Saturday, May 21, 2016

My Northern Adventure, Part 1: Monday-Friday

A view from the window of Chawton House
This year, in August, I turn 50. It seemed a good time to finally get to England, so here I am! This past Monday, May 16, I got on an evening flight and flew right into the sunrise to Keflavik, Iceland.  I then got on an early morning flight and flew to London, England. My dear friend Erin was waiting for me at the International Arrivals gate and my adventure began.

I had slept some on the plane, and I was determined to stay up late enough to sleep a full night and adjust to the time change. That happened, and it worked. I've been largely free of jet lag, which is great. After the airport pickup we started things off with the excitement of driving on the left to a lovely lunch at Nando's, then we had time to get to school to pick up Erin's kids and head home. I love her kids, and the older ones even remember me a little from all the visits I've had with them over the years, like this one, and this one. Erin's mother-in-law also lives with them, and I always love to see her as well. (She is the wind beneath our wings for these fun times, I just want to acknowledge that from the get-go. I am so appreciative of her steady, loving support.) The nice thing about being in an entirely new place with a unique culture is that everything is totally cool, even ordinary things like school pickup. It was so interesting to get a tiny glimpse into how a few aspects of education look over here.

That evening, after a delicious dinner that I didn't have to cook (see parenthetical note above), I went with Erin to her Military Wives Choir practice. I was seriously blown away by these women and their sweet, close harmony. At one point in the evening, I was getting pretty drowsy, so I went out into the cool evening air and walked around a nearby war memorial. The windows of the little chapel where the ladies were practicing were open, and their rendition of The Parting Glass floated out into the night air. It was a pretty special moment for a tired traveler.

After practice, we went to The Poplar Farm Inn and I got to laugh with Erin and her friends. They were funny, kind and clever, and I really, really enjoyed meeting them. I was just the right amount of tired to be able to fall asleep easily when it was time, and it was a good night's sleep indeed.

The next morning, we headed to Bath for a girls' day out, and again, Erin's friends welcomed me so warmly. The forecast called for rain, but soon into the day, it changed to all fluffy clouds and blue skies. We floated in those famous thermal waters in a rooftop pool, and I was amazed by the beauty around me. Bath has a distinctive look because of the local stone used in construction, and it's in a unique valley with beautiful hills all around. We couldn't take cameras into the spa, so I have no photos of the views from the rooftop pool, but you can get the idea here on the spa's website. After our spa morning, we had lunch in the historic Pump Room restaurant. It was very posh. Several of the ladies had a traditional High Tea, but I opted instead for a perfect morsel of Cod and a new-to-me vegetable called samphire. We got home again in time for school pickup and a normal family evening of yet another amazing dinner by Lila and a trip to church for youth activities for one of Erin's kids.

Thursday dawned bright and fair, and we headed to Winchester to see the Cathedral. I hope I will never, ever cease to be awed by my first steps inside a cathedral. I hope I will always be swept away by the symbolism and sacrifice that is inherent in these amazing buildings. I know there is plenty of other stuff mixed into cathedral history, and this one especially, what with William the Conquerer and all that, but I want to remember the beauty and think of craftsmen trying to offer their best work to God. I want to remember the details like beautiful tiles and stained glass. Also, the stories, like that of William Walker and his willingness to spend 5 years of his life diving daily into the water underneath the cathedral to shore up the foundation and allow for further repairs. He is remembered as the man who saved Winchester Cathedral. I loved the mosaic stained glass window at the end of the Nave--it was created out of the broken pieces of glass that parishioners saved after the original stained glass windows were shot out. I love that this mosaic of broken things actually allows more light into the church and gives it a unique atmosphere among cathedrals. I appreciated the tour guide pointing out how much he loves the way the gothic arches lead the eye up, rather than keeping the attention grounded, like the original Norman-style arches did. I want to remember an elderly couple meticulously polishing the candlesticks and glass chimneys in the choir while we were on our tour. Their quiet, focused work while the visitors streamed in an around them was really touching to me.

Of course, I must remember that Jane Austen is buried there. She was from the county of Hampshire, and it matters that she would be accorded this honor, though her gravestone does not mention her writing, only her sweet personality and how much her family loved her. I hope those were the things that gave her the most comfort in her final days. There is a separate plaque, added later by a family member, that points out her place in literary history.

Seeing Jane's grave was a perfect prelude to our visiting Chawton and the house where Jane spent her last years. I was in a dreamy haze, seeing views similar to what Jane saw out her window as she wrote, or just before or after. Her writing table was for me a visceral connection to her daily life. I was particularly moved by seeing Jane's embroidery. This was truly the work of her hands, and I could picture her bending to make the tiny, precise stitches in her shawl.

After Chawton, it was home again for a cozy afternoon, another fabulous dinner, and an evening screening of Pride and Prejudice, the Kiera Knightly version, so that we could get in the proper mood for this weekend's road trip.

And here we are. Friday was spent, after a lovely breakfast at Thyme and Tides in Stockbridge, wending our way north (or to The North, as the motorway signs said), to the Peak District. It's long been a dream to come here, probably since reading Pride and Prejudice, and now I'm actually here. We are staying in a B&B so dang charming it really must be pretend, and we walked to the nearby village of Ashford in the Water to a pub called the Bull's Head and it was all so beautiful and timeless that it actually took my breath away. A few times.

Here are the pics. Sigh along with me, friends.
Sunrise over the North Atlantic, my first glimpse of Iceland,
Solid clouds on the way to England, and my arrival.
The choir singing a favorite song. 
Erin's misty, blooming back garden. 
Bath in the moments after the rain. 
The old Roman Baths. These are no longer open, but can be
viewed on a tour, or through the windows of the Pump House,
like this. 
The Pump House is all simple elegance and great food. 
Winchester Cathedral. Imposing for sure.  

The organ soars to the embellished ribbed buttresses. 

The Nave. Awe-inspiring. 

Jane Austen's grave. It matters to me to see this inscription. 
Lila, Erin and me with William Walker. The Man Who Saved Winchester
Some of the very, very old cathedral tiles. I love these patterns. 
I was here. Where Jane Austen wrote.
Jane Austen's writing table. 

The work of Jane Austen's hands. 
You're never quite sure how something you book online is actually going to be.
This place wins. Photo cred: Erin
This is me with my dear friend, happy. 
The view in the other direction from where I was sitting in the
above photo. For real.  
The flowers in the ancient wall on the way to
Ashford In the Water

Little doors in stone fences. I can't get enough. 
Twilight falls on the 13th century church in Ashford. 

1 comment:

  1. This is absolutely 100% MAGICAL!!! I got chills multiple times. Please tell me youve read "Pillars of the Earth!?"


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