Tuesday, June 15, 2010
I mean it, too. Worst blogger ever, here at last. Well. Since you've been kindly waiting for three months rather than three days (whoops, I really dropped the ball there didn't I? *slaps wrist*) for my AMAZINGLY AWESOME post...wait no longer!
The home of the Aclands. As in the Aclands and Acland Street. Anyway, we went in March during one of our seminars. It's actually quite close to Exeter. A National Trust property, Killerton is well preserved and has an interesting exhibit on fashion on the second floor.
Here Kristy and I are competing on Ken-Ex's Next Top Austen.
Back to business. The Aclands lived at Killerton from the early 17th century and only left in 1942, selling some of Killerton to the National Trust (and donating the rest) in order to raise money for the Common Wealth Party. But how, you say, are these Aclands related to our Aclands?
I forget. I know that it had something to do with Hannah More. And it was significant enough for Kenyon and Gambier to name things "Acland this" and "Acland that."
Here! Pretty pictures!
"Claire! That was in no way the EXCELLENT post you promised! Shame on you!" You're right Ashley. Guess I'll just have to post again!
Friday, May 7, 2010
I am writing this from my desk at home, in the state of Washington. I've been home for about four days now. I expected that I would experience a culture shock on coming back, similar to what I felt as I acclimated to England in the beginning. Strangely, however, I slipped right back into my way of living here as easily as if I'd never left.
Of course it is not the same. Now I have seven months of life in a richly beautiful country behind me, a section of my life unlike anything I have experienced in the past. Everything that I saw, everyone I met, everywhere I traveled, these things have all changed me, and now I look at my home with different eyes.
That is to be expected, I suppose. All I know is that, even though those seven months were, at times, difficult, they had a profound impact on my life and my perspective on the world, and I am so glad, and so lucky, to have been able to live in a different country for a whole school year. It is an experience I would recommend wholeheartedly to any person. Chances like these are rare.
That being said, I will close this blog with a recounting of the final week of our group trip, in which we moved north into the Lake District.
The beauty of the Lake District is very hard to describe. It is full of deeply colored hills, fading one into the other as they stretch away under a blue and gray sky. The sun, as it set over Easedale Tarn, pierced through silver clouds and cast everything in brown and gold. We walked past a clear and quick stream that fell easily into the angles and outcroppings of small, many-fingered waterfalls coursing over black rock. Sheep moved like tiny grounded clouds or roaming stones across the hills and mingled in the valleys, bleating in the growing dark as we walked back from the lake through twilight.
We walked through Dove Cottage, where William and Dorothy Wordsworth lived for several years. Knowing Wordsworth scaled the very hills we did gave every sight an even more subtle depth, and the question arose for me - will anybody ever love this place again like Wordsworth did? Our cameras are the obstacles to our true appreciation of a place. Although we can capture an image of nature's beauty and keep it forever, it is two-dimensional, virtually lifeless, once removed from the experience of being there, of putting your feet carefully down on rocks, holding onto wet stones with your hands, feeling the waterfall trickle down their shining surfaces.
It seems like Wordsworth, at least, devoted his passion to such sensations, and the attempt to record them. The Romantics wanted a way to capture forever an image of the sublime or the beautiful or the picturesque in nature. Though they were reaching for the idea of the camera, the reality of the camera seems a step backward from what they were trying to accomplish. In many ways, and in the hands of most, the camera is an inhibition to our love of a beautiful place.
To stand on top of a windy hill and see a land, half brilliant water, half field and hill, bounded only by the ever-changing sky, stretching away from you - it is a sensation unlike any other. You feel at once powerful, triumphant, and vulnerable, insignificant. Perhaps it is with these words I can describe the entirety of our trip.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Our shadows stretched across the sand, and I wondered why, when asked what I thought of Wales, I could only say, "It's beautiful." I hoped that, given time, I could put words to this experience, these two weeks that truly feel like a wrapping-up. Each field of sheep and lambs that I pass, each sudden view of the hazy blue ocean, each trek to each ruined castle makes me think about the finality of it all. What I'm leaving, what I'm going toward, the final impression of all that I've seen on my year abroad. These deserve words. Luckily I have one more week to puzzle this out, and there may be no neat answer. I think that would be okay.
Sights & Destinations
We have been seeing Wales from the windows of a coach, from the tops of cliffs and crumbling castle towers, and through the eyes of coal miners, painters, poets. A camera cannot adequately capture the broad expanses and deep crags of the part cliff-jagged, part sand-smooth coastline, or the calm green emptiness of the rolling hedgerowed fields.
Wales shows itself best in the morning or evening sunlight, when the countryside goes yellow or gold and lengthens into shadow. As we depart in the morning, the air is cool and shot through with pale beams of sunlight. In the evening we look for dinner amongst old stone buildings made warm from the sun. (The weather has been good to us; no rain so far.)
Firstly we stopped at Tintern Abbey, and were even able to hike to a location quite some ways above Tintern Abbey. If you forget about the parking lot and tourist shop nearby, you can easily transport yourself to the end of the 18th century. I pictured myself on a boat going down the Wye, an experience I think I would quite enjoy.
Another place we went that I enjoyed was Hay-on-Wye, which is known as being the "Town of Books." This means that it is full of bookshops. It is a town taken over by bookshops, and is the location of a writers festival, about which Margaret Atwood has written. Of course it was a beautiful afternoon when we arrived, and I enjoyed a cookie and an iced coffee while we visited the bookshops. They were so prolific, some were inevitably skipped by us. I particularly wanted to visit the poetry bookshop, though most of the books there were expensive. I did manage to purchase a copy of Great Expectations, as well as Isaac Asimov's Foundation.
Later on we arrived at the best hotel in all the galaxy, fondly called the Dru (short for Druidstone), which is a sort of friendly haven for artists and eclectic characters, being a cafe/bar/restaurant as well as a hotel. It has a wonderful view overlooking an expansive beach, a beach on which a few of us got to ride horses. That was a marvelous experience, and cantering through the surf is a pleasure I won't soon forget. Talking to our guides about their experiences in Australia, and their disdain over their friend who went to Colorado and learned the Western style of riding, which is much more laid-back, and being able to find out more about Pembrokeshire slang, and the satisfaction of working with horses and people; all of this, plus walking the beach, climbing around on the cliffs by myself, eating fabulous dinners with the rest of the group, and passing the time on the gorgeous Welsh coast, it all added up to a delightful two days.
I will miss that place, but today we were leaving Aberystwyth and arrived, quite suddenly, into the midst of mountains. I am from a place that is cradled on both east and west by mountains, and they mean quite a bit to me. So, to find myself among them where for seven months before there had been only rolling hills was striking, and I thought of home. The mountains through which we drove were brown-green and covered in some places by pine trees, dotted with sheep, lambs, and small clusters of stone buildings. It was peaceful to look out the window.
We will shortly be heading to the Lake District; expect more.
Friday, April 9, 2010
I was walking down to St David's train station today, taking the wooded footpath and weaving through a residential area, and everywhere there were daffodils in bloom, and profusions of other colorful flowers, and the air was a perfect balance of cool and warm. It is finally starting to feel like summer could be around the corner; yesterday I didn't even have to wear a jacket into town! That is a first, believe it or not.
I took the train into Honiton, a weary old town that still has a unique charm. I prefer this sort of charm to Exeter's, which is loud and attracts everyone. Honiton seems to know that it isn't as popular, and is in fact a little crumbly around the edges, but the shops are small and friendly, and it has, most importantly, a Boston Tea Party. The purpose of my visit to Honiton today was to visit this Boston Tea Party, the last on my list to visit. I've sat and had a coffee, whether by myself or with friends, at every Boston Tea Party in existence, the one in Bath, the two in Bristol, the one in Barnstaple, and the one in Exeter.
I wouldn't keep going on about this cafe if it didn't hold such an important role in forming my experience abroad. I would go to the BTP in Exeter whenever I could, and I would always order the same thing: a large Continental. I experienced a moment of joy when one of the servers there was able to predict what I would order the other day. Me: "Can I have...." Her: "A Continental of some sort? Large?" and it was good.
Most of the time I would take my reading for class there, or I would work on a creative writing assignment. Sitting, a little oasis of calm on the edge of a bustling, happy room of people sharing conversation over coffee and food, I could relax and feel like a part of everything. It was as though I could connect, if only for a little bit, with the energy of the city and the people in it. In this microcosmic state, it was easy to let my mind wander to creative tasks, or to concentrate on and really understand what I was reading. It may sound silly, but by seeking out this place in Exeter, I felt like I could let go of my identity as an American student for a little bit, and become, perhaps, a British student, or just a person living and working in Exeter, taking their lunch break at the Boston Tea Party.
To commemorate the importance of the Boston Tea Party, and of visiting the last one on my list, I bought a mug emblazoned with the tea-sipping gent of their logo. The great thing about these cafes is that each one is different, having carved out its place in a strangely shaped building, with its own array of tables, chairs, and sofas, perhaps an upstairs, perhaps a back garden for nice days like today. Like the cities and towns they inhabit, each Boston Tea Party has its own character.
On Tuesday, Claire, Logan, and I went with Professors Laycock and Carson to Bigbury-on-Sea. There were surfers in abundance, as well as the occasional kayaker and windsurfer. It was a beautiful day that day, as well, and an excellent time to ride the sea tractor! The sea tractor is a large-wheeled beast that trundles folks across the sandy causeway between Bigbury-on-Sea and Burgh Island, when the tide is high enough to cover the causeway with water.
After spending some time on Burgh Island, and getting lunch at the Pilchard Inn, which was manned by an eccentric Italian (?) bartender, we took the sea tractor back across the causeway, which, as the tide receded, was becoming traversable by foot.
Another walk along the coast followed, in which we saw sheep, and lambs! The wind was strong, and both I and my sniffles were thankful for the hot chocolate and warm car at the end of the excursion.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
We stayed at a lovely, small bed & breakfast called Highfield House, which was an old Scottish manse dating from 1730. Every morning the owners of the house would cook breakfast for Karl and me (as we were the only guests there at the time), along with delicious coffee that I greatly enjoyed. From the house every morning we would walk a few minutes down to the train stop to catch the train into Edinburgh.
Coming out from the station by way of the Princes Mall puts you out on to Princes Street, where all the new shops are. (Within five minutes of exiting the station, we heard bagpipers playing. The street leading away from the Castle is also monopolized by "tartan" shops.) This area of town is part of what is called the New Town, part of the city that was added on way back when the town was overcrowded and cramped due to its being confined within its walls. They drained the Nor'Loch which was to the north of the Edinburgh Castle, and built the New Town. There is a monument to Sir Walter Scott in the gardens where the Nor'Loch used to be. (We learned all of this at the tiny Museum of Edinburgh, on the Royal Mile in the Old Town. I guess you could also learn it on Wikipedia.) There is a very distinct difference in feel between the Old Town and the New Town, but the whole city is beautiful and grand and has its own peculiar character, due to the way it did not expand beyond its walls for a very long time, and grew upwards rather than outwards.
Basically, Karl and I fell in love with Edinburgh, and walked all over, from one end to the other. Everything is in close proximity to everything else, and walking was consistently rewarding. We traipsed from the Castle to the Palace, where we climbed Arthur's Seat and looked out over the entire city.
We also circumnavigated the New Town, and found that only "keyholders" could enter the gardens that dominate a large portion of the New Town's blocks. Nevertheless, there were loads of alleyways with pubs and cute restaurants (we found a Mexican restaurant and were pleasantly surprised by the deliciousness of the food.) We spent a couple nights of pints and dinner in a pub called The Tron (a few blocks away from the Castle), which was run by a chain called Scream (I think?) that was very hip and quirky and served cheap, edible food. What we liked were the couches, and remarking on the eclectic music chosen for the speakers.
All in all, it was a brilliant time and Edinburgh is my new favorite place. (I feel like every place has been my new favorite place... this is a good thing, though!) I loved it so much I even had to get a little Edinburgh keychain.
On March 14 I am in Hyde Park in London, waiting for Karl's train to get into Paddington Station. One of the entrances to Hyde Park is very close to the station, and you come into the park near a little rectangle of fountains. I stand there, with my coffee, alone by the fountains, leaning against the rail. It is a brilliant sunny afternoon, a auspicious sign for the coming ten days. Sometimes the sun will disappear behind a cloud, and you can watch the shadow of that cloud creep over the rolling grasses of Hyde Park, and then you can see the sunlight slowly flood the lawns again as the cloud passes by. The park is full of people, mostly couples with children, or joggers with dogs, or photographers taking advantage of the park showing itself in its full glory. In the air is the fresh cleanness of spring, and you can feel it lifting everyone's spirits.
I am struck by the lightness of the moment, and the pureness of the contentment that I feel. Amid all the stress of paper-writing, and travel plans, and money, and the thought of returning home, there is this small moment of clarity. I realize that these worries are insignificant against such beauty, such life, and that there are so many reasons to be happy in the moment, and so many niggling worries that should not be bothering me.
A cluster of pigeons on a rooftop, disturbed, alight from the shingles. Their shadows sweep over the stones of the fountains as they circle and return to their places. Families circumnavigate the fountains, and I watch a swan swim round and round a small pool. It seems to regard me. The fountains bend in the wind. A father, seeing this, and predicting the trajectory of the spray, gently guides his young son out of the way. Moments later, the cement in front of them receives the arc and splash of water. Father and son continue their circuit.
There are eleven birds in the fountain-pool that I am watching. One big swan, several orange-eyed ducks, a seagull, some white-faced, pointy-beaked black birds. The fountains sway in the breeze; the sun cloaks itself in clouds.
The next day, in Bath, the sun is still out, and its light falls warmly on the unique Bath stone that forms many of the buildings. We walk in gardens, and along the River Avon; we share a cream tea and find a sweet shop that sells fried eggs. Experiences like these days in London and Bath are the moments I will remember about my time here, not the looming deadlines or financial worries, or the struggle of navigating a busy street. These days make all the difference.