UK: Day Fifteen

Day 15:

June 29, 2013

View from Beatrix Potter's Hill Top Farm
View from Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm

After breakfast, we started out the day with a drive up to Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm. Beatrix bought the house and its 36 acre farm after the success of her first few books. She went on to buy several more houses and farms in the area, leaving them to the National Trust when she died. She did a great deal to preserve the natural beauty of the surrounding area. She was also a sheep farmer. Read about it here. (Who knew?)

Mr. McGregor!
Mr. McGregor!

I enjoyed the house and gardens very much. The girls and I were able to look around her house and the surrounding homes and gardens to see several of the scenes that she used in the illustrations of her stories. Although the house had no written information, as she requested it be left just as she had left it (right down to a fire in the fireplace and fresh flowers throughout the house), the docents were talkative and and enjoyed sharing bits and pieces of Beatrix’s world with us. We found Tom Kitten’s gate, Mr. McGregor’s garden and even an egg laid by Jemima Puddle-duck in the rhubarb patch.
From Hilltop, we walked a few hundred yards down the narrow road so the girls could play on a nearby playground. Then, we made our way through the Skinner maze back toward our home base.

The roads today were even crazier than yesterday because, being Saturday, there was a lot more traffic that was going a lot faster down an even narrower road bordered by illusive rock walls disguised by greenery. I watched the car ahead of us as its driver side mirror whizzed by the opposing traffic with centimeters to spare. At one point, we had an abrupt meeting with a tour bus (see day 15 photos) that could have ended badly, but was mostly just entertaining at this point (we’re seasoned now).

"Ploughman's Lunch"
“Ploughman’s Lunch”

Along the way, we happened by a random neighborhood pub in the middle of nowhere so we stopped in for a pint and some lunch. When we got back to town, Jeff took the girls “crazy” golfing (mini golf) and I explored the little town. We met up for a dip in the hotel pool and happened upon some pleasant conversation with a local woman and her young daughter in the hot tub. It was interesting to compare info (for example, the kids don’t let out for summer until July 27th here). After the pool, we cleaned up and set out for a nice long walk to Lake Windermere, the nearest lake. On the way back from the lake, we happened upon another local pub and had a nice dinner while listening to some live local music. It was another great day.
Tomorrow we’re off to Scotland!

Lake Windermere
Lake Windermere

UK: Day Fourteen

Day 14:

June 28, 2014

Jeff set out for a dentist first thing in the morning to get his broken tooth fixed. His journey was successful and he made it back to the hotel just as the kids and I were heading down for breakfast.

After filling our bellies, we loaded up the car and set out for “The Lake District” of Cumbria County and its picture perfect rolling hills and lakes that were once home to Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth. As the weather was absolutely dreadful (again) and hiking was out of the question, we decided to take the advice of Rick Steves and set out on a “car hiking” route. Rick says, “this hour-long drive which includes Newlands Valley, Buttermere, Honister Pass and Borrowdale gives you the best scenery you’ll find in the North Lake District.” I’m not sure what kind of formula-one race car he was driving, but this loop took us several hours to complete. He was right about the scenery, though. The best way I can describe it is the road to Hana (the whole loop) with two-way traffic (on one lane, of course), in what appears to be several driveways all linked together in a contiguous chain though an enormous free-range sheep farm/hedge maze. It was like a life sized Skinner rat maze with sheep obstacles and a beautiful view.

 

Honister Slate Mine
Honister Slate Mine


Jeff says this entire trip has been like a “two week defensive driving test.” (I’m not sure if he is going to pass.) Although he says, “I’m an excellent driver” (just like Rain Man). At the midway point on our driving tour, we stopped into the Honister Slate Mine which produces its “famous” and “best” Westmorland green slate. We all enjoyed trekking deep into the hillside to see inside this working mine and to hear about the process of slate mining.

IMG_5427At the next “town” over, we stopped into the cafe/ice cream shop for some mid-afternoon tea before we continued on our “hike.” A few miles down the road, we reached Newlands Pass. From the road we could see a waterfall, so we pulled off and walked a few hundred yards to get a closer look. The wind and rain almost blew is off the mountainside, but it was nice to get out for some fresh air and to commune with the sheep. “Mind the poo” became the phase of the day.

To cap off our scenic drive, we diverged a bit and went off the beaten track that even “Tommie” our Sat-Nav couldn’t find… the Castlerigg Stone Circles. Catlerigg is one of the earliest stone circles in Europe. It was constructed by Bronze Age people possibly for use in solstice celebrations. To the casual observer, (read: the Wilson family) it looks like a large sheep pasture with a bunch of big rocks thrown in the middle. Jeff and I walked around the stones and waited for a mystical feeling (that never came) and the kids tried to catch (and pet) the sheep (while “minding the poo”). We finished up the day with a fabulous Italian dinner in Keswick.

Castlerigg Stone Circles
Castlerigg Stone Circles

UK: Day Twelve

Day 12:

June 26, 2013

I guess we’re wearing out because even I slept until 9:45 this morning.

After packing ten suitcases full of things back into our four suitcases, we loaded up the car and set out 80 miles (2 & a half hours) for Liverpool. The weather was beautiful for our arrival at Albert Dock on the Mersey River. Liverpool is of particular interest to me because it was from this waterfront that my great-grandmother Selina Gascoigne set out for America in 1894 (at age 8). We checked into the hotel and set out on foot to explore a bit.

Albert Dock, Liverpool
Albert Dock, Liverpool

Heather and Kai found the downtown shopping district (several hours worth). Jeff and Kiki headed back to the hotel for a little R & R. We all met up for dinner and then back to the room for some coloring (the girls) and wacky comedic British talk/game shows (for the adults).

UK: Day Eleven

DSCN0914Day 11:

June 24, 2013

IMG_5317We had another lie-in today and then walked over to Morrison’s grocery store for some picnic supplies. We walked to the far side of town to the city park and had a picnic lunch and let the girls play on the playground. After lunch, we drove up to Llanberis to take the Snowdon Mountain Railway to the summit of Mt. Snowdon (3,xxx? feet) in Snowdonia National Park. The train took us 5 miles to the summit through rocky fields full of fluffy grazing sheep. The tracks criss-crossed over the hiking trail that was swamped with hikers of all ages out for the day. We were lucky to have a warm-ish sunny day. The views were breath-taking and took in sights as far away as parts of England, Ireland and Scotland. Along the journey, we saw some Blackhawk helicopters from RAF Valley (where Prince William is stationed) running training maneuvers through the rolling hills. After the return train trip, we ventured back to town, had dinner at the hotel and called it a day.DSCN0928

UK: Day Nine

Day 9:

June 23, 2014

!!CHOCOLATE!!
!!CHOCOLATE!!

IMG_5265Today I learned that the big blue lines on our road map are not rivers, but “motorways” the biggest of the roads that we’ll be traveling. Discovering that has been extremely helpful for navigational purposes.

Made to order chocolate treat!
Made to order chocolate treat!

The weather was dreadful, but we spent 5 hours touring the Cadbury Factory on the outskirts of Birmingham, so it’s all good. The Cadbury brothers figured out how to make yummy chocolate (not bitter) by mixing it with milk and their best selling product the “dairy milk” bar was born. “Cadbury World” had several Disney-style exhibits walking visitors through the history of chocolate. There was also…the history of the factory “Bournville” (that opened in 1904), a wonky kiddy ride reminiscent of the Winnie the Pooh ride at Disneyland and a factory tour. The factory wasn’t functional today because it’s Sunday, but we did get to walk through and see the machinery and read a bit about how it all works. There were also informative videos showing how their most popular products are made. Cadbury is the #1 chocolate maker in all of Britain and there are more varieties of chocolate bars than you could ever imagine. I went a little crazy in the gift shop. Surrounding the factory is the “town” that was created for the workers that came to work at the factory, including a school, housing and recreation, such as a swimming pool and cricket pitch. These things were all built to improve working conditions for workers during the Industrial Revolution. After the inside tours, Jeff and I were exhausted so we let the kids play on the playground for a bit, saw a magic/clown show and hit the road.

This place has chocolate plumbing!  Seriously.
This place has chocolate plumbing! Seriously.

Read about the Cadburys and their vision here.

Caernarfon Harbor, just steps from our hotel.
Caernarfon Harbor, just steps from our hotel.

We decided to change plans slightly and drive 165 miles northwest to Caenarfon, Wales (pronounced: kar-narv-on). I was starving because we hadn’t eaten a meal yet, but Jeff made us drive three hours to the hotel before we could eat. He said it was “hunger strike” payback for the “death marches” of previous days. The drive to Caenarfon was beautiful. Jeff said that the roads were as narrow as the roads to Hana that threaten to void your rental contract, but “fun to drive.” (For the record – we went the whole way around the Hana loop and the car rental company was none the wiser.) As soon as we crossed into Wales and out of the hustle and bustle of Birmingham, we were surrounded by idyllic sheep dotted rolling hills. We had to pass through the “mountains” (highest peak 3,560 ft) and slope down to the sea. We were all excited to see the water again. After checking in to the hotel, we had a lovely dinner and packed it in for the night.

UK: Day Seven

Day Seven:

June 21, 2014

Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace

DSCN0632We slept-in today and caught breakfast just before the restaurant closed for mid-day. We headed 12 miles (35 minutes) up the road to Blenheim Palace. Blenheim Palace is “a monumental country house situated in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, residence of the dukes of Marlborough. It is the only non-royal non-episcopal country house in England to hold the title of palace.” http://www.blenheimpalace.com/.DSCN0681

 

They were having a garden show that would have sent Grandma Donna over the moon. We parked on the edge of a field that was dotted with giant oak trees that seemed to stretch for miles and wandered through the stalls of vendors selling plants and garden accoutrements until we found the palace. We went on the tours available through the house, including an exhibit on Winston Churchill, who happened to be born here because his mother was here at a fete when she went into labor with little Winston. The lavishly decorated palace was in Kiki’s words “boring….boring…boring.” Jeff commented that Donald Trump must’ve used their designer. We had some lunch in one of the palace gardens and then wandered the never-ending grounds. There were several gardens and massive amounts of wide open delicately manicured lawn. Jeff LOVED the lawn. After wandering for three and a half hours, we took the little train to the “pleasure garden.” The kids squealed with delight while running through the garden maze (until Kai got lost) and playing on the playground. Kiki finally had changed her tune and screamed “this is fun!” Phew. After checking out the butterfly house, an intensely hot and humid greenhouse filled with fluttering butterflies and exotic tropical plants, we headed out to find where we’d left the car. We outlasted almost the entire field full of cars (five and a half hours)!

Oberon, the Fairy King
Oberon, the Fairy King
Solstice Bon Fire
Solstice Bon Fire

Another 20 miles up the road (1 hour 20 minutes), we went for an evening visit at Mary Arden’sFarm, the house where William Shakespeare’s mother grew up. During the day it is a working farm with several hands-on exhibits demonstrating farm life during the time of the the Tudors (16th century). On this particular evening they had an event to celebrate midsummer’s night, a night when the fairies come out to play tricks on people, that coincides with the Summer Solstice/the feast of St. John the Baptist. The girls made fairies, listened to a fairy story told by a woman in Tudor-era clothing and then went on a fairy hunt. A giant parade of children wandered through the farm, finding a “fairy tunnel” (a very cool tunnel made of growing willow branches) that led to the fairy world. In the center of the forest they found the mischievous fairies being watched over by Oberon, the fairy king. The parade moved on to a recently vacated cow pasture (complete with manure) for a massive bonfire to ward off the evil spirits that are said to hang around with the turning of the season. Some of the Tudor ladies ran and jumped a portion of the fire to cleanse themselves of impurities. After the fire, we were led back to the courtyard to witness a traditional medieval Midsummer night’s feast as eaten by 20 or more costumed villagers. I found the entire experience fascinating. DSCN0666From there, we found our hotel in Stratford-Upon-Avon, had a bite to eat and headed up to the room. Jeff took a walk and stumbled into a pub for a spot of Whiskey while I tried to get the wired kids to sleep.

 

It was another delightful day.

UK: Day Six

Day Six:

June 20, 2013

4 Privet Drive
4 Privet Drive
Mmmm... Butterbeer!
Mmmm… Butterbeer!
Hogwarts Great Hall - WOW!
Hogwarts Great Hall – WOW!

Jeff didn’t sleep well last night worrying about picking up the car and then having to drive it. He was out the door by seven to come back and sweep us out of our London home by 8. We pulled away from the curb right on schedule, headed 20 miles north to Leavesden for the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour. Using my Port Orchard traffic math skills, I estimated that it would take around a half an hour to make it to our scheduled 10 am arrival time. Good thing Jeff had the foresight to leave early, because it took us one hour and twenty minutes to get to the “freeway” on the north side of town (8 miles). We made it to the studio with two minutes to spare. The studio was fantastic. There was something for all of us to enjoy, from the actual sets (indoor and outdoor) used in the movies to props and costumes. There were also exhibits on costumes and wigs, prop dressing, special effects, visual effects, art conception and (the piece de resistance) the room-sized scale model of Hogwarts that was used in all of the flyover scenes of the castle. We even got to sample some butterbeer! No wonder Hermione always wanted to head to the Three Broomsticks . It was de-lish!

20140626-110805-40085840.jpg
Kiki sitting at Roald Dahl’s writing desk.

From Leavesden, we travelled northwest for Great Missenden to visit the quaint but entertaining and informative Roald Dahl Museum. I enjoyed reading all about one of my favorite children’s author and the kids enjoyed the interactive exhibits. The town was adorable too, situated in the Chiltern Hills of Hertfordshire. We hadn’t had a meal yet, so we stopped in a local sweets shop and then hit the road for Oxford. After checking into the hotel and eating a proper meal we set out to find a “laundrette.” Jeff drove me in to Oxford and dropped me at the place the hotel suggested. Aaarrrgghh. There was no change machine so I schlepped all four bags of laundry to what I though was the bank, but turned out to be the sports book with a bunch of guys smoking cigars and watching a wall of TVs. After sorting the clothes and stuffing them into the machines, I discovered that the soap vending machine was out of order. I started the washers and ran across the street for soap and fabric softener but by the time I got back the cycles had finished. Oh, well. I was alone for an hour and that’s worth something. The serial killer that I kept expecting to arrive never did, so it’s all good. I now have a renewed thankfulness for my washer and dryer at home.

Fantastic Mr. Fox!
Fantastic Mr. Fox!

Today was quite the adventure in the driving department. Jeff likened it it to “driving down the McGee’s driveway with 2-way traffic at 70 mph.” I think it was more “life-sized” Autopia with oncoming traffic, no bumper bars and some massive trucks thrown in (but only on blind corners). We dubbed it Grand Torrismo UK. There were lots of things thrown in for difficulty: NO stop signs- only traffic circles (lots of traffic circles), tractors, two way streets that are (Jeff’s words) “1.3 lanes wide,” pedestrians and cyclists with no indication that they are aware of any traffic, hedges or trees right up to the edge of the road so that it seems like you are in the bottom of a hole or a never-ending tunnel, obscure street names and non-existent road signs. It was terrifying and comical at the same time.

All in all: another great day in Britain! 😉

 

 

UK: Day Four

Day Four:

June 18, 2013

Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace

We got up early today and rode the tube across town to get on the “hop-on hop-off” tour around the town. We got on by Buckingham Palace with the intention of riding the entire loop and arriving back at Buckingham Palace for the “changing of the guard.”

The bus tour took us around all of central London and had an interesting commentary on many landmarks.  The kids enjoyed the special kids commentary, which kept them entertained about 90% of the time. Traffic was fairly heavy today, so we didn’t make it the around the entire loop before we abandoned the bus and hot footed off to Buckingham Palace to try to catch the changing of the guard. I think that is where all of the tourists in town were at that given moment. We didn’t make it up against the gates to see them handing off the keys, but we did see the band and horses and marching foot guards with their big black “bearskin” hats. From there we went on a wild goose chase (not literally) for lunch and then headed for Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey

The girls enjoyed a scavenger hunt for trivia question answers with the promise of a free chocolate coin prize if they completed the questions.  (They did it!) We were even able to borrow monk costumes for the girls to wear for some photo ops in the abbey gardens and cloisters. My favorite part was the tomb where Queen Elizabeth I was buried with her half-sister (and rival) Queen Mary. From Westminster we decided to head back to the hotel for a little downtime in the room and some dinner at the hotel. After some rest, we walked up to the West End to take in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Royal Drury Theatre. It was FABULOUS!!!  Both girls loved it (maybe even as much as Jeff and I).charlie and choc factory

UK: Day Three

View from of London from the "golden gallery" at the top of St. Paul's Cathedral
View from of London from the “golden gallery” St. Paul’s Cathedral

Day Three:

June 17, 2013

I woke up around 4:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I spent a few hours uploading photos and planning out another “death march” (Jeff’s words). After everyone finally woke up (around 9) we got dressed and stopped into Starbucks for breakfast. We decided to check out the neighborhood where we are staying by taking a walk around. We are staying in the City of London, which is a smaller district of Greater London. Read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_London

Just up the street is Temple Church, a church that dates back to the 12th century. It is surrounded by the Inns of Court, the professional associations for barristers (attorneys) in Wales and England. We wandered through the area, which is like a little village where barristers work and law students live and attend classes.  After Temple Church, we continued our walk along Fleet Street where we saw several landmarks including the Royal Courts of Justice, the Temple Bar Monument and St. Bride’s Church.

About mid-day, we arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s is where Charles and Diana got married in 1981. We wandered the church – which is huge and intricate at the same time.  We climbed 257 steps from the cathedral floor to the “whispering gallery” at the interior of the base of the huge dome and then another 119 to the stone gallery. There we could go outside to take in the views of the city. Just when we thought we could not climb another stair, we found the cubby hole to a stairway that led another 152 steps to the “golden gallery,” a tiny balcony ledge surrounding the exterior of the dome crown on the outside. Kiki didn’t enjoy the “see through” stairs, but we all made it up (and back down again).  St. Paul’s was fantastic but exhausting, so we wandered next door to Paternoster Square and grabbed some take-out lunch.

Beefeater
Beefeater

After lunch, we hopped on the tube to the Tower of London. We spent a few hours exploring the 16 acre grounds and the various buildings.  The Tower of London is a historic castle that dates back to the Norman conquest.  It has been used for many things over the centuries, most notably a prison.  Queen Elizabeth I was imprisoned here by her Catholic half-sister Queen “Bloody Mary” I before she ascended to the throne.  It is also home (literally) to the beloved Beefeater guards.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

The Tower of London is also where the Crown Jewels of England have been stored for safe keeping since they were stolen and then recovered from Westminster Abbey in 1303.  The line for the Crown Jewels was too long to get us in before closing time, so Jeff offered to show us his instead.  We took a pass on “Jeffs Jewels” and tried to catch the Tower Bridge “experience” which allows you to go out on the upper level of the bridge.  We arrived just as they shut and locked the door. That was a good sign that we needed to end the day, so we hopped the tube back to our local station and had some dinner in a neighborhood pub before heading in for the night.

(Kiki’s estimate of stairs climbed today- 900 million. Up AND down.)

UK: Day Two

Day Two:

June 16, 2013 (Father’s Day)

IMG_0248
Kai and her new friend Pati (and his brother Nemhi)
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Kiki and I were awake by 5:30 am, so I used the time to plan the day. Since it is Sunday, most things don’t open until after 10am.  We had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel restaurant and then wandered down the Thames river until we found the Millennium Bridge. On the south side of the river we found Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and stopped in for a look at the museum and the theatre tour. Built in 1997, Shakespeare’s Globe is a reproduction of the original globe theater that was destroyed by fire in 1614, rebuilt and then demolished in 1644 due to religious pressure from the Puritans.  I really wished I would have planned ahead so that we could have seen a show here.  For now, I am adding that to my bucket list.

From the Globe, we wandered to along the river to the London Bridge. Under the bridge there was a tourist attraction called “The London Bridge Experience.” It was definitely an unforgettable experience.  Essentially, it was a London themed haunted house that terrified the girls (and, if I am honest, more than terrified me). We made it through, but emerged with both girls in tears.  Dad of the year award: forthcoming.

Painted faces on the London Eye
Painted faces on the London Eye

Further downstream, we decided to stop for lunch and stumbled upon a French sidewalk cafe. The girls didn’t enjoy the food, but the professional face painter that they had on hand for Father’s Day was a big hit. We walked away with a tiger and a lion.

After lunch, we hopped on the tube and made our way to the London Eye. The view was spectacular (but not necessarily worth the steep price tag).  After the ride, the girls had some playtime at a playground before we had to tube it to dinner at the Medieval Banquet. We enjoyed a dinner show with “medieval” entertainment (and food). The seating was family style and we happened to be seated by a family that was vacationing from Kashmir.  Their boys were 4 and 6. Kiki fell asleep straight away, but Kai made friends with the boys Nemhi and Pati. We exchanged email addresses so they could be pen pals.  (Kai and Pati are still in touch.)

So far, we are all loving London.  There is so much to see I can barely stand taking a break to sleep!