Archive for the ‘UK Food’ 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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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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I admit, I’m always a little bit behind on the general news from St. Neots as well as my holidays. Just a week or so ago, we took down the Christmas shrub.

Lest there be any doubt exactly where the Christmas shrug rested.

Lest there be any doubt exactly where the Christmas shrub rested.

And after an entire year, I finally got around to finding a dentist. With the full knowledge that I have about four fillings that need work, I dragged myself down in fear and trepidation, but they were extremely nice to me and it made me want to be a better person, the kind who flosses.

The doorway to better dental health

The doorway to better dental health

I also wound up at the doctor’s for some routine bloodwork, but while I was there they had me fill out a little survey regarding the general services. one question in particular made me laugh.

(I've never seen a dragon.)

(I’ve never seen a dragon.)

Other interesting things happened around town and in the shire this week, some sad and some just funny. At the sad end of the spectrum, someone jumped from the bridge in St. Neots by Priory Lane on Monday night and is presumed drowned.  A local teenager has been missing since about 30 minutes before the jumper was reported. What gave me some faith in humanity though was this part of the report from the paper: “…dozens of cars parked up on the river bank and shone their headlights into the water to help the search party.” [Steve Iley of Eaton Ford] said: “Later, lots more cars arrived and parked up — in places you wouldn’t expect — shining their headlights into the river to help the search.”

On the more humorous side of things, 5 caravans (RVs) were set on fire with 5 separate fires. “The fire service is treating the incident as deliberate.” And in the annual Pancake Day races (that’s the English term for Fat Tuesday before Lent where you eat lots of pancakes because…well, who wouldn’t want to do that?), the Mayor of St. Neots took a hard fall during the  Huntingdon races. “He crashed to the ground, ripping his trouser knee, and part of his chain of office fell out of its mount and rolled across the road.” His comment was, “You expect these injuries every so often when you do extreme sports.” Four years ago, the chairman of the Huntingdonshire District Council also fell during the race, suffering a cut to the head and shoulder and rib injuries.

People, all you have to do is run in a straight line while carrying a frying pan with a pancake in it.  This is not rocket science. I love you, but you make me fearful.

These people are upright and ambulatory. Try to be more like them.

These people are upright and ambulatory. Try to be more like them.

I’ve been torn between being concerned for Bear and happy that he’s continuing to lose weight. He’s been very dedicated to his health over the course of our marriage, steadily losing over 50 pounds and improving his workouts and nutrition. He’s always worn his clothes on the baggy side, but lately it’s gotten a little over the top.

He's in there. Somewhere.

He’s in there. Somewhere.

So to try to help ease this in the other direction, I took advantage of a special deal that Waitrose offers for a Valentine’s dinner for two. There were 6 categories to pick from for a total of just 20 pounds: appetizer, side, wine, dessert, main course, and box of chocolates. 20 pounds! We wound up with a vegetarian pasta dish, roasted potatoes, chocolate mousse, Belgian chocolates, an assortment of olives/almonds/manchego cheese, and a bottle of wine for Bear.

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Bear poured a glass of wine and I asked him how it was.

"Excellent vinegar," he said.

“Excellent vinegar,” he said.

"But lousy wine."

“But lousy wine.”

The food itself though was excellent and there are no more pictures as it’s all gone!

Since we were sticking with the dinner and a movie formula, I picked out Warm Bodies, a new zombie, comedy, romance that was really fun, sweet-natured and a cool kind of re-working of Romeo and Juliet (with a happy ending). It was funny, adorable and had some good things to say about the general zombification of American culture. Two severed thumbs up. 🙂

Warm-Bodies-Soundtrack

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When our friends arrived from Switzerland, as a first quick introduction to England, we took Katja, Dimitri and the girls over to Aldeburgh by the sea to eat fish and chips on the beach and look at the shops.

Happily perched on the sea wall at Aldeburgh, diving in to fish and chips

Houses and cottages along the beach

Bear supervising the girls at the waterside (Moira, Madison, Joy)

A little peace and quiet for Katja and Dimitri to polish off some of the chips

This fine fellow washed up before he could be turned into fish and chips.

Picking out custom ice cream flavors from the 30 choices at Ive’s with nothing artificial (I went with chocolate brownie and Devon toffee).

30 wonderful flavors…

Enjoying cones outside on High Street in the sunshine

Following that, since we were near Framlingham Castle and the famous Topsy Turvy tour, we headed over there to give the girls their first sight of an English castle.

The mere at Framlingham

The house build inside the castle walls much later on, as there is no keep structure (which you learn if you take the Topsy Turvy tour!)

The field beyond the castle walls (opposite the mere side) where we had previously spotted some girls rehearsing their dance routine to “Fame”. They weren’t expecting Bear to start wildly cheering them from the castle walls when they finished.

Back home in time for a late pizza dinner with cheese, crackers and grapes for snacks with Orangina for everyone before a big day to follow — Dover Castle and the Battle of Hastings!

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Even though it will be Labor Day this weekend, I don’t celebrate that here in England because my clients will all be at work. Still, I wanted to get a little bit of the feeling of a holiday by sleeping in a lot later than usual before we headed out.

I had forgotten to buy pastries for the weekend so we wound up down at Cafe Nero on the way out towards Norfolk again to see Holkham Hall. We had come close to seeing Holkham on our very first weekend here in England but had messed up by virtue of Bear’s not believing there was anything located behind the gates. (That’s what happened — he may tell you differently, but I was there.)

Along the way we made a loop to pick up a few other English Heritage sites along the way to complete the full set of Norfolk sites. The first was North Elmham Priory

I’ve seen a lot of these kinds of signs in towns with the symbols of the town on them. I think they should make a set of trading cards out of these.

The rounded tower-like structures are different than I’ve seen in most chapels.

Like a lot of structures in Norfolk, flint is used as part of the building materials (like at Thetford and Castle Rising Castle)

The upper end of the nave/apse is still visible in the rounded end and the transept arms.

Up the road a ways we found the Binham Priory which had the good fortune of remaining in much better condition than most abbeys. While parts of it had fallen into ruin, most of the main nave is still in use as the parish church.

Binham Parish Church (in the still standing portions of the priory nave)

Original floor tiles (the interior of medieval churches was generally very colorful and painted)

Arch on the front of the original entrance

Don’t have an exact date for the carved wooden pews, but pews generally weren’t used in medieval times.

Prayer niche with a little tree for prayer requests which are read out during the service.

As I was writing and leaving a request, I spotted this one which was my very favorite: “Dear God. I really love sport and I want to be like Jessica Ennis” (the British 2012 gold medalist in the women’s heptathlon)

On the village green nearby, the old Binham cross still stands in the market.

Further north to the coast in the town of Blakeney, the guild hall is open to see the storage area.

Interior of the Blakeney Guildhall

The guild hall wasn’t exactly the easiest spot to find as the directions were simply “off the A149” and it was actually located down by the quay in the sort of town center, stroll along and buy ice cream district next to a water fowl park. (Sorry, no pictures, no time to stop for ducks.)

We arrived in Holkham and made the turn up to the hall by the Victoria pub where we’d eaten last January (great gastro-pub, highly recommended) and we threaded through the cars and the throngs of walkers coming out of the Norwich Food and Drink Festival being held on the grounds.

We asked a gentleman in a bright yellow-green high-viz safety vest what there was to do as he tore off a parking ticket and tucked it inside the windshield. “Oh, loads,” he exclaimed. “Just go exploring.” While I appreciate the sentiment and have done little else since arriving, I can’t say it was as helpful as a map and a good pointer or two.

We were parked by another gentleman in the same kind of high-viz safety vest who seemed even less interested in pointing us anywhere, but when we parked where he had actually pointed he came over and re-directed us. I guess they only care when you do something they don’t like.

We followed our noses up to the hall where dozens of white canvas vendor tends were set up along cobblestoned aisles: jams, infused oils, local ground venison, sausage rolls, pork pies, kettle crisps, fudge, toffee, sponge cake, Binham blue cheese, prawns, smoked mussels

One of the eating areas in the open greens between the Hall’s buildings

We sniffed and sampled up and down, but Bear was in search of “real food” to eat, which is always tricky when out in public with the bear because the definition of real food can change from week to week. We found the main square, lined with even more food tents, and one side was left open for the hall’s tea shop and cafeteria where we found him a salmon sandwich and some vegetable focaccia for me.

Cooking demonstration tent

Beekeeper demonstrating how smoke keeps his bees docile

After lunch, we took the parking attendant up on his suggestion and started exploring the grounds. On the way out, Bear spotted an ice cream stand and we debated the virtues of mint chocolate and Norfolk raspberry and champagne. I stayed safe with toffee and we took our cones out to wander around to the front of the hall.

Rock climbing tower for kids

We found a cricket game playing out on the lawn in front of the hall and we watched, trying to tell the difference between the teams (both all in white) and why one miss of the wickets was good and yet another was bad.

The guy second from the right, wearing what looks like a medical coat, is actually a field umpire. Apparently the medical coat makes you special.

The official overseeing umpire seemed to have been drinking as a part of the job and I don’t know if that made him better or worse at it.

The giant herd of (fallow/red) deer were playing out in the grounds beyond the cricket match and we were able to sneak up pretty close on them. Bear and I have different philosophies about this (I think if other people are watching then you should stop sneaking up just in case the deer bolt; he does not agree. Fortunately the deer didn’t give a flying fig about Bear or anything else.)

Horns vs. spots — which wins in this case?

Not quite completely white, but enough stand out in an impressive crowd of stags

Viewing the length of the lawn leading up to Holkham Hall with the cricket game in the foreground

We continued up the long walk to the obelisk at the end of the green opposite the hall. It was dedicated to one of the earls of Leicster and if the engravings were to be believed, people loved him and he was really into agriculture.

I’m thinking about getting an obelisk for myself. Nothing big, just something to stub my toe on.

A good representative of the beautiful trees in the forested area we walked through. No idea what it is.

At this point, some people decided it was time to re-enact the Running of the Bulls except with the herd of deer. I looked up and that placid bunch of cud-chewing ungulates had turned into a roiling mass of charging quadrapeds coming our way. For a moment I thought that someone’s dog had gotten loose, a la the Fenton viral video episode, and the people were running into the deer herd to try to find the lost dogs.

Then the herd split for some reason and half of it turned back on itself at which point the ones still going left decided, “OK, might as well go right” and then flipped around on themselves like a school of fish changing direction in a flicker. This kept up for a while and I started to wonder if the people shooing the deer herd were some kind of deer cardio-fitness instructors, making sure they wouldn’t get too fat for the winter.

On our way back south, we went through North Creake and saw the ruins of Creake Abbey. The history of the site was both sad and fascinating. It had begun in the 1200s as a private chapel for a lord and lady, then grew into a hospital with more clergy to help care for the sick. They decided to formally join up with the Augustinian order and then one of the nobility secured patronage from King Henry the III and that led to it becoming a full-on abbey with lands and additional rights. Sadly, a fire destroyed most of it in 1480 and then the plague struck, killing off the canons one by one.

(Bear decided to go artistic with the camera while I wasn’t looking. I tend to be a more right-angles kind of person, which admittedly can be a little dull.

We had a plan to stop at the Nandos in Peterborough on the way home to pick up dinner and take it home to watch with a video (it being cheaper to have drinks at home) which I still say was a great idea. Where it got complicated was the curse of the smart phone which refused to admit that there is in fact a Nandos in Peterborough or cough up its phone number. I finally had to start calling other restaurants and pretend that I was trying to reach Peterborough for takeaway service but, oh gosh, I have your number saved there by mistake–hey, by the way, do you know the number to the Peterborough store? I got one wrong number before I finally tracked it down and all’s well that ends well.

Looking back over our three or four trips through Norfolk, I have to say that I like the county a lot. I understand why in the past its had a reputation for being rural and a little backward (the Gadsden County of England), but those are its very strengths. It has more forest, more rugged coast, a deeper connection to the land, and some beautiful unspoiled little nooks of history.

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We all woke up early, even before the alarm, and were packed up in record time and having breakfast. I have to say that the Costa we are at was the most beautiful Costa I have every seen in my entire life. Some scones and chocolate twists and pots of tea later, we made it over to the Old Library at Trinity College and were the second ones in line.

It got longer. Trust me.

We took turns looking around the campus while waiting, exploring the quad and some of the sculptures.

We also met a nice couple from a cruise ship that were there as part of a larger group and their son works for Amazon and works for the Romania division (if that’s the right word) and we were in the very first group let in to the library.

They had a very nice exhibition on the Book of Kells with explantory text on the illuminated text. John kept asking questions about things and I remember approximately 17% of what I learned in all those Anglo-Saxon classes so I told him everything I thought I’d learned and I’m sure gave him completely wrong information and everyone else who was eavesdropping, but I think I got the symbolism of the evangelist icons right at least.

We made it into the exhibition rooms with two of the four Kells folios along with the Book of Dimma (two Gospels) and were lucky to get there before most of the rest of the crowd so we had longer to look. (No photos allowed so I stole these off the Internet–at least I’m honest.)

Detail of a page

Full page illumination

Then we toured the Long Room of the library and saw a harp which was billed as the oldest harp as well as some other manuscripts on exhibition.

Back at the public parking, a very nice elderly Irish gentleman asked me if I knew how to pay–he and his wife were stuck at the exit gate and they didn’t know how to use the pay station (or where it was). I showed him and then he didn’t have enough Euros and kept trying to put in pennies when he needed whole Euros. I felt awful for for him and ran back to our car and got out the hidden bag of Euro coins and managed to get his ticket validated.

The occasionally evil car park ticket pay station

At that point he had figured out what was going on and tried to give me a ten note (where was this at the beginning??) but it seemed stupid to take it. Bear and I had just been talking about benevolence the day before and my mysterious email devotional (long story, I started getting this thing and never subscribed to it and it’s eerie how often it’s like God wrote it for exactly what I’m doing that day) had been about how we can help other who are suffering and now little it would take to help bring comfort, but just to wish the person well isn’t enough and doesn’t give the practical love of God. What good would it have done to just show him the instructional panel when what he really needed was help putting the money in?

Anyway, the poor guy was trying to give me the money and I took him back to his car where his wife was waiting and made sure they got through the gate. (I’m not sure how great the guy in the car behind the stuck couple thought I was, but he didn’t yell.)

After getting Dieter full of diesel for the day, we headed out of Dublin and down towards Wicklow, through the national forest and stopped to see waterfalls and the countryside.

Apparently this is where Guinness is grown

We saw a few sheep wandering and as Bear put it, “Wow…they’re not too afraid of cars!”

Bear in the Glendalough glacier valley

Munk Mom admired these flowers so Bear pulled over to get them and they made the rest of the trip through Ireland living in a water bottle in the car.

We found a late lunch in Portlaoise and were really amazed that we could since it was out of usual UK lunch hours. The servers were very nice and kept trying to give us more food but as we had dinner reservations in just a few hours, Bear managed to talk them out of it.

We went to the Rock of Cashel and Bear very cleverly found a way to drive straight up the side of the hill to drop Munk Mom off at the door before we parked in the approved spot at the foot of the hill.

Rock of Cashel

The Rock was originally a castle/fortress which was a seat of power for some of the kings of the region going back tot he 5th century but it was turned over to the church in 1101 and the buildings on it from that point forward are all ecclesiastical.

Chapel with tour guide Claire in the foreground

We took the tour with a very funny guide named Claire who told lots of interesting anecdotes as well as imparting a good overview of the information about when the different structures were put up.

Monument to overweening pride (AKA the mausoleum cross that was so tall that a really good wind blew the top off)

View down to the ruins of the Benedictine (later Cistercian) abbey

The cross of St. Patrick (now in the museum)

We got done with just enough time to drive the hour over to Cork and find the Cafe Paradiso on Lancaster Quay. I had first heard of the restaurant about 5 years ago when my friend Amanda DeWees had given me a copy of one of their cookbooks and I fell in love with it. The chef, Denis Cotter, has a very warm way of writing about food without seeming cheesy at all (although his recipes do feature some amazing cheese), so I’d always thought I’d like to come eat there.

If I had any fears that it wouldn’t live up to my hopes and expectations, those were quickly set to rest. After a gratis tray of olives, cashews and some kind of mysterious sunflower seed/peanut brittle, we got down to questions such as what is a quinoa-haloumi timbale. (Unfortunately my pictures came out a little blurred, but I can’t bear not to see the food again.)

Spring cabbage timbale of roast tomato, grilled haloumi & quinoa with saffron-hazelnut butter, crisped potato and cumin roast carrots

Bear’s choice was sweet chilli-glazed panfried tofu with asian greens in a coconut & lemongrass broth, soba noodles and a gingered aduki bean wonton

Munk Mom had a kind of spinach/Knockalara cheese layered entree with a tomato-cardamom broth and roasted green beans.

Following the amazing entrees, the desserts actually managed to top them somehow (although the coffee was stronger than any of us could handle):

Dark chocolate silk cake with espresso ice cream and a hazelnut tuille

Vanilla pod ice cream, brutti ma buoni, espresso and a shot of frangelico

Bear had wisely booked us in a hotel not far away so we managed to roll ourselves over there. While having WiFi while you travel is really nice and even vital at times, this time what I found on logging in was about the theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises and it left me very sad for my home country. Since I’ve moved to England I’ve felt very safe and perhaps I’m overly naive at times, but I’ve never once felt unsafe or uneasy in public or thought that I was being threatened. I’ve felt that way probably at least once a month back in Florida and I’m really starting to wonder what’s being done differently in America.

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Depending on how you look at it, ofermod is the Anglo-Saxon word which equates to hubris and pridefulness to the point of destruction. It was something of a theme for the day, but thankfully not to an utterly destructive degree. (It’s also the name of a Swedish death-metal band but please don’t Google them — trust me.)

I did a bad job of getting the day off on the right foot. I somewhat foolishly went on the principle that because I could hear the oven timer on the second floor then I must be able to hear it equally well on the third floor. That would not be correct. Ofermod! In fact, the timer will turn itself off completely if you don’t get to it quickly enough and then it will just merrily continue to bake until your tender little flaky pain au chocolats look like the NFL pigskin footballs your older brother left out in the rain.

(Which brings to mind a very funny story about when my Dad was in a fraternity at Auburn and they bought a very nice leather football for use in practice for the inter-mural football games. Basically, it got a little damp and they wanted to take very good care of it so they got the oven just a bit warm, turned it off and put it in the oven to let it gently dry while they went to take showers (I believe that’s why it was unattended). Well, no one told Napoleon the frat house cook about this and he came in to make breakfast like he always did, turned on the oven to preheat and a few minutes later the oven door blew off its hinges. Eventually they convinced him to come back inside the house to keep working for them, but the guys had a history of making life hard on him, unintentionally or not. There was an incident involving Napoleon and a dead rattlesnake that I’ll have to post someday.)

Combined with the burned breakfast, all my clever programming of the water heater, which had been working for the last few days, failed and Bear had to take an ice cold shower which I simply do not understand because it had come on at 4:20 and was running, so by 5:30 it should’ve had plenty of hot water. Ofermod!! But he’s a very good sport and we just popped new pastries in the oven which at least was already hot, unlike the water, and kept rolling.

To get on our way we had to take an unusual road exchange which seems perfectly logical on the map. You would be wrong. Just because two major highways cross each other does not mean that you can get from one to another at that point. Ofermod! Sometimes I see a logic in that, but in this case it’s like I-10 crossing I-75 but you just have to wave at each other. However I’d managed to figure out that if you actually exit a few miles early (yes, miles), then you can run parallel on a smaller road and that road will let you get on the big M11 that you really want which takes you south towards London.

To try to get into the mood and theme of the day, I made two soundtracks. The first was a copy of the latest Loreena McKennitt album (The Wind that Shakes the Barley) because we’ll be going to see her in just two weeks when she plays in London. It’s a present for Bear’s birthday and because honestly I would drive much further than that to see her play. He hadn’t listened at all to the latest disc so it’s a good idea to be familiar with the material that’s the most likely to be covered at a show. The second disc was live concert versions of her other biggest songs which she’s also likely to play so we could focus more on her backup touring musicians who are pretty incredibly (the idling Porsches, she calls them) and have their own careers and albums but they just like to play with her. Hugh Marsh, the violinist and Carolina Lavelle, the cellist, really stood out to me from when I saw LM in concert a few years ago in Atlanta at the Fox Theater with Amanda DeWees. (As in, Amanda is my friend and she got the tickets, not that she as the opening act, although that would’ve been fun too. Can authors be the opening act for a literarily-oriented world music superstar?)

(Ha, you thought I was going to pick “The Mummer’s Dance” since that was a certifiable hit, but “The Old Ways” lets you see the nice interaction of violin and cello around 4:10, towards the end.)

The music really set the mood and we seemed to get to Maldon on the Essex coast on the border of Suffolk in no time. Our first stop was to the site of the Battle of Maldon which isn’t exactly the most well-known of English battles, unless you happened to take a lot of Old English/Anglo-Saxon classes in grad school in which case it’s about the only game in town. Since the fragment of the poem about the battle is only a few hundred lines long and not terribly complex with imagery, it’s one of the pieces assigned to intermediate students for translation and I even found my old translation homework on my hard drive (because I keep everything).

The reason I wanted to see the battle site was because it has an interesting physical feature to me, and also because Tolkien wrote notably about the poem (and others have written about his usage of the concept) and the theories about the intent of the author. Was it a cautionary tale about the ealdorman Byrhtnoth’s pride and hubris (AS ofermod) or was it truly the Anglo-Saxon perspective that death in battle was glorious and the more hopeless the better? Tolkien went with the former and that’s certainly how I see it from the 21st century, but the times they are a-changin’ so it’s important to try to get into the mind of the original audience as much as possible.

What’s interesting about the site is that the Anglo-Saxons were on the mainland when the Viking raiders landed on what we believe to be Northey Island but at high tide it’s cut off form the mainland. They all yelled at each other for a while, doing the equivalent of WWF pre-match posturing, and then the tide went out to reveal the land causeway so the Vikings tried to come across but a narrow bridge is fairly easy to defend. After a while:

and so began to use guile, the hateful strangers,
asked that passage to land they might have

So you might think that this would be the moment when Byrhtnoth says, “I don’t think so!” but in fact:

Then the Earl permitted in his great pride
to allow land many of these hateful people

Or in the original:

ða se eorl ongan         for his ofermode
alyfan landes to fela         laþere ðeode.

Not exactly the most strategic move ever and the result was that the Vikings killed him and all the rest of his men who remained to defend the body. The key really is the meaning of ofermod and if you go with the theory that it means something akin to Satan’s pride which resulted in being cast down, as the word was used in other places.

I was hoping at this point that I wasn’t truly falling victim to ofermod in thinking we could locate the site, which isn’t very well marked by its own admission and that rarely bodes well. We got to Maldon and did manage to locate Mundon Road and then the side road that led right up to the farm that occupies the land now. At some point it’s possible that a sign went by saying that it was a restricted road and that you had to have prior arranged permission, but honestly we were going so fast that it was a bit of a blur. I do know that it was very early on a Saturday and no one else was about.

Looking from the mainland over to Northey Island, where the causeway disappears at high tide

When we made it out to the water, I really did get a weird little thrill in my stomach to realize that I was standing on the very strip of land where Byrhtnoth and his men had stood on August 10, 991 to face down the Viking fleet which might well have gone on to raid another section of the Blackwater River if they had simply paid off the Vikings as asked.

That’s my guerrilla video of the battlefield and the water between mainland and the island. Aloura Charles would be so proud of me, she who gets to call Martin Scorsese “Marty” and kinda sorta ran over Ron Howard’s laptop once (but not really)!

Boggy for Battle

Just like it looked in 991 A.D. ... except for the telephone wires

It was high tide so I wouldn’t have a chance to see the causeway exposed, but it was lurking there underneath.

Having successfully gotten to the battle site and out again without being spotted (not, again, that I can confirm we did anything wrong), we headed off toward Sutton Hoo but planned to find the Lexden Earthworks along the way. Again, ofermod!!! Even with the help of a Royal Mail carrier, and they tend to know quite a bit since they hoof it on foot, we couldn’t locate it but it wasn’t a top item so we kept on and came into Woodbridge early enough to poke around the town first.

I think this is what they call "downtown Woodbridge"

I found a little book shop and got a pocket bird guide to Britain and Europe there for just three pounds. I’ve finally identified the swans in our river as definitely being Mute Swans, and thank God for that or we’d never get any sleep. A pair of Canada Geese showed up this week and it’s been a racket ever since. Bear asked if I was certain there would be British birds in the book and I showed him the title – Birds of Britain and Europe—which seemed to satisfy him

The window display of The Cake Shop Bakery , a fantastic little bakery

We stopped at Mrs. Piper’s Tea Room for tea and to split a fruit scone along the way because we knew we’d do a lot of walking once we got to the grounds at Sutton Hoo.

Once at Sutton Hoo, we were told everything about the National Trust by a very nice woman but she hasn’t yet convinced me to join since most of the things we like to do seem to be hosted by English Heritage. Except Sutton Hoo.

So to take a moment and explain Sutton Hoo in brief (but follow the link for a full Wikipedia article) it’s the site of an archaeological discovery in 1939 of an Anglo-Saxon ship burial that hadn’t been plundered and yielded up an unexpected amount of gold and historically significant items. Edith Pretty was the landowner and she had traveled to Egypt when she was younger and always had an interest in archaeology so she had her eye on the odd-looking mounds around the property which led her to ask for an official archaeological dig.

Probably not what Get Fuzzy had in mind with this cartoon, but Mrs. (Edith ) Pretty definitely did want to go out to the yard to see what was there and you know she liked tea.

What made what followed particularly interesting is that a) everything was uncovered right at the outbreak of World War 2 so it all had to be boxed up and stored in a subway tunnel while London was bombed, and b) Mrs. Pretty donated it all voluntarily to the nation without thinking to keep a single thing for herself. That alone makes her truly remarkable to me because the initial court findings had ruled that she could keep it.

Purse lid, something like a Scottish sporran

I had already seen the war helmet at the British Museum and some of the rest of the gold hoard found in the burial chamber, but it was really something to see it all put together along with a replica of the burial chamber itself.

Original helmet, at the British Museum

Replica, clearly showing the flying dragon pattern in gold of the eyebrows, nose and moustache

I like reading things about Edith Pretty, the landowner who first requested that the mounds be investigated by Basil Brown the archaeologist. Even though the work was later completed by teams of other people, some from Cambridge, I still think of them as the ones who started it all.

Horse's harness decorated in gold, from a another burial site on the grounds containing a young man and his horse

Replica of the ship used in the ship burial

An example of the cloisonne enamel decoration used on many of the items. (Bear knew that word off the top of his head -- I was humbled.)

Interior of the reconstructed burial chamber

We took a walk around the grounds and ended up hiking on the wrong trail (OFERMOD!), but it was a lot of fun and again we had to earn that scone.

Yellow flowers planted in the shape of the Olympic rings

Fallen trees carved and painted like dragons

Bear doing his best impersonation of Buliwyf's final scene from The 13th Warrior (I will not confirm that I watched that movie as much for Antonio Banderas as any connection to Beowulf.)

When we made it back, we then went on the actual trail we’d intended to see the burial mound grouping.

Burial Mound 2 with Mrs. Pretty's house visible to the left in the background.

Panorama of burial mound site

What lay beneath Mound 1 was beyond anyone's imagining

I had made plans to get us to a nice place for lunch in nearby Orford, but we were cutting it close for when they would stop serving lunch. Bear is a good driver though so he made the most of the time to get through the Tunstall Forest on a back road that got us to the market square in Orford with about seven minutes to spare. Thank God, we dodged the ofermod bullet on that one.

Butley Orford Oysterage -- if you're ever in Suffolk, it's worth the time to go there!

The Butley-Orford Oysterage was a real treat – a local business that has its own boats, its own oyster beds, and a smokehouse where they process kinds of fish. I had leek and potato soup with some really amazing bread which we discovered is baked in The Cake Shop in Woodbridge, the very place where I’d taken a picture of all the wonderful bread on display. Bear had a smoked sampler and I had grilled mussels which were absolutely heavenly.

Bear's Smoked Sampler

Grilled mussels (and no bad incidents, unlike the last mussels had elsewhere)

We finally rolled out the door and over to Orford Castle which was all of 150 yards from the Oysterage. I really do try to plan these things well, but it’s still a joy when it actually works out!

A very friendly girl was running the front desk and she asked us where we were stationed, which is the general default assumption whenever we meet people here. They’re also very pleased that we belong to English Heritage, as are we because then everything is free, free, free. Bear tells me that Free is my middle name. In fact, it’s my first name.

Orford Castle

Basement of Orford Castle with the well in the middle, although much of the water was gathered from rainfall on the roof

The oh so dangerous stairs of Castle Orford

Chapel on an upper floor

And where there’s a chapel, there must be a pigeon. The reason for this is that back in 1993 I was in St. Petersburg, Russia where a well-meaning interpreter asked me to look up into the dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and see there in the stained glass that great symbol of the Christian faith, the pigeon. I still have the scar where I bit through my lip.

The pigeon...err, dove, the great symbol of the Christian faith

While at the castle, we read a placard about the local legend of the wild man of Orford and realized that his image had been used in the logo for the Butley Orford Oysterage.  The legend was that a bearded man had been caught in nets off the coast and brought back to the castle where he behaved ferally, wouldn’t answer questions even when tortured, squeezed all the juice from any food given him so he could drink it, and gave no sign of understanding when taken to the church. They let him swim again when surrounded by nets and he easily escaped them by swimming under, but came back of his own free will. Eventually though he escaped and was never seen again. It’s one of those things that just weird enough to have some real truth to it.

The Wild Man of Orford

They were actually closing the castle down when we had reached the top of the roof, so we came back down quickly but a little too quickly for me actually. I slipped on one of the stone steps and caught myself successfully so only my left palm hit the stones but I could tell that I would feel it the next day for having torqued myself a little. (Ofermod goeth before a fall…)

We didn’t have time to go to Framlingham Castle, but drove by it to see the outside and marked it for a future trip. We also saw another EHS site on the way as we hit some back roads.

Driving through the late afternoon Suffolk countryside, heading west:

Juliet was quite happy to see us and Bear reported that she jumped on him when he came through the door. No matter how many fun things you see, it’s always nice to come home to someone who loves you.

And now for a summary of the day from Bear himself if you skipped everything above…and really want to watch him drink tea while driving.

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