We left the Cotswolds and drove south, skirting the town of Bath, which we had both seen before, heading for the 2,650 acre Stourhead estate, another National Trust Site. Although the estate was only a short forty-four mile drive away from our hotel, we had packed our bags and checked out as we ultimately were going to the Southern coast of England. We both left the Cotswolds with happy memories, and I also took with me a virus or an allergic reaction to sleeping on a down pillow or inhaling the smoke billowing out of the manor’s smokehouse—invisible pollutants that had silently seeped into our room while we were sleeping and preparing to leave. By the time we arrived at Stourhead I didn’t feel great, but I was excited to see the estate that when it opened in the mid 1740’s had been described as “a living work of art” due to the “world-famous garden, magnificent lake, classical temples, and mystical grottoes.”
Walking past the impressive ivy covered entrance gate, and heading up the long curved driveway to the Palladian villa where many generations of the Houre family had lived, I could feel my chest tightening. But I figured it would go away, and I had interesting things to see—a magnificent Regency library full of the books that, prior to mass media, were a cherished source of information and entertainment; ornate rooms with Chippendale furnishings, lavish curtains, sparkling chandeliers, and romantic nooks; and lovely views of the lush landscaped gardens, which we walked, including the walled vegetable and fruit garden that surprisingly had an abundance of produce, including tropical Kiwi.
Despite the fact that visiting Stourhead had been my idea because I wanted to walk the two mile surfaced footpath around the lake and see the grove of exotic trees, the classical architecture and grottoes, and the beautiful arched bridge over the lake, I had to go sit in the café. By this time taking a breath was all the labor I could manage. So I waited for my sister to return from walking around the lake, wondering if I should go to the hospital or not.
I decided not to seek medical help and we left Stourhead for our one-night accommodations located in the farming community of Motcombe. Google maps (who we would later name Spiteful Nelly because the routes she gave us were as the “crow flies,” and not the most expedient routes for an automobile) miraculously managed to guide us through eight very slow miles of narrow, country roads. By that time I could hardly breathe, and it took real effort to safely maneuver the car on the narrow streets without a dividing line or lay-by (see photograph below), which I had to frequently share with on-coming traffic and slow moving tractors. It was a relief to arrive at The Coppleridge Inn, a rather eclectic motel/roadhouse surrounded by fields, whose patrons included local farmers who ate and drank at their pub, and destination wedding parties, who came for weekend nuptials. We rested; we ate a mediocre dinner at the pub, trying to avoid the intoxicated locals; and we spent a restless night, as I was having difficulty breathing. Fortunately my sister propped up the head of my bed with cushions from the upholstered chairs in the room, and I was still alive in the morning. Abandoning our original plans to visit Thomas Hardy’s Cottage, we headed for Weymouth—a city on the coast with a hospital emergency room in the event my condition worsened.