Monday, August 17, 2015

Manchester, Mr. Darcy and Hats

I'm not ashamed to admit it: I love Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and the best adaptation I've ever seen - hands down - is the BBC's 1995 mini-series. (Can I have an amen?)

It should come as no surprise then that we would eventually find our way to at least one of the houses  used for this series.
On the spur of the moment, we packed a small bag and headed west to Cheshire County and Mr. Darcy's famous estate, Pemberley. Technically, it's called Lyme Park and is maintained by the National Trust. 

At Pemberley - I mean, Lyme Park
Only the exterior of the house was used in P&P due to some kerfuffle over filming rights for the interior. It's just as well, since Lyme Park's interior is dark and foreboding, not at all light and airy as the film portrayed. Some twenty years later we're still not allowed to take pictures inside.
Still, it was easy-peasy to imagine Miss Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy awkwardly running into one another near the front of the house, and then Mr. Darcy bounding down the steps after changing into something more presentable.

So easy to imagine Mr. Darcy on these steps.

Why was there a Hat Museum in little Stockport?
We had booked a room in Manchester and the train to and from Lyme Park passed through the small town of Stockport. I probably wouldn't have paid it much nevermind  except there was an old brick smoke stack rising from the town with the words 'Hat Museum' painted down its front. That was odd. What in the world was a hat museum doing way up here in Cheshire--? Then it hit me.
The only Cheshire thing I'm acquainted with is the grinning cat from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. The same story, of course, gave us The Hatter who was mad like so many others in his trade. In the 19th century, mercury was used in the felting process to make hats and extended exposure to it caused mercury poisoning, or madness.  At one point, there were more than 100 hat-making cottages in little Stockport. I quickly gave it a google and, sure enough, Lewis Carroll grew up about 25 miles west of here. He would have been well familiar with many a mad hatter, as the expression itself predates Carroll's work by a good 30 years.


Proper Burger and Hard Milkshake
Saturday evening back in Manchester we ducked into Byron's for a "proper hamburger."

As good as the burgers were, the hard milkshakes were even better. Yes, the hard is what you think it is and why haven't I heard of these before?

The Richmond Tea Room with its Wonderland d├ęcor

Sunday morning, we walked around Manchester seeing the sights, the huge block-long town hall, the amazing art gallery with its unusual paintings and 1950's dress exhibit.

For lunch, we found a great little out-of-the-way tea room down on Richmond St with an 'Alice in Wonderland' theme.

They had a crazy soundtrack playing, mostly old scratchy blues and jazz records from the 1930's that somehow worked here.

Afterwards it was back on the train to head home. Manchester is a hard-working open minded city, with one hand protecting its past while the other lays down light rails for its future. And as much as I looked, I could not find any Cheshire cats grinning or otherwise. Perhaps they were all busy disappearing.

For more pictures of our quick trip to Pemberley (I mean,  Lyme Park), the Hat Museum, and Manchester click here.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Avebury Henge - England's Other, Older Stone Circle

Avebury in Wiltshire County is home to Europe's oldest known stone circle, older than even the better-known Stonehenge.
The Avebury stone circle is classified as a World Heritage Site and we started here for a 7-mile hike up the Marlborough Downs. (Up the Downs. Still funny.) 
 From one of the markers:  "Henges are intriguing monuments built in the British Isles between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago . . . Avebury is one of the biggest and contains the remains of the largest prehistoric circle in the world."
Two of the Seven Main Barrows (burial mounds) in Avebury
It also holds some kind of ethereal power  over some people during the summer and winter solstices. Visitors are advised to arrive early on those days as it will be packed with people.  (We actually drove through here on June 21 with some friends, and it was indeed well visited.)
In addition to the stones, there are also barrows or burial mounds from the Neolithic era within walking distance.
And there's Silbury Hill, the tallest manmade hill in Europe. It apparently contains no known artifacts and experts still speculate what it was used for: religious ceremony, memorial, etc. Still, interesting that a people would spend the time building it.
Silbury Hill, the largest manmade hill in Europe dates back to about 2,400 BC.
Another view of the Avebury Henge Stone Circle
Our hike, although surprisingly hot, was not nearly as rough as last weekend's and consisted mostly of gentle slopes:
Lovely vistas:

The occasional biker or two:
Ripening wheat fields:
And of course, a quaint village and even quainter thatched cottage:

Then it was back to the stone circle:

Driving east toward home, we stopped in the old market town of Marlborough for a late lunch and well-earned half pint. Marlborough is roughly the half-way point on the old coaching route between  Bristol and London. The market still thrives on Saturdays.

The Saturday Market in the old market town of Marlborough.
Sign in front of the Castle & Ball Hotel. An inn has stood in this spot for 500 years and some of its original timbers date back to the Spanish Armada. (I appreciate it would've been more helpful if I'd taken a picture of the hotel itself, but that didn't happen. I blame the half pint.)