Leaving Manchester and far from the madding crowd (thanks, Thomas Hardy), I ventured into the remote. I was surprised to find myself in the woods, high on a hill, and absent from any human contact. A big change from the bustling city.
Visiting the Cotswolds
For years, I have wanted to visit the Cotswolds. This area, spread over five counties, is a collection of the quintessential English hamlets. Each village is different, but all share the same golden stone buildings and walls, the rolling hills, and a preponderance of sheep. Think Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. There are tiny villages, market towns, country houses, and castles.
Variety among similarity. Wold is a piece of high, open, uncultivated land. I like to also think of it as a corruption of wool, given all the sheep grazing on these hills.
I booked a hut outside Broadway, sometimes called the Jewel of the Cotswolds, a larger town at the northern edge of the Cotswolds. I could reach it by bus from a train. There are some limited busses traversing the Cotswolds; one route from a town to the next would take eight days! A car or a tour are really the only way to see the Cotswolds. I, therefore, was limited to seeing only one town.
The bus from the train did not materialize. I had to walk into Evesham and find a taxi. Nobody I asked knew where I was headed, so out came the Google maps and a taxi driver offered me a ride to Broadway and then into the hinter lands. I arrived at this self-catering hut (possibly a shipping crate with rounded roof) with nothing else nearby. The taxi driver took pity on me and drove me back to Broadway and a grocery store. He then returned me to the hut. All in all, this cost me about 50£
I really was far from the madding crowd, no Internet and nothing to do but write blog posts. I had thought to purchase phone service while I was in Manchester, so at least I had the phone to use. My hut sat within a large farm; I had sheep and wild turkeys to keep me company.
The only diversion available to me was up a rock-strewn, gutted road, paved further on, to the Broadway Tower. This beacon was completed in 1798, built for the sending of long-distance lighted beacons as warning signals. Such a communication was sent in May 1588 warning of the approaching Spanish Armada. The Tower stands on the first or second highest point in the Cotswolds (there seems to be some disagreement about this). Climb to the top and you will find breath-taking views spanning 16 counties and 62 miles in each direction. Today, the tower really has no purpose, but the locals check their weather conditions by looking from afar to see if the tower is visible or fog encased.
The Broadway Tower
The Broadway Tower is very popular with tourists. It is a privately-owned attraction, perched on 200 acres, offering two cafes and shops. The grounds include a memorial to the crew who lost their lives in a training bomber crash during World War 2. Also nearby is a nuclear bunker built to collect evidence of such an explosion. It has been restored and is open as a museum.
I left the shepherd’s hut with a ride down the hill by the cleaning lady. She even gave me a tour of Broadway, since I had been unable to get down to the town and then drove me back to Evesham to catch a train. I am really indebted to her.
That train took me to the fabulous city of Oxford. This was my most favorite city to date. I was no longer far from the madding crowd. Just walking about the city center could have been enough in itself, but I tried to make the most of my short stay in this city of education and culture. I stumbled upon several locales used in the filming of the mystery series Inspector Morse and later his sidekick Lewis. It was a strange feeling to walk those very scenes, especially around the Radcliffe Camera, that round building a part of the Bodleian Library which appears in many of these videos.
I also visited the Ashmolean Museum and found the French Impressionist gallery and beheld some of my favorite works by Camille Pissarro. I could have wandered this museum for hours.
Two Prominent Oxford Churches
Getting a bit more personal, I attended a noon eucharist at the University Church of St. Mary Magdalen. This is the church where John Henry Newman preached before transitioning to the Roman Catholic Church. That was the beginning of the Oxford Movement, an attempt to return the Church to its origins. I have long been interested in this Movement, still evidenced today in high church Anglicanism. The service was very intimate, as there were only two of us in attendance.
Later that night, I attended a sung evensong service at Christ Church Cathedral. This service attracted many of us who were able to sit in the chancel. This large edifice is the only cathedral in the world which serves both a diocese and a university.
I could also not pass by several of the many bookstores in Oxford. In this digital age, books still have a place in education and the University members take full advantage of this. If only I had space to carry some such treasures.
From city to far from the madding crowd and back to city was not so schizophrenic as it seemed. It was actually the best of both worlds and I enjoyed both very much.
Fact: Oxford University is the second oldest university in the world
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