Thursday, August 25, 2016

Merry Olde England- Part One

For our first international trip with James, we opted to keep the language requirements simple and headed to England. Where they speak English. In some ways, a better version of it.

This trip was about two weeks long and this longer-than-average post will cover the first week, where we spent most of our time in the countryside a couple of hours north of London. We had a fantastic time exploring different areas and our experience there was just awesome.

We left on a Friday night and flew a red-eye into London Gatwick International Airport where we picked up a right-hand drive rental car so we could tackle driving on the left side of the road.

Our luggage consisted of two carry-on suitcases and one personal bag each. Less is more!
Ready to cross the Atlantic! Let's do this!
England from above. Look at all that beautiful green land! 
A man who loves a driving challenge. He was so fantastic driving over there. It was really impressive!


After picking up the rental car, we headed north towards the condo that would be our home for the next week. But first, we stopped for supplies at Costco (you guys know I love me some Costco) and Tesco (a grocery store). It is so interesting to see how similar some things are, and yet how different other things are. Such a great experience to travel and get out of our familiar comfort zones!

We stayed in a lovely cabin at the Barnsdale Hall Hotel & Country Club near Oakham in the East Midlands, and right on Rutland Water. Our cabin had a lovely view of the water itself. 

The view from our balcony on a rainy day. Still lovely to me.


We didn't really sleep well on the plane and Saturday was a pretty full day of driving, shopping, and getting checked in, so by Saturday night we were completely spent. Bedtime came early for all of us and Sunday morning we woke up almost totally adjusted to the time change and ready to go exploring. First, we walked on a trail near our condo that headed down by the water and James picked flowers and tried to talk to the sheep. There are a lot of sheep in England, but they must not have understood his accent because they just stared at him. 

James always collects flowers for me on our nature walks. He is the most thoughtful boy and I love him so.
Keeping the bouquet in his pocket for me.
The smell of lavender in the air is one of my favorite parts of our time in England.


One of our favorite things to do while traveling is to just pick a direction and start walking/driving there and see what looks interesting. We found that there are a ton of "Public Footpaths" throughout England and you can just start walking on them, through fields, over stiles, amongst sheep, etc. It's amazing and fantastic and such a lovely way to see the countryside--on foot! We parked near one and just started walking to see what we would see. James loved just running through the fields as fast and far as he could. There was never anyone around and he would turn around every few minutes and wave to us to make sure we could see him and he could still see us. I could gladly have spent most of that week just walking across the countryside. Unfortunately, Chris is apparently allergic to the English meadows. He experienced terrible "hay fever" as they call it and was sneezing, coughing (more than usual), had itchy watery eyes, the works. Poor guy!! We stopped at a local pharmacy to get some medicine and the pharmacist was an American girl from Orlando! What are the odds?!

Off he goes! Bright green boy in a field of green...
What a view!


While out exploring, we discovered the pretty little village of Empingham.

St. Peter's Parish Church. The gravestones were old and worn and so fascinating to read.
We walked through the church's small graveyard and found markers dating back to the 1700s.
Enjoying a stroll through the village.
Found this sign hidden on a wall. I just loved it.
An amazing thatched cottage decorated to celebrate the Queen's birthday during their neighborhood party.
Gorgeous columbines growing in the yard of a cottage in town.
They have such lovely gardens everywhere you go!
How gorgeous is this rose?! 


On Monday, we headed to the village of Oakham, only a 10-minute drive down the road, for some looking around and then our first meal at a pub (not our last by a long shot).

He was so excited to find one that actually had a working phone in it. There aren't many left.
I was so excited to find some great alcoholic cider options and even some on tap!
Getting our first taste of British food- beef ale pie with mushy peas for Chris, and bangers and mash for James.
What remains of Oakham Castle is so interesting! They have just completed a restoration and it is really well done.
You should read up on its history and horseshoe tradition.
I couldn't resist taking a picture of this quintessentially English cottage in the rain.


On Tuesday, we headed northwest into the Peak District to see some great examples of historical architecture. First, we went to Haddon Hall in Bakewell, Derbyshire, one of the finest examples of medieval architecture still standing with parts of it dating from the 12th century. It was also used as Prince Humperdinck's castle in The Princess Bride, which is one of our family's favorite movies, so our visit there was pretty exciting for multiple reasons. We found that most historical attractions around England would have some kind of activity for kids to do while they were there to make it more interesting, mostly worksheets with different kinds of things to find throughout the location, questions to answer, pictures to draw, and at the end they could show it off and get a sticker or a treat of some kind. It was such a great way to keep James interested in these places longer than his attention span would otherwise have allowed and he learned things in the process. Well done, England!

There it is! He's so excited!!
It's so beautiful and so well-preserved for its age. Definitely worth a visit!
I loved this shot of the countryside through the extremely old mullioned glass windows.
James is checking out the glass window dated 1427 in the chapel,
which also features 15th century wall paintings.
James is counting his steps in the long gallery, per his worksheet. The ceiling here is exquisite.
An intricate carving on a wood panel. Just gorgeous.
The view from the Upper Garden. Spectacular.
I would be content to sit down in that meadow reading for quite a long time.
Raincoat and camera. Pretty much my look for this trip.


Our next stop was Chatsworth House, also in Bakewell, Derbyshire. This place was like nothing we have ever seen! It was so unbelievably gorgeous. And opulent. Really, really something. 

Wow. Just wow. If you look at how tiny the people are and how relatively far they are from the building, then you might
get a sense of how massive this place is.
Such a beautiful building and its symmetry is so pleasing to my little Type-A heart.
This painted ceiling is in the entryway. The detail was just exquisite. 
Sneaking a mirror selfie above an antique clock. Chris was impressed with how all the old clocks were still functioning
and they were all set correctly.
This is a portion of the library. It is a private collection containing over 30,000 books collected
over the past 400 years. Absolute heaven.
My boys in the dining room. James asked the volunteer how many rosettes were on the ceiling and she didn't know and
had never been asked that before. We did a rough estimate on our own but I was proud of his unique question and the
things that he notices.


The 105-acre gardens at Chatsworth House are renowned for having been redesigned by famous landscape architect Lancelot "Capability" Brown in the 1760s and they are truly something to see. We took a couple of hours to stroll all over and enjoy a rare sunny day.

You can see the maze at the bottom of the steps. It was James' favorite part!
James insisted on being the leader through the maze. 
Celebrating our arrival at the center of the maze!
Gorgeous water feature in the rock garden.
The grotto pond, complete with ducks.
Taking it all in.



Wednesday seemed like a good day to take another walk on a Public Footpath, so we set out on a drive to find one that looked good. The one we chose took us through a small farm full of sheep, a great field, and a small wooded area. 

He really loved taking these walks and meeting the locals.
This mother sheep was very vocal about my presence near her little lambs. It was really cute!
I'm smiling because I love this country and he's just in a hay fever-induced delirium. 


After a yummy lunch of local cheese, honey, and crackers, we decided to drive east until we hit water.  In this case, the North Sea. We wanted to check out the English version of a beach. We drove the A149 through a whole host of seaside towns and enjoyed some wonderful scenery along the way. It's so interesting to see how the look of the villages changes as the topography changes. They have always used local stones/rock/clay and such to build and you can see the change as you explore different areas. I really enjoyed seeing the care they took in new buildings to ensure they blend in with the old exteriors.

Enjoying another gorgeous day with the windows down.
It was definitely too chilly for swimming, but skipping stones is always an option!
He loved hunting for just the right rocks for skipping.
Enjoying a break from hay fever and some fresh sea air.
A storm started rolling in and it was just beautiful to see.
Shenk Family selfie at the North Sea.
We had dinner at a great little pub in Sheringham and we got to sit outside and enjoy this view!
He has a heart for the beauty of nature.




Thursday saw us heading down to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit Shakespeare's Birthplace. With your entry ticket, you also get admission to other places of interest in the area. We walked around the town a bit and also visited Harvard House, which was a neat little place with an American connection. While we loved the historical nature of the village, it was just a bit too touristy for our tastes. 


James and I are about to enjoy some history!
Serving some time in the stocks outside Shakespeare's birthplace. Maybe for talking too much? 
Captured some pretty rays of sunshine out the car window on a drive. 


Friday was really our last day in the area since we would be checking out first thing Saturday morning, so we finally gave in and let James go lawn bowling at the resort. He and I had watched a travel show on England before we left and he had seen them lawn bowling and was so thrilled to see that there was a court outside of our condo. None of us know how to lawn bowl, but it didn't stop us from having a great time making up generic rules and lovingly trash-talking each other. And, in typical kid fashion, after all of the amazing places we took him to, lawn bowling remains one of his favorite parts of the trip. It's always the simplest things, right?!

Took this one from the balcony with my zoom lens. I love that you can see them and the lovely water. 
He was really quite good at the game we made up and pretended was lawn bowling.
I have decent form, but no skill. C'est la vie.



After all the lawn bowling fun we could handle, we headed to the town of Stamford and a visit to Burghley House. We enjoyed a great walk through the village of Stamford, enjoying a local farmers market and the greatest little hidden bookshop. Chris perused a book from the 17th century(!) while James and I tried to find him a souvenir book. 

A particularly aggressive duck tried to make friends with Chris and maybe get a crumb of his tasty pastry.
James searching the shelves of this amazing bookshop. We found and purchased an old copy of
Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang that he proceeded to finish before we had even gotten back to the condo.


We unfortunately arrived too late to take a tour of Burghley House, so we contented ourselves with just strolling the grounds. James was happy to have some room to run, which he proceeded to do, much to the delight of an older couple who struck up a conversation with us regarding James' energy level. They were so sweet and we really enjoyed talking to them. In fact, all of the people we met were so nice and they all felt the need to apologize for the proper British weather we encountered--mostly gray skies and rain. We assured them all that we didn't mind; we had raincoats, rain boots, and we wouldn't let a little bad weather dampen our spirits or our enjoyment of their beautiful country.

An absolutely stunning work of Elizabethan gorgeousness!
We were bummed not to get to go on the other side of that ridiculous gate. 
After strolling along the property's little river, we found this beautiful stone bridge.
This is a crappier phone version, but I loved the way the reflections made circles out of the bridge's arches.
This was the view standing on the bridge and looking back towards the house. Yes, please!


On our last night in the East Midlands, we enjoyed dinner at a local pub. Not the healthiest of food options, but really delicious, and you have to admire their love of gravy in all things.

Should I tell him there's a little something in his mustache?... nope!


Saturday morning, we took a family picture on the balcony of our condo and then headed off to London. The next post will share all the details and fun of our second week in England, including our time in London and at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

We had a great week exploring England and coming home to this amazing view. Bye, Rutland Water!