Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Franklin Would Check a Bag


Continental just rolled out its new “Fare Lock” and it got me thinking about air travel. There used to be a time when you simply bought your ticket and you flew. Maybe you paid a little extra for business or first class but, in general, one fee covered everything.

These days, the airlines charge myriad fees-fees for baggage, fees for seats, fees for food, fees for holiday travel, fees for ticket changes, and now fees for locking your fare. Some airlines are even considering fees for simply checking in. Do it online, it’s free, do it at the airport, get ready to pay.

It can be easy to feel depressed about all these ancillary revenues, but don’t despair. In our opinion, we’re still, very, very lucky. The fact that we can simply jump on a plane in New York and have breakfast in Rome 7 hours later is, for a lack of a better term, extraordinary. Turn the clock back to Ben Franklin’s day and consider this:

During the 1740’s, the average Atlantic crossing took about 1 month by boat, and that’s if the ship left on time, which it usually didn’t. Ben Franklin’s autobiography specifially mentions that ships were often delayed an additional three weeks or more before they made sail. Do you think airline delays are bad these days? Imagine sleeping at the airport for a month before catching your flight. There was also a logistical concern. Most ships connecting the American colonies and Europe landed on the western shores of France. It would’ve taken another handful of weeks, by land or sea, to access the prime hiking trails of Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia and northern Italy.

Just for fun, let’s consider that you had an extra six months to spare for round trip travel to the Alps, and you didn’t mind storm-tossed seas, cramped quarters, and spoiled food. If you traveled during the 1770’s, you’d also have to worry about engagement with His Majesty’s Navy. Sure, we have terrorism nowadays, but Franklin had to deal with the awesome firepower of the British Ships of the Line. Imagine enduring a full broadside of heavy cannon during your next voyage to Europe.

Anyway, the next time you find yourself with the airline blues, remember one thing. The fact that we can just hop on a plane and go hiking in the Alps is still a pretty sweet deal. In fact, if Ben Franklin were still around, he would probably check a bag.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Grab Your Toga!


Our new Cotswolds Way finishes in the World Heritage City of Bath. Can you guess why it's called Bath? Here's a hint; think Romans and toga parties.



A long time ago, the Romans built what some people like to call, "One of the finest thermal spas of the ancient world." The spas featured heated rooms, fountains, plunge pools, salons, and a sophisticated heating and pumping system. It's pretty amazing when you consider that electricity wouldn't come around for another 2,000 years.



We recommend that all our Cotswolds hikers leave some extra time to explore these vestiges of Roman culture. The following museum site offers more info: http://www.romanbaths.co.uk Don't forget your toga!

Images: Karen Walker

Thursday, December 09, 2010

On the Edge: Exploring the Cotswolds Way

We’ve written a few pieces about the Cotswolds this week, in honor of our new self-guided hike through the region. We’ve introduced the new tour, we’ve written about the architecture, and we’ve mentioned some of the notable authors that found their inspiration in this enchanting corner of England. What we haven’t really talked about, though, is the hiking. What are the hikes like? How long are the days? How high are the hills? To answer these questions, let’s define what the Cotwolds are in the first place.

The word ‘Cotswolds’ is actually a combination of two very old English words, ‘cots’ and ‘wolds’. While there is some debate regarding the etymology of these two words, most people tend to agree that ‘wolds’ are gentle hills and ‘Cots’ are sheep enclosures, though some argue that the word ‘Cots’ could also refer to a personal place name or simply mean ‘high open land.’ Without analyzing it any further, let’s just say that the Cotswolds refers to a region of gently rolling hills, peppered with sheep farms and crisscrossed by stone walls and cobblestone lanes, the perfect tapestry for a long distance hiking trail.

The Cotswolds Way achieved National Trail status in 2007 and is literally a patchwork of routings through farmland, moorland, woodland, villages, backyards and country roads. (In case you’re wondering, a moor is an area of rough, grassy high ground with exposed rocks. It’s typically higher than the surrounding landscape but not exactly mountainous). The full route is about 102 miles long and can be done in a variety of configurations with the majority of the trail following the Cotswolds Edge, an 80-mile long, uplifted, eastward-tilting escarpment of limestone bedrock.

Compared to other Ryder-Walker tours, the Cotswolds Way might seem relatively easy. The hike offers negligible ascent, and Cleeve Common, the high point of the tour, rises a mere 900 feet above sea level. That said, don’t underestimate the quality of this undulating adventure. Depending on the length of your schedule, some days can be quite long, as much as 16 miles in our recommended itinerary.

Our itinerary travels from north to south, from the quintessential Cotswolds village of Chipping Campden, to the World Heritage City of Bath. We prefer this direction for three reasons. One, to begin in Chipping Campden is to dive right into the Cotswold groove in one of the region’s most delightful villages. Two, the entry to Bath is dramatic and makes a fine finish. Three, the entry to Bath is also the longest day of the trek and is best tackled when one is fit and used to the pacing of the Cotswolds Way. Note: we can make most days shorter by car and van shuttles if desired. In fact, we can customize this itinerary in myriad ways. Just ask!

The Cotswolds region is unique in that it’s rich in Neolithic sites. The area is home to more than 400 Bronze Age barrows, 80 long barrows, and 32 Iron Age hill forts. Belas Knap is one of the largest long barrows, while
Hetty Pegler's Tump invites visitors to crawl around inside (day 7 of the tour).

Equally inviting are the pubs, and it’s hard to talk about England without mentioning them. The places are cozy, with wood fires, home cooked meals, and, of course, plenty of ale or wine. You’ll find pubs in even the tiniest villages, and the bar meals they serve are some of the best found anywhere.

As with all our tours, you can pack a picnic lunch or buy something when the opportunity presents itself. As luck would have it, most hikes on the Cotswolds Way land you near a pub right about lunchtime. Did the trail developers plan it this way? Maybe. Are we complaining? Certainly not. Almost all Cotswold villages of decent size also feature an Indian restaurant. The English were big fans of Indian food, and we are too, it’s a nice way to spice things up.

Finally, the accommodations on this tour offer a delightful mix of four star hotels and intimate B&B’s. The places that we’ve selected are well appointed, and they exude historic charm and character. Think hand-hewn wooden beams, half-timbered walls, stone hearths, and fluffy down comforters. If you’ve ever dreamed of stepping into a storybook, this is your chance.

Image: There's a bull in the field! A typical half-timbered gatehouse. Both by Karen Walker

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Henry Ford's Cotswolds


Of all the qualities that make the Cotswolds so precious, it is the collection of limestone cottages that give the region its distinctive character and attract visitors from around the world. Built from the underlying limestone bedrock, adorned with flowers and topped with roofs made of stone or thatch, the cottages resemble something straight out of a children’s book, and some of them are more than 500 years old.

Henry Ford was so enamored with these cottages that he bought one of his own, dismantled it stone by stone, shipped the whole thing to America and reassembled it on his property in Dearborn, Michigan. Ford’s Rose Cottage still stands today, and is one of the oldest buildings in the collection of the Henry Ford museum at Greenfield Village, MI.

I had an opportunity to swing by Greenfield Village this past summer, and, as luck would have it, I snapped these photos.


Rose Cottage was built in the 1600’s and resided in the village of Chedworth, Gloucestershire, England. Henry Ford bought the cottage for $5000 in 1930. A similar cottage would probably fetch about one million today and would be officially protected by the UK government.



This is a typical Cotswolds Forge, originally built in the early 1600's and also relocated by Henry Ford to Greenfield Village. This particular forge was continuously operated by a Cotswold 'Smithy' for 300 years.


Here's a peek inside the forge.

Now imagine 100 miles of tranquil villages comprised almost entirely of limestone retreats like Rose Cottage. What you end up with is something like this.



This is Arlington Row, a famous collection of Cotswold cottages in the village of Bibury. (Click on the image to see it up close). Supposedly, Henry Ford also tried to buy this entire row and have it shipped to Michigan. We're glad that he left these in place. It gives us something to admire as we walk from village to village on our new Cotswolds Way. Truly, to step into the Cotswolds is to step back in time.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A Portrait of the Cotswolds


If you read yesterday’s post, then you know that we just unveiled a new hiking tour through the Cotswolds of west-central England. The Cotswolds attract visitors from all over the world and for a number of reasons. First and foremost is the beauty. When people think of an idyllic countryside, replete with cozy stone cottages, rollling hills, and sheep grazing outside the wooden gate, whether they know it or not, it’s usually the Cotswolds that pop into their minds. Visitors also flock to the Cotswolds for a second reason, to follow in the footsteps of their favorite literary characters.

Just for a fun, I did a little Google search to see how many authors have connections to, or have drawn inspiration from, this magical heart of England. I already knew some of the biggies, Beatrix Potter, JK Rowling, Jane Austen and, of course, William Shakespeare. And, while I may not have found the comprehensive list I was hoping for, my search did lead me to the following article by Marsha Dubrow. Rather than rehash what she so thoughtfully organized, allow me to suggest this link. Dubrow’s article paints a nice portrait of the Cotswolds, albeit Christmas themed.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Announcing: Our New Cotswolds Way


Quintessential England is, perhaps, the best way to describe the Cotswolds of west-central England. Peaceful villages welcome travelers with warm stone cottages and intimate B&B's. Winding country lanes, cobblestoned and lined with dry-stone walls, guide explorers through a tapestry of quiet tearooms and cozy pubs. Stately hedgerows divide a fanciful realm of rolling hillsides and mysterious woods.

It is not surprising that so many stories, from Harry Potter to Peter Rabbit, arise from this magical corner that many people refer to as a "Christmas card come to life.” Read more...

Image: Karen Walker