Three Plays, and High Tea On A London Bus

While in London Jess, Luke and I stayed at a flat in Camden that was in an excellent location for two reasons: first, it was only a block away from Camden tube station and second, because it had a huge glass window that overlooked a narrow street where van played dodgem cars – literally ramming each other to make parking spaces. As we watched I couldn’t help thinking how much my dad would enjoy sitting 5ere and watching the mayhem play out below.

The apartment, like all AirBnb places under a certain price, had its oddities. Like 18 halogen downlights in the small lounge/kitchen space and a bathroom fan switch that was so high up it almost touched the ceiling. Weird.

While in London we did a bunch of things! Here they are in a roughly chronological list.

The Play That Goes Wrong

Andrew and Lila came down from Cambridge with us and we bought them tickets as a thank you present for letting us use their house as a backpackers hostel.

We had seen a bit of the play on YouTube and it didn’t disappoint live. Much hilarity, both slapstick and more clever humour. Well worth the ticket price.

High Tea On A London Routemaster Bus

My friend Lorraine and her daughter Rosie were in London at the same time as us so Jess and I joined them for a lovely afternoon tea on a bus!

We arrived a little early and had a chat to the bus driver who was a proper cockney.

I booked an upstairs table and we had a lovely time! They catered for vegetarian and gluten intolerances (Jess and Lorraine) and the food was good!

After we’d eaten the food pictured above the scones were brought out and these were the first warm scones we’d been served in all our UK afternoon tea experiences. We were very pleased!

I will admit that we didn’t pay all that much attention to the commentary and the only thing I really remember is passing the ship front from the movie Kingsman.

Not a cheap experience, at £45 each but worth it for the special treat.

Cereal Killer Cafe

Jess’ friend Erin joined us for the next few days and we all made an early trip to Cereal Killer cafe to see what the fuss was about.

Although not all he ones pictured above were for sale. I had Oreo and a peanut butter cereal mixed together. It was delicious but tasted more like dessert than breakfast. There was literally nothing healthy on the menu.

The decor was neat – very 90s bedroom chic.

A Comedy About A Bank Robbery

At the end of the first play we saw they announced that the same production company was putting on another play in the West End so we went to see that too.

This time it was just Luke and I – Erin and Jess went to see The Lion King – and we LOVED it. It was funny and clever and they set design was fantastic. Go see it if you get a chance! We bought tickets on the day and still managed really good seats. The theatre itself was beautiful- like a wedding cake turned inside out.

My photo doesn’t really do it justice.

The Importance of Being Ernest

We saw this production on our last day and it wasn’t bad. I’ve seen it before many years ago and I like all the Oscar Wilde I’ve read but I wasn’t thrilled by this interpretation. It felt rushed and the two male leads seemed to be shouting most of the way through.

Camden

We all did quite a lot of walking around Camden. We looked at street art.

And I went with Jess and Erin super early to take a photo at… well, you can guess where.

On our last day Luke and I took a walk around Hampstead Heath and looked at all the dogs. I’ve tried to go to HH a number of times previously but my hay fever has always flared up. Autumn was definitely in the air this time so I was safe.

Our last meal in London was a return to Five Guys, a burger chain Luke’s Aunt Sue had recommended. We enjoyed it a lot more this time as we’d been able to read the menu, unlike our attempt in France;-).

Also Oreo shakes are amazing!

So that ends the European part of this trip! We packed our bags and boarded our Thai Airways flight for Bangkok. I spent most of my awake hours on the flight thinking about how I could manage to come back next year to do more hiking in the north of England. We’ll see!

The Peak District and Makeney Hall

Apologies to the handful of people who check the blog with any regularity, I’ve really fallen off the regular-posting bandwagon these last few weeks. Partially because we’ve been lazy and haven’t done a lot of noteworthy things and partly because when there’s other people around I try to be more social. Hopefully I’ll catch up before we get home in a week and a half.

We start at the end of the last post – catching the ferry from Dublin to Liverpool.

After a 4:30am breakfast, the ferry from Dublin to Liverpool disgorges it’s passengers at the cruel hour of 5:30am, which meant we had a long day to fill before booking into our accommodation for that night.

Jess and Luke loved the croissants onboard and we could see why all the truck drivers were virtually spherical. Excellent food and service on the overnight P&O ferry!

We filled our day by first taking a drive to Edale, a little village in the Peak District and well known to me as the start/end of the Pennine Way, England’s most well known long distance trail. Possibly also it’s most grueling too. Not that I’ve done it, but it was nice to take a drive through the gorgeous hills and then stop for a cup of tea at the campsite cafe, once it opened. We were seriously early.

A classic British pub. Hopefully we’ll be back one day during opening hours.

Next we drove to Chatsworth farm house and cafe for a slice of cake and more tea. The range of stuff on sale was very tempting (and pricey) and I bought a few things for Andrew and some tasty treats for us too, including a ginger brack (a type of cake that keeps well) to put in my package of stuff to send home.

Fancy farm shop pies.

After the cafe we took a quick drive through the actual Chatsworth estate but we were all a bit too knackered to be bothered with the entry price and doing much walking around. The weather was glorious though and the building looked magnificent.

Last stop before our hotel was a leisurely walk around Bakewell, a very pretty, touristy and well-kept northern town. We looked through a few shops then made our way to Makeney Hall. As I’d thought the Lake District was too far to drive and our preferred hotel there wasn’t available anyhow and we thought it would be nice to spend one night in a relatively fancy country house/hotel and Makeney Hall looked nice and was in about the right location.

The hotel ended up looking quite nice on the outside but having a somewhat run-down feeling in the interior. Tatty carpet, dirty windows in the restaurant, and the bedrooms were pretty ordinary.

We had booked an afternoon tea and we were the only people in the spacious dining room. The food was nice and the ambience improved once we disconnected the country/pop music playlist on the staff iPad and connected my phone with more suitable classical music. Luckily the staff weren’t fussed.

All in all, not a hotel I’d recommend but we enjoyed taking a walk in the evening and watching the rabbits and squirrels in the garden.

The next day we drove to Cambridge for two nights then spent our last week in London, where we saw a number of plays and had high tea on a bus! More about the next post.

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park

We left Harrogate mid morning but our ferry to Ireland didn’t leave Liverpool until 9pm, which left us with quite a few hours to fill in between. I’d seen a few photos of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on Instagram and, as it was a nice day, we decided to take a detour.

While there are around 80 sculptures placed around the large grounds, there’s also the main gallery and a chapel that houses exhibits.

The first exhibit we looked at was by an artist called Mister Finch, a local man who made anthropomorphic sculptures of animals from found fabric and other materials. This exhibition was based on a story of his where animals who delivered wishes were allowed their own wishes granted… I think. It was quite enchanting.

The next gallery space had works from a number of artists and all the works had something to do with nature. I particularly liked this one:

At first it looked like a pile of potatoes – which it mostly was. This seemed intriguingly strange and then the nearby gallery guard/explainer told us that the artist had taken a cast of his face then buried it with the potatoes then the potatoes had grown into the shape of his eyes and ears etc. Amazing! The artist then cast those potatoes in bronze and then displayed them with regular potatoes.

You won’t recall this, I’m sure, but in my post about Rome earlier this year I included photos of an artwork that was acacia thorns on canvas. Coincidentally, there was one work by the same artist on display in Yorkshire.

We had a little wander through the grounds but it was a bit windy and so I didn’t take too many photos. Also there were a lot of Henry Moore statues, which I’m not that keen on. I did like this though :

A haha over a haha! Possibly the most elaborate pun I’ve seen all year. I don’t know how many other people would get it… or even if the artist intended it.

There was also a neat iron tree by Ai Weiwei.

This was made by making casts of a bunch of parts of other trees then roughly bolting it together.

The last thing we looked at was inside the chapel on the grounds. An elaborate and ethereal string and paper installation by an Asian artist. Lovely! As the clouds came across the windows the strings would glow or become pale.

We finished off with a very tasty lunch in the cafe then continued on to Liverpool, a city I’d expected to like but perhaps we stopped in the wrong part because it smelled rather bad. We had a few drinks at a very fancy pub then headed to the ferry, ready to start the Irish leg of our adventure.

The YSP certainly knew its way around a pie!

Next: fun times on a rocky ferry crossing then we head to Sligo and Galway.

The Harrogate Autumn Flower and Vegetable Show!

Jess, Luke and I were spending two nights in Harrogate, a city none of us knew anything about, in order to visit the Harrogate show.

A year or two ago I started following a blogger who is a very successful allotment gardener and who made videos and talked a lot about entering his vegetables into shows. He regularly grew enormous carrots, onions and a variety of other things and I became entranced with it all and decided to go see it for myself.

Unfortunately for Luke it meant spending his 36th birthday weekend watching me looking at vegetables but it was a price I was willing for him to pay. I booked the tickets a few weeks prior and a nice Airbnb apartment right in the middle of Harrogate.

The apartment turned out to be absolutely wonderful – probably one of the best we’ve ever stayed in. It was on the third storey and had panoramic views over the town centre.

Jess researched somewhere to eat on our first day and settled on Betty’s, a restaurant that is quite famous locally. We were shown to a downstairs room that was paneled with gorgeous marquetry artworks showing scenes of Yorkshire and Alsace. It turned out the food was a mix of Swiss and English, which made the whole experience rather interesting for us as we’d just visited Switzerland and Alsace before coming back to England.

All the work was done by an Alsatian artist named Spindler.

Jess has an afternoon tea and we had macaroni and cheese. Perfect!

A very nice start to our stay in Harrogate and we were all immediately taken with the town, which had a very prosperous and Victorian air.

The following day we headed to the Autumn show on the shuttle bus, arriving just after the gates opened. I had no idea how busy the day would be but at the time we arrived there was almost no one there, which made it much easier to take photos of the exhibits. By the time we left it had filled up quite a bit but I imagine there were still tickets available on the gate.

First stop was the flower hall.

The majority of flowers on display were chrysanthemums, dahlias, gladioli and roses, with a few lilies and fuchsias. The dahlias were my favourite.

Then it was on to the vegetables and fruit.

There are two main kinds of vegetable competition. One is for perfect sets of vegetables, as with the groups of onions above and the tomatoes and leeks below. Often size is a factor as well – the largest matching set is best.

The second main category is for the largest vegetables. These are often extremely ugly.

This man grew a pumpkin that weighed over 300kg and said he had a bigger one on the vine at home! I had thought large vegetables were often tasteless but he said this one was good to eat and would go to soup kitchens etc.

Heirloom apple and pear varieties were on display and they often had amusing names.

There was also a number of bonsai competitions and people selling them. This one was best in show. It must be hard being a bonsai competitor knowing that something like this was going to keep being entered every year. At least the vegetable gardeners get a fresh start each time.

Apart from produce there were marquees of crafts for sale and lots of food, from fudge to pork pies. We bought a few things but I looked longingly at much more! There were also lots of people selling garden furniture, pizza ovens, patios, sculptures and lots of food available on site.

We spent about half a day wandering around and enjoyed it a lot. An event not many tourists would go and see perhaps, but we all had a good time and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in that sort of thing.

Next: The Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

One Night In York

We caught a 5pm train from Edinburgh to York, which only takes about two hours, and arrived just as it was getting dark. I’d booked us a three person room at a place that was surprisingly cheap given how fancy the photos looked.

We soon found out why. Apart from our room being somewhat cramped and pokey, the floors out-creaked any nightingale floor I could imagine any ancient Chinese palace architect considering necessary. The whole place had a kind of shabby air but without the Fawlty Towers-ness that would’ve made it memorable. So when in York, avoid the Elmbank Hotel! Unless you’re on your own in which case creaky floors won’t be so much of an issue.

The following day we had to pick up our hire car but first we had time for a walk around York. First breakfast in a very cute and very old little tower by the river.

Apparently the building was first used as a place where dead bodies were hauled out of the river. This raised a lot of questions when I thought about it later.

Next was a bit of window shopping and actual shopping. This show shop was shut but it was amazing!

York is a university town so there was a plethora of hipster cafes and whatnot. York also has a famous cathedral and an area called The Shambles. Another one of those ‘Harry Potter inspiration’ stops. The Shambles and Diagon Alley look very similar.

We went early to get uncrowded photos. By lunchtime on Saturday there was barely room to move.

Speaking of lunch, we couldn’t eat in York without having Yorkshire puddings! Luke and I tried the newfangled Yorkshire pudding wraps.

Jess had the more traditional version.

Both were excellent.

A few last photos of York!

A yorkie in York!

A pretty mural in the hipster part of town .

luke appreciated the birthday gift Jess thoughtfully bought him.

Jess has a homing instinct for tea.

This shop looked cool but didn’t have anything good.

So old and wonky!

All in all, York is a pretty town with a few interesting bits. I’d been before and gone into Clifford’s tower etc so didn’t feel the need to go again. Next – we visit Harrogate!

Luke and I Hike Up Skiddaw, Cumbria

Two days before we left Keswick I had an attack of the sads and felt like I hadn’t done enough while I’d been there. I know Luke isn’t obsessed with walking like I am and while he was with me I didn’t want to torture him with huge days of walking. I ended up feeling a bit resentful, which was obviously unfair but I knew I wouldn’t be back for years and there was so much left to do! It probably wasn’t helped by the fact that I’d bought a Wainwright map and realised I’d only bagged seven peaks.

Not that it’s all about ticking things off, but the days I had climbed high I’d been rewarded with amazing views and feelings of accomplishment and I was jonesing for more.

Luke very kindly and generously agreed that our last day, if the weather was decent, would be spent attacking Skiddaw, the fourth highest peak in Cumbria and the closest major mountain to Keswick.

I was both pleased and daunted so I planned a route that was longer but not so steep, as I’d tried to attempt the climb on my last visit but was scared off by the loose gravel.

We took a taxi to the Latrigg car park then headed around between Lonscale Fell and Blencathra and walked along the valley to Skiddaw House YHA.

This way is mostly flat and mostly dry until the walk up behind Skiddaw House which then is a fairly steady, grassy gradient to the saddle between Skiddaw Little Man and Skiddaw.

As we climbed higher it seemed that the whole of the northern fells were visible and I think I could see as far as Scotland!

We reached the saddle and at this point the wind, which had been picking up gradually, became a freezing arctic gale. We each put on a jumper and what few layers we had, astonished at the ferocity of it. Still, the view was excellent. It felt almost like we were standing over Keswick. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

We walked up to the cairns, quickly admired the view and then decided to head down via the steep path to Latrigg car park. We both felt very accomplished for making it to the top, even though it had been a pretty easy walk. Little did we realise that the worst was to come!

We started down and at first the track was a wide bridleway but it narrowed and became steep loose gravel. I genuinely cannot comprehend how people run this track, even though I saw people doing it. I don’t understand how people can manage it either going up or down.

We crept down the path at at snail’s pace and it took us almost as long to travel the one kilometre down as it took us to travel the five or so kilometres up. We had to stop to rest several times because of pain in our knees – and I never get pain in my knees. I was very, very glad I’d bought replacement hiking poles and that Luke had one as well.

The soles of my feet stung from sliding in my shoes and at one point we found a grassy stretch and attempted to slide down it using my plastic-coated map as a toboggan but it didn’t really work. We did have a laugh though!

The attempted toboggan slope.

Luke says ‘why not?’

Despite the pain it was certainly an achievement. As Luke said afterwards: I’ve done something I thought I couldn’t do so now I can be more confident with other things. He was right!

My weeks of walking in the Lakes have shown me that I have no problems with camping alone in the wild (if you can consider anywhere in England ‘wild’), that I can walk a fair way carrying all my gear, that I actually enjoy scrambling over rock faces (as long as they’re not too steep) and that I enjoy my own company for days on end. These are all good things of know!

When I get home I will start planning some Tasmanian walks and finally do the Great Ocean Walk in Victoria. Maybe one day I could even aim for something really huge!

Have you ever conquered a physical challenge? Have you done something you thought was not possible? I’d love to hear about other’s achievements!

High Rigg and Buttermere – Two Walks Near Keswick.

We arrived in Keswick pretty late in the day after a taxi, two trains and a bus from Cheltenham.

We stopped in at our BnB (The Cartwheel in Blencathra Street) to unload and briefly relax before heading out on a very short walk to Castle Hill.

Despite the fact that it was only about a kilometre away I missed the right lane but we made it eventually to the little dark forest that crowned a small rise near Derwentwater.

As I expected, my lack of long walks or serious hills showed and I was a bit puffed by the time we made it to the top. The nice thing about this time of year is that the school holidays are over so we saw only a few people on the way up and had the top to ourselves.

We took a few photos but it was getting dark so we took a walk down through town to the camping and caravan club where I camped in May and June. I pointed out all the significant spots and hills I’d climbed while Luke humoured me by making noises to indicate he was listening.

When we got to the lake it was getting quite dark and it looked quite moody and gloomy – very different to earlier balmy days. Also the black and white makes it look even more eerie ;-).

We stopped at The Bank Tavern for a drink and shared a chicken kiev. While we haven’t been sharing dinner as often as we should we’re trying to remember to do it now.

We then went to The Dog And Gun, which was packed with dogs – five just in the alcove we were sitting in. We had a piece of apple pie drowning in custard, which made Luke happy, then walked back to the Cartwheel for an early night.

While on the bus that day I’d wrenched my neck and lying in a soft bed seemed to make it worse – by morning I was struggling to move it at all or sit comfortably. I took some nurofen with breakfast, which seems to help but I’m hoping it comes better soon.

The following day I decided that I wanted to walk High Rigg, a hill near Castlerigg Stone Circle and very close to the walk Pete and Deb and I did in June.

We caught the bus as close as we could then walked up the hill and along the ridge. Luke did not enjoy the walk up, but it was pretty! And reasonably dry, too.

As I’d read, there were excellent panoramic views from the top and we followed the ridge for about a kilometre then down the southern end. There was no path marked on my OS map but it was pretty clear where to go.

We only saw one other couple along the way and it was marvellously quiet. The rain that had happened through the night had cleared and only the top of Skiddaw and Blencathra were covered in cloud. We even got a bit of sun on our way down.

The path ended right at a 555 bus stop, which was super handy, so we caught the bus back to Keswick then the 77A to Buttermere to eat our lunch then go for a wander along the lake. While it was perhaps not quite as fine a day as last time I was here, the lack of crowds made up for it.

We found a lovely patch of fly agaric too!

At the southern end we spent a few minutes watching a dog try to pick up a rock out of a stream – the rock was bigger than its head and we watched in amazement as it finally managed to pick the rock up and get it up to the bank.

We caught the bus back to Keswick by 5 and headed straight to the Wainwright pub where we shared a steak and ale pie, Luke agreed it was the best he’d had yet. After we’d finished eating another couple asked if they could share the table and we ended up talking to them for ages. Janice and Steve were from Newcastle and on their yearly holiday to the lakes. They had their immaculately white west highland terrier with them and we talked dogs and walks and travel for a while before Luke and I decided it was getting late and headed back to the Cartwheel.

A lovely day out!

Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham

It seems that the older we get, the more our holidays revolve around food – much to our waistlines’ detriment! After two fantastic Michelin-listed restaurants in Alsace we decided to use one of our days in Cheltenham to book lunch at Le Champignon Sauvage, a two starred restaurant since 2008. The head chef is David Everitt-Matthias, who has released several cookbooks, although I hadn’t heard of him or the books until we looked up the restaurant.

We walked across town from our glamorous Holiday Inn accommodation and I changed out of my grotty trainers into my heels just around the corner from the restaurant. I’d bought a new handbag to hide them in and Luke had had a haircut and shave that morning – we were looking our best! I only wish I’d asked them to take a photo of us out of our normal jeans and T-shirt ensembles.

As is my habit, I misread the time and we arrived half an hour early, so we had a drink in the pub just down the road and relaxed before arriving at the restaurant right on 12:30.

The restaurant is quite understated but very comfortable.

Double-covered tables, good spacing and comfortable chairs. The staff were very welcoming and I was very happy to be seated near a bright window so I could be one of those awful people who take photos of every course.

The menu had several options but we chose three courses from the £35 set menu.

Before we had ordered we were brought a small plate of savory bites that looked like truffles and biscuits.

We have our order taken and then were presented with a warm celery amuse-bouche.

Delicious! I have never had a celery soup and would never think to order one but this was creamy and refreshing. It also had a pretty mix of spices floating on top, including rose petals, I think.

We both decided to start with the breast of wood pigeon (warning – may contain lead shot).

Neither of us had tried pigeon before and both thought it was delicious. The whole flavour effect reminded me of an autumn forest (if I can dare to be so pretentious about it). Nutty granola, sweet blackberry and mango, green flavour of saxifrage and earthy pigeon with a hint of Christmas in the vegetables and chutney. Possibly my favourite course as it was so evocative! We shared a half bottle of a fairly heavy red that was exceptionally plummy and matched well.

Next up, I chose the Cornish ray (like sole) and Luke chose the beef blade. I had quite a bit of food envy as his dish looked incredible and tasted great. Mine was less powerful but the mushroom flavours were lovely and very well matched by the wine. I’d asked the waitress to choose a wine pairing and it was a Brescou viognier that reminded me strongly of the very unusual white we’d had with our mushroom dish at l’Agneau.

With the savory courses we had a choice of bread. Luke once again made a great choice with a brioche, while I chose a white roll that had an outer consistency of rock and shattered everywhere as I hacked into it. When I was given a second choice I went for the onion brioche. It was the lightest, crispiest bread roll I’ve ever had!

I didn’t need to eat two bread rolls with three courses but I did anyway.

Dessert!

We both chose the lemon verbena and strawberry sorbet. I grow lemon verbena in my garden and have clearly not been using it to its full potential.

Gorgeous! The strawberry sorbet was the prime flavour but the verbena was a delightful citrus note. The combination of textures was a pleasure to experience.

We decided to have a fortified wine with our dessert. I chose the champagne ratafia because the characters in Georgette Heyer books are always drinking it and I’ve never tried it. Luke chose the Pedro Ximenez and once again he made the best choice because it was quite the richest liquor I’ve ever tasted – and we’ve tried quite a few. My ratafia was also lovely with burnt toffee and raisin flavours.

I’d had quite enough by that stage but Luke had a coffee to finish and it came with petit fours.

We left a bit after 3 and I was full to bursting. Even though fancy restaurants do serve small quantities, there are lots of little extras that fill you up. The bill came to £132.60, which is about $260 AUD. It was almost twice as much as our lunches in Alsace and about $200 more than we’d spend on a pub lunch but well worth it for the experience.

A Day In The Cotswolds

Luke signed us up for a ‘Secret Cottage’ tour of the Cotswolds and so we arrived at Oxford station ready to catch a train to meet our group, only to find that, for the second time in a week, someone had been hit by a train and thrown the network into disarray. After hanging about for a bit a delayed train was rerouted and we jumped on and actually got to the meeting point a bit early.

We were met by two black vans and two drivers – ours was a local man named Jeremy who turned out to be an almost inexhaustible font of knowledge with a perfect BBC accent. He was the first (and probably the last) person I will ever hear using ‘one’ as an entirely unselfconscious personal pronoun.

Along with two girls from California who had arrived by the same train, we jumped in and were driven to a tiny village called Chastleton. There we admired a Jacobean manor which, up until quite recently, housed a lady who own 21 cats. Apparently the smell was quite something.

We also had a look in the church next door before heading around the corner to the ‘secret cottage’. The family who organise the tours live in the cottage and provide morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea throughout the day. Before eating we had a tour of the cottage.

Those mushroom shaped objects are ‘straddle stones’ used to elevate storage sheds so mice and rats couldn’t climb up.

It was originally three living spaces with families of up to 15 in each two room space. One room downstairs and one upstairs, reachable by a ladder. In winter the family pig and chickens would live inside too. These days it’s much nicer, with just four people living in the cottage rather than 45!

Morning tea was a delicious selection of biscuits and cakes.

On each excursion out we visited different villages in the Cotswolds and admired many thatched cottages and learned a great deal from Jeremy about the area’s history, geography, language, animals and social goings-on. For example, did you know that Patrick Stewart lives in the Cotswolds and writes many peeved letters to his local council about the shooting range near his property?

We visited Upper and Lower Slaughter – two gorgeous villages with rather dramatic names. However ‘slaugh’ meant ‘marsh’ in an old language, which makes it all less sinister. One of the villages is one of Britain’s ‘doubly thankful’ villages. This means that not one person was killed in either world war. Jeremy explained that the wars had quite devastating effects on some villages as all the young men would want to join the same regiment and so, if that regiment was in serious action, they could lose a generation in one blow.

We learned that while thatched roofs may be beautiful, they are also expensive. They cost about forty thousand pounds to restore (for a medium sized cottage) and a thatch last about 50 years. Some thatchers make signature animals along the roof line – often birds but sometimes cats, dogs and foxes.

Lunch!

The name ‘Cotswolds’ come from ‘cot’ meaning a fenced or enclosed space (from all the sheep pens) and ‘wold’ meaning ‘hills’.

A newly thatched cottage.

We saw a village named Great Tew that had been abandoned last century then revitalised when an heir to the estate had been found. It was a beautiful village filled with gorgeous buildings.

And a very cute pub!

Jeremy had worked as a geologist and as we walked through the village he found a brachiopod fossil!

It doesn’t look like much here but I could tell it was a shell, I promise!

He also had a little wallet of things he’d found while walking around the area, including a Roman coin. It’s the tiny blackened one.

Afternoon tea!

It was a lovely day. Not cheap, at £95, but it didn’t feel at all rushed and we had a very nice group of people to chat to, in fact four others from our group caught the same train back towards Oxford so we chatted the whole way. Lovely!

Blenheim Palace

I wanted to visit at least one grand house while in England and they don’t come much grander than Blenheim. Built in the 17th century by the Marlborough family, it is a vast building with extensive gardens and over 9000 acres of grounds. It is the only non-royal or non-episcopal palace in England and a UNESCO-listed building.

We arrived a little earlier than the building opened (the grounds open at 9, the building at 10:30) so we had a look around the gift shop.

Compared to the gift shops that spawn alongside Australian attractions, English gift shops of the National Trust variety are models of elegance and good taste. They sell hand-dyed silk scarves, embroidered cushions and cashmere cardigans – all at fairly outrageous prices, of course. There’s also mugs and tea towels but even these are fairly understated.

We availed ourselves of the ‘free’ (included in the somewhat steep entry price – although if you catch the bus there rather than drive you get 30% off which isn’t bad) audio guide and set around the interior. Well, some of it. As the Duke was in residence all the upstairs tours were not available. Still, what we saw was quite grand.

There was an exhibition of modern art sensitively interspersed between the historical artifacts. Did I say sensitively? I meant hideously. Despite this I managed to find a few angles that didn’t include all the bright blue paintings and statues.

As the palace was Winston Churchill’s birthplace there was an exhibition of his work and achievements that was very informative. I particularly enjoyed seeing his paintings.

We took a walk by the lake and rose garden on one side of the palace. The roses weren’t in their best condition but the few that were still out had a beautiful perfume.

Last, a walk to the pleasure gardens, which didn’t seem to actually have any gardens. There was a large playground and a butterfly house. As is always the case, the butterfly house was uncomfortably hot but also full of gorgeous butterflies that I could’ve spent all day photographing.

We lazily caught the 50p train back to the palace rather than walk, then headed out to the village of Woodstock, that sits right by one of the gates. The village is very pretty and full of tea shops and pubs. Below is the Bear Inn, which must look absolutely magnificent in autumn.

A good day out from Oxford, Blenheim is certainly interesting if you like history and old houses and whatnot. Googling the current Lord Marlborough was also very interesting – something of a jailbird whose father did not trust him not to squander the family fortune and so left a board of trustees to oversee his management of the estate. Apparently he was known for driving too fast around the local area in a pink sports car.

Next: a tour of the Cotswolds!