Touring the Cotswolds

Touring the Cotswolds was one of the more difficult aspects of trip planning for me. I very much wanted to see it, some of it at least. The area is 787 square miles of protected landscape. It was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1966 and remains protected today, though it does appear that the areas are increasingly under threat of development. The area is largely undeveloped, mostly farms and small towns. But development does occur for example a new Dyson factory is set to move into the area, and many of the old air bases from WW2 are being sold off and converted into neighborhoods and various businesses. Needless to say given the low development rate over the years I knew I wanted to see it, old towns, old buildings, my usual interests. The difficulties in planning occurring around exactly how to get there. We didn’t really want to rent a car, screaming around country roads on the opposite side of the road is not exactly relaxing. There really aren’t public transit options and while I could have hiked it like I did in Ireland we didn’t have the time. Thus commenced the search for a tour. There were plenty out of London, so good news for any of you wanting to tour from a London home base. But I could only find a couple out of Bath.We wound up picking Lions Tours but as it turns out the other tour we were considering was owned by the ex wife of the owner of the company we did tour with. I can’t speak to the competition as it were, but I can say plenty of nice things about Lions Tours. Booking was super easy, finding the pickup location was easy, our driver/tour guide was on time and had so many great insights throughout the day we really couldn’t have had a better afternoon. Castle Combe The first stop on our tour was Castle Combe. The town is hardly larger than what you can see in the picture below. It has a pub, a church, and a large manor house that has been turned into a very swanky hotel (which was used in WW2 by the New Zealand Forestry Officers) as well as a motor racing circuit.  Compared to the other towns in the area, it is largely untouched by modern updates which makes it perfect for filming. Used as Puddleby-on-the-Marsh in Dr. Doolittle, thanks to some fancy movie magic the four inch deep stream was turned into an ocean port. It was also used for filming in War Horse, Stardust, Downton Abbey and numerous other television shows. The church is extraordinarily large given the size of the town tucked behind some houses across the street from the market cross, St. Andrews was built mostly in the 15th century by donations from wealthy wool merchants. It is also home to a faceless clock that was built around the 15th century and is likely the oldest clock in the country. Malmesbury Malmesbury was our second stop and a little bit bigger that Castle Combe. It is home to Malmesbury Abbey which was founded in 675. The area has seen it’s fair share of battles, given the age of the settlement it was actually the one of the most significant towns in England at the time of the Norman invasion and the first English King was buried in the area in 939. The main attraction to the area now is the Malmesbury Abbey, which was a significant pilgrimage site throughout history. The spire was actually seven meters higher than the one on the Salisbury Cathedral, but sometime in the 15th century the spire collapsed taking a large portion of the church with it. After the collapse the archway through the collapsed portion was bricked over and the remainder of the church remains today. Aside from the interesting history and architecture the church is also home to four illuminated bibles, the tomb of King Athelstan, and a grave stone denoting death by tiger. It also has a fabulous little cafe toward the back where you can get take-away or eat in coffee and sandwiches, I highly recommend the brie and cranberry. As well as a stained glass window by William Morris. Cirencester Cirencester was bigger still than Malmesbury. We didn’t have a lot of time there, we just ran a quick peek through the main high street and I popped into the extremely large church that was wedged in between houses and the town hall building. The town had a lot of activity during the early Roman and then again in the Tudor period. There are a good number of shops and restaurants here today as well as plenty of places to stay. But my favorite part was not surprisingly the church, that had an incredible wooden roof. You can actually smell the wood when you walk in. I have never seen anything like it. Bilbury Bilbury was on the smaller side, two main roads, an inn, a fish farm and a small market that also served food and ice cream. Once upon a time William Morris declared it the most beautiful city in England. It was another quick stop, but we did a quick loop down the river and up past Arlington Row a 1300s wool manufacturing building. We toured around and munched our sandwiches which we had picked up at the Malmesbury Abbey. Bourton on the Water Bourton on the Water is probably on every tour to the Cotswolds, and for good reason it is a gorgeous little town built up on both sides of Windrush River. It has a ton of things to do and see, loads of restaurants, and places to stay. But unfortunately because of all of these things it is also terribly popular and very commercialized. It was almost impossible to walk around, let alone get a picture of anything other than other people. I had to walk all the way to the end of town to get a decent shot and there are still loads of people in it. For this reason it wasn’t my favorite spot but it was really beautiful and I am glad I got to see it. Tetbury Tetbury was our last main stop, it was in its day a large market town especially for the wool and sheep trade. We only had about 15 min in town, and our tour driver really wanted to show us this staircase which was used by all merchants driving their sheep into town. It was pretty neat seeing it but more exciting to me at least was the house right next to it. A former Malt house is the location that Eisenhower allegedly met with Churchill to start planning the D-Day invasions during WW2. It is now the home to the Girl Guides in the area, so you cannot tour but there is a nice little plaque commemorating the location. Badminton Our last stop was not a planned stop, but we had a little extra time and our tour guide just couldn’t help himself. So we took a little detour onto the grounds of Badminton House. Like most manor house locations a large land owner was given lands for being in favor with a king, which was then farmed by tenets on the land. The lord of the manor would receive income from the tenet farmers and in return they would be protected by the wealthy family. In addition to the individuals working the farms, the large houses were staffed by hundreds of people and small towns on the grounds were created to house the individuals that worked up in the house. Badminton is one of the few privately owned manor houses left in England, inheritance taxes have managed to make private ownership terribly expensive and most people have sold the large homes or turned them into hotels, schools or in one case at least an amusement park of sorts. But this one for now at least is lived in by the family that allegedly invented the sport of badminton. We couldn’t get close enough to the main house to get a decent picture but I did take a picture of the house that belongs to the family that takes care of the dogs. I’d live there. Then again I would probably live in any of these charming towns, touring the Cotswolds was a dream come true.
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The Gordon House – Silverton, Oregon

Visiting the Gordon House in Silverton Oregon reminded me how much I live Frank Lloyd Wright designs. I am not sure when my love of architecture surfaced or why I feel so drawn to all things between 1910 and 1940. In my opinion all the best buildings, books, art, fashion and architecture happened during this period. That isn’t to say I don’t adore literally every other time period. Some might call me wishy-washy, I call it an ardent lover of all things.

Regardless Frank Lloyd Wright falls safely in that most beloved time period. I don’t love everything he is designed, but his background, inspirations, darkness, the mysteries and the murders that seems to follow him around make for a fascinating study.  The more I look into his life, and the things that have occurred surrounding his work the harder it is to stop digging. And it is difficult to deny even if you don’t agree aesthetically with his work, that he was a genius. Creating several well known architecture movements and schools. Inspiring countless future artists and leaving behind a legacy of over 1,000 buildings, 400 of which stand today.

Unisonian architecture was the last of his movements. An attempt to create homes for middle class America that were specially designed to give you everything you need inspired by and for the surroundings of the home. Every house he designed was unique, and it didn’t stop with the building but continued in every detail of the house including furniture. But to design for the middle class rather than some of his earlier clients meant a much simpler house. Not that it came cheap, according to our tour guide this house would have cost 500,000 – 600,000 to build today.

The Gordon House is the only Frank Lloyd Wright building in the state of Oregon. It was designed for a retired couple for their specific piece of land on the Willamette River. When the house was designed it was too pricey to build for the couple, so they waited. It was built after Lloyd Wright passed away. And the couple lived in it for the rest of their lives. When the property was sold to its second owner they didn’t want the house.

They were going to tear it down. But word got out and soon wheels were in motion to save the house. Long story short, it was mapped, moved and rebuilt at its current location at the Oregon Gardens in Silverton.

You can tour the building now, and the docents who conduct the tours are just lovely. So knowledgeable and passionate about the house and all aspects of historic buildings.

The tour lasts about an hour and is plenty of time to learn about and enjoy the home. Though I didn’t really want to leave I was ready to move in. Those floor to ceiling windows on both sides of the main living space made me swoon.

Every aspect of the house was designed with a very specific purpose. I wish I could properly recall everything we learned but you should definitely go to The Gordon House. It is amazing to be in a place where so much intention was put into every detail.

To learn more and tour the house the you must visit the website and make reservations. Tours of The Gordon House are conducted several times a day but in small groups. Since the house isn’t all that large they keep the groups small so you can more easily maneuver around. The house is also open for a variety of events, and can be rented for your own special event. They also allow rentals for overnight stays occasionally. All proceeds back to the foundation that keeps the house in good repair.

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Greystone Mansion – Los Angeles, California

Back in June my husband had to be in Los Angeles for work so I tagged a long for a semi cheap vacation. I did a lot of walking while down there, since he had the rental car and I was mostly on my own. I spent a lot of that time wandering around the Sunset Blvd. And one of those ended (not really ended because I had to walk back) at Greystone Mansion. Greystone is the former home of Ned Doheny, son of oil tycoon Edward Doheny .  Ned’s life ended in scandal in a mysterious murder suicide with his male secretary only a short while after having moved into his newly completed home.

He was survived by his wife and five children. The house is now a city park, or at least the grounds are. The house itself is used privately for events and not open to the public normally. Though tours can be arranged through the Friends of Greystone, the organization that currently manages the park.

However the grounds are free to the public for 10am to 6pm daily. To see the interior of the building however, you can check out the wide array of movies and TV shows that used the location. Such as my all time favorite Gilmore Girls, where it was used as Rory’s high school, Chilton Academy. It was also used as the Royal Children’s Hospital in Star Trek into Darkness, where can watch Benedict Cumberbatch stand outside the building looking ever so dreamy.

The rules of the grounds are quite strict. Though given how incredible they are and how impeccably well kept I can’t blame them. No dog, picnics, skate boarding allowed. And professional photography is only allowed via permit attained at the park office (so please forgive my unprofessional photos, which they always are, because I am lazy).

To get into the grounds you surprisingly go past the main gate up the road….and turn left. Then continue up past the house to the parking lot. The hill is steep, and I was on foot. I thought I was going to keel over, I was so thrilled when I got to the top and caught my breath enough to enjoy the gardens. I walked all over the grounds, snapping unprofessional photos and enjoying the view.

The mansions exterior is stunning. I walked so far around the grounds I wound up at the bottom of the property on the inside of the main gate, which was not an exit. I was promptly turned back around by the security guard and told to exit the same way I came in. Which was at the top of the giant hill I had just walked up and down. I may have whimpered a bit at the realization that I had to walk back up it. Oh well, I took the stairs with my chin held high, well I was actually watching the stairs because I was about 8 miles into my day and my legs were getting a little jello-ie.

The voyeuristic side of me wished I could have toured the interior. And I may have more than once tried to tiptoe through the rose bushes to see into the windows. That being said, the grounds were truly stunning and the view unforgettable. For everyone with time on their hands and an affinity for architecture or garden design I would highly suggest a visit.

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