Clandon Park and Watts Memorial Chapel in Surrey , England

We have mainly been staying at home and taking care of the guinea pigs and cooking because it has been raining almost every day.

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Waiting for their home to be cleaned


But we have found some good weather during part of the day to do a little exploring.  We went to Clandon Park, a home owned by the National Trust.  It is an early 18th-century Palladian  mansion.  It caught fire in 2015 and the entire inside was destroyed.  The Trust has decided to restore this mansion to its former glory.  But right now you can only go in to see it with hard hats and a tour guide.  Dave hard hat net  They have photographs of what the inside looked like before the fire, and you can see what a precious historical house looks like now.

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Marble hall before the fire

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After the fire

Here are some other photographs of the damage that the house sustained.

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Some wall paper made it through and will be copied for the restored room


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A marble fireplace that is still there

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A bedroom window

This statue must have fallen into the ashes (notice her broken knee) and was put back up into her niche with wooden safety bars.Clandon Park Venus 5x7 net

You have to applaud the grit of the National Trust to tackle this extensive restoration.  It is also  important for people to see what happens to historical buildings when fire rips through them.

We also had time to go the the Watts Memorial chapel in Compton.  This is an extraordinary example of  Art Nouveau version of  Celtic Revival  style in the village cemetery.  It was designed by Mary Fraser-Tytler,

the wife of the artist George Fredric Watts.  Watts memorial chapel back 5x7 net

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Outside panel of terracotta reliefs

Amazingly, “A group of local amateurs and enthusiasts, many of whom later went on with Mary Fraser-Tytler to found the Compton’s Potter Guild, constructed the chapel from 1896 to 1898; virtually every village resident was involved. ” ( Wikipedia ).  I think it is an incredible example of the Victorian sensibilities around a craft movement to inspire social improvement by using creative craft arts.  Here are some of the angels that line the inside of the chapel.watts chapel orange angel 5x7 net

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These are all made from clay that was found on the Watts estate and hand crafted by Mary and the villagers.   They painted and gilded the work in gold leaf.  It is a truly stunning example of what ordinary people can do when their creative artistry is unleashed.

In Godalming and England is abloom

We are in a small town called Godalming in Surrey, England.  We are petting sitting two beautiful but shy long haired guinea pigs named Olaf and Elsa.  I have not been able to catch them out of their houses to get a photograph.  Here is their outdoor cage and they are in the house.  backyard container netThe netting is to keep cats and birds of prey away.  I will post one of them soon.

We are doing our normal house sitting routine here.  We have been to the grocery store, spent some time feeding and cleaning the guinea pigs enclosure, and doing our laundry.  It has been raining for the last two days so we are being home bodies.

I had time today to work on some of the photographs that I have been taking and thought I would dazzle you with the stunning flowers that are abloom everywhere here.

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You can see why I am going crazy with my camera in this country full of glorious flowers.

Between assignments: Stonehenge and Winchester

Yesterday we left Stratford and sweet Enzo.enzo face 5x7 netWe were happy that Anne and Steve (Enzo’s parents) had a great time on their trip.  We had a great time taking care of their lovely home and their special dog.

We have four days until our next engagement, so we drove down to see Stonehenge.   The drive was drizzly and full of slow-moving trucks. The weather at Stonehenge was windy, as it often is, but it was exciting to see this prehistoric monument “up close and personal.”  David had been here in 1981, when access was a lot less controlled, and visitors a lot fewer.  Now there is a fee (£16.50!), a parking lot for 400 cars and dozens of coaches, a shuttle bus fleet, and cords holding you quite a ways back from the stones themselves.stonehenge linda net

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Visitor center

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We drove to Winchester to stay in a hotel.  Today we went into town to see the Winchester Cathedral.  It is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe.  It was finished in 1093.  It is so humbling to be in a building where that many people have worshiped within over the centuries.  We did not get to see the entire church because there was a music festival going on.  We will try to get back there sometime in the next couple of weeks.Winchester cathedral front 5x7 netWinchester cathedral cloister 5x7 net

Winchester cathedral ceiling 5x7 netJane Austen is buried in this church.  She died 200 years (and two days) ago and the city of Winchester is celebrating her life.  These photographs are from her monuments inside the cathedral.

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Grave stone in the floor of the cathedral

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Small statue of Jane writing

It was a fun and interesting day in Winchester. Parking was difficult and expensive, as it is in every city that was laid out 1000 years ago. On our way back to the hotel, we spied a KFC store and bought some — there are never any good specials on “American” fast food, but sometimes you just gotta have it. We had actually had an early lunch at McDonalds, which are really a big presence in Europe. Most of them have ordering kiosks that permit you to order in different languages and pay by card. In this particular restaurant, it also dispensed an identity “puck” that permitted the staff to find you and bring your order to your table. Still no free refills, though.

The house and farm of Mary Arden, Shakespeare’s mother

Today we took the train (about 70 minutes, £16.80) up to Birmingham airport and rented a car for the next 26 days. This will take us through our current pet-sit, a four-day inter-sit period, the next sit, and another three-day interval before we arrive in west London, where we know a car will not be a desirable thing.

On the way back to Stratford, we drove out to the Mary Arden farm in the village of Wilmcote, about 3 miles outside of Stratford.  Mary was born there in 1537, the youngest of 8 daughters. Mary Arden farmhouse 5x7 net

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One of several wells

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View into the garden from the house

Mary’s family were considered a wealthy farming family.  John’s family was one of their tenant farmers.  But John was a clever businessman and a glove marker.  He had managed to purchased a house (Shakepeare’s birth place) in the town of Stratford on Avon before they married.   John Shakespeare and Mary Arden were married in 1557 when she was 20 years old.  They had eight children together, including the eldest son William Shakespeare, the playwright.

The good news for us is that the Arden’s family farm and home was lived in until 1930 when the The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased it .

Today, the Trust keeps it and the Palmer’s farm ( the close neighbor’s farm) as a working Tudor farm.  The farm keeps many rare breeds of animals including this black and pink pig who can jump over fences when he feels like it.Arden farm  pig 5x7 netHe and a pal did this while we were watching.  It was pretty amazing and not very graceful .  A beautiful white farm horse. Arden farm horse 5x7 netA plucky goat who was willing to do almost anything for food. goat 5x7 netBut the real show was the birds of prey show that was performed by the master of the falconry and his precious bird friends.  Here he is with one of the majestic  birds.Mary Arden bird and master 5x7 netThese birds are well cared for and beautiful.  Here is a barn owl. barn owl 5x7 face netAnd here is my favorite, a big eagle owl named Wesley.  Wesley owl flying netArden farm Wesley owl 5x7 netIt was just my kind of a fun day of history and wonderful animals.  We may have to go back because the long horned cow was supposed to give birth tonight and I would love to see a new calf.

Shakespeare and Stratford upon Avon

We are here in Stratford upon Avon pet sitting wonderful Enzo.enzo bed netHe is a well behaved and sweet border terrier who is a joy to be with.  The first day after his family left for their vacation we stayed at home letting Enzo get used to us and keeping him busy with walks and play.  It is difficult for pets when they miss their humans but we try to make the transition as pleasant and reassuring as possible.  Enzo did quite well which makes all of us happy.

Since we are in Stratford the town where Shakespeare was born, married, and died, we are submerging ourselves in all things Shakespeare.  We visited his birthplace. “Shakespeare’s Birthplace is a restored 16th-century half-timbered house situated in Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England, where it is believed that William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and spent his childhood years” (Wikipedia)Shakespeare birth place 5x7 netThis is one of the fireplaces where food was cooked and that kept the small room heated in the winter.Shakespeare home fireplace 5x7 netWe visited Anne Hathaway’s family cottage in Shottery , a village about a mile away. Anne was born in this cottage in 1555 or 1556 and grew up the oldest of 10 children on a large farm. Her father died one year before Anne and Shakespeare married. Anne Hathaway cottage 5x7 net

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This is the bread oven at the Hathaway cottage

Anne married Shakespeare when he was 18 years old and she was 26.  Their daughter, Susanna, was born 6 months later.  Let’s say the wedding was a hurried affair. Eighteen months after Susanna was born, the Shakespeares had twins Hamnet and Judith. They all lived in Shakespeare’s parents’ home in Stratford.  Shakespeare went off to London to write his plays and became a very wealthy man.  He returned on and off to Stratford to visit his family.  In 1597, Shakespeare purchased New Place (the second largest home in Stratford) and Anne and the children moved in.  This house was where he died in 1616.  Unfortunately, New Place was demolished in the 1750s.

Here is Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare and his family are all buried right before the altar.  This was not given to him as an honor, but purchased by him in 1605 for 440 pounds.  This purchased a permanent resting place for himself and his family.Holy Trinity church 5x7 netShakespeare's memorial 5x7 netThis purchase was the gift that kept on giving.  Now tourists pay 3 pounds each to see his memorial and grave in the church. This has apparently been going on for some time, because the church is beautifully maintained. A lot of historical places had a bad time in the nineteenth century, and fell into disrepair, usually due to roof failure. Not at Trinity. By the way, it has a couple dozen amazing stained glass windows.

The place we are staying is a three-minute walk from the church and New Place, and eight minutes from the birthplace on Henley Street. It’s a one-mile saunter on a pretty path, perhaps one trod by Will himself, to Anne’s childhood home.

Needless to say, I have learned a lot more about Shakespeare’s life and family than I knew before we arrived.  Being here and seeing the physical places where he lived makes him a  real person in my mind and not just a brilliant playwright.

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The River Avon where I am sure Shakespeare played as a child

Llandudno , Wales for David’s birthday

We took the ferry from Dublin to Holyhead, Wales on the weekend. We arrived in a lovely Victorian seaside resort town, Llandudno in Wales. This city has a lovely crescent shaped bay and is located in North Wales. llandudno bay 5x7 net There are a group of pastel colored guest homes that face the ocean.  We stayed in one of these  the Grafton bed and breakfast.  We had a lovely ocean front room; the one right above the door in this picture.  The hosts Laurie and Paul where exceptional in the gracious help.Grafton B&B Llandudno Wales 5x7 netWe would highly recommend their establishment if you are ever in Llandudno,Wales.

We rode the hop on bus to Conwy to see the famous Conwy Castle that was built in 4 years by King Edward I in 1283.  He was a ruthless king who wanted to keep down the Welsh people with castles like this one.   Wikipedia says, “It is considered that Conwy  is one of “the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe”, and it is classed as a World Hertiage Site.” There was a lot to explore in the castle ruins and the town itself. conwy castle wales 5x7 netconwy castle tower wales 5x7 net It was also David’s birthday so we had dinner at a lovely hotel facing the beach. David bday dinner 2017 netThe next morning it was good bye flag 5x7 netAnd four trains later; hello Stratford on Avon. british train 5x7 netAnd hello to sweet Enzo our new pet to take care of here in Stratford.  He is a sweet and loving boy who is a joy to walk and play with.  This will be a lovely sit as we are near the old town and lots of Shakespeare historical sites.david and enzo 5x7 net