Sunday, May 24, 2009

"...of Cabbages and Kings..."

Are you ready for a nice long post? Well, get ready. I promise it is weird, interesting and decidedly English. So grab a cup of tea, or coffee if you must, and settle in for some stories of ghosts, kings and queens, witches, cats, rats and a-maze-ing adventures.

Yes, it is time to play catch up. It has been a fairly packed trip thus far and I have not even started my school course yet. I am, as stated before, in Paris now- but I would like to share with you about my trip to England.

Really, I did love London. It is busy, alive, interesting, friendly and I felt completely at ease walking its streets on my own.

Helpful British directions...

A wander down a random street would almost always lead to an interesting discovery. I never got lost and I enjoyed myself immensely. I wondered towards the end if I would regret leaving London to visit friends in the hinterlands of the English countryside. Not to worry... England has an interesting story at every turn and I was not disappointed.

I traveled by train to Ipswich to visit my friend Sally who is a former Bangalore expat. A quick one hour trip, only slightly complicated by my bulky luggage (it is hard to pack lightly for a 5 week trip!), and I was in the hands of Sally who turned out to be a most excellent and interesting tour guide! We started out right away by driving into the center of Ipswich where Sally pointed out many amazing examples of pargeting, a traditional plastering technique common to the area. Truly amazing stuff! Do look at the link for more information on how this is done.

Free form plastering artwork!

After a wander around and a bite to eat at a local pub we decided to visit a couple of castles that were in the area. First we went to Framlingham (c. 1190 a.d.) where they had an audio tour that was decidedly humorous and Monty Python-esque, though perhaps not quite as informative as I might have wanted- but that's okay- I also bought the guidebook.

Inside the Framlington Castle walls

It is an interesting castle in that it has a house/building still standing inside (likely re-built and such), but this allows you to envision how it might look if you were living inside a castle wall. The internal area is smaller than you might think and apparently this is one of the larger ones. My first castle! We then traveled to the previously mentioned Orford castle (last post). This one was more of a "tower castle" but was fascinating for all of the nooks and cranies that you could climb through and explore.

My most excellent tour guide!

We did climb all the way to the top where there was a view of the North Sea in the distance. At the top we also encountered a stiff, chill wind that sent us scurrying back to the car in short order.

Orford Village

That evening, for dinner, we went to The Butt and Oyster, a 17th Century pub on the banks of the River Orwell. For the record, the "butt" part of the name refers to a type of barrel used to transport oysters back in the day. If you thought otherwise, well, I suspect you would not be alone. This was apparently quite a smuggler's haven in the 19th century and it is said that the proprietors would leave a lantern in the window if it was safe to unload. The pub is quite close to the water's edge and at high tide and they can and do serve pints through the windows to boats who come close. The essential thing about the place is that they serve a good meal with a nice view, both of which we did enjoy!

Pinmill view

We ended the evening with a drive around the local area and passed by the house pictured below. This is Erwarton Hall and was at one time the home to a relative of Ann Boleyn's. She is said to have spent many memorable years here in her youth as well as some of her last days as she awaited her destined end. She loved the place so much that she gave orders for her heart to be buried here upon her demise. Quite the story, huh? Well apparently they found a small casket that contained human remains- now dust- some years back. The story is that they removed it to London for investigation, but after some strange occurances in the house, it was decided that the casket should be replaced. So the heart of Ann Boleyn is at rest once more.

Erwarton Hall

An alternate history, one that was published in the New York Times of November 13th, 1881, states that her heart was buried, and discovered, at nearby St. Mary's church (c. 15th Century) in Ewarton. Either way, her heart clearly lies in the local area. A beautiful peaceful spot worthy of her affections.

The next day we were off for a visit to Bury St. Edmunds. Another fine name for a fine English town. And what is Bury St. Edmund's known for? Well, for being the home of the ruins of the St. Edmund's Abbey-

the shrine and supposed home to the buried remains of St. Edmund of course! Local people will tell you that they would prefer that St. Edmund became the patron saint of England as opposed to St. George. Primarily because St. Edmund was actually English, while St. George was either Turkish, or African, or something else, but definitely not English. There is also the fact that St. George, lovely admirable man that he may have been, never even visited England. Interesting point!

Besides the ruins of the abbey, the area is also home to a Cathedral, recently visited by The Queen, it's lovely gardens, a brewery (I could smell the brewing beer as we were walking through the town!) and the smallest pub in England, measuring 15 x 7 feet, The Nutshell.

We cracked the door to The Nutshell and entered for a bit of refreshment. We encountered a friendly informative barman who filled us in on some of the history of the pub. The most entertaining of which was about the remains on the ceiling. Confused? Look closely below...

Do you see the dangly thing behind the front ceiling light? That would be the remains of a cat. Discovered while re-doing some brick work, cats were apparently buried alive within such constructs in years past as a means of keeping away witches. We were told by the barman that it doesn't work, as he knows several who visit the pub on a regular basis. The cat also has the company of a rat (seen dangling to the far right of the cat above) that was brought in by a customer some years ago. Since that time, the cat and rat have been joined by a human leg bone, the skeletal remains of some other unidentified animal, a blown up blowfish, and various other oddments. This pub is apparently also inhabited by several ghosts, though how they fit inside is beyond me!

After our bit of refreshment/entertainment, we departed for the coast. These are some English Beach huts. Another odd piece of British tradition, they are usually owned, though sometimes leased, and offer a bit of holiday getaway for their occupants. You are not allowed to sleep in them- only use them during the day while at the seaside. Though judging from the brisk, crisp air there, I think they are on to something!

Well, seeing as how the British are such brave souls I decided to dip my feet in the water as well. Refreshing!

The next day it was time to depart from Suffolk and travel over hill and dale in a roundabout way to Cheshire. Time to visit another former Bangalore expat, Andrea.

Now Andrea and her husband David are more recently arrived from Bangalore but they willingly put me up in their home (their shipment from India was due to arrive shortly after my visit) and treated me to the lovely sights and sounds of Macclesfield.

We started out that night with a visit to the nearby Bollington Festival. It seems that Andrea is not only a dear friend, she is also a talented performer and I was able to see her in a performance of the opera, Tobias and the Angel. This tells the story from the Book of Tobit (from the Apocrypha) about Tobit's son Tobias and his experiences with the Archangel Raphael. It was quite fun, accessible, and a wonderful way to spend the evening. After this performance we also enjoyed a tango performance. The dancers were good (though young and slightly lacking in emotional depth), but the music was fantastic!

The next day was a rainy one, so we ventured across the nearby Peak District (beautiful hills and valleys filled with farms, sheep, and lovely scenery) to Chatsworth, the estate and home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Wow. What a place. I am not sure that I would be as generous as they are- to open it up to the public 364 days a year. Entry fees do help pay for the upkeep of the estate, but I might want a few more days to myself there. It is stunning. The house is amazing enough, but what I really loved were the gardens. Really, as far as the eye could see is part of their estate. The estate has also been in several films, most recently and notably, The Duchess, staring Keira Knightly and Ralph Fiennes. This film was actually based on the story of the real life Georgiana, 18th Century Duchess of Devonshire. She was apparently quite scandalous!

We explored the house...

We explored and enjoyed the gardens...

And then we ventured into the maze. Okay, mazes should be logical, right? There are only so many entrances, only so many possible turns, and once you have tried and eliminated all previous possibilities you are led to the center of the maze. Easy. Well, we tried. We did all of the above to the best of my knowledge, we saw the center of the maze through the shrubbery, we heard a delighted child in the center... but we could not, would not, find the actual path to the center. We finally gave up once the rains stopped threatening and started falling with a peal of laughter in our general direction. We were defeated.

Ah well. We did enjoy ourselves and I felt like I had gotten a true taste of "The North" of England. Another beautiful spot in the world.

Phew. Still here? Wow. I'm impressed! I hope you enjoyed my quirky stories of England.

"...and why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings."

Lewis Carroll- who totally makes sense to me now!


Anonymous said...

All of it is lovely and mom and I went to Chatsworth, too! We couldn't do the gardens well :(

Anonymous said...

Lovely, lovely, lovely! The photos, your telling of your adventures and the scenery itself! I read every word!

Angeluna said...

Loved every word and photo. Thanks Cindy.

Jenina said...

hi Cindy,
I hv been reading your blog ever since I came upon it on search about Bangalore and travel stuff. I am from Maldives, living in Malaysia. Hv been to B'lore long time ago and thinking to of comign there this July for a holiday as some of my family is there right now. Since I blog too I got fascinated with yours and read it regularly. I like your views on places and love to read what you write!! Have a nice trip in Europe!

Bhavna said...

Hi Cindy,

Very nice pictures and the write-ups.