Thursday, May 24, 2012

Our Last Day - Day 10

***which was actually Friday May 11.  Wow, I'm really late going through photos for this last post on Anna's birthday trip to England...

Stourhead Garden - my favorite of all the English gardens I studied while in grad school.  We were so close, but didn't quite make it.  We could have stopped by on the way to the airport if we got up and out early-ish, but we wanted to savor our last morning in our beautiful surroundings.
Eileen brought us eggs from her chickens for breakfast (delicious - tasted just like our fresh Massachusetts eggs!) and we spent time walking around the cottage grounds, visiting with the animals (Anna took another round of photos of the sheep), petting the dogs and cats, and chatting with Eileen.  The hours went by so pleasantly and so fast!
I realized that I never took photos of the parish church in Norton sub Hamden, its dovecote and the spectacular trees in the churchyard, even though we had explored the church and grounds fairly thoroughly.  It was now or never (at least during this trip) for photographs.
One thing we noticed on the recent gravestones, and there were surprisingly many from the past 10 years, was that all the people who died were well into their 90's. Must be the good English country living.
I also now realize that I have never actually posted any photos of Norton sub Hamden, the village proper, which is, in my opinion, the most beautiful village I have ever seen.  I love the yellow Ham Stone, which is only found on Ham Hill and used everywhere throughout the immediate region.
I love the close feeling of the houses, the thatched roofs and the tight roads.
I love the water which winds it's way through the town and around the houses.
One day while admiring some of the houses, a woman stopped and asked if I was lost.  I said no, just looking around and thinking that this the most beautiful place in the world.  She simply said "Yes, it is."
We took one last drive to Crewkerne.  Stopped at Anna's favorite antique shop, where she had been eyeing a petite ruby ring since the first time we went into the shop.  Had a snack - Anna's last cup of hot chocolate with real English whipped cream.
On our ride out A303 to toward Heathrow, we stopped to see Stonehenge.  Eh. Interesting as a monument of human endeavor - heavy stones brought long distances and set in place without the aid of heavy equipment a long, long time ago.  But I'm used to cathedrals.  At least carve or decorate the stones in some way.  Sheesh.
Well, it was actually a little more impressive the closer we got.  The stones are very big!
In addition to prehistoric stone monuments, there were fresh English strawberries available along the road, so we pulled off and bought a quart. Delicious.  You know Anna feels comfortable somewhere if she can buy produce off a motorway from a stranger. Or maybe she was just desperate for the first fresh strawberries of the season!
The rest of the trip was uneventful - drive to the airport, drop off rental car, check in at British Airways, board, eat, sleep, not the smoothest landing, customs at Logan, 2 hour drive home.  And that was that.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sherborne - Day 9

***Note:  We are officially back in the normal swing of things in the US.  We arrived home very early Saturday morning.  Anna made it to ballet for a 9:30 class (true dedication).  I drove back to Concord on Sunday.  The first day back to work after a long break is always rough, but I've been looking forward to going through photos to finish my blog postings for our last 2 days in England.

There are always bunnies in this part of the field.
Today we were feeling, right from the morning, that our beautiful vacation is coming to an end.  There were so many things we wanted to see and do, but of course we knew we wouldn't be able to fit in everything.  Anna was feeling like she didn't get enough shopping in while at Bath yesterday.  I was feeling like I haven't been able to relax and enjoy the immediate area enough. Michael was feeling like the decision of what to do today would best be left to me and Anna.
We picked Sherborne, another medieval market town located about 20 minutes away from the cottage.  It is bigger than Crewkerne (which has been described by Eileen, the owner of the cottage, as a "one horse town," which might be a fair assessment, but I do love its charms), and has a reputation for good shops and antiques.  There is also an abbey and a castle that was built by (for) Sir Walter Raleigh.
It was market day, so local vendors were set up along the high street.  Anna and I bought some hot cross buns, while Michael looked longingly at the local meats, knowing they wouldn't keep in the car all day.  There was a steady drizzle, which made it imperative that we stop in each shop along the street to keep dry on the way to the abbey.  We found another hat shop, this one more expensive than the one in Bath.
We also stopped for the best lunch we've had yet - fish pie with mashed potatoes and cheese on top for me, steak and ale for Michael, and more eggs, bacon and potatoes for Anna, with her usual hot chocolate and whipped cream (she's in a rut!)  It was again the best whipped cream Anna has ever tasted!  I couldn't even wait to take a bite before I took this photo...
Sherborne Abbey was so beautiful - Anna said it was her favorite church.  There were sections of the Saxon structure, medieval stained glass, and the nave was stunning and colorful.
There were also some colorful stories associated with the abbey.  When it became a Benedictine Abbey, the monks built a separate but attached structure for the villagers to worship in and kicked them out of the abbey proper.  The baptismal font which had been used by the villagers for generations was still located in the abbey, so whenever there was a child to be baptized, the villagers had to request of the monks permission to use it.  The villagers didn't like this, so they carved their own font and began using that.  The monks didn't like this, so they smashed the villagers' font.  In retaliation, the villagers shot flaming arrows into the abbey, where the ceiling was being renovated.  The scaffolding caught on fire and the flames permanently stained some of the stone red.
We stayed at the abbey all afternoon, and didn't make it to Sherborne Castle before it closed for the day.  With a little extra time on our hands, we took the back way home to the cottage, driving up Ham Hill to take in the view of our village and the surrounding countryside.
We got home early and had a relaxing evening.  Anna and I went over to the farmhouse to chat with Eileen and a couple other guests. We talked about the Royals, and Anna got quite an education about the naughty behavior of some of the members of the Royal family!  She still loves the idea of having a queen, though, and we both regret not being able to be in England for the Diamond Jubilee in June.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bath and Cheddar - Day 8

We’ve been going to Crewkerne every day since we arrived for bread and essentials, but today, Anna and I went early for a traditional English breakfast at Bilby’s and then a little shopping while Michael caught up on his work.  Well, Little Miss Anna had the big breakfast - runny eggs on a sandwich with bacon and mushrooms (changed out from sausage - yes, the special was actually eggs, bacon AND sausage!), potatoes and a dressed salad, and her usual hot chocolate with whipped cream ("English whipped cream is the best whipped cream I've ever had in my life" - we've heard that a lot).  My roots are clearly continental because I prefer a cup of tea and a bit of bread or other baked good in the morning.
As always, the drive into town was gorgeous (and grey!)
When we got back, Michael was still working, but we soon left to spend the rest of the day in Bath, which is a beautiful city.

We saw Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths, which are located right next to each other in an interesting architectural and religious juxtaposition.  You can see the Abbey peaking out over the Baths in the photo below.  (I'll spare you interior photos of another church!)

One of our main reasons for going to Bath was to visit the Makery.  Unfortunately they didn't have any workshops during our time in England (we just missed the knicker workshop), but we spent a good long time picking out some crafty items and fabrics at the shop.  And to make it up to Michael, we had an early dinner at the pub right next door, which bills itself as the tiniest pub in Bath.  That seems likely.

We also spent some time in a hat shop.  Anna is really embracing British culture!  And it looks so good on her.

On the drive back, we took a detour through Cheddar Gorge.  Cheddar cheese was first produced there, with the numerous caves in the gorge used to cure the cheese.  It was raining and getting dark, but the gorge was spectacular.

What a long and busy day with a lot of driving.  Tomorrow we should pare down our list - maybe pick only one place to go - and try to have a more relaxing day.