This holiday was intended to be pure respite—no energetic long walks, no rushing around to see new sights, no days spent in dark museums. Although we did make a longer than we wanted to (it takes a carbon- guilty day each way) round trip drive from London to Scotland, we loved our stay with friends and the drive through Cumbria and Yorkshire in midwinter light. We did not love the M4, the M1 nor the roundabouts at Heathrow, but then who does? Besides leisurely walks with the Lurcher puppy Rosie along the Firth of Forth (try saying that one three times fast), we did celebrate New Year’s day by taking one modestly energetic ten mile circular walk with Barry over meadows and down a Scottish drover’s road in the rain. We’d hoped the Crown in East Linton might be open midway for a beer and a sandwich but it wasn’t and we made do with a yogurt from the Coop. I got a heel blister from hiking in wellies with sliding socks and had to hop around on one foot while trying to apply a bandaid (plaster) without falling face forward in mud. We left the next morning figuring we would make Gloucestershire before nightfall but the drive took longer than we’d thought—as it always does in England.
By the time we got to our National Trust holiday cottage (booked cheaply as a post Christmas short stay) in a teeny tiny village reached by a long, dark lane, it was dark, raining, we were cold and I announced that if we heard one more BBC4 radio report on Gordon Brown’s impending visit to China I for one, would go completely insane. Well versed in the requirements for holiday cottage stays we’d stopped at the Evesham Tesco which we fortunately found easily but which was unfortunately out of everything. Well, not everything as there was plenty of tea as long as we chose PG Tips but no smoked salmon, no whole meal bread, no fresh milk, no eggs, no yogurt. A woman stood weeping by the condiment section, “Where are the jars of jam with strawberry bits?” she moaned as I reached past her to snag the last jar of ginger marmalade. The coffee aisle hosted a voluble gathering of Polish shoppers who were clearly displeased by the dearth of ground roast.
Totally tourist (no one can actually afford to live in these little pockets of quaint) Snowshill is a picture book village (the parent part of Bridget Jones was filmed here) which means that it’s maintained pretty much just as it was and just as it was means it’s dark once the sun has set. Since the sun sets around 4pm in winter it’s pitch black in the hours when we’re used to being able to see.
No street lights, no window light, we had to shine our high beams to make sure we were unloading into the right cottage (door left open, keys on table) since from the outside, the row of sixteenth century cottages built into the hillside look pretty much alike. The golden stone cottages stood stolidly by the lane wearily awaiting the next holiday tenant’s ooh’s and aah’s. Ours was notable because it was the smallest, had eaves looking out over its sloping rooftree and sat squarely in the middle of its larger kin. Plus it looked just like the picture we’d cut from the Trust catalogue and had magneted to our fridge since November. We could just make out the white letters of Spring Cottage painted on the door’s lintel.
Rentors of UK holiday cottages usually leave a welcome tray of two cups, two spoons, two little plates, cookies (biscuits), a pint of milk, tea bags and coffee crystals. We fired up the electric kettle and enjoyed a little pick me up even though as Americans we don’t do Nescafe. Having lit the fire using handsful of the fragrant peat bushel we’d carried with us from Scotland as the English are not in favor of this peasant fuel, we did as we always do when we first arrive at a holiday let; rearranged the furniture, tuned the radio to BBC4 and tossed our walking gear artfully around the front hall.
Warmer and having regained a holiday mood, we agreed that although tea and biscuits may provide basic sustenance, alcohol is mandatory. We inched our way down the pitch black street towards the light leaking out of the Snowshill Arms and spent the evening in front of the pub fire downing Donnington’s Best Bitter along with the post fox- hunt swells (some of whom actually wore gaiters and Argyle knee socks) and a very nice plate of scampi and chips. Ah, thought I as I reached for another flattened fried shrimp and a swig of fine ale, this is the life. I announced to anyone who cared to listen that I could be found right here at this seat, in front of this fire for the duration.
When, after a few rounds shared with the swells, we serendipitously re-found the door to Spring Cottage, I took a deep hot bath and crawled under the down duvet in our cheery yellow bedroom. Tom was still downstairs attending to the fire so I had to yell. “So—long walks, late afternoons reading by the fire, BBC 4, dinner by the fire and then pub, fire, bed.” No response. ..”And peat—I want to wake up to the smell of peat and have breakfast by the peat fire.”
I fell asleep. Tom, who far prefers his peat in a nice glass of Laphroig, tended the fire and hoped he wouldn’t torch Spring Cottage, which is something the National Trust politely asks its tenants to avoid if at all possible.