April showers have been living up to their reputation up here in New Hampshire. May showers are trying to become a copy cat month as well. I have my vegetable garden all planned out…in my head. I spent the morning staining new wooden slats to make above ground garden squares but since it is still raining, I thought I would reflect on our April month spent in England.
We spent time in April in England where surprisingly there wasn’t a day of rain during our stay! The English flocked outdoors in droves from morning till night enjoying the rare treat of pure warmth. Daffodils and tulips were in bloom everywhere and the entire country seemed to be especially adorned in blooms of yellows and pinks for Easter weekend.
We ate the last bowls of our winter Seafood Gumbo, packed our bags, cleaned the gardens as best we could from the ravages of winter snow and ice and decided to see what Easter is like in western England in the lands of The Cotswolds and The Cornwall Peninsula.
I never hesitate to reach for my trusted travel guide, Karen Brown Travel itineraries. I have been using Karen’s “off the beaten path” and “charming” guides for at least 15 years now. I’ve never been disappointed and now the surety of knowing a delightful trip full of destinations I will enjoy makes prepping for trips such a relief.
We decided first to make a tour of The Cotswolds starting from Bath then on to Oxford and then a slow meandering drive northwest through the tiny towns with names like Witney, Burford, Taynton, and Little and Big Barrington, Lower & Upper Slaughter, and Bournton-on-the-Water. GPSs make navigating the teeny tiny country roads so much easier as everything can be plugged in and the car moves from one enchanting village to another rather effortlessly.
As our base, we chose Karen Brown’s recommended boutique B&B Beryl Country House nested in the hills just outside the village of Wells, England…and it was perfect. The charming town of Wells sets the scene to welcome travelers to the long windy road that leads up to this handsome stone English country house, built in 1838, tucked behind fields of sheep and cows where only the sounds of trees swishing in the breezes and birds calling happily can be heard most of the day.
After a long day navigating England’s tiny narrow and very windy country roads, nearly having repeated heart attacks as the occasional car would round the bend towards us as we anticipated the surety of a head on collision. We would start deep controlling breaths and commence the scooting back and forth to navigate enough room for each other and then in a sheen of sweat roll along to continue coo’ing at the peaceful sleepy eyed sheep once again.
Beryl House looks like it has stepped right out of the pages of the TV series Downton Abbey, or better yet the English home of Frances in the recent Masterpiece Home Fires. The clocks tick tock softly and predictably with beautiful resounding melodies at the top of each hour. It is as if they are coaxing visitors to slow down and listen to that elusive rhythmic beat called…leisure time. Tall stately doors open up from each of the back rooms to the lush green lawn that sweeps down to a bank of willow trees that surround a shaded and lovely lily pad studded pond.
Each afternoon, after arriving at the house flushed with the excitement from the Cotswold’s beautiful and charming villages but road weary from the foreign feel of driving on the left side of the road, Beryl House became an equal highlight of our stay as were the charming village settings.
Each afternoon, a lavish array of hot tea and freshly baked cake is spread out in the beautifully decorated dining room buffet. There is even a selection of whiskeys and beers on offer in the adjoining study with salty treats to accompany an afternoon aperitif.
We stayed in the Pearl Room. It overlooked the front courtyard leading up to the house. Out the tall elegant windows were lush rolling fields of sheep softly baah’ing as we fell asleep in the huge downy bed each evening and as again as we awoke to the soft morning breezes floating in through the open windows. I never even considered how nice it is wake up to the soft coo’ing sound of sheep.
Breakfast was a completely luxurious affair. Being my favorite meal of the day, I rather floated down the staircase, passed the pretty Easter egg tree adorning the foyer, and let my nose guide me to the mouth watering aromas of coffee and freshly baked croissants.
Holly, one of the owners of Beryl Country House, told us they taste tested so many varieties of croissants for their breakfasts until they finally settled on the ones laying beautifully warm and crusty alongside our place setting. They were crunchy on the outside, buttery with just that wonderful hint of saltiness. The insides were soft, warm, and absolutely layered with pastry goodness. I think they nailed it with this particular choice.
We ate each breakfast as slowly as possible. Fresh sliced smoked salmon on toasted bagels, fresh fruit with thick luxurious cream spooned on top, and perfectly timed eggs were each savored completely as we laid out plans for the day, marveled at our luck with splendid sunny days, and made a silent thank you to Karen Brown’s guides for leading us to places that always seem to get all the lovely details of vacation travel just right.
April is a wonderful time to visit England…if the weather cooperates. We didn’t really know how fortunate we were until local after local delightfully clapped their hands with glee when they realized their country was delivering day after day of spring weather delights to tourists during the month of April!
After having visited the small towns along the Cornwall Peninsula, I can imagin how crowded the beaches and villages become as families flock to these destinations to soak in the lovely but fleeting summer season in England. If avoiding crowds is a goal, then the quiet of April before the bustle of May might be a good option to consider.
Again I used Karen Brown’s itinerary to guide us along the rugged and lush landscape of the Cornwall Peninsula. I would definitely pass along a word of caution when planning a trip that trails along the coast of this peninsula. The GPS is a wonderful guide which makes navigating the remote country lanes of England so much easier. However, don’t rely on the timing determined by the GPS in this instance. We noted that getting from one village to the next was taking us twice as long due to narrow little lanes, windy little roads that require slower speeds than posted, and the number of stops to enjoy the sweeping ocean views that spread out as far as the eyes can see.
For lunches, we randomly stopped at any interesting and inviting looking pub that seemed to come upon us just as we needed a break from driving and breakfast seemed a distant memory. We ate everything from platters of roast beef, potatoes, and peas to the celebrated fish and chips.
It was at a unique quirky local pub, Tavistock Inn, set deep with Dartmoor National Park, that we tucked into the most deliciously moist and flavorful Coffee Walnut Cake for afternoon tea. The inside of the pub was dark and cool. The fireplace was crackling away and the heavy wooden beams crisscrossed right overhead as we slipped into heavy wooden chairs and was greeted by the friendly bubbly barmaid.
We enjoyed this Coffee Walnut cake so much that we considered getting “seconds” but decided against the gluttonous decision. When we returned home, I researched a recipe for this cake and discovered that it is a very typical English pub cake offered all over the country that is a staple of English desserts. It first appeared in the 1920’s and is still very popular today. We made our own version at home from an English recipe and enjoyed the flavors once again of this creamy buttercream and moist coffee flavored cake.
Because the driving was taking us twice as long as the GPS calculated, we wearily stopped at the first inn we came across as we neared the very tip of the Cornwall Peninsula. We were driving along the Penwith Heritage Coast overlooking the Celtic Sea and came across The Old Success Inn. This is an ancient fisherman’s inn that has been converted into a little inn at the base of Sennen Cove.
I would say we had a very “authentic” coastal experience at this inn. It was creaky, welcoming, and filled with locals having a fish & chips night out with their children. Lavish and posh it was not but the fish & chips were the best we ate on the trip and the views of the sea at sunset were marvelous. The area around us was quiet and laid back…definitely the calm before the busy tourists season gets underway.
There was a group of surfers having a course in the cold waves and they looked like tiny pepper flakes in the vast waters. The wind was gusty and wild and we enjoyed the feeling of remoteness about his stop. I can’t say I would recommend the inn necessarily but we enjoyed our stop here because of the authenticity of experience.
- For the Cake:
- Oil or butter for greasing pan
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 1 ⅛ cups superfine (caster) sugar
- 4 extra-large eggs
- 1 ⅔ cups self-rising flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- I tablespoon instant coffee dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water, and cooled
- I cup chopped walnuts
- For the buttercream:
- 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
- 2 ½ cups (350g) confectioners’ sugar
- 1 tablespoon instant coffee dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water, and cooled
- Walnut halves to decorate
- To make the cake, preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease three 8-inch layer cake pans (sandwich tins), and line the bases with baking parchment.
- Put the butter, sugar, eggs, self-rising flour, baking powder, and dissolved coffee in a large mixing bowl, and beat together using an electric hand mixer on low I speed, or a wooden spoon, until smooth. Stir in the chopped walnuts.
- Divide the mixture between the pans, spreading it in even layers and leveling the tops. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until risen and springy to the touch. Leave the cakes to cool in the pans for 5 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- To make the buttercream, beat the butter until soft and creamy. Gradually sift in the confectioners’ sugar, beating well after each addition, and adding the dissolved coffee after three quarters of the sugar has been added.
- Sandwich the cake layers with some of the frosting and spread the remainder on the top and sides. Decorate with a ring of walnut halves.
Helpful Tips Highlighted on this Trip:
Sennen Cove along Penwith Heritage Coast