Archive | March, 2013

Day out: Horseworld

31 Mar

More from the summer archives.  Horseworld is an equine rescue and rehabilitation center located in Bristol.  I’m not sure how I heard about it, but it seemed like a fun day out for my horse-loving girls.  Getting there was a job for the satnav, and the eight acres of the center sit right in the middle of a residential area in Bristol.  I think my kids thought it was a trick — horses, in the middle of someone’s neighborhood?


The “d” was having a problem on the day we visited.  IMG_0064

Past the entry and the gift shop, a series of barns hold various exhibits, some interactive, some heartbreaking, like this before and after photo of one of the rescue horses.IMG_0077

Kids have the chance to clear a stable.  (Not really dirty, thank goodness.)IMG_0079

See some cute animals.IMG_0082

If a keeper is around, you can pet the bunnies.IMG_0095

There are big signs out by all the donkeys, warning that they would love nothing better than to bite your hands off.  But they look so sweet.  These poor animals are also rescues.IMG_0141

It’s lovely to see the animals with space to enjoy their new or newly developing health.IMG_0123

Depending on the time of day, animals may be in stalls or moved about to different paddocks.IMG_0136

There’s lots too do for kids, including a small tractor ride.IMG_0125

And two massive slides.IMG_0112

And an outdoor play area between some of the paddocks.  There are picnic tables and a covered restaurant, as well.IMG_0148Some of the information placards may feel a bit intense for younger children.  Some of these horses have been through terrible abuse or neglect.  But it’s heartening to see how much can be done to make life good again for these horses, ponies, and donkeys.  It’s not slick or fancy, and you get the sense that any and all donations are not just gratefully accepted but truly needed.  Definitely worth a visit for the lesson in ethical and humane behaviors alone, and with space to play, explore, and eat, an easy day out for children.



Cider, part …. well, just cider.

28 Mar

It’s been a long saga, filled with disappointment and squinched up faces.  Cider, as the English know it — hard cider, as we Americans might know it — it seemed like it would be so simple to find, and to love.  I was going to learn all about local ciders and archly offer up tidbits of apple-y knowledge to friends along with a bottle opener and a nice cheese.  Then I tasted real cider for the first time.  And the second.  And so on.  It was dreadful.

I’d given up on anything but mulled cider, pretty much, by the time our new Whole Foods opened.  It’s been great to find some food treasures from home at WF, and, also, to be introduced to new local treats that have become favorites.  One of those new favorites:


It’s exactly what I thought hard cider would taste like, before I actually tasted it (in other brands) and cried from foulness and sorrow.  True to my sweet roots, I do prefer the Perry, but I genuinely like all the cider varieties produced by the traditional hand-crafters at Severn Cider.  (I’m fond of the artwork on the labels as well, thanks to local artist Steve Hyslop.)  What a pleasure.

I wish I could know what I would have thought of this cider when I started my search-for-cider journey.  Would my palate have been ready for the taste?  Would I have liked it then, and sought no more?  Or would I have found it as strange and off-putting as the other ciders I tried, early on in this experiment?  I’ll never know, and I doubt it matters.  My cupboards are stocked, and finally my heart is happy with English cider.


Day out: Snowshill Manor Apple Festival

25 Mar

From the summer archives: a day out during apple season.  Snowshill Manor and Gardens is a National Trust site in the Cotswolds.  It’s worth a visit on its own, but during the yearly apple festival, there’s extra (tasty) reasons to enjoy a day out.

The National Trust visitor information text states: “Charles Paget Wade’s passion for craftsmanship, colour and design began when he was just 7 years old. His motto was ‘let nothing perish’, and his life was dedicated to finding, restoring and enjoying objects of beauty, both everyday and extraordinary.”

Translating this into real-world language: he was a pack rat.  A crazy collector who would feature prominently on Hoarders were he alive today, and could very easily be imagined wandering his higgledy-piggledy house with tissue boxes for shoes and tin foil on his head.  But he was well-off, so let’s call him a visionary lover of the extraordinary, instead.  I enjoy living in a world where people with questionable holds on reality indulge their inner promptings and collect millions of spoons, and set them all out in a room, next to another room filled with creepy dolls, next to another room filled with wooden boats, next to another room filled with samurai armor, next to another room filled with miniature houses … but in the end my hands start to itch and I want to clean everything out and scrub the floors, so it’s not my favorite sort of day out, to visit a house like this.  But apples … I do love apples … so following the suggestion of friends we rode out for Apple Weekend.


A fantastically loud and colorful organ greeted us at the gates.  IMG_1193

The view was the usual — extraordinary — Cotswold hillsides.IMG_1172

We were promised fall and apple themed food at the cafe, and were largely pleased.  The pumpkin soup didn’t live up to my expectations (not enough pumpkin in there!) and we were sad not to see the sorts of apple treats we expected from apple festivals in the US.  No pie.  No apple fritters.  No cider.IMG_1170

Some other local brews, though.  Along with local cheeses, fancy cakes, and a limited selection of fresh produce.IMG_1180

And windmilling soldiers.IMG_1191

And a ‘poo trail’.  You know, for the children.  Because what could be more fun than following a ‘poo trail’?IMG_1196

The sheep knows what I mean.IMG_1206

The huge variety of apples on display was genuinely impressive.  Over 400 varieties were on display, and visitors could sample apples, core apples, peel apples, press fresh apples and sample the juice.  Still no pie, though.IMG_1228

Inside the house, room after room of strangeness.  Hidden among the rooms during the apple weekend are about a dozen apples.  Find them all, and you can say you followed an apple trail as well as a poo trail!IMG_1242

The samurai room freaked out my youngest.  All the rest of my photos are blurry as we run through the house, worried we’d find ourselves stuck in a room full of empty baby cradles or can openers and be lost in this fearfully bizarre collection of detritus.IMG_1299

The sunshine outside was a welcome relief. IMG_1291

We were lucky for the sunshine.  The gardens are meant to be additional living spaces.  Necessary when your home is full of collections of wheelbarrows.

This clock would look well in my backyard.  Next to that Welsh dragon, I think.IMG_1321

The gardens are a hodge-podge maze as well, but beautiful, and peaceful.IMG_1277

Another view.IMG_1190I think it’s clear I have some doubts about the reality of this statement, yet it is clearly true that Charles Paget Wade had a unique sensibility and the luxury to indulge it.  We enjoyed yet another view into the eccentric life of these beautiful Cotswold hills.


Normandy snapshots

22 Mar

Endless winter in Camelot has got me down — not mentally, this time, but with the creeping crud that seeps around every year.  Cooties, is what I’m saying: I have cooties.  So, let’s wrap up Normandy in one fast and furious post, and keep holding on for spring to arrive … sometime.


The Échiquier de Normandie — a twelfth-century building seated inside the remains of William the Conqueror’s massive castle at Caen.  Richard Lionheart had dinner here, on his way to the Third Crusade.IMG_4124

A modern museum of art also lives inside the castle walls.  What the hell is happening here, I have no idea.  IMG_4552

A bridge over the river Vire, in the town of Vire.  Henry I of England — or Henri Beauclerc — liked to hang out here.  I sometimes forget how much of English history is rooted in France, until it sits up and slaps me in the face.  Henry was the fourth son of William the Conqueror.  His older brother, Robert Curthose, is buried just down the road from my corner of Camelot, in Gloucester.  Funny to think of Gloucester while we were walking the Vire.IMG_4592

Vire was destroyed during the Allied invasion of Normandy.  Not theatrically or at all romantically.  This entire region was essentially bulldozed.  The early medieval gate topped by a late medieval clock tower in the background somehow survived.  In the foreground, a pretty blue water fountain.IMG_4573

A shrine to the Virgin in the remains of the thirteenth-century Church of Notre-Dame in Vire.  This is what it looked like after the invasion:  Today it is relatively restored, and freezing cold, all the bones of the church exposed.IMG_4562

Remains of the ‘donjon’ built by Henri I, at one end of the Vire city parking lot.  Now, take a deep breath and remember all those people who were doing the bulldozing that destroyed most of Normandy during the liberation of France and the eventual defeat of the German forces.IMG_4512ed

The American Cemetery by Omaha Beach is heartbreaking.IMG_4469ed

You can’t pull heroes off an assembly line … But you can bury them, one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one.IMG_4487ed

“Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves” by Donald De Lue, at the Omaha Beach Memorial.

“Les Braves”  by Anilore Ban, honoring the forces who landed on the beach at Omaha.  One would have to be the extreme of brave to assault a beach defended by giant glowing spikes.


Cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, with barbed wire still left in place.

Remains of one of the gunneries.IMG_4785

This is a wasted bomb-marked landscape that feels like a ghost town.  Some of the bunkers or pillboxes can still be entered (at your own risk).  Barbed wired and blasted tunnels run through these craters.IMG_4788

The Ranger memorial, at the edge of the cliff face.IMG_4437edFinally, a candle lit for memory and for peace, at a chapel in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux.


Viaduc de la Souleuvre

14 Mar

We weren’t busy seeing world heritage monuments every day in Normandy.  One bright morning we were inspired by an entry in our cottage’s guest book — “What’s the Souleuvre Viaduc?” we wondered.  It wasn’t in our guide book.  But it was just a short drive away along the Vire river valley, so we gave it a chance.

Turns out it is the remains of a once-spectacular train bridge over the valley, built by none other than Gustave Eiffel.  The Souleuvre Viaduct no longer spans the valley, and is now used by bungee jumping company AJ Hackett, to the delight of thrill-seekers everywhere.  Although it is closed to jumpers in the winter, we were allowed to explore along the walkway.


Here, the view from the initial entry point to the viaduct.  Do you remember me talking about my love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with heights when we went to Tintagel?  Yeah. I was not too sure about this.IMG_4530

The walkway out to the observation and jumping areas.  The rails go to just under my waist (NOT HIGH ENOUGH) and it was immensely windy (I WAS GOING TO BLOW AWAY).  And the bridge shakes if you step very firmly.  (OH MY GOD)IMG_4531

The views over the valley are beautiful.IMG_4532

Even though I had trouble holding the camera still for a good shot.IMG_1133

See that little cage thing, sticking out there?  That’s where people jump.  CRAZY PEOPLE.  According to my cottage guest book, if jumping isn’t your thing, this is a great place to sit with a drink and watch everyone else jumping.IMG_1134

Straight down.  OH MY GOD.  AGAIN.IMG_4539I’m smiling, but inside I’m going EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEE.  Just after this I started laughing and couldn’t stop.  Basically, I was screaming.  Time to walk back to the safety of the enclosed observation area and move on to another site in Normandy …

Mont Saint-Michel

11 Mar

It was a dream to walk these sandy shores and cobbled streets.  And then there we were.  Mont Saint-Michel.


Le Mont Saint-Michel, rising in the distance over the Baie and the salt flats where sheep graze.IMG_4148

Closer, from the causeway, it rises up like a fairy tale.  A slightly grim fairy tale on an overcast day in February.IMG_4147

The causeway is scheduled for demolition, to be replaced by a bridge which will allow the tide to flow naturally through the bay rather than deposit silt around the causeway.  And provide spectacularly inconvenient parking for the handicapped.IMG_4370

Please do not wash your feet in the fountain.IMG_4159

And enter the single, narrow, winding street of the island.IMG_4156

La Mere Poulard is famous for a special type of fluffy enormous omelette.  We couldn’t get a table, but watching the kitchen was free.

(Not getting a table was amusing, in fact.  In our experience in England, if we stroll up to a restaurant without a booking and ask if there’s room, we’re likely to get a blank stare, no expression whatsoever or a mild expression of dismissal.  Here the maitre d’ appeared to be enacting a stereotype of the French.  “Ah, mais non!  Impossible!  Pas! De! Tout!”  With multiple emphatic hand waves, grimacing, shrugging and gesturing around the busy room.  Sure, he was telling us no, but we were in no doubt that he could see and hear us, unlike in England, where pretending inconvenient would-be customers are invisible seems more the style.)


We stopped elsewhere for an omelette.IMG_4162

And moule frites — but of course.IMG_4357

One can walk through the pedestrian street, or cross up one of several steep stairways and circle the outside of the island along the walls.IMG_4355

The Mont towers over all.IMG_4353

I can hear all the Renaissance Festivals in the world breathing in envy.IMG_4352

Peek-a-boo.  At the very top of the spire is a life-sized sculpture of Archangel Michael.  (As “life sized” as an angel could be, I suppose.)IMG_4212

Once you finally reach the Abbey itself, you stroll up a series of interior stairs and then out to a large open courtyard.  Private or specialty tours can be arranged — access to some rooms are restricted to for-fee tours only.  But you are able to wander much of the Abbey on your own, after purchasing a general admission ticket — and children enter free.  The “Itineraires” guides on sale in the gift shop (which is accessible without a ticket, before the entrance to the Abbey complex) was an excellent resource for our self-guided tour.  (The shop’s larger, more expensive souvenir book, while beautifully illustrated, has almost nonsensically translated text which makes little to no sense.)IMG_4200

Look how far we’ve walked.  The abbey of Mont Saint Michel is pictured on the Bayeaux Tapestry — this place has been around awhile and has the needlepoint to prove it.IMG_4226

The interior of the Abbey church, a pilgrim destination for over a thousand years.  I wish I knew this couple in my shot, to give them a copy of a sweet photo of them seemingly all alone in this beautiful, rare spot.  I love the quality of light in this space.


There is a traditional pilgrimage design to the church, with an ambulatory aisle encircling the altar.  Large crowds had to be accomodated, and this was a great way to move a large number of people through the space without disturbing priests or monks busy with prayers or mass, while allowing these pilgrims to see whatever was on display on the altar while and meditating at the various encircling chapels — with convenient donation boxes at regular intervals.IMG_4240

Exit the church to the cloister — an area where run of the mill pilgrims would not have been allowed.  The arches are staggered to better carry the weight of the roof and distribute the weight of the cloister on the supporting rooms below.  (At one time there was a pond, which leaked!)  The whole complex is in a thousand year process of falling down or being built up.IMG_4250



Through the cloister, find the refectory, illuminated with cleverly recessed windows.


The visitor’s hall — Kings and other dignitaries were hosted here.  The massive fireplaces were used for cooking, and for warmth.IMG_4264

I was amazed at how few people we saw as we wandered.  In this corner, Louis XI may have sat and pondered.  Why not have a seat and have a ponder of your own?


The Promenoir, a room whose original purpose is no longer certain.  A room to stroll in inclement weather?  A dormitory?  An infirmary?  Library?


Another large hall — la salle des chevaliers — the name a reference to the Order of Saint Michel.  Very fancy medieval toilets in this room.  You know, FYI.IMG_4319

What a view.IMG_4286

A chapel space — the crypt of the gros pilier — underneath the main abbey church (which we saw above).  These two pillars are directly beneath the altar.IMG_4295

Lots of wandering through chapels and stairs and treasuries … and here is a wheel used to pull supplies up to the abbey after it had been converted in to a prison post-Revolution.  We thought donkeys might have been used to power the massive pulley (as we saw at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight) but prisoners were apparently walked to death here.  A rather despicable history.  But a kind of interesting photo.IMG_4320

A walk around the outside of the complex gives you a sense of the crazy rabbit-warren construction.  Those three windows at the top left face the cloister we saw above.IMG_4330

Endlessly circling this massive structure was dizzying.IMG_4384Finally back on the mainland, looking back toward the island from a small dam.  The dam was created to help control the tidal wash of the bay and is part of the whole save-the-island project which appears to be sucking in thousands and millions of dollars.  Read more.  Without these changes, the island will soon become a peninsula, permanently changing the character of the site.

A dreamland place, created based on a dream (“Build here and build high” said Archangel Michael to the bishop of Avranches in 708ce) and now only existing because the modern world wishes to perpetuate a dream of the past.  Amazing.


9 Mar

I think it’s obvious that I’ve been feeling like this, lately:


(Just so you know: This is my empty cup of espresso from a cafe stop in Normandy. See? I’m staying on theme.)

This winter has been never-ending, and I think the bloom is off the rose.  I’m hearing bird song in the ever-lightening morning, but it’s been impossible to get the damp out of my bones.  Fortunately, I do have a solution:

muddy runnersMore mud.

I’m trying, friends.  You’d think moving to a new country and having the luxury to explore in your own time would be wonderful, wouldn’t you?  And of course it is.  But it is also disorienting and sometimes lonely and full of contrasts to home — good, bad and ambiguous — and one is left wondering about Life and Purpose.  All that sploshes away with a good run in the mud, however.

A full cup of coffee and some time with the photo editor awaits me.  Hope to have some new posts soon.  Allons-y!