Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Ayot....what's that?

We left London this morning and found our way out to the A1(M) easily. I wanted to show Michael some of the area around where my brother Michael had had his London home and where we explored when I was over here in 2006. (Michael has just sold the house in readiness for going to Africa as a volunteer!)

It didn't take very long to get to the Welwyn Garden City exit where the first stop was at the huge Tesco store there. We needed odd sorts of things and as this is like a Big K-Mart with the supermarket attached we were sure it would suffice. Things like a car kit for the i-Pod (nothing worse than travelling motorways with no music!), a fine screwdriver set (for tightening the arms on glasses), a toothbrush holder (yes Dot, we left it somewhere!), bottled water for when we are on the road, windscreen wiper blades, some new reading material, and other such detrius! And we got them all except the toothbrush holder - go figure.

Then it was out to the Ayots. WHAT?? I hear you ask. OK - an Ayot is a piece of land that sits above water when surounding streams flood. There are three of them here - Ayot St Lawrence, Ayot Green and Ayot St Peter. They are in a beautiful part of the country within a very English landscape. Narrow roads once you get off the main roads, high hedges that look like they have just been trimmed back for the upcoming spring and summer and a lone cyclist who gestures madly to us beind him just before a car came hurtling around the bend.

Ayot St Lawrence is also the site of Shaw's Corner - the National Trust property where George Bernard Shaw lived and wrote some of his material including Pygmalion. The property is typical of its vintage and restored to its full glory. BUT - it is still low season and they won't be open until 14 March (sigh). But we did get to have a look at the Norman Church that dates back to 1047 and that was partially destroyed in the 1700's (i) because it was obstructing the view of a local landowner - grrr and (ii) to add to the romance of the village! Most of the graves date back to the early 1800s. And right on cue, while we are exploring the cemetery, down comes the rain. A dash for the car and we head for the Brocket Arms Hotel only to find this quaint little English pub closed for renovation/repairs. Oh well!

So its back to the Crooked Chimney Hotel - another one near Welwyn Garden City that we had previously visited with Michael. It is good to get in out of the rain and the cold. It is down to 6.5°C and we have not felt this cold in weeks. Despite being set out in the middle of open grazing fields, where the sheep are heavy on the land - both in the numbers grazing and in the wool they are carrying, the pub is remarkably busy. The car park is about ¾ full and inside it is all abuzz.

We find a table and have a look at their extensive menu before both settling on Beef, Mushroom and Guinness Pie £7.95 - deep filled with slow cooked beef, topped with
puff pastry, served with mashed potato and seasonal vegetables. Michael added a side serve of onion rings (like they were needed) and garlic bread and we topped it off with two LARGE pub glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice. I can't even begin to descibe how good the food was.

Fulled sated, we head back out on the motorway just after 2pm to drive to Cheltenham in the Cotswolds and very soon were travelling in persistent and at time heavy rain. Can't complain, we knew it was coming and as we were driving, it didn't really matter.

We arrived at Cheltenham around 4:30 pm and found our accommodation - a little cottage behind a set of terraces. It has been set up with a kitchen including a washing machine - but the wrought iron table and chairs are on the patio and soaking wet, so at the moment I am set up on the ironing board and sitting on the sofa! We'll head out to explore locally in the morning if it is not raining and hope to see a bit of the area over the next three days. Might even try for a movie tomorrow night!

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