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We were booked into a hotel with some history. It had been a coaching inn back in the 17th Century. King Charles I checked in on July 2, 1644 and left without paying his bill. Charles was licking some serious battle scars from Oliver Cromwell, so he may not have been himself. I was feeling somewhat uncivil myself. The couple next door had been going at it for what seemed like hours and it was keeping us awake. We needed sleep.

I had signed us up for a four day walking holiday in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire, reputed to be one of the prettier parts of England. Each day was going to be a twelve to thirteen miles and neither of us had done that much walking in a very long time. My last walk of any length was back in Hong Kong over twenty years ago. That was for charity and I knew it would be a long slog, but this was a holiday and I wanted to enjoy it.

When you hit your sixties, the body may rebel over the abuse it has suffered. Parts begin to hurt, and you don’t really know if you can walk fifty miles over hill and dale. So the racket from the room next door was a big deal. The outside walls were thick as cannons but the inside walls were too thin for comfort.

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When lovemaking lasts longer than you thought humanly possible, you may be torn between admiration and indignation. Your thoughts shift from from how does he do it? to please, God, make it stop. Was it a passionate, illicit affair? A historical porn film in the making? My wife and I both arrived at the same conclusion after hours of consideration.  Viagra. Had to be. Why hadn’t we packed ear plugs?

We had booked five nights of accommodation as well as the transport of our luggage from place to place. We were doing a diamond-shaped walk from Moreton-in-Marsh South to Bourton on the Water, West to Winchcombe, North to Broadway, then back to Moreton. To the very same hotel, in fact. We would not be able to pull a Charles I on the owners for the simple reason that our bill was already paid in full.

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The Cotswolds are characterized by villages full of honey-colored limestone cottages. Limestone is a soft, sedimentary rock derived from living organisms that thrived in the sea that used to cover much of Britain. Its varying degrees of hardness allow it to be used for everything from dry walls bordering rural fields to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

My main concern was the weather. UK weather is notoriously fickle, and some showers were predicted. As long as it didn’t pour for hours and hours, we could cope. The best thing about walking in England is the public right of way that allows mere mortals to cross private lands of all description. Your route may take you across woodlands, cultivated fields, farmyards, and the front yards of multi-million pound properties with Jags in the driveway.

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It is very civilized, astonishing for Americans accustomed to the sanctity of private property and NO TRESPASS signs backed by ferocious dogs and automatic weapons. Our “walking notes” came in the form of laminated pages combining sections of maps with long, involved and sometimes vague descriptions. “After a few paces” and “for some time” were less than helpful. I could easily imagine middle-aged German men tearing hair from their balding heads.

English narrative description is charming in a “hobbit” sort of way. Stop at the top of the field and consult the large, gray horse. He’ll indicate the way by shaking his forelock. The first day was the most difficult, of course. We gradually got better at deciphering the directions.

Even so, we made many unintended detours, even on the very last day of our walk.  Our inclinations were opposite, she to stop, peer around, attempting to match words to landscape, me to shoot ahead like a bloodhound, looking for signs of a trail.  This sometimes generated heated arguments, but all was forgiven by the end of the day.  A hot meal, a pint and a pillow can work wonders.

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Our encounters with innkeepers, pub owners and serving staff made me realize that the creation of Basil Fawlty was not so much an exaggeration as an archetype. There was a little bit of Basil in almost everyone who waited on us. The passive-aggressive behavior would come out in subtle ways, keeping me on my toes.

In London, many service-oriented businesses are run by foreigners, who may not be efficient but are usually hospitable. In the rural areas, the Brits themselves often own and run bed and breakfasts, hotels, restaurants and pubs, with typically “fawlty” results. The food is surprisingly good. If you like meat, potatoes and peas, the Cotswolds are heavenly.

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The Cotswold villages grew rich on the wool trade in the middle ages and they seem to have stuck with it. We wandered through the herds, inevitably setting off alarm bells in their brains. The locals we encountered out walking their dogs were always generous and kind, invariably correcting our mistaken sense of direction, taking the time to indicate the right route. Their dogs would wait impatiently, urging us to get a move on.

We were nomads, after all, just two-legged critters putting one boot after another. Looking for food and a good bed. Simple creatures, really. Just like sheep. A wold, by-the-way, describes a range of hills in open country overlying limestone or chalk. I took a fair number of photos. At this time of year the landscape offers little in the way of vivid colors or spectacle, but it is beautiful nonetheless. Click on any pic running alongside the post and you’ll end up at Flickr account.  Enjoy.

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