Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter!While my American readers are enjoying egg hunts in rose gardens (I wish I could be there!), plastic eggs filled with candy, and the trademark chicks and bunnies galore, I thought I'd give you a taste of my English Easter weekend and the way they celebrate the holiday in the UK.

To be completely honest though, I really wanted to share my lamb photos I took this weekend, and I thought the Easter heading would help me get away with it! As Norma will attest, I've developed a borderline obsession with lambs, particularly the recently born, puppy-sized ones. And it's not as though these lambs are rare, they're actually a dime a dozen -- popping up everywhere and dotting the British countryside with white and gray blobs lying with adorable haphazardness in green fields. I should be clear that farming doesn't exist solely in the countryside, I've also seen some grazing taking place on a farm well within Edinburgh's city limits, near to Crammond Beach on the Firth of Forth and just ten minutes away from Circle's head office.

Anyways, enough articulating just how common sheep are, how they number greater than humans in Yorkshire, and that I can't shake the desire to cuddle one, despite knowing that their wool is actually pretty scratchy and oily to protect them from the rain. Enough with that, let's get on with the photographic evidence of lambs' cuteness, along with what I did this weekend with Norma! (Scroll down about halfway for lamb photos.)

Thursday afternoon at Circle we celebrated the Easter holidays with several kids and their families who have been off of school the past two weeks, painting hard boiled eggs and going swimming at the local high school. We gave each child who came swimming a chocolate Easter egg, the closest thing to American plastic eggs filled with candy. I was honored when Norma gave me one Saturday night. She told me that she still buys them for her 40 year old+ sons Kris and Paul as they'd been deeply disappointed one year as teenagers when she'd tried to stop the tradition, thinking they'd outgrown them!
Family Support Workers at Circle choosing eggs to bring to their families. 
My Easter egg from Norma: a hollow chocolate egg shell with four mini Flakes. Not an egg filled with Flake, like I'd imagined from the packaging!

After the swimming, I dashed off the train station to begin my journey to Settle for the long weekend, as Friday and Monday are public holidays nationwide. For the first portion, from Edinburgh Waverley to Carlisle, I managed to get a first class ticket as it'd been the same price for standard with my rail card. It felt so luxurious -- like out of a movie -- they offered me tea or coffee from proper china and fed me dinner for no extra charge.
The train journey from Edinburgh to Settle is gorgeous, especially on sunny days. Lots of countryside views and lamb spotting.

After transferring trains at Carlisle, the rest of the journey to Settle stops at small towns such as Dent.
9pm Thursday night, just before the light disappeared.

Friday, we relaxed around Settle. Norma went out to get a haircut, and I continued to lounge around the sitting room well into the afternoon.
Norma's upstairs sitting room is by far the best room in the house. This is completely unstaged, it's always this bright, airy, clean!

Saturday we drove west to Sizergh Castle, near Kendal. Upon arrival we learned that the castle itself is closed on Fridays and Saturdays to respect the privacy of the Strickland family who continue to live in an apartment within the castle. The grounds were open, however, so we walked around the gardens for a few hours and had some afternoon tea at the cafe.
Sizergh Castle
 Norma at Sizergh's limestone rock garden
Orange flowers on the castle grounds

Now for the part you've all been waiting for, photos of the hour Norma and I stalked lambs! For some reason, Sizergh castle had several pastures of lambs surrounding the gardens, so after our afternoon tea, we decided to go to one of the pastures and see if I could pet a lamb. While completely and utterly unsuccessful, as all the mama sheep would watch us approach and start baa-ing warnings once we close, I was able to get within five feet of a few to take some pictures. 
Norma followed me around a bit at first, but then thought that perhaps her loud red coat was scaring away the sheep, so decided to sit down on the grass in hopes that she'd look more approachable. She baa-ed softly in attempts to attract lambs to come in our vicinity. I will frame this picture the second I get home, I think it epitomized my entire spring - Norma happily obliging my every interest with great enthusiasm, vim and vigor. 
Norma even taught me how to make her legendary chocolate pudding pots. They. are. delicious. I will share the recipe soon so all may benefit.
Today we drove east to Skipton, the nearest town large enough to have a Marks and Spencer. (Skipton + M&S = large town. Settle - M&S = small town. It's a science.) Our mission was not, however, to find the best heat and eat food Britain has to offer, at least in Norma's opinion. 
Instead we were in Skipton to drink the best coffee Britain has to offer at Bean Loved. Just kidding, we went to Skipton Castle, since neither of us had been (and Norma's lived 15 miles away from this castle for 10 plus years!). We also drank the coffee for good measure. 

I thought the windows in the watch towers and bedrooms were beautiful, and promptly decided I could fit a daybed in the alcoves surrounding them no problem. It would be a bit drafty, but I'd figure it out...
The wing of Skipton Castle open to visitors was unfurnished, though for being 500+ years old and having survived so many attacks, the emptiness of the rooms didn't matter, you could still get a good feel for the history. All the Robin Hood-like arrow slits (I had to look up the technical word!) made me miss teaching and practicing archery at camp.
You may be wondering if I went to church today for Easter, as I'd normally have done at home. Yes, I went to a church at the castle. No, there was not a priest inside of it. I consider having been inside a 13th century church better than nothing.
We then walked around a portion of the castle's moat. Norma gallivanted ahead (actually, she was walking at a fairly leisurely pace) while I took pictures. The weather was overcast for the first time this week, so sadly the pictures have quite flat lighting. Though truly you can't complain, as illustrated by these greeting cards which are quite helpful in describing British weather conditions: 
Later this evening we went over to visit with some of Norma's neighbors at their house. They recently began running a bed and breakfast from their home and they were lovely to chat with for a couple hours. The house was gorgeous, too, if you're ever looking for somewhere to stay while in Settle! 

I should be headed off to bed now, as it's now well past midnight. Who knew writing a blog took several hours per post?!? Oh well, it's worth it! 

Tomorrow afternoon I'll head back to Scotland for my final two weeks at Circle. I'm sad to be leaving as it only feels like a short time since I've started and I really love working there with such wonderful people. I'm still planning to write weekly recaps for all the weeks I'm away, regardless of their timeliness. As I said, each post takes quite a lot of time and effort, but I still plan to do them. So look out for posts on my first week in Iceland and the beginning of my time at Circle coming soon. While they'll have been written in the coming weeks, I'll still post them on date that the events actually took place so that looking back, they'll reflect what I did on the dates that I did them. It'll make sense once I start posting!

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