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The beautiful Berg

Last weekend I went to the Drakensberg (South Africa), my favourite place in the world. This is the view from our chalet at Thendele, inside Royal Natal. What you are seeing is the amazing Amphitheatre. It is 5 km along the top to give you a sense of its size.

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This is the closest you can get to it before having to strap on your hiking boots. Hiking to the top is an overnight affair, one I have yet to do!

The northern Drakensberg tends to be quieter than the rest of the range, having fewer resorts, and probably also because it’s just that little bit further of a drive. It is however a favourite among serious nature lovers, and those who like serenity.

The nearby campsite, Mahai, holds many great childhood memories for me, and is the starting point for the wonderful ‘Up the Crack and Down the Mudslide’ hike, which takes you up from the Valley into the Little Berg via chain ladders, and then leads you down a muddy route of exposed tree roots.

The Amphitheatre, of course, is the High Berg!

Instead of a road, a trampoline serves as highway!

Photo by Caters News Agency

Photo by Caters News Agency

Design practices around the world are getting very creative in terms of thinking up new ways to allow people to commute. There’s been a design for a network of swimming canals in London that would transmute into ice-skating lanes in winter! And in Russia, a 51-metre long trampoline was installed in a forest as part of the art exhibition Archstoyanie 2012 so that folks could bounce between destinations! I just love everything about this – it’s eco-friendly, it’s innovative, it’s FUN.

Want to read more? Here are some newspaper articles about it:

The trampoline that could help you bounce in to work

The world’s longest trampoline: Russian art exhibition hosts 170ft long bouncing runway built in the middle of a forest

 

 

Andorra

PART 1 (the short read for those in a hurry!)

Driving up from France with my family on a blue-sky, summery day in June, I was excited to visit the tiny mountain kingdom of Andorra. Small countries in general fascinate me. And small mountain kingdoms – well, fairy tales are set in small mountain kingdoms. I was expecting a few picturesquely placed sheep on the mountainside, and a restful hamlet or two, with ancient fountains and crumbling rooftops. And maybe a few felt hats on the heads of some rural folk?

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The small country that is Andorra can be found on any map when it is held an inch from the nose: it is hiding in the Pyrenees, wedged between France and Spain. Andorra, an independent principality since 1278 (that’s uncommonly long), is the traditional home of the Catalan people. Dark-skinned and dark-haired – a generally good-looking people – they rattle on in a language one feels close to understanding, but never quite. French here will help a little, though I found locals are more likely to speak Spanish as a second language, and Portuguese is also fairly common. English got me nowhere. 

Andorra-mapDriving up the steep, zigzag road to the Andorran border post from the French side, our unassuming holiday car was waved through unchecked, yet at that very point my expectations received a check of their own. Squat, hefty buildings, painted in loud colours or made from glass, could be seen rising up out of the sloped ground. Petrol stations were positioned along the roadside every fifty metres or so and billboards stood proud and high. Ski lifts could be seen flung up and out in every direction. Big empty parking lots spoke of the countless visitors that winter brings. What I saw was up-to-the-minute modernity. Turns out fairytale-kingdom expectations are often the result of too little research.  

PART 2 (more detail for the committed reader)

So Andorra is no storybook kingdom, but it is a beautiful and fascinating country nonetheless. I doubt that the Andorra of today can really be understood without reference to its dynamic ski industry. Millions of skiers flood the country every winter, while Andorra itself has a population just short of 90,000. There is a seemingly endless choice of hotels and resorts. Just by looking out the car one can see that this is a first-world country geared towards efficiency and being a world-class ski destination. There are two main ski areas, Grand Valira and Vallnord, as well as cross-country routes further south near Sant Julia de Loria.

In summer, the country is a hotspot for adventure sports, such as quad-biking, mountain biking, trekking, via ferratas (mountain-climbing routes), canyoning, canoeing and rock-climbing. Or fishing, for the quieter soul. The country is so mountainous that any walk becomes a hike, and beautiful viewpoints are a dime a dozen. It’s little wonder the Tour de France often chooses to pass through this spectacular country.  

The town of Encamp

Our June visit found low-lying patches of pink and yellow wildflowers (reminiscent of fynbos) blanketing the mountainsides. Everywhere one looks the landscape is dramatic: conifers cling to the slopes, old snow patches cling to the peaks, and small streams and waterfalls trickle down from the heights, wetting exposed shale, before joining together to form glutted rivers further down in the valleys.

Andorra has always been, and still is, reliant upon its two neighbours for survival. Up until the end of the 17th century its population, living in a feudal system, did not exceed 3,000. That’s tiny. Non-inheriting descendants of families (i.e. the losers in primogeniture) were forced to look for livelihoods elsewhere and so emigration kept population numbers low.

Andorra has no airport nor train station of its own, owing to its extreme terrain, and so one has to drive in from either France or Spain. Roads linking it with Spain and France were only built in 1913 and 1933 respectively. Until its first Constitution in 1993, the country was ruled by two co-princes: the king or president of France, and the Spanish Bishop of Urgell. Today, native Andorrans account for just over one third of the population, while Spanish, French, Portuguese and other nationalities make up the rest.

Dad's camera June 2009 048Most of the country’s settlements run along the valley floor and the sound of rushing water permeates towns as the summer thaw replaces the white stillness of winter. While I was there the summer sun was warming, but a fresh mountain breeze was its constant companion. I kept my jersey firmly buttoned up, but I saw local women drop their shoulder straps all the better to soak up the rays while sipping their coffees in sidewalk cafes and chatting confidently among themselves.

Andorran society impressed me as being very orderly and stable. Not only did theymanage to go for 700 years with just one type of governance (think about it: no civil wars, no princes killing off rival princes, no disruptive coups), they never now make the news for anything more serious than, say, a banking policy. Brightly-clad traffic police have a steady presence on the streets and every time I so much as lifted a foot in the direction of a pedestrian crossing, all cars come to a quick standstill. This I like. Webcams throughout the country mean you can turn on the TV to check traffic and weather conditions on all the major roads and pistes before setting out.

The historic old town of Andorra La Vella does, when searched out, have cobbled streets and a couple of millennia-old churches. But very conspicuous was the building boom being experienced. The vine-covered buildings I had originally expected were instead scaffold-covered, and yellow cranes jutted into view whichever way I looked. Instead of ancient sculptures, avant-garde and abstract statues decorate public squares, turning circles and fountains. The white Pont de Paris is a fine example of the striking and strikingly modern architecture and artwork that helps to define the town.

One of the capital’s landmark buildings is the Caldea Hot Spring Resort. It is an arresting, ultramodern glass building that soars upwards to a point like the peaks that surround it. Inside, all is opulence, glass and mirrors, and on the ground floor there is a large thermal lagoon. The resort has exorbitant spa packages offering everything from a vaporisation room to a … wood’s lighting ionisation room? (Raise your hand if you know what that even means.)  With a little luck my purse could have stretched to a tonic and water in the bar, but I wandered about with the self-assured air of a dressed-down millionaire.

Picture by LynxIV, public domain

Coming away from my trip, I now know that Andorra is a high-tech playground for the wealthy. Instead of smiling at its sweet antiquity, as I had expected, I was educated in engineering and modern art. But even after my visit, the country is still something of a mystery to me. Coming from the wide open spaces of a developing and sunny South Africa, I find it hard to wrap my mind around what it must really be like to live in this ultra-modern society with its snow and cold winds, its long shadows and steep streets, and its towering mountains that constantly hem you in while at the same time impress you with their ever-present, awe-inspiring grandeur. 

Running to lose yourself, or is it to find yourself?

Nothing was to be heard, only the steady plea of the wind across the moor and the susurrus of the grasses closest to me. I knelt down on one knee, intent on listening to this raw environment but also needing refuge from the wind. My fleece was zipped up to my chin, and I could feel cold sweat sliding down my neck.

I had left the sheep farms well behind me to follow a path of heavy slabs that led across the crown of the mountain, past a line of lambing shelters and then on towards what appeared to be nothing but past-prime heather and dirt blending into mud. Tiny raindrops started to settle themselves onto my face as I knelt, but I didn’t turn back. This place – this rough expansive place that belonged entirely to me in that moment – was a place I wanted to store within me. I couldn’t rush it.

So I hovered there for insensible minutes, knowing it would all have to last me a very long time.

~

Megan’s UK diary: Ted Hughes Arvon Centre, Lumb Bank, West Yorkshire. The art of life writing.

Life writing is simply what it suggests – writing that is rooted in the experiences of real life, whether biography or memoir, or something akin to that. One of the best things I discovered through my week-long residential course at Lumb Bank was the clarity and authenticity that life writing afforded me in the story-telling process.

Photo by Phil Champion

Photo by Phil Champion

Lumb Bank was originally built by a mill owner in the C18th. Eventually Ted Hughes bought it, and his wife, Sylvia Plath, is buried in Heptonstall, the hilltop village less than a mile away.

This area of West Yorkshire is full of hills and dales, tight lanes, moors and forests, sheep farms, abandoned mills and steep villages.

The view from my attic bedroom

The view from my attic bedroom

During an Arvon residence course, which takes in about 17 writers per course, you take part in morning writing workshops, cook one meal (in team), attend evening readings, have one-on-one tutorials with the two published authors leading the course, and still have free time in the afternoons to write, gaze at the abandoned mill, chat in the garden, concoct plum-based mulled wine, and, in my case, hop up and down over every bunny spotted on the lawn and then go get lost on the moors.

We were an eclectic bunch, ranging in age from 20 to 84, coming from England, Ireland, Norway, Bulgaria and South Africa, and presenting a mix of personalities and perspectives. As a group, I imagine it could easily not have worked, and yet it did. It really did. The success of it had something to do with all the hours spent around the diningroom-cum-workshop table where we got to know each other through conversations as well as through each other’s writing. We laughed hugely (sometimes we downright crowed), occasionally we gasped, and also occasionally we cried, because, well, this was a life writing course, and life isn’t always neat or pretty.

Here are the lovely and talented writers that now make up the group Subtext:

All the lovely people that now make up the writers' group Subtext.

Megan’s UK diary: The past glory of Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland

That is why I love England. It is so little, and so full, and so old.

– Robert Speaight

Dunstanburgh Castle is a massive ruin on a headland of the Northumberland coast and is the biggest castle in the county.

Unusually, it wasn’t built near to a village or town, so the only way to reach the castle is by walking across a lovely stretch of about a mile of coastal grassland …

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The remains of the massive gatehouse:

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This field of gorgeous grasses, of which you’re only seeing part, and which houses a small community of sheep, all lies within the walls of the castle.

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Dunstanburgh Castle was commissioned by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster in 1313. Lancaster was the richest and most powerful baron of the day. It was intended that Dunstanburgh outdo the castles of his uncle, Edward I, and cousin, Edward II – a bold move!

This is the Lilburn Tower to the north:

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From the Lilburn Tower you can see Bamburgh Castle to the north. Bamburgh Castle was Edward II’s key stronghold in Northumberland. Lancaster’s increasing power and ambitions eventually led to his execution.

John of Gaunt took possession of the castle in the late C14th and did some revamping. In the C15th it was twice besieged during the War of the Roses. Thereafter it fell into disrepair and eventually ruin, but during its heyday it was one of the biggest, grandest and most imposing castles in the land.

Grasses growing on top of the eastern wall …

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~

Megan’s UK diary: Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland

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How do you become the King of Castles? I suspect by letting folks know that if they come at your walls, you will shoot them dead …

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… that’s right, you really will … you will bring out the big guns!

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But this is necessary when you’ve got so much ‘stuff’ in the family to protect:

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~

 

 

 

Megan’s UK diary: Summertime, and the living is easy at Newton-by-the-Sea

A poor woman from Manchester, on being taken to the seaside, is said to have expressed her delight on seeing for the first time something of which there was enough for everybody.

(Sir John Lubbock)

These are some photos from my visit to Newton-by-the-Sea in Northumberland.

View from up on the dunes:

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You know how folks in the West, when seeing an image of African children playing with a primitive ball on a dirt field or smiling over a slice of watermelon, are prone to say something like, ‘Ah, bless – see how happy they are with so little!’? I must say that travelling around the UK I find myself thinking things like, ‘Ah, look at them little British kiddies making the best of their cold, blustering summers to visit the beach!’

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A simple shot:

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I like the pattern of the water and the sand in this photo …

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In the photo below, it is as though someone thoughtfully placed this lifebuoy up on the hill expressly for the sake of photographers. It’s probably a clichéd pic in the opinion of experts, as it’s reminiscent of an emotional film finale where the fallen knight’s sword is stuck in the ground and the camera gives us a low-angle, sky-backdrop view, so that our hearts might soar to transcendent heights … , but I lapped it up with the freedom of the novice:

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Here we have a sparrow. I asked him to show me his right side …

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… and then I asked him to show me his left side. (He said he looks good from both sides.)

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This puts me in mind of these verses from Matthew 10:29-31:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Ah, how romantic …

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… unless that’s his mother. I really can’t tell.

A view of Dunstanburgh Castle:

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More about Dunstanburgh in a future post.

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For more ‘Megan’s UK diary’  posts, go to The green spaces of Sheffield and Jane Austen & Edinburgh Castle at night.

For other photography posts, go to Edinburgh shows off and Buttercup view from Stirling Castle.

For a history and photography post, go to Haddon Hall (the perfect mediaeval castle & location for Jane Eyre).

Megan’s UK diary: Haddon Hall (the perfect mediaeval castle & location for Jane Eyre)

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Two Englishmen, having climbed the Matterhorn, were regarding the wonderful view that stretched before them.

‘Not half bad!’ commented one of them.

‘No,’ replied the other, ‘but you needn’t rave about it like a love-struck poet!’

I thought on this quote, having come across it only that morning, as I strolled around Haddon Hall. You see, Haddon Hall is WONDERFUL, and my thoughts were thus in the territory of superlatives and exclamation marks.

A mediaeval castle in the Peak District, Haddon Hall is a quintessentially Norman building, square and solid, believed to have been built in the C12th. It is a romantic castle, containing everything from the Middle Ages that delights us in today’s world: battlements, very low doorways, a chapel decorated to the hilt, wildly uneven flagstone floors, and I could go on, but you are getting the picture, aren’t you, clever reader?

Moreover, the family who own the Hall, the Manners (it has been in their family since the C16th), has thankfully not gone the common route of restoring it to within an inch of its life. There still isn’t a perpendicular anything, anywhere. Some of the stone steps are curved into almost non-existence in the middle as a result of centuries of footfalls, and the decaying wooden chests and ill-fitted windows have been left alone.

wish I had the capabilities of the love-struck poet ridiculed by the Englishman above, because the only words that presented themselves to me to describe Haddon Hall were words like lovely, outstanding, amazing, and truly wonderful. Bleugh! The frustration of living in a society where such words are regularly used to describe getting the parking spot you wanted or a tasty sandwich, meaning that when I want to really express that something is special, I can either go with one of them, and sound bland, thereby failing to capture the imagination of a hyperbole-drenched readership, or I can go all Italian and really do risk sounding like an overwrought poet whose been sniffing heavily on deadly nightshade. Not great options either of them.

I will have to satisfy myself with something very simple. I will say that, to the C21st tourist, the castle is perfection.

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The Long Gallery, with a mom in it. My mom, in fact.
Long galleries, apart from their other uses, were intended as places where residents could find exercise, no matter what the weather. Elizabethan ladies, moreover, didn’t expose their skin or clothes to sunshine, so they could either walk the gallery or I suppose do sit ups in their bedrooms?
Is anyone else put in mind of Bingley’s sister asking Elizabeth to take a turn around the room with her?

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A very impressive old tapestry, coupled with some fresh oranges to give the room a lived-in feel.

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The garden was bursting with summer flowers, and as such was delightful in the special way that only English gardens can be. During my visit there were English roses, day lilies, thistles, agapanthus lilies, nasturtiums, yellow daisies, deeply purple clematis, red-and-white fuschia, and too many others to list. It was a garden of every colour.

IMG_2011One of the most striking things when you stepped out into the garden was the abundance of white butterflies (also called cabbage whites). They were everywhere, as were the bumble bees and wasps. I’ve perhaps never seen such a ‘busy’ garden.

IMG_1933The Jane Eyre connection

I also rather enjoyed discovering the Jane Eyre connection with Haddon Hall. The 2011 Jane Eyre film adaptation with Mia Wasikowski and Michael Fassbender (how fussed are we really if Mr Rochester is decidedly good-looking this time round?) had Haddon Hall as Thornfield Hall.

I recognised the little pavilion where Rochester and Blanche Ingram play at keeping a feather in the air, the courtyard where Rochester drags Jane off to the church so they can marry, and the narrow stone bridge that leads to Thornfield Hall. The romance of the castle and its grounds are so well suited to the romance of Jane Eyre – a gold sticker for the film’s location manager, please!

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Tra la la … I’m never wearing my C19th gown at the right moment.

~

For more posts on castles and stately homes, go to:

Megan’s UK diary: Chatsworth House forever

Megan’s UK diary: Jane Austen and Edinburgh Castle at night

Lindisfarne – A Holy Island.

Megan’s UK diary: A day in the Peak District

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Fields, separated by dry stone walls, above the small village of Litton

 

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Old caravan, overgrown with rose bay willow herb and rowan berry

 

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Fanciful mushrooms in a garden on the outskirts of Tideswell

 

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View from the road between Litton and Tideswell

 

Megan’s UK diary: Sir Walter Scott (the greatest author never read)

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It’s hard to get a full-length shot of the Sir Walter Scott Memorial, simply because it is so dang BIG. In fact, it’s the largest monument ever built anywhere to a writer, and stands at 61 metres tall (that’s more than 18 storeys!).

I generally think a single great shot speaks louder and more eloquently than multiple shots, but I wasn’t able to produce any one shot I was completely happy with, so I’ve included this next shot as well, as it better shows the heftiness of the monument …

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… while this next shot, I’m hoping, conveys how tall it is …

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You can climb all the way up to the very top balcony of the monument by way of an extremely – I stress, extremely – tight stone spiral stairwell. It’s not too bad to begin with, and you can reach the first and second landings fairly effortlessly, but the final two stairwells tested me, and I had to remind myself that I do not suffer from vertigo, dizziness or claustrophobia, all three of which suggested themselves to me.

IMG_1563The main problem was that the upper stairwells have no windows, and so you’re acutely aware of the numerous tight revolutions of tunnel both above and below you (while being unsure exactly how far above or below you they extend), so there is no quick escape in either direction. That, at least, was my issue, and I’d entered the memorial with nary a concern in my head.

I’m a little miffed with this picture, which shows the entrance to the one stairwell, as I don’t feel it accurately portrays how narrow the upper stairwells are. The final portion can’t have been any wider than a foot and a half. I seriously think larger folk would come unstuck in that part (unstuck insomuch as they would of course become actually stuck).

The Scott Memorial was built by the Scottish people from a desire to show ensuing generations just how highly the man was esteemed by his own generation. The monument is impressive but also rather ungainly. This is what Dickens, a big fan of Scott, wrote of it:

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Ah, Dickens, you always say things so much better than any of the rest of us could ever hope to!

Scott (1771-1832), a poet, novelist and playwright, played an important part in the Scottish Enlightenment, which was a sudden burst of Scottish intellectualism, innovation and creativeness, centred in Edinburgh. Importantly, he invented the historical novel, blending fictional and historical characters based in a time before his own birth. Dickens, Thackeray and others acknowledged him as their predecessor in this.

His importance to the Scots was and is about how he helped to foster a renewed interest and pride in their own, distinctive history, and about how his works brought Scotland greater international recognition and fame.

Last week I visited the Edinburgh Writers’ Museum on Lady Stair’s Close. The museum focusses solely on Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns. While there I was interested to read the preamble to Stuart Kelly’s book Scott-Land, wherein he ponders over the immense popularity and impact of Scott in his own time and how he helped to shape a nation’s identity, and how he is yet completely overlooked and unread today. To this I have to say: so true. I’ve never read a single one of his works, and I love historical fiction. Rob Roy has sat on my bookshelf for years, but when it comes time to pick up a new novel, I always pass over it for something else. Why is that?

Linked to this, I’ve always had a hard time even remembering him in the distinct way I do other authors. What I mean is, I find that Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson are forever confusingly entwined in my mind, and whenever I think on either of them, I have to pause and ask myself: okay, so which one is it again that wrote Treasure Island?

The same goes for Victor Hugo and Alexander Dumas – I know that I know who wrote what, and yet I must always take a silent moment to re-establish it in my mind every time I think on any of their works anew. Am I horribly Anglo-centric? Yet I know other French authors, like Jules Verne most obviously, and I don’t muddle him up with anyone else. It’s really rather perplexing.

However, having stood high up on that top balcony of the Scott Memorial, with my back pressed ever so firmly against the inner wall whilst I looked out (but never down!) over all of Edinburgh, I hope this confused entanglement of Scott and Stevenson will, at long last, be laid aside.

~

For more “Megan’s UK diary” posts, go to Edinburgh shows off or Chatsworth House forever.

Another history post: Lindisfarne – A Holy Island.

Other posts interested in the classics: Jane Austen and Edinburgh Castle at night, William Makepeace Thackeray and battle lore, and Bookcases, bedtime reading, libraries and story-telling.

Megan’s UK diary: Jane Austen & Edinburgh Castle at night

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There’s so much going on at the Edinburgh Festival, and not only strictly-speaking Festival things, but also other events capitalising on the crowds that the Festival brings. Like the Jane Austen evening we stumbled upon that was being held by Charlotte Chapel, a church that can be found in the pretty pedestrian, bunting-lined Rose Street. Like pilgrims, we journeyed to Rose Street on Friday evening to attend the event, secure in the knowledge that any evening devoted to Austen would be a good one. We arrived, and, intriguingly, were among a crowd of women only.

While queuing to go in we were all given an Austen quiz to fill in, and from thinking I would dominate I was instead chagrined to realise I knew very few of the answers with any certainty. For example:

– Who can say what the title of Pride and Prejudice was originally going to be? Options: “First Impressions”, “Elizabeth and Darcy”, or “Pemberley”.

– Also, which actor prompted a phone call from the Jane Austen Society to the director to complain that he was too handsome to play his assigned role? Options: Greg Wise (Willoughby), Hugh Grant (Ferrars), or Colin Firth (Darcy).

(Answers at the end of the post.)

It was a small, intimate affair – maybe 100 of us, tops? – and I really enjoyed it. One lady played Jane, sitting at the desk in the picture above, and she would read aloud extracts from Jane’s letters to her sister, Cassandra, wherein Jane would introduce her latest book and explain the primary themes she addressed in it. Other women from Charlotte Chapel would then appear, dressed in regency costume, and read relevant extracts from the novels. Sometimes snippets from some of the TV/film adaptations were also shown. My only complaint is that they used the BBC Emma when wanting a scene from that story, and I can’t stand that version; the 1996 McGrath version is superior in every way, from casting to directing to editing to … well, yes, everything. Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam forever!

Some of the titbits that most struck me were:

– Jane was very concerned with showing a development in self awareness in her heroines, and often her lead males too, Elizabeth and Darcy being prime examples. Only Fanny Price didn’t really need a journey of self-realisation, but rather it was those around her, like Edmund, that needed to learn a thing or two about themselves.

– Of all her heroines, Jane liked Elizabeth the best. Me, I have more sympathy with Emma and Anne.

– Jane dreamt up the independent and wilful Emma in response to complaints from her readers that her last heroine, Fanny, was too much of a doormat.

At the very end, a 30ish, single lady from the church chatted about how Jane’s preoccupation with marriage was very understandable, given that women of that period could only find any kind of financial or practical security through a husband. She then asked why, as modern women, we are still as preoccupied with romance and marriage, since we no longer need it to be financially secure? She pointed to our desire to have a relationship with someone who will love us and meet all our needs. Jesus, she said, is the only one who can actually be that person for each of us.

Charlotte Chapel seemed a really lovely, motivated church, and I was glad to have visited. I really admire them.

Afterwards, we walked home, a stroll of at least an hour that took us first through Princes Street Gardens, then up and over the Mound, before dropping us down again alongside Bruntsfield Links and our little res. As a South African, I have to give a nod to the awesomeness that is a late evening stroll through the city without a care for safety. So, yes: a big nod to that.

This is the beautiful sight of the castle at dusk, as seen from Princes Street Gardens:

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Answers: “First Impressions” and Hugh Grant.

~

For more posts from “Megan’s UK diary”, go to Chatsworth House forever, The green spaces of Sheffield and Edinburgh shows off.

Megan’s UK diary: Edinburgh shows off

Edinburgh is beautiful. I visited it for just 24 hours a while back, but was sufficiently captivated (not a word I use lightly) that I have always maintained I will return. Now I am here for the Edinburgh Festival – lucky sausage that I am – and I am seeing it at its best; the streets are overflowing with all sorts of interesting people, the sun is shining (not warmly, but at least it is there), and the late evening hours are about pink, streaky clouds and expansive parks filled out with lounging, relaxed people.

This is the view from the university residence where I am staying. The photo was taken at about 9pm. I love the romantic architecture, the warmth of the brick face as lit by the last, low rays of the sun, and the pretty, broad leaves of the trees, which were swaying in a bracing, night-is-coming breeze.

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For more “Megan’s UK diary” posts, go to The green spaces of Sheffield and Chatsworth House forever.

Megan’s UK dairy: The green spaces of Sheffield

Getting lost in new places is wonderful. In fact, I rather make a point of it. This morning I went for a jog, paying little attention to where I was going, just darting right or bolting left as the whim took me, because that is how I discover the best, most unexpected gems.

Today I managed to do a loop (loops being life-giving, backtracking the opposite), starting from Walkley and finding my way down the valley into Philadelphia and Upperthorpe, areas that are new to me. En route I found a charming warren of pedestrian paths in and around a housing estate (first moment of self congratulation), then I came across the Philadelphia Green Space, a small, elongated stretch of forest, footpaths and playgrounds (second moment of self congratulation).

“Phil”, the little bird on the educational signs dotted around Philadelphia park, told me all sorts of interesting things during my stint in his park, like the fact that 1/3 of Sheffield lies within the Peak National Park, and that although Sheffield is very urban and industrial, the city prides itself on its ubiquitous green and open spaces and is the greenest city in Britain.

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My mum, who was born in the 50s, remembers how in the decades after WWII the rose bay willow herb could be seen everywhere, from bombed buildings to wastelands, being a tenacious sort of plant that will settle in the most unlikely of places, like this one here, which has planted itself in a roof gutter.

 

I realised as I jogged about, smelling the damp, cut grass and smiling at the tiny white daisies that have already shot up in the short grass, that I always talk about how I love to travel when in fact I detest travelling. I’m a motion ninny, for one. Moreover, who doesn’t lose their joie de vivre when unable to sleep on an overnight flight? But what I do love is having all the travel behind me and then getting to explore new places. And Britain is one of my favourite places to explore, having so much in such a small space and containing things like public footpaths (the lure of which cannot be understated), ancient, crumbling buildings, Starbucks, and bus drivers that call you “love”.

So travelling:

thumbs down

But exploring:

thumbs up

Whenever it’s time to wind my way home after an explore, I crouch down and study my footprints, sniff the air, lick a finger and put it up in the breeze … no, just kidding of course, I read the signs and if necessary stop a local and ask them to share their knowledge of local topography and road names.

I’ve realised that a neat and effective trick when it comes to exercising is to charge off downhill at the beginning, when you’re still full of energy, life and bravado. Eventually, when you start to feel somewhat weary, you consider that it might be time to turn around and find your way back. The hike then begins, and by the time you finally reach your destination your muscles are nicely kaput. You can then pull yourself across the threshold of your abode, climb up a kitchen chair and slide into a nice bowl of cereal.

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My blogging spot while in Sheffield

Megan’s UK Diary: Chatsworth House forever

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I have something of a love affair with Chatsworth House, but you’d have to know me very well to know that. So when I met up with an old friend today, and she suggested several things we might do, I stopped her after the mention of Chatsworth with an understated, “Oh, that would be nice – let’s do that.” So off we went.

Driving through the Peak District has to be one of the most pleasant experiences a person can have. Purple heather was everywhere, pinky-purple rhododendrons were everywhere else, and the sun kept breaking through the clouds as though to say: I know you’ve travelled far to be here, so I won’t let them nasty clouds ruin your day.

We reached the car park and decided to walk through the grounds instead of going inside, all the more to embrace the perfection that is an English country estate in summertime. We thought we would walk to the folly on the top of the hill, but the dirt road we followed never quite wound its way there, and so we enjoyed green lawns and grouped deer instead. By the end of our walk, my friend and I agreed that we’d not only caught up on the past 3 years, but had, in the chatty manner of girlfriends, set much of the world to rights 🙂

Here are some photos from our stroll:

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The golden entrance gate

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An Austenesque house

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Not only the biggest mushroom I’ve ever seen, but also a concave, chalice-like one!

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I’m trying to get close to them deer, but they had the measure of me…

~

I’m in the UK for 6 weeks, and have decided I’ll write some “Megan’s UK Diary” posts. I’m in Sheffield at present, heading to the Edinburgh Festival tomorrow, and then many places besides. I’ll keep you posted with anything interesting I see or learn. 🙂

A story in only 8 words

Here are several individual, complete stories, each told in only 8 words. I thought this a fun exercise in imagination and brevity – maybe you’ll like to try your own hand at writing some!

Story 1

There was no one in Paris that day.

There was no one in Paris that day.

The castle flooding, he raced towards the turret.

Story 2

The spider was there, a stomp, he’s gone.

Story 3

Harper’s chair started shuddering, then too the windowpanes.

Story 4

Children die here all the time, he said.

Story 5

Sidney inserted the flashdrive – the city lights died.

Story 6

One day, Max stopped loving her. She emigrated.

She blew on the dandelion, then never returned.
She blew on the dandelion, then never returned.

Story 7

Jake fell out the tree and into heaven.

Story 8

He lived through war. It didn’t change him.

Story 9

The mattress fell with a thud. It hurt.

Story 10

Sam glanced her way, then pretended to paint.

Story 11

Storey 11 didn’t exist. It was a mystery.

Story 12

Secretively, she mixed the cordial into their drinks.

Story 13

Mars flashed red across the sky. Nobody noticed. 

The small key took two hands to lift.

If any of you feel an 8-word story brewing, please share it in the comment box below!

Alternatively, please write 8 more words to one of the above stories, adding to it. Come on … you know you want to!!

~

Related blog

This blogger has a “6wstory” (i.e. 6-word story) section you might like to visit: allmostrelevant

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