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"It Will Rain Tomorrow." England Weathers The MaiTai Four.

"It Will Rain Tomorrow." England Weathers The MaiTai Four.

Old Dec 2nd, 2013, 09:02 AM
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<B>NEXT: Chapter Thirteen – You’re Coming To Sonoma Brock, Colorful Church, A Gift Before Topping, I Want To Buy All These Houses And Take Them To America, Down By The Old Mill Stream, “A Perfect Place For My England Affair”, This Seems A Little Fishy, The Best Public Toilets In The World, Venice Of The Cotswolds, Finally Ice Cream, It Never Rains In Southern California, Led To The Slaughters, Stow It, A Girl Named Su, Drink Ubu Drink, Round And Round We Go, Lovely Lodging, Danger A Head, Wonderful Willow and A Sticky Situation </B>

As our last breakfast at York House started, Brock told us he was going to visit the Napa Valley (along with many other places) in January. By the end of breakfast, Kim and Mary (who have a house on the Sonoma coast), had changed his mind, and he will now be visiting their neck of the woods (they can be quite persuasive).

Another great breakfast finished, we bid goodbye to Brock and Bean (his dog, not part of the English breakfast). We were on our way to explore a number of Cotswold towns situated between Tetbury and Chipping Campden. We paid Brock in cash (there’s a 3% charge for credit card).

First on the Cotswold blitz was the town of Cirencester, home of a famous church. Brock had told us that the Church Of St. John The Baptist had been recently renovated, and its distinctive yellowish outside was brighter than ever.

The Church of St. John The Baptist is another of the “wool churches,” a church built primarily from the proceeds of the wool trade back in the old days. We found the Boleyn Cup, which was made specifically for Anne Boleyn in 1535. We asked one of the docents about the cup, and he said (rather colorfully), “That cup was given to Anne by Henry VIII before he topped her.”

Besides the cup, St. John The Baptist (a lot of missing heads people in this place) also contained a number of gorgeous chapels. One of the docents asked if we wanted to take a Tower Tour, but we deferred telling him that we had a number of beautiful towns to visit today.

It was another short drive to our next destination, the beautiful little town of Bibury. We started walking in one direction, but were met (and nearly run over) by about a million Japanese tourists who had just exited their tour bus. Fortunately I saw a sign to where we wanted to go, a bucolic little path that would take us to Arlington Row.

Escaping the tourist mob, we walked to Arlington Row, a row of cottages that are described as “aesthetic and appealing.” They are (and were) so appealing that Henry Ford once tried to buy the entire lot of them and ship them back to Michigan. The cottages were built for weavers who supplied the cloth to the Arlington Mill. We walked along the Old Mill stream for a bit and came upon a charming hotel.

The Swan Hotel in Bibury looks like it would be a wonderful place to stay. It even has a pretty private garden located across the street and a lovely patio where you could enjoy a meal or drinks. Kim was so taken with its ambiance that he said, “This will be a perfect place for my England affair.” Mary wasn’t so sure.

Walking back across the bridge (by now the Japanese tourist bus had left, and I was hoping it was traveling south), we made a quick stop at the Bibury Trout Farm, where one can enjoy fresh trout meals and even catch your own trout just for the halibut. “Holy mackerel, there’s a lot of fish here,’” I said. I would have gone on, but Tracy said she had a haddock.

A 15-minute or so drive from Bibury is the town of Burford. We parked a short distance out of town and walked to reach its High Street. This was a wealthy little wool town in its day, and High Street was nice to walk along and get a feel of the town.

As tourists sometimes have to do, we needed to find a public restroom. Perhaps it is not as significant as a beautiful cathedral or historic art gallery, but the public restrooms in Burford were the nicest I have seen on any trip. And no, I did not say, “Gee whiz,” but we did have to go…to our next town.

Many people tried to talk us out of traveling to the following town because it was way too “touristy” and crowded. Well, when people tell me not to do something in my life, I usually do it (as long as it’s legal).

Bourton-on-the-Water has been nicknamed the “Venice Of The Cotswolds.” I admit I was wary, because once we stopped in Colmar, which had been dubbed the “Petite Venice,” and after visiting I thought the real Venice should sue for defamation of character. We had a completely different impression of Bourton-on-the Water.

Bourton was not crowded and it was very pretty. We strolled along the canal, and after a short walk, what should we see but a Winstones Cotswold Ice Cream. Our Stroud nightmare was now in the past, and I ordered a fantastic blackberry cream cone while Tracy decided on the Mint Chocolate and Kim opted for a Toffee ice cream.

I had just about finished when we were hit with a pretty big rain cell. We all put up our umbrellas except for the idiot who had left his in the car. That would be me.

A gentlemen walking by me, laughed and said, “You should have an umbrella. Where are you from?”

When I told him Los Angeles, he quickly replied, “It never rains in Southern California.”

I replied, “Albert Hammond (who sang the song),” thinking that would be the end of our little repartee.

Instead he came back with, “Did you know Albert Hammond’s son is pretty famous. He played in a group called The Strokes.” I was going to tell him I’ve had a few mini-strokes in the past year, but thought better of it, so I thanked him, and went on my way, now pretty wet from the consistent rain.

It was now time to move on to Lower Slaughter, named for a wetland 'slough' or 'slothre' (which is old English for muddy place). We parked and walked over to the Old Mill, which is now a tea and gift shop. We thought about walking to Upper Slaughter, but hunger pangs told us to “Stow it,” so we headed for Stow-on-the-Wold.

Stow-on-the-Wold sits at the junction of seven major roads. The town used to hold large annual fairs where something like 20,000 sheep were sold, unless whoever told us that was pulling the wool over our eyes.

On my list of places to eat in Stow was a restaurant called Disbeth’s Bistro. Just as I was reading the name of it off my iPad, Tracy said, “You’re standing right in front of it.” In we went.

Our server was also the proprietor (a girl named Su), whose husband (Michael) was the chef. Tracy and Mary both started with a special blend of teas that are prepared by Su.

It was also here I had my favorite beer of the trip. It is a dark beer called Ubu, named after a dog (sort of like Gary Goldberg’s production company that produced shows like Family Ties, where, at the end of the show, the announcer says, “Sit Ubu, sit”). Well this Ubu was an incredible beer. I can’t find it in the states, however.

Disbeth’s served one of the best lunches we had on our trip. Mary had a mushroom and tarragon soup, Tracy ordered a hamburger, Kim went for the fish pie and I completely enjoyed my Toasty Cheese and Onion sandwich. It all came to £44. After lunch, we met Su’s husband and told them both how much we enjoyed their restaurant.

We walked around Stow for a little bit (the rains returned, but only for a few minutes) and we were off to our home for the next three nights, The Bramley House in Chipping Campden.

Driving through Chipping Campden on the way to our B&B we were impressed by the cool thatched roofs on the houses. They were striking to say the least.

It took us awhile to find where we were supposed to go, and we drove around and around on the same streets until we realized we were only about two football (American football) fields away from the Bramley House.

The Bramley House (recommended by a Fodorite) turned out be another excellent choice of lodging. Jane (one of the owners) met us in front, led us to the dining room where we received a piece of cake). She told us it was only about a six-minute walk to the edge of town. As it turned out, Jane is a brisk walker, but it was only about a 10-15 minute easy walk into town.

Tracy and I took the room upstairs, while Kim and Mary had their little private retreat in a separate building in back. Both of our rooms overlooked the back garden.

Jane recommended Willows as a place to dine, and she made reservations for us. After freshening up, we walked into town to explore a little of Chipping Campden.

We walked along High Street and saw the old Market Hall. It was still about a ½ hour until our dinner reservations so we walked back through an archway to the Red Lion pub for a beer. Heading back out after our libation break, some us navigated the archway better than others.

Hearing a big “clunk,” we turned around and saw Kim holding his head in obvious pain. He had hit his noggin’ on the archway. Being the trooper, Kim (in his best Black Knight impersonation) uttered, “It’s only a flesh wound,” and we were on to Willows.

Willows is family operated and every dish was terrific, as was the pleasant service we received from the time we walked in. Our waitress was delightful, and our other server, a French gentleman, owns the French bakery across the street, but was helping them out on this evening.

Our shared appetizer, a warm Chorizo with herbs (£3.50), was incredible. They pan-fried the chorizo with the herbs to caramelize it.

For dinner, Tracy had a wonderful house-made linguine with zucchini, basil and pine nuts. We shared a bowl of cauliflower/fennel soup.

Kim ordered the Brill with lemon capers and a carrot potato purée.

Mary tried the rumpsteak, while I lucked into another “Wow” dish. Willows’ Roast Gressingham duck breast with Plum sauce, creamy mash potato & purple sprouting was incredible. Oh my!

Then I ordered something else that was incredible, and it was more incredible I had waited this long on the trip to try it. I had no idea what Sticky Toffee Pudding was, but I decided I should give it a shot before I left England. The Sticky Toffee Pudding exceeded my wildest imagination, but it wasn’t until two nights later that I would be blown away by one.

Our dinner with a couple of bottles of wine came to £104, and it was our best all around dinner of the entire trip.

It had been a really long day of town touring, so by the time we got back to the Bramley House we all looked like “death warmed up,” a phrase that Jane had used earlier in the day. Tomorrow we would be road warriors again. We would travel to Churchill’s birthplace before having a date with some Hogwarts students.

<B>NEXT: Chapter Fourteen - Another Great Breakfast, Free Range Children, Winston’s Birthplace, Where The Hell Is He Buried, Parking Problem, Visiting Hogwarts Academy, Can We Buy A Used Car Here, A Chipping Campden Picnic, “You Can’t Eat Here” and Eight Is Enough</B>
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Old Dec 2nd, 2013, 09:19 AM
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>>Sadly, Sticky Toffee Pudding and Three Cheese Toasties are yet to be a Thanksgiving staple here in the States, but I might try and change that.<<

I made STP a new Thanksgiving staple this year. Let me know when you're ready for the recipe. It's pretty easy to make! ;-)
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Old Dec 2nd, 2013, 09:54 AM
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Ubu is a localish beer, brewed near Stratford.

The brewery is mostly preoccupied with clinging onto its UK business, though its head of brewing is French and its brewery manager American.

It's now demonstrated it can survive (in spite of being stocked in most UK Walmart outlets), and is on a government-funded expansion programme. No doubt actively chasing exports will be on its agenda soonish - but it's an expensive and management-absorbing task, and may not be top of the team's agenda (America's not short of a microbrewery or two, and there are easier ways of getting sales from £3 mn a year to £10 mn).

Extraordinarily, the past decade has seen a near-explosion in craft brewing round here: though beer sales are awful, and we're still losing a pub a month in the area, there's been a substantial slug of cash put into serious brewing facilities within a 30 mile radius of Chipping Campden (almost as much as has gone into biotech). All seem to be getting some kind of return - but if they all share one characteristic, it's extreme prudence.

They WILL ship overseas, if you go to their website. They just don't yet (nor do their peers in Witney, Hook Norton, Bourton on the Water, Stow on the Wold, Chipping Sodbury or Coberley) seem ready to go through all the palaver of agents, FDA inspections, multinational labels and all the rest.
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Old Dec 2nd, 2013, 10:04 AM
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maitaitom: still enjoying your report. Let me know how you liked Bramley House, as I'm considering changing my reservation (from the pricey place I booked in Upper Slaughter). I'm also making note of your restaurant choices!
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Old Dec 2nd, 2013, 10:31 AM
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amyb - ready whenever you are...thanks. I also got a STP recipe from our hostess at Bramley House.

flanneruk...thanks..looks like it is Purity Brewing Company? I will check it out.

susan001 - we really like Bramley House a lot. I have no qualms in recommending it. Jane and her husband (whose name escapes me at the minute) were very nice and helpful. Good breakfasts. Rooms were spacious enough (I think Kim and Mary's was larger...I'll ask Tracy). Smallish shower, but plenty good enough with lots of hot water (that's all I need). Short walk into town (pretty flat). They will make restaurant recommendations. Willows was great and Eight Bells was good, too. More on Eight Bells in my last two installments.

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Old Dec 2nd, 2013, 10:33 AM
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Enjoying your TR very much!
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Old Dec 2nd, 2013, 10:54 AM
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Hi Tom...

I'm so glad you finally got to taste some of the best ice cream/gelato outside of Italy!

Coincidentally, re Cirencester church, my builder-handyman who is currently working in my house, was helping with the cleaning of the church earlier this summer - he has been regaling me with tales of ladders up to the gutters and gargoyles!

And as an aside re Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, you really should be following Henry Tudor @KngHenryVIII on twitter for some very amusing 'insights' into marriage, being royal, obesity and consumption of bacon. (In the top 10 of dead people to follow on twitter!)
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Old Dec 2nd, 2013, 11:08 AM
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Thanks, Tom, for the recommendation.
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Old Dec 2nd, 2013, 11:20 AM
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Thanks also to michele_d who recommended it to me!

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Old Dec 2nd, 2013, 12:53 PM
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Tom, still following along and enjoying the ride...
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Old Dec 2nd, 2013, 01:34 PM
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amyb, I'd love your sticky toffee pudding recipe.

Lee Ann
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Old Dec 2nd, 2013, 01:54 PM
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amyb, I'd love your sticky toffee pudding recipe.

DITTO
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Old Dec 3rd, 2013, 03:10 PM
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<B>Chapter Fourteen - Just Another Great Breakfast, Free Range Children, Quite Capable, Winston’s Birthplace, A Jenny Hat Trick, Where The Hell Is He Buried, Parking Problem, Visiting Hogwarts Academy, Can We Buy A Used Car Here, A Chipping Campden Picnic, “You Can’t Eat Here,” Ubu Redux and Eight Is Enough</B>

The previous evening we had put in our breakfast order with Jane at the Bramley House. Breakfast was served at 8 a.m., and we started with a delicious fruit salad followed by eggs, sausage and bacon (best bacon of the trip). We chatted for a bit with Jane and her husband, and it was time to set sail to see the mega palace where Winston Churchill was born.

On the road to Blenheim Palace we saw an unusual sign that read “Free Range Children,” which reminded me of Fodorite HowardR, who once ordered “Free Range Children” at a Paris restaurant (or he might have just slipped up when inputting his report on Fodor’s). We assumed that it was a sign to watch out for kids at play and not a weird restaurant where patrons dine on barbecued Stevie.

It was about a 40-45 minute drive from Chipping Campden to Blenheim Palace, another UNESCO World Heritage site (really need to get on that UNESCO card). It cost £22.50 for young Tracy to get in while the old folks paid the senior fee of £19.50. We were there a little early (it opens at 10:30) so we strolled the grounds and took some photos.

Promptly at 10:30 we walked inside the palace that was built to celebrate the Duke of Marlborough’s victory over the French in 1704. The Duke also made sure that it was also a monument to Queen Anne, who helped secure the funds for its construction.

One of the landscape gardeners who worked at Blenheim has one of the greatest names we have run across in our travels. His name was Capability Brown, who was obviously more than capable, and Capability made some major changes to the gardens at Blenheim.

The grandson of the 7th Duke is pretty well known, too. He is Winston Churchill, and before entering the State Rooms there was a section devoted to Churchill that we wandered through.

After the Churchill exhibit, we met up with our tour guide, yet another Jenny. This was our third tour guide with the name of Jenny, and she took us around Blenheim and its State Rooms. The family still lives there, but they didn’t come out to greet the California royalty who had traveled so far to see them. The private apartments were closed on this day, too.

We then ventured outside to look over the vast grounds, which encompass something like 2,000 acres. Blenheim is an expensive, but very worthy, excursion.

We had been told that Winston was buried very near Blenheim, and we could walk to where he is buried, but then someone else told us he was buried in the nearby town of Bladon, just a short drive away.

As we exited Blenheim, we immediately saw a sign that said Churchill’s grave in Bladon, which was the direction we were traveling. Well, we kept going…and going…and going. There was no other sign and we were past Bladon. Kim turned the car around (carefully…you never get completely adjusted to the wrong way driving), and we headed back toward Bladon and saw no sign at all for Churchill’s grave as we drove by.

Oh well, we gave up on Churchill’s grave (we’d seen enough tombs anyway) and drove the short distance to Oxford. It took us almost as much time to find a place to park in Oxford as it did to reach this town, but finally we found a spot not too far from our next attraction.

We walked until we were at a pedestrian walking street (Cornmarket Street, I think), stopped and had a pasty at the Cornwall Pasty Co. Yes, it was a tasty pasty with Beef and Stilton, which we ate along with some calorie-laden potato wedges. We didn’t care. By now we had walked more than 110 miles in two weeks (hell, we could have done the entire Cotswold Walk).

Next stop was Christ Church, referred to as “The House” by its members. The gate tower was designed by, who else, Sir Christopher Wren, and we were told that the church bell rings 101 times at 9:05 p.m. in honor of the original Christ Church scholars. By the way, the name of the bell was once called “Mary” and then changed to “Great Tom,” because, I assume, all Toms are great.

Speaking of great, The Great Hall was closed for an event that evening, but we were able to gaze inside and take a couple of photos of the room that was replicated in a film studio for the Harry Potter movies (I think some of the scenes were shot here, too). You could almost see young Harry and the Hogwarts’ students dining there, since it was all set up for dinner.

We once again lucked into a guided tour that was about to start up at the Christ Church Cathedral, built about 800 years ago. An American ex-pat took us on a 25-minute tour and told numerous stories including some about Alice in Wonderland. I think one of the stained glass windows from the 19th century located in one of the chapels has a likeness of Alice’s sister, but by this time I was getting my cathedrals mixed up.

They were also having organ practice that day, and a few of the organists were a tad off key, but it still sounded great.

As we walked back to the car we passed by Carfax Tower. I asked Mary if she wanted to get a quote on a used Hyundai, and she explained that this Carfax is the only part of St. Martin’s Church (built in the 11th century) that is still standing (she really does read my pre-trip notes).

We drove back to Chipping Campden, where we first parked a little outside of town so we could take some photos of those cool thatched roofs. Fortunately none of the neighbors told us to, “Get off my lawn!”

Our next stop was at the French bakery (the one that our waiter from the previous evening owns) to pick up some bread. Being equal opportunity shoppers, we then headed over to a wine and cheese shop for some, well, you know.

The skies had turned a beautiful shade of blue, so we put on our jackets and had a delightful picnic in the Bramley House backyard. After eating our cheese and bread (with a little vino), it was now time to eat some more. We walked into town and scoped out a few restaurants. The menu at the Lygon Arms Hotel looked good, so we wandered inside.

There were only about two tables occupied, so we thought we were in good shape. “Could we get a table for four, please,” I inquired politely?

“Are you staying here,” the surly waitress asked in a rather unpleasant tone?

“No, we’re not,” the still-polite gentleman from California replied.

“Well then, you can’t eat here,” said the nastiest server this side of the Atlantic.

Hey, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Instead we walked down to the Eight Bells, where we already had reservations for our last night. The Eight Bells is an historic Cotswold Inn built in the 14th century for the stonemasons who built St. James Church. It also housed the eight bells that eventually hung in the church tower.

We were worried, because this place was pumping on a Thursday night, but the cheerful hostess said for us to wait just a minute and quickly secured a table for us. Take that stupid Lygon Arms! Yes, I’m getting to be a grumpy old man.

The first thing I saw on the menu was Ubu on tap. My grumpiness quotient was now lowered significantly.

I started with a very nice mushroom/corn soup and for my main course had pasta with goat cheese and basil pesto (as did Kim). Mary tried the home-made Prime Lamb, Garlic & Oregano Burger topped with Tzatziki (a Greek sauce), served in a toasted Pita with Hand-cut Chips and a Halloumi Cheese (very popular in Greece) & Olive Salad garnish.

I asked Mary why she ordered that dish, hoping she would reply, “I don’t know…it’s all Greek to me.” Instead she said it just looked good.

Tracy opted for the Pan-fried Medallions of Prime English Pork Fillet with a creamy Stroganoff Sauce and Basmati Rice, served with Seasonal Vegetables.

Dinner was terrific and our server was charming. I was too full for dessert, but vowed I would not overeat the next night because something on the menu had caught my eye.

We walked off this nice dinner with a stroll through lovely Chipping Campden and decided to wander over to see how crowded the evil Lygon Arms was at this time. Walking into the dining area, there still were a number of empty tables. Maybe the waitress just told everyone to take a hike that night.

It was back to the Bramley House where we would need a good night’s rest. Our plate was extremely full for our final full day in England for the Maitai Four. Tomorrow, not only would we see sweeping vistas of the English countryside, visit some cute little towns, stop in another castle and tour a funky house that contained some more incredible gardens, but I would also have the dessert that changed my life (well, at least until I find another one on our next trip).

<B>NEXT: Chapter Fifteen – Tower Trouble, A Stanton Drive-By, Fountain Penned, An Unscheduled Cotswold Walk, Below Parr, Give My Regards To Broadway, A True English Gentleman, I’m Melting, Mind Your Manor, One Man’s Junk Is…, Gardens Galore, The Last Cute Town, My Sticky Love Affair, What Time Are We Leaving Again and Our Final Impressions Of England</B>
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Old Dec 3rd, 2013, 05:17 PM
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Hi Tom,

Really loving this report. Thank you for your description of Blenheim which I have not yet visited. It has such a colorful past. Recommend reading THE CHURCHILLS IN LOVE AND WAR by Mary S. Lovell for a fascinating look at the entire clan. Things got so tough with the 9th Duke of Marlborough that he entered into a controversial, loveless marriage to American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt in 1892 to save the estate. His son (grandson?) also had a disastrous marriage to a woman who ran the palace as a kennel for her dogs before she was expelled. Opening the place to the public saved the day for the property.

Sir Winston was born at Blenheim and cavorted there with his bride Clementine on their honeymoon. The current heir is George Vanderbilt Spencer-Churchill, 11th Duke of Marlborough (don’t you love that name?) who unfortunately was not “at home” when the Maitai royalty visited.

Also enjoyed your description of Christ Church, Oxford. Shades of BRIDESHEAD REVISITED. Great report!
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Old Dec 3rd, 2013, 06:20 PM
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Sir Winston's mother was named...... (wait for it)...... Jenny. So, there's a fourth for your trend.
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Old Dec 3rd, 2013, 06:54 PM
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Hi Maitai… my husband and I did a tour of the private quarters at Blenheim…. you didn't miss
anything.
I do hope someone comes thru with a sticky toffee pudding receipe.

Trophywife… did you ever see the great PBS program… Jenny… starring the late great
Lee Remick?
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Old Dec 3rd, 2013, 09:16 PM
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"We had been told that Winston was buried very near Blenheim, and we could walk to where he is buried, but then someone else told us he was buried in the nearby town of Bladon, just a short drive away."

Both statements are true. For anyone else visiting:

From the main house at Blenheim. it's a 600 or so yard walk to the south, Park Lane, exit from the park. This is about 50 yds east of St Martin's Church. Churchill is buried in its front churchyard.

As is the English norm, there are no signposts to the grave, which is marked with a flat stone. We leave the Grant's Tomb style ostentation for politicians and soldiers of lesser nations.

Or you can drive south from the main exit, turn right at the first roundabout (marked "Bladon"), then west for 400 yds till you see the church on the left. Churches being unmissable in the flat countryside round Woodstock, there's obviously no need for a signpost.
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Old Dec 3rd, 2013, 09:44 PM
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Another entertaining entry, Tom. Sorry about your Lygon Arms experience, but glad you more than made up for it with an excellent meal.
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Old Dec 3rd, 2013, 11:03 PM
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"cute" (think "handbag")
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Old Dec 4th, 2013, 06:14 AM
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" Churches being unmissable in the flat countryside round Woodstock, there's obviously no need for a signpost."

I guess we made a Grave error.

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