Once we had experienced Cork’s city, fishing towns, and rocky coasts, there was one final area on our list….
25 miles east of Cork is the village of Castlemartyr.
Guess how many people live there?
With another 2,000 in the immediate vicinity.
Our large group took over a converted 17th century country manor that can only be described as out of a Jane Austen dream…..if Jane Austen book’s took place in Ireland.
The resort was incredible and, fortunately/unfortunately due to Ireland’s not so great economy, is a very affordable luxury. I only wish we could have stayed longer!
The resort’s extensive grounds include a farm, woods, rolling hills, even a castle, and I was eager to explore them.
But just when I think life couldn’t get any better…..it did.
Earl and Countess, sibling irish Setters, are residents at the manor.
But their responsibilities don’t just include welcoming guests….
This beautiful pair are also tour guides.
So while the 60 other people in our group slept in recovering from the previous night’s village pub shenanigans, I pulled Joel out of bed (literally) to have Earl and Countess take US for a walk.
At first, I was completely confused by the idea.
Me: So how do I know where to take them?
Concierge: They’ll take you.
Me: I’m sorry, what?
Concierge: They know exactly where to go and when to turn around.
Me: But, how, why, that’s so cool!
So off we went….
And it was astounding - they knew exactly where they were going and didn’t allow anything that deterred them from their training (i.e. stopping for photos…turning around for a photo once they had returned the manor…as is evidence above.)
I don’t even care that this is cliche, but….
Castle and manor aside, the whole experience was a dream and only reinforced my feeling that I’m so much happier in the country and wouldn’t mind leaving city living sooner rather than later.
Lady would obviously be on board with the idea, too.
From my two previous Ireland posts, you may have assumed that Joel and I visited the Emerald Isle alone.
We’ve become friends with a couple Irish folk who wanted to organize a trip that would take anyone interested to see “their” Ireland.
One email went around and within a matter of hours, 60 people were signed up!
I may have had my doubts (due to the large number), but the getaway was perfectly organized, an excellent balance of city, country, and coast, local activities and the must-see tourist spots.
My favorite part of the weekend?
Our group was shuttled the hour from Cork to the coast where we were met with this.
A sunny, yet hazy brisk Autumn day with views of the Celtic Sea.
Single file, the 60 of us curved the coast.
From my view at the end of the group (that’s what happens when you keep stopping to take photos), everyone looked like ants.
Although we were surrounded by cows and goats, we finally ran into other human life….along with my favorite kind of four legged creatures.
(Yes, I am crazy dog lady.)
At some point, we had the crazy idea to descend the cliffs.
Did I mention they were steep?
And it was windy?
And that I just missed the hand railing at one point and almost fell?
But totally worth it.
So much so, that I ended the walk with a side kick in the air…that the camera just missed.
If you’re ever in southern Ireland, you must add Ballycotton to your list.
After our afternoon riding adventure, we returned to our hotel, Cotswolds Grange, for a cat nap.
(Side note, I don’t know if it was the dungeon-like rooms or the frigid hospitality, but none of us were big fans of the overall accommodations and we wouldn’t recommend it).
Since it essentially felt like a house, not a hotel, we did what we’d do in our own homes….
Pop open a bottle and toast to great friends.
A couple of my colleagues live around the Cotswolds, so I naturally asked them for recommendations before the trip.
All of them answered unanimously…
Visit Stow on the Wold and Bourton on the Water.
So we did what we were told.
We spent the evening at Stow on the Wold, another small market town with honey stone buildings (notice a theme yet?)
Dinner was at The King Arms, which delivered on charm, not on great food.
Before leaving Cotswolds Grange….
We loaded up on their full English breakfast and headed out again, this time to Bourton on the Water, my favorite town of the weekend.
The town features a canal and arched bridges running through the High Street, justifying the nickname “the Venice of the Cotswolds”.
And although the drizzling rain and angry grey clouds threatened the day, it only added to the English countryside charm.
I pulled out my camera and started snapping away….
We piled back into the car and made our return to London, but I’m still dreaming of a little honey stone thatched cottage to call my own.
Although the Cotswolds’ winding roads provide excellent views, there’s an even better way to take in the scenery: on horseback.
After lunch in Winchcome, we drove north east to Stanton, a sleepy village in the Worcestershire hills.
We saddled up at Jill Carenza’s equestrian centre and had a quick demo, perfect for our group as we had a variety of riding experience.
While we waited, I noticed this woman riding sidesaddle, something I thought only existed centuries ago. I soon learned that riding aside vs astride still exists in a niche market and provides an extra challenge for female riders as its forces you to use a different group of muscles.
Talk about impressive!
I also spotted this little equestrian fashionista. Also, very impressive.
We began our hack (i.e. a trail ride) through town and up the hills….
And just in time, the clouds parted and the sun broke through revealing rolling hills, the likes of which I have never seen before. It was as if we were standing in front of a green screen.
Two hours later, we dragged our tired legs east to Broadway, a town known as ‘The jewel of the Cotswolds’.
Ale, lager, cider - all our pints were very well deserved.
I knew how I wanted to celebrate my birthday before even arriving in the UK….
A weekend trip to the Cotswolds.
To say this hilly western region of England is stunning would be an understatement. In fact, it’s listed as an official “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”.
In other words, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the country. Period.
Elysha, Pascal, Lady, and I hopped into the rental car and watched Joel’s first attempt at driving on the opposite side of road.
All in all, success!
Two hours and gorgeous view after gorgeous view later (85% of the drive from London to the Cotswolds is one lane countryside), we arrived in Winchcome, a historic market town with honey-colored stone houses that we would soon learn is a very typical Cotswolds aesthetic.
Frankly, the town of Winchcome felt like a storybook, a phrase I continued to use throughout the whole weekend.
Lunch had to be at a pub, naturally, so we chose The White Hart Inn after reading about it Conde Nast Traveller. We had a big sporty afternoon ahead of us, so we filled up.
Bangers and mash, dumplings, and sausages - oh my!
After a stroll through Winchcome, we were off to our next Cotswolds adventure!
Seeing as the only person I knew living in London would be leaving within weeks of my departure (plus one surprise arrival coming soon), the city was literally a pool of strangers when I first arrived. The last time I was forced to go out and actively make new friends was freshman year of college and I questioned how I would approach the same situation ten years later.
To be totally transparent, the first two weeks felt lonely.
Although I was constantly meeting new people, most of the time it felt like forced social situations and instead of prospering, I felt suffocated, exhausted, vulnerable and even a bit scared. I suppose it’s the New Yorker in me that expects everything in life to be immediate (job, friends, flat, TADA!) and in retrospect I laugh at myself and how silly I was being - it was only two weeks!
As week three began, life in London did a 180.
We moved into our new flat (hurray!), meetings sprang up back to back (hurray again!), and all of a sudden I began to click with these potential new friends and filled my calendar with lunch dates, wine dates, and wine + cheese dates (possibly the very best kind of date…)
And I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Last Tuesday, I met up with three of these girls (two Australian, one British) for a day trip to Brighton. We’re all in a similar situation here in London, so to be able to talk to someone who fully understands the reality that is our life right now is invaluable.
Back to our day trip…
Brighton is a beach town on the southern shore of England, a quick hour train ride from London Bridge Train station. If you’re looking for a sandy walk on the beach, look elsewhere - it’s nothing but rocks here….
But if you look closely, you may find a quirky surprise.
For lunch, fish and chips was a no brainer. Thankfully, Jen proved to be a tremendous planner and found The Regency for us. After walking passed a bunch of other empty “Fish and Chip” type restaurants, it was obvious we found the Brighton all-star thanks to the packed restaurant and, what we would soon discover, the food.
Plus, I learned that cod is the “less fishy” fish and chips, while haddock has a stronger fishy taste.
We spent the afternoon exploring “The Lanes”, winding roads of shops. While there were a couple unique stores, the vast majority fell into two categories - tourist shops or chain stores that we’d all been to already in London.
And although I didn’t fall in love with Brighton, exploring a new town will never get old.
Deciding to pack up our lives in New York and move to London was not a simple decision. Of course it’s easy to focus on all the excitement and fun that lays ahead, but it certainly is not going to be all afternoon tea and crumpets.
For me, in particular, taking the road less traveled and surrendering to an uncertain future was a struggle. I had mentally set my ducks in a row and when the London opportunity presented itself, my “ducks” were, shall we say, scattered.
How would we do X? Would we still be able to do Y? By moving to London and taking a chance on fate, would we also be giving up Z?
Joel and I spent hours and HOURS on end discussing the options. To be completely honest, he kept pointing out all the pros while I focused unwaveringly on the cons. We certainly weren’t being a team and with our wedding only a couple months away, the debate became the perfect “test” of sorts.
I had a conversation with my mom, who has been our biggest cheerleader since day 1, and it was her wisdom that finally made me see the light.
She pointed out how I had lived abroad twice and sure, it wasn’t always easy, but it made me who I am today. Joel, on the other hand, began his European travels with me and has yet to live abroad.
My mom asked: What if someone took away that time abroad away from you? Erased those experiences from your history? Would you be the same person you are today? When you’re 50, what will you regret more? Not following the traditional road OR not taking advantage of this amazing opportunity to live abroad?
Ultimately, the decision came down to one thing: living life as an adventure. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do!
So thank you to our amazing family and friends who have provided unwavering support, kindness and encouragement throughout this process. And also for providing an ear to listen when I just need to ramble, which I know I do more often than I should (I promise I’m working on it!)
And to this funny Tumblr community…thank YOU for sweet the comments and emails over the last week. It’s hard to explain to anyone not in this “blogging” world, but you sure know how to make a girl feel excited!
And a special thanks to those American bloggers living in the UK who have sent me the most amazing, detailed emails with recommendations and advice. It really means the world!
Speaking of supportive friends, Erin and Ozzy are in a league of their own. Not only are they always looking to check off “NYC Bucket List Items” with us (we’ve only got a couple weeks left!), but they help us find special gems like Jones Wood Foundry.
The four of us grabbed brunch at this Upper East Side British Pub yesterday to taste (as Erin put it) “all the wonderful British fare you will be having soon!”
The restaurant is decked out in Union Jack decor and the menu features Scotch Wood Cock, Toad in the Hole, traditional Sunday Roast, Scotch Egg and more.
I sipped my tea, ate my crumpets, squeezed Joel’s hand and felt at peace with our choice, our adventure….because we get to tackle it together.
London - here we come!