"Little Venice" of the Cotswolds by John Rayburn
That’s what they often call Bourton-on-the-Water, pretty much in the heart of England. It’s based on the arched stone bridges that span the River Windrush. Some of the bridges are on streets while several others are just for foot traffic. Yellow limestone is prevalent in the Cotswolds and the honey-colored stone architecture is famous in idyllic villages all around this part of Gloucestershire.
When wandering around Bourton-on-the-Water it may well be that your most descriptive adjective will be “tranquil,” because of the overall feeling of peace and serenity. The village has population of only a bit more than 3,000 but tourist season often finds visitors outnumbering those who live there. It’s one of several similar villages around the area, like Stow-on-the-Wold, just about 4-miles away. The word “wold” is frequent in those parts and refers to a hilly region. Stow, for example, is situated on a hill about 700 feet elevation, fairly rare around there. One of the interesting features there is an inn, The Royalist, which traces back to 947 A.D. and may be the oldest in all of England. Like many such locations, it has ghostly tales to tell, not unusual in many parts of the country.
Probably the most famous eerie story concerns King Charles I, who was beheaded in 1649. He ruled in dictatorial fashion and had many run-ins with the English Parliament. He got a little carried away with himself and declared he had been ordained by God to rule and didn’t have to have Parliamentary approval to do some of the things he did. That didn’t go over very well and led to his demise at the age of 49. It’s said his specter haunts the courthouse in Painswick, also in Gloucestershire about 50 miles from Bourton-on-the-Water.
The major feature for Bourton visitors is a miniature replica of the village built to a 1/9th scale in the 1930s. It is so accurate the model has an even smaller model within it to continue the amazing authenticity. A small-scale River Windrush flows through it, complete with the aforementioned bridges. There are many striking aspects such as choirs singing in the two replica village churches. Authentic building materials were used and they have used small trees of a bonsai-type and keep them carefully pruned to be sure they match the true scale proportions. All of the cottages in the model are precisely sized and the impressive details were achieved by using tiny rafters and doors and thousands of miniature bricks and stones. It’s very impressive to say the least.
We enjoyed another unexpected diversion. It stemmed from the many similar meals we encountered as we moved around the country. One such is the noted “ploughman’s lunch” encountered primarily at pubs. This is a cold meal based around cheese, chutney and bread. It is more often than not augmented by such items as ham, pickled onions, and boiled eggs. This midday snack is said by some to have originated in the 1950s when this sort of pub lunch was promoted by the Cheese Bureau as a means of increasing cheese sales, an item no longer rationed after World War II. That’s one story, but there is another that rings true and is probably more accurate. The reliable Oxford English Dictionary observes that the first recorded mention of a “ploughman’s lunch” came in the book, Memoirs of the life of Sir Walter Scott in 1837. That has a more romantic air about it in addition to the fact the dictionary is undoubtedly an unarguable source.
For another look at English cuisine, a breakfast menu is often pretty much the same anywhere, especially if you stay in bed-and-breakfast facilities as we did. More often than not there’ll be either fried or poached eggs, along with bacon, tomato slices that have been grilled, (sometimes whole baked tomatoes), toasted bread and butter, perhaps sausages and certainly, a mug of English tea. If you prefer coffee you can have it but the tradition is tea. Depending on the place you’re staying you may even have English muffins, or teacakes, maybe crumpets and sometimes strawberry yogurt. Depending on where you are, you might encounter “bubble and squeak.” That consists mainly of shallow-fried vegetables left over from a roast dinner, with potato and cabbage as the chief ingredients. Let’s put it this way, many English breakfasts are big enough you may not need a “ploughman’s lunch” later on.
If you happen to be at a B&B that offers an evening meal possibility, it, too, will be filling but there is a great deal of sameness after a while. Many of the dishes will be boiled and I think sometimes it seems as though the cook started boiling them in the morning and continued right up to dinner time. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good but the on-going “sameness” can eventually lead to a craving for something different.
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