We overdid it a bit last week. Too much adventure. Too little rest. Not enough healthy food. And when I say “we” I mean me and Penny. Connor escaped unscathed.
A week ago Saturday we climbed (what we believe was) Kinder Scout, one of the highest peaks in the Peak District. Monday we left for Amsterdam. Flew back late Tuesday night. Picked up Penny from her doggie hotel on Wednesday morning. She immediately started barfing. I cleaned up dog puke all day. Friday we left Paris and hoped our dog would be alive when we returned. Great weekend in Paris – biking and walking all over the place and wearing ourselves out. Sunday night I felt a bit queasy – hot sun, too much bread and cheese, 40,000 steps in one day, not enough sleep. No surprise. Monday we woke up at the crack for our flight and I was not. well. I collapsed on the couch with the flu and have been here ever since, binge watching Netflix. Penny and I are both on the BRAT diet.
I’m a sprinter, not a marathoner. Endurance is not my strong point. I do things quickly and intensely and need ample recovery time. My adrenaline reserve was depleted before we even left for Amsterdam and my body just can’t handle it. Lesson learned. Also, many happy returns to the person who gave me the flu. Bastard.
So while Penny and I continue our pity party and finish whatever season of New Girl we’ve made it to, here are some pictures of Kinder Scout in the Peaks. Stay tuned next week for fun bits and bobs about Amsterdam and Paris.
Kinder Scout was gorgeous! The hike was incredible and the day was perfect, one of the warmest we’ve had yet. I could sit and look at the sprawling views all day. Purple heather was everywhere. Bliss.
Somehow it’s June 14. Has it really been more than a month since we’ve chatted? I have a huge backlog of photos and adventures to sort through, the Queen is 90 years old, a heatwave of 70 degree temperatures hit the island catching everyone off guard (pun very much intended), and my garden has exploded in leafiness slugs be damned.
A few weeks ago, our morning chauffeur duties complete, Penny and I hopped in the Minnow and drove an hour south to explore Chipping Campden, a little village in the Cotswolds.
Spring is such a lovely season in England – flowers just explode and I’m officially in love with all the wisteria.
“Chipping” derives from the old English word for market or marketplace, and this particular village was a major wool trading center in the Middle Ages. Its high street has buildings from the 14th century and quaint thatched roofs dot the narrow twisty lanes heading off the main road. Houses in the Cotswolds are all made of the same local limestone that yellows with age, and strict building regulations ensure that these villages retain their old-world charm and traditional appearance. Chipping Campden is one of the northernmost towns in the Cotswolds AONB and thus relatively easy to access from Birmingham, and it’s also the start of the 102 mile Cotswolds Way, a walking path along the AONB’s northern border that ends in the city of Bath. My plan was to explore the village and then spend the day walking the trail.
Are any of you familiar with the London Blue Plaques? Throughout the country, and mainly in London, blue plaques mark buildings where notable people have lived or worked. There’s even an app to help you stalk your favorite historical figures. We’ve had a lot of fun discovering these plaques and I stumbled on one in Chipping Campden. The author Graham Greene spent a couple years in the cutest thatched cottage just outside of town, close to the start of the Cotswolds Way. He lived here from 1931-1933.
I met a few ladies from Canada walking the Cotswolds Way, but other than that, my chosen walking route was completely deserted. Lots of overly protective mamma sheep, however.
On the way home I passed a giant castle looking building and pulled in to see what it was all about.
Coughton Court has been the Throckmorton family home since the early 1400s. The Tudor-style country house is now owned by the National Trust, but still inhabited by the family. The grounds cover 25 acres and there’s a gorgeous garden in the back and an ancient chapel next to the main building. The Throckmortons were one of the families that remained Catholic after the Reformation, contributing their house and money to resistance efforts and to Catholic emancipation in the 18th and 19th centuries. The house is open to visitors, but the entrance fee and Penny’s fear of being abandoned in a car until the end of time were reason enough to admire the gigantic home from the outside only.
One of my favorite things about living in England is our proximity to National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Beauty (AONBs) with their myriad of opportunities for hiking, biking, and exploring. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some city life, fancy clothes, and foodie nights on the town, but those things tend to drain me of energy, while hiking and fresh air rejuvenate every particle of my soul. It’s been years since I’ve been able to jump in the car and within minutes leave behind chaos and turn the corner into magnificently deserted hills, farms, and wide open spaces.
The UK boasts 15 National Parks and 46 AONBs. We’ve visited a handful, but I’d like to get serious and visit as many as possible. Sometimes it’s difficult to resist going back to the same tried and true places knowing how fabulous they are, but we have yet to be disappointed by any of these wilderness wonderlands. 2 weeks ago we visited Cannock Chase AONB for the second time and last Saturday we drove to Snowdonia National Park in Wales. Snowdonia is absolutely stunning and reminded me a lot of Colorado (one of my favorite states). Cannock Chase is only an hour from our house, and a nice place for a quintessential English Sunday walk. Not sure we should really label it hiking.
Snowdonia, Wales – Fisherman’s Loop Hike out of Beddgelert
Those wild mountain goats or whatever they are had no problem continuing their descent and approaching us. We booked it out of there since those horns are at least twice the size of Penny. Super cool though! We ended the hike with a pint outside at a local pub, full of other hikers and exhausted dogs.
Cannock Chase AONB – Hike out of Rugeley
We didn’t bring our camera to Cannock so we only have a few blurry photos on our phones. Beautiful pine forests, a few small ponds, and easy to follow trails.
Seeing the white cliffs of Dover has been on my to-do list since moving to Birmingham and we had the perfect opportunity to check them out on the tail-end of our Bruges road trip. To my dismay, we emerged from the Eurotunnel into some of the thickest fog I’ve ever experienced. We could barely see the car in front of us, let alone the coast.
Not willing to give up so easily we drove 10 minutes north to Capel-le-Ferne to see a WWII memorial site honoring those who fought in the Battle of Britain in 1940. The memorial was really nice and judging from pictures on TripAdvisor, a beautiful place when the weather cooperates. A memorial wall lists the names of those who fought in the battle, and the site houses replica Spitfire and Hurricane planes. It was a quick stop – as long as you don’t plan on visiting the cafe or doing the “scramble wall experience” you can easily limit your visit to 30 minutes. The below picture was taken facing the cliffs and the memorial to the airmen. O well.
Another 10 minutes down the coast is Samphire Hoe, a coastal park that was created during the Channel Tunnel excavations. Half of the chalk marl and stone (4.9 million cubic meters) that were removed from the channel were deposited in Samphire Hoe, and the other half went to France.
Nerd lesson: Samphire is a category of succulent plants that grow near bodies of water. Rock Samphire is a particular species native to the UK with white flowers often found on cliffs along the coast. “Samphire” derives from the French “sampierre” or “Saint Pierre.” St. Peter is the patron saint of fishermen, and since this plant grows along the coast, water->fish->Peter->Samphire… voila. In King Lear, Shakespeare mentions the tedious and dangerous task of foraging for samphire (some people pickle it or eat it in salads). The park visitor’s center has a little sign advertising SHAKESPEARE and SAMPHIRE HOE where you can read this particular section of King Lear. A bit of a stretch, maybe, but at least they explain the weird name.
We took the mile-long path from the car park to the rocky beach and by that time the fog had lifted enough for us to see the cliffs. The view was definitely worth the short detour! I know there are other, whiter sections of the Dover cliffs closer to the actual town of Dover, but this was good enough for me. Low-tide meant we could check out some sea critters on the rocks and take some cool pictures of the glowing seaweed.
True to form, I couldn’t resist leaving without a few of those chalky rocks. Some habits die hard. If you could only see my rock collection… These ones are now sitting on my mantel in a very zen arrangement and they make me happy. (Dad, go ahead and roll your eyes. I like rocks. And collecting things.)
The above picture has been a recurring joke in our house for the last two weeks. Something about the overly simplistic yet very public apology struck us as hilarious. Connor actually googled the phrase. Nothing.
Mike – I really hope you didn’t do anything drastic like gamble away your home and then jump in the sea. I hope you would leave Jan with more than just a chalk apology note. (Dude, it rains here a lot, in case you didn’t notice). Or maybe you broke up with Jan. Or just got in a silly argument? Again with my point about something more permanent than a washable chalk message. Snail-mail, perhaps? Since I’m assuming she isn’t answering her phone. Or did you think this was romantic? I guess it could be, depending on the situation.
Jan – Did you see this message? Do you come here often? Clearly you aren’t answering Mike’s calls or texts and you’ve blocked him on all social media so his last resort was writing on an actual wall instead of your virtual one. Yes? No? Who is Mike, by the way? What happened? I really hope you guys are OK.
In other news, I’m planning to migrate the blog over to an actual, legit web address so stay tuned! More details coming soon!
Baby lambs are invading the countryside and I couldn’t be more thrilled!! Over the weekend, we drove an hour or so west of Birmingham to the Shropshire Hills, and we must have seen thousands of tiny lambs along the way. They are so adorable – lots of sleeping and frolicking. Every once in a while we would spot an all-black little dude and those were by far the cutest.
I don’t know which are more numerous right now: lambs or daffodils. I’ve never seen so many daffodil varieties. They line the roads and driveways, pop up in the middle of fields and lawns in pretty significant numbers, and seem to have a mind of their own. Tulips are not a thing here, that’s for sure. We passed rolling fields of yellow wildflowers, too… Birmingham is officially the grimmest place on earth, and I’m so glad we can get in the car when it’s raining and just drive until we find some sunshine. The pictures of flowers taken from inside a moving car did not turn out. Can’t imagine why. But below are a few snaps of the lambs.
Connor kindly pulled the car over a couple times so we could watch the lambs. There’s a brief video on Instagram of tail wagging and little guys running. The pictures aren’t the greatest because I was too busy watching them, but you get the idea.
We had a pint in Church Stretton (how’s that for a name), a cute town with a seriously cool antique shop. We didn’t hike the hills because Penny has blisters from too much pavement play during her spring break stay at the doggie hotel. Ridiculous.
On the way home, we stopped at a farm store to buy some fresh eggs. We also met the mamas. I’m pretty sure they were irritated that we were the new owners of their eggs. Also, I think the chickens were the same size as Penny.
I’m busting my butt to sift through all our Barcelona pictures and then I’ll have some FUN IN THE SUN pics to show you! How many times am I going to proclaim that I’ve found my “new favorite city?” I can’t promise you that this will be the last, but Barcelona was fab fab fab and it’s my new fave. A bit of Chicago meets LA meets Gothic Medieval Europe with a party vibe, crazy arts scene, and a fierce Catalonian pride complete with a Spanish/Portuguese/French/Italian hybrid language. But I spoke Spanish and that was perfectly fine. As usual, I miss it already.
Spring weather arrived in the West Midlands last weekend! Perfect excuse for a hike in the Peak District. The exposed rocky cliff is Mam Tor, the site of a late Bronze Age/early Iron Age hill fort, complete with burial mounds. The hill is made of black shale and sandstone (recipe for erosion) and England’s National Trust organization has assumed responsibility for its maintenance.
The little village of Castleton at the base of the hills was bopping! We had no idea, but there was a ridge run scheduled that morning and there were also tons of hang gliders and paragliders drifting over Mam Tor. The atmosphere reminded me a bit of Colorado and the energy was contagious. How beautiful are these photos!? We made it to the peak of Mam Tor and had our first glimpse of accumulated snow since we’ve lived here.
How fun to float over the Peaks strapped to a human kite!! I don’t think I have the arm muscles needed to maneuver those ropes, but I’d definitely tandem fly if given the opportunity. Does that exist? Tandem paragliding?
Wherever you are, I hope you’re taking advantage of the nice weather!
After a sunny and fabulous week in Italy, we’ve been cooped up in the house avoiding the endless rain. I’m pretty sure this is normal for England in the winter, but then again, the northern half of the UK is struggling with widespread flooding. So maybe this is considered extreme? Our yard is a sloppy mess. Penny has been sick for over a month, probably because she has to swim through the yard every time she needs to pee. We needed a holiday from our holiday. So yesterday we packed up the car and drove south to what the English call their Riviera. May as well swap the sloppy boggy city for the sea!
We drove along the coast south of Exeter and stopped in Torquay and Brixham, two beautiful beach towns known for their fresh seafood and pastel buildings. I had the best crab cakes of my life at a place called Rockfish. And it was takeout! Fresh crab takeout!!! Does it get any better?! YES! It was so cheap it felt like I was stealing. Rockfish’s tag line is something like “tomorrow’s meal is still in the sea.” My kinda’ place. Fancier restaurants all boast that their chefs hand pick the day’s offerings each morning at the big fish market.
Brixham hauls in more fresh fish daily than any other town in the area. We’ll definitely be back.
The sun came out (miracle) and we walked along the red rocky cliffs and attempted to walk down to a beach. These beaches are small, at the bottom of steep roads or long flights of stairs, and are covered in red rocks. I think Torquay has around 20 different beaches that are popular in warmer weather.
We had packed pillows and blankets in case we decided to “car camp” (God help me) and extend this trip, but you know, when the sun sets at 4pm you have nothing to do save sit in a pub. Or your car. Like a creepo. So we drove home and decided to save the rest of the coast for when we have more time. Here are some pictures!
I went picture crazy in Italy so as soon as I finish sorting through everything I’ll have some fun things to share!
In 1665, more than 250 people died from the plague in a tiny village called Eyam. To prevent the horrible disease from spreading to nearby towns, Eyam quarantined itself. Some sources say the plague reduced the village’s population by 50%. Others say only 23% survived. These days, you can tour a museum dedicated to the plague, its victims, and heroes. Or you can take advantage of their free car park and go hiking. Like us.
Our hike started in a 14th century churchyard, led past a soccer field, across a road, and into the forest (above). We emerged onto someone’s alpaca and sheep farm and climbed over a few ancient stone walls. Note the convenient steps built into the walls (below). The English seem to be very comfortable sharing their land with walkers/hikers. Everyone courteously closes gates to keep livestock from wandering, dogs stay on leads (leashes) around other animals, and litter is nonexistent.
Oh Penny. She tries so hard. But sometimes we just have to carry her so we can pick up the pace. So many good smells! She is very curious about sheep recently and quite adept at sniffing them out and trying to run at them.
The view from the top was stunning as mist and fog rolled across the hills. It was amazing to see the colors of the landscape change as the sun moved in and out of the clouds. One minute everything was grey and green, and the next instant all the brown tones glowed orange, yellow, and gold.We stopped at a brewery in Chesterfield on the way home and then grabbed take out fish n chips. Each fish package was as large as one of my thighs. Ridiculous.
One hour east of Birmingham is a magical place called Great Brington, a small village with a population under 500, home to a few of the most kind and generous people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Joe and Sarah live in a beautiful, traditional English home complete with gardens, an emerald green Aga cooker, and magnificent views of the rolling countryside.
I LOVE their cooker!!!!
Joe studied abroad in Scotland with Connor’s uncle. Years later, they reconnected, and Joe and his wife invited us and Penny to their home for lunch, tea, and a walk. The four of us plus their daughter who is our age, and 4 dogs (Penny, Storm, Tiffin, and Henry) had a great afternoon! Americans are really missing out on the afternoon tea + cake and walking traditions, by the way. We seem to have taken these enjoyable moments and reduced them to simple necessities. A snack and maybe another cup of coffee are enjoyed at our desk, in the car, or on the go as we multi-task our way through life. Walking is simply a mode of transportation or a necessary evil if you have the pleasure of owning a dog. Anyway, I must be feeling the spirit of England because I’m shedding my go-go-go anxiety and loving this slower, more mindful lifestyle.
SO. Now for some history! The parish church in Great Brington is just up the bend from Joe and Sarah, and It. Is. Ancient. According to their website, the church stands on the site of an old Saxon church, and the Domesday Book has record of priests in Great Brington as early as 1086. The oldest part of the existing building (the tower) dates to around 1200.
And! George Washington’s great-great-great grandfather, Lawrence Washington, is buried here! They fly the American flag on the 4th of July and President’s Day to honor him. So that’s pretty fun! Sorry for the poor camera angle. I didn’t want to be annoying so I snapped quick photos with my phone when no one was looking.
We took the dogs out for a walk and followed their usual route through the country.
This route takes them right past Althorp House, the 13,000 acre Spencer Estate, currently owned by Charles Spencer, Princess Diana’s younger brother. The house was built in 1508 and has been the Spencer home for 500 years. Somehow I missed the fact that Diana’s ancestors were so fascinating. After her grandfather, the 7th Earl Spencer, passed away, Lady Diana Spencer moved to Althorp House with her father, two older sisters, and younger brother. She was 13. I say this all so casually, but THIS WAS PRINCESS DIANA’S HOUSE! For a time. She went to boarding school and all that jazz so she might not know all the secrets of the gigantic house, but still. She lived here. And she is buried here. There are 500 people in this town and one of them used to be Princess Diana.
If I had 13,000 acres, you bet I’d set my mansion back from the road. Deer and pheasant were everywhere. I’ve never seen so many deer in one place – there must have been at least 50 grazing on that front “lawn” when we first walked up. Joe told us the game birds and wildlife were brought in years ago so Henry VIII could hunt on the grounds. It was an honor for the King to hunt on your estate, and important that there were enough animals running around that he didn’t get bored or frustrated. (Especially if its Henry VIII we’re talking about.)
Tea and cake followed our walk, and then Joe roasted some coffee for us to take home. He has a gigantic roaster for large batches as well as a mini one. Fresh roasted coffee!!!! It’s amazing. We’ve been drinking it all week. Never had better.
Then we got out the ladder and Connor climbed up to pick some apples from one of their trees. This was such a treat! Apple picking is always an exciting outing, but picking apples in your own backyard is brilliant and even better. They also have plumb trees and a good sized garden where they grow other fruit and veg. Sarah spoiled us with a big bag of cooking apples, another big bag of regular apples, a loaf of homemade soda bread, a jar of homemade marmalade, and even a special kind of coffee maker!
Bellies full and car packed with goodies, we drove back to Birmingham marveling at what an incredibly nice day we had.
Apologies for this tardy update on last weekend’s trip to Warwick.
On Saturday morning, we jumped on a train to Warwick and 25 minutes later we were exploring the streets of a little castle town. The River Avon runs through the heart of the city and past Warwick Castle, and if we go ever go back with visitors, we definitely want to rent a canoe or a giant swan paddle boat!
Warwick Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 and later fortified with stone and restored in the 12th century. A local described the castle as “Disney-ified” and recommended making the 2 mile trek outside town to Kenilworth Castle, too. Add it to the list! I don’t know if I’ll ever grow tired of castles!
Warwick Castle had sword fighting, archery, jousting, random minstrel and bird shows… it was packed with little girls in princess dresses and boys wielding wooden swords. Can you imagine having a season pass to a castle instead of the local zoo? So cool. We climbed one of the towers and checked out the view, ate lunch in the peacock garden in front of a beautiful conservatory, and roamed the gardens and castle grounds.
Later, we went inside the Church of St. Mary which was partially destroyed in a 1694 fire and we also checked out St. John’s Museum. This building was seriously cool from the outside but I found the inside a bit dull. Some 900 years ago it was originally used as a hospital and over the years would become a private residence, a school, an office building for war efforts, and is now a museum dedicated to said war efforts. I sort of zoned out when I discovered it barely touched on WWII. The interior has been renovated so many times that few original features remained. So no pics of the inside.
Brief recap of this week:
We had “Sunday lunch” with a couple friends in our new neighborhood. We can’t wait to move!!!!!!
Connor rented a car yesterday and had a little driving adventure. He survived.
We still don’t have access to pounds because bank security measures in the UK are INSANE. Total overkill.
Penny dragged a used teabag out of the garbage and onto the bed, spreading cranberry bits all over the place.
We have an appointment with “Mr. Bob” on Saturday to check out a car he is selling. If we can buy a car this weekend, we are heading to the Peak District for some hiking!
Our first trip to London is in the works and yes, I plan to get in line at the ass crack (sorry Mom) to score tickets to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet. OMG HOW AMAZING WOULD THAT BE!? I can’t even.