A variety of villages

June 29, 2007

It has been a long time since we experienced a British June and we had forgotten how pleasant it can be, with its honeysuckle in the hedgerows and the grassy hillsides red with poppies.

Between the Liverpool docks and Gatwick airport our holiday travels, mainly on the back roads, took us through many settlements that North Americans would rave about and call “historic”, though their inhabitants are more likely to take their surroundings for granted.

Before heading down the Old Chester Road on June 2nd we made a detour to Port Sunlight, another philanthropic village–like Bromborough Pool for Mr Wilson’s candle-makers or Bournville for George Cadbury’s chocolate factory workers–built in this case by W.H. Lever, the maker of Sunlight Soap. Nowadays you’d have to be a millionaire to own a property in such places which to my mind have an aura of fantasy about them like a film-set, too idyllic to be quite real. Port Sunlight boasts a museum, an art gallery, a village social club grandly named “the Lyceum,” a theatre, an inn (formerly a temperance meeting house!), a huge church and “a Tea Rooms.”

Later in the day our drive took us through the Vale of Evesham in the Cotswolds where, again, the villages with their pale gold limestone cottages dotted with climbing roses seemed almost too pretty to be credible, especially after our week on the austere Atlantic! We stopped for tea and cake in Moreton-in-Marsh. The place names in this region generally consist of more than one word (Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Campden, Chipping Norton, Barton-on-the-Heath, Nether Westcote) and I amused myself by inventing some more: Little-Piddle-in-the-Bushes, Loose Chippings, Berrid-Under-Ground, and so on.

When we were in the border country zigzagging between England and Wales a week later we travelled through some other attractive three word places: Ross-on-Wye, Hay-on-Wye and tiny Capel-y-Ffin as Chris mentioned in his Blog, where St Mary’s Church nestles, a vase of wildflowers on the stone windowsill, another in the font, three teddy bears on the harmonium and a quotation from the Psalms etched into the altar window:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help

and if you look through the window, there they are. If ever you crave peace and quiet, come here. This place does not change.

We slept at The Swan in Hay-on-Wye, a bookish town of which we’re very fond, having spent the previous night at The Swan in Eynsham near Oxford, the site of an 11th century abbey and famous in its day for medieval fairs, the Black Death, mail coaches, cockfights, river trade and Morris dancing, besides. Walking past thatched cottages we reached the village cricket pitch behind the church via an excellent Bangladeshi restaurant.


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