Hidden Places: Castle Combe

Still lurking about in the Cotswolds, may I direct you to visit the little village of Castle Combe? This one is about 5 miles northwest of Chippenham, and is located in two parts. There is the narrow valley of the Bybrook River, where most of the chocolate box cottages live, and an Upper Castle Combe on higher ground where a modern motor racing circuit can be found. For today, we’ll be walking down into the lower portion.

If you’re coming in hopes of a castle, I’m afraid it’s long gone now. However, the 14th century market cross still stands, as well as two of the old village water pumps. In the same area you can also see some old stone steps near the cross that were used by horse riders to mount and dismount.

The village reached its economic height in the 15th century whilst under the guidance of Millicent, wife of Sir Stephen Le Scrope, and then Sir John Fastolf, who was the lord of the manor for nearly 50 years afterwards. The wool industry brought a lot of wealth across England, and did so in this village as well. In this case, Sir John Fastolf made a killing by supplying wool for Henry V’s war in France. Because of this business boom, most of the buildings that you can still see today are from the 15th century, with a few older buildings such as the Church of St Andrew built in the 13th century.

Castle Combe was once used for filming the musical rendition of Doctor Doolittle in 1967, and the residents became so irritated with the producers mucking about with their village that they attempted to sabotage the entire thing. Between the locals and the constant rain, the production had a rough go of it. It appears that filming shied away from the village for a few decades, but most recently it’s been seen in the movie War Horse and in an episode of Downton Abbey.

If you want to visit today, there’s a car park at the top of the hill. Be sure to bring your umbrella though, as it’s a decent enough walk and you’ll regret it otherwise. (We managed it!)  There’s a lovely inn you can stay in if you’d like a quiet weekend, and a couple of pubs to visit – of course. Apparently there used to be a little local museum, but my sources tell me that it’s been shut for a few years now. Pity! Regardless, it’s a lovely day trip, and I intend to go back sometime when we have more than a few minutes gap between rain showers.

 

— Kate

 

Hidden Places: Lacock

Everyone always goes to London when they come from America. I get it. It’s got all the big museums and attractions. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to London. I love London. But if you want something old and beautiful and uniquely English, you need to go to the West Country to visit the little village of Lacock.

Lacock is in Wiltshire, about 3 miles away from the much larger town of Chippenham. Nearly the entire village is owned by the National Trust, and it fiercely maintains its quaint, historic appearance because of this.

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Pretty sure I’ve seen this in Harry Potter.

Lacock has been around since at least the time of the Domesday book, in which is was mentioned as having a population of about 175 people. There is an abbey in the village that was founded in 1232 and is frequently used for films as it is in fantastic shape. The village itself survived through the ages off the wool trade and being a crossing point for the nearby River Avon.

With the exception of the abbey, most of the houses in the village are from the 1700s. However, there is still a medieval church, a 15th century inn, and a 14th century tithe barn still standing. They’re all beautiful architecture, and it isn’t uncommon in the warmer months to find people using sites for wedding photos!

The Talbot family (of historical photography fame) have owned the village for centuries, up until 1944 when Matilda Talbot gave the estate to the National Trust. You can see the grave of Henry Fox Talbot in the Lacock village churchyard. Unlike other National Trust sites though, this is still a living estate! Lacock obviously thrives off tourism, but people live in the village and even have a small school.

Because the village is so fiercely maintained in its historic state, it makes for prime filming. Signs for businesses cannot be posted to the wall like any other town, which makes it easy to work into many different time periods and places. Among other things, you’ll have seen the village in Pride and Prejudice (1995), Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and Downton Abbey.

All of this culminates in a gorgeous afternoon out, walking down the charming roads, having a pint in a medieval inn, and maybe even doing a bit of crafts shopping in the locally owned shops. Some of the houses will be opened during the day so you can get a feel for the interior of them, and some you can even rent for a holiday if you feel so inclined! I would definitely consider it as something slow paced to do, and a stunning base camp to go see the Neolithic attractions that Wiltshire is so well known for.

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Just a bit of medieval doodles. No big deal.
So if you’re looking for something off the beaten tourist path as an international visitor, I cannot recommend this place highly enough!

 

–Kate

The Parentals were Back!

 

Hello again! ‘Twas a lovely little holiday hiatus, but I’m back! We’re now officially moved into the new home and have had the old rental cleaned and keys returned. Perhaps I will post house photos at some point, but only when it starts to develop a state of order. Moving in and then immediately turning around and having family around, then a holiday, then going back to Commuter Life makes for a slow unpacking. But there’s definitely firm progress, and I think we have lofty ambitions to call it settled in by Thanksgiving time. Maybe.

Thankfully, the lion’s share of the kitchen, bedrooms, and bathrooms were unboxed with the help of the super in-laws. They even helped motor us around for such exciting (and necessary) purchases like curtains and curtain rails. Moving into a new house rather makes you forget how many windows a house can have, and how much window furnishing can add up really quickly! We don’t have curtains for every room still, but the living room and bedrooms are sorted, and if people want to be nosey whilst I wash things in the sink, then I suppose I’ll just have to put up with the weirdos for now.

Even with the excitement of moving into the new house, it was still equally rivalled by getting to see Mom and Dad again! They managed to fly in on Monday morning and I met them at Liverpool Street station. The future is weird, and I was able to track them down to the Uber with the Find My Friends app on my phone. Handy, but weird. Ah, it is always so good to see them! Big hugs were exchanged and we headed out for Colchester to try and beat the rush hour chaos.

The next day while still jet lagged, Mom and Dad headed off to Cambridge to see one of Dad’s students and explore the town as I had to go to Manchester for a conference. If you’re into microscopy in any form, I’d highly recommend going to the MMC next year. From top of the line tech companies to amateur fans, it was a very educational experience and I picked up a few new ideas.

After all the dust settled, it was back into work for one more day on Wednesday and the chance to give Mom and Dad a behind the scenes tour of what’s been going on here at the museum. Below is a photo of our newly posed blue whale, Hope, in the main hall of the museum.

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Hope, the new emblem of the Natural History Museum!

Looking at her reassembled and mounted like that, it’s hard to believe that I have handled every one of those bones. (With help on most, mind you!) She’s now quite finished and available to the public, and I cannot recommend highly enough that you come and see her if you’re in town. She’s all of our pride and joy. 🙂

After Wednesday, my time off officially began and started with all of us having a nice long lie in. Between the jet lag and the gogogo! lifestyle of the week, it was much needed. Alas, our weary work was not quite done in terms of setting the house in order, so we put Mom and Dad to work a bit over the weekend. Mom helped with some design quandaries, and Dad performed a miracle and transformed a pile of cardboard boxes filled with IKEA products into a wardrobe, and to professionally hang up all of the curtains.

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Possibly the best pub garden in Tetbury.

With the house shaping up into fine form and my parents in need of a proper holiday, we headed out to the Cotswolds Monday morning to meet up with the lovely in-laws at their house. It was a thankfully mostly uneventful drive, with only a 25 minute delay on the M25, unlike the hour doozy we had last time. Mom also had a good laugh at the “Mexican” restaurant at the service station and the fact that they sold chicken wings. Not to say chicken wings aren’t enjoyed in Mexico, but are they really known for it?

We got into Tetbury in time for a quick tour of the town by the father in law, and then headed out for a delicious Italian dinner. Didn’t want to stay up too late though, as we were off to visit the Roman Baths (finally!) the next day.

If you get the chance to go, I would definitely recommend going to visit the Baths. It was everything I was hoping it would be, sans comic amounts of tourists. I suppose you can never really escape the tourists in Bath, especially in the summertime, but it does make it a bit hairy at some points in the building. Regardless though, I think we all learned something new about Bath that day!

We made it home from Bath after a quick bit of shopping after the tour, in which Mom never did find that yearly planner she was looking for. More of the English family was coming in for the evening, and we had all the fixings for a BBQ lined up. In true form, this meant that the rain began at about noon and refused to let up for the rest of the evening. Not to be dissuaded, the Significant Otter put the BBQ under a marquis and cooked everything anyway, with a fire brigade style chain of family members bringing food back and forth with minimal raindrops.

The next day the skies dried up and taunted us a bit as we were planning on being inside for most of the day. You see, we’d signed up for a brewery tour at the nearby Wadworths Brewery. Again, it was an educational experience, and it was really cool getting to see the giant open vats that they brewed some of the ales in. Also it’s been around since Victorian times, so seeing the mixture of old and new machinery and construction was really impressive. And of course, the variety of ales to try at the end of the tour wasn’t half bad either, though I think Mom may argue the best part was getting to meet the brewery horses. Wadworths is one of the last companies to still bring all the beer kegs within a 2 mile radius to the pubs by horse and cart!

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Not pictured – the gleeful fathers ready to learn about (and drink) all the brews.

On the way back from the brewery, M and I decided on a little pit stop for my parents as the weather was continuing to behave and stopped off at the village of Avebury. I was surprised to hear that even though my Dad had lived in England as a kid, he’d never gotten to see the stone circle around Avebury, so I really wanted them to go. I’m glad we did, as it seemed like they had a really good time. Dad got to enjoy walking around the circle and being able to touch (and sit!) on the massive stones, and Mom got to pet almost every dog there. Even M got some ice cream out of it and seemed pleased with the result.

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Some of the smaller stones, looking majestic in the sunlight.

All good things must come to an end though, and seemingly out of nowhere it was soon time to take Mom and Dad back to the airport. We all spent the night at the hotel outside of Heathrow and had to send them on their way in the morning after a massive cooked breakfast. 😦 Overall though, it was fantastic to see them both again, and I hope we gave them a good trip! Looks like it’s our turn to go out to America next year then. 🙂

I suppose this means back to unpacking and behaving like some kind of adult again then eh?

Speak soon!

 

— Kate

Tea in Tetbury

So we recently stopped over in Tetbury to catch up with the lovely in-laws and ended up going out to see one of the National Trust homes nearby – Dyrham Park. The house is absolutely gorgeous on the exterior, surrounded by countryside, but the garden is what they put the most work into. Even in the bare beginnings of spring, you could see that the garden would be astounding. Historically, a goodly bit of time and effort have been put into the garden, so the National Trust have continued the works.

The interior of the home has many pieces of original furniture for the period, as well as some well done reproductions, but they have chosen to focus more on the educational aspects of the artifacts over the visual appeal. The National Trust have also only allowed access to the ground floor, which was a total bummer as they had some amazing staircases that just beckon to be explored. Perhaps at a later time.

In terms of historical merit, the park has been in existence since 1511, but some form of manor has existed there since at least the time of the Domesday Book. Because of the charter given in 1511, it meant that a wall could be erected and deer kept inside, which the owner would have exclusive hunting rights over. The name Dyrham actually comes from the Anglo-Saxon word dirham, which was an enclosure for deer.

The Blathwayt family owned the house from 1689 until 1956 when the National Trust acquired it, but during WWII it was used for child evacuees. Multiple additions have been done over the years, including a greenhouse addition in 1701 and a 15-bay stable block that has been altered into the tea-rooms for visitors today. A section of the stables remain standing to get a feel for the space. The greenhouse is still in use today, and you can even sample some hot chocolate made with on-site grown fruits and spices!

There is a church adjacent to the property, St Peter’s, which is not actually a part of the National Trust. It has been in the area since the mid-13th century though and has many tombs and memorials for past owners of the house.

Fun fact for my Whovians – this house was used for scenes from the reboot sixth series episode “Night Terrors,” with the gigantic doll monsters. With the fog rolling in on the day we were there, I could easy see something eerie happening!

Also kinda cool was the historic recipe at the tea-room. Beyond the usual soup and sandwiches that you’ll find at any National Trust site, they were also selling a batch of ‘biskets’ that they had made off of a 17th century recipe. Normally I’m not a fan of anise in any form, but this was so faint that it made it really surprisingly lovely. It was like a mix of a shortbread biscuit and a biscotti. Would totally eat one again.

After our adventures concluded, we ended up going out to pick up some last minute shopping whilst the rugby was on and then all heading out for a super filling Italian dinner in town. We also ended up with a full sized rubbish bag full of M’s childhood stuffed toys to take home. The largest, a full sized Alsatian puppy, even ended up buckled into the back seat of the Little Red Mini. Sadly, such good news could not be said of the rugby match.

Unfortunately, the daily grind called us and we had to head back to the East of England Sunday afternoon. It was great to have a low-key catch up with the familials though. Now to plan when we can all meet up again next!

 

— Kate

 

Trip to Padstow (Autumn 2016)

‘Twas the night before half term and all through the house…

What are we kidding? There are probably children stampeding across the house because they’re about to have a week of holiday off school.

M and I do not have any children, so this isn’t the case in our own home per se, but we do have a young nephew for whom it matters. In order for the whole clan to get together outside of Christmas, it’s easiest to do so on school holidays. Plans were made, and it was decided that we’d all go down to Padstow together.

5:45 AM rolled around on a Saturday morning and we were up and out the door from Chelmsford. We needed to meet the familial caravan of cars in the Cotswolds, which is why we were awake at such unholy hours.

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A visual interpretation of the mood felt at that moment.

We drove straight through towards Reading where Mat wanted to get some breakfast. He swears it was because it was the first service station that was far enough from the M25 around London to avoid traffic. I suspect it may have been because I was reading all the roadsigns for cities and towns and spouting off information about Anglo-Saxon battles and medieval history and he needed to distract me.

We arrived with time to spare and took a nap whilst the rest of the family gathered their belongings together and prepared to drive down tiny Cornish country roads. Before you guffaw and think it’s no big deal, you really need to google Cornish roads. Unless you’ve lived out there, it’s terrifying. Not only are they narrow and windy with blind turns, but the hedges are hiding the fact that stone walls lie underneath them. No easy brush with a bush in Cornwall, so drive carefully!

We arrived after some of the clan at our cottage for the week. If you want something in the middle of it all, I’d recommend the Sail Loft. However, it is quite literally above a shop in the middle of the main pedestrian way, so be prepared to have some folks think you’re opening a shop door and try to follow you in the flat!

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Looking away from the harbour, right up the street from our rental.

After everyone arrived and settled in, we all went out to dinner at Rick Stein’s Fish & Chips. It’s still just as phenomenal as I remembered it being! After driving over four hours to get there, we called it a night after food and headed home.

The next day was Sunday, so of course we needed to go to a pub for a proper Sunday roast. Continuing our Rick Stein’s trend, we all headed over to his pub in the nearby village of St Merryn, The Cornish Arms. The food took a bit to arrive, but there was more than enough of it once it was there. On the way out I took a moment to dash across the country lane and get a few photos of the church across the road. There’s been a church there since before the Norman conquest, but the current building is post-conquest, at around 1260. I only had a few moments before my ride wanted to leave, but it made for a lovely scene.

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After lunch it was decided that an educational lobster tour was what was needed, so a portion of us headed over to see the National Lobster Hatchery. I was excited, as this was closed last time we were there.

The hatchery has been open for 16 years and exists as a charity with focus on conservation, research, and education on the European lobster. Inside, we got to see the life cycle of a lobster, as well as current live examples in each stage. We even got to meet Anna, the blue lobster! This was all very exciting for the wee one in our group, who left with a plastic lobster grabbing claw and a host of new facts about lobsters to tell the rest of the group.

Being an educational facility, they offered Adopt a Lobster programmes. It did say they’d ship your certificate internationally, so I adopted one for my mom’s classroom of primary school kids. Apparently they were over the moon about it and my mom had to give them lobster updates on a weekly basis for awhile. Best £5 purchase of the trip!

It was a relaxed day afterwards with much mulling about and sampling of the pubs around the harbour. Ended up at home in a few rounds of card games, then suddenly it was morning again and we were off to St. Austell to tour the brewery.

St Austell Brewery isn’t really a microbrewery, but I don’t think you’ll find them much outside of the UK. It’s a shame as the brews are phenomenal. You’ll find at least one variety at every pub in the area, and even back in Chelmsford we’ve been able to find at least some of their major labels. The brewery was founded in 1851 and has been running (with some modernisation) ever since. Their main beer is Tribute Ale, which accounts for about 80% of their sales. The fantastic part is that Tribute was originally made as a one off batch to commemorate the 1999 solar eclipse and was then called Daylight Robbery. It turned out to be so wildly popular that they renamed it and have permanently produced it since. They continue the tradition of special brews all the time, so who knows what might come out of Cornwall next? In honour of all our new knowledge, we of course headed to a pub when we got back to Padstow.

It absolutely dumped rain in torrents all day, so most of the rest of the day was laid back. The next morning however, the rains had abated and the sun was shining beautifully. The weather just seems to do this in Cornwall – pelting rain or glorious sun, no in between. We all took the chance and got on the ferry over across the harbour to Rock, where we all had a stroll through the beachy sand and shrubs. Our shortest member of the group even braved a quick swim in the cold Atlantic waters.

The rain clouds then started forming overhead, so we all made our way back to the ferry and back to Padstow for another relaxed afternoon.

Deciding that relaxed days are no way to spend a holiday, we took that Wednesday as a chance to drive out to Tintagel Castle, along more of those exciting roads I mentioned earlier.

The castle is a medieval fortification built by the 1st Earl of Cornwall in the 13th century. However, the island outcropping has evidence of settlement as far back as the Romano-British period. The site actually started as a tourist destination first in the 19th century, with archaeological excavations happening afterwards. In the 1930s these continuing excavations found the earlier Romano-British evidence in the form of a small high status settlement.

This place has a long association with the legends of King Arthur. It was in the 12th century that the first mention of Tintagel as Arthur’s birthplace appears in the work by Geoffrey of Monmouth. In his story Arthur’s father, King Uther Pendragon, was disguised by Merlin’s sorcery to look like Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, the husband of Igraine, Arthur’s mother.

What all of this doesn’t tell you is just how sheer the cliff is and how much climbing of stairs and hills you will do to get to these ruins. It’s breathtaking (in more than one way) and totally worth the trip, but wear good shoes and pack something to drink. There’s a reason this island was such a great fortification site.

And with this we pretty much reached the end of our holidays. We spent one more day enjoying the food and views of Padstow, then headed back to the busy East of England.

Pros of travelling in half term: Get to see the whole family at once and spend time together.

Cons of travelling in half term: The entirety of England also travels to spend time with their families at the exact same time as you. A predicted 3.5 hour journey turned into a 5 hour one.

When it was all said and done though, it was a lovely get together in a gorgeous spot, and there was even some great news by the end of it! Stay tuned until next post to find out more on that. 😉

 

— Kate

 

 

Newark Park at Eastertime (Spring 2016)

Slowly working my way through the backlog of the year. Our next major trip wasn’t until Easter, when we packed up our bags and drove to the Cotswolds to see the family. We also learned on this trip that when you hire an automatic car in the UK, you pretty much just get whatever they have as most people here drive manual cars. Normally I have ended up with the tiny Vauxhall Corsa I asked for, but this time all they had was a Mercedes C-Class. And they would have to charge me the rate for the Vauxhall because I hadn’t requested it. Oh darn.

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It was a fantastic Easter weekend with the family and we decided to make the most of it by going to visit the nearby National Trust site of Newark House that Saturday. M had just gotten off night shift the day before and was much keener on some sleep, so we left him to snooze for this one.

Newark Park is up a windy country road on the top of a hill, but it has an amazing view of the surrounding countryside. It’s a Grade I listed country house built between 1544 and 1556. It sits on 700 acres of unspoiled Cotswold countryside and gives a view that looks similar to how it would have centuries back.

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The house was originally a three storey Tudor hunting lodge with a basement that belonged to Sir Nicholas Poyntz, a Groom of the Privy Chamber to Henry VIII. It was called the “New Work” and was partially built with materials from the then-recently dissolved Kingswood Abbey nearby. The lodge has been altered over the course of the centuries, but it still remains as the eastern part of the present building.

The home passed through a few hands over the years and eventually became a rental property in the 1860s. It stayed this way until 1949 when it was given to the National Trust. Unusually, the Trust did not open Newark Park to the public, but instead let it out as a nursing home. This continued until 1970 when the estate was declared in disrepair and it was taken on privately by an American architect, Robert Parsons. It was due to his efforts that both the house and the surrounding grounds were restored and its Grade I listing was achieved.

 

The house is still managed by the National Trust and privately occupied, but you can go visit the cafe for tea and enjoy the beautiful grounds. We took it as a chance to go on a grand Easter hunt around the estate!

 

— Kate

Norfolk at Large

Happy Bonfire Night! I adore this holiday, mostly because if you think about it it makes no sense as to why it exists. A man named Guy Fawkes attempted to assassinate the political powers that be back in 1605 and failed miserably. Since he didn’t get to detonate his explosives, we all now commemorate the occasion of his failure by lighting much less dangerous explosives once a year. What? I am convinced that there is just an innate need for every country to have an official day set aside to light off fireworks.

Sadly, M is working this evening so we shan’t be lighting any sparklers in the back garden today. However, Norwich City Council are having a big show tomorrow night and lighting professional fireworks off the castle. I don’t know about you guys, but I find that to be a completely acceptable substitute to the actual day, and we’ll both get to go! With large jumpers and treacle toffee in hand, we’re aiming to find a place amongst the crowd around the City Hall to enjoy the festivities. Hopefully someone will get a photo!

Anyway, I thought I’d catch up this week with some photos from around Norfolk as I got to tag along with M’s lovely family during their holiday, as well as a few from our visit to see them near Tetbury (out in Gloustershire). To start with, we’ll head west to Tetbury. Tetbury is a tiny town of approximately 6,000 people and has been around in some form since the period of the Anglo-Saxons. It’s a part of the Cotswolds, which is known for being incredibly picturesque. For a good part of our visit though, M and I got lost on a walk or were at his parents’ new home, so the photos are a bit limited. It’s a stunning place though, and if you have any interest in antiques it seems to be the central location. You would think the economy runs off antique sales by the amount of shops in the centre of the town.

Next we go to Cromer, at the northern tip of Norfolk. Seaside resorts have sadly been on the decline in recent years here in England due to cheap package holidays to places like Spain or Greece. Some of the seaside towns have declined dramatically, but Cromer still does pretty well for itself. It also helps they have some great local crabbing and the seaside is picture perfect even in October. Whether anyone will want to feel the spray of the sea on their face when they come for the wedding in January remains another story, but I imagine it will still be pretty whilst they slowly freeze. Or perhaps they could just sit inside the Red Lion pub and watch the waves whilst drinking mulled wine and eating something toasty.

Our day in Cromer had mild weather, so we got to climb up the cliffside to see the lighthouse and breathtaking view around it. We also had some fish and chips (of course) and tried some of the Cromer crab legs while there. We even wandered the beach at high tide looking for small pebbles with natural holes in them. They’re supposed to be good luck. M and I came back again later in the week to visit the family and got to sit by the sea in the aformentioned pub before dinner. It was a really soothing place!

Finally, we all met up again to visit Blickling Hall, north of Alysham. The hall is a stately home that is part of an entire estate that has been cared for by the National Trust since 1940. It’s a fab mixture of modern life (up until the owner’s death in the 1940s) with historical. It pops up most in the history books as being the birthplace of Anne Boleyn, though the signs National Trust have put up make it seem that they are uncertain of this. Of course, the house in its current form is from the 17th century, though pieces of older buildings on the premises are incorporated into the hall. Being built with a moat around it made it much simpler to just reuse bits of still standing walls and frames over the ages.

We got to see all of the interior, and if you’re a fan of Downton Abbey you’ll probably be thrilled with the downstairs region for kitchens and servants passages. Outside we only got a brief walk through before the weather took a turn for the worse. Supposedly this is one of the most haunted buildings in England, but it didn’t seem remotely sketchy in daylight hours. Then again, you’re only supposed to see the ghost of Anne Boleyn on the night of her death and even then she’s supposed to be coming up the grand drive with her head in her hands. Why she decided to come back home after all that happened seems a question worth asking.

Well, it’s time for me to go make myself a cup of tea if I plan on staying awake past 7 tonight. Will speak again soon!

 

— Kate