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

The Parentals were Back!

 

Hello again! ‘Twas a lovely little holiday hiatus, but I’m back! We’re now officially moved into the new home and have had the old rental cleaned and keys returned. Perhaps I will post house photos at some point, but only when it starts to develop a state of order. Moving in and then immediately turning around and having family around, then a holiday, then going back to Commuter Life makes for a slow unpacking. But there’s definitely firm progress, and I think we have lofty ambitions to call it settled in by Thanksgiving time. Maybe.

Thankfully, the lion’s share of the kitchen, bedrooms, and bathrooms were unboxed with the help of the super in-laws. They even helped motor us around for such exciting (and necessary) purchases like curtains and curtain rails. Moving into a new house rather makes you forget how many windows a house can have, and how much window furnishing can add up really quickly! We don’t have curtains for every room still, but the living room and bedrooms are sorted, and if people want to be nosey whilst I wash things in the sink, then I suppose I’ll just have to put up with the weirdos for now.

Even with the excitement of moving into the new house, it was still equally rivalled by getting to see Mom and Dad again! They managed to fly in on Monday morning and I met them at Liverpool Street station. The future is weird, and I was able to track them down to the Uber with the Find My Friends app on my phone. Handy, but weird. Ah, it is always so good to see them! Big hugs were exchanged and we headed out for Colchester to try and beat the rush hour chaos.

The next day while still jet lagged, Mom and Dad headed off to Cambridge to see one of Dad’s students and explore the town as I had to go to Manchester for a conference. If you’re into microscopy in any form, I’d highly recommend going to the MMC next year. From top of the line tech companies to amateur fans, it was a very educational experience and I picked up a few new ideas.

After all the dust settled, it was back into work for one more day on Wednesday and the chance to give Mom and Dad a behind the scenes tour of what’s been going on here at the museum. Below is a photo of our newly posed blue whale, Hope, in the main hall of the museum.

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Hope, the new emblem of the Natural History Museum!

Looking at her reassembled and mounted like that, it’s hard to believe that I have handled every one of those bones. (With help on most, mind you!) She’s now quite finished and available to the public, and I cannot recommend highly enough that you come and see her if you’re in town. She’s all of our pride and joy. 🙂

After Wednesday, my time off officially began and started with all of us having a nice long lie in. Between the jet lag and the gogogo! lifestyle of the week, it was much needed. Alas, our weary work was not quite done in terms of setting the house in order, so we put Mom and Dad to work a bit over the weekend. Mom helped with some design quandaries, and Dad performed a miracle and transformed a pile of cardboard boxes filled with IKEA products into a wardrobe, and to professionally hang up all of the curtains.

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Possibly the best pub garden in Tetbury.

With the house shaping up into fine form and my parents in need of a proper holiday, we headed out to the Cotswolds Monday morning to meet up with the lovely in-laws at their house. It was a thankfully mostly uneventful drive, with only a 25 minute delay on the M25, unlike the hour doozy we had last time. Mom also had a good laugh at the “Mexican” restaurant at the service station and the fact that they sold chicken wings. Not to say chicken wings aren’t enjoyed in Mexico, but are they really known for it?

We got into Tetbury in time for a quick tour of the town by the father in law, and then headed out for a delicious Italian dinner. Didn’t want to stay up too late though, as we were off to visit the Roman Baths (finally!) the next day.

If you get the chance to go, I would definitely recommend going to visit the Baths. It was everything I was hoping it would be, sans comic amounts of tourists. I suppose you can never really escape the tourists in Bath, especially in the summertime, but it does make it a bit hairy at some points in the building. Regardless though, I think we all learned something new about Bath that day!

We made it home from Bath after a quick bit of shopping after the tour, in which Mom never did find that yearly planner she was looking for. More of the English family was coming in for the evening, and we had all the fixings for a BBQ lined up. In true form, this meant that the rain began at about noon and refused to let up for the rest of the evening. Not to be dissuaded, the Significant Otter put the BBQ under a marquis and cooked everything anyway, with a fire brigade style chain of family members bringing food back and forth with minimal raindrops.

The next day the skies dried up and taunted us a bit as we were planning on being inside for most of the day. You see, we’d signed up for a brewery tour at the nearby Wadworths Brewery. Again, it was an educational experience, and it was really cool getting to see the giant open vats that they brewed some of the ales in. Also it’s been around since Victorian times, so seeing the mixture of old and new machinery and construction was really impressive. And of course, the variety of ales to try at the end of the tour wasn’t half bad either, though I think Mom may argue the best part was getting to meet the brewery horses. Wadworths is one of the last companies to still bring all the beer kegs within a 2 mile radius to the pubs by horse and cart!

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Not pictured – the gleeful fathers ready to learn about (and drink) all the brews.

On the way back from the brewery, M and I decided on a little pit stop for my parents as the weather was continuing to behave and stopped off at the village of Avebury. I was surprised to hear that even though my Dad had lived in England as a kid, he’d never gotten to see the stone circle around Avebury, so I really wanted them to go. I’m glad we did, as it seemed like they had a really good time. Dad got to enjoy walking around the circle and being able to touch (and sit!) on the massive stones, and Mom got to pet almost every dog there. Even M got some ice cream out of it and seemed pleased with the result.

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Some of the smaller stones, looking majestic in the sunlight.

All good things must come to an end though, and seemingly out of nowhere it was soon time to take Mom and Dad back to the airport. We all spent the night at the hotel outside of Heathrow and had to send them on their way in the morning after a massive cooked breakfast. 😦 Overall though, it was fantastic to see them both again, and I hope we gave them a good trip! Looks like it’s our turn to go out to America next year then. 🙂

I suppose this means back to unpacking and behaving like some kind of adult again then eh?

Speak soon!

 

— Kate

Tea in Tetbury

So we recently stopped over in Tetbury to catch up with the lovely in-laws and ended up going out to see one of the National Trust homes nearby – Dyrham Park. The house is absolutely gorgeous on the exterior, surrounded by countryside, but the garden is what they put the most work into. Even in the bare beginnings of spring, you could see that the garden would be astounding. Historically, a goodly bit of time and effort have been put into the garden, so the National Trust have continued the works.

The interior of the home has many pieces of original furniture for the period, as well as some well done reproductions, but they have chosen to focus more on the educational aspects of the artifacts over the visual appeal. The National Trust have also only allowed access to the ground floor, which was a total bummer as they had some amazing staircases that just beckon to be explored. Perhaps at a later time.

In terms of historical merit, the park has been in existence since 1511, but some form of manor has existed there since at least the time of the Domesday Book. Because of the charter given in 1511, it meant that a wall could be erected and deer kept inside, which the owner would have exclusive hunting rights over. The name Dyrham actually comes from the Anglo-Saxon word dirham, which was an enclosure for deer.

The Blathwayt family owned the house from 1689 until 1956 when the National Trust acquired it, but during WWII it was used for child evacuees. Multiple additions have been done over the years, including a greenhouse addition in 1701 and a 15-bay stable block that has been altered into the tea-rooms for visitors today. A section of the stables remain standing to get a feel for the space. The greenhouse is still in use today, and you can even sample some hot chocolate made with on-site grown fruits and spices!

There is a church adjacent to the property, St Peter’s, which is not actually a part of the National Trust. It has been in the area since the mid-13th century though and has many tombs and memorials for past owners of the house.

Fun fact for my Whovians – this house was used for scenes from the reboot sixth series episode “Night Terrors,” with the gigantic doll monsters. With the fog rolling in on the day we were there, I could easy see something eerie happening!

Also kinda cool was the historic recipe at the tea-room. Beyond the usual soup and sandwiches that you’ll find at any National Trust site, they were also selling a batch of ‘biskets’ that they had made off of a 17th century recipe. Normally I’m not a fan of anise in any form, but this was so faint that it made it really surprisingly lovely. It was like a mix of a shortbread biscuit and a biscotti. Would totally eat one again.

After our adventures concluded, we ended up going out to pick up some last minute shopping whilst the rugby was on and then all heading out for a super filling Italian dinner in town. We also ended up with a full sized rubbish bag full of M’s childhood stuffed toys to take home. The largest, a full sized Alsatian puppy, even ended up buckled into the back seat of the Little Red Mini. Sadly, such good news could not be said of the rugby match.

Unfortunately, the daily grind called us and we had to head back to the East of England Sunday afternoon. It was great to have a low-key catch up with the familials though. Now to plan when we can all meet up again next!

 

— Kate

 

Buying a House (Winter 2017)

Even though the significant otter will still be rotating every year for the next 3 years or so for his training, we at least know approximately the towns he’s going to be sent to and can finally plan around it. With that in mind, we started house hunting!

Initially we thought about finding a DIY project, but kinda realised that with both of us ending up with 1+ hour commutes, it wasn’t likely to pan out. Plus, there are some big incentives to buy a new build property these days.

We started looking in Chelmsford, but the London commuter belt has been ever widening and what you can get in Chelmsford is proving smaller and smaller. From there, we branched out to Colchester and struck gold.

Honestly, I prefer Colchester to Chelmsford, even if it’s adding time on to my commute. It’s close to London, but not so close that it suffers in shopping and city centre functions for it. There’s a nice feel to the town, plus more historical things for me to enjoy when M is working weekends. 😉 He’s keen on it too because there are old friends nearby and he’s always liked some of the pubs in town. That and the steak place.

Anyway, long story short – we put a deposit down on a new build house in Colchester! Everything is going to be so shiny and new, and we even got to decide things like counter tops and tiles and carpeting! I’m going to end up going overboard at Lakeland trying to keep this place immaculate. It’s just such a wonderful thought to have a place to finally put roots in and call our own. 🙂

After we put in the deposit, we got to go see how the house was looking at the moment. It’s an active building site, so you have to request an appointment and have the lovely staff take you out there. With hi-vis jackets and hard hats on, we were off through the mud to see our new treasure!

Of course, we’ve been back a few times since, and have made it a habit of lurking at the site gate to try and see what they’ve done to the house. On our last trip up to finalise cabinets and tiles, we managed to get a brief glimpse. It appears they’ve started adding the rendering and have put the roof on!

At the moment, the completion date is set for sometime in the month of June. With the roof on, it hopefully shouldn’t have any major delays from here on out, but we shall see! Regardless, both of us are super excited for this grand new chapter in our lives. 🙂

 

— Kate

Back to America, Part Three (Summer 2016)

Back in town and blissfully back on wifi, we all began to rush around and get this party started. What party you might ask? Well, due to the nature of transatlantic weddings, my parents (read: Mom) didn’t get to do nearly as much for the wedding as they would have liked to do. To make up for it, we had a second reception in the US for everyone to either come party again or come celebrate if they missed the wedding.

Mom did not mess around on this front. She completely transformed the back yard into a venue and rented some tables and decor for the event. Dad was helping with music and by cooking a metric ton of BBQ. I suspect a few of us may still have calluses from helping to shred all that meat. Oh, and there was a trip to Sam’s Club.

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This is only part of the supplies.

When it was all said and done though, my parents had pulled off one really awesome summer party! We had SO MANY people come from across the US to say hello and congrats, and it was amazing to catch up with everyone. I only wish the party was even longer, so I could have spent more time with so many wonderful people.

Sadly, everyone had to go home eventually. We managed to get the house back into a semblance of order relatively quickly and then tried to pass off all the leftovers in quesadilla form to all of our helpers. We also had to remove some of Mom’s twinned UK and US mini flags in the front of the house because some neighbors were threatening to deface the yard. Rude! I mean, the 4th of July was two days after the party, but c’mon – it’s been a few centuries now guys.

It’s tradition in my parents’ town to do a 4th of July parade through the streets, so we all woke up and walked over to the portion near the neighborhood. It did not disappoint. Truly, they know how to do patriotic well. It seems they haven’t entirely banned the practice of throwing candy at small children on the sidelines, but they’ve had to really push the “please don’t run in front of the cars” rule to allow it. Oh yes, and the Idaho Potatoes truck threw out individual bowls of instant potato mix. I can tell you this because one of our group caught one. Ah, small towns.

After witnessing Americana in all it’s glory, we all headed back to the house to get ready for the Melaleuca Freedom Celebration on the river that evening. The company set off 30 minutes of non-stop professional fireworks accompanied with music to celebrate Independence Day completely for free. The only payment is if you want seats outside at the dinner they host. You get a guaranteed place, a meal, and don’t have to stake a claim to a section of the river, so it’s usually a pretty good deal.

Having been abroad for nearly a year at this point, listening to the general patriotic speeches given was interesting. You develop a bit of an outsider’s perspective of your own country when you live away from it, and it was really different to see it now. I suppose it’s one of those things you just have to experience personally to really understand what I’m talking about.

After all this non-stop activity, we finally began to slow down a bit. The day after the fireworks, M and I had a wander around town and then got hopelessly lost in the foothills driving amongst the giant windmill farm. The next day we sent the boys out to hang out and Mom and I had some bonding time out roaming the stores around town and generally catching up.

On 7 July, the four of us all piled into the car and drove out to see Craters of the Moon National Monument, as well as the nearby EBR-I reactor museum. Craters of the Moon is otherworldly indeed. It contains a vast section of three major lava fields. These all lie along the Great Rift of Idaho, which contains some of the best examples of open rift cracks in the world. One of the deepest on earth is located here, measuring 800 feet. In these fields you can see almost every variety of basaltic lava, as well as some cavities in the lava left by incinerated trees from one of the explosions around 2,000 years ago. There are also plenty of lava tube caves, though you need a permit from the front office to go in for safety reasons, and we didn’t get around to picking up one.

Needing some time out of the glaring sun, we then drove over to EBR-I. Also known as Experimental Breeder Reactor I, it is a decommissioned nuclear research reactor out in the middle of the desert. Its claim to fame comes from 1951 when it became one of the world’s first electricity generating nuclear power plants. Some of the original light bulbs lit up by this are still on display today, as well as a bit of wall in which all the employees working there at the time have signed for posterity. After this first test run, EBR-I continued to produce enough electricity to power its own building as well as the neighboring town of Arco. It was used for further experiments until it was finally decommissioned in 1964. It is now open to the public for tours and is a pretty fascinating place to visit – if you don’t mind the desert drive.

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We eventually headed back as the afternoon wore on. The last few days we spent in town were just nice and local – spending time with my family and enjoying the beautiful summer days. Finally though, the day came that we had to head back to the UK. We all drove down to Salt Lake City together and enjoyed some cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory, then slowly wound our way through to the check in. Only minimal tears were had, but plenty of hugs and well wishes were traded instead.

The flight back was relatively uneventful (thankfully) and we safely returned to British soil. I also learned a fun new fact after standing by myself in the non-EU/UK customs line. Apparently if you’re flying together, you can go through the EU/UK customs line with your spouse and not have to spend a year and a day waiting to get through otherwise. A lesson that was handy later on in the year!

All in all, I had an amazing time going back to see everyone, and would love to do it again. However, I think it’s now time for some of my lovelies to come back this way! 😉

 

— Kate