Author Archives: WolfeStreetTravel

Cotswolds & Wales Road Trip: The Overview, for Cod’s Sake

WolfeStreetTravel is on a road trip roll. The latest – over the Memorial Day period – took us back to the UK, where previously we had only visited London a couple of times. We knew there was more to experience than just the capital, so we flew over in May, grabbed a car, and headed to points west in England, and then on to Wales.

Here’s the route for the trip, starting at the ~4:30 spot and moving counterclockwise:

After landing, we headed a couple hours’ west of London to the north end of the Cotswolds (after brief stopover in Oxford on the way out from Heathrow), then further west to Wales, into Gwynedd and Conwy County in the north and to Pembrokeshire in the south. Completing the loop, we headed east back to England and the southern and middle sections of the Cotswolds. Then, ultimately, back to London, once more.

Three themes drove planning for this circular road trip:

1. Visiting the villages of the Cotswolds in England:

In the interactive map above, the amber houses icons denote the Cotswolds villages we visited.

2. Laying siege to the largest and best-preserved medieval Norman castles in the world – all located in Wales, largely thanks to Edward I:

The black castle icons on the interactive map above denote the Welsh castles we attacked.

3. Finally, throughout the 16-day trip, we took advantage of the UK’s amazing National Trails system, which transit in and out of farms and fields and along the most amazing oceanside cliffs, and hiked everywhere we could:

The green hiker icons on the map above denote the hiking locations in England and Wales.

Similar to the morning of our arrival in the Netherlands for our bike trip there, we hit the ground running in London. Immediately after deplaning in Heathrow, we picked up our rental car (manual, with the steering wheel on the wrong side, of course, increasing the difficulty level of driving to 11), drove an hour to Oxford, and hopped on bikes for a 2-hour tour of the city and surrounding countryside. Excellent plan (other than the fact that it didn’t go as planned, which we’ll explain in a future post)!

Then, on to our first segment of the Cotswolds. We based ourselves out of Broadway, in the northern end of the region:

Although we didn’t know it when we planned the trip months ago, we would be there during Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, so every town was totally decked out for the occasion, including Broadway:

(While we experienced the provincial celebrations out in the hinterlands of small villages, our relatives, the Band o’ Brandts, were in the thick of it in London at the same time, at the peak of the jubilee.)

More jumbles of jubilee at Bourton-on-the-Water, our second Cotswolds village:

A little hiking across the countryside around Broadway and then to the iconic Victorian folly of the area, Broadway Tower:

And a post-hike lunch in town of our first (of many – many!) fish and chips on the trip during the jubilee – Cod Save the Queen!

The wool market capital of the northern Cotswolds, Chipping Campden:

The winner of the most charming village of our trip, Stanton:

And nearby Snowshill, repleat with traditional British phone box and village pub:

The paired villages with grisly names but tons of charm – Lower Slaughter:

And Upper Slaughter:

A spectacular hike from the town of Winchcombe to the Neolithic barrow at Belas Knap the day before we moved on to Wales:

And then lunch. Cod works in mysterious ways. . .

A stopover at Palé Hall for a change of venue before hitting our first Welsh castle in Gwynedd:

The first stop on WolfeStreetTravel’s 2022 Welsh Castlepalooza Tour, and the epitome of Norman military engineering: Harlech Castle, built by the English as part of Edward I’s campaign to subdue the Welsh:

Then a beeline north to Caernarfon Castle, the center of Edward I’s “ring of iron” and birthplace of Edward II, the first Prince of Wales:

And to our third abode, where you needed to traverse a guardian garrison of lambs to enter:

Our base in Conwy and another vaguely unsettling name – Bodysgallen Hall:

Our favorite castle on the trip: Conwy Castle, which abutted the adjacent village of Conwy, with its fully intact medieval town wall:

A hike up to and around the treeless limestone mass of Great Orme on the north coast of Wales with great 360-degree views, including the town at its base, Llandudno:

And a post-hike lunch in town: the best fish and chips of the trip and a celebration in Wales of “One Nation under Cod!”

Not satisfied with visiting castles, we had to stay in one too, when we headed south to Pembrokeshire: the 12th-century Roch Castle:

Spectacular hike along the entire periphery of St. Annes Head on the Pembrokeshire coast:

The weirdly sited St. David’s Cathedral, sunk in a depression so low, you can’t see the cathedral tower from anywhere in town:

And then to a lunch of. . . oh my Cod! Again?!

The penultimate castle on the WolfeStreetTravel 2022 Castlepalooza tour: Pembroke Castle, home in the 12th century to William Marshal, “the best knight that ever lived:”

And the final fortification (thanks be to Cod!): Caerphilly Castle just north of Cardiff, on our way to Bath in the southern Cotswolds:

The Roman, then Georgian, Baths of Bath:

An unplanned but really enjoyable stop at Stonehenge on the way from Bath to our last stay in the Cotswolds:

The ridiculously Thomas Kinkade-y village of Bibury:

And another sheep-intense hike between the tiny villages of Southrop and Eastleach:

Our last base in the Cotswolds: a village within a village (and a Cotswold cottage of our own, to boot):

After 2 solid weeks on the road in our trusty Peugeot, we returned the car that served us so well during the trip before we headed into London proper. Between the manual transmission, the steering wheel on the wrong side, and having to drive for 2 weeks on the wrong side of the road, this baby was a true Danger Chariot.

In London, we probably put in around the same mileage walking around each day as we did on each of our Cotswold and Wales walks, including logging a lot of miles transiting Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, below:

And as a counterpoint to the Welsh castles, we paid a quick visit to the British Museum solely for their Anglo Saxon collection from the Sutton Hoo, including the iconic helmet from the burial mound:

And then, only 36 hours before we were set to fly back and maybe 10 hours before we were going to get tested, the US announced the end of the COVID testing requirements to re-enter the US. Perfect timing!

We’ll be posting overdue stuff from last fall’s Cinque Terre and Return to Tuscany road trip next, and will follow up with Cotswolds and castles posts after.

So help us Cod.

Categories: England, The Cotswolds and Wales, Wales | Leave a comment

Cinque Terre and Back to Tuscany: Trip Overview

On the heels of the Slow Roll through the South of France and over to San Sebastian, and in response to 18 months of unfulfilled, backlogged travel aspirations stymied by the pandemic, we headed back to Europe less than a month later. This time to Italy.

We had two goals for this trip:

  • Finally visiting and hiking the Cinque Terre – the five tiny and charming towns along the Ligurian coast of Italy south of Genoa. We’ve been interested in traveling to the Cinque Terre for years, but the charm and beauty of the towns has always been accompanied by a well-earned reputation of being overrun by tourists. We don’t like mobs of tourists, so we never went. Then: pandemic. As soon as Italy opened back up, we beelined it there to experience the region before a resurgent tide of of humanity could reach it.
  • Returning to Tuscany. Unsurprisingly, we’re fans of Tuscany. Surprisingly, we have only spent 5 days there, biking between five Tuscan towns during our only previous visit in 2004. Quintessential Tuscan towns, to be sure – Montalcino, Montepulciano, Siena, San Gimagnano, and Florence – but such a short time to spend in an area that was immediately so appealing to us. So, we thought we’d remedy that and head back to get a more immersive experience of the area (and hit two towns that occupied the eastern and western extremes of our 2004 bike route, and that we missed, as a result).

Here’s the route for the trip, starting at the top left:

We started the trip in the Cinque Terre – flying into Pisa, then taking a series of trains to get from the airport to our home base town there. We then trained back to Pisa to pick up a car and head into Tuscany, rotating slowly clockwise to visit or stay in towns around Florence before heading back to Pisa to fly back.

We spent the first 3 days exploring the five little towns of Cinque Terre, comprised of Riomaggiore at the southern end:

Followed by Manarola:

Then Corniglia:

Vernazza (our home base for our stay in the Cinque Terre):

And finally, Monterosso, the northernmost village and the only one with an actual beach:

We hiked the only trail open between two of the towns during our stay, and had to hop a train or a boat to see the rest. A little disappointing not to be able to hike through all five, but we made out okay.

After killing the Cinque Terre, we headed back to Pisa to pick up our car (taking advantage of a delay in the car’s arrival by trotting up the street from the rental office to quickly check out the leaning tower). We then drove a short distance to Lucca in northern Tuscany. We’d spend only a day there, but Lucca turned out to be an unexpected highlight of the trip. The town was protected by fully intact, thick Renaissance walls, the 4k circumference of which you could circumnavigate by bike or by foot (which we did):

It offered a cool Torre Guinigi in the middle of town, with oak trees growing from the top:

And one of its piazzas retained the oval footprint of the ancient Roman amphitheater that previously occupied the space:

All of this added up to make Lucca a historically and atmospherically appealing highlight of the trip.

From Lucca, we headed south to Cortona, driving around the urban core of Florence and stopping for a bit in Fiesole at the recommendation of our niece, Tara. Fiesole sports, among other features, a remarkably intact Roman amphitheater, which was being put to use while we were there by an Italian band shooting a video. As you can hear, the 2-millenium old amphitheater’s acoustics still work!

We reached Cortona, and settled in for 2 days there. Our bike trip in 2006 took us through the center of southern Tuscany, so we missed the two famous hill towns on the periphery: Cortona on the east and Volterra on the west. Cortona was worth the wait.

Cortona’s Palazzo Comunale in the center of the small town:

Cortona also was the site of our second Air B&B of the trip (and only the fourth rental we’ve tried during our travels). We’ve always stayed in some flavor of hotel on our trips – more than 200 of them so far – and we’re now dipping our toes into the rental approach on this trip and previously on the Slow Roll. Generally, they’ve been positive experiences. In Cortona, our place sported a view over the Chiana Valley, which worked out quite nicely for evening Brunellos:

From Cortona, we headed west to Siena in the absolute center of Tuscany, and spent 3 days in and around town, which we had pegged as having Uzès-like potential as a longer-term destination for us in the future (nope – a much bigger city than we recalled from our bike trip).

But, it turned out that Siena itself would not be the main attraction of our stay there. Instead, it would be truffles. Without intentionally planning for it, we found ourselves in Tuscany during truffle season, much to our delight.

White truffles at dinner in town one night (when all we were looking to do was to grab some pizza and ended up here purely by happenstance), at a restaurant featuring a menu designed to pair with white truffles, which they served by the shaved – and carefully weighed – gram:

Black truffles the next day, foraging in the woods by a winery about 20 minutes away from Siena. The Italians use trained dogs to find truffles in the forest, rather than the pigs used in France:

A very successful foraging foray!

Trying out another Air B&B with another amazing view, this time from a private roof deck in the center of town:

After our time in Siena, we continued west to Volterra, stopping on the drive over to the tiny, but heavily fortified hamlet of Monteriggioni:

Where the final activities of a cyclocross race were winding up:

Monteriggioni was fortified because it served as a forward base of the Sienese during the Renaissance against any attempted incursions by their arch-enemy to the north, Florence:

Variations on a theme: after Monteriggioni’s walls, we ended up in heavily walled Volterra. We spent a day wandering about the eastern outlier in Tuscany that we missed in 2006 – it did not disappoint:

And then, as a departure from our stays in towns throughout the trip, we headed to a borgo – an entire village converted to a hotel – in the countryside outside Volterra for our final night:

One of the village’s old buildings had been converted for use as a museum of vintage Italian cars, motorcycles, and bikes – very cool.

Early the next morning, we drove back to Pisa, dropped off the car (this time without incident), and flew home – another road trip in Europe successfully executed!

Categories: Cinque Terre and Back to Tuscany, Italy, Road Trips, Tuscany | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2022 UCI Cyclocross World Championships

A convergence of the UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Fayetteville and some family in Bentonville resulted in our latest trip: to Arkansas, for the first time (for one of us, anyway). Bentonville is the home of Walmart, and two of the Walton sons are determined to make Northwest Arkansas the country’s premier mountain biking, cyclocross, and gravel riding region. They appear to be succeeding.

The Walton brothers invested in the development of this course in a bid to nab the 2022 cyclocross world championships. It worked.

Men under 23 Division racing when we arrived on Saturday:

The main portage point of the race – 29 steps followed by the biggest drop on the course:

The Belgians swept the podium in the Men under 23 Division – maybe not too surprising, considering the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix?

Start of the Elite Women’s Division race in the VIP section, courtesy of Mike:

A distinctly lower caliber of bikers at Crystal Bridges:

And later at The Hub at the top of the Coler Mountainbike Preserve:

A little air show entertainment on Sunday, while waiting for the Elite Men’s race to start:

Freakin’ hilarious sign on the course for the Elite Mens race:

If you don’t know the reference, consult the picture below and the resulting aftermath from the jackass holding the original version of the sign on the route of the first stage of last year’s Tour de France:

Transitioning from riding to portaging up the stairs like salmon swimming up a fish ladder – freakin’ amazing athletes (British winner Tom Pidcock in the lead):

Last night in Bentonville:

Great trip and great town – we’ll be back!

Categories: Biking, Domestic | 2 Comments

Mappy Hour: A Cartographic History of Ukraine

As Russia continues their belligerent posturing along the Ukraine eastern border (and now on Ukraine’s northern border with Belorussia, where Putin has begun positioning even more troops), it’s helpful to understand the history of Ukraine’s borders in the political and cultural fluidity that characterizes central Europe. (Let’s be serious – fluidity across all of Europe, which is why the place is so freaking interesting from a historical and cartographic perspective.)

Our buddy, Jim, who also follows WolfeStreetTravel, recently recommended this really compelling Washington Post article from 2015 on the evolution of Ukraine’s territory and borders. This article was published when Putin was previously taking aggressive actions to absorb Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula into mother Russia. Definitely recommended reading for anyone following the crisis unfolding around Ukraine.

The Washington Post’s resident cartographer, Gene Thorp, developed for the article several really helpful and really compelling maps depicting how Ukraine’s territory transformed over the centuries as empires, warring factions, and treaty agreements changed. To wit:

Catherine the Great’s encroachment into what previously was either sovereign Ukrainian territory or land ruled by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 17th century. (WolfeStreetTravel previously included latter in another Mappy Hour post on the evolution of Europe during the Brexit buildup.)

Or, a severed Ukraine after the post-WW I Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, where Poland wound up with most of western Ukraine, including the major city of Lviv, but lost the territory during the Russian civil war, after which Ukraine joined the USSR as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic within the union.

The body of the article includes more maps and some really great context for how and why Ukraine looked like it did at different times during the last 1000+ years, as well as how the native people of Ukraine changed due to Soviet actions. Good stuff!

Categories: Mappy Hour, Maps and Miscellany | Leave a comment

Protected: Christmas 2021: Antigua and Barbuda

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F.W. de Klerk

So, as most of you probably saw in the news this morning, former South African president F.W. de Klerk has died.

Here’s why it’s appearing on WolfeStreetTravel: Because F.W. de Klerk’s grandson turned out to be our guide on safari in South Africa in 2018. From our post on that segment of the trip:

“Our guide on the right below introduced himself as F.W.

During sundowners our first night, we asked him: ‘Like, F.W. de Klerk?’ He said, ‘Yeah. Like that.’

So we poked at this, and he acknowledged that he was, indeed, former South African president F.W. de Klerk’s grandson and namesake. F.W. de Klerk (the president, not our guide) presided over the end of apartheid, which F.W. (our guide) said earned him many fans and many more detractors in the white population.”

Crazy, man.

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Protected: A Slow Roll through Languedoc, Provence, and Basque Country: Trip Overview

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Protected: The Slow Roll: Uzès

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Protected: The Slow Roll: Pont Saint-Nicolas-de-Campagnac and Les Concluses de Lussan

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