Tag Archives: united kingdom

2 Days in Oxford, UK

2 Days in Oxford, UK - DesignLively

Oh the shame. I am a pretty organized person. But I start blog posts and then sometimes they sit half-finished in the drafts folder for a few weeks, or months. Remember our trip to England and Scotland in April? Well, I never finished writing the post on Oxford. Then one thing led to another and it felt like an embarrassingly long time went by and I decided to forget about it. Until today. I was hunting in folders for possible Christmas card photo options, and looking through our Oxford pictures was just too fun. Besides, Oxford = Tolkein = Withywindle. How could I not?

I’ll be honest, our first day in Oxford was a total bust. I know it’s usually pretty rainy in England in the spring, but even the innkeepers were commenting that it worse than usual. We originally had only scheduled to be in Oxford for one night and one full day. I can’t say we didn’t try – we walked all over the city and were soaked through by lunchtime – it was so gusty that I even had to throw away my umbrella, which broke that morning. After walking for a few hours, and realizing we had scarcely been able to look two inches outside of our rain hoods we decided to cancel one of our days in London and stay in Oxford the following day.

The only good part about the rainy day, was visiting the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers museum. It was PACKED because the museum is FREE and it was raining. But it was an amazing experience – all types of animal skeletons. And this is coming from an Art and Writing major.

2 Days in Oxford, UK - DesignLively

J.K. Rowling fashioned Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley after the Pitt Rivers museum, and I can see why! The place was rambling, dark and full of the strangest objects I’ve ever seen. It feels like you’ve walked into a giant Borgin and Burkes.

Following our worst day of weather, our next day in Oxford was the most beautiful weather of our trip and I’m so glad we chose to stay. (Note: Flexible itinerary plans are always a win!)

2 Days in Oxford, UK - DesignLively

We saw all the academic sites – the Radcliffe Camera (above), the Sheldonian Theatre, and Bodelian Library(below), which are all part of Oxford University. We also saw numerous Harry Potter filming locations in the process.

2 Days in Oxford, UK - DesignLively

Oxford is quite the place – an unusual abundance of students in Black Tie off to some event. We peeked in a doorways, but college buildings and campuses are guarded and closed to visitors. We didn’t bother trying to get any special passes to visit them – but they are available.

We also visited Christ Church and the gardens. Lewis Carroll, the magical mind behind Alice in Wonderland, was inspired by the Christ Church gardens and wrote the stories about a real girl named Alice – one of the daughters of the Dean of the church. Across the street is a store called “Alice’s Shop” and has every Alice in Wonderland item you could imagine.

“You’re mad, bonkers,
completely off your head.
But I’ll tell you a secret.
All the best people are.”

2 Days in Oxford, UK - DesignLively

Behind the church is Christ Church meadow. You’ll see some lovely cows, and if you keep on walking you will meet the Isis (the part of the Thames river that goes through Oxford is called the Isis). There you will find lots of boathouses for the Christ Church Regatta. If it’s pouring rain you may even spend some time on one of their porches. : )

Being the bookworm that I am, I was very excited to visit the enormous Blackwell’s bookshop.

2 Days in Oxford, UK - DesignLively

When planning our trip to Oxford, I was doubly excited due to an inexplicable soft spot for the Inklings. Blame it on my Dad. The Inklings was a literary group made up with great authors like J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers.

If you’ve forgotten the origin of Withywindle, read this.

In terms of Inklings related site seeing, we saw most of it. There are formal tours you can take as well, but I think we covered most of it on our own. We walked past Merton College (where Tolkien was a professor) and Magdalen College (where Lewis was a professor). We also saw the Church of the Virgin Mary (where Lewis first read his famous paper “The Weight of Glory”).

2 Days in Oxford, UK - DesignLively

But perhaps the most iconic Inklings location we visited was dining at the Eagle and Child (Bird and the Baby) where the group met. They still have the “Rabbit Room” sign up with several plaques dedicated to the group. The restaurant is actually owned by a chain restaurant company that specializes in historic restaurants and pubs. (We went to a location they owned in Edinburgh too.)

There were three parts of Oxford that we did not get to experience. First, I was told by several friends to visit the Covered Market for lunch – we only attempted to visit on our first rainy day and it was so bad out most of the shops were closed. Secondly, for reasons I can’t remember (major construction I think?) we were unable to visit the famous Ashmolean Museum.

Lastly, we had to skip renting punting boat (think gondola style boating). The rivers were so flooded (seriously, it rained a lot) they had to close them down. Perhaps someday!

2 Days in Oxford, UK - DesignLively

During our time in Oxford we stayed at The Buttery Hotel – I would recommend it. It was one of the better places we stayed during our trip and the location was perfect! Breakfast was included, and delicious. And don’t worry about the calories, you’ll work it off climbing up six flights of stairs to your room.

All in all, Oxford was lovely and I would definitely go back. It was a bit smaller than what I expected, but very charming. We are movers-and-shakers, so 2 days was just enough time for us to feel like we got to experience a bit of the city. (But really, is there ever enough time?)

And there you have it, our trip to the U.K.

As I said before, if you’re planning a trip to the U.K.  I found The Londoner, Aspiring Kennedy and Explore.Dream.Discover quite helpful. Cheers!

2 Days in the Cotswolds, UK – Part II

Our second night in the Cotswolds we spent in Bourton-on-the-Water and we stayed at The Garden Room at Strathspey. We loved our stay here – the family who lets out this room was very friendly! It was one of our favorite accommodations of our trip.

Bourton-on-the-Water is a beautiful town! It has a beautiful High Street (actually, all the towns have a “High Street” – that’s where the main village center is) with the River Windrush runs through the center of town.

The river, and the many sloping bridges are why this town is often called the “Venice of the Cotswolds”. (While I’ve never been to Venice, I’m sure this is an exaggeration. Bourton-on-the-Water is incredibly beautiful in it’s own way.)

We enjoyed a lovely meal of Fish and Chips at the Old Manse Hotel – this was also the best deal we found on food, and you know we love a good deal!

I’m still not sure why they insist on pureeing their peas though.

Fortunately we were able to explore Bourton-on-the-Water a little bit on Friday night, because on Saturday morning it was definitely buzzing with tourists. We did spend some time in town, but ended up moving on more quickly than anticipated due to all the people that arrived as the morning went on.

The next town on our list was Bibury – hailed the “most picturesque place in the Cotswolds”. Bibury is super tiny (it is basically a trout farm and an inn – at least as far as we could see) but is famous for the Arlington Row.

The Arlington Row was built in 1380 as a wool store. Now they are cottages. And I’d LOVE to live in one… if loads of tourists wouldn’t be outside my window everyday at least.

(Isn’t it funny how my pictures look like no one is around when it’s just really skillfully timed shots? Does that ruin the mystique for you?)

Our last Cotswolds stop was in Burford – about 30 minutes from Oxford.

We had a “proper tea” at the Burford House Hotel. That was fun! I read a glossy (magazine) on Kate Middleton (we were there for Will & Kate’s one year anniversary so she was covered on every magazine that trip).

There was a big group of people getting ready for a wedding while we were at the Burford House Hotel and they were all inside with their big hats and fancy outfits on!
(And of course we looked really super good-looking in our 10-day-old jeans and fleece jackets and puffy rain-hair…not!!)

We also visited the Burford Bazaar – it was a kind of a rip-off! You have to pay to go inside and it wasn’t even that great. What WAS great was Mrs. Bumbles of Burford – clotted cream fudge – yum! chocolate covered orange peel – yum!

Okay, in the UK they do this weird thing called pollarding trees, as displayed on the main street in Burford:

Naturally, we are weirdos and had to find out why they did this. Apparently it started as a need for firewood (since you can lop off branches without killing the tree) but now they just kind of like the way it looks and it keeps the trees at a certain height. We thought it was the strangest thing we saw over there. But supposedly it’s very common in Europe and other urban areas. Who knew?

After Burford we headed towards Oxford to return our rental car. And that was the end of our 2 days in the Cotswolds – it was beautiful, and certainly too short!

All of the towns in the Cotswolds that we decided to stop at were about 10-30 minutes from each other. And there are plenty more we had to pass by! The drives themselves were a pleasure – everything in the Cotswolds is gorgeous!

We wouldn’t have been able to see everything that we did without a car and we both agreed that the initial stress of driving was totally worth it.

Although, I’m not sure a month in the Cotswolds would be enough!

Our next (and final) stop: Oxford!

2 Days in the Cotswolds, UK – Part I

In Europe the best wool is English and in England the best wool is Cotswold
– 12th century saying

We returned from our vacation over a month ago, but I can’t leave out a post about the Cotswolds! I last left off with our tales of 2 rainy days in the Lakes District.

I actually started writing this post and it was so long and there were so many photos I wanted to share, I thought I’d split it up into two posts.

We had a foggy and rainy drive from Ambleside (in the Lakes District) to Chipping Campden – for the record it took us four hours. (Mapquest says three hours and online forums I read said it would take as long as six hours.) It’s funny how different people are with driving over there – no one we asked could tell us how long it would take to get to the Cotswolds from the Lake district and they looked at us like we were mad for taking such a long journey for so short a time. (My husband commutes half that time every single day!)

Our Cotswold itinerary was quite relaxed compared to the rest of our trip – drink tea, walk the unbeaten path, see loads of sheep and pop into shops to escape the rain.

Our 2 day Cotswolds itinerary was as follows:

Day 1: Chipping Campden, Moreton-in-Marsh, Stow-on-the-Wold, The Slaughters
Day 2: Bourton-on-the-Water, Bibury, Burford

Our first night we stayed in Chipping Campden at The Volunteer Inn. Chipping Campden is a small market town full of buildings made from honey-yellow limestone (also known as Cotswold stone).  The “wool market hall” can still be found in the middle of town (full of baskets for sale).

We walked past the Alms House and the church of St. James (and the creepy cemetery). The entire town is very picturesque (we even saw a few straw rooftops!).

From what I read, I was worried Chipping Campden would be crawling with tourists – but since we were there on a rainy Friday, it was very quiet and relaxing!

We went on a long walk around the town and went sheep-siting. Baby lambs are so cute!

Our next stop was Moreton-in-Marsh. Moreton-in-Marsh is full of lovely shops (and rude people trying to steal your parking spaces!) We didn’t stay here long because it really started to pour!

We pressed on through the rain to Stow-on-the-Wold. We stopped in Huffkins Tea Room until the rain stopped – and devoured some delicious treats!

We spent the next several hours window shopping, and I don’t think we even got to see all of the town! This was the largest (and hilliest) Cotswolds town we visited.

The Upper and Lower Slaughters is where we spent most of our afternoon – while I’m not sure we ever really “found” the town of Upper Slaughter, Lower Slaughter was beautiful! We saw the Water Mill and toured around the creeks.

In fact, I found my dream home in Lower Slaughter:

If I lived in this house I’d take up watercoloring and eat clotted cream and scones every day!

The sun decided to come out (hoorah!) so we hiked for a while along a path you can take all through the Cotswolds. We made some more animal friends and wondered why life preservers were attached to trees along this tiny creek.

Then we drove along the “Romantic Road” for a ways. The Romantic Road in the Slaughters (aka Copse Hill Road) was very pretty, and narrow.

Very, vary narrow. And curvy. With blind turns. (Did I mention we were driving on the opposite side of the road with the clutch on the opposite from usual side?) Nevertheless, the views were breathtaking and I enjoyed it (then again, I wasn’t driving!).

Stay tuned for part II of the Cotswolds…

2 Days in the Lakes District, England

While our time in Edinburgh and St. Andrews was amazing, I was very much looking forward to the next leg of our trip – the Lakes District!

We took (another) early morning train ride from Edinburgh Waverley station to Windermere, England. With a few changes (at Carlisle and Oxenholme) it only took us 3 hours to get to our new B&B (and one of my favorite places we stayed our entire trip!).

Unfortunately, that was when the rain started… and it wouldn’t let up for 5 days!

Lake Windermere is the largest lake in England – which makes me laugh! While it’s certainly lovely, it is by no means “large” in my opinion (having kayaked across Lake Champlain – which is about 10x the size of Lake Windermere). Nonetheless, it is beautiful.

We dropped our bags off at our B&B and decided to take the 20 minute walk to Bowness-on-Windermere.

Everything here is made of slate. The pathways, the houses, the roofs, the walls.

By the time we got down to the waterfront, the rain had let up but it was still quite misty and foggy. Even with the limited views, Windermere is beautiful.

We had planned on renting a rowboat and taking it out on the lake for a ride, but with the gloomy skies and unpredictable weather, we thought better of it.

Instead we decided to splurge on renting a motorboat for an hour since it  had a covered top. The term “motorboat” may be generous. There were 2 speeds on the boat – forward and stop.

We tutted and putted along and enjoyed the stormy views. And laughed. A lot.

We timed our boat ride perfectly, as soon as we got back on dry land the skies opened up. We spent the afternoon holed up in a coffee shop before scoping out the town of Bowness-on-Windermere. We were a bit shopped-out at this point, and just wandered about and made our way back to Windermere.

To fight off the onslaught of rain we sought comfort in a number of bookstores!

Also make sure to check out the Oak Street Bakery in Windermere – it’s an independent bakery and the caramel shortbread is AMAZING!

We stayed at the Ashleigh Guest House and it was my favorite place we stayed. They plan ahead for stormy, dreary, rainy evenings (the town basically shuts down at 5pm) and equipped each room with DVD players and have a huge movie library in the hallway to choose from. It was a nice break from the go-go-go of our trip.

The following day we picked up our rental car in Kendal.

I’m not sure how to describe the experience that day other than terrifying. We had a manual and the clutch is on the left side! Definitely the most confusing part.

We spent the morning a few miles north of Windermere – in Grassmere and Ambleside.

Grassmere was my favorite place we visited. I have said that about a lot of places, but Grassmere is in the top places I’ve ever been.

We walked along the Riverwalk Path – past a flowing creek, many ducks and fields full of sheep! You can see where Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter got all their inspiration!

Rolling hills. Lakes. Sheep. Happiness.

Country paths in the drizzling rain.

Original homemade gingerbread at Sarah Nelson’s eaten in William Wordworth’s daffodil garden.

We saw Wordworth’s gravestone and we read one of his poem’s for posterity’s sake.

Then we drove 10 minutes south to Ambleside. Ambleside has a larger village – home to many outdoor stores. There we visited the Apple Pie Bakery and enjoyed it next to a small river.

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving south (4 hours) to Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds.

While our weather in the Lakes District was very rainy and foggy, we loved it! If only it wasn’t so far away from Boston!

Next stop: The Cotswolds!