It’s not every day or every place where the owner of the bed and breakfast you are checking out of tells you to call if you get stuck. And then there is Gerta, who lives in Hidcote.
I caught the 801 out of Charlton Kings (Cheltenham outskirts) to Moreton in Marsh, and there I picked up the 22 on to Mickleton, Three Ways, the closest a bus comes to Hidcote. I nearly missed the stop, because the town is tiny, and the driver didn’t stop at all, as I was expecting. This is something you need to know here. Just because you purchase a ticket to a locality, and are only one of ten people on the bus, don’t assume that the driver knows you want to get off. And likewise, don’t assume that because the schedule has a village named as a stop, that the bus actually stops there.
I had to walk a bit to get back to the place in Mickleton where the Hidcote signs zipped by me as I was gawking. Enroute, I came accoss a small farm stall, right on the main road. Outside were three rolling carts of potted flowers in full bloom and inside what looked like an enclosed car park, was a fruit and vegetable stall. This is just my kind of place.
I popped in to see what they had to offer in season, and found some amazingly sweet high bush blueberries. Lunch. I asked the proprietor for the shortest route to Hidcote just as someone put a cauliflower on the scale.
“With me, said a voice from outside. Just wait a minute and I’ll give you a lift.” This was Gerta, and she was moving the hot pink bee balm she’d selected from the front to the back of the car, to make room for me, even before I answered. “Hold up,” said Gerta, “I’ve got to go pay for my things.”
Gerta and her husband live right beyond Hidcote where they run a farm of about 180 ewes and raise some market crops. She’s lived there for her entire married life, fifty-five years. When she said she lived near Hidcote Gardens, she wasn’t kidding. She turned onto the lane leading to the entrance, and said, “I live right at the bottom of the hill. If you get stuck here, come on down and I’ll get you where you need to go.”
This side trip turned out to be full of fantastic people. On a rock in the gardens, right next to a plant whose name no one knew (which turned out to be something with a name like diarama, so a knowledgable sounding fellow informed us later), I met two women traveling together.
The plant. There were specimens in red and white too. Surprisingly, none of the plants were marked, and the map was nearly useless. The oldest parts were the best. Many of the newer gardens, and those in the damp shade, had cleat suffered from the horrible weather England has had this summer.
One was a Scot, the other English. We probably spent at least an hour, talking about travel, solving the issues of the world, and gardens. They rattled off must-do walking trails and destinations so fast I could hardly type things into my notes fast enough. And in the end, we traded email addresses, and I received an invitation to visit and stay at their house. You can’t beat that any time, anywhere.
Over by the lily pond I sat on one of those hallmark English garden benches with the high slatted back. Next to me was a well dressed couple. Another fun conversation ensued. I didn’t ever want to leave, not because of the gardens, but because of the easy camaraderie of friendly, garden loving people. If I stay here long enough, I may grow out of my reclusive ways and no longer be able to call myself a hermit. It’s easy to break the shyness barrier around such a welcoming people.
It’s intriguing that common interests, such as gardening and country walking, can break down barriers that might otherwise keep people from stopping to converse. I don’t honestly recall encountering this level of friendliness in the US or the Caribbean. In those places, when I have been a tourist, I have mostly been the initiator of conversation.
Perhaps being a foreigner is the grease that lubes the wheels of curiosity, and conversation brings satisfaction. So many conversations begin with “Where are you from?”
I’m already lamenting my lack of conversational French, because I doubt I’ll have the same experience in a country where I can’t easily converse. Last night, completely zonked out in my comfy bed here at Orchard House, I dreamt that I was already in France, and spoke French in my dreams. (I’ve been speaking French in dreams for years.)
I have no idea what the dream was about, but I do remember that in it, I was saying I didn’t speak French, but there I was, doing it. I hope the same inhibitions I have in my dream state will carry over into real life. After two nights in London, I’ll be landing in Marseilles.