Archive | June, 2014

Gorgeous Georgians

29 Jun

I know I’ve left our Scotland trip behind — I promise I’ll get back to it.  But first, fancy a quick day trip to Bath to see the Fashion Museum, Assembly Rooms, and Royal Crescent No.1?  I hope so, because here you go.

The Fashion Museum and Assembly Rooms are a shortish uphill walk from the Bath Spa train station, taking you right through the pedestrian centre of the old town, past the Roman Baths and the Abbey. (See previous visit to the Abbey: I Spy)  Shoulder your way past French student tour groups, and enter the Tea Room.



Turn the other way ’round, and enter the Assembly Room.  One thousand people could gather in here to see, be seen, and even to dance.  The rooms were being set up for the craziest business seminar on earth (or something), and were filled with unattractive piles of chairs.  Sorry.

The chandeliers were pretty wonderful, anyway.


Then take yourself down a flight of stairs to the Fashion Museum.IMG_3409ed

Walking through here was one giant ‘squee’ for me.  Which is why I went with a friend, instead of my children, as a friend will tolerate a squee or two that a child would scorn.  I’ve mentioned my not-so-secret passion for Georgette Heyer before, and of course Jane Austen.  These outfits seemed to be standing at wait for any of my favorite characters to walk into them and begin to speak.IMG_3410ed

The fabrics are gorgeous.IMG_3411ed

For men as well as women.IMG_3412ed

Elaborate court dresses, with those incredible panniers (side hoops).  It was interesting to see how customizable these dresses could be, with front or side or back panels replaced or swapped or tied tighter or more loosely — no disposable clothing, here.IMG_3416ed

Mostly including this to provide equal time to gentlemen.  Don’t really care about their clothes.  IMG_3417ed

Okay!  I tried on a hoop skirt.  Darned thing weighed as much as me.IMG_3419ed

Swoon. The Museum exhibits clothing from almost every generation from the seventieth century to the end of the nineteenth century. Paging Lizzie Bennet.  Most of my photos are fairly poor, due to the lighting (to protect the fabrics) and my poor skill (which protects no one).  But the gowns continue on display (including a Diana, Princess of Wales side-track) through to the “Dress of the Year”.  Apparently, this year’s Dress of the Year was pulled from a trash bin and held together by duct tape.  But what do I know.

An even more shortish walk past the circus (not really a circus) takes you to the Royal Crescent, and No.1, a restored mansion filled with Georgian detail.IMG_3435ed

Shhh.  I took this photo before I realized photography is not allowed inside the house.  (Health and safety, insurance, take your pick as to the reason.)  But you may have the benefit of my failure of attention.  Here is the dinning room:IMG_3437edWe were blessed with a room guide who had a passion for realism.  We started in with some complimentary words about the beauty of the room when she overrode our comments with “Don’t forget the chamber pot!”  Just out of frame there is a small screen, which I had ignored.  Turns out it shielded a chamber pot, which would have been used by the gentlemen DURING DINNER.  So, let’s imagine, Mr. FancyPants has a need to ‘go’ during the fish course. He hops up from the table, walks behind a screen, and urinates and/or defecates while the rest of the party goes on a few feet away.  The ladies, the guide quickly told us, would have to go upstairs so a servant could help them, because even though they didn’t wear knickers (our modern guide seemed scandalized), they couldn’t manage their skirts and squat at the same time. (Those beautiful dresses in the Fashion Museum take on a whole new context.) The guide went on to quickly dismiss Georgian hygiene (their teeth were rotten and their body odor would have been appalling) and morals (anything vile you could imagine you could find here in Bath).  Well!  With her cautionary comments in mind, we toured the rest of the home with our eyes wide open to poor hygiene and moral dubiousness (and could easily have spent more than the hour and a half the museum suggests visitors plan).

This day out kicked off a week of watching Pride and Prejudice and re-reading favorite Georgette Heyer novels again.  It’s amazing how much difference I find in books or ideas I thought I knew well, once I’ve had a chance to step through the physical spaces (or even clothing, or even chamber pots) these characters or people would have inhabited.

In, not of, with roses.

25 Jun

I heard myself say the other day:  “I love England.  I don’t love living in England, but I love England.”

Sometimes when you open your mouth and speak without thinking, truth pops out.  I’ll leave you with that bit of personal ambiguity and my annual photo spread of something about which I feel no equivocation — the gorgeous roses that bloom in our garden.  When I turn the corner to walk to my house, the scent of these roses hit me before I can even see the front door.  Some brave blooms show up as late (or as early) as New Years Day, but most reach their fulsome loveliest now, in June.









Want more roses?  See my post from two years ago, Jubilee and Roses, or look up the roses tag.  I’m still a rose-moron — I have no idea the names or types of these roses which bring my life so much beauty.  Yet in these few years I find my idea of what is required in a garden has changed.  There must be roses.  There must always be roses.

A midsummer madness

22 Jun

Midsummer.  The longest day of the year.  The one day in England where I can rejoice from the first twinkle of light to the very last, knowing I am as safe from the days of darkness as I will be all year. And what did fair befall me today, but the most worthy, most perfect summer’s day.

And where could we go, but where we have been so happily before?  One of my favorite places in England, Shakespeare Country.  (See previous posts: Day out: Mary Arden Farm, Uncertain glory of a summer day, Snapshot: pigs!, Respite, Day out: Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, That in season grows.  Heck, I even used a photo of the cottage as an example of my fantasy home when we were first house hunting.)


The cottage was looking extremely well.IMG_3451edPresided over by the King and Queen of Summer.


That eye-catching crescent moon still orbits the garden.IMG_3480ed

And the garden is in full summer bloom.IMG_3481ed

No, really.  It was the most incredible day, ever, of all time.IMG_3483ed

A want to be a rose — this rose — in this garden — and bloom forever.  But even on this day, we had to move along.  We left Anne Hathaway’s Cottage for Mary Arden’s Farm, just a few minutes up the road and this year hosting a series of midsummer celebration events.  We’ve been here so many times, it is fun to see what small changes happen between each visit, and what stays the same.IMG_3502ed

Millie the Owl still swoops over heads and grabs mice corpses from her human.IMG_3505ed

Those cute piglets?  Have grown and GROWN.IMG_3529ed

A warm day.  I love the ducks’ sinewy necks curling into their water stone.IMG_3511ed

A view over the vegetable garden, toward Palmer’s farmhouse.IMG_3513ed

We’ve been at this door before.  Enter.IMG_3514ed

The kitchen, mostly cleaned, after the midday feast.IMG_3517ed

The table, cleared, and main bedchamber beyond.IMG_3519ed

The cold cellar.IMG_3521ed

The table set in the masters chamber.IMG_3523ed

Upstairs, view across the floor through the first three rooms.  Check out that hobbit door.IMG_3524ed

Adult bed with child’s trundle.

The last room on the top floor, where lesser beings sleep and work.IMG_3536ed

On this day, storytelling and fairies in the Rickyard.IMG_3545ed

Followed by music and dancing. (“Now we’re horses!  Now we’re horses!” Called out the lead dancer.)IMG_3540ed

And perfectly groomed paths through the fields — with hand sanitizers — for long, quiet, anti-bacterial walks.IMG_3546edMidsummer madness.  On this longest day of the year, it seems that time stretches out. I had seen more sun before 11am today than I would see in a full day in mid-December.  Heck, in December, the sun hardly seems to peer gloomily over the world before 10am.  I would build a Stonehenge, myself, if I thought that would guarantee a day like this at least once a year.  For today, I’m content enough to wake at 4am, and refuse to sleep until the stars come out near midnight.


Linn of Dee

17 Jun

Come on a short drive with us, to the famed Linn of Dee.


Here the Dee runs relatively wide and smooth.IMG_3047ed

But if you see a bright blue sign urging ‘caution’ — believe it.

Intrepid souls may climb down to the water.  I stayed near the top, and spared a thought for the two drowned girls memorialized in a stone marker near the bridge.IMG_3058ed

Cross to the other side of the bridge, and the river runs fast and cheerful over long low rocks perfect for sitting on a sunny day.IMG_3081ed

You might even see some wildlife.  This lady was bigger than my cat.  Than both my cats, put together.IMG_3084edAnd drive home again past snow-tops in the Cairngorm.


Day out: Balmoral

12 Jun

As you drive the A93 along the River Dee in Aberdeenshire, you might stop to look across the river and see this small, unassuming view:


You’ve found Balmoral, royal vacation home and fairy tale castle.20140413_122641ed

Ride the tram up a hill, collect your audio guide, and have a wander through the grounds and the one room of the castle which is open to the public (no photos inside, however).20140413_123715ed

Or just sit on the grass, smell the daffodils, and sunbathe.IMG_2908ed

It’s not Versailles, but it’s not meant to be.IMG_2909ed

There, now you know what the Queen is seeing when she takes a walk in the Balmoral garden, or through the woods.IMG_2917ed

Oh, look, the Queen’s chicken coop!  This one looks far more functional than the two-thousand-dollar coops sold at the Prince of Wales’ garden shop at Highgrove.IMG_2921ed

The surprisingly modest conservatory blooms flowers for the castle.  IMG_2927ed

Another fairy-tale view.  Queen Victoria bought Balmoral and rebuilt and expanded it according to her own fantasy of a family getaway.  The audio guide and book both do a good job of describing the eccentricities of Queen Victoria — the story of John Brown is well covered here, of course — and we felt familiar with her particular brand of crazy after a day spent at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight a couple of years ago.  Sorry, is it rude to call Queen Victoria a bit crazy?  Because … yeah.IMG_2928ed

In case you forgot where you were … IMG_2933ed

After exploring Balmoral, you can take a walk along the Dee … IMG_2941ed

Enjoying those ‘Royal Deeside’ views that attracted a Queen.IMG_3197ed


Or take a walk down one of the exceedingly modest track roads which surround the estate — fields to either side will be filled with sheep, cows, or forest.IMG_3199ed



And along the road you might find an old water station (?) dedicated to the biggest neighbor in the neighborhood…IMG_3045ed

Or Crathie Kirk … IMG_3174ed

Or even a distillery.  Royal Lochnagar is a two minutes drive or 10 minute’s walk from Balmoral, and a wonderful place to wind up your day with an informative tour and a leisurely break with a sample dram or two.20140415_131010ed

Day out: Dunnottar Castle

7 Jun

I don’t want to rub it in, but all my photos from Scotland are sunny.  It was sunny every day.  All day!  It rained once for a few moments … and then produced a rainbow.  So, if you were hoping for romantically grim and gloomy images — too bad.  It was glorious.

Dunnottar Castle was a forty-five minute drive from our home base near Balmoral.  A few folks had mentioned it to us as a not-to-be-missed cliffside ruin, and I think they were right.  Also, much to my satisfaction, this was my first view of the North Sea.  And it, too, was glorious.


Yup.  Glorious.IMG_2947ed

No real facilities here, aside from toilets, but plenty of room to spread out with a picnic, and soak up the views.

Guidebooks available, or read the not-too-bad interpretive signs all around.IMG_2962ed

Ruins of a chapel building.IMG_2966ed

Views over the coast.

The Castle was as self-sufficient as a stronghold on an outcrop could be.  It was fascinating to see the remains of kitchens, bakeries, breweries …IMG_2984ed

Although I managed to take photos without hordes of wandering strangers throughout, the site was fairly full even on this early spring day.  Families were out with picnics and children ran up and down these inner grassy areas.  Plenty of good fencing by the cliffs, so no heart attacks for me.  (Flashback to Tintagel.)IMG_2985ed

View toward the North Sea.IMG_2992ed

I’ve very rarely seen the remains of a smithy!  This suits any fantasy or historical fiction reader.  IMG_3004ed

The somewhat forbidding silhouette of the main castle building, where The Honours of Scotland were kept safe from Cromwell.  And before that, where William Wallace burned the chapel with English soldiers inside, and Mary Queen of Scots stopped over for dinner.  Strange guests you get out here.20140414_124407ed

There’s that North Sea view, with the daffodils we found everywhere in those sunny April days.IMG_3007ed

Winding down the cliffside, you can visit rocky tidal pools on the beaches. 20140414_131253ed

We searched for shells of all shapes and sizes, tumbled smooth from the waves.IMG_3020edWhat did I say?  Gorgeous.

River Dee

4 Jun

It’s the season of goodbye and hello, here in England.  And while it is June, it is raining and chill, with only rare outbreaks of sun.  The light wakes me up at 4am and keeps the kids awake past 9pm, which is a difficult sort of wonderful — since the alternative is the winter darkness that seriously screws me up each year.  Still, it hasn’t been a fantastic few weeks, here inside my head.  So, have a picture of the beautiful River Dee, running through royal Balmoral, and turn your mental eyes to the sun of Scotland in spring.

20140418_101739No filter, no editing in this photo — knowing this moment existed in my life is like having a cup of coffee that never runs out.  Look back, take a sip, feel the moment once again, and move forward in the day.  Hope those little moments are there for all of you, too.