Tuesday, September 30, 2008


At Lucy's suggestion, Chad, Elizabeth, and I hopped on a bus last weekend and went to Tewkesbury. The village isn't really that far from Cheltenham, maybe 20 - 25 minutes each way, and our fare only cost 50 pence each (with student ID). Honestly, I didn't even know this place existed before I saw the road signs on High Street, so really, this was a learning experience for me.

But fear not, I drudged around the Internet (yes, even to Wikipedia), and I think I can sum up the highlights. Tewkesbury is named after Theoc, a Saxon hermit in the 7th century. JSTOR says it went something like this: "The name of ths hermit was Theoc, or Theocus. Hence we get Theocsburg, Theotisbryg, Teodechesberie, Theokusburia, all these variants being now softened into Tewkesbury" (D. Crotchet, 1904). Personally I'm not convinced, but whatever, it's a nice piece of fictory.

Because it's located on a flood plane (thanks to the Rivers Severn and Avon), expansion and urbanization has been nearly impossible, leaving Tewkesbury almost exactly as it was 500 years ago. In a similar stroke of luck, many of the timbered, black and white Tudor buildings of that time period are also standing. That, combined with its impressive 12th Century abbey, makes it one of those Very Important places they take students to learn about the middle ages.

Now for the bloody parts: The Battle of Tewkesbury! (I bet you'll never guess where that took place.) Basically, this battle put an end to the Lancaster family's ambitions to rule during The War of the Roses. Bad York, bad Lancaster. No bickering at the table. After the battle, things were more or less peaceful for 14 years until Henry VIII took over and started the Tudor dynasty. They re-enact the battle each year at Tewkesbury's medieval festival, which we were all unfortunate enough to miss.

Edward of Westminster (AKA little Eddie Lancaster) allied himself with those pesky Warwicks from the last castle we visited, and got himself killed in the battle. Wikipedia tells me he's the only Prince of Wales ever to do so. His widow becomes King Richard III's Queen Anne, but outside of Shakespeare's version I can't say I'm overly concerned with it. Edward of Lancaster is buried in the Abbey.

I think I inadvertently stood on his grave when I was photographing the altar - oops.

Tewkesbury Abbey is a Norman building, originally part of a monastery before Henry VIII did away with them. To preserve it, the people bought the building - for what I can only assume was a very large sum in those days - and started using it as their parish. The Abbey also houses some very elaborate medieval mausoleums, and we saw parts of the garden walls that clearly had recycled stone (some with eroded carvings) from an older building that used to stand there.

We wandered around their town center, taking the left fork at The Cross (the Tewkesbury War Memorial), and found a small door about 3 blocks in on the right. It opened into a rather large alley lined with books, and two more haphazard doors opened into respectably large rooms (also full of books). It was a fairly nice used book shop - lots of history texts and very old manuscripts recounting the history and genealogies of Gloucester. I didn't find anything I couldn't live without, but it was still a nice discovery.

There were a lot of little museums we didn't get a chance to explore, but I think they would have been really fun. If I ever go into Tewkesbury again (which is likely, given the proximity) I would probably make a special effort to see them. At first glance they all look kind of like the rip-off tourist magnets that display wax mannequins wearing period clothing, but I've read a few reviews since I started writing this, and it looks like I was mistaken. Shocking, I know.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cornwall IV: The Eden Project

The Eden Project was our last stop in Cornwall. I've put off blogging it for way too long, so here it goes. The Eden Project began as a habitat reclamation program built in an old China-Clay strip mine (a big, grey hole in the ground). They replanted indigenous species, and created an elaborate park and garden system, along with a "sustainable" farm (I don't believe this assertion, but at least it's intelligent farming) and two exotic "biomes" (they are not biomes, they're just big green houses for tourists). They bill themselves as an "educational charity," and I suppose they are at least somewhat educational. Basically, they completely abuse Green and ecological buzz words, dump endless resources into keeping their Rainforest and Mediterranean biomes alive, and gave us a nice place to walk around for 3 hours.

They're not a totally useless propaganda machine, though. The Eden Project does a lot of cultural outreach, experimental community stuff, and basically provides the services of a family-friendly park. It's got programmes to get kids active, organic ale festivals, and they put on concerts and shows on certain weekends. Really, not a bad place. But do you know what it hasn't got? Biomes. They call the giant bubble things in the pictures biomes, but if you're expecting to go in and see a semi-functional rainforest, or at least a minimum-input, nearly closed biosphere, you're going to be disappointed. Further, for a place that promotes sustainability, their main attractions are very UNsustainable.

Not exactly a crime against hippies, but you get the point. If Disney Land became a greenhouse and "It's a Small World" became starving South African children living out of a rusty van display, you'd have a good idea of what these so-called "biomes" are like. Too much preaching and not enough teaching. If I were opposed to environmental awareness and sustainable practices the whole thing might have been funny, but since I'm rather fond of those things and took all those ecology classes in high school, it was just annoying, kind of insulting, and a major waste of pathos-based arguments. However, it's main purpose - education and raising funds for environmental reclamation at other sites - seems like it's working quite well, so I guess I should stop complaining.

1) Walking into the Rainforest

2) The coolest display ever - it's a bunch of different smells. You sniff the silver, phallic part, and try to guess what it is.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cornwall III: Land's End & St. Ives

This was by far my favourite part of our weekend in Cornwall. After spending a night in Newquay, Land's End felt like the most cathartic experience of my life. It's a beautiful place, full of great things I typed up once upon a time before my computer ate them.

Highlights include me wanting to push someone off a cliff, hopping on some boulders, and a warm ocean breeze complete with white butterflies, ravens, and sea gulls. Anyways, it's late and I'm tired. I'm going to post some pictures and go to bed. Feel free to ask away about this excursion: I had a really good time, I just don't have the energy to retype the whole thing.

Land's End
: the southernmost point in England

St. Ives: a tourist town with a gorgeous port

Cornwall II: Newquay & Cornish Food

Our primary agenda in visiting Cornwall was the coastal village of Newquay (pronounced New Key). Basically it's a "young people's haven," which is really just Sandy's way of saying it's a party town. The surfing in England leaves much to be desired, but Newquay is one of the few places rideable waves form with any regularity. This was my least favourite part of our trip: the people were rude, the town trashy, and the clubs were actually annoying enough to make me homesick. I really just wanted to curl up on a sofa with a few people, a few books, maybe a movie, and relax.

Besides my aversion to the town and its inhabitants, we really did have a decent time. Our little group went out dancing, had Indian food, walked on the beach, and I didn't suffer too much after a few deep breaths. Actually, there was an aquarium in the town, and I just kept reminding myself that it could be worse: we could be there. The little lodge we stayed in (pictured) functioned as a very high-end hostel, and even though the shower spewed gallons of water onto the floor, I don't think we had any complaints. Well, the dozen or so of our party who managed to catch the cold / flu / bronchitis in the last week were less than thrilled, but I doubt that had as much to do with the accommodations as it did with the noise on the street below.

Now to the food: pictured is a cream tea - with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry jam, of course - and a bowl of blue cheese and broccoli soup. If ever offered one or both of these items, eat it! Elderflower Pressé, from the Cornish Orchards company, is also a great investment. It's a clear soda with a mild, fruity flavor. Well, I guess it tastes like Elderflower, but who in America knows what that tastes like?

Cream tea is a mandatory experience in Cornwall, and - as some people will tell you - so is the Cornish Pasty. I am not one of those people. It is nasty. Imagine hamburger helper without any seasonings served lukewarm after being run through a blender. OK, maybe that's a little harsh. Either way, the crust (the part you're not supposed to eat according to tradition) is the best part.

Anyways, if you must try the nasty pasty (yes, it is pronounced to rhyme), I suggest lots of ketchup and at least two bottles of the Elderflower Pressé to get you through it.

Chad says P.S. - the onion and cheese flavour isn't as bad as the traditional steak.

Cornwall I: Lanhydrock House & the Country

This weekend the BCA took us on a tour of Cornwall and all of its surounding attractions. We had a fantastic time, except for the endless hours spent cooped in a coach bus, and I think everyone's ready for a nice long nap. We started out bright and early - 8 AM, how did we do it? - and started spotting some "Cornish" scenery around noon. (Note: We only knew it was Cornish because they told us to wake up and look at it, otherwise we probably would have slept through it.)

But we didn't sleep through it! We woke up, took some pictures, and toured a village. Bodmin, the first town, didn't have much to photograph, but we had lunch at a little place called Willow's Café. The food wasn't spectacular or spectacularly cheap, but we had a nice time anyways. I would have liked to tour the cathedral, but the service was too slow and we ran out of time. Anyways, if you're ever in Bodmin, take an extra few minutes to look at the cathedral and think of me.

The field with cows basically sums up Cornwall's geography. Add some derelict chimneys, falling stone foundations, or large granite boulders, and you've covered most of the basic variations. I'd like to go back some day and ask the farmer's in the far-south end of Cornwall for permission to hike around. They've got a good combination of abandoned buildings, rocky terrain, and chimneys (left from the tin industry at the end of the 19th Century) to explore. My ideal day in Cornwall probably start's at Land's End (we'll cover that eventually) and ends knee-deep in soot at an old tin mine.

This is St. Michael's Mount. We didn't get to go there because it was closed for a wedding, but I thought I should include the picture anyways. From about 350 B.C. St. Michael's was a well-known tin and copper trading post, and in 495 A.D. a fisherman saw a vision of the Mount's eponymous saint. Basically, it's important and not to be missed on a trip to Cornwall. Unless, of course, you have a bus full of university students on a Saturday. Then, by all means, keep driving.

And apparently you can't go anywhere in England without seeing the Red Admiral. I guess I'm collecting photos of them, because I snapped this one up without much thought or consideration. I did a fair-bit of bird watching too, but I'm not overly familiar with the species, and this post already has too many pictures, so we'll save the birds of Cornwall for another conversation. Moving on: we stopped at Lanhydrock House as our first major point of interest.

Essentially, Lanhydrock is a late Victorian-Era country manor fit with enormous gardens, most of its original furniture, and all of its traditional grounds; the government declared it a National Trust property in 1953. It takes its name from St. Hydroc, to whom the chapel is dedicated. The general story I gleaned from the memorials and notices around the house goes as follows: St. Hydroc was an Irish missionary to Cornwall, specifically to the monastery that stood on the house's location before they were disbanded in the mid 16th Century. What St. Hydroc did, exactly, is a little foggy, but suffice to say they named the place after him.

1) The main walk up to Lanhydrock House.

2) The chapel and surrounding garden.

3) One of the larger gardens

4) A small courtyard

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Just Some Thoughts for the Day

"On the day when crime dons the apparel of innocence — through a curious transposition peculiar to our times — it is innocence that is called upon to justify itself."

Albert Camus, The Rebel (1951)

I've got a couple of books with me, but I've decided to get that one out of the library and start it in a few days. I guess it doesn't really apply to travel, but as this is MY travel blog, I might have to add a few book reviews as well. Kind of goes with the territory, don't you think?

Anyways, if you have any deep or groundbreaking thoughts to add here, or if you just want bonus points for knowing the second-hand source that fed me this little gobbit, speak up. Otherwise, I'll let you know how I liked it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Warwick Castle

This was actually a pretty cool excursion, but we were all so tired that it came off as a little redundant. Yes, it's a castle. Very nice. Can we go home now? Seriously, though, we had a pretty good time after waking ourselves up with a hike through the spiraling tower stair cases (do not like).

According to all of that lovely information they give us on our tour bus, the first castle built on the Warwick site was constructed from wood in 1068 at the behest of William the Conqueror. They slowly rebuilt it with stone during the middle ages, and it became the home of several very successful Earls of Warwick. By the 14th century, construction was completed and Warwick Castle - now in possession of the Beauchamp family - stood out as a very impressive Medieval fortress.

The castle survived attack in 1264, besiegment in 1624, and a fire in 1871. It housed the Earls of Warwick until 1978, when it the Tussauds Group purchased and restored it. And that's it, really. Oh! Queen Elizabeth II visited there in the 1990s, and the conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot stole horses from their stables in 1605. And Edward Plantagenet, last male of that particular line, was the 17th Earl of Warwick. There, done!

Now for the good part: pictures.

1) the portcullis
2) the chapel
3) some weapons and armor

4) the castle from the ramparts
5) the peacock garden

6) a giant trebuchet launching fire balls
7) solitary confinement cell in dungeon

Monday, September 15, 2008

Getting to know Cheltenham

I'm still getting used to crossing the streets and ordering food at the bar, but so far I absolutely love it over here. I think "Getting to know Cheltenham" will probably be an on-going part of this blog, but here's the first batch of pictures all the same.

My room

Freshers' Orientation

FCH - I'll have most of my classes here, and hopefully more pictures of it will be up later.

A rather typical street.

Out and about in Cheltenham - we aren't really sure what this piece is trying to say.

Fire juggler on the main promenade.

Our church (we think). We haven't actually gone yet, but the website looks good.