Hidden Gem

Tilshead is a tiny, unremarkable village tucked away between Devizes and Salisbury in Wiltshire. You have to slow down to go through it because the houses are right on the road — a common feature in Britishland villages — and no doubt it’s an annoyance to do so, for those people steaming through the Salisbury Plain on their way to or from Stonehenge.

Yet if you stop, as I did, you can find little corners of sheer beauty in villages like Tilshead — such as Lavender Cottage:

Of course, thatched cottages are anything but rare in These Yerrr Parrrrts, as the locals call them, and no doubt the locals don’t think they’re remarkable. But they are to me, and I’ll post a few more from other such villages, as I stop to marvel at them. Please indulge me.

Missing In Action

Yesterday I was in Salisbury, doing the tourist thing (pics and AAR to follow). Today I’ll be traveling in the Cotswolds, visiting towns of great beauty — a follow-up, if you will, of the trip Mr. FM took me in the Porsche, when I was unable to see anything except the blur of scenery and the sight of cyclists falling into roadside ditches.

Today may see more of the latter, but I will be stopping to see the blurred things in focus. That AAR will appear on Sunday.

See y’all tomorrow. I’ll just leave you with a completely gratuitous pic of one of my favorite guns of all time (and the piece on which I learned to shoot handguns), the Beretta Model 75 in .22 LR:

The frame wasn’t designed by Pininfarina, but it could have been.

Why I Prefer To Travel When It’s Cold

In all my travels around Britishland, I’d never been to the little town of Cheddar, whence the eponymous cheese is derived. So yesterday, as it was warm and not raining, I decided to rectify that with a little day trip to check the place out.

The route from Free Market Towers encompasses, as one would imagine, scenes of indescribable pastoral beauty: rolling hills, freshly-harvested fields or else emerald-green expanses populated by sheep and/or cattle, stone walls, the occasional stately home √† la FM Towers, and occasionally an actual castle or two. (More on that topic anon.) Here’s an example, one of hundreds, of a church in an otherwise unknown little town:

On and on I went (no main roads on my travels, no sir), until the scenery suddenly changed: into a gorge I swept, with towering cliffs and tight corners on the twisty little road:

…but here’s why I prefer to travel when it’s either late autumn or even winter.

You see, because it’s the summer school holidays Over Here, about a zillion people had had the same idea as I, with the subsequent dolorous result:

That was only one of about a dozen car parks scattered along the road that wound through the gorge — and almost everyone had walked the mile or two down the road into Cheddar itself. If you can imagine the Boardwalk on the Jersey Shores over a midsummer weekend, you’ll get the picture. I couldn’t stop to buy cheese — in fact, I couldn’t even stop to get a picture of the mayhem, so crowded was the place.

So in foul humor I retraced my steps out of Cheddar and back, more or less, along the same way I’d come.

Because you see, en route I had been rather taken with a tiny little village named Norton St. Philip, which had not one, but two interesting pubs on its narrow streets. I picked the George:

…because a.) there was lots of parking and b.) because Observant Readers will note the presence of the “Wadworth” brewery sign, which meant the wondrous beverage 6X (which I sorely needed after the disappointment of Cheddar). I discovered reason c.), by the way, as I walked into the place:

So: heritage, hangings, history and 6X all in one place — like I was going to pass up that little combination — and the George wasn’t crowded either, so I could sit in undisturbed peace and quiet and enjoy my lunch of lamb’s liver with bacon and mashed potato, all washed down by a glass of refreshing 6X.

Heaven.

And on the topic of heaven, here’s a view of the church at Norton St. Philip, just below the pub and across the village green (and it’s even more beautiful than my humble pic suggests):

I’ll be back — but only when it’s colder. The George has this huge fireplace in the pub, you see, and rooms with bathrooms, so I won’t need to stay sober to drive home. Hell, I might just call The George home and never leave Norton St. Philip…

Back Home

…at Free Market Towers, where little has changed, of course. There may be a new servant or two, but I haven’t seen them yet — no doubt, I’ll make their acquaintance at the next flogging.

Speaking of which, a friend sent me a genuine hippo-hide sjambok as a present, which of course I’m going to pass on to the Free Markets.

The servants are not going to enjoy this…

No More Instant

I suppose I should be grateful to Starbucks for one thing: they brought the concept of “brewed coffee” to the U.K., even if it was only their shitty burnt water. Now, of course, you have chains like Costa (excellent) and Caff√© Nero (not-so-excellent), but I was struck by the fact quite forcefully when I ordered “filter” (i.e. not instant) coffee at a breakfast kiosk in Edinburgh’s Waverley Station last week, and it was quite acceptable. I was also reminded of that when at lunch at Fortnum’s a couple days back, I ordered an “Americano” (diluted espresso) and was served a lovely cup of coffee. In fact, you can order an Americano just about anywhere — which is a hellacious change over what used to be Instant Coffee Country.

It’s not Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme coffee, but it will certainly do.

And Costa is pretty much ubiquitous — I think there are more of them than Starbucks, which is a relief because their coffee is better and about a third the price of Starbucks’s overpriced shit. Just about every larger gas station has a Costa dispensing machine, which makes traveling less of a caffeine-deprived nightmare, and in the towns, there are generally several Costa outlets.

Sadly, there are no Keurig machines in Britishland that I can see — certainly, none in the houses / apartments where I’ve been staying. Mostly, it’s the Nespresso option which is fine, but Nespresso seems incapable of making coffee that isn’t hair-raisingly strong, which I can only overcome by making two large cups of coffee from a single pod. I miss my trusty Keurig, and my Krispy Kreme Regular.

But it all beats instant.