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. 🙂

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. 🙂

 

— 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

Camping – in Tents!

So after Lyme Regis we literally came home, unpacked, did some laundry, repacked, then headed out the next day. The weather was a bit concerningly grey, but we carried on with high hopes into the Suffolk countryside.

IMG_4522M and I had debated what our plans would be if we ended up with fellow campers right next to our pitch, but it ended up being entirely academic. There were a few folks in the cabins nearby, but we were the only ones camping in a tent in the entire section. Apparently the camping season doesn’t really start at the beginning of May as we were soon to see, but no matter – no queues to use the bathrooms in the mornings!

The sun was starting to hide behind some grey clouds, so we put the tent together as quickly as possible. This being our first time putting the tent together, it took about twice as long as the booklet suggested and we may have forgotten to put some bits and bobs in the right areas. Meh, nothing died. Eventually though, we had a tent with an airbed and all our kit for the next 3 nights. This called for a trip to the nearby village for BBQ supplies.

We came back about an hour later with a comical amount of meat and gave the new collapsible BBQ a go. For a little thing from Sainsbury’s, it was really impressive! With meat a-cooking, we had a good first night until the sun set.

With sunset came a wickedly cold wind and an impressive temperature drop. When the jacket, coat, and blanket bundle wasn’t cutting it, a trip to the nearby pub was in order to defrost a bit. The Star Inn ended up being really nice, so we booked a table for dinner there the next night.

The next morning the two of us awoke, cracked the ice off our sleeping bags (I kid, I kid.), and got ready for the day. We discovered that our gas cooker really doesn’t like high winds and had to give up on some perfectly good sausages for breakfast. Had some thick bread from the supplies instead, then cracked on for Southwold.

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Choppy waters when we went.

Southwold is on the coast and is about 30 miles east of Ipswich. It’s an old town, with records of it in the Domesday Book, though the town has shifted and changed a goodly bit since. In 1659 a massive fire swept through and destroyed a large portion of buildings. Some of these sites were never rebuilt upon and have become little greens around the town. There are still plaques that mark these.

Nowadays Southwold is mostly a beachside resort town, with nearly half of the homes there for holiday rentals. Other than tourists, they are also the site of Adnams Brewery – who are the largest single employer in the area. We popped into the shop of the brewery, but didn’t have a booking for the tour. Maybe some other time. Instead, we walked down the pier into the angry ocean. The weather may not have been fantastic, but the off the wall show we found definitely made the walk worth it.

As the rain got worse in Southwold, we thought it best to travel back inland to our tent. The rain did not follow thankfully, and after a short nap we walked over to the pub again to enjoy a nice warm dinner. It did not disappoint! The pub seemed to be having a community night whilst we were there. There was a jumble sale in the back room and a sewing group having drinks in the front while somebody played a random assortment of tunes from his many vinyls near the entranceway.

It was at this point that one of my Twitter friends asked if you could camp at pubs. Well, maybe not at this one, but you definitely can at others. Something to consider when in England I suppose.

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A very determined M heading for food.

The next day we got back in the car after breakfast and drove out to Sutton Hoo. I may have badgered M a bit for this one, as it was geeky archaeology, but he did get some ice cream out of it.

Sutton Hoo is the site of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery. What makes it special is that in the 1930s they managed to find an undisturbed ship burial containing a wealth of artefacts. Not only were the artefacts outstanding in their own right though, but they also gave a lot of new information on the period of early English history. They suspect the person buried in the ship was none other than Raedwald, ruler of the East Angles, who was a powerful king and was a major player in bringing Christianity into England. The burial is often compared with the Old English poem Beowulf, and in the visitors centre they make plenty of comparisons in the artefacts found and the verses of the poem.

The only downside to Sutton Hoo is that nearly all of the artefacts found were donated to the British Museum. They’re all on display, so I’ll likely head down soon to have a look at the originals now that I know the context. In the meanwhile though, the centre did have very well done replicas that gave a feel for the level of wealth and prestige that the objects were meant to have at the time of the burial. The level of craftsmanship in the sword alone was incredible.

We made it back to the campsite in the late afternoon, had another nap, then headed over to the shops for a last BBQ dinner. (I blame these naps on the air mattress, which refused to stay inflated overnight.) It was a bit warmer, but the wind was still biting. After dinner, we ended up in the ‘living room’ area of our tent to escape it.

IMG_4605.jpgNothing says holiday quite like a beach, so we queued up some Death in Paradise and enjoyed our last chilly evening sheltered away from the elements.

Definitely learned our lesson on early spring camping, but I’d like to say we’ll do it again soon. Maybe again later this summer in August when the weather is most assuredly going to be warmer. Will have to see if the significant otter needs a bit of convincing though. All in all we made the best of the weather and now know how to make a makeshift wind break in order to cook breakfast sausages in a pinch. Also that I am rubbish at packing for the weather and should probably listen to my husband when he tells me I didn’t bring enough layers. Maybe. Anyway, it’s getting closer and closer to glorious summer days!

 

— Kate

Newark Park at Eastertime (Spring 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

— Kate

Norfolk at Large

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

— Kate

3 New Cities, 2 New Museums, and 1 Sleepy Kate

It’s been hectic since getting back from Christmas break, but it’s been educational and fun and MAN have I been lucky to see as much as I have in these few months I’ve been here. To catch y’all up with what all has occurred I’m doing another photo-heavy post, but I’ll try to get some actual writing in later this week and (in theory) be back to the usual by this weekend on scheduling. With no further ado, I launch you into the King Richard III Visitors Centre!

After finding the king in a car park in 2012, the Leicester city council rapidly put together an exhibit in the Guildhall. Soon after, they purchased the historic school building nearby the site and created the permanent visitor centre. They were faced with an interesting dilemma in that they actually have no artefacts to display. Richard is being reinterred at Leicester Cathedral next door, and there wasn’t much in the car park to tie directly to the king. However, the exhibition is put on using digital and print storytelling techniques and used 3D scanning and printing to display the skeleton in more creative ways than they could have with the actual thing. It may cost £8 to get in, but I’d say it’s well worth it for an afternoon adventure.

Next was a day trip to Bath. It was a whirlwind tour through, but we hit all the main spots and I’d love to go back at some point. The city is very strict on how they portray their image and it shows in the modern buildings blending almost seamlessly into the older ones.

The day after Bath we were in Lacock. Lacock is the coolest idea for a heritage project. Basically, the National Trust owns nearly all of the buildings in the village, so they have strict control over what is done to them. However, they rent them out for people to live in, and there are still enough shops (albeit mostly for the tourists) that it still feels like a functioning village. One that hasn’t progressed past the 1700s, but a functional one nonetheless. While we were there we got to walk through a house from the 1450s that was available to rent by the week if you fancy a novel holiday…

The next adventure was Brussels, as it was Valentine’s Day weekend and going to Paris would be absolute madness. Brussels was a much better choice, and we had a fantastic time! Unless you’re going to see all there is to see of Brussels and the museums they have, going over a weekend is plenty of time to feel like it’s worth it. Also much better to have good company that can speak a lick of French or Dutch. 😉

Finally, there was our programme trip to Manchester last week to see the Imperial War Museum North as a field trip. They were another case study of very little actual artefacts, but you wouldn’t realise it right away. Most of their displays are papers and letters, but they use multimedia and interactives to really offset what could have been a super dry experience and instead make it a very personal one. It’d be worth a visit if you’re already in the Manchester area.

So that’s all for now, but I’ve got another field trip Friday to Hampton Court Palace outside of London and possibly a visit into London for another wander this weekend. We shall see. It’s just going to be busy whirlwind life for the next month and then dissertations begin after that. Woo.

Wish me luck!

— Kate