In case you don’t already know; I live and travel in my Campervan. Or at least, I did. This year, I fell in love, and for a while that meant settling down-sort of. I’ve continued to live in my campervan until The Boyfriends lease in his house share expires and we find a suitable home-made of bricks, and until then our weekends are filled with exciting excursions in the van. Nonetheless for the last six months I’ve been relatively installed in beautiful North Devon with its attractive beaches, epic coastline and long walks through fields and over cliffs.
In the last few weeks, when the reality of the winter chills finally hit and when warm coats were pulled from storage and when I could see my breath in the morning after sleeping fully clothed under multiple blankets, I found a small house we could both occupy legitimately and even paid the deposit ready to move in a matter of days. As The Boyfriend works an office job and has limited time off, he lovingly booked one week off in mid-October to enjoy a last-minute jaunt around the UK in the campervan.
We decided to focus our travels to the Cotswolds, a beautiful region of south central England spanning across five counties from Gloucestershire in the south west through Wiltshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Oxfordshire. We were due to spend seven days wandering the famous Cotswolds hills, but had done no research, booked no campsites; didn’t even buy a guidebook.
I’m still lying on The Boyfriends sofa three hours after were due to pack his belongings into the campervan and leave for the 150 mile trip out of North Devon. I’m battling the worlds worst hangover, too tough to move and its pissing it down with rain, but I can just about google ‘Cotswolds’ and am immediately overwhelmed with the lists of things to do. My head is banging with dehydration and I decide to tackle the holiday in the same way I do most things; with little preparation or concern.
Eventually we manage to set off, I’m still not sober enough to drive so The Boyfriend drove us out of the stunningly soggy Devon and eventually arrived into the Cotswolds. The sun is setting over the hills as we drive around and the sky is a bright and orange. There is not a single cloud in the sky and I know its going to be cold. Time to find a country pub, I suppose.
We stop in the village of Marshfield, famous for its Ice Cream and decide to stop for food after finding a great spot to stealth, which means parking anywhere free and quiet enough to sleep undisturbed. The Lord Nelson in Marshfield was the perfect country pub to stop at; we sat next to the fire and I ate a series of starters whilst The Boyfriend, being the serious adult human enjoyed a main meal. The food was delicious and the waiters extremely polite even checking with me that Courgette Linguini didn’t contain real Linguini pasta. Totally deserving of a five start TripAdvisor review. The food was the best we were to have all week; a huge compliment considering the variety of restaurants we were about to test. However, we had arrived at Marshfield in darkness and left in the morning-there’s not much to do or see. I spotted a garage, two pubs and those old fashioned petrol pumps randomly placed on the pavement. Marshfield had clearly stopped the clock about fifty years ago when people had enough time to sweep the pavement and care for their gardens, but the streets are pretty lined in traditional limestone as is the rest of the Cotswolds.
Only four miles from Marshfield, its perfect pub and easy campervan stealthing is the National Trust site Dryham Park; an ancient deer park and seventeenth century home of William Blathwayt. Like most members, I enjoy visiting National Trust properties and gardens for the quiet walks, a little bit of a history lesson, and the café. Being a National Trust member over the last twelve years has provided me with endless entertainment all over the UK with free parking and a healthy dose of fresh air. We picnicked in the woods and bought creamy hot chocolates from the café after dissecting the interpretation around the architecture and history of the building. It was our one opportunity to pretend to be posh, and I think we did pretty well!
That evening we drive into the Thistledown Farm campsite just outside of Stroud (mainly out of the absolute need for a hot shower) where we had a huge campfire in the Elderflower Orchard. We were the only people using the campsite; unsurprising as the temperature the night before had plummeted to just 2 degrees, however, as we were leaving the next morning, I spotted a sign for Pizza Nights on Fridays and we vow to return soon. The campervan, by the way, was built especially for me, by me, and is exceptionally small. Its only been two nights, the van is a mess but somehow we are still smiling.
Time to get into a city! We spend the day exploring Gloucester, wandering around the docks, discovering the Cathedral, pretending to be in a Harry Potter film and considering the entrance fee to the Canal and Rivers Trust Waterways Museum, deemed too expensive, so we just stopped by their empty café for a cuppa instead. Regardless, my love of narrowboats continues as we lunch on the Café on the Cut, a small café in a narrowboat just a minutes’ walk from Gloucester Quays shopping area where were spend the afternoon trying on winter boots and woolly cardigans. The café is run by an eccentric woman who was celebrating her own birthday by providing us with plenty of silly jokes and a running commentary of the making of our sandwiches.
We decide to stealth camp in the main car park near the water and use the £20 we saved on a campsite by going to the cinema to watch Johnny English and grabbing a quick evening snack at Wagamama between my work calls; being a digital nomad often makes getting a holiday from a pinging laptop or buzzing phone difficult.
A morning in Cheltenham. It’s not far from Gloucester although feels a bit more upmarket. Apparently there was a Literature Festival going on although it was hard to find, and not free so we instead wandered the Wilson Art Gallery’s Furniture from the Arts and Crafts movement before eating at Yo! Sushi whilst we searched the internet for a cheap spa break in a Cotswolds hotel. Van-Life was taking its toll- The Boyfriend wanted to stretch out on a bigger bed and I wanted to lay in hot bubbly water, and drink cold bubbly beverages.
Only an hour drive from Cheltenham is Stratford-upon-Avon, famously the birth place of William Shakespeare. Somehow, we’d managed to find a great last minute deal online at The Hallmark Hotel-The Welcombe for a large double room, three-course dinner, cooked and continental breakfast and unlimited access to the swimming pool which included jacuzzi, steam room and sauna. The next 24 hours are a complete blur of delicious red wine, cocktails, warm pools, foot spas, soft towels and crisp white sheets. Taking a mid-week break off-season in what would normally be an expensive hotel was bizarre. The Boyfriend and I brought the average age down to about 65, and the dining room did remind us both of an exclusive nursing home for the elderly. Nonetheless, the bar staff were certainly happy to see young faces and we were treated to excellent service from everyone. Don’t expect to be able to chat for long between courses at dinner- your next dish is brought out with impressive speed. There was also 24-hour room service which we felt the need to try out. Probably not worth it now considering it was more expensive than the wine but a pizza at 3am after three courses and six drinks is ok, isn’t it?
We breakfast in silence at the hotel hungover but still get access to the spa after check out so we sweat out the toxins of delicious drinks, try to swim a few lengths then succumb to conducting swimming races and splashing contests before showering and feeling refreshed ready for a day exploring the land of Shakespeare. We are pretty much broke, so the remainder of the holiday is on a tighter budget that when we first set out. At this point, I realise it would have been cheaper to get a discounted flight to Thailand with our backpacks. Stratford-upon-Avon is not affordable- one and a half pints in the pub at lunchtime set us back £10.35
For the first time all week the sun is shining so we take a stroll from the town centre and its quirky independent shops towards The Holy Trinity Church to pay £3 each to see Shakespeare’s grave. The church is small and has six posters detailing his religious life. It all seems rather bizarre; there is not one mention of his literary works although there is an odd looking bust of the man stuck high up on the wall. The church is still used for regular religious services, so we left after spending about an hour there before interrupting a prayer.
It’s decided by now after three days out of the countryside that we need to return to the green-side for some fresh air and free activities, so we drive to the picturesque village of Naunton. I’d read on Wikipedia that it has no shops, surrounded entirely by fields and hills and has one good pub, so we park on the side of a quiet road and have a cheap dinner in The Black Horse Pub with the ultra-friendly bar maid from New Zealand and seven American tourists
The sunshine has disappeared, the waterproof trousers are packed in a rucksack with a bottle of water and an OS Map. We’re going on a 7.5-mile circular hike in the Cotswolds starting at the same pub, walking along the river Windrush, meandering through muddy tracks, public footpaths and dark woods. The views from the top of each hill are spectacular and it’s the first day you can see the changing colour of the trees around you. The luscious green Cotswolds are becoming littered with fiery oranges and reds. Half way around we stumble upon the village of Lower Slaughter, an unfortunate name for such a scenic village. There is a small café next to an antiques shop in an old mill and cute limestone houses are lined up in a row alongside the stream that led us to The Slaughters Country Inn where you can find the most expensive cheese and pickle sandwich known to any human under 30 years of age. We’d accidentally stumbled into the land only known by Stepford Wives whilst wearing our sweaty clothes and muddy boots, so we quickly ate-up, drank-up, and up-and-left!
Next, the village of Upper Slaughter, no different except the houses are separated by a ford which is fun to watch for half a minute. It seems as if us millennials can not be entertained by posh homes and pristine gardens for too long.
The Boyfriend googles good campsites near even better pubs and upon completing the long walk we drive to The Greedy Goose near Chastleton for the night in the hope of visiting the nearby National Trust House the next day.
The Pub has a bizarre décor but a fine selection of local ales and gins and ciders and food! Its warm, and bustling in the bar area but we get a quiet seat in the empty restaurant where we enjoy the warmth and a cosy chair to rest our aching legs. The showers and toilets for the campsite are in the main pub building, which is convenient, and tempting. Outside however, the wind is picking up, our phones are pinging with weather warnings and the van rocks to the beat of the violent wind.
Chastleton House is closed due to the high winds, an outdoor day is off the cards. We awake to the news that Storm Callum has battered most of the south west and Wales. Luckily, we are unscathed, although the campsite is becoming muddy which means the van is getting muddier. We quickly shower in the pub and head for Cirencester, the ‘capital of the Cotswold’s.
Cirencester is a happy little town, supposedly the largest town in the Cotswold district. It boasts the Corinium Museum concealed around charming alleys hiding cute cafes and artisan shops. There are also a multitude of pubs to choose from and after an exciting afternoon learning about the Romans in the Cotswolds, we settle into The Fleece for a pint and some cheesy chips-they’re not on the menu (yet) but with a bit of sweet talking the staff will make it happen. It was a delight to finally be surrounded with young people in a vibrant and contemporary setting and I contemplated moving to Cirencester permanently whilst sucking at the melted Cheddar. The holiday is coming to an end so we agree to stop at Lidl to buy some fresh fruit before driving back to the first campsite- Thistledown Farm-for the local pizza night. Delicious! Plus, they let me order from the children’s menu which is the perfect sized pizza that my wheat intolerance that can’t resist!
The holiday is over, the wind is still blowing, the van a total mess. It smells of boy, badly. We’ve explored the Cotswolds on one tank of petrol oven seven days and, excluding the hotel, spend most of our pocket money in pubs. I can confirm the Cotswolds is a quiet and scenic area to get your creativity pounding. After a week in what felt like the semi-wild, I’m ready to return to real-life and get back to work. The Boyfriend can’t wait to stretch out on a real bed and tinker with the central heating. I consider writing the waiter and chef from the very first pub a week ago a thank you letter for his amazing hospitality and delightful food that started off our week of laziness and impressive gastronomy. We pack up the van and head south into the suburbs of Bristol to pop in on my mother before continuing another 100 miles into Devon. Where to next? Who knows?
This blog post first appeared on Seeking the Globe 24/10/18