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In Search of Sir Francis Drake
by Kathryn Gillett, Elizabethan England on Britannia
Eight Miles East of Cirencester
My first morning, I was gently awoken by church bells pealing. The resonance of it warmed me on that cold Sunday morning, like the first welcoming embers of a fire. I sat on the edge of the four-poster bed, eyes closed, taking it in through every pore. The sound was like children laughing and rolling down a grassy hillside, then magically appearing at the top to do it all over again. I padded sleepily to the window, pulled the lace curtain back, and looked out of our quiet room onto the tranquil, ice-covered town square of Fairford.
Lawrence and I had left London the afternoon before in our rented car, passed Oxford on the M40, and - for no particular reason - chose the A361 as our entry point into the Cotswolds. After taking a few rights and lefts, we eventually ended up in a tiny village called Fairford for the night.
Standing at the window on that chilly morning, I couldn't have wished for a more perfect chance to transport myself back in time.
Fairford looked like a fairyland. The medieval design of the town was in full view, with the circle of small shops hugging each other around an open market square. But it all seemed fanciful, covered as it was with a thin layer of ice that sparkled like diamond sand in the crisp morning sun.
Although the town seemed empty, the bells pealed on, echoing through the square, beckoning parishioners to prayer. So as not to miss the experience of walking to church, I got dressed as quickly as possible. As I stepped outside, the now-unmuffled sound was brighter and more intense, and I felt overwhelmingly delighted by it all. As Lawrence and I moved towards the little church, each step across the cobblestones of the square seemed meaningful to me. I felt as though I was experiencing a moment of the past, joining generations before me. How many Sundays did the people of Drake's day walk through this very square, to this very church, on just such a frosty morning?
We stood before the church wall, gloved hands tucked into warm jackets, taking in the medieval structure, with the melodious sound of bells enveloping us. There was no one else to be seen. It was as though this was all here just for Lawrence and me. I was too timid to proceed further, yet perfectly happy to take in the enchanting experience from where I stood.
When the bells stopped, Lawrence and I headed back to our Inn for breakfast, where I had a delightful meal of kipper (my first), grapefruit and prunes (surprisingly yummy!), toast, cereal and exquisite English tea.
Then, since we had no specific plans, we took off to experience whatever the Cotswolds might present to us.
Photograph of Fairford Church by David Nash Ford.
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