PUBLISHED: 13:44 20 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:54 20 February 2013
When British-born comedy actress Diz White felt a yearning to return to her homeland after years of living in America, she went in search of her dream Cotswolds cottage...
When British-born comedy actress Diz White felt a yearning to return to her homeland after years of living in America, she went in search of her dream Cotswolds cottage. Her account takes in the highs, heartbreaks and cliff-hangers as well as the delights of the Cotswolds experienced along the way, from historic sites and pub walks to hiking the Cotswold Way
Wake up everybody! Come to the barn, right now!
It was four oclock in the morning and the farmers wife was knocking on doors and waking all her bed and breakfast guests. Quickly, we only have a couple of minutes
This was my first night in the Cotswolds and I had no idea that it was the custom of this particular establishment to wake guests when a calf was about to be born, whether the guests liked it or not. I liked it and so did my husband. In fact, after rushing to the barn in our pajamas and watching this miracle of nature, I was enchanted by the Cotswolds and have remained so ever since.
When the new calf stood up on wobbly legs the farmers wife asked my husband Randall to name her. The calfs big brown eyes reminded him of an American movie star from the 1930s and somewhere there is a cow contentedly chewing the cud in a Cotswold field called Bette Davies.
The timeless beauty of this area put a spell on me and I resolved that I would one day buy my own Cotswold Cottage. A career in the theatre and movies whirled me away to distant parts but I never forgot my visit to this lovely place.
A number of years later after settling in Hollywood and acquiring an American husband and a busy career as a comedy actress and writer I found my roots were pulling me back to England. Much as I enjoyed the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and appearing in Star Trek Next Generation episodes, the Jimmy Kimmel Show and impersonating Jackie Kennedys voice for a PBS programme, among many other assignments, I was still feeling a very strong tug. Something was missing from my life, but what was it?
I tried watching dozens of English movies, but all that did was to make me realise that Michael Caine is in every British movie ever made. There was nothing for it but a visit to my home land during which a trip to the Cotswolds awoke my long-held desire to buy a cottage there. However, funds were limited because my career, though solid, had never commanded star salaries. A lot of ingenuity would be needed. Surprisingly, my hunt for a cottage led to me spending some of the best years of my life riding a laughter-filled, roller-coaster, as I explored this lovely area looking for an affordable gem. While I scrambled back and forth between my frenetic Hollywood career and the peace and beauty of the English countryside I actually descended the ladder of success as I took every crazy showbiz job in order to scrape together a down payment. I auditioned for the role of the hind end of a horse and, dressed in a bear suit for a kids birthday party, was trampled by thirty hysterical children - among other hilarious humiliations.
The Cotswolds satisfies my every interest. I am a foodie, a nature lover and I collect people, the more quirkily amusing and eccentric the better. Also, I cant get enough of viewing old houses and fantasizing about how I would remodel them. I am also a history buff and my training in history of art and architecture at Central/St. Martins School of Art comes in very handy for delving into and describing the ancient treasures of the Cotswolds.
Cotswolds Memoir: Discovering a Beautiful Region of Britain on a Quest to Buy a 17th Century Cottage (Larrabee Libraries), my new book, encompasses all my interests and is my love note to this halcyon region. My passion also extends to its conservation and Im committed to donating a portion of the proceeds of every sale of my book to conservation institutions.
My journey took me all over the Cotswolds and although I write about the whole area I particularly enjoy describing off-the-beaten-track delights. My book doubles as a travel-tour and includes a good deal of information not supplied in the usual tourist literature. During my search for a cottage there were many highs, cliff-hangers and even heartbreaks en route, but luckily I see most things through the prism of comedy.
One day, after a bitter disappointment in our search for a cottage, my kind husband, in an effort to cheer me up, took me on a sort of magical mystery tour of the Buscot Estate which I had never visited before.
After entering the fifty five acre park that surrounds Buscot House, we passed slowly by a tree-bordered lake to reach the grand Palladian-style Italianate house, built in the 1770s by Edward Loveden Townsend.
As we toured the house we found that a subsequent owner, the first Lord Faringdon, had filled it with fine furniture and paintings by Rembrandt, Murillo and Reynolds. The pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Joness paintings had been added to the collection at a later date. In 1956, the estate was bequeathed to the National Trust. Next, the gardens proved to be an even bigger treat. Sir Harold Peto, the leading light in Italian-revival garden design, had been commissioned to create a water garden to link the house and the lake. We saw how the water garden led our gaze to a perfect vista, starting with a sculptural fountain and on through to a distant lake reflecting the trees surrounding it.
Gardens designed by Peto are world famous, and as we strolled around the citrus bowl garden, the magnificent four seasons walled garden, and the circular tumulus garden we could quite see why this was so.
We took a turn around the lake and lingered on the humpback bridge until Randall led me to another section of the grounds that has been made available for picnics. He had secretly packed a delicious lunch and we feasted on cold lamb roulard with figs, accompanied by a cucumber and mint Greek tzatziki packed in ice and perfect for a hot day. We tore off some chunks of ciabatta to go with everything, and sipped a crisp, cold Pinot Grigio. It was quiet enough to hear the bees buzzing.
What a wonderful magical mystery tour. I said to Randy
What makes you think its over? he replied and took me off on a walk to nearby Buscot Weir. We crossed the river by one of the two footbridges and meandered along the Thames Path enjoying seeing the boats drifting towards Lechlade.
Next, we explored the Church of St Marys in the village and admired the Good Shepherd stained-glass window which was designed in 1892 by the same Edward Burne-Jones whose paintings hang in Buscot House.
Afterwards, we slowly ambled back and, as it was now early evening, I thought we were making for the car, but instead Randall had another surprise.
We joined a group of people gathering on the front terrace of Buscot House for sherry and hors doeuvre. I happily joined in, wondering what was next. Eventually, we were all led inside the house to an exquisite sixty-seat, jewel box of a theatre. The theatre quickly filled and the curtain rose.
Mud, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.
Beginning with the Hippopotamus Song, two extremely talented actors gave us an evening of the music and songs of Flanders and Swann.
There was no end to Randys surprises as, during the interval, the entire audience was served a dinner of poached salmon and Caesar salad on the terrace. We were joined by the two performers in the show and chatted to them about the relative merits of acting in England, as opposed to the other side of the Atlantic. By now darkness was closing in, and Buscot House looked wonderful in the floodlights that illuminated its classical outlines.
My husband had known about this performance for a while and planned it as a surprise seizing the opportunity of putting it all together with the tour of the house and a picnic to make the perfect outing.
On the way back I finally put my finger on what was missing when I was in America. The beauty of this region and the peace, yes, that was obvious, but also it was the sense of community. I would do anything for the people in my village here and they would do anything for me. This was what I needed to feed my soul. I ended the evening in a haze of pure Cotswold bliss.
Diz White is a writer and actress and divides her time between Hollywood and the Cotswolds. Her new book Cotswolds Memoir: Discovering a Beautiful Region of Britain on a Quest to Buy a 17th Century Cottage (Larrabee Libraries) Paperback 9.99 is available in Waterstones, all good book shops and on Amazon.co.uk Diz is also the author of Haunted Cotswolds, Haunted Cheltenham (The History Press) and a DVD, Ghosts of Great Britain Collection Haunted Cotswolds. Available on Amazon.co.uk Read more on her web site www.DizWhite.com