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Flamstead Scarecrow Festival

Flamstead


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Today Dave and I went to the annual Flamstead Scarecrow Festival with Emma and Mark.

I've only been there once or twice before, when they first started holding this festival just over a decade ago. They had clearly expanded the whole thing since then; there was a similar amount of scarecrows, but now there was also a group of stalls, live music outside one or two of the pubs, cream teas in the church hall and Morris dancers outside it.

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The best scarecrow, in my opinion, was the Elmer the Elephant with a round furry blue monster on his back. Apparently Elmer is 25 this year! I also really liked the row of Pac-Man scarecrows, the Brownies scarecrows and the Toad of Toad Hall scarecrow in his (real) motor car. Dave also liked the Darth Vader scarecrow.

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As well as walking the streets looking at creative scarecrows, we looked round the stalls, had a slice of cake at the church hall and watched the Morris dancers perform.

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Emma and I went into the church of St Leonard and were given a short tour by a friend of Emma's. He showed us the medieval wall paintings (the finest or oldest in Hertfordshire after those in St Albans cathedral, apparently) and the 16th century graffiti carved into two of the pillars.

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Posted by 3Traveller 11:38 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged art united_kingdom sisters scarecrows flamstead traditional_customs Comments (0)

Oxford: Lardy cake, witch in a bottle, shark & more

Cumnor and Oxford


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Breakfast at the Bear & Ragged Staff was excellent (I had Eggs Benedict for the first time) and afterwards we admired a small display of objects that had been found under the floorboards of the pub in 1988. There was an empty Player's Navy Cut cigarette packet, an empty Martins Gold Leaf cigarette packet, several marbles (including clay ones), an old handpainted King of Spades playing card, an ink bottle, a key, some buttons and one or two other things.

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After this we checked out and drove into Oxford. The first thing we did was browse in and buy lots of books from the Oxfam Bookshop on St Giles.

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Then we went on to the Covered Market, home of the famous Oxfordshire lardy cake, venison sausages and much much more. Mum bought some special pies at a butcher/ piemaker's and both of us bought two lardy cakes at a bakery stand. Oxfordshire lardy cake is one of the most delicious sweet things I've ever tasted, especially when heated.

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A quick look at the High Street followed. First of all we went into Payne & Son, the silversmith where Dad got Mum her engagement ring.

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While Mum was still in there, I walked down the road a little bit to have a quick look at Queen's College, where Dad went. Unfortunately the place was closed to tourists, but through the open main door I did get a view of part of the quadrangle.

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Mum then went off to sort the car out before the parking ticket ran out and I paid a visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum. To get there I passed through part of the Natural History Museum. From left to right: the museum, the jaw of a sperm whale, a dinosaur skeleton, a stuffed flamingo and the Oxford Dodo.

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I'd recommend both of these to anyone, but especially Pitt Rivers. It's one of the best anthropology museums in the world and is an absolute treasure trove. Totally fascinating. I wandered round for ages looking at a variety of exhibits, including amulets, charms and other objects used for divination in Africa, Asia and the Americas...

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...a small silver bottle said to have a witch inside...

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...unusual musical instruments from around the world, including a shell used as a trumpet for fog warnings at sea in Cornwall in the 19th century, nose flutes from the Pacific, and an Indian fiddle in the shape of a peacock...

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...weapons, shields, armour, masks, shrunken heads, Native American clothing and 'moss figures' from Russia (carved wooden figures covered in moss, who were used to worship a god who guarded the forest).

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The armour included some from Kiribati made from coconut fibre with a helmet made from a porcupine fish;

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Eventually Mum picked me up and we drove back to St Albans the quick way. On our way out of Oxford we passed by the famous model of a shark a man has sticking out of his rooftop. A very surreal sight anywhere, the fact that it's in an otherwise perfectly normal house in the suburbs makes it even more so.

Posted by 3Traveller 10:16 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged art united_kingdom hotel market museum oxford mum traditional_customs british_cuisine Comments (0)

Oxfordshire walk

Nuneham Courtenay to Abingdon Lock


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Today Mum and I did one of the 9 stages of the Oxford Green Belt Way Walk. I've forgotten whether it was Stage 2 or 3 but it was from Nuneham Courtenay to Abingdon Lock.The reason for doing this walk is because Dad had been very keen to do it (a lot of family history from Dad's side is connected to Oxford and its surroundings) but didn't manage to do any of the stages before he got too ill, so now we are doing them for him. Mum is going to gradually complete all 9 stages; I was still in Ecuador when she and several others did the previous stage together, so now that I was back in the UK I really wanted to do the next one with her.

Instead of using the motorway, we decided to travel to Oxford the original way. This meant going through Berkhamstead High Street, past all the old coaching inns, before following A-roads past Tring, Aylesbury and Thame. As we went past Thame we kept our eyes out for pigs, but we didn't see any. There always used to be a pig farm there and because the pigs had little metal shelters set up for them, on both sides of the road, Mum said it used to feel like she was driving through a pig village.

We were lucky with the weather because apart from a shower shortly after we had begun the walk, the sun shone all the way through.

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Although we were very tired by the time we reached the end, we enjoyed the walk a lot. It took us about three hours because we got distracted so often! We picked and ate loads of very sweet, ripe and juicy blackberries from the hedgerows; looked at deeply engraved, old-looking graffiti on a bridge over a railway; spotted some swallows and red kites; stopped for a drink and a snack at the point where we first met the River Thames; and were asked for directions from two French girls who were dressed in exceedingly peculiar cycling clothes. As we walked along the side of the Thames I hoped to see a kingfisher, but had no luck.

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Once we reached our final destination, Abingdon Lock, we looked round it a bit - at the list of lock keepers going back to the 18th century, for example - before crossing the weir and beating a path to the nearest supermarket, our best bet for a taxi back to Nuneham Courtenay.

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We were desperate for one because by now our legs felt like they were going to drop off any minute. Waitrose came to our rescue. The traffic was terrible, so the journey ended up being extremely expensive for how relatively short it was. The driver had no card machine but when Mum and I clubbed together all the cash we had on us we were still a pound short - luckily he kindly let us off it.

After a reviving hot drink at a nearby restaurant bar we carried on to the Bear & Ragged Staff, our accommodation for the night. This is in Cumnor, another village near to Oxford. Several decades ago my great-grandfather built his own house here, as well as a house for my grandparents after they got married. The Bear & Ragged Staff is pub/ restaurant/ hotel within one very historic and atmospheric building and a newer extension wing. Our room was in the old part which we were pleased about. We had dinner downstairs, but before that happened I was delighted to hear church bell peals in the distance. I really like that sound and since the bells sound different in Ecuador I hadn't heard it in ages.

Posted by 3Traveller 08:26 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged bridges birds united_kingdom hotel mum british_countryside Comments (0)

Manchester: Deer, dear?

Derby, Manchester and Dunham Massey Hall


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On the way north to Manchester Mum and I stopped in Derby to have a cup of tea/ coffee with my great-aunt, who I hadn't seen since January. It was really nice to speak to her and show her my engagement ring.

Mum and I carried on from Derby up to Manchester, where we spent a lovely weekend with Dave, his parents and extended family.

Yesterday we visited Dunham Massey Hall, originally built in the 17th century though some alterations were made in the following three centuries. Although it would be interesting to visit at any time, we went there this weekend for a specific reason. During WW1 Dunham Massey Hall was converted into Stamford Military Hospital; to commemorate the centenary of the start of the war, they have temporarily reconstructed it. We walked round the ward, recreation room, operating theatre, an extremely atmospheric Georgian library, complete with a carving by the famous woodcarver Grinling Gibbons (I'm not sure if the soldiers were allowed in this room) and one or two other rooms in the main hall, and then the kitchen, laundry and others in a separate building next door.

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There was lots of very interesting information given in each room, including background information about some of the soldiers and also the family who owned Dunham Massey at the time and worked in/ ran the hospital once it was constructed. There were also some actors playing the roles of one or two of the soldiers and nurses; at the start of the tour we were told that as far as they were concerned they were just going about their everyday life in 1916 - 1918 and could not see us, the visitors from 2014, so they would not 'see' or acknowledge us in any way. Every now and then they would do a small sketch of an interaction that could have actually taken place because they were based on the background information known about the soldier or nurse they were playing. They never announced any of these, of course, because officially they were not aware of any audience. If you didn't happen to be in the room at the time, then you missed it. I loved the way this was all set up.

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In the building next door there were two actors playing kitchen-maids who were also just going about their everyday jobs, but this time did acknowledge visitors if they were asked a question. They still replied in character, though; I thought they were excellent. While I was in the kitchen they were resting a little, sitting by a table doing some sewing.

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Dunham Massey also has a deer park. We saw some wandering around in one field and then a small herd/ group of them lying down close to the entrance to the main hall. I'd been very keen to see the deer so I was really happy I managed to see them so close up.

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That afternoon/ evening we had a family barbecue in the back garden; great company, lovely food (special mention to the delicious marinaded steaks) and sunny weather. Just before we went to bed there was also time to see the cricket highlights of England's amazing victory over India in the 4th Test.

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Today Mum went to Salford with Dave's dad to see the Lowry Centre, whilst Dave and I went into Manchester city centre. We popped into Manchester Museum for a bit...

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...had some lunch at a South-East Asian restaurant called Tampopo...

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...and had a quick drink at Temple Bar, a tiny underground bar famous for formerly having been a set of public toilets. Dave asked about their souvenir Temple Bar cigarette lighters, because although neither of us are smokers I'm thinking of taking some incense sticks with me to Bulgaria (I've accepted the Bulgarian job I had an interview for in Mindo), but their machine was broken.

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Posted by 3Traveller 13:13 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged united_kingdom museum dave manchester mum barbecue derby dunham_massey_hall Comments (0)

St Albans: Re-acquaintance with my hometown

St Albans


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Edit from January 2019: Little Marrakesh is still there, and is still one of my favourite restaurants in St Albans. St Albans Museum moved into the refurbished Town Hall on St Peter's Street in 2018.

I've had a very nice couple of days at home, revisiting the familiar and also looking at part of it in a new light.

Yesterday morning Mum, Emma and I went on a St Albans heritage walk round the Abbey parish, looking at the WW1 wall memorials with an official guide. These war memorials are either unique in the UK or very close to that. Instead of having a 'normal' war memorial, memorials were put on walls around the parish instead, some on private houses. Each memorial has the names of men from that street who died in the war. I'd passed by one or two of these before but never stopped to look properly, so it was interesting to find out a bit more about them. Our guide was very informative. What brought it alive were the stories behind some of the soldiers; many of them were brothers, brothers-in-law, cousins or friends of others either on the same memorial or other ones that the guide showed us. A couple of times she also pointed out a house close to one of the memorials and said that one of the soldiers on the memorial had lived there.

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After the walk finished Mum went round to Edward & Maria's for lunch and Emma and I walked round the market. I bought a chocolate brownie from a particular bakery stall which does especially thick, moist and tasty ones; I saved it for later, though, instead of having it there and then. After this quick look round the market we had lunch at Little Marrakesh, a Moroccan restaurant I'm very fond of. They do a good set lunch deal; a starter and main for £9.95. They do an exceptionally well-flavoured salmon steak with vegetables in a creamy sauce, served sizzling in a tagine. The hummous and bread was very good as well. Another thing I love about Little Marrakesh is its atmosphere and decoration. I haven't been to Morocco yet but it's almost exactly how I've always imagined a restaurant there to be like.

From Little Marrakesh Emma and I went to the cathedral to have a look at a small temporary exhibition of photos of and more background information about the soldiers from the wall memorials we had heard about earlier. I took a few photos of the inside of the cathedral while I was at it.

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The Clock Tower and an ice cream van were our next stops, before continuing on to St Albans Museum.

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Mum met up with us there and we all had a look round the new temporary exhibition, which was also WW1 themed; the 'home front' in St Albans and in Worms, St Albans' German twin town. I thought it was a really good idea to have information about the experience from both sides. From the temporary exhibition we moved upstairs to the permanent one. I've been to this museum several times over the 29 years of my life and so I have some favourite exhibits; the helmet and chainmail of Sir Richard Lee (knighted by Henry VIII), the colourfully painted Tudor roundels (small wooden discs/ mats used to hold sweets or sugared fruit), medieval leather childrens' shoes, the fishtank with fish in it, the 15th-century book printed in English in St Albans and the stuffed woodland animals and birds.

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Today for pudding at dinnertime we had fresh strawberries, sugar and cream - something I really wanted to have while I was in England this summer. It's one of my all-time favourite puddings! I had the occasional strawberry in Ecuador but they were always slightly sour. Maybe because they have such a wide range of sweet, ripe and juicy tropical fruits, non-tropical fruit like strawberries aren't quite at the same level there and are actually better in a non-tropical country like the UK. (That's my theory, anyway.)

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Posted by 3Traveller 12:43 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged united_kingdom market museum cathedral sisters mum clock_tower st_albans st_albans_cathedral Comments (0)

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