Travel: England

GeoBear

Taste Testing cheddar made in Cheddar, UKI am helping a friend’s 10 year old daughter with a class project, their GeoBear project. Basically, it’s like the gnome from Amelie, only a little stuffed bear. The bear will feature in a series of photos and I’ll be sending post cards to the class room. In theory, I think I am supposed to send the bear along to someone else who may be traveling further. However, we travel a lot, and if the bear sticks with us, he’ll be getting around.

This past weekend while a couple of friends of ours were visiting from the U.S., the GeoBear got off to a good start on its world traveling adventure. We were in Cheddar where we taste tested cheddar cheese made in Cheddar and matured in caves there. We had an amazing fun caving adventure. Climbed Cheddar Gorge. Had a fly-by of Stonehenge. Not to mention a day around London, hitting the highlights of Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Parliament, boat trip on the Thames, tour of the Tower of London, and seeing the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum (whew!)

It’s only the beginning for this bear, keep an eye on the photo stream for further adventures and travels!

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Walks In The Woods

Whiteleaf HillI realize I haven’t been posting about some of the mini-adventures we’ve been having. Mostly, this involves a sunny day and wanting to go for a drive, generally to somewhere we can take a walk in the woods, watch wildlife and play with the camera. We’ve visited quite a few nearby sites like this: Whiteleaf Hill, College Wood, Chinoor Hill, College Lake, all sites that are part of various woodland and wildlife trusts. The walks themselves are never all that long, we’re not embarking on expeditions, primarily they are absolutely last minute excursions. Grabbing the camera and a bottle of water and off we go. We’ve be rewarded with stunning views and sunsets and lovely drives through the countryside. The photography from these outings are more on the experimental side as we become more familiar with the new camera and lenses, so far, not many of the shots have been posted, but have produced some interesting results.

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England: RSC Hamlet

Waiting for Hamlet to start in Sept.Today we traveled to Stratford-upon-Avon for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet. It seems appropriate that if one were to go see just one RSC show, you would pick Hamlet, you would pick seeing it in Stratford, the heart of Shakespeare country and you would want some heavy hitters in the lead roles.

Both David Tennant as Hamlet and Patrick Stewart as Claudius were phenomenal. Also, one of the bit players, David Ajala, happened to be from another show we watch in the UK. Throughout the play, I kept thinking about the setting. Of Denmark, of Helsignor, of our visit to this country last year, of our visit to Kronborg Slot, the castle said to be the inspiration for Helsignor. Not to sound like too much of a fan girl, but, Squeee! David Tennant was particularly brilliant. The cheers and applause for him at the end was electric and made me smile a big stupid grin.

It was simply THE most amazing production of Shakespeare I think I will ever see and in an intimately small theater. There is not a bad seat in all of the Courtyard Theater, performed in the round, the worst seat is 80 feet from the stage. It was fabulous to have actors that we were so familiar with/fans of in the primary roles too. What an incredible performance, an incredible day. Thanks again to my sweetie for finding the hard to get tickets.

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England: Tring

In our effort to have more but smaller adventures around England I suggested Tring. I had been wanting to go to the museum at Tring for quite some time now.  Once the private museum of the Rothschild’s, it is located in the grounds of the former Rothschild family home of Tring Park.  The building was constructed in 1889 specifically to house The 2nd Baron Rothschild’s collection of mounted specimens and first opened to the public in 1892.  It became part of the Natural History Museum in 1937, and if you’re an ornithologist employed by the museum this is where you would work as the bird collections are housed here.

It is a place that appeals to me because of the nature of the exhibits.  Here, you won’t find computer screens flashing and blinking or otherwise detracting from the displays.  What you do find are classic collections of articulated skeletons and taxodermically prepared skins of mammals and birds.  They are carefully arranged in related groups in Victorian era wood and glass cabinets.   I can’t think of a better way to capture the imagination of a visitor, to spark curiosity about a group of organisms, than to have actual specimens illustrating the incredible diversity of life right in front of you.  Well, visiting a zoo or seeing wildlife in their natural habitats undisturbed would be better.  But, for most people and for young people, the specimens can be powerful tools in exciting the imagination.

What was the impetus for this visit, however, was an article I read on the Blaschka glass marine animals, of which there was going to be a small special exhibit gallery devoted to them.    The Blaschka’s were a father son team who created glass models of natural history objects.  The accuracy and attention to detail of the organisms they crafted even impresses scientists who study the animals in real life.  They are more famous for their flowers, which are housed at Harvard’s Botanical Museum.  But they created hundreds of marine animals in glass as well.

This is a clear mix of science and art, as any scientific preparation of a specimen is, in my humble opinion.

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England: Dorset, Bloody-Nose Beetle

Bloody-nosed Beetle

Timarcha tenebricosa

A lumbering, flightless leaf beetle, often seen plodding across paths or through grass. In this case, he was fighting against the stiff breeze on the top of a cliff on the Jurassic Coast at Lulworth Cove. When disturbed, these beetles exude a drop of bright red, blood-like fluid from their mouth. I must not have disturbed him, he didn’t spew any goo at me. This photo doesn’t capture the color very well, but the elytra had a metallic purple sheen too it.

After Lulworth Cove, we drove to Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch on the Dorset coast.

More Durdle Door

After Lulworth Cove, we drove to Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch on the Dorset coast. This coast line is riddled with interesting geology and features. If you can imagine a layer cake with three cake layers turned on it’s side: a layer of vanilla, a layer of chocolate and a layer of carrot cakes, you can imagine what this coast looks like geologically. The layers of rock have been uplifted and tilted, revealing interesting patterns in the strata, eroding differentially making these coves and arches.

We sat on the pebbly beach and dipped our feet in the cold cold water. Mark was significantly braver than me and went for a swim. Just to say he swam through Durdle Door. Mark remarked on the fact that we knew we were going to the coast, to the beach, and at no point did we even consider bringing swimsuits or towels. I was bundled up in a sweater. It was a gorgeous sunny day, no doubt, but the stiff breeze was chilly.

There is so much more to explore on the southern coast, we’ll need to make another trip, or a longer trip :)

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England: Duxford Imperial War Museum

And now for something completely different. Suzanne’s husband made the suggestion for today’s adventure. It’s a place he remembers fondly visiting in his youth, the Duxford Imperial War Museum. I honestly never would have thought to look for a place like this, but I was impressed.

There were huge hangars full of displays of airplanes. One for British aircraft and one for American.  Once inside, some part of me did not find the heavy cables suspending some of these enormous crafts from the ceiling terribly confidence inspiring.  And my first thought standing at eye level with the helicopter blades went something like this, “if that helicopter were to start up for no apparent reason right now, we would lose our heads.” Just to give a glimpse into the inner workings of my brain.

One of the first Concorde’s was open for visitor’s to walk through, so I can officially say I’ve been on the Concorde. I also found it a bit disconcerting to be allowed to walk under and so close to the planes. How strange to be poking my head into these nooks, inches from engines, when my life’s experience with aircraft has kept these areas verboten.

Entering the doors to another hangar, the strong smells of solvents, oil and paint waft over you. There were three or four hangars dedicated to the restoration of planes. The signs reading, “Please do not disturb the engineers more than necessary” as I’m sure they get riddled with questions about the plane they are working on, what they are doing or about the tools and equipment they are surrounded by. Can someone tell me why so many aircraft are painted bright yellow?

Even the very last hangar, which was at the end of a mile long row of hangars, that contained the land combat vehicles was fascinating. The place was packed with vehicles. It was the kind of exhibit that reminded me of the more old school museum exhibits where there are huge numbers of actual specimens to look at. There were no flashing screens or buttons to push. Just specimens. These just happened to be combat vehicles arranged in chronological order and by what war. Each made to look like the setting they were used in. Pale golden sand spread beneath the similarly golden paint for Northern African vehicles; Jungle scenes and mud for Pacific conflicts. The “Normandy Experience” was a bit much though.

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The Journey Is The Destination

We are back from the epic road trip that involved the Lake District, the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye.  Much to write about, many photos to share, you know the drill, it’s a backlog here when we’re busy experiencing life.

What a long day of driving, but, we were in Scotland this morning!

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Scotland: Stirling and The Long Drive Home

We were in Scotland this morning! How weird is that? We had one last lovely drive through the Highlands. It was raining when we left Glencoe, but it quickly let up. It was surprising as we were driving out how quickly the mountains were gone. We were taking them for granted I think. We missed them when they were gone from our sight.

We met up in Stirling at Stirling Castle. We didn’t take the tour, just walked around the grounds and tried to get as far away from the group of annoying tourists. They were a group from the US who were singing religious songs at the top of their lungs clad in fluorescent yellow ponchos. The streets of Stirling leading up to the castle are idyllic. Cobble stone streets, many of the buildings built with similar dark colored stones. The castle in the center of the town rose high above on a rocky crag. Those cobbled streets wound in narrow switch backs to reach the top.

From here, we worked out a strategy for getting home. The plan, to drive through Northumberland National Park. We left the relative plateau of the lowlands and entered the rolling hills of Northumberland and large swaths of forests. Since we would be driving parallel to it for some time, perhaps a stop at Hadrian’s wall would be in order. We’ve been to Hadrian’s Arch in Athens, might as well cap it with a stop at the wall. It turned into a fly by of Hadrian’s Wall. If we had more time, I would have loved to hike along the suggested trails. But the long day of driving, after several long days of driving, I just wanted to get home. Perhaps there will be a next time and more time.

Two miles before we reached a service station, we needed to pull off to the side of the motorway to put the soft top back on. The skies were looking incredibly threatening. It would be the first time we needed the top on for the entire trip! Eventually this proved a good strategy, but the rain did hold off for quite a while. We ended up meeting our traveling companions part way at that service stop, completely randomly. We thought we would be way ahead of them. They were getting ready to hit the road just as we were pulling in the lot. We took our time leaving, doing things like rainx-ing the window, getting fuel. They had a least a half hour head start on us.

We entertained ourselves on this last stretch by texting our positions along the way. “We are looking for you! Where are you?” I imagined this is a sing song Bugs Bunny accent, but I doubt that’s how in translated in the text. Mile markers were counting down, they were in slow traffic and as luck would have it, they needed to make a pit stop to refuel. “We may catch up to them yet!” as I joked about our refueling stop strategy as if we were in an F1 race. Despite a 40 mile headstart we made it home seconds after they reached our house. Ha ha!

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England: Lake District – Catbells; Scotland Drive

When planning for this trip into the Fells, I was having a hard time narrowing down what hike to do.  I knew we had limited time so it couldn’t be an expedition of epic proportions.  But I wanted to make sure we got to have a good hiking experience. There are almost too many choices, all good choices, all with excellent views, I was paralyzed with all the choices.  Until the answer came to me through watching a program on England’s mountains where the program host followed one of Wainwright’s walks.

I own a copy of “The Best of Wainwright’s Walks” and still had a difficult time deciding what to do.  His hand written notes, maps and illustrations are all inspiring.  And upon this visit I can understand why he spent so much time exploring and documenting this region of the country.  This program, however, made the decision easy.  How could I resist a hike described by Wainwright as, “the perfect walk for after dinner.”

Given our time constraints, we hiked up Catbells.  The inviting knob rises up along side Derwentwater Lake just a few miles from Keswick.  It looks small enough to tackle, but big enough to make it worthwhile rising 1,481 feet in one and half miles.  It was a short hike and had enough moderately challenging bits scrabbling up rocky faces  for us to really feel like we were getting the full Lake District Fells experience.   We were rewarded with lovely views, despite the wind and clouds, the sun was trying desperately to make an appearance.

Although it was a relatively short hike, we decided we didn’t have enough time to do the other hike I had planned; which was a 4.5 mile level hike around Lake Buttermere, we’ll just have to do that one next time.  I could honestly return here and stay for week or more.  This is the most beautiful place we’ve seen in England so far, it is a shame we only really spent a day.  There would be so many walks worthwhile here, or sailing on the lakes or canoing or camping.  We will be back!  But for now, we hit the road for Scotland!

Once we were well past and had skirted around Glasgow, the drive became the destination. The mountains just seemed to come out of nowhere.  No sooner were we on what was a plateau of pretty even terrain, BAM!  there are the mountains towering above us.  I was surprised to see so many peaks still blanketed in snow and the tops were shrouded by clouds.  We wound around on twisty narrow roads that took us along lochs, rocky streams, dense forests and of course the mountains.  This was a drive made for the convertible.  It was such dramatically different scenery than anything we’ve seen so far.  Even in contrast to the Fells of the Lake District this morning.

We needed to make a bee line to the B&B we were staying at so we wouldn’t arrive after nine p.m.  After we settled ourselves in, we hit a local pub/restaurant, where there was a lively and divided crowd watching the UEFA  cup finals, red shirts in the bar, blue shirts in the restaurant.  The European football league that had two British teams in the final, and a game that was held in Moscow.  It was still light out when we left around 11 p.m. with the long lingering twilight.

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England: Lake District – Keswick

Today is the start of the Epic Road Trip. Our plan? To drive to the Lake District and beyond into the Scottish highlands and back by Friday night.

Mark stayed behind to take care of a few loose ends and would catch up to us later. It started off swimmingly, we were making excellent time.  Brian the sheep cookie, or rather the cookie sheep, joined us along the way.  We were thinking we would get there shortly after one or two in the afternoon. But then. Birmingham happened across our path. There was just nightmare traffic around t on the M5 and M6, and the ensuing horrible traffic spilling over through the city and on secondary roads getting away from the area. Apparently there was a large accident closing the motorway down to one lane and barely moving. At least we were good company in the car, making the best of the situation.

Things quickly changed as we passed into the Lake District National Park.  Watch as the countryside was transformed to rising fells through its boarders.   These hills were lined with a distinct variety of dry stone walls built from field stones and the vernacular building materials stand out as different from those in the Chilterns or the Cotswolds.  Darker tones of limestone and sandstone, and even slate.

We reached Keswick and found out that Mark, who had also be caught up in traffic, was still several hours off.  We made a brief stop in the town center.  It is an outdoors gadgetry buyers haven.  Every single store was sporting the latest in hiking and camping and water sports gear in the windows.  This is the sort of shopping on a High Street I could get into!

We continued to make the best of our time and went for a short walk around Derwentwater Lake.  We were on the shore opposite of Catsbells, the climb we would be taking on tomorrow.  I could live on one of the small islands in the lake.  Smoke climbing up out of the trees from a stone cottage  chimney looked so inviting.    We had the time on the way back to the B&B to climb up the much smaller fell, Castlehead.  Only reaching a height of 250 feet it sat dwarfed across the water from Catsbells.  As we hiked back down the hillside, we passed a much older couple walking up, leaning heavily on their walking sticks.  Clearly they were up to no good, it would be getting dark, I’m sure they were heading up there for a snog or otherwise get into trouble.

Mark finally caught up to us.  I was sitting out on the patio with a book waiting for his arrival.  I knew he was coming  long before he pulled up, the car has such a distinctive rumble :)

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England: Leeds Castle and Cliffs of Dover

I had wanted to make my ricotta pancakes for breakfast, but after a look in the local markets this morning, there was no ricotta in sight.  The blueberries were looking exceptional, so in lieu of pancakes we had greek yogurt, honey, meusli and blueberries to eat.  Quite tasty, but not pancakes.

After a minor side trip through Guildford (someone had put in the wrong coordinates for the destination after poo pooing my suggestion of just entering the post code for sat nav);  Leeds Castle was the destination for today.  Supposedly, one of the best castles to visit.  It was attractive and photogenic, certainly.  The grounds outside, however, I think were the stars of the visit.  It has a Duckery!  A Duckery!  Lot’s of ducks of numerous species were contained in part of a small lake that was fed by the meandering stream that leads away from the lake/mote of the castle.

And wouldn’t you know it!  The hedge maze was closed yesterday for the week for maintenance!  I do love a good maze and was disappointed by this fact.  Unable to romp in the hedge, it did give us enough time to watch the falconry display.

I had to ask, but you too could rent out Leeds castle starting at only a mere £10,000 for your wedding or other engagement!  You and your guests get to sleep in the museum like rooms.  And that’s only the starting asking price.

Since we were fairly close by, we headed over to the White Cliffs of Dover.  In my humble opinion, the Seven Sister’s cliffs are a far more impressive sight.   What is up with fences near the cliff edges and all this development disrupting the view?  I can say I’ve been there and soon would travel to the opposite corner of the UK in a few days time!

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England: Tour of London

We powered ourselves into the day with Eggs Benedict for breakfast.  After having my confidence shaken in my flawless hollandaise having failed catastrophically multiple times in a row, I’m back on the hollandaise saddle using a whisk and smaller batches (*whew* we’ve gone a couple weeks without this sauce of the gods, I can’t exist without it!).

We got a pretty late start but still managed to do and see quite a lot today.  We hopped on the train from Beaconsfield for a day in and around London.  I actually didn’t have my camera in tow today.  I figured that since most of the places we were going to I have well covered from previous trips into the city.  We started off in Trafalgar Square, walked down towards the Parliament building, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.  The usual sorts of sites for Suzanne’s benefit as this was her first time to  England and London.

We enjoyed hilarious commentary of the abbreviated city cruise, opting to hop out at the Tower of London where we treated to an excellent tour guide.  Honestly, our group slowly grew to about 150 people!  as individuals glommed on to listen to the Beefeater barking at the top of his lungs.

We hopped back on the city cruise ferry and hit the underground for a peek at the neon lit Piccadilly Circus, not terribly exciting.  After an unsuccessful jaunt through that side of town to find a branch of a particular bank we made our way to South Kensington for brief stop at Natural History museum.  We had enough time to for me to share this remarkable building that I work in and to spend some time in my favorite exhibits.  The old-school mineral hall and the Victorian era displays of birds, my favorite being the hummingbird display that is almost impossible to photograph.  If you want to see its awesomeness, you’ll just have to go there for your self.

We capped the day with dinner at the one thousand year old pub and free house Royal Standard that just happens to be a few miles from where we live and is one of our favorite places to eat (excellent food and atmosphere!).

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Revisiting Blue Bell Woods

On our taxi ride back from the airport we saw them out of the corner of our eyes. Splashes of blue. The bluebells were out in force. That meant we needed to get out again to see them. This time, it was a visit to Philipshill Wood in Chorleywood.

On the motorcycle ride out, we caught glimpses of several dense pockets. I gasped at the sight of some of them. A mere sample of what was to come once we entered the wood. A few words come to mind with this phenomenon. Stunning. Breath taking. Amazing. This truly is an incredible and remarkable natural display. We hiked in, found a clear spot and just sat under the beech trees with their new leaves amongst the blue haze. The sun dappling through the canopy.

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Bluebell Woods

Mark in the bluebellsWe’ve had several days of amazing non-boring weather. One minute it’s clear blue skies, sun shining, the next, it’s thunder, lightening and hail. Lather, rinse, repeat. I love the mildness of the weather in England in general, but I do miss the occasional insane sort of weather we would get back home, especially loud rolling thunder storms.

In the Bluebell bloomAs much as I enjoy this bi-polar weather, it was putting a slight damper on our weekend plans of getting outside. We didn’t let it stop us. I made the decree, we would go in search of Bluebell woods, come rain or come shine. It just happened that it worked out perfectly around us, raining before we went into the woods, where we stopped for a Sunday Roast. And just as we made it back to the car after the hike it started hailing and thundering again. We’re going to be away at possibly the precise time that it would be best to see the bluebells, so I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss seeing them at all.

I had been keeping my eye on the Woodland Trust‘s website. Here they have a collection of the most marvelous phenology maps of British wildlife. I’ve been closely monitoring the sightings of Bluebells reported. There was a sharp peak in first bloom sightings about five days ago. I was hoping this meant we would at least get to see the start of this spectacular phenomenon. We were not disappointed.

Deep blue violet colorWe visited College Wood, a 130 acre woodland just outside Nash. It’s a designated “Bluebell Wood.” What does this mean? The native Bluebells are a protected species in the UK. It means we would be treated to an incredible display of native flowers. The forest floor is carpeted in Bluebells. A soft violet blue haze hovering over the rich green foliage. Their fragrance delicately perfuming the air. What we saw today is only the beginning, I can just imagine what a sight it will be in a weeks time. Hopefully they will still be out in force when we return at the end of the month. There are a couple of sites closer to us we can check out, maybe we’ll be able to catch the tail end of this phenomenon.

The Complete Bluebell Photoset

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Family Visit Over

Well, the family visit is over, I’m tracking their flight as I type this. They are safely on their way. I have a huge back log of blogging but this will be a little place holder for now in outline form.

My parents and brother Joe were here for eight days, my folks stayed in our guest bedroom and Joe we stuffed in the dining room at night (we have a small place and two visitors at once is much easier to deal with for space). This was their first trip abroad, so it was a really big deal for them and they had a blast!

Here was the itinerary, for my records and for any who may want to visit us, a taste of what staying at the Denovich B&B would be like :)

Day one, was a four mile walk around our village and along part of The Thames Foot Path (the walk and sunshine is key in combating jet lag), tea in Cookham, lounging and recovering from jet-lag watching Vicar of Dibley and then dinner at the 1000 year old, oldest pub in England: The Royal Standard, which happens to be right near where we live.

Day two, bagel breakfast, train into Windsor, toured the castle, walked around the Long Walk, around Windsor for some shopping, lunch and cream tea and then home for dinner where we made fillet steaks, baked potatoes and runner beans, and more Vicar before bed.

Day three, breakfast of Greek yogurt/muesli/honey/blueberries, train into London, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Westminster Abby, Parliament, a ride on the London Eye, trip on a City Cruise with hilarious commentary up to Greenwich where we took numerous silly photos on the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory, back home for dinner of our home made pasta with fresh basil, tomatoes and mozzarella.

Day four, my awesome eggs Benedict breakfast, Caves and amazing geology at Cheddar Gorge!, lunch at a 500 year old pub, Cheddar cheese made in Cheddar, nice drive through English countryside on the way (through the Cotswolds and Chilterns) seeing all sorts of varying vernacular architecture region to region. Home for dinner, our pork wiener schnitzel and Oreos! my folks brought over for us for dessert.

Day five, parents went to church (fortunately there is a Catholic church in our village, I wouldn’t have a clue where to send them otherwise). We drove south to the coast and hiked around the Seven Sisters Cliffs gorgeous white chalk cliffs, where you can endanger your own life by walking right up to the VERY EDGE it’s awesome! Picnic of sandwiches from Marks and Spark’s on the cliff edge. Stopped at Bodiam Castle on the way home. Saw many of the Oast houses in Kent, where hops are dried. Dinner at home consisted of Kung Pao beef followed by a very British Banoffee Pie

Day six, was very low key, we were experiencing gale force winds and periodic downpours, so we hunkered down for the day. We slept in and I made ricotta pancakes topped with bananas for breakfast. I did take the family out in the rain for a bit to go shop on our little High Street, and to the post office so they could send off their post cards. We made a Ploughman’s lunch, which consists of a baguette, cheeses, sliced apples, prosciutto, ploughman’s pickle, dates, blueberries, and fresh apple cider from our green grocer. Much Wii Bowling was played by the family. Dinner involved a big batch of sangria and build your own soft tacos (the smoked garlic we’ve been buying lately really added a wonderful flavor!)

Day seven, after a breakfast of French toast made from left over baguette, we drove into Wiltshire. We went to Stonehenge, Woodhenge and Avebury Circle of Standing Stones, went into Salisbury, toured its Cathedral with the tallest spire in England filled with the tombs of illegitimate children of king’s of England, stopped at Sarum Castle, and found one of the many mysterious White Horses of Wiltshire. Dinner was a night out at the Bel and Dragon in Cookham and topped with some sticky toffee pudding.

Day eight, I made home made scones for breakfast with tea before their taxi arrived to whisk them off to Heathrow.

We all had a blast, it was a great vacation. There is just so much to do and see, they’ll just have to come back :) Photos will be forth coming with more detailed blog entries on the dates.

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Wiltshire

Salisbury CathedralAfter a breakfast of French toast made from left over baguette, we drove into Wiltshire.  It was a day of neolithic archeological sites, as well as castles and cathedrals. We went to Stonehenge, Woodhenge and Avebury Circle of Standing Stones. Circles of standing stones are scattered across England, but in Wiltshire, there just happens to be a concentration of them within a few miles. We went into Salisbury, toured its Cathedral. With the tallest cathedral spire in England it’s an impressive sight. Inside it is filled with the tombs of illegitimate children of king’s of England. Just outside Salisbury we stopped at Sarum Castle. On our drive home, without really looking for it we found one of the many mysterious White Horses of Wiltshire.  Dinner was a night out at another favorite restaurant of ours, the Bel and Dragon in Cookham and topped the night and their visit with some sticky toffee pudding.

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Batton Down the Hatches!

They wanted to join us for breakfastToday was a very low key day.  We were experiencing gale force winds and periodic heavy downpours, so we hunkered down for the day.  It’s a good thing today wasn’t the day we were at the cliffs, we would have been blown away into the English Channel.  Everyone slept in and I made ricotta pancakes topped with bananas for breakfast.  I did take the family out in the rain for a bit to go shop on our little High Street, I do love our little village and it was fun to show it off a bit, and to the post office so they could send off their post cards.  We made a Ploughman’s lunch, which consists of a baguette, cheeses, sliced apples, prosciutto, ploughman’s pickle&, dates, blueberries, and fresh apple cider from our green grocer.  Much Wii Bowling was played and lots of good conversation was had and we finished up our Vicar of Dibley watching too.  Dinner involved a big batch of sangria and build your own soft tacos (the smoked garlic we’ve been buying lately really added a wonderful flavor!) A nice day with the family at home.

The ducks? Oh, they were from the other morning, looking to join us for breakfast. That’s our front door they were nearly going through. I didn’t have a photo for today and just decided they should be here.

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Seven Sisters Cliffs

Deb squishing the lighthouseMy parents went to church this morning (fortunately there is a Catholic church in our village, I wouldn’t have a clue where to send them otherwise).  Our adventure today took us south to the coast and hiked around the Seven Sisters Cliffs gorgeous white chalk cliffs, where you can endanger your own life by walking right up to the VERY EDGE it’s awesome!  Picnic of sandwiches from Marks and Spark’s (M&S being an institution in England), on the cliff edge.  What an amazing place. Sometime, Mark and I will need to return here because, if you time it right with the tide, you can hike a loop along the tops of the cliffs down to the beach below.

Bodiam Castle in KentWe found and stopped at Bodiam Castle on the way home. A castle that looks like what you would think a stereotypical castle would look like, complete with moat. I could live in a castle like this one :)  Driving home through the countryside, we saw many of the Oast houses in Kent, where hops are dried. 

Another spectacular dinner at home tonight which consisted of Kung Pao beef followed by a very British Banoffee Pie. After my own experience, I had to make sure to share this pie with them.

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England: Cheddar Gorge and Caves

DSC_5738After my awesome eggs Benedict for breakfast, we decided to head west. Our goal was to reach Cheddar. We ended up having a nice drive through English countryside on the way as we passed through the Cotswolds and Chilterns, seeing all sorts of varying vernacular architecture region to region. It is amazing that such a small country has so many different regional differences, be it the dialect or the building techniques.

As we drove along we could see the landscape changing in the distance, “that must be where we’re heading!” Following the singular road, we descended into Cheddar Gorge. It was such a dramatic change from what we were just driving through up on a plateau, all was flat and uniform. Here was a craggy narrow pass, Britain’s largest gorge and clearly a different sort of geology surrounding us. The caves and gorge are a product of million year old Ice Age river beds. It was here that Tolkien honeymooned with his new bride in 1916 and this landscape was the inspiration for “Helm’s Deep.” I can see how this place would fire the imagination.

Mark decided to go off on his own and hike around the steep hillsides. He was surrounded by Soay sheep, an ancient breed that makes its living well by living on these sorts of impossible looking cliff walls. My family and I entered and toured the caves. Inside we found Cathedral-like caves, spaces carved out by the action of water. Calcite structures, delicate and impressive. Ancient humans lived here in these caves 40,000 years ago, Cheddar Man is Britain’s oldest complete skeleton. We also had the luxury of the “self guided tour” devices again, which provided so much information on the history and geology of the caves.

Even today, the cheese that bears it’s namesake, is made in the caves of this region. The 500 year old pub we stopped at for lunch featured locally sourced produce and cheese. I opted for the ploughman’s lunch, with none other than a huge chunk of Cheddar holding the seat of honor.

We headed home for another lovely dinner, our pork wiener schnitzel and Oreos! my folks brought over for us for dessert. Oh, my, they were tasty! They are sold here, but as with many US products, they just are not quite the same.

At the end of the day, I do have to say, this is a place I want to visit again. It seems we never plan enough time to really enjoy some of the places we visit. Mark and I could easily go and camp and hike around the Cheddar area for a week and probably still would not have enough time to see all we want to see.

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England: The Family in London

Family with Big BenWe had a breakfast of Greek yogurt with muesli, honey and fresh blueberries. My family then got to experience what my commute into work is like. We took the local train into London, which it wasn’t one of the terribly fast trains, so they really got a feel for it. Then on to the underground, the Bakerloo line from Paddington over to Trafalgar Square. Here I took them around confidently, like I lived here or something, guiding them around the city seeing Big Ben, Westminster Abby and Parliament. A ride on the London Eye was an excellent way to get a birds eye view of London, to see how it sprawls and doesn’t have a distinct “down town” like so many other cities have. It was also a gorgeous day, clear blue skies and warm sunshine, making it possible to see for miles.

Deb's foot in two hemisphere'sFollowing the Eye, after a snack we hopped on a boat for a trip on a City Cruise with hilarious commentary up to Greenwich where we took numerous silly photos on the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory. Here we were in two hemispheres at once, something I think is a unique and memorable experience to have.

I would have liked to take my family to the Natural History Museum, to show them where I worked. But, it was closing time by the time we even got near the place. I’ll just have to take them there the next time they visit. We headed back home, with Mom and Joe taking a nap on the train ride home. Mark and I treated them to a dinner of our home made pasta with fresh basil, tomatoes and mozzarella. It was nice to cook so much for my family while they were here, a wonderful way to share one of our passions with them. I don’t think they fully understood just how much we enjoy cooking until spending a week living with us.

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Windsor

Mom and Dad portraitWe started off with a simple and quick bagel breakfast.  We needed to make it to the train into Windsor.  Here, we toured the castle.  I love the phenomenon of the personal tour guides.  They are these walkie-talkie like things that you punch in numbers that correspond to rooms or objects and you listen to a narrative about the history and significance.  It seems just about every museum and historical site has these offered for free.  Which is so excellent since with even doing some research ahead of time, you can’t possibly know everything ahead of time.  Unfortunately, photography is not aloud on the inside, so all the photos are of the exterior. Outside the castle we walked around part of the Long Walk, though they were not keen on the idea of actually walking the long walk :)

We puttered around Windsor for some shopping, lunch and cream tea.   We headed home for dinner and after a discussion about the taste differences between US and British beef,  we made fillet steaks, baked potatoes and runner beans, and more Vicar before bed.

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Deb’s Family Arrive

Tea in CookhamMy Mom, Dad and my brother arrived around noon and after the “ten p” tour of our flat we had a little sit down before heading out the door.

I started them out on the Cookham Loop, the favorite four mile walk around our village and the Thames foot path. The walk, fresh air and sunshine is key in combating jet lag. This was a nice little introduction to the area we live in, we talked about village life, the Thames and the walking culture- how everyone walks in England for fun, about Wellies and public foot paths. We walked up through the cemetery of the Holy Trinity Church of England, marveling at the simple beauty in the weathered head stones searching for the oldest dates.

We stopped and had tea in Cookham for a mid walk break. On the way home we stopped back in at the Green grocer on my local High Street for a few supplies and made our way back down the public footpath that leads practically to our front door. While we waited for Mark to arrive home from work we spent time lounging and recovering from jet-lag (and trying to keep the family awake) watching a couple episodes of a British show we have come to love, The Vicar of Dibley (which was set in a village nearby).

We took them out for dinner to a favorite pub of ours. It just happens to be 1000 years old, the oldest pub in England: The Royal Standard, which happens to be right near where we live as well. We have never been disappointed with the fish and chips there, no where else compares, and where else would be a better start to a visit to England than fish and chips in the oldest pub.

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Guess Where We Were Last Friday Night?

Deb at #10

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England: Burnham Beeches

It was so sunny and inviting outside this morning I proclaimed to Mark, “we need to *go* somewhere, or *do* something!” We started looking around for nearby National Trust attractions or parks or caves. We came up with a few ideas that warrant revisiting with a little more planning. For instance, visiting Cheddar, where the largest gorge in England is located along with more cave systems. Or Warwick Castle. Mark came up with the idea of going to Burham Beeches, which is a nature reserve of over 500 acres just a few miles from where we live.

Although I know we weren’t going very far from civilization, both the drive and this park make you feel like you are driving into the middle of nowhere. We were on several single track roads ensconced by trees in full autumn regalia. Once we found a place to park we made our way in on the paths and forest floor carpeted in crunchy leaves. It turns out this is a very special piece of woodland. It is a slice of ancient woodland. More than sixty of the species of plants and animals here are either rare or under threat nationally. The area is protected as a National Nature Reserve and as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

We had such a lovely walk in the woods. Climbing the amazing pollarded trees and running through the leaves. The pollarded (yes, it’s a verb) trees are cut as a woodland management practice. This is where tree limbs are all lopped off at two or three meter height. This encourages a knobbly growth and was used for harvesting firewood that didn’t actually kill the tree. The result are these enormous trees that are hundreds of years old that look fabulously crooked and crinkled with a spray of numerous limbs sprouting from a single point.

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England: Blackpool – Aquarium

I thought I would try to find the theater that was putting on a matinée production of an Agatha Christie mystery play. What actually happened, since I didn’t find the correct theater, is that I was inspired to go shopping. That isn’t too terribly exciting.

It was impossibly windy today, the two mile walk to the town center had me leaning at an angle into the wind as I pushed my way along. At least on the way back I would have the wind at my back. After shopping and a quick cuppa to escape the wind. I wondered back to the Sea Life aquarium I had passed by a few times. Sure, I’ll give it a go. I was surprised at how large the place was compared to the deceptively narrow street side frontage. And once inside, I was upstairs. Upstairs with dozens of large aquarium tanks, just think of the weight of those gallons and gallons of water up there.

I arrived in time for the feeding at the ray tank which was pretty cool. The rays swimming to the surface and playing and vying for attention like strange slippery puppies. They have an active ray breeding program with a half dozen species. In a side room was a nursery of sorts, with egg cases suspended on netting in a tank. I could see tiny immature rays wriggling around inside of them. There was also a tank of baby seahorses that were impossibly adorable. I left feeling like I had an afternoon well spent and learned quite a bit about English coastal wildlife.

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