This is our sixth e-mail to Minay’s sister, it’s dated 5-17-2010.
From: Minay Sirois
To: Lyndy Sherman
5/17/2010 10:16 PM
Subject: days 11, 12 & 13
Well, we finished our Shakespeare journey at the house and farm where his mother, Mary Arden, was born. It is run as a living history area with costumed interpreters living life as Mary would have on her farm. It was very interesting, but we couldn’t spend too much time there. We did take in a falconry demonstration. She started by telling us the order of birds – you couldn’t own a bird above your station. Birds were used to help you get food. A small bird, which the poor could own, could only catch small birds, and field critters such as voles and mice. Larger birds could catch rabbits, the largest birds (like the Eagle Owl) could bring down a small roe deer. If you had a bird above your station they could take your eyes or 8 ounces of flesh – from your breast. If you owned a bird only the king should have they simply took your hand. They didn’t mess around. They also had laws about what type of clothes you could own so you couldn’t appear above your station and so gentry would be instantly recognizable and treated with respect. They started the demonstration with a small owl called the love owl, named Millie. Millie performed as she should for a while, then flew up on the roof of the barn and wouldn’t come down. So, they brought in an Eagle Owl, a very large bird with a 5 foot wing span. Her name was Talia. I was asked to participate. The falconer put the gauntlet on my left hand which I then held outstretched and rested on the hand of the falconer. After a bit of persuasion (the leg of a chick first, then a chick’s head) Talia flew across the field absolutely silently and landed on my gloved hand. Her wings brushed my face. It was a thrilling experience.
After lunch we set off for the north of England on our way to the Lake District. The drive was on M6, what we would call an interstate, so it wasn’t very interesting. We spent the night in Chester. The hotel there was set up very strangely. To get to our room we went down a corridor, up a flight of stairs, down another corridor, down a half flight of stairs, down another hall and up another half flight – or something like that. The room was nice – the view was not. We looked over the roof and onto the AC unit. It was fairly noisy as well until around 11:30. B&B’s for us from now on, if we can.
Set off the next morning for the Lake District. It was disappointing to be so close to Wales and not be able to go, and so close to Liverpool and not be able to go there either due to time constraints. Ah well. Left the M6 and got onto the secondary roads, which are called A-roads, and are more like our state highways. The scenery here is breathtaking. High hills (or maybe small mountains) rolling off in the distance. It reminded us of Virginia or western Pennsylvania, except they don’t have trees on them here. Instead there is scrub, gorse (which is bright yellow in bloom) and lots and lots of sheep and cows. Lower elevations have bright green grass and fields divided by low stone walls. Since it is spring there are lots of lambs and calves with their mamas. The road is very twisty and rolls up and down with anywhere from a 6% to a 16% grade. And narrow with stone walls on both sides. Sometimes there is only one lane and you see a big lorry (heavy large truck) headed right at you. There are little spaces carved out every so often to allow you to squeeze over and let someone by you. On the other side, off in the distance, we could sometimes see the sea. We had lunch in a little stone building that used to be a barn. Had fabulous veggie soup, wonderful crusty bread, and for dessert (BrE = pudding) warm apple crumble with custard sauce. Just to die for. We got to our lodgings for the night around 2:00 pm. We are staying in the carriage house of a castle that a family still lives in. The same family has lived in this castle (in its various forms) since the 1200’s. It is on a very large estate with amazing gardens. This is the perfect time to be here. There are no crowds yet and all the bluebells (which look something like hyacinths only with just a few of the flowers per stem) are in bloom as are the azaleas and rhododendrons. The rhododendrons are the size of large, very large trees. Think of mature live oaks as a size comparison. As a guest here we get to tour the grounds as long as we like, even after closing, and tour the castle as well. It had an audio tour done by the family which was a hoot. They would say things like “Over the mantle is a portrait of our relative we call The Drip. We don’t like him since he let his wife give him eight children and then he kicked her out to live with someone younger.” Parts of the castle are from the 1200’s. And to them it’s just their house. The really weird thing is, since it is Monday here, they aren’t booked up. We and maybe four other people are the only ones here just now. The staff locks up for the night and leaves. We have a key to the outer door, of course, but it is very very quiet. We are right by the owlery and we can hear them hooting in the night. Last night I glanced out the window and saw three ducks marching by on the top of the nearby wall. A few minutes later they marched back. By the way, it is full daylight here by 5:00 am, and at 9:30 pm it is just getting to be dusk. It is almost 10:00 pm right now and there is still light in the sky.
Today we went into Hawkshead to see the Beatrix Potter gallery. This led us off on even smaller roads, which made us long for the narrow twisty road that made us nervous yesterday. We got to see a number of her original illustrations for her books such as Peter Rabbit and The Two Bad Mice. They are so delicate and charming. The whole little village is an homage to Beatrix Potter. Everyone sells her books, figurines, etc. We had lunch in a pub, then set off for “home” again fairly early. Good thing, since we missed a turn and got misplaced again. We passed one area at least four times trying to figure out where we needed to be. Did I mention that they don’t have much use for road signs? And they never tell you what number road you are on unless it comes to another road and you have to choose. I mean, they never post a sign that just says “A495 north” like we would have. You can go miles before you figure out you blew it. You have to watch for towns and villages to figure out which direction you are going. They love to use signs like “mind your head” or “watch your step” or “slippery when damp” but telling you what road you are on? Not so much. And for all the warnings they give you about everything else, their showers are slippery as oiled glass. No gripping strips for them, no sir. They are made of sterner stuff.
We got back to the castle in time to see the feeding of the wild herons again. Every day at 4:30 they gather in the meadow below the back of the castle, perching in the trees. Someone comes out with a yellow bucket of food for them (chicken parts I think) and they swoop down and try to get all the food for themselves. There were maybe twenty of them there yesterday and today. For some reason they all go away in August, but are there all the rest of the year. Off on holiday, I guess. We walked in the gardens some more then turned in.
Tomorrow we take off for Scotland. It is about 200 miles from here but will take at least an hour to an hour and a half more than the distance would imply because of the little roads and hills and twists. Not looking forward to driving in Edinburgh. We will probably do some real getting lost there.
That’s it for now. It’s after 10:00 pm and we are beat from all the driving, fresh air and walking. But it was so much warmer today that I only had to wear my long-sleeve t-shirt and sweatshirt, leaving off the extra sweater and the raincoat.
Love to all.
“In theory, there isn’t any difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.” — Yogi Berra