We arrived in Cheltenham on Tuesday afternoon and checked into our lovely accommodation. We’re staying in an apartment for five nights and sadly the thing I was most excited to find out about was the presence of a washing machine. When you’re on the road as long as we are, it’s the simple things that make life easier. We’d left Oswestry under sunny skies (and it had snowed the previous evening and some in the morning too) and driven the couple of hours to Cheltenham via villages and back roads. English countryside is so pretty.
We’re staying at the Portland Apartments, a great alternative to a hotel. Our apartment is in the basement and has a good sized kitchen lounge area, a luxurious marble bathroom and a bedroom to the rear. The apartments are in a Regency building and have been done up to a high spec – lots of LED down lights, more powerpoints than you could ever hope to use and flat screen televisions in the lounge room and bedroom. There is a coffee machine, a fabulous breakfast pack with enough food to last several days and underfloor heating. The other bonus about the two basement apartments is their direct access to the parking area out the back and a much less steep set of stairs. The internal staircase in the building is beautiful but the treads are so narrow (I know they had much smaller feet back when this place was built) but I didn’t like the thought of Ian navigating it with our heavy cases. And I’m not being sexist here – he just insists on carrying the cases up and down stairs.
I was worried that it might be overly dark but with the front blinds pulled back there’s plenty of blue sky and an interesting water feature to look at too. Just as well because our stay in Cheltenham has seen me staying in quite a bit to work on an edit for Clementine Rose and the Seaside Escape, among other things.
We have had some time out too. Cheltenham is a pretty place with lots of high end shops and a busy town centre. The area known as Montpellier is especially lovely and Ian and I have walked up there a couple of times. There is an abundance of galleries. A striking oil painting of a horse caught our eye and we went back and bought it (our big splurge of the trip). Now we just have to find somewhere among our wall of horse paintings to hang it. We had lunch at a French bistro on top of Montpellier on Wednesday and the food was spectacular. I had heard that The Cotswolds were the preferred home of many celebrities and as we walked through M&S Foods on Wednesday evening we saw Simon Callow, the actor who played Gareth (the guy who dies) in Four Weddings and a Funeral. I don’t know if he’s always so chipper but he walked past us humming away. Ian said that it was because I had that look of ‘oh my goodness he’s that famous actor’ but I like to think he’s just a happy fellow.
On Thursday we decided to go for a drive. Problem was we spent the first half an hour driving the ring road around town until we found the tourist information centre (should have just walked in as we’d been doing!). I was after a brochure for The Romantic Road, which I duly found in the art gallery foyer which is now also the tourist information (having recently moved from the library next door). Ian stayed in the car and I ran in but ran out again to find my wallet as they charge for their brochures – yes two pounds 45 pence to get started on that road.
Anyway it didn’t take long to find our way straight down Portland Street and around the racetrack then on towards the villages of The Cotswolds. We were once again blessed with the weather – intermittent blue skies and clouds and then later in the day a vast canvas of blue.
We drove through Winchcombe (absolutely gorgeous) to Stanway and Stanton before coming into what I think could be the prettiest place I’ve ever seen. Broadway has a wide high street with ancient honey coloured buildings either side. We were both in awe. Of course two girls on majestic horses rode down the high street adding to the quintessential English village tableaux.
We stopped and had a wander about, poking our heads into the gift shops and laneways. I could spend a month there – or forever. But there was so much more to see and being almost Winter, so few hours of daylight.
We decided to deviate from the Romantic Road path and take in Stratford Upon Avon. It’s a much bigger town – with all the usual high street shops. It’s entire fortune rides on the back of the Bard. We saw the birthplace of Shakespeare (somewhat disputed) and the Christmas markets. That night they were turning on the Christmas lights to there were media crews about. We didn’t stay long enough and it’s another place I’d love to come back to but I was keen to get on the road and see more of the smaller villages. We headed for Chipping Campden and were once again wowed by the beauty and quaintness of this historic market town. The marketplace on the high street was perfectly preserved and over 500 years old. We found a spot for a very late lunch and had soup and quiche inside another cosy 500 year old building. Of course it had beams and foot thick walls too.
We drove back to Cheltenham via Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter which are commonly known as The Slaughters and have nothing to do with any sort of butchering or heinous crimes. The name is derived from the old English word Slohtre meaning a muddy place, which it may once have been but isn’t anymore.
Both villages are delightful and without the distraction of shops. In fact I think there is only one tea room between them. There are some huge manor houses that you can stay in (I checked the prices – clearly they are for very special occasions!). We passed another village to the side of the main road called Naunton which was down in a valley. It was like a postcard. By now the light was fading but rest assured we’ll be back again one day. There are too many places I still want to see.
That evening we had a meal at the local pub, The Storyteller which is across the road from the apartments. It was Californian inspired and probably not exactly what we had been thinking of. I’m not sure if it was my dinner or the left over cheese I ate beforehand but something didn’t agree with me and I spent Thursday evening feeling extremely off colour. Fortunately Friday had been earmarked a work day and I was more than happy to don the tracksuit pants and stay in for the entire day. Ian walked into town a couple of times for supplies (and to add to his shopping – he returned on the first occasion with some new golf shoes in preparation for our trip to Portugal). Seriously, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!
The kind lady in the office here at the apartments printed my manuscript and I spent the day poring over changes to Clementine Rose and the Seaside Escape. It was great to have a hard copy as editing entirely on screen is tricky. Fortunately I was feeling a lot better by mid morning and got stuck into the work. It’s just about done now and ready to send. There were other jobs too, so Thursday really was all about work. Today I’m hoping to play a little and maybe catch up with my husband on the shopping – although anyone who knows me well, knows shopping is way down my list of priorities. Tonight the Christmas lights are being turned on in Cheltenham and there are lots of activities and a street market, so I think we’ll aim for that later.