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

A Devon Wedding (Autumn 2016)

Mid-November rolled around and we were off on the road again in the Little Red Mini, actually back on most of the same route we’d recently taken to Padstow. It wasn’t Cornwall we were aiming for this time though, but for Devon. One of M’s old friends was getting married in the beautiful countryside, and we’d been invited to come.

We drove out after work, getting in to our Airbnb later than intended. The hosts were absolutely phenomenal though and even gave us directions when we got lost. Seriously, if you want a nice place to stay in Devon with amazing hosts, Nicola and Simon were top notch. They even left us some milk and a bottle of wine in the cottage!

After getting everything settled that Friday night, M and I fell fast asleep and woke the next morning to last minute outfit ironing before the wedding. Suited up and ready to go, our hosts were even so lovely as to drive us up to the Buckland Filleigh manor the wedding was at, as it was raining heavily at the time.

The couple made a excellent choice in their venue, and the decor they brought along really went well with it.

The ceremony itself felt very intimate, and they celebrated the official union at the end by popping streamers over the crowd from the mezzanine above. The look on the two newlyweds was enough to make anyone’s cheeks hurt from smiling. They were so very much happy and in love right then. 🙂

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From there it was dining, dancing, and celebratory drinks into the wee hours of the night! I think we all danced until our feet were aching (and possibly no longer in our heeled shoes), then plopped on sofas and chairs around the house and had the wide range of conversations that come along with any wedding get together. Some of the bride’s family had come all the way from Australia, and had really cool stories to tell about home.

Finally, M and I walked back under a full moon to our cottage, ate some late night pork pies, and crawled into bed. If we had such a great time, I can only imagine the new married couple did even better. 🙂

— 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

Seaside Honeymoon (January 2016)

For our honeymoon, we decided to stay in the country and enjoy the quiet Cornish seaside town of Padstow. Well, quiet in January anyway, but that’s a story for another day. It’s a long journey and at the time we didn’t have a car, so we took the chance to ride in a sleeper train all the way from London to Penzance and then get a cab across to Padstow. It was a really fun experience, but you should know that each cabin contains a bunk bed for two, so decide ahead of time who’s sleeping on the top bunk.

However, you get two places to sleep, a coat rack, some luggage space, a mirror, a window, and a washbasin with a towel and soap all behind one lockable door. We spent the first half of our evening in the lounge car watching the English countryside at night pass by whilst we sipped beverages and ate crisps. The rest we snoozed away in our bunks. We were woken at 7 with bacon sandwiches and left the train to a beautiful Cornish sunrise off the Atlantic Ocean. From there, we managed to get to Padstow and had a relatively laid back first day with a nap and a shower high on the list.

Padstow itself is now a tourist hotspot for foodies thanks to Rick Stein and his series of restaurants across town. Seriously, his fish and chips will ruin all other fried cod for you for life – it’s that good. Originally though, Padstow was an old fishing port that goes back at least as far as the Domesday Book. There are remnants of that heritage in the port tours and nautical themes of art and food around the area, but it’s mostly faded into the tourism industry these days.

We did not suffer for being in a tourist area though. Instead, we feasted like royalty and enjoyed the atmosphere of pubs around the harbour. We wandered the streets of the then-empty town as it was in off-season, then wandered out into the countryside of the Camel Estuary. It was a quiet week for just the two of us where it felt like the town was all for us. I would love to go back again in the winter months and enjoy the peace with my significant otter again sometime.

Sadly, we did have to come back to the real world on the other side of the country, but it was a wonderful week long break to have.

–Kate

 

Our Wedding! (January 2016)

16 January 2016 – a new day in our lives together.

Photos generally do most of the talking for a wedding, but since I enjoy a modicum of privacy on the internet at large (and I’m sure my guests would too), I’ve gone and pulled all the images our photographer took without faces in them.

Needless to say, the day was AMAZING, exactly what we could have hoped for, and at the end of it all I was married to my best friend. This was wonderful to go back through the photos over a year on and enjoy the moment again. 🙂

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

Americans Traveling to Norwich

As it gets closer, I have been spending plenty of time wedding planning. It has begun to creep into the fabric of my being. On top of it, I’ve also been planning and explaining travel options to my lovelies back in the US. As I’m aware that many of these lovelies already follow the blog, I thought I’d post some of this information here. Even if you aren’t coming to see us any time soon, I imagine it will give you some ideas for any future travel plans you might have for the UK outside of London. Long story short, international travel is going to eat a half a day coming in and another half coming out. Be prepared. Also, unless you’re going to be in the city your flight leaves from the night before, it is almost guaranteed to be a sleepless ordeal for you to get to said airport.

The majority of people will be flying in to Heathrow and leaving Heathrow, although I realise that some may also opt for Gatwick on one leg or another. There are even some intrepid souls who will choose to forgo both options and fly to Europe and then double back and fly right into Norwich Airport. I’ve chosen to explain flying in from Heathrow and then out from Gatwick to maximise usefulness, as getting back to Heathrow basically means doing the same thing in reverse. The same can be said of getting from Gatwick. Keep in mind, like all things, the price of transport will rise the longer you wait to purchase the tickets. Anyway, we shall begin!

From Heathrow
Bus – National Express
Your simplest, though not as pretty option. You’d literally catch a coach (read: bus) outside of the terminal that would take you straight to Norwich Bus Station. If you’re looking in advance, I’ve managed to pull up a sampling of options just fiddling with the website, leaving you plenty of time in case of late planes or long queues at customs. It stops at other places along the way, which is what will always give you the 4.5 – 5 hour journey. It is a viable option if you’d like to very briefly see Cambridge, Newmarket, Mildenhall, and Thetford – or try and sleep for a bit. Norwich is really in the backwaters in terms of flights. Also, the super cheap (~£15-£20) trip can require you to get off at a bus station and reboard another bus in the middle of London. The bus drivers will be helpful if you ask for any advice on this, but I’ll leave it up to you how good you think your mental faculties will be after a long flight.

Train – National Rail

This one could be a bit more of a challenge, as it’s not so simple as jumping onto a bus. In this case, you’d have to get through customs and then follow the signs that lead you to the Underground (it’ll probably read Heathrow Terminals 1,2,3). Once there, you’ll need to purchase an Oyster Card from one of the lovely humans at the desks if you don’t already have one. This is the reloadable card and by far the cheapest way to travel in London. It’s good for the Underground, the bus, and the river transport. It’s also good forever, so as long as you don’t lose it, you can come back any time and your money on it will still be good. (Speaking of, I should probably see what I have on mine!) It costs a grand £3 for the piece of plastic and I think they make you pre-load it with a set amount, but you should be able to put £10 on it and just be charged a grand £13 for a really handy piece of plastic.

From there, you’ll go to the barriers that you’ll see people streaming through with the little green arrows lit up. With your new toy, you just need to tap it on the little blue circle at the top of the barrier and it’ll let you straight through. Be prepared and have your Oyster ready, as Londoners are notoriously grumpy about people who hold up the traffic whilst digging for their card. They may even tut and sigh. Also, there will be a luggage-friendly barrier that you may want to use. If you aren’t quick, the barrier likes to hug your bags and you have to fight them out.

Your only option will be to take the Piccadilly line towards Cockfosters. I will be ashamed if you don’t giggle at the name when they announce it. It is hilarious. Fight your way to a seat as soon as you can and ignore people giving you evil looks for having a suitcase. They are jerks. You will then just ride deeper and deeper into central London past 20 stops that should take about 50 minutes of travel. You should then get to Holborn, where you need to get off the Piccadilly line. If there’s a crowd that won’t move, just push your way to the front and mutter sorry sparingly. They’re used to it. It should be pretty dead when you’re riding it though, unless somehow you’re on the Tube during morning or evening rush hour. After you’ve gotten off the carriage head towards the exit signs until you start seeing options for other lines. You’ll be looking for a red coloured line called Central Line, and you’ll want to be going East on whichever one comes first. Don’t worry about whatever ‘via’ line it is. That one you’ll ride for 4 stops or about 5 minutes until you get to London Liverpool Street (sometimes just labeled as Liverpool Street) in which case you jump off and follow the exit signs. Do not shorten the name and ask how to get to Liverpool Station. You will be laughed at and told you’re in the wrong city. Once through the barriers (in which you’ll need to have your Oyster ready to tap again), just follow the signs for Liverpool Street Station, or the little red rail logos with white arrows on them.

At that point you’ll be directly in the station. We’re assuming you’re a clever person and have booked your tickets in advance, which means you just need to go to one of the machines all over the middle of the station, put in the card you paid for the tickets with, punch in the code they’ll have emailed you, and follow the instructions to have them printed. Hold on to all the tickets it prints. Sometimes you’ll need them for inspection on the train. With your tickets now in hand, you need only to look at the giant board overhead that will read places and times. Find the one that matches the place and time of your ticket and wait for it to say what platform you will need. Since it’s an advance ticket, you have to get on the time you chose, not before or after. Once it has a platform number, head to the platform and feed your ticket through the barrier. Grab it when it pops back up and head to the train on that platform. Chances are that you’ll have a reserved seat because you bought an advance ticket, so look at the tickets and they should have a Coach and Seat written on them. You have like a 90% chance of being in Coach C, and that it’ll be at the very far end of the platform. If you can’t be bothered to walk that far, you can get on any Standard Coach and sit in any seat so long as they don’t have a reserved ticket on the top of them. There will be luggage racks at either end of every coach, and some overhead and under seat room as well.

From there, you just need to get cosy and sit there for a good 2 hours. Sadly, Greater Abellio don’t have a trolley service, so you’ll have to get up, grab your purse, and walk to the buffet coach (they’ll announce which one that is at the start of the journey) if you want any snacks or drinks. Even better is that you’ll be riding the train from end to end, so there’s no panic of missing your stop and ending up in Edinburgh. You can sleep if you want and they’ll wake you up to check your tickets and/or tell you the train is in Norwich. You’ll likely discover you have a magically ability to wake up right before pulling into every station along the way. You’ll get off the train, through one last set of barriers with your ticket (you can toss them at this point if you want), and you’ll pop out in good old Norwich!

Last I looked we were still about 2 weeks too far ahead to book train tickets in advance, but based off figures for a random Tuesday in November you’d be looking at about £9 or £13 for your ticket. Anyway… Now for the way back! I promise the rambling will be much shorter. Maybe.

To Gatwick

Bus – National Express
This is all under the assumption that you’ve likely got a flight back Monday morning. In that case, both the train and the bus options are grim. Because you have an international flight, you want to be there with 3 hours to spare. With the bus, you’d either want to get a hotel and stay the night Sunday night close to the airport or be prepared to leave at late hours and kill some time in the airport. And it’ll be a 5.5 – 6 hour journey either way. If you wanted to stay near Gatwick Sunday night, I’d recommend the Best Western Skylane that is currently advertising £44 a night and has 24 hour complementary shuttle service to and from the airport.

Train – National Rail
This one could be just as awful, depending on what you want to do. Really, international travel is a righteous pain in the bum. Again, you’ll have the option to go down Sunday evening or go super early Monday morning. Looking at staying the night Sunday evening, you can catch a couple different trains ranging from early afternoon to evening times for an estimated £20. Again, if you wanted to stay near Gatwick Sunday night, I’d recommend the Best Western Skylane that is currently advertising £44 a night and has 24 hour complementary shuttle service to and from the airport. There may be other hotels worth looking at, but that’s probably a similar price no matter where you end up, and these have a guaranteed ride.

If you want to go in the wee hours of the morning, there are early trains (pre-5:00 even) that will cover your travel all the way to Gatwick and includes the Underground fares. You’d get your tickets from the machine in Norwich, then take the train from Norwich to London Liverpool Street and go back to the Underground entrance. Do not throw away any tickets! Instead of using your Oyster card this time, you would feed your train ticket into the barriers. You’d get on the Central Line again, but this time going West for only one stop. You’d jump off at Bank, then look for the Northern Line (a black line instead of red) going South for one stop. You’d get off at London Bridge (of rhyme fame!) and head upstairs towards the London Bridge Train Station. From there, you’d do the whole song and dance of finding your train again. This time though, you won’t be going end to end. It’ll likely say to Brighton or similar, but underneath will be a list of all the stops along the way. As long as the time is right and your stop is on that list, you’ve got the right train. This can be explained much easier at the station help desk if you’re a bit lost. Get on that train, then keep an ear out for the conductor who will say when your stop (Gatwick) is coming up. Or just watch the time. For instance, this one should get you there at 8:24, so if you felt antsy you could gather all your belongings and stand at the door by 8:20. From there, you’ll hop off the train and should be within shouting distance of Gatwick.

So yes, there are some options. A common theme I am seeing is that a lot of folks don’t realise that just because the UK is smaller than the US, doesn’t mean that it’s small. Please plan accordingly, so you don’t miss out on any of the wonderful things there are to see and do!

— Kate

I'm good. I haven't slept for a solid 83 hours, but yeah. I'm good.