Just London-Part 1


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!

fish & chips

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.

Hampton Court Palace

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.


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.

St Pauls

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.


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.

Whie tower IMG_0540

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





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


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.



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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 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.


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”.

Oh To Be in England Again!

Any year I’m not going over to England for a visit, I long for the planning and the anticipation and just to be there.  My friends who have joined me there understand exactly what I mean by longing to be there.  Instead I find myself looking for things that remind me of that feeling, be it my photo albums, journals, movies, or books.

Here are a few of the images that keep me going until I have concrete plans to make the journey again:

Sheffield Park

Shop front in London



Hope you get to go soon!

The Home of Charles Darwin

September 19, 2014

Visiting Darwin House was one of the highlights of this latest trip to England.  It’s in Kent which I have fallen in love with and jokingly tell my family and friends that if I win the lotto, I am moving to Kent.  (Of course it would help if I played).


Front entrance to Darwin House. My friend Sue and I, hiding behind a pillar!

The weather was obliging and it turned out to be a beautiful sunny day,  so the drive down from London was really lovely.  I’m not sure what I imagined it to be before I went, but I know I wasn’t expecting such a large property.  It is a beautiful setting and the grounds are immaculate.  I love the Virginia Creeper climbing the walls of so many places in England, really spectacular.

This is an English Heritage property and they do such a nice job of preserving and presenting these historical places.  I enjoyed seeing the family rooms with a lot of the Darwin’s personal furniture and belongings.  There are a lot of interactive things to do, especially for the kids which would make a nice family day trip.  I also spent quite a while following the time line and history of Darwin and his studies and research.

One thing that is a passion of mine is genealogy and there is a room there which tells about him and his family, very interesting.  I love the story of how his children helped him in his studies as he got older.  They would do experiments on the property and report back their findings.

The back of Down House. It looks out to beautiful, well kept grounds

The garden here is very impressive.  I love gardens anyway, so to be able to walk the paths that Mr.Darwin walked almost daily for the forty years he lived here was pretty exciting.  The green house is outstanding.  There are rows of vegetables with flowers mixed in.  There are orchards and even a giant chess board for children to play with.

If only I knew how to play

If only I knew how to play

We walked around the garden for quite a while and it was every bit as interesting as the interior of the house.  What a wonderland for his children to grow up in and a special legacy for all of us to be able to visit. I love this display in the garden of a simple wooden wheel barrel holding clay pots.


View of the massive grounds at Down House

View of the massive grounds at Down House

There is a restaurant here that uses the same kitchen that was used to prepare the Darwin’s meals.  It also has a great gift shop where you can get books on his theories and research.  There all a lot of really nice things here for children if you like something educational as well as entertaining.

Afterwards we headed to the village of Downe and to The George & Dragon Pub for lunch.  It was not crowded and since it was such a lovely day we ate out back at some picnic tables.  The menu was British pub food at it’s best, fish & chips, puff pastry pies, baguette sandwiches, lamb, stuffed jacket potatoes, curry and Ploughman’s.  I settled on The Dragon Burger and a lemon shandy.  It was cooked just right and so large that I couldn’t finish.

Across from the pub is St. Mary’s church and an ancient yew tree that is completely hollow in the middle, it’s a wonder it’s still living. I’m sure if Mr. Darwin were here he could explain it to me!

Neil in front of The George & Dragon Pub

Neil in front of The George & Dragon Pub


The Garden Museum-Lambeth

Finally, I made it to The Garden Museum.  I’ve tried on previous visits to London, but something always conspired to keep me away.  When it was first opened, it was only open for certain months of the year and I always went at the wrong time.  The museum is located on the south bank of the Thames, next to Lambeth Palace and opposite Tate Britain.  It’s about a half mile from The Imperial War Museum, so we walked.  We needed this after the utter horror and sadness of, not only all of the war machines of death, but the Holocaust exhibition there.

The garden is my therapy and it’s where I find myself after any very emotional state that I may find myself in, so I suggested this at the end of our visit to the war museum.  It’s a small museum and there is a fee here, £5.00 for adults and well worth the price if this is where your interests lie.

I will quote The Garden Museum’s website to tell you how the museum came about, “The Museum was set up in 1977 in order to rescue from demolition the abandoned ancient church of St Mary’s which is the burial place of John Tradescant (c1570 – 1638), the first great gardener and plant-hunter in British history. His magnificent and enigmatic tomb is the centrepiece of a knot garden planted with the flowers which grew in his London garden four centuries ago.”

It’s really a lovely church and when you first walk in you get the feeling that this is a very special place.  Compared to so many other museums I’ve visited in London, this is on a smaller scale, but it doesn’t feel small at all.  It’s light and airy and the displays are attractive and easy to see.  There is gorgeous artwork and drawings of garden design and old garden tools.  My favorite display was the actual antique garden tools.  They are hung in lighted cases that make it easy to see them, and there are many drawings and paintings  of the tools being used.

It has about 6000 objects covering about 400 years of British gardening.  It’s kind of amazing that this has been amassed only the last three decades and continues to grow.  I had to ask Neil why, in our vacation photos,  we have at least 20  from the war museum and none from the garden museum.  The answer to that is because he had possession of the camera!

There is also a great gift shop here and I got my friend a really nice pair of secuteurs for her upcoming birthday.  I bought myself a wooden dibble and a little device to make seedling pots from newpaper.  Very useful.  There were so many beautiful arty postcards that I bought about eight of them to either frame or give as gifts.

The Garden Cafe looked very good with lots of fresh produce and soups.  There is a lovely place to eat in the knot garden and the sign says freshly baked cakes and seasonal tarts.  We didn’t eat at the cafe because of timing, but on our next trip I will plan the better part of a day for the museum and of course lunch.

We both loved the garden and walked around in wonder at some of the plants on display there.  The climate is similar to ours here in the Pacific Northwest, yet they had blooming Oleanders!  This is a plant that is everywhere is Southern California, but I’ve never seen it up north.   This a churchyard after all and besides the tomb of John Tradescant, Captain Bligh, depicted in the famous film “Mutiny on the Bounty” is buried here.  Most American’s only know him from the movie and Charles Laughton’s version of a rather horrible ship’s captain.   His actual history is very different from what is portrayed in film.  Here is the text from his tomb:

It’s worth reading the history of this hero of the English navy.  Neil and I were sympathetic when we read not only his epitaph, but his wife, Elizabeth who died in 1812,  as well as their twin sons, William and Henry, aged one day.  Also, an inscription to William Bligh Barker, a grandson, who died in 1805.

Wandering through the church yard and garden you see a lot of normal signs of garden work.  There are volunteers here working to keep the garden in shape.

We noticed a layered device with a spout on it with the label “the wormery”.    Of course I had to know how it works.  The volunteer was very helpful and opened it up to show us the layers, where they put kitchen waste and the end result as the worms turn it into compost and liquid fertilizer to use in the garden.  My own composting process works pretty well, so I don’t think I will be buying one for my garden.  It’s a great idea and one that can be made many different ways to benefit your own garden.

This is what a museum should be: attractive, interesting, educating, historical, and this is exactly what The Garden Museum does.

Boxing Day

I’m not sure if they actually refer to Boxing Day as a holiday in England.  I had heard of it, but before I actually started going over and had friends I could discuss these things with, I thought Boxing Day was the day you boxed up your Christmas decorations.  It has a far loftier history than that.

Boxing day was traditionally a day when servants and tradesmen would receive boxes of gifts from their employers.  The gifts were known as a “Christmas Box”.  From Wikipedia I learned that, “The Oxford English Dictionary gives the earliest attestations of the term as being from England in the 1830s, defining it as ‘the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box’.”

This custom was started as a tradition because in older days the servants were expected to work on Christmas serving their masters.  In consequence, a good master would give the servants the day after Christmas to be with their families.  Today, at least here in America if you work any national holiday, you expect to be paid a lot extra, time and a half is the standard.

Thinking about the tradesmen who are given small gifts for a job well done all year, what if you are say the postman?  If you had a hundred houses that you delivered to, the take would be huge.  Even if only half of the customers gave you a gift, you’d be carting home fifty small gifts, nice!

From IrishFestivals.net : Celtic myth had it that the robin that was suppose to represent the New Year, killed the wren which represented the Old Year during this time. Wren Boys blacken their faces and go from house to house asking for money to bury the wren. The money they collect is used to buy food and drink for the “wren dance” held on this night.

Sometimes called St Stephen’s Day or the Feast of St Stephen,  a Catholic holiday,  which honors the first Christian martyr who was stoned to death!  I couldn’t really find any reference to an actual feast, so I’m not sure what that’s about.

These days, Boxing Day has become a huge sale day for retailers, much like America’s Black Friday.  It’s also become a big day for sports, with a full program of football and rugby matches.  Sounds like the perfect day for married couples!





Christmas in London

Merry, Happy, Joyeux Christmas!!  This is a re-post of my blog about spending Christmas in London 2008. Tis the season and I hope you are enjoying yours this year!

I was lucky enough, along with my cousin Marcie, to be invited to London to “see how they do Christmas” in 2008.  We were generously invited by our friends Susan and Tim.  Neither of us have ever gone away and not done Christmas with our families, ever.  I personally will probably not do it again unless they all come with me!  I missed them and all of our quirky little traditions.  The kind that only your own family can have, kept over the years because it gave one or all of us a happy feeling that we wanted to experience again and again.   I’m not sure how the rest of you are, but we try new and different things along with the old ones that were brought from when my husband and I were growing up.  Some things we have to do because of tradition, then we’ll add a little something new and maybe that will be the only year we do it or it becomes part of our repertoire.

At any rate, having the opportunity to go to England and experience with our friends and their family was an offer neither of us could refuse.   I think about it often and pull out the wonderful book of photos that Marcie made for us as a remembrance.  Indeed, I show it to everyone because it captures the fun and amazement that we experienced there.  I am only going to include a few highlights here for a couple of reasons: One is, that if you are anything like me, when it’s over it’s over.  I have a friend that puts her tree(s) up at Halloween and leaves them up until Valentine’s Day.  This is not me.  To my mind it takes the “special” time of year away.  Two,  I have had a spectacularly busy and crazy year and I can not locate my journal of that particular trip.  (New Year resolution: organize my office!)

Most of us came from European descent and holiday traditions were also brought over and passed down, so it was familiar and different at the same time.  Going to this already lovely home in Crystal Palace with the bright red door is always a wonderful homey feeling for both of us.  The wreath on the door, the decorations every where, the hustle and bustle of the season added to our excitement of being there.  The decorations and lights around the city of London were truly magical.                                       

Our friends had arranged a special present for us,  a Christmas choir concert at Westminster Abbey!  Can you imagine?  We had never been in the Abbey, in all of our visits.  I was awe struck, the history, the beauty of the place.  There were readings by Boris Johnson, actors and other dignitaries.  But the music, the voices were inspiring.   I felt my mind wandering, trying to remember some of the history that I had heard about the abbey.  I had to make myself focus on what was happening or I would have missed it.   I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to have witnessed something this beautiful and profound. There were carols that I recognized and ancient songs that I never knew existed.   I will be forever grateful to them for thinking of us.  It is a family tradition of theirs to go to this wonderful concert every year.  I admit that I was a little blown away when Sue told us that her children went to preschool at the abbey.  Being a foreigner it never occurred to me that this was a working church.  I naively assumed that it was for special royal ceremonies and tourists.

Marcie and I went Christmas shopping to gather a few things for a gift basket for our hosts. We had brought many small tastes of America for them, canned albacore from Oregon, wine from a Southern California winery, chocolate infused with chili, marionberry jam from the northwest.  We needed to find a basket as well as add a few fillers.  We headed to John Lewis, a lovely British department store.  The first visit we made to England included a visit to John Lewis where I bought a warm down comforter.  I somehow stuffed it into a tote bag to carry it home on the plane.   Having got it here I discovered that it was just too warm for my middle aged body, so it’s keeping one of my daughters toasty warm every winter!  At any rate, after shopping around we found ourselves at Green Park and remembered that Sue had told us to stop at the hour and watch the clock at Fortnum & Mason’s.  Not wanting to miss anything that cool, we did just that.  We also went in to peruse the lovely holiday displays.

One of our really fun days was spent going to Hampton Court.  I’ve been to many of the castles and palaces since I started visiting England, but this is one of my favorites.  Perhaps it’s the history, all Americans seem to love Henry VIII and the story of his wives.  So brutal and romantic at the same time.  It was decorated for Christmas and there was an actual ice skating rink set up on the front grounds.  The tour was very revealing and touring the kitchens was a real eye opener.  You just don’t normally think of the day to day actions it took to run this huge residence for the king, his guests and the hundreds of people that worked there.  The grounds are really beautiful, it’s what you would imagine a royal palace to look like, you can just see them taking walks through the park, reading on a bench, embroidering in an alcove.

Here is my cousin beside one of the giant decorated trees:

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Now, I’m going to talk about the food. You knew it was coming, right?  It’s all about the food and at the holidays especially. First of all, my friend Sue is an excellent cook.  It’s not only delicious, but she likes to add little surprise ingredients that the average person wouldn’t think of, at least not this average person!  So, for Christmas morning, we had champagne and little salmon sandwiches in front of the fire.

       I was impressed with their gift giving, so much more practical than the average American way of going crazy and spending a fortune on the people on your list.  They gave personal useful gifts that weren’t over the top, expensive or trendy.  I’m not talking about socks and underwear either.   But things that the other person was interested in and would be used for years and the giver would be thought of every time.  Like a very fine journal for a writer, or an unusual utensil for a chef, things like that.  Something they will cherish but didn’t put the giver into credit card debt.  Being a banker, this is the kind of thing I see year after year here in America.

Our Christmas dinner was flavorful, satisfying and long, in a good way.  First of all, the table was set beautifully with an array of silverware and glasses.  There were crackers at every place setting and yes, we all did wear the funny little crown hats!  I’d seen it on movies but didn’t imagine that I would ever be doing this at Christmas time. It was fun!  Our first course was plates of delicious cheeses and gherkins (pickles), crackers and breads and of course wine.

For the main course,  Sue had gotten the most wonderful Suffolk ham, promising that it was “very special”.  A huge understatement!   This was joined on the plate with perfect potatoes roasted in duck fat, carrots, green beans and herbed popovers, served with more lovely wine.  For dessert a traditional plum pudding was brought forth, steaming and gorgeous.  Altogether, a feast fit for a king (or queen).  Here it is in all it’s glory:

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 For New Year Eve, Sue made us another lovely feast.   But first Marcie and I spent the day in London, visited the Old Globe theater and walked across the Millennium Bridge to Saint Paul’s.   photo (10)

Then we went back to our home away from home where we spent another wonderful evening sharing with, by now, old friends, this delectable meal:

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Beautiful food, artistically presented, and amazingly flavorful.  This is a beautifully arranged plate of hor d’oeuvres.  Followed by pheasant with whipped potatoes, whipped sweet potatoes and other various tasties!

 I am the luckiest girl in the world to have, not only my family and friends here at home, but my extended family and friends so far away from here.   I truly wish you all a Happy, Healthy New Year and hope you find a place you love and feel a kinship to as I have.  Happy traveling!

September in Sussex


This was the longest flight I’ve had so far going to England.  It may have just felt that way.  After the usual chaos and panic of getting ready and a two hour flight to L.A., we had a three and half hour layover.  We started our trip off with dinner at Sammy’s Wood Fired Pizza.  I should not eat gluten, but that didn’t stop me.  I’m on vacation dammit and I’m going to eat all of the lovely things I’ve been craving for the last couple of years.  I find out later why that was a really bad mistake, but I digress….

Neil and I were  very excited about going together on this trip, it’s been an emotional year, both good and bad and we really need this time away.  Going to a place that I’m very familiar with but he’s never been to is kind of weird for both of us.  He, because I usually wait for him to take the lead and me, because what if he doesn’t see it the way I do?

Of course travel is always an iffy venture.  I was certain I booked the tickets through British Air, which I have always had a good experience with.  Instead it was through American Airlines which I have not.  Honestly it was fine except that the seats were the smallest I’ve ever sat in for a ten hour  international flight.  The movies were great, the food was fine for airplane fare.

Billingshurst Station

We arrived at two the following afternoon, got through customs with me warning my husband not to joke around with the officer asking questions.  They are known not to have a sense of humor. However, the woman that checked us through was awesome and it all went off without a hitch.  We bought our ticket on the Gatwick Express and headed south to Sussex to meet our cousins.  They were waiting there and it’s so nice to have those hugs and catch up time with people that you know and love.  They took us straight back to their lovely, comfortable very British home and a great home cooked meal, then it was time for some much needed sleep.

Linda and Richard are my fifth cousins who I met doing genealogical research in 2001.  They are really, really amazing hosts, much better than I can ever hope to be.  They have taken such good care of me on five other occasions and this was no exception.   They cooked us nice food, drove us around, gave us gifts and even gave up their own bed for our comfort.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for that!  Here is a beautiful watercolor that Lin made for me as a gift.  I will cherish it always!

There are so many beautiful and interesting things to see in Sussex! I love just walking around the villages, stopping in at shops, maybe picking up a few things that are different than I can get in America.  It was nice to show Neil where my family originated, walk in the church yard, see the WW1 memorial that has one of my ancestors name engraved on it.  I love the hardware store there in Billingshurst and go in it on every visit just to  see what interesting things they have that Home Depot does not.

Lin was keen on showing us St Botoph’s Church in Hardham in the Horsham District of West Sussex.  Built about 1050, it has wall paintings from about 1100.  A really interesting and important church, amazing!

Inside of St Botolph’s Church

Lin and Richard then drove us around the gorgeous country here.  We stopped at the town of Petworth which is mentioned in the Doomsday Book.  We walked around the town and stopped in at a few antique shops and St Mary’s Catholic Church.  Petworth was bombed in World War ll in Septemberof 1942, when a lone German plane tried to bomb Petworth House.  It missed the house and landed on the Petworth Boys’ School in North Street. Twenty eight boys died along with the headmaster and assistant teacher. So sad.  I think most of us relate the Blitz only to London, but they also bombed much of the rest of England.

The parish church of St Mary, Petworth

We then drove past the Goodwood Estate which was having a car event of some kind and we got to see lots of vintage cars.  Just up the road is a Rolls Royce factory and there were dozens of new cars lined up outside.  Apparently they were heading for the car show at Goodwood as well.

Richard treated us all to delicious fish & chips, Neil’s first authentic English!  The place was called Andy’s Fish Bar, in Chichester.  The portions were so huge I don’t think anyone actually finished the whole meal.  I find it amusing because whenever I’ve had a conversation with anyone from the UK about food, they will mention the large portions in America.

Arundel Castle

We stopped at Arundel Castle on the way back and walked around the town a little bit.  I had always wanted to see this castle because while doing genealogy, I remember seeing the name “Arundel” in my mother’s family history.  I later found out that what I remembered was “Arundel, Maryland”.  Big let down, thought it meant that we came from royalty!   It was too late to go into the castle by this time so we went in to a little tea shop and had a dessert.

Back home for nice dinner and conversation, talking about all of the lovely things we got to see today and looking forward to more tomorrow.

The Green Men

Garway church
Garway, Herefordshire, England

I was first introduced to the Green Man carvings on my third or fourth visit to England.   At first, I thought that they were like the carvings at Oxford.  I found a small book about it, one of the Pitkin Guides.  I had read about the stone masons carving small faces and figures in obscure places of churches and cathedrals in the book by Edward Rutherfurd, “Sarum”, but I don’t remember that the term “Green Man” was used.

Salisbury Cathedral’s roof boss

According to the Pitkin Guide, Green Men do not appear in England until the twelfth century, but were in Rome as early as first century a.d.  I couldn’t find a definitive list, or the number of Green Man carvings in England.  The Pitkin Guide lists 60 in the back of it.  From what I could find there are hundreds of them around the UK.

Rosslyn Chapel

These consist of churches, cathedrals, benches,  roof bosses, the tops of columns, and hinged wooden seats, known as “misericords”.

Roof boss carved in 1350, Prince’s Chantry
Canterbury Cathedral

I honestly have not had the pleasure of seeing any of these in person, yet.  I wrote about searching and finding the one in Canterbury Cathedral.  In my research for this article I discovered that what I actually found was a cat mask and not the Green Man as shown above! I’ve been to many of the places that have a Green man hidden among the columns, but before I found the book, I didn’t even know to look for them.

The Green Man roof boss from Dore Abbey
Herefordshire, England

The Green Men are whimsical creatures with no apparent religious symbolism, although many are in churches.  I like to think that in repressed times it was the carvers way of showing a little defiance and creative grit.  I love the way the carvings seem to capture most of our human character;  surprise, glee, whimsy, fear, menace, mirth, shyness or evil.

Replica carving of a Green Man, near the Chapter House entry of York Minster

See how many you can find in your travels.  They are hidden in some of the most visited attractions in the UK.  Like the above mentioned, but also in Windsor, Bristol, Cambridge, Winchester, Stratford-on-Avon, Ludlow, St. Paul’s, near Cardiff in Wales, and Glasgow, Scotland, to name but a few.  Make a game of it with the kids, it would be a fun adventure!