The Most Beautiful Village in England

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William Morris allegedly described Bibury as “the most beautiful village in England.”

That’s quite the statement, Mr. Morris.

While living abroad in London, I took day trips to Glastonbury, Stonehenge, Avebury, and Stratford-upon-Avon, all of which I recommend.  And yet, I didn’t travel to the tiny English village in the Cotswolds. An endorsement as indulgent as “the most beautiful village in England” left me quite skeptical, and almost in protest, I crossed my arms and traveled everywhere else. Finally, with one weekend left to spare before returning home, I realized that I simply couldn’t stop mulling over this mysterious village.

So, almost in spite of myself, I bought the train ticket and set off on my adventure.

Little did I know what lay in store for me.

As it turns out, Bibury is the epitome of a quaint English village. Ivy laces its way up the sturdy stone homes, and nonsensical paths loop around quiet streams and pastures; Bibury quickly calmed my senses.  After my time in London, I relished in the simple beauty of it all.

This was Morris’ Bibury, and unfortunately, I don’t remember much of it.

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What I do remember is my hike through the English countryside. When my friend and I mentioned we were searching for a pleasant walking path, the receptionist at The Swan Hotel clicked her tongue and pursed her lips–as if we were the first people to ever ask such a daunting question.  Her wide eyes, made larger by bifocals, fluttered up to us every few seconds as she shuffled through a selection of pamphlets until finally thrusting one into our hands.

“Well, here you go!  I hope it’s a lovely walk,” she smiled, appearing to breathe a sigh of relief.

She failed to mention said path would take five hours.

[Side note: Apart from our flustered receptionist, The Swan Hotel was a lovely place to stay!]

The typically grey English clouds couldn’t deter us, nor could the receptionist’s behavior, so, hopeful and relaxed, we set off on our “casual stroll.”  When we opened the receptionist’s pamphlet, I initially thought the directions might be a practical joke.  Somehow though, the receptionist just didn’t quite seem the type for jokes.

The directions read: Pass through each of the gates as they arise.  When you come across a collection of boulders, take the wider path in the fork in the road of the fork of the road, next to sheep, in which, after a length of time, you will come across a delightful bubbling brook, but stay clear of the bridges.  Travel alongside the brook for quite a ways.  When you see an odd tree, leave the path, go underneath it, and make your way north, though not so far north as the clearing by the brambles.  Eventually, you will come across another gate.  Pass through the gate as it arises.  When you reach the valley…” and so on.

Stay clear of the bridges
Stay clear of the bridges

I kept the instructions.  I have proof.

We were passing through gates and leaving paths, as instructed, when we came across a most curious sight: a cow, overstuffed and miserable, wedged in a tree.  How she managed this miraculous feat, I will never know.  But there she was, plump and stuck.

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The tree appeared to have been hollowed out at some point, and, somehow, the cow’s front legs dangled on one end, her back on the other, as if she had the brilliant idea to walk through the tree.  I suppose cows aren’t known for their spatial awareness.

An abandoned barn lay not too far from our spot, so, in a scene a little too reminiscent of a horror film, my friend left me with the animals to search for a rusty tool of sorts to set her free.  We spent the better part of an hour hacking away at the tree, trying to pry this poor cow loose, when her fellow cows began to grow agitated.  I hadn’t had such a strong desire to communicate with animals since I was eight years old and obsessed with Nickelodeon’s The Wild Thornberrys.  For whatever reason, the bulls seemed troubled by our violent smashing of the tree, and before we knew it, as many as 30 cows and bulls encircled us, some of them pawing at the dirt menacingly.

At that point, true to their English heritage, the clouds opened and started pouring on us.  Regretfully, we patted the cow’s head goodbye, wished her the best, and, quite ungracefully, hopped over the fence.  I just hope that at some point, someone else found the cow and set her free.

What with the absurd directions, a thunderstorm, and a near encounter with some angry bulls, we were lucky to have made it out alive.

But it is, to this day, one of the most memorable “casual strolls” of my life.  So thanks for the tip, Mr. Morris.

I suppose you just never know what to expect while on a jaunt through the English countryside.  A spiritual connection with William Morris?  Or an encounter with a cow stuck inside of a tree? Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll find both.

Have any of you gone on random hikes through the English countryside not knowing what to expect?  What did you find?

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