Photo gallery for England http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/hazelnutty/countries/United%20Kingdom/
We knew we were in England from the moment we got on the train from Heathrow. A couple of older women were chatting away, entertaining us all, when Hils wrote on her phone, “These two are like the cat and dog from Creature Comforts”. Exactly. There was also a tweedy couple, all decked out in sensible walking gear, who had been enjoying a day out on the Thames walking paths.
At Green Park, we waited at “Henry's” for Donald, Hilary's friend from Mongolia, to finish work. The place was a lovely old pub, full of the after-work crowd and excited England supporters, out to enjoy the World Cup qualifier against Croatia.
Donald hailed a taxi, and we wended our way through Piccadilly Circus (full of excited Croatia fans) and right through central London, past the Tower, to Wapping. The fully authentic East end taxi driver butting into the conversation with his two pence worth was a highlight. Donald's place is a stone's throw from Tower Bridge which we visited en route to a fantastic Indian dinner.
The following day we walked and bussed all over the city. Saw the changing of the Horse Guards, which was spectacular and made Lynda cry. Hilary was very excited to see squirrels collecting acorns in St James’ Park. At Westminster Abbey, we were sad to have to decline to pay the fifteen pound entry price, the first we have encountered in any of the many dozens of churches we have seen, and just a bit TOO much.
Wandered up Whitehall, past the Banqueting Hall, to Picadilly. Overwhelmed by the massive array of huge shows in the West End. Could have seen Chicago, Les Mis, the Lion King, and lots more. Had lunch in Neal’s yard and then set off for Shakespeare’s Globe on the Southbank - rather further than we calculated, but we got there and got our five pound groundlings tickets and saw a really lively and very enjoyable production of “As You Like It”. Great actors, (especially Celia and Touchstone) a full house and plenty of laughs.
Another long walk across the Millenium Bridge, past St Paul’s and all the way along the Strand. Strolling in Covent Garden missed out on a jar of Vegemite by minutes when the shop that sells Australian stuff (remembered the location from 1999) closed early. Struggled through a big crowd waiting to see someone make an appearance at a Premiere at a theatre in Leicester Square, then headed for Waterstone’s bookshop at Piccadilly. We had decided earlier that the rule that standing there for 37 minutes guarantees that you will see someone you know, or someone you know of, would not apply in our case. But after a few minutes of browsing in the bookshop, Fran from “Black Books” ( a favourite with al the Harringtons ) came in and talked with the counter staff for ages. When she left, they were just as excited as we were. We all asked each other, “Was that her?” I thought I had just been thrown by the bookshop setting, but one of them happily chatted about how she often comes in, and so does Bill Nighy, who lives nearby.
Donald arrived after a hard day at the office and we found a great Japanese place to have a Shabu Shabu. Took hours and had a lot of fun. Wandering through Trafalgar Square on the way to the bus stop, we stopped to join a small crowd listening to an Irish bloke on “The Plinth”. Each hour someone occupies an empty plinth in one corner of the square, the other three corers having statue son the m and can use it to do whatever they want. Many of them use it promote an important cause; this bloke was telling jokes, with members of the crowd telling jokes to him, as well.
The next day we caught a train from Paddington to Pewsey in Wiltshire, to stay with our old friends Kevin and Dee, who live in a small village called Oare, just off the the Marlborough Downs. It was great to see them and a we had a lovely walk through the “Bluebells woods and farmland of Oare House, the local stately home with Bonnie the Airedale terrier. A perfect start to our week in the country.
Spent a great weekend with Kevin and Dee, visiting Bristol and catching up with Jenny (who we first met when she went to preschool with Rob in Great Bookham in 1991!).
On Sunday we all went to Blenheim Horse Trials, where we loved watching the Cross Country (and hilarious English people being English, with their two dogs on leads) and later saw the nail-biting finish of the three day event conclude with a demanding Showjumping course that saw three women take out the prizes. In between, we had Cornish pasties, met a huge Cleveland Bay called Hampton Court Yeoman (bred by the Queen) and a pack of harriers and another of hounds. The Duke and Duchess presented the prizes at the end of the day, and we headed home, having had a really fun time.
Kevin had organised the bikes for us to have a lovely cycle through the Vale of Pewsey, which we did, until Lynda fell into the canal whilst still on her bike. The bike fine, although it was decorated with reeds as it was pulled from the water. As we discovered over the coming days, both of our cameras never recovered. Bit of a disappointment….. Luckily no-one witnessed it – except Hils, who turned in time to see it all when she heard an anguished “Oh nooo………” as Lynda overbalanced when she couldn’t reach the ground with her left foot. A very polite fellow who came cycling round the bend promised to pretend he hadn’t seen anything, and Lynda just grimly looked the other way and squelchily pedalled harder when cheery families on barges called out brightly, “Good morning!”
Dee took us to visit a little site down the road called Stonehenge in the afternoon. We learned a lot from the English Heritage audioguide, including the fact that the stones for one of the circles had come from Wales, that there were a number of eras of building, and that Salisbury plain was forested when Stonehenge was in use.
Hilary and I had a great trip to Cornwall with Dee, where we stayed in the Nix’s recently refurbished cottage, high on a hill below Bodmin Moor. Hils got to be “backseat buddies” with Bonnie the adorable and elderly Airedale. We did glorious walks in the evenings on the Moor, amongst heathland and spectacular stone outcrops, sheep, cattle and gangs of ponies, and the ancient stone circles of the Cheesewring. We did daytrips to the far end of Cornwall, to a very beautiful garden and the National Museum of Gardening, with its wonderful collection of tools and techniques.
We also visited the fantastic Eden Project, where an abandoned quarry has been turned into a very impressive demonstration of sustainability and gardening. Two vast greenhouses, composed of geodesic domes (?) - one containing a staggering variety of tropical plants, with a call to protect rainforests and the communities that depend on them, and another showing the foods and products grown in Mediterranean climates and cultures.
A long weekend in Wales and the Welsh borders
Photo gallery for Wales http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/hazelnutty/countries/Wales/
Heading west from Marlborough, we could just see West Kennet Long Barrow over the horizon of the downs, and the unbelievable Silbury Hill. We stopped off at Avebury to see the stone circles. I remember going there as an 8-year old with Jenny, John, Rob and Bonnie.
In Malmesbury, we got delicious stuff at a bakery and wandered up to the beautiful old church. There was an ancient sort of stone carousel-undercover area-meeting place in a central square, which had stone seats that were so old that they had a distinct shiny dip, all the way around. Aww. We looked in an Op-Shop, the information centre, and an Oxfam shop, before heading back out, passing the 'Smoking Dog' pub and the stunning stone bridge bedecked with hanging flower pots in full bloom.
Further north, from Tetbury, we headed south down to the Westonbirt Arboretum, home of a vast tree collection, like a plant zoo. Just starting to show some autumn colour.
We started noticing a distinctive local way of building field walls, with stones that were quite slender and relatively small, which makes for easy rebuilding I suppose. They seemed to have been heaped into piles according to their thickness, and then placed in uniform layers, alternating between thick and thin stones.
Passing over the Welsh border, we saw a castle silhouette on the horizon, so we decided to investigate. It was the Raglan Castle, which ended up being a real highlight for me. It was very much a castle ruins, but there was enough intact, and even some parts reconstructed, to really create a strong feel of how it would have looked in its glory days. Complete with everything from a tower, to a Hall, church, kitchen, even with some stairwells and servant passages still there to be strolled down. It was made of the local sandstone, allowing stunningly beautiful Gothic arches to have been made, but also, very romantically allowing it all to slowly slowly wash away as the stones weathered....
From there it was a fairly smooth run through beautiful Abergavenny, up to Brecon. The countryside quickly became more mountainous, with thick forest, and the bald, bleak hilltops of the Brecon Beacons in the distance, covered in red bracken.
We found a list of places to stay at the information centre there, and more or less randomly chose one, The Lodge, in nearby Talgarth. Once in Talgarth, I called The Lodge again, to get directions. It was about 5 minutes up a lane, through forest, between hedges, and finally into one of several muddy farmyards along the way. The house and farm buildings were very lovely - old and big, made entirely of stone.
We went for our usual evening walk up on the Commons on the mountainside - up the hill, down a steep lane, up the other side, and onto the open, brackeny land filled with sheep who seemed to hang in groups depending on the colour sprayed on their back. Maybe owned by different local farms?
We walked past a lot of very cute sheep, up the side of a Welsh Mountain, where we spotted a Welsh Mountain Pony colt. We stood near him for a while, and I sat on a rock to take in the incredible view from up there. Above, sheep were scattered evenly across the entire of the bald, pink mountainside, and below, a patchwork of forests and hedged-in fields speckled with more sheep and cattle.
Turns out that the farm produced several kinds of sheep cheese, including one which is a bit like cheddar. We told them about our time on Italian farms. The ewes can sell for 70-80 pounds at the end of their milking life for meat- so... that's a lot of money standing on that hill up there!
After saying our goodbyes, we jumped in our little blue 'Elm' car, and scooted down that poop-speckled lane and through the forest, with Classic FM making green forest look that bit more vibrant and special in my eyes.
From Talgarth, we headed west past Bronllys, and gorgeous little Erwood, on the way to Builth-Wells. It wasn't a big town, but there were at least 5 churches, all stunning! We stopped by at the River Wye. Parking under the huge old avenue of trees stretched long the riverside, we could see a big stone bridge with about 8 arches. Under it, a man was standing knee-deep, trout fishing. The morning air smelled like autumn... Leaves fell sporadically from the old trees, and water rushed past the rocky shallows where the fishermen stood, out into the deeper section before us, where a current rippled the surface.
We stopped to take a happy snap of a public notice beginning with 'A polite request'. So English.
From Builth-Wells, we meander north along the increasingly mountainous roads, always flanked by hedges or woodland. To the sides, the red Welsh mountains rose up, their bald, brackeny peaks a smooth silhouette against the blue-grey sky.
Jonathon Ross and Julian Clary came on BBC radio, so when we arrived in Rhayder, we had to pull into a carpark so that mum could laugh. And we couldn't get out of the car until they were done, so... after watching dogs wee on the toilet block, and people shuffling in and out of them, we finally did a lazy car tour of the town. There was a funny little very VERY daggy old market on, where it pretty much seemed to be a sort of old-people-selling-old-stuff-to-other-old-people affair.
Rhyader, Crossgates, Penybont... We stopped in Knighton to check out the Offa's Dyke museum. Offa's Dyke is a wall of elevated soil that extends the entire way along the Welsh-English border, ordered, surprisingly, by King Offa. Every household across Wales was requested to bring a single worker to build approximately one metre of height on the wall. Those who could not contribute in that way were required to bring food to support the workers. Talk about team work. Knighton had some beautiful architecture, including a church that I would have explored, had we not been parked in a Disabled Parking place. Oops.
In Walford we had to stop to gawk at the 3m high hedge that had been clipped in a very naturalistic style, including all the natural lumps and bumps, giving the impression of a green Loch-Ness monster, wrapped around someone's garden. Leighton, Marlow, Clungunford...
Heading south at Craven Arms, we soon reached the famous Stokesay Castle, arguably one of the most well-preserved Medieval homes in England. Laurence of Ludlow bought the property in 1281, and it was built in the same form as it currently stands, in 1291. The main hall is entirely intact, with the barn-like roof beams still standing, with all of its gorgeous curves and stone carvings in the doorways and walls. I literally collapsed at the sight of it- to stand inside something that has been standing unscathed by war or weather, for 720 years, is an amazing feeling. We noticed a distinct abundance of Williams and Annes in the graveyard, one Anne choosing to be called 'Nance', just to assert her individuality.
Ludlow is a gorgeous albeit touristy town complete with rows of the classic, half-timbered black and white houses covered in pretty flower baskets. We strolled up to the main square, where a market was bubbling along.
We had pasties, just to fit in, and grabbed some Welsh sconey things for the road. We battled the oncoming traffic in little alleys on the way to Croft Castle, a pseudo-Gothic castle that had been sold due to bankruptcy in the 1750s, and then reclaimed by descendants in the early 20th century. After admiring the cute sheep and ancient elm avenue driveway, we parked among a hundred other cars and headed in.
We chatted to the gorgeous mooies over the ha-ha, checked out the chapel, which is still used for services today, and, through little doors in huge walls, we found the enormous walled garden, which must have produced a massive amount of food in its day. It still has a little vineyard and apple orchard.
As we wandered down beside one of the huge walls, admiring the beautiful autumnal floral displays, we stopped to listen to a Robin Red-breast singing on the wall. Its friends answered its calls, and we became aware of all the different sweet voices filling the air.
Decided to do a three hour walk in the estate grounds, so I got my walking boots on, and we crossed a cow-pat splattered field. We said hello to the dozens of 300 year old chestnut trees running down the hill (they had their running boots on too), before reaching the woods.
Climbing up and up, cypress became deciduous native forest, which then opened out into the bracken-clad hillside; the Iron Age Hill Fort. No-one else was up there, except for a herd of friendly sheep, as we huffed up the final ascent. The side that we had climbed up had a ditch around the top acre or so, but on the far side, the hill dropped away steeply, so that the farmland below was only a few hundred horizontal metres away. Apparently you could see fourteen of the old counties from up here.
We could see a seriously big, seriously spic-and-span farm, a mansion, a hamlet, a forest, and a lot of sheep. On the way back down, I stopped to sit in a chestnut forest, where a leaf could shatter the silence as it crashed onto the red leaf littered floor.
After saving a sheep with its head stuck in the fence, we admired a huge sculpture - a pink tape-covered dead tree in the paddock, before heading off. The Mill down the road was closed, so we just passed through Leominster, Bromyard, and Brockhampton, on the way to Worcester. In Knightswick, we spotted a pub hotel, and, not wanting to waste too much time looking, we headed in.
The Talbot is a lot more than we expected it to be. It is a fourteenth century coaching inn, where knights involved in the War of the Roses used to stay. They grow all their vegetables in the garden, and their piggies in the field, they grow hops and brew a selection of beers. They make sausages, and serve outrageously delicious meals. What a show. Annie, the woman who runs the Talbot, showed us to our room, before we headed down for a lovely dinner. Mum had cassoulet and caramel-plum meringue, I had chickpea patty and chocolate cake. Glorious.
Mum has had a bath and watched about an hour of silly tv as I type this - I had best let her sleep. It's our final day of exploring together tomorrow – the Midlands and Oxford - what a special, bittersweet day...
The funny, friendly waitress who had served us last night was there at breakfast, and fairly quickly burst out with 'Are you guys Aussies?'. She's a Nzer who has been in the UK for 2 and a half years, and working at the Talbot for 18 months. !!! No wonder her accent is a little odd.
After paying and packing up, we got out on the road from Knightswick and headed back to Brockhampton House. Enjoyed a lovely early morning drive through gorgeous parklands to the main house, with no-one else around. Sheep grazed quietly under huge old oaks and beech trees. We laughed at a squirrel, spotted a pheasant, and breathed in the sweet morning air in the trees before hitting the road. We noticed that for the top of the stone walls, they used all of the fairly triangular-looking stones to make a pointed top to the wall.
From there, we took the road towards Worcester, where we stopped to look out towards the Malvern Hills. We took in the view over a big wide valley where the Battle of Worcester took place in the 1600s. There was an outpost used in the battle that still stands there today...
In Leigh, we visited the Leigh Court Tithe Barn, a barn that was handed over to English Heritage in the '80s and is today a fully restored (and functional) structure. Inside, there was not only a huge set of horse-driven cider-making mills, but a fully inflated pink, dragon-themed bouncy castle! Of course that was expected...
We jumped on the M5 up to Packwood below Birmingham, with a bit of a detour via the affluent Wood End and Hockley Heath. Packwood was full of local-ish people who had brought their packed lunch to have a picnic in the fields before they spent a proper and respectful amount of time taking in all that the beautiful house and gardens had to offer ( unlike us, who were on a whirlwind tour, trying to see so much in one day). The gardens were... just stunning. I kept saying to mum 'just make our garden like this!', because it's as easy as that. Ha.
The depth of understanding though research and experience, trial and error, and that undeniable arty, naturalistic touch that was required to create something so beautiful was truly impressive.
Beyond the summer borders, which showcased texture and colour, was the Yew topiary area, full of Yew trees that are clipped to shape, but then allowed to express individuality by their little lumps and bumps and leans... each had distinct character. At the back was a spiral labyrinth that rose up to a very nicely manicured tree... mum, just do one like that.
Down to Kenilworth, we got audio-guides and danced in the musical sections. It was great to hear about how this apparently uniform congregation of buildings were in fact from completely different eras. They only looked of a kind because they were all made of the same red stone. Its heydey was when Robert Dudley designed a formal garden to impress Elizabeth the first, when she visited – which has recently been recreated by English Heritage.
Kenilworth, Warwick, M40, (Stop to buy strawberries on FWY)... OXFORD. After struggling to find a carpark, we finally found ourselves marching along Beaumont Street, with a disproportionate number of people in their twenties. We visited Balliol College, which was more lush, luxurious, historical and packed-in than the Melbourne Colleges. Their chapel must have been so old, but it was beautifully preserved!
We wandered along past a few more colleges on the way to the Botanic Gardens, which were, sadly, closed. It was quite like I had imagined, with Lyra sitting on a bench in there, holding on to her past... We were late to get back to the car park, and mum ran across just as the bloke was booking us. We had to buy another ticket, which was a little bit preferable to a 100 pound fine... Oxford, Bressels Leigh, Grove, Wantage... We did a drive-by through Grove, where Gramps' family came from, but Wantage had the more impressive market square and gorgeous old streets and houses.
We visited the Uffington white horse as the sun set over the vibrant green hillsides. I may have chased some sheep, and stood in sheep poo. Mum was getting depressed because it was our last REAL day in England... It will be so so strange to have her gone. Ashbury, Idstone, Bishopstone, Hinton Parva, Waborough, A346, Marlborough, Oare, HOME.