Category Archives: England

Adventures in Sussex: Camping at Fox Wood

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Over the past year or so I’ve been drawn to the outdoors more than ever, feeling a yearning for the quiet of trees and rain soaked grass and a chance to turn off everything else.

A month or two ago I took advantage of a big sale at Halford’s and stocked up on cut price camping goods – this had been the main thing keeping Jon and I from heading out into the woods. We didn’t have anything! No tent, sleeping bag, cooker…nothing. Hooray for sales. I stocked up and did some research to find a good campground near-ish to us. 

The camping thing in the UK is different than the US version – far fewer rules around fire, far more rules around messing with the local flora! I was looking for a place that was dog friendly, that didn’t have too many families/kids, and that was close enough to our town that if things went downhill, we could drive home in the middle of the night with our tails between our legs. A test camp. 

We ended up at Fox Wood Campground and we loved it. The grounds were beautiful, there was a good mix of families and dogs and everyone else (us, hello, childless adults), and it was generally pretty quiet. I’m a grump, so really, that’s all I want. But seriously. Turn off ur dang electronic music old people, we know you have been day drinking all day and now your kids have decided to go to bed so you’re getting turnt, but I’m trying to sleep over here!

The best part of camping is food, and fire. Specifically combined. I made my famous chilli cheese fries, and introduced Jon to campfire smores. It also rained a lot, I’m not going to lie, so most of our weekend was spent trying to either make a fire, or keep the fire going. There was a LOT of time spent hiding in the tent while it rained heavily, reading and playing the ukulele and just laying around, listening to the rain batter the tent. 

Bruce had a good time too, although I must say that sleeping in a tent with a wet dog is not my absolute favorite thing…by any stretch. However, he was really well behaved and pottered around the campsite, growling at any other dogs that got too close. I think he liked it, in the end. 

I’m glad we’ve broken our seal on camping – and I’m hoping that next year we make it for a lot more weekends, probably starting in the spring. I’m even down for some winter camping, if we can find a place to do it. It’s England after all, it just doesn’t get all that cold in the south! 

Where do you go camping in the South East? Have you got any suggestions for me? Dog friendly please!

Orchids and greenhouses at Kew Gardens

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Kew Gardens is an expanse of lush greenery on the western edge of London, a section of the city that I haven’t spent much time in due to it being full of more residential neighborhoods and not much “stuff”. I recently read a breakdown of London’s regions that described them like this: “east is poor, west is posh, south is rough, and north is intellectual”. That sounds like a crazily broad brush, because it is, but west = posh seems about right. It’s definitely fancy over there.

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The whole point of making the drive up to Kew Gardens was to check out the Orchid Festival, a yearly celebration in the Princess of Wales Conservatory in the gardens that celebrates the plant life of India. There are literally thousands of orchids (plus cacti, succulents, and all sorts of other plants) across ten different ecosystems in different rooms, all blooming simultaneously. It is stunning.

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Jon and I spent an hour or so in the orchid conservatory, wandering from room to room, battling the crowds – a beautiful Saturday in London, no surprise there – and then headed back outside for more general Kew Gardens exploration. The grounds themselves are so expansive that I think crowds would be impossible, so our walk around in the dying winter evening light was very calming and just plain nice.

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We also spent some time in the Palm House, a Victorian-era glass greenhouse that is as hot as the sun. I was melting, and it would be an amazing place to go on an actual cold day in winter to escape the chill. However, we were there on the warmest day of the year so far. It’s a lovely building though. My research tells me that experts consider the Kew Palm House to be one of the most important surviving iron and glass structures in the world. Pretty nifty!

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Jon and I also took in The Hive, an art installation in the gardens that is actually inspired by scientific research into the health of bees – it’s made form thousands of pieces of aluminium to form a huge metal hive that hums and buzzes like a real hive does. And in fact the Hive is responding to real-time activity of the bees in the Kew Gardens.

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And that was that. We left the gardens and found a cute little pub across from the cricket grounds to have a refreshing beverage, then it was back in the car for a few hours’ drive back to our fluffy dog and some dinner. I’d like to go back sometime in the spring or summer, when more has come to life and everything is in bloom. But if you have the chance – go check out the Orchid Festival before it’s too late!

Adventures in Sussex: Autumn colors in Sheffield Park and Garden

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Sheffield Park October Autumn

Autumn colors can be hard to come by in England, but my cold Midwest American heart just isn’t really happy unless I find some vibrant reds, oranges and yellows in the landscape! Being new car owners, this year is the first time that we’ve been able to just…GO and hunt down the best foliage around. In a car! It’s practically witchcraft!

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Over the weekend we drove up and over to East Sussex to spend our Sunday afternoon wandering around Sheffield Park and Garden. The entrance was packed! It seems everyone did the same research that I did. But it was worth it, as the park is one of the few places in the area that actually has a big spread of trees with a variety of colors all thanks to the old rich guy who lived there 100 years ago and planted it as such. Thanks, fella.

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I actually was a little underwhelmed (only a little though!) by the density of colors, if you could call it that. There are still a LOT of green trees in the vicinity, but it’s a beautiful area nonetheless, with loads of trails circling and crossing over four different lakes. The red, orange and yellow can be found in patches, interspersed with all that green.

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Of course I’ll love the green come winter – one of the best things about England is how verdant it remains year round. It’s just this time of year when I want a little more jazziness in my landscape, you know?

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I’d love to come back in the winter to walk around in the snow. Assuming there’s any snow this year (fingers crossed for that too!) I’m destined to always be hoping that my part of England will start to take on the weather characteristics of my part of America. Keep dreaming.

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Jon and I waited to go to the park until the afternoon – dogs aren’t allowed until after 1:30 for some reason, and of course we wanted to take Bruce! The trails were full of other dogs and lots of families with little ones. Picnics were happening under trees and along the waterside, and many a photoshoot could be seen taking place with toddlers tossing leaves. It reminded me of my time in South Korea during cherry blossom season – the best trees would have a little queue in front of people waiting to get in and take pictures. The weather was perfect. Definitely cold, but the sun stayed out just until we left, then it became perfectly gloomy.

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I’m hoping we get the chance to fit in a little more “leaf peeping” before it’s too late. Maybe next weekend, somewhere new! The weather has been so idyllic and without the rain that we normally have this time of year that knocks any bits of color off the trees before it even has the chance to develop. I’ll keep my fingers crossed and let the National Trust page on “where to go on in autumn” be my guide. Country walks first, and pub dinners after? Best time of year, hands down.

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A summer better late than never

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England held off on welcoming summer until mid-July. Now we’re at the end of August with true autumn right around the bend and the hottest days of the season happening all around us. It’s strange, but I will not look this gift horse in the mouth.

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The thing that defines my life in England is definitely the weather. I hate talking about it so much and having it reflect back to me my emotions so often but there it is. It happens. Five years in, you’d think I wouldn’t be so affected by it, but I still am. Getting used to the notion of four seasons as a thing that used to happen to me, as a way to organize my life, but something that no longer happens, is very difficult.

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Anyway, I’m not here to complain. If anything, the swiftness o the season just provides me with more incentive to get outside when the weather permits, no excuses.

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This summer that’s meant, at various times, Pokemon hunting walks in town and along the river in Shoreham, paddleboarding with Bruce and alongside Jon on his kayak, and lots of jostling for the coveted outdoor seats at every Brighton pub that has them.

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I’m down with it. It almost feels like I got two summers somehow this year – one in June back in the States during our massive roadtrip, and another now, separated by a rainy, windy late June and early July.

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Really I should probably just get used to this life and this weather, but if that means giving up the love of extended Vitamin D exposure and sunny blue skies, I just can’t.

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Anyway, now I’m just rambling. The heatwave is set to continue through the weekend – just in time for the last bank holiday of the summer. We have friends coming to stay with us, and lots of outdoor activities planned and my intention is to cement this feeling in my brain to get me through whatever dull gray weather is set to follow.

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Summer in England – when it’s good, it’s just so so good. Life-affirming good.

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Street Art in Shoreditch

East London isn’t a part of the city that I’ve traditionally spent much time in, although I’ve always loved how vibrant and gritty it is. As the area becomes more and more gentrified, it seems that the time to enjoy this neighborhood while it still has a real personality of its own is drawing to an end. Soon Shoreditch will cease to look like Shoreditch at all! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Last Saturday I was invited to check out a walking street art tour with Alternative London and, guys, I love walking tours, so I said yes. I just think that wandering around with an expert in *whatever* is a really great way to spend your time in a city, whether or not you’ve been there before. (See also, VooDoo tour in New Orleans, Street Food tour of Brighton….my love of walking tours is well-documented here).

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Doug, our very East London-y guide, took us round all the hot spots, starting at Shoreditch High Street Station, going down Brick Lane and eventually over to the Boundary Estate and back over near Hoxton Station.

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There was so much color everywhere, and so many different kinds of textiles – it’s not all graffiti, or even all painting. And the rate of turnover is really high, so even someone going today, a few days after I was there, would have new works to check out.

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You can definitely see where the old and the new are rubbing up against each other – blocks of shiny new luxury apartments rising hundreds of meters above run-down, painted-up brick buildings that have been on these streets for decades. The new parts seem garish at times, completely out of their element.

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The tour guide also pointed out lots of the hidden street art – for example, this guy below. A small angel on a street sign. The wings look so realistic because the artist cut them off of a dead pigeon he found in the street before dipping them in paint and attaching them to the body. Easily missed when walking by. Kind of creepy. Definitely Shoreditch.

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The artists in Shoreditch are transient and permanent, some making mark after mark in the neighborhood they call home, some coming from around the world to make their piece and leave. This piece for example – the artist does animals like this in every city he goes to, choosing an animal that fits into the area’s ecology.

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This stunning 3-D mural/sculpture earned its maker three and a half years in jail. Totally reasonable. But then again, the UK isn’t known for its light hand with street artists. Ironic really, here, since that’s a large part of what gives Shoreditch, and more widely, the East End, it’s personality.

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This gorgeous wall is one of the only known works in the area by a female artist, which of course caught my eye. Graffiti is seen as such a male-dominated pursuit; it was nice to have this recognition during the tour.

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Eventually the tour wound down and we made our way back to the Alternative London offices and through Spitalfield’s high street (at least, I think it was Spitalfield’s high street, don’t quote me on that).

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An hour and a half well-spent on a Sunny day in London. After that I hopped on the Overground, met my friend Ariel, then headed to Hampstead Heath with her friends for a long afternoon of picnicking in the sunshine before making my way back down to Brighton for a birthday party that I was very late to. What more could you ask of a perfect summer’s day in England?

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A pitstop in Plymouth

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With a welcome sign like that, how isn’t Plymouth more popular?

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Just kidding. Apparently a ‘hoe’ is a thing – a large south-facing public space, my research tells me. Not a timeless name though, but well in keeping with England’s tradition of refusing to rename things that become funnier/more inappropriate/super rude with age and time (see also: spotted dick, Cockfosters tube station, the town of Shitterton in Dorset, the town of Titty Hill in Sussex, a pub I had lunch at once called The Black Boy Inn).

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(giggle)

On our long drive back from Cornwall to Brighton we stopped off for a few hours to check out Plymouth, home of Jon’s alma mater and another seaside city that I’d yet to visit.

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We were only there for a few hours, enough to shoot the loop around the hoe and the docks, along the coast eating some ice cream on a day that was much too cold for it, while Jon shared stories with me from his misspent university days.

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It seems like a cool city, although one that is best served in the summertime, when you can really make the most of those rare beautiful sunshiney days by the seaside. It seems like it would be very cold and windy the rest of the year, what with all the flat plateaus looking out to sea – Jon confirms this! Meaning going to uni there was a bit of a downer since you’d be leaving just as the school year comes to an end and the city comes into its own. I’m pretty sure people who actually live year-round in Plymouth won’t agree with this assessment. Which is fair.

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One of the most interesting parts of being in Plymouth was actually going to the place where the original pilgrims – you know, the ones who left England and “started up” America by stealing it from the native population – set sail. I stood where they stood, where the Mayflower took off, leaving England forever and changing the course of history. I felt a weird sense of historical symmetry, standing there where my far off ancestors (maybe?) once stood. Now to go to Plymouth Rock in America and complete the circle!

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american at plymouth port

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When we hit the road again we made one final stop to pick up some Cornish specialities – specifically I was on the hunt for some scrumpy cider (Scrumpy is cider originally created in the West Country of England, particularly Devon, Somerset and Dorset, and the term is used to separate locally made ciders produced in smaller quantities while using traditional methods, from mass-produced branded ciders like Strongbow, Rekorderlig, etc).

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I was also on the hunt for some clotted cream to take home, and once these delicious items were obtained (and one fiendishly large bag of fresh scones too), we finally, truly got back on the road and headed back to our Sussex home. I love making the most of living in this beautiful country, and I think a trip to the Southwest should definitely happen again, sooner than later I hope. You don’t really need the sunshine when you have those beautiful coasts and lush greenery everywhere you look. (I mean, I want the sun too, when possible, but if we have to negotiate….).