Wednesday Wanderings: Highclere, Jane Austen, Irish Football, and 40 Years Married

Sunday, September 17, 2017 — I probably should have been dating these posts before this one.

We woke up in Newbury, in the Furze Bush Inn. During our Full English breakfast, the innkeeper, Jules, asked what brought us to the area and what we planned to see. I’m a huge Dick Francis fan and I wanted to see the village of Lambourn and the training grounds that are often featured in his books.

 

I’d also wanted to visit Bath and some Jane Austen sites, but Bath was just too far out of the way from the other places we wanted to see. However … the village of Chawton where Jane Austen lived the last few years of her life was in the area and they have a museum in her home.

UK map (2)

 

 

So I told Jules we were headed to Lambourn, then to Chawton. He asked about Highclere (home of Downton Abbey) since it was very close. I had checked into visiting the castle, but it wasn’t open to guests/tours/tourists while we were there. It’s only open limited times. I told him it was closed, but he said we should go by there anyway, it was worth a look from the gates. He mentioned the popularity of Downton Abbey had been a huge boon to the area with the influx of tourists. Jules also encouraged us to find a Sunday carving for dinner. It’s roast beef and is a Sunday tradition in pubs. We didn’t realize Sunday carving dinner is actually lunch.

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A Lambourn racing stable

So we headed out. Lambourn was our first stop. It was a drizzly day, but not a downpour. We found Lambourn easily and drove through the village and along the training grounds which were empty since we were there late morning. We did see a stable that I know was in many of the Francis books. It could have been transported from Lambourn onto the page. I knew it right away. I had never visited Lambourn before, but I’d been there and I’d been in that stable, thanks to Mr. Francis.

 

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A typical road between villages. This is a two-way road.

The scenery was lush and green and beautiful. And the roads and lanes were a bit wider than in Ireland, which helped my driving confidence. Having an automatic transmission helped also. I often thanked the kind employees at the Marriott in my mind. One of them told us story about a tourist from another European country (which I won’t name but you may be able to guess). The employee said he was upgrading him to an automatic. The tourist got angry, and said, “You think I’m lazy like an American?!?!” The employee apologized, changed him back to a standard, and then offered a hybrid vehicle, so he’d get better mileage. That also angered him.

From Lambourn we backtracked a bit and pointed the car towards Highclere. We found it easily and sure enough, the gates were closed. Another car had followed us up the drive. We all got out of our vehicles and approached the gates, eager to see the famous castle. 2017-09-17_12-12-14_513Unfortunately, Jules was a bit over optimistic about what was visible. We could see a curving lane and a security car approaching. I knew he was coming to tell us to leave, so I returned to the car. The other car’s occupants lingered and talked to the security guy. As they came back to their vehicle, they said he’d told them that if they drove to nearby Beacon Hill, there was a short hike that had a great view of the castle. We decided to try it since it seemed silly to come all that way and then leave without a glimpse.

We followed the other car, and parked. They were out of their car and disappeared down the trail while we were making sure our bags were covered, the car was locked up, and so on. We started on the trail and immediately met the others returning to the parking lot. “It’s very muddy. You need proper shoes and to be fit,” one of them said. “We’re not fit.”

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The view from the first hill. You can get an idea of the steep trail we climbed.

We decided to proceed. It was very muddy and a stiff incline. After a hundred yards or so, we went through a gate and instead of mud, it was a grassy hillside to hike up. A very steep and slick hillside. We headed up. That was six months and 66 pounds ago. I made it up, but it wasn’t pretty. I told Dave if, when we reached the top, there was another hill to climb, he could do it on his own. 2017-09-17_12-57-02_959

Sure enough, there was. From the top of my hill, I could get a glimpse of the top quarter of the building. Dave went on to the next hill and got a better view and picture before we headed back down.

I think the security guard had a good laugh as we left at his great practical joke. He’d directed those crazy tourists to a strenuous hike with barely a view.

We made it safely back to the car and headed for Chawton. We found the village and the museum pretty easily. Parking was another matter. But there was a pub across the street from the museum and since Stud Muffin isn’t into Jane Austen, we parked in the pub parking lot. He went to the pub, I went to the museum.

Jane Austen lived in Chawton for the final eight years of her life, although her family moved her to Winchester for the last months, hoping her health would improve there. The house in Chawton is now a museum. July 2017 was the 100th anniversary of Austen’s death, and a choir from Winchester had performed at the observance last summer. They happened to be singing again on the day I visited and I was treated to some lovely music in the beautiful gardens. That was a serendipity I was not expecting!

 

After about an hour wandering the house and grounds, I found Stud Muffin at the pub. Our poor phone’s data plans had taken a beating, so I added more data to his phone then we headed out again.

While in Ireland visiting our niece and her family, we’d learned that County Mayo, where they live, were in the Irish Football championships against Dublin. It’s a long and heated rivalry, with Mayo losing far more often than winning. The game was that day, so we put “Sports pub” into our phones and headed to the closest, The French Horn, in Alton.

We found the pub just fine, but they had no sports on and no way to show the game. They suggested the Wheatsheaf. As we headed out the door, a group of three sitting nearby asked if we were good at crosswords. Stud Muffin offered my services to help them finish. They were lacking two answers. With a sigh of relief, I was able to supply one of the answers: Coda. The clue: Ending the music. The other clue I had no idea. This was a real neighborhood pub that welcomed anyone. Even American tourists looking for the Irish Football game.

The Wheatsheaf had televisions and was able to let us watch the last few minutes of the game. County Mayo was winning when we started watching, but they did indeed manage to lose the game. We arrived at the Wheatsheaf at just after four o’clock and the Sunday carving was over. They were out of food. They recommended we try The George, so we headed out again. In case you’re counting, we’ve now been to four pubs in one day. Not drinking, not eating, just visiting.

It was a short walk to the George, and they were serving food, but no Sunday carving. This was our actual 40th anniversary, so we sat and prepared to celebrate.

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Dave had rump steak and I had a burger. The food was excellent and tasty and you could tell they paid attention to it.

One thing we’d learned in pubs is that the wait staff don’t just bring you your tab when you’re done eating. They assume you’re there for the evening and the table is yours. You have to ask for the bill when you’re ready to go. We almost left the George without paying, but we remembered just in time.

We had about a 90 minute drive to our stop for the night in Royal Tunbridge Wells. We wanted to visit Hastings on the coast the next day, so I’d picked a town between Newbury and Hastings, but closer to Hastings. It was after dark when we arrived and it had been a bit stressful driving. But we got there safely. The B&B wasn’t the easiest to find, because the street and houses weren’t clearly marked, but after asking for help from some people leaving the nearby church, we found it. The proprietress asked if we wanted to add breakfast for 8 pounds each. We asked why breakfast wasn’t included. She said AirB&B wouldn’t let her offer breakfast. That still sounds fishy, but we didn’t argue and just declined.

Whew! It was a long day packed full of memories and lovely moments. Thanks for reading this far!

Next week: Hastings, Notting Hill, and Portobello Road. Oh, and checking in the rental car. That may deserve its own post.

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Wednesday Wanderings: Westport House

Friday, September 8

After our visit to Kylemore Abbey, we arrived back at our lovely host/niece’s home. I wasn’t quite over the time change so I took a nap. But then it was time to party. My pictures didn’t turn out very good, but I’ll post them here.

Cory, our niece, and I drove to Westport House for a concert. It was the first event of the annual Westport Festival of Chamber Music.

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Taken from the Westport House website. This is a much better picture than mine of the room the concert was in. 

The program:

Beethoven: Piano Trio in D major Op.70 No.1 ‘Ghost’
Leon McCawley, Jack Liebeck, Guy Johnston

Penderecki: Cadenza for solo viola 
Jennifer Stumm

Schubert: String Quintet in C major D. 956
Navarra Quartet, Guy Johnston

The Beethoven and Schubert selections were my favorite. The violist was excellent, but the music was a bit too … strident for my taste. Although I enjoyed the whole evening immensely.

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Before the concert and during the break we were able to walk around Westport House, which is a local historic home and is now an event center with many attractions. The house itself is full of art, sculpture, and memorabilia from the original family and the community.

The house was built on the foundations of one of Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley‘s 16th century castles.

We had a blast dressing up and going out, just us big girls, for a night on the town.

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After the concert, we went to a local hotel’s pub for some more live music and a nightcap. We heard a duo, maybe brothers, who played an eclectic mix of folk, contemporary, and 20th century pop music.

It was a satisfying, if contextually confusing, end to a great day.

Next week: More random pictures and thoughts about Ireland, the sights, the people, and our farewell dinner.

 

Wednesday Wanderings: Ireland and the UK

We took a big trip last year. We had big reasons. A niece who lives in Ireland we wanted to visit. A 40th anniversary to celebrate. History to learn about.

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In front of the manor house at the Museum of Country Life in Turlough Village, near Castlebar, Ireland. Sept. 7.

We didn’t go without some serious planning and talking. Stud Muffin, being former law enforcement, was concerned about terrorist activity abroad. I understood, but thought it was a small risk in proportion to the potential payoff.

We checked our budget, contacted the fantastic Cheryl at Hey Wanna Go, and renewed out passports. We left our home September 4, visited family on the way to LA, and flew out September 6. Stud Muffin had traveled overseas before, but this was my first time. I was unsure how I’d handle the long flight, but it wasn’t too bad. It helped that we had a layover in Chicago, so what could be a twelve-hour flight was divided up into a five-hour and an eight-hour. Not bad at all. We won’t mention the layover was supposed to be about 90 minutes but ended up at four hours. So we were tired when we boarded the second flight. And tired when we arrived in Ireland.

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A quote from a display inside the museum.

I’ll be blogging some about the trip, posting pictures, and sharing memories for the next few months. This will help me get my thoughts and memories in order so I can compile our scrapbook.

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A better view of the manor house.

Monday Musings: Quilting Quandaries

Next week I’ll be on my way to Ireland and the UK. Trip of a lifetime, anniversary/birthday celebrations, and vacation all rolled into one.

For a knitter and quilter, this poses a problem.

Accessories for patchwork top view on a white surface

How much yarn and fabric should I buy?

Reasons for buying lots and lots of yardage and skeins:

  • I don’t know when or if I’ll ever return and have the opportunity to buy, so I want to have no regrets.
  • Fabric and yarn are fairly lightweight, and won’t add much bulk to my suitcase.
  • There might be patterns or colors not available here.

Reasons to forbear buying anything new and shiny and pretty:

  • With the internet, anything I see can probably be purchased later, just for more money and added shipping costs.
  • I have two completed quilt tops waiting to be finished and one partially pieced top waiting. I should not buy more fabric until those projects are completed.

See my problem?

But oh, the pretty pretty colors and patterns … Colorful balls of yarn on a wooden table

Monday Musings: So Many States …

I’m getting to check off two entries on my “States I Have Yet to Visit” list this week.

I’m in Fargo, North Dakota this week for a pesticide safety conference, for my part-time day job. Yes, I’ve seen the movie; no, I haven’t seen the television series.

img_8647I’ve never been to North Dakota, or Denver, where we had a layover yesterday. Denver was less mountainous than I’d expected, but still beautiful. Our less-than-an-hour-gonna-have-to-hustle-to-make-the-connecting-flight layover turned into five-plus hours, thanks to mechanical issues on a plane.

Since it’s important to me that any plane I fly on have no mechanical issues, I was just fine with the delay. The upside was my friend and boss has a daughter who lives in Denver,img_8641 and she readily agreed to come pick us up for dinner. And, of course, being introduced to Dion’s and their green chile pizza.

The downside was that I had finished my book and both magazines long before we finally landed in Fargo at 3 AM.

We were surprised and blessed to discover that the car rental agency had stayed open to accommodate our late flight, so we didn’t have to Uber or taxi or hitchhike to the hotel. I crawled into bed about 4:30 AM, Fargo time and managed to sleep a solid six hours.

We ventured to Fargo’s old town area, looking for lunch. The Smokehouse we found turned out to be closed on Sunday (not unusual, we soon discovered), so we went img_8643next door to Würst Bier Hall where we promptly ordered pretzels, wurst, porketta bánh mì, and french fries. Fabulous!! Stud Muffin would love that place, so I obviously have to come back.

After lunch, we walked around the old town area (gotta get some steps in after that lunch!), found a great coffee shop with scones (and a definite Seattle vibe), fun shops, and historic buildings. Dinner turned out to be peach kuchen and a root beer float at Krolls, a recommendation from our lunch server.

Don’t judge.

It’s now 8:00 Sunday evening. It’s only 6 PM in California, but my eyes are heavy. I won’t have a problem getting to sleep tonight. Tomorrow, we work!