I visited Chipping Campden at the northern edge of the Cotswolds a few years ago. I loved Hidcote Garden–and I loved the gardens and flower baskets I passed walking down the streets, the thatched roofs and the distinctive doors.
Tag Archives: England
My childhood was somewhat chaotic, and I learned early on that planning something did not necessarily mean it would happen. There were too many moving parts and too many things that were beyond my mother’s control. My takeaway was, don’t bother to plan because whatever I plan is unlikely to happen.
I took that belief into adulthood, and it wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I planned my first vacation—a windjammer cruise in Maine. I made the initial deposit in January, for a trip that was to happen in August, and then I waited for whatever was going to go wrong to go wrong.
Everything went according to plan, though, until the day my friend and I were driving north on I-95 and an overturned truck somewhere in Connecticut closed the expressway for five hours. Fortunately, I had planned an extra day, so we still had plenty of time to get to Maine, board the Schooner J & E Riggin and have a wonderful week of sailing along the coast.
My childhood belief was shattered by that trip. It turned out I could plan a vacation and it would happen.
Since then, I have planned and taken many trips. Sometimes there are hitches (like the time I miscalculated the twenty-four-hour clock conversion and almost missed my plane to Poland), but I take the attitude that everything that happens is part of the adventure (like the time I missed a connection in Heathrow and was invited to stay for afternoon prayer in the chapel).
Fast forward to the year I was to turn sixty and began to plan how I would celebrate that milestone birthday. I decided on two things—a return trip to Poland and a thirty-day silent retreat (something I had wanted to do for about fifteen years but having the time and money had not coincided).
I spent a few months of that year exploring options, and then, about four months before my birthday, my best friend was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of a non-curable brain cancer. Suddenly, my plans seemed inconsequential and were set aside.
Jim and I celebrated my sixtieth birthday at a friend’s condo overlooking the Jersey Shore, and when the dolphins appeared mid-afternoon, Jim said, “They are singing happy birthday to you.” It was the last birthday I celebrated with him.
Ten years have passed, and I have still not returned to Poland nor gone on a thirty-day retreat; I have done other travel but neither of those.
Now I am looking forward to turning seventy in the fall and thinking how I will celebrate this milestone. I am planning to go to Europe for an extended time in 2022 and am enjoying the researching and planning, fully aware that there are many moving parts and things that are beyond my control.
Cancer and COVID have taught me to live life to the full. It is good to make plans—and to remember to let go of control and enjoy the adventure.
My bucket list included the Cotswolds, so when I was planning to visit friends in Ireland, I decided to tack on a few days to explore English villages with thatched-roof cottages and hillsides dotted with sheep.
I had been hiking in the Lake District of England some years ago, so I had a basic understanding of how hilly the English countryside can be and how difficult it can be to follow hiking directions. On that trip, our “leader” was a friend who had hiked in the Lake District several times before and assured us his guidebook was reliable.
We got hopelessly lost the first day, and since it was November, the sun began to set in late afternoon (our “leader” had only hiked there in the summer and had not taken into account the shorter days of November). His confidence waned along with the daylight. Fortunately, we found our way back to our village, but we were a bit more skeptical the rest of the trip.
Over the next few days, I came to understand that the guidebook was written with locals in mind—people who had grown up hiking these hills and would know which stile was the one just past where MacDonald’s barn used to be. We were in the dark, and I quickly began to mock the guidebook. Turn left after the second black sheep, I would offer, because that was about as helpful as the directions in the book.
Walking in the Cotswolds seemed more reliable because there is actually a path called the Cotswold Way, a walk of about 100 miles from Chipping Campden in the north to Bath in the south. I planned to hike only the first part of the Way and thought, “How difficult could it be to follow a path with a name?”
My B&B host gave me maps with the local hikes clearly indicated and instructed me to follow the signs for the public footpaths which would take me to the top of Dover’s Hill and the start of the Cotswold Way. There I would find signs decorated with acorns to indicate the Way.I crossed through the first two fields with no problem, but the third gateway was surrounded by sheep, and I was hesitant to scatter them—not out of fear, but out of politeness. Why should they have to move just for me?
So I turned right and followed the fence line up the hill. Eventually, I found the footpath again and managed to find the start of the Cotswold Way.The walk from Chipping Campden to Broadway is 4.5 miles and I knew that walking across the fields would take longer than a straight 4.5 mile walk back home. But after more than an hour of walking and no sight of Broadway or the Broadway Tower (which I expected to be able to see from a distance), I was getting discouraged.
Just then, I met a young man walking in the opposite direction and asked if I was on the path to Broadway.
“Yes,” he said. “You go on this path another quarter mile and then cross through two wheat fields.” He paused before adding, “Broadway will be on your right.”
At the end of the two wheat fields, there was still no sign of Broadway—only another field on my right.
Eventually, I found my way to Broadway and enjoyed an afternoon in the village.
I decided to take the bus home.
The next day, I planned to visit Hidcote Garden which was three miles in a different direction. Rather than risk getting lost on the footpath, I decided to take the bus to the town a mile from Hidcote and then just walk from there. Armed with my map and directions from my host, I felt confident—only to walk much more than one mile with Hidcote nowhere in sight.
Fortunately, lots of people walk the paths, and I am not averse to asking for directions. Sure enough, I was on the wrong path. Once pointed in the right direction, I found the garden with no problem.
By then, I had begun to reflect on the paths as a metaphor for my life.
At the end of that day in Broadway, I had allowed myself a little pity party. I am alone, I whined to myself. Oh, I have loving family and friends, but since Jim and Ted died, I am not loved in the way I once was. I am not important to anyone in the way I once was. Poor me.
Here I was in England, staying at a lovely B&B, visiting churches and museums built hundreds of years ago, wandering through exquisite gardens and enjoying fine meals—and I was feeling sorry for myself. That was not the path I wanted to follow.
Rather, I want to be on the path that continually calls to mind my blessings, the path that invites me to gratitude and generosity.
Perhaps, like Broadway that first day, the destination is not visible as quickly as I want, but my days in the Cotswolds remind me to relax and trust that God is guiding me, and if I can do that, I can appreciate wherever I am along the path and eventually get to where I am meant to be.