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Just before Paul had to return to Italy we had great pleasure in meeting up for a meal with some of our Italian cousins, who live in the UK, Tony and Margaret, Mark and Jane. We invited Kay along too.

In April I was delighted to spend a few day with cousins Tony and Margaret at their home in Swindon. They kindly introduced me to many of their friends, wined and dined me, and all in all spoiled me rotten !!!

One day they organised a visit to Lacock Village near Chippenham in Wiltshire.

Lacock is a quintessentially  British village. It  is managed by the National Trust who own approximately 90 of its buildings, and ensure that the village retains its upspoiled authentic appearance. It is like stepping back in time, some of the dwellings are medieval and half timbered, others are constructed of typical honey coloured Cotswold stone.

Due to its picturesque cobbled streets, Lacock has been used as the film location for scenes of  many award winning BBC costume dramas, such as “Pride and Prejudice”, “Emma” and “The Cranford Chronicles“, and also for certain scenes in the Harry Potter Movies and other films.

Yet the village is not a “museum piece”, indeed – far from it.  The National Trust rent out many of the dwellings to tenants. The village has a thriving school, local stores, several traditional pubs and hostelries, tea rooms, craft and antique shops, and even a jewellers.

The Inn by the name of “The Sign of the Angel” was once a wool merchant’s house, and dates back to the 15th century.

Having taken a leisurely stroll around the village, we stopped to enjoy a splendid Pub lunch in the “Carpenters Arms”

Feeling suitably replenished we continued our meanderings through Lacock.

The Saxon church of St Cyriac …..

The Pottery, once the old Workhouse ……

Lacock Ford ……

The 15th century Tithe barn …..

Next we explored the Fox Talbot Museum, which is dedicated to a former inhabitant of Lacock Abbey, Charles Henry Fox Talbot, who was an early pioneer of photography.

We then entered the gates of Lacock Abbey which was founded in the early 13th century.  In the 16th century the abbey was converted into a country house and an octagonal tower was added.  The house eventually passed into the hands of the Talbot family.

We greatly enjoyed the tour of the stately house.

Next we explored the Abbey’s peaceful Cloisters.

The Caldron in the Warming Room.

The location of Lacock Abbey was chosen  to shoot certain scenes from the series of Harry Potter Films.

Our visit to Lacock was rounded off  by returning to the Tea Room in the old stables for a scrummy English cream tea.

A perfect day out – I would highly recommend a visit.

National Trust Website – Lacock Village and Abbey

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Our next destination was Coquelles near Calais,  the French terminal for the Eurotunnel, we drove down the long slip roads and passed through the passport , frontier and customs check points without problems.

This was to be my second trip on the Eurotunnel Shuttle

* photo by hisgett

Initially I had been really concerned that I would find the whole experience overwhelmingly claustrophobic.  In the past I have suffered from problems with phobias and panic attacks, for example I find travelling on the London Underground quite a nightmare, the fear being trapped, unable to escape, being jostled in a crowd. The dry mouth, the heart pounding, hyperventilating.  Even certain supermarkets and shopping malls make me feel spaced out and queasy.

However, I was determined to be brave and give the Eurotunnel a try.  Faced with having to traverse the choppy English Channel by some means or other, and the fact that I am not a good sailor – I tend to get seasick even when crossing a millpond, and the fact that during the winter La Manche is known for its choppy seas, the short sharp Eurotunnel crossing seemed to be perhaps the lesser of two evils. I had to be brave and strive to confront my fear.

There is a simple roll on, roll off system, cars are directed to drive up a ramp to board the carriages.   Inside it is brightly illuminated and not SO SMALL I suppose!!!  There is just about enough space get out and walk up and down a narrow walkway, but I preferred to stay put in the car. 

At this point it was probably not best for me to dwell on the fact that the tunnel is 31 miles long, that 24 miles of it are in an undersea passageway, at a depth of 40 metres.  It is indeed, an amazing  feat of engineering.

So I tried to concentrate on reading my book to keep my mind occupied, and sucked on a peppermint  or two to moisten my dry mouth.  In fact, the journey passed quite swiftly and uneventfully, it takes about 35 minutes or so.  A gave a huge sigh of relief as we emerged into the daylight at Cheriton, West Folkstone  Back in Olde Blighty !!!

We had various presents to deliver nearby.  We drove through the countryside of Kent which is often described as “The Garden of England”,  because of its infamous hop gardens and orchards.  We passed some traditional old Oast Houses.

These conical roofed buildings were used as kilns for drying hops used for the brewing of  beer.

# photo by amandabhslater

Historically, the hops would be ready for picking during the month of September, and it was a very labour intensive process.  Workers, sometimes whole families, from the East End – the poorest part of London, were annually recruited to help gather the hops.  Many folk leaped at the opportunity to escape the gloom of London and work in the fresh air of the Kent countryside.  Some even came to regard it as a sort of annual holiday, but it was hard work all the same. Special steam trains were laid on to transport them.  These migrant workers were housed, during their 6 week stay, in huts or tents with basic facilities.  There was a certain feeling of community spirit that developed in such camps and in the evenings, after a hard day’s toil, they would gather around the open fires and  tell stories,  play music and have a  good old sing-song. Some families returned year in year out, even subsequent generations of the same family often followed in the custom.

Sadly, during the mid 20th century this industry began to fall into decline, thus many Oast Houses fell into disuse and disrepair.  Some of those still remaining have now been restored and converted into unusual houses.

For more information on the Hop Pickers see this excellent website:

http://www.hoppingdowninkent.org.uk/index.php

Here are some fascinating personal memoirs of Hop Picking:

http://www.bermondseyboy.net/2009/12/06/hop-picking/

* photo by hisgett

# photo by amandabhslater

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