Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

This week has been the end (mostly) of a very long saga of accounting issues stretching back to April. Apparently getting yourself set up the first time for a tax cycle in the UK is a lot more complex than you might imagine, but it all got filed on Thursday. We may still have one more thing to dispute later on if HMRC (the UK version of the IRS) decides to press it, but that might not come up. I cannot stress enough the cumulative building stress that I was under and the relief that I felt when we got the final email from the accountants saying everything was filed and, by the way, Merry Christmas.

One thing to know though, before skipping along to the travelogue, is that I do not recover instantly from stress. While in no way does this compare with the experience of an Iraqi vet, in the same way that you can’t expect a returning soldier to simply kick their heels up and pop open a cold one because they’re out of the trenches now, neither can I go frolicking through the fields with daffodils and kittens. I tried to explain this to Bear, between unpredictable emotional outbursts, and it went something like this:

Bear: But it’s OK, why are you crying? It’s over!

Me: <sniff> Why did Tom Hanks break down at the end of Captain Phillips once the Navy SEALs rescued him and he was finally safe?

Bear: Because he wanted another Oscar?

I had somewhat calmed down by Saturday thanks to two trips to the movies to see Frozen and The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, and Bear planned a trip up to York to see some spots we had missed. I really like York a lot and was trying to look forward to it and ended up napping most of the way until we arrived.

Byland Abbey is a really extensive Cistercian abbey in the Yorkshire moors that, like many, has fallen into ruins thanks to Henry VIII, but what’s left is still impressive.

Unusual rose window at the end, an influence of Gothic architecture

Unusual rose window at the end, an influence of Gothic architecture

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Ammonite fossils are commonly found in Yorkshire and we found this one in the stones used for the building

Ammonite fossils are commonly found in Yorkshire and we found this one in the stones used for the building

The window was fairly whole until the late 1800s when the circular frame collapsed.

The window was fairly whole until the late 1800s when the circular frame collapsed.

We had tried to find Helmsley Castle last year when we first came to Yorkshire but it’s oddly located off the main square with absolutely not one single sign pointing to it. Given how freaking large the complex is, that’s pretty amazing.

Helmsley Castle

Helmsley Castle

Leona would be very disappointed in the state of the moat

Leona would be very disappointed in the state of the moat

Bridge over one of the two moats

Bridge over one of the two moats

Museum inside

Museum inside

Monks still active today!

Monks still active today!

The East Tower

The East Tower

View of the Helmsley town from the castle hill

View of the Helmsley town from the castle hill

We talked to the guys at Helmsley about the Jorvik Center in York which we haven’t been to and we’re on the fence about it. It looks kinda cheesy in some of the pictures and we have a firm rule against mannequins, but reputable people keep telling us it was a good experience (including an archaeologist at Creswell Crags who sounded exactly like Jane Horrocks, which is a little terrifying). The guys said it was a little dated but that the collections were really good so we think we’ll break down and do it.

Around the corner from the castle, there was an amazing bakery (Auntie Anne’s Bakery) that had won some awards and we picked up scones and some cranberry cookies with tea. Scones are generally very dry and even hard, but these were light and beautifully fluffy, almost like Southern biscuits. I nearly cried.

To get to the next site, we took the off road through the moors and on some single track roads which led to some really nice scenic spots while eating scones and cookies and getting crumbs basically everywhere.

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The next stop, Mount Grace Priory, was a two in one with a manor house from the 1800s that was part of an abbey that was still accessible. The driving force behind the house was a man named Lowthian Bell who was a follower of the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement started by William Morris, and much of the house was decorated/designed through Morris’ company.

The house portion

The house portion

Admittedly, not the best lit photo of the priory ruins

Admittedly, not the best lit photo of the priory ruins

Honest to God English holly (no sign of ivy)

Honest to God English holly (no sign of ivy)

Bell also built a recreation of a monk’s cell as it would have been for the Carthusian monks who founded the abbey. There weren’t many Carthusian houses in England as the order were hermits, which is not to say that they were ascetics. The restoration/recreation of the cell was really nice and comfortable and each one had its own latrine and running water in addition to private chambers and being part of a cloistered area with its own tiny gardens.

Madonna and Child

Madonna and Child

This sculpture is of a Madonna but in a very different pose. The plaque contained a statement from the artist detailing his vision of her as strong and determined, offering up her child, the Christ, up to heaven even as she received him, and it’s interesting to see how her posture forms a cross. It was supposed to combine the nativity, the annunciation and the crucifixion all in one.

We headed in to York and had dinner at the best restaurant in York (IMHO), La Rustique, which is an amazing French place with actual French waitstaff. I know this not only because of the accent but because of how nice they are to us. Go for the set menu of starter, entree and dessert for just 15 pounds and you get amazing food, like Bear’s seafood linguini.

Seafood linguini

Seafood linguini

We made a good stab at visiting Howden Minster on the way back south but it was already pitch black by then (which happens at 4:30 p.m. now) and while we found it, it was so dark I nearly twisted my ankle just walking through the graveyard. Cue the spooky music, it would’ve been a perfect setting for a horror movie. (I’ve seen pictures online though and it’s absolutely amazing so we’re not claiming that one yet until we go back by daylight.)

I was still really tired from the week and, frankly, the last eight months since the accounting stuff started in April, so we have a deal that tomorrow I’m going to go to the movies all day courtesy of the Cineworld Unlimited card. We’re on track to get a Cineworld theater of our own in St. Neots in mid-February, just about two months from now. Since the project has undergone some bizarre setbacks so far, including being built 88 cm off the blueprints which resulted in a woman who shall not be named protesting that it was too close to her house and getting the entire structure torn down so they had to start over again, I’m not making plans just yet, but I am excited. However, this week the News Crier had a story about how a worker at the site was crushed between an earth mover and a wall (I guess he didn’t see it coming?) and has serious injuries to his pelvis (not a good area in general), so who knows what that will mean for the opening. My co-worker Sheila says that after all my anxious monitoring of the progress that they should let me cut the ribbon. I don’t know about all that, but I certainly plan to be there for it.

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Picking up from Stokesay Castle and the first half of the day, we went over to Mortimer’s Castle, Wigmore, which had been really extensive back in the day. The Mortimer family had been intertwined with the royal family at the height of their power, with Roger Mortimer having an affair with Isabella, mother of Edward III. (Edward didn’t take too kindly to this, despite Isabella’s famous plea, “Not poor Mortimer!”)

It's like an arch for hobbits.

It’s like an arch for hobbits.

There’s quite a hike along a muddy public footpath to reach the castle ruins, but the views are really nice and it was a nice day, despite the mud.

This is just begging for some kind of Gothic painting with a knight on a solitary quest.

This is just begging for some kind of Gothic painting with a knight on a solitary quest.

The area has also been designated as a wildlife area and we spotted a rabbit enjoying the sun by a thicket. He pulled back a bit into the thorny bramble, but was happy enough to stay close while we passed by.

The view of the surrounding countryside was commanding and you could easily see why it was a good spot for a castle.

The view of the surrounding countryside was commanding and you could easily see why it was a good spot for a castle.

Next, Bear had set a course to Edvin Loach Church and he did very well in getting us there despite the best efforts of the road signs.

Before

Before

After (You're welcome)

After (You’re welcome)

The church dated from the 1100s and the old structure had mostly collapsed.

Probably not holding services this week. Or the next.

Probably not holding services this week. Or the next.

But the "new" church seemed to be up to the task.

But the “new” church seemed to be up to the task.

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No name on this grave marker, just "God is Love"

No name on this grave marker, just “God is Love”

My stomach voted it was time for lunch so we ducked into the Worcester Nando’s (first time at this one) before going to the final big stop of the day, Whitley Court and Gardens.

We hadn’t quite realized just how large an undertaking Whitley was from the brochure and were a little blown away by the extent of the gardens leading up to the extravagant Italian style palace.

You're guided along a path by a lake leading up to the kiosk where they offer you an audio tour and look a little sad if you don't take it.

You’re guided along a path by a lake leading up to the kiosk where they offer you an audio tour and look a little sad if you don’t take it.

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The roof, windows and most walls were gone, giving it an open air Lincoln Memorial kind of feeling, but it was flat out gorgeous.

This is the small fountain. The small one. As in, there's a bigger one around the corner.

This is the small fountain. The small one. As in, there’s a bigger one around the corner.

The biggest freaking fountain I've seen since Trevi in Rome, and the house ain't that small either.

The biggest freaking fountain I’ve seen since Trevi in Rome, and the house ain’t that small either.

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The lady who got our tickets had said that we should check out the church as well because it was “quite nice”. I never know how to take “quite nice” here in England. Often it means “well, it’s OK if there’s nothing else on television” but in this case it meant “incredibly gorgeous, drop your jaw at the door, sit down in a pew and thank Jesus you woke up that morning.”

Just try to breathe while standing in front of that.

Just try to breathe while standing in front of that.

I picked this photo especially because Bear is in it. He likes to walk into my shots. I stop to take a photo and he keeps sailing. I got tired of asking him to move out of the way.

I picked this photo especially because Bear is in it. He likes to walk into my shots. I stop to take a photo and he keeps sailing. I got tired of asking him to move out of the way.

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We made it out by 4 p.m. closing time because, as we’ve established, English people are like trolls except it’s the dark that turns them into stone. Must be home under cover! For us though, that meant it was time to dash home so we could let Juliet out, who had been such a good, patient kitty all day, so she could still get a little play time in the garden on Prison Day.

Thank God you're home. I've been sitting on this step all day.

Thank God you’re home. I’ve been sitting on this step all day.

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After our spontaneous expedition to IKEA the night before with Elaine, we kept to our plans to get up early and head out to explore some spots below Oxford that had prehistoric and archaeological significance, which I admit are my favorite kind.

For some reason I woke up humming several recurring bars from “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, which isn’t quite as strange as it sounds since a) I was raised on a fair amount of Joan Baez folk music and b) we had been talking about race relations and the Old South last night with Elaine at Nandos. I couldn’t shake it though and kept humming them so I finally cracked out the iPad and played it through the stereo, which led to a brief but spirited discussion of if the original version by The Band was better because at least they sounded like they could be Civil War vets. (I come squarely down on the side of Baez’s superior, soaring soprano.)

I also found an original version of “Diamonds and Rust” as well as a duet recorded in the 90s of Baez singing with Mary Chapin Carpenter. You never know what’s lurking in your iPad. Somehow that discussion led to debating what the most distinctive bass line in rock music is and Bear sort of lost that one (he said Eric Clapton’s “The Badge”) to me (Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”) because he couldn’t hum his choice, but he could hum “The Chain”, so obviously “The Chain” was the most distinctive.

We found the Roman amphitheatre in Cirencester very easily thanks to Uma the sat nav and there was a Scout troop nearby with a nice little car park. Since it was 8 a.m., no one was there. Why? Because the English are not so fond of early rising as I have discovered. They don’t even like to keep the stores open particularly long. Our local coffee shops (Costa and Cafe Nero, very respectable chains) close at 6 o’clock sharp. Stores close at 6 too. Even Waitrose doesn’t really like to stay open. Gas stations/garages aren’t open in the morning, so if you’re going on an expedition, best fuel up the day before because it could be 8 a.m. or 9 before you find an open gas station.

At any rate, the amphitheatre itself is just the earthworks now, but it was the second largest in England at one time, capable of holding 8,000.

8,000 people -- Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights, Roman style

Bear did not however re-enact his “Are you not entertained?” speech which he did in the Chester arena.

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Next we headed to the Rodmarton Long Barrow, which Bear was a little unsure of locating at first. “I took satellite photos,” he said grimly. “We’ll see.” This never bodes well, but on this occasion there was actually a clear sign out by the roadway, which is something of a novelty with things like barrows and neolithic sites.

This will be going in my Blair Witch portfolio.

This will be going in my Blair Witch portfolio.

What a novel thought--putting a sign out by the road so you know there's something hiding in the field.

What a novel thought–putting a sign out by the road so you know there’s something hiding in the field.

Last year, Bear had surprised me on one of our excursions by locating some of the famous white horse chalk carvings in the hills through Wiltshire and he drove us by several of them which you can see from quite a distance. They’re really striking, very beautiful and unusual. The banners of the Rohirrim in The Lord of the Rings have an emblem very similar to the Wiltshire horses, which I can’t think is an accident.

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Today we went to the Uffington White Horse which is one of the largest and most famous of the cut chalk carvings. It’s believed to be over 3,000 years old.

(aerial view...I'm not that tall)

(aerial view…I’m not that tall)

We were allowed to drive most of the way up to the  carving, which was fortunate since it was lightly snowing that day, and then we hiked the remainder.

I was standing right by the eye! I was standing RIGHT BY THE EYE!!!!

I was standing right by the eye! I was standing RIGHT BY THE EYE!!!!

Traditionally, every seven years during a fair held on White Horse Hill, they would scour and touch up the horse by repairing the chalk filled pits, but it needs more frequent attention now. (Bear helped by removing some trash from part of what I think was the horse’s mane).

Two other sites were connected to the Uffington Horse, so we hiked a little further up and visited Uffington Castle, which is an Iron Age hill fort that was built on the remnants of a Bronze Age fort. The Romans occupied it at one point (isn’t that just like them?) and left some artifacts as well.

See that concrete post? See those sheep all pointed towards it?

See that concrete post? See those sheep all pointed towards it? That’s how it works with these prehistoric religious sites. The rabbits run the stone circles like at the Ring of Brodgar and the sheep run the square/rectangular stuff, like Maeshowe.

Down the edge of White Horse Hill, which is part of the edge of the Berkshire Downs, you can see Dragon Hill which is the site according to legend where St. George battled and slew the dragon. The leveled off cap is chalk white and no grass grows there, which is where the dragon’s blood spilled.

Dragon Hill

Dragon Hill below the lines of the White Horse — that little bald spot is where the dragon’s blood spilled when George slew the dragon.

There was some minor confusion about how to reach Wayland’s Smithy, the next site which was less than a mile away, since we kept seeing signs that said the Ridgeway was closed to motor traffic, but Bear still managed to get us very close.

As it turned out, Wayland’s Smithy was a very popular site and we saw no less than 14 people either there, on their way back form or on their way going to the smithy. The site is a relatively famous long barrow, built just a few centuries after the one at West Kennet by Avebury which we had visited last year. While there, I overheard a man telling his son that the legend was that you would bring your horse and some money and leave the horse tied up at the Smithy, and that when you returned the next day, the money would be gone and your horse would be shoed courtesy of the Saxon god Wayland.

Blair Witch comes to the Berkshires.

Blair Witch comes to the Berkshires.

When they called it a "long barrow", they weren't kidding.

When they called it a “long barrow”, they weren’t kidding.

On the way to Donnington Castle, I looked up this mysterious Ridgeway which turned out to be extremely interesting. It’s sort of like a prehistoric Appalachian Trail that used to connect the southern coast in Dorset to the Wash area in Norfolk and peoples would migrate along the route and traders used it as well. It runs past some of the most important Bronze Age sacred sites in England, including Avebury, the White Horse and Wayland’s Smithy.

Donnington Castle is most demolished at this point (thanks, Civil War!), but the gatehouse is still standing and very impressive.

Donnington Castle

Donnington Castle

Walking up the hill took a little effort on the heels of White Horse Hill, so I decided that it could count for one of my cardio sessions for the week.

View over Donnington

View over Donnington

Secretly, we've decided we're French (the food, the food) so I got the hat to prove it.

Secretly, we’ve decided we’re French (the food, the food) so I got the hat to prove it. Yes, that’s snow flakes on my glasses.

Bear had planned a stop at a Roman site next, in keeping with the predominantly pre-BC theme of the day. It was a little confusing though as nothing at Silchester seemed to be above ground.

Seriously--there used to be a gigantic Roman town there, but it was abandoned and not re-purposed into a new town. It's all under there. Somewhere.

Seriously–there used to be a gigantic Roman town there, but it was abandoned and not re-purposed into a new town. It’s all under there. Somewhere.

There has been excavation there ongoing since the 1890s though it was a little hard to tell exactly what they had found, and since it was still steadily snowing, we decided that was fine and went on to lunch.

This is where the excavation is taking place. Just not right now.

This is where the excavation is taking place. Just not right now.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to park on Festival Way in Basingstoke, but it’s an experience to be experienced. So to speak. I for one am all for plentiful parking, something that England is sorely in need of, and this place has it in spades. The trick is actually finding your way out of the parking garage. Eventually we fought our way through Debenhams (shoot me if I ever have to work in a department store) and found the Nandos only to learn it was a 20 minute wait for a table. There was a tapas restaurant next door and although I generally am not a fan of Spanish culture, life, fashion, cinema, etc, I do really really really like tapas. (Put olives, cheese and tomatoes in anything and I’m yours.) So I dropped about twice the usual amount but it was for a really good cause!

All kinds of tapas goodness--a Spanish frittata, vegetarian cassoulet, some sort of roasted chicken thighs for Bear, roasted garlic mayo, red pepper sauce...

All kinds of tapas goodness–a Spanish frittata, vegetarian cassoulet, some sort of roasted chicken thighs for Bear, roasted garlic mayo, red pepper sauce…

We had no idea where the car park ticket payment machine was, so we decided to follow some young women with children, but as it turned out they didn’t know either and had been planning to follow us. Thankfully we figured this out in the elevator on the way to the car before we blindly chased our tails. (It’s in parking area C, btw.)

On to Farnham Castle where Bear learned several things, primarily that he was really, really cold. I said it was his own fault for having continued to lose weight and all that essential insulation. We also learned that Farnham Castle has been around since pre-Norman Invasion times and managed to stay in the middle of things but not get completely knocked over, which is a little difficult to pull off. Elizabeth I came and stayed at Farnham for an extended period, possibly to avoid an assassination threat, which right there makes you pretty special as a castle.

All really civilized castles need a good garden to go with them.

All really civilized castles need a good garden to go with them.

the inner keep, of which there were several apparently (some destroyed and others rebuilt on the same foundation)

The interior of the keep, of which there were several apparently (some destroyed and others rebuilt on the same foundation)

Waverley Abbey was nearby, so we managed to squeeze in one more for the day, thus setting a personal best record for most number of English Heritage sites in a single day.

I kind of want this in my backyard. It's not enough that I have a river, now I want a bridge.

I kind of want this in my backyard. It’s not enough that I have a river, now I want a bridge.

The abbey was the first Cistercian abbey founded in England in 1128 and is settled on a really beautiful little stretch of flat pastureland, currently maintained by some placid looking, very large cows. Waverly House (no idea what it is) is located opposite a canal/stream.

Waverley House

Waverley House

Apparently Sir Walter Scott used Waverley Abbey as the inspiration for his novel Waverley, however when I got back to the car and looked it up on Wikipedia, I found that Wikipedia itself disputed this and mentioned that the sign at the entrance had it wrong. Sir Walter Scott probably named his hero after the brand of pen he used to write the novel and not a random abbey.

We'll say he's there for scale and not that he wandered into the picture.

We’ll say he’s there for scale and not that he wandered into the picture.

Gorgeous tree.

Gorgeous tree

If the trunk were teeth though, it would need braces.

If the trunk were teeth though, it would need braces.

But even more interesting to the geek in me was learning that the Waverley Abbey site had been used as a location for the film 28 Days Later for a scene.

Jim (Cillian Murphy, Scarecross from The Dark Knight) and Selene (Naomie Harris, the new MIss Moneypenny from Skyfall) walking in front of the exact same tree.

Jim (Cillian Murphy, Scarecrow from The Dark Knight) and Selene (Naomie Harris, the new Miss Moneypenny from Skyfall) walking in front of the exact same tree.

Since we had brought that movie with us from America, we quickly made  a deal– to pull it out as soon as we got home, put in our 10 pins on the English Heritage map, then put dinner on the table and watch a really fine action-horror movie, one that marked the mainstream breakthrough of the post-apocalyptic zombie survival scenario (followed by the equally awesome 28 Weeks Later). And then I promptly discovered that the movie I actually had was 28 Days with Sandra Bullock, and not 28 Days Later with Cillian Murphy. (My copy is actually somewhere in my storage shed in America.) Sigh.

7 hours, 311 miles, 10 sits, a whole lotta fun

7 hours, 311 miles, 41.5 mpg, 10 sites, a whole lotta fun

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Bear had concerns that I would be able to make it up in time for our early departure, which seems very odd to me. I start work every day at 6 a.m. so getting up all of 20 minutes earlier than usual is hardly what I would call cause for concern. Nevertheless, three alarms were set, warnings were given and all went like clockwork. Juliet even got a little outside time in the garden, which she chose to spend huddled despondently on the sidewalk leading to the gate, AKA “the Path of Righteousness”.

Bear had planned the trip, so it was a surprise for me as we went westward through Coventry and Birmingham (most famous, to me at least, as the town where J.R.R. Tolkien grew up).  Along the way, I learned all kinds of interesting things from Bear, most of which need to be fact checked. 1) The Romans were like the Oakland Raiders compared to the other tribes which were like high school football teams (sounds true). 2) Nicky Minaj is either Bahamian or Panamanian (she’s from Trinidad). 3) Alicia Keys played an assassin a movie and had a much larger butt back then (she did play an assassin in Smokin’ Aces but I’m not in a position to evaluate her butt).

You want to tell her that her butt is too big?

You want to tell her that her butt is too big?

The highlight of the drive was my discovering that Bear had switched our thermoses by accident and he spent 30 minutes drinking my tea before I sipped out of my own thermos and found it was a giant mocha coffee (not what I had in mind). “I thought there wasn’t enough sweetener,” he said in a perplexed tone. How in the world you can’t tell the difference between Lady Grey tea and a Nescafe mochachino is beyond me.

Our first stop was at a remote stone circle, Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle, southwest of Shrewsbury, just a few miles east of the Welsh border. We had to go off-road a little which might sound difficult to do in a Mercedes. It is.

I don't always go off-road, but when I do, I do it in a Mercedes E-320 sedan with positronic supershift.

I don’t always go off-road, but when I do, I do it in a Mercedes E-320 sedan with positronic supershift.

The sheep farm had some nice roads in place though so we got fairly close before having to park and hoof it up the last hill crest.

For some reason this reminds me of the "One Tin Soldier" song

For some reason this reminds me of the “One Tin Soldier” song

But it doesn't really hold up when there are a few other stones still left.

But it doesn’t really hold up when there are a few other stones still left.

We also spotted a man on an ATV herding sheep, which is something like herding cats but with more wool involved.

Next was Clun Castle on the Welsh Borderlands. It’s unusual because the keep, build in the 1200s, is set into the side of the earthworks mound actually instead of sitting on the crest.

The car park was by a nice little river which formed part of the natural moat.

The car park was by a nice little river which formed part of the natural moat.

The hill is surrounded by a natural moat made out of a good sized stream and you have to hike up a fairly steep rocky path to come up and actually see the remnants of the castle.

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Clun Castle was constructed just before 1300 and went into disuse sometime in the early 1500s. For once this had nothing to do with Henry VIII.

Don't worry, you're safe -- his jeans look like they're pulled up from here.

Don’t worry, you’re safe — his jeans look like they’re pulled up from here.

The best part of climbing around the ruins though was the fact that Bear’s jeans are completely falling off him and he could only make it about 200 yards before they would work down to mid-thigh (once making it to his knees). OK, not everyone will find that as interesting as I do.

Looking out onto the Welsh borderlands

Looking out onto the Welsh borderlands

The second best part of Clun Castle was a 24 hour public toilet. You simply cannot take anything for granted in England. I travel with a roll of toilet paper just in case we have to make a dive behind a hedge row. (These are often referred to as privet hedges which makes me wonder if there’s a connection to the term privvy. But then, as my professor Jared Klein was fond of saying, “Etymology is the science where the vowels count for nothing and the consonants for very little.”)

We had been to the area before when retracing a lot of the action from the Brother Cadfael books, which I adore. John likes them too, having seen the TV movie adaptations with Derek Jacoby, but has trouble remembering things and keeps referring to him as Brother Cadbury.

Note: Clun Castle is not related to the Cluniac monks or, sadly, to George Clooney.

Stokesay Castle was next , which is really more of a fortified manor house, but had some great historical information and was very well set up and presented.

Not sure who picked the color for the gatehouse. I'm sure it's authentic.

Not sure who picked the color for the gatehouse. I’m sure it’s authentic.

After some discussion in the car park about whether or not we were actually supposed to pay or not (as it turns out, you pay and get refunded at the ticket office).

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The interior of the great hall complete with window seats, an octagonal hearth stone.

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Upper solar with windows to peer down into the great hall to keep an eye on the festivities.

Back in the gift shop, I spotted some books from the Horrible Histories series. Recently, the author Terry Deary made some unfortunate remarks in The Guardian about libraries and that there was no longer any need for them, they were irrelevant, and his logic stemmed from the fact that he makes only 6 p per book and that fee is capped off eventually when it lends through a library versus 30 p with no cap when the book sells. His exact quote was that libraries “have been around too long” and are “no longer relevant”. “If I sold the book I’d get 30p per book. I get six grand, and I should be getting £180,000.”

And even more terrifying, the authors opinions about libraries and historians.

And even more terrifying, the authors opinions about libraries and historians.

Or. Or, Mr. Deary, today’s kids could all go on a torrent and just rip it for free off the ‘net. I’m sure they know how.

And then Dr. Marc Morris, an author who is an actual historian and knows his stuff, got involved.

Dear Terry DearyI’ve just started reading your book, Stormin’ Normans. I’m only up to page 10, I’m afraid, but then I’m a slow reader.You describe the site of William the Conqueror’s first battle, Val-es-Dunes, as being ‘on the Norman border with France’. It’s actually just outside Caen, nowhere near the French border.

You say that William died a year after 1085, i.e. 1086. He actually died in 1087.You say that Henry I’s only son died in 1119. The correct date is 1120.You say that William’s queen, Matilda, was only 127cm tall. This is a modern myth caused by misreporting. The French archaeologists who examined her partial remains actually concluded she was 152cm (about 5’).

You say William was buried in a cathedral he founded in Caen. There is no cathedral in Caen. William founded an abbey.

I’ll get back to you again when I’ve finished the rest of the book. But in the meantime, I can’t help wondering: do you think you should have spent more time in the library?

best wishes
Dr Marc Morris

Thank you, Dr. Morris. In case anyone is wondering, Terry Deary has posted some follow up remarks which only dug the hole that much deeper.

“I don’t see poor people in libraries, I see middle class people with their arms stuffed like looters.”

Wow. Apparently he hasn’t been to the Leroy Collins Leon County Public Library anytime since 1993. But then he was quoted in 2010 as saying that historians are “nearly as seedy and devious as politicians” so maybe he didn’t want to be mistaken for one by going to a library to do research?

That’s a shame — I had been planning on giving a set of his books to my godson for his birthday, so that’s 60 p per book that Mr. Deary will not be seeing, although I doubt he’s losing sleep over it.

But not to let that put a damper on the day, I left the gift shop unencumbered and we headed on to the second half of the day. To be continued…

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Having for some reason stayed up half the night, 6 a.m. wake up came a little too early for me, but Juliet was on hand to help encourage me out of bed, to let her out in the garden and provide a handful of treats.

Bear had planned the whole day and mapped out some hard to find spots up around South Yorkshire. Our first stop was at a vanished medieval village, a spot which had fallen out of the historical record around 1700.

Gainsthorp Deserted Village

Gainsthorp Medieval Village

The village was rediscovered from the air in 1925 and at this page you can see a nice aerial photo of the outline of where some of the buildings were before the village was “eaten up with time, poverty and pasturage”.

Long shadows over the vanished village

Long shadows over the vanished village

Bear had planned everything for the trip, so he had everything dialed up in the GPS and it was sort of an unusual for me to just sit back and be surprised as we went.

Mattersey Priory plaque

Mattersey Priory plaque

Mattersey Abbey walls

Mattersey Abbey walls

Grindstone wheel

Grindstone wheel

Bear had been a little apprehensive about some of the sites as being off the beaten track but he found the next one without any trouble either: Roche Abbey. It technically wasn’t open until April, but the grounds were fenced off with low wire so you could still see everything and get great pictures without needing to enter. I was really surprised and taken with this little place — kind of like a mini Rievaulx Abbey.

Bear in some kind of undercroft at Roche Abbey

Bear in some kind of undercroft at Roche Abbey

The abbey grounds were laid out in the Roche Valley, a really nice little piece of lane nestled in between some low crags with a stream/river running along. There was a public footpath too that seemed pretty popular based on the number of hikers with dogs who went by in the brief time we were there.
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The vegetation around the cliffs is protected as a Special Scientific Site of Interest.

The vegetation around the cliffs is protected as a Special Scientific Site of Interest.

A little stream flows directly through the abbey grounds and foundations

A little stream flows directly through the abbey grounds and foundations

Bear was so taken with the little river that he made a video with a news report on everything we’d seen that day:

Panorama of the Roche Abbey grounds

Panorama of the Roche Abbey grounds (click to see enlargement)

By the path leading around the back edge of the abbey, there was a gate dedicated to a member of the local running club who had obviously passed away fairly recently.

By the path leading around the back edge of the abbey, there was a gate dedicated to a member of the local running club who had obviously passed away fairly recently.

Bear was getting hungry so we headed to Monk Bretton Priory next which was on the way to lunch at Nando’s.

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Some of the walls were still in pretty good shape.

Some of the walls were still in pretty good shape.

According to the documentation, Monk Bretton Priory was originally a Cluniac priory and the site has some of the best preserved monastic drainage in England. Since I was suffering from an oncoming sinus infection/cold attack at the time, I pointed out that I was in fact a very well preserved example of munk-tastic drainage. (I did not get a laugh.)

Monastic drainage--not to be confused with munktastic drainage

Monastic drainage–not to be confused with munk-tastic drainage

I sort of expected some crows to start flapping and giving portents of the end of the world.

I sort of expected some crows to start flapping and giving portents of the end of the world.

The Nando’s…well, my beanie burger was excellent, Bear’s chicken was burned and when he asked for another thigh, they were really, really nice about it…andbrought him a breast. But they were so nice about it that he didn’t say anything.

We had tried to see Conisburgh Castle once before, but I made the mistake of trying to have lunch in Sheffield (the wrong part of Sheffield) and it took nearly an hour just to get there and we had to miss the castle. I’d promised we would get back and so we did.

The keep of Conisburgh Castle

The keep of Conisburgh Castle–unusual in that it’s a Norman castle and round, which they’re always square otherwise

the keep as it overlooks the town from the high hill--imagine looking up at this every day

The keep as it overlooks the town from the high hill–imagine looking up at this every day

The power was out at the keep and we couldn't go inside, but this is what it looked like back in the day, with the full curtain wall intact

The power was out at the keep and we couldn’t go inside, but this is what it looked like back in the day, with the full curtain wall intact

We met two really nice workers there and chatted with them for a while about their favorite properties (the girl said she really liked Richmond Castle which we’ve been to) and the guy told us a very interesting story about how not only was the castle featured in Ivanhoe, but when King Harald (before the Battle of Hastings) had to go up to York to repel an invading Viking force and then race back down south to fight the Norman invasion, had stopped to rest his men here at Conisbrough. Following the battle, William the Conqueror (who could call himself that finally), sent his man William de Warrene to oversee the area, given that the area was sympathetic and supportive to the now dead Saxon king and they feared a Northern revolt could be organized there — hence, Conisbrough was built to keep an eye on things.

St. Peter's Church, circa 740 AD (a wooden church had been on the site from 540 AD)

St. Peter’s Church, circa 740 AD (a wooden church had been on the site from 540 AD)

There was one last stop for the day, back in Gainsborough, but we were a little late for the winter closing times (no entry after 3:30). Apparently, English people are like the opposite of trolls. It’s darkness that turns them into stone–must be under cover before dark! But the exterior of the hall was really interesting, as were some of the surrounding buildings, so I counted it as a win for the photos if nothing else.

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Gainsborough Old Hall

The other side of the hall...really, nothing like the first side

The other side of the hall…really, nothing like the first side

The public library across the street

The public library across the street

Because of Bear’s efficiency at navigating (didn’t get lost once!), we actually made it home in time for Juliet to have a little time outside in the garden, which makes a perfect day.

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We’ve gotten more snow at an earlier point this year, but it’s made everything look really beautiful. While Bear has been sick and hibernating, I’ve been trying to document as much of the winter wonderland as possible while it’s still a novelty.

We started with a nice chill that put a frost on the trees.

We started with a nice chill that put a frost on the trees.

Then the snow started (Juliet was not impressed)

Then the snow started (Juliet was not impressed)

And the world woke up magical

And the world woke up magical

Bear built a homemade cat door by stuffing bags in the cracks and leaving a little tunnel for Juliet.

Bear built a homemade cat door by stuffing bags in the cracks and leaving a little tunnel for Juliet.

Bear loves Munk

Bear loves Munk

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Juliet believes that she is the leading lady in a new Richard Attenborough documentary, “Return of the Snow Leopard”

Juliet by the radiator on her fleecey with the Holy Family. (She's always wanted to be in a live nativity)

Juliet by the radiator on her fleecey with the Holy Family nativity set. (She’s always wanted to be in a live nativity)

The path to the park where Bear walks nearly every day.

The path to the park where Bear walks nearly every day.

A little snow family popped up down the street.

A little snow family popped up down the street.

The river by the lock and bridge has mostly frozen over. Mostly.

The river by the lock and bridge has mostly frozen over. Mostly.

Mill Cottage and its boats, slowly freezing in

Mill Cottage and its boats, slowly freezing in

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We headed back in from Mont Saint-Michel and turned north to dodge up to go to Pointe du hoc to see the cliffs where the Rangers scaled up at the start of D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. It hadn’t been on the original plan really but we realized we were going by it on the way to a later stop.

In the car park, we met a couple walking a cat on a leash. Awesome.

In the car park, we met a couple walking a cat on a leash. Awesome.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that for all that I know entirely too much about things like the 12th century English Civil War, I don’t know as much as I should about wars in my own century. I didn’t even realize that the Normandy Invasion involved climbing cliffs! The land at Pointe du Hoc has been left nearly untouched since the day of the invasion and you can still see the giant craters left by bombardment.

Craters from bombardment still visible

Craters from bombardment still visible

The concrete casemates and German machine gun positions were still in place and you could see the bases where the guns had been placed and mounted.

You could climb right down into the German defenses

You could climb right down into the German defenses

looking out from a German position through barbed wire and out over the cliffs

looking out from a German position through barbed wire and out over the cliffs

Just sitting there. No ammunition in sight.

Just sitting there. No ammunition in sight.

Plaque at Omaha Beach

Plaque at Omaha Beach

We drove down to Omaha Beach where the tide was mostly out, seeing the sand stretches where the Allied forces had landed. (The volume on the video below is kind of worthless since the wind was blowing so strongly, but it’s fun to watch.)

Turning up, we stopped briefly at the American Cemetery also, probably most famous to Americans as the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan where the WW2 veteran and his family come to visit the graves and the flashback begins (in a really glaring violation of the POV rule, but it’s too late to explain that to Steven Spielberg). They have a nice museum there now with films and memorabilia.

M1 Garand rifle (which, interestingly enough, is owned by no less than three people I am either related to or work with)

M1 Garand rifle (which, interestingly enough, is owned by no less than three people I am either related to or work with)

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Reflecting on the sacrifice

Reflecting on the sacrifice

There’s a continual loop of the names of the dead being read out as you walk between parts of the building so you walk through a passage hearing nothing but the names aloud.

A soldier known only to God

A soldier known only to God

Reflecting pool and memorial at the American Cemetery

Reflecting pool and memorial at the American Cemetery

Map of the invading forces

Map of the invading forces

The ribbon on the flowers was in English, which made me wonder if it had been brought from America or if the local stores sell in English

The ribbon on the flowers was in English, which made me wonder if it had been brought from America or if the local stores sell in English

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Next stop: on to the Bayeux Tapestry

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