Monthly Archives: July 2013

Huge horse


Nearby to Stonehenge is the giant  Westbury White Horse, carved out of the hillside.  There are 8 surviving “White Horses” in Wiltshire (there has been 24 in all of England, but not all have survived).
I guess it is good to have a “thing”, something that you do and in WIltshire it is to carve giant horses out of the chalky hillside….


It was beautiful up on the hill, warm and sunny.


Amazing you could go right up and probably even slide down it, except it is on a very steep hill…



Also here there are excavated remains of a 3000 yr old Neolithic long barrow and  2000 yr old Iron Age hillside defences!!
Coming from NZ these numbers  just make the mind boggle.
The countryside here is so gorgeous, very gentle compared to home and very different at times too…

The original Iron Age Hillfort defences were built at Bratton Camp over 2000 years ago. These earthworks protected a settlement containing round houses, granaries, stores and workshops.  The design and construction showed the effectiveness of the hillfort to its enemies.

The site was excavated in the 18th century.  However, three thousand years earlier a Neolithic long barrow existed on this hill, and later excavations in the 19th century uncovered human skeletons and cremations.

Today, this extensive chalk grassland supports herb and grass species that provide a habitat for a diverse range of insects, including the rare Adonis Blue butterfly and the scarce forester moth.

The White Horse is visible from afar and is a famous local landscape.  It is believed to have been cut into the hillside in the 16th century to celebrate the supposed Battle of Ethandun in AD 878.


Sacred stones


I was wondering whether going to Stonehenge was a cliche or not, but Hannah and Ollie reacted so positively when I suggested it, I was secretly glad as I had never been.
Top tip….get there early.  We left London before 7.30am and had a easy drive, no queues, no crowds.
It is such a stunning site, commanding views for miles (sorry…k’s).  This alone is reason enough to hang out there for a while.




The free audio guides are really great – full of stories.

We saw this martial arts club from London doing a photo shoot inside the roped off area – the whole place seemed a lot more interesting for Ollie at this point!





It did seem much smaller than I had imagined, but being the list-ticking tourist that I am, I was so glad to see it and to experience the feel of the place, buy the postcard, have the photo.
Great to have the kids visiting somewhere they have read about and heard about and can go WOW about too.


Right Royal education


I am loving having the Guardian arrive on the doormat each morning (there are some things about Britian that I just love…)

And the kids are too.  They all have a good browse through it and it has certainly been the catalyst for some great conversations.

Of course it is mildly exciting to be right here for the Royal birth and we were very close to Paddington at the time!
Today we have been treated to pages of history, information and a great visual family tree concerning the Royal family and the newest members place in it.  From looking at this we have been discussing all sorts of topics stemming from (mostly) Charlie’s questions –
The name, the fact that the two longest serving monarchs are both women, the lineage, how the crown passes.
I just love the things that are brought to the table when a new experience arrives in my kids lives.  How each one examines it and considers it in their own wayand from their own perspective.  This just adds so much to my own education and enjoyment of what is happening.

I was just happy looking at the photos and thinking how awful to have to appear a.) dressed
b.) smiling
c.) in public

the day after you have had your first baby.

When I had Hannah I truly thought that when you gave birth you just slipped back into your size ten jeans the next day and carried on.  So I gave my pregnant sister my favourite materity dungarees (yes, yes, I know….but they were so comfy…) while still  in hospital (unnecessary c-section instead of planned homebirth).
So imagine my surprise when all I could fit into was an old sarong, which I tied around my still huge and flabby middle regions.

The size ten jeans languished unused for ages.
I didn’t go anywhere for months, and most days if I got in the shower it was a miracle and then it seemed to take all day to get there….

At least I didn’t have the worlds media wanting photos of me though.
Just as well really.

And no we have not queued up to take a photo of the birth announcement on an easel outside Buckingham Palace.
Seems slightly outdated when one could just tweet it….


Hint hunt


We tried the Museum of Natural History, we even managed to walk around the dinosaurs….but lack of air and crush of people meant it was unbearable.


(I love the exterior of the big museums as much at the content inside).

So we went for a boat ride to Greenwich on the Thames Clippers, where at at least the air moved….(I am not complaining, really!) .



It was great to see the other side of the Tower of London and the ever-sinister Traitors Gate!
Always good to view things from a different perspective too…



But for us the main event of the day was a visit to HintHunt (thanks to Joanne and Andrew, Kiwi friends who recommended it.  🙂  )
Of course I can’t really tell you too much about it…it would give the game away.  But the basic idea is you get locked in a room (four is the optimal number) and have to get out using clues, codes, your wit and communication skills while and searching for things that may help you.
It is a brilliant team-building activity and so much fun for a family to do.
I loved it how we are all so different which meant we had a variety of  strengths and skills  to draw on while problem-solving.
No photos inside of course…


This is our last day altogether in London.  We have been so grateful to have been able to call this our wonderful home away from home while here.  Ruth is an amazingly generous hostess, we all feel so comfortable and welcomed here.  And we will be back..a couple more times!





Hannah taught her self to read at age 4 so she could read Harry Potter.  She directed her first HP film at age 5, she was Hermione for years and years (even though she wore a Durmstrang fur coat…).
We have queued for each new book when it came out, then waited while Hannah would read it all in just a few hours, before we were alowed to touch it.  I have read aloud the whole series to each child and to myself.
Hannah used to be able to quote bits of the books she knew them so well.
The boys were not immune to the charms that J K Rowling wove either and happily took part in HP themed games and movies.
At age 11 our kids receive their Hogwarts letter, in green ink written on parchment, delivered by owl….

We even have a whole syllabus I developed for Hogwarts that Hannah used to attend at home. This did require some dressing up and acting on my part…(Perfect homeschooling really)

So you see we have lived and breathed Harry for ten years too, just like those who lived here making these movies.

Yes here we are.  Leavensden Studios, near Watford.  I know three families that have been here (it has only been open a year) and they all just loved it.  One very well travelled person went so far as to say it was THE best tourist attraction they had been to.
If you have a connection to Harry Potter, as so many of us do, then I would say…”what’s not to like…?’


To fans these will all be self explanatory….
Needless to say there were hundreds of photo opportunites as we explored sets, props, behind the scenes work and were introduced to the magic of the movies.


The Great Hall…we were all blown away by the detail and the dedication of those who work in the industry.


Umbridge’s decrees!



Me in the mirror of Erised….(Sorry I can’t tell you what I saw…)

It really did seem as though it was ten fun years where all those who worked here were one big family.  I guess those in the film industry are truly living their passion so why wouldn’t you be happy at work?


Me in Privet Drive.


The kids had some Buterbeer to drink as well, sweet and butterscotchy and quite drinkable…Then tried out Hagrid’s motorbike.



Ollie was always Ollivander when he played Harry Potter – he once made a whole lot of wands and set up shop.  So exciting for us all to see all these things that filled my children’s childhood imaginations….



Diagon Alley was delightful, again so much detail, we were blown away. (To me being a big picture person  not a details person this is doubly impressive!)





This guy  had an amazing story and worked in an extremely moving room at the very end….
He had been called in by a mate to help out with catering, on site here,  halfway through the ten years of filming.  He loved it. So much he stayed on, working 5 hours a day.  But he worked every day of filming for 5 years and got to know everyone in the set. (He was supposed to be retiring).
He now spends his day in this room of dedication, thousands  of wand boxes each with the name of  someone who was involved with the making of the movies.   Everyone.  And not only has he met them, but he can tell you where in the room their wand box is!!
He was a fountain of stories…I found it all very moving and could have stayed on all day listening to him…



They are all mixed up too, but he can point out anyone.
Here is one cool story he told me…..You know the baby Harry in the very first film?  They had a set of triplets for filming, so they could use which every baby was awake at the time they needed him.  (Clever ay?)
Well the three boys were never told of their part in the film as their parents didn’t want it to colour their childhood.  Until a few weeks ago when one of them was coming to visit the studios, (teenagers now) so their parents told them about it and the boys were understandably blown away, especially when they arrived to find they had their own wand box!!

A magical day for us and I am sure for many….
(except when our purchases at the shop are converted into New Zealand dollars….)  Gulp!

A little bit potty….


We started our Harry Potter London experience by going on a walking tour, one that was Harry Potter based.  Our guide was a champion of JK Rowling and could not sing her praises enough, this was fine with us!




See the little Gryffindor flag he carried (and he had a matching tie) while he marched us past Parliament, onto the Westminster bridge, up Whitehall, through to Trafalgar Square and up Charing Cross road…filling us in with movie locations and many little snippets (magical and historical too).


The kids there all got to produce and keep a wand at the end…

Then we wandered on to Covent Garden and saw a few performers, quite  a buzz on a Saturday evening…


This 50 yr old made me miss doing Yoga, as he contorted himself  in many ways and as a finale folded himself into a glass box!


We returned to Trafalgar Square for more street entertainers,  a photo session and a very potted version of the Battle of Waterloo for Charlie who wanted to know just who this Nelson fellow was!



PS.. Hannah and I have also managed a girls night out – we got 10 pound tickets to a great musical “Merrily we Roll Along”.
Just love that West End…..

All this history! Hampton Court Palace


Hannah for one was in raptures visiting Hampton Court Palace.  I certainly got a much deeper  understanding of the Tudors, Henry 8th et al. And we all got a real sense of how they lived….


The scale of everything at Hampton Court is incredible. Such vastness.


The huge kitchens catering for up to 600 people at a time (and Henry the 8th liked to party and liked to eat.)  There was even this huge fire going and being kept stocked by some poor guy, which gave a great smell to the kitchens.
There was space to roast several whole pigs on spits in the front.


Incredible organisation, I liked these smaller fires which you could control the heat on more easily.
We all had audio tours, there were three different types, Charlie had a child’s one which kept him running around, laughing, filling in booklets and quite captivated for hours.


I was blown away by the frescoes, and again the scale of them…


Two of Hannah’s favourite women.  Well I know she adores Ann Boleyn….


Gardens to die for.  I know I am meant to be inspired by them and I am. Totally.  Also though is a lingering question of what am I not doing at home in my own gardens to get them to look like this….


It was too hot to wander for long around the gardens, so respite in this shady privvy garden was welcome  and a good place  for peeping through.


So much space, such grandeur….I will just run out of adjectives soon.


We saw an armoury room like this but on a smaller scale at Alnwick Castle.  The walls are literally lined with weapons, all laid out in intricate and clever patterns – quite stunning to look at.  Plus they were all used as well, and kept in working order and cleaned.


Ollie just loved it and is planning to decorate his room in a similar fashion when we return.  I only wish I was joking….


One of the royal beds…..with more frescoes  and the most enormous portraits.  The furniture, the art, the decorations…. the everything was just mindblowingly lavish…


The stories about how the rooms were used and how society conducted itself were fascinating.

Charlie, using his best plum-in-the-mouth, ‘what ho old chap’ voice giving old Henry himself a piece of his mind about “all those beheadings…”!!

I think it is fair to say we all just loved Hampton Court, we spent 7 hours there…


The kids certainly were all just a-MAZE-d by it!