Posts Tagged With: England

Daddy/Daughter Stuff

The other night, we went to the Banff Mountain Film Festival. I’ve been before, and these extreme adventure films usually do one of two things – they either make me feel depressed and inadequate because I don’t do any extreme adventure things and I’m not outdoorsy enough, or they inspire me to get outdoors, travel more, and spend more time with the kids.
This year’s crop of films did both, as usual, but weirdly, the one I found most inspiring was Spice Girl – a film about a little blond UK rock climber. I say “weirdly” because rock climbing is something I would never do. But I always loved to watch Dev rock climbing, and I love the places in the UK where the rock climbing happens. Almscliffe Crag, Otley Chevin, Stanage Edge, Ilkley, Malham Cove…places like these are so stunningly wild and beautiful that you don’t need to be a climber to enjoy and appreciate them.
Rock Climbing is a fascinating sport that demands such physical strength and agility, but also an incredible amount of mental clarity, stamina, and courage. Because if you fall off, you get hurt. I guess thats why it provides such an adrenalin rush, and pushes people to do things that are more and more difficult and dangerous. I really admire that in climbers. But the other thing climbing does is inspire a love of nature and the outdoors. And I want that for our kids, whatever their interests.
Anyway, I think part of the reason this film moved me so much was the unexpectedness of this hardcore traditional climber being the pretty little blond – gotta love smashing the stereotypes. And also, the relationship she had with her father through climbing. It makes me think of our middle daughter, and the relationship she could have with her dad through climbing. If we lived near any rocks. Or even a climbing wall. She has always loved the idea of climbing, and unlike her mother, she has no fear of heights whatsoever. She had a little bit of an opportunity to experience climbing while we travelled, and even a bit of what I would call “extreme hiking” at places like Carancas Gorge in the Pyrenees (when she was the only one brave enough to follow her father around a crazy ledge about 1000 feet up).
Our little Island does not offer much in the way of rock. Sandstone cliffs are a bit on the crumbly side. Don’t get me wrong – it offers many many things, and that’s why we live here, but it definitely limits any fulfillment of a passion for climbing. So, what to do? How to help cultivate that climber/climber’s daughter relationship in our own family? I’m thinking we might have to take a few road trips to The Mainland this summer! Find some rocks for our own little Spice Girl to climb with her daddy!
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My Log Cabin by Mairi

Remember how I mentioned Mairi writing about the Lake District and sending it to her Nana? Well, while I’m embarking on this new reminiscing/publishing-my-children’s-writing thing, here it is; we were all inspired by this place, and the inspiration is lasting, apparently!



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Geometry, Naturally.

Two of our girls are currently studying geometry, so they are all about shapes right now. Walking by a fence the other day brought on comments from Darragh about parallel lines, a sidewalk stone evoked observations of perpendicular sides and right angles, and we just measured the perimeter of our cheese and crackers at snack time!
But the best one yet, I think, was a recent trip to Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The place itself is beautiful; you walk across sheep-manicured fields and descend into a valley flanked by an 80 metre high curved limestone crag formed by a waterfall after the last ice age. It’s when you climb up to the top that the geometry happens; it is covered by limestone “pavement”, and is one of the few places in the world you can see this pattern of fissured rock known as clints and grykes. The actual lumps of limestone (clints) are shaped by deep fissures (grykes) formed by the flow of water from Malham Tarn, and deepened by the slightly acidic rainfall. Liah pointed out, and then jumped on, a trail of triangles, parallelograms, kites, trapezoids, squares and rectangles – not because I asked her to, just because she noticed, and we had the shared experience of learning the names of these shapes earlier in the week. So much more fun than drawing them on dot paper, and well worth my two days of very stiff calf muscles…

I guess geometry is perhaps the easiest math to make “real” for students, but I wonder if they would be making this many real-life observations if we hadn’t actually shared this learning with them? Roadschooling is giving us a unique opportunity – because we are so in tune with what our kids are learning, we can help make it relevant for them. And sometimes we don’t even have to help – it just happens naturally. In nature, even!

I can feel those sore calves coming on!





And did I mention scenes from Harry Potter Deathly Hallows were filmed here?

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The Pencil Museum. Yes, that’s what I said.

I’m back in The Lake District again. Because I couldn’t leave it without telling you about the Cumberland Pencil Museum. Don’t scoff – it’s really interesting. Yes, it is.
So, on a cold and rainy afternoon in Keswick, when we don’t really feel like hiking, we decide to try out this place. It’s exterior is pretty uninspiring, just on the edge of the town centre with the actual pencil factory as its backdrop. And when we first go in, it doesn’t seem that much better, really. But we pay our entrance fees, and the kids are offered a quiz to complete as well as a sketching contest to do on the way around, and we are off and running. We go through into the first room, which turns out to be the only room, and I wonder how long we will actually be able to stay out of the rain – it doesn’t seem like it will take more than half an hour to get around everything.
I am wrong.
The kids explore the first display and learn about graphite mining and the actual process of making a pencil, spurred on to learn more by the quiz they have been given. Legend has it that after a huge storm in the area, Borrowdale farmers discovered a black material under some uprooted trees which turned out to be graphite. And the rest is history. A cottage industry materialized, and eventually led to the UKs first pencil factory in 1832. Then we look at the way coloured pencils are made, which is actually pretty fascinating. In fact, the whole place is pretty fascinating.
And because we are not in a rush to get back out into the rain, we explore it in great detail. We see the jewel encrusted pencil made for the Queen’s recent jubilee. We watch a video of how Raymond Briggs created his famous Snowman animated stories with Lakeland coloured pencils. And perhaps the most interesting of all, the WWII exhibit which tells the tale of when the craftsmen at this pencil museum were commissioned by MI 9 to create a pencil the looked at functioned like a regular pencil, but that contained a tiny compass in the eraser, which could also be unscrewed to reveal a map of Germany!




The other great thing about this museum (besides the Guiness Book’s largest pencil in the world) was the fact that little tables full of different types of coloured pencils and watercolour pencils were scattered around, and you could just sit and draw or paint, something most of us would never take the time to do. And when we had finished looking around, there was the Techniques Room, filled with even more art supplies and video tutorials so we could have a crack at some of the more impressive techniques. The kids spent at least an hour in here while we enjoyed a nice cup of tea in the cafe, which also had art supplies on the tables!
And at the end, when all that was left was the gift shop, all those fabulous art supplies were available for sale!
And yes, I do see the connection there, but surely buying fabulous art supplies is ok, right? I mean, it is educational.
And creative.
And useful.
We did buy, and I am happy to say, those supplies made painters of us all. Inspired by the beautiful surroundings of The Lakes, we became artists. Really. We did.

by Mairi

by Darragh



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London is Not Calling

20130228-000145.jpgI have just realized that despite the fact that one of my most recent posts was about making your kids do stuff even when they don’t want to (the character building and all that), we have just let them write off our trip to London. I think I am a hypocrite. Or I’m just being lazy. Or smart. Or all of the above.
The story is, we were planning a little trip to London, just three nights, one day to do The Globe and a few other bits, another for the bus tour around the cities main attractions, and the other at the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour. Then the kids got wind of it, and although they wanted to go to the Studio, they whined about the rest. Which they often do.
Now, normally, we don’t care about the whining. We try to ignore it, and go anyway, and they either tolerate, or actually enjoy, whatever it is we are doing. We are doing these things for them, after all.
But this time, we just caved. The gist of our decision making conversation centered around the fact that we were spending a lot of money to go down there for three days, and they were just so done with cities, they had no interest in going, and it really was for them this time. We have been before. In fact, we took our two oldest down for the Olympic triathlon in August, so even they have been…etc etc. So, we just ditched. We are still driving down to do the Studio Tour since our tickets were already booked, but no overnight. And no Big Ben. Or Buckingham Palace. Or Globe Theatre. Or Picadilly Circus.
I feel hoodwinked somehow. Like I just didn’t notice what was happening here. We gave in, and it is a slippery slope. Good thing I noticed now so I can avoid such blatant manipulation in future. This trip is not about the kids having a good time, after all, it’s about forcing them to do stuff they don’t want to do. Or they don’t think they want to do.
Oh well, we will be in England again in the future…maybe they will appreciate it more when they’re older…

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Lakes and Literature

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Although it’s still a little too early for the daffodils, having recently spent some time in England’s Lake District National Park, it is not hard to see why its inhabitants have produced some of the finest poetry ever written. The Romantic poets of The Lakes, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge to name a few, were clearly inspired by this stunningly beautiful area of England. While the glorious fells (mountains) and shimmering lakes define the landscape here, there is so much more – tumbling waterfalls, green valley floors littered with sheep, and separated by dry stone walls, beautiful little lakeside towns and villages, and ancient stone circles. This is a place where the rain doesn’t matter. And that’s what you need when you are in England, because let’s face it, it does rain a lot.
I don’t really know where to begin to blog about The Lakes, and I’ve been putting it off for such a long time that the thought of trying to fit it all in overwhelms me somewhat. It might suffice to say that on this trip, where we have strived never to go to the same place twice, we have been drawn back here not twice, but four times. The first time, we hiked Aira Force, a beautiful walk that takes you past three waterfalls, through an old deciduous forest, a pretty little village, rolling farmland hills, and down a bubbling stream.






During our visits here we also hiked around Derwent Water, just outside the gorgeous town of Keswick, and several of the many other lakes in this remarkable area. We did stop to visit the old-fashioned sweet shop in Keswick a few times too!
Well, not a few really.
If I’m honest, I think we went every day. There’s just something so magical and nostalgic about buying bulk sweets right from the jar, and eating them out of the cute little paper bags…but I digress. This post is supposed to be about literature, not sweets. But to be fair, the sweets make the literature so much more appealing to the kids. Especially the little one, who will venture on even the most arduous hike or trail around the most boring museum if there’s the promise of a sweet shop at the end of it. So, it is relevant really.
Naturally I myself would rather focus on the literature than the sweets. Ahem.
One of the most beautiful villages, and lakes, we visited while we were there was Grasmere, and Dove Cottage where Wordsworth himself lived and wrote. He is buried there in the little churchyard so aptly full of spring daffodils. And at the risk of going back to food again, they also make the famous Grasmere gingerbread here in a tiny little building which used to be the schoolhouse where the young Wordsworth studied. This stuff is amazing, and not like any gingerbread you have ever tasted before. In fact, the recipe is kept in a guarded vault and people have literally died trying to duplicate it!




But again, back to the literature. Since the kids are still a little too young to appreciate much of the romantic poets’ work, they were more interested in another famous Lakeland author who they could remember from their own childhoods. There are probably not many children who are unfamiliar with the works of this writer, although there won’t be many who know where she is from. Beatrix Potter, the author of such children’s classics as Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddleduck, and Benjamin Bunny lived much of her life here in The Lakes. You can visit Hilltop, the farm she bought in 1905 in Sawry, near Windermere, or you can visit a gallery of her drawings at Hawkshead, near Ambleside, in the building that was once the law office of her husband. Her farm became the setting for many of her books, and the scenery of the area can be found in all of them.



This place is so beautiful and inspiring, that one of our own daughters has since written several stories with Lakeland settings, and the last time we went, she started writing as soon as we arrived at our cabin. If you are naturally inclined to write, or be creative in some other way, the Lakes just pulls it out of you. It seems to create a need to somehow record it – make it tangible. For some of us, that has meant taking photographs, and others sketching, painting or writing. But each of us has felt this place, and fallen hard for it. Maybe someday we’ll have our own little Wordsworth inspired by the very scenery that started him on his literary path.


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It’s Character Building.

We woke up this morning to bright sunshine and 8 degrees, so we abandoned the math, packed up a quick lunch, and headed out to the Peak District for a hike. We’ve been having a bit of outdoors withdrawal since coming back from the Lakes…well, most of us have. The littlest one hasn’t. She put on a skirt and tights this morning and declared that her and hiking don’t match. She thought she might rather go shopping with Nana, but being the rotten parents we are, we made her come with us. Because we knew how fabulous it was going to be.
The Peak District is amazing, beautiful little villages and stunning scenery, and Dev has been itching to take us to walk Mam Tor and the Great Ridge for a while now. It’s a five mile walk up and along a ridge offering panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, rounded hills and gritstone “edges”.
Turned out, it was hard for us wussier members of the family to appreciate those beautiful views because of the biting wind in our faces and the fact that we had to pick every step carefully due to the unanticipated snow and ice on the top of the hill, combined with the slimy mud. Yes, I know I sound like a whiner. I can be like that sometimes. And I was today, along with two out of three of our children (the other is delightfully agreeable all the time and speeds ahead with her father incessantly discussing Harry Potter and Tolkien). The other two trudged along behind, slipping periodically in the mud, soaking mittens and staining coats, complaining quietly under their breath.
Anyway, it was hard work, this walk. And if you hadn’t guessed, I wasn’t finding it particularly pleasant, and I was probably feeding the dissension of the other two, one of whom stated, “I don’t know why we even do these walks anyway. What is the purpose?”
To which Daddy answers, “It’s character building”.
Anyway, because it is such rough going, after an hour or so, we decide we won’t be able to complete the circular route, so we split up. Dev turns back to go get the car, and instructs us to “carry on down this hill, along that path, and when you come to a road, follow it to Castleton.”
So, we set out. But the path is more a stream than a path, really. And it has very steep banks covered in snow and mud. Kind of gorge-like. So we are trying to keep out of the water, but we run out out of room on the bank and decide to forget about staying dry and just walk down the rocky stream. As we clamber down the bank, we hear a little cry.
It is me. As I slide down the muddy banking on my ass.
The kids haul me up, and, covered in mud, we carry on, and thankfully, we soon reach the road. Phew. Onwards and upwards. We round the first bend feeling much better, quite proud of ourselves actually, and starting to have a few giggles over the state of us (especially me). Then we spot something on the side of the road, and the kids run over to it excitedly. It turns out to be the first badger we have ever seen! So exciting! Except that it’s dead. And its eyes have been pecked out by crows. It is clear that it has been hit by a car, but it is right next to a low section of crumbling dry stone wall, positioned as if it was almost able to get to it and into the field beyond, but not quite. And then the kids look over the wall and see the entrance to the den. What if there were baby badgers in there? The trauma.
After a makeshift wooden cross is lain beside the badger, I am able to convince them we should carry on. Let’s see what’s around the next bend. Hopefully something more cheerful.
Turns out to be a bubbling brook with two playful grey squirrels chasing each other along the banking. Then a small farmyard on the roadside with a ewe and newborn lamb in it. This is the first one we’ve seen and it evokes many oohs and ahhs from all of us. It is adorable!
We finally make it into the village and follow the signs to The Visitor Centre where we are meeting Dev. The kids practically knock him over in their eagerness to tell him everything we’ve seen on the last leg of our walk, and I obligingly turn around to display my muddy backside to illustrate their story of my fall. “I thought she broke her back!” says the little one.
We crack open the thermos for hot tea, which tastes so much better than it would have if we were sitting on the couch drinking it, and settle in for the drive home. The kids chatter and laugh about the walk, and even apologize to their father for whining. Because, of course, he was right. It is character building. And the more arduous the task, the more rewarding the successful completion. As I think back to many of the things we’ve done over the past few months, I am reminded of how much more pleasant a long car journey is if you’ve just worn everyone out with a five mile hike, or how much better a bed feels after a day of tramping around an unfamiliar city, how much sweeter the gelato after climbing a dusty mountain in 29 degree heat. It reminds me of why Aldous Huxley’s utopia fails in Brave New World; it is impossible to feel content unless you have experienced some discontent. And even if the discontent makes daddy want to give in, and never take all us whiners walking again, he should persevere. For the sake of our characters.





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Climate Change

20130204-155132.jpgIt has been interesting for the kids to see the seasons here in Britain. When we arrived here at the beginning of August, it had been raining non-stop for about three months, I think. And three months can seem like three years when you’re waiting for some sunshine. All people talked about was the rain, and the disastrous and constant flash floods that were still affecting parts of the country even then. So much was the prevailing preoccupation with the wet weather that our oldest daughter subtitled her travel blog Travel Tips and Wellingtons. It seemed like we were destined for a month of waterproofs and wellies, and we were ready for that, but in fact, August was full of dry days and sunshine.
And I’m not even sure anyone noticed, actually, because I still hear people lamenting over the fact that it rained all summer. The amount and duration of the rain that had fallen from May through July completely overwhelmed everyone’s memory to the point that they have no recollection of the good weather! Another reason it may be so hard to remember any good weather is that all the seasons can really be much the same. There are not the extremes we see at home. Summer can pretty much just meld into winter with not that much of a variety in between.
The weather does seem to take on a life of its own, that’s for sure. It not only dominates conversation, but also seems to determine the relative “good”ness or “bad”ness of a day, a week, oreven a month. It’s not just raining, it is horrible. It’s not just cold, it is bitter. Even the weather reporters do it – it’s no longer just a fact, it has a value judgment attached! And to be fair, you can see why. It does rain a lot. And there can be very long stretches where you just don’t see the sun.
Anyway, the kids have made some interesting comments about the climate here in Britain. Here are just a few:

It’s weird, isn’t it, how you can have a sunrise and a sunset, but not actually have any sun?

There is no sky here. It’s just whiteness. Everywhere.

When you get muddy in England, you’re just dirty. But when you get muddy on PEI, you’re tanned!

And most recently, after a particularly frightening snow forecast:

Ha! This is hilarious! They forecast 2.6 millimeters of snow for tomorrow! At home they don’t even bother to mention it if its less than 3 centimeters!

Having said all that, we have been very lucky with the weather since arriving here. We’ve had a bit of everything – including sunshine! And when it’s – 35c at home, we’ll take this dull 4 degrees without many complaints!

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Sometimes You Just Need a Field Trip.

Symptom: kids don’t want to do schoolwork
Diagnosis: too much bookwork lately
Remedy: field trip

We haven’t had many field trips since returning to England; I think we were all just tired of being on the road, especially the girls, and we were content to stay around “home” most of the time. We did have a morning in nearby Tropical World last week, but otherwise, we’ve been trying to catch up on some of the schoolwork that kind of requires sitting at a table. And the girls have claimed to be fine with that, but recent minor behavioural infractions made us think otherwise; they needed some variety. But even last night, when we announced we were going to have a day out, there was much reluctance.
They are still wary of going anywhere in case we get lost, or there are pickpockets, or the car will be broken into, or just that they will be dragged around for hours on end against their will (especially the little one). As if we would ever do that.
Anyway, Liah came round a bit when she remembered that our chosen destination had an old-fashioned sweet shop, and she was allowed to take her tooth-fairy money, so off we went to Haworth, a village about an hour northwest of us.
After wandering around the shops a bit, having lunch, and accumulating about a pound of sweets between us, we went to the Bronte Parsonage Museum, despite Liah’s quiet protestations. I wrote my honours essay on the Bronte sisters when I was doing my BA, and am a huge fan, so I was excited to go to the museum; I hadn’t been since I was in my teens. The girls haven’t read the books yet but Mairi has read an abridged version of Wuthering Heights, so she, at least, is a little bit familiar. On our way past the Black Bull pub, I commented, a little smugly, that it is the very pub Branwell Bronte used to drink in. I barely had this I-know-more-about-the-Brontes-than-all-of-you statement out of my mouth when Mairi pipes up, “And he got his opium across the street at the Apothecary”. Naturally, I demanded, “How do you know that?”, to which she replied, ” I read it at the apothecary”. Bam! Put me in my place.
Anyway, we continued to the Parsonage which everyone enjoyed. Liah thought it was fantastic, and said how glad she was we went. With the remainder of her tooth money, she bought a wooden toy soldier because that’s what the Brontes played with in “the olden days”. The other two were inspired by the tiny books the Bronte children created when they were similar ages to them, and they bought quill fountain pens to write their own.
I was, once again, amazed by the depth of their natural curiosity and love of learning that is so often missing when they are sitting in front of the books. I didn’t have to point anything out, or try to interest them in anything.They took their guide books and off they went. And as usual, I was done before the older two had finished poring over the Victorian artifacts, partly because I was so often prematurely dragged along to the next room by Liah – “Come in here. You have to see this – it is so cool! You’re gonna love it!”

For more on Haworth, check out my article at What Travel Writers Say




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Home Comforts.

We are back in England, and the gray, misty drizzle is strangely comforting. It means we have survived another leg of our adventure, and now we can settle for a bit in a place that feels like home. We can relax, reflect upon our experiences, learn from them, and see how long it takes the wanderlust to set in! And of course, we will have to start planning for the next phase.
The past couple of days has been full. We left Paris in a whirlwind – the taxi had arrived half an hour before we expected, so it wasn’t exactly a calm exit. So much so, that we left without loading the map into the ipad, so actually getting out of the city once we got to our car was not easy. Quite stressful, in fact. But we did it, and made it to Vimy Ridge without so much as a wrong exit. I won’t mention our attempts at getting from there to Bruges; it will suffice to say we are not yet navigators up to Liah’s high standards. I keep telling her she just has to trust us, but she says every time she does that, we lead her to nowhere. Ok then.
Anyway, seeing the Government of Canada signs upon our arrival at the Vimy Memorial was kind of exciting, and we had the unique experience of being the only ones there for a brief time. It was, again, a cold, gray and misty day, and as we approached this isolated and remarkable monument, we tried to imagine the conditions at this ridge during the war. The freezing mud in the trenches, the loneliness and fear of the soldiers. The interpretive centre gave us more insight with several artifacts and a really informative video that helped the kids understand what it might have been like at this time in history. The whole experience was very moving, and made us feel proud to be Canadian. Although Mairi did argue that we didn’t really have any right to Canadian pride since we were “mostly British” anyway, and our relatives didn’t even live in Canada then. Whatever. Next.
Bruges was fantastic. Like a postcard. What can be bad about a place famous for beer, fries, waffles and chocolate? Hard to beat. For a great summary, check out
And now, we are almost home, and the kettle is on, apparently, ready for a cup of tea – expect more reflections later!








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