Scottish Highlands

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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”

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Scottish Highlands

5 Ways England Surprised Us

Monday marked the one year anniversary of our move to England. Craaazyyyyy!

We’ve been rather reflective lately, thinking back on the places visited and lessons learned, what we miss about America and which British customs we plan to bring home. Overall, we have been pleasantly surprised by many aspects of life in the UK. We both feel that the biggest surprise was Wales. We knew absolutely nothing about Wales before moving here, and it is gorgeous! Sparsely inhabited, very reachable from Birmingham, and an outdoor lover’s dream.

1. Walking TRAILS

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Despite her finicky and often unpredictable weather, England is a hiker’s heaven. The country maintains a vast network of trails that as far as I can tell, mainly traverse private property and farmland. There’s a distinct walkers etiquette and dutiful adherence to the “leave no trace” rule. The relationship between trusting landowner and respectful walker is impressive. Gates are closed to prevent livestock from wandering, I haven’t noticed any trash on the trails, nor have I seen signs discouraging walkers from approaching. On the contrary, roads are peppered with signs pointing out the public footpaths. Every region of the country is covered in beautiful trails. This leads me to my second surprising item…

2. Varied Topography

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Durdle Door, Jurassic Coast
Samphire Hoe, Dover
Samphire Hoe, Dover
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View from Orrest Head over Lake Windermere, Lake District

I had no idea the UK was so beautiful. I think I assumed England was a lot like Ireland, but the topography is significantly more varied here and thanks to those public footpaths, we have plenty of territory left to explore. Highlights from little mini trips over the last year include the cliffs and coves of North Devon, the Mediterranean looking Jurassic Coast with its fossils and rock formations, the white cliffs in Dover, the rolling dales in Yorkshire, the hills and lakes in the Lake District, peaks in the Peak District (also here) and flat golden fields in Norwich. There’s a saying “When you’re tired of London you’re tired of life,” a popular maxim that may be partially responsible for the fact that no one is talking about the other 95% of the country. And they should really talk about it more often! Visitors need to get out and see the rural areas, too!

3. Well-preserved and accessible history

England has done an astonishing job in this department. London has over 20 free and excellent museums alone (it could be 40… I’m not about to start counting). The English Heritage cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments, and sites throughout the UK, and the National Trust cares for over 500. Think Downton Abbey when the family realized they could no longer afford the upkeep of such a grand estate. These trusts now care for tons of old manor homes and country houses, many of which still act as family residences. Because of these partnerships many magnificent buildings and iconic sites have been preserved. Both organizations offer year-long memberships at very affordable prices that grant you free access to all their sites. If you visit one place each month your membership is more than paid for.

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Wollaton Hall outside Nottingham. 1580s Elizabethan House. Also, Batman.
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12th century Warwick Castle
An afternoon at Kedleston Hall near Derby, England
Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, from 1759
Coughton Court
Coughton Court from 1530
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York Minster Cathedral
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Allerton Castle, Yorkshire, from 1843

Aside from these grand buildings and iconic sites (like Stonehenge – English Heritage), individual villages, towns, and their many churches are well-cared for. Conservation and repair is taken seriously. The British Geological Survey formed in 1839 is responsible for identifying and archiving the more than 1,000 different stones used in buildings throughout the country. The geological diversity has become very apparent as we’ve explored different corners of the country. We’ve seen the famous Cotswold stone, a type of limestone that yellows with age; highly textured buildings and walls in the county of Norwich made of pebbles and cobbles; the blue shale-like stones in Wales, and so many others. I love that the British focus on conservation over tearing down and modernizing. Yes, this means country roads are ridiculously narrow because the towns were created before cars were even thought of. So what. If we weren’t forced to slow down, we would miss the gorgeous little villages.

One final thought: The Blue Plaque project that started in London and expanded from there is one of my favorite little history nuggets. Buildings that housed notable people are given a circular blue plaque to commemorate the moment. It’s a fun little treasure hunt. I stumbled upon Graham Greene’s house in the Cotswolds, the building where Guy Fawkes was born in York, and there’s one on our church in Birmingham where John Henry Cardinal Newman lived. Tolkien also lived in the Oratory rectory for years after his mother passed away, and I’m sure there’s a plaque hiding somewhere on the premises.

4. Extremely Dog Friendly

Outside London, you can basically bring your dog anywhere and apologize in surprise if reprimanded. Pubs generally admit dogs, especially if you’re somewhere in the countryside. There’s no such thing as a pub needing a permit to have a patio and then a second permit to admit dogs on the patio, which can never be granted if your patio/beer garden doesn’t have a separate entrance than the entrance serving the main part of the building. Good grief. People here just do what they want. Chicago, are you listening?

5. Amusing Names of Cities and Pubs

Apparently the early British settlers who moved to America had little to no sense of humor. They named their new towns after the ones back in England, but didn’t choose any of the good ones! I expected Cambridge, York, Boston, etc. But where in America is Little Snoring and Great Snoring? What about Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter? Stow-on-the-Wold, Giggleswick, Lickey End, Broadbottom, Bootle, Upton Snodsbury, Blubber Houses, Kirby Grindalythe… Bitchfield… pan around England on Google Maps for awhile. City names are fabulously creative.

Pubs are equally fascinating. Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. The Prince of Wales Feathers. Also, every town has either The Kings Head, The Queens Head, The Kings Arms, or The Queens Arms. Or, if they’re being creative, they’ll make it The Dukes Head.

Love it.

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5 Ways England Surprised Us

Doyles Take England: Devon and Exmoor National Park

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!

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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).

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Below, Penny and I are standing on Morte Point, almost at the end of the hike.

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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?!

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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.

Day 2

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.

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So, innocent enough hike, and then the cliffs became progressively steeper and the path narrower…

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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.

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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!

Doyles Take England: Devon and Exmoor National Park

Weekend on England’s Jurassic Coast

White cliffs on the Jurassic Coast

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.

Man of War Bay
Man of War Cove, on the other side of Durdle Door

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.

Jurassic Coast fossils at London’s Natural History Museum
London’s Natural History Museum

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.

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Picturesque buildings along Weymouth’s Harbor
Fishing town

Fishing boats and gear were everywhere. This could be a good spot for a fishing charter!
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Approaching the beach
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Weymouth Beach and Bay

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.
Campsite in Osmington

Campsite

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.

Durdle Door
Durdle Door
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Durdle Door from the beach
Cold water and more pebbles
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Enjoying the sun!
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Walking to Lulworth Cove, 3/4 mile east
YUM!

Michelin rated restaurant and their genius Fish Exchange for Food and Drink
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Walking back from Lulworth Cove, the view overlooks Man of War Bay, Durdle Door, the Southwest Coast Path, and Weymouth in the distance

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…

Weekend on England’s Jurassic Coast

Walking in the Yorkshire Dales

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!!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Walking in the Yorkshire Dales

1 Day in York

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.

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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.

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hats hats hats.

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.

1 Day in York

A Camping Attempt in the Yorkshire Dales

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.

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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.

Additionally:

  • 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!

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A Camping Attempt in the Yorkshire Dales

A Day in Chipping Campden – Cotswolds

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.

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Can't get enough of the wisteria!

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.

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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.

Graham Greene's House from 1931-1933

Graham Greene's House 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.

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On the way home I passed a giant castle looking building and pulled in to see what it was all about.

Coughton Court

Little church on the grounds of Coughton Court

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.

A Day in Chipping Campden – Cotswolds

Re-falling in love with hiking

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

Snowdonia Hike

Snowdonia Hike

Snowdonia Hike

Snowdonia Hike

Snowdonia Hike

Snowdonia Hike

Baby snake, lamb and mom, crazyyyy mountain goat things. Check out those horns!
Baby snake, lamb and mom, crazyyyy mountain goat things. Check out those horns!

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.

Re-falling in love with hiking

It’s Lambing Season in England!

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.

Blurry, but gives you an idea of the size difference!
Running and jumping!

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.

Pathetic. But such a good dog. She didn’t even care that I was doing this to her.

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.
 

Hills and some daffodils in the background!

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.

It’s Lambing Season in England!