Sunday, June 28, 2015

Up to Dunstable Downs

Another good weekend meant another good walk in the countryside. This time we headed north to Bedfordshire and enjoyed the views of Dunstable Downs. Noted for its hilltop breezes, Dunstable downs is home to amateur kite-fliers and novice para-gliders. This day was no different.

Our 6.5-mile walk took us along some of the oldest known roads in England dating back to the Roman occupation.
In addition to the rolling wheat fields,

there were wild cherries ripening,

old-fashioned fragrant roses,

poppy patches,

an archery range,

the London Glider Club,

a convenient - yet uncomfortable -  couch carved from a tree trunk,

these guys, of course,

and some interesting posts with different colored glass discs. I have no idea what they're for, but have sent messages to several places hoping to get an answer. Once I hear back I'll update this post.  So, you know, you guys can sleep at night.

Then it was back up the hill to the kite-fliers and para-gliders.

From there we took a short drive to the Pitstone Windmill. At one time there were 35 of these beauties dotting the landscape. Now this is the only one left.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Combe Gibbet

Combe Gibbet: The swinging corpses
could be seen in three counties
In the late 1600's a local man, George Broomham, took himself a mistress, Dorothy Newman. He must have fallen horribly in love because even though his wife and young son disapproved of the mistress (go figure), George would not give her up.  Unable to bear being apart, he and Dorothy plotted to remove those who stood between them.
One winter's day the lovers laid in wait for his family to go walk along a lonely crest in Berkshire Downs. When the mother and son came into view,  the lovers sprang up and brutally beat them to death with cudgels. George and Dorothy were caught and sentenced to be "hanged in chaynes near the place of the murder."
The gibbet was erected and the two hung. Their bodies could be seen in three surrounding counties, swinging and spinning in the bitter winter cold. 

Our 8.5 mile hike through the Berkshire Downs included a grueling climb to the gibbet and I had to stop several times to catch my breath. The views were worth it though and the three counties (Berkshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire) were in clear view.

Heading up to the gibbet at the top of the hill
A short walk from the gibbet is a D-Day memorial. The plaque reads: "In the fields and woods below this hill in May 1944 the Ninth Battalion Parachute Regiment commanded by T.B.H. Otway DSO rehearsed plans for their successful assault on the German Coastal Artillery Battery at Merville, France before the seaborne troops landed in the invasion of Normandy June 6, 1944." This is where they practiced the invasion just 1 short month before landing.
D-Day Memorial. One parachute regiment practiced here
prior to their June 6 landing at Normandy.
From the top of the hill, we hiked down into beechwood  groves:
over sheep pastures,
through wheat fields,
along church yards,
and by elegant estates.
 And, despite the openness of the Downs, I couldn't help but occasionally feel we were being watched:
A panoramic view of 3 counties from the base of Combe Gibbet:


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Lawrence of Arabia, Thomas Hardy, and a Big Naked Giant

The childhood cottage home of author Thomas Hardy
in Dorset County
A gorgeous weekend can lend itself to many, many things. For us, this past one beckoned us into the countryside with visits to no fewer than five National Trust sites.
You can barely turn around in the United Kingdom without bumping into something historic - and for a couple of good reasons. First, recorded history in the UK goes back at least 2,000 years to the Roman Occupation. This is ten times longer a time span than what we have for the United States. And second, the land mass is much smaller here than at home. Imagine fitting 2,000 years worth of tumultuous history, warring monarchs and global empire into an area roughly half the size of California. You're bound to stumble over something of note every third step.
1. Clouds Hill, Dorset County. This is the last home and rural retreat of T.E. Lawrence, better known to us as Lawrence of Arabia. When he wasn't writing, he was  riding around the back roads on his latest Brough Superior motorbike.  
Nice selection of T.E. Lawrence memorabilia in the tiny shop outside Clouds Hill
"I've a hut in a wood near camp wherein I spend my spare evenings."
T.E. Lawrence wrote about Clouds Hill

Inside the very austere Clouds Hill, first floor.

2. Hardy Cottage - Our next stop was Thomas Hardy's unbelievably quaint childhood cottage, also in Dorset County but so far off the beaten path we weren't really sure where we were going. Not only were the back roads narrow, but there were tall hedges on either side so it was like driving through an oversized mouse maze. (See video clip at the bottom of this post.)
Thomas Hardy is the 19th century author who wrote Jude the Obscure and Far from the Madding Crowd. Much of his writing contains descriptions of nature and after seeing where he grew up, the woods in which he must have played as a boy, the ponds and great rolling meadows nearby, it's small wonder.

This was Hardy's birthday week so tea and scones were  served in the garden to celebrate. This kind woman maxed out my Adorable Index.
Inside the cottage, upstairs bedroom

3. Cerne Giant - There's a naked giant in Dorset County and no one's sure how it got here, why or when, although most agree it probably dates back to the Iron Age. And - for obvious reasons - it's considered a symbol of fertility. It's England's largest chalk drawing with a view well worth the climb up that damn hill.
The Cerne Giant, a chalk drawing probably from the Iron Age, is England's largest.

Our view from near the Giant, he's over to the left of us. The National Trust has had to fence him off from the public because of all the "abuse" this poor fellow has suffered over the centuries. 

 4. West Wycombe Park, Buckinghamshire - Home to the Dashwoods for centuries, this Palladian style villa is all that. Despite its lack of formal garden (waah!), the grounds seem to suit this relatively understated home.


The Yellow Saloon inside the villa. Somewhere in this room is a photo of Clint Eastwood
when he filmed part of White Hunter Black Heart here in 1990.
5. The Village of West Wycombe - The entire village was acquired by the National Trust in 1933 and is preserved "for the benefit of the nation."

"Car park at rear (right, right, and right again)" I love everything about these instructions.
 For more pictures of our trips this weekend, please click right here.

A short video of us trying to find the Hardy Cottage. Rex is driving over on the right-hand side so it's a tight squeeze on that country road.