October 3rd 8:00am
Did you know that …Owls have no short range vision? Kestrels see the urine of mice as a glow? Eagles can only wing beat (fly) for a maximum of two minutes? (All birds of prey rely on soaring.) A hawk can see a pigeon at five miles? Hawks can reach speeds of 200 mph in a dive from 1000 ft? The birds prefer to kill their prey by bopping it at high speeds, rather than doing a low swoop and grab? Different birds eat and hunt different animals? If you are using a bird to hunt for food, you’ll use a female bird? They are bigger and more efficient hunters than males!
The best thing about being the earliest riser in a family is the nice, quiet time I can enjoy with my coffee and the rising sun. Today it is sunny again, and I am gazing out at our garden, trying to understand what makes it so endlessly interesting to look at. There is just a whisper of a breeze…Yesterday was blustery in the extreme. The wind yesterday was certainly a factor in our day’s activities as we went to a falconry. I hope that Gerry Jr. and Oscar will create pages for you of their impressions, because a child’s impressions and those of an adult could be very different, though we all found it fascinating
The falconry is just out of town, about a mile and half. We arrived just a few minutes into the first demonstration, and stayed through the end of the second. The falconer, who gave the demonstrations, is the owner. This center stresses conservation of birds of prey, so instead of falcons as weapons for hunting, we saw a demonstration of each bird’s flying and natural hunting behavior. We saw owls, hawks, eagles, buzzards and vultures. Besides their obvious differences in appearance, they are all quite unique in their behavior. The demonstration was so interesting that we unanimously chose to stay for a second one. We learned so much about these birds – the most surprising thing being that they are not aggressive birds at all. The falconer actually kissed and hugged them! And up close, like almost all birds, they are exceptionally beautiful!
Yesterday morning, like most mornings these days, we were slow to get out of the house – school work to do and laundry! When we did get out, there was a weekly market going on in our High Street (Main Street, and only street). It was fun to walk through it and see all the vendors: flowers and plants, meats, vegetables and fruits, cheeses, clothing, toys, books, stationery – all kinds of things. People watching was fun, too. Some of the vendors actually had microphones and “hawked” their wares to the crowd.
Our evening was spent, (this is in the Small World Department) with a couple from Phoenix AZ who we met at the Falconry. We started a conversation with them because of a Green Bay Packers Tee shirt – and guess what! He, Marshall Bell, is from Janesville WI (my hometown) and was a friend of my brother George. His mother was surely my Social Studies teacher in junior high (that’s middle school, you know!) They are bicycling for 7 days here in the Cotswolds (which seems like a very fun vacation.)
Back-tracking to Monday (Oct 1), we were in Oxford. It is a beautiful town, filled with university kids! My favorite part, which we didn’t visit inside because of a time issue, was Christ Church, which is both a church and a college of the university. Hopefully we’ll get to go visit it inside, as it has ties to Alice in Wonderland (old ties) and ties to Harry Potter (new ties). The great hall of the college is the set for Hogwarts in the new movie!
University students are a pretty stereotypical lot – the difference between the students at Oxford and say, Harvard, is merely that more of them here have a British accent. There are lots of international students, and we even shared our internet cafe table with three American students. When we got home, we saw on the news that Chelsea Clinton started her year at Oxford that day, too.
We are still quite cozy in our little cottage and may stay through to Monday…The landlady has plans for early next week. It is hard to do everything we want to do – the children don’t appreciate the same things about this area as we do, so going out to visit things is always a struggle. Yesterday was marked by a argument over a toy gun they saw in the market and wanted to buy. We refused to allow them to buy it, so for the rest of the afternoon they were unbearable, except for the respite offered by the falconry. Afterwards it got so bad, that Gerry Sr. decided to take them home and be done with it…but he was so upset when he turned the car around that he pulled out on the right side of the road! That pretty much scared the pants off all of us and shut up the children over their silly gun!
October 4 8:00am
The National Trust maintains properties all over Britain and has an arm in Scotland, too. If you like to visit old houses and such, you can buy a Heritage Pass from the British Tourist Authority in the US. That gives you admission to all the properties. I was impressed by the guides who were in the house we saw: All of them seemed very knowledgeable, but they were also very friendly and welcoming. It added enormously to our enjoyment of the house. I got the feeling that I was encouraged to poke about at my own pace and really examine the rooms. Contrast that to two of the rooms we visited in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, where we were not allowed to stop or talk in the rooms, but had to walk directly through them.
Yesterday, after a good morning study session we got out and on the road around noon. Our first stop was just a few miles from here – a stone circle. Called the Rollright Stones (named, I think, after the towns nearby), this is a pre-historic stone circle like Stonehenge, erected by who knows who for who knows what purpose. It was difficult to get a feel for the place with the kids jumping and screaming and hitting one another. The stones are arranged in a perfect circle, and they are nowhere near the size and majesty of Stonehenge, but the mystery of who erected them and why is intriguing. Nearby, climbing over a fence and scaling a hill (which is actually a burial mound) is another monolith that seems to have marked the entrance to a cemetery. Back across the road and somewhat farther down, well into a farmer’s field, is another set of stones, five this time. Three are upright and two fallen. “They” think that at least one of the fallen stones would have been set across the top of the upright stones when it was erected…These are the easternmost stone circle and upright stones in Britain. Hopefully we will get to see Stonehenge at some point on this trip!
From there we went to lunch, food being uppermost in the minds of males of all ages in this family, and afterwards headed to Broughton Castle. Please mark this place down as somewhere to visit when you come to England! Though it was not a proper castle, but a fortified manor house, I wonder how many places could match it for tranquil beauty and peacefulness. The day was beautiful – sunny and breezy, you’ll see the pictures…The house is enormous, of course, though not palatial. It must be about three stories high, with tall leaded windows. It is surrounded by a wall and a moat! There is a bridge that crosses the moat to a tower with a portcullis, and on the land side of the bridge is an old church with a very suggestive graveyard. The stones on the graves are not that old, but they are so worn and moss covered that they give you an impression that they are much older than they are. Both the church and the castle were closed to the public, but just walking around the park lands and enjoying the view was a wonderful way to spend an hour. Between the moat and the wall around the house were gardens of flowers and shrubs, perfectly manicured grass, geese and ducks. On our side, there were sheep grazing. It was beautiful! And the Lord and Lady Saye & Sele still live in the house.
From there we went north and a few centuries forward, to visit the 20th century home of an oil baron (Shell) that is now owned by the National Trust. Though the house was grand, what were remarkable to us were the gardens. It is certainly the end of the summer season, but we saw the garden full of fruit and vegetables, foliage beginning to turn, and fall blooming flowers at their peak. The sheer size of the park land around the house is impressive, but also the variety of gardens within the gardens. Different areas were set apart by hedges and terraces, and all was so carefully maintained, that the effect is stunning. Apparently, the National Trust not only saves the houses and maintains the land, but has an active “heritage plant” conservation and re-establishment program going on. That means that the gardens are actively managed for both beauty and the propagation of native and traditional plants and flowers.
That seemed like enough for one day. The children enjoyed being able to spend the day outside and run and yell at least a little, while at the same time visiting these big houses. The evening was quiet. Gerry and I went out for dinner with Marshall and Lillian Bell, who we met the day before yesterday, and had a very congenial evening. The kids stayed home and did whatever they do when we leave them alone together…there was no blood, fire engine or police car to be seen when we got here, so I guess they had an “ok” evening.
October 5 9:00am
The Bard lives! Julius Caesar however, dies midway through the play.
Yesterday, we (literally) dragged two screaming and kicking and complaining children to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Julius Caesar at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. We chose this particular play because there was a pre-performance presentation given in the morning by the actors and various members of the cast. I thought the presentation would involve a synopsis of the plot and an explanation of the characters…It didn’t. Instead, and perhaps more interestingly, it was about the staging and lighting of the play, the method the director used to bring the actors into his vision and a lot of actor’s craft. Very interesting! Oscar seemed to pick up a lot – Gerry seems to have missed most of it (He was too busy, pushing and knocking on the back of the seat of the person in front of him to pay attention, I guess.)
The presentation lasted about an hour. Then we had lunch and I purchased a book in the gift shop that explained all the Shakespeare plays, and from that, which I read aloud at lunch, we got the plot and character information before we saw the performance at 1:00pm.
I was worried that I would not like the play (being sort of stuck on pure Shakespeare). From the pre-performance presentation, we knew that there were to be some “pop music” style lighting effects and that the costumes were 1930s, early Fascist (??).
However, the effects of these things detracted not at all from the story and the language. In fact, the modern devices heightened the sense that the play was written for us, for our generation – the same feeling that Shakespeare’s own Elizabethan audience most have had when they saw it. Though the play had been cut, and with no intermission, it moved very quickly and all the spoken words were Shakespeare’s very own. It was great, and Gerry and I plan to see another play before we leave this area (leaving the complainers at home!).
After the play, we did cancel all other plans to visit the city of Stratford. We came home and everyone went to bed early. Today, Gerry and I will only take willing children with us when we go out. We need a break from whining and complaining!
October 8 10:40am
Somehow I have lost a day that I thought I had written, so I am going to have to think even harder to try to remember what happened. I was prepared to tell you about the last two days, and their Roman overlay. I’ll start there and see if I can remember what we did the day before…
Yesterday we went to Cirencester, a town fairly close by, to visit the Corinium Museum. The weather was awful (rainy and cold) so it was a good day to visit a museum. Timing was good too: The day before we had been to Bath to see the Roman Baths, and just a few days ago we saw the play Julius Caesar – so while we were still in the Roman mood, we visited this town/museum. What is notable about it is that below the current town is a Roman town from the 1st-4th centuries AD. Some of it has been excavated (back in the 19th century) so in the museum they have quite a few artifacts from the time, including some fantastic mosaic floors. Gerry was particularly interested as his world history course is just about to cover Ancient Rome.
The trip to Bath on Saturday was a full day. We left early in the morning (for us!) because the drive from here is about 1 1/2 hours. The town was hopping! Saturday is shopping day apparently, because the shopping streets were full of people. In the morning, along our rambles, we stopped to visit the Jane Austen Center. (It was only mildly worth it, even for a Jane Austen fan, because she spent very little of her life in Bath and the Center is not in any of the places she lived when she was there. However, it was a good introduction to Jane Austen for Oscar and Gerry – hopefully they’ll remember something about it when they eventually read one of her novels.)
From there we moseyed down to the center of town to where the Roman baths are located. Since they are right next door to the cathedral, Gerry Sr. and I visited that while the kids hung out in the plaza watching the street performers. The cathedral was very pretty – especially the ceiling!
We had lunch and then went in to visit the baths. We used the (free) audio phone tour and it was excellent. The baths are definitely worth a visit. For a Roman-ophile like me, it was hard to imagine that in both Bath and Cirencester, “they” could just leave all those ruins underneath the later construction and not want to pull it all down to reveal the Roman ruins! Yes, we all touched the water and the even went to the Pump Room and tasted it. (The kids gagged, but Gerry Sr. and I were able to manage a few sips. It tastes like mineral water, duh!, but it’s warm mineral water…I can’t imagine drinking a pint before breakfast, much less a gallon, which was the dose proscribed by 19th century physicians!)
After the Baths, we ran uptown to see the Assembly Rooms and the Costume Museum, which would have been interesting if we hadn’t had to rush through them both. The rush was due to our lack of time (we got there 40 minutes before it closed) and to the hurry for the employees to go home – They started closing all the rooms about 4:30!
From there we walked to see the Circus and the Royal Crescent – both very impressive! Interesting to me were the gardens for the individual houses, which were well below the street level in front of each house. These were once upon a time the entrances for the servants, but nowadays the houses are divided up into apartments. The basement level apartment owns the space below the street level and here we saw these nicely planted patios gardens. From the street, the view was quite uniform: All you could see was the three story facade of the house, the railing in front at the street level and the sidewalk in front of that. You had to actually walk along the railing and look down, to see the gardens.
Now, remembering the day before that, Gerry and I went to Oxford, ALONE. We visited an internet cafe to update the website and pick up our email. Then we walked around the back streets of the town and got a chance to peek into the various colleges of Oxford University.
Unfortunately, the kids’ fighting has reached a fever pitch over the last few days, and the climax came just as the bombing of Afghanistan began (a connection?). As such we have changed our plans and now will set off for Dublin tomorrow morning when we leave here. We’ll be in Dublin a few days and then head to the country to visit some friends.