Literature and laundry at the Lakes

After our delightful stop in Wales, we next headed to the Lakes District. I had only booked two nights here, and mainly as a stop to break up the journey to Skye, with the added bonus of seeing Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm. In hindsight, however, I should have booked another night – especially as I lost half a day to getting laundry done! I loved the Lakes, actually more than the Cotswolds, which really surprised me. The scenery is stunning of course, and Lake Windermere is beautiful, and the little town that winds along the lakes is full of interesting and quaint shops filled with eclectic arts, food and memorabilia. Here’s what we loved about our short stay.

Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm

I had looked forward to visiting Beatrix Potter’s home since planning the trip a year ago, and it was so wonderful to finally be here. The scenery of Near Sawrey is just so pretty:

Surrounded by scenery like this, it's not hard to see why Beatrix Potter was inspired to write Peter Rabbit.
Surrounded by scenery like this, it’s not hard to see why Beatrix Potter was inspired to write Peter Rabbit.

And Hill Top Farm is gorgeous.

The front door to Hill Top Farm.
The front door to Hill Top Farm.
Beatrix Potter's garden, which I just loved. Rambling and overgrown, this is my perfect kind of garden.
Beatrix Potter’s garden, which I just loved. Rambling and overgrown, this is my perfect kind of garden.

It was so delightful to walk through the house and see many rooms and scenes which have been recreated in her stories. The house has been maintained exactly as she left it, and so you are able to get a real sense of Beatrix Potter as you walk through.

Beatrix's writing desk.
Beatrix’s writing desk.

Lake Windermere

After defeating the piles of laundry, we headed down to Lake Windermere for a stroll and a swim. After pottering about in the town, the kids were dying to find somewhere they could cool off (it was actually quite hot!) Despite the pebbly riverbed, they really enjoyed themselves.

As the kids were swimming a family of Swans floated by!
As the kids were swimming a family of Swans floated by!
Little Miss cooling off.
Little Miss cooling off.

And after that our time in the Lakes was done! It really was too short, and next time I’ll be definitely staying longer.

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Cotswolds and surrounds

After Bath, our next stop was the Cotswolds. A collection of pretty towns with the quaintest names, there are quite a few Cotswolds villages to choose from, and our first stop was Stow-on-the-Wold. We had a wander around to soak up the atmosphere and indulged in some lunch at a quintessential Cotswold tea room:

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All the buildings are so pretty!

We didn’t really get the chance to visit any other Cotswolds villages, which I would have enjoyed, but while they are very sweet they are all quite similar, and I didn’t feel as though I needed to visit more. Instead, we decided to visit Blenheim Palace, which was truly stunning.

Blenheim Palace

This Palace is the birthplace of Winston Churchill, the principal residence of the Duke of Marlborough and the only non-Royal house to hold the title of “palace”. Set on 11,000 acres it is simply monumental. Not only is there the palace itself to explore, there are also the amazing gardens, two huge lakes, a maze, adventure playground, lavender and butterfly house, water terraces, secret gardens, formal gardens, Italian gardens, a waterfall… we spent almost a full day here and did not see everything there was to see. The great thing about Blenheim Palace is that there was something for all of us.

The kids loved the maze!
The kids loved the maze!
Just one aspect of the palace.
Just one aspect of the enormous palace.
The water terrace.
The water terraces.
The bedroom Winston Churchill was born in. There was a fascinating exhibition about Churchill's life while we were here too.
The bedroom Winston Churchill was born in. There was a fascinating exhibition about Churchill’s life while we were here too.

 

 

 

 

Stratford-upon-Avon

On our way to Wales on our last day, we stopped by Shakespeare’s birthplace. We almost gave it a miss and I’m so glad we didn’t – it’s such a cute little town which totally pays homage to the Great Bard. Another time – perhaps on the literary tour of the UK I am planning with Soul Sister – I will go into the museum and find Anne Hathaway’s actual house, but for this trip we were content to wander the medieval market town and spend up big in the gift shop 🙂 Bookworm was delighted to find a book of Shakesperian insults, which certainly made the journey to Wales interesting. The kids were also delighted to find a magic shop which apparently helped inspire J.K Rowling’s Diagon Alley. As I write this post, they are making up spells to write in the little spellbooks they bought from the shop… there’s so much to inspire the imagination here!

Wandering through Stratford-upon-Avon.
Wandering through Stratford-upon-Avon.

Beautiful Bath!

As Catherine Morland proclaims in Northanger Abbey, “Oh, who can ever be tired of Bath?”

Indeed Jane Austen was right in this, as she was in so many things.  We just loved Bath. It’s not quaint like Chichester and Arundel are, but it is elegant and graceful and brimful of fascinating history. The wonderful thing about Bath is that it is such a compact town. Everything is within walking distance, and it’s very easy to get around. A word from the wise; if you take a car, as we did, it’s not worth the extra money to stay right in town. We ended up having to pay a fortune in parking, and the only overnight car park was a 20-minute walk from where we stayed (at the YMCA in the centre of town, which was overpriced in my humble opinion). It would have been more cost effective to stay outside town, and drive in and park for the day. Anyway here were our highlights:

The Jane Austen Centre

Words cannot express how happy I was to visit the Jane Austen centre! To be surrounded by fellow lovers of Jane! It was wonderful to have such an entertaining glimpse into her life, the years she spent in Bath, and how her view of the town evolved through her works, most notably her first novel, Northanger Abbey, and her last, Persuasion. I also peeked into the Pump Rooms, where it was very easy to imagine Catherine taking a “turn about the room”.

The model of Jane Austen, my hero!
The model of Jane Austen, my hero!

The Roman Baths

I’ll be honest, sadly the kids weren’t overly enamoured with the Jane Austen Centre! However ALL of us LOVED the Roman Baths! I had been concerned the kids would get bored, but of course they cater so well for children, with special audio guides and activity packs, and my kids are always very happy when there’s a gifts shop insight! The Roman history of the baths was absolutely fascinating, and its brought to life so well in the museum attached to the Baths. We all thoroughly enjoyed leaning about Roman life, seeing the Great Baths and even sipping the water, which was a little disgusting to be honest 🙂

The Great Baths.
The Great Baths.
The Goddess of the Baths, Sulis Minerva.
The Goddess of the Baths, Sulis Minerva.

 

 

 

 

The Parade Gardens

These beautiful gardens overlook the River Avon and Pulteney Bridge, and are very pretty. They were a great spot to unwind for a few hours, and let the kids have a play. There are deck chairs available as well, and like everywhere else in England, lovely tea rooms serving cream tea. It does cost to enter, but it’s well worth a stop.

The beautiful floral displays at the Parade Gardens.
The beautiful floral displays at the Parade Gardens.

Bath is also very well-known for its glassworks, and Souljourneyboy took Picasso and Bookworm to a glass blowing demonstration, which they really enjoyed.

I can’t wait to go back to Bath one day, and spend a little more time exploring this beautiful town.

The amazing architecture.
The amazing architecture.
And great food! Picasso enjoying a traditional meat pie.
And great food! Picasso enjoying a traditional meat pie.

Exploring Bournemouth

The next stop on our trip was Bournemouth, right in the heart of beachfront Britain. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have made it onto my tourist map – however we came down to spend a few days with cousins I hadn’t seen for 38 years, and I am so glad we saw Bournemouth! Despite the rather inclement weather it was lovely to see the coast, and nearby Christchurch. Here’s what we loved:

Catching up with family

This was one of the absolute highlights of the entire trip – and in fact, the past few years :). I haven’t seen my cousins since I left England as a one-year-old, and the kids had never met their second cousins (or is it third cousins? I’m never really sure). We had a wonderful few days exploring Bournemouth together, and Little Miss in particular was devastated to leave them behind. This was a really emotional experience for me too, as I don’t have many cousins on my Sri Lankan side that I see regularly. It was just wonderful.

Swimming at the beach!
Fun playing board games on a rainy afternoon.
Fun playing board games on a rainy afternoon.

 

The English beach

Apparently Bournemouth is the sunny beach spot in all of England – except when it’s windy and cold, like it was unfortunately in the two days we were there! That didn’t stop the kids from swimming though – crazy!

The wildflowers growing along the coastline are just beautiful.
The wildflowers growing along the coastline are just beautiful.
A classic shot of Bournemouth's beachfront.
A classic shot of Bournemouth’s beachfront.

 

Christchurch

We had planned to spend one day in a nearby picnic and adventure playground. However it was quite cold and windy, so we left the kids to have a marathon Harry Potter movie-fest while the older folk decided to explore nearby Christchurch child-free 🙂 It is a lovely historic town, with a beautiful minster and gardens, and a bustling quay.

The minster at Christchurch.
The minster at Christchurch.
Christchurch is incredibly picturesque.
Christchurch is incredibly picturesque.
We went for a walk around the beautiful gardens surrounding the minster.
We went for a walk around the beautiful gardens surrounding the minster.

All in all, we loved out stay at Bournemouth. It’s well worth  visit!

Chichester and Arundel

Okay, it’s official. I am in love with Chichester. It’s exactly what I pictured England to be – picturesque green hills, beautiful gardens, quaint cottages and towns and a castle within driving distance. We have been very blessed by family friends and are staying in a beautiful home while the occupants are on holidays, and the kids have loved it. Here are some pix:

Every home needs a side gate like this!
Every home needs a side gate like this!
I desperately want to live in a home where vines grow around my kitchen window!
One of the many beautiful views in the rolling green hills of Chichester.
The view from the backyard.

Arundel Castle

Arundel is a gorgeous town in Chichester with an amazing Norman Castle which is nearly 1000 years old. We spent the day here and loved it. The castle is the seat of the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk, and they actually live in part of the castle, while the rest of it is open to the public. It is spectacular, and has been maintained beautifully. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photos inside, but let me tell you the library is to die for 🙂 Here are some pictures of the outside of the castle, and the gardens.

This is the view as you approach Arundel Castle. It is just amazing!
This is the view as you approach Arundel Castle. It is just amazing!
The part of the castle currently lived in by the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk.
The part of the castle currently lived in by the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk.
The view from the top of the medieval keep.
The view from the top of the medieval keep.
The gorgeous gardens!
The gorgeous gardens!
More gorgeous gardens...
More gorgeous gardens…
And more gorgeous gardens!
And more gorgeous gardens!

Arundel Castle is a must see, and I would have liked to have had more time to explore Arundel town as well. I hope you make it here one day and enjoy it as much as we did!

Harry Potter tour at Warner Bros Studio

So Potter fever has been pretty rife in our house for the past six months. I’d been recommending the books to Picasso for some time, but he took a look at the first few pages and wasn’t really interested. The dense language and slower pace of the first few chapters makes Harry a bit harder for kids who aren’t voracious readers to become immersed in. So in January I read the first chapter to both Picasso and Little Miss, and they were hooked – particularly Picasso. We barely saw him as he proceeded to read all seven books and watch all eight movies in quick succession! And Little Miss is not far behind, as she is now reading book four. With all children firmly Harry Potter fans (and their parents too), a trip to the Warner Bros studios about an hour outside of London was not to be missed.

I had originally planned just to go ourselves (you can get there by public transport and but tickets at the gate) but unfortunately left it too late, and all the tour companies had bought up the tickets on the day we wanted to go. The benefit of going yourself is that you’re not pressed for time – with the tour bus we had about three and a half hours to wander about the studio – and I’d read reviews that said you need longer. Probably an extra half an hour or so would have been nice, but I felt as though we saw and did everything we wanted to. Anyway, we LOVED this tour. This was one of the absolute highlights of our time in London, and I think our trips anywhere. It was amazing and magical and so much fun. Here’s what we loved:

The Great Hall and the studio rooms

When the first films were made, J.K Rowling had not finished writing the series. So that meant the producers (and probably Rowling herself) did now know which props and sets would need to be used again in the later films. Consequently, everything was kept – thousands of props and costumes and sets which on any other film set would have been destroyed – and it’s all set up in a giant room at the studio. It just feels so amazing to walk through it all and see the incredible detail, and the countless hours of work that goes into a film like this. Here are some pictures:

The wonderfully impressive Great Hall.
The wonderfully impressive Great Hall.
One of the stone animals in the Great Hall.
One of the stone animals in the Great Hall.

 

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Me standing in Dumbledore’s study. The detail was incredible.
No corners were cut making the sets - every painting you see was created by an oil painter, taking months of work.
No corners were cut making the sets – every painting you see was created by an oil painter, taking months of work.
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Snape’s potions class.

The Studio Backlot, Cafe and Outdoor Sets

This is where you can make your way through Platform 9 and three quarters, jump aboard Hogwarts, buy Butterbeer and see Privet Drive – just amazing!

Abbie-Rose at the Platform with Hedwig and Cruikshanks.
Abbie-Rose at the Platform with Hedwig and Cruikshanks.
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You can climb aboard the Hogwarts Express and see the cabins made up as sets.
Hagrid's motorcycle!
Hagrid’s motorcycle!
All aboard the Knight Bus!
All aboard the Knight Bus!
Butterbeer anyone? It was delicious - an ridiculously expensive!
Butterbeer anyone? It was delicious – an ridiculously expensive!

Behind the Scenes Peek

One of the most interesting parts of the tour was seeing how all the special and visual effects for the magic and the magical creatures worked, as well as getting a glimpse into how sets are put together – from concept drawings, to models, to the final product.

The first cardboard model of Hogwarts which was used to plan film shots.
The first cardboard model of Hogwarts which was used to plan film shots.

 

Various masks for the characters.
Various masks for the characters.
The finished product of one of the creatures!
The finished product of one of the creatures!

Diagon Alley

The Diagon Alley set was truly magical. Walking down the cobbled street you could really imagine being a witch or wizard!

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Truly amazing!

 

Olivander's wands!
Olivander’s wands!

The 24:1 Hogwart’s model

While many location shots were filmed at Alnwick Castle, a 24:1 model was built for wide sweeping shots of Hogwarts. This model was my favourite part of the tour. It was just beautiful.

Picasso standing in front of the model gives an idea of the scale.
Picasso standing in front of the model gives an idea of the scale.
The other side of the model.
The other side of the model.

The Gift Shop

And of course, last not not least, there is the Gift Shop! We spent an hour in here and went a bit crazy 🙂

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you simply can’t miss this tour! And if you’re not – become one! It really was one of the best days we’ve had.