On Thursday we took a long ride to the coast -- first to Torquay, a pretty resort area which has a marine life zoo called Living Coasts, then to Plymouth. At Living Coasts we saw three different kinds of penguins (African, Gentoo and Macaroni) as well as puffins, dozens of other seabirds, seals and the cormorants and gulls that live outside the flight cage on nearby rocks. The penguins have free run of the enclosure, so a couple were right on the path next to us, and there are also underwater viewing areas and educational displays in the exhibits connected to the big enclosure with the birds. The kids were very happy to be so close to the animals.

We had lunch in Plymouth a few dozen yards from the Mayflower Steps, or at least the former site of the Mayflower Steps since the originals have apparently had to be rebuilt. There is a monument above them now, and a museum across the street from the water with exhibits on the departure of the Pilgrims and how it affected Britain both before and after, as well as a brief history of Plymouth and Sutton Harbour. We parked in the Barbican area and walked around the citadel up to the lighthouse and statue of Sir Francis Drake on the other side while eating ice cream, since it was spectacularly warm and there were many ships to see in the bay. The sun was almost blindingly bright as we watched a Channel ferry pass a big frigate that was flying a flag I didn't recognize. The English sailors held captive in Iran had been released the day before, so the mood was festive.

We tried to visit Drake's home, Buckland Abbey, but apparently it is closed on Thursdays (no great loss to younger son, since we got to walk right up to the sheep that live there). Then we drove into Dartmoor, where there were wild sheep and horses walking across the roads and fantastic stone formations, some natural, some neolithic. We hiked to a pair of stone rows dating back thousands of years and the Merrivale stone circle, surrounded by sheep that grudgingly marched out of our way when the kids to get close enough to pet them. We didn't actually see much of the forest, which is massive, apart from a couple of stands of evergreens and the animals on the moors. We stopped for dinner at the Highwayman Inn in Shepton Mallet, a pub with excellent fish & chips. Unfortunately I had no internet connection again last night, so no posting was possible till now and these are just a handful of the photos!


Sea Life, Ships, Stones )
We drove to the Cotswolds on Wednesday, first to Kelmscott Manor -- William Morris's house, where the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood often gathered, at least while they were speaking to one another and not sneaking around with one another's wives. The house is smaller than I expected, but gorgeous, filled with Morris tapestries and Dante Gabriel Rossetti's paintings of Jane Morris and her daughters (plus his paintbox with the remains of his tubes of paint and his name on the bottom!). There's a very pretty garden and a covered yard where we ate lunch after looking at William and Jane's separate bedrooms...Guinevere was a popular theme.

Then we went to Bourton-on-the-Water, home of Birdland, the only place in the UK where one can see king penguins. And unlike various US zoos we visited last year, these penguins are just on the other side of a low stone wall...no glass between them and visitors, so the views are fantastic! The colony arrived fairly intact from one of the Falkland Islands when a man who had bought the island gave the birds to the zoo, and they have been very successful at breeding (including one naughty penguin who had two chicks with different females last year). We were there for the feeding and were introduced to Seth, the penguin who co-starred with Danny DeVito in Batman Returns, as well as the rest of the birds, one of whom believes he is human because he had to be hand-fed and was flirting with the keeper. There are hundreds of other birds in the park, including flamingos, various Amazon and desert fowl, cranes, pelicans, storks...all quite lovely.

We took a short walk around Bourton-on-the-Water, a beautiful town which, as the name suggests, sits right on the river with many daffodils and ducks lining the banks. Then we went to meet [livejournal.com profile] thedivinegoat and her family for dinner, having discovered earlier in the week that she lives about ten minutes from the cottage where we're staying. I was afraid my kids would be hyper after so long in the car and was relieved that her babies were just as active -- plus they have four cats, which made younger son extremely happy after his penguin withdrawal. They treated us to fabulous Indian food and we discussed various fannish insanity (largely Doctor Who, which seems to be the theme of my holidays this spring!). So it was a lovely evening!


Pre-Raphaelites & Penguins )


Up very early to drive to Plymouth so must go collapse!
Tuesday we drove across the Severn into Wales, the first of several trips over that border. We went to Cardiff to have lunch with people [livejournal.com profile] apaulled works with in his company's offices there. First we visited Cardiff Castle, originally a Roman site with a Norman keep that became the property of the phenomenally wealthy Marquess of Bute, who had architect William Burges transform it into a Gothic revival pleasure palace even though he lived there only a few weeks a year, overseeing the vast Welsh coal mining and shipping operation. The women's quarters have a ceiling carved from imported wood painted in gold and the nursery is ringed with paintings from folk and fairy tales, with lamps decorated with figures from nursery rhymes. It's probably the most opulent home I've ever seen, and the grounds are gorgeous, with the Norman keep surrounded by daffodils and peacocks.

After meeting the work friends and going to lunch at Ha Ha's, we drove to nearby Caerphilly Castle, which made a remarkable contrast with Cardiff Castle...a massive Medieval stronghold that appears to be twice the size, but has been slowly decaying for more than 500 years, with restoration work beginning only in the 1920s. A moat filled with waterfowl surrounds the huge dark walls, which sit right in the middle of a busy shopping area. The massive great hall remains in very good condition, while the "leaning tower" that was probably knocked aside in some kind of seismic event looks as if someone blasted it with a fiery weapon and left it to crumble. Caerphilly is just over a low mountain from Cardiff and the drive is very pretty too.

We could not leave Cardiff without seeing both "Torchwood" (Roald Dahl Plass and the Wales Millennium Centre) and the exhibition on Doctor Who at the Red Dragon Centre. The latter is pretty heavily focused on the ninth and tenth Doctors -- artifacts include a Dalek, a Cyberman, the Anne Droid, a Clockwork Robot, an Ood and K-9 -- but there was enough history for me to get a better sense of the first through third Doctors, plus a lovely large portrait of Paul McGann and loads of pictures of David Tennant. We also went to Forbidden Planet (this one before it closed for the evening!) so I am now the proud owner of a Doctor, a Rose and a Captain Jack while younger son is the even prouder owner of a remote-control Dalek. That's right: we are all geeks!


Cardiff Castles, Torchwood Town )
We had a rather pagan day before the start of Passover, beginning at Lacock Abbey, which remained intact after the Dissolution and has beautiful cloisters that were used in the filming of the early Harry Potter movies. Fox Talbot, who invented the photographic negative, inherited the property after it had become a private home and there is a museum on the grounds about his work. We didn't actually tour the abbey-turned-country-house, just the cloisters and some of the gardens. Then, after a brief stop to see the Cherhill (Oldbury) white horse, we drove to Avebury, which we have visited each time we have been to Britain -- the beautiful Wiltshire town with a stone circle surrounding it. We picnicked in the middle and walked around the circle to see Silbury Hill and the other nearby sights. As it has been every time I have visited Avebury, the weather was magnificent...not a cloud in the sky, though there was some haze.

We stopped briefly at Stonehenge because we couldn't bear not to when we were so close...didn't do the audio tour this time, just walked around the circle under the gorgeous afternoon sun. From there we drove to Glastonbury, where we stopped briefly in a couple of the spiritual-New Age-Wiccan stores before going first to the Chalice Well -- an underground spring that reaches the surface at the foot of the Tor amidst lovely meditation gardens -- then climbing the Tor itself in the hazy late afternoon sunshine. There were sheep low on the hillside and rabbits and ravens up near the top, which was windy but not nearly as cold as the rainy day when we climbed it two years ago. Then as now we drove out of the city listening to Loreena McKennitt, inevitably!

After an afternoon at the focal point of British goddess worship for anyone who grew up a fan of The Mists of Avalon, it felt kind of strange to stop in Tesco, pick up Passover essentials and come back to the cottage for a seder, but we did...quite modified in places, as we had no shank bone and had kind of forgotten to pack the Haggadah, but the kids can recite most of it from memory after Hebrew school model seders, and the quickie charoset and lack of gefilte fish did not seem to distress them. Avebury and Glastonbury have always felt absolutely spiritually right to me, so I am quite content with unorthodoxy.


Sacred Spaces )
Sunday morning, after feeding our breakfast leftovers to the goats in High Littleton, we drove to Bristol, which covers the hillside from a high bridge and row of houses to the River Avon and its docks below. It was a perfect, nearly cloudless spring day and we went first to the zoo, which has an exceptional Humboldt penguin exhibit with parents sitting on eggs in nest boxes outside and a view of the swimming penguins from tubes below the water. It's not a very large zoo, but beautifully designed with gardens and large walk-through exhibits of bats, reptiles, several aviaries, a terrific insect collection and older son's favorite, red pandas. We had lunch at the zoo before driving down to the river where we toured the fantastic exhibition of the SS Great Britain, which sits in drydock in a dehumidification chamber surrounded by exhibits on its lengthy past as the first ocean liner with a steam-powered propeller, then an immigrant clipper, a windjammer and a floating storage hulk. The interior of the ship has been restored to its 1843 splendor and both kids enjoyed the audio tours, since one described life for first-class passengers and another described life for kids chasing one of the ship's cats.

We walked around Bristol's Great Western Dockyard, where we saw the 1600s wooden ship Matthew, which was about to go on a pirate cruise, as well as the wooden schooner Tangaroa and the Dutch ship Energie. Then we drove to Stanton Drew, a little town with a stone circle in the middle of a field surrounded by sheep. The surviving stones in the circle are about the same size as the ones at Castlerigg, which we saw on our last trip -- they're bigger than the Rollright Stones, smaller than the stones at Avebury -- and they overlook both sheep-dotted hillsides and the town chapel. There were only a couple of other people visiting the circle while we were there, though there are more signs of civilization, farmhouses and homes, up close than at Stonehenge or Castlerigg. Younger son was more excited about being able to get up close and personal with the sheep anyway; many of them had lambs and they were quite calm about having strangers among them, unlike the goats at the cottage.

On the way back we tried to look for Passover necessities, but the Tesco had closed an hour earlier than we expected, so we went instead to a smaller store and got frozen dinners, reminding me that the amount of inexpensive, quick Indian meals available in the UK is vastly superior to what we can find at home. We ate while watching the 2006 Doctor Who Christmas special, which we were delighted to discover via the Sunday Times would be on BBC3 along with a rerun of the previous night's new episode (which [livejournal.com profile] apaulled had mostly missed dealing with the flat tire). Then we watched the new production of Persuasion on ITV, which had many scenes filmed in Bath in the places we had visited the day before. It was an entertaining production but I had a frustrating evening, as first Photoshop wouldn't load, then we had no internet connection. We did get some laundry done, at least.


Sea Life, Ships and Stone Circles )


I love love love getting comments but have had absolutely no time to answer them (and no internet connection far too much of the time)! I am very sorry!
Saturday we got up, left Catford after a brief visit to the aviary in the courtyard of the place where we were staying, and drove through lovely, occasionally sheep-filled countryside to Bath. We went first to have lunch Seafoods Fish & Chips, reputed to have excellent cod, which reputation it happily deserves. Then we went to the Jane Austen Centre, which was very interesting even though Jane Austen has never been one of my favorites (don't fret, [livejournal.com profile] gblvr, I got you a souvenir). We had a very dynamic guide -- even the kids were attentive during the talk on her life -- and there was an exhibit of clothing and costume of the era with exhibitions on her life and the costumes of the new ITV Persuasion. There was also an entire room on Austen, Bath and the Royal Navy with particular emphasis on Nelson that I'm sure would have warmed Patrick O'Brian's heart.

We walked around Bath quite a bit, going to the Circus (a Georgian architectural circle, not a performing show), the Royal Crescent, a Georgian garden and Bath Abbey. We went last to the Roman Baths themselves, since we had visited them in 2003 and figured that if we ran out of time, that was the thing we could most easily miss, but it was still early enough to take the audio tour (which has been expanded since we were last there) and taste the water (much too warm and metallic for my taste but hopefully it has cured all my ills). There was a duck swimming in the central pool, which pleased younger son greatly until he started to worry that maybe it was ill because it seemed to have an injured wing, but one of the people who worked at the baths assured him that ducks come there often to enjoy the warm water. Some of the sections that were being repaired last time we visited were more visible, like the hypocaust, and we had a clear, sunny sky which provided much prettier views of the Abbey and surrounding architecture than the dreary drizzle we had four years ago.

After a stop at a Tesco for dinner necessities, we drove to the cottage where we planned to stay the week, where we nearly had a small disaster by getting a flat tire as we were parking, then discovering that the wrench that came with the spare didn't fit some of the bolts on the wheel. (We met most of our neighbors and spent many dollars calling rental car agencies, repair shops, etc. before tracking down another wrench and getting that solved.) While [livejournal.com profile] apaulled fixed the wheel, the rest of us watched the first episode of Doctor Who series three, which was ever so much better than I had dared to hope...I had not much liked Martha in the previews, mostly because she wasn't Rose, but in some ways she's a better match for the Doctor -- older and more sure of who she is from the start, and quite certain that she knows things he does not, with some of the same kind of sass Rose had. We discovered that the chocolate Daleks are in fact not very Dalek-shaped, which makes them easier to break and eat (the boxes do the actual talking and are collapsible so we can bring those home). Then we discovered Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World on some cable channel and this made my night!


Taking the Waters )
On Friday we took the train from Catford to the Docklands Museum, which is terrific...a history of London via the Thames, including a full reproduction of "Sailortown" in the 1800s with a model pub, animal emporium and nautical equipment. The museum traces the history of London from the Romans to the present, and as an extra surprise there was a replica of the Discovery -- one of the ships that founded the colony at Jamestown -- docked just outside, along with a couple of other historic ships. We met one of [livejournal.com profile] apaulled's friends for lunch at Leadenhall Market (walking by way of the Tower and the old Roman wall), where we had sandwiches under cover since it was drizzling. We had planned to go from there to tour the Golden Hind, but it started raining in earnest, so we went instead to St. Paul's, which was in the midst of major renovations when we visited four years ago. This time we could see the tribute to US military personnel who died during World War II and the magnificent tiled ceiling.

From St. Paul's we went to Westminster, where we saw Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament on the way to the Horse Guards, Whitehall, Nelson's Column and the Admiralty Arch. We had plans to meet Vera at the National Gallery, which we visited only very briefly so I can say nothing intelligent about the artwork (and younger son would say that the best part were the pigeons that would land on people's arms if they held out food). We walked to Chinatown, where we had dinner at a buffet with very good lemon chicken, and Vera brought us organic chocolate Daleks from Marks & Spencer's that say "EXTERMINATE!" if you press on the boxes (this proved to be hilarious, as every time one of us bumped into a bag, we would hear, "EXTERMINATE!" and all crack up). We were going to go to Forbidden Planet to get Doctor Who action figures, but the store was just closing as we arrived, having shut the doors early because Neil Gaiman was there and a mob had gathered outside trying to get a look at him. Woe!

Vera had brought us tickets for Spamalot, which we saw in the evening after looking in vain for a non-mobbed coffeehouse to sit for half an hour. We were all very familiar with the score and with all the Monty Python movies it is based on, but we didn't know for instance that "The Song That Goes Like This" was performed as a Phantom of the Opera parody, nor that the audience always sings along on "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." We had an immensely good time, and also had entertaining people in neighboring seats at the theatre who turned out to be Doctor Who fans and were fortunately amused when they stepped past us to sit down and our bag said "EXTERMINATE!" to them. I'm sure I'm forgetting a dozen small things, like stopping in Boots to get Cadbury Creme Eggs. Here's just a handful of photos, I'm too tired to deal with the rest now!


Brief Glimpses of London )
I expect to be too tired for poems on this trip, sorry! (I expect to be too tired lots of days to answer comments too, sorry again!) Our flight from Dulles to Heathrow felt very fast. Younger son and I watched Happy Feet -- I specifically wanted to watch something I had seen before in case I fell asleep, and even though they were showing Bobby, I would rather rent that and see it uncut -- while older son and [livejournal.com profile] apaulled were watching Casino Royale once United got the tape straightened out. They fed us near midnight, though none of us ate very much. I fell asleep immediately after this and slept till they started bringing breakfast around three hours later, just what we didn't need. By then the sun was up and for the first time, flying in, I had a clear view of the Irish coast. It remained clear all the way over Wales and finally clouded over as we approached London.

Customs moved quickly and the luggage was out by the time we got through, so we picked up our rental car and drove to Hampton Court Palace -- Thomas Wolsey's residence that Henry VIII decided he liked so much, he snatched it from him, moving his second and third queens in (Edward VI was born there and Jane Seymour died there). The conference that produced the King James Bible took place there, too. It's been open to the public since Queen Victoria's reign and Henry VIII's tapestries are back on display after a fire in the 1980s inspired major restoration. There are days' worth of gardens to explore and art to see, but we only spent a few hours before we were all too tired from the flight to keep walking much longer. It had been drizzly when we arrived, but the sun came out by afternoon.

So we drove to the rental apartments in Catford where we stayed in 2003, dropped off our luggage and walked to Tesco to buy essentials (tea, Aero bars, salt and vinegar crisps...oh, and chicken korma and tandoori and things like that). Then [livejournal.com profile] apaulled took the kids swimming in the Roman bath-decorated indoor swimming pool while I recharged our various electronics, took the photos off the SD card and called my friend with whom we are going to dinner and the theatre Friday night. We ate the aforementioned Indian food and are now watching a bit of the Elton John birthday concert on TV and before collapsing so we can get up and do lots of things in London tomorrow.


Brief Glimpses of Hampton Court Palace )
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