Saturday, May 12, 2012

Day 35 - Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, Jane Austen's House Museum, Salisbury Cathedral, Dinner at Da Vinci

Monday 30 April 2012
We are in for a real treat today.  I have agonized long and hard about how to handle the drive across to Salisbury and what if any stops to make along the way.  In the little stand of tourist brochures thoughtfully provided by No 14 was a leaflet for the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.  It looks like it might be worth a quick look.  We head off at just after 9:35am. We’re quite accustomed to the English context by now and not so freaked out about fetching the car and just double parking to load up. This is just how it’s done here. No biggie.  Our plan is to travel along the route we had intended and see how we’re going for time.  We’ll make a decision on the fly.
I’ve instructed tomtom to take us to Midhurst because that way she’ll choose to go via some roads which I’ve been advised on Tripadvisor are more scenic. Scenic is definitely the objective. Scenic is what we get. The countryside is simply lovely. I could drive with vistas like this indefinitely and not get tired of it.  There are green rolling hills with splashes of oil seed flowering, birds of prey hovering above fields..I see a falcon if I’m not mistaken; beautiful woodland with an understory of flowering bluebells. Not the first we’ve seen but oh so lovely.  We stop to buy fuel just outside Tillington and notice some interesting sweets for sale. Mars Planets, and Basset’s Sherbet Lemon lollies which turn out to be much better than the sherbet lemons we get at home. Aha the perfect souvenir for my mum.  We still haven’t made it to Tesco’s to check out the range…
We arrive at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at about 11:25 am.  
The Weald and Downs museum was so awesome, I hardly know where to start in describing our visit.  I guess best to just start at the beginning. When you first go into the open air museum there is an introductory video then you head out into the reserve to views across the collection. The museum extends over a considerable area, so still photos can only show a small slice.
 The focus of the museum's collection is working people’s homes and work places.  The museum supports retaining buildings in their original situation and offers advice and training or referrals to people involved in the conservation of buildings.  In some cases it is not possible to retain a building in its original location, and a small number of those buildings have been relocated to the museum.  Perhaps the aims of the museum are best communicated in their own words. From their guidebook:
The principle aim of the founding group was to establish a centre that could rescue representative examples of vernacular buildings from the South East of England, and thereby to generate an increased public awareness and interest in the built environment….As well as illustrating the history of original building styles and types, the Museum has good collections representing trades and agriculture. These collections continue to be developed.
First of all we stopped by the little toll house. It’s set up to resemble how the toll house would have looked if the toll collector had just stepped outside and boards give you detailed information.  I know that time is limited for us here so I don’t linger any longer than necessary.  Also we have bought the guidebook to the museum which is quite comprehensive, so I figure that if we have a look, I can read the guidebook and flesh some things out further. Across the green is a tudor style house, but rather than being black and white it is red and white.  I go inside for a look and read that research they have conducted has shown that many buildings of that period were actually red and white. It was fascinating to see the house as it would originally have been used with the fire in the middle of the floor and the changes that were made to it over time.
Next stop, and I've been chafing at the bit to get to it, is the most exciting building in the museum for me today: They have a saw pit!  It's complete with the tools and everything.  A sawyer appears to have everything here that he needs were he to turn up. Better still they have some detailed information boards that show a photograph of the sawyers at work at a less established saw pit and descriptions and diagrams about how the sawyer worked and how they were remunerated. Fantastic.  This is just what I’ve been looking for. The guidebook has even more detailed information. This is a pretty flash saw pit, most of them were less permanent and would not have had such a fine shelter.

As interesting as each building is, the lady on the desk has indicated what priority we should place on what we see in a short visit. Perhaps it is our accent or perhaps she gives such hints to everyone, but they are much appreciated by us.  We head across the green to the water mill and circle it before heading inside.
The museum site had no water when the mill was donated.  Not a problem. They dug a huge mill pond and stream and installed a reticulation system.  Today they grind grain and the resulting flour is in high demand.  There are biscuits for sale and we buy three of the four types to take home as souvenirs.  Writing this journal belatedly I can report that all of them were delicious and the flour imparts a unique texture and flavor, the family loved them.  The Mill also sells grain for feeding the poultry around the grounds.  Ducks hang around the Mill, so does a pheasant.  Elsewhere chickens are pleased to take the feed.  We have a nice chat with the miller and ask some questions about the capital required to establish a mill.  Millers were generally comparatively wealthy people and they were not popular because it was common practice to adulterate the flour with sawdust or other substances to extend the profit margins.  There was always the risk of fire too.  As we know grain dust is combustible, so it was always important to manage the risk of fire or explosion in the mill.  Good mill sites were good mill sites and so if one mill was destroyed or a miller no longer able to use it then inevitably another mill would spring up to take advantage of the site.
In an old barn excellent displays in relation to plumbing and masonry have been set up. Hubby focusses on the plumbing and I have a good look at the masonry display and information. Elsewhere on site is a brick drying shed with information about that side of things. If you want to get a better idea of how your tradesman forebears worked Weald and Downlands is a wonderful resource. Unfortunately the carpenter's workshop is not open. I would have enjoyed having a look at that as my mum's father and grandfather were both carpenters, as indeed was her great grandfather in Somerset.
We continue around the circuit. A great range of buildings are present and all of them have interesting interpretive panels. There is even a rescued animal pound! There are also a range of domestic lifestock in pens around the museum. Not a petting zoo.  These are animals doing the job they did in times past and being reared as they were in times past.
I’m happy as a clam and heading enthusiastically along my way eagerly anticipating the next fascinating revelation when I see a square timber clad box. It’s about a metre high with a good fitting lid.  Hmm. "What do you reckon this is?" I enquire of hubby in all sincerity. "Is it some sort of bee hive?"  I’m looking around curiously and the penny drops.  I feel a tad foolish when I realize that black plastic is a bin liner. This is a rubbish bin not an historical artifact.. well… not an historic artifact yet at any rate.
One of the buildings captures my attention. It’s made of corrugated iron, a rather iconic building material in Australia.  Intrigued I wander in for a look.  This is an old church and no so terribly old, if memory serves it was from the late 19th Century. It is a prefabricated affair bought and erected on a new housing development. A vendor in London used to sell them and ship them off.  I would expect a good number would probably have made their way down under too.I never realised that they used them in England like this.
We are making our way to the working medieval kitchen where we find a couple of women cooking away, essentially using an open camp fire and basic ingredients which they give us to sample.  I’m hungry and not feeling all that crash hot. I try some buttered bread. It’s quite heavy but the flavour is nutty and quite morish.  The lady proferring the samples clearly thinks I’m nuts.  “You must be hungry” she says!  We discuss with her the copper cooking pot.  The cooks had to scrub the pot very well to remove the poisonous verdigris.

Round the corner past the field where a sign explains that they are growing a rare variety of wheat and how that strain came to be discovered and by whom.  We head along the loop past the charcoal burner’s camp, and the wood yard.
We pass an energetic man who is dragging long coppice logs along the dirt path to the camp.  Pause at the pig pen to admire the rare breed pig and her piglets who are busily snuffling around I the earth and not the slightest bit interested in us.

As we walk along the quiet woodland path we enjoy beautiful views across the museum and countryside and I get perhaps my best opportunity yet to capture the lovely spectacle of flowering dandelions in the fields.

The whole museum is simply marvelous.  It is so well done. We are just so pleased we found out about it and were able to visit today. This has been a real highlight for me.
At 1.25 pm we are walking past the Downland Gridshell painfully aware that at 1.30 a tour of the gridshell is to be conducted. The Gridshell is a modern construction made from green oak laths. It houses a collection of about 10,000 artefacts of rural life in the region and space where training courses are conducted.  Furthermore the gridshell is one of only a few gridshells in Britain and is unique in its design and construction. I would love to stay and go on the tour, but I am feeling far from well.  I’ve not been too crash hot all morning, but now staying on my feet is becoming quite a struggle.  Hubby is hungry and we have to weigh up the opportunity cost, which is no easy thing.  We stand at the junction in the path for a few minutes as we decide what to do. How I’m feeling really dictates the outcome. I really can't keep going so we head down to the café so Hubby can get some lunch.  Lunch is a simple affair eaten at some outdoor picnic tables where some jackdaws and rooks are loitering waiting for an opportunity to fossick leftovers as people move away: a pastie and a slice of Victoria Sponge both mainly consumed by hubby. I just have an apple juice and sample what hubby's got, but it makes me feel slightly worse.  I can’t face eating much. The sensation in the tummy reminds me of the fragility I experienced for days after eating the mussell patties on Stewart Island, New Zealand.  I'm figuring it must be something I've eaten that's caused the difficulty.
We still have some grain left so hubby donates it to a young family having a picnic lunch out on the green and we make our move after a quick browse for souvenir gifts in the shop. I kick myself later that I didn’t get a book on the traditional crafts for our son-in-law whose yard does rather resemble the coal burner’s camp. I think they could make good use of some of the coppicing skills and traditional skills such as informal fencing.  For the millionth time on the trip I resolve that next time we will pack much lighter and reserve more room for taking things home.  We settle for a small book on cooking during the reign of someone or other. Stuarts I think. The recipes look OK.  Daughter 2’s partner would like that I think.. not too heavy. I wish I could get one of the wonderful swedish axes ....too heavy.

We’re back on the road at 2:15, so we’ve spent about 2.5 hrs actually looking around at Weald and Downs. We could easily have stayed a couple of hours longer.  It is oh so good to sit down.  Despite my struggle I’m determined to have a quick look at the Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. Tomtom is duly instructed. 
More beautiful countryside and no problems with traffic we arrive in Chawton at 3:10.  The museum is not coming up as a point of interest when we ask tomtom if she knows where it is and we spend a little while meandering about this beautiful little village.  Tired though I am I can’t resist taking a photo of one unutterably picturesque cottage with a lovely display of bluebells along the fence.
The museum is not hard to find and there is parking across the road.  It takes a lot of will power for me to drag myself across, but I’m here now and it’s not a big place.  It will be a struggle to do this, but I will get a lot out of it later when I can look back.
We pay our entry and watch an introductory video in a little room where swallows nest.  A warning encourages visitors to watch out for swallows flying in through the little swallow doorway that has been included in the design.  AWESOME.  I like this place.  Before we enter the house itself we are obliged to go outside and we take the opportunity to explore the outbuildings and the garden.  
Hubby is really enjoying himself and walks down into the garden to admire the plantings.  The view out over the village is just delightful.  I can hardly imagine living in such an idyllic place. 
As we enter the house there is a dedication plaque right where you can’t fail to miss it:
This house is dedicated to all lovers of Jane Austen whose home it was from 1809 to 1817.  It was given in trust in 1949 by the parents of Lt Philip John Carpenter, 1st Battalion East Surry Regiment, who fell whilst leading his men at Trasimene, Italy, the 30th day of June 1944, aged 22.
What a lovely memorial.  I'm even more glad I came here now.  The house itself has a collection of artifacts but is fairly sparsely furnished. Many of the artifacts are related to people related to Jane Austen rather than Jane Austen herself, though they do have the little table she wrote at for visitors to see.  One of the most interesting aspects of the museum, for me, was about Jane Austen’s brothers all of whom were very interesting and successful men.  It is clear as we explore that she has been inspired by her family when developing characters and plotlines for her books.  One brother was adopted by wealthy relatives and changed his name (Emma) and later after the death of his father gave his mother and sisters the use of the cottage at Chawton which was part of his estate (Sense and Sensibility).  Another brother was in the Navy and had a very successful career bringing to mind Persuasion.  I resolve to try to find out more about Jane Austen’s life and family some time. 
It is sheer will power keeping me on my feet, and I am just looking over things like a bit of an automaton. I look in the gift store for a biography of Jane Austen. I find something tempting but in the end decide I must surely be able to get it on line.  Hopefully the museum has it at their online shop so I can buy from them.
The end of our visit coincides with closing time which is a coincidence rather than imposition.  I am relieved to sit back in the car for the drive into Salisbury.  I am going to collapse when we get to Sedgehill House.  I can hardly wait. Thank god I don't have to navigate.
I am not sure if I have caught something, eaten something, or just hit the wall in a big big way.  I’m still forcing myself to go through the motions and we park and we check in well enough.  Sedeghill House is delightful. Our room is fabulously comfy and inviting.  There’s even DVDs to watch.  All I want to do is die here (figuratively speaking!).  Bad News. The Queen is visiting Salisbury tomorrow and will be going to the Cathedral.  It’s now or never.  How about never.  No no .. you must see the cathedral. .. Hubby seems keen.  I REALLY want to die just now.  I reluctantly agree on the strength of it not being far and we can just have a wander.  MISTAKE. MISTAKE. MISTAKE. The one thing on the trip I really regret is dragging one weary foot after the other down to get lost in Salisbury looking for the bloody Cathedral.  I was dead on my feet. I should have listened to myself more and others less. The whole exercise was torture and even in retrospect - completely pointless.  I should have made Hubby go on his own if he wanted to see it.
When we finally got there the Cathedral was really closed, but they were about to start a seminar and kindly let us in to wander around a little so long as we kept away from where the action was.  I don’t remember much at all from the Cathedral interior.  Perhaps hubby has better recall.  I think he pointed out a cope chest to me, yes, I am sure I saw an awesome old cope chest.  I remember looking longingly at the door out to the cloisters and we decided that we shouldn’t go through them.  I remember wondering where the magna carta is. And there you have it.  We did get pictures of the exterior. But I would rather have cut off my legs than used them to walk around to find a better angle than this photo shows which is hardly awe inspiring covered in scaffolding and barriers etc in readiness for the Queen's visit.  My chief memory of Salisbury Cathedral is standing outside horrified at the prospect of walking home. Sheer bloody torture. Hubby wanted to retrace our steps so we didn't get more lost. No bloody way. We went a ridiculous circuitous route finding the Cathedral. Indeed I remember more about that than the Cathedral itself!  I’m sure if we go straight along here it will work better.  Thank god, for once I am right.  The desperation of the moment I suppose.  What to have for dinner. I really am not sure I care.  "Can’t I just go home and die please. I’m not sure you appreciate how close to death I actually am."  "Maybe you’ll feel better if you eat something good."  "Maybe."  Luckily there are two options that we walk past on our way home.  The Avon Brewery Inn has been highly recommended.  We check out the menu. Nah. I really can’t face that today. The thought of eating that style of food is making me feel worse still.  That is out of the question. I’d rather poke out my eye with a stick.  I drag one foot in front of the other across the road to Da Vinci – happily this is the place I had noted in the manifesto and I came very very close to booking ahead.  Peruse the menu.  Yeah.  This looks much more tempting,  “A nice meal of Italian veal with vegetables would hit the spot I think, but can we PLEASE make this a quick dinner I don’t want to be taking 2 or 3 hrs to eat. I want to DIE.”  “Sure, of course.”
We wander in and are shown to a choice of tables.  The one tucked into the corner is appealing.  That’s the closest thing available to curling up in a hole.  We peruse the menu.  Hubby is supplying the excitement for both of us.  He’s looking more enthusiastic than usual.  I’m happy to just order one course.. Hubby’s quite keen on ordering a starter as well.  Sigh.  Well, if you’re ordering the carpaccio and I have to sit here and watch anyway I may as well order the whitebait.  Stomach seems willing to cooperate with whitebait.
Hubby enthusiastically peruses the menu for his main course.  Spaghetti marinara.  I groan inwardly but say nothing.  Hubby has been on a lifelong quest to find edible spaghetti marinara.  I am just too unwell to tease him. 99% of the time the spaghetti marinara is either disappointing or bloody aweful.  Usually it’s bloody aweful.  Carpaccio is raw but I don’t have the energy to mention that either.  He’s a big boy. He can choose his own dinner and anyway.. I’m feeling so unwell maybe I’m not correctly recalling what carpaccio is.  I, with a dim flicker of happy expectation, order the Vitello al limone. Cooked in white wine, butter and lemon.  We consume some nice bread as we wait, watching an Asian kid across the way pick at his food.  It’s lasagna and looks delicious, but he’s mostly just mangling it and occasionally getting directions of some sort from his mother.  My water has a slice of lemon in it.  I’m reviving slightly.
My whitebait was lovely. Not as good as the microbattered whitebait I had in NZ which is the current whitebait benchmark, but I easily won the first round at Da Vinci. Hubby did enjoy his carpaccio but not as much as he enjoyed my whitebait.  I don’t think he’s had whitebait before.  NEWSFLASH.  Hubby’s eternal optimism paid off and his spaghetti marinara was really good.  Even I liked it!  Perhaps he should buy a lottery ticket!  My veal was also lovely and the vegetables went down a treat.  I AM starting to feel a bit better. Still dog tired, but I do feel quite a bit better.  Are you getting the impression that my hubby knows me quite well?? Possibly not so surprising when you’ve been together since you were teenagers.
Our waiter beams a happy smile when he returns to clear our table and says “That’s what we like to see. People with good appetites.”  We have got this reaction quite a lot in the places we’ve dined on this trip.  Sometimes not overtly expressed but even then we have typically found that wait staff get more and more friendly and enthusiastic serving us as the meal progresses.  I recall in Bumbles the happy smile as the waitress brought us the next course and you could just see that she was looking forward to see how we liked it. Dead pan faces on arrival turn into happy beaming smiles as we depart. We tend to choose to eat in places that love food and serve an excellent standard.  We love food too and when we’re eating that is what it’s about.  We’re not there to socialize.. we’ve come to indulge in one of life’s greatest pleasures.  We sample eachother’s meal and comment and it must be obvious how much we’re enjoying what the kitchen has worked so hard to prepare for us.  Tonight at Da Vinci it’s the same and it’s clear that our waiter’s comments are sincere.  No stylish picking at our food or leaving half of it behind occurs at our table!
Do we do dessert?  I really would rather go home. I feel better but the need for rest is quite urgent. Hubby’s eyes are twinkling in dessert anticipation as he offers to just leave if I want to.  I can’t bring myself to force a departure. I know he really wants to have dessert so we order.  I win again with my choice of Strawberry and pistachio meringue; Hubby’s ferrero Rocher cheesecake is huge and far too rich for me tonight  A lovely spirit reviving meal.  ...and it didn't take all night!  Da Vinci’s was worth staying awake for.
Back to our cosy cosy room at Sedgehill House and a lovely well padded and comfortable bed, we watch some of Embarrassing Bodies one of hubby's favourite shows, and which tonight seems to have a distinct focus on penis problems along with help for a man whose nose has been deformed by rosacea and a few other random things.  This show may be gross but you have to give them credit for providing a very valuable public service.  We just don’t understand why all these people with such embarrassing problems would expose themselves in this way. Is it just their “Jerry Springer moment?  I’m too tired to journal and am soon asleep.

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