We left our cushy billet in York on Friday morning, another piece of cake and a macaroon in our hungry hands, with the intention of detouring through the Lincolnshire Wolds: designated area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We headed southeast and crossed the Humber Bridge, the seventh-longest single-span suspension bridge in the world, at 2,220 metres. The toll was one pound and fifty pence, cheap at the price.
We continued south and as we were passing the outskirts of Lincoln we saw a magnificent cathedral on a hill in the centre of the city. We were drawn to it, so even though we hadn't planned to stop, we followed our nose and found it. The road leading up to it was very narrow and windy, as usual, and when we got within sight of it there was no parking, as usual, so I pulled into a small parking lot that was full and Jeff hopped out of the car and took a few photos. This is considered to be one of the greatest architectural wonders of Great Britain, and it is definitely on our list to visit again.
We drove through the Wolds posthaste, as we were anxious to reach Birmingham before evening. The scenery was beautiful but, to our way of thinking, no more so than all of the other countryside we were enjoying. I slightly regretted the detour, but it was all part of the experience, I suppose, and we arrived at my cousin's house well before dinnertime. Which was the point, of course. Dinner had been promised.
We took photos before we headed out for dinner. This is my cousin Lynne, the only cousin that my sister and I knew as children (although it turns out that we have a bunch more, as you will see) and her long-time partner, Richard.
We had a lovely dinner at The Boathouse in Sutton Park, and I discovered the pitfall of dubbing Jeff the Photographer-in-Chief. And I may or may not have indulged in a little non-gluten-free brownie for dessert.
We had been true nomads for almost a week and it was so lovely to rest our heads at Lynne and Richard's house for the weekend. My sister and I had no physical contact with extended family after we moved to New Zealand and we both missed it sorely, although more in retrospect than at the time. This weekend would prove to be the favourite part of the trip for both Jeff and me, because my family loves him and he appreciates it. And they are a hoot, besides!
On Saturday, not too early, we headed to the National Memorial Arboretum, one of Birmingham's treasures. It describes itself as "The nation's year-round centre of Remembrance; a spiritually uplifting place which honours the fallen, recognizes service and sacrifice, and fosters pride in our country." Covering 150 acres, with over 300 memorials, 30,000 trees, a visitor's centre, gift shop, restaurant, passenger train, hundreds of benches for sitting and contemplating, and the Millenium Chapel of Peace and Forgiveness which holds a daily Act of Remembrance, you could very easily spend all day there.
The land girls.
Some of the memorials are elegant and magnificent.
Almost every tree is dedicated to someone.
Some of the memorials are small and personal.
The Armed Forces Memorial rises above the rest of the arboretum and honours the 16,000 men and women who have fallen in conflicts and terrorism around the world since 1945. It is sobering.
Dinner was at the Waterfront Pub at the Barton Marina, along with a little shopping for gifts to take home and a little watching of the downy geese who were preening and moulting.
It was a beautiful evening.
Lynne and Richard mentioned that there was an LDS church just a wee walk from their house, so on Sunday morning we headed down the hill. It was a beautiful morning, as was our luck for most of the trip, and it only took us about 30 minutes to get there. After heading down the road for a few minutes, we found the trail through the park. It was such a fun and almost adventurous way to go to church.
Richard had gone to a football game early that morning. When we arrived back at the house, Lynne had set up a veritable feast for the family that was coming over to visit. Trifle, tiny little pork pies and sausage rolls, and lots of other lovely food.
Aunty Connie, Lynne's mum, was already there when we got home, and pretty soon the rest of the gang started to arrive. First it was Aunty Marg, my dad's sister and her husband, Uncle Fred. Then Aunty Pat, my mum''s brother's wife, and Mandy, his daughter. Mandy is one of four children of Uncle Len, but she is the only one I have met. And later on, cousin Dorman and his wife arrived, which was very interesting because I only have a glimmer of a memory of him from when I was small.
Here is my Uncle Fred, who loved Anne and I so much when we were little and whose relentlessly positive and sunny outlook on life does absolutely nothing to counterbalance Aunty Marg's rampant cynicism. He doesn't eat much and is very frail, but still smiles and looks for the good in life.
Aunty Marg, who has always taken care of everyone.
Aunty Con, who has personality in spades and is ever cheerful.
Cousin Dorman on the right, and his wife is talking to Lynne.
Any time conversation lagged, which wasn't often, Aunty Marg whipped a newspaper cutting out of her handbag about something that offended or annoyed her and read it aloud to us. She has a wealth of conversation topics in her handbag.
And she also had a store of family scandals in her head, ready to be revealed to all who would listen. Cousin Dorman learned some good ones about his family. There were times we we all became quite hysterical, over both the family scandals and the newspaper clippings.
It made me positively giddy to be among so much family, but we all felt the absence of loved ones who were not there. Uncle Dick, Lynne's dad, who was such a gentle and sweet man. My dad, the black sheep of the family, who wandered further than any of the family had ever wandered before or since. Uncle Len, Mum, and all of the other siblings of Dad who have passed on before. We told stories and remembered them well.And after six hours of reminiscence, we took photos, because everyone was ready to go home.
Aunty Pat and Mandy, such lovely ladies.
Cousins. And the wife of a cousin.
Me with my crazy aunties. If you want to see more crazy aunty pictures, check out the photos from our last trip. And Uncle Fred. He's not an aunty, of course.
I love them so much.
And it was very bittersweet to say goodbye.
I want to go back tomorrow just to see them again.