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The last of the UK

Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom

Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve written. It’s always a little spotty when I will get a wireless connection and my last post came from a happy accident of an internet café—the first I’d seen of its kind here. And then, even when I do get wireless, the connection might be too slow to transfer large amounts of information. In addition to apologizing for tardiness, I want to say sorry for some of the pictures. This site seems to get confused about which pictures I tell it to put where which makes for some interesting pairings of photos and captions. So don’t always trust the pictures factual information. Just admire them. Most of them are pretty at least, haha.

Well, we left London with a smile. It is an extremely cosmopolitan metropolis and after a while it seems to resemble a permanently upturned nose with all its cutting edge fashion coupled with its considerable historic value. By the time we’d left, we had honestly hit everything we could have done in a reasonable amount of time we stayed there: 5 days. On our last day, we stopped at Oxford for only a short while, but it was enough time for Carly and I to both declare that we really liked the city. It had a much friendlier and laid back feel than London, with street performers out the wazoo. You may have heard of Oxford college, but did you know that there’s not just one, but many? There was an enormous amount of students there, which resulted in a young, hip city. Christ Church College, one of the oldest buildings there, was open to tourists. We bought our tickets and were puttering around the gardens, when I remembered that Oxford had been an inspiration for JK Rowling and subsequently the movie crew for the construction of Hogwarts. Well, I wasn’t very impressed until I walked straight into the Great Hall. I actually experienced déjà vu. Although the movies weren’t filmed there, it was obvious that the filmmakers drew heavily from Christ Church, to the point of literal imitation. The Great Hall had the four long tables, the arching ceiling, the staff table at the front, and even enormous, austere pictures of headmasters on the walls. I saw a glimmer of the movies in other places like hallways, staircases, courtyards, and window sills. It was fantastic!

We ate at a pub called Checquers with real English food—greasy, thick sausages, large crescent shaped “chips” (fries), and beer. I’ve heard people say that English food has been improving… I have yet to see the proof. I do believe that my favorite beer so far is Carling, a lighter cold beer (yes they do sell warm beer here) with a very creamy head that’s tempers the yeasty taste. Amstell is pretty decent as well. I’m not going to try Guinness until I get to Ireland itself 

Warrick Castle is my least favorite thing we’ve visited on this whole trip. It marketed itself as a place where history comes alive, so being the Ingle family, we assumed it was like a Renaissance Festival—well it really didn’t know what it was. It had entertainment for young kids, scary places for thrill seekers, a few siege machines for the males, but what my age group and gender was supposed to enjoy were the tours of the insides of the castle that had been preserved with the same decorations and furnishings that had been used by the last residents. They had even gone to the extent of making wax figures of the last residents. Dummies. There were dummies everywhere. Dummies are my worst fear. They won’t send me screaming, but I definitely cannot relax when they’re around. Talk about uncanny valley. Dad enjoyed the trebuchet, a kind of catapult thing that he called a “tree-bucket” instead of the fancy sounding “treh-byoo-shay.” Mom and Carly were brave enough to take on the castle dungeons filled with plague riddled bodies, unsanitary surgeons, and cruel judges. We took a tour of the ramparts aka walked around the castle walls through lots of narrow, steep, stone steps—I could literally place my hand on the stairs near my head, comfortably, without stooping over.

We returned to Stratford-upon-Avon where we were staying, and spent our time simply walking along the streets since it was too late to go to any of the tourist areas and too early to eat yet. Carly and I bought some ritz crackers from a European dollar store (called “Poundland!”) and fed the birds at the river’s edge. Most of them were enormous swans, twice as big as a Canadian Goose, and equally as vicious. Carly and I had a good time feeding them though, and we gave some crackers to some children nearby so they could join in the fun. (As a side note: Little children speaking with a British accent are probably the cutest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s like “Charlie bit my finger” but on steroids). In the morning, Mom and Dad did the touristy things like visiting Shakespeare’s birthplace as well as a few other houses that his daughters or wife had lived in. Carly wanted to go shopping so I walked around with her, and pumped Mom and Dad for information after they rejoined us. Carly and I picked over a store called New Look which reminded me of a European Wet Seal and also browsed a covered market that was in town for the weekend. We looked for Shakespeare’s grave and saw the cathedral where his tomb was located.

We left Stratford for Hay-on-Wye, but on the way we stopped at a place called Little Slaughter. Its name belies its beauty, as this tiny village was the most picturesque, quintessential representation of a small English hamlet I’ve seen during this trip. It was in an area called the Cotswolds which is provincial region of England. We strolled along a shallow river with low footbridges overgrown with moss and lichen. The small houses with sloping, triangular roofs accented by intricate weathervanes and precisely manicured flower gardens gave the place an idyllic feel. We stopped at the only restaurant in town for a traditional English cream tea, which includes scones, pastries, sandwiches, jam, and the most divine smooth, sweet butter called “clotted cream.” Clotted Cream also belies its name, since it really doesn’t sound that appetizing to me, but it is in actuality the most delicately sweet flavor I’ve tasted this trip. In addition to their odd names, the English have a strange way of dropping out the center of their words just as the French drop out the ends of theirs. So Leicester will become simply Lester. From little Slaughter, we stopped at the ruins of Tinturn Abbey. Simply saying we stopped there does not do the journey to get there justice. We had mostly stuck to what the locals called the “A” roads during the beginning of our trips, but in these back country areas we were driving on “B” roads and even “C” roads. The roads were so narrow, bumpy, steep, that you defied death at every turn. At one point the road narrowed to one lane on a two way street. We met a huge black SUV at that point (of course we hadn’t seen another car for nearing fifteen minutes before we saw them at that particular passage). They had to back up to let us through. Other encounters of that sort were made even more difficult by huge hedges blocking sightlines around corners. Once we passed into Wales, hedges and sheep became practically permanent features outside of the car’s windows. The countryside is absolutely breathtaking with rolling green hills, rich black earth, and lush vegetation that is watered gratuitously. Wales is a very wet country. Unfortunately, the hedges were so high that even though I tried to take pictures, it was absolutely impossible to get a decent shot from the road. When we got to our destination city, it was drizzling and low gray clouds had crept over the town. Puddles made the cobble stone roads more difficult to traverse, but we walked through the streets which were very quiet in contrast to Stratford’s surprisingly boisterous nightlife. There was a definite lack of greenspace which gave the town a kind of desolate atmosphere until we met some of the people who seemed to recognize the beauty in the gray, lapping shores and flat, sandy beaches which we walked along. It was obvious that we weren’t locals because we let the tide sneak up on us. Our path back to our car had been completely submerged by the time we turned around to come back. We visited Dylan Thomas’s boathouse. He was a Welsh poet with an extremely likeable and self-aware kind of humor. He wrote only in English (instead of the Welsh language which has a lot of y’s and double letters. Apparently the y’s are pronounced with the “oo” sound found in “water.” Well, I can’t find and “oo” in “water,” so I have little hope of pronouncing anything correctly). Anyway, Thomas wrote mostly about life, transformation, and pastoral living. My favorite of his poems is the villanelle “Do not go Gently into that Good Night.”

We checked into the Bear’s Inn, our bed and breakfast which was absolutely gorgeous, the owner said her and her husband had built it themselves, along with the help of their son. We went into town for dinner and realized how sleepy the little village was since none of the places were open for Sunday dinner. We were turned away from absolutely every restaurant and pub in town. We finally had to grab some takeaway from a nearby restaurant and eat at a pub. It was an interesting night! We got up this morning to drive to the place where we’ll take a ferry to Ireland. We stopped at a town called Tenby Bay. It looked like something you’d see in southern France. There was a large inlet in which sailboats were docked, the town was built on a sloping hill which gave the roads a crazy tilt and made it necessary to declare some roads only for walking. The buildings were all painted pastel colors and clung on to their precarious perch gamely. The water was a beautiful teal color and just a few metres away from the beach was an island that used to be a jail. It was breathtaking. We got some creamy ice cream and hopped back into the car to drive to Pembroke where we’ll get on a ferry to head to Ireland. Ireland! My home for the next term. I’m a bundle of nerves, but I can’t wait to get there.

I'll get pictures up as soon as I can!

permalink written by  Kelsey Ingle on August 25, 2009 from Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom
from the travel blog: A Rover in the Clover
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I love reading about your adventures! It's hard for me to picture these places, but everything sounds just so amazing and beautiful! Glad you and the family are having a wonderful time.

permalink written by  Christina Bauer on August 25, 2009

A ferry to Ireland... GOD Kelsey, that sounds so magical :) I want another updateeeee, I KNOW you are in Ireland!!!

permalink written by  Cindy Roomie on August 30, 2009

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Kelsey Ingle Kelsey Ingle
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I'm a junior at Knox College studying abroad for a semester in Dublin, Ireland at the Gaiety School for Acting.

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