Monday, October 26, 2015

Family time

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. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Day 6: Detours, a walking tour, and another evensong

When the lovely but OCD Pauline of Darlington, UK, learned that we were driving down to York the next day, she said, Oh, you must take a small detour to Runswick Bay. you will be so glad that you did.
Detours are our best thing, so we set off all hale and hearty the next morning, ready to detour to Runswick Bay, whatever that was, drive through and maybe hike on the North Yorkshire Moors, and arrive in York in time to meet our own personal Viking for a tour of the city. York is almost directly south of Darlington but we would be making a loop to the east coast and back.
It wasn't too long before we could see the ocean. 

I wasn't sure why we had to go to Runswick Bay as the reason wasn't given, but I was prepared to be delighted.
And delighted we were as we pulled into the tiny little village that was perched on the side of a cliff. This view is from the road above the village before we went down to it.

Being cheap, as always, we tried to find a free parking spot and so we went around this very tiny traffic roundabout and down a narrow road between houses, but the only outcome was the usual one: I had to do a 12-point turn at the end of the road and retrace our path.

So we parked in the Pay'n'Park lot and trusted our chances of not getting a ticket if we did a quick 5-minute tour of the place without paying our pound. I really start to resent having to pay for every single parking space after being in the UK for more than a few days.
And it was so unbearably beautiful that we were glad we detoured.

After our whistle-stop (as one of our hosts described our method of traveling) we forged on. The scenery was endlessly breathtaking.

And pretty soon we were in the middle of the moors, a place I have wanted to visit ever since I first read The Secret Garden all those years ago. Sadly, we missed the heather in bloom by about two weeks, but when given a choice of heather in bloom plus crowds, versus heather brown and no crowds, we will take the lack of crowds any day.

We found a rest area right by the Levisham Estate, a large area of moors and valleys which was in private hands until 1976, when the National Park Authority purchased it. This particular area is called the Hole of Horcum, a 400 ft. deep hollow, about 3/4 of a mile across, which sounds like something from a Harry Potter story. It was once a narrow valley, but spring water welling up from the hillsides caused erosion of the rock and gradually, over thousands of years, widened the valley into the cauldron shape that it is now.
There were many paths criss-crossing the valley and we were dying to follow them, but we were both desperate to find a toilet and, as usual, there were none in sight. So pragmatism won the day and we drove regretfully on, resolving to return on some future trip.

We arrived in York in good time, thanks to our full bladders, so we checked in at our room for the night and fell in love with the hosts and the house. It was an old renovated railway house and was so full of light and enthusiastically decorated and the host had a fresh chocolate cake waiting for us, of which Jeff took full advantage. Luckily, the lovely Alison had been baking for a fundraiser she was hosting the following day and she had some nice gluten-free macaroons, so I wasn't left drooling in the background. Seriously, we meet some of the loveliest people when we rent rooms through airbnb. We raved about them to ourselves all day long.
After Jeff's gorging of the chocolate cake, which I am still regretting missing out upon, we drove to a nearby shopping mall to park the car and catch the bus into York.
Some things are not worth fighting, and parking in York is one of them.
York was a Viking capital in the 10th century and its history is complicated. We met our Viking, Neil, in the centre of town and he proceeded to give us a very private, informative, and funny tour of the Viking history sites of the city.
And on the way we passed the Viking museum where his girlfriend works, so we had to get a photo. Aren't they cute?

This is Clifford's Tower, part of York Castle that was first built by William the Conqueror in 1068. Like all British castles, it has seen much destruction and rebuilding in different forms. Clifford's Tower may be named after the rebel Richard de Clifford, who was executed in 1322 and whose body was hung on a gibbet at the castle. 
One of the more egregious events in local history took place in York Castle in 1190. Anti-Jewish sentiment was inflamed by King Richard I's announcement of his intention to join the Crusades. Violence followed tension in York and the community of Jews took refuge in the wooden keep of the castle. They were held at seige by an angry mob and were led by their rabbi in a mass suicide rather than be captured. Men killed their wives and children and then set fire to the keep. An estimated 150 Jews died, either at their own hands, in the fire that followed, or (in the case of the few who surrendered) at the hands of the mob. 

We stood by the river and listened to more history of the battles that took place here, and of which I remember absolutely nothing!

Then we walked up some narrow streets and learned more historical tidbits.

Like the reason that houses are often built to hang over the street is that they were taxed on the footprint of the house, so any extra square footage above ground level didn't count.

The Shambles is a very old and quaint shopping area.

Off in the distance is York Minster, and our footsteps were leading us in that direction.

And then Neil walked us to York Minster just as a fierce wind arose, and we had to shelter by the walls or be blown over. We parted ways and Jeff and I went into the cathedral to have a look around and get out of the wind. As luck would have it, evensong had just begun and the strains of song were echoing faintly in the far end of the cathedral. 
Now, there was an entry fee for the cathedral, but when we asked if we could attend evensong, no fee was charged, so WIN for us! And we finally got to hear our all-male choir. It was heavenly. 

When we came out of evensong, blinking in the early evening light, the wind had died down some and we went looking for stairs to the old York city wall, which was a non-negotiable item on the itinerary.

You can follow the wall around most of the old city, and it was my aim to do just that. Unfortunately, the walls are closed at dusk so we knew we wouldn't have time for the whole thing, but were hoping for at least this one section. Here I am, in all my scarf-headed glory. It was chilly in spite of the waning sunlight.

There were some interesting sights from the wall, from back gardens of houses to more views of the cathedral.

And only a few minutes into our walk we were met by a man walking in the opposite direction who informed us that he was closing the wall. And I swear it was still an hour before dark. Rude!

So we sadly retraced our steps and bought ourselves some dinner at the York Roast Co to eat on the bus on the way back to the mall. I had a roasted pork dinner that I had been coveting for days. I have missed pork crackling for most of my life.
By the time we got back to our car it was dark and we were happy to call it a day.
We decided that York is a place that will see us again, for more than a few hours next time.