Bringing History to Life…

When visiting England, it is easy to be overwhelmed by wall-to-wall history, castles, museums and cathedrals. It is also easy to get caught on the typical tourism treadmill just focusing on the ‘big’ sites like Stonehenge, Buckingham Palace and Madame Tussaud’s.

Getting slightly off the beaten track, if such a thing is possible in England, definitely has its rewards, as we found out in the small town of Battle. I am not sure how we stumbled across this destination but it turned out to be equal parts fascinating and hilarious.

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The remains of the Abbey at Battle. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Battle is located around 90km south east of London. As the name indicates, its origins are inextricably linked to the famous Battle of Hastings. The battle, fought between Harold the Saxon king and William the Conqueror (from Normandy) in 1066, changed the course of English history. It is believed that after he was victorious, William promised to build an abbey in memory of the people who died in the conflict. The town then grew out and around the Abbey.

The thing I really loved about our year in England was that all the fabulous history was digestible and easily accessible. England ‘does’ history well. A staid castle or cathedral is transformed into a ‘living and breathing’ snapshot of an ancient time, place and people.

We found Battle Abbey to be the perfect example of making history interesting and understandable, regardless of age or education level. Rather than being yet another pile of mouldy stone and religious artefacts, the handheld audio guides took us back to its very origins and the daily life of its inhabitants.

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Part of the Cloisters. Photo courtesy: historvius.com

The original Abbey was populated by the Benedictine Order, and was a tangible symbol of the power of the new Norman rulers. Despite its awkward location on top of a narrow, waterless ridge, William insisted that the high altar of the abbey church be located where Harold had been killed. Unfortunately, Battle Abbey could not escape the destruction of the monasteries by Henry VIII, and the remaining monks of Battle surrendered in May 1538. Sadly, the church and parts of the cloister were then demolished.

What really appealed to my quirky sense of humour though was the fact that our visit was timed to coincide with the annual celebration and recreation of the Battle of Hastings. Returning the audio guides to the museum attendant, we ventured out of the Abbey and into the grounds and, at the same time, stepped 950 years back in time.

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Here come the Normans!

There is something highly amusing and satisfying about seeing grown men and women dressed up in ‘silly’ clothes and pretending to be something they are not. Maybe it is a combination of them not taking themselves too seriously, plus a passion for a specific slice of history and their willingness to preserve it.

It became immediately obvious to us that this historical occasion had struck a seriously strong chord with a whole bunch of modern-day men and women who had literally invaded Battle for the day. We were surprised to find that participants had travelled from all over Europe and even the USA for the opportunity to dress up, dance or die!

A lush, rolling paddock was turned into a Saxon village with women and children supporting their men before going into ‘battle’. Apparently this was how it worked in times past, with whole families going on tour with their warring men folk rather than waiting at home. The camp was made up of traditional tents and lean-to camping structures, forges to make and repair their weapons (and various tourist trinkets), and smoky fires to prepare their food.

There was falconry, cavalry, piping music, dancing and ancient craft, but the highlight of the day had to be the re-enactment of the actual battle. The audience stood behind a temporary barrier and the announcer explained what was happening on the field. The Normans advanced menacingly towards us from the river while the Saxons attempted to slow their progress by bringing in their archery team.

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The archers soften up the other side.

As you can imagine, there was a lot of ‘angry’ shouting and heckling between the warring sides which balanced out the laughter from the audience. Eventually the two sides met in a flurry of swords and clashing of shields, and a fair dose of good-natured pushing and shoving. I suspect many of the warriors struggled to keep a straight face and some opted to be killed or wounded simply to have the chance to lie down and catch their breath!

The classic absurdity came at the very end of the conflict when the Normans were victorious. Picture the field, littered with the dead and dying, and bloodied soldiers leant exhaustedly on their swords. Over the loud speaker, the announcer called ‘Would the dead please arise?” and all the bodies came to life again, sat up, looked around, sprang to their feet, and dusted themselves off. There was much cheerful banter, back-slaps and handshakes between the opposing sides. If only all wars could end this way.

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The ‘dead’ and ‘dying’ and the survivors chat among themselves.

In a nice nod to serendipity, a trip to France a little later in the same year took us to Bayeaux. After our happy day in Battle, we made a beeline for the museum housing the Bayeaux tapestry. It depicts the events preceding the Battle of Hastings including Harold’s deception and seizure of the English throne, as well as the battle itself. It is remarkable that such a fragile piece of handicraft has survived all this time.

After 13 years, this day trip still brings a smile to my face. History does not have to be all dry, dusty and fact-riddled. This experience, and the crazy people involved, brought history to life and made it more than worthwhile to ignore the big name tourist sites, even if just for a day.

Have you ever experienced history coming to life?

October 2003

 

The Basics

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Another section of the Bayeux Tapestry

What: Battle Abbey includes a museum, café and shop and children’s play area. It is open daily, 10a.m.-5p.m. Entry to the Abbey and Re-enactment costs £15.60 (£9.00 for children). If you intend to visit a number of English Heritage sites when you are in the UK, consider joining English Heritage for discounted entry. For a sneak peak of the day, have a look at this YouTube clip.

Where: Battle Abbey and Battlefield, High Street, Battle, East Sussex, United Kingdom – here 

When: Re-enactments are held each October around the middle of the month.

Why: The perfect way to see history come alive! Literally! And a great way to engage children in history.

How: We drove from Byfleet, Surrey to Battle, East Sussex via the A21 and M25. Plenty of parking is available on site for £3.50 per vehicle.

Who: Two big kids and two little kids – all in love with history – even if only momentarily.

Related Posts: Watch this space…

Related Blogs: For two completely different perspectives on the Battle of Hastings and re-enacting history generally, have a look at: https://secretsofthenormaninvasion.wordpress.com/ and http://historicallyspeaking.driftingfocus.com/

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Sailing the High Seas around Tasmania

What is it about sailing that blows out the cobwebs and opens both mind and spirit to Nature? I know sailing is not everyone’s cup of tea, but for this country girl, it is my definition of pure freedom.

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Farewell Hobart

The Brave Man* often talks about buying a boat and sailing off into the sunset. While this is a lovely, romantic notion, the practicalities are far more substantial; lack of expert sailing knowledge for one, and the fact that we live four hours’ drive from the ocean is also a pretty major consideration. I have been told that owning a boat is like standing, fully-clothed under a cold shower while tearing up $100 notes. So, while I applaud my husband’s adventurousness, I have both of my land-lubber legs planted firmly in reality.

If you don’t own a boat, the next best thing is to have friends with a boat! It is a much more straight-forward option, cheaper, easier, and one that keeps The Brave Man’s* global sailing aspirations in check. How lucky for us that our boatie friends are residents of Hobart, Tasmania AND they invited us to go sailing with them for a couple of days? It took us about three seconds to accept their invitation, purchase our white-soled sneakers and dust off our ‘Sailing for Beginners’ book.

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Our home for the next three days – Content. Note: the Old Man and the Sea pose.

It was a crisp Autumn day as we unpacked the car at the Derwent Sailing Squadron, and lugged all our gear along the pier to where Content was moored. The month of March in my home town can still feature 35°C days but not in Hobart. Just to be on the safe side, we had packed every item of warm clothing we possessed, and were rugged up for wild weather.

To me, there is no more atmospheric sound than the ringing tinkle and slap of boat rigging while boats bob at their moorings. Since it was a weekday, the marina was virtually deserted, reinforcing my gleeful feeling that we were wagging school. (Wagging: a.k.a. jigging, bunking, skipping, skivvying). Our friends informed us that the marina recently surveyed the boat owners and, on average, each boat only unfurled the sheets and sailed one day per year. Now that is a whole lot of money, and a whole lot of joy, to have tied up, going nowhere.

Not Content though. She is a busy lady and her owners regularly toss off her bow lines and point her seaward.

After stacking and stowing, tying and untying, checking and fuelling, and with a shiver of excitement, we were away into a stiff breeze and heading down the Derwent River. It was a ‘pinch myself’ moment as I watched Hobart recede from view and our vista opened to a completely different perspective of Tasmania.

This was no pleasure cruise though as we all pitched in to help with ropes and sails. I do admit I was a bit nervous about taking the wheel. It had been over 20 years since I zipped around Sydney Harbour on an introductory sailing course. Where was the wind? Are the sails luffing? When should I jibe? In my imagination I was picturing ‘Sydney-to-Hobart-style’ tacking and racing, but my moves focused less on strategy and speed, and more on trying to stop the boom swinging and wiping out some poor, unsuspecting passenger. I doubt that I did that successfully.

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Salt and Pepper squid for lunch!

All that bracing, salty air supercharged our appetites and our fellow shipmates had just the solution. After leaving the high ‘traffic’ sections of the Derwent River, a fishing line was casually tossed over the back of the boat to trail in our wake. Within minutes the line snapped taut and was hauled back in dangling a sizable squid. Into the bucket it went, and out went the fishing line again. In what seemed like only 30 minutes, we had enough squid for the freshest seafood lunch ever. A dusting of flour, salt and pepper, and cooked lightly in olive oil – I had to restrain myself from charging below deck, raiding the kitchen and devouring the lot! Seafood just doesn’t get any fresher or more delicious.

The sail-eat-sail pattern was repeated continuously over the next three days. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t all that suitable for sailing with light winds, or at times, no wind at all. So much for my visions of a wind and storm-lashed Tassie, with the salt spray stinging our faces as we heeled over in the gales. I know it does happen, just not to us on this trip.

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Stretching our legs on Bruny Island.

We were not deterred though and still made the most of the experience. Down the D’Entrecasteaux Channel we glided and around the tip of Bruny Island. We moored in secluded bays and took short walks along remote bush trails and pebbly shores. It was heavenly to be gently rocked to sleep by the tidal rise and fall, and wake to the sun sparkling mirror-like on the sheltered bays.

Sailing is such a simple way to spend your time, being guided by the wind and, fed by the ocean. The abundant sea life was quite incredible, and that fishing line over the back of the boat brought in exquisite whiting, endless squid and a grand, old daddy crab. Due to our respect for his advanced age, he escaped the pot, was untangled from the line and returned to the ocean to live another day.

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Dinner!

Our friends were not only sailors, but also divers and the larder was further supplemented with lobster and abalone – all legally harvested of course. In previous posts, I have mentioned my complete lack of gourmet tastebuds, but the lobster was to-die-for. While the abalone was nice, it did not compare to the lobster or any of the other fresh morsels, and I am not really sure why people make such a fuss over this mollusc.

Our sailing adventure in Tassie was the perfect blend of warm friendship, the freshest of fresh food, and the stunning outdoors. It was entertainment enough just to sit and watch the cloud formations change from fluffy white to moody grey, and see the wind change the water from mirror to white caps.

With limp sails, we returned to the civilisation of Hobart knowing that we had enjoyed something pretty remarkable. It was a true privilege to see this wild and pristine part of Australia.

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Moody clouds over the Derwent River.

I felt like all my troubles had been blown and washed out of me, and I was renewed and rinsed clean.

Perhaps a global sailing adventure is not out of the question after all…

Do you feel the same about sailing?

March 2011

 

The Basics

What: We sailed for three days/two nights on a four berth boat. Boats can be hired via AirBnB from $41 per night. I am not sure if that allows you to sail or just sleep!

Where: We sailed from Hobart, down the Derwent River, through the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, then around the tip of Bruny Island and back again, calling into gorgeous bays and inlets.

When: We visited in Autumn. The days were cool and crisp but unfortunately not very windy.

Why: If you enjoy sailing then the route we took was beautiful, relatively protected and safe.

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Waking up to mist on the water. A protected inlet on Bruny Island.

How: We flew to Hobart on Virgin and then our friends acted as both taxi and cruise director/Captain.

Who: Myself and The Brave Man* and two bestie boaties.

Related Posts: for more information about what to see and do in Tasmania, have a look at my posts about some of the interesting man-made attractions and some stunning short walks in the great Tassie outdoors.

Related Blogs: To really get a true sense of sailing in Tasmania, have a look at this blog by sailing enthusiasts, Jack and Jude: http://jackandjude.com/log/

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

Getting the Flavour of Mudgee

I know I am biased, but I love Mudgee.

I have only lived here for 25 years, so I am not quite a local yet, but this town has embraced me from day one.

Mudgee, three-and-a-half hours’ drive north-west of Sydney, has always been a popular weekend escape. Over the past 15 years, the flow of Mudgee-bound traffic has steadily increased, and many people now decide that a weekend is simply not long enough, and they move here permanently.

Like many small towns in rural Australia, the lack of employment opportunities is a constant challenge. However, if you are innovative, have your own business that can tap into broader markets, or are financially self-sustainable, then Mudgee offers lifestyle benefits that are hard to beat. See? I told you I was biased!

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No wonder we couldn’t get a car park! Photo: Amber Hooper

This ‘tree-change’ trend is showcased each year at the annual Flavours of Mudgee Street Festival. As part of the three-week Mudgee Wine Festival, Flavours of Mudgee creates a huge street party, celebrating all the delicious food and wine produced in our region.

Importantly, it also celebrates the diversity of our population through the medium of food. Not only is there your traditional Aussie BBQ, but also Nepalese, Chinese, Texan BBQ, Thai, Spanish, Italian and Venezuelan delights. Added to that are olive oils and olives, chocolate, cordials, fudge, relishes, ice cream, saffron, cheese, pistachios, breads, jams, honey and even native plants and seeds. All made, or grown, by hand and with an eye on quality. Truly a feast for all the senses.

I am a little embarrassed to admit that this year was the first time I had experienced Flavours of Mudgee. It was not from a lack of interest that I hadn’t attended before, more that there was always something more pressing to do or I was away from town. Why is it that we often don’t prioritise the things in our own backyard?

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Market Street Mudgee never looked so good or so busy! Photo: Amber Hooper

The Mudgee CBD was jumping on the day. We had to park our car three blocks away (unheard of in a country town) as the street was so busy. As we strolled around the corner into Market Street, we could see why. Crowds of happy locals and visitors were toasting each other’s health and revelling in the party atmosphere. Estimates were put at around 9 000 people sipping, tasting and dancing along to the music. Not a bad number when you consider the resident population of Mudgee is only 8 500 people. Now that is some party.

It is quite a while since I attended an event that had such a warm and inclusive feel, and I don’t think that feeling had anything to do with the amount of alcohol on offer.

Small children with brightly-painted faces, dragging their colourful balloons behind them, dodged in and out of groups of people. Locals used the opportunity to stop, chat, and to catch up on all the latest news. Even in a country town, time gets away from you and sometimes you have to make a special effort to reconnect with friends.

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Stilt walkers dance through the crowds. Photo: Amber Hooper

Visitors dragged hay bales into a welcoming square formations, sat down, clinked glasses and raised them high to salute their health and the enjoyable weekend.

The Mudgee Wine Festival is held for three weeks each September. Many of the wineries host special music and food events to compliment the tasting and sales of wine. While these are, no doubt, pleasant entertainments, most of these activities take place out at the wineries themselves and outside of the town centre. It could be said that this gives the Wine Festival almost a remote/arms-length feeling, slightly removed from the rest of the community.

In contrast, the Flavours of Mudgee event brought around 27 wine, beer and spirit producers out of their cellar doors and into the main street. No wonder there was a party atmosphere. Not only was this a one-stop-shopping opportunity for visitors, but it also highlighted for local people all the good things on offer in our own backyard that perhaps we don’t make the most of. A good education as well as a taste sensation.

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The golden light of the setting sun on St Mary’s Catholic Church, Church Street Mudgee

I was also pleased to see some of the local retailers breaking out of their normal shop fronts and showcasing their wares al fresco. In the daily rush, sometimes it is easy to pass by a store, thinking that one day I will pop in when I have time. On the Flavours day/night, there was no excuse not to browse.

As the sun began to slip behind the Mudgee hills, the tone of the occasion started to change from family to fiesta. The stilt walkers retired with the dwindling sunlight, to be replaced by local bands playing tunes that just had to be danced to. The street lights came on and the party rocked into the night.

Even if you are not a wine drinker or don’t have the taste buds for fine and fancy food, the Flavours of Mudgee Festival is worth a visit. It is a free event that genuinely celebrates community on a whole range of levels.

It makes me proud to live in Mudgee.

Will I see you there in 2017?

The Basics

What: Flavours of Mudgee Street Festival is a community street party celebrating good food, wine and people. Wine tasting tokens can be purchased for $10 which includes a glass and five x 30ml tastes. Wine is also sold by the glass or bottle. Food can be purchased from a large variety of stalls. Otherwise it is a free event.

Where: At the intersection of Market and Church Streets, Mudgee.

When: From 4p.m. on Saturday 23 September, 2017.

Why: Why not feel the love of a warm and welcoming community as well as escape to the country?

How: Simply turn up – no bookings required although do book your accommodation well in advance as Mudgee is a very popular weekend destination, especially in September.

Who: Myself, and 8 999 of my closest friends.

Related Posts: For information about another fabulous Mudgee event, have a look at my post about Sculptures in the Garden.

Related Blogs: If I have not tempted you to visit Mudgee yet, then have a look at this blog for the best of food, wine and Mudgee landscape: http://www.notquitenigella.com/2014/12/27/mudgee-weekend-guide/.

For beautiful photography of Mudgee landscapes and locales, have a look at Amber Hooper’s work at: http://themudgeeproject.com.au/

Tell Me Where To Go!! The Travel Bucket List.

For those people who don’t know me well, I am a planner and an organiser. Yes, I would like to be more chilled and ‘go-with-the-flowish’, but after 50-odd years on this earth, I have found that approach just doesn’t work for me. I need goals and I need exciting things on my horizon to keep me motivated and interested.

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Aya Sofya, Istanbul, Turkey. Source: xpatnation.com

Many years ago I developed an aversion to birthdays. Not that I despised getting older, although who wouldn’t want to turn the clock back a tad, it was just that I would look back on the previous 12 months and wonder, ‘where did that go’ and ‘what did I achieve’?

Most times I felt like I had accomplished a big, fat nothing. This was inaccurate and no way to think about my life, so I decided to change. Each birthday I would sit down and set myself some small challenges for the next 12 months. Then, I would stick this list, big and bold, on my fridge door. This provided no end of amusement for visitors to my house, but more importantly it kept me honest and kept me focused. Subsequent birthdays were greeted with slightly less trepidation, and a degree of excitement, as I set myself even more ambitious goals.

Without wishing to be morbid, I am now at a stage in life with more years behind me than in front, and it is time to really ‘up the ante’ on the goal-setting front.

Yes, the list is back on the fridge door, and as a sign of the times, it is now termed a ‘Bucket List’. Perhaps this is a poor choice of words, and I do not plan on going anywhere soon, except to remarkable, exotic overseas and Australian destinations.

I am always open to suggestions and here, in no particular order, is the Bucket List so far:

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    Map of the Mississippi River Trail, USA

    The Mississippi River Trail: A cycle route that starts in Lake Itascain Minnesota, USA, and finishes near the mouth of the river in Venice, Louisiana. It covers 3 600miles (5 794km), using the Mississippi River as the common theme or motif. In the past, the USA was never really high on my travel wish list mainly because the cultural contrast was not significant enough. However, this trip has captured my imagination because of the many states we will pass through – their different climate, architecture, history, scenery and accents. Yes, it will take us around three months, but what a way to experience a country.

  • Trans-Siberian Railway: This adventure has been on The Brave Man’s* wish list for quite some time. Not as energetic as the first bucket list entry, but no less fascinating. I understand the best ways to tackle this one are to either book on a guided/organised tour or get some assistance with booking tickets and accommodation. Happy to take suggestions on the best ways to approach this adventure.
  • Flower market, Guwahati.

    The vibrant colours of India. Source: incredibleindia.org

    India: How do they cram so much chaos, colour and culture into one five-letter word? The thought of the scale of the population in India frightens the pants off me, but I am busting to get there to experience such their vibrant culture. I am not brave enough to do this solo or via independent touring so I am currently researching cost-effective and well-regarded tours that will give me a small insight into this country. Fingers crossed, I get to tick this one off the list in 2017.

  • Turkey: Has always been lurking on the list since we had a short visit to the Marmaris region back in 2003. I loved the collision of Asian, European and Middle Eastern culture and history. We found the people incredibly friendly, and the architecture and arts fascinating. To be on the safe side, we will wait until the dust settles a bit in that region before venturing over. As an aside, there is a 509km walk called the Lycian Way that follows the Turkish coast line from Fethiye to Antalya. Perhaps we could incorporate that stroll into a visit?
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    Monks line up to collect alms. Source: Tourism Laos

    Trains Through Asia: I am not sure if you have come across The Man in Seat 61? He has to be world’s largest train nut, and what a wonderful resource he has created for rail-travel fans. The loose plan is to fly into Singapore and then train (and bus where necessary) north through Malaysia, Thailand and finishing in Luang Prabang, Laos. Again, a fantastic way to experience a variety of Asian cultures, move slowly through the changing countryside, and meet the locals.

  • Houseboat Trip on the Hawkesbury River: This one is much closer to home, and probably the shortest travel adventure. I have always thought a houseboat, a bit like the canal boats in England and France, would be a relaxing and different way to ‘play tourist’. The Hawkesbury River is one of the main rivers that forms a rough border on the northern side of the Sydney basin. Only three hours from home but a world away from the chaos of Sydney.
  • Camino del Norte: The Bucket List would not be complete without another camino
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    The route of the Camino del Norte in Spain.

    thrown into the mix. This walk starts at Irun, near the border of France, and follows the Spanish coastline until you cross into the province of Galicia, then turning south-west towards Santiago de Compostela. This is a tough walk apparently, due to the mountainous terrain, so we had better start training now!

  • Overseas Volunteering: We also plan to spend some time giving back. With The Brave Man’s* extensive education skills, and my bag of tricks, perhaps we can make a small positive difference to someone’s life.

That is just a small sample of what’s currently on the list. I think it’s a nice mix of active, overseas, cultural and the Aussie, but I am more than happy to print out a longer list or buy a larger fridge to display it!

So, now it’s your turn. What is missing from our list? What cracker destinations must we add?

The Basics

lp-trans-book-depositWhat: The Bucket List is open to all suggestions. I figure once the appeal of sitting on a long haul flight fades, our focus will change and we will travel much closer to home.

Where: Anywhere.

When: Anytime, and any length of time.

Why: Who needs a reason to travel?

How: Planes, trains, automobiles plus by boat, on foot, by bicycle.

Who: Myself and The Brave Man* and anyone else up for adventure.

Related Posts: Watch this space

Related Blogs:

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!