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

Well, that was unexpected.

i think it's fabulous. every value i've ever held has been questioned and i'm loving it.

There are things to expect when you move to the UK, and a lot of the things (as an American) are either similar or have been warned about in advance. This still did not make it any easier to translate the weather from C to F for the first few weeks, but at least there was warning. However, there have also been things that no one thought to tell me about before coming over. Not always huge things, and at this point it mostly just gets a raised eyebrow and a “well that’s interesting” response, but I thought I’d share some of the ones that come to mind in list form for a change.

The ‘meh’ attitude

I was somewhat warned about this phenomena beforehand, but it’s interesting to experience. It’s likely that I’m just used to the over-exuberant nature of Americans, but it seems like the overarching theme of life in England is ‘meh.’ Not a depressed ‘meh’ or an apathetic ‘meh,’ but almost like a kind of stoicism. Your food came out wrong at the restaurant? Meh, it’s not bad enough to cause a fuss. Come home to a flooded kitchen? Meh, it’s just a bit of water. I’ve heard some people chalk it up to the war mentality of previous generations and others to the weather, but the exact cause remains elusive. Being around it long enough though does prove infectious. Is this good or bad? Meh, I dunno.

People don’t talk to you

This one absolutely killed me the first few weeks here until classes started. I was lucky enough to have made some wonderful friends at the international welcome week as well as having some locals to call up and talk to, but in those mid-day hours I was miserable. In the States it’s completely normal to chat with staff at businesses or strangers waiting wherever you’re at in public, but here it’s almost taboo. My more socially awkward friends back in the US were excited to hear about this, but the thrill of being able to read your book in public undisturbed is quickly deadened when you realise it’s been three days and the last meaningful conversation you had was with a cat wandering the alley by the cathedral. However, sometimes you’ll get a conversation when people overhear you and realise you’re not from around here, which leads to…

People being excited about Americans

I WAS SO NOT READY FOR THIS. I was under the assumption that either A) Americans were common enough visitors as to be unexciting or B) Americans would be at least passively tolerated and possibly disliked. While I’m sure this is the case for some, it’s at least a weekly occurrence that someone will hear me or my fellow comrades of the North American Alliance speak and ask if we’re American. This will then diverge into four typical responses:

Where are you from?

This is problematic as it seems a lot of us move states (or provinces for Canada!) much more often and further than people in the UK move around. This question is usually just answered with “From the US,” but a lot of times people want to know what state. Sometimes I’m from one state, sometimes another, and sometimes both. It’s pretty remarkable if people actually know where these states are. This will sometimes lead to:

Oh, I’ve been to…

It’s always New York, Florida, or California. ALWAYS. Some very few will have gone to other states, but they’ve also gone to one of the three. I am convinced this is why we get asked such entertaining questions, because the Brits are going to the three most extreme examples of the country and expecting this to be America as a whole. The flipside can be said for Americans going to London though, so I try to keep my dramatic sighs to a minimum.

Why are you HERE?

This one only happens in Leicester really. Granted, I got the same question all the time from Westerners when I moved from the Eastern US so I could see why this comes up. It’s not a glitzy city or super historically important for the most part, but Leicester is seriously underrated, even by the locals. There’s SO MUCH to the UK that avoids London completely. This then leaves me with the last response of:

*insert pick up line*

I will give kudos to people brave enough to try this one, but the lines I’ve overheard have been so cheesy. My favorites so far are the guy who tried to convince my friend he was a big deal because he knew someone who was on Downton Abbey, and the drunk ones standing outside between a McDonald’s and a pub that wanted to say how beautiful all American accents were and how they wanted to sing us Spice Girls songs. Never a dull night in Leicester ladies and gents.

The innuendos

On that vein… the innuendos. We remain convinced that nearly anything can and will become a sexual innuendo at some point. I’m not talking pervy people making sideways comments, but in-your-face jokes and puns everywhere. On BBC, on advertisements, in businesses… You name it, we’ve probably seen one. Personally, I find it to be hilarious and a refreshing change of pace from the Puritan legacy left on the US, but it’s definitely something to warn people know about.

The weather

“But Kate, you knew that it was gonna be drizzly and wet all the time!” Wait wait, hear me out on this one. Yes, it does rain much more often than where I was, but that’s pretty easy to do. However, it’s not the dreariness that everyone goes on about. Actually it’s not bad at all. In Leicester, it’s pretty common to have it chuck down rain for about 10-15 minutes and then be fine to walk in. Most of the time it’s just fine with a hooded jacket and a scarf. The hair will curl or wave something fierce, but the only big difference is how early the sun sets in autumn and winter. This is still offset though with all the walking I do. I think I’m still getting more vitamin D than before. That brings me to…

Walking

Yeah, I knew I’d be walking a lot. I did the Google Maps from my flat around the city and figured it’d be at minimum two miles a day. What I didn’t expect was how far I could get just walking. Walking two miles back in the US would maybe get me to the nearest grocery store, but walking two miles here will get me from my flat to the university and back again with the entire city centre along the way and probably a good five grocery stores to stop at along the way. Walking anywhere doesn’t feel long at all either with everything so close together. It is AWESOME to be in this situation and it’s so hard to explain what it’s like in the ‘real’ United States to people here and why I’m so enthused about it. Interesting side note – I discovered after walking these 2-5 miles a day that one can in fact walk their posterior off. I am moderately devestated about the disappearance of my backside!

Walking with other people

Anarchy is alive and well in the UK and it’s seen best in trying to walk down a street. Back in the US the rule of thumb is “drive right, walk right” and when two people come up to each other walking in opposite directions they’ll usually both sway right to avoid each other. You might think “drive left, walk left” would hold here, but you would be wrong. It’s more like drive left, walk in the middle of the sidewalk and refuse to budge until either the very last second or not at all. If you don’t put on a serious game face you’re likely to be walked into a puddle, even if you’re the one carrying six plastic bags and you’re trying to walk through an empty-handed human wall moseying the other way. It’s brutal.

Taking pork to the next level

Americans LOVE to talk about how much they love bacon, but the British have taken it to the next level. BLTs? BLTs are for the weak – just have a bacon butty. Think you know what pigs in a blanket are? Pssht. Pork products seem to try and sneak into a meal almost every day. I’ve got some bacon and pork chops in my fridge as I type this. Being halal or kosher or vegeterian is a challenge here going out to eat, and I’m not sure how vegans manage it. From what I can gather there seems to be more of a push towards alternative food choices, but America needs to calm down the bacon claims.

Instant chocolate meltage

Unlike Hershey’s, the chocolate here is not coated with wax and will therefore begin to melt as soon as it comes into contact with the heat of your fingers. Plan accordingly or try to eat it from the wrapper.

Missing food I didn’t even really like

There was a long and enthusiastic gushing about Little Debbie snack cakes tonight as I’ve yet to see them anywhere around the city. Talking about the powdered sugar donuts that you’ll find in any US convience store was like describing opening Christmas presents. The strangest thing about this though – I’ve never been THAT big a fan of Little Debbie. Probably for the best really. Everyone knows when you leave for long enough you start craving missing items that you love. US Starbursts, Peter Pan crunchy peanut butter, and pumpkin pie are all things that I can get similar products to that will do in a pinch, but they just aren’t the same. It gets weird though when I realise how excitedly I’m discussing Cheetos and ranch dressing, when I hardly ever wanted them when there was access to plenty. I guess it plays into that whole idea of wanting what you can’t have?

Anyhoo, that’s all the excitement you get for this week. Tune in next week as I finish week one of the more practical work of museums and start delving into readings for digital curatorship. 😉

— Kate

Field Trips, Societies, and Frosted Waffles

Hello all!

It’s been another busy, quickly-gone-by week here in Leicester. Started officially with Monday, but Tuesday was my big day – a field trip to Sheffield to see the Weston Park Museum with the department! We all filed on to a double-decker coach bus and got a lovely view of the M1 traffic for part of it, and English countryside for the rest. I also learned the new time lapse feature of iOS 8 is not good for closeby hillside. Needless to say, that was a scraped video project on the way back.

The museum itself was a refreshing break from the lecture hall and the misting rain of the day, but it was definitely geared first and foremost towards children with adults as an afterthought. Why they haven’t just rebranded as a children’s museum confuses me, but I will refrain any judgment until I get a better feel of the museums in the UK. Learned some really neat things about both Sheffield’s ancient and more recent past, and the immersive exhibit sections were phenomenal. I really should have taken more photos!

When the coach pulled back into the city, the three of us living in the same building (Henceforth referred to as the North American Alliance as we’re from America and Canada respectively) stopped by Morrisons for supplies to make a Taco Tuesday happen. (It was amazing with Daniele cooking, obviously.)

I must go off on a tangent about Morrisons here in Leicester. It is MASSIVELY large. For my American friends, think of just the food section of a Walmart. It almost looks out of place in this area with its size. However, they’ve got a really good selection for the most part (I’ll write a piece just on groceries at some point. It’s fun.) and we even managed to find El Paso taco shells. Perhaps the biggest thrill of the trip though was finding electric mattress pads on sale. Of course, it’s since warmed back up dramatically, but it was misty and rainy and cold the few days before and it just sounded magical at the time. It’ll continue to be magical when the winter sets in for sure. You may be asking what an electric mattress pad is exactly – it goes under the fitted sheet but otherwise behaves entirely like an electric blanket. I actually prefer them as they radiate heat rather than scald on certain spots. (Can you tell I live an exciting life?)

Wednesday was a short day in lectures, with a quick group discussion about our trip to Sheffield. Other than that, I just paid rent (Ouch.) and ended up flaking out of the baking society meet up (pun very much intended) due to the gross weather outside. It was a soup and blanket kind of evening.

Thursday was a lively day. Met up for the Student/Staff Committee and am now a proud member for the year, which sounds promising. I didn’t have any classes for the day, so went out to see the Global Market being set up in the city centre. Did a quick look through the maze of wonderful smelling pop-up tents and picked up some delicious Dutch frosted waffles on the way home. Yum!

The weather was kinder for extracurricular activities that evening, so a group of us museum studies students went to the Real Ale Society and had a fantastic night of it! (If you haven’t caught on yet, a society here is basically a university club in the US.) A bit skewed in favor of men, but tasty beer and a bunch of science-related fields meant that it was a good time. Was told at one point that one of the guys’ uncle was in Downton Abbey, but I have trouble believing this. Then again, they do only have so many celebrities… (American stereotype imposed there.)

Friday we got our results back from our practice essay and no one burst into tears, so I can only assume we all did okay. Definitely room for improvement, but the markers were all very specific in what to improve and were actually very constructive and not critical of it all. We also had our option module briefing, in which we were given eight options to pick from. We were told that it always balances out so that everyone seems to get into the option they wanted, but when they told us we needed to pick a backup option you could see some tension form in the room. I’m sure it’ll all be fine, but I think everyone will be sure to write some impassioned reasons as to why they need to be in a specific section in the short space given to us to do so. I know I did. 😉

The weekend was uneventful for the most part. Finally settled on a topic for my next essay – the ethics of bodies being displayed in museums. Talk about some cosy reading in bed! Also went by the Global Market one last time before they closed for the weekend, and introduced my mom to online grocery shopping and delivery through Tesco. That’ll be arriving tomorrow night and I am SO EXCITED. Food gifts are some of the best gifts. 🙂

Now this week is off to a decent start with the bodies in museums lecture going on this morning. It’ll be a great springboard for working through my essay over this week. Other than that, it’s been a typical Monday. Will speak again later!

— Kate