Written 10 June 2005
On Wednesday, 8 June, we spent the morning packing for our trip to England and packing the first set of boxes to send back to the USA, then stopped by the post office to mail the boxes on the way to the airport. We had an uneventful one-hour flight directly from Brest to Southampton (uneventful except that except that Ellen MacArthur, the woman who sailed solo around the world in record time, was on it; we didn't recognize her, but Paul did)—that route isn't flown on Tuesdays or Thursdays, which is why we went on Wednesday—where we were met by David's friend and colleague Paul Taylor and went directly to the Southampton Oceanography Center, recently renamed the National Oceanography Center, Southampton. Paul was able to lend us an adapter for our electrical plugs, so since then, David has been chatting with his many colleagues here while I camp in a corner of the library, editing away as usual. This morning, David gave his talk, and we're shortly due to go out to the local pub for lunch with a couple of old friends. Most of the people David knows professionally in England are here in Southampton now, because several different institutions have been merged into the NOCS, including the Institute of Oceanographic Science (formerly in Hambledon), where David spent a mini-sabatical back in the 1980s. Most of the others are in Plymouth, another concentration of British marine science.
Paul and his wife Mandy have a wonderful house about a 45-minute commute away in the middle of the New Forest (Pen-y-Fan, at Frog Hill, Frogham)—they have to use a bungee cord on their gate, in addition to the standard latch, because the free-range ponies and donkies in the forest have figured out how to lift the latch so as to get in and eat their flower garden. They have about 10 bird feeders, so we've enjoyed watching the evening feeding frenzy while we sip our predinner drinks in their beautiful conservatory room. So far, we've seen blue tits, great tits, coal tits, greater spotted woodpeckers, green finches, goldfinches (the spectacular European ones with red faces and yellow wing flashes), wood pigeons, and something small, yellow, and fast (a siskin, maybe?).
The drive back and forth to their house (the have about a 45-minute commute each way) runs through miles of the New Forest (originally William the Conqueror's private fenced hunting preserve; currently a national park), which is a mixture of woodland and open heath. Horses, donkies, ponies, and cattle roam it freely, on much the same model as the open range of the Old West. All the animals belong to someone, but they mingle freely during most of the year. Once a year there's a round-up, during which the new animals born during the year are branded or otherwise marked. You have to drive carefully, beause the animals drift unconcernedly across the roads, and new foals and their mothers (they're everywhere just now) graze on the shoulders, inches from the traffic. Each year at round-up time, a certain number of ponies are removed (to keep populations within limits) and sold off to riding schools and private individuals—New Forest ponies are beloved throughout the U.K. and especially well thought of as mounts for young riders. Imagine the outcry when (false) rumors spread a few years ago that they were being shipped to France for horsemeat!
Mandy is a great cook‐so far we've had medallions of pork tenderloin in coarse-grained mustard sauce and a Spanish pork stew with green olives in it. We had forgotten how many vegetables the English eat—at least three at every meal. Just now is a great time for it—sugar-snap peas, new potatoes, terrific carrots, broccoli.
Written 12 June 2005
Except for the pub lunch, which turned out to last about three hours, I was able to work most of Wednesday afternoon, Thursday and Friday. Friday evening, Andy Gooday, another old friend now at NOCS, came over for dinner (Mandy served chicken baked in a cream sauce with leeks and mushrooms, three vegetables, and, for dessert, Pavlovas (crisp meringue shells each topped with a thick layer of whipped cream and a heap of fresh local strawberries; yum). In the course of the meal, as David, Andy, and I reminisced about previous visits to the south of England, it became clear, much to Paul and Mandy's dismay, that Andy had already taken us to every single one of the list of possible destinations they had compiled for our Saturday outing. We assured them that anyof all were worth second visits, that it had been years ago, etc., but they wracked their brains and came up with one we hadn't seen—Mottisfont, a stately home whose gardens include the British national collection of heirloom rose varieties.
Saturday morning, we first drove into Salisbury to shop for books, see the open market, and visit the cathedral. David and I had visited the cathedral a few years ago, but England has become a lot more prosperous since, so the restoration work is much more advanced. Then we had tea and a scone at Polly's, a favorite tea room of Paul and Mandy's, before going on to Mottisfont. The gardens were gorgeous—not just roses but masses of other flowers interspersed. The peonies were particularly showy. In addition to the gardens, the house boasts several interiors painted in the 1930's by Felix Whistler, the British master of trompe l'oeil, before his death in his early 40's in World War II (on his first day in combat; we don't know whether he's any relation to the Whistler with the mother). The stables were serving as the venue for the annual show by the British flower painters' organization. The few oils were not such a much, but the watercolors were stunning. We had to keep reminding each other and ourselves that we had vowed not to purchase any art that had to be displayed behind glass.
In the course of the day, I spotted a dunnock (a little brown bird easily mistaken for a sparrow) and, at Mottisfont, a gray wagtail (recognizable by its yellow patches, which distinguish it from the entirely black and white pied wagtails we've been seeing in Brittany). I've already packed my bird guide and shipped it home, so Latin binomials and the French names will have to wait.
In the evening, we walked down the road about 10 minutes to The Three Lions, an excellent inn and restaurant where Paul and Mandy are regulars. The young couple who run it left their restaurant in London to get a better quality of life and a better place to raise their three children (you could occasionally hear the pitterpatter of little feet overhead—as they live over the restaurant). David had scallops followed by roast pork with cracklings. I started with outstanding lamb kidneys and oyster mushrooms served over a sautéed spinach and a crisp potato pancake, then had equally excellent roast quail with braised onions. Everyone got a dish on the side with carrots, green beans, zucchini, beets, winter squash, and potatoes au gratin, all buttered and sprinkled with fresh chives (Paul and Mandy tut-tutted; usually, each main course comes with a different assortment of six fresh vegetables). For dessert, I had treacle pecan tart, and Mandy had fresh strawberries au gratin (that is, marinated in Cointreau, then covered with a mixture of pastry cream and fresh cream and browned under the broiler. Wow. What a place to have as your local eatery, right out in the countryside!
Today, we drove to the "Isle of Purbeck" (not really an island) and continued past Corfe Castle (one of the places Andy had alread taken us) to a pub in the village of Worth Matravers called the Square and Compass that apparently brews the best ale around and serves only pasties for lunch. They make cheese pasties (for the vegetarians), but we all had Cornish pasties (filled with meat, potatoes, carrots, and onions). It was so windy at our outdoor table that potato chips (the only side dish available) tended to blow off our plates, but several chickens patrolled the area and rapidly snapped them up. From there we drove to a little parking lot from which we walked the mile or so through the fields (mostly wheat, but with a mixture of peas left over from the previous year along the edges; yellow mustard, bright red poppies, huge purple thistles, red campion, and a wide variety of tinier wildflowers in the fencerows) to St. Aldhelm's head to visit the tiny, square, stone Norman chapel that overlooks the sea there. Skylarks were hovering and singing all around us. The chapel was recently (like last Sunday) reconsecrated by the archebishop of Canterbury. It seems to seat about 20. A small sign asks visitors please to leave the door open unless it's raining; house martins are nesting on the ceiling, against one of the ribs of the dome, and it wouldn't do to shut them out. The head is also occupied by a small (also octagonal) building that houses the local chapter of the volunteer coastwatch, a sort of civilian Coast Guard Auxiliary. While we were there, the afternoon volunteer arrived to relieve the guy who'd been on watch in the morning. At http://www.bbc.co.uk/dorset/content/panoramas/aldhelms_head_360.shtml, you can see an almost 360 degree panorama of the site, though the camera was a little too far back to see over the edge to the sea. The stone building nearest the camera, with the strange little triangular stone buttresses, is the chapel.
From there, we went on to visit Tyneham, a "ghost village" being developed as an open-air museum. The village was evacuated during WWII because the military needed to expand the base where they were training people for D-Day. The idea was that the residents would be allowed back after the war. In the end, no one was ever allowed to move back, so the church, school, post office, cottages and other stone buildings are still there, standing empty. In the one-room school, the students' names are still over their coathooks in the vestibule. In the church, large displays give the histories of many of the families that lived in the village and tell what has happened to many of them since. It's mostly surrounded by areas still used as live-ammunition firing ranges. They're grazed by cows and sheep and criss-crossed by walking trails, but they are also dotted here and there with huge numbered placards that can be read from over a mile away—gunnery targets. At every cross-roads and every point where a trail meets a road, a large sign proclaims which roads and trails are open that day and which are closed. Large red flags mark the places where you have to stop and go around by a different route. Apparently the farmers are kept informed so that they can move their livestock out of the appropriate fields. Everything was open when we were there because it was Sunday, and the military uses the range mostly 9 to 5 five days a week. Googling "tyneham purbeck" turns up lots of photos of the village and the surrounding countryside.
We drove home a different way, to Studland, where we crossed the mouth of Poole harbor on a 100-yard ferry to Sandbanks, then home through Poole.
The Isle of Purbeck is the region where "Purbeck marble" comes from. It's not really marble but a form of sedimentary sandstone thickly studded with fossil gastropods (little snails), when the stone is cut and polished, the fossils make a marble-like pattern, giving rise to the name. Purbeck marble is the material that was darkened with oil and finished with beeswax to serve as trim in Salisbury cathedral.
Written 13 June 2005
Sunday night, Mandy once more outdid herself, this time with roast duck, three vegetables, and morello cherry sauce, then a walnut-meringue tart with double cream. Yum!
This morning, we had time only to have breakfast, pack our bags, and head for the airport. If we didn't keep getting distracted by France, we'd like to spend more time in England.
previous entry List of Entries next entry