By this point in our journey I needed a break from castles. If you know me, you'll think that wasn't me typing that last line. Leah, tired of castles? Is that possible? Yes, my friends. Yes, it is. Only if for a little while. My head was crammed full of facts, dates, and architectural styles and I needed a break. If I was at home this would be the time I would cook or bake and then Netflix and chill. Since I wasn't in my own home or a home where I felt that I could take over the kitchen we decided the solution was a big mall for shopping and then we went to a cinema.
I didn't really document these days very much because we were just being mellow. This is the only photo of the shopping part of the trip, but it illustrates quite well how the day went- a big bag from Topshop with another big one from H&M joining it later that day.
I have such a patient husband. We are pretty lucky in our relationship because we reserve a lot of patience for each other- we both have quirks and anxieties that would drive other people batty but we're very gracious with each other and that spills over into frivolous things like shopping. Daniel puts up with me when I have my "mountain out of a mole hill" meltdowns and he also utters no complaints when I drag him along shopping. In fact, the mall was his idea because he knew it would make me happy. Score 1 for husband!
When it came time to say goodbye to my in-laws it was on an absolutely freezing morning, which meant no lingering goodbyes. I suppose it's best to rip off the bandaid quickly in these circumstances anyway. When you say goodbye to family that you might not see again for years it's best to do it quickly or you could be there for hours. We left them waving to us from their front porch, feeling like the trip truly was coming to a close even though we still had a few more days before we needed to board the plane.
There were still so many things we wanted to see but down to just 2 days to see it all, which meant something had to give. We originally had planned to spend our second to last full day touring Chatsworth House but found as we packed up at my in-laws that it wasn't open for season yet. Then we decided Warwick Castle, but couldn't find an inexpensive hotel there with parking. Next on the list, Stratford-upon-Avon just in time for Shakespear's 400th birthday, but you guessed it, expensive hotels and very little vacancies. So we settled on a leisurely drive to our cheap hotel in High Wycombe via the small town of Grantham, and picturesque Stamford. Where I live, if my name is on it then it's most likely something I own, so I get really excited by things like towns that share my last name, both maiden and married. This is where my husband's above mentioned patience comes in yet again. I requested that we make a detour to the town of Grantham. We had run out of time earlier in our trip to make stops at the various towns that bear the Houghton (my maiden name) name so I was determined to at least get Grantham in there.
We pulled into town and per usual I missed the opportunity to take a photo of the cute illustrated sign for Grantham. I missed this at almost every single town we went in to, it was one of my biggest disappointments from the trip. We were always driving too fast to get a good photo and I almost always forgot to take the lense cap off the camera in time. Amateur or what?
Grantham isn't much to look at, it doesn't have darling cobblestone streets or medieval charm. It isn't a Disneyland English village, it's definitely a place where people live and work; it probably only rarely sees a tourist. Let me tell you what it does have though: history. You can't go anywhere in the UK without running into a town/village/city with a deep and thrilling history; Grantham is no exception.
Grantham is the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher, it schooled Sir Isaac Newton, witnessed Oliver Cromwell's first advantage in the English Civil War, hired the first female police officers, produced the first running Diesel engine and the UK's fist tractor, and my personal favorite: was a site of one of the 12 Eleanor Crosses. Unfortunately the Eleanor Cross erected in Grantham is no longer there but the history is.
The Eleanor Crosses have an incredibly romantic story. The crosses were erected by King Edward I in memory of his wife Eleanor of Castile. Eleanor died in 1290 at Harby, near the city of Lincoln. Her marriage to Edward was known to be a happy one and they were exceptionally close. This was rare in the time of arranged political marriages. Edward and Eleanor's marriage in 1254, at the tender ages of 14 and 13 respectively, was one of alliance but blossomed into a great love story. She accompanied her husband on the Eighth Crusade, helping tend to him when he was wounded at Acre in modern day Palestine. In the couples 36 years of marriage Edward remained completely faithful to his wife and by all contemporary accounts they were devoted to one another. After her death Edward wrote to the abbot of Cluny in France asking him to pray for the soul of his recently departed wife, "whom living we dearly cherished and whom dead we cannot cease to love." Edward ordered that a stone cross/monument be constructed in each location that her body rested overnight on its funeral procession from Lincoln to London. Although Eleanor and Edward had 16 children that were recorded (though it is very likely that there were more pregnancies than 16 and more children that did not survive infancy that went unrecorded), only 6 survived to adulthood and only one of those male. Edward needed to remarry to secure the succession and provide more male heirs to prevent a possible war if his only surviving son by Eleanor died. He waited nearly a decade to remarry though and thank goodness he did, as I am descended from his son Thomas by his second wife Marguerite of France and wouldn't be here if that marriage didn't happen! He attended memorial services for Eleanor until the end of his life, honoring his first wife and true love until the very end.
As we were leaving the town of Grantham to make our way to Stamford to see the remnant of their Eleanor Cross, we found ourselves in the wrong lane. In a rather fortuitous turn of events the normally polite English drivers wouldn't make way for us to change lanes so instead of going straight like we needed to we were forced to turn left. We took the very first right we could take to get us back to where we needed to go and lo and behold that road was Houghton Road. For those of you that don't know me personally, or only know me after my marriage, my maiden name (as mentioned above) is the always mispronounced, always incorrectly spelled English name: Houghton. I couldn't wait to change it when I got married. It's not that I disliked it as a surname but I hated the fact that it brought along unwanted attention. I always prepared myself for the first day of school because inevitably when the teacher got around to my name they always misprounced my first and last name and everyone would turn and stare at me. I was painfully shy as a child so this was torture. A few people have mispronounced my married name but that happens a lot less often, which is probably due to Downton Abbey whose main characters are Lord and Lady Grantham. A little side story here: I have been asked by more than one person in all seriousness if I'm related to the Downton Abbey family. Am I related to a ficitional TV family? Why no, but thank you for asking. I tend to walk away from those conversations with a whole new opinion of that person.
After making Daniel screech to a halt in the middle of the road so I could take a picture of the road sign we were on our way to the picturesque town of Stamford. This town looks like a film set, which I have been informed is a common use for it. Stamford was rated "the best place to live" by the Sunday Times in 2013. This is definitely a place for the "haves" and that is very evident by the abundance of Range Rovers and BMWs. It felt very wealthy, like a place that you could look at but not touch. The town of Stamford is a conservation area, which was left virtually untouched by the industrial revolution. Most of the town was built in the 17th and 18th centuries, but its roots are found in the Anglo-Saxon period when Stamford was chosen as a main hub after King Edgar took it from the Danes who had settled there. Originally a center of pottery making, by the Middle Ages Stamford became famous for its production of wool and woolen cloth. In modern times it is a haven for tourism and film. I didn't know all of this as we pulled in and parked near Sheep Market where the Eleanor Cross stood. You could tell it was an absolutely lovely and well cared for town by the fact that the car park was right next to the River Welland and a beautiful park called Town Meadows. Plenty of people were out and about enjoying the park. I decided I could live here and said so out loud. Daniel laughed because once again I had chosen a place far out of our league that would require a lottery win if we wanted to become residents.
We didn't spend too much time wandering around Stamford as we were anxious to find our hotel in High Wycombe in daylight, but we did take the time to look at the Eleanor Cross, which is actually a replica built in 2008 from descriptions of the original found in the 17th century writings of Richard Butcher and of Captain Richard Symonds. Only a fragment of the original cross remains which was destroyed sometime between 1645 and 1660. A plaque sits near the monument, but from my research it seems that the original cross was located just outside of town, although it's exact location is still up for debate.
The modern interpretation of the Eleanor Cross in Sheep Market, Stamford
All Saints' Street, Stamford.
Melbourn Bros., All Saints Brewery with the spire from All Saints' Church in the background.
Queen Victoria's head on a building located on St Mary's Hill in Stamford, dated 1886.
The George of Stamford hotel sign.
Eventually we found our way to our hotel in High Wycombe, the Premier Inn High Wycombe/Beaconsfield- a super cheap hotel with self check in and a maze of hallways and stairways. It had an odd feel to it, situated in a strange mix of residential and commercial space. The hotel had free parking however, which was the reason we chose it. We got lucky when we arrived that there was an employee working that actually took us through the self check in process so that was easy but she put us in a room that was so far away from the entrance and parking lot. We had to go through a maze of hallways and up and down short stairways and heavy doors. We were wondering if we had offended her when we check in to have been assigned a room so far out in the boondocks. I don't think anyone else was even staying in that wing of the hotel. To make matters worse, the previous guest had clearly been smoking in the non-smoking room and it reeked. We had to open the windows to try and get the awful smell out. The room did have a lovely deep bathtub and all the hot water you could want, so there was that.
I can't even tell you the sadness we were feeling about our holiday coming to a close. I was definitely in denial that we only had one more full day in England before our long, arduous flight home. Daniel was so happy to be back in his native land, and the Anglophile in me felt so totally at home that our 2 weeks there was definitely not long enough. We were already planning our next England trip to cheer ourselves up. Someday we might find ourselves buying one way tickets to England, but until then we're hoping to visit more often.
But, before we packed those bags one last time we had an appointment with royalty and this, we wouldn't miss.
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