It was a miserable day when we left our farm cottage in the tiny settlement of Slaughterford. Not having internet made the stay a little difficult (what a sad family we are) and it felt a little isolated way out in the country (yep, 15 minutes from a city is just a bit far for us) – so we were looking forward to our next home. After our detour to attempt to switch rental cars for a smaller one we were on our way heading north. The village we would be staying in was called Broadwell, about 5 minutes drive from Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswold’s Gloucestershire region. Like many of the places we have visited Broadwell has been around a long time. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 when it had a population of 46 people. Now there are just under 400 people living in Broadwell. There isn’t a lot going on – it’s a lovely village with a green (like a park in New Zealand), a pub the Fox Inn, a church and also a small ford (creek) we enjoyed driving through.

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As a side note, in case you are wondering, as I was, what the “Domesday Book of 1086” is – according to Wiki it was the record of a great survey initiated by William the Conqueror to find out what each landholder had in land and livestock so he could determine what taxes had to be paid. There was no appeal to the stated value and worth and resulting taxes due and its sentence could not be avoided hence the book was called “the Book of Judgement” or “Domesday”.

We had a little trouble locating our cottage and ended up having to ask at the Fox Inn for directions. They were very helpful and even had a newly painted map of the village with the names of the cottages and buildings on it. To add to that there was a couple who knew the owners of the cottage. We had indeed already been to the Red Cottage but after not finding a sign with the name nor the hidden keys we concluded we must have been mistaken. It wasn’t far away and this time we looked with greater intent and found the keys. Here are a few photos of the cottage which was perfect except one of the doorways was a little low and kept getting in the way of my head:

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There were many places we wanted to see from this location but our priority other than Warwick Castle was to ensure we finished booking our accommodation for our last three months around Europe. It is always a challenge to juggle sightseeing, home-schooling, a small bit of work, planning our trip, and writing our blogs. As fantastic as this trip is it is not really a holiday as such however our last week when we go on the cruise will be full on holiday, we are looking forward to that!

On the Sunday while the sun remained out we drove to nearby town called Bourton-on-the-Water which friends of ours had recommended. The first activity there was to run around a maze collecting clues and then once the middle was found, working out the secret message to find the dragon fly.

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The following is an example of a clue for the message and also the answer sheet …

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… and then in the centre of the maze, when you finally find it, you go into this dimly lit room and try to figure out what it all means. The answer was to stand on the caterpillar – see next photo:

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… while placing your hands on the monkey tiles on the walls (which you could hardly see) …

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… and when you did this it acted like a switch and tuned the light on in the glass cabinet and flogs’ mouth dropped open so you can see the dragon fly!

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After the maze we went for a wander around the town. Once again we felt we had managed a small victory over the weather as we walked along the river and over its bridges. Bourton-on-the-Water is said to be the Venice of the Cotswold because of the lovely river and the quaint bridges that cross it. There a loads of cafes, eating places and shops along its bank. The river isn’t very deep and in fact it is used as the playing field once a year for a football game.

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The next day, Monday, looked like it would be the finest day of the week so we headed off to Warwick Castle about a 45 minute drive North-East. By the time we arrived we were confident we would not need our rain coast so we left them in the car and raced up to the ticket gates. Even at half-price due to our English Heritage Card the 40 pound (NZD$80) entrance fee was not cheap but it was one of the places on our list that we just had to do, sort of like the rip-off Gondola ride in Venice only Warwick Castle wouldn’t be over in 25 minutes! We were in a rush because we wanted to get to the Trebuchet event before it started. I didn’t know what a trebuchet actually was but Karen insisted we go. Good thing too as it was a giant Catapult with a 70kg rock to be launched through the sky.

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Next on the menu was the Birds Of Prey show. This was probably the highlight of Daniel’s day as the trainer discussed and displayed Bald Eagles and a Sea Eagle and later also an Eagle Owl and a Vulture. It was fantastic having these birds flying low overhead and seeing them up close. I will leave it up to Daniel and Amy to tell you about the rest of Warwick Castle in their blogs. Here are some photos:

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… and of course Daniel and Amy were up the front chatting to the gentleman running the show …

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And now a few castle photos …

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We made good progress with our bookings and by the end of the week we had most of it finished except our week in Berlin and the car rental. As much as the lazy part of me didn’t want to bother going out anywhere by Wednesday afternoon we decided we needed to drive South to Oxford as I have always wanted to visit Oxford and Cambridge university cities. Cambridge was just too far away but Oxford was just over an hour away so that would have to be sufficient. The other reason for going to Oxford city was to surprise Daniel as I had located a Toys-R-Us store right next to the Park-And-Ride. The trip proved worth the effort. Daniel and Amy both went crazy in Toys-R-Us despite knowing that they couldn’t buy anything as our bags are so full. Daniel was allowed to buy a GI-Joe figure to had to his growing collection but only after acknowledging that he would not be allowed to buy any others until we reach America at the end of our trip. I was anxious to move on to the central city and didn’t want our visit to Oxford to just consist of a toy shop tour so we dragged the kids out and caught the bus.

A lady we met on the bus suggested where we should head in town so armed with that information we got off and started our flying visit. Karen found a Primark where we could exchange one of the items we brought Amy in London which was the wrong size so by the time I was able to extract her from that shop the cafes in town were starting to close! A few photos of Oxford shop buildings …

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… and Amy chatting to a vendor selling sausages, cooked right in front of him, a heavy load with the gas tank on his back …

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We made our way to one particular café that was recommended and enjoyed walking around the streets, watching the street performers, and been part of the bustle of students who seemed to be filling the streets. Perhaps it was the end of their lectures? Unfortunately by the time we reached the café it had just closed but we found a nearby substitute which did the trick. Oxford University doesn’t consist of just one large campus but rather some 30 colleges spread around the city. The photo below is the outside of Christ Church Cathedral School.

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On the way out of town I wanted to take a quick look at Wycliffe Hall, also part of Oxford University and a centre for theological studies.

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Thursday being our last day was also our last chance to take a look at Stow-on-the-Wold which we still hadn’t made it to except on the very out skirts where the supermarket was located. This was another case of going out and our effort being rewarded. Stow-on-the-Wold is a lovely old town, surprisingly with free parking, clothes shops for Karen, café’s for me, and much to Daniel’s horror – no toy shop. I don’t recall seeing a library either which seems to be the favourite place for Amy. We finished our walkabout at a fabulous small café where the owner was roasting coffee beans. Once again we all enjoyed chatting with him and updating him on our life’s travel! I had a Mocha and Karen and Daniel had a real thick Chocolate drink, the special sort you get in Spain. Amy in her usual form wanted something sweeter so had an ice cream.

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Back to the cottage we packed our bags ready for an early exit in the morning as the cleaner was due to arrive around 10:00am. Red Cottage was a lovely place to stay and no doubt we could have enjoyed more of the many villages and towns nearby but there is a limit to what you can fit into a week and remain sane.

Of course I did fit in a really short run:

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(Week 19: Friday 22 June – Friday 29 June 2012)