Like many others we haven’t been able to do much recreational travel over the last few years, but we were finally able to complete a trip to England which we originally booked in February 2020.
We started planning this trip during the early months of 2020. We even booked our flights and a hotel room, when everything came to a sudden halt with the emergence of the pandemic. Thankfully, despite booking non-refundable tickets and rooms, the airline gave us vouchers for a future trip.
Below is a journal of some of the trip along with some photos. We are extremely grateful for the friends who hosted us up in their homes, making this trip possible. We are very lucky to have such wonderful people in our lives.
Notes: This is a long entry. We appreciate your time, and hope you will find the travel journal interesting. However, if you are more interested in photographs, the entire collection of photos we took (in chronological order) can be found on our photo site. If you are interested in any of the places we visited, there is also an embedded map at the bottom of the post which includes pins for most of the places mentioned in the narrative.
Wednesday & Thursday (Day 1)
We started the trip as we often do with a Dartmouth Coach coach ride to Logan airport in Boston. Sarah’s mother gave us a ride to the depot, and the bus ride to the airport was uneventful. Early, as usual, for our red eye flight we made our way through security and found our departure gate where we grabbed a light lunch at one of the nearby food places.
The airport was packed, and so was our flight. The airline had sent a message via their mobile app stating that because the flight was full they wanted people to check bags they might otherwise not. We reluctantly did so only to hear an announcement at the gate that it was only voluntary. We decided not to make a fuss, and once boarded we settled into our seats — in the very last row.
The flight to Iceland was very bumpy due to turbulence and our location at the back of the plane. We had thought we had chosen different seats during the boarding process, but apparently IcelandAir had other ideas. When we arrived in Keflavík airport in Reykjanesbær, Iceland, it was still light out, but our internal clocks felt like it was the middle of the night. We rested for about an hour before our connecting flight to London boarded, where thankfully we had seats closer to the front of the plane. This second leg was much smoother.
We arrived at Heathrow on time around midday Thursday, and as soon as we landed we activated our eSIM and sent a text to our friend Jess who greeted us warmly and drove us to her home north of the city. After unpacking, we took a walk with Jess and then hopped into the car to do some grocery shopping and purchasing of items we didn’t want to bring with us. Jess made us a fabulous dinner and we chatted until the jet lag caught up with us and we made our way to bed.
Friday (Day 2)
We started Friday with with a trip to the cathedral city of Hertfordshire, St Albans. Once we parked the car, we walked around some of the still visible Roman ruins and a lake before stopping for lunch at one of the pubs claiming to be the oldest in England, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, which has been operating since 793 AD.
We had a nice lunch and a couple of half pints of beer beer before walking the short distance to St Alban’s Cathedral. The trip may have been short, but it was eventful. While walking along the path between the two locations, Sarah looked down and saw something shiny. Upon inspection we noticed it was made of gold. Sorry to report it wasn’t an ancient artifact, but a gold tooth which some poor punter likely lost recently. We wondered what circumstances had led to the tooth coming loose.
The Cathedral is massive and we spent a good amount of time inspecting all of the various nooks and crannies as we dodged giggling school children.
After we explored the cathedral we walked in the gardens and then, just as a bit of rain came through, we popped into a local craft beer taproom called the Mad Squirrel where we enjoyed quick halves and chatted with the staff on what appeared to be a slow afternoon for a Friday. They were nice enough to send us off with a beer engine cask label as a souvenir.
Next we walked down the high street and stopped at the Books on the Hill for a perusal on our way back to the car and then to Jess’ to clean up for dinner.
Jess had booked a table at a cute little Turkish place named Tabure in Harpenden. The restaurant does small plates like in tapas restaurants, and we all chose our favorite dishes to share — including grilled cauliflower, cod, lamb merguez, potatoes and the tastiest halloumi ever. For dessert we had a decadent flour-less chocolate brownie drizzled lightly with tahini and then made our way back to Jess’ to relax before bed.
Saturday (Day 3)
Saturday was our last day with Jess and we spent it walking around Coombe Monument on a beautiful sunny day in the Chiltern Countryside. We weren’t particularly interested in the monument itself — as it is a war memorial — but went for the stunning views. The walk from the carpark was a nice wooded, gradual incline through pastures that are being grazed by cows, so we minded our step. As one approaches the monument there is no indication that the view will be as extensive as it is. It was a bit windy at the top but otherwise the weather was perfect. We took in the views and then did some rambling through the wooded paths before returning to the car to make our way to the local pub for lunch and to meet up with Tait who was driving directly up from a week-long retreat he was attending in Totnes.
We chose the pub for lunch as it was really the only option in the area. We arrived at around the time Tait told us he would be arriving, and grabbed a picnic table outside. Shortly after we sat down Tait joined us and between hugs we introduced him to Jess. We had a lovely time, and everyone enjoyed their meals. As we were settling the bill we were told that the pub, The Russell Arms, is apparently somehow Boris Johnson’s local due to its proximity to the Prime Minister’s country estate, Chequers. The bartender then confided that BoJo hadn’t shown his face around the pub for a while, and Rick told him that was probably for the best and that he would hold his tongue further. For those who may wonder, Rick made this comment because Johnson had only recently survived a no confidence vote (and a week or so later would resign as Prime Minister).
We then dealt with the difficult part of saying goodbye to our dear friend, Jess, and transferring our luggage from her car to Tait’s. After multiple excuses for more hugs, we finally parted with Jess, and Tait drove us on to Reading. We had originally planned to get a ride to Maidenhead to catch a train to Exeter, but there was a train strike and our train was canceled due to it. Tait was gracious enough to take us all the way to Reading to catch a coach as an alternative, and after a brief detour to view a house he had lived in as a child, we continued the journey.
We were somewhat relieved that the bus stop looked much better in person than it had on online maps, and wasn’t just tarmac with weeds growing it out of it. But we were less happy that shortly after we said our goodbye to Tait it started raining. We found a small shelter, stacked our bags on the bench, and waited patiently in the rain for the Flixbus to arrive.
The coach was about 15 minutes late, but we made good time on the road and the rain gave way making for a scenic journey. The coach made brief stops in Bristol and Taunton before arriving a little after 9 p.m. in Exeter where our great friend Chris was waiting with his car and a smile.
Chris drove us all to he and Mia’s place just outside Crediton and, it being late, we dropped our bags in the room they made up for us and had a brief chin wag before going to bed.
Sunday (Day 4)
After a long day Saturday including a three-hour-long coach ride it was nice to have a bit of a lie in on Sunday morning. When we woke we finally got to meet Chris and Mia’s 3-year-old daughter, D, whom we had only interacted with previously via video calls. On those calls she seemed uninterested or even bored with the people on the other end of the call with the funny accents, so we weren’t sure how she would react to us being there in person. Chris and Mia said she was excited to meet us, but that sounded like parent speak. But it wasn’t. D greeted us warmly, and was engaging. We all had a breakfast of homemade muesli and then took a walk around their garden as D showed us her favorite flowers.
Shortly after, our friend Emma and her husband, JP, arrived for our next adventure. Emma and JP were kind enough to drive over an hour to pick us up and take us hiking on Dartmoor. We had been on the moorland last in 2016 when we attended Chris and Mia’s wedding so it was fitting that we would return during this visit with them. However, Mia being 8 months pregnant meant that we would be going alone with Emma and JP.
JP drove us to a spot that they had chosen based on proximity to our late afternoon plans as well as our limited gear. We had requested something not too physically challenging that didn’t require hiking boots, and they found an ideal location just outside Belstone and south of Okehampton where Chris could retrieve us later. While we drove Rick and Emma caught up in the backseat, having not seen each other in 20 years.
When we arrived at the chosen spot we found it was quite windy, making it a challenge to talk to one another; however, we managed and Emma led us on a Letterbox hunt. If, like us, you aren’t familiar with Letterboxing, it is a precursor to Geocaching. People hide items in locations inside (usually) plastic containers in the park, and using clues from the landscape one hunts for the hidden items. Inside the boxes are usually a rubber stamp and a journal. When one finds the Letterbox they use the stamp to add to their own journal as proof of finding it. The first Letterbox was placed in Dartmoor in 1854! Emma graciously led Sarah to a Letterbox, and Sarah made a copy of the stamp (a range pole) for her journal as a souvenir. It was great fun, and we both enjoyed the experience.
We wandered the moorlands for a bit longer, checking out the rocks and plant life and climbing up to the top of a rocky tor, before making our way back to the car and then to Okehampton to meet Chris. We were a bit earlier than expected so we popped into The Fountain Inn for a quick half and quieter chat than the moors allowed. It was really great to catch up with Emma after all those years and to meet her wonderful partner. We hope we can spend more time with them on a future visit.
We met Chris in the carpark of the local grocery store and said our goodbyes to Emma and JP and then made our way to Mia’s parent’s house for dinner. Chris and Mia held their wedding reception in 2016 at her parent’s property and we got to know them well as we helped prepare for the ceremony.
Mia’s mother, Joy, made a delicious bean stew and couscous salad and we also got a tour of their recently finished home. When we had visited in 2016, Bob and Joy were living in a long shed on the property and the old house had been reduced to a shell while they planned its remodel. The last time we had been in the house it was decorated with bunting and being used as the bar. It has come a long way since, and it is very cozy. Our hosts also gave us a tour of their extensive gardens, and the shed they had been living in before has since been turned into a studio where Bob paints and Joy throws pottery.
Full after dinner and drinks we all squeezed into the car and drove back to Chris and Mia’s to relax and chat. Chris played the piano while D danced, and then we all retired to our beds.
Monday (Day 5)
Monday was a school day for little D, so after Chris returned from dropping her off, the adults set off for Exeter for some exploration. We started by having lunch at an unusual and fun place with a silly name, Boston Tea Party. Apparently, pre-pandemic, this spot, which is popular with the local university students, used to have large comfy sofas. Now the sofas are gone and it is more of an eatery. An older building with high ceilings and a spacious dining area upstairs, it had a community vibe. When we arrived the place was packed with people talking and enjoying their meals, and we soon joined them.
After lunch we walked to the Exeter Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral Church of St Peter in Exeter. We strolled through the large building where vendors were setting up stalls inside for some sort of makers market. Inside we admired the elaborate carvings, the longest uninterrupted medieval stone vaulted ceiling, the misericords, and the beautiful organ. What we apparently somehow missed was the astronomical clock.
When we exited the cathedral, Mia, being very pregnant, opted to part ways with us and find a place to sit while Chris continued to show us around the city. We walked around for an hour or so, and then met back up with Mia at a chocolate house named Chococo, where we had delicious gelato. Having rested for a bit, Mia was up for a little more window shopping including a stop in a cute crystal shop, before finishing our outing at a roof-top bar called The Terrace, where they served fun cocktails — and mocktails for our pregnant friend — to go along with views of the Cathedral.
After drinks we made our way back with a stop to pick up D at nursery school before heading to an early dinner at a local brewery called The Beer Engine. A playful name based on their proximity to the rail lines which run behind the pub and the name of the apparatus which draws beer from cask ales. We sat outside under the pergola which was covered in vines, watching the trains go by, and meeting other patrons and their sweet dogs. After dinner and dessert we made our way back to Chris and Mia’s place, to get D home in time for her bedtime routine. We were also tired after a long day of walking and exploring.
Tuesday (Day 6)
Tuesday morning was a bit windy and a little chilly, but we decided to press on with the house blessing Sarah had offered to do for our hosts. It was a challenge to keep the candle lit or get the incense started, but we persevered, first by making offerings of thanks, and then by circumambulating the house and garden. D was a trooper and participated fully and quietly, though it was hard to tell what her impression of the proceedings was.
After the house blessing we all crammed into the car and headed to the beach! Specifically we drove to Budleigh Salterton on England’s south coast, within the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Budleigh Salterton’s beach is a natural pebble beach and along with its cliffs are part of England’s Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. For amateur rock tumblers such as ourselves it was almost overwhelming seeing miles of gorgeous, smooth rocks and pebbles from which to choose. We wandered along the coast for a little bit, but the cloudy and windy weather had churned up the water and made it too intimidating to get too close. Every few steps we would find a new candidate for tumbling, but in the end we decided to limit ourselves to six small stones.
After our brief wander, we met up with a friend of Mia’s (Lucy) and her 2-year-old son on the beach path and made our way to a local tea house — The Cosy Teapot — which is known for its proper Devon cream teas. As we were walking we told the rest of the group we would catch them up and popped into a little candy store — The Toffee Nosed Sweet Shop — and picked up some treats. The tea house was just a block away so we joined the others quickly, washed the sea and pebble debris from our hands and sat down to eat. As promised the cream teas were excellent, and we enjoyed them. Thankfully we applied our jam and clotted cream the proper way so there were no international incidents that needed smoothing over.
After we finished eating, we decided to go back down to the beach. On the way Mia and Sarah excused themselves to walk to a shop to purchase a few gifts for our next hosts on the trip while Chris, Rick, Lucy and the kids went back to the beach. Rick was again fascinated by the stones, and to distract the children showed them how to make cairns.
While playing with the rocks D gave Rick a stone which ended up being our favorite by far, and not just because of the sweetness of the gift. We can’t wait to see how it turns out after it makes it through the tumbling process. Mia and Sarah had a successful shopping and found a nice bottle of sparkling white wine, and a small bottle of gin. Soon after we regrouped we said goodbye to Lucy and her son, and made our way back to the carpark to squeeze back in and head home.
Once home most of us relaxed in the living area while Mia began making dinner. When dinner was ready we sat down to enjoy her delicious version of tofu katsu with rice and beans! After dinner Chris played the piano again as part of D’s evening routine and after she went to bed we sat around enjoying beer, cocktails, chat and Sarah did a tarot reading for Mia.
Wednesday (Day 7)
Wednesday was another day for exploring with our friends, and this time we ended up in Crediton. The plan had been to go to lunch at a place called The Duck at Yeoford, which had an exciting menu — including a variety of vegan items. Chris had called to see if they were open and after getting an engaged signal assumed they were. However, when we arrived the lot was empty and the door was closed. This was a bigger disappointment to D who had been promised that she could use the playground on premises. The Duck is a place we really want to try when we visit again in the future, but we kept calm and carried on to the next option, The Lamb Inn at Sandford.
We arrived at The Lamb and all went inside. When we spoke with the barmen though he apologized and informed us that they weren’t serving food — something about a special event. Disappointed but not discouraged we stopped briefly at the Sandford Community Stores where we were able to acquire cheddar and goat’s milk cheeses from Quicke’s. Quicke’s — which was established in 1540! — is actually very near Chris and Mia, but hadn’t been open the couple of times we drove by, so we were happy we were able to acquire some to share with James and Imogen when we made our way to Hereford a few days later.
Back in the car — did I mention it is a tight squeeze with 2 adults (Sarah and Rick) and a child in their car seat? — we pressed on to a place that we expected to be open. So after huffing and puffing our way to The Duck and The Lamb, we settled on The Three Little Pigs. The Three Little Pigs is very much a country local pub, with a hint of sport bar and TGIFridays thrown in. The decor is made up of many wall hangings, plenty of well-worn taxidermy, rugby seat cushions on the ceiling, and a few curios that maybe should be retired in this day and age. The place was busy that day, and while we waited for our meals we used the decor to serve our needs for a game of Eye Spy to help keep D busy.
After lunch Chris went to move the car, and Mia and D hung out on the town square while Sarah and Rick walked across the square to do a little souvenir shopping. We first popped into the Craftsisters, a very small crafting store with sewing and other items. There wasn’t a very extensive yarn supply, and as the women at the till said, with wool prices the way they are, there aren’t many options for local fibers. But we did find a very cute child’s hat for D that looked like a tiger that was organic wool and fair trade. Then we walked next door to The Green House to look for items for friends back home who were looking after the sheep while we were away. The Green House is a very small green grocer which has a co-op feel. We found a few gifts, and some chocolate and kombucha for us.
We met back up with the others and decided to go to the Crediton History Museum next, which was just down the road. Just as we started walking it started raining, but we were able to make it inside without getting too wet. The history museum is quite small but was populated with many interesting artifacts from the 1950s and photos from even earlier. I guided D through and explained the items that must be very strange to a young person. She saw an old rotary phones, an adding machine, a 1950s television set, and even a toaster from the 1940s. She was very curious and listened well when asked not to touch certain items.
After the museum we made our way back to Chris and Mia’s, where Mia drew a map for us to walk to the magical wishing tree. The map was excellent and guided us through various gates and stiles and through holly groves before letting us out on a sheep pasture. We then climbed up a steep hill where the lovely old oak tree stood sentinel. We made offerings to the tree, and contemplated our wishes whilst we circumambulated it three times. When we finished our requests we took in the view from the tree’s location, took some photos, and made our way back to the house.
While we were away Chris had been busy prepping our evening dinner of spanakopita. The house smelled amazing, and our stomachs grumbled in anticipation. To accompany our dinner Mia broke out some homemade wines they had been storing for special occasions. We enjoyed their plum and elderflower wines a great deal. After dinner we gave D the tiger’s hat we had bought for her and she loved it.
As the evening drew to a close we all gathered in the living room one last time for family music time. Mia brought out a variety of her favorite instruments including a maracas, drums, and even an old German Hohner melodica. We all took turns playing different instruments while D free-styled lyrics and danced around the room. We all had a grand time, and when we finished said goodnight to D and then proceeded to enjoy our last evening together by polishing off the homemade wine and talking.
Thursday (Day 8)
We had a wonderful visit with Chris, Mia and D, and it was hard to say goodbye. It was a school day for both Mia and D so we said goodbye to them at the house before they left.
Chris drove us to Exeter St David’s train station, but not before a brief stop to help a rather large lamb get back into a pasture from which it had accidentally gone on holiday. Rick and Chris got out of the car, and Chris opened the gate whilst Rick tried to move behind the sheep. When that didn’t work Rick backed up toward the car and the sheep took a few steps closer to where it needed to be, but then froze up again, before retreating a bit when Rick took a step toward it. We were about to get in the car and back up a bit to give the sheep more room when a truck came toward us — from behind the sheep — and the animal made its way back to its flock. It ended up being the farmer, who thanked us for stopping, and we continued on our way. We made it to Exeter with plenty of time to spare, so we grabbed a coffee and chatted before our train departed. We said our thank-yous and good-byes to Chris and made our way to the platform for our train to Abergavenny, Wales.
While on the train we checked the train app and noticed that our connecting train had been canceled, but a little more poking around indicated that there was another train only 20 minutes or so later than the one for which we had booked. We made it to Newport on time, and walked to the connecting train’s platform and a few minutes later we were on our way to Abergavenny to meet James — who was running a few minutes late.
We alighted from our train and made our way to the familiar Great Western Inn pub just across from the station where we ordered two half pints of ale and waited for James who arrived shortly. James then drove us to his home, located between Abergavenny and Hereford. We have visited with James many times before at his previous home, but this was the first time at Ruthland Farm [pronounced almost like Rutland]. When we arrived we got our bags from the car and greeted James’ wife, Imogen, for the first time. They got married last year, and the timing wasn’t right for us to attend, so it was very nice to finally meet her.
The first order of business was to get the lay of the land with a guided tour of the property. We toured the vegetable garden, the green house, and a few of the fields as we made our way to the pond. But the slight rain that had started when we set out soon became stronger, and so we took refuge to wait it out. When we started hearing thunder we decided to abandon the venture and ran back to the house. A bit damp, and slightly chilly, James decided to make a fire, which burned quickly and brightly.
While we sat in front of the wood stove and caught up, James offered Rick a go at the beer cache as James doesn’t particularly like beer, but still seems to accumulate them via friends and business contacts. Rick rummaged a bit through the dusty bottles, and his eyes widened as he noticed not one, but two bottles of Cantillon. After confirming James was sure he wanted to open and share such a gem, Rick giddily opened the 2007 bottle of Grand Cru Bruocsella, an organic lambic, and poured tastings for everyone, including James. James enjoyed this Belgian treat so much, we all thought it best to save the remaining bottle for him.
Once we were all warm and dry, and the bottled cheer started to take effect, we made our way to the kitchen where James began to work his magic. A few weeks earlier James had asked us what we wanted to eat when we were visiting, and Rick had suggested duck as it isn’t something we can easily find in Vermont. James came through (as always) by creating lovely pan-roasted duck breasts, served with sides of French green beans and mashed potatoes. After dinner we enjoyed a selection of local cheeses before making our way to bed after a long day of travel.
Friday (Day 9)
We both woke early and decided to take our tea in the beautiful sunroom just off the kitchen while James and Imogen apparently had a lie-in. It was already turning out to be a nice day, and reading and sitting seemed the proper thing to do. When our hosts awoke James made us fried eggs, bacon, as well as his own — Trealy Farm — white and black puddings for our breakfast. It was delicious and filling and would provide excellent fuel for the walk we planned to take.
Sated, we asked for and received instructions for possible walks and decided we would walk to the closest village, Ewyas Harold. The route was pretty straight forward, following the narrow hedgerow-lined road from Ruthlands to the village, and was a little over two miles. When we left it had been a little chilly and overcast and we considered wearing our jackets, but were grateful that we had opted not to as the temperatures rose and we warmed up as well.
Once we arrived in the village we stopped for a quick half pint at The Temple Bar Inn, watching a few punters having drinks while they waited for their lunch from the chippy across the street to be ready. Once we finished our beers, we took a circuitous route around the small village, stopping briefly at St Michael’s and All Angels church, checking out the cemetery before briefly popping inside. Inside was cool and quiet with the exception of a faint buzzing from what appeared to be a bees’ nest inside the wall of the church. We dropped some change in the donation box and continued on our walk, eventually making our way to the aforementioned chippy shop.
The Old Stables is a tiny stone building right by the stream sitting between the Temple Bar Inn and the other pub in town named The Dog. For a small place it had an extensive menu of food — including vegan options — and ice creams. We ordered our cones and while we waited Rick made small talk with a local who was hobbling on crutches and had heard our non-local accents. Chilled refreshments in hand, we made our way back to Ruthlands. The route home was the same but the uphill incline at the start was noticeable. On the way back a friend of Imogen’s, who knew there were some Americans visiting, pulled up in her car and stopped to ask if we wanted a lift back. We thanked her and kept going.
When we arrived at the farm, James and Imogen were busy. Imogen’s friend was there and the two of them were practicing singing for an upcoming event, and shortly after we got back “The DJs” arrived to discuss plans for a music festival they planned to hold at the farm for the second year running. We decided to keep out of the way and sat in the garden taking in the views.
A few hours later, we started getting ready for our dinner plans. The evening before James had booked a table at what he referred to as a pop-up restaurant named Under the Nut Tree, but which is described on their website as a “supper club.” The restaurant is more of a farm-to-table place with the food being cooked over an open fire on the proprietors’ farm. It was a fixed menu, a fixed price, and BYOB. We left a bit early with the plan to stop for a quick drink at a place called The Bridge Inn which was en route. We grabbed a few drinks from the bar, and sat outside by the river enjoying the late afternoon sun, and patrons’ dogs carousing, before continuing to our destination.
Under the Nut Tree is a beautiful location, and the owners have done a wonderful job of dressing it up for their events. Most of the tables are outside, including a few under one of the giant nut trees on their property. Inside the barn, where we had opted to sit, was made up in a sort of shabby chic with lots of old knickknacks, and mixed furniture and lighting. We all wandered around the grounds taking in the trees and gardens and watching the other patrons as they mingled. James recognized a few people he knew and while he and Imogen chatted with them we continued to take in the sights and sounds. We were told dinner was delayed because they were waiting for one more group, but thankfully food started arriving at the tables shortly after that announcement.
Under the Nut Tree has two dinners each weekend, one on Friday and one on Saturday, with each weekend celebrating a different animal, and using locally-sourced ingredients. The night we were in attendance the menu’s star was pork. The rest of the three-course meal was made up of flatbread served with a dipping sauce of yogurt, lemon, honey, olive oil and fire-roasted cherry tomatoes. Then there was the roasted pork, (overly cooked) baked potatoes — the only disappointment of the evening — a green salad, caramelized carrots, and a dessert of key lime pie. The last item was very fluffy and creamy, more like a cheese cake, but was a nice combination of tart and sweet.
It was late, but still light out, as we made our way back to the James and Imogen’s. Full and tired, after our collective long days, we decided to call it an evening, and went off to bed.
Saturday (Day 10)
Over breakfast the next morning the plan had been to relax at the farm and do some weeding in their perennial bed, but it was decided that today would be a better day to go to Hay-on-Wye as it was a market day. The drive to Hay was gorgeous as we meandered through the borderlands countryside, but when we arrived we found it hard to find a place to park in the large carpark. After a few trips around the lot, James found a spot and we wandered up to start our exploring.
With over 20 bookshops, Hay is known as “the town of books.” It also hosts the annual literature festival known as The Hay Festival. Everywhere one looks there is a used bookshop; most are general topics with large collections, but some seem to be more niche such as Murder and Mayhem. When we first arrived, James and Imogen saw a couple of friends so we made our way to a near-by bookshop to peruse and give them space.
When we returned they were just finishing up, and made our way to the makers market being held in the Butter Market building which was built in 1830s and resembles a Doric temple. After meandering through the market we decided to rest a bit and grab lunch at a local establishment called Shepherds Parlour, where we had sandwiches and treated ourselves to their small batch sheep’s milk ice cream, which was amazing.
After lunch we continued to wander and pop into shops along our route. We stopped in a few more bookshops, a place that had fossils, artifacts, crystals, and a jewelry store named The Hourglass Collection where the proprietor entertained us with magnetic rocks and water trapped in geodes in an effort to entice us to buy, or perhaps just out of boredom. We took a detour to a small park that overlooked the river Wye and then we spent a good amount of time in a wonderful little stationery store.
As our exploration of Hay came to an end we attempted to return to the carpark by way of the Hay Castle, but there was a wedding being held, so we were only able to poke our heads inside briefly before they closed the doors. We tried to find a short cut around the castle, but were foiled by locked gates as well. But the views from the castle overlooking the town were worth it.
We did find our way to the car and made a quick stop at the cooperative market for some fish fingers for dinner. James took us a different route this time along the Black Mountains, which run along the border between Wales and England. We also made an all-too-brief stop at what may have been Rick’s favorite pub of the trip, The Bull’s Head in the tiny village of Craswall. The Bull’s Head is an upscale farm-to-table restaurant, but we stopped for drinks and bar snacks in a pub that is about as big as our kitchen at home. It is cozy with a fireplace, one large table with a bench — and sheepskins — and few smaller tables. The snacks were delicious and the beers were some of the best casks we had on this trip. We didn’t have time to stay, but we really want to go back to The Bull’s Head for a proper visit on a future trip.
The next stop on our way back to the farm was in Longtown, where we stopped briefly to admire the mid-12th century castle. We parked the car on the side of the road, and walked across the street to the castle’s entrance only to learn that they were doing some masonry repairs and we couldn’t climb up to the keep; however, we enjoyed the views and the atmosphere as we wandered and took photos.
Once home James and Imogen whipped up a meal of fish fingers and courgettes from their garden, and we spent the rest of the evening having drinks, cheese and conversation until it was time for bed.
Sunday (Day 11)
Sunday ended up being a much-need down day, more or less. We slept in, and then had tea and muesli in the sunroom. Once James was ready we got stuck in helping weed the perennial garden, as we had planned to do the day before.
It was a nice and sunny day. Hot by comparison to the rest of the trip to date. A good day to get ones hands dirty. Rick took that last bit a little too literally though and paid the price when he accidentally grabbed a handful of stinging nettles. He immediately put gloves on, and kept on going, and after we were done the area looked great. So many lovely plants that had been hidden by the aggressive Ground Elder now had room to show off and get some sunlight.
After a few hours of garden work, we took a break for some hyper-local sheep’s milk ice cream. This time from a farm down the road, Rowlestone Farmhouse Ice Cream, in the form of leftovers that James and Imogen had from their wedding last summer. It was so rich and delicious! For lunch it was a simple meal made up of salad greens, the goats and cheddar cheeses we picked up from Quicke’s as well as a homemade yogurt cheese that James had made. He described the process as strained yogurt pressed into balls (like mozzarella) and then submerged into olive oil with flavoring herbs — in this case rosemary. All of this paired very well with the bottle of sparkling wine wine from Budleigh Salterton that we had brought as a gift.
We were still able to get a walk in as well. This time we took a route that started by crossing one of the farm’s fields — startling two renegade sheep that weren’t supposed to be there! — and circled around and made it’s way back to the house via the roads. When we first got to the road we met a local man and his two dogs and stopped for a brief chat. Here was another person surprised to hear American accents in such a rural part of England. The older of the two dogs was super friendly, and leaned into us for pets, while the younger one — a pandemic pup as the owner stated — was more cautious of strangers.
We ended up passing the farm’s driveway on purpose as we still had some energy, and went down a road that was closed to traffic. James had wondered what they were doing, and if they would be done soon, as this route was a shorter way for them to get to their most common destinations. From what we could tell it was just some simple tarmac repairs, and was still quite passable. There was no evidence of work being started.
Dinner that evening was leftover beef stew that James had prepared previously and frozen. It was simple by most standards of stew as it was just meat and some seasonings, including an addition of sumac, which we explained to James grows in Vermont like Ground Elder in England. We plan to pick some of the staghorns from the sumac on our property and dry it and try it. It was bitter and tangy when we tried it directly from the bag, but it seemed to add some nice flavor to the stew. Most of the stews we make have potatoes and veg in them, but to James that just muddies the flavors, and he served his with a side of leftover mash from a few night’s earlier — this time with the addition of swede — and a side of greens from the garden, that James referred to as spinach, but were closer to a something like chard to us. Dinner was pared exquisitely with a 2014 bottle of Esprit de Puisseguin, which is described as “a deliciously plump Merlot-based blend from the small commune of Puisseguin, within the greater Saint-Émilion region.” After dinner we had cheese again as our dessert, and as always, everything was delicious.
Monday (Day 12)
Monday morning we woke naturally and went downstairs to have some tea in the sunroom before returning to our room to start packing. We did some last minute laundry so we had all clean clothes before we arrived in Manchester for the last part of our trip. James was kind enough to make us bacon and eggs for breakfast and once we were sure we had everything, we took last strolls around the house and garden, and Rick showed Sarah the pond which she hadn’t seen since we abandoned that due to the thunderstorm on the day we arrived.
We were glad to hear Imogen planned to join us on the trip to Abergavenny to catch the train, and with our final goodbyes to Ruthlands we packed our bags into the car and set off. While James was driving, Sarah poked around the internet to see what our options were for coffee in town. It being a Monday many places were not open, but we couldn’t confirm one way or another for a few others, so we waited until we parked and walked in the general direction of some known places for coffee.
After striking out a few times, we decided to check out Coffi Labs, a relatively new business with a few locations in and around the area. We ordered a few flat whites and a latte as well as a few baked goods and found a nice place outside in the courtyard. Coffi Labs was very clean, and large, and seemed popular but maybe because it was one of the few places open. They also are very dog-friendly and we saw a number of customers with their four-legged friends. Sarah wasn’t keen on the cinnamon roll she got though, so after we were through with the coffee we made a quick stop at Greggs where Sarah grabbed some snacks for the train. The drive to the train station was short, and James parked right outside the tiny station where we all hugged and said goodbye with promises of seeing each other again soon.
The train to Manchester was a two carriage, and we were concerned we wouldn’t find seats, but that ended up not being an issue. The only challenge was that the overhead luggage racks were very small and our luggage took a little muscling to get it to fit. Once settled in we both read the books we had been reading and relaxed until our arrival a few hours later.
When we got to Piccadilly Station in Manchester we got a bit turned around with the directions and even though the walk was only a quarter mile, the bags felt heavier than usual.
The check-in to the hotel was smooth enough, but we were a bit confused when we got to the room and couldn’t figure out how the lights worked. We flipped every switch in the room and nothing turned on. Just as we were about to call the front desk we noticed there was a key card slot next to the door, and once we inserted our room key we had access to the lights! We unpacked our bags and then went around the corner to the local Sainsbury’s were we picked up yogurt, honey, cereal, and oat milk for our morning breakfasts, and then returned to the room to dress for dinner.
We were a bit early for our booking at El Gato Negro, so we planned to wander around the neighborhood were the restaurant was, and stop somewhere for a drink beforehand. After turning our noses up at a few pubs we saw — mostly due to being empty and dark on a Monday evening — we opted for a place named Be At One. As we approached we could hear loud dance music emanating from the place and we wondered if we may be a bit out of place. We were, but the bar was empty so no one noticed. Well, perhaps the bartender did. You see, we looked at the fancy cocktail menu and placed our orders. Sarah chose the Peach Cups, which was made with Tanqueray gin, peach wine, spiced clementine and Aperol (an Italian bitters). Rick opted for the 5th Avenue Boulevardier which used Bulleit rye whiskey, Campari, and sweet vermouth.
We watched then as the bartender went about making the drinks, even climbing on the counter behind the bar to access the Bulleit. As she made the drinks we became confused. There were four glasses on the bar, and she was making two of each. At first we thought it was some sort of coincidence and perhaps the only other couple in the bar had ordered the same drinks; then thought she had misheard our orders. Sarah told the bartender that we only wanted one drink each and the bartender replied “it’s happy hour” as if that explained everything. But it wasn’t obvious to these Americans that happy hour was 2-for-1 drinks and not half-priced drinks as we were accustomed.
We shrugged and took our drinks to a table and laughed at our predicament. We had dilly dallied so long picking a place to have a drink that we were now close to our table booking time. We knew the restaurant charged if one didn’t show up or canceled reservations, but we weren’t sure what happened if one was simply delayed due to “happy hour,” so we each drank both our drinks more quickly than we otherwise might have. But we took time to take some cheeky selfies in front of the purple neon signs before we made our way to the restaurant.
We got to El Gato Negro on time, but by now we were both a bit tipsy! We were shown to our seats, and perused the menu before choosing a few small plates to share as well as a jug of wine (why not!). The food was served quickly — thank goodness! — and we enjoyed every bite. We were very pleased with our choice of restaurant and dishes, but we chose a pudding to take back to the hotel as we were quite full.
It was barely getting dark when we started our walk back to our hotel, and while the food helped, we were still a bit lit. We laughed and held hands all the way back to the hotel, where we stopped at the bar and got a pair of Guinness as our night caps. We ended up being too full and tired to have our dessert and instead watched a little television in the room — the first TV we had watched the entire trip! — before going to bed.
Tuesday (Day 13)
Tuesday morning Sarah went down to the hotel restaurant and scored some bowls and spoons and we had muesli, yogurt, honey and oat milk with our morning tea. Afterward, we logged into the TrainLine app and purchased train tickets to get to Todmorden. Then we packed our day bag and started on our way to Manchester Victoria station.
When we booked our hotel we did so due to its proximity to Manchester Piccadilly station. Getting to Manchester and then getting to the Manchester airport when our trip is done is much easier from Piccadilly. While getting to Todmorden was easier — no transfers — from Victoria. This is where we realized just how walkable Manchester really is. The distance between the two major train stations is less than a mile! They have trams and free buses for transportation options, but we walked the entire time we visited. And even with the trams and the cars, we never felt like we were in a city dominated by vehicles.
When we booked the train tickets on the app we were instructed to go to a kiosk to print the physical tickets, and when we arrived at the station the first thing we noticed was one of the kiosks. Our previous train travel this trip had all been done with QR codes or a third party app.
Todmorden might seem like an odd choice for a day-trip, but it was chosen over two years earlier when we started planning the trip. Rick was doing some genealogy research and found that he had relatives from the area. Rick’s paternal great-grandmother came from the Crossley family, and the Crossleys had deep roots in the Todmorden area. As Rick research continued he discovered that his 4th great grandparents, Thomas Crossley and Ellen Driver, had been married and buried in Todmorden at St Mary’s church.
Before we left for the trip Rick contacted the vicar of the church to inquire about visiting with the intention of finding his relatives’ graves. The vicar replied quickly to say that while we were welcome to visit, the church’s graveyard had become full years ago and was now a “closed Churchyard.” This means that the local civil counsel were responsible for the upkeep and as part of this they moved all the headstones to make boundary walls and paths. Rick was also informed that his request for any documentation of the marriage or burial would have to go through the General Registers office in Halifax. Both of these things were a bit disappointing but not discouraging.
We were early for the train in Manchester, but made our way to the platform. The train trip was only about 20 mins but as we meandered through the countryside it felt so much further. And when we alighted in Todmorden — aka Tod — it felt like were miles, and years, away. Todmorden has a very old and industrial feel, due to its location along the Rochdale canal and the railway. Apparently it was first a woolen town and then switched to cotton during the industrial revolution. Leaving the train station we passed St Mary’s church, leaving it for the end of the visit. Our plan was to walk to Walsden, another town where Crossley ancestors had lived, then return to Todmorden.
Before we headed to Walsden we stopped for coffee at a little place in Todmorden to get our bearings. The lattes were very good and gave us a little boost for our 2 mile walk to Walsden. Once out of the village center, which had more traffic than Manchester it seemed, the walk was a nice stroll through small stone cottages nestled into the hillsides. The route we took was all roads, but was close to the canal. We had contemplated walking the tow-path, which would have been more scenic, but we couldn’t tell how much more time or distance it would add to the trip, so we stayed on the roads.
Walsden is a small and cute village, but it is mostly dominated by a large garden-farm center. We wandered up the high street looking for the handful of places we had identified for lunch, before settling for a little cafeteria named The Cotton Weavers Cafe in Bottoms Mill Shop — which was also part of the garden center. The first two pubs we looked at were dark and empty, but the cafeteria had a large window looking over … the garden center. After our lunch we started our return journey. Rick wanted to visit Walsden as it was a place his ancestors had lived, but there were no plans to do any research while there.
Again tempted by the tow-path we opted for the same route we took on the way, and in short time were back in Todmorden where our first stop was a little hardware store which the staff at the coffee shop earlier said “ha[d] everything.” What we sought was white paper and wax crayons in order to make rubbings of any family graves we might find; and sure enough they had them. The paper wasn’t as large as we had hoped, but the concern was also about how we would transport the finished project home without folding or damage.
When we arrived at the churchyard we saw what the vicar meant when he said the counsel had used the headstones as “boundary walls and paths.” As we walked up the incline to the church there were headstones being used as a retaining wall. When we entered the churchyard, most of it was paved with headstones. We were both a little crestfallen at first. Most of the stones were weathered, and coupled with fallen leaves and other debris, they were hard to read.
There were also probably around one hundred of them, so we divided the yard and started our hunt for Crossleys. It didn’t take long before Sarah shouted out “found one!” and we compared the finding to the family tree PDF Rick had downloaded for reference. It was a Crossley grave but not a recognized name. This ended up being a pattern. All in all we probably found about 8-10 grave markers, and each one contained the names of a few people – new markings added as a new body was added. The oldest Crossley marker we found was from 1697! But we did not find Thomas and Ellen Crossley. We checked the geneology website and found that there were other branches of the family tree on the site, and that some also referenced Todmorden. It appears that Crossleys had been in the area since the early 1300s.
After crawling around on our hands and knees doing gravestone rubbings we decided a drink was in order and walked across the main road to a place simply named The Pub. We had seen people sitting outside on chairs with their backs to the stone walls, drinks in hand, and had noticed a sign announcing 12 beers on cask. We popped in and the place was small, but it had a great collection of craft beers, and not just the usual pales and bitters we had encountered.
We ordered our beverages and took a seat in the smaller side of the already small pub away from the local chatter and talked about our findings. We were exhausted by now, and decided to head back to Manchester to regroup for the evening. A train arrived at the platform just as we got there and we hopped on for the short ride back into the city.
We walked back to the hotel and did some quick research on where to eat dinner that night, ultimately deciding on a Korean restaurant called Koreana. We opted to stop by Cafe Beermoth for craft beers before dinner, where we had some styles of beer that we often find in the states but are reserved for specialty pubs in England for the most part. The bartender was very knowledgeable and talked us through the offerings.
The restaurant was in the same neighborhood as El Gato Negro, but it was still a challenge to find it. Thankfully a nice man standing outside a pub having a smoke with his friends saw the confused tourists and asked if he could help. We told him what we were looking for, and he pointed us around the corner with a parting comment that it was a good place.
When we made our way down the stairs to Koreana it was packed with late-night diners and we weren’t sure we would get a table in a reasonable amount of time, but the staff told us 15 minutes, so we waited. True to their word we were seated just shy of that estimate and shown to a table at the back, near the kitchen. Not our usual preference, but it was a basement restaurant and therefore no windows with views.
We chatted about our exciting and long day, and thoroughly enjoyed our meal, which featured different dishes than what the Korean restaurant back home serves. As soon as we had been seated the other tables started clearing out and by the time we settled the tab the place was nearly empty.
Back at the hotel we had our leftover dessert from the previous night, and flopped on the bed exhausted. We checked our apps and found that each of us had reached a new record in step count for the day, and with that we headed to bed.
Wednesday (Day 14)
Wednesday was intended to be a slower-paced day after all the walking we did in the day before. Again, we had a breakfast of muesli, honey, and oat milk in our room while we decided what to do. Ultimately we opted to check out the Manchester Art Gallery, a publicly owned gallery which is free to visit.
We arrived at the gallery shortly after it opened, and it already swimming with patrons. We opted to wear our masks as we wandered through the space, taking in the large collection the gallery had acquired over the last two centuries. For the most part we were unfamiliar with the artists being displayed, but were impressed with the variety of the collection.
What really appealed to us was the modern way the information plaques were displayed; in lay terms and with biting social commentary. Curators calling out cultural privilege, Manchester’s industrial past and its connection to the the American slave trade, and celebrating the work and creativity of women and people of color. If it wasn’t that we were so tired from the previous days walking we may have stayed longer, but that, coupled with the increasing number of people — and school children — meant we cut our visit short. We did stop in the shop to see if we could find any of the items we often collect on our travels — tea towels and fridge magnets — but didn’t find anything that grabbed our attention.
Exiting the gallery we walked across the street to a coffee shop for stimulating refreshments and a chance to regroup. Sarah discovered we were around the corner from a bakery — Wong Wong Bakery — she had an interest in after seeing a cake paraded out the night before at Koreana’s for a patron’s birthday.
We had plans that evening to meet up with friends and this way we wouldn’t have to show up empty-handed. We found the bakery after getting turned around a couple of times, finding that we often walk fast, and GPS can’t keep up with our pace. We purchased a sesame coated customer bun to sample on the spot (it was light and delicious!) and a classic chocolate roll cake to share with friends, and emailed our host for the evening to tell her; and she was pleased, saying she is “rubbish at puddings.”
We decided to then head back to the hotel with a brief stop at a post office that sold souvenirs where we found tea towels and fridge magnets we liked for ourselves and a few items to give to friends and family who were looking after the sheep, dog, and house.
We stopped at the hotel only long enough to put the cake in the room’s refrigerator and then headed out to find lunch, this time to a place that was high on our list. Mackie Mayor is a wonderful modern food court which occupies an 1858 Grade II listed market building, on the edge of Manchester’s Northern Quarter. The concept is pretty cool. The various food vendors are around the outside of the open space, and the center of the cavernous building has long tables with chairs. One can either order from the vendors via the app and let them know which table you sitting or one can place an order with one of the vendors in person. When your meal is ready they bring it to you. And when you are finished someone buses the table for you.
There are so many different food — and drink — options, including burgers, noodles, tacos, pizza and more. We were here for the pizza at Honest Crust Sourdough Pizza as our friend James’ company, Trealy Farm Charcuterie, supplies them. We ordered a salami pizza and while we waited Rick went to the craft beer vendor to find some tasty beverages to pair with our food choice. The pizza was amazing, but there was room for dessert so we had to try the sticky toffee pudding we saw listed on one of the vendor’s stalls. It was served with a lovely vanilla ice cream and was AMAZING. Overall, the Mackie Mayor space was very cool, and we loved the cooperative model. We’d return sooner than we thought.
After lunch we walked back to the hotel to retrieve the cake and set a course for the taproom at Cloudwater Brew Co to meet up with our friend, the owner, Paul. The route to the brewery took us by modern residential buildings — that may have been industrial spaces in a past life — lining the secluded canal. When we arrived at the brewery we were a bit early, so we took a seat and sent Paul a text. Paul was able to knock off work early and we all caught up over some fabulous offerings from one of the best breweries in the world. It was great to see Paul, and were grateful he took time to share beers and also a quick tour of the the brewery.
An interesting coincidence we learned while planning the trip — and trying to see as many people as possible — was that Paul and his wife, Vivian, know our MetaFilter friends, Joe and Gemma! To celebrate this Gemma and Joe invited us all out to their place for a BBQ.
Paul called a car hire, and we made our way to a location south of the the city center. Just as we arrived though it started to rain, and since Gemma and Joe have cats and Sarah is allergic, we had to improvise. Our hosts had an upcoming camping trip planned in France, and they brought out the cabana tent they planned to bring with them. As the light rain fell, Rick and Paul — both a little buzzed from the beer — tried to assemble the cabana. However, the first page of the instructions was missing, so we all had a laugh as the two of them struggled with the contraption. Eventually they were successful and of course the rain stopped. But the experience of putting the tent up was entertainment in itself, and the covering still provided a nice spot to hang out and enjoy our meal, and we did so until it was after 11:00, when we hugged and reluctantly departed in an car hire Joe had called to take us back to the hotel.
Thursday (Day 15)
One of the things we always try to be when traveling is remain flexible. We have mentioned a “list” we have of places in which we had an interest, but the list is extensive and there is never an expectation that we could do everything on it. It is more of a guide. Places we can check out if we have time, are in the area, etc. Options when we are trying to find a place to eat or drink that have been researched ahead of time, so we aren’t trying to find a place when we are tired and hungry. But sometimes, to use an American football phrase, we have to call an audible. Go off The List. And often we find that doing so has its rewards.
For example, we had a place on our list to go out for breakfast near our hotel. We had been eating simply in our hotel room, but we love breakfast foods and on this day we were looking forward to going to a place on The List. However, the universe had other plans.
On the website for the place to which we planned to go they had a form to reserve a table. But there were two problems: first, our eSIM didn’t come with a number and the form required one. Previously on this trip we had used a friend’s number, and may have with this place as well; however, they also wanted a birth date and that was a big nope. So we decided to wing it. It’s a Thursday, how busy could they be at 10am anyway?
When we arrived we found the place was much smaller than we thought, and it was very busy. There were a few tables, so we asked the host. She asked if we had a booking and we explained how that wasn’t possible as we didn’t have a UK phone number (we didn’t mention the privacy issues). We were told the wait would be 5-10 minutes. We said that would be fine, and asked about the 2-top table at the back, and the host explained that she had a booking coming soon for that. We said OK, and this time she quoted us 10-15 minutes even though nothing had changed. We agreed, and gave them our name.
While we waited, we looked online to see what other options there were. A few were closed, but we did find a place around the corner with an intriguing name, so we told the host of our change in plans, and we made our way to The Pen and Pencil.
The Pen and Pencil takes its name from the “infamous mid-20th century bar on East 45th Street in New York’s ‘Steak Row'” which was apparently a popular spot with New York journalists and ad men. But for Sarah it was a reminder of The Pen and Pencil Club started by the famous occult writer, A.E. Waite.
Whatever its origins, The Pen and Pencil showed lots of character, with large tables, brilliant brick walls and a bar lined with white subway tiles.
We sat at one of the long tables with cushioned bench seats. The waiter was cheeky, but in a funny way, as we asked for a table for two and he glanced around the empty tables and replied that he thought he might be able to fit us in. When he took our orders, he made no notes (which usually annoys Rick), but got everything perfect, even our alterations and additions.
While we waited for our food order, the hipster, handlebar-mustachioed barista made us a couple of very nice lattes. As the place was empty, the food came out quickly, and was delicious. Sarah had the Shakshuka with fried eggs, and Rick had the eggs Benedict with cider-braised ham hock with a side of black pudding. We were very glad that the place on our list was too busy, because we weren’t sure it would have topped this breakfast.
Sated and full, we then walked to the Museum of Science and Industry, which tells the story of Manchester as the “world’s first industrial city.” The MS&I is another free — we made a donation — museum, and we were greeted warmly when we entered, and told about another exhibit on currently, Amazônia.
After we observed the main exhibit made up of many textile machines, we made our way downstairs to the Amazônia exhibit. At first it just seemed like a dark space with many large print black & white photographs suspended from the ceiling. The large nature photos were very nice, but the photographs and stories that celebrate the indigenous peoples of the Brazilian rainforest were fascinating. The exhibit only runs through 14 August, but we recommend seeing it should it tour elsewhere.
After our visit to the museum, we tried to walk to the reconstruction of the Roman fort of Mamucium which was nearby, but parts of it were closed off with high green walls, presumably for some sort of refurbishing [Note: Found out later it was for a concert that was being put on.] We ended up at Castlefield Urban Heritage Park around the corner, where we saw a bit of the reconstruction of the Roman fort anyway.
On the way back to the hotel we took the Rochdale Canal tow path, and were pleasantly surprised when we popped out in Manchester’s Gay Village. With Pride month having only recently finished, there was still lots of rainbow bunting hanging across the walk streets just above the canal. On this beautiful sunny day — probably the nicest day while we were in Manchester — people were sitting at the outdoor tables enjoying the sunshine.
Feeling a bit peckish after our walks and the museum we found a teahouse in the area to grab a snack. The Richmond Tea Rooms is a delightfully quirky spot with an Alice in Wonderland theme, and it is apparently quite popular as it was packed. Rick had a decadent chocolate cake with hot fudge and a latte, and Sarah had a Boston creme cake with her vanilla chai tea. We noshed slowly and enjoyed the atmosphere and people watching, even overhearing people talking as the news broke that Boris Johnson had just resigned as Prime Minister.
After our tea and coffee break, we stopped briefly by the hotel and then walked to the Manchester Craft & Design Centre. Housed in a repurposed old fish market from the late 1800s, it now is home to dozens of artists and makers with small shop-come-studio spaces where folks create and sell their wares. The original market closed its doors in the early 1970s, and by the last few years of the decade the Craft & Design Centre concept was born; by 1982 it opened its doors to the public.
We arrived rather late in the day and a few of the shops were closed, but we were still able to peek in through the windows and walk in and chat with some of the makers still on site. We were also able to acquire another of the things we collect whilst traveling, an enameled glass ornament from Tiffany’s … Helen Tiffany, that is.
After our visit to the Craft & Design Centre we continued to walk around this hip area of the Northern Quarter, stopping at a few of the shops and watching people gathering in the outdoor seating of the various bars and restaurants. We did seek out one shop called the Crystal Henge Shop, and finding it was an adventure of its own. We walked into a door and found ourselves in an old warehouse building turned into a sort of bizarre bazaar maze of holistic, new age, punk, vintage and other niche shops collectively known as Afflecks.
After wandering goggle-eyed for a bit, a nice local pointed us to Crystal Henge on the third floor (fourth story to Americans). Crystal Henge was a compact but beautifully organized shop and Sarah found a piece of preseli bluestone — the type of rock that Stonehenge is constructed from — to purchase a s a souvenir. The whole Afflecks experience was a lot of fun, and we were both glad we stumbled upon it.
Even after so much walking neither of us was claiming to be hungry, but we thought it was a good idea to eat something before going back to the hotel. Perhaps it was all the smells emanating from the restaurants. But we also couldn’t really decide what we wanted. We consulted The List and nothing was particularly enticing both of us, so the plan became to make our first of two double visits by going to Mackie Mayor where we knew we would each be able to get a different style of food, should we choose.
Mackie Mayor was hopping again when we arrived. This time we knew the routine better and we found a table, identified the number and then took turns ordering from our places of choice. Sarah minded the table, and Rick ordered a double cheese burger from The Tender Cow and then went to the craft beer booth for an IPA and a ginger beer for Sarah. When Rick returned Sarah opted for a visit to The Honest Crust for another pizza, and an order of dumplings from a different booth. Mackie Mayor turned out to be one of our favorite places in Manchester for people watching and relaxing.
After dinner we made our way back to the hotel, but as we were in the neighborhood decided to do our second double of the trip and stop in to Cafe Beermoth for a nightcap. We sat in a large booth by the window and talked about how much fun we were having and how unfortunate it was that we had to leave the next day. We were both tired and could really use a down day after over two weeks of travel, but we also really wanted to keep exploring and seeing friends. There are still so many items on The List that we haven’t done!
Friday (Day 16)
Hating to feel rushed, especially when we are flying, we set an alarm and woke early in order to pack and have our last in-room breakfast. We both completely re-organized our bags to isolate dirty clothes from clean ones, and to make sure that things we needed to be accessible to us were in the right place. Important things, like snacks, entertainment, noise-canceling headphones, and masks.
Once packed, we took a leisurely stroll the couple of blocks to Piccadilly station. We were early and realized that they stagger the entry to the train platform that serves the airport express. People waited patiently until their scheduled train was put on the board, and when we eventually moved to the platform it wasn’t hectic at all.
That changed once we arrived at the airport where we learned that Manchester is not as modern as other airports we have used. The signage is poor, the security screening is a long distance form the main entrance, and the people-movers were not operating that day. Thankfully the airport employed extra staff to direct travelers in the right direction or it would have been even more confusing. Once we found our way to the security check the area was backed up and overcrowded. The space is cramped, the lights are dim, and the ceiling is low. However, thankfully the airport had plenty of staff and all of them were polite and non-confrontational. This is a big difference over U.S. airports in our opinion, where security personnel bark at you to do this, or don’t do that.
Once we made it to the baggage scanning, we placed our items in the bins and got our body scans. Rick was stopped for something in his left pocket, which he identified as lint by turning his pockets out before being told to put them back. Sarah and another person were also manually patted down after the same issues, and the security staff apparently realized there was something wrong with the scanner. Once through the body check we were delayed again as Rick’s backpack was set aside for manual inspection. He wasn’t singled out though as many bags seemed to also fail the machine scanners. But again the staff were polite, explained what was happening and asked questions without being intimidating. Rick was carrying all of the various cords, cables, batteries and chargers in his backpack so it likely looked suspicious.
After making it through security there was a long walk through our least favorite part of any airport, duty free; where passengers slow for no reason to look at shiny stuff and shop staff attempt to spray you with nauseating perfume. Rick put a firm hand up and glared at the woman poised to spray him, and barked at people who slowed or stopped in the middle of the narrow walk way.
Again, we were early for our flight so we had time to grab a bite to eat while we waited until our gate was listed. Once listed it was a short time before boarding started. The night before we had checked in for our flight and again found ourselves seated in less-than-optimal seats. This time IcelandAir had us in separate sections of the plane from one another! This was frustrating, and we reluctantly spent money to choose better options. Thankfully we were able to get seats by the emergency exits, which were more centrally located above the wings of the plane meaning less shaking during turbulence and more leg room.
Surprisingly we were both able to grab some sleep on the first, shorter leg of the journey to Iceland. When we arrived we alighted from the plane onto a bus which ferried us to the terminal. There were a couple of hours between our flights, so we took turns walking around the airport to stretch our legs and to grab some snacks. We were both impressed with Icelandic chocolate! We also caught up on our recreational reading.
The second leg of the flight left on time, and was also relatively smooth. We again had emergency exit seats with lots of leg room. The area was also next to the lavatory, but that was not as bad as it might have been, as we could stand up and be immediately in the queue and not have to walk the length of the plane and wait. We also passed the time by watching films together. We queued up the same film and then hit play at the same time — and paused when required. We watched Crazy Rich Asians and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and enjoyed both. Watching back-to-back films also helped pass the time, and before we knew it the flight was landing on-time in Boston in good weather.
Once we landed we joined the queue for customs, which also moved surprisingly quickly. We made it though the line, answered the brief questions asked of us — by someone who wasn’t intimidating! — and made our way to the exit area, where again we were early for our bus. We had landed at the same time as the penultimate coach was leaving, but had expected this and had booked the last trip of the night.
The bus was slightly late, but when it arrived we texted our friend Jessamyn to let her know we were on the bus and the approximate time we would arrive in West Lebanon. Exhausted by this point, we both nodded off on the bus, but neither of us slept well, and we arrived bleary eyed when we pulled into the bus station just before midnight (5:00 am UK time). Jessamyn arrived at almost the exact time we did, and we piled ourselves and our luggage into her car and made our way home.
We texted Sarah’s mom to let her know we were on our way, and not to wait up for us. We arrived home at about half midnight, and Leo greeted us warmly. He had been asleep and was confused but very happy to see us. We threw our luggage on the floor, brushed our teeth and fell into our own beds after nearly 20 hours of travel.
As one can probably tell we had a wonderful time on our holiday, especially the parts of it spent with dear friends. The only other comments we wanted to share were about our visit to Manchester as it was our first visit to England’s Second City. In a nutshell, Manchester seems like a vibrant community of young people and it is very diverse. We walked a great deal and we noticed a variety of languages being spoken. As outsiders it seems like a welcoming city, and we hope we are correct in that assessment. What Manchester didn’t feel like, when compared to London, is a tourist town. There are many restaurants and things to do, but it doesn’t feel like it caters to tourists as much as to its own citizens by comparison to London — which feels more touristy and international. That doesn’t mean others shouldn’t consider visiting. We encourage it, especially if you have already been to London often. We have both been to London multiple times, both together and individually before we met. It is a vibrant city, but we feel we have “been there, done that” to some degree, so we appreciate the chance to visit other English cities and towns.
Thank you for taking the time to read. We hope you found our report informative and entertaining. We feel incredibly privileged to be able to take time off and travel internationally, and we never want to take that for granted. If you have any questions about this trip, please feel free to reach out via the contact form. Plus there are more photos!
The map below includes as many places as we could remember that we visited during this trip, excluding the addresses of any friends’ homes, for privacy. James and Imogen do use their farm, Ruthlands, for events, so their home is included, but please don’t visit unannounced.