A glorious walk through Windsor Great Park



January has been a stressful month for me, and even my regular meditation practice could not prevent me from developing some skin allergy as a result of stress. I feel that many city dwellers often struggle to maintain a work/play/rest balance, and despite the best effort, stress seems to affect many of us from time to time.

Over the years, I found that nature is the best antidote to stress. No matter how anxious, unhappy or stressful I feel, simply immersing myself in nature would somehow transform my negative state/mindset into a positive one. Sometimes it feels like magic.

Yet sunny days in winters are hard to come by, and when it’s cold, grey, wet and miserable outside, I would rather stay in and turn into a couch potato. But then one day I received an email notification from one of my walking groups going for a 9-mile walk through Windsor Great Park the next day (which was forecast to be sunny), I signed up for it immediately.




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On the day I learned that quite a few people on the walk had signed up at the last minute as well. Perhaps the REAL attraction of this walk was the sun rather than the park itself. I think we all made the right decision because despite the cold, it was a beautiful day.

This Grade I listed historical park covers over 4,800 acres of land, and it contains an 18th century man-made Virginia Water lake, as well as a cascade. Walking along the lakeside was pleasant and calming on a sunny day. Meanwhile, I couldn’t stop noticing and admiring the colossal and ancient trees all around me. They are magnificent.



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tree  tree





After treading through some muddy part, we reached one of the highlights of the walk – the Snow hill. On the top of the hill stands The Copper Horse, a statue of George III on horseback, which looked particularly monumental against the blue sky. Here, we enjoyed a spectacular panoramic view of the area, including the 2.64-mile long tree-lined Long Walk with Windsor Castle at the far end, and high-rise in London on the right.


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It turned out that The Long Walk is really a ‘long walk’! We were all exhausted by the time we reached the gate of Windsor Castle. Designed by Charles II, 1,652 elm trees were planted to create this landscape inspired by his previous stay at the Versailles. Over the years Elms have been replaced by Oak, Horse Chestnut and London Plane trees. Later in 1710, Queen Anne requested a road to be constructed down the centre of the tree lined avenue for coaches. And it is still used by the royal carriages annually as part of the route from Windsor Castle to the Ascot Races.


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After spending the beautiful day walking in nature, all the stress and anxiety that I was experiencing the day before simply faded away. I felt extremely content and calm on my way back to London. Can nature combat stress? The answer is definitely ‘yes’.

Interestingly, I came across an article from the New York Times on how nature can change our brains and our mental health, which explains what I experience walking in nature is proven to be true and effective.


Christmas in London

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Regent Street’s Christmas lights


Apparently, the British are the most Christmas-obsessed people in the world, according to the results of a recent research. This doesn’t seem to surprise me judging from shoppers’ behaviour before Christmas. However, there is also a large population of people here who, under different circumstances, do not have families to celebrate with. Hence, Christmas can be quite daunting for those who don’t share the festive mood or joy.

This year, a group of Network Rail workers organised an alcohol-free four-course Christmas meal for 200 homeless people at the normally commuter-packed concourse inside Euston Station. Perhaps more cities should follow suit so that the homeless could share the festive spirit for just even a day.


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2nd & 3rd row: Playful ‘Home for Christmas’ art installations by English artist Alan Kane at Tate Britain; last row: love the Christmas decorations outside of this house in Clerkenwell!


Since I started the business 6 years ago, the few weeks running up to Christmas had been extremely hectic and stressful. I would either get sick or be exhausted by the time Christmas arrives, so the word ‘Christmas’ has a completely different meaning for me and those of use who work in hospitality or retail-related businesses. I have also learnt that traveling around this period is a nightmare – especially if you are taking any kind of public transport – so I try to avoid it at all costs. When I went to meet up with my mother in Paris for Christmas last year, I caught the stomach flu bug after Christmas and ended up vomiting several times on Eurostar on my way back to London. Yes, it was memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.

Luckily, I have some friends in London who also don’t have their families around, so I spent this period catching up with those whom I haven’t seen for some time. With 5 festive meals in one week, it was probably a shock to my poor stomach, but at the same time, thoroughly enjoyable.


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Festive indulgence – Top: pre-Christmas Sichuan dinner at Chilli cool; 2nd & 3rd left: Boxing day lunch at Hampstead’s gastro pub The Wells; 3rd right: Festive afternoon tea with a free bottle of prosecco at the May Fair Hotel


And on Christmas day, I had arranged to meet up with my American friend in central London for an Indian Christmas lunch, which I considered to be quite unusual. The truth is that I couldn’t find a restaurant/pub that wasn’t overcharging on the day i.e. £75 or more for a so-called festive menu that didn’t appeal to me at all; and since there was no transport on the day, I had to find a place where we could both reach (I was on foot and she was cycling).

Days before Christmas, we were anxiously checking the weather forecast to see if it would pour or snow, but luckily, the weather turned out to be quite mild though a bit grey (unlike the blue sky on Boxing day). The walk from my home to the restaurant took about 75 mins because I opted for a scenic route via Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park; on route, I crossed paths with joggers and many independent tourists who were wandering and enjoying a much quieter London. Interestingly, I also walked past Euston station where I saw some homeless people and volunteers outside preparing for the Christmas meal event.


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primrose hill

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Walking through Primrose hill, Regent’s park and Euston


Both my friend and I were very satisfied and pleased with the service, value and food quality at Salaam Namaste, and we spent a pleasant few hours savouring our tasty three-course Christmas lunch. I had so much food that I didn’t even bother having dinner in the evening. Fortunately, the walk back home helped me to burn some calories…


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Salaam Namaste  festive chocolate wreath

The 3-course Christmas lunch & a chocolate wreath – a gift from my friend


After I parted with my friend, I decided to take a different route back via Kings Cross and the canal. The roads were almost empty and there were very few people and traffic around the usually busy St Pancras Station. The city was surprisingly peaceful, and at the same time, quite surreal.

From Camley street, I crossed the Somers Town Bridge for the first time (I didn’t even know about it before the day), which was opened in the summer. This lightweight and sleek steel bridge is designed by Moxon Architects, and it links Camley Street with the Gasholder Park. In the summer, this area would be quite busy, but on Christmas day, there were only a handful of people strolling around at a leisurely pace.


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kings cross canal

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somers town



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After walking along the canal for about 20 mins, I finally reached Camden town, where the canal ends. And what caught my attention here was the post-modern futuristic style architecture on the opposite side of the canal. This is the Camden Sainsburys and housing designed by Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners in the late 1980s, apparently it was influenced by car manufacturing techniques. How interesting.


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street art camden

street art camden

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street art camden







The best part of my journey was to walk through an empty Camden Town! I have never seen Camden so quiet before, and so I took the opportunity to explore the area’s vibrant street art.

Although I felt quite tired after the walk, I really enjoyed walking through London without the crowds and traffic. It enabled me to explore and see things that I might have missed normally, and best of all, it made me feel less guilty for indulging so much throughout this festive period.




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Boxing day lunch and walking in Hampstead heath


After years of constantly aiming to spend Christmas elsewhere, I found staying in London for Christmas this year to be a pleasant and restful. Sometimes, the grass is not always greener on the other side, and maybe this is something I finally got to understand lately.


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Live tango performance and dancing at the Southbank centre during the festive period



Kew gardens in autumn

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The grade II Listed Temple of Bellona was built by Sir William Chambers in 1760


The last time I visited Kew Gardens was some years back in the summer when a friend was visiting the UK. We took a boat from Westminster all the way to Kew, and we had a lovely day out. I have not been back since, partly because of the high entrance fee; though after starting a botanical illustration course a few weeks ago, I was keen to return to the gardens to see the new Japanese botanical illustration exhibition and the Marianne North gallery.

Coincidentally, I mentioned this to a new friend, and I subsequently found out that not only she lives in Kew but is also a member of the gardens. Thanks to her – who knows the gardens like the back of her hand – I was able to visit the garden twice in a month to see the exhibition, the gallery, the new hive installation and most importantly, the autumn foliage. And I thoroughly enjoyed spending time at the gardens.


the hive

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The Hive installation


We first visited the Hive, a new open-air structure, inspired by scientific research into the health of bees. Designed by UK based artist Wolfgang Buttress, the multi-sensory installation is made from thousands of pieces of aluminium which create a lattice effect. Inside the structure, it is fitted with speakers and hundreds of LED lights that respond to the real-time activity of bees in a beehive at Kew. The sound and light intensity within the space changes as the energy levels in the real beehive surge, and visitors can feel the vibration while they stand inside.


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kew gardens

kew gardens

kew gardens

kew gardens

kew gardens

The Pagoda and Japanese landscape


When we made our first visit, the colours of the trees had yet to turn, which was slightly disappointing. However, we did see the brilliant Flora Japonica exhibition (until March 2017), which showcases Japanese native flora portraayed by 36 of the most eminent contemporary Japanese botanical artists, and historic drawings and paintings by some of Japan’s most revered botanists and artists such as Dr Tomitaro Makino, Sessai Hattori and Chikusai Kato.


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kew gardens

kew gardens  kew gardens

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Top three rows: The lake and the Palladian Bridge


Another reason why I wanted to visit Kew was to see the Marianne North Gallery. I recently watched a documentary on the amazing and inspiring botanical artist who traveled around the world to paint plants in the late 19th century. As a single Victorian woman, it must have been a tremendous task to travel solo and documented all the rare and foreign species that were largely unknown to the UK at the time.

The Marianne North gallery was inaugurated in 1882, after Marianne had spent a year arranging her paintings inside the building. After a £1.8 million restoration project, the gallery reopened in 2009 featuring 833 paintings and depicting more than 900 species of plants. If you have not visited this gallery before, I urge you to go because it is simply astounding and fantastic.


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treetop kew gardens

Treetop walkway


Most of the photos here were taken on our second visit – when the leaves finally changed colours. The gardens were looking beautiful and one of the highlights of the day was to walk up to the Treetop walkway to watch the sunset and enjoy the spectacular view from the top.


Palm House kew garden

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The Palm house


A quotation from the English nature writer Richard Jefferies described Kew Gardens as “a great green book, whose broad pages are illuminated with flowers, lying open at the feet of Londoners.”

As Londoners, we are very lucky to have this gem in the city, and it is certainly a place for all ages and for all seasons.


Capturing autumn colours

hampstead heath

Hampstead heath


This autumn, we have had some beautiful sunny days with vivid blue sky in London, therefore I couldn’t resist taking the time off (during the week) to enjoy nature in this bustling city. And I didn’t have to go far since Hampstead Heath is the sanctuary for nature in London.


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Hampstead Heath


I often feel that when people are disconnected with nature, they are likely to disconnect with reality. Nature reflects the universe, and it reminds us of the cycle of life. When we take time to observe nature, we would open up our minds and see things in a larger context beyond our narrow world.

Like Japan, the UK also has fairly distinctive seasons, so perhaps we can learn from the Japanese and celebrate each season with joy, gratitude and curiosity.


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 Yellow and brown


During the few months in autumn, I would often walk around with my eyes fixated on the pavement (not when I am crossing busy streets) because I am so drawn towards the beautiful patterns formed by fallen leaves. Aside from the different coloured and shaped leaves, there are also fallen apples and conkers with spiky green shells – all of these are great works of art created by nature.


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 Autumn leaves


Besides the visual aspect, I particularly enjoy trampling on dried fallen leaves and listening to the rustling sounds created by my shoes/boots on the leaves. The act somehow reminds me of childhood, when life was simple and carefree. There are times in our lives when acting childlike can make us forget the burden that accumulates over time as adults.


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 Apples and conkers


I truly believe that art and beauty is all around us, and if only we take the time to observe, we would be stunned by what nature has to offer. Furthermore, solitude in nature provides us the time to connect with ourselves; and if you ever experience negative emotions, an few hours in nature can be as effective as a counseling session. Try it to see for yourself.


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A wet & misty New Year’s hike

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Tillingbourne Valley in Surrey


During this time of the year, guided day hikes out of London are few and far between, so when one came up a few days after the New Year, I was eager to participate. And to my surprise, many other Londoners had the same idea, hence the group was much larger than I had expected. A New Year’s hike is always a good and healthy way to start the year, especially after the excessive indulgence during the festive period.

We have had cold but sunny weather recently, yet on the morning of the hike, it was pouring down and the weather forecast for rest of the day looked fairly grim too. However, having experienced a few torrential downpour on some hikes previously, I was all geared up for the rain this time. And I was glad I did.


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The pretty village Shere is often used as a location for films. The 12th century St James’ church was featured in the Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.


Our 9-mile hike started at Gomshall in Surrey, we then walked through the historical and picturesque village Shere and along the chalk ridge of the Tillingbourne Valley. On a clear and sunny, the view from the top of the Surrey Hills would have been quite spectacular; yet on a wet and misty day, it was atmospheric and perfect as the setting of a haunted film.




Since trails was very muddy and slippery, we spent most of hike trudging through mud and trying not to slip or fall! This was probably one of the reason why we all felt exhausted after the hike.

Despite the rain, mud and mist, the hike turned out to be fairly enjoyable as all of us were prepared for the worst beforehand. This is the joy of hiking. It is an adventure because you’d never know what lies ahead. Aside from an open mind, be sure that you have the right gear for all seasons, then you are all set to go!


Eastbourne & Beachy Head hike

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Birling Gap at Beachy Head


The hiking season has resumed! Although hiking can be an all year round activity, it is most enjoyable during the summer because the sun sets later (which means we can do longer hikes) and the temperature is warmer. My first UK hike this year was a circular hike from Eastbourne, where we hiked along the coastline and enjoyed some spectacular views of the area with plenty of sunshine. We passed by Beachy Head, a chalk headland with the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain, rising to 162 metres (531 ft) above sea level. Not surprisingly, it is also one of the most notorious suicide spots in the country!

An article in the Telegraph recently reported that the Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team, a trained voluntary team that patrols the area 24/7 to save lives is under threat due to lack of funding. A significant amount is needed for the service to continue and donations can be made via their website above.


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Top right: East Dean Village; Bottom left & right: Sherlock Holmes’ retirement home (?) in East Dean


Before we reached Beachy Head, we walked past the village East Dean and had our picnic lunches on the village green. After lunch, I noticed a blue plaque on the front of a house, and to my surprise, the house did not belong to a painter/musician/poet but the fictional character Sherlock Holmes! Apparently Holmes experts have maintained that Holmes ended his days in East Dean after Sherlock author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hinted it in the preface of one of his books. Now thanks to the new TV series, the character is more popular than ever and a special walk is created for Holmes‘ fans!


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Bottom left: The beachy head lighthouse; Bottom middle: Birling Gap; Bottom right: Belle Tout lighthouse


One of the landmarks in the area is the Grade II listed Belle Tout lighthouse, which was featured in many films and TV productions. The lighthouse was in operation from 1832 to 1902 until a new lighthouse was built in the sea below to replace it. The lighthouse suffered damage during the second world war but was rebuilt in the 1950s. In 1999, the lighthouse was moved (in one piece) more than 17m (50ft) inland from a crumbling cliff edge due to coastal erosion. Now the lighthouse has been converted into a 6-room luxury bed and breakfast and has proved to be very popular!


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After hiking up and down the cliff for miles along the coastline, we arrived at a memorial site, The Bomber Command Tribute that commemorate the RAF who lost their lives during the Second World War as Beachy Head was their final departure spot in the UK.


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Eastbourne and the Eastbourne carnival


Finally, we arrived into the coastal town of Eastbourne and coincidentally stumbled upon the Eastbourne Sunshine Carnival taking place on the seafront. The seafront was packed and it was nice to see much excitement and joyful spirit everywhere. We had our early dinner in a pub where most locals were dressed up as pirates, so we really stood out in our hiking gear!

This hike was one of the most memorable and enjoyable in recent years, and as always I also met some lovely people. Although we were all exhausted after the long day, we all felt refreshed and content afterwards… now I just can’t wait until my next walk/hike!

Autumn hike in Kent

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Since my calligraphy classes resumed in September, I have not been able to get out of London for day hikes. Last weekend, my class was cancelled and so I was able to spend the day hiking along the Darent Valley Path in Kent.

Two days before the hike, the forecast looked very grim: windy and rainy, which was quite off-putting. But for those who have lived in the U.K. long enough would know that the forecast here is rarely reliable, as the weather could change by the hour… And as it turned out, the day was sunny with blue sky and mild temperature, so the forecast was wrong again!


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Top left: The Gatehouse of Lullingstone Castle ( we were told by the staff there that it is haunted); Main: The Manor house; Bottom left & right: Shoreham village


As always, the 9-mile hike was very enjoyable, with some hills to climb ( my legs were quite achy on the next day) and friendly company. We walked through some picturesque small villages ( Ortford, Shoreham and Eynsford) and passed by the historical Lullingstone Castle ( built in 1497), which unfortunately was closed on the day.

Due to the unusually long, hot and dry summer, autumn foliage is yet to happen except for the fallen leaves ( and cracked chestnuts) in the shady woods. There are still wild blackberries everywhere, so we all took the opportunity to stuff ourselves, especially knowing that they will wither very soon.


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I hope I will be able to go on another hike to see the fall foliage, but with such unpredictable weather, who knows when winter will suddenly arrive? All we can do is to go with the flow, though sometimes, there may be nice surprises in store for us, like the fine day as seen above.


Last summer walk in the South Downs

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I never realised how ‘addictive’ country or hill walking can be, once you start, there is no turning back! Now that I have been doing it for a few years, I simply cannot stop doing it. This is also partly due to my keenness to explore the picturesque British countryside and my love for nature ( perhaps I need to also thank my father for taking my brother and I to go hill walking every Sunday when we were kids).

The South Downs is beautiful area comprises of a range of chalk hills stretching across Sussex from Eastbourne to Winchester. And on the last day of August, I joined a walking group to explore this part of England.


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One of the best thing about walking in the countryside is the abundance of wild fruits everywhere. While in Scotland, I scoffed down kilos ( no joke) of wild raspberries and cherries and now as we approach September, wild blackberries are ripening, it is hard to resist not picking them along the route. Once you have tasted the juicy and sweet berries ( when in season), it’s hard to go back to the overpriced and tasteless supermarket version, hence, I rarely buy them from supermarkets these days.


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Bottom left: The bloodhound project: the supersonic car on display at the annual classic car and motorbike show in Burpham.


Property prices in many areas of the South Downs are high, and this was obvious when we passed through the village of Burpham, where all the houses look pretty and well maintained. There was even an annual classic car and motorbike show being held here, where we saw the Bloodhound supersonic car! And when we arrived at the historical town of Arundel, I was surprised to find it full of independent shops housed inside rows of carefully restored buildings ( I later found out that this town was awarded “Fair Trade town” in 2004). The contrast between this town and Hastings ( where I passed through a few months ago) couldn’t be more stark! With many flashy cars parked on the streets, the town seems to attract many well-to-do day visitors from other parts of the country.


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The historical town of Arundel and Arundel Cathedral


Unfortunately there was only an hour left before the closing time of the historical Arundel Castle, so we decided to skip it and visited the impressive Arundel Cathedral instead.

As always, although we were feeling tired after the walk, we thoroughly enjoyed the scenery, sunshine, historical sights, wild blackberries and each other’s company.

These are the reasons why walking in Britain is so addictive!


Last country walk of 2012

A lovely December day in the Chilterns


It has been a few months since I last did a country walk, I have been so busy with work that I have not had the chance to get out of London. Finally, on a sunny ( and slightly warmer) winter day, I was able to join a group of friendly walkers to the Chilterns for a 7-mile walk through the woodlands.



Winter walks can be fantastic if the weather is mild enough, so we were lucky to have enjoyed some winter sun, blue sky and moderate temperature. The amazing thing is that it takes less than one hour to get to idyllic settings like this from Central London ( we were back home by 6 pm), a sharp contrast from the Christmas shopping frenzy that is happening in town. Unlike the stressful shoppers, I felt refreshed and content at the end of day. What better way to end the week?




Adventure in the Cotswolds

Our starting point: Stratford-upon-Avon


My friend from abroad is in town and I suggested a long walking weekend in the Cotswolds to get away from London and the Olympics. It started off pretty well in Stratford-upon-Avon, but little did we know, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong once we left town and reached the Cotswold way


All about Shakespeare…


Not only did we get very lost, went off track and ended up walking on a busy B-road with no sidewalk; we also walked for miles to visit a garden only to find out that it was closed! Meanwhile, my friend injured her knee and we had to ask some kind strangers for a lift to the nearest village… but the most bizarre event was one of our hotel room’s fire alarm went off for no reason at 3 am in the morning, forcing us to escape from my room in our nightwear!


The charming Chipping Campden & Little Orchard where Graham Greene used to live


Despite the few disastrous incidents, we were helped by many friendly locals and we really appreciated the beauty of the Cotswolds even in the rather unsettled weather. The long weekend provided a taster for us, now our aim is to return again sometime in the future and retrace the route once more, hopefully, we will be better prepared.


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Broadway Tower, a view from the top and the historical Lygon Arms in Broadway