Salem, Massachusetts

Today I had the opportunity to join my youngest 2 on their school field trip to Salem, Massachusetts.

I have wanted to visit for years.  I have visited once in my past.  Seventeen years ago and I made the mistake of visiting this town on Halloween.   With it’s mystical past and history of witches, you can imagine how busy and insane it was!  I vowed to go back one day and explore the history and museums properly.   Well, 17 years, almost to the day, I made it!

It was a 7th grade field trip (12-13 year olds) and they are studying the history in social studies.   As the twins were due to visit, I jumped at the chance to chaperone with the group.

Its about a 2 hour drive to Salem from our town in Maine and on a Wednesday morning, traffic is pretty clear.   Salem is on the north shore of Boston so you can avoid city traffic pretty easily if heading southbound!

The field trip didn’t really allow for a lot of exploring on foot but we did hit 3 museums so enough to get a taste of the history that fills the town.

First stop was the House of Seven Gables.   Admittedly, I didn’t really know anything about this history so it was all new to me.

The House of Seven Gables is the house that is featured in the said book by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  It’s one of the historic properties in the city and as it seems, features 7 gables 🙂

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The house was constructed in 1668, so before the time of the Salem Witch trials, and over a number of years, the house was built onto as the families wealth grew…..resulting in the 7 gables!

Nathaniel Hawthorne never lived in the home but as an adult, her heard stories about the house from his cousin.  The house was lovingly restored from the 1900’s and detail in the book was actually added in to reflect some of the storytelling.  The kids got a real kick out of being able to take the secret staircases to alternate floors/ rooms.    The tour guide was quite informative around some of the artifacts that were displayed but the tour was pretty quick at around 30 minutes.

Next door to the House of Seven Gables is the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne.   To be clear, his home was not always on this site but was moved to its new location in 1958.   It originally was about 5 blocks away.   A number of historic homes in Salem were moved to one site to support the ease of preservation of historic properties.

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It was a another nice historic home to tour but not as long as the gabled house.

Not to be overlooked are the grounds these homes are on.   Water front and beautiful to look out from.   While the sun was shining, it was chilly so we didn’t hang around for long.  I can imagine in the summer time, much more time could be spent enjoying the view and gardens to these homes.

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Stop number 2 for the day was the Salem Witch Museum.   This was a 10 minute walk from the Seven Gabled House and as I found, Salem is small enough to navigate around on foot quite easily.

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I was really looking forward to the Witch Museum as this was the history that was fascinating to me!  I was surprised that the Witch history just marked a brief history n time for Sale.  1692 was the year the witch trials took place and didn’t go beyond this year.   A good thing as you learn more about what happened, but I had thought it was a longer chunk of time!  All in all, 20 people lost their lives during this period.   Many more spent time in prison, awaiting trial before they could be freed when an end was called to the hysteria.    The museum tells the story of how the witch focus began, to the people involved, the trials that ensued and those that lost their lives.    The story telling is done through life size stage sets with narration as the story is told around the room.  It’s an old exhibit but it’s unique and definitely more engaging than a typical museum type exhibit.  The museum then moves onto information around witches, myths and witchcraft today.

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To wrap up our day, we took a short walk to the Salem Dungeons.   This is located in an old church and the museum tour actually consists of a short play – beginning with narration around the with trials again and then a brief demonstration/play of actual courtroom dialog from the trials.   Very interesting and great to highlight to the kids how admission of guilt came about during this period.

For me, the most interesting part of the museum were the dungeons.   Not the actual site of the dungeons that were used to hold ‘witches’ before trial.  These were sadly destroyed some time ago.  This replica though is to size and reflects the conditions of how the ‘witches’ were kept for months on end.   Its just a quick walk thorough the dungeons but interesting nonetheless.

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We managed just the 3 museums but it was a great taster to the city.  There is more to explore, including the Peabody Essex Museum with a massive collection of global art and artifacts, including a rebuilt Qing-era Chinese house!   Maybe next time!

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

This last weekend, certain States in the USA were lucky enough to have a 3 day weekend.  Monday was Presidents Day – so a public Holiday or Maine and New Hampshire at the very least.

Presidents Day this year was met with some reluctance…with the state of the US Presidency and many rejecting Mr Trump as their president, folks seemed to take the day off but not really embracing the roots of the day.

For us, we opted to get out and about and explore a little.  Something we did a lot of in England but not so much since being back in the US.   So, after 50 inches of snow over the last week, Monday – the sun came out and we were ready to roll.

We headed to New Hampshire.  A State South and West of Maine.   When we first moved to the USA, NH is where we initially settled and even now, we consider it as our US ‘home’. For us, Portsmouth NH is just one hour drive from our current hometown in Maine so an easy straight run down the highway.   NH, the Granite State, is a funny state in that it has just 17 miles of coastline as its sandwiched between Maine and Massachusetts.  But those 17 miles are beautiful to explore and very scenic.  This general area of NH is generally known as the Seacoast.

Portsmouth is a major town in the Seacoast area.  Established in 1623, Portsmouth claims to be the nation’s third-oldest city and there is certainly history a plenty here with many of the old houses clearly marked as places of historical interest together with many museums such as Strawberry Banke and Moffatt Ladd House and Gardens.

For this trip, we wanted to be outdoors so we headed to a couple of coastal areas to stroll with the dog and take in the sea air.

First stop was Newcastle Beach/ Great Island Common.  Newcastle being a tiny coastal town connected to Portsmouth.  They have a small Beach/ park (32 acres)which is usually full during the summer months.  This weekend though, just a few families were strolling through and taking in the view.

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Cute artist/ frame to take photos with

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Kids being ‘painted’

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Newcastle Park

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Views from the park

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Dog enjoying his walk

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Happy dog

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View of Beach

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Views out into the ocean

Its only a small park so then we headed up to Odiorne State Park – just a few more miles down the coast.  A pretty drive along the coast and we always love looking at the palatial hpuses along the way!  This is another lovely coastal park and explored a number of trails.  Snow was pretty deep in places but we pushed our way through and had a snowball fight in the process.    This State Park is also connected to the Seacoast Science Center.  We haven’t visited there in years but in the past, its been a great place to take the kids.  Likely still aimed at 3-10 year olds with hands on activities such as shellfish touch tanks etc.

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Trails at Odiorne State Park

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Trails at Odiorne State Park

After a few hours of walking, the kids were ready for food.  We headed back into downtown Portsmouth to check out the huge array of restaurants in town – from casual to fine dining, there is something for everyone and some are highly rated.

We opted for the Friendly Toast.  Its been in the town for many years and its a place we used to frequent when we lived nearby.  We thought it would be fun for the kids as it has a great Breakfast (all day) and lunch menu together with fun quirky decor that makes the place really casual and relaxed.

Between us, we selected items from both the Breakfast and lunch ments – yum!

After lunch, we opted to hit the town and browse the shops.  A great range of shops downtown ranging from high end to affordable fashions, jewelry and locally made products.  Also it has 2 great toy stores for the kids to browse in!

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Section of Downtown Portsmouth

All in all – a great day to get out, shake off that New England Winter cabin fever and relax!

 

 

White Mountains, New Hampshire

Thought I would share a few photos from our flying visit to the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

We were there to pick up pour eldest daughter attending Nordic Ski Camp.  We were picking her up early so we could head onto Boston/ NYC for New Years.   Thankfully, its not too much of a hardship to travel to NH as it really is quite beautiful.

She was ski training around the base of Mount Washington.  A place known for its extreme weather on the peak…massively cold in the winter (-47F) and can be a bit breezy (231mph).  These are extreme records set over the years but impressive none the less.   We so happened to arrive the day after a large storm hit.  A ground level, about 18″ had fallen so it beautifies the area – nice and bright and clean….however, still a little chilly and breezy!

We stayed in Gorham.  Not a lot there really but it offered the best proximity for pick up the next day.  We stayed at Town and Country Inn…Not a lot to say here except its a motel and nothing fancy…i am not sure the website is the most accurate representation of where we stayed!   We only need a place for a night.   Rooms was large but cold….wind howling through the gaps around the door 😦   Dated in decor and no frills.  Younger two enjoyed the pool and steam room and it was ok for just a night.   Most people tend to head to Conway when visiting the area.  Lovely town, tourist scenic railway trips, lots of activities and family orientated.   Most definitely worth a visit if you are there.  North Conway offers outlet shopping should you fancy that.

We rarely head this way in the winter.  Its geared for downhill skiing and we tend not to do much of that.  Many people visit this are in the Fall and take a tour of the Kancamagus Highway – offering views of the mountain foliage.  We have done this in the past and can highly recommend it.

For now, we were afforded spectacular winter views….here are a few!

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First Night, Boston

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

To ring in 2017, we opted to do something a little more special.   Coupled with the fact eldest daughter was at ski camp and we had gifted the kids a trip to NYC for Jan 1st, we built-in a stop in Boston to experience their First Night celebrations.   We’ve heard a lot in the past about First Night in Boston and over the years, many cities have adopted similar types of events.

We headed to Boston from the NH White Mountains.  We needed to pick up the big girl from camp.  She was exhausted so we knew we would be taking the afternoon and evening pretty easy.

Arriving in Boston was straight forward and we had taken the advice from the First Night website to book ahead for parking.   We used Spothero.  What a fantastic service.  Typically in Boston, parking is ridiculously expensive (well to us, the out-of-towners that don’t know the hidden parking havens).   We pre-booked a space with Spothero…..ridiculously cheap, next to the event we were attending and a guaranteed space.  Valet parking to boot. With the app now loaded onto my phone, I’ll definitely be using them again!

We parked up and headed straight into Copley Square/ Boston Public Library.   First Night Boston is now 100% funded so there is no need to purchase ‘buttons’ any more.  Despite this, and the absolute bitter cold, navigating the area and really understanding what to do and where to go was a bit of a headache and a tad confusing for first timers like us.

The Public Library is a great building dating back to 1828  and as we hadn’t been inside before we headed there.  Sadly, many events were full or closing so after a quick rest room break we ventured back outside.

Copley Square offered stages and singing events together with street food and similar things.   I found this area less appealing and it may have been due to the fact that it was well below freezing with a howling wind!

Other events were happening around the city but due to the time we arrived, they were winding down.

To pass time until the parade, we headed to Newbury Street.   We strolled the street and went into a few stores.  It’s a pricey street but we enjoyed looking 🙂

We hadn’t booked a restaurant for dinner and with the crowds, getting a table was impossible so we made the decision to eat after parade and fireworks!

The advertised parade ran the route of Boylston – Copley Square to Boston Common.  We managed to get a fairly decent vantage point and waited for the parade to start.  Boston is a highly Patriotic city and we enjoyed the likes of colonial marching bands and drummers. There was also the usual nod to Firefighters and the Chinese population of the city.   The parade was smaller and not quite as grand as we anticipated so it was over pretty quickly.  We joined onto the back of the parade and headed towards to Common for the fireworks.

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Redcoats marching and playing

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Chinese dragons

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Flag bearers

First Night offers 2 sets of fireworks.  Early show at 7pm for families and a later 12 midnight show for all the party goers.  With 3 kids in tow, we opted for the 7pm show.  7pm just so happens to be midnight in England so it seemed appropriate for us to celebrate New Year along with London and the rest of the UK. The fireworks are by far the highlight of First Night.   At Boston Common, there really isn’t a bad vantage point and the fireworks were excellent….worth the wait (my photos wont do them justice)!

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Fireworks at Boston Common

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Fireworks at Boston Common

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Fireworks at Boston Common

After fireworks were done, we headed back to the Prudential Center for dinner.  Earlier we has spied a Wagamamas in there that we decided would be good for dinner…and also close to the car/ parking.

With full bellies we headed back on the road onto Connecticut.  We were staying overnight in CT to then take the train into NYC on New Years Day.  A big surprise was in store for the kids!   As midnight rolled in on NYE, we were in an elevator of a Hyatt in CT….so glad we got to celebrate a few hours earlier in Boston!

 

 

 

Cadbury World

Playing a little catch up here but thought I would post about a day trip I did with the kids before we left the UK.

As a true Brit, I am a chocoholic.  It’s a problem.  My whole family is addicted and the British definitely have a weakness for it.  Cadburys is our chocolate of choice.  Having lived in the US, we’ve struggled with brands such as Hersheys…a chocolate made from sour milk.  The Americans I would say, are less of chocolate people but more candy and sweet treats such as donuts to satisfy their sweet tooth.

Anyway, I had promised a trip to Cadbury World for the kids.  A day surrounded by our favorite chocolate…!  What could go wrong?

What a disappointment!   While I was fully aware this was NOT a tour of the factory, the entire experience was dull and tired.

First off, its most definitely geared to kids ages 2-7.  The ‘Tour’ was old and felt tired.  Antiquated in parts and then just a very long walk around the outskirts of the packaging plant.   The make your own chocolate was a small paper cup of melted chocolate with a couple of toppings thrown in….and so on.  Just disappointment at each turn.

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making your own chocolate

There was a ‘ride’ that looked like it was from the 1970’s and a new 4D cinema experience.  This was fun but it felt it was just 3 minutes long.

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On the tour

Costumed characters looked bored and it all seemed a bit awkward.

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Characters at Cadbury World

In my research before we went, I was excited to learn more about the town of Bourneville.  The town created by Cadbury to house the factory and workers.  Some great history.  Cadbury created a town, housing, recreational facilities and more to care for the well being of all those that worked for him.  As he was a Quaker, no pubs were established and to this day, there are still no pubs in the town.  There is a small museum detailing this history as part of the tour.  This was the most interesting aspect of the day (well for me anyway).  In past years, they would include a map of the Bourneville campus allowing you to walk around to view and appreciate this history here.  This year, they have removed the map from their tour pamphlet (I asked a member of staff to dig a map out for me).  With this and how poor the day was, I couldn’t help think that perhaps this tour is winding down, soon to close?.   As we know, Cadbury was bought out by Kraft.  The sense of family pride is no longer there and sadly the experience screamed of corporate, waiting for another necessary budget cut.

Were the kids disappointed?  Yes. Would we go again?  No.  Can you get a much better deal on Cadburys at the Co-op?  Yep!

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Studland Beach – Dorset

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View of Old Harrys Rocks from Middle Beach, Studland

Its been a busy week with family visiting…a lot to write about and STILL behind on prior travel I’ve wanted to write about!

So here’s a quick one as I wanted to share a new place we visited this weekend.

Taking advantage of the lovely weather we’ve had in England this week, we’ve done a number of beach days.  One was spent at Studland Beach on the South Dorset coast.

Studland is a National Trust Property and they maintain the coastline nicely.  As it is a NT site, having a membership is helpful as the car park is then free (usually £6).  There is no additional charge for the beach.

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We visited Middle beach.  There is also a South Beach (with a great coastal walk to Old Harry’s Rocks) and a Knoll Beach….one section of the beach is also for naturists (further on the north side).

Middle Beach offers a nice sandy beach, toilets, cafe and ice creams!

Of course, with the weather being perfect, it was very busy.  Space on the beach was at a premium but we managed to find a spot and settle in.  In fact, we stayed all afternoon and opted not to make the walk to Old Harrys rocks this time.

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As you can see, dogs are allowed on the beach.  They need to stay on leash but we swam our guy far out and took him off leash so he could swim.   The water is shallow for a log way out so its perfect for kids and dogs alike!

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Family Frisbee

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Family swim

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Great game of frisbee with the dog

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London – Sky Garden

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So we’ve spent the last few weekends in London so I have a few more posts to write.  In particular order, I will just cover a little of what we have done as we’ve had some enjoyable experiences.

Yesterday, we went to 20 Fenchurch Street, the official name of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building.

We’ve admired this building all year and I think I can say its my favorite modern building in the city.  Growing in popularity is the 3 story Sky garden at the top of the building – floor 35.   I have tried to get tickets in the past but they go quickly.  This time, luck was on my side.  With friends visiting from America, I checked in at Sky Garden website (here) 3 weeks prior to their trip to see tickets available.   The website has a 3 week leadtime for booking so sometimes can be tricky to plan.   I managed to snag the tickets we needed so I was thrilled.  It has been on my London ‘must do’ list for some time.

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View up 20 Fenchurch Street

It’s easy to find and easy to access.  Security was swift and efficient and in no time, we were on the 35th floor looking out over London.  Note – the views are great!  And when you compare to the London Eye (£25) and the Shard (££), considering this is FREE, its probably all you need.  In fact, I would even argue it was better than the Eye.

I loved the view of the Tower of London….a favorite place of mine and new vantage point.

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Tower of London

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St Pauls, BT Tower, City of London

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West London

The gardens are mostly green but lush and nice to wander around.

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View from Garden overlooking main cafe/ vista

 

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The Tower boasts a couple of cafes and a restaurant.  We sat in the window with afternoon tea jut taking in the view.  It was perfect.  And because they limit the numbers up there, its not crowded and has a lovely spacious feel.

If you’ve not done it already, plan ahead and visit the Walkie Talkie!

Take That!

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Horribly behind on posting but this is a quick one I wanted to share!

This last weekend, we went to see Take That at Hyde Park, London.  It was part of the British Summertime Festival presented by Barclaycard.

It was the kids first real concert and TT didn’t disappoint!  Wow!

We snagged a fairly decent spot early on and didn’t move all day.  The festival offered 2 other stages and some activities and lots of food stands.  But TT fans are die hard..they are there to see TT and really no-one else.  Strategically, we managed our space all day (alternating folks on food and toilet breaks) and the wait was worth it!

I’ve been to a good number of TT concerts and this is the first time LuLu was present for Relight my Fire – needless to say, crowd pleaser.  Also fun to have Sigma on stage for their current single Cry.

Supporting bands included Ella Eyre and Olly Murs who was surprisingly good.

Not sure where we will be living next year but hope to catch the boys on their 25th anniversary tour.

 

History in action – Bletchley Park

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So this trip actually happened last fall but I try to play catch up when I can – mixing new adventures with some of our older ones!

For those of you that don’t know, Bletchley Park is/was home of British codebreaking and a birthplace of modern information technology. It played a major role in World War Two, producing secret intelligence which had a direct and profound influence on the outcome of the conflict.  Those that worked at Bletchley through the war were the unsung war heroes, that only in recent years has the nation become aware of and recognised for the role in winning the 2nd world war.  Not only did they help defeat the enemy but they saves countless lives in the process….all through brains vs brawn.

Bletchley has been restored and is now a museum dedicated to all those that lived and worked there.

This particular visit was a special occasion for us.  As it happens, we know a code breaker!

My sister in laws mother  was an original code breaker at Bletchley back in 1943/4.   Her story only came to light in the past decade or so.   She married, raised a family and lived her life without telling a soul of her war efforts and the role she played.  Sworn to the Official Secrets act when she signed up for Bletchley, she maintained her silence for decades.   No surprise really when she recounts the story of joining and signing up….pen in hand and a revolver on the table in front of her, reminding her of the severity and importance of the situation!   Not even her family knew, telling her parents she was working at a clock factory.   Edna was recognised as being particularly bright by her current employer at the time, thus recommending her for the job.  Her travel to Bletchley was secret – cars and trains with no idea of destination and finally arriving and understanding the task at hand.

Many many folks worked at Bletchley and was a community within itself.  Edna worked in the now famous Hut 6, breaking codes related to imminent threat.  What a treat to visit this iconic location with her.  We entered Hut 6 and Edna showed us around even taking us to her office space and desk/ machines.   She was also kind enough to bring morse code and other code breaking info with her and showed the kids how to use the machines!

We accompanied Edna to a Veterans reunion.  We got to hear more of her stories as well as others.  Sadly, not many veterans are still with us and many went to their grave without ever disclosing their war efforts.   About 10-15 years ago, the Bletchley workers began to be recognised thus Edna’s story coming out.  Even then, some veterans opted still not to speak due to their loyalty to the country.

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Veterans at Bletchley

Stories of a time gone by not only included of breaking codes but also of life at Bletchley, socialiszing, work (they worked very long hours through the night at times), and stories of finding Churchills cigar butts in the hut after secret nighttime visits by him.   A particular poignant story shared by Edna is picnicing with local servicemen one weekend on  a rare day off.   The men were off to battle… ‘see you soon’ were the servicemen’s words as they left.  Edna knew of the battle they were to head to and knew she was never to see them again.  The work was difficult in so many ways.  They had the codes in hand and used them over years to defeat the Germans, but not everyone could be saved.

So as we know more now, and code breaking has become the feature of a couple of blockbuster movies, being at Bletchley allowed us to become fully immersed in the history.   We watched the Imitation Game with the kids before we went so they had a good basic understanding of Bletchley…..much easier than text books and a history lesson.  Funnily enough, we are currently settled just 2 miles from Sherborne so references to Sherborne and the Boys school also was of interest and we often walk past the Alan Turing building at the school.

Additionally, when we went, Bletchley had a large exhibition dedicated to the Imitation Game which the kids also enjoyed.  The movie definitely helped with the younger ones maintaining engagement.

Bletchley is a full day out.  So much to see and experience and quite interactive. The history is captivating and for science and maths buffs, you’ll love it.

 

 

Cornwall – Carnewas

This is a follow up post to the Watergate post yesterday.   We rounded out our day after the stroll along Watergate Bay at another National Trust spot further North along the coast (just a few miles).   This was Carnewas.   This is home to the famed Bedruthan Steps.  Sadly we didn’t go this far as the crew was tired but for a short distance, the rewards were plentiful.  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves!

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Idyllic setting

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Views from the coastal path

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View south down the coastline

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Playing with camera filters allows for  moodier shot