Sunday, March 9, 2014

Days 109-118: Christmas in Nottingham

Nottingham as viewed from the castle
I have to admit that I didn't know what to expect from my stay in Nottingham. I was staying with my great aunt and uncle (on my dad's side) who I had only met once before when I was just 12. It was also my first Christmas away from home, and I was worried that homesickness (which hadn't hit that hard so far) might be more of a problem once it finally sunk in that I wouldn't be with my family over Christmas. 

In the end, though, I had an absolutely lovely time. I got along really well with my great aunt and uncle and I enjoyed getting to know them better (I have to say that, since they're probably reading this blog, but it's true!) They took such good care of me-- four course breakfasts, anyone?-- and had new sightseeing plans every day. After the stress of exams, a busy but relaxing Christmas was exactly what I needed. There was plenty to do, but also lots of time for sitting in the living room reading or watching telly (like the Doctor Who Christmas special- so many tears!)

Probably the best way to describe my stay is to go over it day by day:

Auntie Diana and I with Robin Hood
Friday the 20th
Shopping in Nottingham. I was introduced to John Lewis (an upmarket department store) and taken to Waterstones (a bookstore) where Uncle Paul invited me to choose any book I wanted for a Christmas present. In true English-nerd fashion, I choose the facsimile of the original drafts of T. S. Eliot's 'The Wasteland.' We also said hi to my pal Robin Hood where he stands outside Nottingham castle.

Saturday the 21st
Newstead Abbey, the home of Lord Byron
In a day of contrasts, uncle Paul and I first visited D. H. Lawrence's humble birthplace (he was the son of a coal manner) before touring Newstead Abbey, which was originally a 13th century monastery before it was sold to the Byron family, the last of which was the famous poet Lord Byron. It was neat to see two such different sides of Nottingham's literary history.

Sunday the 22nd
I got to meet my dad's two cousins and their kids (my second cousins? My cousins once removed? I dunno...) on a family trip to Calke Abbey, a stately home out in the countryside. While I preferred Newstead Abbey, it was lovely to meet my extended family, and we all had a great time shepherding the kids around.

Monday the 23rd 
Lincoln Cathedral
After picking up the Christmas turkey from Mark's and Spencer's (which was a proper British experience, involving queuing for nearly an hour) we took off for Lincoln cathedral to meet some friends of mine from back home. These friends are British originally, but they've been living in Canada, ten minutes from my parent's house, for the past five years. Back in Britain for Christmas, they had brought some presents from my family (TIM HORTON'S CAPPUCCINO POWDER!!!!) and had offered to take some gifts back from me for my family.
Aside from the gift exchange, it was really nice to see some familiar faces and to spend some time together exploring the cathedral. The sheer oldness of these English buildings never ceases to amaze me; I just don't understand how buildings as absolutely magnificent as those cathedrals could have been built almost 800 years ago.

Tuesday the 24th
Uncle Paul and aunty Diana took me on a family tour of Nottingham, stopping at all the places that they had lived, and showing me where my great grandmother lived for a few years. It was fascinating to hear about family history and to see how long Uncle Paul's family had been in Nottingham. 
We also went to the local church to see the bells and ended up staying for the Christingle service. To anyone who doesn't know what a Christingle is: google it. I'm not even going to try to explain. 
My Christingle and hymnal

Wednesday the 25th
Christmas was a relatively quiet day. We went to church in the morning and I got to bell-ring! My great aunt and uncle are bell-ringers at their parish church, so they took me up with them to watch. Then the head bell-ringer asked me if I'd like to try, so he helped me ring the fourth bell in a few 'rounds.' Definitely a Christmas highlight!
For the rest of the day, we ate excessive amounts of food, drank good wine, and watched what Britain had to offer in the way of Christmas telly (Call the Midwife, Doctor Who, and Downton Abbey). 

Thursday the 26th
Christmas Day Bell-Ringing
Boxing Day was similarly quiet, with one of my second cousins + family coming over for dinner. We are more food, drank more wine, and watched more telly. This time, we also had my very amusing second-cousin-once-removed (I'm gonna go with that) for entertainment. At 18 months, he was far more interested in his toy vacuum than in opening any new presents.

Friday the 27th
Since it was my final day in Nottingham, we had to pack in all the big things I hadn't seen yet, which, crucially, included Sherwood Forest. Had I been expecting the greenwood, with Robin Hood and his Merry Men feasting beneath, I would have been sorely disappointed. These days, after most of the huge trees were cut down for shipbuilding, the Forest is just like any other. However, a number of ancient trees do remain, including the Major Oak, which is supposedly 1000 years old.
We then went back to Nottingham (stopping at yet another country house for lunch and detouring through a 3 mile long road double-lined with lime trees) to visit the Castle, and, more importantly, the caves beneath. Nottingham rests on sandstone, so underneath the city is a complex network of caves, none more important than the ones beneath the castle keep, which allowed food to come in during sieges, or soldiers to sneak in intent on kidnapping a king. Nowadays they have a small section of these tunnels open on a guided tour, which was fascinating.

Climbing a tree in Sherwood Forest
Saturday the 28th
We all woke up bright and early so I could catch the 7:45 train to Newmarket, where I was staying with a friend from St. Andrews. On our way, uncle Paul recounted an amusing story where my uncle Mark had been staying with them some years earlier and had missed his train to London, meaning that uncle Paul ended up driving him half way to London to catch the train at the transfer. We had a good laugh over the story, but arrived at Nottingham station in a bit of a rush, just a few minutes before my train was scheduled to leave.
Now, I don't know if it was my fault, or the train station's fault, but we ended up waiting for my train at platform four, when we should have been at platform 3b. About two minutes before departure, we realized we were at the wrong platform. 30 seconds before departure we saw my train at platform 3b, which was about twenty feet away from us... across two sets of tracks. So we ran down the platform, climbed the stairs to cross over the tracks... and watched my train chug cheerfully away without me.
Auntie Diana and my little cousin
The most economical thing to do at this point would have been to wait for the next train (40 minutes later) and tell the conductor my sob story and hope he wouldn't make me buy another ticket. Instead, uncle Paul was wonderful and offered to drive me to Newmarket, an hour and a half away. I gratefully accepted his offer (thanks again, Uncle Paul!) and we set off for Newmarket, where we met my St. Andrew's friend, and a new chapter of my adventures began.

So. That was Nottingham. I really enjoyed my time there, both the company and the places we went, and I look forward to visiting again. My great aunt and uncle love gardening, so I plan to return in the summer, when everything will be in full bloom.

But for now, this post is long enough. I hope you've enjoyed the small selection of photos-- I have so many more, but no time to go through and edit them all!

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