Tag Archives: England

Walking

People in England walk way more than people in America walk.  Most of the people in my village “take walks” for no other reason but to walk.  And they don’t walk on sidewalks, cause there aren’t any, or on the roads even – they walk on public footpaths.  There are signs all over the place pointing out public footpaths, which wind their way across the country.  But we have been here over 18 months and I am still scared to try it.  

My American fear of walking on someone else’s land makes me nervous.  The footpath signs show you where the paths begin off the side of the road, but they’re not clearly marked once you’re on them.  There are also public bridleways, which are not just for pedestrians, but also cyclists and people on horseback.  They all wind across open fields, through back yards, across roads, and although there are signs at junctions, I am just never sure where, exactly, I’m supposed to walk.  So I stay on the road for fear of doing it wrong.

I’m determined to give it a try though.  There are over 140,000 miles of public footpaths and bridleways in England and Wales and we’re only here for so long!

I set out last week on a walk, hoping to get the nerve up to venture off the road and onto the path.  As a warm-up, I walked on the grass along the road to where the footpath signs mark the junction near my house, rather than on the pavement.  Walking on grass changes your speed.  It also changes your ability to pay attention to other things — you’ve gotta keep an eye on the ground or you might trip.  It slowed me down, but made me more aware.  I think maybe that’s the point of walking those footpaths — it is not to make sure you get x-number of miles in, but that you enjoy and pay attention to the miles you do walk.

When I got to the beginning of the footpath, though, I chickened out.  I looked along the edge of the field where the sign pointed and it just was not clear to me where I was supposed to go.  So I stayed on the road.  I walked, but I’m not getting the full English-walking-footpath experience that way.  I’m going to ask my neighbor to meet me a few times and show me “the way” I think, so I can get a few accompanied walks under my belt and get brave enough to try a solo.

While in Rome, they say, do as the Romans do.  And so, while in England, I shall walk.  Off the beaten track.  Because that’s how it’s done.  I just have to find someone to teach me how.

Scenes from the Village

The village where we live is tiny and adorable.  There are probably no more than 40 homes, and our house, at 200+ years old, isn’t even close to the oldest one.  Our neighbors’ house has original sections that date back 400 years. 

The church next door is 700+ years old. 

The pub (every good village in England has one!) is located right in the center of the village. There’s been a pub operating continuously in that location since 1352.  There are areas inside where Matt, at 6′ tall, has to duck under the beams that support the the low ceiling.  Even in the places where he can stand up straight, the ceiling is only a few inches above the top of his head.  A sign hanging by the taps states that no one under age 14 is allowed to sit at the bar.  There’s a pub cat named Amber who snuggles by the wood stove and winds her way around people’s feet when they come in the front door.  I love it.

Our little village is sitting right at the top of one of the highest points in the county, and all around us, farm fields stretch out for acres in every direction.  There are public footpaths all over England that wind their way through land both public and private, so you can basically walk across the country on publicly protected trails. 

There are also public bridleways everywhere, so we get nearly as much horse traffic as we do car traffic.  I will always and forever love that I hear the clip-clop of horses going by my house on a regular basis.  For the first few months we were here, the kids would basically all run to the window to look out every time we heard the hoof beats.  But now it’s become second-nature. 

The clock on the tower of the church next door chimes the hour, every hour, all day, every day. Most of the time I don’t even hear it anymore, because it’s become the background music to my days and nights.  When I do notice it, it always makes me smile.

It’s not our home forever, but I’m so glad it’s our home for now.

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Adventures in England: Dover Castle

Dover mainIn October, Matt’s parents came to visit and we all went away on a long weekend trip to Dover on the southeast coast of England.  Dover is known for it’s awe-inspiring white cliffs, atop which sits the amazing and imposing Dover Castle looking out across the English Channel at France.

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We opted to travel to Dover via train — it didn’t take much longer than driving, and we didn’t have to worry about directions and fitting eight of us into one vehicle.  The train trip from London to Dover was about 2.5 hours, and we were all able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.  It was a great decision and it made the trip so much more enjoyable.  

Dover Castle is perched at the top of quite a tall hill, so we took a cab from our hotel rather than hike up there.  Even so, we had to climb a pretty steep incline once we got into the castle grounds.  It’s an English Heritage site, so admission was free with our membership.

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The oldest parts of Dover Castle were built by the Romans over a thousand years ago, and some sort of fortification has stood on that spot since then.  It is an enormous complex and there was so much to explore, from the underground tunnels used in WWII to the huge and imposing main castle to the ancient Roman Lighthouse and the sprawling grounds.  It was a full day trip and throughout the entire day, the children (and the adults) were enthralled. 

The modern areas of Dover Castle were used right up through the second World War.  Pop Pop gave the boys a lesson in artillery that I think was highlight for both he AND the kids.

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IMG_5817We began our day touring the tunnels dug deep into the hillside and cliffs.  During the tour, we learned about Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the Allied Troops from Dunkirk, France.

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I really did not know enough about this historical event, but it saved the lives of over 300,000 British and French soldiers and was a major turning point in WWII.  The tour, which took place in the very underground tunnels where the operation was planned and carried out, was informative, captivating, and moving.  Even my two youngest were able to understand what happened, even if they couldn’t grasp the enormity of it.  It was one of my favorite parts of the entire weekend.  

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You could explore almost the entire castle, which was absolutely larger than life.  We saw the interior kitchens and the enormous dining halls with fireplaces that seemed big enough for all 8 of us to stand in together and the huge bedrooms hung with tapestries.

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Then we climbed to top of the castle walls where the views in every direction were nothing short of breath-taking… 

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Scattered across the grounds were smaller buildings and giant stone walls, an ancient lighthouse and a gorgeous church, military office buildings and residential homes, some over a thousand years old and some less than one hundred years old. 

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The boys, with newly acquired swords and shields, did their best to reenact some of Dover’s more epic battles.

20151024_151836We walked and walked and walked that day, up hills and down stairs, through tunnels and across fields.  It was definitely a physical adventure. 

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We absolutely loved Dover Castle, and are planning to go back again in the summer and maybe take the ferry across the channel to France where we’re hoping to explore Normandy.  Dover was one of  our favorite trips so far, and the Castle was just day one.  (I’ll write another post about the White Cliffs — they deserve their own description.)


Also, our first castle tour in England was pretty amazing. 


 

In Search of the Sea

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One morning last month, we woke up with no plans on a Sunday except to putter around the house and get some things organized and try to finish settling in.  After breakfast, Matt walked out onto the patio and declared it too gorgeous a day to spend doing absolutely nothing.

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Thirty minutes later we were in the car on our way to the seashore.  We had no idea, really, where we were going, what we’d do when we got there, or if we were even going to a place that was worth seeing, but off we went regardless.   IMG_5541

We found ourselves almost two hours later on the coast of the North Sea in a little town called Hunstanton.  And it was lovely.

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As soon as we got out of the car and I could smell that salty air, I was glad we’d made the drive.  The ocean is my happy place.

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And while I love a tropical beach with white sands and turquoise waters, those aren’t the beaches I grew up with and they’re not the beaches that speak to my soul. 

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The beach we found was covered in huge, flat, almost geometric rocks that created hundreds of tidal pools full of tiny fish, crabs, and shells. 

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A beach filled with tidal pools is my favorite kind of beach.

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The beach was bordered by striped cliffs on one side and a cute little boardwalk on the other.

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We walked along the rocky beach, found sea shells and tiny crabs, ate fish and chips from a seaside stand followed by yummy ice creams, and reveled in the smell and sound and feel of the sea.

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Days like that are such a surprising gift, when you go in search of something you didn’t even know you needed, and it just fills you right up.

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea. –Isak Dineson


Also, this was a pretty sweet beach vacation, and this is why I never go in the ocean deeper than my waist.

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