The day after Christmas, Connor and I loaded up a rental car and took off for the mountains and lochs of the Scottish Highlands. After a full day driving, we arrived near Lochgoilhead and settled into one of the best Airbnbs of the last couple years. Our hosts converted an old stable into a gorgeous eco tiny home (she is an architect) and it’s now a Grade II listed building. Fresh baked sourdough, a fire in the stove, piles of wool blankets, and a puppy named Pixie greeted us. We immediately regretted not booking the place for more than two nights. Continue reading “Scottish Highlands”
Claire, my wonderful sister-in-law, came to visit the week after Thanksgiving and we had such a blast introducing her to England! It’s been so long since I’ve seen my siblings or siblings-in-law, and it was so nice to spend a week with Claire. We visited York, the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Birmingham, and London. Continue reading “Claire Came to Visit!”
Prior to our move abroad, I picked up Edward Rutherford’s epic novel Sarum and somehow managed to reach the end. This book provides a sweeping history of England by tracing various families from neolithic times to the 20th century. The majority of the 1,000 pages are set in present day Salisbury, Continue reading “Visiting Salisbury and Winchester”
So this post is a day late… sorry about that. We’re leaving for Ireland this evening and I spent more time yesterday preparing for our trip than I anticipated. SO without further ado, let’s talk about Devon! After lunch in Bath we continued driving south to the county of Devon where we stayed for the next three nights. Devon has coastline in both the north and the south, touching both the Bristol Channel and the English Channel. We stayed in a small town called Lynton in the northern part of the county, very close to Somerset, with views over the Bristol Channel. Exmoor National Park is in North Devon, and we planned to explore that area during our stay. The cliffs and coast on the way into Lynton were beautiful!
The town was quiet and sleepy, no tour buses or crowds, and we loved it! Our B&B served us a wonderful breakfast each morning and the rooms looked out over the sea (2nd picture below is the view from our room).
After a full English breakfast our first morning in Devon, we drove to Mortehoe and tackled an 8 mile hike on the Southwest Coast Path. The weather continued to cooperate and we had intermittent sun, and this section of the 630 mile long trail was stunningly beautiful. Around every corner was another perfect view, and the colors of the flowers, cliffs, and sea changed constantly as the sun moved in and out of the clouds. As usual, I took way too many pictures, but someday I’ll be happy I have all these. Probably. Hopefully. Maybe not…
This was our view on the non-sea side. I could barely take my eyes off the water so most of our photos are of the sea.
Connor and I walked down to this secluded beach at one point and soaked our feet in the cool water. We were probably 6 or 7 miles into the hike at this point, and the water felt so amazing. Penny despises swimming, and we’ve thrown her in enough times that she won’t get much closer to the water than in the below picture.
As usual we saw some sheep who were totally indifferent to our presence. We also saw a couple seals bobbing in and out of the waves. We were pretty high up so the pictures didn’t turn out well.
Below, Penny and I are standing on Morte Point, almost at the end of the hike.
The village in the distance is our final destination! You can see Connor and Dave up ahead if you look closely. Can you imagine living in a little village like this, walking your dog on the Southwest Coast Path each morning?!
That evening, we had dinner at a tapas restaurant in town and I have to say I was impressed. I didn’t expect a little village this far off the beaten path to have Spanish cuisine, and in general I don’t expect restaurant food to be very good. No offense to you lovely English! You have done a fabulous job embracing your flaws (I assume this is why you have so many terrible fish and chip shops)… you do you. And I will continue to seek out ethnic cuisine.
After breakfast (we all opted to forego the full English this time…) we set off for another day of hiking and exploring. Our planned hike was shorter, with more amazing views, but potentially a bit treacherous. The book we were using as a guide didn’t make it sound too bad, and they definitely didn’t use the word “treacherous,” so we gave it a go. It started off innocently enough… and then all of a sudden we realized that Penny was covered in ticks. We had walked through a section of woods and she must have discovered a nes. I had never seen ticks so small in my life… some were no larger than a sesame seed. Others were normal sized… ugh, I was terrified she was going to get limes disease. We must have picked 20 or so off her. Crisis averted, we continued on.
So, innocent enough hike, and then the cliffs became progressively steeper and the path narrower…
And then fog started rolling in…
…and I decided this was ultimately a bad day to die. So we took the next path toward the village, through the farms and countryside, and Connor’s contact rolled up into his head. Never a dull moment.
I do think this hike would have been terrific if we had fresh legs and weren’t toting a little dog with us. You never know when she’s going to get squirmy or freak out or smell a sheep and make a bid for freedom.
That evening we took an old cliff tram down the hill into Lynmouth, the town directly below Lynton at sea level. The train/tram is a hydraulic system that opened in 1890. It uses sea water to transport passengers up and down the cliff and it seemed to be in really great condition.
We had dinner in Lynmouth and met a couple and their dog who were sitting at a table next to us. Because I have no sense of decency I asked them if they have trouble with ticks. The couple, bless them, were very kind and we chatted about ticks and walking in England and they told me about special tick tweezers that we should look into. Before we left, the man tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a sleeve of said tick tweezers. He had run out to his truck to fetch a spare set for us. Isn’t that the nicest thing?!
Fun story: these came in handy a week or so later when Connor thought he had a tick on his shoulder. I dutifully got the tweezers, Googled how to use them, and braced myself for whatever was about to happen next. I’m twisting the damn instrument, pinching the “tick” and twisting, and all of a sudden it explodes. It was a blood blister. I almost barfed.
So anyway, the next morning, Connor and I did a short hike before we needed to say goodbye to Lynton, and we met a bunch of silly little goats! There were a bunch of little baby goats, and one of them was sleeping on a rock on the cliff. As I watched, he tumbled off his perch, poor little dude.
We had a really great time in Devon but had plans to see Hamlet that evening, so we left before lunch!
I’ll post about the rest of our adventure late next week when we’re back from Ireland!
After leaving the Cotswolds, we made a quick stop in Bath to stretch our legs, have lunch, and check out the ancient city. We barely scratched the surface and I hope we make it back to Bath sometime soon. The highlight of this visit was simply enjoying the gorgeous 18th century Georgian architecture, the Bath Abbey, and the river. We had another gorgeous day so we were able to wander the little streets without needing to worry about ducking inside.
Next time, I would love to tour the old Roman bathhouse – the best preserved in the world – and have tea at the Pump Room. Also, Jane Austen lived in the city for a few years and as her biggest fan, it would be irresponsible not to visit some of her old stomping grounds and the Jane Austen Centre!
From Bath, we continued south to the county of Devon and the little town, Lynton, that would be our base for the next three nights. However, I’m skipping ahead to the 4th leg of our trip since three days in Devon warrants a separate post. After Devon, we stopped in Shakespeare’s hometown for dinner and a play before continuing on to Birmingham. Stratford-Upon-Avon is such a cute town and the Royal Shakespeare Company is absolutely phenomenal. Connor and I saw a play in Stratford last autumn, and we were anxious to see this year’s production of Hamlet that had received glowing reviews.
If you are in England and you haven’t had a chance to see this show, do yourself a favor and GO BUY TICKETS! It is such a fresh and modern take on the classic, and so much more enjoyable than you can even imagine. Graffiti, African drums, a helicopter entrance… this is FUN Shakespeare! A quick glance around the theatre proves this better than any glowing review — students pack the upper levels, all on the edge of their seats, no one is texting or goofing around. I’m jealous that these kids are growing up in an environment that makes Shakespeare so fun and accessible. The lines aren’t changed, by the way. You still need to pay attention so you don’t miss anything. Finally, I can’t say enough about Paapa Essiedu as Hamlet… he was exceptional. Energetic, charismatic, and convincing. Just fabulous. I don’t envy the next Hamlet who has to follow Essiedu’s performance.
Technically, you’re not supposed to take pictures, but here you go.
Before the play, we took a boat ride down the River Avon – a nice way to escape the crowds.
Check back tomorrow for our hiking adventures in Devon!
In mid June, Connor’s parents came to visit for 10 glorious days. We embarked on a tour of some of England’s finest, stopping in the Cotswolds, Bath, Exmoor National Park in North Devon, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Birmingham, and Wales. Miraculously, we had absolutely fantastic weather for the entire trip! We rented a car since the Minnow is really only suitable for a couple adults and maybe 1.3 suitcases, and a rental also guaranteed that we could charge our phones and thus rely on GPS.
First stop, the Cotswolds! We based ourselves at a B&B in Ablington, a tiny village with a small river, a manor house, and only a few roads. To say I envied Isabel, our hostess, would be an understatement. Her setup is dreamy. She hosts visitors in a gorgeous, traditional 3 bedroom stone house where she moved after she ran out of patience with London. She works from home, her horse boards down the road, and her dog accompanies her everywhere — even on jump courses when she’s riding her horse. I wanted to talk with her for hours. Gardens in England are magnificent, but something about her garden was so thrilling: herbs were thriving everywhere, flowers were full of dizzy little bees, and the colors were magnificent. I was tempted to ask her if she needed a sidekick for the summer.
Isabel cooked us a full English breakfast the first morning and day 2 was fresh baked bread, croissants, and all the jams, marmite, and nutella you could hope for. We all agreed her kitchen was just perfect, with that traditional charm radiating from the SMEG refrigerator and antique style range, both of which were actually quite modern. We enjoyed walking through fields behind the house and met one of the neighbors who owned a few donkeys, sheep, and dogs. The neighbor was tickled that we came to Ablington all the way from America, and we chatted with her for a half hour. Wild pheasant cackled in the fields, and one followed us back to the B&B to taunt Connor and Dave.
The pace is slow and moseying in the Cotswolds. It isn’t the place to visit if you’re looking for action packed adventure, but if you enjoy little villages, gardens, and nosing around, you would enjoy this part of England. Some villages are completely devoid of tourists and others are just packed (Bourton on the Water was so horribly crowded that we didn’t even stop.) From what I could tell, if your village has a parking lot, you will attract crowds. We made the most of our 2 days in this area and visited a number of villages. We started Sunday morning in Cirencester, the largest town in the Cotswolds. We strolled the streets, admired gardens, and saw the big Bathurst Estate and nearby Cirencester Park.
We also visited Upper Slaughter and walked the 1 mile trail to Lower Slaughter. I was happy to learn that “slaughter” comes from an old English word which means “muddy place” and so has nothing to do with death. The lower village was similar to Ablington, just a few scattered houses, but the upper village had a picturesque river curving through the town and an old mill with attached cafe. I regret not buying something from the little mill shop – so many good things in there it was hard to settle on just one item.
Next we ventured to much larger Stow-on-the-Wold with its little tea shops and ice cream stores and famous St. Edward’s Church. The north door with its ancient yew trees looks like something you’d find in Narnia or Middle Earth.
Our final visit was to tiny Bibury to see its famous row of old wool weavers’ homes dating back to 1380. The timing of this trip perfectly coincided with the explosion of growth in gardens all over the country. I adore the wildness of these gardens and how fast everything seems to shoot up overnight. Sometimes I can’t help but think that if someone went all out and did this to their house back home, the neighbors would think a total nutter lived there. Like all the other tourists, I took pictures of the gardens and houses, knowing full well that normal people lived in these places, people who may not appreciate having strangers crawling all over their town. One person had a sign on their gate warning people to keep out as it was a private residence. The sign was posted in a couple different languages, which made it perfectly obvious who the main offenders were.
I’m not spilling the beans and calling out the main offenders, but I will tell you about the Drone Dolts. As we were walking back to our car, still laughing about the “keep out” sign, we pass the Drone Dolts: two people who perfectly fit the description of “main offenders” who are very calmly guiding a drone downstream. Attached to the drone was their camera, and I certainly hope they were satisfied with the perspective of the photos because they looked absolutely ridiculous. The fact that they were lugging around a suitcase dedicated solely to the transportation of said drone did not help their case. I later saw this drone in a store in Bath as well as in an article about new travel gadgets. Can we not just visit buildings from the 1300s and enjoy them for what they are, following all posted signs and the spirit of the law that is kindly requesting just a bit of privacy for residents? I mean, come on people.
Next stop, a brief stop in the beautiful city of Bath, Jane Austen’s home for a time and site of the old Aquae Sulis Roman baths.
June 24-July 1 was one of those weeks. Nothing goes right and all commitments and sanity go out the window. For one, the weather in Birmingham BLOWS and I do not understand how people live here full-time. Do not let the above picture deceive you. That was not taken in Birmingham. Secondly, I received 2 parking tickets because I’m a total idiot. Third, Penny suddenly became very ill with alarming symptoms and we had a very expensive week in and out of the vet’s office. As a result, I spent my week reading about dog illnesses and medicines and remedies and food. Now, I’m going to share trip reports out of chronological order because I feel like it and I’m the boss. Thankfully, the dog is doing much better and we were able to get away for the weekend to celebrate the 4th of July.
One bucket list item that we’ve been dying to check off our list this summer is a visit to the Jurassic Coast on the English Channel. This part of the coast is England’s only natural World Heritage Site, which places it in the same category as the Great Barrier Reef, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone. Of the 1,000 or so World Heritage Sites, less than 200 are naturally occurring, and England’s Jurassic Coast looked positively dreamy in pictures. 95 miles of rock formations, cliffs, and beaches cover 185 million years of Earth’s history: the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
As you can imagine, fossil hunting is a popular activity. When I visited London’s Natural History Museum a couple months ago I was surprised at the number of whole, intact fossils on display that were discovered along the Jurassic Coast, many by an impoverished woman named Mary Anning. Mary was a sort of Princess of Paleontology, and her numerous discoveries not only pulled her family out of poverty but also ended up in museums around the country. Her lizard/fish/dinosaur/turtle-like creatures of all sizes are in London’s Natural History Museum, and I highly recommend a visit. It’s the only non-creepy natural history museum I’ve ever seen (due to its emphasis on dinosaurs and fossils over taxidermy). The building itself is also stunning.
Moving on… We decided the 4th of July just wasn’t the 4th of July without a little sun and beach time, and since it’s persistently grim in Brum, we headed south to the county of Dorset, starting in Weymouth. The city is a great launching point for exploring the Jurassic Coast, and it supposedly tallies up more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in England. Fine with me. We walked along the harbor and the beach, explored the tiny side streets and shops, and bought some goodies for our campsite that evening. We met a chatty and very kind man from Wales who was visiting for the weekend with his children and grandchildren. As usual, Brexit and Donald Trump came up, but for the first time, so did Taylor Swift and Beyonce. He asked me if I was from Northern Ireland. You guys – this question marks a triumphant moment in my quest to appear as close to invisible as possible! My accent and adorable puppy-like dog draw attention everywhere I go, and sometimes I just don’t want to answer questions. Sometimes I don’t want to explain why I’m here and what I think about Donald Trump. If the small talk topics would vary, maybe I wouldn’t feel this way. At this point, I have picked up enough British lingo that I can utter short phrases or noncommittal sounds without sounding American. But this guy totally made my day when he incorrectly guessed my nationality.
After Weymouth we drove a few miles east and saw Chesil Beach, a 15 mile long pebble wonderland formed by the remains of a landslide that occurred 100 million years ago. Its vastness was surprising, but other than that, it was just a pebble beach, so we moved on to our campsite. This place in Osmington was a serious find and I think we’ll return if we ever decide to camp again. It had great views, coastal access, and was within walking distance of a 14th century thatched roof pub.
Camping Attempt #2 was much more successful than #1. We packed food, our grill, wood, and 2 down blankets. We planned to encase ourselves in feathers so we couldn’t feel the hard ground or the cold night air. This seemed entirely necessary; you can still see your breath when the sun sets. Talk about overkill. I woke up sweating to death, claustrophobic, convinced I was being smothered by an evil cloud.
The following day we drove a bit further east to Durdle Door, Man of War Beach, and Lulworth Cove, three of the more popular stopping points along the Jurassic Coast. There were more people than we expected, many from other countries, and many very overdressed. I don’t know if its an American thing or just a personal preference, but I don’t see the point of wearing anything other than gym/outdoor clothing if I know I’m going to be exerting myself and sweating. Perhaps I’ve just totally let myself go in the last year.
Lulworth Cove had a small visitor’s center, shops, fishing huts, and everyone was serving seafood. We were so tempted to try the Michelin restaurant offering fishermen pints of beer in exchange for their daily catch, as long as the fish passed inspection by “Philip or the chef.” Instead, we opted for a stand at the seaside selling fresh fish so we could continue enjoying the sunshine. Connor had fish and chips and I had a crab sandwich. Both were delicious.
It was a gorgeous weekend and we’ll definitely be back to the Jurassic Coast to keep exploring the bays, cliffs, and paths. And I don’t think I’ll ever have my fill of seafood, so even if we end up with a rainy day I think I’ll be a happy camper. As long as we aren’t camping in the rain…
The Yorkshire Dales National Park is a popular walking destination in England made up of river valleys and hills. A “dale” is a valley, a word derived from old Nordic and Germanic languages. Dales throughout the county of Yorkshire are named after their corresponding river: Swaledale, Wharfedale, Waldendale, Raydale, Washburndale, etc. After our fabulous breakfast in Leeds, we drove to tiny Kettlewell and tackled the Great Whernside walking route, heading for the rocky summit of Wharfedale. Gorgeous day!!
Scale is so difficult to convey in photos. That rock was large enough for us to stretch out and have a picnic lunch away from the soggy mossy hill we were climbing.
Sidebar on hiking lunches: we need a new go-to hiking lunch. Last winter in Italy, we developed a habit of buying baguettes and pre-sliced salami for quick and cheap sustenance. This works decently well in countries known for their salami. This doesn’t work so well if you buy the cheapest meat full of chemicals and baddies in random places like Yorkshire. It basically ruins your insides. I won’t go into details. Option #2, PB&Js, had a brief comeback a couple weeks ago when we visited the south of England with Connor’s parents. Something about the sog factor and lack of actual nutrients booted this out of the rotation. I’m all ears if anyone has any suggestions. I’ll give you a blue ribbon if it doesn’t involve bread or sugar.
Penny has proved to be an excellent little traveler. She sleeps most of the day when we’re at home, but is always up for an adventure as long as it doesn’t involve swimming. She seems to be happy as long as she’s with us. We didn’t know what to expect when we put her in a backpack the first time, but she doesn’t seem to mind it. In fact, when she sees us packing up a bag for a day trip she knows a walk is coming and starts jumping all over the place. She does her fair share of walking on these hikes, but we try to carry her when the terrain is muddy or covered in sheep shit. Both are fairly common. Adders (European vipers) are a concern in many parts of England, and ticks are rampant, so sometimes it’s just safer to keep her in the bag.
As usual, we saw plenty of sheep. The lambs are so adorbs.
That evening we pitched our tent and then drove back to the town of Harrogate to pick up some dinner. Even though I was a bit embarrassed to be seen with a pizza box, the other campers in the field didn’t seem all that committed to traditional, rugged camping techniques either. Their tents were the size of small houses with giant inflatable mattresses inside. Temporary privacy screens walled off sections of claimed space (can’t help but wonder if a little Oklahoma Land Rush went down in these parts). Wine glasses were clearly visible on tables. And then, our tiny little clown car rumbles through the scene. I can just see this through their eyes. Out pops a limping man, an odd girl in a baseball hat and sweatshirt (simply not a thing in England), and a tiny dog wearing a puffy winter coat. These rubes pitch their Tesco children’s tent and then drive off, only to return an hour and a half later with a pizza box and bag full of beer. The next morning, they’re gone before anyone else is awake.
When you close your eyes and picture England, what pops into your head?
London and it’s dazzling buildings along the Thames…
Rolling green fields with sheep as far as the eye can see…
Rain, fog, and bowler hats…
Tiny villages of stone…
Or how about York? Beautiful, quaint, Medieval York is the England I envisioned before setting foot on the island. An easy, unforced combination of past and present, clean and well-kept despite its ancient buildings, very traditional yet not outdated. In all of these things York reminded me a bit of Bruges, Belgium. Unlike Bruges, however, York is not a canal city, and its ancient city walls are still standing.
When I hear “quintessential English” I think of York: narrow winding streets, leaning Tudor buildings with tiny doors, Gothic churches, and loads of tea shops.
And, ladies in hats! There was a wedding at York Minster Cathedral and I couldn’t help creeping and taking pictures. Technically they’re called “fascinators.” And they certainly are fascinating. Check out the one with the giant feather.
Also, isn’t this building gorgeous!? The grandness of these ancient churches and the detailed architecture stuns me every time. York Minster is one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Europe and the second most important church in England. I’m not entirely clear on the hierarchy/structure of the Anglican church, but I know Canterbury (and the Archbishop of Canterbury) is #1 and the primate of York is #2. There has been a church on this site since 627 and the crypt still contains elements from this original church, old Roman foundations, and 11th century Norman elements. The existing church was built between 1220 and 1480. We stuck our heads inside but didn’t pay for full access. The exterior seemed to be the real show anyways.
I recommend visiting York during the week or an off-season weekend. Definitely don’t visit on a bank holiday weekend as we did. Narrow streets are even narrower with scads of slow moving tourists. Penny didn’t do as well on this leg of the adventure since there were so many people and dogs, and she prevented us from going inside a tea shop to relax. We sat on the river and had a pint hoping she would chill out away from the crowds, but instead, she made friends with a little toddler from Spain. Thank heavens this little boy liked her because she kept jumping up and putting her paws on his shoulders and giving him kisses. Besos. Cutest thing ever, but a bit nerve wracking since he would walk up behind us and Penny would be all over him before I knew what was happening.
That evening we stayed in Leeds and had a fabulous time chatting with our Airbnb hosts. We came away with great recommendations for walking in the Yorkshire Dales. They even made us a wonderful breakfast the next morning to prepare us for a long day of hiking (completely unexpected). Thanks to their tips, we had a fabulous 8 mile hike.
Check back tomorrow for pics of the Dales! I know I said I’d do that today. I lied. Sorry. Turns out I had more to say about York than I thought.
For those of you in the States, imagine for a moment what you would do if your trusty one-stop-shop disappeared off the face of the earth. No more Target or Meijer, not even Walmart. You need to source all your possessions from specialty, expensive boutiques that may not have a website or a brick and mortar in your city. You have no idea how to even find these places to overpay for pillows, cookie sheets, a rain coat, and other
superfluous essential items. Your neighbors don’t speak English so you can’t ask them for suggestions. You can either shop at the Dollar Store or Aldi. You hold your breath as you walk through the doors and hope that their pathetic bins of inventory 1) are actually full enough that you don’t have to compromise your dignity and dumpster dive to reach the items and 2) contain something of use.
In this alternate universe, the brilliant idea to go camping over a bank holiday becomes extremely complicated. Where the hell are you going to find an affordable tent of decent quality that won’t leak in the very likely event it rains? Yes, #firstworldproblems. Boo hoo, you have spend an entire day driving around your city looking for a tent or hoping Amazon UK learned something overnight from the States (definitely not).
I haven’t fully processed my thoughts on American vs British consumer habits, and I haven’t decided if I think Americans are spoiled, fortunate, or just doomed to a life of detached consumption and rampant materialism. (The latter is easily noticeable, but it also seems that Americans have more hobbies than the British, and hobbies = gear/supplies/stuff. If the British had more hobbies maybe they would spend less time sitting around drinking in dreary old pubs.)
Anyway, I admit that I’ve grown accustomed to a certain level of convenience and efficiency in my shopping habits. Because Target. Singlehandedly making my life easier since 2005. Dear Target, if you came to Britain, you would blow everyone’s mind and put a lot of small shops out of business.
Alas, I eventually found an affordable tent. The “rain fly” was smaller than a pair of my underpants. I also found sleeping bags, made of the most synthetic of synthetic materials. I’m pretty sure all this gear was intended for backyard sleepovers. The kind where the kids all end up in the house so poor quality gear is a non-issue.
SO, what did we do with our sub-par gear?! We drove a few hours north to Yorkshire, spent a day in York, stayed overnight at an Airbnb in Leeds, walked the Dales the next day, camped that night, and drove back to Birmingham the following day. Our tent was about 1/8 the size of all the other tents in this field. No joke. We also forgot about the whole food thing so we drove 30 minutes into a town and ordered a pizza. And it was delicious.
- It didn’t rain.
- We were freezing cold.
- Penny was initially scared of the tent.
- There are cows on the other side of that wall in the above picture.
- Connor thought he twisted his ankle at the end of the day’s hike.
- Penny scratched my eyeball in the tent and I spent the drive home thinking I would have to go to the emergency room and wear an eye patch.
- Both were false alarms.
Check back tomorrow for some pictures of Medieval York and the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales!