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

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Drag Racing-Part 2

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 I did a little research about Santa Pod Raceway and discovered that it’s the most famous drag racing track outside of America!  Drag racing has it’s origins in America in the 1920s, it took off in the UK during the 1960s when many of the old airstrips were converted to drag strips.  Permission was obtained in 1966 to turn Podington Airfield in Bedfordshire into a drag racing complex.  It was very interesting to me to find that it was named “Santa Pod” after the Santa Ana drag strip in Southern California since Neil and I are both originally from Southern California.  Santa Ana was the first official drag strip in America and was in operation from 1950 to 1959.  It too got it’s start as an airstrip.

Today Santa Pod Raceway hosts events all year long including the FIA European Drag Racing Championships and the ‘Run What You Brung’ (RWYB) where anyone with a valid driving licence can drive their own vehicle and test it against others.  One thing I’ve learned over the years, hanging out with Neil and his friends who race, is that drag racing is so much more than which car gets to the finish line first. There is skill and a lot of technical knowledge and science that goes into a run.  Some of things that racers need to check are air temperature, humidity and a barometer to give a corrected altitude.  Weather can change it.  Also, tire pressure, wind direction and wind speed.  All of these can affect how fast the car goes so that a driver is not only racing the car next to him, but racing his own preparation, skill and knowledge.

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Neil decided to go up to Santa Pod because over the years he’s heard of the racing there and wanted to see the venue for himself.  He was duly impressed with the operation and show that they put on.

I asked him what difference stood out to an American racer who has knowledge and experience of so many years of racing here.  He said to be honest it was the size of the rigs.  We all have heard in movies and life that here in America size matters.  Everything has to be big.  I mean look at the size of the food portions alone!  When he says “rigs”, he’s talking about the car trailers, motor homes and trucks.  The average length of these rigs here in America is a whopping 65 feet!

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The biggest surprise was how many US cars were there.  A lot of cars were imported from the US.  It would be interesting to know if there are many car builders there.  Drag Racing has different classes and categories such as Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Stock to name a few.  Neil most recently raced in the Super Comp class.  He was surprised that in the UK the cars have a whole team of up to 10 people.  In America, Neil usually would do everything himself or with just one other crew member. He was also surprised that in the Super Pro category electronics were not allowed as they are here.  Delay boxes, timers and throttle stops are used in that class regularly in America.

All in all, Santa Pod is a must see for Gear Heads and Drag Race enthusiasts.  We are going to plan our next visit around a large event there.  Neil would love to be there and compare it to a large NHRA event that he’s so familiar with here.  It’s wonderful to be able to go abroad and see and compare, gain some other knowledge and meet people that share your passion!

English History and Other TV Shows

I have been very excited lately with the choice of interesting TV shows and documentaries they are showing on American television.   One of my all time favorites, like a lot of people, is Masterpiece Theater.  The latest historical offering is Wolf Hall.  It’s very well done.  I’m not sure how accurate it is, but I do find it entertaining, interesting and a new take on a subject that’s been done a lot in the past.  From Thomas Cromwell’s perspective.  I couldn’t help feeling for him in the beginning: a poor man who has raised himself up to such a high place in the English court of the King.  The blue bloods of the time were furious that he rose to such power due to his talent and intelligence.

I didn’t grow up learning English history like I did American history, though all of it is questionable.  I think it was and is human nature to not stick to the facts as far as history goes.  “You can’t handle the truth”!  I’m pretty sure, just because it’s the way things are, that he was as good and as bad as all of us are.  Watch the series on PBS, it’s compelling and if nothing else a good story, great English iconic buildings and costumes.

Another great show that I’ve been watching is on Netflix called A Time to Remember.  It’s a compilation of old Pathe film that was shot starting at the turn of the last century and captures amazing film of life in Britain and around the world.  From early airplanes, war, theater and every thing in between.  Really captivating and nice to see this original film preserved and shown. 

If you haven’t watched the comedy Moone Boy, you are missing a hysterical show.  It’s actually an Irish show and it chronicles the daily life of a preteen boy with an imaginary friend played brilliantly by Chris O’Dowd.  Just watch it, you’ll love it.

Is it just me or are the British obsessed with murder?  There are so many murder mystery and crime dramas out that it makes your head spin. I found over 220 just in doing research for this article!  I love it!!

A few fun ones are Midsomer Murders, Inspector Lewis, New Tricks, Sherlock, Rosemary and Thyme and of course Miss Marple.  A few of the more serious and interesting are Broadchurch, Whitechapel, Happy Valley, Foyle’s War and The Bletchly Circle.  That isn’t counting all of the really top notch spy shows:  MI5, Page Eight and Spy which is a comedy.

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.

The Imperial War Museum

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Rolling cannon

Our second day out, we headed to the Imperial War Museum.  As always we rely on the public transportation as London has one of the best systems in the world.  I have actually driven a rental car in London and it’s not something a normal person on vacation should attempt!  It’s nerve racking and I will venture to say impossible unless you buy the “London A to Z” guide and have someone else to read while you drive.  The street names will change in the middle of a long street.  The signs are not on street level, but up on the side of a building, so it’s not like they pop up and you know it’s changed.  Also, because of the crowds and traffic, it’s quite easy to spend hours driving in circles.  Then there is the past incident of me asking a distinguished looking gentleman how to get to the M25 and he scratched his head and said “you can’t get there from here.”  I felt like I was reading “Notes From A Small Island” by Bill Bryson again!

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Hawker Hurricane

Now I don’t like war, I don’t believe it is a solution to anything except heartache and horror.  I do however love history and support the men and women that fight for their countries. This is a really excellent museum and we both enjoyed it.  It has so many intact, full size pieces of equipment and amazing photos.  There are service men and women that are docents at the museum, willing to share their knowledge with you.  My husband, of course being a male, was enthralled with the planes, tanks, rockets and bombs.  Clearly his favorite item being a circa WWII mini-bike, the evidence of this in the twenty or so photos he took of it!

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Circa WWII mini-bike

I think my favorite item was a little safety hut, placed around the streets of London for the police and fireman to duck into to avoid debris that was falling.  I don’t think it would help at all if a bomb landed on it, but I’m sure they felt a little safer knowing they were protected from flying shrapnel.

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Safety hut

 

My favorite exhibition here was the “home life” exhibition.  There were many wonderful photos from WWII and vignettes of what an average British home looked like during WWII.  Many food containers of things they could “buy” with their ration cards and cleaning items that were used.  What families and children at home and school did during a bomb raid.  There was music and clothing, furniture, and tools.  There was a really well done exhibition following one family, the Allpress family, throughout the war. Who lived, who died, what happened to them after the war.  I’m not sure if that is a permanent exhibition or not.  It’s definitely worth seeing.

A Family In Wartime Exhibition

On the top floor of the Imperial War Museum is a very well done Holocaust Museum.  It’s important not to forget what people are willing to do to other humans in the name of war.  It does an excellent job of bringing those horrors to the viewer.  By the time we made it through that amazing exhibition we were both drained.  I suggested we head over to the Garden Museum.  No matter how bad you are feeling, gardens will help you get through it!

Work by Morris Kestelman

 

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!

The Beatles

I think the average English baby boomer should have the same place of pride for the Beatles as a California girl such as myself has for the Beach Boys.  I was first introduced to the Beatles on the radio right at the beginning of the British invasion in the early 60s. I got a transistor radio for Christmas and never went anywhere without it, I even slept with it under my pillow! Their songs were mixed in with surf bands like the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean and Motown groups, like the Supremes.  My brother brought home their newest album  and I was hooked.  I really liked that music, but not even close to what my cousin Marcie felt.  She loved them and we played their music, sang their songs and read all the teen magazine articles we could find.

 

My Aunt Lucy somehow got tickets to their concert in August of 1965 at Balboa Stadium.  She had one extra ticket that wasn’t close to her seat so my brother was the chosen one that got to go.  I was so mad about it,  I was only 12 and  so it’s not really a surprise that even in 1965 my mother was cautious with her daughter.  After all, my brother was almost 16!  I was pea green with jealousy of him, but oddly enough not of my cousin.  I was so happy for her that she got to live the dream.   I remember that she screamed herself hoarse and I thought that was the coolest thing in the world!

Of course, when you’re that age, popular music is really important to you.  I loved the music from the UK,  Petula Clark, Herman’s Hermit’s, Chad and Jeremy, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Peter and Gordon, etc.  I could sing them all, but to me, like everyone else I knew, the Beatles were at the top of the list.  We sat glued to the TV when they were on the Ed Sullivan show.

Then there were the films. The Beatles came along and did the very popular and fun “Hard Days Night” and “Help”, we wouldn’t miss any of them.  As I got older, my love for them grew.  I remember in high school my best friend Nancy and I would save up and be at the store when it opened on the day a new album was released.  If it was a school day we ditched school. My favorite album was Rubber Soul.  I had them all though and listened to them over and over.  The only one I saved was Rubber Soul and my oldest daughter is the lucky one that got it.

We listened to every song and got caught up in the tabloid stories.  We were going to stop listening when Paul got married, cried about it when “Paul is dead” was announced and listened to “number 9” over and over.   I remember in the early days of their popularity my mother and I had an argument,  she said there is no way they will ever be as popular as Elvis!  She wouldn’t have discouraged me if she knew that they are responsible for the only “A” I ever got on an English paper in high school.  I was inspired and Nancy and I lived and breathed our research for that report.  We knew our subject and delivered it with conviction!

So maybe I’m feeling a little nostalgic today and hearing any of their songs takes me back to a day in my life, just like that.  That’s the great thing about music though.  My entire life I’ve wanted to go to the UK and their lyrics fed that.  Yeah baby!

 

 

Women’s Rights and Mrs Pankhurst

As a baby boomer I grew up in the time of the  Women’s Liberation Movement .   Bra burning, equal pay, “I am Woman, hear me Roar, etc”.   If you are younger than say 50,  you may not realize that as recently as the 1970s,  here in the US, women couldn’t get a loan at a bank by themselves,  they had to have a male family member co-sign the loan with them.  Apparently we were so feeble minded we couldn’t be relied upon to understand complicated business matters.  I was a young wife in 1975 when I got my first job at a bank.  The name of it was “The Women’s Bank of California”, and we prided ourselves on treating women with the same respect as we treated men.  My manager was a man by the way, no surprise there.

At any rate, as I am still working in the banking world, I often share this bit of history with my new tellers. They are usually young 20 somethings and are always amazed by this fact.  Of course, the 1970s probably feels like ancient history to them, but to me it just wasn’t all that long ago.

I was thinking about this the other day which then prompted thoughts of my grandmother’s day and the trials they had to go through.  She was born in 1896 and according to one of my cousins that grew up with her, she helped young women that were “in trouble” much the same way that Imelda Staunton did in the movie “Vera Drake”.  It’s hard to imagine now that a woman had no other choice back then, and they did what they had to do.

Thinking about the hardships of this time then made me think about the Women’s Vote,  which immediately made me remember  “Mary Poppins” and the “Votes for Women” parts of that movie.  Mrs. Pankhurst’s work was mentioned here because Mrs. Banks was a follower.

I did some research on Mrs. Pankhurst and she was a pretty interesting woman.  It’s funny how in history one or two of the players will stand out and we don’t give much thought to all of the others that sacrificed and worked in the background, but those one or two are what make us know about it at all.

There were actually two different movements working for a woman’s right to vote in England at the same time.  I had never heard of the moderate one where intelligent women tried to get the vote through just by arguing the point.  The person that is most well known for this is Millicent Fawcett, and I would love you to comment if you have ever heard about her.  Perhaps if you did grow up in England you learned about her in school, but being an American, I had never once heard her name before doing my research.

One of the most famous woman that worked for women’s rights in England was Emmeline Pankhurst, who favored the militant approach.  She was born in 1858 into a family that had a long tradition of radical politics.  She married Richard Pankhurst, a lawyer and supporter of the women’s suffrage movement.

Mrs. Pankhurst formed the “Women’s Franchise League” in 1889 which fought to allow married women the right to vote in local elections.  In  1903, she helped found the more militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), an organisation notorious for it’s activities.  This organisation’s members were the first christened “suffragettes”.  The British general public were astonished by the demonstrations, window smashing, arson and hunger strikes of the suffragettes.  The nation was appalled when in 1913, WSPU member Emily Davison died when she threw herself under the king’s horse at the Derby. She was protesting the government’s continued failure to grant women the right to vote.

Like many suffragettes, Emmeline was arrested on numerous occasions over the next few years.  I love this photo of her being arrested and the policeman actually having to pick her up and carry her away!

Can you imagine being a woman at the time and having to go through this kind of humiliation?

This period of militancy  ended abruptly  at the outbreak of war in 1914, when Emmeline turned her energies to supporting the war effort.  She died shortly after achieving her dream of woman having equal voting rights with men at age 21.  It was 1928.

I got this information from a history of Emmeline Pankhurst by the BBC.  I am really awed by the heroism of people in this age.  I feel like in today’s world, we complain loudly about the things we don’t like,  freedom of speech right? But how many of us would do something that would inconvenience us by  getting thrown in jail for our beliefs?

Christmas in London

Well, I’m a bit late as usual with a post, this one about Christmas.  Merry, Happy, Joyeux Christmas!!

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, 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, marion berry 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”.  I 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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We ended up staying for three weeks on this particular visit.  I will locate my journal and do a proper blog with the details and the wonderful places we visited with cousins and friends.

 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 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 feel like 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!

Ludlow-part two

I highly encourage you to keep a journal of where ever you travel.  Reading through mine, I find that I get the same feeling as when I was actually there.  There are so many little notes of things that I had forgotten and my journal takes me back so clearly in my mind.  Today in the Pacific Northwest, as many areas of our country, it is unusually cold. -9 this morning! Reading through my journal, I’m back on a May day driving through the gorgeous Gloucestershire and Shropshire countryside with my friends and enjoying every moment of it.

May 7th, 2005

After breakfast in our gorgeous, light filled conservatory we are on the road to visit a couple of Royal Heritage sites in Shropshire.  The first is Boscobel House.

There is a guided tour and our tour guide reminded me of John Cleese! The house has a very interesting history of Charles II hiding out here after his father was beheaded.  He was defeated in the Battle of Worcester by Cromwell’s men in 1651 and went into hiding.  He used disguises and many safe houses before fleeing to France, later returning to restore the monarchy to England in the 1660’s..  He hid in a massive oak tree in the adjacent forest, now dubbed “The Royal Oak”.  He also hid in the house and you get to go into the attic hiding place on the tour.  The house is fully furnished with paneled rooms and secret hiding places.

Here is a small except of what Wikipedia says about the current situation of the oak tree:

 The tree standing on the site today is not the original Royal Oak, which is recorded to have been destroyed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by tourists who cut off branches and chunks as souvenirs. The present day tree is believed to be a two or three hundred-year old descendant of the original and is thus known as ‘Son of Royal Oak’.

In 2000, Son of Royal Oak was badly injured during a violent storm and lost many branches. In September 2010, it was found to have developed large and dangerous cracks. The 2011 season opened with the tree surrounded by a wooden outer perimeter fence to ensure the safety of visitors.

I love that, “the Son of Royal Oak”! Sounds like a movie sequel:)   After leaving here we tried to stop at a pub for lunch, but I had forgotten that so many places close for a couple of hours in the afternoon.  We keep heading south back toward Ludlow and stop at Stokesay Castle.  We started the tour but didn’t quite finish, so we decide to go back the next day.  Besides, the castle serves a cream tea and since Suzanne and Peg haven’t had an authentic cream tea yet, we have to come back!  On the way out we ask one of the men working if he can recommend the best fish and chips place in town.  You just have to try the foods that a country is known for, and it’s always best to ask a local.

                

He told us to try The Clive which is a modern restaurant in a very old building.  Not really a fish and chips place, but definitely worth stopping for!   We found it and it actually had a sign with two different names, it’s also called “The Cookhouse”.  It turns out that there is a fabulous chef and the menu was varied, fresh and healthy with innovative combinations.  I Googled it and this restaurant has now become a B&B and has been awarded two AA rosettes as well as an entry in the Michelin Guide.  Very impressive and glad we got to go in the beginning!  We easily found our way back to our comfortable cottage for a movie and rest.

May 8th

After breakfast we walked up the hill for a visit to Ludlow Castle.  For some reason the tour was closed, but there is an old car show on the green and since we are all married to car guys we take some photos.    I love Morris Minor cars, so much style.  I can never remember the name and have to ask my husband. I always want to call them Major Minors!

We went to a great little antique shop in town and I find another Toby Jug to add to my collection.  I really wanted something of a quintessential British token of my visits and when I picked up a small one on my first visit I decided to buy one for every time I went. Twice I didn’t find or forgot, so my lovely cousin Linda brought me two large jugs when she came to visit us here.  I cherish these and I look at them often.

After this we hit the road and went back to finish our tour of Stokesay Castle.   It is a lovely medieval castle that was finished in 1291 and remarkably has scarcely been altered.  I really like the massive open hearth great hall.  The view is absolutely amazing.  We had the promised cream tea and took a short drive across the bridge into Wales and made a circle back towards Ludlow.   We saw a sign for a garden tour and turned in to check it out.  It looks like a good one but it’s too late today, so home we head to Ludlow and the Rose and Crown pub for some fish & chips.  Back at our cottage we put on our PJs and watched the VE Celebration in Trafalgar Square and then a movie.  What a fun day!

May 9th

We are up and off early today for a long drive to Newport Pagnell, about 3 1/2 hours it was.  Some of Peggy’s family are from this area.  The country is gorgeous!  As always, food comes first so we have a very nice lunch at The Swan Hotel, then set off to find the church.  We stop in a shop that sells old photos of the area and Peggy is able to buy a book about the local history.  We are all looking in the graveyard for her family name of Gurney but no luck.  The church is closed today, but Peggy asks someone who is about and they graciously allow her to go inside and take a look.  It makes the long drive worth it for her to be allowed to do this.  It’s such an emotional connection.  We did go to a small village close by called Stone.  Peggy had some family information about this village as well and we were rewarded with a Gurney grave, although not an old one, but still photo worthy.  She has a new name to research and who knows, maybe she’ll find a cousin that still lives there.

Went back and got some provisions at the market and Suzanne made us another lovely dinner.  It’s just so nice to snack on local cheeses and a bottle of red and talk and laugh together.  Afterward we watched “About a Boy” and ate another national favorite, Victorian Sponge.  We all saw this on “Calendar Girls” and had been wanting to try it.  I wrote in my journal “a very light cake with a layer of cream filling and a thin layer of jam.  Pretty darn good!”

May 10th

We got up and made a traditional English breakfast with bacon, eggs, tomatoes and mushrooms and walked up to town to buy some fresh produce for dinner.  We want to be prepared in case we get back late.  Found a local potter in town and I fell in love with a blue spoon holder. It sits next to my stove and every time I take a spoon out of it I think of this trip.  I love mementos of holidays and for me it’s usually glass or pottery.

We got in the car and drove over to Witley Court, another British Heritage site.  I love that you can go onto the British Heritage website and order a pass to see all of these different historical places for a fraction of the cost of going separate!  Plus, especially if you’re a foreign visitor, you aren’t aware of so many of these properties, but they’re worthy of a visit.

Witley Court was one of the great country houses of the Midlands.  It was built in 1655 and today is a very beautiful ruin from a fire in 1937.  The grounds are just breathtaking and we found the church on site really interesting and unusual, as far as the churches that we’ve seen.  It has a very high vaulted ceiling with gold gilding throughout.  The ceiling has spectacular paintings and the windows are painted in enamel of the Ascension. The windows are older than the structure and were brought from London during the blitz if I remember correctly.  The colors are as vibrant as they must have been when first painted in 1719!

                                                                           

We drove home had a lovely dinner and then turned on the electric fireplace because the nights were chilly.  We stuffed ourselves with delicious baked goods that we brought home from DeGrays bakery and cafe here in town.  They make a mean chocolate eclair!

May 11th

Today we set off to see the garden that we didn’t have time to visit before.   It’s called Stockton Bury Garden and I’ve already covered it extensively in my previous blog about gardens.  All I can say is if your are interested in gardens at all you don’t want to miss this one.  We had to get back to the cottage and meet the owner to settle our bill.  We have stayed in this house for 5 nights with only a $50 deposit,that would not happen in America!  She turns out to be a wonderful woman and we enjoyed chatting with her.  She called us later to give us directions on the best way to get back to Gatwick.

Our last night here and we went to a restaurant called the Courtyard and then walked around Ludlow church. A beautiful Norman church with amazing windows and carvings.  Back at the cottage we re-pack and watch “Bridget Jones Diary”.  This is our last night here and it’s been an awesome week, one the three of us won’t ever forget. Ludlow is a great town for tourists and shouldn’t be missed.  Thank you to my mother in-law for suggesting it.

May 12th

Our last morning at Stone Cottage, so sad to leave, it’s been so perfect and comfortable.  Ludlow couldn’t be more welcoming or a better place to stay and explore.

Breakfast, load the car and then head south, deeper into the Cotswolds.  The man from next door came to chat with us as we were loading the car.  He has a walled garden that is off of the parking area of this cottage.  I asked him if we could take a peek and he told us to “wander at leisure”.  So sweet.  It’s a beautiful garden with loads of plants, an ancient tree and an espaliered wisteria that runs the entire length of the wall.  Such a nice way to end our visit.