Special Six: a weekend at Blenheim Palace

Ever since I saw a full feature magazine spread on Blenheim palace in my pre-teen years, that is the image I envisioned whenever I thought of a perfect palace. However, it was only during my most recent visit to the UK that I finally managed to visit the place. While my friend and I discussed, where to take her daughter for a special 13th birthday celebration during my visit, Blenheim palace popped up in my mind.

We spent friday night in Oxford and took the bus to Woodstock on saturday, after walking around Oxford university in the morning. After checking in at the lovely Pollen B&B in the village, we walked the few minutes to the side entrance of Blenheim palace. There was a notice on the outer wall, requesting fishermen to be quiet when they arrived within the palace premises.

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We decided to explore the palace that day and some of the parkland the next morning. These were the special six highlights of our weekend at Blenheim.

  1. The landscaped garden, especially the lake area

The lake immediately catches your eye, as you enter through the side gate, or when you near the palace, if you enter through any other gate. The lake in question, with the partially submerged bridge, is man-made and is one of Capability Brown’s(considered England’s greatest gardeners) legacy to Blenheim.

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The palace was built by the first Duke of Marlborough, in early 18th century.

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During our visit, the palace was decorated for Christmas and we learnt that though there were many different tours on offer, only the exhibition and the state rooms tour was open to visitors that weekend.

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2. The Winston Churchill Exhibition

The  exhibition focused on Sir Winston Churchill’s life. It was during a dinner at the palace, that his mother started experiencing labour pains and was ushered to a nearby room. The room, where Winston Churchill was born, is the start of the exhibition. Another section of the exhibition that caught my attention was about his marriage, and how he met his wife and that he proposed to her at Blenheim palace.

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Room where Winston Churchill was born

3. The stateroom tours

The staterooms tour started in front of two key portraits. The first was a family portrait of the first Duke of Marlborough and his family, including his eldest daughter who became his heir through Queen Anne’s command in the 18th century. The other portrait that the tour guide pointed out was the portrait of the woman whose marriage to the 9th duke of Marlborough in 1895, helped recover the palace and its estate from heavy debt. She was Consuelo Vanderbilt, an American heiress, who was unhappily married to the Duke before they divorced and she remarried a French pilot. Her autobiography, Glitter and Gold, is available at the palace gift shop.

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Consuelo Vanderbilt

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The Red Drawing Room, is one of the first rooms that one visits and the huge picture at one end is the family portrait of the 9th Duke of Marlborough and his family.

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Red Drawing Room

Each of the state rooms was packed with portraits and tapestries, from across the centuries. The Green writing room had the Blenheim tapestry, one of the tapestries in the Victory series and commissioned by the first duke, which depicts his victory at the Battle of Blenheim.

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The Green Writing Room

The third state room, was the state bed chamber, and therefore glowed in gold. There were temporary art installations, in each of the state room, as part of an art exhibition. We didn’t get most of those art installations – like the one, which was a heaped bundle of rags in the middle of a state room.

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Third state room

My favourite of the state rooms was the long library. I thought it did not seem quite like how a library would have been envisioned and I learnt that it was originally designed as a portrait gallery but later housed the 9th duke of Marlborough’s collection of over 10,000 books.

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Long Library

On the day we visited, it was being organized and decorated for an evening function at the palace.

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4. Afternoon tea at the Orangery

As part of the birthday celebration of Nikki’s birthday, we decided to have afternoon tea at the Orangery, which looked onto the private Italian gardens of the palace and which is not accessible by the public.

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Nikki and her afternoon tea

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Private Italian gardens at the palace

5. The pleasure gardens

On sunday morning, after a lovely breakfast at the B&B, we decided to walk across the grounds and visit the pleasure gardens. I think Nikki loved this part of the palace the most. There was a miniature model of the village at the entrance.

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Peter Pan fountain

We tried out the Marlborough maze, which Nikki soon figured out and was zipping in and out to the centre of the maze. It was funny that my friend and I kept taking the wrong turns, until we finally decided to retrace our steps back to the entrance.

There was an interesting Blenheim Bygones exhibition at the pleasure gardens, which exhibited various gardening tools that had been used at the palace over the years.

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The building also housed two tiny rooms, one of which was the gardener’s office and the other was the night room, where the junior gardeners took turns to spend the night, attending to the boilers and glass houses.

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Gardener’s office

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Night room for junior gardener

6. The majestic oaks at Blenheim

An impressive part of the palace park was the magnificent oak trees. The largest collection of ancient oaks in Europe can be found within the Blenheim palace park.

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We were not able to visit a lot of the outdoor areas that we had wanted to, since it was too large a place, but we enjoyed our first visit to the palace and its parkland. The entrance ticket to the palace is valid for a year, so for those living in England and especially relatively closer to Oxford can visit the place in smaller doses.

My friend also loved the B&B we had chosen for this weekend getaway. Pollen B&B, in the heart of Woodstock village and within minutes to the palace was such a charming place with a friendly manager. Our space was the entire top floor, which had a sitting room, a lovely writing space, two cosy sleeping spaces with three beds and a lovely bathroom. It was filled with stuff that the owners had collected from their travels.

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Which of the special six features intrigues you the most about Blenheim palace?

[Linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday]
Wanderful Wednesday

Photo tour of a morning walk around Oxford

Last December, during my visit to England, my best friend and I decided to celebrate her daughter’s birthday by taking her on a weekend trip to Blenheim palace. To maximize our time at the palace, we decided to leave London on friday evening and spend the night in Oxford, before traveling onto Woodstock early the next morning. Though we hardly had much time to explore the city, we did manage to go on a couple of walks on saturday morning. The skies were cloudy that day and it felt like it was going to rain any minute so the city looked quite gloomy. However, I am glad my friend’s daughter did not seem put off by the weather, and the walk seemed to reinforce her fascination with Oxford university, where she wants to study when she eventually finishes secondary school in a few years.

This post is a photo tour of some of the highlights we passed by during our walk.

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Ashmolean museum

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The Martyrs’ memorial and St. Giles

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The church of St Mary Magdalen

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Faculty of History

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The back of Oxford Castle

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Nuffield College

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Start of Broad Street

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Anna’s hand carved wooden spoons stall at the corner of Broad street

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Arts and Crafts market

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Radcliffe Camera

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Old Bodleian library quadrangle

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Another view of the Bodleian library

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Radcliffe square

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Hertford bridge, also referred to as the bridge of sighs

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Weston library

What was the highlight of your visit to Oxford? What would you like to explore on your first/ next visit to the city?

[Linking this post to The Weekly Postcard, Weekend Travel Inspiration and City Tripping #72]

Travel Notes & Beyond
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MummyTravels

A photo tour of Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury Abbey was founded in the 7th century and expanded by St. Dunstan, the Abbot of Glastonbury in the 10th century and by 1086, it was the richest monastery in England. Of special interest is the legend connecting the site of the abbey to the burial place of King Arthur as well as Joseph of Arimathea. As I had been fascinated by the legend, my sister decided to make a stop at the abbey on our way back from Wells.

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According to the exhibition at the abbey museum, there was an old church made of mud and wood on the site, the origin of which is not clear but there are various legends surrounding it. However, the fire of 1184 destroyed any traces of this old church and the Lady chapel was consecrated on its site in 1186.

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When the medieval St. Joseph’s crypt was constructed under the Lady chapel, it became a popular destination for pilgrims. The crypt was rededicated in 2015 by the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

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On the side of Lady chapel is a marker of a grave. While there are many stories connected to this grave, a popular story that is mentioned on the abbey’s website is that monks needing to raise funds to rebuild the abbey after the fire, dug up this grave in 1191 searching for the bones of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.

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They were then re-buried in a black marble tomb in the then newly constructed abbey church in 1278.

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The ruins of the Great church, though not having survived to the extent of Lady chapel, are also quite majestic.

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The best preserved section of the abbey is the Abbot’s kitchen, which was built in the 1300s, and was used to provide meals for the abbot and his guests.

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Facing the kitchen was the ruins of the refectory, marked as the monastic ruins on the abbey map.

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The abbey grounds cover 36 acres of parkland. I was not up to walking around the entire parkland but I did stop and pause by some lovely benches to rest and observe the ruins.

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Another site of interest to the visitor to Glastonbury would be the Glastonbury Tor. Having walked a lot that day, my sister was concerned that I would find it too much to climb and with the clouds opening up as I finished my visit to the abbey, we decided to turn away with a brief glimpse of the Tor, from a distance.

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Disclaimer: The Bath Tourism Office kindly gave me a complimentary media pass to Bath and regional attractions, during my November 2016 visit to south west England, for the purpose of this post. This pass allowed me free entry to Glastonbury Abbey. All opinions are my own and I only recommend experiences I have enjoyed.

[Linked this post to The Weekly Postcard and Weekend Travel Inspiration]

Travel Notes & Beyond
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Highlights of Bishop’s Palace

Bishop’s Palace dates back to early 13th century, when the first Bishop of Bath and Wells – Bishop Jocelin Trotman – received permission to build a residence near the cathedral. I decided to visit the palace, after attending the morning service at Wells cathedral and exploring the area around the cathedral.

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Since there was some time before the palace opened for visitors, I decided to walk around the moat area. What caught my attention first was the sleeping pigeons on the branches of a tree. IMG_1104.JPG

As I walked further along the moat, I came upon the famous swans of the palace. Since a Bishop’s daughter had taught the swans to ring the bell for food in 1870, a tradition of training the resident swans to ring the bell has been followed. I came upon this little herd gliding by. They didn’t ring the bell during my walk though. Visitors interested in feeding the swans, or other birds, can purchase bird food from the palace shop.

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The view of the cathedral and the palace from a garden near the moat was lovely, despite the heavy clouds in the sky.

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I was back at the gatehouse at 10am and was the first visitor of the day. From one end of the croquet lawn, there was a lovely view of the main entrance of the palace as well as the entrance to the chapel.

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I decided to leave the interior of the palace for last and turned towards the ruins of the Great Hall, through which I stepped into the south lawn.

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Walking through the lawn, I reached the ramparts and climbed up the steps. I had read that the Glastonbury Tor could be seen from the ramparts. Perhaps because it was a cloudy day, I could not see the Tor, though I thought I had spotted the hill in the distance. The land behind the palace had been the Bishop’s deer park in the past.

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I walked across the length of the rampart and climbed down to the formal gardens behind the palace.

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Walking past the gardens, I came to a little wooden bridge that crossed the moat and led to the most important part of the city.

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I took one of the paths curving around the well pool, which gave the city its name, and whose water fed the moat around the palace.

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After walking around the garden of reflection, I decided to explore the interior of the palace. I first visited the lovely little chapel.

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After spending some time in the quiet chapel, I made my way to the entrance porch of the palace and entered the entrance hall. One of the Bishops had a habit of dining with 12 poor men and women at the table at the centre. While the entrance hall is part of the original 13th century construction, the fireplace near the table is a later addition.

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Through a door at the end of the hall, I entered the Undercroft, which had also been part of the original medieval palace.  It is now available for hire for events.

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Climbing up the Jacobean stairs, I came upon the long gallery which had the portraits of the different Bishops of Wells. The long gallery led to the drawing room, where there were some objects on exhibit. I found the Abbots chair and the Glastonbury chair of interest. According to the information sheet by the oak chair, the Glastonbury chair was a term used to refer to wooden chairs in the 19th century. However, this particular Glastonbury chair was made for John Thorne, who was a monk and a treasurer at Glastonbury abbey during the dissolution and who was subsequently executed at Glastonbury Tor in 1539.

The room next to the drawing room is currently used as a conference room and during my visit, had an art exhibition going on. Both rooms together used to be the great hall.

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The last room open for visitors on this floor was the solar, which had an art installation of an angel during my visit.

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I walked back down the steps and lingered by the croquet lawn, for my last snaps of the palace, before I left Wells.

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What feature of the Wells Bishop’s palace fascinates you the most?

[Linking this post to City Tripping #68 and Wanderful Wednesday]

MummyTravels

Wanderful Wednesday

Special Six: Morning at Wells Cathedral

Wells, the second smallest city of England in terms of its population size and geographical area, has been a city since medieval times due to the cathedral. I had been fascinated by Clare’s (Suitcases and Sandcastles) mention of the oldest complete medieval street left in England on her post on Wells city. So, I asked my sister, during my weekend stay with her, whether we could visit Wells. She decided that we would go for the Sunday Holy Communion service at Wells Cathedral.

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When we arrived at the cathedral around 7.30am, the entrance was closed. Someone pointed out a door on its West Front that had been left open for those coming for the service.

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At the end of the hour long service, my sister and I decided that we would meet up on the cathedral green near the entrance in a few hours as I had wanted to wander around. Since it was a Sunday, the daily cathedral tours by volunteers was not available. I asked permission to take a few photos of the Quire area from a church staff preparing for the next service. While I would have loved to explore the rest of the cathedral, especially its chained library, I did appreciate having been part of the morning service which I would not have been able to had I visited on a weekday.

What catches one’s attention as you walk into the cathedral through the west front are the Scissor arches which, according to the cathedral website, had been added in 1338, when a new spire added to the top of the tower threatened to collapse the whole structure.

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The 14th century stained glass windows of the Jesse window was impressive. While the windows narrowly escaped destruction during the English civil war and was protected during the second world war, the windows have been deteriorating over time. A protective glazing has been added to the exterior of the window and conservation work undertaken to preserve the beautiful window.

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The Quire area, where the morning service had been held, is one of the oldest part of the cathedral and is beautiful.

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The present organ was rebuilt in the 1970s, with the original instrument having been built in mid 19th century, with pipework from late 18th century.

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While I had been eager to see the famous 14th century astronomical clock at the cathedral, considered the second oldest clock mechanism in Britain, and its two famous jousting knights and Quarter Jack, I could not see it within the cathedral as I could not wander around. However, there was a clock on the exterior face of the wall, facing the Vicar’s Hall, that was connected to the same mechanism as that of the clock inside.

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I walked further and came upon the Vicar’s close, the medieval street that had intrigued me.

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Built to house the Vicar’s Choral, which is an all male group, it still continues to be inhabited by successive choral groups.

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At the end of the close is the Vicar’s chapel and library.

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Returning to the Cathedral green, I sat on one of the benches overlooking the west front and admired the cathedral while taking a break.

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Have you visited Wells Cathedral? What aspect of the cathedral intrigues you?

[Linking this post to City Tripping #67 and Faraway Files #22]

Wander Mum
Suitcases and Sandcastles

A couple of hours in Castle Combe

One of the mornings during my stay at Lacock village, I had walked around the village a few times and was passing the bus stop, when I decided to check the bus times on a whim. I found that there would be one passing by, in a few minutes, in the direction of Chippenham. As there were still a few hours before the abbey or any of the stores in the village opened, I decided to take the bus and transfer to the Castle Combe bus in Chippenham. I had been intrigued by this village in the Cotswolds but had decided to make the decision on whether to visit it, once I was in Lacock. Decision made, I made my way to Chippenham and transferred to the Castle Combe bus.

Reaching Castle Combe, I found that I would have two hours to roam around before the next bus came to the village. So, I started my walk at the centre of the village, where the bus had dropped me off, at the market square.

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The 14th century market cross was installed when the village was granted the privilege of a weekly market. Near the market cross, the remains of the 19th century butter cross can be seen.

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Facing the market cross was St. Andrew’s church. Some parts of the church are from the 13th century while others, like the tower, was built in the 15th century.

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At the entrance of the church, there was a sheet with explanatory notes for parents and teachers. It was from the sheet that I learnt that the East window above the altar was a Jesse window showing the ancestry of Jesus.The only female figure in the sixteen figures portrayed in the window was that of Mary.

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I also learnt that the tomb within the church was that of Walter de Dunstanville, Baron Castlecomb and lord of the manor in 12th century. The monument is the oldest within the church.

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There is an interesting 15th century clock in the church, which was an hour clock whose bells the farmers working in the fields would listen to.

After my visit to the church, I decided to walk past Castle Inn and under an interesting arch, onto Park lane. The archway cottage is actually part of the accommodation facilities of the Manor House hotel. I had been told that I could access the gardens of the Manor House hotel, which was open to the public, through a pathway off Park lane but I couldn’t find the path and it looked like as if it was a private residential area so I turned back.

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I decided to drop into Castle Inn for a hot cup of coffee. I was the only customer at that time and I made myself comfortable by the fireplace, as I enjoyed my coffee.

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After the refreshing hot drink, I walked out of the inn and took the second road away from the market square. The White Hart pub had been open in the village for the past five centuries.

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This second road, that I was walking along, was the road that the bus had entered the village. There were two buildings that caught my attention on this road. I looked them up later and learnt that one was called the Castle house. This building was originally built as an alehouse called the St George and had been built by Nathanial Elver in 1672.

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Right next to the Castle house is the Dower house, which has the shield of the Scope family, above the door. This house was featured in the 1967 musical Dr. Dolittle. More recently, Downtown Abbey was filmed in the village.

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There was a footpath leading upwards, away from the road, opposite the Dower house and I took that path.

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After a very short distance, I decided to turn back as I had wanted to explore the third street in the village and I thought the forest trail would be a lengthy one.

Walking back to the market cross, I looked at the famous view of the third street that I had seen in so many photos.

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At the start of the street is the Court house, where proceedings were held in medieval times. I think it is someone’s home now as I saw a family coming in and going out of the building, while I was waiting for my bus later.

Opposite the court house and next to the bus stop is a memorial for villagers who died in the first world war.

Walking down that street, I reached the Bybrook bridge. I kept taking many photos, as I admired the pretty buildings overlooking the brook.

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I continued along that street, until I came across another little bridge, and then decided to turn back as it was nearing the time for my bus.

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The old village is tiny and basically has three streets going away from its centre, where the church and the market cross are located. If I had stayed overnight in the village at the lovely Castle Inn, I might have had time to explore the village away from its centre and especially its fascinating forest trails as well as looked for the Roman bridge. As it was, I had a lovely walk around the village’s three main streets for a couple of hours before I headed back to Lacock village.

For ideas on other pretty villages in the Cotswolds to visit, do check out Katy of Untold Morsels’ suggestions for a weekend in the Cotswolds.

[Linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and Faraway Files #20]
Wanderful Wednesday

Oregon Girl Around the World

Walking around Lacock village

A couple of months ago, I visited Wiltshire on holiday and decided to stay at the lovely village of Lacock for a couple of days. The key museum highlight of the village is of course Lacock Abbey and the Fox and Talbot museum, which I have shared in a separate post. In this post, I am focusing on the special highlights of my stay in the village and my morning walks around the village.

Each morning, I woke up to a view of a private garden that I had labelled the secret garden. I would have loved to explore that garden, if I had had the permission of its owner.

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After making myself a hot cup of tea, I would go out for my much treasured morning walks, exploring the village without a soul in sight. The village is tiny with just four main streets in a grid like pattern, so I invariably ended up walking around several times during my stay.

The medieval village of Lacock was built around St. Cyriac’s chuch. The base of the current church was built in the 11th century, though there has been renovations made across the centuries.

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Close to the church is King John’s hunting lodge, said to have been used by the King when hunting in the Melksham forest that surrounded the village then. The 13th century hunting lodge, which still has some of its original beam structure, is now a tea room. It was closed for renovations during my visit.

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I took the tiny street near the church, leading towards Nethercote hill, and came upon the packhorse bridge over Bide brook. The packhorse bridge was the first bridge of its kind that I had seen. So, while I guessed that the path leading into and out of the brook was for carts carrying market goods, I had to read about it to learn that it had been used for packhorses during the wool trade heydays of the village.

Instead of continuing down Nethercote hill or taking the Lover’s walk footpath trail, I turned back and walked back along Church street. I passed Lacock bakery, which I had visited during the afternoon of the previous day to indulge in a sweet pastry.

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Near the end of Church street, close to the main road, I came upon the Sign of the Angel, which had been a 15th century inn and was now a restaurant with rooms to board. Later in the day, when I was walking along the street, I saw tour groups gathering outside the inn and the tour leader was referencing Harry Potter so I guess this place must have been one of the many places in Lacock that was used in the movie. I was more interested in the fact that the village was used to depict Meryton village in Pride and Prejudice (the 1995 BBC miniseries).

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From the corner of Church street and West Street, it was lovely to see my rooms above Quintessentially English and I wished that the cars had not been parked on the road, so I could imagine that I had traveled back in time.

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Walking along West Street, I passed George Inn, which had been highly recommended for their food by Ollie and where I had planned to have one of my dinners but never did get around to it. George Inn has continued to be a bustling inn since it obtained its license in 1361.

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Turning on to High Street, I passed the National Trust shop and Red Lion inn.

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While I did not try out all three main inns in Lacock as I had originally planned to, I did have a lovely meal at the Red Lion. I am a fan of the chunky chips that is served in England.

Opposite Red Lion, at the start of East Street was the medieval tithe barn. This was the place where taxes was collected in the form of 10% of farm produce.

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At one end of the barn was a small holding cell, which had been used to hold people overnight, who had too much to drink.

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The next door village hall is used for community events.

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Returning to High Street and walking further in the direction of the abbey, one passes the playing field managed by the Lacock Parish council.

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The High Street curves around the low walls and perimeter fence of the abbey grounds and onto Hither Way. I enjoyed my views of Lacock Abbey and its grounds, from the road.

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I walked up to the Wharf and Lacock bridge. This bridge has been in use since the 14th century and I read that it is sometimes inaccessible due to floods.

I became fond of the little village from my morning walk explorations during the two days that I stayed there and would highly recommend an overnight stay or more, rather than a day trip to the village. It adds to the experience of exploring Lacock Abbey.

A special highlight of my stay in the village was my accommodation. From the moment I saw Snoozums on AirBnB, I knew I had to stay there when I visited Lacock. Fortunately, the place was available on the days I planned to visit and it was right in the heart of the village,  above a shop opposite the bus stop.

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Quintessentially English is a delightful shop that Jacqui Sheard founded, so that she could make her passion for crafting handmade organic soaps her profession. The lovely scents of different bath products greeted me as I entered the shop upon arrival. I was soon ushered next door and up the stairs, to Snoozums, the apartment I would be staying at.

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It was a lovely space with a living area, cosy bedroom and a private bathroom. Jacqui left a huge breakfast basket for me as well as some of the bath product goodies in the welcome tray.

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In addition to my delight at staying at the cosy and comfortable apartment in a historic building, I enjoyed interacting with Jacqui and her husband, David. I also enjoyed helping Ollie with packing some of their Christmas orders and learnt about different bath products, in the process. Jacqui was very generous that she gave me an extra night’s stay free of cost, for helping them out with the Christmas orders, and dropped me at Chippenham for my onward journey at the end of my stay.

[Linking this post to Faraway Files #19 and The Weekly Postcard]

Suitcases and Sandcastles
Travel Notes & Beyond