Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Wishes


I sit in this quiet, soon-to-be-filled-with-pandemonium morning, having enjoyed a most wonderful holiday season.  My heart is so very full.  It is just amazing to me that all this comes from one small child, born in a manger, in a then insignificant backwater of the Roman Empire.  The son of working class people, he never put a word on paper, let alone wrote a book. Never travelled more than thirty miles from home. Never was part of the "in" crowd, associating only with "publicans and sinners." Never owned a home. Relied on the generosity of others for the necessities of life.  Lived only 33 years.  Died among thieves, amidst widespread condemnation by those in authority, betrayed and denied by some of his best friends.  At the end of his life, he had perhaps 120 souls who really followed and believed what he taught.

And yet think of all the love and generosity and kindness and good will; the beautiful music; the laughter and friendship; the belief and hope and faith in the good and the right, that is spread throughout the entire world in this magical season--all because of that one person.  Surely, that is a miracle.

May God bless us all, as he does and has so wonderfully, through that one small little baby.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

England post 3 -- Bakewell and Haddon Hall

Crazy at work. Holiday madness. And yet, the continual England post lives on, albeit at random.  It was such a great trip, I have to capture it, even six months late.

Our night in Monsal Head was followed by a day with two more Peak District highlights: the picturesque town of Bakewell and the otherworldly Haddon Hall, a true gem.

But first, here I am, sitting in our trusty and very fuel efficient Audi touring wagon, getting ready to drive to Bakewell.  Why this picture?  BECAUSE DRIVING IN ENGLAND IS ONE OF THE MOST STRESSFUL THINGS YOU CAN POSSIBLY DO, and any post about the place would be sorely lacking without talking about it. 

Oh, it is not just that I am actually sitting in the driver's seat above -- shifting with the left hand, trying to remember that your left rear is the blind spot, having to glance to your left to see in the rear view mirror, cars driving down the wrong side of the road, treating right turns like left turns . . . . all of this can be managed.  But throw in the strange signage -- e.g. "Caution, Uneven Camber!" or "CAUTION!  HEAVY PLANT CROSSING" (I kid you not--what the heck am I looking for, wandering trees?), and Gertie, the GPS system, telling you "go right on the roundabout, third exit" when you are actually supposed to go CLOCKWISE on the darn things (that requires an initial vere to the LEFT, by the way), and you have the makings of copious furrowed-brow sweat.  (Which doubles in volume each time Gertie says "turn around when possible" -- and she did that way too often). 

But all of that is not the worst of it. No, the worst is that virtually all roads are only a single lane wide. For two cars. Going the opposite directions. At ridiculous speeds. With about a million blind curves per mile.  That would be bad enough as it is, but then you realize, almost entirely too late, that your every instinct, honed over years of driving, tells you to SWERVE TO THE RIGHT when you are about have a fatal, head-on collision, while his equally well-honed instincts are to SWERVE TO THE LEFT (which would be the correct thing to do in this confounded mess of a transportation system).   The fact that we didn't obliterate ourselves and some poor backward British soul is nothing short of a miracle. 

So when I say we managed to arrive safely in Bakewell after a short drive, you now know what that really means. 

In any event, Bakewell is a wonderful place, known for its Bakewell pudding (a puff pastry shell with a layer of jam, covered with a filling of eggs, sugar, butter and almond flavored icing ) as well as Bakewell tarts (a shortcrust pastry with a layer of jam and a sponge filling with almonds), both of which deserve their reputation for being dang good.  You add that to the place being about as quaint as one could ask for, and you have a very nice experience indeed.  Here are a few pics, much the worse for the cloudy sky, but oh well.

Mom and Dad walking around the central park in the town.  Any one who says the English aren't the world's best gardeners is completely insane.  Anyone who knows me knows I love color, and when  you get flowers all around like this, I am just a happy camper.

Bridge, willow tree, River Wye, geese -- now if it would just stop raining, it would be perfect.

The other wonderful discovery from Bakewell -- the oddly named "Cornish Pasty."  Not what you think. It is like a chicken or beef or lamb pot pie to go, wrapped in an empanada like crust, and complete with wonderful vegetables and spices.  The picture below is me on a determined hunt for pasties along Bakewell's main market street. Couldn't get enough of them. Seriously, I want to open a Pasty stand in the U.S. just so I can have them, even if no one else comes. (Do wonder about the crowd I might attract with a "Get Your Pasties Here" sign, though. Could be bad.)

After a short morning in town, we headed off to Haddon Hall, below.

Haddon Hall is a fortified medieval manor house dating from the 12 th Century. That is sometime in the 1100s for those of you not paying sufficient attention. Yet it is still the home of Lord and Lady Edward Manners, whose family has owned it since 1567.  It has been described as "the most perfect house to survive from the middle ages", and is surrounded by terraced Elizabethan gardens.  

Here it is, standing over the ubiquitous River Wye.  

Kath and I headed up the pathway from the car lot, looking at the carriage house and stables, complete with topiary.  Pretty sweet for what amounts to a medieval garage.

Check out that door. It gives you a sense of what this place holds inside.

The courtyard is paved with uneven, rough hewn stones, and as  you look around, you see things like the detail in the photo below that tell you this place was built before the words "architecture" or "structural engineering" really came to have any meaning.

You start the tour by walking into a large wood paneled dining room. I have never felt so transported back in time. You could practically hear the armor clinking on a bunch of drunken knights with food in their beards and a roaring fire crackling out from this huge fireplace. When these guys say medieval, they really mean it.  I mean, 1100, we are talking Saxons and Jutes and Celts and no William the Conquerer, just yet.  That is OLD. Check out the pictures of this room, and you will see what I mean.

Can't you just see the mugs of ale and hear the boisterous banter? If that table could talk . . . .

Of course, all those festivities had to be supported by a kitchen.  No mixmasters here. Just a place to hang the cows and chickens when you slit their throat, drain their blood (for use later -- blood pudding anyone?), and collect the fat that boils off them as they roast by the huge fireplace. Nothing quite like the smell of an animal fat candle, right?

Much more civilized is the simple but amazing chapel, whose pews have seen a fair bit of use. Guess if you are out slaughtering people with swords and maces during the day you need a place to pray at night.

This piano was very cool. Thanks for the pic mom.

Don't know about you, but that works for me as a door to the garden.  The British just know what to do with flowers, that's all there is to it.

Here is an overview from the main garden terrace. Ugly, no?

Another picture of the main garden terrace. The picture of us with my folks that leads this post is from the same terrace area. Colors everywhere. Just amazing.

Such beauty. . . . on the left :-).

So there you have it, Bakwell and Haddon Hall. Up next, Sheffield!! (That is, if we survive the drive.)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Peak District--Magic Monsal Head

So we spent our first night in England in the Peak District, less than 30 miles from old, industrial Sheffield, in a tiny spot outside of Bakewell called Monsal Head.  Castle Cliffe B&B, run by Neil and Jackie Mantell, is just such a place to stay.  Let me explain.

This is Castle Cliffe.  In addition to being wonderfully located, the breakfast is all local -- farm fresh eggs (such a huge difference I could hardly believe it), thick, thick bacon (which the British are so fond of, I hear they take it with them when they travel abroad -- perhaps justifiably so), and a roasted fresh tomato to die for, plus other sundries. Makes for a very tasty start to the day. But there is more.

This is the Castle Cliffe Neighborhood. Dang crowded --with sheep!

Then there are Castle Cliffe's nosy neighbors. Guess a place can't be perfect now, can it?

To make matters even more unbearable, Castle Cliffe sits on top of Monsal Dale, above, which makes for a lovely morning run (Kath) or picture taking stroll (me).  Hate it when I have to exercise in the morning after a rainstorm. Smell alone could drive you nuts :-).

Oh, and here is the Monsal Railway Viaduct, which we could SEE FROM OUR ROOM.  Darn thing doesn't even have trains anymore -- has been turned into a walking/biking path, of all things. So much for train-spotting, dang it!

Then of course there is the River Wye, burbling away through the night. So hard to sleep with that going on, you know? And don't even get me started on the trout jumping. Noisy little fellas. 

And I suppose you couldn't really call the area verdant, lush, rich, flourishing, pastoral, sylvan, etc. -- 'cause you know, none of those words would really apply, right? Nah! But all told, it was an ok way to spend your first night in England, I suppose. 

All that was a very Britsh way of saying: "THIS PLACE TOTALLY ROCKED! WE LOVED IT!"

Next up: Bakewell, Haddon Hall and Sheffield.