, just gazing at the sky and marveling at the fact that we could see the Milky Way. The moon was gone, as were the clouds. The sky was worthy of Van Gogh. The stars were what poetry is written about. The sky was a lit with a thousand lights, and I…I existed.

Courtney

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Simmie | Great Rissington, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
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Narnia-esque Manor | Great Rissington, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
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Llamas! | Great Rissington, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
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University of Oxford from above | Oxford, United Kingdom
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The Bare Tree | Great Rissington, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom

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