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