Firstly, for anyone who might be interested, but more for myself, a sort of ‘virtual souvenir’ if you will, here is the website for Thynghowe, an ancient Viking meeting place discovered in Sherwood Forest. The darling woman who took us through St Mary’s Church yesterday is on the committee who look after it.
So! Today we woke up and had breakfast. Sean, thankfully, is feeling a bit better. He was still very tired and sore today, which for anyone who knows him, is not like him at all, but he still managed to drive us from Edwinstowe to Oxford after bidding farewell to Liane and Sunnyside B&B, as well as the two other lovely guests (Liane also cooked the most amazing devilled mushrooms on sourdough. I could have eaten six helpings). Once we arrived in Oxford, we met our host (who we found over airbnb, but he also uses couchsurfing,com). His name is Louis and he is the most lively, friendly and accommodating person. He lives alone in his semi-detached house that is crammed full of books and desks and decoration and life. He has a really lovely and comfy room upstairs for us, and endless knowledge of Oxford and the area surrounding it. He is taking us to see a final rehearsal for a theatre company he is in and is a keen cyclist, who also has a bad knee and is adamant cycling will help it. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer welcome.
Once Sean had had a bit of a rest, we jumped on a bus into Oxford city centre. The bus drivers were all really helpful when we got confused with tickets and stops and everything, and Oxford’s reputation as one of the friendliest cities we have visited was cemented by the porter at Christ Church College. He asked us where we were from and then proceeded to tell us about a dear friend of his, an Australian who he had met while working – she was a tourist – and he had then gone to stay in Brisbane with her for a month. Once I had spent money on unnecessary books, we made it back to Christ Church College for Evensong. Gah. So much beauty. The choir sounded – and yes, I’ll say it, because it’s true – heavenly. It was in the stunning cathedral and I was awed by the sound of the music. It didn’t matter that we were almost too tired to hold our heads up, or that my knees were sore from standing up constantly. I am so glad we went. I got my fix of soul food, and it was particularly important being Easter. Simply glorious.
Afterwards we had a quick wagamama dinner, being very careful of Sean’s stomach, before jumping on the bus back home and climbing straight into pajamas and straight into bed. It is ten PM here and Sean is already snoring. Bizarre!
(PS. Yesterday we drove through the Pennines and there was snow everywhere and it was stunningly beautiful)
However, today was also wonderful. We were up early to take advantage of the enormous and delicious breakfast provided by our lovely host, Liane, over which we chatted to the other people staying here, a retired couple from the seaside (so quintessentially English and adorable). Afterwards, we got ourselves ready for the day and headed back to the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre. We watched a video on the history of Sherwood Forest, which covered everything from pretty much the Bronze Age, Robin Hood’s time, through the Dukeries, right up until today where efforts are being made to preserve old customs and conserve the remaining forestry. Then we walked up to the Major Oak again and took more photos, went through the walk-through exhibition they had on the folklore of Robin Hood, grabbed a drink at the Forest Table restaurant and went back to the Major Oak where I had a go at shooting a longbow. I missed the target every time, until we were told to shoot a deer and I got it right in the business end. Also, I was probably older than everyone shooting by about 15 years. That’s how much I wanted to have a go and I’m so glad I did. While I ran – hobbled – around being an outlaw, Sean tagged along because he’s lovely. I bought up big at the gift shop and then we drove back into the main village to grab a small lunch, because we were still quite full from our enormous breakfast. We walked to St Mary’s Church on the High Street, rumoured to be the church in which Robin Hood married Maid Marian. We took some photos of the churchyard, and just as we were leaving, the sweetest, friendliest little old lady came up the steps with the altar cloths over her arm and asked if we’d like to come in and look around. She let us in and took us on a tour, showing us the difference in the walls and the arches that mark the various additions to the building over the centuries. There has been a church on the site since 633 AD and the first stone was laid for the current structure in 1175. She showed us the hidden face in the stained-glass window and a Parish Map, constructed by the local community and it looks like a big quilt. Her passion for her church and her country’s history was obvious, but so was her passion for people. I love these moments while travelling the best, when a completely unplanned and spontaneous interaction with a stranger can make your day.
After we got back to the B&B and had a wee rest, we hopped back in the car and drove another 1/2 mile in the opposite direction to Edwinstowe and went to Rufford Abbey, an old monastery and country house. It’s fallen into disrepair, but it is now possible to walk around the ruins and the grounds. We didn’t have too long here because we went quite late in the day, but we still saw plenty of it and it was quite beautiful. After this we drove down towards Clipstone. Several people have told us about Time Team coming to do an episode on the ruins of King John’s castle, located in a paddock off the main road. People said it was nothing special, but it was worth a photo, so we parked and walked a little way back to see it. It really just looks like an ancient wall sticking out of the field. But y’know. Still older than any building in Aus! We headed back to the B&B because Sean was starting to feel a bit sick. We thought it might have been the sausage roll he had for lunch. I think it might have been that exactly, because it’s a few hours later and the poor guy has been thrown up several times. I got him some ginger ale and water, but there’s not much else we can do for now. He feels a little better now after bringing it up, so here’s hoping for a good night sleep. Cross your fingers for us, everyone!
Our last couple of days in Liverpool were lovely. Sean and I walked around – hobbled around – Crosby and we went out to wagamama for dinner with the McGuiness clan on our last night. The next day Andrew and Luce took us to pick up a hire car and we got a zippy little Renault Megane and Sean drove us to Manchester! We stayed in a really nice little hotel in Radcliffe for the night, and took a tram into the city centre to meet Aaron, Katie and Kimberley for dinner. This was excellent. Aaron and Katie had offered to take me round Manchester while I was in Liverpool but I ended up being too crippled to take them up on it, so last night we went to Pizza Express and caught up with their wedding plans and with Kim’s eventful stay in Derry. Manchester seems like a really nice city and I was sorry we couldn’t spend longer there, but we checked out this morning and drove to Edwinstowe, right on the edge of Sherwood Forest. After getting a bit lost a couple of times, we arrived at the Sunnyside View B&B, which I highly recommend to anyone wanting to visit the area. It is so friendly and personal and our room is GORGEOUS. It’s like something out of a novel. I insisted we drive to the Sherwood Forest Visitor’s Centre, but I’ve saved most of it for tomorrow. Today, we just looked in the gift shop and walked to the Major Oak, where Robin Hood and his Merry Men used to meet up to steal from the rich, give to the poor, and be general outlaw types. The tree is freaking enormous, but you can’t get very close to it, because of the erosion caused by too many visitors. Also, in April, too many trees are bare. I really want to come back in the height of summer when everything is leafy. But it was a nice walk, and I want to do it again tomorrow to shoot a bow and arrow….
For dinner tonight we walked for about two minutes to a pub called ‘The Robin Hood’ and we had heaps of food for a pretty decent price. Then we sat at the bar for ages and talked to the staff because it was a crazily quiet night. They were really lovely and welcoming and we’ll definitely go back tomorrow. We got home and I discovered my knee has pretty much doubled in size again. This sucks because the pills I am taking are killing the worst of the pain, but they are also meant to be anti-inflammatory. Instead, my knee is getting bigger. And the doctors told me to stay active to help my back, so that’s why I’ve been walking on it so much. GAH. Really getting on my nerves now. But at least the pain is being treated.