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: 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

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

How To: Get Around With No Car

Getting around without a car in England was something I was looking forward to, coming from a town in the US where the nearest grocery store was 2 miles away and the main shopping area was close to 3. This however is entirely dependent on how close to (or in) a city you live, though even if you’re in the countryside you can get by with just buses and trains if located in the right spot. Even in the cityscape, you have 4 main options: buses, taxis, trains, and feet.

Buses

Buses in Leicester are next to useless if you live near the city centre, as all of the buses terminate in the centre. This means if I wanted to take the bus to university that I’d have to take one to the city centre (going the wrong way!) and then wait for another one to take me the correct direction towards the campus. If you time it right and don’t miss your connecting bus you’ll get in at … exactly the same time as if you had walked. Needless to say, I don’t bother with the buses in Leicester unless I’ve got arms full with grocery bags or am visiting a village on the outside of the city.

However, buses can be useful in other cities. The one in Colchester is useful for the days you really don’t want to climb up the steep hill to the High Street, and they have a few lines that run across the town. How convenient! The only major issue with this is that (in any town, not just Colchester) you need to know the name of the stop you’re getting off at before you get onto the bus so you can pay the right fare. There won’t always be information as to where each bus line goes, so be prepared to look up this information on your phone ahead of time or brave the possible wrath of a disgruntled bus driver and a queue full of people who would really like you to just not get on.

Taxis

Taxis, while not something I’d use on a daily basis, are not nearly as expensive as you would think, and are sometimes very much worth it. Coming home from the other side of town late at night or with a suitcase is well worth the £6. You forget just how much you rely on your car until you don’t have one, as I have a time or two coming home late. If you can, call a private company in town as the famous black cabs are also generally the most expensive. They’re also the only ones that are legally allowed to be hailed off the street, so sometimes they’re worth it on that alone. It just depends on what you need. In this day and age it’s not so much an issue, but still make sure you’ve got cash on you for these rides just in case (and exact change if you’re going to use the bus!). Also be prepared to tip your driver. The tipping culture is much less extreme here than in the US, but there are still times when it is proper.

Trains

Trains I’ve spoken about before, so I’ll mostly just link you back to that entry. With that stated, trains are my main mode of long distance travel around the country. You can still have some trouble getting certain places though, especially if it’s a small village. You’ll need to prepare to catch a bus or get a ride from someone (or even hoof it) in these cases. This should be factored in to getting BACK to the train station too. Also worth noting is the power of the advance ticket. If you know for sure that you’ll be traveling on a certain day at a certain time, it’s well worth buying a ticket in advance. You can book them up to 12 weeks beforehand, and the sooner you do, the more likely you’ll get a great deal. Add in discounts for going at odd/off-peak hours and having a 16-25 railcard discount and it makes traveling much more feasible.

Feet

So you’re getting ready to go somewhere with no car. We’re going to say just in the city this time, as this is the day to day you’ll deal with. You need to become adept at knowing EXACTLY how long it takes to walk to get somewhere. Google Maps on my phone is generally pretty spot on for estimating walking times (24 minutes to campus!), but it’s always wise to pre-walk the path ahead of time or plan extra time to arrive somewhere when the timing is important. You also need to consider the importance that you will no longer have your car to act as a storage unit. You will become your own pack mule and either learn to travel light or develop new tone to muscles on your back and legs.

A good backpack is a must! At first I was hesistant and tried to get by with my crossbody messenger bag, but even the best of them can’t compete. It’s very common to see people with backpacks on though, even if they’re otherwise dressed really smart, so don’t worry about looking odd for it. Also, this should be a no-brainer, but make sure your bag is waterproof. Umbrellas don’t always cover your back side all the way and no one likes soggy papers or (god forbid) a wet laptop. Along this vein, make sure you either carry your lunch separately or be really confident in your food storage. You’ll always be in the worst spot when the broccoli juices leak out and there are rarely ever paper towels in the bathrooms here.

This bag logic will also inevitably spill over into your grocery bags. There are pros and cons to both though. When it comes to it, plastic bags:

  • Cut off blood circulation to your fingers, unless carrying very light items
  • Can’t be slid over the shoulder
  • Always have a chance of breaking due to weight strain or sharp object edges making holes (cereal boxes are notorious)
  • Bang your things around more, which could be devastating to your bananas and/or glass bottles
  • Some places make you pay for using them, to try to get you to be more eco-friendly

Reuseable bags are however:

  • Generally more comfortable (unless overstuffed and then they like to slide off your shoulders)
  • Fashionable or let you show off your favorite things/places (I’ve resisted the urge to pick up many reusable totes from the museums we’ve visited this year)
  • You have to remember to have one with you when you go out, which you sometimes won’t when you pick things up on the way home
  • Usually pretty good about not upsetting the self-checkout machines
  • Great for rescuing laundry, toting things to friends’, etc.

With this in mind, you’ll start changing your shopping habits a bit. The giant hauls of food don’t happen so often when you realise you have to carry it back. It also helps curb any therapy shopping too when you have to lug it all around town and back home. In general though you’ll just be walking around more, so it won’t feel like much. You just kinda learn to plan your life around it. You get in the habit of walking home with people or calling people up to make the walk pleasant, which is really nice. You can also plug in and tune out with music or podcasts. Regardless, you’ll adapt quickly and if you wear a pedometer you’ll find that reaching those healthy 10,000 steps a day is actually pretty easy to do. You’ll also find that you can in fact walk your bum off, but that it makes finding jeans SO much simpler.

In short, while having a car is really nice and I do miss it on occasion, getting by on foot is entirely doable in Leicester and I love it. At this point I wouldn’t want to drive on a daily basis. Anyhow, it’s getting close to dinnertime and I should probably go find something to cook. Talk to y’all later!

— Kate

ministry of silly walks