As I mentioned in a footnote to a reading post, I've had a really great but also really intense few weeks. Let me put a bit more detail here, partly cos I want to record some of the fun exciting things I've been doing.
I had a long weekend away with jack and some of his relatives. We went to a lovely village in the Peak District, Castleton, and we had a very gentle time there. The Dark side of the Peak district tends to have a mixture of very touristy villages and completely remote areas inaccessible except by fairly serious hiking / climbing (the White Peak side has a much more even population distribution.) Given that M-i-L and her brother both had some medical limitations on doing major hiking, we mostly just pottered around in the Castleton area, admiring the breathtaking scenery but not interacting with it too directly.
We had lots of good food; the tiny village has an amazing concentration of gastro pubs! And lots of sitting quietly in the garden of the B&B where we stayed, a working sheep farm just outside the village. And we visited the Treak blue john cavern – the area is famous for a kind of fluorite with blue-purple veins derived from fossilized marine creatures. Actually although I assumed Castleton was Dark Peak, it's actually at the boundary between Dark and White, and it's the animals preserved in limestone which create the almost unique geological conditions for blue john. One of those really good tours, as Treak is a working mine (though I think tourism is probably the major source of revenue) and our guide actually works there and was full of enthusiasm.
Interesting cultural awareness moment: there was a large Chinese tourgroup in the cavern at the same time as us, and when we came to the "witch cavern", where what looks like a completely plain lump of rock which casts a shadow like a witch when lit from the right direction. But the Chinese kids didn't really recognize a silhouette of a person with a pointy hat, ragged cloak and broomstick as a "witch", so that was fun for their group leader to explain...
And a very gentle walk, up over the ridge to Edale in the next valley, couple of hours out, then a long lunchbreak in a pleasant National Trust cafe, then about the same back, fairly steep but at a nice gentle pace. Normally jack's Mum is a lot more of a keen walker than we are, but as she was recovering from injury we did a walk that wasn't challenging even for us, which meant it was pure pleasure, enjoying the views and the chatting and the physical exercise, without any element of grim endurance like longer or harder hikes can have for inexperienced walkers. The weather was very English summer, a mix of glorious sunshine and torrential rain. And the ridge marks the proper boundary between the craggy Dark Peak and the more rolling White, so we got two very differently gorgeous landscapes.
jack and I took the Monday off work as well and drove back to Keele via Buxton. We spent a bit of time pottering about in the very pretty town and savouring the opportunity for a proper conversation. Plus the drive from Buxton to Leek is one of my favourite roads in the UK, just amazingly beautiful.
I made a deliberate choice not to bring a camera, because the Peak District has been photographed a million times by people with far more skill than me, and I wanted to look with just my eyes. I think this is partly because my ten-year-old camera is a frustrating compromise between a basic point and shoot and a fully flexible camera where I actually feel I have control over the technical aspects of the shot. I don't enjoy just falling back to the auto settings (though perhaps I might with more modern software and better auto settings), and therefore I don't take photos very often, and therefore I don't develop my skill enough that I feel I can justify getting a better than entry-level camera. But the situation being what it is I was glad to have a camera-free holiday.
And the week after that was the bank holiday weekend, which ended up being extremely social in lots of very good ways. jack and I had an end-of-summer BBQ in our garden Saturday afternoon, attended by many many lovely people. And we had Sunday lunch with my parents and Granny whom we hadn't seen in a bit too long, and talked about difficult family stuff and it was really positive, and I managed a date with my husband Sunday evening since we didn't have to work Monday. And the bank holiday itself we went to ceb's usefulness party, then chatted to ghoti while she made the elderberries she'd picked into wine, and she and I had a nice relaxed evening together.
I also had a glorious time the weekend just gone: I planned a secret weekend away for ghoti. We'd agreed the dates but I picked the location and sorted out the travel, accommodation etc without telling her anything. I mean, she had to work a bit not to guess but mostly it was a genuine surprise. Framing it as a surprise treat meant that it definitely wasn't her responsibility to deal with any of the logistics. I picked York, since it's easy to get to by train (and I didn't want to spend too much of the weekend or too much energy travelling), and because it's very pretty with plenty to do but also quite small and self-contained. I didn't want to do masses of tourism, I mainly wanted to spend time with ghoti, and in fact she had in fact done the obvious tourist spots in York before. So we ended up walking by the river and along the walls and spending a lot of time in cafés and just relaxing, leaving the big attractions like Jorvik and the Rail museum for another visit, perhaps at a time when she can bring her children.
I felt I didn't do terribly well with the food, though in the past I've always eaten really well in York. We had one really good meal at Limehouse, a place I'd been to before and was very impressed with. And it's still extremely good. Nice, quiet atmosphere, good and unobtrusive service, and the food was exactly perfect throughout. We had the vegetarian options from the set menu, a really nice brie and avocado cheesecake to start, a savoury baklava with smokey vegetable filling for the main, and puddings were apricot rice pudding and lemon and blueberry posset. All the flavours and combinations were great, the exact right amount of food, well presented, just really what I want from a meal out, and about the price range of a gastro pub but much nicer.
But Friday night we got in late after problems with trains and ended up in a fairly random Indian restaurant that happened to be near the B&B and open late, and Saturday lunch was in El Piano which is famously vegan but to my taste a bit too hippie, somewhat like the Rainbow café in Cambridge, and in a place that has tea rooms on every corner I managed to pick a cupcake café which did cream tea badly. Sunday lunch was at La Vecchia Scuola, an Italian restaurant that had great reviews on the internet, but I was really quite disappointed. The dining room was really loud, making it hard to have conversations, and the waiter was annoying, and the food was a bit too heavy and a bit too one-note. I normally really like cheesey gnocchi but this one felt an effort to finish, partly because portions were large but it was also greasy and not well flavoured. Really nice cocktails, though; I had a watermelon mojito which worked really well.
Anyway, we had a completely lovely time in spite of less great food than I was hoping for, and ghoti is the best possible travel companion.
With all these amazingly good things going on with so many lovely people, I am really happy and loved and relaxed. I'm also kind of stressed with work at the same time, mainly because both my PhD students have major transitions going on. The more senior is due to finish this month but is in no position to do so, so we're applying for both money and permission for an extension, and the junior is coming to the end of first year when we have to jump through hoops to prove she's competent to go on and do a full PhD. I think she is, but there are some issues so it's not just a rubber-stamping exercise.
Which is the reason why I've been taking bits of long weekends here and there rather than a "proper" summer holiday, but I'm making the mistake academics often do of never really taking a break cos there's always more work that needs doing. And it's Rosh haShana on Sunday and I will find myself in the stretch of the year where I do all the big festivals and then term starts and I get really busy, and I think just a series of four-day weeks wasn't quite enough of a break to get me through this marathon bit.
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