Sunday, 27 July 2014

Beetling about

We've driven miles and miles and miles over the last couple of days and the biggest things we have learned are :

1. Some of us don't like being here one day and somewhere else the next, and
2. Google lies when you ask what the driving times are to places.

From Royal Tunbridge Wells we travelled to Nottingham. Before we left Kent though, we paid a visit to Hever Castle where Anne Boleyn spent much of her childhood, and some of her courtship with King Henry VIII. We were early enough to be able to be the 2nd people into the Castle when it opened so had much of it to ourselves. The gardens open earlier than the castle itself. There are some wonderful portraits there and a lot of information about her and the family. No inside photos though - they're not permitted. We are such history (and in particular Tudor) geeks that this was a must-see for us.

Then the long hot drive - hours and hours on the M25 to get to the M1. Masses of traffic and queues, but still faster than Auckland I reckon. It was 30C according to the car, but the tv said 28 - whichever it was we were glad to be out of it and in an airconditioned room at the Holiday Inn.

Next morning we began the next part of the epic journey north. To Galashiels via Middlesborough. We only went there for a joke since before leaving NZ a friend had said to Lauren "don't go there". So we had to, just to see. It was another hot driving day, but seemed to get a bit cooler as we approached the border. We stopped for the obligatory photos to record the crossing into another country where no passport needed to be produced, then continued on our way. Turned out the actual Scottish pub I had booked for the night was a tad further north than Galashiels itself. But, it was not too bad, they had a restaurant so we could get dinner, breakfast was part of the deal and there was free wifi.

Today, we started off with a plan to go to the James Hogg monument (Border minstrel reputed to be related to Lauren) then drive through the area where the family was living for generations prior to emigrating to Australia. Some years ago Mum and Dad had taken a photo for me of a James Hogg statue near Tibbie Shiel's inn at St Mary's Loch. He used to frequent the Inn with his mates William Wordsworth & Sir Walter Scott who were all inspired to publish poetic verse about the location. Turns out this is not the monument marked on my new road map. The one we found today is in Ettrick and marks the site of the cottage where he was born in 1770. 

 look at these !! just growing wild everywhere on the side of the road - YUM

on the road from Ettrick to Traquair - just us and nature

From there we found our way to Traquair where the last Scot born Hogg was born in Lauren's branch of the family, then had a cuppa at Traquair House. Traquair House is the oldest inhabited house in Scotland, it dates back to 1107; has been visited by 27 kings and queens; and became a refuge for Catholic priests and the family supported Mary Queen of Scots and the Jacobite cause.

So back to the drive - via Edinburgh and Stirling so as not to get caught up with the traffic around Glasgow and the Commonwealth Games - to Fort William. It took a lot longer than we thought and thankfully we had the foresight to stop at Stirling and buy things to be able to cook (yes COOK) dinner. As well, the temperature dropped the further north we came and we had rain. Woohoo. We got caught behind slow traffic and those of you who have been to the Highlands will know that dual carriageways (passing lanes in Kiwi-speak) are a rarity. We'd have loved to stop and take photos of the mist hanging in the glens and covering the peaks. It makes it all look so much more moody. Hopefully it will hang around (excuse the pun) so we can get photos tomorrow, or another day this week.

We are staying in the most amazing apartment next to the Caledonian Canal by Neptune's Staircase, close to the Road to the Isles and the Clan Cameron museum. Both on our list of must-do's.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

A bright red beetle

Reading, I really like you. I wish you were a bit more amiable about renting us somewhere to live though. I guess we'll just have to wait until we have found ourselves jobs and try again.

We decided that we should just put the whole rental hunt on hold and see other parts of the country in case we had to alter our entire plans. So we left the cramped little icky B&B we had been staying in and got another rental car. 

The B&B was well located, close to the Thames Path, so nice riverside walks and about 1km to the town centre or maybe 2km in the opposite direction to Caversham and the best pub ! Baron of Cadogan - go there. It's a Wetherspoons pub and they have a great menu for meat eaters and non meat eaters. So great that we had dinner one night, breakfast the next day and then dinner again ! Why would you go out for breakfast when you are staying in a B&B ? Because the selection was rubbish and hardly appetising. We won't go into the other negatives like the stained linen, broken shower, bathroom door that wouldn't shut and security light outside the window which was more like a strobe light - I'm saving all that for TripAdvisor. 

We collected the car. A nice red beetle ! Very cute, but not quite as easy to get all our stuff in as the last one was. But we did it. We have been through a part of a number of counties today. Berkshire (where we started), Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and finally Kent. 

As we left Berkshire we went here, no time to go in or look at the gardens this time though. Did you know filming has started for Series 5 ?

In Surrey we found Jane Austen's house in Chawton, where she lived for the last 10 years of her life with her mother, sister and a friend. It is lovely, and without the hordes of people in Bath visiting her home there.

Then on to Royal Tunbridge Wells for the night. I had never had it on my list of places to go but now that we are here I think I will have to make a return trip with more time. We chose it because it is close to Hever Castle which we'd like to visit and some places in Kent which have family associations. But there are heaps of things to do and see; castles, gardens, coastal towns, cathedrals...

We enjoyed a nice dinner at a local restaurant and are now relaxing watching the opening of the Commonwealth Games. The B&B we are staying in tonight is at least a 300% improvement on the last one. Superb host, great room, the promise of an amazing breakfast. We'll definitely be back here.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Curve Balls

Our week in Warwickshire is almost done. We've been to Reading twice which isn't Warwickshire at all, it's Berkshire and it is high on the list of where our new home will be. 

We've seen three places there and one was pretty good...until we got the "6 months in advance" rent thing again because it's all about having an income, not savings. C'mon people, the longer we have to pay for accommodation while we search for a rental and work the less likely we are going to have any money to pay rent for 6 months in advance.

One thing I have enquired about this week is obtaining the records for my great grandmother from the County Record Office. She was a patient at Central Hospital at Hatton for much of her adult life. We have known for many years that she was a patient there, and for more than 30 years that she was there until she died. But that looks like it might be all we ever know because of the ridiculous privacy restrictions which mean that the files are locked to the public for 100 years from the closure of the hospital. So her grandchildren are likely to never know why and what caused her to be admitted and institutionalised, and I'll be getting my old aged pension by then as well. We can pay and have someone at the record office research for us, but possibly not be allowed to tell us anything still, or we can dispute their decision. All we want is to understand her condition and circumstance. Surely in the interest of our own health as descendants we should be entitled to the files in case there is some medical benefit to our own futures. "There could be sensitive information." Sensitive to who ? She isn't here anymore and no-one who actually KNEW her is either, and it is widely known how people were treated in these institutions in the past. Do they think we might want to challenge their treatment of her or something ?

Anyway, we went today to find the old buildings that were part of the old hospital and now are part of a housing estate. Pretty amazing - I wonder if they are haunted. 

should have taken a panorama - doh !

We also went to Hatton Locks. Amazing, I didnt even know there was a staircase of locks like this here. I so want to hire a canal boat and go cruising.

You can even see the hospital buildings from there !

Anyway, enough of my 1st world problems. My heart is sore for the families afftected by this act of terror in Ukraine. Families who farewelled their loved ones as they travelled on holiday, to football matches, to conferences, to work. Families who witnessed the horror and had to assume roles they would never have thought they would need to.

And who is going to accept responsibility for the crime ? What of their families ? 

Why is peace on earth so fragile ? two hundred and ninety eight lives, eighty of them children. These were people just like us. Ordinary. So unforgivable.

Did the fields of sunflowers nodding calmy in the breeze soften their fall ? 

Monday, 14 July 2014

Shakespeare Country

We're in Warwickshire now. 

We left the rellies in Somerset and travelled up to Bristol. We went through Wells and this time the sun shone brightly. We didn't find what we were looking for though so we will have to go back another time. (Perhaps when we go back to collect any mail that has arrived at Stoke St Gregory). 

Our rental car was due to be dropped off, but we had also booked another to collect the following day. So we called in at the drop off depot at Bristol airport and were able to keep the car we had and combine the two rentals. Yay, we werent looking forward to unloading the car, lugging everything to the hotel in Bristol and then to another rental depot the next morning.

We found our way to the hotel and just blobbed for most of the afternoon. It was V-E-R-Y warm. Who knew England had summers like this ? We ordered room service and then walked to Colston Hall to hear and watch our compatriot Rhys Darby. Typically he was very funny. It was good to hear another kiwi accent too.

Next morning before we left we went to try to find the Banksy artwork that had been spotted from the car the day before. It was in Clifton. Why had we not actually found Clifton the first time we were in Bristol ? We liked it a lot, no smelly rubbish on the streets or rundown looking buildings, lots of cafes, shops, young people (and some not so young) and close to the University. Oh well.

Then it was off to meet a cousin for lunch in Wiltshire - after a detour to Compton Dando (the inspiration for someone to change careers) and then on to Shakespeare country.

On the way we caught glimpses of the Red Arrows aerobatic display at the airshow. If you like planes, now is the time to be here - there are lots of airshows scheduled this month.

We are staying at my cousin's home looking after their cats while they are on holiday and enjoying being able to feel a little more relaxed. We were left copious notes to help us settle in and have made firm friends with one cat so far and are being tolerated by the other. We will win him over though. Nothing we like better than the challenge to befriend shy felines.

Yesterday we drove to Stratford on Avon and visited Shakespeare's Birthplace along with bus loads of Japanese tourists and OAP groups, USA school groups and others. Although I have a photo of his birthplace from my last trip to the UK I don't recall going inside at all. I think we must have just gone to the Visitor Centre or the Shop that time. We also visited the Christmas Shop where Mum and Dad bought their Christmas Tree on their 1989 trip and had it shipped home to NZ and the Peter Rabbit Shop where you can buy all the Beatrix Potter books still.

Then we drove to Charlecote Manor - in for free (thanks NT membership) and had a look about. The whole experience though was ruined by an over snappy dragon of a NT volunteer who kept targeting us. "Don't use flash photography" Okay, but sometimes you need to if you are using a manual camera. Perhaps you should have signs, or include this on your fact sheet. "Don't go up that stair case. You MUST go through the billiard room first and then come back down that way" What are we ? Sheep ? Again...better signage would help. Also if you are going to be volunteers you could learn a bit from those we met at Montacute House and at Shakespeare's Birthplace. Being a volunteer and "a guide in every room" actually means you should engage with the people who have paid good money to see the property, not just sit there making sure we don't touch something we shouldn't or go the wrong way. I only saw this happen in one room while here. Very disappointing as this is a home that belongs to a family with a link to Lauren's. We wanted to study the portraits and feel the ambience and that opportunity was lost.

However, the church adjacent to the property turned out to be glorious and not an officious NT person in sight. Lots of references to the Cameron-Ramsay-Fairfax-Lucy family (imagine if you had to fill THAT out on a form everyday !)

Oxford and Banbury might be next to see as well as Leamington Spa, Warwick and some more cousins before we have to decide where to go next week.

Friday, 11 July 2014

My roots run deep in Somerset

For the past week we've been staying with some distant relatives - 6th cousin distant ! That means having to go back to the mid 1700's to find the marriage of our common ancestors.

These cousins run a farm stay on their family farm. It is in a lovely little village on the levels of Somerset where they were fortunate to be just high enough that the flooding last winter/spring did not seep into their home or cottages. There isn't much going on here, as a visitor, but it would be a great place just to sit and relax, enjoy the pool and the sunshine if you didn't want to go exploring. We've been truly spoilt while we've stayed. Last Sunday we enjoyed lunch with some other cousins (5th once removed I think) who are in their 90's but full of life and with a great sense of humour. They chatted about all sorts of family, and it was hard to keep up with who was who all the time.

We've been out everyday as well, getting lost, driving down teeny laneways and discovering the teeny places our Davys family lived and farmed before they emigrated to New Zealand...and where some still are today. Clatwothy, Selworthy, Monksilver,Brompton Ralph, Chipstable, Wiveliscombe, Milverton, Wellington, Raddington, Waterrow and more that we haven't managed to get to this time. Some are larger than I imagined, many only have a few houses and a church.

Raddington Church built c1754

We met the gentleman who owns the farm where my great-great grandparents were tenant farmers before emigrating in 1862 with their children. He was a wonderful source of knowledge and had a collection of old photographs of the village at the bottom of the lane as well as some of the house. He also had copies of all the tything allotment information. We were able to have a tour as well since it was not being used. The house is available to book - wouldn't it be great to have a family reunion there ? How else would you fill nine bedrooms ? He told us how they had uncovered the enormous fireplaces, and altered other aspects to make it a little more modern inside. Walking up the 17th century staircase was awesome, to think that "our people" had walked those same steps each day.
Kingston Farm - farmed by Thomas Davys, brother of James Davys
Hurstone - farmed by James Davys before emigrating to NZ
The view from the front steps !

On other days we've been to Exeter, Watchet, Wells (though it poured with rain so we need to go back), through Glastonbury and had a good look at Taunton and Bridgwater. We also went to Montacute (where the Cooper family came from) and East Chinnock (where the Bartlett family was from). We've even joined the National Trust.

Today we went to the beach at Lyme Regis. It rocked ! But was very pretty and a gorgeous day for a trip to the seaside. More on that next time. Tomorrow we are off again, back to Bristol for a show and then on to see another part of the country.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Goodbye Bristol, Hello Bath (and Stoke St Gregory)

Getting a rental car here has been an interesting process, but get one I did. However, we needed to get a taxi to the airport to pick it up. They have a system here where you can pre-book a taxi which sounds great in theory, but it seems when they arrive they aren’t quite what you expected. It has happened twice now.

Today the driver only just managed to get our monster bags into his Mercedes sporty type car for the drive out to the airport which is miles away. Once we got there, there was a queue of people to pick up cars and two people working. As well as doing the paperwork for each person, they also had to man the barrier to let the completed renters exit the carpark. Thirty minutes later we had a car, and piled our bags into it relatively easily. We were off, in pretty much a brand spanking new car, with no maps – because they were a bit budget in that department.

Following signs seemed like the sensible option, and very soon we arrived in Bath. Total contrast to Bristol. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is absolutely stunning, and so many museums and activities to experience. Plus, all of this AND the shops are right in the heart of the city. Today as well as all the normal tourist crowd it was graduation at the university so there was extra traffic and less parking.

We parked, found a lovely place for lunch and then marvelled at the shops and soaked up the vibe. People were so much warmer than they seemed in Bristol, willing to stop and chat instead of scurrying off and avoiding eye contact. We looked at 3 flats after lunch and are going to have trouble choosing between them I think.

Then it was back to the car, with our new map book and off to Holly Farm. There were some tense moments of map reading, and a couple of instance where the driver doubted the map readers skill, and the map reader used a shouty voice instead of a SatNav voice.

But, we made it and have been made to feel most welcome. Our hosts, who are related distantly (6th cousins to me with common ancestors who were born early 18th century) have given us all sorts of ideas for places to visit and even other places we could consider to live. More of that as time goes on.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

So, Bristol

You seem quite pretty at times, then at other times and in other places - not so much. I cant decide now if I've made the wrong choice. I don't feel completely wowed by you, like I thought I would. And you have more hills than I remember too. I want to live on the flat.

We are staying in a cute Georgian flat I found on AirBnB. Which is very lovely, except that there is no tv. I like tv so that I can keep up with the news and the rest of the world. Plus its FIFA time and Wimbledon for heaven's sake. Also its not quite in the location I thought it was either so getting about is a bit of a drag.

Today we walked a million miles - that's more than even The Proclaimers sang about so we have sore feet like you wouldn't believe. We went to see a flat which was quite nice, on the south side of the city and river. Tomorrow we are going to see 4 more in the harbourside area. This is the area we'd quite like to live. Right next to the water, with cafes's and bars and lots of things happening on the river itself. 

We caught a little ferry across the river and back for 80p each way, That was cool - and you just signal the ferry man and he'll come get you.

The rest of the place seems disjointed though. The shopping precinct feels like it is not part of the same city, and sitting people watching from a cafe their doesn't seem to be any vibrancy or heart. But maybe we are judging too harshly, too soon.

I've applied for a couple of jobs, so we'll see what happens.