Charlotte and I woke to an exceedingly fine September day and decided to leave our charming room at The Bell Inn to hike the Cotswold landscapes about Moreton in Marsh. In preparation, I laminated my survey maps, brushed up on my compass reading skills and dusted off my trekking poles. And Charlotte donned her sturdiest kid leather boots. (I realize you can't see them under the yards of satin and foreground of peonies, but trust me. They are very elegant.)
One extraordinary aspect of the English countryside that many Americans don't understand is the 'Countryside and Rights of Way Act' which allows the public to access open lands for their hikes.
I know. It's a very hard concept for Americans. But there are hundreds of footpaths in England, that traverse privately-owned land, that you are allowed to walk on. Not national parks. Not sidewalks. These are paths through farms and fields and paddocks and pastures that have real, live grazing cows and sheep and horses--the horses are a bit scary--that you can cross, so long as you stay on these designated footpaths.
I know. I thought the same thing. I'm gonna get arrested for trespassing, or yelled at by farmers, or just shot in the back. The concept is really foreign. Imagine the U.S. had a 'Right of Way' Law and there was a designated hiking path running through your neighbor's back yard, past his Weber grill and hot tub and kid's trampoline. You can, by law, open your neighbor's gate (because they're not allowed to lock it), and walk through their private property, as long as you stay on the path.
It's weird, right? Take a look at the pictures and maybe you'll understand a little better.
There are still chain link fences and barbed wire and metal gates to contain livestock, but if there's a legal footpath, there will be a small gate or a wooden stile for a body to cross. It's like that little strip of earth belongs to the world.
So that morning, Charlotte and I headed west out of Moreton in Marsh on the way to the Batsford Estate, where there is a grand, Cotswold stone manor house, a deer park, and England's largest, privately-owned arboretum.
There is nothing in the world I enjoy more than setting off on a hike in England, and getting turned around and lost and finding the right way again. A large part of that is the historical romance writer in me, loving fairy tales and Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte as I do. This landscape makes you feel as if you've stepped 200 years into the past.
Batsford Arboretum is a lovely park, a "wild woodland garden with Asian influences." The arboretum was started by Bertram Freeman Mitford, the 1st Earl Redesdale, who inherited the estate in 1886, but there is documentation of a ‘Battesford’ estate dating back to 1648. An engraving in 1712 shows formal walled gardens surrounding Batsford Mansion, but by 1779 those were replaced by a deer park and woodland.
Lord Redesdale's grandchildren lived fascinating lives in the early 20th century. I snapped a pic of a short description of 'The Mitford Girls' to pique your interest.
From Batsford, Charlotte and I walked southwest to Bourton on the Hill. Another lovely Cotswold-stone village with too many evocative images to post them all, but I'll share this one...
From Bourton on the Hill, it is trek straight south to Sezincote House. So pretty!
Sezincote was built by Colonel John Cockerell, a military man who amassed a fortune in India with the East India Company, and who sadly died only three years after building the house, in 1798.
COME ON! How beautiful is this? It's even got a 'ha ha'. (Can you guess what that is?)
Sezincote is still a private home, and the family generously opens the house a couple days a week to let nosy tourists like myself, past their doors. Actually, I thought I would have to give up on the idea of getting in, as my boots were coated in mud and cow dung, but the gatekeeper told me they would be fine to let me in as long as I left my boots outside. (I will likely never walk on Aubusson rugs in my socks again.)
Photos aren't allowed in the swank (and I mean SWANK) home, but the interior is as beautiful and jewel-like as the exterior. And the gardens of the house are just as extraordinary.
An absolutely beautiful corner of the world. For more pictures of the house and gardens, including the surprising 'rear view' of the Sezincote Estate (I was lost and stumbled around back), please take a look at my Pinterest board, as I'll be updating my 'Cotswold Board' with most of my pictures in the next week or so.
As much as Charlotte loves the countryside, we must say good-bye to the glorious and heart-swelling Cotswolds to journey to London and enjoy the delights of the City. Charlotte is keen to show me her city, and all the special places that she shares with Will Repton in IN SEARCH OF SCANDAL!