Actual summery view from our balcony in Zurich!
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23/12/09-30/12/09 – Christmas 2009 – The Cotswolds

View from just outside the farm looking out over the countryside 
As mentioned in a previous post, Christmas this year was spent with my father’s side of the family in a very scenic little farm in the Cotswolds.  After managing to arrive without too much troubleThe Havana Club with our Studio above it (especially compared to some of the others travelling that day, the UK spectacularly failing to deal with snow as per  usual) we found our residence for the week was the studio a little two bedroom studio above the Havana Club – our own private club room should we want to use it.  We were sharing the studio with one of my cousins (Noah) and his girlfriend Lotte.

We soon worked out that the social hub of the farm was going to be the main manor house, although the The main house and social hub ‘younger generation’ did tend to spend some time congregating in the barn as that is where most of them were staying.  We headed straight over there once we’d unpacked Elmbury Cottage - the converted barn to meet everyone and offer to help out wherever we could as it is often very hectic while everyone is arriving and figuring out what needs doing.  Unfortunately dinner that night was being brought down by Theresa and Joe who had had an awful drive down from Liverpool so we were all pretty peckish by the time they arrived later that night!

The rest of the days leading up to Christmas were spent socialising and exploring the countryside.  We View over frozen lake with the farm buildings on the right side Very tentatively testing the ice (spot the UK residents all with their wellies) were remarkably lucky with the weather (as you can see from some of the pictures on this page), it either seemed to be very sunny (but cold) or snowing (making it very Christmassy).  The cold weather led us to have a bit of fun exploring a little frozen lake above the farm which we (very tentatively) worked out was sufficiently frozen to support our (combined) weights.  Although none of us were too enthusiastic to fully test the strength of the ice by finding some ice skates and trying it out.

Meal times at these family gatherings are always the highlight of the day.  Although attendance (due to workloads primarily) varied from day to day, we normally had around 18 people eating dinner together inChristmas dinner with obligatory Christmas cracker hats Christmas dinner with obligatory Christmas cracker hats the dining room – sometimes as many as 22!  As you can imagine, preparing food for that many, as well as the logistics of serving and actually eating, makes for a time consuming experience.  It is however also extremely enjoyable, and of course Christmas dinner was no exception.  After yet another failed attempt to get to one of the local pubs, The Royal Oak in Gretton, we headed back to the house to prepare dinner (stopping by the other local pub, the Bugatti Inn on the way for our Christmas Day drinks).  By the time dinner was finally on the table everyone was just about hungry enough for it along with the associated present The pile of presents almost hiding the tree!opening that went on afterwards.  The family had organised Secret Santa so that there did not end up being too many presents for everyone to buy, and these were opened at the table with everyone reading aloud the dedication and trying to guess who had purchased the gift – a nice little twist!  Of course none of this ended up preventing the customary build up of presents under the tree, but at least it was an attempt!

After Christmas dinner there was a chance to relax (after the washing up had been taken care of, of course) and catch up on Christmas Day TV and a chance to open the remainder of the presents that everyone had bought their immediate family members.  We ended up having a relatively early night because we were getting up early the next morning to visit Becky’s family for Boxing Day.  Since we were only going to be spending a day there, we wanted to maximise our time by leaving as early as possible (basically once the ice had melted) and heading over.  But that’s another story that Becky will relay.

Once we were back on the 27th we still had another couple of days before needing to head back home Table football and pool, many an enjoyable afternoon spent here once we found it! for New Years.  Becky and I had picked up my little brother Callum, who had spent Christmas with his mother’s family, and thought that a nice walk around Sudeley Castle in nearby Winchombe would be a good way to burn off some of the several Christmas dinners we had had by this point.  Once the sun had gone down it was back to the house to take advantage of the games room they had thoughtfully provided us with!

Ticket stub

The next day we headed off to check out the GWR (Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway) that runs from The Black Prince steam locomotiveToddington to Cheltenham Racecourse.  It is an actual working section of railway that follows the path that the actual Great Western Railway used to follow.  Volunteers have restored the stations, track and mostEngine turning around to take us back the other way importantly old steam locomotives that used to travel on these lines.  They run regular services during the day and so we hopped on the train at Toddington for a round trip (just over an hour including the break at Cheltenham required to switch the engine around for the return trip.  It was a very enjoyable trip (mainly thanks to our compartment having working heating) and had some amazing views, not to mention the benefit of going past the farm we were staying at.  I had the opportunity to sample their Rail Ale and Track Cider – a pretty hefty 8.4% local cider produced exclusively for the GWR by Minchew’s.

One end of the GWR lineGetting us there...The other end of the line

It was impressive to see the old steam locomotives in action and equally impressive to see how much work is required to actually man and care for them.  There are so many train enthusiasts out there that gladly give time and money to help, in fact the Gotherington station is privately owned by one such enthusiast!  All in all it was a nice way to spend an afternoon and get a bit of history as well.

Toddington station through the atmospheric steamThe shadow of our steam trail through the CotswoldsSteam train heading round the bend

The next and final evening was our turn to cook dinner for the group – although by this point we had been reduced to a mere 16.  We had decided in advance to prepare a local Zurich dish to give them a bit of variation so went with Zueri Geschnetzeltes with Roesti followed by the not so Swiss Stollen and Panettone.  I think the meal went down well (at least not reports of food poisoning reached my ears) and it was a fun experience cooking for that many.

View of the farm houses from in front 
Looking forward to the next gathering in two years already!  If you would like to look at more photos from the holiday, check the album in our photo gallery by clicking here.  In fact, here are some pictures from many, many years ago when we met in Malta.

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