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Come along with me as I attempt to navigate my way through a new country, school system, and life for a year!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fun with Fungi (with a couple of castles thrown in)

Fabulous Fungus Finds

For the past few days I’ve had my first visitor from California.  Thea Chesney, daughter of my friends, Robert Chesney and Gayle Russell, is a recent UC Berkeley graduate.  Thea majored in Forestry and has a passion for mushrooms.   When I googled  “Things to do in Kent this Weekend,” I could hardly believe there was a fungi walk in Tudeley Woods with one of the UK’s leading mushroom experts!  I hadn't foraged for the fabulous fungi since I went mushroom hunting with my grandmother at least 40 years ago.  It was just as fun on Saturday as it was with Granny way-back-when!  I’ve driven by the turn-off to Tudeley Woods many times, but had no idea what a beautiful place was just down the lane.  Our guide was great, and it was especially interesting to learn from Thea about the similarities and differences between California and UK mushrooms.   It really was a lovely day. 

And if that weren't enough (oh-oh, I just wrote comments on several  pupils’ papers that we never begin sentences with the word “and”;  I hope the children in my class aren't surfing  web tonight!)  we tossed in a visit to a castle for good measure.  We had a few castles in mind, but someone on the fungi walk suggested Sissinghurst, which was on our short list, so off we went.  Sissinghurst  was built in the Middle Ages and both King Edward and Queen Elizabeth the First have spent the night here.  Its varied history includes time used as a prisoner of war camp during the Seven Years War, a workhouse for the Cranbrook Union, and a home for farm laborers.   It has a really tall, narrow tower, which we climbed to take in the view.   The most spectacular thing about Sissinghurst is the gardens, which were blooming profusely, even in mid-October.  

 To top off the day, we went to see a play (actually 4 short plays) in a theater that was formerly an Oast House.  Oast houses are a predominate feature of Kent.  They were used to dry hops in former days, but many have been converted into businesses and homes.  I’ve been wanting to go inside one, so this was a good a chance as any.  The plays were cute, and I got to check  “go inside an oast house” off my list. 
On Sunday, we headed to the farmers' market for some local produce and “second breakfast”.   (The crepes were too irresistible, despite just having a bowl of Cheerios.)   And (there I go again!  Little children, do as I say, not as I do!  Never start a sentence with “and”!)  because this is England, we couldn’t have a day without another castle visit.  This time we went to the impressive Leeds Castle.  Okay, Sissinghust was really nice, but Leeds is amazing.  According to its webpage, it’s “The Loveliest Castle in the World”, and who am I to disagree?  Originally built in the 1100’s, it’s been a Norman  stronghold,  the private property of six of England’s medieval  queens,  a palace used by Henry  VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon, a Jacobean country  house, a Georgian  mansion and an elegant early 20th-century retreat for the rich and famous.   It really is everything a castle should be.  It has an impressive moat, gorgeous gardens, a falconry, a grotto, (complete with mythical beasts created from tiny shells and a Green Man) and a pretty tricky yew maze.  We took turns choosing right or left at each fork in the path, and somehow managed to get to the center of the 2400 yew trees and back out again before they closed for the day. 

Leeds Castle with Moat (I just love a good moat!)  

A portion of the yew maze as seen from the center

 Surprisingly, after that, we still had the energy for an complete tour of the town of Leigh (okay, that takes about 5 minutes) and a stop at the Fleur de Lis.  Today Thea went to London while I headed back to work.  She’ll be back here for the night, but heads to France tomorrow.  I love all my new friends here in the UK, but it has been really nice to have someone who knows what I’m talking about and someone that I can listen to without trying really hard to understand what she’s saying.   I’ll miss her when she goes.  

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