Posts Tagged ‘Nando’s’

Plans had been underway for a while to have a James Bond Skyfall party at Elaine and Jon’s house in the shed (which makes it sound tiny and dark but it’s really, really nice) with the projector and the theater sound system…and snacks and drinks and couches and blankets. It’s sort of like Heaven except for the part where you have to get up and leave (although apparently it is possible to join the family by stealthily, over a period of time, forgetting to go home).

This is what Tesco used to promote the sale of Skyfall. It scared the crap out of me.

This is what Tesco used to promote the sale of Skyfall. It scared the crap out of me.

They also had a table in the lobby area promoting paintball for weekend parties, stag (bachelor) parties and hen (bachelorette) parties. I had no idea the average UK citizen would be comfortable with a gun shaped object.

They also had a table in the lobby area promoting paintball for weekend parties, stag (bachelor) nights and hen (bachelorette) nights. I really didn’t think that would fly in the UK.

Of course, this is the company that brought you horse meat burgers and lasagna (not on purpose).

Of course, this is the company that brought you horse meat burgers and lasagna (not on purpose).

I had brought my Mom’s Praline Brownies to the Avengers party in the summer, so it was requested that I bring them again which I was all too happy to do as it’s an incredible recipe and shockingly easy to make. Since it was requested, and I’m not one to keep a good recipe to myself, here you go:

Mom’s Praline Brownies

1 package of brownie mix in a box (any kind, fudgy ones are good)
3/4 cup (175 ml) light brown sugar (like muscavado)
3/4 cup (175 ml) chopped pecans (walnuts will do in a pinch, but it’s not a praline without pecans)
3 tablespoons (45 ml) butter/margarine

Mix up the brownie mix according to whatever the box tells you to do. Spread it in the pan (whatever is recommended by the box). Melt the butter in the microwave in a bowl. Add the brown sugar and mix up it up with a fork so the butter soaks in. Add the chopped pecans and mix it up using your fingers. Drop/spread the nut/sugar/butter mixture evenly all over the top of the brownies. Bake according to the box’s directions.

That’s it. Seriously. That’s all that’s involved. Stand back and wait for your taste buds to implode.

(not my photo, but that's exactly what they look like)

(not my photo, but that’s exactly what they look like)

So we came with two pans in hand to debate which was the best Bond, watch the movie, applaud the return of the classic Aston Martin, sniffle a little for Judy Dench’s transition as M, and eat an entire pan of brownies in the first two hours.

The second pan got boxed up and sent down to Elaine's daughter Bryony at university in Cornwall and promptly eaten by her friends Ginny and

The second pan got boxed up and sent down to Elaine’s daughter Bryony at university in Cornwall and promptly eaten by her friends Ginny and Miranda. Quote, “The brownies went down like a storm.”

Meredith had passed on watching with us (“Oh, Daniel Craig,” she said politely, “he’s not my Bond.”) but came back afterwards to the shed to hang around afterwards, watching funny YouTube videos, including some of Pink’s greatest live performances (the 2010 Grammys, naturally), the Miss Congeniality trailer, and this amazing male circus acrobat who also does a pole dancing routine (clothed) that has to be seen to be believed.

Some really funny remarks came out of the night as well:

<group chorusing>: What happens at the police station, stays at the police station.
Meredith: Well, ‘cept for the criminals. They tend to let them out, don’t they?

Elaine: I used to like some Lady Gaga, but I can’t now really.
Me: Why is that?
Elaine: Well, my Mum goes to a seniors activity class–Jon calls it Grannycize–and apparently they used one of her songs for a routine, so we were in the car one day and Lady Gaga came on and Mum says, “Oh, I quite like this” and starts doing her hands in the air–rah Rah, ra-ah-ah, ra rah.”
Me: I think…I think that would traumatize me too.

Rah, rah, ah, ah, ah Roma, roma, ma Gaga, ooh la la

Rah, rah, ah, ah, ah Roma, roma, ma Gaga, ooh la la

The only down side was that I was having so much fun that I walked off and left my purse in the shed and Elaine had to bring it to me the next day. Even that turned out to be a really fantastic thing though because Bear had decided that it was time to get new skillets for the kitchen because we had basically cooked the heck out of the two that we had been using for the last year. It takes nothing to talk me into a field trip to IKEA, which we mentioned to Elaine when I called about the purse, and she asked if she could come along, so we all piled in the car and headed off to Milton Keynes, the land of roundabouts.

Elaine found lots of things she didn’t realize she needed, which of course is the danger of IKEA.

Octopus shaped clothesline hangers to get your socks dry

Octopus shaped clothesline hangers to get your socks dry

Why get one when you can have one in each color?

Why get one when you can have one in each color?

We also had to stop by the drink machine to see if it would be giving us some free items as it usually does.

There's always one jumper, just waiting for you to hip check the machine to help it along the path it's already chosen.

There’s always one jumper, just waiting for you to hip check the machine to help it along the path it’s already chosen.

Bear also had to re-visit one of his many sites of shame which we can’t talk about publicly, but if you want the whole story please feel free to email me privately.

It's a story worth hearing--you really should ask.

It’s a story worth hearing–you really should ask.

And of course a quick stop by the Swedish food mart. My friend Kristina pointed out once that the food at IKEA is sort of like what aliens would come up with if they decided to be sneaky and try to re-create human food.

Entire tubes of fish paste--exactly what I wanted to snag for a snack on the ride home.

Entire tubes of fish paste–exactly what I wanted to snag for a snack on the ride home.

I wanted to stop by a store nearby which is supposed to be a kind of UK equivalent to Gap/OldNavy (sort of) and then we realized Elaine had never been to Nandos so we dragged her over to the one in the Xscape center for dinner and  a really nice time visiting and chatting (we got the low down on the difference between a Pikey, a Gypsy, and a Traveller), and then we conscripted her to help us check the tire pressure and get air in the rear tire to be ready for our Saturday expedition.

All in all, a really amazingly fun start to the weekend–I can’t believe how blessed we’ve been to meet such nice people who are really very tolerant of us and completely willing to go along with our last minute plans.

And look what we found in the bag when we got home. (Cats make the perfect accessory to any room.)

And look what we found in the bag when we got home. (Cats make the perfect accessory to any room.)


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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.


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.


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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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.
IMG_0971 IMG_0974

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.


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.


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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Bear was now healed up and fully ready to hit the road, a mere 27 days after his falling ill while in Paris. He scouted out the English Heritage Map, which hadn’t seen any pins added to it in quite a while, and spotted a gap in the area of Lincolnshire, and that’s where he set his sights.

One of these areas is not like the others

One of these areas is not like the others

Our first stop was the ruins of Tattershall College, a grammar school for church choristers.

Interior of the school (formerly two storey) which was in use from the 15th century up to WW2.

Interior of the school (formerly two storey) which was in use from the 15th century up to 20th century.

Snow plus Bear = watch your back

Snow plus Bear = watch your back

Tattershall had been built by the same man (Roger, Lord Cromwell) who built the nearby Tattershall Castle (sensing a theme here), which is managed by English Trust, and looked like it had been quite something back in the day.


Church conveniently located next door

Church conveniently located next door

On the way to the next stop, we stumbled on Lincoln Cathedral which wasn’t actually in the original plan.

Lincoln Cathedral

Lincoln Cathedral

Lincoln Cathedral (the other pointy end)

Lincoln Cathedral (the other pointy end)

Yes. Yes, that's Yoda clinging to man's back.

Yes. Yes, that’s Yoda clinging to man’s back.

We then hit something of a snag as we tried to visit the Bishop’s Palace. We had gotten directions from a nice lady in the cathedral and went straight over to it but for some reason no one was home.

Who knows what lurks behind the green door? (Answer: Marilyn Chambers apparently.)

Who knows what lurks behind the green door? (Answer: Marilyn Chambers apparently.)

Yep--they said they would be open

Yep–they said they would be open

So we decided that since we’d come all this way, we would do a little guerrilla touristing and just climbed over the gate and walked around ourselves. (Honestly, they could have put up a sign or a notice on the website. It’s like the country has never seen snow before.)

Escape from the Bishop's Palace

Escape from the Bishop’s Palace

After working up an appetite climbing over walls and gates, Bear said it was time to look for lunch…

Oh look what was just two miles away!!

Oh look what was just two miles away!!

We went to Bolingbroke Castle next, which is more accurately “the ruins of what we think was probably at one time Bolingbroke Castle”. Most famous perhaps as the birthplace of Henry IV, they made an unfortunate choice of Spilsby greenstone as the chief building material, which according to Wikipedia is “porous, prone to rapid deterioration when exposed to weather and a substandard building material”. Wow. Not what you want to read in your building report.

It comes complete with a frozen moat that a labrador retriever was romping around on when we got there (leaving scuffy paw prints on the slushy ice)

It comes complete with a frozen moat that a labrador retriever was romping around on when we got there (leaving scuffy paw prints on the slushy ice)

That would be the Spilsby greenstone

That would be the Spilsby greenstone

Probably looked more like a castle with a...castle. Back in the day.

Probably looked more like a castle with a…castle. Back in the day.

There is something of an English fascination with windmills that I’ve never gotten a firm grasp on, so we decided to stop at the Sibsey Trader Mill in Sibsey since we were in the area also.

Sibsey Trader Mill

Sibsey Trader Mill

It was at this point that I extended our sort of dubious guerrilla activities since we hadn’t technically, exactly, precisely yet renewed our English Heritage, which just came up for renewal this week. I have the cards. I in fact had them with me and wanted to do the renewal on site, but none of the places we had been to yet that day had an admissions person. So it was with a little trepidation that I walked up to the windmill and asked the guy if he wanted to see our cards. He did…but as soon as I pulled mine out, he lost interest and didn’t even want to scan it or look at the number, so we went right in. (I swear, I am renewing as soon as they open on Monday. The very second.)

Windmills. Not that interesting to Munk. They’re not bad, but anything that smacks of the mechanical is inevitably going to be less fascinating than another structure where blood was shed. Not that people haven’t probably lost limbs or cut themselves in the gears, but that wasn’t purposeful bloodshed.

There were six storeys of this.

There were six storeys of this.

And when you're done, you get lots of different cool flours.

And when you’re done, you get lots of different cool flours.


After we climbed up all six floors and gave everything a good look, and managed to climb back down without killing ourselves, we stopped at the tea room next door which was surprisingly well stocked and doing some local business. We had a very reasonable little scone with two pots of tea for just 4.20 (a figure which seems very appropriate when it comes to stopping to get a munchy snack).

4:20--munchy time!

4:20–munchy time!

While we were there, Bear overheard a couple at the next table talking about problems they’d had with their car when it pulls a trailer/caravan and the engine knocked, so he chatted with them about it and gave them a tip to have their mechanic turn up the fuel mix when they knew they would be pulling a load. They seemed to be really grateful and chatted with us some about their travels to Scotland and the Black Isle, which weirdly enough is a spot that I wrote a short novella about when I was in high school (what are the odds?). It led me to understand that the people we have a lot in common with in England are caravan (RV) owners. They just have more of an urge to get out and explore it seems. They gave us some recommendations about a boat trip up around Edinburgh that could take us to an island with some puffins, so we thanked them and made a note to check that out if we can’t find puffins in Ireland this summer.

There was just time to get home before it got dark and the roads started to freeze up again, and we were very fortunate to luck into finding a new road to get home on. By that, I literally mean it was a new road. It had just been build, had sufficiently wide lanes, and even lighting in appropriate areas. It was almost like driving in America. Bear even teared up a little.

Teatime Bear

Teatime Bear

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Since it’s only 15 pounds by train down to London and back, we staked out a Saturday to tour some of the major museums in the Kensington district.

The walkway over the tracks between the platforms at the St. Neots station

Happy Bear with his beverage and his window seat

We got there a good bit earlier than anything would open, so we walked over to St. Pancras and got the lay of the train station since we’ll be taking the Eurostar from there to go to Brussels in about 6 weeks. It’s much more like an airport than a train station and there are the usual book shops, cafes and other stores to let you pick up what you need for the journey.

After that, we took the Underground over and walked around the Kensington district, admiring the buildings. Mostly though Bear kept looking at all the extremely expensive cars. He didn’t call out their names though (Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche). Instead he would yell the sticker price, which is probably an extremely crass and American thing to do but it seemed to be his honest gut reaction.

Bear had picked out a creperie for brunch which I appreciated a lot since I like breakfast foods like crepes so much.

I picked hazelnut because Bear hates hazelnut. It’s honestly the only way I can protect my food from him. It’s also why I usually get salt and vinegar potato chips

Our first museum stop was at the National History Museum which featured some very nice dinosaur exhibits.

Tail end of Dippy the Diplodocus in the main hall of the National History Museum

The main hall

The mammal area (whale for scale)

Sculpture of a monkey made out of bullet casings — a good use for them I think.

An illustrated (practically illuminated) spread from a botanist’s field notebook.

All of the stonework trim in the different galleries ties in to the theme of the area (in this case, snakeheads for the reptile area)

Then we spotted my very favorite display and what I had been most excited to see. Mary Anning, a paleontologist from the first half of the 1800s had made many significant discoveries along the Jurassic Coast, the lower southwestern stretch of English coastline, including the first skeletons on record of an ichthyosaur and a plesiosaur. Unfortunately, her lower class status and her gender made it very difficult for her to be accepted in English scientific society but the value of her discoveries was indisputable even though she wasn’t accepted into their societies or published as she should have been. After her death, Charles Darwin wrote: “The carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it.”

Icthyosaur skeleton discovered by Mary Anning and brother Joseph when she was just 12

Mary Anning with her dog Tray who accompanied her on her fossil hunting expeditions. Sadly, he was lost in a landslide that nearly claimed Anning’s life also–I’d like to think that perhaps he warned her in some way so she was able to escape.

One end of the main hall–it was so beautiful, it was like an exhibit in and of itself.

An honest to God dodo bird

An entire tree of tiny taxidermied hummingbirds, and based on my moderate experience with taxidermy, those little guys would be pretty challenging to mount.

We went back to a sushi spot Bear had found that featured a very authentic little conveyor belt. We’re still not sure exactly what we had (mine had tofu in it) because we just kept grabbing anything that looked good as it went by.


The Victoria and Albert museum was across the street from NHM (very convenient in my opinion) and I confess that I had very little idea going into it what the collection would be like. I’m still not certain exactly what the governing principle was, except to say that everything there was really beautiful and impressive.

Something, I have no idea what, in the Victoria and Albert museum

A reliquary, possibly for a fingerbone, with tiny windows visible to see the relic inside.

Again, no idea

A cast replica of Trajan’s column in Rome which ironically I visited in early June. Yep, pretty much looks just like it.

In the central quad lawn of the V&A was a shallow wading pond where kids were playing and families picknicked around, which was really cool but it also made me sad because Bear is not a picknicker and gets antsy when I want to bring food along in place of going to a restaurant. There’s something really deeply embedded in his past that has to do with restaurants and I’ve never gotten the whole story out of him — I’m not certain he really knows for himself. The closest I ever got was talking about lunchboxes once and how I had a Hardy Boys lunchbox in 2nd grade (so did another friend of mine in Mrs. Grace B. Fitz’s class) and I was getting nostalgic when Bear had some kind of Tourettes-like outburst about lunchboxes and how he had one as a kid and the milk got left in the thermos and it all rotted and it was disgusting. If this was an episode of Criminal Minds, there would be some kind of flashback (shaded in browns so you know it’s a flashback) where some evil wizened female relative then made him drink it and eat the green rotting sandwiches and that’s why he hates packing food. But he says that’s not true and I admit that I can have a vivid imagination. Still, it’s a tiny bit abnormal to say I can’t bring food in the car to a church covered dish because it might spill and rot.

Happy picknicking families. No Munk or Bear.

We also headed over to the Science Museum also on Exhibition Road which was geared much more towards kids but it was definitely a great museum. One thing I really liked was a demonstration of Foucault’s Pendulum, which is also the name of a novel by Umberto Eco. I read it on a very long flight back from Latvia about 20 years ago (and it uses the word “sclerotic” somewhere around page 375 in the paperback version, which is a whole other story). During the time I was rooming with my friend Laura at UGA, it became a running joke that she had never gotten around to finishing the book but she always had a copy in the trunk of her car. I think I told her it would be good in case she got snowed in sometime. Anyway, imagine my surprise to find it out of her trunk and there in the museum.

Foucault’s Pendulum

We walked all the way back across Hyde Park then, wandering towards a metro station that would take us back to King’s Cross.

A monument to Albert, I think, that’s visible from the path before you get to the Serpentine River (which I’m not sure should really count as a river)

Hyde Park

When we, and our moderately aching feet, made it back to a metro station and up to King’s Cross we ducked into the very conveniently located Nandos there by the station for dinner before taking the train back to St. Neots. Definitely a great day down in London and we’ll go back again to explore other museums and try out some restaurants that we can’t get anywhere else–more sushi, please!

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Eventually it had to happen and the great work rhythm  of the last two months hit a snag, probably because of the Labor Day holiday Monday that I worked through which started a bit of a downward slide in my overall attitude. I alone am to blame for that, although I may or may not have named a few particular clients in my hourly prayers for patience, peace and sanity. (It’s possible.) I am grateful though for a great work team who kept me laughing and by Friday I felt back to an even keel.

I had wanted to plan a big trip to north Yorkshire before the weather turned cold (it got a little nippy this week in the mornings) and when I showed Bear some of the photos online he went on point like a bear who just strolled past the Lazy Bee Honey Factory. Given the distance, we planned a 6 a.m. departure with a cooler of food and plans for a picnic snack on the grounds of Rievaulx Abbey, about halfway through the itinerary.

Bear checking the cooler in a lay by off the A1 highway for a refill on drinks

For the drive, I had managed to get a decent copy of an audio book version of George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords which will be the basis for the upcoming Season 3 of Game of Thrones. The book itself is wacky long (over 1200 pages and the paperback in some countries had to be split into two) and I had started it about a year ago but stopped for the strange reason that I was enjoying it too much. I like to pace myself on things and GRRM is only on book 5 out of 7 for the overall A Song of Ice and Fire series, and that’s taken him 16 years so far I think, so I was trying to make it last, but Bear keeps asking me questions about the characters and I get tired of repeating I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. Bear sort of gets a pass on this one though because usually he just doesn’t remember that he’s asked before or that you’ve already told him you’ve never read the third book, even if you said that just two sentences ago. He simply does not remember. I have no idea where it goes but it’s pretty amazing.

This is hilarious to me — J.K. Rowling has a valid point since she really does make some hard choices for a children’s author and kills off characters. But no one, absolutely no one, kills off beloved characters like George R.R. Martin. Do not get attached to anyone in his books.

Once we started listening, all frustrations were forgotten because it’s an extremely absorbing story and the miles flew by. The road took us up through the North Yorkshire National Park and I got my first view of the purple heather over the moors.

Purple heather on the north Yorkshire moors

As I was climbing through the heather I had a small moment of revelation. Cars here often have a sign in the back window or on the hatchback–a big block capital letter L which stands for Learner. It’s not quite as scary as seeing “Student Driver” on top of a car in America since those are nearly inevitably teenagers who haven’t got much grasp on how to safely go about things. Here, a Learner can be anyone, including reasonably experienced, smart adults who just haven’t gotten around to getting a license yet. (J.K. Rowling never got her license, so it can apparently happen to anyone.)

This really sums up everything. Everything.

There in the heather was a magic car sign — L is for Learner. When it comes to this country, I need to wear this sign on the front of my shirt just so people will know to steer clear if I’m tackling anything complex like getting a top up on the mobile phone or ordering a drink.

We got to Whitby before the abbey opened and drove through the harbor town and walked along the pier.

Across the harbor

View out of the harbor toward the fishing pier

Beach towards the West Cliff at Whitby

The town has a feeling similar to a New England boardwalk town with game arcades, carousels, tattoo shops, ice cream cotton candy, and a psychic’s booth.

Fishing from the lower level

Not to miss the Dracula connection to Whitby Abbey

Whitby Abbey is located on top of the headland cliff overlooking the harbor and sea, which had served as inspiration for Bram Stoker when writing Dracula.

Whitby Abbey on the headland

Also, I was embarrassed that I didn’t realize Caedmon was connected to the original Anglo-Saxon double monastery which was on the site before it was destroyed by Vikings and later rebuilt as you see it here.

In my Anglo-Saxon literature class at UGA, we translated Caedmon’s surviving poetic work, “Caedmon’s Hymn”.

nu scylun hergan   hefaenricaes uard
metudæs maecti   end his modgidanc
uerc uuldurfadur   swe he uundra gihwaes
eci dryctin   or astelidæ
he aerist scop   aelda barnum
heben til hrofe   haleg scepen.
tha middungeard   moncynnæs uard
eci dryctin   æfter tiadæ
firum foldu   frea allmectig
Now [we] must honour the guardian of heaven, the might of the architect, and his purpose, the work of the father of glory — as he, the eternal lord, established the beginning of wonders; he first created for the children of men heaven as a roof, the holy creator Then the guardian of mankind, the eternal lord, afterwards appointed the middle earth, the lands for men, the Lord almighty. [From Wikipedia]

Whitby Abbey

Whitby Abbey

We had gotten up so early that the hunger was kicking in so we split a scone from the Whitby tea shop. I’ve been working out a lot more to get rid of the accumulated scones since we got here, but splitting a scone was certainly an improvement over every other tea shop trip.

We drove down the coastline to Scarborough which Bear informed me is noted for having a really big fair every year. For that, I managed to find a copy of “Scarborough Fair” on my mp3, a more traditional arrangement by Mediaeval Baebes (yes, I went there, I said that) until he admitted it had been a really bad joke. The song however is no joke and this is a more authentic arrangement than what you usually get.

There was a pretty stiff hike up the hill from the closest parking to get into Castle Scarborough which is located on the flat headland overlooking the water. It’s an amazing naturally defensible spot that has signs of habitation for thousands of years. (I enjoyed some of the prehistoric artifacts like a bronze Age axe head and some flint tools.)

The walk up the hill to Richmond Castle — not suitable for attacking armies

We walked around the headland and watched the sea kayakers down in the water and the people bodysurfing and playing on the beaches. There was bungee jumping too, which Bear said he would never ever be doing. I love my spine too much to try it either, so we’re agreed in that.

The crane visible in the center was for the bungee jumping

This structure known as St. Mary’s Church is built on the ruins of an old Roman signal tower

We drove along the beach edge below and this is the look back up the cliff to the headland where Castle Scarborough is. Definitely not practical to scale and attack.

We tried to find Helmsley Castle on the way to the next stop but instead stumbled on a really nice little town square with a monument to a major landowner. Never did find the castle, but if we park and walk and try, then I say we get credit for the effort.

It was just two more miles on to the big stop for the day, which was Rievaulx Abbey. I had been drooling over pictures of it online for several months since we met some Yorkshire natives at Lindisfarne Priory who told us we really needed to visit if we ever had the chance. I had also been planning a campaign to try to convince Bear to have a small picnic. There is something of a history to this that is important to understand:

Our one stab at a picnic was on the weekend of July the 4th, 2001, a few weeks before we got married. It was not what one would call an unmitigated success. The food was good, perhaps the best sandwiches I’ve ever made: rosemary-crusted ham with smoked gruyere and honeycup mustard on rye bread. There were chips and drinks and we tried to sit outside to eat under an oak tree on the grounds at the Southwood office complex and that lasted about nine minutes. You would think that having lived in Florida for most of my life I would have remembered that July really wasn’t the best time to attempt a picnic.

I may have been done with my sandwich (but I don’t think so) when I noticed that Bear had packed up and was looking at the car with all the anxiousness of a 4 year old who had to go to the bathroom. Fine, this would be a good excuse to prove that I would be an understanding wife. “Would you like to go for a drive?” I suggested. “For a little bit?”

Two hours and 103 miles later we were in Steinhatchee, my first and last trip to that outstanding little example of coastal Florida, part oyster bar, part death trap. By the time we made it back to town, Bear had sufficiently calmed down. We have not since attempted a picnic.

I laid my trap very carefully and packed flawlessly: black grapes, pitted olives, hummus with carrots, clementines, crushed ice for drinks, bottled Coke, Diet Coke, iced tea, blueberry snack bars, and a small wheel of wine-washed cheese (no idea what that means but it was very cleverly packed in a little wooden box…and it was on sale). Top it off with a picnic blanket,, a beautiful cool day and shade trees overlooking the abbey and we are now batting .500 for picnics.

I’m not going to screw this up with too much commentary–it was the most beautiful abbey I’ve ever seen, which is saying something since we were just at Whitby that morning.

Rievaulx Abbey (the presbytery)

Column in the nave

Bear in the photo for scale (he’s very talented at wandering into the shot)

It felt somehow like wandering around Rivendell (minus the elves of course and the river is sort of out of sight)

Bear was making noises about going to Nandos but it was only 3:30 and I had a few more castles on the list so we agreed to try for Castle Richmond at least. We parked in another really nice town center/square and walked over every cobblestone God ever created in order to reach the castle.

The curtain wall of Castle Richmond with the open area that runs down to the cliff edge above the river.

Much like Scarborough, Castle Richmond is on a bluff headland overlooking a river, making use of the natural protection of the high bluff walls.

The right edge of the castle, the town next to it and the river just over the edge

The castle’s exhibition contained some very sobering information about how 16 Quaker conscientious objectors had been kept prisoner in the castle during WWI for refusing any kind of military service. By 1916 they were sent forcibly to a military base in France where to refuse an order would mean a death sentence–they refused, were sentenced to death, but commuted to to 10 years in prison just before they were executed. 10 of them died in prison, others had mental breakdowns and never seemed to recover. The history of the CO has been complicated and I understand there could be the concern that some would claim they were COs when really they wanted to avoid service altogether for reasons of personal comfort or fear. In no way did these 16 fall into that category and it’s very sad what came of them.

Not exactly topiary, but close enough for Bear.

The castle also had some unexpectedly nice gardens that reminded me of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Bear however started winking one index finger at me and squeaking “Red Rum, Red Rum!” There’s nothing like invoking The Shining in the middle of a topiary-ish garden to pretty much shatter the mood.

Bear was not particularly happy with me for climbing up on a bit of wall to take that photo of the river with the bridge in the upper quarter. I swear, I was at least two feet from the edge of anything, but suddenly I felt a hand seize a huge swath of my shirt, close into a fist and I was stuck. (I don’t think it occurred to him that this might startle me and make me fall forward.)

We realized we would get home pretty late and Juliet would be furious with us for having her locked up all day, so we agreed it was time to fill up the tank and head back south and find a Nandos for dinner along the way. While the food, as always, hit the spot, it was one of the more unfortunate Nandos stops — the ice machine was limping and my order nearly went badly awry.

Me: I’d like a half chicken, lemon and herb
Cashier: OK, but how much chicken? Quarter, half, whole?
Me: Half chicken, lemon herb
Cashier: What spice?
Me: Lemon herb. And a beanie burger, mango lime.
Cashier: Beanie burger, right. What spice?
Me: Mango lime. And pineapple slice. <I know it sounds odd, but Ray Kroc was right, a pineapple slice is perfect on some grilled sandwiches>

The order arrives perfectly and my pineapple slice is in its own little dish. Every other of the dozens of times, it’s been on the burger, like it says on the menu, like it should be. Every now and then I think that Asberger’s Syndrome is far more undiagnosed in the restaurant industry than anyone realizes.

And as it turned out, Juliet wasn’t as angry as I’d feared; in fact, she curled up on my chest once we were in bed and purred madly. I really think she missed me and was genuinely worried we weren’t coming back.

Bear with our Baby Juliet, out in the garden

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When we first moved to England I had gotten off work one day and just wanted to explore, so we drove north about 30 minutes to Peterborough and I punched “Cultural Monument” into the sat nav, thinking it might tour us around. At the time I had no idea that one of the five most important cathedrals in England was located in Peterborough (the others being Ely, Durham, St. Paul’s and Westminster).

I didn’t understand at the time either about paying a small fee to be able to take pictures and I passed on the opportunity, and then came to regret it later. But the light was really dim at the time because it was February and England basically has no daylight then, so I was excited at taking Munk Mom after work to see the cathedral and getting some nice, well-lit shots.

The gorgeous facade of the Peterborough Cathedral peeking over the wall.

“Peterborough Cathedral is known for its imposing Early English Gothic West Front (façade) which, with its three enormous arches, is without architectural precedent and with no direct successor. The appearance is slightly asymmetrical, as one of the two towers that rise from behind the façade was never completed, but this is only visible from a distance, while the effect of the West Front upon entering the Cathedral Close is overwhelming.” — main Wikipedia entry

The nave, decorated for an upcoming choral concert related to the Olympics. You can see the painted nave ceiling in the upper part.

The nave side aisle

Also, we’d been studying up more on the Tudor period, so getting to see Katharine of Aragon’s grave again meant a lot more this time.

The grave of Katharine of Aragon, Queen of England, first wife of Henry VIII, mother of Mary I

The pomegranate was her symbol and people come and leave them for her at her grave. She seems to have been a very devout, kind and gracious woman who unfortunately got the raw end of the deal with Henry VIII, although you could argue that at least she wasn’t executed.

Speaking from some experience, quite a bit of time went into this embroidery


An admittedly wacky angle at the ceiling

“The Hedda stone, in Peterborough Cathedral, dated to about 870 AD. It contains the carved figures of twelve monks, and is supposed to represent those killed in Danish raids, in which some 84 monks including the abbot Hedda.”

Eventually when her son became James I of England, he had her moved to Westminster Abbey and buried in a chapel opposite Elizabeth I who had had her executed. That’s family for you.

Munk Mom, who has sung in choirs for over 50 years, sitting in the cathedral choir

Organ above the choir with the painted ceiling above

Back out in the cathedral square, Peterborough has a nice setup with fountain jets for the kids to play in and lots of benches for parents, plus they’ve converted a pavillioned area for concerts.

It wasn’t remotely hot enough to be playing in the water, by the way.

The strangest Starbucks ever (it used to be a Lloyds bank building)

To top it off, we picked up Nando’s takeout (or takeaway as the phrase goes here) and took it back home to watch the Olympics opening ceremonies and get ready for the big day in London the next day.

Reception area of the Peterborough Nando’s–AKA Food Central

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