On to London Town

The sun was shining brightly this morning in Harrogate and with a clear sunny forecast in store for us, we set off to return our car to Leeds. Thank goodness for the GPS. There are so many roundabouts here we would never be able to navigate it all with a paper map.

Once in Leeds we boarded a high speed train to London. Buying same day tickets can cost a fortune we have learned over the years, but if you purchase them in advance, it’s a real deal. We traveled first class with a meal and wine service included for 75US for both of us. I love to travel by rail watching the changing landscape out the window and imagining what it would be like to live in different places along the way. I observed the people around me. One man was watching a funny movie with wireless earbuds while another woman read a novel The Rumor while a wooden westie dangled from her dog print bag.

We are staying at the Sloane Square Hotel which was recommended by my nephew Chip. He told me that this was a favourite hotel of my sister Susan whenever she came to London. We have a small room, but a sweet teddy with a message that he was up for adoption greeted us on the bed. Of course we said yes. The room overlooks the Holy Trinity Church. We walked around the area and the brick architecture of the buildings is beautiful. There’s a lovely square in front of the hotel where hand painted horses are displayed to remind people of the importance of protecting horses all around the world.

Behind our hotel we found a small pedestrian zone with cheese and wine shops. We visited a small shop with all high end items such as coffee, tea, and wine, and surprisingly even a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal with churros and a bottle of Aunt Jemima

Dinner tonight was around the corner at the Wolf & Lamb which is vegetarian. Their spinach and mushroom sourdough pizza with a side of potato, endive, artichoke, and radish summer salad seemed as if was picked right out of the garden.

Tonight we walked around the neighborhood discovering elegant residential streets with many homes with historical markers. We have stayed in South Kensington the past two years, but this area is very special and I can see why my family and sister Susan liked it so much. I lit a candle in her memory tonight in the Holy Trinity Church next door.

Step Into the Past at Harewood

“We are what we make.” This is the theme we encountered today when we pulled up to Harewood House known as Yorkshire’s most vibrant home. Not sure what this was about, we soon learned the exhibition celebrates 26 makers and how their craft can play in culture, identity, and society. In every room, a different craft was featured. For example, the craft of doing woodwork around the floors and ceilings was introduced with the story of the craftsman along with what being a maker means to them. Other crafts included the art of weaving rugs, designing textiles, decorating tiles, and even the art of making ballet slippers and each craft was carefully described in the artist’s own words,

While most heritage homes celebrate the wealthy family who lives in the home, this home told the stories of those who worked below the main floors. We heard recorded stories from cooks, housemaids, and cleaners.

Outside the grand house is a garden terrace designed with shrubs trimmed into geometric pyramids. Flower beds are meticulously maintained along with pools with statues.

What was perhaps most enchanting were the activities for children, A small farm animal exhibit allowed children to watch, but not pet, goats, alpacas, and exotic birds. Children were also directed to a mini beast trail where they could capture a bug, sketch it in the art area, and release it back into nature.

Just down the hill from the house is a small lake with a tiny ferry only big enough for 12 people. Pulled by chains, it picks up passengers every 6 minutes. On the other side of the lake we found a delightful walled in pleasure garden with 36 speakers disguised as bird houses, placed throughout the garden. As you move about, mystical music plays along with sounds of nature. I am not sure it was a place for 4 year olds to play a rousing game of hide and seek as we saw, but it was very relaxing to be there.

Tonight we decided to find a restaurant serving fish and chips. It was delicious and came served with mushy peas. We talked about our day at Harewood. I think what was most extraordinary for me was I left knowing more about all the people who helped make that house a home rather than the people who actually lived there. That made it a really special experience for me.

Of Victorian Art and an Ancient Abbey

We have been so lucky this year. England is notorious for rain, but so far we have just experienced warm clear sunny days.

Right across the street from our hotel in Harrogate’s oldest surviving spa dating back to 1806 is the Mercer Art Gallery. It’s a small gallery celebrating the art of William Powell Frith known as the people’s painter. Frith painted people in every day situations in panoramic style. For example, Life at the Seaside (1851-1854j depicts a seaside scene at Ramsgate Sands. There was a station set up in front of the painting inviting visitors to experience the painting as the Victorians did when they came to single painting exhibitions. Using a timer, the visitor today is asked to study the painting for 10 minutes and journal their thoughts after doing so. This was a good activity for me because my friends and family know I tend to look too quickly and not take time to ponder the paintings. It was a great mindfulness activity even though the power went out while I was studying the painting.

Other paintings on exhibit showed a study of aristocrats from fame to poverty and a scene from a railway station. Photographs were exhibited showing the same scene in modern times. I felt completely relaxed at this Gallery.

After picking up our rental car we drove to a National Trust Site: Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. It’s located in a rural natural park like setting. We toured the Studley House where we learned that during the depression era, Mr. Studley hired young boys in the area to train so that they could eventually build a village with small homes in a rural area. It reminded me of the Levittown concept in New York after WWII. Sadly many were unable to adapt to rural life.

Walking along the well maintained gravel paths lined with Queen Anne’s Lace and purple wildflowers, lazy fat bumblebees buzz about everywhere as the coo of wood pigeons echo down from ancient trees. The ruins of the Abbey tell of 400 years of monastic life dating back to 1132. Long ago crumbling ruins were in favor, but there is evidence of stonework to preserve what remains. Although there is no roof, statues, or elaborate stone work, it is a very peaceful place with a bubbling stream alongside it. We followed the stream down the hill to some man made pools and stopped at the small cafe. We both agreed we could have spent an entire day there.

Tonight we walked around the town to window shop and tour some of the old world establishments. Dinner was at Wagamama which is also in Boston but we like their pan Asian food. After dinner we stopped at an old fashioned hotel called The Swan Hotel to have coffee outside in their garden. It is the type of place where Ode to Joy plays in the lounge and handbags your great granny might have carried and poodle gemstone pins she might have worn are displayed for sale in glass cases. It has been a relaxing day but one we will long remember.

Harrogate: An Old World Yorkshire Town

Breakfast this morning was no ordinary experience. We were served fried mushrooms, tomatoes, and spinach sitting on top of scrambled eggs with Baker Tom’s fresh herbal bread. We do not know who Baker Tom is but his name is on menus at all the best cafes.

We took a short haul flight from Newquay Airport, a small Cornish Airport, on Flybe. The flight to Leeds/Bradford Airport in Yorkshire took just under an hour. Our hotel, Studley Hotel is in the city center right near shops, museums, and gardens, Long ago this was a spa town with sulphur water and there’s evidence everywhere of the Victorian spa town days.

Just down the road from our hotel is Valley Gardens. Filled with colorful flowerbeds, hidden duck ponds, and old shade trees, it’s one of the most beautiful and peaceful parks I have seen. We noticed an old Victorian ice cream shop in the middle that serves homemade ice cream. We will check it out tomorrow. Toward the back of the park was a kids play area with a large splash pool called a paddle pool, zip lines, climbing structures, tennis, crazy golf, and pitch and putt. We played a round of crazy golf on the simplistic course and it was lots of fun.

Exploring the area around our hotel we noticed a restaurant called Lettuce and Slug. I love that name and we hope to stop in there tomorrow.

Tonight we ate dinner at the pan Asian restaurant in our hotel. The crispy lemon chicken and beef with noodles was excellent. We walked around town and discovered an old spa from the late 1800s that is now a fun place for an after dinner drink. Six business men kept ordering bottles of Budweiser at the bar. I was getting irritated they kept ordering while we were ignored so I moved. Finally It was my turn so I ordered two limoncellos. They did not know what I meant so I ordered two Irish coffees. I was thinking they would probably pile it high with canned whipped cream instead of the real thing which would be ok with me, but instead we got two diner style coffees mugs with a little Irish whiskey in them and were directed to a self serve coffee machine. We pressed the cappuccino button and it was ok, but not what we were expecting.

Harrogate looks like a really interesting town. We are hoping for good weather tomorrow.

Traveling Deeper into Cornwall

When I visited Cornwall with my parents growing up,we spent a lot of time driving around visiting small fishing villages. I remember one time we pulled over to the side of the road to photograph a small island with a castle on top, but although it looked intriguing, we moved on. I’ve often thought of that island and today we went for a visit.

St. Michael’s Mount was built 1500 years ago as a monastery,but was later converted to a fortified castle, and eventually into a home. Now overseen by the National Trust we were thrilled to find a parking space until the lot attendant said, “St. Michael’s Mount is closed on Saturdays.” Why Saturday of all days I did not know, but it really was not a problem. With the tide out, we walked across the stone causeway and were able to tour the base of the island where 39 people live in stone houses. It sounds so rustic, but when I opened the creaky wooden door to the bathroom I was greeted with a recorded voice that said, “Welcome. Please wave your hands if you are visually impaired and instructions will will be given.” I have never experienced anything like that.

Back in town we stopped at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the island. Children with bucket and spade in hand either dug in the sand or went meticulously tide pooling.

The sun came out as we headed to our next stop which was the ancient village of Chysauster. It’s the archaeological remains of a prehistoric village high on a wind swept hill. Walking up the gravel path to the site we stopped to admire miniature ponies munching on grass while bees buzzed about the raspberries growing along the hedge. Once we reached the top of the hill, signboards explained each dwelling. All that remains are the stone foundations but they stir the imagination. Some people believe that if Christ visited Cornwall which he may have because one of his disciples was a tin trader, its the round stone thatched roofed houses he would have seen.

Our last stop today was St. Ives, a seaside town with an expansive beach. Finding a parking space was a nightmare. We ended up driving along the beach with hundreds of people oblivious to a car behind them. The streets were so narrow everyone pulled in all their mirrors.

At the promenade I bought a Cornish clotted cream vanilla bean ice cream cone. As I stepped out onto the beach it suddenly felt as if someone threw a stiff pillow at my head. It happened so fast that before I knew it, my ice cream cone was being carried off by a resourceful seagull. We’ve heard stories about this. All I remember is a flutter of wings and it was over, a total ambush right on the beach.

Dinner tonight was again at Indidog in Falmouth. It is a new restaurant owned by Simon and Vanessa who own our accomodation and it was delicious. We had hake and mussels fresh from the sea. All this while enjoying a view of the harbor. Tomorrow we leave for Yorkshire.

A Sentimental Journey

I am a very sentimental person. If I start to clean a closet the whole thing comes to a standstill when I find a box of postcards, letters, and photos. I will sit down and look at them all. Before we came on this trip I poured over all my old postcards of Cornwall. Last year we made a memorable journey to St. Mawes, a seaside village where I spent many summers growing up and after introducing it to David last year, we both could not wait to return.

This area once had strategic forts to protect the English coastline from Spanish and French invasion from the sea with two 16th century stone castles built at the entrance to the harbor: one outside Falmouth and one in St. Mawes. This morning we visited Pendennis castle which was situated high on the hill with cannons pointed out to the sea. The self guided tour inside was interesting with a video of men in silhouette taking you back in time by discussing an impending invasion. On the expansive lawn, dogs played and the Heritage site guides led activities for children. It was well done.

Our journey to St. Mawes took us around the peninsula, through long winding hedgerow lanes, and down to the River Fal for the King Harry Ferry. It’s a wonderful old car ferry pulled by heavy chains. They had a pop up exhibit of pictures by local Cornish artist Matt Johnson. We had ordered the poster at the top of the page before we arrived and he kindly delivered it to our accommodation. Once on the other side of the river, it’s a quick 15 minutes to the parking lot of an old wind blown castle ( the twin of Pendennis) which is situated at the top of the hill.

Walking down the long winding lane into St. Mawes, it felt like coming home. I only remember warm sunny days in St. Mawes which I am sure with wet English summers was not the case, but today the weather was perfect.

For many years, my family stayed at the Hotel Tresanton overlooking the water. They have a beautiful outdoor dining area on their upper level terrace where we had lunch today. White coated servers brought us crab sandwiches and salad fresh picked right out of the garden. All around us were families just enjoying the ambience. Dessert was chocolate mousse and fresh picked strawberries with homemade strawberry ice cream.

Everything today looked perfect in St. Mawes. Children swam in the crystal clear water, sailboats glided gently in the wind, and paddle boarders rowed out into the water, many with dogs onboard. Just watching them made you feel as if you were in a dream state.

At the head of the town overlooking the harbor is the Idle Rocks Hotel. I stayed there with my parents for several years and I remember it as having a seaside vibe.

Last year we attempted to recreate a photo on the terrace of the Idle Rocks of me with a boy I had met from Wales when I was 13, but the wind was so strong we could not do it. Today while enjoying a melon cocktail on the terrace, a kind man restaged the photo for us. I’m squinting in the bright sun, but look closely and you will see it was taken in the exact same spot.

Before reboarding the car ferry we visit St. Just in Roseland. We visited a beautiful old stone Anglican Church located in a cove with old gravestones right down to the water’s edge. I have an old photo of me looking at the hydrangeas and admiring the church. It felt very familiar and peaceful. We wrote prayers and hung them on a special tree designed for this purpose.

Dinner tonight was back in Falmouth at Zizzi which serves delicious pizza. We are tired after a day of adventure and fun, but looking back, it has truly been a magical day.

Titanic Stories and a Woodland Walk

Early this morning at our accommodation the Highcliffe Contemporary B&B, we had quite a treat for breakfast: A bacon butty on a Homemade Cornish muffin. It was delicious.

Just a 10 minute walk from our B&B is the National Maritime Museum of Cornwall which has a display of old boats and other Maritime memorabilia. Traders from Falmouth once sailed all around the world on ships called packet ships. I was really looking forward to an exhibit called Titanic stories and it exceeded my expectations. It began with a list of long held assumptions about the Titanic, most of which I thought were true such as more women survived than men and steerage class passengers were blocked by gates. Display boards told the true stories. The number of men and women was fairly equal and steerage class had to navigate a labyrinth of corridors to get to the top deck and never made it in time.

An impressive number of books have been written about the Titanic and movies have been made, some which date back to 1912. A cabinet of Titanic memorabilia, most of which I have never seen such as Titanic soap that sinks, posed the question, “Are there boundaries on what should be sold in the face of a tragedy or was it so long ago we should not be so sensitive?” After hearing that the great uncle of one of my friends went down with the Titanic, it makes the story even sadder. I asked my fourth grade class this past June how many of them knew of the Titanic. The answer was surprising: less than one third. I will introduce this story to my class this year.

Since it was sunny and warm, we decided to walk around Falmouth and explore some of the shops.

In the afternoon we drove to Trelissick Gardens which is a National Trust Site. Following a map, we walked on the woodland paths through gardens bursting with hydrangeas and sweet pea. We toured the house on the estate built in the 1700s, but it had very few artifacts left inside except some books, sporting equipment, and Spode China. It was more about the amazing view of the harbor. We learned that the area was used to practice for the D-Day invasion by American soldiers in WWII.

Dinner tonight was at Indidog Eatery on the Harbour. It’s a new restaurant that just opened and is owned by the owners of our accommodation. Our table overlooked the harbor and we could have stayed there and admired the view for hours. We dined on smoked mackerel for a starter followed by hake with peas in mint sauce. Our desert was lemon creme brûlée. The service there was impeccable. I wish we lived here because it’s our new favorite restaurant. Tomorrow it’s supposed to be sunny so we are off to St. Mawes.