The long, cool spring of horrors

The horrors, of course, are the many manifestations of Covid-19, aka the coronavirus, aka the pandemic, the global pandemic, the quarantine, etc.  Starting around March 13, when everything shut down with only a few hours’ notice, we have been living a different life from anything we were imagining before.  No socializing, library and schools closed, businesses shut down, restaurants only providing takeout (and several with groceries available, too), curbside pickup at stores, no going out to eat, listening to music, having meetings. Don’t even think about traveling, not an hour up the road to Washington or across the ocean to Vienna, as was our plan for September.  It’s not so bad for people like me who have money and access to food and supplies, but it still wears a person down, especially given the criminal negligence of the government.  But that rant will remain unwritten here.

On the other hand, it’s been a lovely spring.  The cool weather has persisted with none of the 80+ degree days in April that cook the tulips.  Instead, long stretches of cool, sunny weather with even frost warnings a couple times in the last week.  We’re down for the year, but for the month our rainfall is right on track.  I can’t complain!

Narcissus ‘Sunlight Sensation’ and ‘Baby Boomer’ not only bloomed prolifically but lasted and lasted.  This is ‘Sunlight Sensation.’  Would definitely buy more next year to strew under the maple tree.

The tulips were a bit meager this year, with a few exceptions.  The ‘Happy Generation’ tulip that was supposed to bloom with this ‘Pink Charm’ narcissus barely grew a leaf or two. Tulips in pots seemed to be particularly weak or non-existent.  Voles??

On the other hand,  these dark pink tulips seem to be perennial (so far) and dutifully bloomed at the same time as the viburnum (just out of the frame).

The unfortunately named tulip ‘Bud Light’ was particuarly beautiful, though I don’t have a good picture from my garden.  Here’s one from Jackson & Perkins, and it’s just about how it looked for me, too.

Another one I’d buy again.

The oak tree garden, as always, was an absolute delight, starting with the winter aconites in January.  Here they are on February 9th, interspersed with snow drops. 

And a wider view, on April 11,

when the aconites are gone except for their foliage, and the bluebells, star of Bethlehem, columbine, Japanese roof iris and bleeding heart have taken over.

A closeup of the bluebells in late March: 

Not to forget the hellebores!  They bloom so early, last so long in bouquets, and are so incredibly lovely that I don’t mind that they breed like rabbits and self-seed everywhere.  This one was blooming on February 9th. 

So many beauties that I had to make a slide show for you.

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But wait, don’t forget the peonies and roses!  This was a hand-me-down from my friend Susan Hepler, known to me always as the Hepler peony.  The ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ has tons of buds but no blooms yet.

‘Zepherine Drouhin’ is one of my favorites, though it seems to have a fainter scent this year.  Maybe because of the cooler weather?

The ‘souvenir de Ste. Anne’ is an Earthkind rose, the very palest of pale pinks.

Then there is this neglected part of the garden:

The oakleaf hydrangeas that were supposed to grow six feet tall and help to obliterate my view of the neighbor’s shed never did grow very tall.  Then last year we had lots of rain at one point, and this corner of the garden tends to get soggy.  I think they have given up the ghost, and a great culling will happen here soon.  Edging, obliterating the hydrangeas and forsythia (at least some of it) and cutting down the maple saplings that have taken root.  What a mess!  Welcome to spring in Virginia!

A fort, an introduction, a monkey

Today was our first full day together, and it was a good one!  After breakfast – a buffet filled with delicious Indian food as well as hearty English fare – we piled into two minibuses for our morning out to the Amber Fort (above pic is from the bus).  We transferred at the bottom of the hill to several jeeps for the steep ride up.

But first, a famous step well, built 400 years  ago to collect water during the rainy season. The structure is well-known for its Escher-like stairs.  Some claim that you can’t go up and down using the same set of stairs unless you’re a local. I didn’t dare try!  Another view:

It was also a gathering place for women (as it was for us!). 

Carol and Caron sitting in one of the little gazebos at the top.

And of course, the ubiquitous monkeys.

Back in the jeeps for the final stretch up the steep hill to the fort or palace, another UNESCO World Heritage Site and an example of Mughal-Indian architecture.  Once inside, you enter a series of beautiful courtyards.  (Thanks, Getty images.)

We met our guide who explained the fort to us, though between the noise of the crowds and his strong accent,  it was not terribly illuminating. There are three palaces here, winter, summer and monsoon, where the princesses lived. No man was allowed in except for the king. Again, we marvelled at beautiful carvings and painted walls. Inside the palaces were more decorated walls, the winter palace with inserted mirrors to reflect the light on cold winter days.  This one featured sparkling inlaid glass in intricate patterns.

and more beautiful carvings and decorations.

And looking up from the fort, long walls along the ridgeline to keep out…someone?

Elephants were seen everywhere, including in real life (though one is advised not to take a ride for the sake of the animals’ health).

It was a fascinating site, though I felt very much like a tourist. But it’s a great memory to invoke when I next read about the Mughals.

On our way back, here’s a glimpse of the small town of Amer from our jeep.  I was trying to capture the incredible traffic and the millions of small food stands and shops though I missed the elephant lumbering along, so you must just imagine it. 

After the Amber fort we stopped by a bookstore with an interesting selection. I’m really liking the Dalrymple book so hope to read more of him when I get home.  Here we are waiting for the rest of the group:  Pamela, Janice, Marty, Carol, Lucie, Caron and Cathy.After all this glory, we took the minibuses back to the Trident for lunch and a brief break. After lunch we each introduced ourselves to the group. There were many stories to tell (some on the bus ride from Agra, and some here):   Pati and her benign optic nerve tumor,  Sujata and her recovery from breast cancer, Amy and her year of refocusing that included a decision to stop designing fabric, Ginger and her story of finding her true love in Saskatchewan, et al.  It is an amazing group of women!

At this point, we were supposed to visit the Jaipur Literary Festival (William Dalrymple is one of the organizers!), but Sujata and Amy got word that it would involve big crowds and lots of waiting in line, so instead we went into Jaipur and visited the Patrika Gate.

This is a modern tourist attraction that opens out to a park right in the middle of Jaipur.  The arches and ceilings are covered with beautifully detailed paintings of local heroes, sites and mythology.

As always, the patterns and colors were mesmerizing, and I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

After this, we stopped by a local crafts area that was here as part of the Pink City Festival. 

The craft booths were mildly interesting, but this creepy monkey man was the most memorable. 

He just looks odd here, and people are certainly laughing, but he was very creepy, and some of the children were really scared of him.  He scurried around just like a monkey and tried to steal things from people.  I think he must have been a version of Hanuman.

Our final stop was to a popup shop that catered to the not-me audience, lovely things like shoes, purses and clothes, but I was really dead on my feet by now.  Home, late dinner and then fell into bed.  A rich, full day!

Agra to Jaipur

Our next stop on the way to Jaipur was a rug cooperative in Agra, which was fascinating.  On the main floor we saw people actually knotting the rugs.

Apart from admiring their skill, I could only think of the strain on their eyes and especially on their legs, sitting at an angle like that.

Then we went downstairs, where a world of carpets awaited us.  I had not realized that we would then spend hours buying carpets! But who am I to talk, since I bought one, too. There’s a story, of course.  The original was in the Taj Mahal and now lives at the Met in New York.  This shop has exclusive rights to reproduce the rug, only 60 copies (I think) in two sizes.  (Another blogger bought this, too, by the way, not long before before I did, apparently…)  I looked it up later, and there it is in their collection, though not on display currently.

There was lots of bonding during this experience, from falling into the piles of wool  to discussing possible purchases with each other. I think that most of us bought at least one rug, and several bought multiples.  These are savvy shoppers!  But it took forever and we did not get on the road until close to 1:00.

But first, a visit to the Agra Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (check another off the list!), and the home of the Mughal emperors until 1638.  Built (or rebuilt) of red sandstone, it was more like a city than merely a fort.  The Indian military still uses part of it.

Some lovely architectural details:

We had been scheduled to visit a step well, but we were obviously way out of time, and there’s another one on our itinerary in Jaipur.  So we hit the road and  enjoyed a late lunch at a lovely garden spot (visiting the small gift shop where I bought an Indian edition of Kipling’s short stories). Finally, the long trip to Jaipur. We arrived at 8:00 just in time for an elegant dinner at our hotel, including this welcome laid out in marigolds, this delectable dessert, and music.  The musicians kindly invited me to sit down and join them, so I did, strumming the stringed instrument with more enthusiasm than skill.  We also met everyone, very important, but, typically for me, I have no pictures of the group.  But more to come later.

The trip before the trip

After breakfast we hopped on a little bus for a tour of Delhi.  Our first stop was the spice market, which was almost as crowded and narrow as the souks of Morocco. There was so much traffic, so many overhead wires, and so many little shops that I had to take a video in hopes of getting it all in.

And over our heads the monkeys were navigating along the wires, just the way squirrels do at home.  Here’s a look at the market where we got a tour of the various teas and spices and how to use them.  I ended up with several varieties, some for presents and some for ME.

A few more views, of hot peppers for sale and a dried fruit stand. 

We walked back through the market, where I noticed this broom, which I was to see often as women swept the streets or sidewalks in front of their stores.

From here we got into auto rickshaws, or tuktuks, for a little tour of the streets.  This is Carol and her sister Lucy traveling next to ours.   Our rickshaws were actually larger than the usual ones.  The smaller ones are used by everyone: three wheels, open sides, often crammed chock full of people and belongings.  Here’s an image taken by someone else.A wild ride and you have to hang on tight!

Back on the bus, we traveled through the center of town with some difficulty, since many streets were closed in anticipation of Independence Day celebrations.  Modi had invited Bolsonaro, the Brazilian autocrat, and I can only imagine they had a great time together, plotting how to oppress their people.  We caught sight of several government buildings and of the Red Fort, which, sadly, was not on our agenda.

(Not a great picture, since it was taken from the bus.)  I was reading William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns on this trip and it made me wish that we could have spent more time here.  A reason to go back!

Partway through the tour, our guide tried to explain the difference between Hindus and Muslims. Well!  They (the Muslims) are all terrorists, their allegiance is to jihad not to India, they breed like rabbits while Hindus have only one child, where will the Hindus go, there is no Hindu country, and on and on.  It was quite unpleasant, but at least we did hear the unfiltered views of a man who undoubtedly represents quite of a few of his countrymen.

Our final stop was Humayan’s Tomb, commissioned by Humayan’s wife and completed in 1572.  It is said to be the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.  I fear that I did not fully appreciate the architecture or the setting, but I do know that the building and the surrounding gardens are a an example of Mughal architecture, borrowing from Indian as well as Islamic styles.  Built of red sandstone and white marble, its lovely arches and tiles again reminded me of Morocco.  Our guide took a picture of us standing in front of it. 

The happy crew:  Caron, Cathy, Caity,  Christine, Linda, Carol, Lucie, Pati and me (looking oddly belligerent).

We left Delhi and our guide about mid-afternoon and headed for Agra in a little bus with seats for fifteen, so we each had room to spread out our marigold necklaces, bouquets of flowers, and personal needs (water bottles which are passed out by the guides throughout our trip, purse, phone, guidebooks, snacks, etc.).  It was a long, long drive to Agra through very flat country but worth it in the end. We had a delicious late dinner (not  my  usual  style  but I survived!). It was nicely presented even though we were not sure what we were eating.

After checking in at the very first-world Radisson Hotel, we agreed to meet at 6:30 the next morning to see the Taj Mahal at dawn.

Such a good idea! The light was magical as we entered the site,

and there were crowds to be sure, but not as insane as it will undoubtedly get later.

We entered  through the west gate,which is decorated with elegant calligraphy

using pietra dura, inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones.  (As always, applique designs leapt out at me.)

Our first sight through an archway was the iconic view, with the early morning mist giving it an ethereal look.

It was unexpectedly moving.  Like seeing Michelangelo’s David, the image is so well known as to be a cliche, but when you see it in person it is arresting.

We all kept taking pictures, because the light kept changing.  Here it is with the pink light of dawn.

Inside the mausoleum, you can see the tombs (though they are apparently replicas) and appreciate the beautifully carved stone filigree screens. 

Guides are positioned along here with flashlights so that you can see how the semi-precious stones glow in the light.

We saw lots of birds, including big green parakeets and the iconic hoopoe (not my picture). We wandered along the plinth and enjoyed the beautiful views of the Yamuna River below, with boatmen looking like an impressionistic painting.

Of course, when planning the trip it seemed logical to visit the Taj Mahal since it was so close to where we were going, and I was thrilled when Cathy set it all up for us.  But I had never longed to see it, so although I was expectant I was not exactly excited.  But then we saw it, and it was simply magical.

 

Wildlife and exoticism

This was not a nature trip, but you can’t help noticing the animals everywhere in India.  In my neighborhood I’m likely to see cats, dogs and squirrels, along with robins, wrens, finches, woodpeckers, chickadees, hawks, etc.  But here was a new array of everyday creatures!

Dogs are hardly unusual, but they were everywhere in the streets, never on a leash or seeming to belong to anyone.  This one was enjoying the sunshine while stretched out on block-printed fabric drying in Bagru. 

They appeared healthy and were beautifully behaved, so I asked one of our guides who took care of them.  He said that when you made your chapatis in the morning, you made one for the dog, and when you made your chapatis in the evening, you made one for the cow.  I’m not sure if that was metaphorical or literal…

There were several kinds of cows, some dairy cows and some not. 

This dairy cow was strolling through Bagur.

This beauty was surrounded by words that I can’t decipher.

And this one seems to have been decorated?

Monkeys were ubiquitous, climbing up telephone poles, along the rooftops, and hanging from wires. 

These monkeys were outside of the vegetable market in Jaipur.

This one was strolling along among the tourists at the Taj Mahal.

This monkey is posing with a kite at the step well. (Kite flying is a huge pastime in Jaipur, and we saw these tiny kites in the sky all the time, especially at the end of the day.  When they coat the strings with powdered glass for competitions, they can be a danger to people and especially to birds, but it is beautiful to watch them soar.)

This mama and baby were climbing above electrical wires in the spice market in Delhi.  We were cautioned not to play with them or feed them, and, fascinating though they were, I wasn’t tempted.

We saw a few elephants thumping along the streets, but the only one I captured with my camera is this one, decorated for tourists, along the lake.

Cathy is paying the driver for permission to pet it.

Camels were seen more often, usually as beasts of burden but for tourists, too.  Here’s a glimpse of one in the street in Sanganer that carried a load on its back.

This one was waiting for customers down the road from our hotel who could be tempted into a ride.

But the creepiest of all was this human monkey.  He was roaming around in a craft market we visited.  If I had managed to get a video, you would have seen just how awful he was, coming up behind people and grabbing their bags, racing along on all fours like a real monkey, and in general behaving like a scary creature that’s supposed to be funny.  I think he might have been a representation of Hanuman, a god who is “generally depicted as a man with the face of a monkey and a long tail.”  Although the people in these pictures are laughing, there were a couple of children in tears.

Finally, a note on exoticism.  It’s defined as “the charm of the unfamiliar,” but it can also be a way of distancing yourself from what you are seeing.  In a culture as different from mine as India is, I’m afraid that some of what I saw was just that:  a strange and fascinating way of life that I don’t really understand.  But I’m trying!

So, I went to India!

I must have been on a mailing list from Amy Butler, because that’s how I learned about her workshop. She and Sujata Shah went to India two years ago with three groups, one week each, and 2020 was the return trip. Since none of my usual traveling companions was interested, I just signed myself up, thinking that I would be with like-minded people and in a little bit of a bubble for my first encounter with a very different place. Sixteen of us were signed up for the trip and nine of us went on a pre-trip jaunt to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.  It was exhausting, gorgeous, surprising, beautiful, and overwhelming.

The drill is that you land in Delhi close to midnight and go immediately to your hotel.  Steve from Eternal Journeys had arranged all of our transport and escorts, so we just looked for our name at the airport and trooped onto a minibus that took us to our hotel.  The marigold necklaces and bunch of flowers are traditional, and we festooned ourselves and the bus seats with them for the next few days.

After breakfast – we had our choices of coffee, tea, eggs, yogurt, bread and Indian delights, a spread that would become familiar soon – we took a quick walk around the neighborhood before the bus came, and I saw my first cow in the street.  This soon became routine, but it is startling the first time you see it.

(Those are house crows on top of this cow.)

First impressions: a friendly group of women, a very different place, and delicious food.  Onward!

A leisurely day

One of the joys of revisiting the Cotswolds (and England in general) is that we are not driven to see, see, see, so today was a relaxed day.  We wandered through Stow after breakfast, visiting the market cross in the square (thanks, Alamy), about which more later,

stopped by St. Edward’s church with its amazing door,  said to have inspired Tolkien’s Doors of Durin,visited the pharmacy for AO’s ear (stopped up due to the plane?), a lovely little shop where we bought socks for various people, and the bookstore, where I bought a walks guide for Northleach and area. 

Then I left AO to her own devices while I took a little walk suggested in the Stow Walks booklet. The first part, through town and then along a rough track through the village of Maugersbury, was very pleasant, with beautiful views of the landscape and Icomb Hill,  said  to  have  been  the  site  of  a neolithic  hill  fort.The next bit was along the the ancient Fosse Way,  but in this section the Fosse Way goes along the A429, a very busy two-lane road.  Luckily there was a sidewalk for pedestrians but still, some of those trucks came barreling down the hill at a great rate.  Then away from the highway and through a cemetery, along the allotments with these beautiful dahlias, and then to a confusing bit. A friendly fellow pedestrian offered help, so I followed her through a little ture or snicket or alley and found myself back in the town. 

Fortified with the delicious baguettes we had bought earlier, we set out for a mild little trip to Northleach, where our friends Peggy and Eddie spend a few weeks every spring.  The church is a classic perpendicular, and inside were several brasses featuring worthies standing on wool sacks,  from  which  local  fortunes  were  made.  You  can  see  that  they  are  protected  by  these  rugs  most  of  the  time.Shades of Angela Thirkell! The chatty woman at the info desk has children in the US and spoke admiringly of our country – except for the frequent random murders, of course…  We also stopped briefly near Sherborne, where P&E rent their National Trust house. Doesn’t it look ghostly with the autumn grasses?  You get there down a long, long one-lane road, luckily with a few turnouts for oncoming traffic. Beautiful, but I wouldn’t want to be driving down there in the dark!

Next on to Burford in search of the garden centre that Peggy touted.  The main street was so congested, and we were not sure of the location, that I finally turned on my phone ($10!!) to get directions.  The centre was a mix of high-end home furnishings and the best garden shop in the world.I picked up some seed packets, and Alison found a darling little bird for her windowsill.

Our final stop was Minster Lovell, a small village along the banks of the Windrush, which we would call a creek or stream rather than a river.  Charming, but nowhere to stop and admire it so we went down the road to the church. Small and nice and obviously hard to maintain, with a shrinking number of congregants and an ancient building in need of maintenance.  But the interior seemed well used and busy. No stained glass, thanks a lot, Henry VIII!

Back towards home, planning to stop at a gas station to top up the air in one of the tires, which causes the car to display exclamation marks.  Unfortunately, even though we got the tire up to 32 psi, the car is still unhappy. Maybe tomorrow. We came back to Stow and the promised roadworks meant we couldn’t take our usual route in, so we ended up in Lower Swell (because once you’re on a road, there’s almost no place to pull over or turn around).  Reversing and retracing our route, we finally found our familiar Sheep Street and home. Driving is always harder at the end of the day. Dinner tonight at The Bell was the best dinner of the trip so far: Lamb for AO, sausages and a rocket salad with pickled shallots for me, both imaginatively cooked. 

Exploring

hailes-abbey-soft-cappingOur first stop today was Hailes Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey that was mostly destroyed in the Dissolution, so all that’s left are some stones, pillars and arches. But when you look at the expanse that the church encompassed, you have a sense of how enormous it must have been. Unlike its sister Cistercian Abbey, Rievaulx, which we visited back in the 90s, so little is left that it’s not imposing, but the audio guide was good at giving a sense of the place. Henry VIII has a lot to answer for, I must say – thousands of monks and nuns displaced, the entire country torn apart…

Speaking of tearing the country apart,

Brexit, deal or no deal concept. United Kingdom and European UniBrexit loomed over this trip and we discussed it with people a couple of times.  At the Abbey, the attendant told us that the EU had changed dramatically from when the UK first joined, now the EU dictated what each country could do. What if, he said, the US, Canada and Mexico were under one government, the American flag was taken down and the seat of government was in Costa Rica?? I have no idea if this is a real scenario, but somehow I think not. But if that’s how some people see it, it makes more sense that after forty years, some of them want to leave.  In any case, Alison encouraged me not to engage the man on the way out, so we escaped.

Meanwhile, all day long – a beautiful, sunny Sunday – we encountered small groups of hikers complete with hiking boots, poles, and rucksacks, walking on one of the trillion footpaths that cover this country. An entirely different culture from ours, for sure.

Lunch was in Snowshill at the local pub across from St. Barnabas Church.St. Barnabas church Most all of the tables were booked for a Sunday roast, but we managed to slip in for sandwiches before everyone arrived. Just as we were leaving, several multi-generational family parties arrived. The English have a sense of ritual – Millennium memorials, Sunday roast, etc. – that we have never had. It may be a bit stuffy but it’s also comforting.

We had two gardens on our agenda, but we could only manage one. Having been to Hidcote 25 years ago, we plumped for Kiftsgate right across the road, and it was wonderful. It’s a family house and garden, and the third generation of the gardening family still lives there.

The house is built at the top of the escarpment, with this gorgeous view over the Cotswolds.Kiftsgate view

This means that you descend from the house down to the lower garden, and then back up again, offering the opportunity for paths, views and various plantings.  Here’s the house at the top.

Kiftsgate houseThis was a very relaxing garden, perhaps because within the spaces defined by stone walls or boxwood, plants twined somewhat wildly with each other. Lots and lots of roses,  like this ‘Trumpeter,’ Trumpeter rosesince this is the home of the famously enormous Kiftsgate rose (past its bloom now), but also at this time of year dahlias, Japanese anemones, asters and various other beauties. Kiftsgate astersKiftsgate dahliasThe water gardens were especially beautiful and imaginative.  Just look at this elegant installation, with its flowers that gently pour into the pool.

and this simple fountain in the midst of a bountiful border.

Here’s a view from the pool at the bottom of the hill back up to the house,

Kiftsgate house viewand I thought of how this house and garden would be wonderful for entertaining. I wonder how the latest generation, who must be about our age, are planning for the future.

We wandered back home on this beautiful day and had dinner at the Kings Arms. They were full up (caution: Sunday is a hard time to find dinner without a reservation) but squeezed us in on the top floor, where several family parties – or maybe just one big one?- were filling up the space. An okay dinner but with lovely views of the square and the church.

This year’s bulbs

For various reasons, I did only a small order this year and it was certainly much less stressful planting fewer bulbs. One order from Brent and Becky:

5 Narcissus ‘Pink Charm’ planted with 5 Tulip ‘Orange Emperor’ per their suggestion

5 Tulip ‘Happy Generation’ – red/white, mid-spring

10 Tulip ‘World Expression’ red/white, good cut flower

5 Tulip ‘Budlight’ yellow lily-flowered, late

Crocus ‘Cream’Beauty’

Crocus tommy ‘Lilac Beauty’

Paper white – 10 ‘Ziva’ and 10 ‘Wintersun’

Oh, and a few species tulips and narcissus that were marked way down at Meadows Farms.  And that’s it!!

 

Driving to the Cotswolds, and a muuurderr??

Murder sceneLeaving Oxford on a bright, clear day, we picked up a little white Golf to carry us to Stow. Our first goal was Blenheim Palace, but Alison got an email from them saying that because of an “incident” they would not be opening until lunchtime.  Since the park was still open, off we set.

The driving was not too bad, despite a few times retracing our steps and breathing heavily.  But now we were told that the palace would not be opening until 2:00 (still no explanation, but you can see the police tape).  After a look around the shop, we picked up a picnic sandwich to eat under a tree before our stroll around the park. 

The park, meanwhile, was updated by Capability Brown in the 18th century and is just as lovely as can be. Passing over the Vanbrugh bridge (so large it contains 30 rooms!), VanBrugh bridgewe came to yet another Harry Potter tree, a cedar which has been propped up to keep it alive by the skin of its teeth.  (This is the one that Severus Snape hung from in Order of the Phoenix, when he was being bullied by Harry’s father.) HP treeYou can see that it is carefully preserved from any rabid fans who might be tempted to try the same.

As we walked along, we got a good glimpse of the Column of Victory, erected in memory of the Duke of Marlborough’s victories at war.   Here is is, charmingly accompanied by a herd of sheep.  victoryFrom here I continued around the Queen’s Lake while Alison went back to the shops. Gorgeous views, magnificent trees, thank you, Capability Brown!Blenheim viewfinest view

At this point we were told that they would not open today at all but did extend our tickets through the 20th if we decided to return.  Still no word on what the “incident” was, but Alison discovered it when we got home.  No, it was not a muuurder, it was a theft! Of a golden toilet (part of an art installation, see more further on)!  As of last fall, its fate was still unknown, though there’s plenty of speculation.

Despite losing the way twice, we made our way to Stow in just a few hours.  Luckily, people are very helpful with directions. But finding the house was a nightmare.  We kept circling around Stow’s High Street, with people close behind us all the way, and finally found Shepherd’s Way.  It is a tiny, narrow passageway that set the car to beeping because it was so tight. No room to park whatsoever! tight quartersSee?? We parked in the next street just beyond, and thanks to friendly neighbors who encouraged us to find our house, we had the strength to pick up our groceries and bags and go back along the narrow alley in search of Carter’s Cottage. 

It turned out to be a delightful little house about midway down on the left, with two tiny terraces smothered in roses, Japanese anemones and honeysuckle.  Carters cottage 1It’s just two up, two down (mostly) but with a really good bathroom and a washer/dryer (mysterious like all British appliances, but we made it work).  Here’s a look at the cottage, which suited us down to the ground. 

We had a glass of wine on the terrace wine on the terraceand then had a delicious dead chicken from Tesco, along with a salad and shortbread for dessert, which we seemed to need.  Looking forward to a real shower, that does not require standing up in a tub or kneeling!