Exploring Coventry city centre – #CountryKids

It’s slightly odd living back in the city where I grew up. Some things haven’t changed, but others have, and I certainly don’t know much about entertaining small children here, though I’m learning. We won’t be here for long, so it’s not worth putting down lots of roots in terms of what I get up to with the boys in the week. One trip that I was planning to do on a day when we had nothing else on is a tour of the city centre – a part of the city that has changed quite a bit since I last lived here full time over 10 years ago. It’s still not perfect, there are city centres that I would far rather walk around, but it has come on since the days that I can remember visiting town.

The first real attraction that we came to when entering the centre from the direction in which we walked from Granny and Grandad’s house was Broadgate, which features the famous Lady Godiva clock and Lady Godiva statue. For anyone not familiar with the legend of Lady Godiva, she was the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and she rode naked on a horse around Coventry in protest against the unfairly high taxes that her husband was charging the town’s people. It is also said that a man named Tom watched her as she rode around, hence the name ‘peeping Tom’. When Broadgate was redeveloped after the Second World War (much of Coventry was destroyed in Blitz bombings), a clock was built – every hour on the hour it chimes and Lady Godiva rides out whilst Peeping Tom watches from above. Andrew absolutely loves watching this clock, and luckily this day we walked past it twice, both times near the turn of the hour, so we could stand and watch the show. Here’s a video of the clock in action, and in the pictures below Andrew is showing me what Peeping Tom did. As well as the clock there is a large statue of Lady Godiva overlooking the city centre precinct of shops.

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After we’d hung around waiting for and watching the clock, and Andrew had run around the black squares that are part of the design on the paving, we headed down the hill to the Transport Museum to warm up! This is a place that I just about remember visiting as a child, but it has been done up since I last went and is well worth a visit. There is no entrance fee (though anyone is welcome to donate towards its upkeep), and what you get for your (lack of) money is amazing. There are vehicles from across the centuries and across the world. It starts with bikes and horse drawn carriages, goes onto old motor cars, buses and trucks, and ends up with some very modern vehicles, not forgetting Thrust and Thrust 2, cars which broke the world land speed record. Both my boys were in their element, and would happily spend all day pottering around this fantastic museum. There are various activities and interactive displays for little ones, and the whole place is set up brilliantly for families as well as transport enthusiasts to get lots out of it.

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The museum also provided us with an hour of shelter from the cold day. Of course no eating or drinking is allowed inside though, so we had a quick pit stop outside when we left for a drink and biscuit. There is a large square outside the museum with a bench running around the outside where you can have a red plaque made with your name on if donate some money to the attraction. Towering above this square is the ‘Whittle Arch’ – a memorial (shaped like a double aeroplane wing) to Sir Frank Whittle, RAF engineer officer who was born in Coventry. I tried to explain to Andrew that this was a bit like an aeroplane wing, but he wasn’t too sure! On the side of the museum, there is a large screen, and as we walked past it was showing a film about some young people doing a dance class, so we stopped and did a few moves ourselves for a minute or two.

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Our next destination was Coventry Cathedral, and to get to that we walked up through a very old area of the city where you can see the remains of the old priory. Well, we couldn’t actually go into the building that now houses the excavated undercroft that day, but we stopped by the fountain (far left picture below) that was built fairly recently as part of the opening up of this historic site and behind which are some more ruins of the old priory. Then, as we walked up the road towards the entrance of the cathedral, Andrew spotted these mini fountains on the other side of the road, so we had to go and investigate. Unfortunately he didn’t have his wellies on as it wasn’t a wet day, otherwise he would have loved to jump in the water that was just spraying back down onto the pavement. This water feature is right outside one of the main buildings of Coventry University, which has an amazing view overlooking the cathedral – or should I say cathedralS…

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As I said above, much of Coventry was destroyed in bombing raids in World War 2, because traditionally it is a city of heavy industry, particularly cars, and the factories were used to manufacture weapons in the war. During one night of the Blitz, the old cathedral, St Michael’s church, which looked remarkably similar to a factory from the air, was hit by incendiary bombs and burned to ruins. The outer walls and the spire survived, and this ruin is now a symbol of peace and reconciliation through the work of the Cross of Nails charity administered at the cathedral – a cross made from three large nails was found in the rubble the day after the bombing. Then in the 1960s, a modern cathedral was built right next to the old ruin, attached via a giant canopy between them. We didn’t go in to the new cathedral this time, that’s a whole trip on its own, but I showed the boys various features from the outside, such as the etchings on the windows above the main entrance (top centre picture below) – several years of school trips to this attraction taught me many interesting facts about its design. We did, however, have a walk around the ruins, where I tried to explain to Andrew why there was no roof – quite deep stuff for a just turned 3 year old! He was fascinated with looking up at the spire, and I told him that one day we could climb up it when we’re with more grown-ups. Although there isn’t as much detail as in the new building, I pointed out a few items in the ruins, including the cross on the altar that is made from two charred wooden beams from the roof of the old cathedral.

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Once we’d finished here, we carried on walking through the centre and had a brief look down at the shopping precinct. Andrew pointed out what he could see from this vantage point, and by this time Joel had just about fallen asleep. I’d been in touch with Grandad who works in town, and he was looking forward to coming out of his office and meeting us for lunch. And where better to meet him than back at the clock where we had started – we were just in time to watch it strike 12 noon.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our walk around the sights of Coventry, and we’ll definitely be returning another time to the Transport museum for more vehicle fun.

This week I’m linking up again with the fantastic Country Kids linky over at Coombe Mill’s blog, because we had some outdoor fun in the city.

Cambridge tour

As this was our last week in Cambridge before we move to the Midlands, I thought it would be nice to do a short tour around some of the sights of Cambridge, to show the boys and take some pictures. There are so many lovely things to see, and living in a place often means we take for granted what’s on our doorstep – I’ve heard it said that you can tell a Cambridge resident if they walk/cycle up King’s Parade and don’t turn their head towards the rather large and beautiful building that is King’s Chapel – and although I try and admire our surroundings, it’s definitely true for me that I often forget. Some of the places where we stopped to look at something and take a picture are the common sights where all the tourists stop, and others are places that have significance for me or us as a family. So take a seat and hold on tight for this whistle-stop tour around the beautiful city of Cambridge…

First up are actually some pictures from our walk home from some friends’ house last Sunday – we stopped at the flats where Tom and I used to live just before Andrew was born, and then we headed across the common that we have walked through several times on the way home, including past the Cambridge United Football Stadium in which the floodlights fascinate Andrew. He never got to go to a game when we lived here (though Granny and Grandad went to watch one not long after he was born), so maybe one day we’ll come back and he can watch a game with the rather large crowd of local loyal supporters that the team attracts considering it’s non-league.

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Now onto the central tour. We started by walking down Downing Street. Yes Cambridge has a Downing Street too, not just London! I don’t think anyone that famous lives here at the moment though. We passed the Downing site (bottom right picture), which is where I used to work and where lots of Cambridge University scientific research has taken and is taking place. Further down the road, which then becomes Pembroke Street, we passed on our left the college where Uncle Matt studied (top right picture), and a lovely German cafe on the right. At the end of the road we crossed over at the pedestrian crossing right outside the famous Fitzbillies cafe – this started many years ago as a bakery, which became famous for its amazing Chelsea buns, and when it had to close down in the recent economic crisis, some new owners bought it and carried on the tradition of Chelesa buns and other yummy cakes. Across the road we went past the Pitt Building (bottom central picture), home of Cambridge University Press. I worked for CUP for a short while, though I was based at its out of town offices near the station, but heard some of the history of the press and about the central building. Then we turned right down Mill Lane, where various university buildings are located, including the infamous Board of Graduate Studies (as it used to be called when I did my graduate studies in Cambridge, it now has a new name, it’s the bottom left picture) – or ‘the BoGs’ for short, which many a student felt was an appropriate title when it came to the administration of their Masters and PhD courses and theses.

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At the bottom of Mill Lane (not to be confused with Mill Road by the way, as I’ve heard happen) is a very Cambridge sight: punts on the river. If you’re not familiar with the term, a punt is a long, thin boat which is propelled through the water by someone standing at one end and pushing on the river bed with a long pole (the Cam isn’t very deep), a bit like a Venetian gondolier. There wasn’t much happening at the punt station on a cold December’s day, but there was a guy touting for business as they usually do. We used to get asked by these touts all the time when we first moved here if we wanted to go punting, but now we must give off an air of ‘we live here’ as we walk past them because we’re rarely asked any more.

It was at this point that I remembered that my new phone can take photos at the front, so I managed to snap a few with Joel who was on my back in the sling. Behind us as we stopped and looked at the punts was the river heading towards Granchester and the meadows that surround it (bottom right picture). That makes a lovely walk, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to do everything, so we didn’t head any further out of town along the river. I have good memories of walks to Granchester in the summer, and sitting outside in the famous Orchard tea rooms.

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We then headed up Laundress Lane, luckily we had no carriage or horse with us (top central picture), and came to the bridge which gives a good view of the so-called mathematical bridge in Queens’ College. Andrew was fascinated by the maths bridge, and wanted to walk across it, but I had to tell him that unfortunately only people inside the college get to walk across it, though we did once when visiting the college to look around for a possible venue for our wedding reception.

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After I persuaded Andrew to stop looking at the bridge, we scooted round the back of Queens’ College and started our walk along ‘the backs’ – a lovely walk in which you get to see the back of a few colleges that are set beside the river, the most famous of which being King’s College with its chapel the size of a cathedral. We will always remember King’s because that’s where Daddy worked for 3 years before getting a new job in Birmingham to take us back to the Midlands. We have good memories of various events like the staff Christmas party, the family fun days, and going for lunch with Daddy in the Great Hall. Just at the start of the backs walk we found a metal plan of all the central Cambridge colleges, which Andrew was keen to look at and I pointed out a few that were special, like King’s and Downing (my college as a student). He was also interested in the various college gates that we walked past, probably because they are very grand.

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Then we got to the point where the path along the backs crosses the lane that goes up to the University Library. This is where I spent a fair amount of time looking for books and occasionally reading them (if I couldn’t take them home or to my office) when I was a Masters and PhD student, and I will always remember the maze of book shelves and just how jam packed it was, even with many floors and long corridors –  and it’s even home to a copy of my PhD thesis. We decided not to walk up to the library itself, but you can just about see the tower through the trees in between the left set of traffic lights and the white lamp post in the left picture below. Instead we headed back into the centre with Trinity College on our right – the central picture below shows the Wren library in the college.

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Up a steep bridge and back over the Cam we went, stopping at the top to wave to a sole punt whose passengers were brave to head out on the water on such a cold day. And then we saw an empty punt moored by the bridge on the other side.

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After walking through some old lanes – Andrew loved walking on the cobble stones, or ‘bobble stones’ as he called them – we came out into the central streets by the Senate House. This old building is where all students graduate in a very Cambridge-style ceremony, most of which is still to this day in Latin. I’ve been in there once for each degree ceremony, once in summer and once on a freezing cold winter’s day when it wasn’t much warmer inside than out. In fact Andrew has been in there once – as a bump for my PhD graduation! It was at this point in our tour that Andrew announced that he needed the toilet, so we raced to the shopping centre which is where I could think of the nearest toilets.

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Once out of the toilets. we stopped to look at one of Andrew’s favourite sights in Cambridge – the big ‘potato’! This is his name for the large rock with a maze of lines carved into it which stands outside in a courtyard by one of the shopping centres (bottom right photo below). It also happens to be outside one of his favourite places to have lunch – Carluccio’s restaurant where he is in pasta heaven (bottom left photo – you can also see the Corn Exchange in the background). We then walked out into the market square, and stopped by a sculpture that was recently placed outside the Guildhall on one side of the square (top left photo below). It is a tribute to someone whose name I can’t remember who was famous in the city for doing street entertainment here until he died. Just a bit further round from the market and we walked past our church, Holy Trinity, which is where we got married and where we have been most Sundays for the past 7 years since living in Cambridge.

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After all this walking around, we’d worked up an appetite, so stopped at our favourite cafe for having lunch at when it’s just the 3 of us – Living Stones. The reason we like it is the play area, which has a play house complete with kitchen and fireplace (hence Andrew’s name for the cafe – ‘The Cafe House’). The boys are kept nicely entertained whilst we wait for the food, which is very good value and they do children’s portions of everything on the menu. Andrew always goes for beans on toast, and Joel often has a jacket potato and cheese. A friend, who was coming out of the cafe as we were going in, kindly took the photo below for us outside.

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There was just enough time before heading home for a nap for Andrew to play on the park in town. Joel was very tired so didn’t get out for a play. This particular play area is probably Andrew’s favourite and has been great for him and Joel from about 9 months to nearly 3 years.

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So that was our little tour of the city that we’ve called home for the past 7 years and where the boys were born. They probably won’t remember it in a few years time, but I’m glad we have lots of photos to show them in the future where they lived as babies and toddlers. We’re sad to go, because we love living here, but we’re also sure that we’ll have many more good times and memories to make in our next home city.

A day out in/with Brum – #CountryKids

Last week we went on a very exciting day trip to Birmingham. Daddy had an interview for a job at the university there, so the boys and I as well as Granny went with him, so that he could concentrate on the interview and not have to worry about travelling all the way from Cambridge on his own. Turns out he did rather well at the interview, because they gave him a job! So now we’re busy planning our move to Birmingham at Christmas. But that’s another story.

Andrew is a big fan of the little yellow car Brum, who had his own TV show back in the 1990s, set in Birmingham (or ‘The Big Town’) whose nickname is also Brum. See the clever play on words they did there! So when we told him we were going on a day out in the Big Town where Brum saves the day, he was very excited. We had to take Brum with us too of course (in toy form).

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We set off from Granny and Grandad’s house in the morning, and drove to the campus to check out exactly where Daddy needed to be later after lunch for the interview. Then we headed to a nearby pub for lunch, which Granny had booked a table at. We were a bit early still, and Joel was asleep in the car so Granny offered to stay with him whilst we had a stretch of the legs – we thought we might find a park because the pub was located in a residential area that looked just the kind of place that would have a park with swings and slides. We didn’t actually find one, but had a nice bit of a walk anyway – up a hill, which is something we don’t do very often living in a very flat city.

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After we’d eaten, we headed back to the campus just up the road, and dropped Daddy where he needed to be. Then we parked the car and got out to explore the place ourselves. We were on the look out for any of the sites that we see watching Brum. Soon we came to the clock tower in the middle of the campus. Some of the buildings around there are definitely on Brum! After a short ride in the buggy, Andrew was keen to walk/run and explore – I’m not sure he actually recognised much from Brum himself, but he seemed to understand what we were saying.

We walked through a little market place with fresh fruit and veg on sale, and then through a square with big blocks that were perfect for Andrew to walk along the top of, with Granny’s help. We were on the look out for the race track, because Andrew had seen an episode of Brum that morning which was set at the university race track. As we walked around, we saw a sign for it, and it was just around the corner. We found the entrance and saw a few people using it for running practice. There was plenty of space for Andrew and Brum to have a run too though! Unfortunately I’ve just realised that all the videos I took here (and in previous months) are lost because of some glitch in backing up from my phone to the computer, and I hadn’t got round to uploading them to youtube yet 🙁 But I can assure you that they had a good run.

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Once the sprinting was done, we headed out and continued our circular walk around the campus. We saw all sorts of different shapes, sizes and colours of buildings. The weather had generally been good if a little chilly, but fine if we kept moving. It did, however, start to rain at one point, and as there was still sun the other side of the rain clouds, we knew a rainbow would appear. And sure enough, there it was, over the buildings behind us.

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Eventually we came to the football pitches, where there were three 5-aside games being played by footballers who looked like they were students (i.e. they looked much younger than me!) Andrew was absolutely fascinated by this, and wandered up and down the sideline (behind the wire fence) watching them play. We could hardly tear him away when the phone rang to say it was time for us to meet Daddy who’d finished his interview.

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Although we were in the middle of a large city, it was lovely to have a walk around an interesting place that Andrew recognises parts of, a mini town in itself, and explore somewhere that  we will grow to know better as we live near it in the new year.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall