England: A Walking Holiday

July 16th, 2015. England, Europe
Trees, bridge, castle

Trees, bridge, castle, hills

Posted in December 2015, but back dated to July 16, 2015 when we left England

As soon as we decided to cross the English Channel to visit friends in London, I wanted to stay in England long enough to see the countryside. I made a list of places to see: The Lake District, the Peak District, the Cliffs of Dover, the Bombay Sapphire Distillery, Oxford & Cambridge Universities, the Eden Project. With this list, we started working out the logistics. We hoped to take trains everywhere we wanted to go, and we had to get to Manchester to catch our flight to Reykjavik. I quickly found that taking trains/buses would be unrealistic with our short time frame, so we decided to rent a car instead. That gave us a bit of flexibility, so I searched for places to stay.

I happened upon the Landmark Trust website early in my search and discovered that they had one renovated historic property still for rent during our time frame. That property happened to be about 1/3 of the way from London to Manchester, so I booked a stay at The Warren House in Kimbolton for three nights.

Our route from London to Kimbolton included a direct train from the city to Cambridge where we picked up our rental car. We decided to take a train from the city because we did not want to deal with London traffic while driving a car with a manual transmission on the wrong side of the road. We figured it would be best if we tested our British driving skills on open roads rather than heavy traffic. Also, I was interested in seeing Cambridge University anyways, so it was a natural stop.

Unfortunately, Cambridge University was annoying. The town is quaint and perfect with a beautiful university right in the middle of it, but it is also a tourist attraction. The place was teaming with people of all nationalities like it was Times Square. In order to see the University grounds or building, you have to pay an entrance fee. I understand why…the university is for the students, not the tourists. People are trying to get an education, and that is their priority so making it a little inconvenient for an American couple to wander through the halls makes sense. Needless to say, Nik was not interested in paying the fees. I was reluctant, but figured it would probably be worth it and tried to book a tour for myself, but they were full. Nik tried to get coffee, but he dropped it. We took those failures as signs that it was time for us to leave, so we left.

Cambridge University

Cambridge University

Once on the road, all was good. Once we got to the Warren House, all was amazing! The house was perfect for us in every way, and was everything we had hoped for. The property consists of several acres overlooking the market town of Kimbolton. To get to the house, we took a private road about a mile into the farmland before crossing through a fence row into the driveway of this beauty.

The Warren HouseThe Warren House

On the lower level was the bedroom with a wood burning stove and a full bathroom. On the upper level was the living room with another wood burning stove and a full kitchen. The house was originally built on the “Warren”, or land set aside for rabbit husbandry, associated with Kimbolton Castle. It was renovated in 2011, and is now available as a vacation rental. It is also furnished perfectly. The two arm chairs are down so that you sink into them and never want to get out. The curtains are made with wood-block printed fabric with custom rabbit designs. The floors wood and brick. The spiral stairs were perfectly scaled with the most lush wood handrail you’ve ever felt. The kitchen was tiny and perfectly appointed. Obviously, we loved it and dream of having a Warren House of our own one day.

While there, we sat on the bench outside overlooking the farm land. We sat in the living room reading and working on our websites. We cooked meals in the kitchen and ate at the dining table with the windows open. We walked into town for dinner at the local pub. We watched a local air show from the balcony. We walked along the foot paths through thick mud to lakes and more farmland.

Inside the Warren House (photos courtesy of The Landmark Trust)

Inside the Warren House (photos courtesy of The Landmark Trust)

It's the little things

It’s the little things

Our view of Kimbolten

Our view of Kimbolton

The rolling pastures

The rolling pastures

Wheat and Warren

Wheat and Warren

Kimbolten

Kimbolton

Hand made pew cushions

Hand made pew cushions

Our second stop in the English Countryside was just outside of the Peak District in the town of Wirksworth. The guest house we found is a teeny tiny place in the back yard of a larger 1500s brick house. While there, we had access to the house garden and it was centrally located so that we could walk into town easily for dinner or groceries.

Nik in our tiny guest house

Nik in our tiny guest house

On our first day, we drove into the park to walk the Monsal Trail. The trail followed an old railroad path through the country side into tunnels, past castles, and along the river. If I was to do it again, we would have rented bikes for this trail because it was plenty wide and was a little boring. Moving at a quicker pace would have been nice. After the walk, we stopped at the pub near the trail head for beers and a snack, which was fantastic.

Lush hills

Lush hills along the Monsal Trail

The next day, our plan was to go on a short walk from our guest house and then relax most of the day. But once we started walking, I wanted to continue and was able to talk Nik into joining me. I’m so glad he did because that day was so much fun. We walked through sheep and cow pastures, along stone fences that have been there for centuries, and into small towns with window boxes overflowing with flowers. We had not really packed well for the walk and were very hungry by the end, but it was worth it. For dinner, we went to the local French restaurant and supped on beef bourguignon and red wine.

Curious Cows

Curious Cows

N

N

Walkers guide post

Walkers guide post

Walkers gate

Walkers gate

Sheep

Sheep

Countryside

Countryside

By the way, at this point in our trip, I had become increasingly lazy about taking photos. Thankfully, Nik had not, so please take a look at his blog posts!!!

Nik’s Blog: Gone Country: Kimbolton & Wirksworth, England

England: Exploring London

July 10th, 2015. England, Europe
The River Thames

The River Thames

Posted in November 2015, but back-dated to July 10th, the day we actually left London.

My second visit to London might as well have been my first. I barely remembered anything from the first visit 10 years ago other than laughing with friends, watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, running in a park, and eating at Wagamamas for the first time. Otherwise, my memories were empty.

This time, Nik and I stayed in an apartment just north of Kingsland in an effort to find out what it would be like to live here, and the verdict was that we would like it. Partly because it would be easy, but mostly because the city is interesting and felt more diverse than every other city in the world. You could build a life here surrounded by places and people that you most identify with, and then take a 15 minute bus ride in any direction to a completely different world.

During our visit, we tried to see as many of those worlds as possible AND we were lucky enough to be joined by a couple friends. My most favorite moments were those spent in the museums. The Natural Science Museum was especially incredible. I could have stayed for hours just staring at the cabinet of humming birds, and then for more hours in the main gallery. I also loved the Tate Modern.

I was also pleasantly surprised  when we stumbled into the Barbican. It is a massive brutalist utopian community designed in the 50s and opened in the 80s. The surprise was that it is actually a functional place for life, work, and culture. The apartments are full, the arts center is booming, and the courtyards are teaming with people on their lunch breaks. If I had to live in a planned community, this would be at the top of my list.

20150710_England_London_1507_0089

Shopping at its best

Criss cross

Criss cross

Inside the Tate for the first time

Inside the Tate for the first time

Sipping coffee gazing towards St. Paul's Cathedral

Sipping coffee gazing towards St. Paul’s Cathedral

Gum Painter

Gum Painter

A building almost exactly 100 years older than I am

A building almost exactly 100 years older than I am

The epic main hall of the Natural History Museum

The epic main hall of the Natural History Museum

Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds

Cobwebs and soot

Cobwebs and soot

The Union Jack flying

The Union Jack flying

Hidden chapel in Abney Park Cemetery

Hidden chapel in Abney Park Cemetery

The Barbican Centre - surprisingly successful Brutalist architecture

The Barbican Centre – surprisingly successful Brutalist architecture

From the balcony

From the balcony

Friends from afar

Friends from afar

Kite

Kite

Belgium: Bruges

July 5th, 2015. Belgium, Europe
Houses

Houses

Bruges is officially one of my favorite towns in Europe. It is small, old, clean, well maintained, has windmills and easy access to the sea, and is smack in the middle of a huge area of farm land. We were there for three nights, and I felt that was plenty. On our first full day we rented bicycles from the nearby hostel and rode northwest to Damme on small farm roads. We stopped for lunch on the back patio of a local restaurant, and then rode back into town through the tree tunnels.

On our second day, we walked around town, went on a brewery tour, had lunch in town, and then walked around some more. It was the perfect escape town, and if I lived in Brussels or Amsterdam or even Paris, I can imagine going there for a weekend getaway.

Cool Nik

Cool Nik

Our lunch spot

Our lunch spot

Farmers

Farmers

Trees & Canals

Trees & Canals

Tree Tunnel with grassy path

Tree Tunnel with grassy path

Tree Tunnel with Canal

Tree Tunnel with Canal

Tree Tunnel with bike lane and Nik

Tree Tunnel with bike lane and Nik

Our B&B for the weekend

Our B&B for the weekend

Cast Iron Pots?

Cast Iron Pots?

Cityscape

Cityscape

A monastery with tree houses

A monastery with tree houses

Bruges

Bruges

Shopping Street

Shopping Street

City Market

City Market