Sunday, 27 May 2012

A Teenager in the House! -- a Birthday Blast (Chestnut Centre & Eyam)

Happy Birthday to Nicole who turned 13 on Saturday.  We had a collective whiff for her birthday last year so we set out to do better this year.  She's having some friends over for a sleepover in a month when things have settled down a bit more (upcoming exams and travel in the weeks ahead), but we had a nice family weekend to celebrate her special day.

It helped that we have had some fantastic (dare I say hot) weather this past week and into the weekend.  It's been in the upper 70's (25C) most of the week.  This could very well be our summer as there is no guarantee that warmer weather comes in the traditional summer months.

First order of business:  Dad's famous crepes for breakfast (nutella w/ strawberries and bananas).  Not to brag, but my family preferred these to the ones we had in Paris.  I've conditioned them I guess.

Ready to dig in.

Here's the haul for the year.  Official teenage Chuck Taylor lowtops, gel pens, books, nail polish, iPod connections, a wallet and a bookend.  Part of the problem last year was Nicole had a hard time coming up with a list, much less us buying anything.  We were all better prepared this year.

We did regular errands and helped out at a fundraiser for Alex's school during the day, then it was off to Nicole's restaurant choice, Pizza Express, for dinner.  Garlic dough balls for starters . . . 

 cheese (margherita) pizza for the main (off the adult menu, natch)

Nutella dough balls for dessert with an espresso -- okay, she's not that old.  I drank the espresso.  Good times all around.

On Sunday, we drove through the Peak District north of Buxton to visit the Chestnut Centre which has been on Nicole's list for some time.  We've been waiting for some good weather and we certainly got it today.

The Chestnut Centre is a wildlife preserve set on 50 acres and focuses on owls (Nicole's fav) and otters (also cute).  We had a great time.  Notice, we are even rocking some shorts -- I think that happened once last year.  Maybe a couple of times.  (Nicole's outgrown hers and we haven't exactly rushed out to get her some with the weather we've been having).

The park was fun especially given the excellent weather.  The animals weren't cooperating with my blog though as pictures (at least with my skill and equipment) were tough to get.  Here's one of an otter, but he was a little fast for me.  He would swim the length of the pond, get out, walk around and do it again, always in the same direction.

Two smaller ones having fun.

You can't tell, but here are two giant otters playing in the water.  They are a little lower on the cuteness scale.

My photography skills completely failed me as I couldn't get my point-n-shoot to focus on the owls instead of the screen.  We thought it was funny to see the 3 of the tawny owls all bunched up.

Eagle owl -- also not so cute.  Looks like Gonzo the Muppet to me.

 One of the better exhibits was the polecats (look like ferrets).

In some cases, we saw more than we wanted (I'll spare you the XL size photo).  I know I shouldn't post this, but we got quite a chuckle from it.  Perhaps the jeans are lower riding here because this phenomenon seems more prevalent here (maybe not).  This fellow was really nice too (sorry mate).   We struck up 2 or 3 conversations today where we were asked where we were from, etc.  More so than usual.  Our American accent is commented on less than we would have thought.

We got a good laugh from this Burrowing Owl as he hopped around with an unusual gait.

After lunch in the cafe we made it to the next stop (my stop!) in Eyam.  This has been on my list for awhile because of the historical significance of the village in the 1600's. (link)   The village is best known for being the "plague village" that chose to isolate itself when the plague was discovered there in August 1665, rather than let the infection spread. We started off in the museum and then had a nice walk around the village (and beyond).

From the excellent wiki link:

The plague had been brought to the village in a flea-infested bundle of cloth that was delivered to tailor George Viccars from London. Within a week he was dead and was buried on 7 September 1665. After the initial deaths, the townspeople turned to their rector, the Reverend William Mompesson, and the Puritan Minister Thomas Stanley. They introduced a number of precautions to slow the spread of the illness from May 1666. These included the arrangement that families were to bury their own dead and the relocation of church services from the parish church of St. Lawrence to Cucklett Delph to allow villagers to separate themselves, reducing the risk of infection. Perhaps the best-known decision was to quarantine the entire village to prevent further spread of the disease. The plague raged in the village for 14 months and it is stated that it killed at least 260 villagers with only 83 villagers surviving out of a population of 350. This figure has been challenged on a number of occasions with alternative figures of 430 survivors from a population of around 800 being given. The church in Eyam has a record of 273 individuals who were victims of the plague.

The plague is transported by rats and their fleas.  The museum has a rat weather vane.  Nice!

I had take this (frowned upon / illegal) photo in the museum quickly.  I found the fact that they would launch infected corpses into enemy towns to induce surrender interesting.

I couldn't subtlety take a picture of their Plague Doctor so this pic off the internet will have to do.  The doctors filled the snout with herbs to try to ward off the disease.  Read more here.

Interesting note:  Because the plague killed so many of the working population, wages rose and some historians have seen this as a turning point in European economic development.

Survival seems somewhat random (at the time).  It's been determined that those in Eyam area have a higher concentration of the "delta 32" gene mutation (14% of direct descendants) that has show some immunity to HIV (and perhaps the plague).  Researchers found no evidence that that the Delta 32 gene mutation had protected the survivors of the plague but it makes for some interesting hypotheses!  I'm nearly talking out of my backside for this, so I encourage further reading for those interested (another good link here).

Enough of the museum on such a fine day.  We took a nice stroll through the village.  Had to pose on the old stocks (though Nicole was apparently thinking about next year's presents).

if that's not an invite to come back in September, I don't know what is

Obviously a local's tricked out, homemade dune buggy (not sure what to call it).  Note the black rat on top.

Many of the houses in the village had the old time look (and were likely old time as well).  Theses were some of the plague houses and had various plaques describing them.

enjoyed the small, unique church with many old gravestones about

 including this 8th century Celtic Cross

and this sun dial though I'm not smart enough to read it.  Looks like it was saying 1:40 but it was 3:15.  I think there are some correction factors to apply based on the time of year but it didn't seem to add up.

We set off on a short walk from the town square to find the boundary stone beyond the outskirts where goods and money were left for exchange during the quarantine.  Required domesticated animal photo on the way -- Jay expects nothing less.

From this link:  A footpath leads out of the village, towards Stoney Middleton via the Boundary Stone. This stone was the place where residents of Eyam left money during the plague, in exchange for goods. The stone has six holes that were filled with vinegar to disinfect the money.   Just another 350 year old historical rock -- common stuff around here (more or less).

pretty much out in the middle of nowhere -- about a half mile or so from town (they are sitting on the boundary stone)
And here is the view from above of Stoney Middleton.  A very English view.  The wind was pretty strong up here and we enjoyed the cool breeze and the view.

 another week of me in a photo!

That pretty much sums up a nice, long, successful birthday weekend for our teenager!  Happy Birthday Nicole.  Love, Dad.

No blog next week as we head to Scotland (yippee!).  Have a good (two) weeks everyone.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Monsal Dale, Peak District

We got to stretch our legs a bit again this weekend.  We took advantage of the decent weather and walked a circular path around Monsal Dale.  (By decent weather, I mean not miserable.  Low 50's and dry.  I'm not one to complain, but it's the middle of May and we can't seem to crack 60F or get much sun.)

Monsal Dale is in the Peak District a few miles past Bakewell.  We had done a walk around Bakewell, Ashford on the Water and part of the Monsal trail last year (link).  Some fellow ex-pats had suggested the Monsal Dale walk (Derbyshire Walks with Children, #17).  It was just over 3 miles with some decent climbs and took us about 2.5 hours.

Note:  a dale is a valley, particularly a broad one (I don't know the history of the name Monsal).

We didn't get our sheep fix on this one, but more than a few cows.  These guys were just off the very first stile as we started our walk.  (Sheep are prettier).

And we are off.  Might not even be 50F at this point, but it did warm up, particularly with our activity.

After a semi-strenuous and muddy climb we popped out into some old farmland.  Love the stone walls.

 Looking back down at the A6 somewhat near where we started.

The River Wye in the Monsal Dale.  Hills and scree (rocks) -- very typical in this part of the Peaks.  Note the weir (low dam) across the river (hint:  foreshadowing).

more dale photos

don't recall seeing these before

Farther around the walk on the viaduct and Monsal Trail looking down the valley.  (we came from the right and continued clockwise back to our starting point).

We hopped on the Monsal Trail briefly to cross the viaduct.  It's more for cyclists so I'm glad the walk didn't include much on this path.  My book said the tunnel was closed so it must have re-opened recently.  Nonetheless we did not continue this way but up the hill to the left . . .

. . . to get this great view of the viaduct.  The viaduct was built by Midland Railway in 1863 and is 300 feet long with five 50 foot arches.

 and another

 finally, one with Nicole

We then set off to actually walk down into the valley.  And here's the weir that I took a photo of from above.

Alex looks like he's either tired or simply tired of posing for photos (I get that from time to time).

our turn

it was fun to see some dogs about -- these guys were enjoying the water and then killing this deadly branch -- they were really going at it

It was a fairly muddy trek with one of the wettest Aprils on record.  Much to the kids chagrin, that means slugs.  Eww.   Since I'm not used to seeing ones like this, I had to look it up (link).   It's a European black slug (probably could have guessed that).

 they aren't small -- here's Alex's hiking boot for reference

Enough of the slugs -- time to head back.  We meandered along the river for a mile or so until we got back to the parking lot.

It was a nice day out.  I still think the Hartington walk (link) is my favorite so far in the Peaks.   Unfortunately, I got voted down 3-1 on my "stretch goal" (copyright Jay S.) of also visiting the plague village of Eyam.  Oh well, we'll have to do that one another day.

Side note:  I've not embraced the UK sporting scene very much mainly due to time (and somewhat interest), but I have managed to watch 2 football (soccer) matches on TV.  Both involved the London club Chelsea in the Champions League tournament.  They upset favorite Barcelona in the semi's and took home the trophy last night.  Enjoyed learning a bit about the sport from my buddy Ken (4+ years in Spain and the UK).  No worries about that becoming a time sink, but it was a nice activity. 

Have a good week everyone and thanks for reading.