Friday, May 25, 2007

Half-Term Holiday Hiatus

Another brief (one-week) blogging hiatus while we travel to the Lake District for a week of fellwalking in the persistent light rain. Yesterday, in Leamington Spa, I bought new Hi-Tec V-Lite hiking shoes (see photo) to replace the bald-soled shoes I bought last summer. Unfortunately, at the moment I'm laid low by my fourth bad cold since we arrived in England. These English germs really like me. The blog will be back on the Saturday or Sunday, 2nd or 3rd of June, if I don't fall off Swirral Edge or St. Sunday Crag.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Traces of Bertie Wooster in Worcestershire

On the way down to the Malvern Hills, we drove along the A422 from Alcester to Worcester, one of the most winding roads we've encountered yet in England. The road also passes some English villages with exceptionally entertaining names. The road meanders past Peopleton, White Ladies Aston, Upton Snodsbury, and, best of all:

In P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster books, Bertie Wooster attended the fictional Malvern House Preparatory School, where he met his newt-fancying friend Gussie Fink-Nottle. In a famous incident in the novel Right Ho, Jeeves!, Gussie unwittingly drinks orange juice spiked with vodka and delivers a memorably drunken prize-giving speech at the fictional Market Snodsbury Grammar School. Upton Snodsbury is the only real "Snodsbury" in England. Worcestershire (where Bertie's Aunt Dahlia lives in the fictional Brinkley Court) seems to have inspired Wodehouse with its wealth of colorful and humorous place names.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Malvern Hills

Sir Edward Elgar loved to ramble in the Malvern Hills, a short distance from Worcester, where he was born on June 2, 1857. The hills rise dramatically from the surrounding plain, and have been occupied since the Iron Age, when well-defended hill forts were built on the summits of the southern hills. At left is a view of the hills from the A449 from Worcester to Great Malvern, where we started our Sunday morning walk in the footsteps of Elgar. The photograph is taken through the windshield of our Rover.

We parked the car in Great Malvern and in less than an hour walked up to the highest point in the Malvern Hills, the Worcestershire Beacon (1395 feet). The hills are popular with Sunday walkers, and we found ourselves sharing the footpaths with the Malvern area Lions Club, out for a group ramble in the hills. The ascent from Great Malvern is initially quite steep, but the walking is never too hard. At the summit of the Worcester Beacon is a viewfinder, or topograph, which shows you what you're looking at in all directions. To the east, we thought we could make out Broadway Tower, in the Cotswolds, but most of the views were obscured by a typical English haze. The topograph was erected in 1897 to commemorate the 60th year of Queen Victoria's reign.

Sugarloaf, Table, and North Hills

From the Worcester Beacon, we walked back north to the top of North Hill, where we sat an ate our lunch of a baguette, Somerset brie, olives, and Cadbury chocolate. In the photograph above, you can see North Hill to the right, Table Hill in the middle, and Sugarloaf Hill to the left. While we ate our lunch, a pair of skylarks wheeled about overhead, serenading us with their slightly hectic song. In the photograph at left, Clara is eating a garlic-stuffed olive, with the Worcestershire Beacon in the background.

Malvern Priory from North Hill

After lunch, we headed back down to Great Malvern, stopping along the way at a hillside café, St. Anne's Well, for a pot of tea. In Great Malvern, we paid a short visit to Malvern Priory—another medieval monastic church, like Tewkesbury Abbey, that was converted into an Anglican parish church after the Dissolution in 1538. The stout Norman columns in the nave date to 1089, but the rest of the church dates to a major 15th-century renovation. The church contains some lovely 15th-century stained glass, including a "Magnificat" window donated to the priory by Henry VII. In the photograph at left, you can see the Norman columns and the 15th-century rebuilding, including the lovely coffered ceiling and great east window (with its original 15th-century glass).

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Things to Do Before We Leave: Visit Berkswell

We're fortunate, in Northfield, Minnesota, to have a world-class producer of ewe's milk cheese at Shepherd's Way Farms in Nerstrand. Nerstrand is about ten miles from Northfield. Even closer to Kenilworth, five miles away, is Berkswell, home of the Berkswell Cheese Company, another world-class producer of ewe's milk cheese. They produce a delicious hard cheese, with a distinctive basket-weave markings on its rind, and two soft cheeses (Marlow and Kelsey Lane). On my list of things to do before we leave—in less than three months now!—is to visit Berkswell. Not only is the village the home of Ram Hall Farm, where the cheese is produced, it also has an Anglo-Saxon well (from which the village gets its name) and an unusual Norman church.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Clara's Trip to Athens

Clara was in Athens, Greece, from last Wednesday (May 9) until yesterday (May 13). She has five great posts about the trip over at her blog.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Market Day

Thursday is Kenilworth's market day. Since Clara is in Greece, I took advantage of her absence to buy a scotch egg for my tea. I had never eaten a scotch egg before, and Clara has always dismissed them as "gross." She's obviously never had a scotch egg from the Cotswold Pudding and Pie Company. A scotch egg (pictured at left) is a hard-boiled egg encased in sausage meat, rolled in bread crumbs, and deep-fried. Fortnum & Mason is often credited with having invented the scotch egg as a picnic food in the mid-eighteenth century. The one I had was delicious. And for dinner, I have pan-seared scallops on a bed of samphire grass—all from the fishmonger's—to look forward to.

Link: A scotch ostrich egg (with photographs).

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Kenilworth Castle, a prominent feature of my daily walks.

Welcome to anyone who may have wandered over here from the discussion of the Mill Towns Trail on Locally Grown (thanks to Griff for the link). I hope you'll explore this blog, which is a fairly complete record of the Hardy family's year in England. Some highlights include trips to the Peak District and to Salzburg, Austria (October); a Jane Austen tour to Chawton, Winchester and Bath (January); and trips to Lincoln and North Yorkshire (April). You'll also find posts about long walks in the English countryside, books I've read this year, Shakespeare plays in Stratford-on-Avon, and local Warwickshire attractions—including our local castle (pictured above). Still to come are posts about our upcoming week in the Lake District (end of May), where we hope to venture out on one of the classic English walks—along Striding Edge to the summit of Helvellyn. Finally, there are links at left to blogs and music by other members of the family. Stay tuned to Clara's blog for posts about her current solo trip to Athens, Greece.

Monday, May 07, 2007

May Bank Holiday

Bluebells in Bullimore Wood (in the southeast corner of Kenilworth)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Self-Promotion: Rob's Latest Publication

The current issue of the New England Review (28.1 2007) includes my essay "The Passion of Rose Elizabeth Cleveland," about the life and literary career of President Grover Cleveland's youngest sister. In the late 1970s, a researcher in the Minnesota Historical Society discovered a box of passionate love letters between Rose Cleveland and Evangeline Whipple, the wife of Minnesota's first Episcopal bishop. Rose and Evangeline were outed in The Advocate and in Lillian Faderman's groundbreaking Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in the Twentieth Century. It made a sensational story: the bishop's wife exchanging passionate love letters with the former First Lady of the United States (a position Rose held before her brother married in his second year in the White House). But there was much more to the story which hasn't been told until now. Rose was an intellectual and a writer, and her published writing says interesting things about gender, fashion, and the place of women in late 19th-century American society.

Classicists may also be interested in a new translation of Book 6 of Vergil's Aeneid by Ian Ganassi, which also appears in the current NER.

To order your copy of the New England Review, click here. Individual copies are $8, and the website offers secure ordering. You can also check out my two previous contributions to the NER, on Sinclair Lewis (25.3 2004) and Theodore Roosevelt (26.4 2005; available online by clicking the link).

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Things I'll Miss About England, Part I: The Fishmonger

I love Kenilworth's Thursday market. Some weeks, when we're too lazy to cook, we buy pies from the pieman—pork pies, rabbit pies, game pies (pheasant and wild boar), pigeon pies, and chicken-bacon-stilton pies (and, of course, a vegetarian pie for Peter). Usually, though, we buy fish from the fishmonger. I've bought Conwy mussels at the market, and scallops, and clams, and silver dourade, and sea bass, and halibut, and salmon. Today, there were fresh "new season" winkles, but I went for a quintessentially English fish: south coast John Dory. I pan-fried the fish fillets, and served it with blanched samphire, or sea asparagus (tossed with olive oil and fresh lemon juice), and garlic-parmesan mashed potatoes. All washed down with a good 2005 vouvray. I will definitely miss the fishmonger when we return to Minnesota.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

May Day Walk

Today I walked for a little over thirteen miles, from Kenilworth Castle to Hatton, then along the Grand Union Canal to Warwick, then back to Kenilworth through Leek Wootton. There were quite a few narrowboats going through the Hatton Locks, and I had a pleasant time daydreaming about drifting slowly from Birmingham to London on the canal. It seems like such a lovely way to travel. At each lock, I wanted to leap up and open the gate, pushing back the balance beam, or to turn the valve on the paddle gear to fill or empty the lock chamber. I stopped at the Hatton Locks café for lunch (French onion soup and bread), and again at the Saxon Mill for a half pint of Leffe. Sitting under a massive sycamore, sipping Belgian beer and looking out over the old mill pond after a ten-mile walk, I felt very European.