Picnics and Celebrity Run-Ins

On Tuesday morning, we awoke to the sound of steel drums from the street below. I wouldn’t associate steel drums with anywhere in England, really, but apparently they thrive in Cotswolds markets. We’d seen people setting up for the market the previous afternoon, but I was curious as to what actually got sold at these markets. I was hoping for a lot of cheese.

Eager to check it out, we went downstairs and meandered through stalls packed with everything from vegetables to sarongs to knickknacks to cheese. We decided that we wanted to have a picnic someplace outside of town, so we purchased some baguettes and cheese and I asked at the front desk.

“You might want to just go down to the arboretum,” she told me, which was a little disappointing. I’d imagined Jamie and I driving out to some distant field and plopping down in the middle with a checkered picnic cloth we would somehow acquire.

Still, the Batsford Arboretum did not disappoint. We paid 7 pounds to enter, at which point we received a map of various landmarks posted throughout the arboretum, from redwood trees to Japanese gardens to statues. Above, the sky threatened rain. When we’d driven in, we passed a cow pasture where a clump of cows lay together by the fence.

Cows laying down = rain

Cows laying down = rain

“When cows lay down, it means it’s going to rain,” Jamie told me. I kept this in mind as we tromped deeper into the arboretum. It was a relaxing walk altogether, and the map was not especially accurate when it came to distance, so we ended up backtracking a few times and getting a little lost. On occasion, a landmark sounded exciting, like the waterfall or the swamp, but when we came across it, we found something quite different. I’m not sure what kind of waterfall I was expecting, but it wasn’t this:

Well, it's not Gulfoss

Well, it’s not Gulfoss

Anyway, it was a very pleasant afternoon of traipsing about in nature. Since we couldn’t picnic at the arboretum, Jamie suggested we drive until we hit the next village and picnic there. This was how we ended up on a wooden bench in a small village – if you can call it that, as it was mostly a cluster of houses and a pub that appeared along the road – chomping on cheese and baguette under a cloudless blue sky. It wasn’t a checkered cloth in a field, but it was charming and very few cars drove by, and we were together, and there was cheese, so it was enjoyable.

Cows laying down does not equal rain

Cows laying down does not equal rain

There was lots of relaxing on benches

There was lots of relaxing on benches



View from the arboretum

View from the arboretum

Jamie drives us to our picnic spot

Jamie drives us to our picnic spot

Picnic time

Picnic time

Back in Moreton-in-Marsh, we returned to the pub we’d visited the night before. What was so remarkable about it, you ask? Well. Let me backtrack.

Just before leaving the previous night, a man walked briskly through the pub and out back to where his room was. Jamie turned to me and said, “That looked like…”

The bartender, who was nearby, smiled and nodded. “Yep, that’s him,” she said.

“Who?” I asked.

“He’s the actor who was in Harry Potter…he played Ron Weasley’s dad,” Jamie explained. Of course, this was too much for me.

“He’s here?!” I asked in disbelief. I wanted a photo.

“He’s been staying here filming a show,” the bartender explained. “Nice guy.”

“Do you think he’d take a photo with me?” I asked.

“Yeah, he’s really nice,” she repeated. And that was that.

So the next afternoon, after our picnic, I suggested we return to this pub. Jamie was skeptical.

“Why do you want to go back there? Because you want a picture with Mark Williams?”

“Oh, no. I really liked the pub quiz machine,” I said, which was partly true. Fortunately, Jamie also liked the pub quiz machine, so we went back. Besides, what were the chances that he was hanging out in the pub?

Turns out, pretty good.

The same bartender was working and when she saw us, she widened her eyes at me and jerked her head toward the end of the bar. It took a moment, but I saw that it was him and got giddy.

“Jamie! I want a picture,” I said.

“Leave him alone. He’s enjoying himself and having a pint.”

Actually, this was not true. He was drinking wine, and I noticed that other patrons were sending him refills. I decided to play it cool and pretend I didn’t notice him. Jamie and I went over to the pub quiz machine, where a Harry Potter question popped up. Maybe it was a sign. I wanted so badly to ask him for a photo, but every time I looked over, he was studying his lines or on the phone.

“You really wouldn’t take a picture of us?” I asked Jamie.

“I don’t want anything to do with it,” he replied.

Being British, Jamie is used to running into celebrities at pubs. He’d told me about meeting some footballer once and chatting to an actor who had played one of the dwarfs in the new Hobbit films, as if these meetings were nothing special. Jamie could run into Prince William at a pub and chat nonchalantly about football without batting an eye or even thinking about asking for a photo. Prince William would probably have to ask him for a photo for it to happen.

Jamie left me at the pub quiz machine so he could use the bathroom, and I glanced over at Mark Williams again. He looked less busy. It took a lot of standing around at the pub quiz machine and debating before I decided I’d ask for a photo. I’d had too many undocumented celebrity run-ins in my lifetime. Bon Jovi at his doorstep (so blown away I’d forgotten I had my camera), Bruce Springsteen at a fair, Sophia Loren, Christoph Waltz. I would not let this opportunity pass me by.

Resolute, I marched over to where he was standing with a young man who Jamie said was also an actor, but not as well known.

“Excuse me. I’m sorry to bother you, but could I have a picture with you?” I asked. I half-expected him to sigh with annoyance and say, “You know, I can’t really get out these days without being nagged by people. I’m trying to enjoy myself, so sorry, but no.”

Then I’d have to stand at the pub quiz machine and it would be awkward.

Instead, he kindly accepted, asking for a moment to finish whatever he was doing. I gave my phone to the other actor and glanced at the bathroom door, hoping to get it over with before Jamie came out.

“My boyfriend said you’re just having a pint at the bar and I shouldn’t bother you, so I apologize,” I said. “But I couldn’t resist.”

“Well let’s get this done before he comes out, shall we?”

Of course, we took the photo as Jamie emerged from the bathroom, and the young actor with my phone glanced over and called out, “Hey mate, you wanna get in this?”

Jamie shook his head. I thought it was funny. We thanked each other – why he thanked me I have no idea – and I skipped back over to the pub quiz machine and promptly sent the photo to all of my Harry Potter-loving friends, and Allison.

Allison’s response was the same as Jamie’s: “He probably just wants to have a beer and not be called Ron Weasley’s dad.”

Whatever. I have no regrets. What an unexpected little surprise in the Cotswolds! So far, Moreton-in-Marsh had delivered everything I was looking for in the English countryside: cream tea, pubs, pies, nature, quizzes, and celebrities. It was the perfect ending to the perfect day. Well, almost perfect. We didn’t win any money on the pub quiz machine.

Mark Williams, aka Arthur Weasley. A very nice man!

Mark Williams, aka Arthur Weasley. A very nice man!

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