It’s crazy how fast time flies and how things progress.

Honestly, I pay for this domain name. I need to stop abandoning it for long stretches. Also, if I keep it alive this year it’ll be a 5 year old blog. I don’t think I’ve ever kept a plant alive that long.

So. Anyway.

When last we spoke, it was the beginning of a long, dry, hot summer in the UK. We didn’t see rain here in Essex for over 50 days. It normally rains here at least once a week if that gives you an idea of how crazy it was. Ah, but ignoring the parched earth it was glorious. We roamed the local country park a few times both with and without picnics. We went to Mersea Island and played on the beach. We even accidentally came at high tide and had to drive through the sea a little bit. Don’t worry, the Mini did fabulously.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of this summer was the need to leave the windows open as much as possible, especially at night to try and drop the temperature in our bedroom from 29º down to 25º (if we were lucky). During the daytime we mostly had to chase flies and the occasional rogue wasp out of the living room because of this, but then the Flying Ant Day Accident occurred.

Flying Ant Day is a strange British phenomena. Normally, these pavement ants do not have wings and are happy to live their lives underground. However, there is a point in the summer that they reach breeding season and all seem to grow wings and fly en masse. (Apparently it’s not just a single day and happens across the UK all summer long, but it’s still an impressive swarm when it happens near you.) This type of swarm is like midges or gnats, but much larger. They don’t really do anything to you other than get in your face, but in a swarm it’s awful.

HOWEVER, they do seem to like the light, very much like moths. And we have a streetlight outside of our bedroom window. “Well that’s a bit creepy to watch, but surely no harm right?” you say to me. Oh but wait. One of us accidentally left the bedroom light on when we’d gone up to open the windows and then shut the bedroom door so the cat couldn’t get out of the house.

Perfect. Storm.

M was still having a glass of water and otherwise getting ready for bed downstairs whilst I came upstairs to sort out my clothing for work the next morning, only to be confronted with something that looked like a scene out of a horror film. HUNDREDS OF FLYING ANTS ALL OVER THE ROOM. They were in the windowsill, the curtains, the lampshade, the bedding, the laundry, and all over the floor. They were crawling the walls and ceiling. Honestly, the photo doesn’t do justice to the horror of it.

My initial reaction was just to stare at them and then scream for M to bring up the fly spray. (Why I thought a can of fly spray would fix this I don’t know.) I stood, riveted in the doorway, somehow thinking that if I took my eyes off of the swarm that they’d all come down the stairs and into the rest of the house. Thankfully, M came up and had more common sense in how to deal with the scene.

Long story short, M emptied an entire can of Raid in our room and half filled a Dyson vacuum with flying ants before we went to bed two hours later, sleeping in the guest bedroom. Everything in the room that could be washed was washed, including the bedding that I had just changed that afternoon. 😥

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Plagues of ants and drought aside, nature decided to just get a bit rude in general. The heat spiked to new and exciting levels, and the train network is not currently equipped to deal with weather so extreme. This had happened last year and there was about a week that it was nigh on impossible to get on a train into or from London.

This year they did try to do some things to help with the heat. A lot of the rails in the stations had their sides painted white in an effort to drop the heat whilst the trains were at the platforms and prevent the tracks from buckling and warping. However, when the weather stations starting predicting a heat spike so intense that it could make new records, the train companies just decided “sod it” and preemptively cancelled trains at about 9:30 the night before. Awesome, right? At one point they could only run a train an hour from Colchester to London, and I’m amazed those trains didn’t get stopped more from overcrowding and overheating inside of them. It was insanity.

Supposedly, Greater Anglia is getting new trains out in 2020 and they’ll all come equipped with blessed air conditioning. Why do I feel like the seats are going to be even smaller though?

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When I was able to get into work, I was able to work on my last project as staff at the NHM. We’ve already processed all the Toxodon fossils that Darwin sent back from South America on his Beagle journey and posted them online, but the chance came to reunite two portions of a Giant Ground Sloth skull that haven’t been together since Darwin cut them into two pieces. Not only did I get to witness the event, but I got to scan said pieces! It was all very cool, and a fitting way to end my work.

You see, I had applied and been accepted to do a PhD at UCL whilst working alongside the NHM. But we’ll get back to that later!

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FINALLY, we got rain in Essex again. It took weeks for the grass to go back to green and the cracks in the earth to heal, but it was amazing to have it back. We joked that my mother in law is apparently a water spirit, as every time she comes to Essex it rains. If we’d have known, we’d have had them over much sooner!

Towards the end of the summer it was finally beginning to cool down, and the Heritage Open Days EU project kicked off, opening access to historical places that are either usually closed to the public or paid entry only. Most everyone went to the castle, but I had a list of some of the more obscure and usually closed buildings that I desperately wanted to see, and a husband with an infinite sense of patience for my love of all things old.

We were only able to do one of the open days, but in that day we went up and down Colchester and managed to see the inside of the Anglo-Saxon church (the oldest in town), the facade that houses the archaeological discovery of a Roman theatre (you can easily walk by it), the interior and the view from the upper floor of the old abbey gate (the only thing still standing of the abbey), and most of the structure of Tymperleys, home to William Gilberd, scientist and physician to Elizabeth I (and now a place with most excellent scones).

Autumn began to creep in with cooler weather, and with it came the time to go back to school again. I could have sworn I was never going to do a PhD, but here I am. In fairness, my future predictions have been pretty wildly off the mark so far, so it’s not exactly surprising.

Before the official start of term, all of us in the SEAHA program (Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology) convened in a village outside of Brighton for an induction into the way of things, and a chance to get to know and bond with our fellow students. I am so, so glad they did this for us, and not just because the hotel was amazing. Getting to know everyone in advance really helped make the first few weeks much easier.

One can’t stay in opulent hotels forever, and after the weekend retreat we were ready to begin lectures. Of course, this is SEAHA and we are anything but standard, so they included a trip to Stonehenge halfway through the first module, so we could write up a presentation in the second half about what we would do to modify the current A303 Stonehenge tunnel plans to make them better, using our mixture of experiences. It was more of a challenge than expected, but we ended up with new friends out of the experience and I can now tell you far more about the proposed tunnel project than I ever thought I could.

With autumn also came the harvest season, and this year I was feeling crafty. There are shedloads of sloe berries and growing on the side of a quiet road near the fields I jog past, and eventually I got up the idea to go harvest them and attempt a batch of sloe gin. You aren’t supposed to pick them until after the first frost, but the hot summer had rather killed a fair few of them, so I just picked them and froze them in the freezer at home to make up for it.

They were then added into a jar with obscene amounts of sugar, and of course, some gin. We left them to infuse until just before Christmas, then strained and decanted them out. Some have been given as little Christmas trinkets, with the firm advice that they’ll be better if they’re left until about mid-January to drink. I for one am excited to try ours out, perhaps mixed in with some prosecco, or even by making a proper sloe gin fizz!

As it does every year, my birthday snuck up on me. This year is the last year of my twenties. M thought it amusing to get a tiny cake and put 29 candles on it, so I brought out the fire extinguisher just in case. (Did you know you can buy fire extinguishers and fire blankets on Amazon Prime? Best late night purchase M’s made in some time!)

I didn’t really have any grand goals to achieve by the end of this year, and I’m still not sure what I want to do for my 30th birthday party. On one end, I could have a bunch of people around and make a big do of it, or it could just be the two of us on an adventure somewhere. I should probably sort it out before springtime.

Regardless, this birthday was a fabulous birthday, with cake, a new coat I’d been lusting after, and an evening out in the lovely medieval section of Colchester. 🙂

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Classes back in swing, birthday survived, and coats brought out of storage, we trundled into the cool autumn air. Except this time, I had friends from the US coming around with me! As is the Great American Tradition when coming to the UK, we managed to traverse across a wide swathe of the country in a little over a week. The two of them even carried on into Wales, but alas, I had to get some work done for the module. We did try to give them a weird and wonderful ride through bits of the country that not everyone goes to see on a typical tourist tour, but some things you’ve just got to see – like Stonehenge!

It’s always so exciting when people come to the UK, whether or not they’re coming to say hello. Being on an hour’s ride into London means it’s usually easy to catch up with people, schedules permitting. It was hard to part ways, but back to the States they eventually had to go, and the cat finally decided to come out of hiding and take up her roost in the living room again.

Module one was completed with much grumbling and typing, but completed successfully. I’m now at the tail end of module two, which had a bit of a twist to it this time. We had the option to do a basic laboratory procedure in the lecture hall, or we could liaise with our supervisors and do one elsewhere that might further relate towards the PhD. Needing to learn how to run an SEM and process photogrammetric data anyway, I opted to go back to the NHM. Over the course of two weeks I have learned how to dehydrate a specimen, coat it for SEM, run the basics of an SEM, and process photogrammetric images! It all sounds rather fancy for staring at a fly face for two weeks. I’m currently tweaking the write up of my experiment, and it goes in for submission next Monday. Looking forward to what the next module will hold!

In between modules, M and I left the country again. My parents were going to see one of our exchange students and her family, and they were kind enough to invite us to stay at their house as well. We took them up on their generous offer and ended up with an absolutely unique experience of the Netherlands that one could only get from a local, and got to see my parents! I would definitely like to go back to the Netherlands, but perhaps when it’s a bit warmer. Those winds coming off of the ocean have nowhere to go but straight into your bones.

Whilst there, we took a train over for a day trip into Germany as my mom had never been. It’s fascinating to see the sharp difference between the Netherlands and Germany, seemingly just across the border. We’d hoped to see the Christmas market in Dusseldorf, but arrived a little too early. It wasn’t a lost trip though, as we got to see the famous Rhine River and a painstakingly redone Altstadt, built back up after the war.

Christmas showed up soon afterwards in a big way. When not covering our house in tinsel and Christmas cards, we were out and about and enjoying the festive spirit of it all. Got the chance to pop into Paycocke’s House and the Grange Barn out in Coggeshall for their special Christmas hours. It really did feel like going back into Tudor Christmastime, and I only wish I hadn’t gone by myself as it seemed like it’s really meant for company to come along.

Getting closer to Christmas, we managed a long weekend journey up to York to catch up with our Northern friends. I probably should have known better than to go into the Christmas Markets in York, but we braved the crowds and found some fabulous little trinkets and all kinds of snacks! Even managed to score a table with seats in The Three Tuns at peak pub hour in the rain, of which I was far too proud. Finally, late into the evening, we saw the Shambles quiet and then took ourselves back to the AirBNB for the night.

And then before we knew it, the last few weeks had passed and it was Christmas! We went up to Manchester to celebrate at M’s big sister’s new home. It’s a gorgeous new build with a massive back garden. Their days of househunting really paid off. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of it, as I appear to have caught food poisoning off something just before we arrived. Thankfully the sickbed was comfortable and M made sure to keep a steady supply of Sprite, so it could have been far worse. Other than that hiccup, it was really good to see everyone, especially our ever growing nephew of whom nobody can rival in Marvel knowledge. Honestly, I’d call that kid first on any game show.

We got back home for New Year’s, had a quiet night of it, and then slowly dragged ourselves back into the real world.

So here we are, a lightning trip into the present. Now that I’m not on the trains for 4 hours every day, I should hopefully be a bit better about popping in every now and then. Until we see each other next, hope you’re having a good one. 🙂

 

— Kate

Winter to summer. I miss wearing coats.

Right, so, where was I? Oh yes, coming out of the dark of depression and surrounded by snow. Well, I’ll have you know I’m on medication, back to my usual antics, and Britain is currently melting into the sea from heat. But what’s happened since then eh?

Of course, we went to America! The weather may have been playing silly buggers, but it was wonderful to see my family again, come rain or shine! It was so strange coming back to Tennessee after being gone seven years. Some things haven’t changed a bit, and some things are unrecognisable now. Poor M had to witness quite a bit of reminiscing, but we took him on a goodly few tours of the attractions in the area. All in all, going somewhere warm with warm hearted people was just what the doctor ordered. I can’t wait until I can see them all again next. 🙂

What was not so fun in our Transatlantic Tour was that on about day three, little Ophelia went missing. And stayed missing. Friends and family were out canvassing the neighbourhood, posters were put up, and all the tricks were tried to get her home. Of course, she then remained missing the rest of our trip (nearly three weeks!) and we were all beside ourselves wondering where she was. We got home, canvassed the area ourselves, and then with no luck put ourselves to bed.

Lo and behold! Who would show up meowing at us in bed at 4 AM? Oh yes. She was skinny and a bit hoarse, but our little fur face was home safely! ❤

After the highs and lows of our big holiday, life settled down into more normal paces. Well, normal for us anyway. At work, I finished two projects on digitising whale skulls and some of the fossils Darwin sent back from his journey on the Beagle. They were both challenges to 3D scan in their own ways, but very cool and totally surreal to handle. And now they’re available to a much wider audience than before!

This April, one of my sister-in-laws and one of my work colleagues were both absolute Wonder Women and successfully ran the London Marathon! M and I came down to watch them run and cheer them on, but mostly just spent the time nearly seeing them and running back to the tube for the next spot. You may not get nearly as many steps as the runners, but cheering for the marathoners is a pretty heavy walking activity itself. It was really interesting to be a witness to such a big event, and I would recommend doing it at least once. I can’t vouch for the running bit – you’d have to ask them! 😉

In a truly miraculous moment at the end of April, I took the UK driving test and PASSED. That’s right, I’m now licensed and insured to drive both manual and automatic cars on my shiny new British license. Honestly, you should all be more concerned.

May snuck up on us and soon enough it was time to head back to Lyme Regis with the Museum team. We brought down a load of 3D printed specimens and our scanner again, but this year we also had a 3D printer in the background for people to watch. I don’t think many people realise quite how long it takes to print something until you see the process. We were shortly mobbed as soon as we opened each day because this year we had play dough to ‘create your own fossil.’ After a child (or some parents) finished with it, we would do a quick 3D scan of it. Let’s just say we’re still processing some of those files. It was popular.

After hours, it was great to catch up with some people that I hadn’t seen since the year before, and we all got to bask in glorious sunshine at the sea – a rare treat not to be taken lightly. Brought home some fossils found on the beach, and some of our staff even won some ice trophies for going above and beyond in helping make the event happen this year. And so, so many chips were eaten. There’s something magical in the fryers at Lyme Regis I think.

A month went by and we all recuperated from Lyme Regis. At the end of it, M and I took a mini holiday to Hungerford for his birthday weekend. It’s a quiet town outside of Reading, and we went when the weather was perfect for it. Took a stroll through town, had dinner at a lovely place off the High Street, and stayed in a listed pub, The Bear Hotel. Parts of the building go back to the 17th century, but the room we stayed in with the view of the river was very much from the 21st century.

The next morning, we packed up and continued west towards Tetbury to spend the rest of the birthday weekend with M’s family. It just so happened to be the weekend of the Tetbury Woolsack Races, so of course we had to go see them. The aim of the game is to carry a sack full of wool and run up the steepest hill in the village. It was quite possibly the most British thing I think I’ve witnessed to date, and it was really fun to watch! We took a stroll DOWN the hill afterwards, and immediately could see why people were so exhausted by the top of it. That hill is deceptively brutal!

For his birthday, M got a homebrew kit from my parents, which of course needed to be tried straightaway. Well, as straightaway as one can brew things anyway. After a quick stop to the shops for brewing sugar, M was busy concocting his brew. I mostly just stayed out of the way until the bottling process, which is more of a two person event. The beers have now finished brewing and have been sampled. The neighbour gives it a solid rating, though M is convinced it tastes more like real ale than the lager it was intended to be. Ah well, just means we need to make more eh?

What else has happened? Well, M’s other sister and her family have moved into a new, beautiful house and their cats are ALL ABOUT the fact that the downstairs lets them do a circular patrol. We’ve now been in our new build for over a year, and are finally putting down some literal roots in the form of a raised garden bed.

What I didn’t know was that new builds often use whatever junk soil they have available to get the yard to a certain height, and then put on a thin layer of topsoil for the grass to grow on. This was quickly discovered after we tried digging down and hit rock after rock after rock. It was a sweaty, hot day, but after nearly six hours and multiple rest breaks, we finally got the borders in and the plants rooted. As of now, they’re all still alive too!

I have realised at this point that we have had so many BBQs that I’ve stopped taking photos of them. Normally everyone in Britain races to the shops to buy food for a BBQ on a Saturday when there’s a chance the weather might have sun and temperatures above 20C/68F. However with this heatwave, it’s been balmy and sunny for months now.

We’re at the point of planning weekend BBQs without even looking at the weather forecast. People are leaving their laundry on the lines overnight with full confidence that they won’t get dew on them in the morning. Everyone has given up on wearing professional work clothes and just trying to make do with their holiday clothes. Shops have run out of shorts. Truly, Britain is going mad in the heat and sun.

It can’t all be sunny days and BBQs though, and we did have to deal with the stress that is my spousal visa this July. After being married 2.5 years (yay!), it has to be renewed for another 2.5 years. After that, I can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, and then even a dual citizenship after that. It ain’t cheap though, and the paperwork required is a righteous pain to compile, even if you’re sensible like we were this time and had organised by month in accordion binders for the last 3 years. All the money has been paid though, and the paperwork sent off, so now it’s just a waiting game to hear back from Home Office. I don’t see why they wouldn’t approve it, but it’s stressful to wait for someone to decide such a big thing in your life.

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The paperwork required this time around for my visa. About half the amount required for the initial application.

After getting that stress sorted, M and I had two partial weeks off, and so we went to the sea to enjoy the sun, and then out into Colchester like tourists. I may have put him on a ‘let’s go find all the really old things in Colchester’ tour, but I think he did remarkably well out of it.

The beach at Walton on the Naze is perfect for lounging in the sand with a book and letting the braver souls toss themselves into the freezing North Sea. (I stuck my toes in it and can confirm that it is still frigid.) The beach huts were absolutely everywhere, and we enjoyed getting a peek inside the ones that were open. They’re basically Sea Sheds, with little kettles, a bed for a nap, and some toys for the beach. I would totally rent one if I thought I was going to spend a few days out there. We also quickly detoured up to the Naze Tower, though didn’t go in as it was getting even hotter and they had the windows shut in it. (!!!)

On our Colchester adventures, we got into town and then promptly into the Castle Museum to avoid the blazing heat of the sun. Colchester is old as all get out, as I have mentioned, and the amount of archaeology they find is impressive. I really enjoy having lived here long enough that I can recognise the names of the streets and villages where the finds were discovered and have an idea of where Roman and medieval Colchester spread.

After the museum, we headed over towards the Balkerne Gate – one of the last Roman gateways still standing in Britain. Next door to it is a pub called The Hole in the Wall, which is quite literal. You can see the Roman wall in the middle of one of the pub walls. Of course we had to pop in, as it definitely fell under the ‘old things’ tour mandate. After a brief stop, we continued on to dinner at the Siege House, which was another old building that was used (and shot at) during the English Civil War. Even if you aren’t into history, the building is beautiful and the food was amazing. Would definitely go back.

So here we are, pretty much caught up with everything in a single post. It’s still too hot in England and the trains are all melting, but other than that life is doing well. Not quite sure what’s in the cards for the next few months, other than praying for rain and keeping on at work. But we shall see, won’t we? 🙂

 

— Kate

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

 

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

 

 

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

Getting a Look at Norwich.

Holy crow, as my mother pointed out to me today, I am “a 26 year old WOMAN now. Engaged to be married and with two university degrees.” I don’t know when this all happened and I started to look like an accomplished individual, but it sure feels like it snuck up on me. It was a great birthday though! Had a laid back weekend with friends that made a seriously superb steak dinner and didn’t even do too badly when England lost to Wales in the Rugby World Cup. For the birthday proper, we stayed in and opened gifts, then had some takeaway curry and drinks. Low key with lovely people – just the way a birth-week should be. 🙂

Since I now have more time available other than sleep, commute, work, commute, eat, sleep, I’ve been spending more time getting to know the layout of Norwich. It’s such a pretty city, and while the weather is behaving I intend to make the most of it and get in those coveted 10,000 steps a day! I know there are also lovelies coming to visit over the winter, so I wanted to give them a good sense of what should be seen in the city and what can be missed if time restraints are at play. The city council actually has a pretty impressive heritage scene, but appear to have chosen this summer/autumn to work on a few of their “Norwich Twelve” historic places of note. As it stands, I’d rather just wait until the scaffolding comes down before trying to get photos of a few of them, like the Norwich Cathedral and Dragon Hall. They deserve better justice than I could currently give them.

In the meanwhile, I’ll be posting about 3 spots worth of a visit per post, even if I’m investigating more during the week. I can’t help but predict another week of biblical rain coming up, so it’s best to stockpile some. In absolutely no particular order or even places close to each other (gotta get the step count somehow), I give you – This Week in Norwich!

Firstly, there is a castle in Norwich, and it is lovely. It is said to be one of the finest surviving Norman castles in Europe. The castle was built in the 11th century as a royal palace for William the Conquerer with the huge stone keep being a symbol of the king’s power at a time when most new buildings were small wooden structures. The Norwich Castle mound is the largest castle mound in the country. From the 14th century the Castle no longer served the purpose of a Royal Castle and for the next 500 years was used as a prison. In 1890, the castle and surrounding buildings were converted into a museum.

In terms of a modern museum, you definitely get your money’s worth. They’ve somehow managed to combine a natural history museum, an art gallery, and a history museum together. Oh, and then they’ve got a separate bit just for the castle’s history. You’d definitely want the guided tour of the castle keep though. There’s a lot of history that they don’t really mention in the signs around the building. You can also pop in for lunch or tea without having to go into the museum, and they even offer picnic basket lunches when the weather is nice so you can eat outside on the castle mound.

Next, there is the Church of St Peter Mancroft. The largest church in Norwich, it is outfitted with a tower containing 14 bells and is unlike any other in the city. The building represents the most striking example of Perpendicular style in the country. There was a Norman church on the site before it was rebuilt between 1420 and 1455 as the building you see today. Inside the church, light can easily reach the single span hammer beam roof from the many large and beautiful windows – the most magnificent being the east window with its stunning medieval stained glass.

Though it’s in the middle of a busy portion of town, it is always quiet and soothing inside this building. They’re open every day from 10-4 and you are always welcome to come sit and pray, or to wander around quietly and enjoy the history and architecture of the church. It’s free to visit, but they’ll gladly take donations, and I’d highly recommend going in for a few minutes to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.

City Hall

A quick detour if you’re already by St Peter Mancroft and like newer architecture, City Hall sits right next door. In 1919, the city council had outgrown the traditional Guildhall, but did not want to demolish the building. A national competition was held in 1931 for the design, and was won by London architects Charles Holloway and Stephen Rowland Pierce. The clock tower holds the largest clock bell in the UK and the hall boasts the longest balcony in England. I think you can go in and tour, but I felt pretty judged for taking photos of the outside and didn’t feel like pressing my luck.

Finally, on a cheesy (or should I say mustard-y?) note, there is always Colman’s Mustard Shop & Museum. Celebrating the 150th anniversary of Colman’s Mustard, this museum and shop was opened and become one of the city’s premier tourist attractions. (So says the council’s informational brochure anyway.)  It’s more like 75% shop, 25% museum, but it’s got some nifty facts about the company and more mustard kitsch than you could ever dream about. Have you heard of mustard foot soaks to restore your aching feet? Me either, but you can buy the kit! The shop/museum is in the middle of a really nice arcade shopping lane, so it’s worth walking by at least to enjoy the scenery along the way. Or you know, to get your mustard party on, I suppose.

More news next week!

— Kate

Almost Back.

Hello all!

Been busy reading, and rereading, and brainstorming, and writing, and a little morose sulking, and all of those other things that come alongside with dissertation writing these last few months. Side effects include the complete lack of will to blog (“What did I do this week? I sat on the same sofa cushion every day and researched biological growth rates.”), weight gain (an unfortunate product of being planted on said sofa), and general whining (my friends and loved ones are SAINTS I tell you). Thankfully it’s nearly (hopefully!) wrapped up and I should be back to normal-ish by the end of this week or next. Of course, there will be revisions and edits and looking-overs until right before it’s due next month, but at least the painstaking effort of making words appear on a page in sentence form will be done. It’s not all been doom and gloom though, and I’ve had a few glorious breaks in which to get out and see the world. In order to psuedo-catch you all up, I’ll give you the last few months’ highlights in photos.

In early May my favourite human had a job interview down in London, so I decided to take the day off and go wander around the British Museum while he interviewed nearby. That ended up being a stressful experience that no one had planned for. Ordinarily, one needs only to take the train from Colchester to London Liverpool Street Station and then the Underground to Holborn.

We ended up taking a train that stopped once for 15 minutes due to a malfunctioning train in front of us, which then started moving again only to be completely shut down due to an accident on the lines ahead of us. This so happened whilst we were nearest to Shenfield, so due to the train line being closed until police could settle the matter, we had to get out at Shenfield. From here, the options were to take a train backwards to another line that would go into London, or find a taxi, or take a bus kind of backwards and around to the closest Tube station.

We happened to be super lucky and a lovely older couple offered to take us in their car to the nearest Tube station, as the gentleman needed to be in London soon as well. We still ended up being late to that interview, but they were able to slot him in later in the afternoon. Leaving behind a thoroughly rattled boyfriend, I went to wander the museum’s section on Crete and the Minoans.

I’ve always passed by this section, but am usually with others that had no interest, so I was excited to be alone and able to enjoy this obscure section to my heart’s content. And I did. I think I read every single bit of text in the exhibit and even had a little bit of time left over to start into the medieval section. At that point though, the interview was a success and it was time to get the poor frazzled one some lunch and to go back home.

Soon after, I also got to witness British democracy in action, though only from the sidelines. It’s a very weird phenomena to see all these signs and posters reminding you to vote and realising that you aren’t allowed to here. Interestingly though, I did learn that if you are a Canadian or Australian living here, you can vote in UK elections. Commonwealth benefits that Americans obviously missed out on. The only way they’ll ever let me vote is if I pass the citizenship test.

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Watching British democracy in action from the sidelines.

Next was our welcome break from the paperwork monotony at the end of May to Calpe, Spain. It’s over in the Costa Blanca region, near Alicante and Valencia. It was warm and sunny and very laid back, and we had a fun evening in the middle of it celebrating the beau’s birthday!

After Calpe, it was a decently quick turnaround until my parents arrived to see me and tour around the UK. Remember, I haven’t seen them in person since I left in September, so I was SUPER excited to see them again! 🙂 We had a great mix of catching up, explaining the country and it’s quirks, and looking at all kinds of places. We started in London, but left quickly after for Leicester so they could see where I’d spent my last few months. We got to see a Magna Carta performance in the Guildhall, Richard III’s new burial spot, and got lucky and caught the organ player at St. Nicholas’s Church. He let us see the inside, played us a beautiful piece, and even let Mom ring the church bells. She looked like a kid at Christmas. 🙂

Next we went to York. York is just like going back in time when you get to the centre of the city. We saw castles and medieval side streets and ancient pubs galore. We even took a haunted ghost bus tour, which was more silly than scary but still good fun. After a good two days in York, we continued on to Warwick to see the castle. It’s gone a bit commercial these days, but it was still an enjoyable experience – minus the downpour of rain. I did love to see the shock on Mom’s face each time it would start to rain, like it wasn’t supposed to be happening.

Bath was our Sunday adventure, and we fed them a proper Sunday roast before walking the city. The next day we made a quick detour into Wales just to say we’d been there, then drove on to Stonehenge for the majority of the afternoon. You can’t go up and touch Stonehenge anymore, but we had another bit of luck and happened to come in just as the Druids were closing their ceremonies for the summer solstice. It was positively magical! The heritage centre next to the circle is also really well done and makes up for not being able to get as close as you’d like to the stones.

Our grand adventure wrapped up in Reading, but not before we stopped in at Dad’s childhood home in Syresham. Grandpa was in the military in the 70s, so Dad and the rest of the family moved around the world quite a bit. For about 5 years though, they lived in England. Their home is a historically listed property, so it’s still around. Needless to say, Dad was stoked to see it. We only intended to be there for a few minutes to take a photo of the outside and have a quick drive around the village, but the lady who owned the house was actually outside. She was glad to hear about the old stories Dad had and even let us look around the inside. It was such a neat experience to have a visual for all the stories of the place that I had heard as a kid, including the infamous Toast Ghost.

Sadly, we had to leave Mom and Dad from Reading. They took the coach back to Heathrow and safely flew back home. When I called to check up on them this weekend, they’ve already settled back into US summer life, with Dad extending the back deck and Mom slowly deep cleaning her way through the house. I can’t wait until they can come and visit again, though perhaps the next time we’ll stay in one region and make day trips out. Packing a car for four people every day can be more tiring than you think! Still, it was a great trip. 🙂

Now, I’ve just got my conclusion to write and some better signposting throughout the dissertation. And of course all the edits that will inevitably appear after those are written in. Still, I’m only 400 words away from my minimum goal and I can see a future ahead that doesn’t involve staring at my computer all day, every day. I might even get to go for more walks! This summer is full of excitement to come, and I’ll fill you all in later on it. 🙂

— Kate