Mottisfont Cross Country Trek!

mottisfont abbey
I’m writing this from the cafe stop I had promised not to make. But I was desperate for coffee. You see I have travelled all day to get here. Plane, trains, but no automobile. Indeed I have trudged  across two fields from the level railway crossing called Mottisfont & Dunbridge, hiked up a narrow road, and seen horses doing nature. And that calls for coffee.

mottisfont station hampshire

green field

Mottisfont Abbey & Gardens has recently been awarded by the National Trust for offering an excellent visitor experience and this is what has called me to Lizzy Bennet over the Hampshire countryside in search of.

I’ve ordered my National Trust Special (a brownie and a hazelnut latte) to chow down on while I catch my breath and take in the estate. Although they will struggle to top a brownie from Northern Ireland, it’s good, and I like it more for finally being able to shrug my pack from my shoulders.

mottisfont abbey rear

Mottisfont Abbey is an eclectic piece of architecture but, like many things, it’s the inside that counts! It’s the ponies I am here to see (and not the philandering ones from earlier). There is a Norman Thelwell exhibition in the gallery running until April 10. Mottisfont runs five exhibitions per year. I’d say Beatrix Potter they have planned will be an impressive one to see in this anniversary year.

Study mottisfont

Although it isn’t known for its interiors, there are some rooms set up as the family (Maud & Gilbert Russell) would have had them in the 1930s. I quite liked this lovely study.

The exhibition is funny and brilliantly set out in bright rooms. Not being known for particularly historic or beautiful interiors like other properties, the team at Mottisfont decided to convert one of the upper floors into a gallery space. It is an ideal setting for Thewell’s cute and funny cartoons along side some exquisitely coloured landscapes. Cartoons is what Thewell was famed for and they really are brilliant. He had a great eye for one scene commentary on English life! But it is his landscapes I really adore.

thelwell exhibition mottisfontI have heard come June you can hear heels clacking on pavement as though a switch were flipped on and the visitor flood gates released. Alas, it’s too early now for rose garden walking, but this estate is reputed to boast a rarity of blooms. Another reason to visit again, perhaps? Maybe when I have my own wheels though. I am not sure how safe those lanes are for walking during the height of the ‘season’ (summer). I don’t want to get mowed down by old ladies keen on roses!

Although another beautiful location for a country walk, Mottisfont is kind of inconvenient to get to if you are not already in the area. It took me two hours on the train from London via Southampton and cost about GBP40 return. That’s a bit expensive for a day trip, in my opinion, but I suppose in terms of London prices you could do a lot worse. Then of course there is the 20 minutes of field walking as well. My National Trust card got me in for free, so there is that bonus of not having to pay for entry which sweetened the blow somewhat.

I recommend approximately 3 hours to visit: 1 hour in the gallery, 1 hour in the gardens and – of course – a snack!

Have you visited this stately home before? What National Trust properties have you ticket off this year? I hope to visit a lot more before my time in the UK is up!


Practising Classics at The British Museum

It was really nice having my Aunt visit us here in Belfast last week. Unfortunately I then immediately got sick. Basically I have a very unforgiving digestive system. But I’m feeling a lot better now and with some luck that will be me done for now until after the wedding… fingers crossed.

It’s now almost 3 weeks until the wedding so the rest of my evenings will be filled with making party favours and packing. I’ll do my best to post a few more stories before this blog goes on hiatus for the month of November.

I wanted to find something to talk about this week. I’ve a couple of good stories, but the only pictorial one is from back when we visited London for the RWC!

british museum rachel in ireland

We had a load of time to kill after landing at Stanstead Airport. My brother and I have backgrounds in Classics so we decided to walk from Leicester Square to the British Museum. We managed to get through galleries 4 through 20 on this visit!

The first thing to greet us after leaving the glass-domed main hall was a giant (in museum terms, colossal) bust of Amenhotep III.

The ninth Pharaoh of the New Kingdom was the father of one of Egypt’s most interesting kings, Akhenaten – the man who tried (and ultimately failed) to make Egypt monotheistic. Amenhotep III was also the grandfather of Tutankhamun!

amenhotep iii british museum


Beyond Amenhotep III you will find statues of one of my favourite Pharaohs of all time: Senwosret III.

During the Twelfth Dynasty, Senwosret III campaigned into Nubia (now northern Sudan) where he established a series of massive fortifications. This expansionism was the focus of my own honours dissertation and after spending years with this guy in my head, it was nice to visit him in person!

And next to Senwosret III, a row of gorgeous statues to Sakhmet – the Egyptian goddess of war.

sahkmet british museum

fist bump british museum

After shenanigans amongst the Egyptian sculptures and teaching Tiernan how the Rosetta Stone was used to crack the code of hieroglyphics, we moved on to the classical section.

I should mention that we couldn’t get anywhere near the Rosetta Stone. The rain came pouring down and everyone for miles came to take shelter in the museum. I can hardly begin to describe what the crowds were like. I’m surprised I managed to get any pictures at all without people in them.

classics british museum greco roman aphrodite

When you move through the Egyptian exhibition into the Greco-Roman side, you are welcomed by Aphrodite kneeling (once upon a time) beside her bath. She looks a little embarrassed to see you…

The Greeks and Romans did some amazing things with marble. Take this colossal horse fragment, dating to 350 BC, from the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos.

colossal horse from the quadriga of the Mausoleum at Halikarnassos

The Mausoleum was a wonder of the ancient world. This horse alone was over three times my size, I can’t imagine how huge the Mausoleum would have been.

Mausoleum at Halikarnassos

Caryatid Erechtheion British Museum

Eventually we made our way around to the room dedicated to Athens. Jack and I both spent a lot of time studying the Acropolis for our high school exams, so seeing one of the Caryatids of the Erechtheion was quite familiar (though spelling the word Erechtheion is just as annoying now as it was then). On one side of the temple, six female figures were sculpted in place of columns.

Sorry, this is becoming a bit of a history lesson…

I visit Greece in 2007 after I finished high school. My abiding memory is having a brilliant day at the Acropolis; taking pictures in the sun. The next day my camera broke at Delphi and I lost all of my pictures. I ran back up the hill to retake all of my photos from that day, but the Acropolis ones were gone forever.

It’s nice not to have to go too far to get a new picture of a Caryatid. Not the same as a Greek Holiday. Not amazing or anything. But nice.

Nereid Monument British Museum

Tiernan and some greek busts

And so we completed the ground floor, left-hand side of the British Museum.

En route to the Asian exhibit upstairs, we hit ‘the wall’ and it took all our energy to get back downstairs! I’ve got to learn to stop booking those really early flights.

Needless to say we will have to make a trip back to the British Museum since we only covered half of one floor. Once again I live up to my reputation of saving things for later!

How We Got To The Rugby World Cup 2015: Ireland Vs Canada

Note: Public Voting for the Blog Awards Ireland has been extended to September 23rd! That means you can still vote for Rachel in Ireland in the travel and diaspora categories!

ireland rugby supporterIf one memory sticks with us about this year’s Rugby World Cup it won’t be Japan beating South Africa. Nope, it will be the train journey we made from London Paddington to Cardiff for the Ireland vs. Canada match.

This experience really was once in a lifetime. It was fun for its edge of seat (and sometimes no seat) unpredictability. It was not fun for the same reason.

I had already had a guts full of this train journey several months before when First Great Western tried to charge me nearly £500 for a return ticket for one person when their website had sold me three tickets for the same price. I eventually got a refund and managed to book tickets through another provider. Their call centre probably had enough of me calling, but even that wouldn’t prepare them for the storm they undoubtably got from those who did not get onto the 10.45am train.

That’s right. Somehow, they overbooked the train. I was surprised when I wasn’t given a reserved seating option when I booked online, but was still able to purchase tickets for the journey. So I, and many other people, did. ireland and japan rugby fans paddington bear londonWhen we got to Paddington Station, after the requisite photo with the marmalade bear of the same name, there were plenty of green shirts about and a menacing feeling in the air.

A green jersyed girl asked us where the Cardiff 10.36am train was. Having just had a nosey ourselves we could tell her it was on Platform 8 and, also, that it was full.

About that time we noticed a queue starting to form at the barriers and hastily joined it despite not being sure what they were queuing for. It was a good decision because within a couple of minutes it snaked around the left and right of the station.

Then, when the barriers opened everyone was running towards the Cardiff train. We ran the entire length of the train. All the seats were reserved which made no sense because we had 10.45am tickets.

Tiernan asked a Duty Manager what the deal was.

“Just get on the train mate.”

And we did. We jumped on the nearest door and forced our way into a carriage. The people with the reserved seats squeezed passed us. Us towering over them, but we did not get off the train.

It was pandemonium. Eventually platform staff stopped people getting on the train at all. There were some very angry looking people on the platform being turned away. An emotion we’d see again at Reading, Swindon and Bristol. All people with valid tickets, all expecting to get on the train they had booked. We stood the entire 2 hour journey to Cardiff, but at least we got there. cardiff ireland vs canada The streets of Cardiff were teeming with people. It was a sea of green flecked with red. The pubs were standing room only and we were carried by the general flow straight to Millennium Stadium.

The first order of business was purchasing supplies. An Irish supporter’s scarf, beers, and a beef pie that received my seal of approval: a double thumbs up. cardiff ireland vs canada millenium stadiumThen we made our way up to the gods to find our seat. Second row from the back and right next to the aisle. Our seat mate turned out to be a Canadian supporter, Catherine, who had bought her ticket late and was so separated from her friends she couldn’t even see them.

She asked us to look out for the Canadians in the funny hats. But it turns out that every Canadian supporter is attracted to funny hats and the task proved impossible.

Catherine didn’t even know that Canada had a rugby team before this trip. We consoled her that they “weren’t that bad.” Then the game began and boy did they show us…cardiff ireland vs canada millenium stadium

cardiff ireland vs canada millenium stadium

cardiff ireland vs canada millenium stadium Ireland decimated Canada. It was almost rude the way they got try after try. By half time most of the Irish supporters had decided it was time for a red try. So when the Canadians finally did score it was to a reception as good as any home game.

After the game ended we lost Catherine in a crowd singing The Fields of Athenry.cardiff ireland vs canada millenium stadiumLeaving after the match was only mildly more organised than our outward journey. A side street was bursting with bodies standing, vaguely, in three lines – Bristol, Newport and London Paddington. A lonely policeman was encouraging people into general areas based on destination.

Tiernan received a message from mates who were at the fan zone – no doubt bouncing when Japan won! We asked when the last train would be and since no one could tell is, we decided to wait in line rather than risk never leaving to join them.

We bunched up. Throwing evil looks at anyone who tried to cut into the queue from the side. Enjoying the slightly drunken and openly rude snipes of other fans.

After about half an hour we reached another lonely man, a railway worker, on a soap box, yelling that trains were lined up, filling and leaving, and that each would take 400 people. We extrapolated that we had about 45 minutes to go.

Not long after the man on the box we rounded a corner and things became a lot more civilised. Signage and crash barriers gently guided patrons towards their trains. The queues cheered when they were released onto the platform in manageable bursts.

Eventually we not only made it on to a train, but into a seat. The kind with four seats and a table. We allowed a family to fill the fourth seat with one of their children. A New Zealand lad named David who spouted rugby facts like a fountain. Tiernan tried to teach him and his siblings to play Heads Up, while Jack and I tried to accomplish a crossword with their mother.

Paddington station. Indian food. Six flights of stairs. Bed.

Our Monopoly Tour of London

monopoly realAs some of you might remember, we had an absolute blast walking around London in June. It was hot and far too sunny. Just a dream holiday, really. I got to see Tiernan for the first time in months and months (since we lived in separate countries last year) and we made the most of it by making as much silly fun as possible.

What else do you do in London but visit all of the Monopoly properties? We tried to fit in as many as we could as a kind of side project within our daily walkabouts. Tiernan was the Photographer, I was the Banker and Jack was the only player of Real Life Monopoly. Jack playing along with varying levels of exasperation!

We actually got a few sets! All the Reds, Yellows, Pinks, and Greens. Made a really good start on the others as well, but I don’t want to overwhelm you with endless photos of Jack and I standing by signs! So here is a selection of some of the photos we took with the relevant street signs.

monopoly realmonopoly realIf you are going to do this project in one day, I recommend heading out to Old Kent Road and Marlborough Street first as they are the furthest out and to the south. If you stay at the Generator Hostel, like we did, you can get the Light Blues very easily as the are very nearby!

Luckily, the majority of the properties are right amongst the tourist spots – so it’s easy to check off the list while seeing the major landmarks!

monopoly realmonopoly realmonopoly real

If you ever go to London and have an interest in walking your socks off, you can find our map on Google Maps – here. I also included a couple of funny suggestions for the utilities. The Water Works is Water UK’s head office. The Electric Company is the Electric Cinema. The Cinema is a bit out of the way but hey, it’s funny!

Google Maps Monopoly Tour

Day Trip to Windsor Castle

Saturday morning was very damp. It was the Trooping of the Colour in London, but we skipped the pomp and ceremony in favour of a train journey out to Windsor Castle. By the time we left in the mid afternoon, the Queen had arrived and the Royal Standard was waving there instead of Buckingham Palace.

windsor castle

Windsor Central Station is inside a really awesome arcade of shops. The sweet shop, for one, is massive. We walked up to the castle from there.

station windsor

It initially rained. We hid in the audio guide booth for a few minutes. After the initial downpour we managed to make it inside for a tour of the State Apartments while the rain pummelled the windows. By the time the tour was over there were blue skies.

windsor tower

Tiernan gave the tour, it was appropriate since he is a tour guide by day anyway. He had the audio guide on and would tell us interesting facts as we walked through the apartments. I wish we could have taken pictures inside, because the rooms are amazing and house some world famous art – like the portraits of the teenage Princess Elizabeth (Elizabeth I), Henry VIII and Prince Edward.

Henry VIII Hans Holbein Younger

Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger held in the Royal Collection, Windsor Castle. Photo from the Royal Collection.

We also saw the card the Queen sent to her mother, Queen Elizabeth, for her 100th birthday; a letter sent by Prince Albert to Queen Victoria just after their engagement; and a cute little letter from Bonnie Prince Charlie to his Papa. There is an amazing collection of historical documents, art and furniture. Plenty of awesome things I learned about in university and finally got to see in person. You really appreciate that these portraits were people who once lived.

Jack and Tiernan were content to muck around a bit in the sunshine. 2 p.m. train back to London for more major sightseeing!

DSC_0299 jack archer