Wednesday, October 30, 2013



The Peak District of England, which is about 100 miles north of London, is one of my favorite areas in England. It is dotted with charming villages, walking trails and a modicum of tourists.  Don’t get me wrong; there is a healthy tourist trade here.  But I don’t feel that I am competing for every square inch of space with the rest of the human race while wandering around the hills and dales, walking along river paths and visiting the castles and many palatial country homes in the area.  It’s just lovely here. 

Mark and Sarah
What makes the area even lovelier is that my dear friends Mark and Sarah live in the southern end in a Nottingham suburb.  I originally met Mark in Nepal where he was recovering from a serious bus accident in India on his way to Nepal. Since returning to England, I have gained another good friend, through his bond with Sarah.   Mark, a gourmet cook, had a homemade vegetable curry warming on the stove when I arrived. 

 Last year when I was in the Peaks District researching for my new mystery novel, BANISTER, he and Sarah were exceedingly helpful. Being helpful again, the next morning, off we went to Haddon Hall, this time for a picnic on the Hall lawns (a location used in BANISTER), and to peruse the inside of the Hall, its herb and formal gardens, and the fields along to the river Wye.
One view of Haddon Hall
Haddon Hall Gate House

 Haddon Hall’s beginnings were around 1150, only 84 years after William the Duke of Normandy’s conquest of England from Saxons. Talk about a ‘neighborhood’ feud.  This is the battle that won England for the Norman French from the Saxon lords

If you are into battles and/or English history, the Battle of Hastings is probably one of the most interesting in the story of pre-Great Britain. Briefly, Edward the Confessor King of England had no children.  But he and William Duke of Normandy were distant cousins.  During William’s visit to England, in 1051, Edward supposedly promised his kingdom to William upon his death.  Sometime later Edward also promised his throne to Edwin Godwinsom the head of the most powerful Saxon family in England.  Not surprising what a guy will promise after he’s had a little too much grog!

Upon Edward’s death on January 4th (or 5th), 1066, Godwinson, being right on the scene, immediately had himself crowned King of England by two English Catholic Bishops, although one Bishop had not been anointed by the Pope. This angered the Pope so he backed William as the legitimate heir.  After getting the Pope in his corner, William watched, waited and prepared.    

There were other claimants to the English throne but only one acted. Harold King of Norway, a bit of a rogue and an adventurer.  At the urging of Tostig, Edwin’s brother, who after an argument with new the English King had all his lands taken away, together the two attacked Edwin's armies in Northern England. But King Harold and Tostig lost the battle as well as their lives.  

Upon hearing of Edwin’s win in the north of England, the Duke of Normandy loaded 700 80 foot Viking designed ships, with 7000 fighting men including infantry, archers, and 1500 knights each with at least one horse, and some with more, and sailed across the English Channel.

They are reputed to have arrived at the south coast port of Pevensey.  Whereas William’s army had some days to rest and get over their seasickness, Edwin’s force, exhausted from the heated battle they had just fought, had to rush down to Hastings to fight another of the new English king’s foes. 

Although Edwin’s army of approximately 5000 was exhausted from their furious many-days march, they ended up with the enviable position of being on top of a hill.  They also wielded the most wonderful weapon of the day, the battleaxe. While William had many more mounted knights, his army couldn’t seem to dislodge Edwin’s from their perch.  I have read somewhere that William finally resorted to an old Roman trick of  having his archers ‘lob’, much like a tennis player, their arrows high up over the first row of Edwin's definces into the middle of Edwin’s line. This action caused many deaths in the center of Edwin’s force causing those still fit and fighting to be carrying the weight of many of their dead and wounded comrades. Finally William’s force broke through. 

William lost two horses and was riding a third when the battle was won, while Edwin is reputed to have died from multiple wounds and an arrow in his eye.  When Edwin’s body was finally found, his face was so disfigured that his body had to be taken to his mistress to be checked for distinguishing marks to prove this was indeed his dead carcus.  Thus ending a bad day in Hastings. 

After the battle was won, now known as William the Conqueror, the Duke was crowned King.  Then he went home leaving about 800 Norman Knights to run the country. The first thing they did was begin building the Tower of London to prove their strength. The Normans also compiled the Doomsday Book, a list of the ownership of every piece of land, forest, manor house, animal and serf in England. This tome was the beginnings of the first tax rolls.  So we can now blame the whole idea of modern tax records on - guess who?    
Sarah surveying Haddon Hall court yard

Gate house door to the castle
During the making of the Doomsday Book, the Normans also confiscated lands from many Saxons and their families and gave the lands to Norman knights.  William Peverel, believed to be William’s illegitimate, son, who fought along side the Duke in the Battle of Hastings, received six vast estates including Haddon, first mentioned in the Doomsday book 1086.  It eventually became the property of the Avenel family some time in the 12th century through a granddaughter, Avice, daughter of William Avenel II and remained in the Vernon family until. through a lack of male heirs, it came to the present owners, the Manners family in 1567.  
three leg chair
wooden carving of former owners of the Hall

View of Aln and Linda's Gate house garden 
Haddon Hall is a remarkable estate and after a wonderful viewing of the hall and its gardens, we were invited to tea in the remarkably lovely garden of the castle gatehouse with Alan and Linda Barker.  Alan, a retired castle employee,  still works three days a week in the castle 
Alan and Linda

workshop, while Linda still bakes the famous 

Bakewell Tarts part time for a company in the 
town of Bakewell. She also performed her Bakewell magic for us and we ended a lovely day with supremely good fare and good company.  Then it was back to Mark and Sarah’s Beston house and another culinary delight, a salmon en-croute. A pox on these two good cooks…or maybe not, as Sarah and I were the recipients of the tasty efforts of not one but two master chefs in one day.  Lucky us. 
Bakewell Tarts and jam cookies

Sarah has a list of fifty things she would like to do before she turns fifty-one.  Last year when I was visiting, off we went to one of the events on the list: visiting Mr. Straw’s house, a turn of the century home opened to the public.   Since my last visit, Sarah and Mark have fulfilled many of the items on her list.  They have had tea at the Ritz in London, gone sailing, and holidayed in Egypt, to name a few.  So on the third night of my visit, we ticked off another event by attending a classical concert.  We spread out blankets on a grassy knoll. The orchestra played themed selections, as an amazing and most incredibly well coordinated (to the music) fireworks show I have ever seen flashed and crackled in the sky above the band shell.  Sarah’s next adventures from her 50s List are going to a Pam Aryes poetry reading, and going on a woodland hunt for wild fungi. Talk about an eclectic list of activities.  I am so impressed with her idea and also for her follow through. The list has really been terrific fun for both Sarah and Mark. 

On my last night we went out to a really great pub where I ate a particularly awful, but I understand very British meal.  A Toad in a Blanket, I think it was called. I chose to have mine vegetarian and quite frankly, they can keep that blanket no matter what the filing far away from me.  Forever.  But that did not dampen the evening of good company, good wine, and good desserts.
View of the bridge over the river inside the Hall properties

Sarah, Mark and I sitting in the Haddon Hall Arbor.  

The next morning I was off to Stansted Airport to buy a new teddy bear for my future grandchild at Harrods airport store and then fly off to Stuttgart.  What? No Harrods store at Stansted?  A pox on you Harrods, and this time I mean it.