Claire Came to Visit!

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!”

Claire Came to Visit!

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

Doyles Take England: the Cotswolds

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.

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Our B&B in Ablington with beautiful gardens

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In love with this kitchen

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.

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Bathurst Estate in Cirencester
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Wisteria!
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Family photo in 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.

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The old mill in Upper Slaughter
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The shop at the old mill is definitely worth a visit!

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.

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St. Edward’s Church and Yew Trees
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Stow-on-the-Wold

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.

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Weavers’ homes in Bibury
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Arlington Row weavers’ homes
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More gardens in Bibury

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.

Doyles Take England: the Cotswolds

Edinburgh – Thanksgiving Road Trip Part II

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On our first full day in Edinburgh we walked up Arthur’s Seat, stared in wonder at the view, and explored Holyrood Park. I tried haggis for dinner that night and I think I’ll give it one more shot at a nicer restaurant before I write it off. The boys conducted their own city-wide pub crawl over the next few days, and I did my best to see as much as I could before I joined them around 5pm each day. The only pub I remember is called the Jolly Judge; teeny tiny with a fireplace and so cute. In my usual style, I tackled the city on foot and covered a good amount of ground.

I was amazed at the number of shops devoted to tweed and wool! By some crazy miracle I limited my purchases to under 5 items. And I not so secretly regret that I didn’t buy a wool blanked for every room in the house and for every person in my family. And the tweed coats! Swoon. You cannot find these things in America. 100% UK wool, made in Scotland, etc. etc. etc.

I tore myself away from the shops and spent some time at St. Mary’s Cathedral where I took entirely too many photos. The architecture is absolutely stunning. Connor and I toured Edinburgh Castle and saw the Royal Crown Jewels, old prison cells, the great hall where Mary Queen of Scots would entertain… I could have spent another hour or two exploring the castle, but after we watched the sunset over the city we had to get ready for Thanksgiving dinner.

Drum rollll: we had surf and turf. The fresh Scottish mussels were to die for! Probably the best mussels I’ve ever tasted. The rest of the meal was so-so, but luckily I gorged myself on mussels and came away happy. We went out in search of some folk music after dinner and ended up bumping into 8 or so American troops. How’s that for a Thanksgiving surprise?! We gave them our thanks for their service, naturally, and discovered they are all from Michigan (!??) and stationed in Italy. We chatted with them for the rest of the evening and did eventually find some music.

Oh look, this place says they have “live music.” Let’s go see.

No music playing inside. To girl behind the bar: Hello! Do you have live music tonight? Who will be playing?

Girl: Simon.

… not helpful. Do we look or sound like we would know Simon? Simon turned out to be a non-folk guitarist who has never celebrated Christmas. And with that, we ended our time in Edinburgh and drove back to Birmingham the next morning.

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Climbing Arthur’s Seat.
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View of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth from Arthur’s Seat.
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Palace of Holyrood and Holyrood Abbey Ruins.
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Gates of Holyrood Palace.
Christmas Market ride and Scott Monument
Tommy and I rode the swings at the Christmas Market. The Scott Monument is in the background.
St. Mary's Cathedral
St. Mary’s Cathedral. Stunning architecture.
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Edinburgh Castle – Exterior.
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Edinburgh Castle – Interior.
St. Margaret's Chapel - Edinburgh Castle
St. Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh. King David I built the chapel in 1130 and dedicated it to his mother, Margaret. She was canonized in 1249.
American Flag - Prison Door Graffiti
Rebel graffiti from the Revolutionary War. These old prison doors show one of the earliest versions of the U.S. stars and stripes.
The University of Edinburgh
Strolling through The University of Edinburgh.
Cafe Royal Bar
Cafe Royal. Used in the film Chariots of Fire.
Victoria Street
Victoria Street. Rumored to be J. K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series.
Edinburgh – Thanksgiving Road Trip Part II