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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Strange Customs

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

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

JanuaryUp Helly Aa, Lerwick, Shetland

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

Wow, I’d love to see this! 

FebruaryBlessing the Throats, St Ethelreda, London

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

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

MarchTichborne Dole, Tichborne, Hampshire

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

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

AprilWorld Coal Carrying Championship – Near Wakefield in Yorkshire

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

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

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

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

Ouch!

JuneNettle Eating Contest Marsham, Dorset

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

Ugh,stinging nettles!

JulySwan Upping (last Monday) River Thames

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

I imagine this is fun to watch.

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

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

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

SeptemberThe Horn Dance-Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire

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

Lots of laughing and clapping, I’ll wager!

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

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

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

NovemberTar-Barrel Racing Ottery St Mary, Devon

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

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

DecemberMaldon Mud Race-Essex

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

They are dedicated!  Brrrr!

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

Missing England

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheffield Park

September 12

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Sheffield Park House

Today Lin and Richard drove us to Sheffield Park near Hayward’s Heath.  I highly recommend a visit here if you are close to Sussex!  Plan to be there for some hours because it is huge and spectacular!

The landscape garden was laid out in the 18th century by ‘Capability’ Brown so right away you know it has good bones. It was designed around a series of four lakes. Beautiful scenic paths take you through glades, through woodlands,  all around the lakes and over bridges.  You can bring the family, the kids can run around and you can be re-charged in the beauty and bounty of this garden.  It’s not like a commercial garden where every bed is perfect and not a bloom out of place.  It’s in a very natural setting with every season having a turn to dazzle.

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One of four lakes

Bring a picnic and relax on one of the expansive lawns, but don’t forget to bring some extra bread or grain for the ducks.  We had such a nice walk here and so many reasons to come back.  There is an ongoing list of events and things to bring the kids to see and do.  For instance, in January there is a “lost tools” hunt for kids called “Frosty Tools”.  The gardeners leave tools around an area of the park and the kids get to go hunt for them.  There are kite making workshops, Valentine’s Day tea, walks to see the changing colors in fall.  My favorite thing they have going for adults is the Christmas Stroll, “to walk off the excesses” of the holidays.  Choose from the Turkey Trot, Plum Pudding Promenade, Mince Pie Meander or Christmas Cake Constitutional.  So creative!

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Me in front of a willow

Some of the history of the park: Sheffield Park  estate is mentioned in the Domesday Book.  In 1538, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, entertained Henry VIII here.  In 1876 a cricket pitch was laid out on the grounds.  During World War II the house and garden became the headquarters for a Canadian division.  The estate was split up and sold in lots in 1953. The National Trust purchased about 40 ha in 1954, it now owns up to 80 ha.  My cousin told me she had read that the house is now sold and turned into individual flats with a price tag of around 1 million pounds each! It’s got to be because of the spectacular views!

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The Palm Walk

We didn’t plan ahead and bring a picnic, so headed out around lunch time for Chaily and a pub that caught Richard’s eye on the way in.  The King’s Head Inn on East Grinstead Rd. The food was good and it wasn’t too crowded, we didn’t feel rushed and just relaxed with lunch and a glass of wine, then headed back to walk off the lovely desserts we all had.

The King’s Head Inn

The price to get into Sheffield Park, I thought was reasonable at  £9.90.  If you’re visiting from overseas, you may want to look into getting a pass to National Trust properties.  I have done this on several occasions and it’s really a good value.  You can get a seven day pass for £25 and a fourteen day pass for only £30!  It gets you into hundreds of special places around England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  It’s also really easy to get online.  One year I ordered three online and when I got the envelope, it had been ripped open and one out of three passes was missing.  I called the office of the National Trust and they sent a new card to my friend’s house in London for me to pick up.  I truly expected them to say “sorry you’re out of luck, buy another one.”  I thought that was pretty awesome!

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Lin and Richard

Christmas Carols

I am always interested in where the origin of traditions came from.  Being an American, I know that many of them came from England originally.  So, in that light I decided to research old English Christmas carols a bit.  I love Christmas carols.  I don’t generally start listening to them before November 15th.  Why that particular date you may ask?  Well, one year I started in early October and as much as I love them, I was just sick of them by Christmas day.  I am a person that has always absolutely loved the entire season, I’m like a big kid about it!  However, to me it’s a short special time.  I’m like that with most things, if you do them for too long or too often, it’s no longer special.

 

When my girls were in high school, they were in choir and we all looked forward every year to going to the Christmas choir concert.   I remember the first one, the lights went out, the auditorium was hushed and then down the aisles came these young voices, each carrying a candle and singing “Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel”.  I got chills and teary eyed, it was so beautiful and awe inspiring.  They sang old familiar carols, medieval songs, new jazzed up renditions, but every concert ended with  Handel’s “Messiah”.  The entire audience on their feet and any of the high schools choir alumni were welcome to join and sing with the current generation.  It was amazing!

So I checked out a few lists for old English songs that we know and hear every year.  I admit that some of them I had assumed were American.  I’ve been around for a while now and I remember the Christmas carols of my childhood, learned from playing my parents old albums every year on the record player.

Here are the most surprising ones that are of English origin along with the dates they were published:

Angels We Have Heard on High-1862

Away In the Manger-1885

Deck the Hall (based on the Welsh traditional “Oer yw’r gŵr sy’n methu caru”)

Ding Dong Merrily on High (no published date)

The First Noel-1823

God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman-1833

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear-1849

The Little Drummer Boy-1957

We Three Kings of Orient Are-1863

It seems the most productive years for carols were the mid 1800s.  There is also that classic English Christmas carol that is somewhat current-Wonderful Christmas Time by Paul McCartney!

I leave you with a few images of Christmas music that have to be American and beg the question-why?

                         

Make a Joyful Noise!

 

 

Garden Shows

 

I’ve never been to any of the big garden shows in England.  Here in America we have home shows where you can find gardening products to buy.  We also have great garden tours for both commercial gardens and private home owners that open their gardens to the public,  usually to benefit charity.  I’ve never been aware, at least in my part of the US of any gardening show that have designers make a mini garden just to show.

Chelsea Flower Show

The biggest one that I’ve heard of for most of my life is the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.  This is because it’s the biggest garden show in England, possibly the world.  It was originally known as the Great Spring Show and is held every year at the Royal Hospital Chelsea for 5 days in May.

The Royal Horticultural Society was founded in 1804 in London as  a charitable work that helps to protect plants, gardens and green spaces.  The RHS has 4 major gardens in England:  Wisley Garden in Surrey, Rosemoor Garden in Devon,  Hyde Hall in Essex,  and Harlow Carr in North Yorkshire.

Hampton Court Palace

My friend in London told me last week that they have an RHS  Hampton Court Palace Garden Show in July!  I was blown away with this piece of news and now have a new # 1 event on my bucket list!  It combines my favorite palace (so far) with one of my very favorite past times.  Oh the ideas I could get.  If my husband knew about this, he would either A. be annoyed with my friend Sue or B. be very, very nervous.  Well, lucky for him the next trip is already planned for the wrong time of year, so he’s safe for a while.

Tatton Park Flower Show

In addition to the 2 annual shows listed above there is the  Tatton Park Flower Show in Cheshire (July) and the  RHS Show Cardiff at Cardiff Castle in Wales (April).  So you see, there are different shows at different times of the year and in different places.

Cardiff Castle

I may have just got the dates for a future visit to the UK, if I go in July I can see 2 of these amazing shows in one trip!

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
Midlothian,Scotland

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!

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.

Visiting Wales

September 23, 2001

We’re going to visit two castles today.  The first is Penhow Castle.  It was owned by Jane Seymour’s family, Henry the VIII’s third wife.

The castle, actually a heavily fortified manor house was built to give warning of any Welsh uprising in 1070.  At the time it was built, the family was not very wealthy and so it’s doesn’t have expensive details like some other castles.  It does have a wonderful view of the land all around it though.  It is still inhabited and in fact, it is now privately owned and not open to the public.  I feel very lucky that we were able to go and tour it.  There was a audio tour and we could walk around freely and listen at out own pace.  Part of it was re-done in Victorian times.  What a hard life it must have been when it was first built, no heating, no windows except for slanted openings so you wouldn’t accidentally be hit by a stray arrow!

Next we head for Caldicott Castle, which is actually a ruin, though still very beautiful!  It’s more the traditional looking castle that Americans are used to from stories and movies.  The grounds are beautifully kept and would be a perfect place for a wedding.  Ivy covered walls and gorgeous rose gardens.  When you climb up to the top the view is really spectacular.  It too has sections that were re-done in Victorian times, but the man who bought it didn’t want to change anything major.  He wanted to keep the castle’s integrity.  His name was Cobb and he wrote a book about the castle.  By coincidence, when we got back to Glynderi, Jo tells us that Mr. Cobb was her great, great uncle and she actually has his book and also a copy of the painting of him that hangs in the castle!  It seems so many things are related here.

September 24, 2001

Today we go to the lovely sounding town of Hay on Wye, “the town of books”! I found out about this town on the internet while researching things to see while in the UK.  It is a charming town with dozens of bookstores and great antique shops.  I’m starting to realize that my suitcases are way too heavy and I just bought 5 or 6 books and lots of little gifts for people back home.

 Again, lesson learned,  you have to schlep around all that you buy.  Next time I will either buy really small, light things or wait until the last place I visit and do all the shopping there.  It’s just so expensive to mail anything back home and now with the airlines charging so much for luggage, I’m so glad I got to do my first trip over before all of this hit travelers.

September 25, 2001

Leaving Wales today for the Cotswolds, Jean’s favorite part of England.  We stop at a village called Burford for a quick lunch and stroll around the shops and then we’re off to find our B&B for the next 3 nights called “Naunton View” in the village of Naunton.  A very nice house, run by Martin and Helen, who also own the local pub called “The Black Horse”.  They are very nice, though none of us can really understand anything that Martin says:)

                                                                                              

We all found it very charming and so British to look out the window while having breakfast and see a woman riding down the street on her horse.  She  is wearing, like the photo above shows, the English hat and boots and bouncing up and down in the saddle,  just like we’ve seen in the movies.  This is exciting for us,  we have never seen anything like it on the west coast of the US!

We also discovered the exquisite wonders of a shredded white cheddar on baguette with apple chutney here at The Black Horse.  I for one could eat this on a daily basis!  Excellent!

The Lizard and north to Wales

September 21, 2001

Leaving Truro, we headed down to The Lizard, which is the southern most point in England.  The drive was beautiful and we saw many villages that we would have loved to explore if we had the time. Jean has promised us the best pasties ever and since we’ve never tried them before, Marcie and I are looking forward to it.

We left Jean to write her postcards in the car and hiked down to the shore on this spectacular sunny day. The photo of me that I use for this blog was taken there on the cliffs.

We discovered an old boathouse and lots of small fishing boats. I found a shell and we searched all around for another one to no avail.  I still have it, the only shell on the boat landing at The Lizard!   The rocks here are embedded in the sand like cement from so many hundreds of years of pounding against the shore.

We found the pasty shop that Jean was raving about, called oddly enough, The Lizard Pasty Shop! 

They didn’t disappoint.  Piping hot, flaky crust and filled with potatoes and cheese, amazing, my new favorite food.  After lunch we hit the road and head for Land’s End.

Now, I suppose you need to go here if you’ve never been, but I found it too commercial.  You can get your photo in front of the famous sign for a five pound note!  The view from the shore was nice and there was a good bookstore there.  I found a book called “Daphne DuMarier Country”, which seems to be a biography of sorts, at least of her writing. It tells about the settings for her books and how she came to write them.  We didn’t hang out too long here. There were too many people and we were excited to drive through  Bodmin Moor on the way to St Ives. The moors are wild and beautiful and if you have a great imagination, just a little bit scary!

 The great thing about Jean having been here before is she knows these fantastic places to visit and how to navigate in and out of them the easiest way.  By now Marcie and I have gotten the hang of driving here.  The trick for Americans going to St Ives is to find the car park with the sign for a bus that will take you into the actual city.   We found this to be true in Oxford later as well.  So much easier to park this way.

St Ives is built on the side of a hill and the streets would be hard to get through, especially not knowing your way around.  This town is famous in our family because of the trip that my middle daughter and her cousin took a few years ago with Gramma Jean.  Their bus tour stopped here and they were having a pasty lunch down by the shore.  While they were eating, a very bold seagull swooped down and stole my daughter’s pasty right out of her hand!  The bus driver had to tell the story when they all got back on the road.  I have visions of her face, much the same as when she was about three and a frog jumped on top of her head.  The big blue eyes looking up with a completely shocked look on her face.  At that time she didn’t know whether to be scared or tickled, but losing her lunch to a seagull just annoyed her!

 

We had an early bite to eat here and then had quite a drive to Bideford where we booked our B&B for the night at a place called The Four Winds.  It was a gorgeous drive, but we arrived after dark and could not find the place.  We were cussing everyone involved at the travel center and by shear luck found it.  We couldn’t really stay mad for long because the host is so gracious.  He looks like Steve Martin and is by coincidence also named Steve.  The house is gorgeous and he tells us that he grew up there and inherited it.  We had a very comfortable night and woke up to a luscious full English breakfast with sausages and beans.  I spent the whole of breakfast watching the innkeeper’s sons out the dining room window.  It seems that during the night the chickens escaped their enclosure, so it’s up to these two to corral them.  One is about ten and his younger brother around eight.  The older one is very persistent, taking boards and wire fencing and trying to get it all attached with no holes.  The smaller one works half hardheartedly for about ten or fifteen minutes and then is bored with the whole ordeal and sneaks off back to the house.  The older brother doesn’t give up though, he keeps at it until he’s satisfied that those darn chickens are safe inside and can’t get out again.  It must have taken him an hour, but he was determined!

We couldn’t really see the outside of this wonderful home last night, arriving after dark like we did.  It is a lovely large house and the front is completely covered with Virginia creeper in all the greens and reds and golds that you can imagine.

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There is an interesting sculpture of a dragon in the front garden, done, we’re told by his father in-law who is an artist.    It’s a little difficult to see from the photo because it turned out so light, but there it is to the right.         3

Steve is very helpful when we explain that we’re heading up through the Cheddar Gorge and on to Wales to the town of Hay-On-Wye, “the town of books.”  The Brecon Beacons is a mountain range in South Wales and Steve happens to have a cousin that runs a B&B there so he calls her and books us a room.

On the way we stop at Glastonbury which turns out to be a very organic, spiritual, hippie like town.  There are ruins of an abbey there and we go to see them and have a nice vegetarian lunch.  At the time, the organic, real food movement hasn’t taken off like it has now, so this was different and unique to us.  There were loads of travelers here with dread locks and crystal jewelry.

             The ruins are beautiful and the site is huge, very quiet and has stunning grounds.

Of course we found an excellent bakery and were amused by the name of it, “Burns, The Baker”!

We drive on to Wales and across a fantastic bridge and are happy to find it a bit easier to drive here for us.  The roads seem wider and the signs give you more time to process where you need to turn.  What exquisite country this island is,  we couldn’t be visiting a better place on earth!

 Steve’s directions were easy to follow and we found Glyderi, our B&B for the next few days quickly.  It is a large manor house with an absolutely gorgeous conservatory on the back with a view across a meadow and horse paddock.  There is a walled garden here and an old greenhouse that has seen better days but is still very interesting and attractive.  Jo, Steve’s cousin tells us that she inherited from an aunt and the greenhouse is circa 1930s.  The rooms here are clean, attractive and comfortable.  I am in love with the large bathtub in our room with a skylight above and am determined to relax in that after dinner.  We decided to splurge and have the dinner that Jo offers for 20 pds.  It was well worth not having to go out, but also very delicious and filling.

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Tomorrow we explore castles in Wales, stay tuned….