Time to leave Bath and head north. The big 4+ hour drive to the Lake District was ahead of us. We rented a luxury self-catering cottage near Coniston for a week, so that was our destination. The plan was to stop enroute and buy supplies for the week ahead, so that when we arrived we would be basically set up.
We got a good start in the morning and set off for the Lake District via the M5. Big mistake and good thing we had lunch on board. The M5 ground to a full parking lot halt just south of Birmingham. After about an hour and a half it was clear that things were not going to be moving anytime soon. Police arrived and started backing cars up and turning them around and then exiting them via the last exit. So much fun to drive the wrong direction on the M. Apparently a truck had crossed the barrier into oncoming traffic, taking out a Mercedes. Needless to say I was happy it was not our Mercedes. It was a huge mess and the highway was closed for hours and hours.
We managed to figure out a detour, found the M6 and made it to Low Sizergh Barn before they closed, but no time to visit the castle. With the entire back of the car full of local food, we headed to No. 1 Silverbank in Coniston. The last time we stayed in the Lake District we stayed much farther east and north at Lowther Farm – a lovely place which arranged for Organic chicken and eggs. We found that sourcing organic, artisan and local food challenging. Believe or not the best place was the Westmoreland Farms Motorway stop. Low Sizergh Barns has a great reputation for stocking all that and more, and although I was disappointed it didn’t have a butcher shop, we were not disappointed and got most things we needed.
The cottage awaited us in the rain. It was a bit farther to bring the bags in than I had planned and the bedrooms were all upstairs, but the cottage itself was nicely decorated and I was super pleased to find the kitchen had lots of utensils, pans & a full freezer! The plan was to BBQ. I am not the primary BBQ-er in the family, so I set out to investigate. There was a fancy BBQ up where the patio furniture was. I sent Jack out to hunt for charcoal and he found the last quarter of a bag. With that in hand, a box of matches, and some newspaper I set to get something lit. The charcoal left was little pieces and powder. It was raining and windy. Did I mention it was raining? Using a crazy number of matches, I got it lit. After a while I had enough heat to actually cook something so I threw on the burgers and steak and the buns. It was still windy but the rain had mostly let up. We ate burgers and steak and salad. It was not my best meal ever but it was edible.
The next morning, T & J both woke up with colds. I started with homeopathic remedies and we called it a movie day. It was pouring outside and the cottage came stocked with lots of DVDs. We watched Nanny McPhee and Inception. The rain let up and we threw ourselves together and went out to Gilpin Lodge for dinner. Dinner was very good and Trent was a trooper making it through a long dinner. The next day we managed to do almost nothing at all. I started some bread dough with the biodynamic stone ground flour I had scored. We had a lazy morning with a big breakfast which set off the smoke alarm (this would not be the last time.)
We headed out in the afternoon to Ambleside in hopes of getting Organic Milk and Coffee Beans. Don’t laugh too hard. Neither was acquired, but we did manage some psuedo-local milk. Apparently where we needed to go was Booths in Windermere. Jack scored a sweatshirt which got lots of use on the trip. Trent’s cold was better but not perfect. I still was managing not to get it. An ‘off’ day was a huge luxury, but a much needed one. I made a fire, baked bread and roasted a chicken (oh why oh why didn’t I bring my instant thermometer??) Despite my best efforts to ruin it, the chicken turned out perfectly and dinner was delicious.
Next up: Recovery Day Aquarium.
We had been lucky in choosing dates in May when HRH Prince Charles’ House Highgrove has the garden open for tours, and an optional Afternoon Tea. I purchased tickets in advance and they mailed us little blue boxes with our tickets and instruction. A lovely presentation. If you know anything about Highgrove you’ll know that HRH Prince Charles is an advocate of Organic & Biodynamic Farming & Gardening.
Off we set for Tetbury. There are strict rules for a visit to Highgrove. The first being that you are not allowed to arrive late, nor are you allowed to arrive more than 10 minutes early. We had a 40 minute drive and somehow managed to time things perfectly, despite completely missing the entrance. Highgrove has high hedges and fences and there are no signs. The driveway we were guided to, is a back one, much like you would expect deliveries to use. It’s marked Private Drive. Visitors must show identification at the gate where armed guards await. Once you are passed through you must stay with the group at all times and no phones, videos, or cameras are allowed. Visitors meet in a building built by the Prince for functions not too far from the main house, and it’s also where the afternoon tea is served.
The good news is Prince Charles’ garden is delightful. It’s my kind of garden, wild and whimsical. The meadow of wildflowers is truly inspiring. You do get to see the outside of the house and the gardens close to it. Really the only thing we didn’t see were the farm/utility buildings. The Afternoon tea too was lovely, accompanied with Champagne and a pianist. Trent had Highgrove apple juice. All the proceeds go to the Prince’s Trust charities.
So how do you follow up on that experience? More garden walking of course. We had passed an Arboretum on the way to Tetbury so we headed back to it. At Westonbirt Arboretum, armed with raincoats, we were dazzled by the Rhododendrons and by the truly stunning “handkerchief tree” a Davidia.
T had a great time running around and hiding amongst the Rhododendrons and Japanese Maple Trees. There were some activity bases scattered amongst the plantings and so T had fun trying them out. At the shop, I bought a wool throw to accompany us into the north (good thing too) and we set off for ‘home base’.
Back at the Bath Priory we had a sunny afternoon and the boys went down to explore the gardens taking in a few rounds of croquet, before dinner.
Dinner at the Bath Priory was a multi-course pricey affair, but exceeded our expectations. After dinner we arranged for some wine from their cellar to take with us & a picnic lunch of sandwiches for our trip to The Lake District the next day.
Next up: Rainy Days in the North.
Day 3 Takes us on a big loop around Bath. One of the joys of traveling with young people, is that you seek out and do things you would never likely do, if you were traveling as a couple, or on your own. One of these special things is visiting Zoos and Aquariums. Our young traveler enjoys ‘live things’ and so seeking out some animals, fish, birds and plants, makes the more static entertainments endurable.
Our first stop on a cloudy day is Longleat Safari Park. It is part zoo and part drive through safari. We’ve all decided that the drive through part is not on the agenda today, but the hedge maze is at the top priority. We got a late start, as the time was not quite making sense yet. Longleat seems literally in the middle of nowhere. I set the car’s Nav for it, and was shocked it got us there – with some signs to guide us to the entrance, the road had tons of yellow & purple wild Rhododendrons. The gatehouse sells the tickets and parking together – a hefty sum, but it bid us entry. The driveway had a dramatic splash of rhododendron & azalea colors but I was totally unprepared for the big house which was revealed at the crest of the hill. Apparently the Longleat property is owned by the Marquess of Bath. The ancestral house was started in the 1500s. It is breathtaking. On the road in I spotted our 1st pheasant of the trip.
We parked and headed in. A pavement labyrinth greeted us and we headed directly for the Hedge Maze. The sky was overcast and threatened rain, so despite the 30 min + maze-solving time warning we headed in with hooded raincoats ready to go. Five minutes late (no kidding) we reached the center and exit. Their record was 10 minutes, so either there was luck, or our current hedge maze solving tactic works like a charm.
Trent was taken by the prospect of a playground, so he was even more delighted to find a two-story structure with metal slides, climbing nets, zip lines all with a tree house theme. What fun! After a good run through, we decided to go in search of the Mirror Maze. On the way we ducked into the Bat Cave and were stunned to find it was a dark building with actual bats flying around your head as you walked through. Too cool!. Off to see some animals, we visited the Meercats, chipmunks and The next stop was King Arthur’s Mirror Maze. The goal to find all the treasures (holy grail, crest, sword, etc.) and escape. A little on the easy side, we still enjoyed it. A quick not-so exciting lunch in the basement of the big house we went in search of the Sun & Moon mazes. Alas the yew was not grown enough yet and it will be a few years until they are open. We wandered the gardens a bit. We found a full model of the house and decided to wrap up our visit with the Monkey House. Who would have imagined our adventure to come. In the bird house they sold little pots of liquid food for the birds. I bought 2: one for Trent and one for me. They warned to keep it covered until you were well inside… good luck with that. Within seconds of entry both Trent & I were covered in hungry birds. Trent was not too thrilled with the experience, I loved it! Thank goodness he strongly requested we go to the Monkey House otherwise we might have missed it. A rabbit pet and snake holding session later, we exit the park to dramatic views of the house.
Off to Lacock Abbey. We arrived mid-afternoon. The tour is self-guided which suits our family well. The first stop was the stone arched halls around the courtyard. Some of the rooms off the halls were used as classrooms in Harry Potter movies 1 & 2. The crawl around the very “house” like Abbey was fun. We had just enough time to get to Avebury before the gates closed.
On the way we spy a White Horse carved into the hillside. I think it was the one at Alton, Wiltshire.
We arrive at Avebury just a few minutes before the shops and other sites close and have a walk around. We note the white paths (chalk) which make a dramatic contrast to the stones and the green grass. Lots of sheep around, so stepping cautiously we wander amongst the stones (you can touch them and walk around them). Avebury is very different than Stonehenge, but alas I still was not entranced by the site. There is a road which runs through the bigger circle and the small circle is very close to the town.
We visit the museums close by just before they close. One of them is very new and supposedly kid-friendly, and could not be more boring. Fortunately I had purchased both an English Heritage and National Trust membership so our visit didn’t have an extra charge, otherwise we would have been feeling rather ripped off.
It was now late enough we needed a dinner plan. I had scoped out a 1-star Michelin gastro-pub near Bristol, and an interesting little restaurant not too far from Avebury, as options. We settled on the 1-star and I called to make a reservation and set the Nav. We drove cross Bath directly to The Pony & Trap, in Chew Magna. It wasn’t worth the long drive, but we did have a pleasant dinner. An evening drive back to Bath and we had a lovely night’s sleep to get ready for the big outing in the morning: Prince Charles’ Garden.
A blissfully uneventful trip to Heathrow. Virgin Atlantic was living up to the reputation – mostly. I think it was fortunate that T & J had a full snack at the Virgin lounge before the flight. The food was still eyebrow raising (steak & mushroom pie, resembled nothing you can imagine) but generally it was a smooth transfer. The young traveler had chosen not to sleep on the plane until the the very end – about 10mins before landing, so of course I was kissing him awake at the gate. 14 miles of walking, and a bus haul on, haul off later, landed us at Hertz rent a car to pick up the Volvo we had booked. To my surprise Jack drives up in a R300 Mercedes. Not sure if that was a score (jury is out on that) but certainly a touch more luxury than we had expected.
It came with a navigation system, and I’m starting to get good at these, so I actually managed to program it with directions to Stonehenge within 30mins, unfortunately that wasn’t before a detour had sent us off in the wrong direction – definitely the closest to Hampton Court that I’ve come. Trent was sound asleep again and missed all the signs to Legoland, Windsor Castle, etc.
He was still asleep when we made it to Stonehenge, but I did my best to wake him up and he begrudging tottered after me, extra growly. With about 5 mins viewing in the wind and cold. Onwards to Bath. The Nav system managed to take us through downtown Bath at rush hour delaying the process, and then didn’t actually find the hotel, but between googlemaps and the hotel directions we detoured quickly and managed to find it.
I chose the Bath Priory as it was a small hotel in our price range. We were greeted warmly and our bags whisked away to our room. I love the UK & European (although not all countries) practice of trust. No need for a credit check or ID swipe when you arrive. You simply are checked in by showing up for your reservation.
We were shown to the Tulip room, a lovely room in yellow, with a small sitting area, desk, dining table and a comfortable bed at the end of the house overlooking the garden. A towel turned into an elephant and a games book and colored pencils greeted our young guest. Note: there is a nursery school a few doors up – and the sound of children playing can be heard during the day.
We tried out room service for dinner as we needed something to eat without the hassle of getting dressed to go downstairs for dinner. T & I ate our toasted sandwiches in PJs while watching the British version of Wipeout. Jack ordered a lovely bottle of Burgundy which lulled us into sleep, and I managed to sleep through the night beating jetlag for the 1st time in while.
Off to adventure… We headed out into Bath, finding the Royal Crescent and a parking spot – but alas we had no coins to get a parking pass so we headed deeper into the town. We found a newsstand and a parking spot on Gay Street, just south of the circus and headed for the Fashion Museum/Assembly rooms. A quick visit (I was fascinated, the boys, not so much), we noted the oldest dress in the collection (17th C), the oldest gloves William Shakespeare’s time, Queen Victoria’s black dress and the oldest white wedding dress (from 1828). I was taken with the parasol collection. We also breezed through their more modern fashion display seeing some evolution of fashion in general and then their special Helmut Lang exhibit.
We went in search of Liz Cox (the bath bag maker) but her store was closed, so we headed for Indian Food for lunch, finding that the restaurant of our memory was not the right one, but had a pleasant lunch at Bengal Brasserie anyways. T spotted ThreeAs Martin robot figures on the way back. So he and I stopped in while Jack headed to the car as our parking time was running out. Lovely parking ticket on our car saddened the mood, as somehow we had managed to get a 1hr not a 2hr parking voucher, but we brushed it off and headed for the Roman Baths.
Roman Baths were not enrapturing but gave us an insight into the origins of Bath. Memorable highlights were the Gorgon and the cooling bath. The piles of tiles to raise the (no longer existing) floating floor were an interesting concept. We managed a bit of shopping and scored a sim chip for the ipad in town before heading back to the car.
Dinner was off the cuff, and Jack chose a restaurant at the Queensbury Hotel called the Olive Branch. The chef is lively and the dishes were surprisingly delicious. Care is obviously taken both in the kitchen and upfront where the owner keeps charge. The children’s menu was a first for us, offering some real food choices and (drum roll please) offering any menu item at 1/2 charge. The child’s menu plate was elaborately garnished like ours were. A lovely dining experience.
Tomorrow’s adventures: A Circle, A Maze & Some Famous Arches.
This latest adventure is taking us to the UK. As always I research trips and cross reference and note links and save and print and search some more. In the spirit of all of that I’ve saved some of the links I used in researching this latest pond jump. Perhaps they will help you plan a future trip. Do what thou wilt with them.
Sights to See in Northumberland:
Cumbria Sights to See & Cumbria Food Links
Artisan Food – Lake District
Travel in Northumberland & & Oxfordshire & Cumbria Accommodation & General:
Mazes to Note:
So it’s almost May. The garden is planted thanks to Forni-Brown-Welsh Gardens (where we acquired this year’s heirloom tomato, pepper, melon, squash & eggplant starts), the birds are singing, and I think the rain may be done by the end of the week. That means to us that it’s Travel Time again. This year we chose simple and easy, over a long journey with many stops. This year it’s just 4 locations, one country and almost 4 weeks of exploring. I will tell you more as that unfolds.
The current state of affairs, is winding up loose threads in the winter life. Lampworking at GlassFusion Studios with Goldy has pinnacled at glassblowing. T’s first glassblowing was a huge success and eyeopener. He’s not quite big enough to do full scale glass blowing, I think, but this was a step towards it and lifted the veil. His 1st ornament is lovely. The other pieces he made; a tank, a plant stake and a cased glass mushroom, were all stunning.
Our PMC ring projects finally were finished. We work with Mary Neuer Lee and she is just amazing. My mother’s ring was one of my best I’ve done with a cherry blossom band set with a ruby. I also created a pirate treasure ring with an Alexandrite and a maze band set with a garnet, which I may never take off.
We went trout fishing last week. A first fishing trip for both Trent & I. He caught 10 fish, the biggest was 17″ long. It will not be our last trip, as fishing was a colossal hit. We went to a trout farm in Calistoga called Smith’s Mountain St. Helena Trout Farm. A great all-round first experience with bamboo fishing poles and a non-live bait. We’re all set to poke pole fish at the beach in June.
Next week is a Baseball game, a Magic: The Gathering Draft, a trip to Alcatraz & a party celebrating the early release of Sifteo small interactive fun educational cubes which we’ve been privileged to play with over the last couple weeks.
It’s certainly been quite a month. A Birthday, Spring Celebrations, Exploratorium Science Classes, a Bouverie Hike, filled the month full of color and energy, bubbles & butter. Kapla made a resurgence, requiring a revisit to marble runs and some new color planks, an RC helicopter has been a smash hit, Zometools have been utilized to make bubbles on a number of occasions, ATCs (artist trading cards) were finished and sent out, washi eggs were created, science class sparked interest in tops, rockets, butter & tin foil ovens…
Other wildness and new passions have been the launch of our own Minecraft server, T’s 1st Skype acct and Steam. Between that and youtube videos about the above, Magic: The Gathering and the ipad app EDEN (a Minecraft-like app), it’s been a whirlwind of activity at our house.
Did I mention that The Sketchbook Project 2012 event has been announced… All of our sketchbooks have been viewed as they’ve been traveling around the country. I can’t tell you the excitement at getting an email “Your Sketchbook Has Been Viewed In xxxx”!
Are you tired yet? I am. But there’s much much more ahead… We’re already planning well into August. The sky is the limit… Off we go…