BIBURY, ENGLAND - As we nervously try to avoid oncoming traffic on the narrow one-lane highway leading into what I remember as a magical Cotswold village, flashes of my last visit to Bibury more than a decade ago start dancing in my head.
It was a dreary night when our coach pulled up in front of the historic Swan Hotel back then and all I remember was instantly falling in love with the property’s cozy decor before quickly drifting off into a jet lag-induced sleep.
Next morning, though, upon pulling back the curtains of my room, I found I had awoken in a fairy tale. White swans drifted atop the mirrored surface of the calm River Coln and the handsome cottages assembled along its banks were draped in flowers. That scene inspired me to dress quickly and for the next two hours, I wandered aimlessly around the town poet William Morris once described as “the most beautiful village in England.”
Left: The historic Swan Hotel is a charming place to hang your hat. Right: Ducks use their heads to eat.
When I returned to the Swan that morning, a staff member suggested I have a fresh trout for breakfast.
“I’ll go out back and catch a trout in the river – won’t take a moment,” he said as he slung a pole across his shoulder and disappeared out the back door, leaving me alone in the large dining room.
Ah, what wonderful memories.
However, as I finish my trip down memory lane and make the final turn before emerging into tiny Bibury, my driving partner suddenly lets out a scream. Yikes! Out of nowhere a tour bus the size of the Titanic appears in our windscreen.
“Look out!” shouts my navigator as two Asian women dart across the road in front of us.
There are people and tour buses everywhere!
“Are you sure this is Bibury?” my partner asks.
Above: Bibury features many fairytale cottages, all of which are surrounded by flower-filled gardens.
Safely parked in front of the Swan, I collect myself and can’t believe that the tranquil little town I remember from so many years ago has turned into the Disneyland of the Cotswolds. People speaking German, Chinese, Japanese, French and many other languages are lined up outside the Swan waiting for a table. The main dining room is closed for a local wedding and in the lovely gardens opposite the hotel the bride and groom and their guests are having photos taken.
Bus drivers are arguing over the few parking spaces available and the small local shop where I bought souvenirs on my last visit has been replaced by a mini-mart selling Cotswolds kitsch and pre-packaged trout.
Undeterred, we join the hordes sharing space along the narrow river path and snap pictures of the old weavers’ cottages along Arlington Row, which have been turned into chic holiday retreats for Londoners.
One good-natured resident is even inviting tourists to take pictures of his lovely garden.
“I don’t mind the tourists and they only come on weekends, so it’s no bother,” says the man who agrees to take a photo of a Japanese family in front of his cottage.
As we continue our stroll along the Coln, we see ducks diving for their dinner. Bibury is a National Trust Wildfowl Reserve and home to mallards, coots, swans, moorhens and many other species of birds.
The village’s gardens are still as impeccably kept as I remember and draw lots of attention from the tourists, who eventually make their way to the town’s ancient church, which dates back to 1130. Bibury is one of the oldest villages in England and was even mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086). It was known as Becheberie back then. Bibury sounds more quaint.
After securing a table at the Swan and ordering a pint and the “best trout dinner” my partner has ever enjoyed, I tell my server about the story I wrote years ago on “peaceful Bribery” and what a contrast I’ve found on this visit.
“Well sir,” says the young man, “you only have yourself to blame. Look how many people read your story and were encouraged to come here.”
To get information on Bibury and to found out the best way to get there from London or other major cities, go to www.visitbritain.com
/ Air Canada, British Airways and a host of charter airlines offer daily flights to England from Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver / For information on the Swan Hotel or to make reservations, go to www.cotswold-inns-hotels.co.uk/property/the_swan_hotel
/ Midweek rates at the Swan start around $180 a night.