T is for Travel

So the day came to head north to Scotland, but not without Edwards lovely grandma feeding us as much food as possible and giving us as much as we could take on the train. It was a bit sad to know we were kind of on our own from now on, with no family to stop with. On the other hand I was also very excited to be heading to the land of Lochs as I feel a connection with Scotland that I don’t feel elsewhere, even though I am more English than Scottish. But hey, since when did anything I feel make sense.

We trained first to Manchester where we got on our next 4+’hour long train to Glasgow. Unfortunately as we have train passes we don’t book seats and so far haven’t had any issues jumping aboard any train we like (which has been awesome). This time we weren’t so lucky and got caught on a train where all the seats were booked and there was no luggage space. So my idea of sitting peacefully for 4 hours, blogging as we made our way to the Scottish countryside was replaced with a very busy train with no room to sit for the first 3 hours.

Luckily the north English landscape more than made up for our less than ideal travelling circumstances with precious glimpses of the Lake District with huge glistening bodies of water, rolling paddocks and worn down skeletons of stone cottages. When we come back to the UK the Lake District is near the top of my list to explore along with Cornwall. Due to the fact it’s spring, every field had both young and old, horses and foals, sheep and lambs, cows and calls and ducks and their babies (ducklings?). It was rather wonderful.

Eventually we got a seat and space for our suitcases and were able to soak up Scotland in good old second class comfort. The views were amazing, rocky hillsides and tumbling mountains cut through by brooks and rivers, a landscape where I didn’t see a soul. Eventually we wound our way into Glasgow Central (where there were plenty of souls) and transferred to our train to the hotel where we were joined by a very well behaved dog. Our hotel was quite central which was good so despite the long train we got there at a pretty respectable time. The hotel was on a block with 3 churches (excessive?) and yet still felt a little rough, but that might just have been because it was raining and we were the coldest we had been so far. This trip has taught me that I am nothing if not biased by the weather conditions, so sue me.

After settling into our room (which was huge! Any room where I can actually open my suitcase is a blessing) we went out I’m search for food. We settled with a delicious Indian dinner (the easiest way to locate cheap vegetarian food) during which I couldn’t understand a word in the Glasgow/Indian accent. We then walked home through the park we were staying beside (Queens park) which was pleasant, despite the fact that it was freezing. Then it was home to watch my new favourite Uk tv show. It’s a docudrama about a welsh contact centre and it’s good quality stuff. I think my work should make one when I get home.

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C is for Cathedral

Because Scunthorpe doesn’t have a whole lot to look at, Edd’s grandma suggested we go on a day trip outside of the city to Lincoln which was famous for its Cathedral. We started the day eating breakfast in my favourite kitchen whilst watching the dog play outside with the birds and the resident squirrel (who didn’t seem very keen on a cuddle with yours truly).

We caught a bus from Scunthorpe and it took just under 2 hours but when the hours are spent looking down upon fields and villages and winding through one land streets with cars trying to squeeze past the time goes fast (I admit I was also closely examining the country side for foxes but alas, they were obviously all napping).

As Lincoln got closer, it’s massive cathedral spires appeared. Being placed on top of a hill makes for a domineering place on the skyline. Unfortunately the bus dropped us at the bottom of the hill when what we wanted to see was sitting at the very top. Luckily Lincoln is a rather adorable old village with a canal running through it and cobbled streets with crooked antique shops scattered around. Well I thought it was adorable. Half way up the hill my opinion changed slightly. Once we reached the thin little cobbled road aptly named “steep street” I nearly gave up but thankfully we pushed on and made it to the ancient roman road at the top of the hill, looking down on the village below.

The cathedral itself was impressive and rather intimidating. It’s the biggest Cathedral I had seen (I couldn’t fit it all into one photo) and we spent a while ogling its magnificent exterior (okay so mostly I could barely walk but it was a good spot to rest). The interior was solemn but ornate and I couldn’t get enough of the amazing stained glass windows. We wandered through the chapels and found a refectory where we regained some energy with a delicious vegetarian lasagna that was overfilling with different salads. We then walked around the cloister which is a peaceful covered walkway around a beautiful lawn. It was wonderfully quiet and somber and there weren’t many people to disturb the peace.

Facing the cathedral is the old Castle built by someone a long time ago but I can’t remember who. There were a lot of works and renovations going on so all we could do was admire the exterior and wander around the top of the castle walls soaking up the sun along with the amazing views. The castle gardens were a popular spot for enjoying the amazing weather amongst sculpture and flower beds. Im sure once all the renovations have been made the castle could use up the whole afternoon but we just spent a little while in the bits that were open.

After walking back down the steep hill (it was a lot easier on the way down) we stopped for ice cream at a narrow boat on the river which was a lovely idea but turned out to be rather claustrophobic inside so we moved onto the pavement beside the canal where we saw a guy with his very very large pet python. It was a bit of a chick magnet so I think he might be on to something. With a bit of shopping and browsing we caught the bus back home to Scunthorpe, luckily it was another double decker because it was completely full.

We made it back home, had a delicious dinner and used the Office to unwind (I never get bored of watching that show). It was a really lovely day and the cathedral was stunning (but I don’t think I will go waking up that hill again in a hurry).

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G is for generosity

So today we left Sheffield, after a beautiful morning drive to an old farm that belonged to Edd’s great great (great) grandad. Sheffield was wonderful and we were sad to be leaving so soon. It was a short train ride past windmills and yellow fields to Scunthorpe where Edd’s other grandma lives with her son and his partner. Now the name for Scunthorpe is not the best, in fact it may be one of the worst names I have come across. Luckily the industrial city is not as bad as the name, but it’s still not somewhere I would say everyone should go visit.

We stayed in a small village just outside of the city with one shop, in a beautiful big old farmhouse that was absolutely gorgeous. Seriously, I would live in a place called Scunthorpe if it meant I got a kitchen like that. We also were welcomed by two very friendly dogs which is always nice. After a cold drink outside we set off for a huge dinner with the family of Edd’s uncles partner and it was great! I felt like it would be awkward to just randomly show up at a family birthday dinner but everyone was wonderful and the food was delicious.

It wasn’t a super eventful day but it was one where I truly appreciated all the generosity people have given us and at rather short notice. Putting us up in their houses, making us a part of the family even if just for a night or two (not just here but ever since our first night in the UK). It’s a heart warming feeling and makes staying in a place called Scunthorpe totally worth it.

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F is for Family

Okay so before I start writing about our next day in Sheffield, can I just profess my love for Galaxy Minstrels? They are probably my favourite English chocolate and the perfect train snack. Okay, chocolate shout out done. So our next day in Sheffield we went into the city centre after a failed attempt to visit a museum on the cities industrial past in steel works etc which for some strange reason was shut on a Saturday.

The city of Sheffield is rather beautiful, with trees and parks everywhere,and the city centre was also surprisingly appealing. After walking through a few shops (we started to grasp the magnitude of the rather strange obsession the English seem to have with meercats at the moment..) we made it to the Town Centre which is a lovely old building with an amazing park outside of it with fountains and trees which countless families were taking advantage of. The weather was beautiful yet again which meant that the children were all in their togs running through the water. It was a rather lovely atmosphere that I hadn’t really experienced elsewhere in the UK.

The highlight of the day was that Edd’s Grandma (Nanny) had organised a big dinner with all of Edd’s extended family followed by a get together at her place afterwards. So as the evening rolled on the family started arriving and it was so nice to meet everyone (although it took me longer than it should have to learn everyone’s names and figure out how everyone was related to each other). We all went up to a local pub that sat overlooking the hills surrounding and the fields of canola which were a beautiful bright yellow. We had a delicious dinner although to be honest it took us all forever to eat as no one could stop talking. We then went back home for beers and Pimm’s (which somehow I have never tried) to talk the night away. It was sad to say goodbye to everyone at the end of the night as we won’t see them again for a little while (I’m optimistically hoping we don’t stay away too long) but it was a really fun night and I didn’t expect it to be so easy to fall into place with all of these lovely people.

So yeah, family. Its pretty special and I couldn’t be happier with the amazing family I have become a part of although it did make me a little homesick for the rest of our rather large and crazy family back home. We wouldn’t have been able to do this trip without all the support we received from absolutely everyone. What can I say, I feel pretty lucky with our family, both here in the UK but also back home. Miss you guys.

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L is for Little John

So for some reason I came to England thinking it was very flat, unlike little old mountainous New Zealand. Well when we left Coventry for Sheffield where one of Edd’s Grandmother’s lives we were proven rather wrong. The Yorkshire/Derbyshire district is a beautiful area, with rolling hills and dramatic mountains covered in fields of heather, which must look rather magical when in flower.

Oh! I almost forgot a very special part of our train journey (well special for crazy cat people like Edd an I). Our train from Manchester to Sheffield we were joined by a lovely old lady heading off for a seaside holiday, only she didn’t want her cat to miss out (which I weirdly understand). The only possible option was that her very cute cat came along for the train ride. This isn’t where it ends, the lady didn’t want her cat to be locked up for the ride in its cage so instead she had it seated beside her with a rather puzzled young man opposite. To me the cat looked petrified but she seemed to think it was pretty happy so went off to the bathroom and assured the man opposite that the cat would be fine. 30 seconds later the cat starts yowling and then bolts. Well for everyone who was not yet aware that we had a cat on the train with us they soon found out as the cat ran through everyone’s feet. Not to worry, luckily the cat hasn’t learnt how to open to the train doors so she was caught and returned to the seat before the owner returned. Well I thought it was funny…

We arrived at Sheffield and dropped off our bags before setting off to explore the moors. Our first stop was Hathersage, a small, lovely village with a pretty special, historic claim to fame. It has a connection with Little John (as in the friend of Robin Hood who was played by a fox which is why I love him). A small, peaceful church on the hill above the village is the resting place of Little John and his gravestone. At the bottom of the hill is a pub where little John used to frequent and which hosts a chair which used to be “his chair” (I am unsure of exactly how much of this is true but to be honest I don’t know anything about Robin Hood other than that which was included in the Disney rendition, where Little John was a bear I believe..). Regardless it was a pretty special place to stop and any excuse for an early afternoon cider is a good one.

Our next stop was Castleton, via a spectacular drive through country side that looked straight out of Tess of the D’Urbavilles or something similarly romantic and wistful. Castleton is named so due to the crumbling Castle that sits above the village, which was built as a hunting lodge for the Peverell family. Castleton is also known for a precious stone called Blue John which they mine in the area (we learnt quite a bit about it in the impressive information centre). We wandered through the village which is very traditional in appearance but apparently has quite a booming nightlife from Friday onwards.

It was great to have Edd’s grandma leading us around as she has lived in Sheffield for a very long time and is a mine of information on the area which she has an obvious love for. She knew all the best spots in the moors to get views over the entire landscape and also knew the perfect pub randomly located in the middle of the countryside where we could get dinner. After a delicious pub dinner and a sticky toffee pudding with custard that I had been craving since arriving in the UK we started winding our way through the countryside, back into the city.

On the way home we stopped off at the local supermarket. Okay, so I have a strange obsession with wandering through the British supermarkets and just gazing at all the different food items and brands like some kind of deprived and weird woman but this trip to the supermarket had a very particular purpose. Sheffield is the one and only place in the entire world (or so they say) where one can obtain the rather delicious and surprisingly cheap Henderson’s relish, so of course we had to stock up and by stock up i mean buy a very small amount that would fit in our bags.

Overall it was a great way to be introduced to a beautiful region, and any day that starts with cats on a train (like snakes on a plane but fluffier) is going to be a good one.

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R is for Relatives

So I don’t have much interesting to say about today as it was mainly a day for family and hearing old stories. I’ll give you a quick rundown of the day regardless.

We left Portsmouth on another beautiful British day (I can’t believe how lucky we have been with the weather on this trip so far) and enjoyed a pleasant morning on the train up to Oxford where we got off briefly to wander by the canal and stretch our legs. Oxford seemed like a pleasant village, although the castle was a bit lack lustre, and I would like to visit it properly one day. Unfortunately there is a limit to the wandering when two suitcases are in tow.

A delicious pasty and a train ride later and we arrived at the rather busy Coventry station where my Mum’s cousin picked us up. We then drove to the little village where him and his mother (who is in her late 90s!) live called Kenilworth. The village had a large Abbey Field in its centre which looked lush and green with the new spring leaves and alongside was the old part of the village which was rather adorable in a slightly lopsided kind of way.

The highlight of Kenilworth was its castle which is made of the rusty red brick that seems to dominate in the area. The castle was similar in a way to Porchester castle in that it is now mostly in ruins but it sits rather beautifully amongst a field of bright yellow wild flowers and untamed grass.

The afternoon was then spent in our hosts’ beautiful garden, watching birds and looking at old photos in the warm sunshine. We finished the evening with fish and chips, although Edd and I got the one veggie option on the menu. The highlight of the night was to hear so much about my Grandad (it was his sister and her son who we were staying with) as he died before I was born and I don’t know a huge amount about him.

Anyway, not a particularly touristy day but one in which to relax slightly with many cups of tea and connecting with the part of my family I don’t know very well.

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P is for Pompey

Where was I? Oh that’s right, the seaside at Brighton. Well the next day was even better in terms of weather so as we waited for our bus to the train station at the beach, Brighton looked even prettier than yesterday and I was sad to be leaving. If I ever come back to the UK with kids, a trip to Brighton will definitely be on the itinerary. We were so used to transport in London going all the time and never having to wait so we turned up at the station 2 minutes after the train to Portsmouth and the next one wasn’t for an hour. Lesson learnt (check train times) and thank goodness for the amazing cafe across the road that did an amazing haloumi wrap.

We were heading to Portsmouth (or Pompey as it is more casually known) as this was the area where Edd was born and grew up before he left for New Zealand. Once there we had lunch at a little microbrewery (I tried my first rarebit which is just a strange name for variations on cheese on toast) and then met up with some old family friends of his who were very kindly letting us stay with them. They gave us a big tour of Portsmouth, Porchester and all the areas Edd could only just remember. We also got to meet our other housemate who was a lovely dog called cracker. Quite possibly the biggest dog I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Portsmouth is, well a big port as the name suggests but the city was actually much prettier than I was expecting. The people were friendly and the weather was beautiful which always helps, but the town centre was scattered with nice looking buildings and old pubs. The Town Hall in particular was pretty stunning. It was weirdly exciting to see the old military forts scattered all over the hills surrounding Portsmouth and we had time for a quick cider at a little boat dockyard as well.

We also went and visited Porchester Castle which was quite a contrast to my first castle (at Windsor) as it hasn’t been in use for a long time and has turned in to a huge, beautiful ruin with a giant grass field in the centre for picnicking and games. The old weathered bricks have wildflowers growing out of them and the walls have slowly crumbled away in bits . There is something rather wonderful about someone as magnificent and powerful as a Castle being worn down by time and reclaimed by nature. There is also a beautiful old church called St Mary’s where Edd’s grandparent’s were married.

That night we met up with some other old family friends and all went out for dinner at Gunwharf Quay, which reminded me a lot of Auckland Viaduct. After a delicious meal and lots of laughs (and a couple of bottles of a very nice wine) we ended the day and as seems to be common on this trip, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

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