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Paradise Lost and Found

27 May


My laptop likes to remind me of Camelot. My screensaver pulls images green and mild (and dark and stormy, and fun and frivolous, and sweet and savory) to flaunt on the small screen that might as well be the illuminated dome of my brain. Any time I go quiet for more than five minutes, there it is: Camelot.

It has been eight months since we left the UK. Six months since we settled in Hawaii. The contrast is shocking. There are no more days of darkness.  No matter how I miss places, people, castles, or crumpets, I can not miss that darkness.  And for all I dream sadly of my lost English roses, every day I wake to plumeria and hibiscus.

Hawaii isn’t perfect.  It isn’t paradise.  No one likes to believe this.  No one likes to hear that the dream holiday destination has an underbelly of unbelievable poverty, corruption, waste, and unsustainability.  And yet …

… Hawaii is that boy with the dazzling daydream blue eyes and tousled hair who smiles at you and short circuits your brain.

What was I saying?  Something about Hawaii being paradise, right?

I still listen to BBC radio.  I still make a proper brew.  I will even, sometimes, still have beans on toast for my tea.  But I’m doing it in my bathing suit and I’ll be heading to the beach in a few minutes.  I’m not blogging as I was in Camelot.  There is so much less to say here, and it seems unimportant when the trade winds are blowing and I can get free parking two steps from my favorite stretch of sand.  But I do toss up occasional photos at, and I’d be happy to see you there.

Sudeley Snapshots: Farewell

29 Oct

A last visit to much-loved Sudeley.  You know now, along with me, that my time in Camelot is ending, so perhaps you can also see these images with the mix of pending nostalgia that has colored all of my last days.

IMG_20140911_152718edI like to imagine these windows with Henry VIII looking through them … or Elizabeth walking past … or unfortunate Katherine Parr with Jane Grey … Or as an example of how we strange humans create windows where there is just air, and backdrops for our passions and dreams where there is really just sunlight.

IMG_4214edFor now, the peacocks own the view.  Well, and the art-loving Dent-Brocklehurst family, of course.

IMG_4217edI love this little cupid, and look for him in the secret garden every visit.

IMG_20140911_145111edThe displays inside the Castle have been updated and extended since our first visit.  I like this windowed corner with remembrance poppies.

IMG_20140911_145434edAnd this new bust of Richard III, commissioned after his burial site was rediscovered.  I was lucky enough to take a tour of the private apartments at Sudeley a couple years ago — now, many of the rooms formerly only accessible during that tour are part of the general public tour route.  (No photos allowed in this part of the house, however, so you really must go for yourself to see!)  If you’ve never been, or haven’t been recently, I recommend a visit.

IMG_20140911_151813edThis velvet royal ‘private’ on display is too amazing not to share.  A throne, indeed.

IMG_20140911_151820edKatherine’s privy lady — her sister — looks over the Queen’s Walk to the Chapel.  I feel I’m standing next to her, in spirit, caught in contemplation forever.

IMG_4230edAnd I take one look back over the box mazes and flowers, before we go.

Day out: Kenilworth Castle

19 Oct

Kenilworth Castle. Hundreds of years of history wrapped up in one beautiful ruined package. It merits so much more time than I am going to spend on it. I’m in a hurry, you see, with too much to do, and “Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting!”

You could rummage through the excellent-as-always English Heritage page for the Castle, and even download some of the research materials or guides for teachers — I did before our visit!  My kids didn’t even mind!  Mostly because I bribed them with cakes in the beautiful cafe!

Take a peek at the Tudor stables.  Inside is an interactive museum and the lovely tearoom.

Turn your back on the stables, which are part of the ancient walls surrounding Kenilworth, and begin to take in the several buildings which make up the castle.  To the right, the original Norman tower, built by Geoffrey de Clinton in the twelfth century.  In the background, the great hall built by John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III, and the manly origin of the Lancastrian dynasty.  And here’s your trivia for the day: Chaucer’s wife’s sister was John of Gaunt’s third wife.  Small world.  Small, rich world.

IMG_4059edOff to one side is the Elizabethan gatehouse, later enclosed and turned into a freestanding home.  Downstairs, where the carriages and wagons once rolled through the gatehouse, the rooms are quite large.  That large bay window in the center of the photo is where the gate used to be.  Inside the house, more interactive and interesting pieces of the history of the castle and the families who lived there.

IMG_4072edThe gardens were considered a marvel of their time.  Dudley had them designed and built as a private garden, specifically for the enjoyment of Elizabeth I on her visits.  Really, much of the work put into the castle and grounds during the 16th century were a massive and expensive effort to convince Elizabeth to marry Dudley.  The garden was lost to inattention and decay, but has been lovingly and painstakingly restored to something close to it’s original glory.

IMG_4076edAnd interior view of the Norman keep.  The original windows were all like the small slit in the lower level.  Later owners modernized the keep with large windows (and expensive panes of glass), and even added a ‘loggia’ to the entrance, in Italianate style.

IMG_4104edI love this photo for the lovely woman who is SWEEPING the ruins.  Talk about keeping things tidy.  You also get a good sense of just how fallen about the castle is now, how thick the walls were, and a bit of the scope of the facilities.  Taking this photo, I’m standing near the edge of the castle kitchens, which were the largest in Europe.  There was even a separate kitchen next to the main kitchens (which have a cauldron so large it is built into the foundation of the walls) where the foods for the high table were prepared.

IMG_4111edHere we’re standing on top of the stairs you just saw, looking back over the kitchens, part of the great hall, the old keep, and the inner courtyard.

IMG_4120edAnd here, turning around, you can look over what used to be a massive interior lake — the Great Mere created by John I in the thirteenth century.  The gate you see slightly sunk into the hill would have been a water entrance to the castle.

IMG_4125edDecorative vandalism can be found all over the castle, carved into the soft sandstone.

IMG_4129edIt’s not hard to see how the ruins at Kenilworth inspired so many romantic authors, like Sir Walter Scott.

IMG_4133edIt’s funny because it’s true:

IMG_4142edThe view from the newly scaffolded Leicester Tower (built by Dudley for Elizabeth I) is spectacular.  Here see Gaunt’s Oriel tower and great hall once again.

IMG_4158edAnd hold on tight before you look DOWN.  This view is from Elizabeth’s personal chamber, where she could watch interior entertainments to the left, and look out the window to see entertainers on the lawn.  Dudley pulled out all the stops.

IMG_4160edOne of my favorite things to see was all the jackdaws.  They are a cackling, sociable sort of crow who love rocky ruins like this.  Their call sings “England” to me.  (Click on “audio” to give a listen:

IMG_4162edIt was easy to spend hours wandering the grounds.

IMG_4177edIf you could only see one castle in England, should this be it?  I’m not sure, but … maybe.  There’s a bit of almost everything here, architecture from the Norman conquest to today, cultural history, fascinating personalities, human drama, literary inspirations, wild examples of humans shaping and reshaping their environment, and, of course, fairly tasty cakes and tea.

Day out: Dartmouth Castle

14 Oct

Another place on my list: Dartmouth.  Somewhere in the bloggy mists I’ve mentioned that we once lived in Hanover, New Hampshire, home to Dartmouth College.  So a visit to the original Dartmouth in Devon was a must-do.  Without much time to visit, we made good use of our English Heritage pass and spent the afternoon at Dartmouth Castle.

Dartmouth was an interesting maritime town — traffic back and forth through town includes a ferry ride!  The Britannia Royal Naval College is in the background.

IMG_3988edA crazy-making drive through small winding streets brings to mind the tight quarters of a ship.  Even the cemetery slides up and down hills and holds tight where it can.

IMG_3990edThe parish church by the Castle has a simple ship-shape elegance.

IMG_4006edWithin the Castle, one can tour the original battlements, set to defend the mouth of the Dart.

IMG_4030edInside and out, there’s not an overwhelming amount to explore, but it is all well preserved and there are many kid-friendly touch-and-learn stations for extra enrichment, and benches for tired parents to sit while the kids run up and down … and up and down … and up and down …  (You might want to download and print ahead the Step Inside guide.)

IMG_4014edThere’s a pretty-ish view of Dartmouth from here, as well.

IMG_4028edIt’s a beautiful place to indulge in dreams of pirates.

IMG_4021edThe water is an amazing green, due to the limestone in the area. (I believe.)

IMG_4022edaIf only there were a bit of sun, you might believe you were in the Caribbean.

IMG_4043edA beautiful cove facing the Channel, where I like to imagine mermaids and smugglers sneaking in past the guards sitting bored in their towers above.  This used to be a public swimming beach, and remains of the former swim platform are visible on the lower left of this photo.  This day, we got to spend uncrowded moments sorting through the rocks for shells and listening to the waves.

IMG_20140901_143313edCream tea and sandwiches at the nearby Castle Tea Room were surprisingly good.  But our best souvenirs were dainty small shells and a final English Heritage guidebook to add to our collection.

Sudeley Snapshots: Tithe Barn

9 Oct

Another installment in the occasional series of photos from lovely Sudeley Castle.  Built in the fifteenth century by Ralph Boteler, to the side of Sudeley Castle, is the Tithe Barn.

IMG_4207edThe building was largely destroyed by Cromwell’s forces during the English Civil war, but the romantic walls remain.

IMG_4193edThe interior has been re-imagined as a sweet and almost secret garden, with wild roses, hollyhocks, hydrangeas, wild clematis, wisteria, foxgloves, and more.  It’s like a Shakespearean sonnet, really.

IMG_4195edEvery doorway and window has its own character, its own sense of being a magic portal.

IMG_4185edEven in autumn, with most of the blooms past their prime or gone entirely, the Tithe Barn retains a sweet beauty.

IMG_4190edTake a walk through and around the barn, and check out views perfectly framed by both architecture and vegetation.

IMG_4201edTurn around and see the upright silhouette of Sudeley Castle itself through the flowers.

IMG_4196edOr stand clear and enjoy that graceful view — almost cozy, when it comes to castles — reflected in the carp pond.


Crathes Castle Spring

4 Oct

My final Scotland post.  We’ve been ridiculously lucky over our spring holidays these past three years.  First year on the Isle of Skye.  Second year in Paris.  Third year, back to Scotland, this time in Royal Deeside.  My mind will always see Scotland bursting with sunshine and raining only to show off rainbows.  Crathes Castle was no different.  Sadly, we were not permitted to take any photographs inside, but I promise you, IT WAS SUPER COOL INSIDE.  I’m talking ghosts, Jacobean rooms, Renaissance painted rooms, hidden staircases for mistresses, the works.

The outside was pretty cool, too.  Here is the (massive) sixteenth-century tower house.
IMG_3203ed A guide did tell me I could stick my camera out the window and take photos of the gardens.  So I did.IMG_3204ed On this warm sunny day in April, the grounds were full of families with picnics.
IMG_3205ed Oh, that view.IMG_3222ed Flag atop the castle shows the heraldry of the Burnett family — the hunting horn.  NO idea the significance of the rooster, except that he’s pretty groovy.
IMG_3224edAnd really, really gold.

How will our next spring holiday compare to these past three?  Well, I have some ideas, but I’m not telling you, yet!

Day out: Vindolanda

30 Sep

Another fantastical place ticked off our UK bucket list — Hadrian’s Wall and Vindolanda!  We took a break during our drive down from our Scottish trip for an overnight in Carlisle and several hours exploring the wall.  I don’t have very many photos — isn’t that crazy? — I was so busy reading my guidebook, running around shouting “look, latrines!”, and marveling at ancient shoes, that my camera stayed in my bag.  (Mostly.)

IMG_3232ed There are many places to stop along the wall and see evidence of the wall.  We decided to stop at Vindolanda so we could see a good sized outpost and for the amazing museum.  My oldest child, we has been taking Latin in school, was amazed to discover that the people he had thought were merely characters in his text book were in fact real, living people — and evidence of their life was found here, at Vindolanda.  IMG_3233ed Entry through a courtyard with a sparkling fountain.IMG_3247ed The site is still  being excavated — an excellent field trip might be signing up to volunteer with an excavation crew!  Here you can see the pre-Hadrianic military bath house.  (You know I love a good Roman bath house.  Almost as much as a good ancient latrine.)IMG_3257ed Both the military buildings and the civilian structures have left evocative remains.IMG_3258edBasically lost our mind when we got to walk in the footsteps of the guards, even inside their headquarters building.


From atop a recreated wall  sentry post, get a great view over Vindolanda.

IMG_3254edI often wonder how a soldier from Rome might have felt, sitting here in the frozen, nothernmost end of the empire (and seemingly the universe).  I tend to have a lot of sympathy for them.

20140419_154437ed The sit rambles on quite a bit.  And check out where you can sit and have a lovely sandwich or tea:


Life is no longer rough and tumble, here at the frontier.IMG_3267ed


I’d love to have the time to walk the wall.  We saw many families out walking, as we drove along the length of the wall toward Carlisle.  We contented ourselves with rummaging through Vindolanda and then joining the Legion at the Roman Army Museum.  Absolutely fabulous day out with kids.