We became good friends with some exchange teachers from Northampton who were originally from Newcastle, NSW. They invited us to their home in Northampton for the weekend so immediately after school finished on Friday we jumped in the car for the 100 km journey which we expected would take about an hour and a half. Somewhere along the M1 there had been an accident so we came to a sudden stop, along with thousands of other cars. Darkness fell and still we barely moved. We rang our hosts saying we would be late for dinner. Later we rang to say go ahead and eat without us. At 10.00 pm we parked in their street and thankfully crawled out of the car and in through their front door.
They had an unusual house. You walked inside directly from the footpath. Then you had to step down as the street was higher than the entrance to the house. Our hosts brought us offerings from the oven and watched us while we ate. It was not long before we were off to bed but not before discovering the bathroom and toilet were downstairs while the two bedrooms were upstairs. We thought our house was small but this one beat it by a mile.
The next day we were to visit the university city of Cambridge. W planned to meet an ex-student of his who had almost finished a PhD at Cambridge. Her topic was “The Education of Queen Elizabeth 1 and Edward 3”. She had access to the exercise books of the two children which had been carefully preserved. They could only be accessed wearing gloves and only for a very good reason.
Feeling very privileged we were given a tour of Trinity and Kings College. We listened to the choir practising in the King’s College Chapel, watched people punting on the River Cam outside Trinity College but the most amazing sight of all was when we walked into the town. A small group of young people were gathered around an object. It turned out to be a man in a wheelchair. We realised we were looking at none other than Stephen Hawking, the famous theoretical physicist who made significant discoveries concerning black holes, gravity and quantum mechanics while battling motor neurone disease.
The next day saw us visiting Ely Cathedral and Oliver Cromwell’s house in Ely. Lunch was at Foxton locks before we went our separate ways to our respective homes and another week of work. W’s wife, B, was the exchange teacher but W had opted to do some casual teaching in a high school. More recently he was offered some teacher’s aide work in a primary school which he really enjoyed.
B and W returned the visit and fortunately were able to eat a meal with us on the Friday night. Next morning the plan was to drive to the Peak District. We took a picnic lunch which we ate sitting on the grass in the grounds of Chatsworth House. In 2005 this stately home was used in the TV series of Pride and Prejudice as Mr Darcy’s residence, Pemberley.
We continued on, resisting the urge to try a Bakewell tart, until we came to the town of Castleton. W had planned for us to do The Cave Dale Walk and the climb to Mam Tor which is something we would never have attempted on our own. The views as we walked along the path and up Mam Tor were spectacular. I have to thank W for sending me photos taken on that day, complete with labels.
Our third rendezvous with our friends was in Birmingham. W was keen to visit the Back to Back houses. Only open to the public in July, 2004, after their restoration, four houses are decorated in the style of different eras. There was an 1840s house, as well as 1870s, 1930s and 1970s. Built in the early 1800s the houses contained families who worked from home. Occupations were button making, woodwork, glasswork, leatherwork, tailoring and jewellery making. By 1900 the ground floor had been converted into shops and some upstairs became workshops. In 1966 the houses were declared unfit for habitation and all the residents moved out. Fortunately the buildings were given a Grade 2 listing in 1988 and restored for visitors to see what life was like in the “good old days”.
We enjoyed a meal in Birmingham with our friends and said farewell as we all prepared to make the most of the last few weeks of our year in England.