Trip to the Cotswolds and Indian head massage course

I am a frequent traveller. It seems one or another of my suitcases is always in the bedroom, in the process of being filled or emptied (occasionally both simultaneously, resulting in mysterious piles of clothing and papers to be sorted upon return!) Most of this globetrotting has to do with performing, giving master classes, or the occasional getaway with Kerry to warmer climes or more vibrant cities than our own sleepy Luxembourg. This past weekend, however, provided a different and interesting scenario.

Several weeks ago, my close friend and chamber music partner, Heather Madeira Ni, called me up to see if I might be up for doing an all-day workshop on Indian Head Massage and foot reflexology at an estate in the Cotswolds. Ever since I had seen Kate Winslet’s cozy and cuter-than-life hamlet in The Holiday, I’d wanted to see the area for myself. And a course in massage? Wonderful. My only reservation was that Kerry was to leave for a long tour with the American Horn Quartet right after I would return from England, but booking a flight to Memphis during my free week in March to catch up with him there made me feel better about leaving during Carneval week.

Heather and I met on the train platform in Luxembourg at 5:15 in the morning (yawn!) and slept through much of the trip to Brussels. There we caught the Eurostar to the newly opened Ebbsfleet International Station in Kent, picked up our miniscule blue Fiat rental, and wound our way around the north of London towards our destination. Through avoiding many major roads, we saw some lovely small villages along the way, and even ended up bravely fording a stream, causing the engine to smoke for a while afterwards! On the other side of the ford was a sign stating, “Not suitable for motor vehicles.” Whoever decided to spend money by only placing a sign on one side of the stream may want to think twice next time. Anyway, Heather used to live in the UK and visits England regularly with her family, so she knew of a wonderful pub on the outskirts of Oxford where we might stop for a late lunch.

Pub food? For any of you who have not visited the UK recently, you may not be aware of the recent and utterly welcome trend of fantastic gourmet eats on pub menus. Both Heather and I are dedicated (if slightly obsessed) foodies who will go great lengths to try great cuisine. At this particular gastropub, The Trout, I had a beautifully presented and very yummy chicken avocado watercress curry salad while stealing bites of Heather’s baked goat cheese with figs, carmelized pickled onions, and rucola. We stopped off to visit the 800-year old chruch in Temple Guiting, once a hold of the Knights Templar, then made our way to our B&B. We stayed at the Wren House in Donnington, which I would recommend to anyone passing through the area.

Based on the recommendations of the proprietress of our B&B, I chose the Old Butcher’s restaurant in Stow-on-the-Wold for dinner. Though we were a little disappointed by the too-quiet atmosphere, the food was very good, especially my marinated venison. After a long day, we collapsed and slept deeply.

We started Friday with a massive cholesterolfest cooked breakfast and drove to Bourton-on-the-Water to start our long walk. Actually, we started walking a bit later than planned because I had discovered a bird center with a well-kept and extroverted group of King penguins. Penguins in the Cotswolds! Several came over to us to make friends and splashed us thoroughly in the process. Heather finally had to drag me away.

We “rambled” from Bourton through some lush countryside along the Windrush river to the picturesque village of Lower Slaughter, overrun by tourists in the summer months but practically deserted that day. The old town mill’s arts and crafts shop distracted us for a while, then we followed the river and climbed some hills to Upper Slaughter. The church there contained remnants of an earlier Norman structure, and we chatted with a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary. All this time we marveled at our luck with the sunny, springtime weather. The next part of our walk took us through one field after another, traipsing past sheep and curious cows (how would I know how curious, really?), climbed over and around fences, and finally saw the village of Naunton through a grove of trees. The original plan was to stop for a quick lunch and continue walking, but the combination of having already walked 10 km (over 6 miles) and the malaise brought about by a delicious chicken, mushroom and tarragon pie washed down with half a pint of local cider did us in. A taxi brought us back to Bourton-on-the-water for some shopping and tea and scones. We spent a couple of hours resting back at our room while I practiced my horn with the Silent Brass mute.

I was especially excited about our dinner reservations at the award-winning Horse and Groom, run by two brothers whose parents own the famous Howard Arms in Ilmington. What a fantastic place! Lovely old stone fireplace, tasty local ale on tap, magnificent food and service – we only wished we hadn’t eaten those scones for afternoon tea. My grilled hake with horseradish sauce & new potatoes were done perfectly, and Heather’s deceptively simple hamburger (apparently from a cow raised across the field from the inn) ended up being the best thing on the table. We felt a bit bilious after all the food, which for better or for worse didn’t stop us!

Finally, it was time for the massage course at the Farncombe Estate given by Julia Baker, a professional aromatherapist. She taught us about different essential oils which are beneficial for addressing specific health concerns (I took special note of anything helpful for insomnia – lavender, frankincense, ylang ylang, lemon, benzoin…)

Then we learned the basic techniques of Indian head massage, also covering the back and arms, and took turns giving and receiving under the teacher’s guidance. I’ve found that I generally prefer giving massages to receiving them, but I did enjoy this one a lot. We broke for lunch, and during the break I went out to the Fiat and practiced my horn. Several people passed by, puzzled, wondering where the weird noise came from, but few actually saw me! Next week we have a heavy program in the OPL so I have to stay in shape however I can.

The afternoon session dealt primarily with the Swiss Reflex Foot treatment, involving a health analysis using varying pressure on different areas of the feet and noticing the recipient’s reactions. I volunteered to be the class guinea pig and hoped my feet weren’t too unsightly from the previous day’s long trek! She prodded and rubbed my soles then quickly discovered my weak spots – upper spine (occupational hazard for horn players), lymphatic water retention, something in the large intestine. We learned how to massage the corresponding areas on the feet with the appropriate essential oils blended into a thick lotion. My friends and family are looking forward to being test cases!

Ever gluttons for digestive punishment, Heather and I ended up at the Redesdale Arms restaurant hotel. A delicate roasted pepper soup, breaded haddock with steamed vegetables and hand-cut potatoes, and an unusual lemon meringue pie washed down with Hooky fruit ale (“It’s a Ladies’ beer!” proclaimed our perky waitress) made me very happy. When Heather and I eat together, many of our conversations revolve around analyzing the ingredients of our food and how we might recreate or adapt the dishes at home. It’s a never-tiring subject for us, though my stepson Andrew remarked last night that it sounded awful! Heather is also, by the way, a fantastic, easygoing, optimistic travel companion with whom I would happily undertake another such journey.

Though we suffered a bit of indigestion from overindulgence and had some stress catching our Eurostar on Sunday (the GPS led us to the wrong Ebbsfleet an hour from where we needed to be and the Fiat didn’t have much pickup on the roads!), we somehow managed to pull in just in time. As I write this, our train has just crossed the Luxembourg border, and Kerry is waiting to fetch us at the station. A lovely weekend! So, what’s for dinner?

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