No one woke me up when September ended!

But seriously, that Green Day song has been the bane of my birthday for YEARS now. Oddly enough, no one mentioned it this year. This was finally the year I was allowed to sleep through September ending. Wild. So, what’s been happening?

Well, for starters we have a new and furry family member in our house! Her name is Ophelia and she’s the prettiest kitty in Colchester. (Significant Otter will argue the prettiest ever.) She spent the first week in our house hiding behind the sofa, and the next two only hanging out with us when we were sitting. Nowadays, she goes where she pleases and loves hanging out with us. This does lead to some comedic moments, like this morning when she accidentally fell in the laundry basket and nearly destroyed it getting out. However, she came out unscathed and came to purr on M’s legs whilst he tried to sleep a little longer.

I’ve also been on a bit of a museum binge (Surprising, I know.) recently and been to some new ones. My colleague managed to score some tickets to the Bart’s Pathology Museum, which is only open a few times a year. It’s a room filled with jars of human bits and skeletal remains. Basically, it’s disgusting and fascinating in the same go, and each jar has a little blurb of information on it, so you could easily spend a lot longer than your allocated hour there. It was originally used by the university as a teaching collection, but now the room is only ever used for exams. M says he’s sat some there and was wholly unimpressed. I loved it. Unsurprisingly, they don’t let you take close up photos of the specimens, but you can take room-wide shots. The room itself is cool just for its architecture.

Next was a staff field trip to our satellite museum in Tring. Someone described it to us before going as a Dead Zoo, and that’s actually a pretty apt description. Not in a terrible way, but I wouldn’t go if you have issues with taxidermy. It’s a small museum, but absolutely stuffed to the gills with specimens, and really helpful and friendly staff. Tring is a bit out of the way, but it’s definitely worth a stop. We got a fascinating backstage tour of the collections, and saw more eggs and bird remains in one room than I’ve probably ever seen alive in one area. They’ve got one of the best and most diverse collections for each, so if you’re researching birds, you’ll likely end up in the little town of Tring.

After a museum binge, I had two different work trips through September. First was the ToScA 2017 meeting, in which I had to give a talk on my work with the blue whale. It was only slightly terrifying, and I think it ended up okay. Over the three days, I met a load of interesting new people, learned some new tips and tricks in the tomography world, heard some cool new work going on, and got to have dinner on the HMS Warrior – the first ironclad ship built in 1860!

Towards the end of the month, I got to fly on one of the few uncanceled RyanAir flights up to Edinburgh to attend a Standing Up for Science workshop. While there, I learned all about working with the media as a scientist and how best to get work across to someone who will inherently not know what the topic is on. It was a really handy course, and I met even more cool people in varied fields with some fascinating works. It was a good month for meeting people! Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to wander Edinburgh as I’d hoped, and was on the last flight of the evening home for a weekend with the family.

Towards the end of September of course, is my birthday! I was working late on the actual day, but the Saturday morning M and I had a nice lie in and then wandered over to the nearby village of Coggeshall. It was such a cool place, with over 300 listed buildings and two National Trust sites. I spent the day blissfully looking at old things, and my beloved M came along for the ride, enjoying a scone with me in the garden of the Paycocke’s House and a pint of beer at the medieval pubs I had earmarked. We ended the adventures with dinner at one of the pubs, which had a steak so good that I think we would both gladly go back the 13 miles to have it again. The weather behaved, my gifts from everyone were fabulous, and it was all in all a really good day.

Sunday morning began October, and with it my Sober October challenge. I’ve signed up to be sober for the entire month in order to raise money for the cancer support charity Macmillan. It’s a great cause and a good reason to give up alcohol for the month. I suspect by the end of it I will be a bit healthier and Macmillan will have a bit more to put towards helping people whilst they fight cancer. I’ll be taking donations all month, alongside of sorry looking photos of me in pubs with friends and a soft drink in my hand, so if you feel charitable, donate a pint’s worth to the cause. ūüôā

And most recently, there was the car wreck outside of the Natural History Museum that had everyone in a tizzy. Turned out to be just a really bad taxi driver, and nobody had serious injuries. I wasn’t even at work when it happened as it was on a Saturday, and got woken up from a nap with my phone blowing up to ask if I’m okay. Grumpy yes, but okay. Honestly though, don’t let these things put you off coming to London. It’s a wild city with so much to offer. And if you want to see us here at the NHM, we’ve still got the Whales exhibition open where you can stand next to a flipper for a sense of perspective – and the ice rink will be opening soon!

All in all, it’s turning into a fine autumnal season. I’m looking forward to seeing what October will hold. ūüôā

 

— 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

 

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

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. ūüėČ

 

— Kate

 

 

Into the Medieval District, Part One

It has been raining continuously today since I woke up at 7. I didn’t have any particular desire to go anywhere today, and this rain has really just confirmed that. However, I’ve become a slave to my FitBit since it arrived on my birthday, and it’s showing an embarrassing 738 out of 10,000 steps today. Reading and writing may be good for the mind, but they are poor¬†on the body. It’s far too grim to take photos of the outside of old buildings today, so I may pop back up to the Cathedral and take some photographs inside. They’re¬†still¬†doing construction on the outer gate, so the Ethelbert and Erpingham Gate photos will have to wait.

In the meanwhile, I still have a stockpile of other places in the city that I’ve visited. Norwich is a city that offers so much, but is also infinitely walkable in the same go. Though the city was targeted by the Germans during WWII for its cultural importance, a healthy amount of the medieval district still stands. Today we shall focus on three of the older structures in town – Cow Tower, Adam & Eve, and Elm Hill.

Cow Tower

I suppose I probably shouldn’t have done Cow Tower without explaining the Great Hospital, but there we are. Regardless, Cow Tower was built in 1278 by the monks of the Great Hospital. It was meant to be a tollhouse and later was used as a prison. By 1378 it was given to the city and was repurposed yet again as a freestanding artillery tower. The name is believed to come from the water meadow on which it sits, which was known as Cowholme. Sadly, no cows have ever lived inside the tower as far as anyone can tell. Unlike the castle, this tower has not been kept up during the years or restored to what it might have looked like whilst it was in use. This means that only the stone shell is standing and that they’ve put a barred gate at the entrance to keep any would-be climbers out. As you can tell from my photos you can still get a great view, but it’s now been reduced to a nice brief stopping point along the Riverside Walk through the city.

Adam & Eve Pub

The Adam & Eve is supposedly the oldest pub in Norwich. It has been mentioned in documents as far back as 1249, and was originally meant to be a brewhouse for the builders of Norwich Cathedral, only a few minutes away. Archaeology suggests that the spot has been used for much longer, and evidence of a Saxon well has been found underneath the pub. My American friends will be disappointed that the interior doesn’t look particularly ancient, but I promise they serve a great selection of beer, ale, and cider. They even do lunch and dinners, though we’ve never gotten around to trying them. It’s worth popping by for a drink after you’ve visited the Cathedral.

Elm Hill

Okay, so technically Elm Hill is an entire street and not just one building. However,¬†Elm Hill is the city’s most famous medieval street. Among its fine collection of preserved Tudor buildings is the Briton Arms – the sole survivor of a city fire in 1507 and one of only five thatched buildings remaining in the city centre. Also, the Strangers Club at 22-24 Elm Hill was once the residence of a wealthy Norfolk family, the Pastons, who are famous for their letters describing everyday life in the 1400s. Do not wear heels on this street if you value your ankles, as they are still steep and covered in cobblestones.

With that, it sounds like it’s time for me to fortify myself and get my rainboots on for the walk to the cathedral. Wish me luck!

— Kate