Tuesday, April 26, 2016

I Married Superman: UK 2016 Post 4

Leaving Lincolnshire we gradually made our way into Nottinghamshire and the outskirts of Sherwood Forest. I tried convincing Daniel that I needed to stop to find Robin Hood but he was not to be persuaded. Apparently there's not much to look at and we were on a mission to get to the Peak District in a timely manner so I had to content myself with seeing the edge of the forest and a few blurry pictures we took from the car.

the edge of Sherwood Forest 

The countryside as you transition from Nottinghamshire to Derbyshire* is gorgeous. Wild pheasants pecking away at the ground, red breasts standing out against the green fields and grey skies. I noticed the pheasants just about everywhere we went. They seemed to want to play a game of hide and seek with Daniel though. Everytime I called out, "pheasant" he would look but it would already be too late. I honestly think he didn't believe me until he finally saw one himself in North Yorkshire- I think I did a victory dance in the passenger seat that time.

The first thing I noticed as we entered Derbyshire and the outskirts of Chesterfield were hills. Not the high peaks we were headed to or the gentle hills of Lincolnshire we'd just left but the inbetween kind. The landscape was starting to resemble my home. It was familiar but so different. Charming stone cottages and pubs replaced the modern wooden or stucco homes in my mind, but I felt like it was a landscape I could find my way in.

Our first stop that day was Matlock, a former spa town with a population of almost 10,000. A picturesque place that lies on the River Derwent, it tempted me to stay like a Siren. Daniel assured me that if I wanted to live here then it was definitely beyond our budget as I have expensive taste and was surely "Lady Grantham" in another life. Now, you'll think that I'm cheating on my little Lincolnshire Wolds village of Binbrook, but I assure you in my active imagination I have enough money to live in both places, so I can justify falling in love with another town/area the very next day after first giving my heart to another.

Old tram shelter in Hall Leys Park

Matlock Town Center. Crown Buildings center

Matlock nearly became notable for all the wrong reasons. Charming, hilly Matlock almost made me a widow. I've debated sharing this story because it's in the top 4 of the worst things I've ever experienced, but I've decided to share it because it's just too fantastical not to. There are just times a higher power steps in and this is one of them.

We pulled into the railway station car park and Daniel fortuitously chose to park our rental car a few spots to the left of the wide entrance. He got out of the car to get our Pay and Display ticket while I took some time to gathered our things.  We stood chatting while we waited for the women ahead of us using the machine to finish. Out of the corner of my eye I vaguely registered that our rental car was in motion. As this was not our actual car from home it took a moment to realize what was happening. My heart dropped. Our rental car was rolling down the hill unmanned. I yelled a sentence that I can't repeat but went something like, "I say, our car is rolling down the hill!" and we sprang into action.

In an emergency situation things slow down to half time. While simultaneously sprinting as fast as my legs would carry me my brain was taking in every last detail. The car itself was moving slowly even though it was heading backwards down a hill towards a tree and a fence. I knew that the car was still unlocked and I reasoned that I could make it to the passenger door, jump in, and pull the emergency brake thus stopping the car and preventing imminent disaster. I know this is not the smartest move as I could have gotten dragged under and run over by said car but adrenaline does strange things to you. Daniel being about 7 inches taller than I am with legs much longer was able to reach the car first. I watched in horror as he ran behind the car and threw himself wholeheartedly into the task of stopping 2,400 pounds of metal (yes I looked it up) all by himself. From my vantage point he disappeared behind and under the car. I stood there planning my widowhood, deciding I'd wear black for an eternity like Queen Victoria, and wondering if he should be buried in his native country or adopted home in California? You have more time to think than you'd realize when when time stops.

All I could see were his legs from the knee down digging deep divots into the grassy area in front of the fence. The back wheels hit and jumped the curb, deeper went his knees and shins. At this point he was basically parallel with the ground below him, but I didn't know if his upper body was under the car or if he was free to move. The front wheels finally hit the curb and the car shook to a stop just before Daniel's lower body was jammed against a tree. Had he not parked to the left of the entrance there would have been nothing to stop the car from rocketing into the busy road, down another hill and into a river- so I was greatful in more ways than one that the curb was there.

At this point he literally jumped up from behind the car like a jack in the box. I'd never been so happy to see his face in all my life. Meanwhile the woman that had been at the Pay and Display machine ahead of us had apparently been right behind me the whole time. The look on her face must have mirrored my own. She looked white as a sheet and as shaky as I felt when she asked if he was okay. I'm sure she's still telling people the story of what she saw that day. 

You know the feeling of wanting to both hug someone but also haul off and smack them for scaring you? Well, that was the confusing mix of feelings I was having as I did a mental check of all his appendages.  When I asked him why he'd put himself in harms way like that he answered that we hadn't gotten the full coverage insurance from the rental agency. Call me sentimental but I would rather pay for a crunched rental car than a funeral.

Daniel's finger/hand print marks can be seen sliding down the bumper. Oh and that mark next to the brake lights- that's from his face

We spent the rest of the afternoon vacillating between being carefree tourists and traumatized survivors. Seriously, Daniel just brushed the mud off of his now ripped jeans and we went sightseeing. Our afternoon in Matlock went something like this:

Leah: "Look at this beautiful river."
Daniel: "I think I hurt my knee."
Leah: "I was almost a widow."
Daniel: "Let's get a picture of the ducks."
Leah: "Oh my god, you could have died! Let's not talk about it."
Daniel: "No really, I think I should look at my knee."
Leah: "Oh look, a castle."
Remember that vacillating I mentioned?  

Looking back we were in shock and also a bit mystified. The emergency brake had been pulled in the car, the problem apparently was it didn't catch all of the way- that is why the car rolled so slowly. It probably also explains why it didn't roll back while I was still in it. Between my weight and the brake partially engaging it had a delayed reaction. You'd better believe that we were paranoid the rest of the trip, pulling the emergency brake full force and leaving the car in gear instead of neutral. 

We've often looked back on this episode and marveled at how it all occurred and thanked our lucky stars that it wasn't worse. Daniel walked away with a very badly skinned knee, his hands took a beating too, but for the most part not much worse for wear. He could have broken something or worse, and more obviously been run over by the car. Had he pulled the car straight in and parked, it almost certainly would have been hit or hit other cars in the roadway below, causing damage and possibly injuring others. We dodged more than one bullet that day. 

Here's the thing, even though we had this scary experience and were quite shaken up by it, it didn't dull how beautiful the town of Matlock is. We really enjoyed strolling over Matlock Bridge, gazing at distant Riber Castle, and taking our time in Hall Leys Park. There's a lovely Victorian bandstand in the middle of the park and a boating lake teeming with ducks where we had the above conversation. We crossed over the River Derwent on a footbridge and made our way along Dale Road finding our way back to the railway station and eventually the Sainsbury's next door where we purchased first aid items for Daniel after the adrenaline wore off and he started to feel his injuries.

Dale Road and the HSBC bank building

Matlock Bridge. The original bridge was built in the 13th century and widened in 1903.

feeding ducks in Hall Leys Park

Victorian bandstand in Hall Leys Park. If you look closely in the treetops at the center of the picture you can just see Riber Castle

Riber Castle seen in the misty distance from Matlock Bridge 

The railway station at Matlock, like most small towns, is absolutely charming. It looked like a movie backdrop. Next to the station is the old station house built around 1850 which was occupied by an elderly couple. We watched them garden in their impossibly sweet little yard and wondered out loud if they knew that they were living someone else's dream. If I have my way we'll return to Matlock one day. I want more than just a few hours in this inviting town, and next time we'll park on flat ground or better yet take the train.

*Pronounced: Darby-sure

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Horse Manure 50P: UK 2016 Post 3.5

The gentle hills of the Lincolnshire Wolds captured my imagination. They captured a bit of my heart too. This was the first time on our trip where I found somewhere I really wanted to put down roots. I have an active imagination and being a passenger vs the driver meant that I could daydream all I wanted. By the time we reached Lincoln I had already created our imaginary life in the pleasingly rolling hills of the wolds, in a farmhouse, with a small flock of sheep, all within a short walking distance to a quaint village. I'd even decided which village that would be and who would be our neighbors.

On our way to Lincoln we detoured to the medium sized village of Waltham where I had managed to trace my husband's ancestors through a list of apprentices and freeman in the year 1796, which indicated his paternal line were farmers from the village of Waltham, one of whom became an apprentice for 7 years to a filesmith in Sheffield- this man was Daniel's 4 times Great Grandfather, John. If we'd had more time I would have liked to have searched the cemeteries for John's parents but I didn't even know where to begin, so we moved on to the Waltham Windmill.

When you have a loose itinerary it frees you up to follow those awesome little brown and cream signs pointing you to something you didn't even know existed. Neither Daniel nor I knew that Waltham had a windmill, let alone the fact that it was a little tourist destination. It was actually closed but you could still walk the grounds and check out the present mill which was built in 1878. The mill narrowly escaped being demolished during World War II when it was used as a Home Guard look-out post with a view over the River Humber, because it was deemed by the RAF to be a hazard to aircraft. I, for one am glad that it wasn't- it was such a cool sight. I've never been that close to a windmill before. It's amazing how tall they really are- Waltham Windmill is 6 stories tall. According to the Waltham Windmill website the present mill is still maintained by a miller who occasionally grinds grain for flour. So cool to think it's still operational.  

After the windmill we hit the road, anxious to get to the cathedral city of Lincoln our final destination for the day. Remember that village I mentioned? Well, this is when it appeared like gold glinting in a stream. We had officially entered the Lincolnshire Wolds an AONB* designated area on the B1203 on gently winding roads and even gentler hills. I remember seeing the village of Binbrook like a scene in a movie. I've checked with Daniel to make sure I'm remembering it correctly and not making it more cinematic for drama's sake- he assures me that he remembers it the same as I. Down a road and around a bend in a valley the village sits. I think the word nestled was invented to describe Binbrook. For it truly is nestled in this little valley surrounded by rolling farmland. It's positively pastoral, a storybook village. We came upon an entrance to a farm just outside the village- an ideal spot to stop for a moment- with colorful bag upon bag of what turned out to be horse manure for 50p (70 cents) a bag, on the honor system. Then and there I decided these were my new neighbors. I found out upon further obsessive research that night from our hotel in Lincoln that the village lacks a tearoom- if you've been following my Instagram you might have noticed that I've been trying to perfect my traditional English pastries and cakes- coincidence? I'll let you be the judge. But if I suddenly go missing I've now given you a clue as to where to find me.

You'll be wondering where all the photos of this little gem of a village are. Well, sadly I didn't get any. Honestly I was too busy writing it's name down and taking it all in that by the time I remembered to get the camera out we had already left the small village. I'm seriously disappointed that I didn't get any. I checked the camera later that night thinking that I had and couldn't believe I didn't get a single one of the village itself. Below is the only photo I could find on Google search of Binbrook that fits closest to what I remember- although we approached the village from a different direction than the photo below.

photo courtesy of the Binbrook Heating Oil Club

The rest of the drive to Lincoln was a blur. In what was becoming a common theme we found parking in the city centre a challenge. We followed signs but they led us astray and somehow we ended up in coach (bus) parking, in an area restricted to cars. We were basically driving on cathedral grounds and could see our intended destination through an archway but could find no obvious way to get there. Somehow we lucked out and literally stumbled upon a parking space on the street right next to the cathedral that was free! I don't even know how that happened. We read the sign a few times to make sure we weren't missing vital information but it really was free 2 hour parking.  

Lincoln Cathedral is beautiful. It dominates the city centre. We approached it from Eastgate where a large bronze statue of my favorite poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, stands. I have been to Lincoln Cathedral before and never saw the statue. We arrived in Lincoln by train the first time I visited which means we approached the cathedral from a very different direction, to be honest that was a much better way to see the city. In fact this time I was really perplexed that Lincoln was nothing like I remembered. It was only when we left the cathedral and entered Castle Square that I was able to get my bearings and recognized the city I'd visited 12 years earlier. Lincoln Cathedral and Lincoln Castle are located opposite each other on Castle Hill. As you wander down the narrow lane called Steep Hill, which should tell you all you need to know, you find yourself walking passed tea rooms, independent shops, restaurants and pubs. It's charming, everything you would imagine an English town to look like. If you ever find yourself in Lincoln, and I recommend you do, do your best to approach the cathedral and castle from the High Street where you can cross the beautiful River Witham- which may be home to some of the Queen's swans if you're lucky- and walk up Steep Hill. It's picturesque. I wish we'd revisited this approach but I would have missed the Tennyson statue again so it's a fair trade off.

My Englishman in his native environment. 

Here is where I'd like to insert a little PSA (Public Service Announcement for my friends across the pond) about the dangers of being hungry. The first time I visited Lincoln I was absolutely starving. I don't do well with being hungry. I get moody, like really moody. So I found myself incredibly underwhelmed by Lincoln, which confused Daniel greatly as it's the kind of place I should have lost my mind over. Fortunately this time I arrived with a full belly and finally 12 long years overdue saw Lincoln the way I should have seen it originally, with wide eyes and appreciation.

*AONB= Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty: According to Wikipedia AONB is an area of countryside in England, Wales or Nothern Ireland which has been designated for conservation due to its significant landscape value. AONB enjoy levels of protection from development similar to UK national parks.

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Eating Ice Cream in the Cold: UK 2016 Post 3

Daniel and I set out for for the city of Lincoln along lovely coastal roads and throughout the stunning Lincolnshire wolds. I'd say that the Lincolnshire countryside is the first place I've been where no matter how many photos you take you can never quite capture it's beauty. It looks flat and one dimensional in photos- you completely miss the feeling of open space, the expanse of the fields, the soft colors. I felt really sad that the beauty in front of me just wasn't translating on the play back screen of my camera. So I apologize to the county of Lincolnshire, my photos really don't do you justice at all.

We left Skegness along a windy, narrow coastal back road. So many times we found ourselves on roads with no shoulder, which meant that there wasn't much between me (the passenger) and a ditch. The speed limit on this road was confounding. What should have been 35 mph was 50 mph. It definitely wasn't a safe speed, but obviously the locals felt differently. Fortunately for us the road wasn't too busy so we could go slow and steady for the most part, which also meant I could yell, "Stop!", and get photos at a moments notice without causing us to get rear ended.

My husband has always maintained that the landscape of Lincolnshire is his very favorite. This has in the past made me crinkle my nose in disagreement as he regularly says how flat Lincolnshire is. I don't like flat- I've grown up surrounded by hills- I live on one for goodness sake- so the idea of flat land stretching out for miles with no interesting hills or peaks sounded awful to me. Well, I have been won over as I'm sure you guessed from my first paragraph. Lincolnshire isn't flat in the way that I was imagining. It isn't boring or without interruption. Sure, there are parts of it that fit my original image- but there are also parts of outstanding beauty. The word that comes to mind is gentle.

We passed fields, golf courses, the occasional grouping of modern windmills towering over the mostly flat landscape. Most notable was a day use beach area near Sutton-on-Sea with rows of brightly painted beach chalets that stood out against the grey sky. Daniel kindly stopped so I could get a photo and run up some stairs to see the sea.  The entire time we'd been driving after we left Skegness I hadn't seen the sea even though we'd been driving parallel to it. I kept forgetting we were on the east coast. It took me a while to get my bearings and realize that even though the sea was to our right we were indeed driving North. Once again, it was best that my husband was the driver. I'm so used to living on the west coast of the United States where the sea is to your left and not your right as you drive north. 

One man was walking a dog on the lonely expanse of beach. It was a grey, cold day so I didn't linger too long. I took a few photos of the beach chalets and noted that each one was different- some were better looked after than others. A few were quite shabby, but I've since realized how much you fight the elements in England- wet from rain, salt from the sea, wind, all break down the little wooden structures. Rust was creeping in and I'm guessing that is just a losing battle, it's bound to come back even if the metal parts are replaced.  Some looked freshly painted and almost all had curtains drawn, but a few had curtains that had been disturbed or not closed at all so you could take a peek inside. They were empty except for a few cups hanging from hooks in the tiny kitchens. It's going to sound cheesy but I could imagine them teeming with activity- families having a holiday at the seaside, making cups of tea in those little kitchens, small sandy children being shuffled out and back into the sea with cheese sandwiches in hand. 

We followed the A1031 through many a lovely village that I would have been happy to call my home. I'm still perplexed as to how people are able to afford to live in these remote, pretty places. There wasn't much in the way of commerce, although Daniel informed me that they were very popular places with tourists in the summer. Maybe the locals make enough money in those busy summer months to sustain them through the remainder of the year? Although we both suspected that many of the homes we drove passed were second homes owned by well to do people from the cities. Another place on my list that I'd have to win the lottery to move to. Sigh.

Eventually we found ourselves parking along the seafront in the town of Cleethorpes. Skegness had been a nostalgic place for my husband but Cleethorpes was even more so. It had reached almost mythic proportions in our household- it's one of the places Daniel has truly happy childhood memories of- so I was delighted that we were there. The sun even came out for a brief period allowing us to feel slightly less ridiculous eating our ice creams with scarves on.

It's a bit strange to be in a seaside resort town in the off season when it is quiet. It had a slightly run down feel to it like an abandoned amusement park, but again I think this is down to fighting a losing battle with the elements. You realize though how much people can make a place. I'm sure I wouldn't have noticed the peeling paint if children were running passed me down the promenade, or the Ferris wheel had been in operation or the train station not so quiet. It was nice however, to eat our ice creams on the promenade without having to dodge people or wait for someone to vacate a bench or even better to be seated straight away in a cafe when the weather changed and hot tea was the first order of business. It was nice to sit with the locals, sipping tea, eating Biscoff biscuits, and finally settling into the rhythm of our vacation. It might not have been a morning filled with castles or grand cathedrals but it was filled with beauty and things to make you pause to commit them to memory. It might have also been filled with it's fair share of soft serve ice cream and flake bars, and sometimes that beats a castle.

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Friday, April 8, 2016

Modern Life Gets You Down: UK 2016 Post 2

After an eventful, if not extremely frustrating beginning to our trip outside Heathrow the only thing to lift our spirits and convince us that we hadn't made a monumental mistake by getting off the plane was to get ourselves to a cathedral stat! I have never seen England by car, my previous trip was entirely by bus and train, so it was with entirely new eyes that I greeted my first day in Blighty.

I was completely unprepared for how populated the area around London is. Cars and people everywhere- just chock a block! This made navigating stressful even with the help of a gps system. I really counted my blessings that my husband was driving instead of me, because I just might have pulled over and given up. You'd find me there to this day curled in the fetal position.

Our first sanctuary was St Albans Cathedral, located in the historic market town of St Albans, only 19 miles outside of London but a world away. Daniel carefully curated that first day's itinerary knowing exactly what I needed to get me into the spirit. To say we were both feeling overwhelmed would be an understatement. When you're planning a vacation, especially to a historic place, I think it's easy to just focus on the romance of it and forget the reality that modern life exists beside it. It's easy to get overwhelmed and disappointed, and that is why when you suddenly find yourself driving through a 14th century Abbey Gateway with cobblestones, down the sweetest lane- to park in front a pub called Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, you just might tear up.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks

The cathedral at St Albans is huge. Not to say it's any bigger than your average cathedral but it's location really makes it stand out. We would experience this many more times on the trip- a large cathedral or castle suddenly appearing in a small village dwarfed by it's stature. I'm sure it's something I could get used to if I lived there but I definitely never got used it while I was there. The town of St Albans isn't exactly small but the cathedral is by far the largest structure, although it's somehow nestled amongst houses and we didn't actually see it until we turned a corner. At this point it was like a beacon of light welcoming we weary travelers. I was so hungry for history and a place of quiet- to really start the ball rolling on what this vacation was supposed to be about.

We parked the car down Abbey Mill Lane outside the aforementioned 11th century Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, (with the foundation dating back to 793). We walked up the charming lane to the Abbey Gatehouse and the cathedral itself.

Abbey Mill Lane

Here is where I learned some English etiquette. One does not step upon the grass. Even for a photo op, a really good photo op. It just isn't done- and you'll hear about it. I don't know if this is just at cathedrals but I stuck to it- too afraid that the ground might swallow me whole if I transgressed again. 

The great part about visiting England during off season, is there are few crowds and sometimes we had places practically to ourselves. This proved to be true with St Albans. There was a small service being conducted in the Lady Chapel at the back of the cathedral and 2 people praying at the Shrine of St Alban, otherwise Daniel and I had the place mostly to ourselves. So refreshing and calming after the fuss of London.

St Albans Shrine

St Albans Cathedral and Abbey will always be a memorable and special place for me, and I think for my husband Daniel too. It was the first place with real meaning and changed the tone of our trip, we had a real reverence for it and that stays with you. 

After spending some time in silence at St Albans shrine, admiring the mix of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, marveling at the 13th century wall paintings, and using the most serious restroom of all time (thick wooden door that closed with a satisfying thud, feet deep walls, and a heavy toilet chain that unleashed niagra falls) we set out for the seat of higher learning: Cambridge. 

I'm not sure what I was expecting from Cambridge. Perhaps young scholarly types in uniforms and Professors in robes or ascot ties? For the record Cambridge delivered neither but Eton totally did- if they're keeping score Eton can add another point to it's column. What Cambridge did deliver were truly beautiful streets, lovely churches, and smart ass young men on bicycles who like to make fun of the lady taking pictures from her rental car. The streets are quite narrow in England so there are no bicycle lanes- when you are stopped at a red light bicyclists come right up the side of your car in a very narrow space and practically lean against your roof as you both wait. Imagine the awkward moment you have your window rolled completely down, with your head out the window pointing your big Nikon at a church and three young cyclists pull up beside your car and are so close they might as well be in your lap. They snickered and made some snide comments to each other about said lady in the rental car, causing her cheeks to blaze red. Oh, did I meniton I was the lady? Yeah, I rolled up that window and sat stock still staring straight ahead as the cyclists were still less than 6 inches away.

streets of Cambridge

the photo I was taking as the cyclists rolled up right beside me.

I haven't completely written off Cambridge. It was lovely but we didn't get to see much of it because our GPS chose to mislead us yet again. Perhaps it was trying to preserve what was left of my dignity? In the Battle of Meeting My Expectations, Cambridge has been docked points for the lack of smartly dressed scholars and the unruly cyclists, Eton also threw in a horse drawn carriage so Cambridge might want to further up it's game.

*more photos from this trip and specifically of the interior of St Albans Cathedral can be found on my Instagram account: cheerupoldbean 

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