Walking in the Cotswolds: The Beautiful Slaughters

June 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

Lower Slaughter, a village on the banks of the River Eye ©Laurel Kallenbach

Lower Slaughter, a charming village on the banks of the River Eye.  ©Laurel Kallenbach

Yes, the names of Upper and Lower Slaughter—which we visited on our second day of walking in England’s Cotswold Hills—sound alarming, but if you’ve read Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling or Notes from a Small Island you already know that English country towns often carry strange appellations. (And for the record, “Slaughter” comes from the Old English word for a wetland—“slough” or slothre—meaning a “muddy place.”)

The trails were well marked throughout our English walking vacation. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The trails were well marked throughout our English walking vacation. ©Laurel Kallenbach

During our second day walking the “Best of the Cotswolds” loop, the highlight of our 7.5-mile hike was our arrival at these two villages. The walk began with a trek through farm after farm, field gate after field gate, dodging cow patties the size of hubcaps.

How is it possible we were walking across private farmland? In Britain, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act gives people access to “mountain, moor, heath, or down”—within reason, of course. We were almost always on established trails, and usually we could see where other hikers had already plodded across or on the edge of fields. We were respectful of the livestock and crops—although the corn and hay had already been harvested by late August.

The Old Mill in Lower Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Old Mill in Lower Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

Waiting for us after all the farm crossings were two jewels of Cotswold villagedom. First we came to Lower Slaughter, a small village populated by stone cottages built along the slow-moving River Eye.

Lower Slaughter is best known for its 19th-century flour mill with its picturesque waterwheel and chimney. The Old Mill is now a museum and gift shop—which also happens to sell some wonderful ice cream. We had lunch outdoors at the River Café and watched the ducks as we slurped our soup and tucked into sandwiches.

The steeple of the 13th-century Anglican church, St. Mary’s, presides over the town, and its clock bells add to the village’s timeless feel. An occasional bench makes a nice place to sit and take in the scenery. We could hardly take a dozen steps without snapping a photo, especially after the sun peeped out.

St Mary's Parish, Lower Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

St Mary’s Parish, Lower Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

There’s something irresistible about willow trees beside the water and Cotswold-stone cottages with flower boxes full of bright blooms.

(Cotswold stone is honey-colored sandstone that’s been quarried in the region for centuries and used to build houses and churches.)

At one pretty cottage, a couple was hanging swags of international flags for the upcoming Bank Holiday Village Fete.

After enjoying the views of Lower Slaughter, we continued our walk—yes, through more fields—to Upper Slaughter, a little less than a mile away. Along the way were some glorious trees, including age-old oaks and horse chestnuts that looked like massive green haystacks with pendant nut pods.

Cottage in Upper Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

Cottage in Upper Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

This village was—is it possible?—even smaller and a bit more posh than Lower Slaughter. Every cottage had climbing roses and flowerboxes; every stone was perfectly situated.

We wandered about Upper Slaughter and ambled into the Norman St. Peter’s church, where the list of priests/clergy stretches back to the 1200s.

We returned to Lower Slaughter to continue on our route to Bourton-on-Water, and in the process of passing through a kissing gate we noticed a plaque commemorating the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in July of 1981.
Charles and Diana plaque, Lower Slaughter©Laurel Kallenbach

It was a bit sad considering it was just a week before the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death. Ken and I shared a smooch at every kissing gate we passed through during our trip, and we thought about how much happier we were than that infamously unhappy royal couple.

PS: What’s a kissing gate? It allows people, but not livestock, to pass through it. The hinged gate swings between the two sides of an enclosure, so only one person can step through it at a time, and they can kiss across the gate.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my Cotswold hiking trip:

More about my travels in England:

Farmhouse on the edge of Upper Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

Farmhouse on the edge of Upper Slaughter         ©Laurel Kallenbach

This cottage was decorated for Lower Slaughter's Bank Holiday Fete ©Laurel Kallenbach

This cottage was decorated for Lower Slaughter’s Bank Holiday Fete ©Laurel Kallenbach

 

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

Room with a Jamaican View: Hotel Mockingbird Hill

Tucked into the forests and organic gardens above the town of Port Antonio is Hotel Mockingbird Hill, an eco-boutique hotel that’s the epitome of Jamaica’s natural side.

Yes, this was the paradise I reveled in every time I gazed out my windows at Hotel Mockingbird Hill, an eco-friendly getaway in Jamaica. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Though not on the beach, the socially- and environmentally-conscious hotel overlooks the aquamarine water not far away. From its hilltop location, you can watch the sun set behind the Blue Mountains from the hotel’s restaurant and rooftop observatory.

In short, Hotel Mockingbird Hill is connected to the land, the sea, the sky and the community in a way that few places do.

The Luxury of Nature

“What is luxury? The definition has changed. It’s not just opulence; it’s having space and quiet.” –innkeeper Shireen Aga

Hotel Mockingbird Hill does indeed provide the most beautiful of places to relax and forget the cares of the world. Curl up on a deck chair, a pool chair or a day bed hidden in the verdant gardens for some R&R.

Indoors or out, I feel nature’s pulse from the moment I wake until I fall asleep—which is perhaps when I enjoy the earthiness the most.

After a satisfying, sustainable meal in the candlelit Mille Fleurs Restaurant (see my post for details about the wonderful cuisine), a hush settles over the hotel and the tree frogs sing their moonlight sonata. Fireflies (bigger than any I’ve seen before!) sparkle like fairies in the forest.

Night in the tropics: always relaxing when there’s a soft bed and the protection of mosquito netting. ©Laurel Kallenbach

While getting ready for bed each night, I kept all but one light off so as not to attract insects (there are no screens in the louvered windows so that nothing mars the view or separates you from the gardens and jungle surrounding the hotel.)

Then I would climb beneath the mosquito netting, which is rarely necessary if you turn on the ceiling fan above the bed; mosquitoes avoid the breeze.

Mosquito netting is one of my personal favorite luxuries: a diaphanous tent over my bed that assures that my sleep will be undisturbed by winged insects or the geckos who hunt for them.

To me, it’s a treat to sleep in a room open to nature, and mosquito netting over a comfy bed feels like a magic castle. On my first night at Mockingbird Hill, I awoke to fireflies in my room. One settled on the canopy above me and winked me back to sleep.

The pool at Hotel Mockingbird Hill is a refreshing blue lagoon. At twilight, the staff lights the lanterns to illuminate this picturesque area. ©Laurel Kallenbach

There are many other luxuries at this 10-room, eco-conscious inn:

  • sipping a Red Stripe and jerk-spiced nuts at sundown
  • meeting charming guests from England, Germany and the United States
  • taking trips to the beach
  • excursions for a raft ride or to Reach Falls
  • strolling through the gardens and watching the hummingbirds
  • lounging in the hammock in my room (and drinking in yet again that view!)
  •  enjoying a cool dip in the chlorine-free pool.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally published on May 5, 2010

Read more about my travels in Jamaica: