What do you do on a Saturday in January when you are living in England? We find ourselves asking this question most weekends, which definitely has not always been the case in our lives. Having spent the past five years or so building a house and trying to tame the land it’s on while raising two active girls and maintaining jobs has kept Eric and I quite busy each and every day, including weekends. But here in England, things are different. Our lives are slower, significantly slower. There’s work, school and the regular house chores, but not much else that we are responsible for. So when Saturday morning rolls around, we find ourselves wondering how to spend the day, as was the case this past Saturday.
The sun was shining Saturday morning. A welcome treat as it’s been dreary here in January, and cold. We’ve gotten a lot more rain this month than in the previous three months we’ve been here. But there is no rain in the forecast today. What to do? What to do?
Ellie sticks her nose in a book. She’s usually reading two at a time. Right now she’s tackling Inkheart. At school, they had to order more books for their library because by Christmas, Ellie had read all of the most challenging books they had onsite (remember, this is a very small school). Her teacher was bringing books from home for Ellie to read until the new ones arrived.
Leah's busy creating masterpieces out of cardboard. England seems to have brought out her creative side. She’s been cutting up cardboard like crazy, going through rolls of tape, and leaving scrapes all over the house for me to sweep up. She made a complete set of cardboard furniture for her Barbie dolls, complete with dishes and little books for them to read. In school, her class has been studying the great fire of London so in art class, they made replicas out of cardboard of houses you would have found in London at the time of the fire. Leah brought hers home on Friday and promptly made another to go with it. That meant more cardboard scrapes on the floor for me (yeah), but I can’t let that stand in the way of her expressing her artistic side.
Eric and I started Saturday morning with some trip planning. We have a couple of trips coming up over the next few months so there are lots of reservations to make and research to do on our destinations. Where are we going? Oh, I think I’ll keep that a secret for now and let it be a surprise when the blog posts are up.
With the sun shining outside, we knew we had to get out and enjoying it, so by midmorning, we packed ourselves into the car and headed to Bradgate Park for a walk. It’s only about a 30 minute drive from here. When we arrived, we set off through the park and the first thing we saw was a herd of beautiful deer, but these were not like any deer we had seen before. You see, Bradgate Park is an enclosed deer park, and has been for 800 years. Yes, you read that right – an 800 year old deer park. These are the kinds of places you find in England. These are Fallow deer, a truly unique type of deer because of their color variation. They can range from nearly black to almost white, but most are brown with white spots. They are small, but the males have huge antlers. To my Wisconsin raised eyes, this combination doesn’t look right at first. A small brown deer with white spots should be following it’s mother around, suckling now and again, not sporting a magnificent pair of antlers on its head.
Much of the park is wild and rugged, with outcrops of rocks jutting up from the ground here and there, perfect for kids to scramble around on.
And lots of gnarly old oak trees dotting the barren landscape, some that are over 500 years old. The park is huge, 830 acres to be exact, so there is lots and lots and lots of room to just roam around.
We headed towards a tower called Old John sitting way off in the distance, high up on a hill.
After a bit of a hike, we made it to Old John.
Katie, Leah's bitty baby, made the trek too in the pack on Leah's back.
What is the tower for? Well, nothing really. This tower is referred to as a folly here in England, meaning it was constructed mainly for decoration, and it is beautiful sitting high up on the hill overlooking the entire park. Old John was built in 1784 by the Grey family who owned Bradgate Park at that time.
It was wiiiiiindy up on that hill, so after a short rest, it was time to head back down, but by a different route this time.
Of course, there were more rocks to scramble over.
And then the long walk across the barren landscape.
As we walk farther and farther down the hill, Old John becomes smaller and smaller behind us.
We pass stone walls, wondering what caused portions of it to crumble. It's hard to know because it may have happened last month, last year, or maybe 300 years ago. This Park has been here for 800 years after all.
We end up at the ruins of Bradgate House, which was built in the early 1500s. Why it's in ruins, we do not know. The visitor center is closed during the winter months so we didn’t learn much about it. We'll have to come back.
We finished our walk by early afternoon, refreshed from our hike and spending a few hours outside, but also hungry. We headed to the nearest town and ducked into a pub called The Curzon Arms. At 1:30 on a Saturday afternoon the pub was packed, a great sign that we could get good food there, but only if there was a table available. We were met at the door by a very nice gentleman who, after informing us it would be quite a wait for an available table (not an option with two hungry children who had been promised a nice lunch after their hike if there was no whining), picked up the phone and called a pub a couple of villages over to see if they had a table for us. They did and this very kind man put our name in to reserve it and off we went. Have I told you how very nice these English people are?
We arrived at The Blue Bell Inn and found a warm, cozy table in a room with a wood fired pizza oven on one end and a fire blazing away in the fireplace at the other, the perfect place to enjoy a pint and some good food after our hike in Bradgate Park. It’s hard to succumb to the midwinter blues when we can spend a Saturday like this.