Rainbow in the Lakes

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In the middle of May, I went to the Lake District (again).  It has now been three and a half years since our first trip in February of 2014, but now I have learned a new appreciation for the Lakes, and yes this Island on which I live.

The shapes and the colours of the Lake District change so quickly with little notice or expectation that every hill pass and curve in the trail evokes a curiosity that needs to be quenched.  What’s it like on top of that peak?  What’s down that gulley?  Where does that trail go?  With hours of nothing to do besides walk, there is the freedom to follow a sheep’s path or scramble up a cragg.

The area around Keswick and in the neighbouring valleys were blanketed with bluebells, newborn lambs, and lots of rainbow rocks.  After laying down three of my rainbow markers, with the help of some good friends, a real rainbow appeared right in front of us!  It was if we had performed the sacred ceremony of the rainbow and evoked its powers!

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🌈Steph

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Winter Retreat 2016

 

 

Back in September I had this premonition that I would want to be alone for a few days as soon as school let out for the winter break.  I made a reservation at a retreat center and timed it perfectly so I could leave directly from school on December 16th, get on a train, and head straight to the countryside for a weekend of alone time.

The retreat center is called Witherdens Hall and is located about 20 minutes from Canterbury near a small village called Wingham.  I started out the day with a reflexology appointment, that I was able to have right at the retreat center!  (Staying in pajamas until noon anyone?) I’ve never had a reflexology appointment, but it was so amazing and one of the most relaxing experiences ever.  After that, I spent the sunny day walking from village to village, bird watching, and avoiding the shots from the pheasant hunters.  I wrote and read a ton and did about four hours of yoga over the course of the weekend.  I made my own meals in the fully equipped kitchen and completely unplugged.

I have to admit, it was a bit scary.  I think we all think to ourselves that having all of that time alone would be nice, but it is quite tempting with the first ping of loneliness to turn on the TV, text someone, or check Facebook.  What’s really amazing is if you don’t answer that loneliness right away, great creativity can emerge.

I highly recommend a winter retreat for everyone.  You can even do it from your own home (which is what I usually do). You can read a suggestion for a winter retreat, as well as retreats for other seasons in Sara Avant Stover’s The Way of the Happy Woman.  I personally used some of the suggestions, but tried not to set a schedule and just go with the flow.

Burgh Island

If you’ve never seen Agatha Christie’s Poirot episode of Evil Under the Sun, quick!  Go watch it and then come back.

Ok, recognize it?  It was Friday night and Andrew called me up and asked if I wanted to come with him to his gig on Burgh Island.  Apparently, one couple had cancelled and we would be able to stay in the Hotel for free.  Since I know what Burgh Island is, I freaked out and immediately packed my bags.

 

We were there less than 24 hours and it was fun to be behind the scenes, posing as a tech specialist, taking a bath in the enormous clawfoot tub, having a cocktail in the gorgeous bar, and walking around the craggly island.

Dartmoor: A Ghost Story

I’ve heard of Dartmoor as the setting for the Hound of the Baskervilles.  I was pretty excited to go there.  Even as we were driving in I was having a pretty good feeling.  But this is the story of why I won’t be going back by choice any time soon.

As we approached some of the towns in Dartmoor, it became clear that this was not just a cutesy touristy area of natural beauty.  The first landmark we come upon was a huge, imposing prison looking out over the moor.  This place is dark.  It’s actually still a high security prison that has a reputation for being inescapable.  But in fact, there was an escape:  The Mad Axeman.  This man was never recaptured.  Great.

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Next, we pulled up to our B & B, a really, really old farmhouse.  The first thing the host said to us was, “Welcome.”  The second thing she said to us was, “You better lock your car doors.”  It was the moment in those horror movies when you get your first warning, but don’t think much of it.

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The B & B

Then we walked around for a little while, went to a 600 year old pub, had a nice dinner.  It was June 21st, so really close to the longest day of the year and it was pretty nice out.  So around 10 o’clock, there wasn’t really anything else to do so Andrew and I decided to go on a walk.  We headed down the lane to this other little farm and we saw a sweet little foal and goo-goo-gaga-ed at it for a while.  It seemed sudden, but the darkness crept upon us. I was overcome with thoughts of What was that?  What was that?!  It could be the Mad Axeman. I could tell Andrew was creeped out as well.  We began to walk faster back toward the farmhouse.  Then one of us, I’m not sure which one, says “I’m actually really scared of who we might meet on this road.”  We’ve been warned to lock our car about three seconds after arrival, and this is a town of like 20 people, so you know that our host has inside knowledge of people that go around stealing from cars, perhaps even one of her relatives, and we feel an urgent need to get inside.

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Tom Cobley, one of the stories of Dartmoor

A few hours later, we were trying to sleep, and I kept hearing someone in the bathtub sploshing around.  Now lets backup.  We have a shared bathroom at this place and when we arrived, the host said that there is this guy “Chris” who is going to be staying here with us, but he won’t bother us.  So again, this is weird.  I hear the sploshing and Andrew says, “Maybe it’s Chris.”  I fall back asleep and wake up a few hours later and I can hear the sploshing again.  All I can think of is that I can’t go to the bathroom because Chris is still in the bathtub.  In the morning I go into the bathroom and I look in the bathtub to look for evidence of water droplets.  Nothing.

Something strange was afoot there.  When we drove away I had one of those overwhelming senses of relief, just like I get every time a plane lands.

I’m not going back to Dartmoor unless I can guarantee an encounter with Benedict Cumberbatch, but I fully support anyone who loves this unique part of the world.

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Sherlock and Watson in the Hound of the Baskervilles in Dartmoor

Love, Steph

p.s.  Update:  The Mad Axeman was murdered by these guys.

p.p.s.  The people of the unmentioned town we stayed in were actually lovely and helpful.  This was my own experience of Dartmoor as seen in 24 hours.  Although experiencing a rise in wealth, Dartmoor has been a rural area of economic hardship, its main economy being tourism and agriculture.  Nobody we ran into there was scary, but like in many very isolated communities that thrive on tourism, there was a general insider vs. outsider vibe that comes with the territory.

Rainbow roundup: 2015

 

2015 has had a a lot of ups and downs and twists and turns.  Here’s where I travelled, in order, from January to December and how I rated the trips on a scale of 1-10.

Bruges, Belgium: semi disastrous, overly touristy, freezing cold, mediocre food = 2/10, not recommended

Orlando, FL: bad conference, terrifyingly un-eco-friendly, was uplifted by seeing an old friend and the sunshine = 4/10, not recommended

Tring, England (Champneys Health Spa with 70% off Vitality Health Insurance):  English country estate, super discount, healthy food, massages, sauna, brokedown trains, expensive taxi, lukewarm hot tub = 6/10, recommended only if you can get the discount

Edinburgh, Scotland:  Seeing old friends, eating great food, hidden gin bar, camp songs, gardens, Goldsworthy, and great art = 9/10, highly recommended

Bornholm, Denmark:  Good friends, food halls, island life, biking for transport, sea, white sand, new moon rituals, cabin with fireplace, hiking, ancient forest = 10/10, must see!

Seven Sisters, Rye and driving East Sussex: nice hike, beautiful views, warm weather, friendly people = 9/10, must see for second-time visitors to England and/or for nature enthusiasts

Jackson, Wyoming:  I wouldn’t recommend flying to Jackson from London for three nights, but I would recommend this trip, which is one of the most beautiful places in America.  Also, I got to see my best friend get married = 10/10

Aldeburgh, England: birdwatching, cosy cottage, long walks, friendly people = 10/10, Suffolk is the place to go to get out of London! We loved it so much we went twice = 10/10

Staycation, Muswell Hill, London:  For those of you who don’t know, we moved!  Finally, after dealing with a flat that had a dysfunctional toilet, a nosey landlord, loud upstairs neighbors, and a neighborhood with literally nothing to do, we have moved to the sweet, fairytale land of Muswell Hill.  Situated on tip of a high hill, near Alexandra Palace, Muswell Hill is a little refuge out of London.  We love it so much that we cancelled our Thanksgiving to Paris just so we could revel in the glory that is our new flat and ‘hood.  Finally, after 2.5 years, we feel like we have come home!

What’s next for 2016?

Mont Dore, France in February. Will there be snow?!

Scottish Highlands in March.  Will there be rain?!

We’re thinking of a little trip to Italy or perhaps Malta again for the summer, but then again, we’re being pulled back to Denmark.  Any ideas?!  So many places to go!

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

Splish Splash I was Takin’ A Bath

Bath is a city that continues to call us back over and over again.  Not only is it easy to get to from London, Bath features the perfect combination of relaxation, activity, and good food and drink.  One year ago, when we first went to Bath, we stayed in a B&B recommended by Rick Steves.  It was not that great.  In fact, Rick Steves has let us down so many times that I donated his book to the charity shop when we moved last week.  Boo.  We also visited the Roman Baths, went on a walking tour, and ate some really great food.  Here’s what happened on Thanksgiving, one year ago…

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The food in Bath is amazing.  The Blue Quails Deli serves a really nice lunch overlooking the Pulteney Bridge.

 

 

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Acorn Vegetarian, our favorite restaurant anywhere, is the reason we keep returning to Bath.  The waitress there actually changed my life.

 

 

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Not sure why I kept putting this turkey hat on, but the point is that if you go to Bath at Thanksgiving, there is a spectacular Christmas market where you can get staples like mulled wine and mince pies.  Bath is also the sister city of Aix-en-Provence, my French home.  Another good sign!

 

 

IMG_4286 Imagine my surprise when the audio guide at the Roman Baths stated that no one is allowed to bathe in this ancient monument.  My quest for warm water was resolved however when I found out you can pay £39 to spend two hours at the thermae bath spa. Which we did.  And will do again.

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We woke up on Thanksgiving morning and took a free tour of Bath!  The guide was really informative and we saw all of the sights in about two hours.  This is the Royal Crescent.  People live in there.

 

 

 

That was a year ago.  This Thanksgiving we had a nice stay-cation where we baked bread, spent time with friends, and relaxed in our new apartment.  The theme of this year has been “settled.”  Not like the pilgrims “settled” America, but like the way the water settles after after a storm.  We don’t need to rush off on trips every time there is a break, because we live here!  And we’re finally grateful for that.

Rainbows of Bletchley Park

Just spent a few days learning about ciphers at Bletchley Park and computing and the National Museum of Computing.  Here are some things that I learned:

  1.  Pigeons were dropped in little tubes down to the troops via tiny parachute carrying messages.  They then flew home.  There was a medal of bravery awarded to pigeons every year called The Dickin Award.

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  1.  WRNS (pronounced Wrens) were young women who worked during the war driving motorbikes in the dead of night to deliver messages to Bletchley Park, decoded messages that helped win the war, and did pretty much everything at Bletchley Park.

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  1. Benedict Cumberbatch was not hanging out at Bletchley.

2014, THE IMITATION GAME

I was stunned to find out that Bletchley Park is not listed in any of the UK guidebooks, even our weird one that has things off the beaten path.  I’m confused.  It is awesome.  But maybe you need a bit of context to enjoy it.  I recommend watching the Bletchley Circle (scary!) and The Imitation Game before going.

The North Yorkshire Moors

Last weekend, I organized a retreat for my student leaders to the North Yorkshire Moors.  The photos that you see are taken by a student (a true sign that we need a good camera).  Purple heather, lone trees, dense forests, a lake, getting lost for 14 miles, shooting stars, solo walks, night hikes, and endless blackberries were highlights for us.  I would definitely return to this unique and special landscape.

Rolling through Rye and East Sussex

(all photos by Mike LeChevallier)

We had planned to go to Seven Sisters after planning this trip about 11 times with other people.  It was complicated.  No one had a car so we would have to rent one.  Or when there was finally a sunny day, we decided spur of the moment to go and the train tickets were too much.  Or it rained.  Or it was windy.  But finally, after long last, when Mike said he had a vision of himself standing at the White Cliffs of Dover, I knew we would finally go.  With our car loaded up and an old fashion road atlas, we started our adventure to Seven Sisters.

This is more of a walk, less of a hike, to see outstanding views of these cliffs.  I remember being in Normandy in 2002 and seeing almost the exact same thing from the other side.  So coming here was like finding a lost puzzle piece.  We were able to walk down to the beach, even though it was high tide and there were saw some awesome things.  First, there were two men fishing and they caught one!  The guy smashed the fish with a rock and put it in what looked like a backpack.  Then I had an opportunity to make friend with a woman who asked me if I’d enjoy a paddle.  I thought that meant swimming so I said no, but it turns out in British speak it means wading in the water.  Another lost opportunity because of words.

As we looked over to the seven sisters, Andrew suggested we summit them.  The beach was fun because there’s chalk everywhere and you can draw designs on the rocks so I didn’t really want to climb anywhere, but I agreed to.  Unfortunately we had to walk all of the way back to the car in order to access the cliffs first, so I knew in teh back of my mind we would bag the climbing idea.

Sure enough, we picked our next adventure while back at the car and never made it up those Seven Sisters.  Brighton was going to be our next stop, but the description in the guidebook made it sound absolutely horrible, so we turned to the road atlas and began searching.  We found a place called Rye, about one hour up the road, a medieval village with tons of character and wonderful food.  We ate at the Ypres Inn on the lawn overlooking the dry harbour and the sea and wandered a bit after dinner.  Mike ordered a trifle for dessert, but that turned out to just be whipped cream in a fancy cup.

I would go back to Rye in an instant to experience relaxation, good food, and really friendly people.  I would take the high speed train and switch to a smaller train and be there in under two hours.  Driving was an adventure, but the train still prevails.

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Bristol Clear!

(don’t forget to click on any picture above to scroll through the gallery)

We have been wanting to go to Bristol for a while now as people will often say, “Oh, you’re from Portland?  You should go to Bristol!”  So we did it!

We drove to Bath and parked the car and then head out to Bristol on a 12 minute train ride.  Apparently, Bristol has the worst gridlock in all of the UK.  We were immediately impressed by the train station designed by Brunel:

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Then we walked from the station the “Brunel Mile” and ate some lunch a really nice cafe, that was about two pounds cheaper than London prices!  I would really recommend Spicer and Cole:

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Knowing that we were in a music mecca, we decided to stop into one of Bristol’s many record stores, where we purchased three records:

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When I asked if they take cards the man said…”Noooooo”.  I can’t believe I even asked.  Given that Bristol has their own currency.  The mayor even gets paid in it!

After a little shopping we couldn’t believe our eyes, when just mere weeks after discovering the Chelsea Physic Garden, we discovered:

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Then it was a little walk to see the SS Great Britain, a luxury liner designed by Brunel.  I’m not really a ship enthusiast, so I didn’t take any pictures.  Then we walked back to the train station, where we hopped a train to Bath and spent two glorious hours in the Thermae Bath Spa.  Rick Steeves, in his typical uptight and overly frugal way, absolutely 100% advised against going to this spa.  So when we were here in November, we avoided it.  I have since sent that guide book to the charity shop.  And yes, Andrew and I spent £30 for a two-hour-luxury excursion on the rooftop looking over Bath and a lotus flower smelling steam room that smelled better than anything I have ever smelled.  I don’t care, Rick.

Last but not least, we ate at our favorite restaurant in the UK!  A wonderful dining experience, as usual.  See here for info about Acorn Vegetarian.

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It is nice that we have learned to return to places we love.  Too often we become obsessed with trying new things.  But really, it’s nice just to know what you like and love every new experience you have in that same old place.