Friday, November 22, 2013

The Cotswolds, Blenheim Palace and Bath Redux, Then Researching Geneology in Somerset

On November 11th, I took Mother back to Heathrow where I picked up Paul and Vincent who were returning from Los Angeles. When we arrived back at the Briarsfield Campground, Vincent and Paul proceeded to unpack and get settled. One of the gifts that Vincent brought back was a new camera for me so hopefully the quality of the photos in the blog, particularly the night shots, will improve somewhat.

On November 12th, Vincent asked me to take him to some of the highlights that I had visited when my Mother was visiting. So I decided to drive to the Cotwolds, but not explore exactly the same villages; I wanted some variation for James, Sarah and myself. We headed to Chipping Campden (Chipping=market or market place; Campden=a valley with fields or enclosures of cultivated land). I had first planned to visit the Hidcote Manor Gardens which were created by the American horticulturist, Major Lawrence Johnston, and is a "must see" in the area. Unfortunately it was closed that day (only open on Sunday this time of year) so we'll just have to add it to the list for "next time".

With the Hidcote Manor Gardens a bust, Vincent and Paul were beginning to feel the effects of jetlag and so we decided to go into the village centre for tea. We went to the Badgers Hall which has a charming historic atmosphere. Some of us had a traditional cream tea, while those that haven't embraced the scones (Paul and James) had ice cream and lemon drizzle cake (a new favourite).
The Badgers Hall, overlooking the old market square, offers a traditional English tea.
After the boost from our tea, we wandered up and down High Street.
Behind the WWI memorial (erected 1929), is the old Market Hall, built in 1627 at a cost of £90.00. It was for the purpose of giving shelter to the local merchants selling cheese, butter and poultry. 
The Chipping Campden High Street is long and broad, and is flanked on either side by an almost unbroken single terrace, made up of many different architectural styles. The English Historian, G.M. Trevelyan, has called Chipping Campden's High Street "the most beautiful village street now left on the island". While I agree it's charming, I personally think this statement is a bit of a stretch with stiff competition from other villages such as Bourton-on-the-Water.
After leaving Chipping Campden we drove to Bourton-on-the-Water which is regularly voted one of the prettiest villages in England. At this point, it was getting dark and so we then proceeded back to the Briarfields Campground.

On November 13th, we woke up to frost. There was lots of condensation on LandShark's windows and we started to worry about the possibility of mold growing with all this dampness. It was time to make concrete plans to move further south.
Jack Frost visited last night.
Having invested in a Blenheim Palace family membership pass, I decided to take Paul and Vincent to see Blenheim Palace. Sarah joined us while James opted to stay back with Molly and do a few loads of laundry. God bless that boy!

On this second visit to Blenheim Palace, the weather was much improved. Sunny, and in the low 50s. Paul was in an odd mood when we arrived and decided he did not want to see the Palace and chose to sit in the car while the rest of us went. (That boy makes some curious decisions at times.) So, Vincent, Sarah and I all did the Palace tour (Sarah and I, for the second time).
On the tour, several tapestries are on display. The one captured in this photo depicts the battle of Blenheim. It shows Marshall Tallard, escorted by two British officers, in the act of surrender to Marlborough (in the red coat on a white horse). A Grenadier Guardsman can be seen furling a captured French standard on the left of the image. There are burning water mills on the banks of the river; the town in the background is Hooghstet.
The state dining room: The Marlborough family eats in here just once a year on Christmas Day.
The magnificent state dining room ceiling was painted by Louis Laguerre. It depicts the 1st Duke in "victorious progress but stayed by the hand of peace".
In order that the Duke of Marlborough can continue living in Blenheim Palace, he must pay rent. In lieu of paying £s, he delivers a new Quit Rent Standard to the sovereign on every anniversary of the Battle of Blenheim. The Standard on display in one of the Palace's state rooms is that from 1946.
Afterwards, Vincent stayed on to spend time in the Churchill exhibition. It's well worth the time to read the many letters on display that Churchill wrote. Churchill was not a model student and seemed to be a very interesting character. Meanwhile, Sarah and I went out to explore the grounds, which we had missed when we visited Blenheim with Mother. We first visited the Formal Gardens.
A photo of the exquisite formal gardens. The Formal Gardens were the idea of the 9th Duke of Marlborough who, in the 1920s, hired the help of the French landscape architect Achille Duchêne to provide the Palace with a formal majestic setting much like, but on a smaller scale than, at Versailles.
Then we took the narrow-gauge railway to the Pleasure Gardens which have a number of children's play areas and the Marlborough Maze.
There is a miniature replica of the town of Woodstock where Blenheim is located.
The Marlborough Maze is the world's second largest symbolic hedge maze and covers an area of just over an acre. Fortunately, it has two wooden bridges which provide vantage points; otherwise Sarah and I might still be wandering in there today.
We then met up with Vincent and Paul (who emerged from the car), had some refreshments and walked the grounds further.
Blenheim Palace is considered one of ten of the most magnificent palaces and English castles in Britain. In it's company are Leeds Castle, Woburn Abbey, Hatfield House and Castle Howard, to name a subset.
The Grand Bridge in Blenheim Park.
The Column of Victory stands 40 meters tall. The sheep seem oblivious to it all.
Beautiful colors on the grounds as the sun sets.
On November 14th, Vince wanted to do some work on LandShark and so I took James and Sarah to Gloucester. We had intended to go to the Folk Museum but it was closed for renovations, and would only be open on the weekends. So after window shopping for a bit and having tea, we came across the Gloucester City Museum and Art Gallery. Since we "tried" to go to the Folk Museum, the person at the desk charged me as if we had sought the "two museum discount". So our entrance fee was only £3 for the three of us.
Entrance to the Gloucester City Museum and Art Gallery.
The ground floor looks like it has recently been renovated with the aim to be engaging for kids. It covers the history of Gloucester from the paleolithic period to present day. (This seems to be a pattern of city museums across the UK.) The first floor displays fine furniture from the last few centuries plus art from local artists. For £3, it was a good stop.
A Roman wall has been excavated about 2 yards below ground level inside the museum. Over the ~1800 years or so since the wall was built, sediment has built up raising the ground level and therefore over time the wall was covered.

There were several places for children to work on projects or build things on the ground floor. This is definitely a good place to bring children on a rainy day.
Afterwards, we headed back to our car and to the campground to pack up for our move south the next day.

On November 15th, we finally left the Briarfields Campsite and headed to the Cornish Farm Touring Park (£22.75/nt) in Taunton, Somerset. James was my co-pilot and it was a pretty uneventful few hours ride to Somerset.
A picture of our spot at the Cornish Farm Touring Park. This was a nice place to stay. The WC/shower facilities have music/radio piped in and the floors are heated. A rare find in the camping world.
When we got settled in the campground (RV leveled, slides out, electricity hooked up and facilites scoped out), we had dinner and then watched the end of the 3rd season of Downton Abbey (another present from Vince and Paul from their trip to the US). 

On November 16th, we decided to visit the Museum of Somerset, located in Taunton, which was ranked by TripAdvisor as #9 of the 250 things to do in Somerset, and then continue on to the Wells Cathedral (#2 of 250). The Museum of Somerset (free) appears to have been recently refurbished and it covers the history of Somerset in a variety of ways. It's definitely worth a visit.
The Museum of Somerset is located in the 12th century great hall of Taunton Castle.
The museum hosts a collection of toys and dolls, sculpture, natural history, fossils, fine silver, pottery remains and a collection of archaeological items.
The museum holds the Low Ham mosaic which is regarded as one of the most famous objects surviving from Roman Britain. It tells the tragic love story of Dido and Aeneas as told by the poet Virgil in about 25 BC. The mosaic contains about 120,000 coloured cubes made from local materials including Lias limestone and fired clay.
The Frome hoard: This is the largest hoard of coins ever discovered in Britain in a single container. It was found by a metal detectorist, Dave Crisp, in 2010 and contained 52,503 coins dating from 253-290AD.
A picture of the Shapwick canoe: It is believed that canoes like this one would have been common 2,000 years ago. This canoe was found in 1906 preserved in peat. It was made from an oak tree felled approximately in 350 BC.
After leaving the museum, Sarah had talked Vincent into letting her go on a carnival ride operating just outside of the museum. James opted to go on the Twister while Sarah and I went on a Green Hulk Jump themed ride. It was fun.

Afterwards, we returned to the car and headed towards Wells. We wanted to see the Wells Cathedral and attend an evensong service which had been recommended. The present cathedral was begun about 1175; Bishop Reginald de Bohun brought the idea of a revolutionary architectural style from France, and Wells was the first English cathedral to be built entirely in this new Gothic style.

When we arrive in Wells, it was practically dark and so I was not able to get a photo of the exterior of the cathedral. You'll just have to Google it.
Inside of the Wells Cathedral: Looking ahead are the scissor arches that were constructed from 1338-48 as an engineering solution to the problem that the lead covered tower was threatening to collapse.
A close up of the pattern painted on the cathedral ceiling.
The clock inside the cathedral is considered to be the second oldest clock mechanism in Britain, and probably in the world, to survive in original condition and still in use. The original works were made about 1390 and the clock face
is the oldest surviving original of its kind anywhere. When the clock strikes every quarter, jousting knights rush round above the clock and the Quarter Jack bangs the quarter hours with his heels.
Evensong was enjoyable and was sung by the cathedral boys' choir. The boys all looked between 6 to 11 years old. I really like just listening to the beautiful voices and getting lost in thought and reflection. Vincent however, I learned, prefers to be actively singing himself. So we seem to have a bit of a division in terms of the type of services we like to attend.

On November 17th, it was a return visit to Bath. I didn't think Vincent should miss attending a service at Bath Abbey and thought he and Paul should see the Roman Baths. Paul, however, had other ideas; he was worried about further falling behind in the aggressive math schedule he'd outlined for himself and so decided to stay in LandShark and work. It was difficult for me to accept this decision knowing that he probably would regret it down the road. Choosing algebra over the Roman Baths wouldn't have been my choice but I couldn't fault Paul who, until recently, had no drive to advance or master a subject. Anyway, he theoretically has his whole life ahead of him to return to Bath so I decided not to dwell on it.

So it was the four of us, Vincent, James, Sarah and me who headed into Bath. When we arrived and parked, Vincent, James and Sarah headed towards the Abbey while I made my way to the Thermae Bath Spa. I really have to say, this is a "must do". Because I only had about 90 minutes before I needed to meet back up with Vincent, James and Sarah, I went to the Cross Bath which essentially gives one the opportunity to soak in the mineral rich thermal waters just like the Romans and Celts did 2,000 years ago.
The entrance to the Cross Bath.
The Cross Bath is an intimate experience which only allows a maximum of 12 people to use it at a given time. I was the only person in the bath on Sunday morning and I had a dedicated life guard.
When I finished with my soak, it was time for Vincent and James to have their turn. I took this photo of the Cross Bath when I came back to collect the boys. (I'd forgotten my camera when I was there.) It's open to the elements so one doesn't loiter on the deck for long this time of year.
The next time I return to Bath I have a plan to upgrade my spa experience. I will put aside a day and book several hours at the Thermae Spa Royal Bath; here one can book 2 hours, 4 hours or a full day. In that time one has access to a rooftop pool, minerva mineral bath, steam rooms, a restaurant and one can also book massage or facial treatment sessions. Really seems like a perfect pampering day. Add that to my bucket list.

When Vincent and James emerged from the Cross Bath, Vincent wanted to have a tour of the Roman Baths so I took James and Sarah (who'd seen the Roman Baths the prior week with Mother) and we did some shopping. James split off from us for a while (wasn't interested in the things we were interested in.) Sarah and I shopped a bit and then stopped for a refreshment at Garfunkel's.
Bath has some wonderful pedestrian shopping areas and a wide variety of shops, both chain and independent.
Sarah and I crossed over the Pulteney Bridge (behind Sarah) and looked at the shops. There's an interesting shop that sells historic maps. If I had the room and wall space, I'd enjoy having a few of those.
Stopping for "tea" today meant a chocolate milkshake.
On November 18th, I set out to do some family research (Coles branch). I was looking up the home (Whitewick Farm) of my great great grandparents. They both died in 1882 and left 7 children behind. Their Whitewick Farm was sold after they died but it was something that seemed to get mentioned and remembered in the family archives. I spotted the address to Whitewick Farm on the internet and, since we were only about 20 miles away, I wanted to go see it. I also wanted to go to the church in a nearby village and find the graves of my great great grandparents. Mother had brought to me a few family trees, the Coles family being one, and I wanted to see if I could find out any additional information.

About 15 years ago, I did some research on the Sterne side, trying to find the linkage between Laurence Sterne, the author, and me but I otherwise hadn't pursued geneology. Fortunately there have been a few family members on all sides of my family who have done the leg work and I've just enjoyed studying the existing family trees.

To make a long story short, we did find Whitewick Farm and I did talk to the current owner. She knew the history from the 1920s and I was able to tell her about the late 1800s. Significant renovations and additions had been done to the buildings in the 1900s and I'm sure my great great grandparents wouldn't recognize it, if they were here. One interesting anticdote is that a Titanic bell hung at the front gate, intended for people to ring that they were there. The great nephew of my great great grandparents went down with the Titanic.
The Titanic Bell at Whitewick Farm: Coincidence or not?
After visiting Whitewick Farm, we set out to find a church in Stockland Bristol and hopefully, therein, the grave stones of some of the Coles family. With a few wrong turns, we eventually came across the Church of St Mary Magdalene. Lo and behold, we found 3 grave markers for members of the Coles family. One tomb stone may not have any direct connection, but two of them certainly did. At this point, it was pouring rain and very difficult to accurately read every inscription.
Grave stones for several Coles family members: Not only were my great great grandparents (Clement Poole Coles and his wife, Phoebe) remembered here, but also my great great great grandparents, Clement Poole Coles and his wife, Mary, and two of their other sons (William and Edward).
When I returned back to LandShark later in the day, I did some on-line research on Clement Poole Coles and found someone (Ian) who did extensive research in 2009. Within these on-line threads of inquiries, I discovered a previous generation beyond what we had. With some further cross referencing I deemed this information correct so I uncovered my great, great, great, great grandparents. That night I wrote an email to Ian to see if he had uncovered any more information about previous generations; his email dated back to 2009 and so I was doubtful I would get a reply, but I didn't think it would hurt to try.

On November 19th, we woke to a crisp, sunny day. I wanted to return to the St Mary Magdalene churchyard and retrieve the information we couldn't make out the previous day in the pouring rain.
The St Mary Magdalene churchyard. The two Coles graves are those with the flat markers in the lower left corner of the photo.
After deciphering all missing data on three Coles grave stones, we left and headed to St Andrew Church in Lilstock, where baptisms had been registered for a number of Coles in the 1800s. I wanted to see if there were any Coles family members buried there and, if so, garner that information. Specifically, I was hoping to find the graves of my great great great grandparents that Ian had revealed. I did find one Coles grave but it was from the mid 1900s (not so exciting when you're in the mood for 1700s) and the occupants seemed unrelated to our branch.
En route to St Andrew Church in Lilstock, I had to stop the car to try and capture these fantastic green rolling pastures against the blue sky.
So pretty.
There has been a church on the site of St Andrew Church, Lilstock, since the 10th century. Today, the church is categorized as redundant and so it only holds one service per year.
After visiting St Andrew in Lilstock, we came across the Church of St Andrew in Stogursey, which is also a place I believed some Coles information had been recorded. It was wandering around this second St Andrew's churchyard where I concluded I really wouldn't be able to find any more information from grave stones; by the time one gets to the early 1800's the inscriptions are so worn, it's impossible pretty much to discern any details. I would have to continue this research by going to specific parish registers.
The Priory Church of St Andrew had a much bigger cemetery than the other churches. So many tomb stones were unreadable and I realized I'd have to use other methods to research distant generations.
On November 20th, we woke to rain and promises of a storm. We decided to make this a day of preparation for a move to France. Also, since we'd be leaving the land of the anglophones, we should see a movie or two while we still could before we hit the land of dubbing.

The kids all put some effort on school work, while Vincent and I made some calls. Vincent arranged to have a 5k service done on my Prius, while I made an appointment to get Molly a Pet Passport, both to be done the next day. Vincent booked our passage from Plymouth to Roscoff, France for November 28th; it would be an overnight ferry with cabins and so Vince positioned this as a birthday cruise for Sarah. We'll see if this matches expectations. Vince also spent about 30 minutes on a call to get our UK mifi unlocked so that we could use it in France (and hopefully beyond); these wifi/mifi companies sure don't make it easy.

The later part of the day, we went to the cinema. Vince and Paul saw The Butler, Sarah saw Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 and James and I saw Gravity.

That evening, as I was just about to turn off the lights and retire for the night, I checked my email and lo and behold, I received a reply from Ian about the Coles family tree. For anyone interested in geneology, it was a jackpot reply. Ian had uncovered, with certainty, four more generations with the oldest confirmed Coles going back to 1690. I could now trace back to by great (x7) grandparents. This meant that the Coles family tree would need to be completely redone (the one Mother and I had; Ian was several steps ahead of us).

On November 21st, we executed on dealing with Molly's passport and getting the Prius maintained. A bonus was that the Toyota service department washed the car; the car hasn't looked so good in months, well, since Vincent got it detailed way back on July 19th in Los Gatos. Vincent also spent time constructing our weather station, which I must say is pretty neat. James spent a couple hours at the Taunton Library (a great place to spend time) and then he and I went to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. When we finished, Vincent and Paul went to see the movie. Sadly there were no G or PG movies running for Sarah so she was passed around while the rest of us enjoyed some escapism.
The international family: Even Molly, the dog, has a UK passport.
The next day we would be moving to Cornwall which would probably be our last stop before leaving England. Molly would soon be using her new passport.

Friday, November 15, 2013

House Guests in Oxfordshire and Hosts in Gloucestershire

On October 26th, we left Manorbier, Wales and headed towards Oakley, Oxfordshire. We were to stay with a friend of mine, Marcus, who I met during my first full time job with the IBM Nordic Lab in Stockholm. We hadn't seen each other for over 20 years but, thanks to Facebook, we were able to reconnect. Marcus assured us that we would be able to park LandShark on his property and we should stay for a few days in his house. He and his wife, Polly, had kindly let us use his home as our mailing address the past several weeks so we could have mail forwarded and other essential packages sent to us.

With about 2 inches to spare on either side, Vince was able to get LandShark down their driveway and the kids were thrilled to meet Marcus's and Polly's three children. Given our so called "historic" 1922 home back in California, it was fun to live in what I would call a truly authentic historic house. Marcus's and Polly's home was built in the 17th century in a tudor style and has sloping floors and ceilings and several spots where one has to duck to get through a doorway. Their house has tons of personality and charm.
Originally in the 1600s, these were 3 separate cottages and over time, one of the owners connected them into one dwelling.
October 26th and 27th were spent just relaxing and enjoying the company at Marcus's and Polly's home. They have two pigs, that persistently escape, and a couple of rabbits and guinea pigs, and so Sarah, in particular, was greatly amused. Part of the day was spent battening down the hatches for a severe storm that was expected later that day. Fortunately, we escaped the brunt of it but the storm did cause much damage across the UK and parts of the continent.
These were the cutest pigs. And smart too. They seemed to be escaping every couple of hours and making their way into the house; they knew exactly where their food was stored.
Sarah helping take down the bunny run before the storm.
On October 28th, Polly's parents invited everyone over for morning coffee. Polly's parents live near Bicester in an exquisite 17th century house which was, at one time, the vicarage of the village church. (I just love the character of these older homes.) It was a delightful visit enhanced by the employment of beautiful china and linen napkins. Everything just tastes better when the presentation is in top form.

That afternoon, at the recommendation of Polly's parents, Vincent and I set out to check out Bicester Village which is an outside mall with exclusive stores. It's something akin to the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto. There wasn't a parking spot to be had so we continued on to the town center of Bicester instead. We had lunch and then checked out a few shops. I bought another pair of charcoal gray jeans at a charity shop at a remarkable £3.30 and then bought a matching cashmere at the Edinburgh Woolen Shop for £55. Voila, I now had a new outfit.

That evening, Vincent and I made dinner for everyone and then started packing up to leave the next day.

On October 29th, it was time to depart and make our way to the Briarfields Motel and Touring Campsite (£26/nt) just outside of Cheltenham. We needed to get settled there because Paul and Vincent would be leaving on the 30th from Heathrow to San Francisco for 12 days while my Mother would be coming here. The Briarfields had a perfect set up; we could park LandShark for the whole stay and not have to move when the time came for James and I to dump tanks and replenish fresh water. It also had a motel on site where Mother could rent a room.

We arrived a little after 3pm and spent the evening at the campground. Paul and Vincent focused on packing while I prepared homework for two weeks and tried catching up on the blog.

On October 30th, we all drove to Heathrow to say goodbye to Vincent and Paul and hello to Mother. Vincent had some business to tend to back in the Bay Area and Paul had to get his braces adjusted. (Yes, a long way to see an othodontist; I'm sure they have them in Europe...) These two also cleverly timed the trip with BlizzCon, a 2-day event which is the hottest thing ever for those into World of Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo and the like. On-line tickets for this convention sold out in less than 2 seconds; I kid you not. Crazy.

The drop-off and pick-up at Heathrow was executed without a hitch. The drive took about an hour and a half each way so it was about 2pm when we finally returned to Briarfields. That afternoon, Mother took some time to unpack and get settled while I took Sarah and James to Over Farm near Gloucester, which was holding some sort of a Halloween celebration during the week. I was concerned that Sarah and James would miss out on Halloween and be rather sad about that. (Or, to put it another way, I would have been sad about missing the opportunity to go trick or treating when I was young.) While the British have started celebrating Halloween in some ways over the last 15 or so years, their efforts are still a long way off from North America. Yes, you'll see Halloween candy in stores and Halloween decorations, cupcakes and cookies for sale, however the British still don't generally go trick or treating. If they do, there seems to be a heavy emphasis on the "trick" part and there are many people who board up their house in fear of hooligans messing with their property. Anyway, thanks to the Briarfields owner/manager, we found Over Farm. They offered inflatable slides and jump houses, a ferris wheel plus a few other kiddie rides, pumpkins for sale, a zombie paint ball run and some seriously scary activities for older teens and grown ups.
The ferris wheel was the best ride. Sarah and James were the only two riding so the operator put them on and left them going around for at least 5 minutes.
Sarah and James had a great time on the Noah's Ark obstacle course. Here again, they were the only two in there so played around for about a quarter of an hour.
The people manning the inflatables were great. Technically, kids were only supposed to play on a given inflatable for 10 minutes but there were so few kids, that one could stay until one got tired and wanted to move on.
On October 31st, we decided to go to Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds for lunch and then to the Cotswold Motoring Museum. We had lunch at the Duke of Wellington pub which is just off of High Street and almost next door to the Motor Museum. I have to say that many British pubs have largely lost their charm, even in places like Bourton-on-the-Water which is oozing with quaintness. Of course, one expects pubs to be old and quirky but can't they keep them cleaner? And why do they all have to have flashing game machines which pretty much swear at the ancient interior?
Sarah enjoyed the hundreds of ducks congesting the waterways. Bourton-on-the-Water is sometimes referred to as "the Venice of the Cotswolds".
After lunch, Sarah, James and I went to the Motoring Museum while Mom opted to wander the village. The Motor Museum is really worth a visit. It is small but is packed with an impressive collection of vintage cars dating back to the early 1900s. There's even a replica of Ford's first car.
For the kids out there, the Motoring Museum is home to Brum.
Had to have the photo in the carriage at the entrance to the museum.
A spiffy Jaguar XK140, 1956.
As we were living in an RV, I was interested in the evolution of the caravan.
The museum had, I believe, 3 caravans. This is a peek into one from the 1920s.
James and Sarah attempting to mimic the smiling face in the car behind them.
This is a replica of Henry Ford’s first car, the quadricycle. The original was built in 1896. It had a petrol driven, two cylinder engine and the ignition was powered by a battery fitted in the front of the driver. It was steered using a tiller and there were no brakes(!)
James did a pretty good job of capturing the character.
Ever wonder why the British drive on the left? Here's your answer. Now I just need to find out why so many countries switched to driving on the right-hand side of the road.
That evening, Halloween, I took Sarah and James back to Over Farm. Fortunately it didn't rain in the evening but we were walking around in a lot of mud. (This was a farm, afterall.) The kids had a good time on the inflatable slides and the few rides. The best one was the ferris wheel, which they got me to ride; it's kind of scary at night, particularly if one is already afraid of heights. James also went on a paint ball safari; sitting in the back of a truck, the participants shot at wooden zombies in a darkened field. It had the potential to be great but, according to James, it needed some work in order to be really fun.
I had to pony up some serious sweets to make up for the lack of trick or treating.
At about 35 seconds long, the Ghostar Coastar had to be the world's lamest ride. Sarah wanted to do it a second time but I just couldn't shell out another £2/rider.
Going down a steep slide in the dark adds a lot to the thrill factor.
Both James and Sarah tried out the bungee trampoline. Apparently it "hurts" a lot. The experience probably satisfied their curiosity and they won't ask to try it again.
On the morning of November 1st, I checked the propane levels and saw we were down to just over 1/2 a tank. How did we use up almost half a tank of propane in 3 days? (Vincent filled it on October 29th, the day before he and Paul left.) I was getting nervous; I did not want to move the RV and try to find an autogas station. While I was somewhat comfortable driving LandShark in the US with the wide roads (and room for driver error), I had not had any experience driving LandShark in the UK; I had always driven the Prius and Vince drove the RV. We were all set in our campground with water and dumping facilities within reach of the rig, but access to propane would be an issue.

With the propane problem simmering in the back of my head, I decided to take Mother and the kids to Avebury. It is a prehistoric open-air museum and dates to 2800 BC. It is described, by some, as bigger and better than Stonehenge (and six centuries older) but without the crowds and, for us, it was much closer than Stonehenge.

When we arrived, we started with lunch at the Red Lion (there's that popular name again), which is a rather grubby pub but is the only food option in the village. Our meals however were surprisingly better than expected given the look of the place and given the proprietor's monopoly on food service.
The Red Lion pub in Avebury.
The weather was getting pretty blustery but Mother was a trooper, walking around the moorish landscape looking at rocks. She wouldn't allow me to include a photo of her in the blog so you'll just have to imagine a slimmer Queen Elizabeth-type figure walking about, with Burberry patterned scarf wrapped around her head and carrying a large black handbag.
A glimpse at the 1,400 foot wide Avebury Stone Circle dating back to 2800 BC.
Another view of the Stone Circle.
Mother took this picture of Sarah and I walking along the Ritual Procession Way, a double line of stones leading to a long-gone wooden circle called the Sanctuary.
On November 2nd, we drove to Cardiff, Wales to visit the Wales National Museum and Art Gallery. The drive took longer than initially forecast; it took close to 2 hours as to the projected 1 hr 20 minutes which I think was due to the GPS being programmed to avoid toll roads.

When we arrived, we went to the Oriel Restaurant, located on the lower level, for a bite to eat and then we all pretty much separated to see the sections in which we were interested. The museum has a nice collection of paintings on the upper floor covering artists from the 16th century to present day. It also includes paintings from Welsh artists depicting scenes of Wales. Sarah walked around with me and she stayed pretty much engaged throughout.
In the Welsh paintings section, one could build their own landscape scene.
The museum's ground floor covers natural history, including origins of Wales.
There was an interesting display in the natural history section explaining how North America and Europe are drifting apart. It included a counter showing how many millimeters the two continents have drifted apart since October 15, 1993 (535,941,488 as of November 2, 2013).
At 17:00, the museum closed and the weather became stormy. We were in for some more gale storms that the Brits claim are unusual. (Ya, right.) Upon leaving the city, I drove by Cardiff Castle but there wasn't much to be seen given it was almost dark at that point. I wish we saw more of the city than we did but it was time for the long drive back.

That evening, when James and I were closing the front slide on the driver's side of LandShark, we heard a loud craaackk. Uh oh. Well, it wasn't the tv breaking; this time it was a lower cupboard door that was left slightly ajar. The door knob got caught and as a result we almost snapped the door in half. So later that evening I wrote Vince to bring back some crazy glue with him when he returned from the US...

On November 3rd, we went to the Sung Eucharist service at Gloucester Cathedral. Gloucester Cathedral was the most welcoming cathedral we had been to yet in the UK. The ushers were so welcoming and, at the back of the cathedral, they provided activities for children which Sarah embraced. The sermon was very good (not many Reverends would incorporate Yoda from Star Wars into a sermon covering All Saints Day) and the only complaint I could make is that the acoustics were poor, making it difficult to hear well.
Gloucester Cathedral.
The site where Gloucester Cathedral resides has been a place of religious worship since 678-9 AD when Osric, an Anglo-Saxon prince, founded a religious house here. Construction for the building that is seen today was started in 1089 by Serlo, a monk from Mont St Michel in Normandy who was appointed by King William I in 1072 to be its Abbot.
Gloucester Cathedral has a beautiful stained glass window on the western wall.
After the service, the congregation were repeatedly encouraged to go to the Chapter House for refreshments and so we oblidged.
One of the most stunning features of Gloucester is the cloisters on the north side of the main cathedral. This photo illustrates one of the beautifully detailed hallways.
The courtyard within the cloisters is another lovely feature of the cathedral.
We then went back into the cathedral to wander about and happened upon a docent who was most willing to provide information about the cathedral. A second docent encouraged us to join a tour of the crypt and so we did that with about 6 others.
Down in the crypt: That pillar in the foreground was placed about 1040.
After leaving the cathedral, we walked up the main street, Westgate, towards Marks & Spencers which we were told had a cafe. We had lunch there and it was one of the better lunches we had since Mother joined us in England.

We then did a little shopping and headed back to Briarfields as James and I had to face the task of refilling our water tank with fresh water and the less appealing job of emptying the gray and black water tanks. Up until this point, Vince or Paul had always done these jobs, Paul most recently as he's done it to earn extra cash.

In life, any dream scenario, like traveling around Europe for a year, will have its downsides. And when you're camping, it's dumping tanks which, for us, needs to be done about every five days. James and I managed pretty well without a hitch. The most annoying aspect was that a neighbor took great interest in the fact that James and I were doing this RV maintenance (did we look like novices?) and hovered during the process, inserting his commentary about how we could improve upon our techniques.
The (un)glamorous job of dumping tanks: We had to add an extra hose such that we could reach the chemical dumping drain by the hedge behind James. Because the diameter of the green hose was smaller than the black hose, James had to hold a connection tight while the macerator pump was running...otherwise there would be dire consequences. Adding to the unpleasantness is that it can take 25 minutes or so to empty the tanks.
That evening, I made the decision to turn off the heat at night to try and stretch our propane for as many days as we could. I hoped that by wearing extra clothing and throwing jackets on Sarah's and my beds (James had Paul's comforter as well as his own) we'd get through the night warm enough.

On November 4th, we woke to 50 degrees inside LandShark. It was glacial that previous night. I doubled my comforter but was still cold. I tried wearing a wool cap but it just became annoying as I'd turn my head but the cap would remain stationary. At 3am, Molly got up and piddled on the carpet in protest. Good fodder for a comedy but not so funny experiencing first hand in the wee hours. I tried to encourage Molly to snuggle up in Sarah's lower bunk, but she'd keep jumping out and returning to her bed, shivering all the while. Mother fortunately had an extra duvet cover to offer us later that morning for the coming nights to help us out. (She was nice and toasty in the Briarfields Motel.)

That day, we headed to Bath where we met a cousin of ours for lunch. Our cousin, Elizabeth, and my Mother are of the same generation. I had stayed with her for a weekend way back in the early 1980s. We went to yet another Red Lion pub and had a good lunch. Elizabeth and Mother pulled out their respective family trees and spent a good hour or so discussing various branches of the family.

After lunch, we dropped Elizabeth back at her home and we proceeded to the city center. At a minimum, I wanted to drive by some key landmarks. We first drove by the Royal Crescent and stopped to take a photo.
The Royal Crescent was built between 1767 and 1775 and has about 30 houses
We then drove around the circular street called The Circus and headed towards the Bath Abbey; I was lucky to find a parking lot nearby, just over the Avon River.
Pulteney Bridge can be seen down the Avon River. It has been compared to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence as one of the world's most beautiful bridges, with shops built into it.
We walked over to the Abbey and wandered through it. Since 757 AD, three churches have occupied the site of the Abbey. The Abbey that is seen today was founded in 1499 and was the last medieval church to be built in England.

The interior of the Abbey is the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott, who from 1864 to 1874, completely transformed the inside of the Abbey to conform with his vision of Victorian Gothic architecture. His most significant contribution was the replacement of the ancient wooden ceiling over the nave with a spectacular stone fan vaulting.
For the visitor, one of the most marvelous aspects of the Abbey is that it is heated by the hot springs.
After leaving the abbey, I noticed the Roman Baths and Pump Room were right next door. We had just enough time to have tea at the Pump Room before it closed. It was a nice way to finish the day.
A view of Bath Abbey main entrance from the Roman Baths and Pump Room.
On November 5th, we woke to 56 degrees in LandShark (almost balmy compared to the previous night). There's a big difference between 56 degrees and 50 degrees. 56 was just high enough to make it bearable at night, given our supply of bedding.

That day we decided to drive to Oxford to see some of the colleges. James opted to stay in an unheated Landshark, keep Molly company and do laundry. (The boy really didn't want to go to Oxford.)

When Mother, Sarah and I arrived in Oxford, we had lunch at a wonderful French restaurant, the Pierre Victoire Bistrot. Mother and I both had been underwhelmed with the English pubs and the switch to French cuisine was welcomed. Even the French house wine was a huge improvement over what was available in pubs.
Delicious meal at the Pierre Victoire Bistrot. Sarah consumed an entire baguette on her own; the bread and butter were so tasty.
After lunch, we looked into a few shops and then returned to the car. I then drove around the city center and by a number of the university buildings.

When we returned back to LandShark, James and Molly were snuggled reading in 60 degrees F. Not bad really, as far as chilliness goes. James had also completed 3 loads of laundry which was a big win for me.

On November 6th, we woke again to 56 degrees inside LandShark. It was another day promising rain. How do the British stand this weather? Given Mother's limited time here, we had to press on with sightseeing and pretend it was all good. I wanted to attend the bonfire and fireworks hosted by the Fire Service College in Moreton-in-Marsh that evening (we had to see how the English celebrate Guy Fawkes Day) and so I decided we'd see more of the Cotswolds.

We first set off to drive through Burford. We had driven through it the previous night and it looked lovely so I wanted to go back in the day time. It was raining heavily when we arrived so we more or less just drove through and went on to Stow-on-the-Wold which is described as an antique mecca.

After visiting several shops in Stow-on-the-Wold, we stopped for tea at Huffkins Bakery and Coffee Lounge. The pasteries and baked goods were delicious. James had an apple cream turnover (scrumptious), Sarah had a chocolate eclair and Mother and I had warm scones with clotted cream and jam (the best scones I'd had in the Cotswolds). Huffkins had a number of books that children could read while waiting for their parents to finish up their tea; Sarah loved this and quietly immersed herself into several books while we were there.
Sarah couldn't finish her eclair. Too much whipped cream. Fortunately, Mother and I could step in and help her out.
After we finished our tea, we visited a few more shops and then returned to the car. I drove to Moreton-in-Marsh to the Fire Service College to see if the fireworks presentation was still going to take place (it was rainy and windy) and found that it was. We had an hour to put in before they opened their gates so I then drove to Broadway, where I knew there was a Edinburgh Woolen Mill store and perhaps Mother could buy a cashmere.

Mother had success at the Edinburgh Woolen Mill store and walked out with a navy v-neck cashmere. (£55 and slightly better quality than what we can get in North America). I found Sarah a pair of slippers (early birthday present) and some Walkers shortbread cookies for the frequent famished passengers on our daily road trips.

We arrived back at the Fire Service College just before 7pm and were able to park in a good spot where Mother could watch the bonfire and see the fireworks from the car. It was very windy with a heavy mist, certainly not weather that any sensible person would want to stand in for an hour and a half. The upside was that the air temperature was warmer, meaning in the 50s as to the 40s. I wandered around with Sarah and paid £2.50 for her to do a game with a guaranteed prize (Barbie doll) and then bought food for everyone. The bonfire started at 19:30 and was huge. At about 100 yards away, we could feel the heat and, with the strong wind, hot ambers were flying over the spectators. Crazy Brits.
The Fire Service College built a serious bonfire. I had never seen one so big. The firemen used wooden pallets and some throw-away furniture as fuel. Prior to lighting the fire, several renditions of Guy Fawkes were judged and the winner was placed on a chair at the base of the fire.
With the boys' underwater camera, I couldn't get a good shot of the fireworks (tho I tried a hundred times). In this snap, the bonfire can be seen still blazing in the bottom left corner while the fireworks are set off.
On November 7th, we woke to 54 degrees. Our propane tank was at 1/4 full. I figured we'd have about 3 days left of fuel/heat, if we kept to our sparing usage. Vincent and Paul would be returning on the 11th and I wanted to have enough propane so Vincent wouldn't have to move the RV the night he came back. This meant that the kids and I would have to stay in the Briarfields Motel for a night or two. Deep down we were all really looking forward to that.

I decided not to drive too far that day and chose Cirencester as our destination. One of the women working in a Stow-on-the-Wold antiques shop the previous day recommended the Corinium Museum as worth visiting and engaging for children. Cirencester was formerly the ancient Roman city of Corinium almost 2000 years ago; it was the second largest city in the British Isles, after "Londinium" (London).

Before visiting the Corinium Museum, we had lunch at Le Beaujolais, another French restaurant, on Castle Street. After a pleasant meal, we walked over to the museum.
Entrance to the Corinium Museum: Definitely worth a visit.
The museum does a good job of laying out the history of the Cotswold area and Corinium/Cirencester right from the Palaeolithic period to present day. The focus however is the Romano-British period (43 - 410 AD). Having visited the Roman Army Museum near Hadrian's Wall, I was familiar with much of the information given. One new piece of information, for me, was that the horses used by the Romans were much smaller than those that we have today; the horses were more the size of ponies. This left me with an amusing image of hundreds of men riding ponies, invading the surrounding areas.
The museum has several mosaics, that were excavated in the area, on display. This one is called the Kingscote Mosaic. It came from a Roman building at Kingscote, 18 kilometers from Cirencester. The site is believed to have been a small town or villa estate dating from the 1st to 4th century AD. The mosaic dates to the 4th century AD and has Venus, the goddess of love, as the centrepiece. It's suggested that Venus and the detailed centre would have been completed by a master mosaic craftsman, the outer border completed in a workshop and then transported in and the areas of repeated design done by less skilled craftsmen or apprentices.
The Corinium Museum provides several interactive areas for children. Here, Sarah is designing a mosaic and getting a feel for how detailed and time consuming these were to make.
After leaving the museum, we split up and shopped around for about 90 minutes. Sarah and James found a couple books and a computer game in charity shops. While in a kitchen wares store I spotted the following sign by the cash register. It prompted me to think how different the philosophy of access to weapons is in the UK vs the US.
Reflecting on this notice, I realized I hadn't heard any reports of shootings in the last 4+ weeks. The last shooting I did hear reported was that of a Washington incident on October 3rd that made the news on the BBC. Living in the US, shootings are headline news every single day.
On November 8th, we woke to 48 degrees. I was up several times that night ensuring Molly was double-wrapped in a bath towel. Poor dog still wasn't bright enough to climb into Sarah's bunk and snuggle.

Despite the promise of more rain, I thought we should go to Blenheim Palace. Both Mother and I had been there at different times decades ago but I thought it would be a nice treat at the end of her trip.
The only upside to the dark, miserable weather was that it helped to highlight the Christmas lights and decorations around the Palace.
As of November 9th, the Palace is already trimmed for Christmas.
James and Mother walking to the entrance of Blenheim Palace. It was raining and cold and just miserable weather. Shown far in the distance is the Column of Victory (commemorating the 1st Duke of Marlborough's many battle victories), which was completed in 1730 at a cost of £3,000.
A comely statue of Queen Anne (1665-1714) resides in the library. The land and (some of) the money to build Blenheim Palace was a gift to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, from Queen Anne in appreciation following his famous victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704, during the War of Spanish Succession. At the end of the lengthy building project (1705 to ~1735 fraught with issues), John's second wife, Sarah Churchill, had this flattering statue of Queen Anne made to remind anyone who visits that the Palace and land were gifts from the Queen, and to commemorate their friendship (which ended badly).
The library, designed by Christopher Wren, as viewed from the statue of Queen Anne: It was originally intended as a portrait gallery. At the northern end of the library is Europe's largest pipe organ, in private ownership, built by Henry Willis & Sons. 
The Palace now includes a 35-minute (rather corny) tour called The Untold Story. One is led by Grace Ridley, ladies maid to the 1st Duchess of Marlborough, through various rooms, each one revealing what life was like at the Palace at various stages over the past 300 years. The stories are told via projected figures and life-like mannequins (that breathe). In this photo, Sarah is watching Sarah Churchill, the 1st Duchess of Marlborough, talk about her life and failed friendship with Queen Anne.
On November 9th, we woke up to more rain. I had been thinking about driving to Stratford but didn't think it would be very pleasant if we had to walk among the sites in wet weather. Before we did anything, I realized that James and I would need to refill our water tank and dump the gray and black tanks that morning, when we had daylight. (Whenever we did go out sightseeing, we returned when it was dark and for dumping tanks, I really wanted to see what we were doing.)

While we couldn't get a tight fit screwing our drinking water hose to the campsite hose bib (US vs UK threading), filling the fresh water was pretty straightforward. I did however have a bit of a hick-up preparing to dump tanks; when uncapping the gray/black water hose, water (the contaminated kind) flew out of the hose directly into my left eye. Aach! So I had to scurry off and wash my eye out with soap and water and then flush it out with allergy eye drops (the only drops I had). Mother also gave me her eye drops. Blah. That was horrid. Once I regrouped, James and I proceeded with emptying the black tank and flushing it out w/ gray water. When doing a gray water flush, James claimed he should no longer need to hold the black hose together. I was just in the midst of telling him it didn't matter what we're flushing through the hoses; he had to hold the black hose together (the connected green hose had a narrower diameter which put pressure on the black hose connections), when the black hose burst apart and water (the contaminated kind) sprayed all over James. Did I mention James was wearing Vince's jacket and I was wearing Paul's jacket? It was a pretty unpleasant experience. Anyway, when we packed all the hoses back up, I got a washing and drying token from the main office and James proceeded to wash the jackets, jeans and a few other things. No good deed goes unpunished.

The upside of the morning was that James, Sarah and I got to move into a room at the motel. We could look forward to two cozy nights and limitless hot showers or baths.

That afternoon, Mother and I drove to the Burford Garden Centre while Sarah and James enjoyed the indulgence of watching television for the afternoon in our motel room. Mother and I found birthday presents for Sarah. I also found a pair of Wellibobs which would be ideal for wading around in the muck on these rainy days.
Loving the practical Wellibobs.
On November 10th, we awoke in our cozy, warm motel room. Heaven. When James walked Molly and returned her to LandShark for the day, it was 43 degrees in there. Brrr. I went over and set the heat to 50 degrees and put one of the kid's down comforters on the sofa so Molly would hopefully settle in that and keep warm(er). Fortunately, it was forecasted to be a rare clear sunny morning and afternoon and so the RV would likely warm up a bit during the course of the day.

Our outing that Sunday was back to Bath where we went to the Bath Abbey for their Remembrance Day service. During the drive to Bath, the GPS had a malfunction and so was only giving me a vague indication of what route to take. It was all fine until we got into the city and I had a hard time locating the Abbey. You'd think there'd be signs to the Abbey and/or Roman Baths (next door) but there was nothing. Anyway, after stopping to ask a taxi driver we found we were just 2 blocks away. I made a wrong turn into a bus stop (to let Mother and the kids out near the Abbey, as we were now late) and was told I'd probably get a £200 traffic violation ticket (recorded by a nearby camera). The day was starting out swell. Since my license plate was not registered in the UK, I rationalized that the authorities would have a hard time tracking me down to mail me the ticket.

Once I found parking and made my way on foot back to the Abbey, the service was well underway and I ended up having to sit at the back of the Abbey on my own. I tried to put the frustrating GPS glitch and potential ticket out of my mind. The choir was outstanding and the light shining into the Abbey was simply beautiful. The sermon was also well done and poignant for Remembrance Day. The Bath Abbey was a highlight. I hope to return to another service one day.

When the service was over, I met up with Mother, James and Sarah and we walked over to York Street to The Real Italian Pizza Company. It's worth a mention because it makes very good thin-crusted pizzas. The four of us shared two pizzas and that was ample. Our bill was less than £20 which I think was a pretty good deal for the area around the Roman Baths.
The Real Italian Pizza Co. is a good option for an inexpensive meal near the Roman Baths.
 After lunch we visited the Roman Baths.
A view of the Abbey from the Great Bath.
A view of the hot spring: The hot water in the spring rises at a rate of 1,170,000 liters per day at 46 degrees Celcius.
As Mother had just permitted her photo to be taken with a Japanese tourist, I told her she had to let me take a photo of her and Sarah. They are standing in front of the Great (or King's) Bath. The Great Bath was built in the 12 century AD and was originally lined with 45 sheets of lead.
On November 11th, it was time to return to Heathrow. Mother was returning to Canada and Vincent and Paul were returning to England. It was a smooth transition; just as I was letting Mother off at Terminal 3 departures, Vincent called me and appeared with Paul. James, Sarah and I had a lovely visit with Mother and we look forward to her return, probably in January, at a place still to be determined but hopefully much dryer than our last two weeks in the UK.