Gretna Green, Stamford and not-too-dull Dulwich
Back in March we went on a far too quick trip down to England to catch up with some friends and see a bit of the South. On the last day of May it was bright and sunny and swelteringly hot when we got in our rental car ready for another, longer holiday visiting friends and seeing the sights in Stamford, London and Oxford. As much as I love volunteering for the campaign for Scottish independence, it is an intense business, especially when it’s the subject of my PhD as well. So a bit of time away from the land of the Yes badge felt like a good way to make sure that when I came back, I’d be ready to make the last 100 days of the referendum campaign an absolute stunner! Also, having left a glorious Kiwi January, it felt wonderful to be heading away for a break during the first week of the northern summer.
The original plan was to stop off in York, but having stayed up very late and, ah, indulging a bit at a fabulous wedding Celidh in Edinburgh the night before, we were a tad late setting off. On that note, congratulations to the beautiful and glowing couple Chantelle and Fraser! (Hopefully another post on that soon).
On the subject of weddings, what better stopover than Gretna Green for our border-crossing adventure? Gretna Green is right on the border between Scotland and England. (Of course at the moment it’s not an actually division of sovereign nation states but you get the idea). It’s well known as the location of many an elopement between 1745 and 1929 when Scotland’s marriage laws were more flexible than England’s or Wales’. Today it’s still a major wedding hotspot thanks to that romantic reputation, but mostly of the legitimate kind. In fact we saw two weddings go past while enjoying lunch in the sun,
From there it was through Yorkshire towards Stamford, Lincolnshire. The main motorways in the UK are amazing and reduce travel time dramatically, but honestly I was disappointed to find they bypass all settlements entirely, unlike the major roads of New Zealand. I was anticipating a scenic romp through Northern England and the Lowlands but you really don’t get much sense of a place with one long, straight dual carriageway. The plus side of course is that we were in Stamford to meet Emma and Tom Chatterton, and Emma’s brother Ian who’s recently moved from New Zealand to an incredible job as a chef on a luxury yacht in the Mediterranean.
Now when I blogged about our first trip to London and Stamford, I mentioned we’d met up with Emma and Tom to see Les Mis and then gone back to Stamford with them. What I wasn’t allowed to mention at the time was that Emma told us that night she was expecting their first baby!! It was amazing and a real privilege to be able to be around, if intermittently, during her pregnancy. It’s a seriously surreal experience though, feeling the baby move around, and actually seeing the bump! The squealy, clucky side of me definitely did some surfacing… Thus continues my less-than-successful knitting career!
We spent the evening making pizza and catching up, then Emma took us to her church in the morning. It was a brief but wonderful visit, and hopefully we’ll get to see each other again before the couple become a trio.
From Stamford it’s only a couple of hours to London, specifically to West Dulwich where Shay, a friend from my trip to Mexico in 2008, is now living. (No one in the UK seems to find the name ‘Dulwich’ hilarious which is a big shame). It’s insane, but this is only about the fifth time my path has actually crossed with Shay’s. But he’s one of those friends where that doesn’t matter. We spent the remainder of the very warm day just talking and talking in a pub along Lordship Lane – a great recommendation from Tom (and yes Scottish independence did come up a fair amount. Shay is a Glaswegian after all, though he works for Her Majesty’s Treasury in Westminster these days).
Over a year ago, David Attenborough’s “Kingdom of Plants”, filmed in Kew Gardens, screened in New Zealand. At the time we didn’t know if we would succeed in getting here, but we promised each other if we did we would arrange a trip to the Gardens during our first summer. Mission accomplished! I had pretty high expectations but the experience was far more incredible than we were expecting. The gardens are enormous with a huge variety of plants of course but also animals and historical buildings, most of which were built for the Georgian Queen Adelaide, including several Greco-Roman style temples.
We spent seven hours there, and didn’t by any means manage to get round all the attractions the Gardens have to offer. If you’re planning a trip to London we really can’t recommend it enough, though it is a little way out of town. The most obvious draw is the unrivalled botanical variety, developed over hundreds of years for study. For instance this tree has been alive roughly as long as people have lived in Aotearoa:
But there’s also the old royal rooms scattered around which are now museums to lives of unbelievable privilege during the Georgian era, including the apartments where Mad King George was hidden from the general public.
One of the things we knew we had to do after David Attenborough’s example, was walk the treetops in the impressive, (and terrifying and wobbly) sky walk.
One crazy ground-based experience we didn’t know about was the barefoot walk, a temporary experience for the summer ‘Plantasia’. It’s pretty self-explanatory – you take off your shoes and socks and walk on different surfaces. There are signs encouraging you to sense the environment in a way we tend to become unused to as adults. It’s surprisingly effective and therapeutic – particularly the mud!
Overall the whole experience was very Zen. The whole place smells absolutely incredible, which is possibly one of the most relaxing elements. Despite being under a Heathrow flight path, it feels removed from the world somehow, and we both felt about a year younger at the end of it.
Phantom of the Opera
The grand plan for this trip had been to enjoy London’s free attractions during the day, then book West End shows in the evenings. Kew does have an entry charge and so it was the exception to this, but again I have to say it’s worth it at 15 of your English pounds (the Bank of Scotland notes replaced to prevent me causing a scene if anyone refused them).
The first show in line was Phantom of the Opera. One of many musicals I know by heart but have never actually seen. We were sitting way up in the Gods of the huge theatre but it didn’t seem to matter when the orchestra and effects were altogether epic and the staging completely jaw-dropping.
I feel I have to point out that this picture was not actually taken in our seats. We got confused and as a result so did several other innocent ticket holders. Anyway, we’d enjoyed Les Mis but that is now showing in a much smaller theatre. Phantom’s enormity was on a whole different level. The great advantage these massive West End/Covent Garden shows have over anything I’d ever seen before, is that they run in the same theatres for years, even decades on end, and so the staging, effects and production can really make use of the theatre’s possibilities.
Well, that’s probably enough for this edition, but I’ll continue soon with more of our London adventures!
Sarah and Bernie xoxo