Manors, Puddings & Jane Austen - Central England

Today I'm sharing more photos and stories of our trip to England and Ireland earlier this month. After spending a few days on the west coast of Ireland, we traveled back to Dublin and hopped onto a short flight into Birmingham, England. We chose Birmingham because it was closest to our friends, Benj and Esther, where we'd be staying for the rest of the week.

Benj and Esther were fellow expats in Cambodia, and we hadn't seen each other for four years. Since then, we had both added boys to our families - their youngest son is about 4 days older than Declan, so it was therapeutic to be around another blond toddler for a few days during our trip!

I'm so glad we started our trip out in the countryside of England instead of in London, because I loved it. Loughborough, where they live, is a typical English town - which means there are loads of buildings older than the United States, history wherever you turn, and beautiful rolling fields just steps away from your front door.

Just a typical English field...

Just a typical English field...

Because our main goal was to catch up with our friends, we didn't do a lot of ambitious traveling while staying with them. Andrew and I did a day trip on our own to Nottingham, a twenty-minute train ride away, to see the fabled city of Robin Hood and drink beer at one of the oldest pubs in England. We also ate lunch at a restaurant that looks as if it was lifted straight off the streets of Bangkok and plunked in the middle of Nottingham. We haven't had such satisfying, authentic Thai food since leaving Southeast Asia, and I'm still dreaming about it. 

Nottingham has some interesting (if a bit overpriced) museums, including the Galleries of Justice (all about jails, prisons, and punishment throughout the history of England) and a tour of underground man-made caves that have been used for a few hundred years for living quarters, pubs, storage, and air raid shelters. 

The next day, we drove with Benj and Esther's family up to Chatsworth House, a large manor home in the Peaks District. I didn't realize til arriving that it's been used for several major films, including Death Comes to Pemberley (an excellent British miniseries based on a murder mystery by P.D. James) and Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley (not my favorite, but interesting nonetheless). Apparently, Jane Austen was living in nearby Bakewell while writing Pride and Prejudice, and it's believed that Chatsworth House was the model for Pemberley in her novel. I always love a good Jane Austen connection! 

It's nearly impossible to see all of Chatsworth House in one visit. So the men took the children to explore the 100+ acres of gardens, and Esther and I toured inside the house. What's fascinating about Chatsworth is that it is still the active residence of a family. So you can see little reminders of modern day life in a few rooms, like family photos and modern works of art. 

We ate dinner in Bakewell, the only disappointing meal of our entire trip, based mostly on the necessity of finding food as quickly as possible. Bakewell is a fascinating town of stone buildings and cobbled streets, and it's famous for the Bakewell pudding (of which multiple shops claim to be the original creators - luckily, they're all quite tasty.). Most cafes close around 5pm, so finding dinner was challenging. But I managed to snag a Bakewell pudding AND tart for takeaway - I didn't want to miss its famous dessert!

It was a long day, and we spent the following Saturday morning hanging around the house, chatting, and preparing for the next destination of our trip - Oxford! But our few days in Loughborough proved that friends and personal connections are what makes travel memorable and meaningful. Those few days were my favorite of the whole trip!

Travel Notes