If You’re a Fan of English Gardens

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If you love gardening like I do, I think it’s natural to also love England.  There is a wonderful British garden show on Netflix here in America,  Big Dreams Small Spaces.  Hosted by the wonderful Monty Don, a British national treasure! I think what I like most about him and this show is that he helps people with little or no experience turn their yard into a proper garden.  He’s also so real and talks about how he tries things in his own garden and has his own failures as well as success.

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A corner of my garden in early spring

I also write a garden blog for people that are interested in gardening here in the northwest, but like me, weren’t necessarily born with a green thumb.  My mother actually used to say about herself that she was born with a “brown thumb”.  I haven’t been too inspired to keep it up since the horrid ice storm or 2016, my garden or the blog.  I hope to get back to it next summer though.  Between the ice storm in 2016 a new puppy in 2017, my garden has seen better days.  Watching this show does inspire me to get back to it.

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Sheffield Park in East Sussex

When I go to England I try to visit at least one garden with every trip.  I’ve written about them in previous blogs; my favorites, the Garden Museum and loads of photos.  There are always new ideas to come away with and amazing things to see even if your space would never accommodate say a giant sculpture or pond.  It’s fun to at least see these things and have them in your mind.  And you can do them in smaller form, a concrete dog or a bubbling fountain.

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Sculpture Garden-St. Ives

 

 

 

 

We have some excellent garden shows here, usually in early summer.  Check your local garden center in spring to find a list.  Many benefit a charity like NPR.  So many usable ideas when they are in your own neighborhood because they work for your climate.  It is a wonderful coincidence that our climate here is much the same as many parts of England, so you can take away ideas from visiting and make them work here.

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I have yet to make it to the Chelsea Flower Show.  To me it’s the ultimate garden experience.  It is on my bucket list and I hope to get there before I’m too old to be able to walk the paths and take in the raw talent of British garden designers.

Happy Travels!

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A Smattering of English Villages

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I had something big to celebrate, so, naturally for me, it must be in England.   My darling cousin Marcie and I both retired this year, so the two of us set off together to mark this auspicious occasion!  This was also a milestone for me, my tenth visit to the country!

This particular visit started with a funeral and ended with an art exhibition titled “Ribera: Art of Violence”.  The funeral of our dear friends brother, more of a wake really, complete with bagpipes.  The exhibit at the Dulwich Picture Gallery just happened to be what was on while we were there.  The lunch in the cafe was first rate,  and Ribera was a talented artist, even if this subject is not preferred in our time.  Dulwich Picture Gallery is beautiful and the displays so well done, I plan to go there again.

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Dulwich Picture Gallery

First, we both, along with our London friend Sue, had recently celebrated birthdays.   So it had to start there.  Dinner, wine, lots of fun conversation and London.  No one could  be bored in London.  There is just no way you could ever run out of new things to do there.  So large is it, that I’m sure the people that live there have not got to see and do everything.

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“Enjoy Life” by Martin Cook

We finally visited the Chelsea Physic Garden. After hearing about this garden for years from our friend Sue, at one time a docent there.  It was one of my favorite gardens yet.  Not too large, easy to walk around, beautiful to look at, and informative.  Established in 1673 by Apothecaries to grow medicinal plants, we found it quite artistic as well. The way the plantings were set up, easy to see, each section marked and you could follow along with your map of the grounds.  There was an exhibition at the time, “An Elixir of Letters”, stone engravings that were quite whimsical and profound.

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“Good Cups and Saucers” by Louise Tiplady

London is made up of multiple villages, all run together.  We were able to go to a few that we hadn’t visited before.  Beckenham was one of our favorites.  It has a lovely High Street where Marcie and I shopped.  There were also many promising looking restaurants,.  We had lunch at Q Bar & Kitchen, wonderful atmosphere, friendly staff and delicious food.  Lots of charity shops, bookshops, bakeries and sweets shops to wander, up one street side and down the other.  We spent some time in Crystal Palace, as we always do.  Walking the triangle, checking on the progress of the current remodel of the movie theatre and of course, cake at Dalhousie. 

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We had Afternoon Tea at the Kensington Palace Orangery.  It’s temporarily housed in an elegant tent-like structure while they remodel the original building.  It’s nice to be pampered occasionally.  IMG_1719

 

 

 

Another quick stop you should make if you’re a Harry Potter fan like Marcie and me is Platform 9 and 3/4 in King’s Cross Station.  We had our picture taken like any self respecting tourist and perused the shop.  Crowded but fun.

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King’s Cross Station

 

 

 

 

 

Our cousins Phil and Claire took us to the East Coast of England, a place neither of us has been before.  A blustery day for an outing, we bundled up and hit the road.  We passed Sandringham Castle, the private home of the Queen.  All you see really is the sign and a beautiful forest.  I had heard of it most of my life, but had no idea where it was located.

They took us the seaside village of Hunstanton in Norfolk.  On the map it’s the top of the hump that sticks out on the east coast.  Even if you don’t have someone to drive you here, the roads are quite easy to maneuver, out over the flat of the Fens, beautiful and stark.  No traffic to speak of until you actually go into and out of the town. Even though it was windy and cold we walked the boardwalk, stopped in at the various shops and walked up the green to watch an old fashioned, real car, soap box derby.  There was also a motorbike rally going on.  We braved the cold and had some wonderful ice cream at the local parlor.

We also visited Cambridge, which was beautiful but a madhouse. We happened to go during check-in week for the students.  Normally though, it’s a beautiful and historical place to visit.  The good thing about this particular week is that the colleges were open to the public and we could wander around behind gates in the gorgeous and well kept gardens.

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Pembroke College

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marcie and I took a train to Horsham, a market town on the River Arun in Sussex.  We have ancestors that lived in this area so were excited to visit the village there.  Part of it is closed off to cars with lots of shops to dash in and out of.  A great kitchen shop here, lots of charity and clothes shops and restaurants.  I like to pick up vintage tea things at the charity shops so it always nice to find a variety in one place.  Horsham has an medieval alley you can walk down.  I love these as you can usually peak into peoples back gardens and get some new ideas to take home.  

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Medieval Alley-Horsham

My favorite village by far this trip was Alfriston.  It is situated in East Sussex and is the quintessential English village! Picture perfect I would say.  We went for tea to a very special shop called “The Badgers Tea House” where they have an assortment of very scrumptious cakes in a relaxed atmosphere.    IMG_1641

Alfriston boasts the first building to be acquired by the National Trust back in 1896.  The thatch and timber Clergy House, nearby the famous St. Andrews Church and the Star Inn on the main street through Alfriston, all from the fourteenth century.  This village was listed as one of England’s most beautiful villages in a Telegraph travel article.  There is a wonderful bookshop here called “Much Ado About Books”,  a group of small buildings, each with it’s own feel and in a lovely garden setting.  The people that run this bookstore have a great sense of humor, a sign reads “Elderly Hens in Garden”.img_1649.jpg

To round out our sojourn of English villages, the lovely Claire kindly took us on a day journey to York.  We walked up and down the Shambles, bought souvenirs, visited a flea market, took photos in front of York Minster, took the guided bus tour and ended our visit at Betty’s Tearoom.  It was a wonderful day.

A wonderful celebration, we got to visit with people that are very dear to us and experience new places and see wonderful things. It sounds like all we do is eat cake, which I assure you I rarely do at home.  But holidays are for indulging a bit and we rose to the occasion.

My next visit will be a long one. My husband and I have decided to have a little adventure and we will be going, next August to spend six months in England!  I am looking forward to it like a kid waiting for Christmas!  The history and culture, working on my genealogy and time to write.  My husband will be spending time experiencing Drag Racing in England.  So many more stories to come.

Happy Travels!

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Being obsessed with a place is a strange thing.  I can’t tell you why I love England and London so much.  I’m either thinking about visiting, planning a visit, enjoying a visit or recovering from a visit.  I’ve just wrapped up my ninth trip to England.  Before you get the wrong idea,  I’m not wealthy and I don’t have any great tips on getting great deals.  I go so often because I work hard at saving up the airfare and I have wonderful friends and cousins that allow me to stay with them.   I’ve gone to many areas but have made sure to visit London each time.  It’s a chaotic, vibrant, ever changing city and I like that.

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I’m always impressed with the folks that drive there.  It’s rarely easy.  I watched as my friends wove in and out of side streets, trying to shave a few minutes off of any journey.  I learned to drive in America where we have wide streets and freeways.  We think nothing of driving fifty or sixty miles to try a new taco place.  It’s mind boggling to hear that a person has to plan, map out and schedule a visit to a relative that lives only twenty miles away.  Instantly in my mind its a twenty minute drive, London reality is a two hour drive.  You can begin to see the obstacles here and why the brilliant people of England have some of the best public transport in the world.

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This particular visit was pure relaxation,  we didn’t do the tourist stuff this time.  My husband and I visited with our friends at Fox Hill B&B.  We talked a lot, ate more,  watched movies, read, napped, enjoyed cocktail hour and all of the things that get pushed aside in the day to day business of  life.

We took the train one day up to Huntingdon, near Cambridge to visit cousins.  We checked out their jewelry store, Underwood the Jewelers, in the nearby village of Ramsey.  Check it out if you’re in the area.  We had a nice chat while enjoying a pub lunch.   It’s always fun to take the train through the countryside, so beautiful and completely different to London.

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We walked  up to the village of Norwood several times.  We enjoyed the cake at Dalhousie.  I tried a Victoria Sponge, made famous (in America) by the movie “Calendar Girls”.  The Blackbird Bakery there is also very good.  We had a scrumptious hamburger at Crystal Palace Market, with some of the best french fries we’ve ever had.  My husband loves cupcakes so much that after going to Ms.Cupcake last September, he was moved to embroider a few sweatshirts for the ladies that work there.

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My husband, Neil, and the sassy ladies of Ms. Cupcake-Brixton

We also went with our friends to a little area across from Hampton Court called Molesey for breakfast at Henry’s, excellent food and service.  I enjoyed the fresh croissants and coffee especially.    molesey       I love poking around in little antique shops and finding treasures that are so different from what you would find in America.  Neil is always up to a challenge, so I pointed out a particularly nice metal garden bench and asked if he would be able to make us a similar one.   He has been wanting to improve his welding skills, so I may get a nice bench after all.   I wouldn’t necessarily spend the money to buy it and then pay the expensive shipping from the UK.  Found this funny little brass piece in Molesey. It reminds me of the faces you see on the walls at Oxford College.  It may have been a belt buckle, but I have plans to use it on a custom bird house.

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Molesey Jester

The styles and indeed the customs are very different from place to place and that’s precisely why I like traveling.  It’s disappointing, at least to me, to see things like a McDonald’s in England.  I realize that companies want to expand to every corner of the globe.  When you can get the same things wherever you go, why do you need to travel.  I try very hard not to eat at chain restaurants as it is,  mediocre is the word that comes to mind. Try something local, even if in your home town.  You may be missing something unique.

I don’t have the mistaken notion of many who have only traveled to England via TV and movies.  I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard comments about some of my photos that give me the idea that most Americans expect London/England to be quaint and simple, like the days of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens.   There is history and wonderful old architecture with all of the quirky little details all through the ages there. Victorian, Gothic, Roman and Medieval times blend with twenty first century sky scrapers.  Ever changing.  It’s modern and intelligent, and very much up to date.  I read that even Westminster Abbey is adding a tower.  A living, breathing part of modern England as well as a view to the past.                                      west minster tower

With every visit, I take away impressions, knowledge and a little more familiarity with my ancestor’s homeland.  This time I realize that I can love a place that I’m not actually from.  I can feel close to it for my love of it’s history and culture, knowing that if circumstances had been different, I would be a citizen instead of a visitor.   What continues to make it so important and dear to my heart though are the people I’ve gotten to know and the stories I uncover.   I am, as always, happy to be home.  And, as always, thinking about my next visit over which will be very different to this last one, but no less wonderful!  Happy travels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just London-part 2

Going to London for me is not just hitting the tourist attractions.  I am fascinated by this city! I’ve been attracted to England for as long as I can remember, it probably started with the knowledge that most of my family, on both sides, immigrated from there.  To me it is the homeland, even though the last generation to live there was my father’s great grand parents.  They came over to America in 1852, still I feel a kinship to this beautiful, history filled place.  Having said that, my family wasn’t originally from London.  The branch that I most closely relate to, reason being that I have been able to find more on them in my genealogy research, hailed from Sussex.

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If you know me at all, you know that I am not that fond of big cities.  Indeed,  I grew up in a small suburb of San Diego and rarely ventured downtown.  Although I lived there for the first thirty eight years of my life, I still get lost whenever I visit if I leave the neighborhood that I grew up in, or the one I raised my children in.  But London, it’s magic to me.   On my first visit there with my mother in-law, Jean, she said to me that she didn’t really need to go out and see the sites.  It was just being there, breathing in the air that she wanted.  I didn’t understand that on my first trip, but it’s so clear to me now.  glitter-heart-shaped-london-union-jack-fridge-magnet

One of the things we did on this visit and all previous visits, was walk around the village of Upper Norwood, into the cheese shop or the bakery.  Up to the pub for dinner.  It’s all part of the experience and something that I enjoy for the shear fact that the shops look so foreign to where I live, and I like that.  It’s learning another culture, seeing how these people live everyday compared to where we come from.  It’s talking to the shop owners and asking lots of questions, trying the local fare, the farmer’s markets, the fresh made goods.  I will take these experiences any day over stuff.

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Upper Norwood

One of the things that you do there is walk, a lot.  It’s nice because I tend to want to try all of the delicacies, so I eat more than I would usually.  Yet I end up losing weight because of all of the walking we do.

There is a show that I found on streaming called “Britain’s Best Bakeries”, and on that show I was introduced to the wonder of Ms.Cupcake.  Located in Brixton, it’s a vegan bakery.  They have the most luscious cupcakes and cookies, and when I say that,  I’m not talking about what they look like.  They taste amazing and the four of us made a point to search out this small bakery on a little side street in Brixton.  We spent a whopping £40 on cupcakes, had a nice chat with the folks that work there and were given some delicious gluten free cookies. Well worth the money for the experience and the cupcakes were unique and dare I say, heavenly!

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The lovely ladies of Ms. Cupcake

If you remember from previous blogs, I had always wanted to visit the Garden Museum and on our last visit, my husband and I got to go.  Shortly after our visit, it was closed to remodel and add to it.  So I was very excited to be able to go and see the new and improved exhibits.  Last time it was £3, the price is now up to £10,  and I have to admit that I was a little disappointed!  On our first visit, it was small but interesting.  The cafe was in an old part of the stone church, beautiful and quaint, leading out to a lovely garden with plants having identifying tags on them.  The historic churchyard had beautiful old markers and grave stones.  The only thing left was Captain Bligh’s tomb.  All gone in exchange for a big fancy and modern coffee shop, reminding you more of Starbucks than anything else.  Having said that, the food and service were fine.  But, when you visit a museum of gardening, you kind of expect some sort of garden.  They removed this for a lot of cement and glass doors.  The only thing recognizable was the famous tomb.  The display upstairs of garden tools and lovely art was much the same with a few additions.   I enjoyed the garden shed with videos of conversations with gardeners.  Looks like another addition in a corner downstairs, very artistically presented, though it may not have been finished.   Other than that, there was a huge open cavernous space of nothing.  One couldn’t help but wonder why the obvious addition of something like a Gertrude Jekyll or Vita Sackville-West display are not in the works.  Even large panels with photographs of these famous designs would be welcome.  All and all, I probably won’t return again unless it’s included on the London pass.  Having said all of that,  I found this lovely sign with one of my family names that I’ve been researching. That was a nice surprise!

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On one of the days that I was laid up and everyone else went to the British Museum, I got to experience Cost Co, London style.  It was interesting in that it was all familiar, the layout, etc.  But the items were a bit different.  For instance, there was an entire aisle of prawns!  Raw, breaded, curried, etc.  I was very impressed with the variety of shrimp you could buy.

My friends went to a street near the British Museum where it is blocked off from cars.  It’s called Museum Street and they found a great store with vintage style clothes called “Thomas Farthing”.   You can see why from the photo below that I insisted we go back the next day when I felt better.  The displays were gorgeous and the the quality was apparent in every item that was out for sale.  Across the street was an authentic (the staff barely spoke English)  Italian restaurant where we had some of the best pizza I have ever tasted!

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On the way back to catch our bus I snapped this photo of a vintage clock.  I’m only sorry that we weren’t there on the hour to see this glorious clock chime.  It’s attached to the side of building where there is an entrance to a courtyard of shops.  I plan to explore this area more on our next visit.

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Of course it wouldn’t be a proper visit without a family dinner to catch up with all of the assorted Haigh’s.  Sue did herself proud with such a succulent meal, good wine and conversation with friends that long ago became my extended family.  I think about them often, appreciate their generosity over the years, care about them each and every one and look forward to every contact with them.

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Just London-Part 1

London

September 2017 brought my eighth trip over to England, this time with my husband and our close friends.  We went specifically to visit with the Haigh’s of Fox Hill B&B and introduce Bruce, who’s hadn’t been to London before.

Neil, Linda (me), Suzanne and Bruce

Time always seems to go so fast, on top of which I got a cold and had to sit out a couple of days.  The rest of the group carried on while I was well taken care of by Sue, who served me soup and “Aunt Nora’s tea”.  tea  An English custom, weak tea with no milk or sugar, specifically for when one is under the weather.  It was warm and comforting and much appreciated while I was recuperating!

london pass  We visited some places that I had been and a few that I hadn’t had the chance to see before.  I’ve been to London in September, but this time it seemed more crowded than ever.  Buying the London Pass helped,  you can bypass the lines in many places.  If you get the pass be sure to pay the extra and include an Oyster card, it’s a great value and you get around much quicker.  With the pass you get a one day, hop on and off bus pass, a perfect way to get an overview of the city, especially if you haven’t been before.   We decided to take the six day pass, even though we were in London for ten days.  You have to think about it in advance, the first time you use it starts the clock for however many days you purchased.  The first day you get there is typically shot.  By the time you arrive,  go through customs, wait for luggage, travel to your hotel, etc., there isn’t a lot of time left in the day to go exploring.  Better to shower, relax and have a revitalizing meal, fish and chips perhaps.  Don’t forget the traditional mushy peas!

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The pass is good for over 80 of the top attractions and has the Fast Track entry to some of the most popular sites. Of course I can’t list them all here, but the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court  and Westminster Abbey to name a few.  Check it out at https://www.londonpass.com/.  The cost at this writing is approximately £184.00, but check the site often because they are always having sales.  You can usually save 20%, which brings the price down to £163.15, including the travel pass which is an Oyster card worth £40 of travel.  We used most of it, going all over the city.  I had about £12 left because of my cold, but the others used up pretty much all of it with out having to pay any more for day travel passes!  I’m not meaning to advertise for London Pass, but you do save some serious money by getting this and not buying each entry separate.

One of the places I hadn’t had the chance to go before were the Churchill War Rooms.  This is a fascinating museum!  If you love history,  and are interested in WW2, you will love this.   Just the story of them turning out the lights and locking it up when the war ended, not to be opened up again until the 1980s, was enough to peak my interest.   It’s laid out in a nice flow.  You can peek into the underground rooms where these men and women worked day and night, throughout the war, then move on to amazing photo timelines, film clips that you’ve never seen before and Churchill’s personal items.  Plan to spend at least two or three hours here.

Churchill warrooms

I also wanted to share some of my favorite, iconic sites such as St. Pauls Cathedral, Hampton Court and Westminster Abbey.  All are worth seeing, all were very crowded.   I think the next time,  I will take a few minutes to check out the least busy times.  Each of these wonderful historic locations are worth visiting.  I like to do some preliminary research, just to get the basic history before I go.

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Above the entrance gate to Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court:  Building was started in 1515 by Cardinal Wolsey, one of Henry VIII’s favorites.  When he fell out of favor with the King, Wolsey gave it to him as a gift, hoping to save himself from Henry’s wrath.  The architecture is Gothic inspired Tudor, built of brick in amazing design and decoration, massive, with beautiful grounds.  It’s easy to imagine the King and Anne Boleyn walking the Privy Garden.  The ceiling alone in the chapel is worth making the trip, but seriously, this is a stunning palace and only one of the two remaining that belonged to Henry the VIII.  The tour here is interesting in that you will learn the everyday life of running this palace for hoards of people.  Hampton Court has it’s own train station and is just a short walk away.  There is much to see inside and out, with a couple of good cafes and some interest for children as well.  Check the calendar because often there are special events and re-enactments that you can watch or participate in.

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One of the King’s Beasts, standing on the bridge, overlooking the moat

St. Paul’s Cathedral:  There has been a church on this site since AD 604!  The present cathedral, dated from the late 17th century, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren.  Its construction was part of rebuilding the City after the Great Fire.  It is one of those buildings in England that you can only marvel at.  As with most of the attractions in London, you receive an audio guide, giving you history and interesting tidbits.  My favorite story about St. Paul’s is how the fire brigade posted itself near the roof, ready to put out sparks from the blitz.  The selfless dedication to save one of London’s landmarks is inspiring.  St. Paul’s was hit by a bomb in WW2.  It survived because the bomb exploded in midair and thankfully missed anything crucial.

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St.Paul’s Cathedral from the Millennial Bridge

Westminster Abbey:  I had been lucky enough to visit Westminster Abbey when the Haigh’s took my cousin Marcie and me to a Christmas choir concert here.  It is ancient and beautiful with so much history, and pageantry.  Construction of the present church began in 1245, on the orders of Henry the VIII.  It is still a working church and indeed our friends children attended pre-school here, which to this American, seems very strange.  You imagine kings and queens of old, and yet, most of modern day pageantry takes place at this site.  The Queen’s own wedding , the famous wedding of Charles and Diana,  and William and Kate.  All but one coronation since 1066 has taken place in the Abbey.  Only Henry III in 1216 was left out, because the French Prince, Louis had taken temporary control of London.  The tombs and headstones of the Abbey read like a who’s who of British history.   With the audio guides you get selected stories of the politics, rivalry, bravery and love lives of some of these famous English men and women.

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One of the gorgeous stone carvings near the entrance when you visit Westminster Abbey

While I was laid up, the rest of the group hit a couple of not to miss places that I have been to more than once.  They spent some hours at the British Museum and the Tower of London.  Both are worth visiting and both are included on the London Pass.  Although the British Museum is technically one of the many free museums in London, there is a fee for some of the exhibits.

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Some of the other places we hit I’ve written about previously.  The Imperial War Museum,  walking around Buckingham Palace and Green Park, the City of Westminster, the bus tour, lunches at pubs, etc.  Always so much to do in London!

Check out my next post, coming soon:  Just London-Part 2.  I will share the best cupcake place I’ve ever been,  off the beaten path shopping, family dinners, more food and fun.

Happy travels!      london poster

 

 

 

Heading Southwest

If you love England, and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t, you are always thinking of the next visit.  It’s a difficult task because, if it were just me, I’d go back and forth across the country until I was able to see every area including Scotland and Wales.

My next visit will probably be a foursome with my husband and our good friends, driving Southwest to Devon and Cornwall and looping around to visit Bath. My bestie’s family is from Christchurch and though we have been to England together, once in 2005, we didn’t get to visit there.  I think it’s so important to go where your family originated if you can.  Go to the church and the churchyard, look for those names that you’ve heard your whole life in family stories or read so often in your research.

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My first trip over in 2001, we headed south through Cornwall to Land’s End and up the West Coast to Wales, I absolutely loved it there.  I want my husband and friends to see some of it and for Suzanne to be in the places where her family came from.  I hope she has the overwhelming feeling of home that I had the first time I went to Sussex and walked in the footsteps of my father’s family.  I hope you get to Cornwall and revel in it’s Celtic history and beauty.

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The history of Cornwall is fascinating and extensive.   There are lots of books and information online.  There have been people there since 4000 BC, so there is not enough space here to delve into that subject.  I think I am most impressed with the fact that the Cornish people have held onto their culture and are now considered a distinct Ethnic group by the UK government.

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We’ll go to London first, our friend Bruce hasn’t had the opportunity to go there yet and there is so much to see.  Of course you can’t do London in one trip, unless you have unlimited time and money.  Hopefully this will be the beginning of several visits over for them.  I will write about what we saw and did after the fact since, as of now, in the early days of planning I’m not sure which attractions we’ll get to see.

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While in London each of us will plan a day out, as well as take a day on one of the jump on and off London bus tours.   Afterwards, we’ll head south by train to Christchurch and spend at least most of a day there, we’ll go to the church, explore the town and have lunch.  A few years ago my cousin Claire gave me a book, “Footpaths of Britain”.  There is a lovely walk in Christchurch along the harbor to Hengistbury Head, it’s about an hour with nice views of the Isle of Wight, a nature reserve and the beach at Sandspit.

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Whether or not we find this town interesting enough to stay the night remains to be seen, but after our visit, we’ll hit the road and head towards the West Coast, stopping along the way at anything that looks interesting to any of us.  I love this kind of a trip and I did it in 2001 and again in 2005. You drive along and take in the countryside, looking at maps and signposts until you see something that looks so delightful you just have to stop.  In the afternoon when you start thinking about dinner and bed, you stop in a town and visit the tourist information office.  These places have books and maps for sale, leaflets to give away and loads of advice on things to see or do.  After a conversation with the helpful staff, you just let them know how much further you’d like to travel that day or if there is a particular place you want to stop.  They have catalogs of B&Bs and hotels with photos, so you have a general idea of what to expect. They ask you what you’d like to spend on lodging, and will actually call ahead for you to let them know you’re coming, give you directions and send you on your way with a plan.

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Sometimes that kind of visit won’t work because of time constraints, event dates, etc., you wouldn’t want it to be so loose.  Then booking ahead online is the way to go.  With sites like Tripadvisor, Travelocity, and Air B&B you can easily make it all work.

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I’ve had people tell me how brave I am to go on an adventure without concrete plans like this one.  I guess it’s a kind of adventure, but really, you are in a civilized country that speaks the same language.  The people I’ve met along the way are always welcoming and helpful, so it’s not the kind of adrenaline filled travel in the darkest forests of the Amazon.  It’s fairly tame and you just might discover something off the beaten path that will make it amazing!

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The Hidden Gardens of Heligan

I recently added a channel app to my streaming that has lots of British TV shows.  One of them is “Britain’s Best Bakery” and I’ve decided that we have to stop and taste the fabulous offerings of some of the Cornish bakeries that were showcased.

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That’s pretty much the plan for this next excursion.  It’s fairly easy planning I think, pick the date, buy the plane ticket, keep saving to pay for it all.  Then just pack and go!  We already know we would be staying at Fox Hill B&B because it’s my favorite place in London, the rest is up to fate and whimsy.

 

 

 

 

A Series of Themed Trips Around England

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From the first visit I made to England for a family reunion with cousins I didn’t actually know, I have been looking for interesting things to see and do.   Truthfully, when I’ve gone for the sheer purpose of visiting family and friends it’s been wonderful.

However, my cousin and I had kicked around a few “theme” ideas over the years, ie:  the rock and roll of our youth, movies, books and authors, hiking, castles, etc., and also the different areas around the country including Scotland and Wales  So, with that idea in mind I set off in search of themes or specific areas to visit.  The first installment is north to south on the west side of England and into Wales.  These are very loose suggestions because people have their own interests and preferences which are easily researched on Google.  I mean only to highlight some of the history, famous things to see and do and maybe a few quirky things as well.  I’ll put in web addresses and current prices when I can,  please understand that these can change at any time.

York to Cornwall

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The Shambles

I had an email from a friend of mine wanting suggestions for a visit from York in the north of England, to Wales and Cornwall.  I appreciate the vote of confidence so have decided to start my series with that, this one’s for you Pla’. 

We’ll start in York, a beautiful city in it’s own right.  For less than $20 US dollars you can take the city bus tour, there is live commentary from April to October.  If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’m a big fan of a live tour guide.  The history and stories are more meaningful when you have a real, animated person telling them.  Also, with the audio you take the risk of not being at the place they are talking about because of traffic and other human delays.  This kind of bus tour is a good place to start in any new city you visit.  You get the lay of the land, a good overview of the city and find lots of things you might want to see but wouldn’t know of otherwise.

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There are plenty of walking tours, including history and ghost tours.  Don’t miss “The Shambles”, York’s oldest street with fifteenth century buildings.  Lots of shops, restaurants and history to see here.  I would definitely get the York pass when going.  It’s around $55 US dollars, but you get entry into thirty of the top attractions.  Visit the York Maze for some fun, there’s ice cream and you can picnic there.  York Minster is included on the pass, it’s history and craftsmanship are worth a look.  I can’t list them all, but a few that sound interesting are the York Dungeon, Chocolate Story, many manor houses and museums, a brewery, air museum, Roman bath and many others. Something for everyone, go to http://www.yorkpass.com.

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From York head to Liverpool by train or drive on the M62, it takes about two and half hours.  I like driving because you can see the countryside at your own pace and stop at anything that looks interesting to you.  If you haven’t taken the chance of driving here, I can tell you from experience that you get used to it quickly.  It’s easier with two, one to drive and the other to gently remind you to stay in the left lane and also look at maps and signs. Start in a more rural area and work your way up to cities.  I’ve driven in London and though it’s quite stressful if you aren’t used to it, I am here to tell the tale, so it wasn’t too bad!

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Albert Dock

Pla’ and I are both huge Beatles fans (see post of June 6, 2014) and going to Liverpool has been a dream of mine since the 1960s when I saw them on the Ed Sullivan show and listened to them on the radio, my transistor held against my ear.  A good start is “The Beatles Story” in the Albert Dock, a visitor center dedicated to that group.  You should allow several hours because there’s so much to see.  Albert Dock is also where you start the “Magical Mystery Tour”, a bus tour of Beatles landmarks like Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane.  The National Trust also runs a special tour of John and Paul’s childhood homes.  You actually go inside and see where they grew up!  There are so many different tours and things to see, clubs where they played, restaurants, streets and museums.  Worth a visit if you have appreciated their music over the years.

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There is a lot to see here even if you aren’t a Beatles fan.  Liverpool is officially the “World Capital of Pop”, so consequently lots of music, theater and nightlife.  There is the Merseyside Maritime Museum, beaches, lots of sports venues and a modern cathedral.  You can still catch a “Ferry Cross the Mersey”, from Liverpool across to Birkenhead, about a 40 minute trip each way.  There are also tour options if you’re interested in the history of the canal and ferries, go to http://www.merseyferries.co.uk.

Leaving Liverpool for Wales, you will be looking at an over three hour drive on the A483.  You might want to plan it out so that you’re stopping for lunch around noon or leave right after lunch in Liverpool so you arrive before dark.  I stopped in Wales for a nice pub lunch at the wrong time and they were closed to anything but a cup of tea.  I’m not sure if this is the same everywhere in that area, but take along some snacks just in case.  I loved Wales, it’s beautiful and easier to drive for an American, better placed signs than I found in the countryside of England where often, by the time I read and understood where I wanted to turn, I was past the street I needed to turn on.  Thankful for roundabouts!

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You don’t have to go deep into Wales to appreciate this tiny country.  Visiting from America, few of us have the time to see everything we want to see in one trip.  So to get a taste of it, you can see some of it on the way down and stop in Brecon for a night or two. Right on the edge of Brecon Beacons National Park, the country features incredible beauty.  There are National Trails for walking, wildlife,  caves to explore, cultural heritage, dark sky venues for stargazing, and market towns. If you’re a reader there is a town of books,  Hay on Wye, where you can spend many hours perusing as many books as you like. Watching TV there is also fun, lots of the stations are in Welsh but there are also English stations if you just want to stay in and relax a bit.

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Hay-on-Wye

One of the places that I love right over the Welsh border is Gloucestershire.  So much history and many wonderful sites to visit, beautiful gardens and good restaurants.  Some highlights are the Gloucester Cathedral, Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens in Burford.  Burford is a gorgeous place to visit, quaint, friendly, great cream teas and shops to stop in.  Hidcote (Chipping Camden) and Highgrove (Tetbury) Gardens are both outstanding ways to spend a couple of hours outside, looking at natures beauty, even if it is man made nature. So well put together and a nice way to unwind if you’ve visited busy towns or cities with it’s traffic.

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The Cotswolds

The Cotswolds is an area in south central England which encompasses from just south of Stratford-upon-Avon to just south of Bath.  I love the names of the towns and villages here so much and always wonder what they originally meant.  Some of my favorites are Chipping Sodbury,  Lower Slaughter, Wotten Under Edge, Stow-on-the-Wold, Wantage, Northleach and Painswick.  I will look out for a book about the village names on my next visit.  The villages here are so iconic, just what we Americans think an English village should look like.  The yellow stone of the buildings, covered in wisteria provide lots of photo ops.  Many nice shops and cafes here to enjoy.  There are too many to list, but if you’re a movie buff like me there are tons of places to see here that were used in movies and TV.  Check out www.cotswolds.info/places/ for interesting things to do here and look under “film and tv locations” to pick some of your favorites.  Glouster Cathedral=Hogwarts,  I’m just saying!

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Glouster Cathedral

Going south to Cornwall via the M5 and A30, it’s close to a four hour drive so you want to start early.  There are so many places to see this way,  you can pick and choose according to your interests. I think I would just enjoy the ride through the moors and choose a nice place to lunch, making a few stops for photos or things that look interesting in the moment.

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The Cornwall Moors

You could go all the way to Land’s End if your interested, great photo ops here.  If you’ve ever read the novels of Daphne De Mornay, you will love exploring Cornwall.  In fact, if you have time before or during your trip, pick up a copy of “Rebecca” or “Jamaica Inn”, wonderful stories that help put the place in context. Be sure to stop in the Lizard while in Cornwall for some of the best Cornish Pasties anywhere!  There are lots of villages and towns between here and Highclere Castle on to London.

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Heading north on A30 and A303 to Highclere Castle for us “Downtown Abbey” fans is a must. Stopping along the way at Stonehenge is something everyone should see, it’s really mind boggling to listen to what history they actually do know and imagine how long humans have been visiting this place.  Also, not a little shocking to see the cars speeding by so close to where the stones are standing.  It’s about a three hour drive depending on where you left Cornwall.  It can be windy out here in the open, you might want to tie your hair back or bring a wind breaker as it can also be a bit cool.

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Stonehenge

 From Stonehenge to Highclere Castle, located outside of Newbury, on the A303 and A34 is about a forty minute drive.   Plan to spend a half day visiting the castle and walking around the beautiful grounds where this amazing series was filmed.  You should buy tickets in advance as soon as you know you’re going, if not, you take a chance at being turned away when you arrive.  Enjoy the guided tour of the house, tea in the garden and walking around the grounds.    The tour including the castle, Egyptian exhibition and grounds is currently £22.  There are a couple of offers for having tea here.  You can spurge and have tea in the coach house.  Tickets are priced at £25 per person, over age 18 only.  You must buy these tickets in advance as well.  There are many other tea rooms on the grounds, open from 10:00am to 5:00pm during open times, serving coffee and tea made in the Castle kitchens.  The tea rooms are also open for hot, light lunches from noon until 2pm .  You can get tea and scones as well.

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Looking down at Highclere Castle

From Highclere to London on the M4 (which has tolls) or the M3 (which takes about twelve extra minutes,  is about an hour and a half drive.   I’m not going to list all of the wonderful things a person can see and do in London.  I just like being there, having tea and people watching.  Of course there are many historical and amazing things to see and do and easily researched by your individual interests, but London needs an entire blog on it’s own.  Enjoy and take in all you can, there is no place like London!

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View of the Thames and the Shard in London

Strange Customs

I was thinking about the fairs and festivals I’ve seen over the years that are portrayed in English movies.  I thought I would research some of them on Google and entered “Obscure English Customs”.  It brought up lots of different things, some I’ve heard of and some I could never even imagine.

I pulled a dozen, from all over the UK.  I got them from a large calendar of events that I thought might interest you.  A few throughout the year:

JanuaryUp Helly Aa, Lerwick, Shetland

The largest fire festival in Europe is celebrated in Scotland on the last Tuesday of January every year. A torch-light procession through the streets of Lerwick, followed by the burning of a full-size replica of a Viking longship.

Wow, I’d love to see this! 

FebruaryBlessing the Throats, St Ethelreda, London

Two candles are tied together, lit, and touched on to the necks of people suffering from sore throats.

I wonder if this works?  Can’t be any worse than taking a man made chemical remedy:)

MarchTichborne Dole, Tichborne, Hampshire

The Tichborne Dole is one of the eccentric British traditions and dates back to the thirteenth century. It takes place every year on March 25th the Feast of the Annunciation (Lady’s Day).  The dole was flour and it was given to the poor until 1796. From 1796 Tichborne family have given money to the church instead.

This is a nice custom to help the less fortunate.  I wonder why they stopped? Let’s hope the church helped to feed the poor.

AprilWorld Coal Carrying Championship – Near Wakefield in Yorkshire

On Easter Monday, The World Coal Carrying Championship takes place in the village of Gawthorpe, in Yorkshire. Contestants run for one mile, carrying a 50kg bag of coal.  The contest dates from an incident at the Beehive Inn in 1963, when Lewis Hartley said to Reggie Sedgewick: “Ba gum, lad, tha’ looks buggered!” to which an affronted Mr Sedgewick riposted: “Let’s ‘ave a coil race from Barracks t’ Maypole.” And they did.

This isn’t a very old custom, but it sounds like a good idea after a few ales! 

MayCotswold Olimpick Games, Dover’s Hill, above Chipping Campden,                                                                                                                       Gloucestershire

An annual highlight of The Cotswold Olimpick Games is the Shin Kicking Championship.  As the sun began to set on Dover’s Hill, a band of white-coat-clad competitors began stuffing straw down their trousers ready for the British Shin Kicking Championship.  Competitors grasp each other by the shoulders and attempt to land well-timed blows to their opponent’s shins (between the knee and ankle).  Only then – in mid-kick – can a player attempt to bring his opposite number to the ground. The sport has been practiced on Dover’s Hill, near Chipping Campden, since the early 17th Century.

Ouch!

JuneNettle Eating Contest Marsham, Dorset

Held as part of a charity beer festival at the Bottle Inn in the village of Marshwood near Crewkerne, the event attracts entrants from around the world. Challengers attempt to out eat the current champion nettle-eater.

Ugh,stinging nettles!

JulySwan Upping (last Monday) River Thames

The Dyers and Vintner’s Companies have the right, established in medieval times, to keep swans on the Thames River. Every year the Queen’s Swan Keeper and Swan Markers from the two livery companies row in skiffs along the river to mark the cygnets (baby swans).

I imagine this is fun to watch.

AugustBog Snorkelling Championships,
                    Waen Rhydd peat bog, near Llanwrtyd Wells in mid Wales

The aim is to swim two lengths of the 60-yard Waen Rhydd peat bog with flippers and snorkel in the fastest time. There are different categories including juniors, fancy dress, women’s and men’s.

And this is probably funny to watch!  She looks to be having a good time!

SeptemberThe Horn Dance-Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire

The ancient Horn Dance is an annual event held traditionally on the first Monday after the first Sunday after September 4th!  The famous Horn Dance is performed by six Deer-men who wear reindeer horns. The dancers follow a 10 mile course and perform the ritual in 12 different locations in and around the village, whilst the musician plays tunes such as “The Farmers Boy” and “Uncle Mick” on a melodeon, with accompaniment from a triangle.

Lots of laughing and clapping, I’ll wager!

OctoberPearly King Harvest Festival-(First Sunday)Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields 

Dating from the 19th century, the Pearly Kings & Queens are a much-loved Cockney tradition. It started when a young boy covered a suit with pearly buttons to attract attention and to raise money for the poor at charity events and fairs. Other boroughs were so impressed that they got their own Pearly King or Queen.
The tradition continues to thrive today and Pearly Kings and Queens can be seen in their full spectacle at the annual Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival.  The annual Harvest Festival Service at the church of St. Martin-in-the Fields offers a spectacular display of historical London in all its glory.

These costumes have to be costly, even if they only use buttons! 

NovemberTar-Barrel Racing Ottery St Mary, Devon

Ottery St. Mary is internationally renowned for its Tar Barrels, an old custom said to have originated in the 17th century.  The annual event involves people racing through the streets of the town, carrying flaming wooden barrels of burning tar on their backs.

A crazy carry over I guess, not for the faint of heart!

DecemberMaldon Mud Race-Essex

Hundreds of people wading through muddy lagoons and marshes around Maldon. The event takes place at Promenade Park, at 1pm, with all money raised going to local charities.

They are dedicated!  Brrrr!

I may plan my next trip over around one of these,  some really interesting events.  You can read more about these on Wikipedia or by following my search to “Festivals and Celebrations”.

Missing England

It’s been eleven months since our last visit to England, which is amazing when I think about it.  The time has flown and yet it seems like we were just there.  This last week I couldn’t help thinking about all of the things that I still want to see and experience.

I know I should see some other part of the world.  The thing is, traveling can be stressful but going to England is not, at least not for me.  It’s easy and relaxing.

I feel comfortable there, I understand the language, the transportation, the money.  I love the people, the gardens and countryside, the food and the history.

And it doesn’t matter if it’s a small village, a busy city or the heart of London.  There is always so much to see and learn and experience.  There isn’t a week that goes by that I’m not thinking of what it would take to go back.  The age old problem of time and money.  I have gone back to work part time and can no longer think about going on a whim.  Not that I’ve ever done that, but I could have!

I still haven’t been further north than Cambridge, there is a lot more country to explore.  I love Wales and would like to spend more time there as well.  Then there’s Scotland, where my father’s family, Melrose, is from. The very reason my obsession with the UK started.

So, you see, we have to go again.  On top of the above justifications to make another trek over, my husband has mentioned going back every week since we came home last September!  Hopefully 2016 will be my lucky trip #7.  I better start saving, I have a daughter getting married in the spring as well.  I tried to talk her into a destination wedding.  “It would be the perfect place, if it were you getting married”, was her response.  My 40th anniversary is coming up, maybe Neil would consider renewing our vows in London:)