Astbury Church

I grew up in England just outside the town of Congleton, Cheshire (the same Cheshire where Lewis Carroll wrote about the Cheshire cat). I attended primary school (elementary school, for my American readers) at a Church of England school in Astbury, a small village dominated by St. Mary's Church.

St. Mary's Church is a giant 13th century edifice and it is old. The earliest known church on the site was Norman though it is possible that before that a Saxon church existed there. Putting aside the rebuilding and refurbishment that has occurred since the 13th century, when you are inside that building, you are inside a building that has been in use for 700 years. It has even survived damage from horses stabled there during the English civil war (though some of its furniture and glass did not). It is old, so old that I find it hard to comprehend how much time that is.

I have many memories attached to the church, including harvest festivals, May Day celebrations, weddings, funerals, christenings, Sunday school, Easter, and Christmas, to name a few. I was a choir member for several years and an altar boy, I was even a shepherd or wise man in a nativity once. Joy and grief, life and death, faith and belief; my earliest memories of these things centre around that church and its grey stone walls.

Conveniently placed next to a pub as seems to be required of all areas of congregation for the English1, Astbury Church, as it is colloquially referred, is an imposing sight. From the A34, the church is accessed via either of two lanes that form the perimeter of Astbury's triangular village green, with its giant oak tree centerpiece and carpet of daffodils, grass, or snow, depending on the season. The ground falls away on all sides, and when viewed from the bottom of the green (and assuming you're not trying to look directly through the tree), the church stands against the sky, its weather-vane atop the steeple often silhouetted against clouds or an early morning sunrise, if you are lucky enough to see it.

When I went to visit my family earlier this year, I visited the church for the first time in quite a few years. With my parents, sister, nephew, and wife, we explored the church and its grounds, reminiscing about the occasions that had brought us there previously. If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend visiting this Cheshire landmark and touching 700 years of history. For now, you will have to settle for some of the photos I took; it is a beautiful building that has been considered by some to be one of the most beautiful churches in the country, and is just as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside (though my photosphere below is not great, it should give you a sense of what it is like inside).

To view more photos, go to my Google Photos album for St.Mary's Church.


  1. I presume the pub was there first and they just put the church next door for convenience 

Five Things I Did In England That Might Surprise Americans

We all employ stereotypes to generalise groups of people. Often, a stereotype fills a gap between one cultural experience and another, making assumptions about others to provide an easy answer as to why others are different. It is not a particularly constructive approach to cultural differences, often being divisive to the point of pissing people off. Sometimes that is the intent, to troll people, other times it is a side-effect of ignorance.

That's about as deep as I want to get in this blog entry. However, it sets a basis for the following things I did in England that, due to assumptions (stereotypical or otherwise), may be surprising to my North American friends and neighbours.

1. Sound American

To the community I live in, my friends, my colleagues, and my neighbours, I sound British. It does not matter that there's no such thing as a British accent, the distinctions of Scottish, Welsh, Irish, and English (sometimes even Australian) and any variations thereof are irrelevant; we all sound British. Even now, after 10 years living predominantly in the USA, I sound British. Many are surprised that I have retained my British accent after spending so long here. It does not matter how often I might say to-MAY-toe, zee, or gas, to anyone overhearing me talk, I sound British. I believed them too, until I landed in the UK.

Selected languages and accents of the British Isles (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Selected languages and accents of the British Isles (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Everywhere I went, someone was ready to tell me I sounded American, that I had a twang, that I was losing my accent. Now, at first, I put this down to my saying the odd American word or using an American pronunciation, yet after a day or two, after settling back into my native dialect, the comments kept coming. It seems that immersion in US culture for 10 years does make a difference. Worse still, I could not hear it myself. I was so used to the way I talked, I had not even noticed a change, and I still can't. To one side of the Pond, I sound British, and to the other, American. It has left me a little culturally orphaned, a perennial outsider, a citizen of the mid-Atlantic, land of 80's radio DJ's, bad documentary narrators, and people in old movies1.

2. Eat Well

Possibly the most misleading stereotype I hear about the UK is that all our food is bad, awful, bland, terrible, sludge that no one in their right mind would ever let pass their lips. Though we certainly have some unusual dishes that I find pretty horrible (haggis, jellied eels, black pudding, and tripe), I know many who think otherwise, and it is not indicative of all British food. Every culture has its "acquired tastes" that others think are disgusting (Velveeta, Easy Cheese and corndogs, anyone?), but that is no reason to disparage every food that culture has to offer.

While I was back home, I enjoyed some amazing food: a steak and kidney pie at my old local pub, a home-cooked roast chicken dinner from my mum, and delicious chicken curry. "But wait, curry isn't British!" you may cry, but the curries served throughout the UK have diverged from their Indian or Bangladeshi origins to meet the palates of Britons. As American as apple pie? As British as a good curry.

Now, you may cry that I am biased and of course, I am. However, I am also a very fussy eater (ask my wife) and I do not take my food lightly, not to mention that we are all biased when it comes to our food; biased toward what we like. If you want to know if what I am saying about British food is right, you can ask my wife, Chrissy (though perhaps she may not agree on which dishes are best). Whether you believe me or not, be a little more open-minded and a lot more selective. Don't base opinions about British food on what you are told or on a single, awful or obscure meal; instead, get some recommendations, you might be pleasantly surprised.

3. Farm Programming

Contrary to the belief of the Comcast representative that sold me my first cable service, modern technology exists in the UK2. I realise that many people reading this, if not all, are already aware of this.

Shakespeare was not amused at the quality of the earring he bought on Etsy
Shakespeare was not amused by the quality of the earring he bought on Etsy

As our trip to the UK was to be a working vacation, I spent some of my time sat in the lounge of my parents' centuries old farmhouse, coding, emailing, and taking part in meetings. Even in the "quaint"3 English countryside, the modern engineer can push commits to GitHub, attend a conference call on GoToMeeting, and surf the Internet for cat photos. WiFi and broadband are everywhere in the UK; in fact, in some places, the speeds should embarrass Americans, who have some of the most expensive and slowest broadband Internet services in the world.

4. Not Meet The Queen

"And I said, Jeff? Of course I know Jeff!"
"And I said, Jeff? Of course I know Jeff!"

No, I don't know the Queen. I also did not meet your friend that lives in Lower Bumblecrap or your great Uncle Charlie from Arserottingham. What I am trying to say, though perhaps a little harshly, is that the UK is a big place. There are over 63 million people in the UK, over 53 million of them in England alone, one of which is the Queen4. She does not tend to hang around and have personal relationships with her millions of royal subjects. I understand the idea that there is some chance I may have met someone's friend or family member, no matter how unlikely, but when I get asked if I know the Queen (even in jest), I want to escape and go have a real conversation with someone else. Why is a country that fought so hard to get rid of the British Monarchy so apparently obsessed with it?

5. Not Stay

The idea of leaving the gorgeous countryside and history of England to live in the US seems unimaginable to some. Like Madonna, Kevin Spacey, and Tim Burton, many Americans would jump at the opportunity to live in the UK. I can see why, it is filled with amazing people, history, and free healthcare, not to mention everyone talks like Dick van Dyke got elocution lessons, but I lived there for nearly three decades, I've done that. Although my family and many amazing friends are there, I don't fit. I never really fit. The culture of cynicism, the Tall Poppy Syndrome, the overcast weather; it just does not suit me, and in the long term, it doesn't make me happy. Although the US is far from perfect and there are many things I miss from my native land5, since moving here I have been happier, more satisfied, more successful, and more accepted. When we returned to the US, the immigration officer said, "Welcome home," and he was right.

Today's featured image is by Lunar Dragoon and is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.


  1. Okay, not quite, but I wanted to include the video 

  2. "Do you have computers in England, yet?" he had asked, earnestly 

  3. This over-used description of the UK, or parts thereof, always feels dismissive, like it's just a theme park 

  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_the_United_Kingdom#Population 

  5. Worry-free (or at least worry-less) healthcare, pubs (no, they don't exist in the US), proper fish and chips, cask-conditioned ale, and the steak and kidney pies from my old local, to name a few 

A Lush Pilgrimage

Before Chrissy and I went on vacation to England, we were discussing the trip and what we might do while over there (besides spending time with my family). Mid-conversation, Chrissy tilted her head and said, "How far is Dorset from your parents' house?"

"About four hours, why?"

"Have you ever been to Poole?"

"When I was a kid. There's that photo of me with a python round my neck. Why?"

"What photo?"

"I have that yellow sweater on. Why do you want to go to Poole?"

"I don't remember that photo. You've never shown me."

"I swear I have, but whatever. Why do you want to go to Poole?"

"Oh, no reason. Just asking."

"Bollocks. Why do you want to go?"

And it was then that I discovered Poole in Dorset, England is the home of the very first Lush Cosmetics shop and spa.

Chrissy is a lushie1, she has ordered items from Lush Kitchens around the world, exchanged products with other lushies and generally had a jolly good time discussing Lush products over the Internet. For a while, it felt like a new package arrived every day. There were even three packages waiting for us at my parents' house in England. Chrissy loves Lush and the opportunity to visit the spot where it all began was irresistible. So, I planned a trip to Dorset.

Bournemouth

Our hotel. That'll do for a night or two.

A photo posted by Jeff Yates (@jeff.yates) on

I found a hotel in Bournemouth (about 15 minutes drive from Poole), a seaside resort on the south coast of England where my family had holidayed when I was 8 or 9 years old (the same trip I met the python), and made a reservation for a couple of nights. Since we were going to be passing nearby, I also booked tickets to visit Stonehenge on the way back (it's about an hour and a half from Bournemouth)2. It would be a lovely little break, Chrissy could get her Lush fix and I could reminisce about childhood vacations while enjoying the English seaside.

The drive down was mostly uneventful until the very end. After checking in to the hotel, we had to navigate a road closure to find our hotel car park; this turned out to be gated with a key-coded entry and incredibly narrow. So narrow that the only reason I even attempted to drive in was the knowledge that someone must have done so already. So unbelievably narrow, a motorbike might have paused to consider the best strategy for passing through3. After squeezing our way into the car park, we rested up in our room before strolling down to and around the beach and pier.

Across the street from our hotel. The architecture around here reminds me of #Poirot.

A photo posted by Jeff Yates (@jeff.yates) on

The architecture in Bournemouth is indicative of its popularity and growth during the early twentieth century. As we walked around, I was reminded often of the ITV television interpretation of Poirot.

A photo posted by Jeff Yates (@jeff.yates) on

After a windy wander along the pier, we grabbed some fish and chips for dinner, then went back to the hotel for a good night's rest. The next day was a big one; Chrissy would get to visit Lush prime.

Poole

Chrissy stood outside Lush, Poole
Chrissy stood outside Lush

I think Poole is probably most famous for the dolphin-marked Poole Pottery, but it is also the home of Sunseeker Yachts, a log boat preserved with sugar syrup4, a lot of pubs (and I mean a lot), and the very first Lush store. We parked up near the Quay and, checking directions on the map, walked to Lush.

Chrissy's excitement was palpable and photos were mandatory. Within moments of arriving, it was clear Chrissy had found kindred lushie spirits in the staff. When they realised how far Chrissy had traveled to be there, they offered her a tour of the spa and a free postcard as a souvenir of our visit. I do not recall ever being made as welcome in a shop as I was there, and I was only there because I'm married to a lushie.

At the end of the spa tour5, they asked Chrissy if she would like a treatment. She looked at me for encouragement, which, after a very brief moment of hesitation, I gave —how could I deny her this after travelling so far to be here? Within minutes, we were both6 ready to be booked in for their 80 minute treatment known as "The Good Hour", but there was a snag; they could only fit us in the next morning7. This unfortunate delay, we were to learn, was serendipity handing us an opportunity.

With the treatments booked, we headed out to explore Poole. We wandered the quay, saw Sunseeker yachts in varying states of manufacture and repair, admired some exceedingly old buildings, lost count of how many pubs we did not have time (nor the constitution) to visit, bought some gifts from Poole Pottery, and visited the museum. It turned out that Poole was really worth a visit, regardless of the initial reason we were there.

Gorilla perfumes display
Gorilla perfumes display

The next day, we returned to Lush. I do not want to go into details about the "The Good Hour" treatment, if you want spoilers I am certain the Internet will oblige, all I would like to say is that it was fantastic. The massage was excellent, the pirate-theme was whimsical and strangely relaxing, and the conversation with my masseuse, Emma, was thoroughly enjoyable if not a little…different8. After our treatment was over, we were given a nice cup of tea (with the option of a drop of rum) while we relaxed and enjoyed some more conversation with the friendly and lovely Lush staff. Everyone who we met was professional, friendly and chatty.

As we sipped our tea someone said in a low voice, "Mark is in if you'd like to meet him."

Mark was Mark Constantine, the co-founder and owner of Lush. Chrissy did not know what to say at first. Her eyes were wide like a child who just heard the distant chimes of an ice cream truck9. We walked out of the spa into the shop and glanced nervously round the corner at Mark. Megan, one of the amazing staff, stiffened up with nerves. No one was sure who should interrupt the boss and ask him to meet two people from Michigan. They were not intimidated by Mark, they were in awe of him.

"Mark is kind of a big deal," we were told.

Eventually someone got his attention and he came over to where we were stood. We shook hands. Chrissy was grinning so wide that her face sank beneath teeth and eyes. Even I was excited; not only was I getting to meet the owner of the company, but it was possibly the best thing that could have happened on Chrissy's pilgrimage to the Motherlush. The three of us posed for a photo, then Mark went back to his task and we finished up our purchases, ready to head off to Stonehenge. What a great day, it could not get any better.

Then just as we were about to leave, Mark's hand fell on Chrissy's shoulder.

"Wait here, let me get something for you."

Lush Spa and store, High Street, Poole, Dorset
Lush Spa and store, High Street, Poole, Dorset

Mark disappeared upstairs where the Lush labs, responsible for inventing new Lush products, reside. We were informed that much of the work in the labs had been focused on products for the new Oxford Street store10. A few minutes later, Mark returned with a small plastic box containing two sparkly cosmetic items.

"These aren't exactly new. They're existing products packaged in a new way."

As Chrissy nearly passed out from excitement, Megan took the shiny products and, after taking a picture of them for herself (these were new to everyone, it seemed), packaged them up for Chrissy. It was a generous finish to an already fantastic trip, something that I am sure we will talk of often. As we set off on our way to Stonehenge, I reflected on the day and how it would not have been possible on our last trip, when I had not brought my anxiety under some level of control. I could imagine us not getting the spa treatments because I worried about the cost, or because I worried about not making Stonehenge on time11. I could imagine us leaving the shop sooner, to be sure we would make our Stonehenge time-slot, missing our meeting with Mark Constantine and his generosity. Worse still, I could imagine me spilling all these anxieties out all over the place like an untamed fire-hose, drowning them in negativity so that we could never look back on them as the wonderful moments they were.

As it is, our trip to Poole was one of the best parts of our three weeks in England. Assuming Chrissy doesn't drag me off to the newly opened Lush on Oxford Street in London, I look forward to stopping by Poole to pop into Lush and say hello to the friendly staff, and perhaps to take a stab at those pubs.

There are lots of pubs in Poole. We had lunch in one, but there are about 10 almost back to back.

A photo posted by Jeff Yates (@jeff.yates) on


  1. The word used to describe fans of Lush cosmetics 

  2. That's right, the reason we went to Stonehenge was Lush 

  3. OK, that's an exaggeration, but it was bloody narrow 

  4. Sweet! 

  5. I was allowed to tag along too 

  6. Originally, I planned to try one of the many pubs while Chrissy had her treatment, but then I realised it's my vacation too and I deserved a massage 

  7. Each treatment is unique, so the staff need time to setup the room according to the treatment chosen. Ours was pirate-themed…yes, that's right, pirates! 

  8. Look out for the short story or perhaps even seven novel series (with derived movie franchise) I hope to write soon entitled, "The Radiator People" 

  9. actually, they were wide like Chrissy had just heard the distant chimes of an ice cream truck 

  10. Lush Oxford Street was not yet open at the time of our visit to Poole 

  11. It turns out we didn't, but that's not the point 

Stonehenge

My wife, Chrissy, and I have just returned from a trip to England. The three week break was a chance to see my family, visit some old friends, and have a vacation. Before we left for the UK, Chrissy expressed an interest in visiting Poole in Dorset (the reason why is for another time), so I suggested we should stop by Stonehenge as it is on the way and Chrissy had never been.

Tickets and Time Slots

It had been a long time since the one and only time I had visited Stonehenge, so I decided to do some research on the English Heritage website. It was there that I discovered Stonehenge now requires advanced booking to guarantee seeing it. Tickets cost £15 (about $25) each for adults and cover parking, access to the onsite museum, and access to Stonehenge itself (checkout the site for up-to-date pricing information). When I visited Stonehenge as a kid, the site had only just earned World Heritage status. Visitors would drive up to the site, park their car, and have a walk around for free or close to it, so £15 seemed a tad expensive. In hindsight, I can see where the money goes and for me (and Chrissy) it was worth it1.

When booking the tickets, you have to select a half hour time slot in which you will arrive at the site. This time slot does not affect how long you can stay, it just staggers arrivals to provide some level of crowd control. I selected a slot in the early afternoon to give us time to get there, although I was somewhat anxious about being able to meet our half hour slot; the website clearly states that missing your slot may mean you cannot visit the site and there are no refunds. In England, journey times can be exceedingly variable due to the high volume of traffic, and due to a combination of other commitments and traffic, I was right to be anxious. As we traveled to Stonehenge from Poole in Dorset, Chrissy called ahead to let them know we would be about an hour late. The staff that we spoke to were very helpful in adjusting our time slot and giving us a new reference code at no extra charge. I could imagine that on a busier day, they might not have been able to help us and we would not have been able to visit.

Stonehenge Visitor Centre

Stonehenge Visitor Centre
Stonehenge Visitor Centre

Upon arrival, our advanced booking ticket gave us access to the car park. For those without advanced booking, parking was £5, refundable on buying a ticket (I suppose this fee is to discourage people just stopping by to use the toilets or grab a snack). However, drop-in visits cost nearer £18 each (and I assume would be subject to availability based on how busy they are). Given this information, I highly recommend getting advanced tickets. I also recommend making your time slot and if you cannot, calling ahead rather than just waiting to get there.

Visiting Stonehenge from London
Stonehenge is not quite as close to London as the movies often make out. The monument is roughly an hour and forty minutes from London by car (depending on traffic), or nearly four hours by public transportation.

Parking, situated a mile or two from Stonehenge itself, was easy. As we stepped out of the car, the exposed nature of the area was evident. Outside the shelter of the visitor centre, the wind was strong and biting. Having experienced it without, I definitely recommend dressing in layers, including scarf, gloves, and hat, just in case the weather is inclement.

From the car park leads a path to the new and impressive visitor centre. Inside which is an extensive gift shop2, a cafeteria, toilets (these were clean and well-maintained), and a museum. We grabbed some food before exploring more and found it to be excellent if not a little overpriced; somewhat reminiscent of Ikea but with less meatballs.

Neolithic Village

Neolithic Village
Neolithic Village

At the back of the visitor centre is an open air imagining of a neolithic village containing several roundhouses. After eating in the cafeteria, we decided to check that out first. Each roundhouse represents a possible example of neolithic life, based on archaeological discoveries and expert conjecture.

A photo posted by Jeff Yates (@jeff.yates) on

In one roundhouse we discovered an English Heritage staff member displaying various examples of neolithic tools and clothing. We spent a few minutes talking with the guide about the roundhouses, neolithic life, and clothing (nettle-based thread is surprisingly soft, somewhere between cotton and hessian). The neolithic village was my favourite part of the visitor centre area. Not only were the roundhouses a great tactile, visual, and informative experience, but the nearby sarsen stone challenge was an amusing distraction.

Stonehenge

After visiting the neolithic village, we jumped aboard one of the shuttle buses that connects the visitor centre with Stonehenge. If you wish, you can opt to forego the shuttle and walk to Stonehenge. However, the shuttle and walking are the only options as the road to Stonehenge, once accessible by the public, is now closed to all but walkers, the shuttle buses, and other authorized vehicles.

A photo posted by Jeff Yates (@jeff.yates) on

The ride took about two minutes and was surprisingly exciting. As the shuttle bus neared Stonehenge, the monument rose out of the horizon. I found the experience more exciting than I had expected, though part of that was driven by Chrissy's obvious excitement next to me. Arriving near Stonehenge, I stepped off the shuttle bus and began regretting not having gloves, a scarf, or a hat; the wind was intense.

The shuttle bus drops off and picks up close to where the old visitor centre used to be. As we walked toward Stonehenge, debris from that visitor centre and some portions of the old car park were visible on our left. English Heritage is in the process of returning the Stonehenge area to a more natural state, so the old visitor centre has been demolished and soon the old car park will be entirely gone.

Heel Stone
Heel Stone

From the bus stop, a footpath leads up toward Stonehenge. The path was varied in width and roped on both sides, it was also protected in places with a porous matting under foot. We followed the path until we reached a fork near Stonehenge. The audio tour (available as a smartphone app) directs you in a specific direction although, due to the wind and our desire to talk to one another as we shared the experience, we turned the tour off and went to the left. This took us up to the Heel Stone, a large, unshaped, upright sarsen stone that is one of two remaining Station Stones (there used to be four). From the Heel Stone, the view descends away from Stonehenge along the Avenue that leads to Woodhenge near the river Avon and a settlement.

Walking past the Heel Stone takes visitors away from the main site a little, passing down the other side of the hilltop. This gave us an opportunity to view Stonehenge from a distance and appreciate the site and its imposing silhouette against the sky. As we walked around the path, it was possible to see various burial mounds positioned on all sides such that they appear on the horizon when stood close to the henge. While visiting we learned that to the people who built this site, it is likely that stone represented death and wood represented life, explaining the arrangement of burial sites with Stonehenge, and the settlement with Woodhenge. These burial mounds and the other earthworks, such as the Avenue, surrounding Stonehenge are all part of the World Heritage site maintained by English Heritage.

Stonehenge with cement repairs visible on the left-most foreground sarsen stone
Stonehenge with cement repairs visible on the left-most foreground sarsen stone

From the furthest point, the footpath spiraled back in toward Stonehenge until we were within a few feet of the giant stones. Just as when I was a child, the stones themselves are now roped off from visitors to protect the site from damage and vandalism, signs of which are still visible to those who look. However, signs of more well-intentioned changes are also visible, such as the cement repairs that were made to the henge in order to maintain its state of arrested decay3.

From atop the stones, rooks launched themselves into the unrelenting wind, flapping their wings with determination yet going nowhere. From the number of birds taking part and the repetition of this Sisyphean task, I am pretty certain this was a game used to pass the time while waiting for people to throw them a snack.

A photo posted by Jeff Yates (@jeff.yates) on

Museum

After spending around 45 minutes around Stonehenge, we caught the shuttle bus back to the visitor centre, purchased some gifts from the visitor centre4, and checked out the museum. Access to the museum is included as part of the ticket price. The museum itself is not very big and so easy to cover in an hour or so. Entrance and exit to the museum is via a circular room with projection onto the outer walls simulating what being inside the famous stone circle would be like at various parts of the year; notably, the winter and summer solstices. The main area of the museum contains various exhibits and artifacts from Stonehenge and the surrounding area, discussing its history and archaeology. There is also a special area for housing temporary exhibits, which for our visit covered Stonehenge and its relationship to war with various artifacts from the various military bases that were in the area. Overall, the museum was a great way to end the visit, although I could see it being a decent way to begin too if you were less eager to get to see Stonehenge.

In Conclusion…

After the museum, we grabbed a snack, took a bathroom break, and headed home. Our route took us along the A303, which runs east-west just south of Stonehenge. Stonehenge is visible from this road and, as such, this road is visible from Stonehenge5. The view from the road, though impressive, was not a patch on our visit.

The museum, neolithic village, and Stonehenge itself all provided unique experiences that, together with some breath-taking views of the surrounding landscape and a bite to eat, took around two and a half enjoyable hours. The hands-on elements of the neolithic village, the immersive audio tours, and the new facilities would all have been well received by me (and my parents) had they been there when I visited as a child. I definitely think families would get a lot from a visit.

In conclusion, Stonehenge and the Stonehenge Visitor Centre are wonderful if you have an interest in the neolithic and related subjects, or a general enjoyment of museums, but you should set expectations the same as you would visiting any museum; if you are expecting some kind of life-changing experience or spiritual awakening from your visit, you will most likely be disappointed. For those wanting a more exclusive experience, you can contact English Heritage to try and arrange a visit into the stone circle itself, though I suspect that experience is only slightly more whelming than the one most of us get. Either way, if you have the opportunity, I would definitely recommend a visit to Stonehenge.

Chrissy and I enduring the wind
Chrissy and I enduring the wind

This post is sponsored by CompareStonehengeTours.com

 


  1. If the ticket price is still putting you off and you don't mind crowds, access to the monument is free on the solstices 

  2. "Exit through the gift shop" culture is everywhere now, as we already know 

  3. If you search the Internet, you can find discussions on the various restoration or maintenance efforts conducted at Stonehenge, and forthright opinions on whether they went far enough or too far 

  4. I am certain that the packet of 10 Stonehenge-themed tissues were very well received 

  5. Although now cancelled due to ever increasing costs, a project had been proposed to construct a tunnel for the A303 to improve the landscape around the monument and to improve road safety (as you might imagine, rubbernecking is pretty common)  

One night in Toronto

A few years ago, Chrissy and I took our first trip to Toronto. We were there to see Christopher Moore at a book signing. We had arrived in the very early morning, so the owner of the guest house where we were staying had left us a key and a note on how to find our room. We followed the instructions and went up two flights of stairs before making our way through what we thought was our room door.

Upon unlocking and opening the door, we discovered a narrow, creaky staircase lined with some interesting paintings. At the top of the staircase was a bathroom with a large, old jet tub, a toilet by a window (where nothing could be left to the imaginations of the neighbours), and a large, terrifying clown behind a plant. The bathroom looked like it could have been a happening place for swingers some time in the seventies.

We continued past the bathroom along a short landing, strange paintings and knick-knacks surrounding us. On the back of the door hung a small pair of children's fairy wings from a costume, along with some bridal equipment. Dust covered everything and the air smelled of musty books. We opened the door.

The bedroom was packed with stuff. In the words of Stefon from SNL, this place had everything: creepy paintings, old woolen blankets, VHS tapes, CRT TV, sixties furniture, orange shag-pile carpet, and a horizontal head rush. What's a horizontal head rush? It's that thing where the floor slopes inward such that the head of the bed is lower than the foot.

Chrissy wanted to immediately head back out and find a different hotel. I, however, was exhausted and wanted to sleep, even if it did mean ignoring all the signs that we had entered the Twilight Zone. I persuaded Chrissy to stay and we went to bed. As the blood rushed to our heads and our feet became icy cold, little flecks of dust and paint rained down on us from the paintings above us and we did our best to fall asleep.

The next morning, we went downstairs to the dining room. A large round dining table was beautifully laid out. It felt like we were staying at the house of an eccentric relative. The room had a high shelf that was lined with teapots of varying shapes, sizes and colors. It was there that we ate a delicious breakfast cooked by the proprietor and one of his friends. We also got to meet some of the other guests who were staying; they seemed equally as eccentric as the house.

From the dining table, we could see the kitchen. Actually, that's a lie, we could see some of it. The bits that were not underneath something else. It was no place for the squeamish and I decided it would be best to just not look, that way we could enjoy the food.

In fairness to our host, we had a wonderful stay thanks to their courtesy and hospitality, and that of his friends and guests, but there is no way my words, nor the photos below can do justice to the wonderful time capsule in which we stayed. The house could have served well as the backdrop to a Dickens adaptation or perhaps a Hammer Horror. It will stay with me for a long time.