Spring 2019

Now before I post about the rest of spring here in the UK, I’ve got to re-wind to before Easter… somehow I completely forgot to share a pic from a highly spontaneous and totally unexpected visit from an old friend from high school…

ben in bath

Some of you may recognise Ben N from Ramapo High School who emailed me two hours before he was flying to the UK from Seattle — and lo and behold he was going to be in Bath the very next day — which happens to be an hour’s train ride from where I am currently working… so I added another train journey to my week and had dinner in Bath with Ben. 🙂 It was great to see him in person — just wish I had been able to hang out for longer. The last time we saw each other was in Seattle in 2002 when I had just boarded the tall ship Europa when I was on my Watson Fellowship.  That was just under 17 years ago– yikes we are getting old!! Anyways great to catch up!

Right… so jumping back to early May after my parents and sister returned to the East Coast… we welcomed visitors from North Wales — Ceri, Angela, Kate and Rachel! I don’t have many good pics of the visit but we enjoyed an afternoon at Roath Park Lake and then the following day a visit to Tredegar House in Newport a National Trust property about 20 min from our house. If you look very closely in this pic you can see 3 rascals running between various sculpted hedges…

early may bank holiday

By the time we caught up with them they had already made it to the second floor of Tredegar House, the big mansion on the property… mild heart attack there for a minute… but hey ho you have to applaud the independence?!

Another highlight of early May was a hike up Pen-y-fan, the highest peak in South Wales.  This time we went “up the backside” — meaning not the touristy route we took Morgy up last year.  This route is longer, much quieter, and more scenic.  We didn’t make it all the way to the top because Morgan was going so fast on the way up I could barely keep up with him at times!  We knew at that pace he would totally crash on the way down and we wanted to ensure it was still an enjoyable experience.  He did great though and it was a lovely day!


Three weeks later, it was time for yet another British school holiday!  For non-British readers, you may be surprised by how many breaks we’ve had this year.  The British school year is obviously different to the American one.  It’s split into three terms: autumn, spring and summer.  Each term has a half term break and there’s a break in between each term.  So approximately every six weeks we have a break of either one or two weeks in length.  The summer vacation though is much shorter than the American one, with Morgy’s last day of Reception this year on 19 July 2019.

Anyways I digress!  Over the May half term we headed north to visit the Lake District, a very beautiful part of the country on the west coast of England, a couple of hours south of the Scottish border.  We were joined by Aled’s parents, Ann and Steve, for the first half of the week.  This is the lovely house we stayed in, not far from the shores of Lake Windermere:

windermere house

The weather in this part of the country is notoriously pretty bad and we didn’t have great luck with it while we were there.  That said, we still managed to get out and about on most of the days and enjoy the beautiful sights in the area.

Naturally, we engaged in a lot of boating activities, including a little cruise to various points around Lake Windermere on a lovely boat called “Princess of the Lake”.


After a short stop in Ambleside for a coffee and a look at the Roman ruins, we hopped back aboard to go to Wray Castle.


The views across the countryside were beautiful.


On day two, we took an excursion northwards to see an old friend of Ann’s who she hadn’t seen for nearly 60 years!  Wow.  I don’t have any pics of the visit but it was lovely to meet Gwenda and family and Morgan enjoyed playing in the yard with their grandchildren.  Afterwards, we did a tour of the northwestern Lake District which was gorgeous…


…albeit a little bit wet!


We learned that in the Lake District you just take your umbrellas everywhere and just get on with it!


The highlight of the trip for me was the day we spent on Ullswater, a lake about 30 min to the north of Windermere.  The trip over the pass afforded beautiful views…


…and we found a lovely sail boat to rent on Ullswater.  By now I haven’t been sailing for about 10 years so I was a bit nervous to see if I would remember what to do!  The people at the boat club were awesome — they just threw me and Aled in for a trial run and with a nice gentle breeze we were off!


It all came back instantaneously and I loved being back on the water under sail power!  So after a quick little spin we came back to the dock to pick up the rest of my motley crew…  little did I know Ann and Steve had never been sailing before!


Here’s the next Captain Morgan in training!


I loved it — and am now dreaming of buying our own sail boat for trips out of Cardiff harbour.  Thanks Steve for this awesome idea!

After our sail, we enjoyed a nice pub meal in Ullswater followed by a walk to the Aira Force waterfall.  The forests in the Lake District are magical.


Here is the waterfall itself:


And here is a view of the bridge at the top:


Now the next day was Aled’s birthday and the weather looked ok in the morning and terrible in the afternoon.  So we headed down to Lake Windermere first thing with Aled’s birthday present, an inflatable kayak.  Skeptical as we were about the whole concept, we actually thought the kayak was pretty comfortable and fine for a paddle on a calm day.  (We also don’t have room to store a fiberglass kayak in our current house (no garage!) so this was our best option for getting Morgy out on the water locally.)  Hurrah!


In the afternoon, I managed to get a lunch reservation at a very fancy restaurant in Ambleside to celebrate Aled’s birthday and Ann’s birthday — and while we were at it, why not throw in Ann and Steve’s upcoming 50th wedding anniversary?!  So we went for a 5 course tasting menu which included some amazing dishes such as this lamb main:

old stamp house

Morgan went a la carte with the braised beef for main and elderflower cheese cake for dessert.  Here is Ann showing off her “Happy Birthday” cheesecake plate — I can attest to the fact that there was not one chocolate letter left on that dish in the end!

ann birthday

It was an absolutely fantastic meal — hats off to the team at the Old Stamp House — best meal we’ve eaten in a very long time.  I definitely recommend it if you are passing through Ambleside but you had better book ahead!

There are too many pictures to share so I will just add one or two more highlights from the last days… first the steam gondola on Lake Coniston…

coniston gondola

And the Beatrix Potter house and garden which inspired the Peter Rabbit stories:

beatrix potter garden

We hadn’t read many Peter Rabbit stories before coming here (although Morgy sometimes watches the Peter Rabbit cartoons on TV) but Morgy picked out a a great little book at the gift shop called “The Tale of Tommy Townmouse” which had some nice metaphors for real life.  And somehow having been in the garden which inspired Potter’s stories made me connect with it more.  I also loved reading about the author herself — an independent-minded woman who bequeathed much of her estate to the National Trust when she died.  My list of inspirational British women is growing (see previous post on Cornwall and the Minack Theatre).

Of course this one isn’t on that list:


As I am now starting round 3 of my British immigration process (a process made significantly more difficult by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary) I can’t say I felt much sympathy.  GOOD RIDDANCE.