The schools in the UK have been on holiday again this week, for what’s known as Whit (short for Whitsun) week. Whit Monday (also known as Spring Bank Holiday) marks the end of Easter which began 90 days earlier with Lent.
As far as my girls are concerned, however, it’s an opportunity to turn off the alarm clocks and stay in their pyjamas for as long as possible. I have to say that I am also very much in favour of No Alarm Clock Mornings so I have not missed the school run one bit over the past week. Instead of battling the traffic, we have pottered about. Big daughter has been holed up in her bedroom, revising for her final AS level exam whilst managing a bit of R&R at the same time and appearing periodically in the kitchen to raid the fridge for supplies. Small daughter has had a lovely time rediscovering some toys at the back of her wardrobe (yes, I did venture into her room to tidy up despite my intention not to) and I have spent a lot of the week stepping over her games and not minding too much.
The weather has been quite changeable this week. From a very hot and sunny day on Saturday (spot the girl relaxing in the garden!)
to cold winds and torrential rain, we seem to have had four seasons in one week and some days haven’t got out and about much at all.
However, despite the weather, the Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) have managed to unfurl from their furry protective cases to spread their petals to the sunshine. These salmon pink ones were the first to appear and I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see them. I just love their papery petals and sooty black patches, and the way the bees seem to buzz even louder when they land inside them.
Small daughter would have happily stayed in all week playing with her toys, but I’ve managed to persuade her to come out with the dog and me a couple of times to get some fresh air. Sometimes the air was a bit fresher than either of us would have expected it to be in May, but as someone once said, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing!
For one of our walks, small daughter chose to go to Orrell Water Park and asked if we could take a picnic. “Picnic” is a rather a loose term in our house; from a full-blown outdoor banquet to a drink and a biscuit on a park bench, it’s all referred to as a picnic and small daughter loves it all. It wasn’t a banquet at all on this day, just some hastily packed sandwiches and hot chocolate in a flask (if a picnic is her favourite thing, small daughter’s next favourite is hot chocolate in a flask).
We didn’t sit for long because it was rather chilly and the dog was itching to get into the water to swim (show him the bath and he’s not impressed, but any other water and he’s straight in it!). Small daughter needed to get on with the more important tasks of jumping across big rocks …
deciding which path to choose …
picking a bunch of brilliant yellow buttercups (I wouldn’t dream of letting her pick any other wild flowers, but buttercups aren’t exactly endangered) …
and watching to see if this Mother Duck was going to be able to rescue her ducklings, all of which had jumped down from the upper pond into this shallow pool for some reason. There was a lot of quacking and a lot of people stopped to see if they could help, but nobody really fancied getting their feet wet or upsetting the ducklings.
Eventually, the ducklings headed through a grating and down into the next pool where Mother Duck calmly collected them all and they swam off. Apparently they have done this on a regular basis since the ducklings were hatched!
On Friday, we loaded ourselves into the car (big daughter as well) and headed off to Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire to meet up with one of my best friends and her children for the day. Although it’s quite a drive from Winwick, Kenilworth is about half-way between our houses so it meant that it was a more manageable distance in one day.
Small daughter has been learning about motte and bailey castles at school and was excited to learn that Kenilworth Castle, although much altered over the years, had probably begun as a motte and bailey castle. It is best known these days for being one of the estates belonging to Sir Robert Dudley, a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I; in fact, Elizabeth gave Kenilworth to Dudley as a gift.
Today, the castle lies mostly in ruins but amazingly, is still substantial enough for visitors to be able to go inside and have a good look around.
There are arrow slits to look out of – I wondered how much the view would have changed over the years –
and spiral staircases to go up and down. The castle is built of sandstone. I love sandstone. I love the colour and the texture and the way that it holds the heat of the sun so that you can warm your hands on the stones. Sadly, though, sandstone is softer than most other types of stone and the castle is now wearing away in places due to the weather and centuries of use.
What I like best is that you are able to go up several levels to look out across the ruins and the surrounding countryside. Modern staircases take you safely across the walls to stand where bygone feet have stood. I think that’s what I like best about history – the continuity. The fact that someone might once have stood where I was standing. It makes me wonder what they were like. What did they look like? What did they do? What made them happy?
When they looked out of these windows, did they see what I can see or was the landscape significantly different? Did they ever wonder what people would be like in the future and whether the castle would still be standing 900 years later?
Did they ever imagine that there would be people living on the other side of the Elizabethan garden, waking up every morning to look out of their windows at the ruins of a castle?
Did they ever imagine that the intricately carved walls and windows would one day stand open to the sky, home to not people but nesting birds?
When I started my Master’s degree, my tutor told me that the work I would be doing would feel like a detective novel; sometimes more questions than answers. Some things we can know about thanks to records and stories from the time, but other things are lost to us forever. For me, this can sometimes be the most exciting part. It’s like the beginning of a story and when you speak to young children, they also get caught up in the imagination of it all. Small daughter had lots of ideas about the castle.
Much to my delight, big daughter had a few too. It seems that getting away from the revision from time to time and blowing away the cobwebs is good for everybody. Next week, we are back to school runs and exams, but for a short while this week, we were a million miles away.