Magical History Tour, Day Four: Avebury Manor

I’ve previously covered the main reason we went to Avebury: the stones. If we had just gotten there in time to check out the stones, I still would have chalked our visit up as a success. Anything else would just be an added bonus.

And we got our added bonus. We arrived in Avebury in plenty of times to tour the two museums dedicated to the stones and their restoration as well as Avebury Manor itself.

Touring old stately homes and their gardens is a popular pastime [if you ever read any old Austen novels, this should be quite familiar (recall Elizabeth’s tour of the countryside with her aunt and uncle and their eventual visit to Pemberley, the home of the illustrious Mr. Darcy)]. Indeed, during my student days in the UK, we had the opportunity to tour a few different stately homes. I don’t know if it’s more proper to actually know something about the house and its history before your visit, but Joe and I knew very little of Avebury Manor when we got there. Still, when in Rome…

As it turns out, Avebury Manor has stood for hundreds of years and was recently featured in a BBC special in which they restored the manor, taking each room and outfitting it in a different period style. One room, for example, was Tudor-themed; another was modeled in a kind of art nouveau theme, recalling styles popular at the time that the stones and the sites around them were being excavated by Alexander Keiller. Far from being “stand off and observe” kind of museum, the rooms are interactive, for the most part, with period costumes and laminated sheets to aid in your exploration and interpretation. In the kitchen, there were even signs encouraging visitors to open drawers and examine what they found inside. Although it wasn’t very crowded overall, each room seemed to have at least one family whose children were excitedly exploring the objects. It was an interesting, immersive way to teach children (and adults!) about history.

The rain, it seemed, kept everyone inside. With no clear signage on how we were supposed to get back to the other museums, Joe and I found ourselves lost. A steady mist made it difficult to see [glasses are a pain sometimes] very much at all, and the tall, sculptural hedges complicated matters even further. The weather having drawn people inside, the only sounds we heard were the hush of precipitation and our own. Rather than let it get us down, we seized the opportunity to explore the gardens. If you ever read “The Secret Garden” and wondered how a garden could be secret– well, just visit an old English manor garden with quadrants walled in by stone and impenetrable 12-foot hedges.  I wasn’t sure if I should watch out for the Red Queen or for Jack Nicholson.

Tasty Tuesday: Turkey Day Prep

You should smell my house right now.

Seriously.

Nutty waves of cooking squash, coupled with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg are wafting through the house.

There might be palm trees and sand outside, but it smells like autumn in here.

Thanksgiving, for most people [/Americans], is on Thursday, but some friends of ours are coming down from NorCal to spend the day with us, and had to amend their plans at the last minute after finding out one of them had to work on Friday. We were posed two options: (a) do a Thanksgiving lunch prior to them getting on the road on Thursday (it’s a good 9 hour drive back north for them) or (b) have our Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday instead.  We opted for (b). If there’s one thing I learned growing up, it’s that holidays are about getting together with your family and loved ones– not about the day you happen to do it. In the same way they say home is where the heart is, I’d proffer that holidays are about the feeling, the specialness, not about an arbitrary day. For us, Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be the same as a lunch– one of the great things about it is the late evening pie (the second wave of eating, as it were) and wine. You chat and lounge with friends and family, digest your meal, then break into the dessert. It just wouldn’t be as relaxed with a looming deadline.

So Wednesday it is.

Of course, this adds some complexities that would otherwise not be there– namely that I’m working for most of the day, which I wouldn’t be on Thursday. Hence, the autumny goodness working its way around the room: meal prep.

I worked out the menu a few weeks ago and I’m really excited about it.

Our friends are bringing a pre-cooked turkey from the Whole Foods, but other than that it’s all us. It’s easier for me that way, being the token vegetarian. Plus, I like to make things for people– and that includes food.

Pre-Dinner snacks:

  •  Winter Salad (arugula [rocket], tiny heirloom tomatoes, dried cranberries, candied pecans, shredded carrots, parmesan cheese)
  • Variety of cheese and crackers. I picked up several different cheeses, including a London Truckle Cheddar, a Cranberry Cheddar, a Brie, a Winter Gouda, a Stilton, a Roquefort, and a Dubliner with Stout.

Dinner:

  • Aforementioned pre-cooked turkey
  • Acorn Squash Soup (So delicious. It tastes like pumpkin pie but as a soup. I’ll make plenty, but it will constitute my “main” dish in lieu of turkey)
  • Stuffing with mushrooms and mirepoix (a big hit with my parents every time I make it)
  • Homemade cranberry sauce (sounds like a pain when you could just get it in a can, but I promise it’s quicker and easier than you think. It doesn’t have the grooves in it like you get in the can, but we all have to make sacrifices for quality.)
  • Garlic Rosemary Roasted Potatoes
  • Roasted Cauliflower
  • Biscuits and/or crescent rolls

Dessert:

  • Pumpkin Cheesecake
  • Homemade Apple Pie (this is Joe’s bailiwick. He makes a really good pie.)
  • [In a pinch, I also have a pumpkin pie on reserve which I can bake up in a couple of hours, and enough ingredients to make a batch or two of pumpkin pasties]

Drinks:

  • Variety of beers, to include Kennebunkport Pumpkin Ale (from Maine), an assortment of Sam Smiths Ales and cider (from the UK), and some Firestone Velvet Merlin (from California)– an oatmeal stout (honestly, I mostly just get a kick out of the name, but it’s pretty tasty too.). I might have gone a bit overboard, but they’ll all get consumed eventually, even if it takes us a few more holidays 😉
  • Variety of wines
  • Non-alcoholic spiced apple cider (basically just spiced apple juice)
  • Coffee and Tea
  • Whisky from our recent UK trip. I also have lemons and cloves so we can rock some hot toddies if we feel so inclined.

The decadent miasma in our house right now is thanks to the acorn squash, which I’m pre-cooking so I only have to worry about turning the cooked squash into soup tomorrow afternoon. It’ll save a lot of time and precious oven space. I also pre-quarted the potatoes (red, white and blue for a little visual variety), made Joe labels for all the cheeses, and set out some croissants (pumpkin and almond) to proof overnight so Joe can just pop them in the oven tomorrow and then he can enjoy them with our friends over breakfast.  Lest you think Joe is  not contributing aside from his pie, rest assured we are each doing our part. Joe is primarily responsible for ensuring the house is ready for our guests, no insignificant task. For my part, I am responsible for supplies and food.

It should be a good time tomorrow. I’m excited, even if a bit sleepy. We’ll undoubtedly have plenty of leftovers for Thanksgiving proper, and I’ll be making an additional pie for my coworkers who don’t have the day off.

I think the pilgrims would be proud!

Magical History Tour, Day Four: The Stones

The stone circle in Avebury was the first wholly new thing for both of us that we visited during the trip. London we’d both visited, even if some of the specific spots we visited within the city were new to one of both of us, and Bath I’d  been to before, but Avebury was totally new.

Avebury, like Stonehenge, is a ring of large stones erected in prehistoric times. Only Avebury is relatively less well-known.  Also unlike Stonehenge, the stones sits amid the village of Avebury (or rather, the village sits amid the stones). Stonehenge, by contrast, is surrounded by fields and fields and fields (and, as we’d later discover, tank proving grounds of some sort), with any villages miles away.  Avebury’s stones lack the lintel stones of Stonehenge, but the circumference of the stones is much larger and you can walk among them and touch them.

You’re not supposed to, but you can even climb on them, like this guy:

Guy climbing the Avebury Stones

The imagery of Stonehenge has been so thoroughly reproduced across the world that it’s instantly recognizable. They were a standard Windows desktop background, for goodness’ sake.  It’s almost anti-climactic when you finally see them in person because they look like every picture you’ve ever seen of them.  The Avebury stones, by contrast, feel much less hyped, much more real, more mysterious.

It’s a five minute walk or so from the car park to the small museums which provide interpretation and context for the stones. We decided to see as much as we could. The manor closed first, so we bought tickets in the barn gallery/museum/gift shop and set off toward the manor.

Even in the misting rain, the experience was lovely and otherworldly.  The lack of people increased the surreal feeling,especially compared to the crushing crowds at the Baths and in the cities where we’d spent the previous days.

We were walking through a wonderland. And once we got to the gardens surrounding the manor, the Wonderland.

Gardens at Avebury Manor

It was incredible.

Gardens at Avebury Manor

Magical History Tour, Day Four (continued): Away to Avebury

Roman Baths checked off our list of things to do, Joe and I set off to embark on the next step of our journey: Avebury.

However, our first appointment was with something– anything– to get the taste of “dirty human body”-flavored Baths water out of our mouths.  After a momentary delay in the gift shop– which, oddly, sold rings inscribed with Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings Elvish alongside its Baths paraphernalia– we stopped at a nearby Tesco for the necessary refreshments:

  • A big bottle of water
  • A box of GoAhead Yogurt Breaks
  • Two bags of Walker’s Thai Sweet Chili crisps (my favorite crisps in the world)
  • Two bags of Walkers Thai Sweet Chili-flavoured peanuts (truth be told, these were a bit of a disappointment)
  • A couple of bottles of Lucozade (aka crack-juice)

And we were set.

We braved our way through the spider gauntlet for the last time, piled in the car, set up the SatNav and started our first driving journey of any substantial distance. I was, as ever, the navigator.

Ten minutes in and we’d already learned to dread the inevitable: “In one mile/one half mile/500 feet enter roundabout.”

The roundabouts! We were prepared for narrow roads (at least we thought we were), tiny cars, and driving on the left, but the roundabouts! There are SO MANY. Just when we thought we were out of the woods, having made it safely through the narrow city streets, frequent stoplights and pedestrians, we were set upon by a plague of roundabouts!

And then, of course, it started raining on top of it all. Because, you know, it would.

After countless roundabouts, a few close calls with some curbs, but blessedly no damage, we followed the signs to the Avebury Stones car park, by now an absolute mud pit. A trailer stood close to the walking path into town/toward the stones, providing information about the area. And right next to the trailer?

A Land Rover.

I watched the stress Joe had built up during the drive evaporate as soon as he spotted it. We were supposed to be there.

It was still raining, but we put the previous day’s questionable umbrella purchase to good use and set off for the stones.