Penmaenmawr, Aber Falls, & Gladstone’s Ghost


We saw this bust of Gladstone at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight.

When my husband was a young history major in college, he wrote a thesis on William Gladstone (1808-1898), a British prime minister with a long and storied career. Over the years he has told me a lot about Gladstone’s politics. Was he a liberal? A conservative? I couldn’t tell you…For some reason, the only thing I can ever remember is that Gladstone had a somewhat suspect penchant for finding prostitutes on the street to “rescue,” and that he would engage in self-flagellation afterwards…each incident faithfully recorded with a drawing of a whip in his daily diary. On our trip to the U.K., the ghost of Gladstone kept dogging our steps.

In Wales, we drove through Hawarden and past the grand Hawarden Castle, the estate where Gladstone lived . My husband pointed out Gladstone’s Library, where he had spent a summer doing research for his thesis. Towards the end of our trip, we decamped for a few days to Penmaenmawr, a seaside resort town that became popular when Gladstone began spending time there. The Airbnb flat we rented happened to be in what was once Gladstone’s summer villa:


The view from our balcony was stunning from morning till night…IMG_4213IMG_0927On our first evening there, we took a short drive and had a lovely after-dinner stroll to Aber Falls:


Shortly after this picture was taken, the heavens opened and it started raining and thundering. Fortunately, we made it back to the car just in time!


Hawkstone Park Follies

One of the most interesting places we visited during our time in England was the 100 acre Hawkstone Park Follies in Shropshire. The Follies were built over several generations by the Hill family in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Over time the park fell into disrepair and was neglected for about a century. After a major renovation and restoration, the park was reopened to the public in 1993.

It takes about two and a half to three hours to do the whole trail. At the beginning, we strolled along, cool as cucumbers…


We stopped for a picnic lunch here…


After a bite to eat, we climbed up the steep, narrow, spiral staircase leading to the top…


My Shropshire Lads


From the tower we had a spectacular view:


…but the girl in the bottom left corner was feeling a lot less cool and collected after having contemplated the spectacular drop.IMG_0095

Another notable visitor experienced the same visceral horror…Dr. Samuel Johnson visited the Follies in 1774 and described “its prospects, the awfulness of its shades, the horrors of its precipices, the verdure of its hollows and the loftiness of its rocks…Above is inaccessible altitude, below is horrible profundity.”

We continued along the path. En route we passed the Hermitage…

IMG_0097 2 In the 1700s Father Francis would sit barefoot in his hut with a skull and an hourglass to meditate upon the passage of time and mortality:

Far from the busy scenes of life
Far from the world its caves and strife
In the solitude more pleas’d to dwell
The hermit bids you to his cell
Warns you sin’s gilded bait to fly
And calls you to prepare to die

We pressed on through dark caves, over shockingly narrow bridges:


Channeling Gandalf: “You shall not pass!


…through “The Cleft”:


..through The Grotto, which contained a treasure chest and a/The(?!) Holy Grail:


…and out to The Gothic Arch:


…which had an excellent view of the 10th fairway:


We were flagging, but still in good spirits…

We were buoyed by signs we would see every hundred yards or so that promised a cup of tea to cap off our trek:

IMG_0150In the end, we were trudging along in the heat, desperate to get to the tearoom below.


Our boy forged ahead of us all, ready to finish up the hike. Here’s where things took a weird turn. We should have been heading downhill to get to the tearoom, but in some sort of bizarre Escheresque effect, we kept coming upon stairs leading UP rather than down. Every time we heard an anguished wail of despair from our tired young trail guide, we knew that another set of stairs awaited us!

Of course, all good things must come to an end, and eventually – so at last did the hike.


Port Sunlight

We spent a morning in Port Sunlight, a picturesque village on the Wirral Peninsula in Cheshire. The village was built at the end of the 19th century by William Lever (think Sunlight dish detergent or Unilever) for workers in his soap factory.

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Lever had always been interested in architecture, and the village was his pet project. He envisioned it as a “profit-sharing” (rather than philanthropic) scheme, because he invested the company’s profit into providing his workers with housing, education, and entertainment.

Almost thirty different architects worked on the village, so each block has a different character and each house is unique.

IMG_4106Lever was an art collector, and he housed his collection in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, which is the crown jewel of the village.

IMG_4086The scale of it is perfect for a leisurely visit. In one morning, you can wander around the whole museum, which houses everything from Chinese snuff bottles to Wedgwood jasperware, furniture and pre-Raphaelite paintings.


I have a thing for goats


…and harpies…


…oh, and dogs, too!

IMG_4098We had a cup of tea in the café, then headed back to Manchester, with a brief stop at Parkgate, a village that was once a seaside resort. The shoreline has silted up over the years, and what was once a beach has now become marshland.


The Queen of Clubs

On one of our last days in the U.K., we drove up the Great Orme, a sheer, sheep-dotted limestone cliff, which serves as a dramatic backdrop to Llandudno, a seaside resort town in Wales.


Trying really hard to not be blown into the void by the howling winds!



Wish I could read that stone graffiti!


We drove back down to Llandudno and wandered around, looking for a place to have lunch.

IMG_4674IMG_4677IMG_4676As we drove around the streets, I spotted an imposing statue in front of a church and realized it was the Queen of Hearts!IMG_4672


Have mercy, your majesty!

There are Alice in Wonderland statues all over the town. In fact, you can download an app, which will guide you through a whole Alice in Wonderland tour. Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired the book, spent time in Llandudno, because her family had a vacation home there. There’s some debate as to whether or not Lewis Carroll visited them there, but the town has, in any case, enthusiastically embraced the connection!

As we were driving around I was thinking about all the card Queens connected to popular culture. Besides the Queen of Hearts, there’s the Queen of Spades (from Pushkin’s short story and the Tchaikovsky opera based on it). The Queen of Diamonds gets a cameo appearance in the Eagles song Desperado. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t think of any Queen of Clubs. I was completely stumped.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that the answer had been in front of my face all along! Here she is: The Queen of Clubs! Yesterday, our daughter turned 12 and we played a celebratory round of putt-putt to celebrate her birthday:

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The truth is: the Queen of Clubs has always been the Queen of our Hearts.


The Great British Open

We are home after spending ten days in the U.K. with our family. Can it really be just a few days ago that we were winging our way back to Newark? After an eight and a half hour drive back home to Charlottesville, minus one missing suitcase, we collapsed into our beds and dreamt of all the places we had been and the family we had just left…


I love this photo, because it brings together my family and my husband’s family through my sister’s novel Tiger Pelt. My vision-impaired mother-in-law is trying to read the back cover between stitches!


Playing for Granny

One of the things we had planned to do was to go to the British Open, which was being held not too far from where we were staying. We decided not to buy tickets when we realized we would have to stand around for hours in the cold and driving rain if we went. We consoled ourselves by holding our own British Open.

We divided ourselves into teams of two. Team “My Dude” (our 17 year old) and “Granddude” easily outperformed the other teams to win the tournament.



“But that’s OK,” I consoled my partner after our third place showing, “The third place finisher in the British Open got $684,000 this year!”IMG_4128

We rounded out the day with a quick detour to pay homage to our kids’ favorite sports team:


Old Trafford, “Theatre of Dreams”


This Man U fan was delighted to get a photo with some of her heroes.