A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the Cotswolds in England. I was told it was an area of exquisite beauty, with wonderful historic homes, babbling waterways and views of unparalleled loveliness. So of course the first thing I saw was the hordes of tourists, spilling out of the shops and jamming the sidewalks at Bourton-on-the-Water, a village in the Cotswolds.
But no matter. The crowds actually added liveliness to the scene rather than detracting any pleasure. All was picturesque and pleasing; the streets full of cobblestones, the shallow river with ducks, dogs and the occasional small child. Plus, it was a fine English day of cool breezes and warm sunshine.
And then I stepped into the Twilight Zone. Or, as it is otherwise known, the Model Village. The Model Village is a 1:9 replica of Bourton-on-the-Water. At first, I was delighted by the accurate layout and signage of the scaled-down village. I was charmed by the extra touches: If you pressed your ear against the miniature churches’ windows, you could actually hear choir music. I thrilled at feeling like Gulliver, tromping through a tiny town. Then I saw IT and I was quickly brought down to size.
IT was a model of the Model Village — with another model of the model of the Model Village within! (Yes, you read that right.) It was a surreal moment, like looking at a reflection of yourself within two mirrors that are reflecting each other. I was tempted to think about the nature of reality, my place in the universe and physical dimensions vs. time, but fortunately I was hauled from the brink of that dismal abyss of pseudo-philosophical existential inquiry by another pressing issue: I felt a bit peckish.
After a leisurely, delicious picnic lunch along the banks of the river in dappled sunlight (eat your heart out, Jane Austen!), we decided to take a stroll over to some other villages in the Cotswolds. As we tramped along a trail beside a field of tall golden grass, we encountered some surprising denizens: llamas, calmly chewing clumps of sod in the front yard of a farm. More surprises were in store for us, as a little farther down the trail we encountered two rather fat, friendly MINIATURE PONIES that greedily ate grass from our hands.
Man, I heart this place so much.
After an especially lovely stretch of trail along a babbling brook which passed beneath a cathedral of trees, we emerged in the Slaughters, or more particularly, Lower Slaughter. Far from being a scene of bloodied animal parts or foolish young folk running amok with handheld video recorders and chainsaws, Lower Slaughter is a quaint village of undeniable charm. Slaughter, according to the thecotwoldsguide.com, comes from the old English word “Slohtre,” “which has nothing to do with killing things and means, simply, ‘Muddy place.'”
Besides being idyllic, the village is home to Lower Slaughter Manor, a grand home of beauteous proportions that has been turned into a hotel. Local lore has it that the poet John Milton wrote his epic “Paradise Lost” while in a Slaughter house (har har), and I mistakenly thought it was at the Lower Slaughter Manor House. However, Eyford House in Upper Slaughter is the actual/alleged site. I did not know this at the time; as a survivor of UCLA’s English 10 series and author of “Baal and Asherah: Bad-Ass Demons of “Paradise Lost,” (I was inordinately proud of the acronym B.A.D. that was formed in that title, as well as the use of “Bad-Ass” in an official college essay—ah, such are the follies of youth), I still swooned in ignorant bliss in front of the Lower Slaughter Manor House.
Around an acute corner from the most perfect cottage imaginable lies the Old Mill. The Old Mill is apparently home to a tea room, museum and gift shop, but all I was interested in was the homemade organic ice cream sold there. I had the Butter Crunch flavor which tasted like Butter Pecan to me, only with toffee chips and minus the pecans. Very tasty, fairly creamy but not heavy, and the perfect end to a wonderful day.