Cornwall, Day 6: Tintagel











With the weather improving, our first trip out in Cornwall was to Tintagel Castle, the legendary birthplace of King Arthur.  The castle is on what is now an island, but was once linked to the mainland.     Notice the insane amounts of stairs involved with visiting the site.      There were also wind warnings the day we were there.     They’d actually had to do tests before they could decide if they were going to open that day.      Apparently it wasn’t hurricane force winds out there, but it sure felt like it.

The site probably dates back to Romano-British times, but it’s mainly associated with a late medieval castle built by the first Earl of Cornwall (one of the sons of King John).    It’s actually a pretty daft place to build a castle (part of the reason it’s now in ruins), and they don’t really know why he built there.   It’s quite likely it was to associate himself with the Arthurian legends and prove his legitimacy to rule.

It is a very impressive site to visit.   (It’s English Heritage, so covered by the Overseas Visitor’s Pass).     The town itself isn’t much to look at.    The Old Post Office is managed by the National Trust, and has some interesting artifacts in it (worth a look if you’re a member), and we did stop and have a cream tea at a local pub (which also had wifi, which was good for us, as our cottage did not).


Cornwall, Day 5






So the biggest part of our trip was to Cornwall, which my mother’s choice for her birthday trip, as she’s pretty much always wanted to visit there.     We rented a cottage for a week.     We ended up going with a place in Callington, which is near the border with Devon, and is pretty much on Bodmin Moor.    Turns out we were on the side of Kit Hill, which is the tallest place in the area, and was once extensively mined.     The owner mentioned that the property is dead on top of a mine shaft.    (There was also an Iron Age hill for nearby, as well as a couple of mining artifacts like an arsenic chimney.)

The cottage itself dates back to the 15th century – the oldest portion is what is now the two bedrooms and the bathroom, and those rooms still have random, tiny windows in them.     At one point, what is now the kitchen and living room were added on (you can tell they were just tacked onto the side of the house, as there are windows pointing into the kitchen.)     Three families would have lived in the cottage at that point, with the kitchen/living room being the posh section, as it has two rooms.    The fourth picture is between the kitchen and living room, and you can see how thick the walls are.   (The current owners added that fireplace, as well as a dining room conservatory that links the living room to the bedrooms.)

Outside, the current owners have made a charming garden (which we didn’t get as much use of as we would have liked, as the weather wasn’t great the week we were there).     The two front rooms of the cottage overlook the garden, and the views of the Tamar Valley.     In the first and sixth picture above, you can see the garden wall.    That dates back to the 13th century, and was the boundary of a royal game park.    It’s much taller on the other side, to keep the deer in, but is short on this side so if they happen to get out, they could jump back over.

We really loved having the cottage.    It was so nice to have an actual ‘home’ to return to each day.     The owners were lovely.    They had a cream tea waiting for us when we arrived, and had us over on Thursday night for traditional Cornish pasties and a pavlova.     (Eileen is a fantastic cook.    Her scones were the best we had in Cornwall and Devon.)

The first full day we were there, the weather was completely wretched, so we stayed inside.   (We’d also done a ton of walking in London, so it was nice to have a break.)     We’d stocked up at the local Tescos, and Bill had given us a ton of veggies from the garden, so we were well fed, and well rested from that first day.

The Good Knight – Sarah Woodbury

Read for the RIP VIII Reading Challenge.

Gwen’s father is a bard, and has been summoned back to the court of King Owain Gwynedd to perform at the wedding of the king’s daughter to one of the neighboring kings.    On the journey there, they find the wedding party of King Anarawd slain on the road, including Anarawd.

One of the first people on the scene is Sir Gareth, who Gwen has not seen for seven years, when her father refused to give her hand to Gareth, and he subsequently left the court of King Owain.    Turns out he’s now a knight serving Prince Hywel, the king’s second son.    What Gareth doesn’t know is that Gwen also works for Hywel, bringing him information as her family travels around Gwynedd.     Together, working with Hywel, they need to solve Anarawd’s murder.

I really enjoyed this book.    It’s set in the real 12th century court of King Owain.     However, it reads quite a bit like a modern crime scene investigation novel, so anyone who’s a real stickler for authentic historical fiction may not like this book.      Still, I liked the characters, and the mystery definitely kept me guessing right up until the end.      It was a good, quick, vacation read.

Invitation to Die – Helen Smith

Read for the RIP VIII Reading Challenge.

In picking books for my vacation reading, since I knew I was going to try and concentrate on RIP theme related books, I did try to make sure I picked a few lighter books.    This one seemed ideal – it’s set in London (one of the locations I was visiting), and even though it’s a murder mystery, it’s set at a romance novelist’s convention, so I figured it would be a good candidate for a light-hearted break.

I hate to say it, but the book’s not great.    The protagonist absolutely did not grab me.   I’d gotten the impression that this was the first book in the series, which it was not, which could have been part of the problem.    It was also originally written as a serial, so I wonder if reading it in one shot was also part of the problem.

The basic story is that there’s a romance novelist’s convention going on in London.     For some additional publicity, the organizers decide to invite some of the bloggers who have become famous reviewing their books, but two of the three are quickly killed.     Emily Castle has been hired as an assistant to the head of the organization, and she has to solve the crimes.

Some of the side characters of the novelists in the group’s organizing committee are amusing, but the main cast of characters just aren’t great, and Emily’s solving of the crime is a non-event.     The only reason I finished this is that it was a quick read, and I was also in non-wifi land at that point in my trip, so didn’t have access to new books at the time.

Stonehenge, Day 4







On Day 4, we headed back out to Heathrow to pick up our car, so we could drive to Cornwall.    And since it was right on our way, we decided to stop at Stonehenge.

Stonehenge has changed a lot since I was there last.    It used to be in the Y formed from the junction of the A303 and A334 roads, but they’ve actually removed the A334 (there’s a round about that takes you there a little further up the A303, and you go down that road to then back track to the Stonehenge visitor’s center).    So you still crest a hill while you’re driving on the A303 and see it ahead of you, but everything else looks different.

We got the English Heritage Overseas Visitor’s Pass while we were there.   It basically makes you an English Heritage member for nine days.    It’s well worth looking into if you’re going to a place with a lot of ancient monuments – English Heritage tends to be in charge of places that are in ruins, so you can quickly pay back the entrance fees if there are a bunch of those around.

London, Day 3

Our last full day in London had the worst weather, so no pictures, or I would have killed my camera.

We started the day at the British Museum, which was having a special exhibit on Pompeii and Herculaneum.    It was a fascinating exhibit.     The early part was arranged as if it were a Roman house, and contained articles from each of the types of rooms that were found in most houses, to illustrate daily Roman life.      Due to the particular way Herculaneum was destroyed (a pyroclastic flow basically vaporized them, where Pompeii was buried), many of the non-living organic objects like food and furniture were carbonized, so there were loaves of bread where you could still see the maker’s mark, and a well preserved cradle (which still held its owner when it was discovered).

At the end, they talked about the day of the eruption.    I had seen pictures of the casts that were made of voids found in Pompeii that turned out to be people, but seeing them in person is a whole different experience.    The overall exhibit opened with a cast of a guard dog.    At the end were casts of a family that all died together, hiding under a staircase.    It was incredibly moving to see those people.

We wandered through the medieval section of the museum to kill a little time before meeting up with K again, and then wandered along the south bank of the Thames, as far as the Tower bridge.    It looks very different down there from the last time I was there, nearly ten years ago.    Dinner at Wagamama finished up our last full day in London.

London, Day 2 cont: Kew Palace








Within Kew Gardens, is Kew Palace, an actual royal palace, most closely associated with King George III (it’s where he was kept when he was having his spells of madness, but was also the family summer home).

It’s a surprisingly small place (and that’s even knowing there was another wing there when the king was in residence).    Inside, there are exhibits about the king, and about daily life in the palace.

Next to the palace are the Royal Kitchens, which have a charming kitchen garden, and some pretty extensive rooms you can wander around in.   Definitely an interesting peek into life during the 18th century.

London, Day 2: Kew Gardens













Our Thursday in London ended up being the day with the best weather, which was fortuitous, as we’d already planned to go to Kew on that day.     I’ve wanted to go to Kew since I was aware it existed, and since this was my mother’s birthday trip, and she’s also a garden person, that meant we had to go.     It did not disappoint.

We met up with my friend K, and actually managed to get the full London experience going there, as the Overground inexplicably broke down, and no one seemed to know what was going on forever.   Poor K was livid, but I actually found the whole thing rather amusing.     We still got there in plenty of time to have a full day of wandering around.

The Temperate Greenhouse, which is the largest greenhouse, was closed, but that was ok, because the Tropical Greenhouse is more than enough to keep you interested for ages.     And, outside, they’d done the coolest vegetable garden, planted up as one of the best ornamental gardens I’ve ever seen.   I aspire to have a vegetable garden that looks that good someday.

There was a lot to see just wandering around – I’ve only enclosed two pictures of the mushroom sculptures we say on one of the grand walk ways, but there was a whole series of them.   We took an interlude in the middle to see the Palace (which I’ll cover in the next post), and then wandered over to the Japanese garden, with a stop along the way at the Canopy walk.     Good lord were there a lot of stairs, but the views were amazing.

We finished the night at an Indian restaurant near K’s place, which was most definitely some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had.

London, Day 1 (September 11)









For any of you that have been to Europe, you know that first day is all about jet lag.     The first time I went to England (with the BF that time), our friend K brought us on what we have affectionately come to call the Forced March.    I remember little from that day, but it kept us awake until a reasonable hour.    So I replicated that for us on the first day we were there.    That was doubly important, as my sister was coming from the West Coast, and was in worse shape than Mom and I, jet lag-wise.

I can’t tell you exactly where we went.    It started at Covent Gardens, went through Trafalgar Square, the length of St. James Park (which is a really nice park, I will say), to Buckingham Palace, back through St. James, through the Horse Guards, down the Strand (I think), past Downing Street, and ending at Westminster Palace, at which point we gave up and headed back to the hotel.

We were staying near King’s Cross, and ended up at a decent Irish pub on Euston Road for dinner.    A Guinness for my sister and a cider for me later, and we were ready for bed.

Deja Dead – Kathy Reichs

Read for the RIP VIII Reading Challenge.

I do watch the tv show Bones, so I was aware that it’s very loosely based on a series of books about an anthropologist names Temperance Brennan.    She does help the police solve murders, but that really is about as connected with the show as the books get.

This book is set in Montreal, where Brennan has ended up after a divorce.     She’s helping the metropolitan coroner’s office with any older bones that come through.    Sometimes they turn out to be animal bones, but sometimes they’re people, often missing people.

The story begins with a grisly find of a dismembered woman, whose body has been divided up and placed in trash bags, and buried in a park.     There’s something familiar about the case to Brennan – she remembers a case of a teenage girl that was similarly dismembered, and found a couple of years before.    Within a couple of days, another body is found, and Brennan is convinced they have a serial killer on their hands, but she’s the only one that can see the connections.    She manages to convince one of the officers to let her come along on the investigation, and things get even darker before they’re finally able to solve the mystery of these deaths.

The book really is different than the show – there was a definite higher level of detail involved (and I compare this to a show that we joke you should never watch while you’re eating).     It was darker too – I know there’s somewhat of a back catalog going now, but I don’t see this as a series you can blow through quickly – it’s definitely mood reading.      But it’s very well written, with good detail, and I do look forward to reading more.   Slowly.