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taconictraveler Aug 12th, 2012 03:25 PM

England via the QM2, Part II
We left Southampton on Sunday morning, after our sad departure from the Queen Mary 2, having had a marvelous week at sea.

We found Europecar with no trouble, (of course the cab driver knew the way!) and off we drove off (me with great trepidation, Jim with none) on the left hand side of the road. (Well, we hadn't driven in the UK for 6 years, meaning we are 6 years older!)

Bless his heart, he had no trouble at all, but I continued my "back seat" driving, and continued to call it "navigating!"

We had a small SEAT, a Spanish car, which proved to be fine. We had had one on some other trip, and we always seem to do well with rental cars, and certainly have had nothing but good luck with AutoEurope. We didn't take a GPS this time, because we pretty much know our way around England. (Ha!)

Oxford is not hard to find, and we got to the Old Parsonage Hotel at about 12:30, just about the time our European cell phone rang! It was our friend Lizzie, coming out from suburban London to meet us for an overnight reunion. She had just gotten off the train at Oxford station. Perfect timing.

We loved The Old Parsonage when we stayed here 15 years ago, when our dear friend's daughter got married nearby, and we remembered the lovely place, with the excellent food. We had a lovely room, huge and charming, on the main floor.

We had lunch in the dining room, the walls of which are covered in interesting paintings. This is just the kind of place I love, and our lunch was a super start to our 24 hours in Oxford.

We drank a Gavi di Gavi, and I ate grilled scallops with peas and broad beans. This might not sound like much to you, but we never can find broad beans in the states, and the good English chefs just seem to have a way with them. It was a marvelous dish!

Lizzie is an English barrister, now retired, who I had met many years ago at a bar dinner, when she was visiting in the Hudson Valley with an old classmate. We really hit it off, and have been friends for probably 25 years or more. Such fun to meet up with her, and catch up. She'd been to visit a couple of years ago, but we would be happy to see her every week: she is such fun and so clever, and we've learned much from her. I can remember going to Magistrates' Courts' all over London, with her, when she was Chief Clerk of the Inner London Magistrates' Courts. What an education!

But I digress. (again)

Lizzie, clever girl, was not over-spending on a fancy room as we were, but was staying in one of the colleges. Aha! We learned something from her once again.

She had discovered that one can book a room at several of the Oxford colleges, during the off time when not so many students are around, and the prices are generally quite good value.

We walked with her to Wadhams College, where she was staying, and sorted out her room. I was most impressed with the just-completely-refurbished room, with private brand new bathroom that she was given for 30 pounds!

Next I'll tell you about gardens at Oxford Colleges, our reason for being in town.

taconictraveler Aug 14th, 2012 07:12 AM

We first took a look around Wadhams College Garden, where Lizzie was staying) which was, as many of these college gardens were, a lovely quiet calm green bower. Not spectacular, but pretty nice, and with some spectacular ancient trees.

The hit of our day, after the Botanical Garden, was the New College Garden.

We sought this out, because Flanneruk (thanks, Flanner) said it ought to be good, because Robin Lane Fox is a Fellow there.

Robin Lane Fox is one of the revered names in Gardening circles, and is Garden or Landscape (or both) Editor for The Financial Times.

By the way, in trying to figure out, before our trip, how to get in to this (assumedly private) Fellows' Garden, I checked with a friend who had been on a garden tour in Paris with the famous Robin Lane Fox, on how to get in touch with him, if it was possible at all, to get permission to see that garden.

Well, she said, just email him. WHAT? Well, I did, and got an immediate reply:

"There is no Fellows Garden ..the College gardens are open daily at New College Lane entrance \fter noon till 4pm ..they look awful in the heat ..RLF"

So we followed his instructions and got to see a perfectly gorgeous 12 foot deep perennial border in the New College Gardens. I think it backs up to the old city walls. Very lovely indeed, and as a bonus we followed the sounds of a boy soprano voice, and were treated to a charming rehearsal by two different young members of the choir.

That same chapel sports an El Greco painting of St. James, (now, they say, thought to be a self-portrait)

After walking around town quite a lot, we decided to get a better overview, and took the HOP-ON, HOP-OFF bus, which was really fun on a breezy but sunny day! We happened to have a really well-informed student tour guide, and learned a great deal more of the History of various colleges, all done with great humor.

One of the colleges we did see from up top on the bus was the very new and very unusual Said Business School, a contemporary architectural attraction (good or bad, depending on your attitudes toward modern architecture) with a tower that looks like a ziggurat, (which is featured in a famous painting of the Tower of Babel) Unusual in this classical town.

For those who are interested in gardens, the other great college garden (and the one we missed (!) was Worcester College Garden.

There just wasn't enough time to do all we would have liked in our 24 hours in Oxford.

We did enjoy a marvelous Indian dinner at a place called The Spice Lounge, out in Summertown, a couple of miles west in Oxford suburbs.( )on the advice of our front desk personnel. We ate a Chef's special tasting menu which had all sorts of delicious items, the names of which I forget, but was happy to eat, since we have NO Indian restaurants anywhere near where we live!

Flanneruk: Just a note to say that all the gardens we saw during our entire week in England so far surpassed most of what we have that I am still dreaming about them!

taconictraveler Aug 14th, 2012 07:23 AM

topping, not sure this latest got posted.

bilboburgler Aug 14th, 2012 07:56 AM

Worcester is good, I like the Rose Garden (between the Botanical and the High) and of course Addison's walk in Magdalen for the occasional snake's head that has managed to cross the Cherwell.

taconictraveler Aug 14th, 2012 12:05 PM

See, bilbo, now I have to go back AGAIN!!

Cathinjoetown Aug 15th, 2012 12:35 PM

I just found this, still very interesting.

taconictraveler Aug 25th, 2012 02:54 PM

Sorry but I have been a bit under the weather, but must now finish up my trip report, which I will confine to those things that I think might be of aid to other travelers.

The Old Parsonage, though not at all cheap, is a marvelous place to stay right in the center of Oxford.

We left Oxford and drove up to Cheshire, where we stayed with old friends who live in a little village near Nantwich.

On the way, we detoured a bit to stop at Daylesford Farms, just off the A 44. Our American friends had told us this was a very fancy farm market, and indeed it was!!

It is worth a stop if only to see how the POSH in the Gloucestershire countryside live (and eat!!) Apparently they also have a shop in London.

I happen to love the sorts of foodstuffs they had there, and if there had been time, we probably would have eaten there, since there is also a rather smart cafe. Take a look if you are in the neighborhood, and fancy some garden supplies like those of Prince Charles, or some delicious cakes, and jams, and even wine, together with odiforous cheeses and the like.

We arrived late at our friends' home, as we managed to get lost on route, but enjoyed a great reunion and a delicious dinner, with A and A, who we met in the late 1970"s at a pub in Ireland!! (one of the marvelous benefits of travel!)

We spent most of the week with them, seeing old friends of theirs (and ours from previous trips,) enjoying some good food at home and at one particular restaurant.

(If you are up that way, do stop at The Cholomondeley Arm

where there is very good food, and 100 different bottles of Gin and 5 styles of tonic water!!) It's actually in Cholomondeley, near the Bickerton Hills, west of Nantwich.

Our meal there (or rather my meal) was a roasted candy beets, orange and pistachio salad with a vodka dressing. It also contained red onion, cucumber and radishes, salad greens and pea shoots. Then I had Gin-cured salmon with delicious rye bread, and pickled cucumber; (AND it came with a snifter of 1820 Gin liqueur!)

Being with A and A is a lovely holiday in itself, as they have built a superb retirement house, out of the former Motor House (!) which used to house husband A's antique car collection!

Wife A has a charming garden, where we spent much time, as we managed to dodge most of the awful rain that England was experiencing while we were there!

We did take one overnight away up in Wharfedale, where we met our Queen Mary 2 friends, who were on their way to Scotland after a few days at Wimbledon.

We stayed in Burnsall, where we had been many years before, at the Devonshire Fell.

This is the smaller, more affordable "sister" property to the more well-known Devonshire Arms, a few miles further south, right next to Bolton Abbey. Both these properties are part of the estates of the Duchess of Devonshire.

Devonshire Fell is fitted out beautifully, but in very contemporary fashion, with bright colors, and very good food. We had a delightful room, and thought it the best in the place, until we saw the suite that our friends had!! We were both upgraded to large front-view rooms, since so many people had cancelled due to the driving rain and flooding in various parts of England. (We had only two downpours of less than half an hour each while we were there, so as I said, we were very lucky.)

Dinner was duck breast with blackberries, spinach puree, mashed potato with leeks and carrots. Gingerbread ice cream with deep chocolate was unusually good!

Our room was named Linton, and the suite was Threshfield, both excellent. The breakfast was quite fabulous but I didn't write down the details.

The next morning we bade farewell to those friends once again, and enjoyed a lovely drive back to Cheshire, through Hebdon, Grassington, Long Preston, Slaidburn, and stopped at the still marvelous Inn at Whitewell, near Clitheroe, in Lancashire.


We had been there many years ago, and it has only gotten better. For lunch I had Thai King prawns with carrot, ginger and cucumber salad. Jim had a marvelous mushroom soup, and Ballymaloe (!) chicken liver pate with blueberry sauce.

Back in Cheshire, we enjoyed two more days and then spent the night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel at Manchester Airport before flying home to NYC in the morning. The Crowne Plaza was a pretty good deal for England at this time: Dinner bed and breakfast for 205 pounds. And a delicious grilled salmon dinner it was!

We truly enjoyed seeing green and flowering England once again, where we hadn't been in 6 years!

flanneruk Aug 25th, 2012 11:56 PM

" we probably would have eaten there, since there is also a rather smart cafe." (Daylesford)

Daylesford is probably the most expensive grocery store in Britain, and its London mini-branches don't even offer the visual excitement its Kingham operation has. We occasionally take guests there just for the fun of watching their jaws as they see the prices.

But its cafe (I've not eaten in the London branches) offers astonishingly good value lunches, and £10 gets you both a satisfying and interesting meal, usually matching anything you'll find in France or Italy, and really outstanding raw materials that beat the pants off Continental muck. No celeb-spotter (who's rarely heard of the "famous" people I've apparently just walked past), even I usually recognise whoever's at the next table.

Customer care gets its priorities right too. Best dogparking facilities in Britain (which matters far more round here than babycare: the brats are British, so they can damn well fend for themselves is how we see things) - extending even to randomly scattered windfall apples during the season.

Cathinjoetown Aug 26th, 2012 03:04 AM

Thought for a minute the windfalls were scattered for the kids.

Daniel_Williams Aug 26th, 2012 07:16 AM

I'm enjoying reading about your adventures post QM2 and I totally relate to your sadness getting off that magnificent vessel. We stayed in Southampton for a few days after the crossing and I remember looking longingly back toward the ocean liner when we'd see it in the distance before it left the port.

taconictraveler Aug 26th, 2012 07:23 AM

OH, Flanner, you really crack me up!

Thanks for another reason to go back to Oxford and England in general. And maybe I could borrow a dog if we go to Daylesford for a meal!!

Florida1 Aug 26th, 2012 07:35 AM

I have enjoyed reading your trip report - sounds like you saw some wonderful gardens and ate some great meals in England! I'll be making notes from your report for future trips!

Also - hope you're feeling better!

taconictraveler Aug 26th, 2012 02:27 PM

Thanks, melissa. I'm just dandy now. It was a pulled muscle in my neck! Now fine, and ready for another trip!

taconictraveler Aug 27th, 2012 02:50 PM

Well, I just heard from tjhome1 that he or she went to the cholmondeley Arms "gastro pub" today and enjoyed it. Found the reply on my earlier report. Thanks for the update.

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