Posts Tagged ‘Mandi’


We Made it to Scotland!

   Posted by: MB    in Daily

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Lochmaben Castle Ruins on Castle Loch

Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Eight

Our day of driving from Nottingham to the North, was made a bit more challenging by some rain and a lot of very high wind. The winds of winter storm Eva, as they whipped across the moorlands and dales of Northern Yorkshire were so strong they buffeted the car about the highway and prevented good photography. We got pretty good shots of the sign welcoming us to Scotland, though!  And, we did the happy dance in our seats.  The wind died down and the rain and flooding took over as the main attraction as we made our way to our destination town of Peebles. Less than twenty miles from town our proposed route was closed due to flooding and we did two legs of the triangle instead of only one.  But, we finally made it, checked into our little rented house, and went to the grocery store.

Grocery store trips here are rather like safaris…you know what you want to see, but you have no idea if it will be there, or exactly what it will look like if it is. (I call my fabric shopping trips “safaris,” too, for the same reasons.) We knew we needed to find food and drink to get us through this evening (Christmas Eve) and all of Christmas Day, as well as the morning of the 26th.  On this island, they take Christmas very seriously, and we’ve learned on previous trips that we cannot count on ANYthing being open on the 25th or 26th.  This is a bigger problem in England than in Scotland, (even the trains and undergrounds and buses don’t run in London on Christmas!), but we figured better safe than sorry!    The house came with the basics, like coffee and tea and sugar and cereal.  And we have stocked up on amazing local cheeses at various places. So, we bought some meat and veggies to prepare for dinner tomorrow. We bought milk and eggs and orange juice and avocados … you know the staples one cannot live without. 😉  And, we bought wine and beer and gin and tonic … you know, the staples one cannot live without.  😉 😉 I also succumbed to a salesperson offering samples of an amazing Irish Creme-like liqueur with a “salted caramel” flavoring!  We should be able to get through the day, watch the queen address her people on TV, and never run out of yummy things.

Our one real distraction from our day’s goal, was also the highlight of the day. As we found ourselves on familiar roads passing familiar places, I voiced a wish, and my husband granted it.  We made the last minute detour to share one of our very favorite places with Roxy and Mandalyn–Lochmaben Castle. Lochmaben is a sweet little burgh near Dumfries and right down the road from Lockerbie, which many folks know of for its unhappy involvement in a 1988 plane crash. Lochmaben Castle is nothing but a ruin of a medieval castle believed to have been the childhood home of Robert the Bruce.  Kyle’s family, the Caruthers, are in Scottish terms, a sept of the Clan Bruce.  So, we have an historical connection to the place.  And, since the very first time we ever happened across it (on our honeymoon) it was so completely by accident and without proper signage, that almost anyone would have to agree that we were simply meant to find it, we also have a very deep emotional connection to it. It sits on the shores of a small lake known as Castle Loch, completely hidden, especially when the trees are in leaf.  It is sadly, greatly diminished even in the twenty years since we first found it, with areas we’ve climbed all over, now fenced off due to unsafe masonry and being allowed to be engulfed by ivy and weeds. But, it is truly beautiful, nonetheless, and will continue to be on our travel plans any time we are near. We walked around for a short bit as the daylight faded, shot some great pictures, and logged this sacred place once again into our memories.

The little detour didn’t prevent us from getting to the house in time, grocery shopping before the stores closed, or even getting to our favorite local for dinner and a pint before retiring back to the house.  And almost immediately upon settling in, we found ourselves enthralled in first a trivia show all about Tudor times (!) and then a lovely little BBC film called The Scandalous Lady W. starring Natalie Dormer.  We recommend it!

The clock tells me it’s after midnight, so I’d better get to bed or Santa will be put out with me!  Happy Christmas to All … and to all A Good Night!



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Nottingham: Mischief Managed

   Posted by: MB    in Daily

Wednesday, 23 December 2015


Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Seven.

The first thing on today’s agenda actually began last night:  get some sleep!  We’d been running a pretty fast pace, with fairly early mornings and (at least for me) crazy late nights since we arrived.  This morning, I think we all actually started the day out fully recharged and ready for running amok.

We had knocked three pubs off the ten-pub list, last night.  So, today, the goal was to see and experience as much of Nottingham as we could, by finding each of the other highly recommended places on the list.  We sallied forth with enthusiasm, and were successful in our task.  And, we even fit in a Christmas Market and some good shopping, as well as a delightful lunch. Along the way, I took a few photos of architecture and Christmas lights and such.  This beautiful building above most effectively stole my heart.  All my people out there who know or have read about my obsession with the Galveston News building, will understand and not be surprised.  This one is much bigger, of course, and has the added appeal of the Tudor half-timbering on top … but it *feels* similar to me.

Tomorrow we once again travel north, and by sundown we’ll be in the country of our hearts: Scotland.


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Happy Yule!

   Posted by: MB    in Daily

Tuesday, 22 December 2015. Yule.

Arbor Low 10

Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Six.

Our day started very early with an alarm set for 6:15 a.m. The plan was to be in the car on the way to Arbor Low by 7 o’clock. We wanted to have an hour or so so enjoy the site before the 8:19 a.m. sunrise, and there were ten or so winding miles between the Charles Cotton Hotel and the farmland containing the stone circle.

We all did great at getting up and out…and the drive was easy and traffic-free. So, we got there early enough to sit and relax for a few minutes before we started to see light in the sky and MaritaBeth got antsy.  About an hour in advance, we bundled up in our furriest, warmest hats and layered jackets and scarf and gloves and began the muddy trek up to the site itself.  We paid our 1£ near the farmhouse and turned on our pocket torches (flashlights). Today’s specific challenge also included extremely strong winds and a light rain. The next few minutes consisted of avoiding puddles and poo as we passed between cattle barn and hay storage, passing through a gate, and then trying desperately to remember which direction to walk uphill.  It’s amazing how much one forgets in three years’ time. We finally figured it out, crossed another fence line and climbed the berm that surrounds the ancient circle. The moment of cresting that hill and catching the first glimpse of the circle itself, never ceases to cause my breath to catch and my soul to fill.

There are no words to adequately describe the next hour.  We each took our own path, sometimes coming together as duos or trios, once or twice as the foursome we were.  But, most of our time there was solitary.  Just one small person and the wind, connecting with the earth, the stones, the history, the mystery.  The entire time we were there, we shared the site with no more than twelve other people.  The wind and rain must have kept many people away, but even so, there were offerings of flowers and symbols and candles left upon the most central of the stones.

Now, as might be expected from mention of wind and rain … there were clouds.  Nothing but clouds, really, and the sunrise itself … the actual fiery ball in the sky … never showed his face.  We watched the sky brighten, certainly, but, there was really no prayer of actually seeing the sun. The sun rises each morn, whether we can see it or not, though.  So, we were undaunted. I read aloud the Susan Cooper passage that I shared on Facebook last night, and my chosen family members all embraced in a group hug. And we stood there soaking up the magic.

We arrived back at the Charles Cotton just in time to get breakfast before it was too late.  Then, the Cheese Shop and post office, and on the road again! The first destination was the little town of Castleton which we’d only just learned about from some fellow travelers in the breakfast room at the Giffard House Hotel. It seems that there is a semi-precious stone, completely unique to this one area of England, called “Blue John” and it is mined in Castleton.  We were planning to tour one of the caves from which it is mined, but the weather didn’t quite cooperate.  What we did do was to purchase some beautiful little rocks (that we’re hoping Miss Allyson can make into pretty jewelry for us), have lunch in a great little pub called The Bull’s Head (which came highly recommended), and stop to take photos in a perfectly beautiful church cemetary in the neighboring town of Hope.

The rest of the day’s drive was done mostly after dark … it was the shortest day, after all … and despite some frustrating one way roads the GPS didn’t foresee, we arrived at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem pub in Nottingham, ready to carry on with Solstice celebrating. We then secured a place to stay (we’re at the St. James Hotel) and began the honorable job of visiting the pubs on the list we were given by our fireman friends the night before. We managed to mark three off the list of who knows how many, and came back to the St. James for a nightcap.

The last of the other three has just gone to bed, leaving me to finish my last few paragraphs.  Tomorrow, we finally face a day with no deadlines and the plan is to sleep until we wake!  Woo hoo!

Happy Solstice, my friends.  Happy Yule!


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The Longest Night

   Posted by: MB    in Daily

Monday, 21 December 2015

At the Devonshire Arms

Kyle and the Babes 2015. Day Five.

We began our trek north, today.  After a lovely final breakfast at our hotel, we packed the car and headed out of Winchester.  On the way, we paused briefly for a photo of the town’s famous statue of King Alfred, and then continued on our way.

Our goal today was to put about four hours of driving behind us and get to the Charles Cotton Hotel in Hartington.

We drove most of the journey before stopping for a perfectly marvelous meal at a little public house called the Coach and Horses in a tiny town with a charming name–Fenny Bentley. Derbyshire (pronounced DArbyshire, here) is spotted with little villages with quaint names that quickly call to mind BBC’s village of Dibley. It was dark by the time we left there to make the last twenty minutes of the trip to Hartington.

The Charles Cotton Hotel was chosen for tonight for three primary reasons.  First, because we really love the small hotels with the local pub on the ground floor.  It’s a lovely, safe stumble up the stairs if need be, and there are always interesting local folks to meet and learn from. We are in room 11 of 11.  The girls are in room 2.  Tonight our choice resulted in spending the evening both here and across the street where my above photo was shot, with a group of Nottinghamshire Fire Fighters celebrating with their Christmas holiday party. Karaoke was the party entertainment and we were invited to participate, an offer which our talented Roxy happily accepted. We enjoyed much laughter while exchanging travel stories and planning pub crawls with our new friends.  And when the time came for them to climb on their bus and be driven home, we parted with hugs and kisses and hearty handshakes.

The second reason is that the Charles Cotton Hotel is located in a seventeenth century building that was once the home of a rather incredible man of that name.  Among other things, Mr. Cotton was a gambler and a gamer.  He is perhaps most famous for writing what is commonly held to be one of the earliest book about games.  It is a short leap to understand our connection to such a character and to imagine that Kyle was very excited to discover that the place existed.

The third and perhaps most important reason we are here, is because we will rise at about 6 a.m. tomorrow and make our way a mere nine miles to one of our favorite places–Arbor Low. At that time of the morning, a short drive is a wonderful thing. Sometimes referred to as “the Stonehenge of the North,” Arbor Low is a beautiful stone circle located on a high moor within a nearby farmstead where you pay a donation of a pound to the property owner on your way by, and make yourself at home, crossing stiles, walking fence lines, and avoiding sheep droppings, until you find the magic.  The huge stones there are not upright like the picture most folks have in their heads of neolithic stone circles. Instead, they are all prone, where they have fallen, but are still arranged in a nearly perfect circle within a large earth berm.  As such, they are perfect for sitting upon.  And, because it is a less traditional sort of circle, we have never experienced it being crowded with any more than about fifty people, even on summer or winter solstices.

So, tomorrow morning, we will celebrate the Winter Solstice … Yule … by being there in that circle as the sun rises. Blessed Be.

Happy Yule, Friends!


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Winchester for the Win

   Posted by: MB    in Daily

Saturday, 19 December 2015

High Street Silly

Kyle and the Babes. Day Three. Happy Birthday, Roxy!

Driving in England is practically second nature to Kyle, so it was his pleasure to go out fairly early this morning and retrieve the hired car in which we will spend the next couple of weeks touring.  We checked out of our hotel and pointed the car south toward the one bit of southern England we’re going to see on this trip.  The city of Winchester was our destination, but along the way Kyle had determined that we had just enough time to locate one of CAMRA’s top-rated pubs.  Our internet provision is still not quite perfect, so MaritaBeth got to use her navigation skills and a paper map to navigate the first part of the trip.  Seems those skills are in good working order and all were rather impressed enough that a virtual badge was awarded.

Lunch, then, was at this darling little (like maybe seven tables) pub called The Plough Inn in a tiny town called Little London.  We enjoyed some very real ale (and a real first press cider) and wonderful pub sandwiches on baguettes.  A perfectly delightful travel stop, if not a bit out of our way, and worth every extra kilometer.  We were soon back on our way south toward Winchester, and easily found our lovely accommodation upon arrival in town.  We had pre-booked rooms at the beautiful Victorian Giffard House, a 13-room hotel which holds the distinction of being the number one rated place to stay according to Trip Advisor. We unloaded the car, donned our comfy shoes and began the fifteen minute walk to the Cathedral.  We weren’t headed to church, though…we were headed to what is touted as England’s largest Christmas Market!  The walk was lovely, the weather still unseasonably warm, and our goal was reached quickly.  Daylight was fading, and thousands of tiny lights were beckoning.  First things first, of course–we each got ourselves a cup of hot mulled wine–then into the marketplace we went. We left surprisingly unscathed, but there might have been a jolly holiday present or two procured. 😉  Kyle and MaritaBeth also made a great contact with a small game manufacturer that should come in quite handy for East Wind Games.

We thoroughly enjoyed the event, shopping our way around it for a couple of hours, until Kyle finally got confirmation that our friends Andy and Tony had in fact made it to town and were waiting for us in a pub on the High Street.  A short walk (and a quick stop for some Thai street food) and we were at the apparently popular Alfie’s.  It was wonderful to see these two again (and to meet Andy’s lovely lady Kate) and the evening flew by.  We shared pints, stories, jokes, and memories and sincerely deepened our friendship with and our love for these friends.  We look forward to the day when they can come visit us in the states!

All good things must eventually come to an end, and this visit was no exception, of course.  We said our goodbyes, and soon after they headed home, we took to the High Street on our way back to the hotel.  Along the way we took some photos, saw some sights (many of the buildings on the High Street date from the twelfth and thirteenth century) and even found one more pub in which to elongate our fun and wish Roxy a very happy birthday! Finally, we arrived back at our elegant lodgings and said goodnight with the promise of a proper English breakfast at nine in the morning.


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From British Museum to Giant Mistletoe

   Posted by: MB    in Daily

Friday, 18 December 2015 Kyle and the Babes Kyle and the Babes 2015.

Day Two They’re here! Way back in 1997, Kyle and I and two dear girlfriends made the trip to the U.K. for the Yule holiday.  Kyle’s parents were living in England at the time, and Ginger and Lisa were up for an adventure, so away we went!  Among other things, we experienced sunrise in a stone circle on Yule, enjoyed a marvelous Christmas visit with the folks, were honored with seats at the head table at a castle feast, visited one of our favorite castle ruins, froze our butts off at the White Horse of Uffington and even managed to take in a show in the West End. The Kyle and the Babes Trip was a huge success and Ginger and Lisa were forever accepted into the Clan MacRalph.

This trip is not an attempt to recreate that amazing time.  It is an exciting, all new adventure with two different dear girlfriends, Roxy and Mandalyn.  But, the label “Kyle and the Babes” deserved reviving!

Knowing the girls were arriving today, Kyle and I planned a meeting time and place with them, and filled the first part of our day with the journey into the city, time in a couple of lovely little pubs (the Princess Louise is one of the most beautiful pubs I’ve ever been in), and a visit to the British Museum.  Why we’d never before visited this amazing museum remains a mystery and the place deserves much more of our attention on a future visit.  But, today was all about a specific exhibit I was determined to see entitled, “Celts: Art and Identity.”  The exhibit set out to expose its patrons to the depth and variety of what we have come to understand as “celtic” and “celtic art.”  It presents hundreds of objects from all over the European continent–knives, brooches, torcs, helmets and shields, chariot fittings, flagons, sculptures, bowls, books and more. The star of the show, at least for me, is what is known as The Gundestrup Cauldron–an ornate, silver, ceremonial cauldron dating from c. 150 B.C.E. The entire exhibit is beautifully presented, and except for the bizarrely high temperature within the exhibit hall, it was a wonderful experience I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.

By the time we finished there, and popped into the pub on the corner (it would have been rude not to!), it was time to head to the Covent Garden area to meet Roxy and Mandi.  We found them, exactly as planned, at the busy but charming Nag’s Head Pub, where we had a pint to fortify us for shopping.  The next planned stop was my Bravissimo store!  Roxy joined me, and Mandi opted to accompany Kyle to the next pub to wait for us.  Bravissimo is known for catering to the well-endowed woman, so Roxy and I are their perfect type of customer.  We set up fittings, shopped for a few moments, then were each given a dressing room and a fitting expert.  One beautiful bra after another was brought to me, based on the preferences I’d established–I’m sure Roxy would say the same thing–and finally both Roxy and I left with lighter wallets, but much improved wardrobes!

By this time, it was well past time for food, and the nearest restaurant won the lottery.  Sophie’s Steakhouse was the place, and although the breaded haddock was better than the steak, it was an excellent dinner in a very classy and popular spot.  The one bummer of the day: by the time we finished our meal and got back to Covent Garden, the marketplace was closed!  So, perhaps we’ll do that shopping on the tail end of this trip if there’s time.  But, for tonight (after taking some fun photos like the one above) we finished our night in town with a pint at the Punch and Judy, and then made our way back to the Covent Garden underground station, where I don’t advise taking the stairs down to the rails! Kyle and I did that while the girls rode the lift down–we walked down the equivalent of fifteen flights of stairs! The tube ride was interesting as we were on a train which was pulled from service only partway home … so that was fun. But, a short wait and we were on our way again.  We topped off the evening with a nightcap in the hotel lounge just before last call, and now, it’s time for some more sleep so we can have more fun tomorrow.


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