Adventures at Home: Winchester, England

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I have really been exploring the South recently! This time, it was to the quaint, historic center of Winchester for a lovely day out.

The city reminded me of York, but what puts Winchester on top is that it is the city less-traveled. There is plenty to see and do but you do not have to push through the hoards of crowds to get around – my kind of place!

From the train station is a short walk to anywhere in the city. Our first stop was the famous cathedral. Your ticket includes a free tour and remains valid for the rest of the year should you wish to return; we didn’t do the the tour but the guides who we spoke to were very knowledgeable and happy to answer our questions. The cathedral is perhaps most famous as Jane Austen’s final resting place – of course we paid her a visit, but it is also home to a 10th Century Bible. A very impressive book, huge and detailed. Written on velum, it has been impeccably preserved.

Only a few days earlier, I was watching a TV documentary about Jane Austin’s life in Winchester and Bath and then it just so happened that that weekend, I was walking on the same streets I saw in the documentary. History in action.

Our next stop after a pub lunch was Wolvesey Castle. A free English Heritage site, and well worth the visit to get to know the Bishops of Winchester who made this their home during the Medieval period. The bishop was the most influential and powerful man in the city and our visit here gave much more context to how important Winchester was at the time, second to London! Nowadays, the site is a ruin, next door though, the new residence of the Bishop of Winchester can be found.

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After a bit of window shopping on the busy High Street, we had a tea and cake stop at the nearby Winchester Café. On offer was a superb selection of cakes and teas. Spoiled for choice with regards to the tea selection, the waitress recommended the apple and mint tea – wow, it was so good. On the menu I read that it had won awards, so it was no surprise really.

From there, it was a short but uphill leisurely walk back to the station to catch the train.

Adventures at Home: Stonehenge

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Many travelers coming to England have Stonehenge firmly in their itineraries, and it bewildered me that I had still not been there – it is one of the most iconic, mysterious and historical sites in my home country. Located in the south of England, in Wiltshire, Stonehenge is actually quite far for me to get to, and it has only been in the last few years that I am really beginning to scratch the surface in discovering the south of England.

With J. based down south now, it is only just over an hour’s drive to Stonehenge which makes it an excellent day trip. It is worth researching your visit before you go; Stonehenge may seem to be in the middle of nowhere, but there are plenty of interesting places nearby to see if you have time, including other English Heritage sites such as Woodhenge or Old Sarum.

The drive should have taken just over an hour, but this stretched to nearly two hours due to traffic congestion only 2 miles short of Stonehenge – a dual carriageway turns into single lane. This is extremely frustrating as it is a major road network and the main access road to Stonehenge. You feel so close and yet so far at the same time.

After about 45 minutes of stopping and starting the engine, we got through the bottleneck to find Stonehenge on the right of the road.

J chuckled: “right we have seen it now, let’s go!”

It’s true, we had seen it from our car, but we would have to go round three sides of a square to get to the Visitor Center.

Waving our English Heritage membership cards at the stewards, we were able to get free parking, just another perk of being an English Heritage member.

We booked our tickets in advance online through the English Heritage website which they recommend. Despite being members and getting free entry, the online booking not only saved us having to queue for the tickets but it also secured a time for us to get in. The heightened security upon entry seemed excessive, but I guess this is one of the most important historical sites in this country. Every bag was meticulously searched, we were all scanned in and I was even questioned where I came from. It is a necessity to keep us and Stonehenge safe, but it’s a sign of the times.

There is a shuttle bus from the Visitor Center which takes 5 minutes to get to Stonehenge. It is a very accessible attraction for all to see which is brilliant. Alternatively, you can take a relaxing 2 mile stroll through fields. We were not in a rush so we walked there and got the shuttle back.

We timed this all brilliantly as by the time we got back in the car to go for lunch, the rain came pouring down!

We took an audio guide which gives plenty of information about the history and significance of Stonehenge. I was very intrigued by how they changed the original road layout, as there used to be a main road which was right next to it! You could have touched it from your car seat.

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We drove through the beautiful Wiltshire countryside (in the rain) to find some nice pub food. It’s a lovely little slice of rural England round here. After recharging my batteries with a refreshing lime and soda and a gourmet steak sandwich, I felt quite tired but still had to drive back the hour and a bit home. As Old Sarum was only two minutes down the road, we jumped back in the car to have a look at this ancient hill fort/royal residence for the ultimate stop of the day.

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A much quieter attraction to Stonehenge, but still a significant place, Old Sarum is the oldest settlement in this area; a royal palace for Henry I and where the Doomsday book may have been presented to William the Conqueror. After a dispute in the 13th century, the decision was made to move the cathedral in the grounds to an area nearby. The settlement which grew around it became Salisbury and ultimately, Old Sarum dwindled in power.

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This was a fascinating insight into history, and I am sure this is only a taster for what this region has to offer.

Adventures at Home: Yorkshire Wildlife Park, England

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Waking up at 8am, I looked out the window to heavy rain – total wash-out, not what I was hoping for a day out with some friends.

Undeterred we decided to go to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, after sitting on the living room sofa for half an hour trying to come to a decision about what we should do for the day.

We actually live very close by, and it has been a place on my local bucket-list for quite a while.

What is it?

It really is a sanctuary for animals and conservation while also being interactive for visitors. Not only can you learn about the animals and their habitats, but also about what the Park is doing to support the (critically) endangered animals that they work with. It is also quite big, so be prepared to do some walking if you want to see everything!

The highlights of the park

My favourite area was the Lemur Woods, for of course, the lemurs! I love these little guys so much, they are so energetic and interesting to watch. For the lemurs, you are allowed to enter the enclosure to get up close to them.

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snack time

Still, the experience was not as exciting as the time one jumped on my head for some fun at another animal sanctuary. These guys were a bit more reserved here.

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So cute and on my head too!

The South America Viva enclosure was brilliant to see the tiny but incredibly cute squirrel monkeys and marmosets!

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Look at him though!

There was quite a lot to see but there was just one problem – it seemed that we had our timings a bit wrong, as most animals seemed to have been on their afternoon nap!

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Sleepy sleepy

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Polar bear lunch

On the other hand, the polar bears were tucking into a meaty lunch!

It was a lovely afternoon out, even though the weather wasn’t. I would definitely go back as it is so fascinating observing all these animals and it acted as a good break from work.

What is your favourite animal?

 

The low-down:

How to get here there: situated near Doncaster, England, close to key travel links such as the A1, M1, M18 and the east coast main line linking London and Edinburgh via Doncaster.

The cost: check online, as there are a range of discounts available
What’s on: check the website to see what times the daily talks/feeding times are to plan your day

Sunday Snapshot: Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK

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Earlier last month, Kam and I went on a day trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakesphere. This was my first visit to the historic town, and although the weather was bleak, the rain kept off long enough for us to enjoy the outdoors.

Quaint, extremely touristic but worth the visit, Stratford is essential if you are interested in learning more about Shakesphere and what life was like ‘back then,’ all while marvelling at some stunning Tudor and Elizabethan architecture. It really is incredible to see that these buildings – complete with thatched roofs, precarious, creaking staircases and wooden beams – are still standing today.

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Anne Hathaway’s House

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Outside Anne Hathaway’s House

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Anne Hathaway’s House gardens

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Anne Hathaway’s House gardens

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French Play, Feb 2016: Sheffield, UK

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Deviating from my usual travel-related posts, this update is somewhat different. This week, I am performing in The Department of French’s very own Annual French Play. We have been rehearsing since November and it really is amazing to see it all finally come together, after much hard work and many post-rehearsal evenings spent in the pub. We are putting on Épisode de la vie d’un auteur (Jean Anouilh), a farce, best desribed as:

“A play in one act, this comedy is about an author confronted in turn with suspicions of his wife’s infidelity, a Romanian journalist, plumbers, telephone interruptions, his mother, an old army pal, a housing inspector and a love-sick, suicidal friend. His housemaid can’t stop crying and, despite his best efforts to remain calm, his world is collapsing around him.”

I will be playing La Dame, an insistant lady who keeps calling (badgering) the main character, asking for my first husband. Where is he? Will we ever find out..? But this is only a sub-plot of something much greater.

It really has been fantastic to be a part of the Cast again during my final year at Sheffield; to acquaint myself with another French play in depth, practice the old français outside of the classroom (always useful) and have a laugh.

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So, if you’re in Sheffield, what’re you waiting for?  See full details below:

Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/210872902593809/

ÉPISODE DE LA VIE D’UN AUTEUR (Performed in French, English written synopsis provided). French and Non-French Speakers all welcome!

17th, 18th and 19th February 2016. Doors open at 7:00pm, curtains at 7:30pm.

Address: The Drama Studio, The University of Sheffield, Shearwood Rd, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S10 2TD.

Tickets: £5 each, with seat reservation.
Ticket Sales: Mon-Fri 12-2PM in the Jessop West Foyer.
For ticket reservations by email, contact:
d.mccallam@sheffield.ac.uk
j.dobson@sheffield.ac.uk

Venez nombreux/See you there!

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A Magical Visit to Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

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As part of my commitment to seeing a bit more of the UK since my Year Abroad (which now feels like a distant memory), I visited Alnwick Castle in October. Home to the Duke of Northumberland whose family have resided there for an incredible 900 years, it is a stately home better known as Hogswart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, as it was a magical film location for the Harry Potter films. And more recently, the Downton Abbey 2014 Christmas Special!

As a lover of all things Harry Potter and Downton, Alnwick was like a dream come true.

The trip was organised by the Student’s Union and we took a coach up from Sheffield which took three and a half hours without stops. I’d recommend buying a ticket for both the Castle and the Gardens. You do not want to miss out on the interior of the castle, nor walking round one of the most beautiful contemporary gardens in the country.

The Poison Garden is a one of a kind in this country; you get up close and personal with some of the most deadliest natural killers in the world and learn all about them from an expert guide.

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They are not kidding!

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Belladona – so beautiful but so deadly

Some plants have to be caged for security!

Some plants have to be caged for security!

The castle has responded positively to its involvement as a filming location for Downton Abbey. This was the first time the interior of the Castle had been used as a film set. They have installed a short documentary in the Coach House about what it was like to have the Downton Crew filming there. Not to mention, each of the state rooms used in the filming have information points about what happened in there in the episode, some have the outfits worn by the actors on display and the dining room for example, has kept the name placards for each of the Downton characters for where they sat for dinner. As a huge fan of this television series, it was hugely satisfying to find out all these small details.

There really is so much to do here in a day. There are many exhibits on local history, archeology and artifacts and war history, aside from the main rooms. There are daily activities for childen (and adults), involving broomstick flying (Harry Potter themed), archery, guided tours of the cellars, etc. and the Castle has it’s own café and picnic areas. It is also in close proximity to Alnwick town, where you can visit the famous Barter Books (which I regret not visiting!).


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Before boarding the bus back to Sheffield, we visited the Alnwick Garden’s Treehouse area, which is one of the largest treehouses in the world. It has a cosy little coffeehouse, the Potting Shed, where we sat for for a quick hot drink and a slice of cake. There is also a restaurant which looked very tempting. All of this is decorated with very atmospheric outdoor fairylights which make it look magical and homely.

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Although quite a drive away, our day trip exceeded my expectations and I would highly recommend a visit to Alnwick Castle to anyone. Next on my ‘Castle list’ to vist will hopefully be Highclere Castle, also known as the wonderful Downton Abbey! Untitled

A Day Trip to York, England

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Despite calling Yorkshire ‘home’ for more than two years already since studying at The University of Sheffield, I was quite embarrassed when I came to the realisation that I hadn’t seen much of the region at all, or even in more general terms, the UK. This is something I am working on though now.

During my Year Abroad, I travelled around France and Spain extensively at weekends and during holidays. Since I have returned to the UK for the next 12 months at least, I felt it was time to devote some new energy into appreciating the beauty on my doorstep and not just in exotic destinations abroad that are out of reach for now. Well, while I still can before the new academic year sets in; weekends will be spent mostly in the library over the next year!

Yorkshire-wise, I have been into the Peak District where I climbed to Stanage Edge in Fresher’s Week of my first year and I also went to Chatsworth House last summer, but I have hardly ventured into other parts of Yorkshire. I remember some Erasmus students in my Second Year who would travel around the country during weekends while I would either be studying in bed, or studying in the library and they were somewhat unimpressed with my lack of energy to get out and about.

It’s easy to have so much more enthusiasm when you are abroad, exploring a different culture. You are in ‘adventure mode’ and that is certainly how I felt when I lived in France, Spain and Portugal. I do love living in Sheffield though and I am content enough to spend my free time there, as there is so much going on at the university for me! I have society events, part-time jobs and circles of friends, all of which I had zero access to when I was abroad.

With a weekend free, James and I decided to book train tickets to York for our first visit to the city. Famous for its Minster, historic walls, cobbled streets and other heritage sites, it is only one hour from Sheffield.

Walking into town from the station

Walking into town from the station

I understand that we visited York on the Saturday of August Bank Holiday, so we didn’t choose the best day to go in terms of avoiding the crowds, but there were so many tourists!!! Due to the narrow streets, the heavy crowds made it difficult to get around and it was quite stressful.

The short walk into the city center from the train station was very pleasant though. We climbed up the steps to walk along a part of the city walls on the way in, not something you do every day! Then we crossed the river:

Walking across the river from the station

Walking across the river from the station

Our first stop was to admire the outside of York Minster. Tickets are not cheap to enter, as we found out with most attractions in York, however their website does state that it costs £20,000/day to run York Minster and this is the reason why they charge so much for entry! I see why they have to do it, but if they charged a little less, we would have been more inclined to go inside.

York Minster

York Minster

Walking around the old streets, we came across some beautiful old buildings on every corner:

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Walking down the Shambles

Walking down the Shambles

We ate at a small pub in one of the main squares for lunch before walking towards the other side of the city to the York Castle Museum. Entry was £5 for us as we were under 26.

The museum is housed in a former prison, and you can see some of the original cells which have projectors in each room with recordings of individual inmates sharing their story of how they ended up in the prison.

The rest of the museum is a fascinating collection of social history, reflecting everyday life in Yorkshire. Upstairs, there are ‘period rooms,’ examples of a farmhouse room, how a living room looked in the 1950s, a kitchen in the 1940s etc.

Downstairs you can explore Kirkgate, a recreated Victorian street which was originally built in 1938. This feature is the most iconic part of York Castle Museum and it was incredible to walk around! The street houses real shop fronts and products that were from that era, all originals, and thanks to extensive research, every single shop is based on a real York business which operated between 1870 and 1901! You are walking through history in this place.

The street has its own schoolroom, police cell, Hansom cab, Cocoa House and cobbled street. A few years ago, they added on a new backstreet, Rowntree Snicket, to portray the life of the poor who lived in Victorian slums in York; there is a very foul-looking toilet shed and an example of a working class home, showing where a family would live (one single bed only – mother slept at night, father slept during the day). The alleyway is dingy and smells awful thanks to the artificial scents. There is a candle factory there though and our guide said that the smell coming from that room is very real, because the candles were made with animal fat. It was all quite revolting so I was happy to get out of there! I wouldn’t last very long as a Victorian…

They also gave a talk on the Victorian Cocoa House which was run by Quakers. Their philosophy is that alcohol is bad, so they drink hot chocolate instead. The Cocoa House was a meeting place where families were welcome, different to the pubs where the adults could go but children had to stay at home, and there was entertainment free of charge. It was a way of educating the poor into a ‘better way of life,’ without alcohol and spending quality time with the family.

Clifford's Tower

Clifford’s Tower

After a tour through the rest of the building, we got some fresh air and had a look at the iconic York Castle next door, which was built on a conical mound by William the Conqueror. It’s an English Heritage site, so it is free entry if you have membership, otherwise entrance is £4.40 for adults and £4 for students. Other than climbing to the top to get a view over York, it didn’t seem like there was much to do inside, and TripAdvisor reviewers had been “disappointed” with their visits for the price of the ticket, so we decided not to go up.

After some retail therapy, we ate at Pizza Express which is located in a large Victorian building, much in keeping with the rest of the historic city, before catching the train home to Sheffield in the evening.

York was a wonderful place for a day trip, very historical and plenty of things to see and do. It has a very different vibe to Sheffield, which has been shaped more by its industrial past, but is now a beautiful, green, hilly city that’s full of students. I am biased though.

I’d recommend the York Castle Museum as somewhere you must visit when in York; the exhibits have been well researched and thought through, it was an education. We also enjoyed walking around the walls and seeing different perspectives of the city for free.

Here’s to visiting more of the UK this year!

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