Now, I’ve talked about the falconry and birds of prey, but I didn’t mention all the other things at the heavy horse show.  Unlike the regular horse shows, this featured draft horses.  These animals were built to do heavy work, not for show and display.  Yet, the idea was to show that these animals can perform feats of agility and grace as well as doing work.  You can see their power and the lack of speed.  My girls have always loved horses, so it did not matter that they were draft horses or showier ones.

The first display we witnessed was the dressage.  It was quite playful.  Then we had the dog and carriage training from the British Carriage Dog Society.  These were dalmatians trained to run along behind the carriage with their head under the carriage.  They had up to three dogs under the carriage at the end, with a couple running alongside.  There were supposed to be some minkhounds but they were suffering from diarrhea, so they did not come.  Later, they had the hunting beagles.  They were so adorable and my kids went out to play with them when they were invited.  One particular beagle was not very well-behaved.  We were warned that beagles were easily distracted by food and this one kept running out of the ring looking for food.  He was finally sent back to the pen in disgrace.  Then there were the competitions.  They were timed courses.  The first involved different tasks performed by horse and rider.  One of the tricks was a jump.  I did not see all the competitors, but one horse was obviously too big to jump so he tried to step over, but the sticks were knocked over.  The last was the cone driving competition.  There were one-horse and two-horse carriages and they had to go between about 10 sets of cones.  I also did not get to see all of them.  The kids went around to look at displays and spent a lot of time just petting the beagles.  The older one experienced driving a draft horse, while the younger one and daddy went on a wagon ride.  The line for horse rides was so long that they did not get to do it.  We finally left right after the cone competition and just before they were ready for the grand parade because it was getting so drizzly and cold and the girls were sneezing a lot.

All in all, it turned out to be a very interesting day with a lot to see.  We were glad we had decided to come at the last minute.  And it was much cheaper than a regular horse show.

I hate that feeling of needing a vacation from a vacation, but that’s how it always feels like when I come back from a holiday trip.  Since we wanted the kids to enjoy a normal holiday, we went out of town for a few days.  It was nice to come back and find out that my registration for a license has been approved.  I still have to complete an identity check, but in the meantime, I can scout around for a job.  We also have some landlord issues that need resolving and hopefully that can be accomplished before our lease runs out.  Anyhow, for the next few posts, I hope to get some pictures of some of the things we enjoyed recently.

I’ll start by talking about High Rocks in the Tunbridge Wells area.  They are located in the Rusthall Commons area.  At one time, the commons were just open areas of land that were used for grazing, but over the years, houses have sprung up and many areas have become overgrown with vegetation.  However, there are some natural rock formations that have survived.  But, in order to keep them in good order, it is now run by a trust, and admission is charged.  Yet, it appears that the gate is not always manned, so some people might be able to sneak in.  We have never been ones to take those kinds of risk.

There are walking paths around the rock formations, as well as stairs and bridges to get to the top and across from rock to rock.  Various groups of rock climbers were taking advantage of the nice weather on the day we visited.  Apparently, there are rock climbing guides and High Rocks was included, with hints on how to climb the rocks.  These are not huge rocks and some of the climbers only used their hands and feet to get to the top; but there are some that are higher, requiring some ropes.  The kids imagined themselves as climbers and went up some of the smaller rocks.

There were several inscriptions on some of the rocks, dating back to the 1800s.  Of course, many visitors marked their names on the rocks as well.  But, we were on the look-out for an inscription from the 1700s.  We never found it, but we believe we located the right rock.  It was called “Bell Rock” because legend has it that if you threw a stone into it, it would make a sound like a bell ringing.  However, it is believed that it no longer makes that sound because of moss, damp and various other natural processes.  The inscription was left by a visitor, whose dog fell down the rock and died.

There was a rock called “Toad Rock” because it supposedly resembles a toad – you really have to use your imagination.  The other rocks used to be given other names as well, with respect to objects they resembled.  We’ll need to get some sort of guide book from the library.  In times past, there were huts set up between the rocks for hikers and climbers, but most of them are now lying in ruins.  There was even a tea shop set up in one of the huts, but it is gone.  A rhododendron maze attached to the rocks area is now overrun.  Despite all this, the area does serve as a very nice backdrop for a picnic.  There was even a wedding reception taking place while we were visiting.

Which brings us to the pub.  It appears that the reception was being catered from the High Rocks Inn, which is also where you need to go for tickets into the rocks.  Thankfully, there was a large public car park for visitors and it was free.  The inn is located across the street from the rocks and it has a beautiful garden.  And while you’re up there, you can see the Spa Valley steam railway making trips up and down from Tunbridge Wells to Eridge.

We have yet to explore the historic parts of Tunbridge Wells, such as the chalybeate springs and the Pantilles.  That will be for another day.

This summer we’ve attended numerous summer fetes and seen many traditional English games, events and stalls.  This weekend, at the Isfield Summer Fete in Sussex, we experienced for the first time terrier racing.

It was an idyllic English summer afternoon, bright and warm, with passing puffs of light cloud against an azure sky summoning an occasional light breeze.  The turn out was good and many of the summer fete standards were popular: the three-legged race, a dog show, egg throwing, bouncy slides, face painting and more.

Mid-afternoon, a crowd began to assemble around a fenced 30m track and the announcer informed us that the terrier racing was about to begin.

At one end of the track was a set of six “traps”, each about 18″ x 12″ with a gate on the front.  Members of the public registered their dogs and the dogs were separated to run in several heats.  Running along the centre of the track was a thin rope circuit with a foxtail attached to it. The rope was controlled with great skill by a fellow at the other end of the track using an upturned bicycle.  The rope was fed round the rear wheel and the operator span the pedals back and forth, correspondingly jiggling the foxtail back and forth before the expectant terriers.  This he did several times until the loader had all the dogs in their traps and was ready to raise the cage gates on the front of the traps.

The foxtail was brought to rest a few feet from the traps and dogs and spectators alike excitedly awaited the loader’s signal.  At the drop of his hand the loader opened the traps and his counterpart at the opposite end of the track span the bike wheels like crazy to pull the foxtail along the track keeping it ahead of the chasing terriers.  Along the track they all sped chasing the tail that reached the other end and mysteriously vanished in to thin air before a stack of hay bales. Some attempted to follow the tail in to the bales, others leapt over the top while a few simply turned round and ran back to the start to do it again.

Our treeMuch of the English countryside is crisscrossed by a seemingly endless network of walking paths and bridleways that weave through public and private land. Our area of the Sussex Weald is particularly rich in these footpaths and offers some wonderful, typically English countryside with rolling green hills, picturesque copses, farm ponds, Norman churches, streams and brooks, and country pubs and inns. Sheep and cattle graze on the hillsides, a broad range of wildflowers grow in abundance in the nearby lanes and the ambient peace and stillness is broken only by the occasional birdsong solo.

With forced housing quotas from Brussels and a succession of recent governments being aggressively unsympathetic toward landowners and country communities, many English quite rightly lament the decline of this national treasure. However, we have found there is still a great wealth of uniquely British, unspoilt natural beauty to cherish in much of the south, and as the weather continues to improve, we’ve been able to spend a little more time out walking, often with the camera.

Above is a snap of what has become ‘our tree’, an ancient oak tree reaching the end of its time, standing leafless in the middle of the neighbouring pasture, very distinct against the surrounding deep greens and azure sky.

Running_sHillside fields that are not used as grazing pastures are overgrown with hip length grass and offer the perfect opportunity to become Julie Andrews and the von Trapps (or, occasionally, the little one who goes ankle over head during the opening credits of Little House on the Prairie) and run free.

In our tour of coastal towns, we stopped at LittlehamptonThe Alice Rochester Pirate Ship.  It’s interesting to note that the flavour of each beach town has been very different. 

Littlehampton was somewhat busy, but not as much as I would have expected.  Not that it was very touristy, but with the amusements, I thought it would be more crowded.  Perhaps, the day was not warm enough or calm enough.  It was quite windy (I could not keep my hat on) and the wind was slightly chilly.

There were many sailboats out and several people were parasurfing, kids were paddling in part shingle/part sandy beaches.  There happened to be a fair/fete of some sort on the greens as well.  (They had a tug-of-war contest between what sounded like groups from London and Crawley and one side – needless to say, the winning side! –  had an anchor who looked to weigh in at 400 lbs, or nearly 30 stones.)

The highlight of the kids’ day was the amusement park.  This was better than the ones at Brighton or any of the towns.  It had the log ride!  They loved getting that splash at the end.  Of course, it’s costly, but we bought the discount tickets in the gift shop and they each had 5 rides – they both saved two rides for the log.

Splash!We enjoyed watching the boats come in, especially one that looked like a replica pirate ship.  It was the Alice of Rochester, apparently a barge based in Chichester, which can be chartered.  We’re thinking of going out on it one day.  That looked fun! The girls’ birthdays are coming up next week, but they want to do other things for that.

As we made our way back to the car, an emergency siren rang out and we watched as the coast guard rushed out in their high-speed motorboat.  We didn’t stay to find out what was the trouble.

We have a timeshare in Orlando that we have been trying to sell for over a year now.  Of course, the recession doesn’t help, but timeshares are notorious for not retaining their value.  More people are trying to sell them than there are buyers.  Makes you wonder, then, how some resorts manage to rope people into their resorts when private sellers can’t get rid of their property fast enough.

I’m sure other Britons have the same issues with timeshares, whether in the UK or internationally.  Timeshares are not “bad”, they’re just not for us.  We have a wonderful 2bed/2bath condo that can accommodate 8, is extremely spacious, overlooks a lake and Disney beyond.  We can see the fireworks display from our balcony.  The kids loved it.  In fact, Buppa doesn’t want to give it up.  But, we didn’t use it last year – partly because we were moving.  And partly because we’d rather not sit around a swimming pool all day, or go out to the beach.

Now, the last time we used it, we went to a wonderful dinner show and horseback riding.  But we’d rather that the resort can offer those things to us for free.  We had to drive into or out of town for these events.  Of course, at that time, the resort was starting up with plans to build a waterpark for the free use of the owners (whereas, guests had to pay an entry fee).

We’ve (the adult portion) learned that we’d rather spend our holiday camping out or doing outdoorsy stuff.  We also didn’t like the heat and humidity – very appealing to some, but not good for me.  Had we been of a different disposition, we might consider holding onto the timeshare.  Everyone in my family has a timeshare somewhere.  But it is just not part of our lifestyle, so we’d like to sell it and get some money back.

I just wish there was an easy way to sell it without getting ripped off and scammed left, right and center.  So, if anyone is interested in a timeshare, please let me know before you accept any deals directly from the resorts.  (Oh, by the way, the week is perfect for holidays whether you’re in the US or UK – August.)

I have been unable to blog as conscientiously as I was for a while.  The political scene has been quite absorbing, even though, confusing at times.  In addition, we have been trying to reduce our amount of driving, so we have been hanging around near the town where our kids go to school.  Hence, the decrease in time spent in front of the computer.

In some ways, it is good.  It means we are spending more time outdoors and getting some exercise.  Yesterday, we followed a footpath in Lindfield which led into the commons.  On our return, we took a different route in the footpath and surprisingly, found ourselves in the middle of a nature reserve – right in the middle of Haywards Heath. The woods shut out all the city noises and you could hear birds singing in the trees.  Very relaxing. 

The disappointment came when we reached the end and found ourselves facing what we would have called in the US, “the projects”.  These were obviously old council homes, many of which have been abandoned and boarded up.  We had never seen this area, though we had travelled on the roads near it.  That’s because it is well-hidden behind all the newer and nicer neighbourhoods.  It’s unbelievable to look from one side of the road to the other and see the differences.  Such a shame as well.  Council homes do not need to be allowed to run down.

The footpath showed us so much diversity that we’re hoping to explore more as the weather improves.  Even if it means squeezing between the narrow paths with brambles and stinging nettles on all sides.

Ferries arriving at Dover from the ContinentFinally, we put our English Heritage membership into use this weekend. We joined when we visited Battle Abbey, but we have not used it otherwise. But, when it came to debating our options for fun this weekend, we chose to spend the money on fuel rather than entrance fees. So, we went to Dover.

Unfortunately, the Tower Keep at Dover Castle was closed for renovations. To make up for this, they offered tours of the Medieval Tunnels. We decided to tour the Tunnels ourselves, but we did join in the tour of the Secret Wartime Tunnels (which you cannot tour at your own leisure). This month is also “Tudor Month”, which meant they had some learning activities related to the Tudors and the Medieval era for children, though it was entertaining for adults, as well.

The views from the castle grounds across the Channel from the look-out posts were spectacular. You could see France in the horizon, though, as the day progressed, dark clouds over the Continent blurred the vista. Aerial views of Dover Castle and the White Cliffs were inaccessible to us, however, so we had to content ourselves with a small side view of the cliffs. There were numerous ferries coming and going to the Continent.

The ruins of the Roman lighthouse still stand next to the restored Saxon church, which was deceptively spacious. I’ve been inside many large churches and found that the interior was quite small, possibly because of the construction of pillars and such on the inside. This church was relatively plain and the pews were pushed up against the walls, so it gave a more open atmosphere. Unlike the plain stone walls of Norman churches, these were tiled and painted in different designs (some looking rather Byzantine).

The Medieval Tunnels were on three different levels. On the first level, there was a spot, over which a grate protected the unwary visitor, where you could look down to the bottom. Yet, we never reached that spot when we went down the stairs, so I have no idea where that tunnel was. There were several dead ends and blind spots, not to mention the requisite spiral staircases. Perfect inspiration for a gothic romance, if I ever get to the point of writing one.

The Secret Wartime Tunnels were definitely worth a visit. To imagine a large group of people living and working in such a close, confined environment seems incredible to us now. And, if the sample foods they had on display were indicative of their diet, it’s no wonder they managed to stay skinny back then. The tour began with a 10 minute video about the tunnels and the Dunkirk rescue as well as D-Day landings. How appropriate that we went this week-end. (How appropriate also that Henry Allingham turned 113 this week-end – we thought about sending him a card.) The tour guide made our Buppa 2nd in command, though she wouldn’t open her mouth to talk to him. Photography was not allowed, he stated at the beginning. Then, later he left us alone in the operation theatre saying he would be out for 20 seconds. When he returned, he warned that photography was not allowed in his presence. At the end, we were left to finish the tour at our leisure, where we could look into the telephone/telegraph/control rooms. Everything appeared in very good order, although he did tell us that the elevator was dodgy (a post-war addition). We were informed that there are parts of the tunnel that remain undiscovered since it was abandoned after the war. These must have been behind some locked doors because I could not appreciate any obvious secret passages. Oh, by the way, there is a quiz on how many steps on the spiral staircase. The answer is 72, though I counted 71 and my husband counted 73. We’ll have to do that again another time.

We opted for the Fletching village fete.  It was spread out across the village cricket green with various stalls.  One section was reserved for the vintage car show.  Then there was the bell-ringing in the church.  That was unique.  My husband and our younger daughter participated in that.  Meanwhile, our older daughter and I visited the art exhibit within the church.  Quite an impressive display, and though she could not afford it, our daughter wanted to buy several paintings.  I must say, it would have been nice to support the local talent.

The atmosphere of the fete was quite subdued, and I wondered if that was the case for all fetes.  As I understand it, the difference between a fete and a fayre is that the fayres usually have competitive games and rides.  Of course, the Rusper fayre did not have rides, but it did have games.  This fete had some children’s games, a bowling pitch, clay pigeon shoot, and air water-bottles, but no participatory competitions.  The fayres concentrated more on fun, whereas the fetes concentrated on sales.  There were various stalls from different charities and organisations, selling books and other items for funds.  Others sold plants and produce, jams, etc.

Of course, the distinctions between fayres and fetes have probably dissolved over the years, with many churches and villages changing the venues.  It’s getting harder to define these traditional British celebrations.  We still have yet to experience the carnivals.  In the US, the word “carnival” is used so loosely to mean a fun-fair, that it will be a new experience.  Of course, we had parades in the US, but it was never followed with a fayre.

It was a beautiful warm day yesterday, so we decided to go to the beach again.  This time, we went to Saltdean.  The tide was low, exposing all the chalky rocks covered with seaweed.  It’s an unbelievable sight, set against the chalky cliffs, with the promenades in between.  Unfortunately, we did not bring the camera.  We had debated it and was unsure what we would end up doing, so we didn’t have it.  It would have been too much to carry around while we were exploring the rock pools.

It was fun and educational for the kids, but we learned a few lessons.  First, we need to make a list of things to bring when we go on such outings.  It seems we’re never properly prepared.  Perhaps, if I make a list now, I won’t forget next time.  Here’s what I’ll need to remember next time: hat (none of us have ever been in the habit of wearing hats), sunglasses (not an option for all of us), extra bag (to carry things that the kids collect), carry-all bag (because the kids never like to carry what they packed), waterproof shoes, bucket and shovel, towels, blanket.  I’m sure the list will grow as our outings increase in frequency.  I’ve also learned not to encourage the kids to bring too much, because it only adds to the weight on my shoulders.

After exploring the pools from Saltdean to Rottingdean (a famous smuggling town that I need to read up on), we stopped to get some drinks and snacks and walked back to Saltdean along the cliff path.  The views were awesome. We then drove over to Brighton, passing the famous Rottingdean windmill (which we’ll need to visit someday). 

We parked up near the marina and decided to walk towards the pier.  It was some distance away, but the kids ran towards the beach instead.  It was a shingle beach, not a sandy one, and walking on it was rough.  I looked up and read the sign “Boundary of Naturist Beach”.  I didn’t know what to make of it, but after walking a little ways, my husband suddenly remembers.  He recalled something about a nudist beach at Brighton and he thought that’s what “naturist” meant.  However, we doubted anyone would be out in their birthday suits at that time (evening).  Yet, the kids had run ahead and he thought it safest to take them away from the area.  Well, it was too late.  They had reached the edge, and just beyond, we saw some naked bathers.  We tried to call them over but they refused and kept going further.  They even rebelled and sat down, refusing to move.  We kept going and eventually they followed.  My husband insisted we go after them and after a while, I decided to turn back to get them.  But it only made them think that we were giving in and they started turning back towards the nudist beach.  Eventually, I had to yell at them to listen (they are very stubborn) before they stopped and we got them to us.  They both insisted they saw nothing, but we found that hard to believe.  Were we over-reacting or did they really notice nothing?

Well, we managed to get them away.  It was getting dark, so they didn’t want to go wading anymore.  Instead, they got on the playground. Then we went to the pier, where our older daughter managed to win Eeyore from the grab machines (and the other one cried because she didn’t get one).  Afterwards, they bought a dozen doughnuts.  It was a long walk back to the car, but it was enlivened with a display of fireworks from far off.  We didn’t realise it at the time, but the fireworks were being set off at the marina.  We hadn’t thought we parked THAT far!  Needless to say, the kids fell asleep on the way back and we had to carry them in and put them to bed.  We were exhausted.