Travel Experiences in the UK

We have found that often, what you remember most from vacation are the experiences you have enjoyed together. We purposely planned some into our recent trip to the UK, and they proved to be a welcome change of pace from touring houses and museums and cities.

The first of these was a chartered Land Rover safari with Highland Safari in the Scottish Highlands (click here for more information).

Truly, this was one of the highlights of the trip for all three of us! Our marvelous, kilted guide, Sandy, entertained us with his dry wit, tutored us in Scottish customs and lore, and offered expert driving advice as we each took a turn at the wheel off-roading in the Scottish Highlands.

Look at that happy face! A Land old one with the tire on the hood and the winch on the her dream car! She buckled down and learn to drive a stick-shift just so she could drive on this safari.

Here she comes to ford the creek!

We admired the beautifully green views of the green pastures in the valleys. Sheep!

And we followed our guide out to see a grouse butt. Those circular areas are where grouse hunters would stand and wait for the grouse to fly and then take aim. (Think Downton Abbey...especially the episode in Scotland where they go out in groups to grouse hunt.) He said these grouse butts are about 100 years old.

On our safari, we stopped for a time in a crude shelter called a bothy (rhymes with frothy) to warm up with cups of steaming hot tea and some shortbread. It was spitting snow at us on our trip with the wind blowing about 30 mph, so we were very grateful for some warmth.

Quite possibly my favorite photo of the three of us from the whole vacation!

Hubby had a birthday while we were on vacation, so we devoted that day to some activities we knew he would enjoy. We enjoyed a tour of Hawkshead Brewery in Staveley (click here for more information) and clay pigeon shooting at Crabtree Clay Shoot in Lupton (click here for more information).

What a beautiful location! The green, green hills just took our breath away!

Dress code here includes a hat!

While Hubby is an experienced shooter, Colette was new to clay shooting. She did great! She even got "the rabbit", a clay that skitters along the ground, which her dad missed. I do believe she was a bit exultant about that!

When my brother was in elementary school, he had a British pen pal. This pen pal came and stayed with our family for about a week one summer. Then my brother went to England and stayed with his family the next year. And the pen pal did the same one more time. Through the marvels of Facebook, we are now cyber friends. And we met him and his family for a bit of hiking in the town of Malvern and for dinner. It was the season that the bluebells bloom and they were just gorgeous!

Touring Chatsworth House & Highclere Castle

In addition to touring Hill Top (Beatrix Potter's home) and Levens Hall (for that posting, click here), we toured Chatsworth House and Highclere Castle.

Chatsworth House (click here for more information) is one of the most impressive homes in the UK. It has been home to the Cavendish family since 1549. It was the filming location for Pemberly in the latest version of "Pride & Prejudice". And its park was landscaped by "Capability" Brown and is simply breathtaking! 

A few weeks before we toured Chatsworth House, a new exhibit of costumes and fashions had just opened. And while that was fascinating, it resulted in much of the house sort of being taken over by the exhibit, so I feel like I saw the exhibit, but had a difficult time looking past it to see the house itself. Additionally, many of the windows were shuttered or the curtains drawn, I presume to protect the textiles, so the house was very dark. But here is a glimpse at what caught my eye.

A beautiful John Singer Sargent painting, "Acheson Sisters", was on display.

 Remember this statue from "Pride & Prejudice"?

And in the gift shop, there was this bust with signage that made us chuckle.

The grounds are too beautiful to adequately describe. Statues and daffodils and fountains and grazing sheep and herds of deer and a cascading waterfall. It simply took my breath away!

By far, the favorite English country house that we toured was Highclere Castle, home to the Carnarvon family in real life, but otherwise known as Downton Abbey to the rest of us! (Click here for more information.) Highclere has a limited touring schedule, so booking our trip around a time that it was open for tours was a top priority for us. I booked the plane tickets and immediately purchased our Highclere tickets, and then I planned the rest of the trip around those dates. 

Why was it our favorite? After all those years of watching Downton Abbey, it seemed so real to us! And, unlike other homes that are SO grand that it would be difficult imagining them as anyone's actual home, Highclere is more intimate and home-like. And, because we've seen the Granthams "living" in Downton, it did seem like someone's home. 

Don't we look positively giddy to go inside? We were!

Photography is not allowed inside. And really, it isn't necessary, because if you've seen Downton Abbey, you've seen it. It looks just exactly as it does in the show. You do see some rooms on the tour that are not ever shown in the TV series. And the ones you do see seem slightly smaller in real life than you imagined them to be. Our favorite rooms were the library and the saloon (pronounced "salon").

The tour shows you the bedrooms of Lady Grantham, Lady Edith, Lady Sybil, and the room into which Mr. Pamuk's body was removed. The last is the grandest of the bedrooms on the tour, with its elegant, 19th century red silk damask walls. Just stunning! Colette was very much hoping to see Lady Mary's bedroom, but we learned that her room was always a set. 

We took plenty of time touring the extensive grounds, also designed by "Capability Brown". A pretty view of the house can be seen from all around.

For a great pub for lunch nearby to Highclere, click here and scroll down to read about the Yew Tree.

Touring Hill Top (Beatrix Potter's House) and Levens Hall

I am excessively fond of touring houses. Mostly old houses. I have nearly a boundless appetite for them. It's so intriguing to see how people used to live, decorate, style, etc. Aside from the palaces and castles on this vacation, we toured four houses/properties of distinction. The first two, Hill Top (Beatrix Potter's home and farm) and Levens Hall, were an easy drive from our farmhouse vacation rental in the Yorkshire Dales.

Nestled down a winding lane in the beautifully green Lake District of northern England is Hill Top (click here for more information). 

Beatrix Potter purchased this property after she was an established author. The 17th century house sits on 34 acres, and was the inspiration for the locations of many of the costumed creatures in Beatrix Potter's tales.

Having spent countless hours reading Beatrix Potter's books to our children, it was a joy to tour her home with at least one of mine!

The home is entirely filled with Beatrix Potter's own possessions, books, letters, sketches, and more. I was startled at the quality and/or uniqueness of some of her belongings, and surmised that she was very well off indeed for a woman of her day. Devotees, like myself, will recognize this Welsh cupboard as the one that Anna Maria dashes in front of in the Tale of Samuel Whiskers.

Peering into Beatrix Potter's dollhouse.

The next day, we toured the Elizabethan manor, Levens Hall (click here for more).

The interior was the setting for the filming of A&E's "Wives & Daughters". Unfortunately, no indoor photography is allowed, but it was fun to spot various places throughout the home that we recognized from scenes in the film. It is filled with incredible treasures! It really struck me while there that the treasures of England are almost unimaginable. In just this one, single country house estate are priceless artifacts...a saddle that belonged to Napoleon, jewelry, china, crystal, silver, paintings on par with those found in any major museum, painted leather panels on the walls, and on and on. 

Amazingly, the property was once lost and won in a game of cards. The winner won the estate by playing the ace of hearts card. He immortalized his victory by having hearts adorn the downspouts on the house. You can see them just to the right of me in this photo.

Levens Hall is noted for its famed topiary garden. It was so magical to wander through its tidy walkways surrounded by the stately manor house and the Suess-ical topiaries...quite the contrast!

There are hedges, and then there are HEDGES.

I enjoyed watching this couple play croquet on the lawn. In the house, there is a set of lawn bowling balls that sat on the court from the late 1600's until the early 1900's. Incredible!

And if you visit Levens Hall, don't miss a visit to the Bellingham Buttery on the premises. The lemon sponge was delicious! And the scones were the absolute best we had of the entire trip!

Click here to read about our farmhouse rental in the vicinity.
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