It’s a beautiful, sunny winter day in Bradford-on-Avon, and I sit here by the fire in the pub of a hotel dating back to 1500. That’s 276 years before the US was even invented! The Swan Hotel – it’s a really cool place. The restaurant/bar area has a cozy fireplace, exposed beams, original brick, reliable wifi, and quiet jazz playing in the background. And it serves delicious cappuccino – my new “happy place”! Definitely on the top of my Bradford-on-Avon travel list.
Here are just a few Bradford-on-Avon travel tales….
Malmesbury Abbey and the flying monk
After two wonderful weeks in Bristol playing dog-therapist to an adorable dog named Ben, I spent my weekend break in the English countryside. My good friend Maureen, an American expat, moved to the UK 27 years ago and lives in a renovated old stone house near the quaint English village of Malmesbury. Her menagerie of creatures consists of 2-3 cats, 23 (or so) chickens, 4 rabbits, 2 guinea pigs, and a fox family who stops by occasionally to eat a few chickens.
On a rainy Sunday afternoon, Maureen and I wander around the historic village of Malmesbury. The highlight of this charming village is the Abbey, which dates back to 676. It survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid-1500’s when King Henry VIII broke away from the Pope and started the Church of England, making up his own rules so he could legally divorce his wife.
Wiki Fun Fact
“The Abbey was the site of an early attempt at human flight when, during the early 11th century, the monk Eilmer of Malmesbury attached wings to his body and flew from a tower. Eilmer flew over 200 yards (200 m) before landing, breaking both legs. He later remarked that the only reason he did not fly further was the lack of a tail on his glider.” (Sounds like an airline I used to work for…)
After our trek along the muddy river, we dry off and warm up with proper English tea and scones at the charming Old Bell Hotel, which claims to be the oldest hotel in England. The mouth-watering scones are served with jam and something known as “clotted cream”, popular with the Brits. Sweet and creamy, it’s guaranteed to clog your arteries.
Meet the Parents
Later that day, Maureen drops me off at my second house sitting gig in Bradford-on-Avon where I’m taking care of Alfie-the-dog. It still feels a little odd to knock on the door of a total stranger, dump my backpack in my “room”, and sit down for dinner. I had met Alfie’s Mom, Margaret, briefly on our Skype chat. Still, that first in-person meeting is a little stressful, knowing I’ve got only a brief moment to make a good first impression.
I am introduced to her husband, James, busy in the kitchen making dinner. He offers a glass of wine and I gratefully accept. Talk immediately turns to Trump and James’ infectious laugh at the whole American political situation lightens the atmosphere and cuts right through the awkward small talk. Laughter does that.
The following morning I wake up early after a restless night and need a serious coffee fix to get my brain activated, but I sense panic in the air. Margaret has tried (and failed) to check in for their flight that night to New Zealand.
“We MUST walk Alfie immediately and stop by the travel agent’s office on the way!” said a frantic Margaret.
So, before coffee, we set off on a mission.
Along the way, I try frantically to take notes on the dog-walking route, wishing I had bread crumbs to drop marking the route home. I am NOT a morning person and my noncaffeinated brain is overloaded by the sights and sounds of a brand new town. Then I begin to panic a little.
“Oh damn! All the houses look alike! How will Alfie and I ever find our way home tomorrow?” I wondered.
Attempting my best pre-coffee witty banter, Margaret, Alfie, and I cruise along to the travel agent’s office at a record-setting NASCAR pace when suddenly Margaret is on the ground…wincing in pain, swearing a little as she clutches her left ankle.
“Oh damn!” I think selfishly, “She broke her ankle, the trip will be canceled, and I’ll be homeless!” (Yep, it’s all about me!)
“GET UP! SHAKE IT OFF! You’ve got a trip to take!” I silently scream at her as she rolls around in the gutter.
Eventually, she did get up and tried to shake it off. And then we went limping into the travel agent’s office, panicked at the possible flight issues and shaken by Margaret’s near fatal fall off the curb.
Thankfully, the travel agent sorts it out. Margaret limps through the day, making last-minute preparations right up until the very last minute.
Finally, right on schedule at 3:00, the taxi pulls away. Alfie and I exhale and pour ourselves a large glass of wine.
Dog Therapy – Meet Alfie
Later that night, Alfie sits on the arm of the sofa looking out the window and waiting for Mom and Dad to reappear. When they don’t, he spends the next few days slipping into a deep, doggy depression. He refuses to walk, standing like a mannequin in the back yard with a tiny doggy tear sliding down his sad cheek. He curls up with a blanket that smells like Mom. One morning I find him sleeping on Mom and Dad’s bed, all curled up in the fetal position, clutching his knees and whimpering.
Exercise is the best medicine for depression and finally, after a few days of moping around, Alfie has the bounce back in his step. He still curls up with his blanket and still waddles upstairs to see if they’ve come back. But he’s mostly stopped crying.
Prior to Sad Alfie, I spent 12 days in Bristol with Ben who also has some emotional issues when deserted by Mom and Dad. Poor Ben. A bundle of puppy energy wrapped into a one-year-old Parsons Terrier, this guy was entertaining. Sort of.
Until the morning I oversleep and knock him off his routine.
I jump out of bed late on a Sunday morning and immediately let Ben outside to do his thing in the backyard. Then I grab the leash and put it by the door letting him know that a walk is first on the agenda, even before coffee. I’m in my room frantically changing clothes when Crazy Ben flies into the room in a rage.
“You’re late!“ his body language screams.
After a few lightning-fast passes over my bed, he lands right on top, right in the middle. He stops, looks at me with a possessed look on his face, and pees right there.
HE PEED ON MY BED!
Our walk is canceled. He went immediately to the dog house and spent the day there.
(Sometimes I feel like a Dog Therapist.)
My new hometown for a month – Bradford-on-Avon – is a small village set along the Avon River and is just as quaint as its name. It’s got old buildings and fascinating history, walking trails along the river, and plenty of cafes and restaurants to explore. Mr. Salvert’s Coffee House has been serving coffee since 1700 while my new office, The Swan Hotel, dates back to 1500.
So, after five days of cafe-hopping, I’ve finally found my new “office” for the rest of the month – the table next to the fireplace in the bar of The Swan Hotel, where you’ll find me when I’m not exploring the walking trails.
For more travel tips and things to do in Bradford-on-Avon, click HERE.
Bradford-on-Avon Travel Information:
The Old Bell Hotel – (Malmesbury) – has 34 charming rooms to choose from, many with a view of the historic Abbey.
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The Swan (Bradford-on-Avon) – has 12 rooms available, all unique and some with original sloping floors and charming brickwork. Great location for visiting Bath, Stonehenge, and the Cotswolds!
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