Thursday, 21 August 2014

Out and About - Winchester in Black and White

The Cathedral Close
Winchester Cathedral
Winchester College
From The West Gate
St Giles' Hill
To Saint Swithun's

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Connecting Hugh Grant with Elizabeth Hurley and Peter Rabbit and Other Stories

Poor A is feeling abandoned these past weeks and will tell his sob story to anyone who will listen "We'd only been married 2 weeks. Came back for four days after our honeymoon and then she left me all alone...

Due to bureaucracy I've been in England all summer. This has meant that A has had to join me for a full two weeks of his holiday, or not see me at all. So we found ourselves doing a long discussed road trip around England. 

Since a proper road trip has a goal, I decided to plan our itinerary with the writer's of England in mind, in particular Jane Austen, Wordsworth, Coleridge and the Bronte sisters. Then I added Beatrix Potter for good measure - unlike the others I think I may actually have read all her books.

A was too busy at work to check what I was up to and so I got my knickers in a twist booking bed and breakfasts, resolved the situation and then discovered I was a total idiot and had to resolve it again, only correctly. Under pressure to get it right I then procured a road map and spent hours on google maps and trip advisor. Finally I went to Aldi and bought a vast quantity of snacks and I was all set to show A the land of my birth - the exciting North!

Chatsworth House - the original Pemberly of Mr Darcy?
Chatsworth and the Peak District was our first stop. It was an exhausting drive up there as I had to keep an eye on A the whole time as well as navigate. He did a good job though, only ignoring my directions a couple of times.

Mam Tor and the Peak District
The day out at Chatsworth was well worth the money. I hadn't realised how many dukes and duchesses of Derbyshire I had actually met already in history books and novels, and the portrait  collection was stupendous.

The next day we climbed Mam Tor and went down Blue John Cavern, which I was not only able to tie in to the literature theme but able to tie in to the ongoing Hugh Grant theme. The only film my Dad did not find him irritating in (The Lair of the White Worm based on a book by Bram Stoker)  was set around here.

I think A might have been a bit disappointed by the un-peaky nature of the Peak District, especially as I had misguidedly told him before we got there that it is the 2nd most visited National Park IN THE WORLD! (I mean, it's true, but surprising).

Surveying the Bronte Moors - no wuthering on those heights today
Then we were off to Haworth, where A gave me and the TomTom a hair raising experience by driving down the very busy Highstreet, on the right hand side no less.

Haworth Highstreet
I had only heard half-hearted praise for Haworth so I was very pleasantly surprised by it. We found the Bronte Parsonage, church and school and were lucky enough to approach via the Bronte Moors (thank you for that surprise TomTom!). It's very pretty and genteel now, but when the Brontes were writing it was poor and industrial (in fact many of the houses are still black with ancient grime) and the average age of death was 26, which was a sobering thought.

We only had two hours there because we had to be in the Lake District (reassuringly lakey) that evening. Alas, our fantastic luck with the weather ended here and the next day it poured with rain, and I unhappily discovered that my water-proof coat was more of a sponge than a coat.  I was wet to my skin from only a 10m dash from car to ticket office.

Happily, they had fires on in Beatrix Potter's house and I was able to dry myself by the kitchen range. The house itself was a total delight as you can see the rooms as they are in her illustrations, including the rat hole from the story where the rats kidnap a kitten in order to bake it alive in a pie (now that I write it down it seems even more horrific than it did as a child).

Wordsworth's garden at Dove Cottage, Grasmere
As it was still pretty wet, we went on to Grasmere and Wordsworth and Dorothy's house. The guide there was really good and we learnt a lot about the Wordsworth family and their friends. I still only know the one Wordsworth poem, though I am ashamed to admit it.

Back down to Borrowdale
The next day I was equipped with a real waterproof coat and the sun was out so we did an enormous walk from Borrowdale and down to Derwent Water.

It wasn't hard to see why the Lake District has inspired so many people.

Towards the Littletown of Mrs Tiggy Winkle.
The next day we were not quite so lucky. Despite getting up as early as we could and dashing off after breakfast we were not fast enough up Haystacks before the weather closed in. We, of course, chose the most difficult route up there and lost the path several times.

Innomminate Tarn - Wainwright's favourite place and resting place.
The beauty of Haystacks is that although being very low, it is looks and feels like a mini Dolomite. The climb involves proper scrambling and use of all hands and feet.

An additional attraction was that we got a bonus writer, as Wainwright, whilst not well known abroad, is much loved in the Lakes and always described Haystacks as his favourite walk.

Reaching the summit as the first rain drops fall.
After it started to rain I hastily put my camera away and we snaffled some chocolate before inching our way back down the steep rocks. As we reached the track it started to really rain and thunder and by the time we were back to the car we were soaked, but we didn't really mind because we knew we had a hot shower waiting.

On our last day we drove all the way back down to Hampshire and dropped our hire car off in Basingrad as my father likes to call it, or Bazzinga Stokeh as A likes to call it. You may know it by another name. It is famously home to Elizabeth Hurley, Sarah Ferguson Duchess of York and other great thinkers of our times. On a side note, Jane Austen also lived nearby. Not a bad way to finish the road trip.

We had such a great time we think we should now do one of Italy. I'm hoping someone out there can suggest me some places and Italian writers, because all I can think of is Manzoni's connection with Lake Como and Dante's with Florence, and I've been to those places already!

Monday, 18 August 2014

A DIY Wedding in the Woods

I must have reached that time in my life when EVERYBODY starts getting married, because this year I have four weddings to go to, which feels like a lot but my friend has seven. Actually she was invited to more than seven, but she is wisely narrowed it down to avoid bankruptcy.

A good friend of mine from school got married in the New Forest last weekend and I was extremely excited to go. I had been waiting two years for an occasion to wear that particular dress and they are about as pretty and perfect a couple as you could hope to send on their wedded way. Ceremonies held outside are extremely rare in England, although I've seen plenty in Hollywood films. I think they'll take off in a big way in the next few years, well for summer weddings anyway!

Sure enough, despite the wonderful weather there's been in the UK this summer (I hear in Milan it's been terrible) we woke to a cloudy day of a wintry 13c with a forecast of rain showers.

Fortunately, the rain held off for all the important bits, but I caught a bit of a chill and a cough. I am very glad I wasn't camping like some others. The infamous colpo d'aria seems to afflict me even when outside of Italy these days... and to think I used to have immunity!

Peaches and Cream Bouquet
Buttons and Lace
The advantage of a cool evening though is that I didn't get all hot and sweaty on the dance floor, which was lucky as they had hired a ukelele band and I couldn't stay away. When I did take a breather I headed for camp fire where people were toasting marshmallows. I encouraged A to try one and he was somewhat repulsed (haha!).

Four Rosebuds - inspired hairdressing!
It was his first English wedding so I think the food arrangements were all somewhat novel (they had a hog roast), but unsurprisingly he was decidedly won over by the Pimms and vast quantity of desserts. We made orange shortbread hearts dipped in chocolate as our contribution and they were amazing. Only 5 ingredients but full of flavour. Recipe HERE

DIY centrepieces
When I told my Calabrian colleague about this arrangement (guests bringing homemade desserts) she shuddered at the thought of asking her family to do the same. When in Italy as a guest one must behave like a guest! All the same, I rather welcomed being able to help out and it was fun to add my personal touch to an already very personalised and creative wedding.

Night falls
So, a very unique and relaxed wedding all in all. The only down side is that the bride and groom started their  ceremony by asking us not to put pictures of them on the internet before they had vetted them so I'm a little restricted as to what I can post. In line with Italian rule interpretation guidelines, I have decided that they only intended photos in which they are identifiable... :)

First dance - no filters!

Camp Fire

Toasting Marshmallows