We went to England with my Mom and Dad this past August, a great trip with, of course, thousands of photos taken. (How could I do otherwise?) Sorting and editing has been quite a task. But with 2 feet plus of snow on our deck, and more falling all day today, I am listening to Louis Armstrong's Cool Yule on iTunes and thinking it is far past time to begin what will have to be several posts.
To start, you should know that I am a very nervous flier. Not always -- just when Kathleen and I fly together without the kids. I know, in abstract fashion, that I should be more nervous getting in the car without them. But the steering wheel provides at least the illusion of control over your fate. Plus, if there is a care accident, there is always the chance one of you will survive -- not so with a plane. If it goes down you are both gone baby gone, no questions asked. Hence the reason we had not, in the last 10 years, travelled very far together without the kids in tow.
As we prepared to Board our 11:00 am flight to Atlanta (the interim stop on our way to Manchester, England), the thought of potentially leaving our young kids without parents, and that later in life they might barely remember us if at all, weighed heavy on my heart, irrational though that thought might be. Then, just prior to boarding, a group of about thirty LDS missionaries walked up to the gate. They were beginning their missions by flying to the Manchester England MTC -- on our flights! Complete peace replaced the anxiety present only seconds before. No way was this plane going down. When is the last time you heard of a plane-load of thirty missionaries crashing? Never going to happen, period. It may seem small and silly, but I really am grateful for that moment. A very good omen to start a great trip.
Why in the world, you may ask, do we fly to Manchester England with my parents for our sans-kids first trip in 10 years? Good question. Simple answer: it is close to Sheffield!
Still puzzled? Well, in 1935 my father was born in Sheffield, England, an hour from Manchester. He lived there through World War II where his first home was bombed flat, and continued to live in Sheffield until well after the War ended. You should also know that my Dad is really, really special. Anyone who knows him will tell you this (and he knows just about everyone in these parts). I love him more than I have power or words to convey. He is and always will be my first and best friend. I consider myself the luckiest person in the world to be his son. So I have always wanted to see where he grew up, and hopefully learn a little more about him and my English heritage. Kath was kind enough to be enthusiastic about going -- I married the greatest girl ever -- so off we went.
I don't know what images come to your head when you hear the words "Manchester" and "Sheffield," but mine were positively Dickensian. I had never seen pictures of either, and envisioned miles upon miles of grey industrial hulks, all sooty brick and towering smokestack, with dour workers milling about. While I knew that the Peak District was a National Park between the two cities, I also knew it was a former mining area, and thought nothing really beautiful could come of it. I could not have been more wrong (see first picture, above).
Our flight was perfectly timed, so that if we slept from Atlanta to Manchester, we would arrive at 7:00 AM Manchester time with a 6 hour nap under our belts. I did just that, with a timely assist from two Advil PM. My wife, with the help of a gripping book, did not. Bummer, but she didn't let it get her down. We rented a car in Manchester and undertook the nerve-wracking wrong side of car, wrong side of very narrow road thing from Manchester into the Peak District.
We drove directly to one of the prime attractions there -- Chatsworth House, the ancestral home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, who still occupy it. Begun in 1569 by Bess of Hardwick and her husband, William Cavendish, the King's Treasurer, it lies on the east bank of the Derwent River, and is set in expansive parkland, backed by wooded, rocky hills. It is considered among the very best of the English Country Houses, and I have no doubt this is true, as the photos below attest.
Here we are headed in the servants' gate to the "back yard" if you will. Upon seeing the price tag to tour the place, my Dad observed that after all these years the rich lords were still being supported by the common people. A very English observation :-) The pictures below are from the Grand Entry, which is the first room you see on the tour. Really unbelievable.
The art, as you can see, is incredible, as were the furnishings, tile and detail. It has been a long time since I toured Europe, but in my memory, this place stands up to just about anything across the continent. Very worth seeing. Here are some additional snaps of the interior.
Laptop with Wi-fi and we are good to go here.
This was a hidden door to a music/concert room. Very cool violin. Its painted. Amazing, no?
Nothing like a little modesty and simplicity for the Master Bedroom.
And you thought "crown jewels" was just a euphemistic phrase. Yes, those are diamonds. Sheesh.
I could do without all of the other stuff, but this library was to die for. I also really loved this statue. Not often you see marble doing a very convincing impersonation of a diaphanous veil.
Just a modest banquet hall for your hundred plus guests. No problem there.
While the interior is amazing, I loved the grounds above all. There are over 90,000 acres, designed by Lancelot "Capability" Brown. You have to love the English. Only they could come up with a name like that. Whatever issues naming may have given him, you have to admit old Capability did a dang nice job in the Garden. Here the proof:
So the bowery looking thing behind this totally hot babe is actually two shaped apple trees that have grown together. Apples still growing like it was totally normal to be that way. You cannot believe the variety of flowers and plants at this place. Spectacular.
Now that would make one totally rockin jet ski course :-). Ugly American? Who, me?
I loved this flower garden. Made me happy just being there, seeing all those amazing little miracles growing in such profusion. But here is what truly amazes -- 90,000 acres of ridiculously vibrant plant life, AND NOT A SINGLE SPRINKLER. I suppose you can guess what that means for the weather, including while we were there. I think maybe two days out of 10 were rain free. But it really didn't bother us much, and the gardens make it worth the perennial cloud cover.
This maze was one of my favorite places on the grounds. Not because of the maze itself, but because of the quintessential English scenes that were going on all around it. Families setting up Croquet and playing Lawn Checkers (a giant cloth checker board with wood checkers the size of small hula hoops), with picnic baskets everywhere. Three English ladies sat at the entrance, peering into the maze, not wanting to step foot across the threshold. We asked if they were scared to go in, and they said no, they were just checking on their children. My dad immediately replied, "Oh, you're only scared that they might actually find their way out then." They laughed out loud. His droll English humor was in fine form. It was a great day just walking around the grounds with him (my Mom and Kath, our two midnight readers, had ended up napping on the lawn -- another fine English thing to do).
Nice duck pond, eh? Ski boat with a slalom course really would be out of place, I suppose. . .
So there you have most of our first day. Who knew you could find this in between Sheffield and Manchester? We loved the Peak District and would highly recommend it to anyone headed to England. Chatsworth House is only the beginning. I will post more about where we stayed (and our nosy neighbors) tomorrow.