Village-to-Village Walking in the Cotswolds: Day 1

Street on Market Square, Moreton-in-Marsh, the Cotswolds. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Street on Market Square, Moreton-in-Marsh, the Cotswolds. ©Laurel Kallenbach

May 2021: Because the COVID pandemic is keeping most of us at home, now is a great time to reminisce about past travels. As of this posting, travel to England is allowed, but two COVID tests plus a 10-day quarantine is required upon arrival.)

Originally published: September 2017

Cotswolds Walking Trip Motivation: After three major surgeries over three consecutive years to remove non-cancerous tumors from my hip, I wanted to celebrate my recovered mobility by doing a walking tour.

The Inspiration: While recovering from my last surgery, I visualized walking from village to village in England’s rural Cotswold Hills. The green landscape there is filled with farmland, woodland, and villages dating to medieval and Tudor periods. Now it was time to make my dream come true!

The Company: My husband and I signed up with Cotswold Walks, a locally based company that offers a variety of long and short self-guided walking tours in the region. We chose the “Best of the Cotswolds” itinerary because it offered shorter distances (from 3.5 to 8 miles per day) with more time to go at a leisurely pace. And the villages looked stunningly gorgeous! All Cotswold Walks include accommodations in small inns and B&Bs (breakfast included), an up-to-date guidebook showing your route with detailed instructions, and transfer of one suitcase per person from inn to inn.

The Timing: August 2017, exactly one year after my hip replacement.

Day 1: Moreton-in-Marsh to Stow-on-the-Wold

Hiking through the fields of barley ©Laurel Kallenbach

Hiking through the fields of barley ©Laurel Kallenbach

After two nights adjusting to the time change from Colorado to England, Ken and I headed out on the first leg of our journey: the 7.5-mile trek from Moreton-in-Marsh to Stow-on-the-Wold.

My heart was pounding, and I hadn’t even started walking yet. I was nervous about beginning with such a long walk. How tough would it be? Would we get rained on? We set off from the Market Square, made our way down the sidewalks and along a busy road, and then we turned off into tranquil farmland on The Monarch’s Way trail.

Old Shop 2 in Longborough ©Laurel Kallenbach

Old Shop 2 in Longborough ©Laurel Kallenbach

So we began navigating through field gates and kissing gates (?!) and across pastures inhabited by sheep and cows in England’s lush countryside.

Our guidebook, which included Ordinance Survey maps, was easy to follow. A typical instruction was: “With the field gate on your right, continue up the hill. Pass through another field gate and past Lower Keeper’s Cottage. Turn left (east) before the cattle grid and follow the Heart of England trail alongside the field boundary to a field gate.”

We met locals walking their dogs, as well as other Cotswold Walks hikers on the paths. (We could identify the latter because they were carrying the same white guidebook that we had, and when we struck up conversation, we found that they were all fascinating people.) Soon I was relaxed and smiling. I felt free and unburdened: I carried just my hiking poles, my iPhone, a notebook (because that’s essential gear for a writer) and a daypack with rain wear and snacks/water. And Ken did most of the navigating.

We ate lunch at the Coach and Horses pub in Longborough ©Laurel Kallenbach

We ate lunch at the Coach and Horses pub in Longborough ©Laurel Kallenbach

By the time we reached the picturesque village of Longborough, I was more than ready to rest my feet and stop for lunch at the Coach & Horses Pub and Inn. Lots of locals were congregating at tables or around the bar, catching up on the town gossip and enjoing a pint. We ordered bowls of soup and glasses of Cotswold Gold Ale, made at Donnington Brewery, the next village down the road.

Hollyhocks in Longborough, a village in the Cotswolds ©Ken Aikin

Hollyhocks in Longborough ©Ken Aikin

We chatted with a couple of old-timers and we giggled at some of the bar’s signs: “Save water; drink beer” and “Nobody notices what I do until I don’t do it.”

A lively group of eight young women celebrating a baby shower rounded out the crowd.

Refreshed, we set out for the second half of the walk: first admiring the gardens and dry-stack stone walls of Longborough. We climbed up a hill with a huge muddy patch and looked back to see a manor estate in the distance. Think Downton Abbey.

We ambled through the farm of yet another country estate, across a ridge with views for miles, and then up a steep incline before arriving at a tunnel through dense trees. We felt like we’d walked into the set of The Hobbit.

This tunnel through the trees was a thrill to walk through. ©Laurel Kallenbach

This tunnel through the trees was a thrill to walk through. ©Laurel Kallenbach

At last we descended into Stow-on-the-Wold, right at tea time, and the tea shops along Sheep Street were packed with tourists; the Old Town Square was filled with buses and cars. (In medieval times it would have been filled with sheep, as wool was big business.)

I was bushed and couldn’t wait to get to our hotel, the Old Stocks Inn, where I took off my hiking boots, sank onto the bed, and elevated my feet—just to let the blood flow the opposite direction.

But I did it! I survived the first day of walking in the Cotswolds—my dream trip. My hip felt great; my left foot with its arthritic toe did OK. And after half an hour of rest—and a cup of tea in the room—I felt restored enough to walk around the Square. I was particularly interested in St Edward’s Parish Church, a typical Norman church with a stone, crenellated tower. Its north door is flanked by ancient yew trees, and it looks like it’s straight out of The Hobbit or a medieval fairy tale.

Celebrating my first day of walking at our destination, Stow-on-the-Wold. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Celebrating my first day of walking at our destination, Stow-on-the-Wold. ©Ken Aikin

We were ravenous, and the historic Queen’s Head Pub in Stow-on-the-Wold was ideal. The sign was painted with red-haired Queen Elizabeth I’s portrait and was furnished in Tudor style with rough, blackened beams; stone and wood floors; hops hanging from the ceiling; mullioned windows, and an old man in his cap reading a book while his dog yawned beneath the table.

Cotswold ales on tap at the Queen's Head pub ©Laurel Kallenbach

Cotswold ales on tap at the Queen’s Head pub ©Laurel Kallenbach

I ordered a Moroccan Chicken with Rice with Hummus and Harissa, and for dessert Ken and I shared Plum Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream. We’d earned the calories!!

Then it was off for an early bedtime; luckily The Old Stocks Inn was just across the street.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor…and walker

Read more about my Cotswold hiking trip:

More about my travels in England:

We walked past this farmhouse outside Moreton-in-Marsh ©Laurel Kallenbach

We walked past this farmhouse outside Moreton-in-Marsh ©Laurel Kallenbach

Time Traveling to Ireland’s Temple House

No photograph could prepare me for the my first glimpse of Temple House, a Georgian mansion set on a private estate of 1,000 acres a few miles south of Sligo, in western Ireland. After I drove past the gates and through the green pastures filled with sheep, the sight of the stately home took my breath away. It’s huge and imposing—like something out of a wonderful costume-drama film.

TempleHouse

I stepped back into history during my visit to Temple House, an Irish country manor in the rural area south of Sligo, named for the medieval Knights Templar Castle on the grounds. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

Despite the grandeur—and everything from Temple House’s exterior to its antique-furnished rooms is grand—it’s an unpretentious place run by the Perceval family. (Generations of Percevals have resided there since 1665.) Today the luxurious country house is managed and graciously hosted by Roderick and Helena Perceval.

In My Lady’s Chamber

I stayed in the smallest room: the pink room, which is anything but small. I slept cozily in a half-canopied bed and tucked my luggage into a huge wardrobe.. I had a small writing desk, and I absolutely adored throwing open my ceiling-high shuttered windows each morning to behold the soft, green fields dotted with sheep. (The only thing not historic—and happily so—is the bathrooms. They’re modern.)

One of the castle-view/lake-view rooms at the Georgian-era manor. Photo courtesy Temple House

Although the mansion has 100 rooms, just 10 of them are restored for guests. Imagine trying to heat a 100-room mansion redesigned/rebuilt in 1864!

In addition to getting single B&B rooms, you can rent the entire house for a wedding, birthday party, family reunion, or group retreat. (The house accommodates 14 to 20 guests at one time.)  There is also a private cottage that sleeps eight people for a small gathering.

The grand vestibule. Photo courtesy Temple House

I especially loved the elegant dining room, the site of fabulous breakfasts and dinners. The innkeepers emphasize local foods, some from their own organic garden. Fresh-cooked breakfasts there are hearty to keep you fueled for a day of exploring the estate or other pastimes in County Sligo.

A four-course dinner at Temple House is not to be missed.  The menu often features lamb from the farm and the catch-of-the-day from the nearby Atlantic coast. Vegetarians and people with dietary restrictions are well cared for too.

Guests gather for breakfast and dinner in the glorious dining room. Photo courtesy Temple House

Guests gather at the immense, lavishly set mahogany table while a crackling fire warms the room and paintings of the Perceval ancestors peer down from the walls. Roderick regaled us with colorful tales of his family through the centuries. I’d look from his face to his forebears—and noticed the same features: a similar nose, the shape of the eyes, the chin!

I can’t imagine growing up amidst so much history and finery, but then I remember that it takes lots of hard work to maintain the estate—as I’m sure centuries of Irish laborers can attest. The present-day Percevals stay busy preparing meals, cleaning bathrooms, changing linens, and entertaining guests, so it’s a modest living—just in a grand setting.

Go Exploring or Simply Relax

It was quite rainy during my visit to western Ireland when I visited, so I didn’t get outside as much as I would have liked.  There are lots of outdoor activities on the Temple House estate, including kayaking, SUP, and canoeing on the lake and up the river. You can also try your hand at archery, fishing, and croquet on the lawn. In addition, there are miles of meandering footpaths on the property.

The yoga studio. Photo courtesy of Temple House

Indoor pastimes include yoga, poker, backgammon, gin rummy, and table tennis (ping-pong). There’s even  a cookery demonstration, which involves sipping wine while watching dinner being prepared.

Within a short drive you can go sea fishing, surfing, hill climbing, ziplining, or golfing. The folks at Temple House can also direct you to a local pub to hear traditional Irish music. You can also visit Voya Spa for a seaweed baths or treatment . (Read my review about having a seaweed bath.) Just a five-minute drive away from Temple House is Eagle’s Flying, Ireland’s largest sanctuary for raptors and owls, where you can see these magnificent birds flying twice a day.

Tea is served every afternoon in this cozy parlor. (The homemade chocolate biscuits, shortbread and fudge are divine!) ©Laurel Kallenbach

Tea is served every afternoon in this cozy parlor. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Tea Time!

I arrived at Temple House in late afternoon on a blustery day, so after I changed out of my soggy clothes, I went down to the cheery Morning Room where tea is served daily. I settled onto a comfy sofa and propped my feet on a hassock. Minutes later, a pot of hot tea and some sweet and savory goodies arrived. It was the perfect way to release the stress of driving on the left side of the road.

There are countless delights at Temple House: It’s quite comfortable, it’s so welcoming, and the fellow travelers I met were excellent company at meals. Also, the ruins of a 13th-century Knights Templar Castle creates a deep sense of history—and also gives the Temple House estate its name.

So I’d have to say that what I loved most was feeling like I had stepped back into history. (If you really like old stuff, and want to travel back to pre-history, make a day trip to the nearby ancient Carrowmore Megalithic complex.) Even if there were nothing else in the vicinity to do, I can think of no more charming place to relax, read a book, eat fabulous food, and dream of eras past than at Temple House.

Laurel Kallenbach, writer and editor

Originally published: November 2009

Updated: March 2021

The homemade chocolate biscuits, shortbread and fudge served with tea are divine! Photo courtesy of Temple House

Read more about my travels in Ireland:

P.S. For more tips on places to visit in Ireland, visit Discover Ireland.

The ruins of a 13th-century castle of the Knights Templar give the estate its name. Photo courtesy Temple House

Tramping Through the Snowy Wisconsin Woods

No winter trip to Door County, Wisconsin, is complete without snowshoeing in the woods—it’s always  invigorating to get outdoors in winter and commune with the trees. (And when the weather is cold, hand warmers and toe warmers are the ticket! When activated by oxygen, these little gems keep your digits toasty for six to eight hours.)

My friends and I went walking in a winter wonderland at Peninsula State Park in Door County, Wisconsin © Laurel Kallenbach

At Peninsula State Park, my group parked, cinched up the straps on our snowshoes, and headed out on the White Cedar Nature Trail, an easy, half-mile loop.

We clomped and shuffled our way through ironwood and pine forest, following the green snowshoe markers posted on trees. The woods were hushed in the snow, disrupted only by the husky cries of crows and the snow crunching beneath our snowshoes. The ice-encased cedar fronds were lovely—quintessential Christmas foliage.

Playing in the Wisconsin snow. © Laurel Kallenbach

Afterwards, we tailgated with a few sips of Cherry Bounce, which is essentially Wisconsin moonshine made with cherries. In July, after Door County tart Montmorency cherries are picked, you pour them into a Bell jar, cover them with vodka or brandy, add a bit of sugar, and then don’t touch them until after December 1st. Over the months, the cherries infuse the alcohol, turning it bright red and cherry-flavored. At the same time, the cherries become quite soused with booze. The result is a rib-warming drink with a well-preserved cherry to bite into (watch out for the pit!).

Originally posted: December 2009

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

The White Cedar Nature Center in Peninsula State Park offers a spot to warm up after snowshoeing. © Laurel Kallenbach

Eating Raclette in a Swiss Castle

The “national” dish of the Swiss canton of Valais is raclette (AKA: pools of melted alp cheese), and the best place to eat it is the Château de Villa in the winemaking town of Sierre (not far from the cantonal capital of Sion).

Raclette is a traditional Swiss melted-cheese dish. Here, Alex Aldel scrapes the bubbly raclette onto a plate at the Château de Villa. Behind him, you can see another half-cheese heating under the raclette-oven burner. ©Laurel Kallenbach

By the way, in Switzerland I heard the dish pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable: RAH-clet. And the name is from the French word, racler: “to scrape.” (Keep reading! You’ll see why soon.)

The Château de Villa is a restored 16th-century castle, so you’re dining in ancient ambiance. The Château’s restaurant was established in the early 1950s to promote local, traditional foods: specifically Valaisian wineair-dried beef and raclette made using raw milk from alpine meadows.

The 16th-century Château de Villa in Sierre serves raclette; it also specializes in Valais wine, which it sells in its extensive wine cellar. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Château’s literature proclaims itself as “Le Temple de la Raclette,” and it’s earned the designation: Both Swiss gourmands and visitors (like me!) flock here to worship its gooey cheese. In fact, the Château de Villa is so popular that you should book a reservation a month in advance. They serve 15 tons of cheese a year!

How the Cheese Bubbles

Château de Villa offers a special tasting of five mountain-alp cheeses for 31 CHF (Swiss francs) per person. You can see on a map the tiny villages where each cheese is made.

Tonight, Alex Aldel is our racleur (the scraper of the raclette), and he can keep multiple plates going at once. He’s like a master of ceremonies; he keeps the cheese rolling. I have privately dubbed him The Cheese Meister.

The melted raclette on my plate with boiled potatoes, cornichons, pickled onion, and a small bit of the cheese’s crust. This heat-crisp crust is called “la religieuse” (the nun). ©Laurel Kallenbach

Here’s how the raclette process happens:

1. The racleur selects a half-cheese (Cheese #1) and places it under the raclette-oven burner. He also sets out a row of plates to warm.

2. He checks the cheese from time to time, watching until the surface starts to bubble. Meanwhile, he’s usually watching other varieties of cheese in process.

3. When the cheese is bubbling, the racleur uses a small knife and deftly scrapes a portion onto a plate, usually with one swoop.

4. The racleur whisks the warm plates to the table, and we diners scramble to add boiled potatoes, cornichons (teensy pickles), sourdough rye bread (another Valais specialty), and pickled onions to eat with our cheese while it’s still hot.

5. When you’ve finished your plate, the whole process starts over with Cheese #2.

Half-wheels of raclette cheese from all over the Valais region await melting. Each tastes slightly different. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Tonight, I sample nutty, buttery, toasty raclette cheeses from the Bagnes Valley, Les Haudères in the Hérens Valley, Les Marais in the Anniviers Valley, Turtmann, and the Goms Valley.

They’re all delicious. Some are mild, some more strong. I can detect differences in flavor, but honestly my palette isn’t as tuned to the distinctions as a local would be.

Martin Hannart with Sierre-Anniviers Tourism says: “We people of Valais learn how to make raclette before we learn to walk!”

And that, in a nutshell, sums up how the Swiss feel about their cheese.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted in October 2010

Read more about my travels in Switzerland: