Monday, May 2, 2022—Blenheim Castle and Stratford-upon-Avon

We were up early to repack and place luggage outside the room, eat an early breakfast, and load on the bus for the short drive to Woodstock, Oxfordshire, and tour of Blenheim Palace and its grounds.

A bit to small for our tour

On the way, the scenic drive took us through the picturesque Cotswolds, passing through quaint towns and villages nestled among the rolling hills and valleys.

We arrived at Blenheim Palace, unknowing that this bank holiday, combined with jousting contests, would generate gigantic crowds. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the palace. A country house, Blenheim Palace is the seat of the Dukes of Marlborough and the only non-royal, non-episcopal country house in England to hold the title of palace. The palace, one of England’s largest houses, was built between 1705 and 1722, and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The palace was originally intended to be a reward to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marborough for his military triumphs against the French and Bavarians in the War of Spanish Succession, culminating in the Battle of Blenheim. The land was given as a gift, and construction began in 1705, with some financial support from Queen Anne. The palace was designed in the rare, and short-lived, English Baroque style, The project soon became the subject of political infighting, with the Crown cancelling further financial support in 1712. After some three years, construction was resumed. Following the palace’s completion, it became the home of the Churchill (later Spencer-Churchill) family for the next 300 years, and various members of the family have wrought changes to the interiors, park and gardens. At the end of the 19th century, the palace was saved from ruin by funds gained from the 9th Duke of Marborough’s marriage to American railroad heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt. It is unique in its combined use as a family home, mausoleum and national monument. The palace is notable as the birthplace and ancestral home of ir William Churchill.

From Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, the tour took us to Stratford-upon-Avon. Stratford is situated on the River Avon, 91 miles north-west of London; the town is the southernmost point of the Arden area on the edge of the Cotswolds. The town is a popular tourist destination owing to its status as the birthplace and gravesite of playwright and poet William Shakespeare. The Royal Shakespeare Company resides in Stratford’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

We continued northward, overnighting in York.

Windsor to York

Sunday, May 1, 2022—Windsor Castle

After an English breakfast of soft boiled eggs, a couple “rashers” of bacon (tasting similar to our salt-cured pork without the salt), baked beans (tasting like our pork and beans), dark (wheat), and sugared cream tea (tea with milk/cream) provided energy for a stroll up and down ”the Long Walk.” Afterwards, we returned to the room to catch up on news, mail, and messages.

At 2 o’clock, we met our CIE tour director, Harry Gray and fellow tourists; there are 27 of us, plus Harry and our driver, Dennis. We did an afternoon tour of Windsor Castle and some of its courtyards.

Windsor Castle was founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. It is the largest inhabited castle in the world, has been the home of 39 monarchs, and is the primary residence of Queen Elizabeth as she prefers the country rather than Buckingham Palace in London. Windsor Castle as it appears today is the result of almost a thousand years of development, but four monarchs in particular have left their mark: William the Conqueror, who founded the castle and established its outline plan and extent; Edward III, reigning from 1327-77, who rebuilt it in a magnificent Gothic style and established the royal apartments in the Upper Ward; Charles II reigning from 1660-85, who transformed the Upper Ward of the medieval castle into a baroque palace; and George IV, reigning from 1820-30, who restored the exterior to conform with romantic ideals of castle architecture and created sumptuous and richly furnished palace interiors within the ancient fabric of the building. Oru tour of Windsor Castle focused on the State Apartments. These are where official royal ceremonies occur, and are furnished with some of the finest works of art from the Royal Collection, including paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto.

Following the tour, we gathered for drinks and discussion of tomorrow’s itinerary before being excused for dinner.

Friday and Saturday, April 29-30, 2022—Traveling to the Land of our Ancestors

We were packed and ready to go Friday morning when Pam picked us up for the ride to the airport. As we were checking luggage, panic struck as Kay couldn’t find her passport, but soon ended when it showed up in one of her bags. After going through a long airport security line, we ate chicken sandwiches while waiting for boarding time.

The plane arrived on time, the turn around was relatively quick, and we boarded the small plane to DFW, sitting in the cheap seats at the back of the plane. At DFW, there was a 2-1/2 hour layover, affording time to visit the Capital One lounge for food and beverages. The plane was almost on time, and we boarded, bound for Heathrow International in London, UK. Even though it was a big plane, the seats were tight, with almost no foot room. The. 8-1/2 flight was long and tiring, and neither of us slept more than an hour or two. 

Entering England at the airport Saturday morning was remarkably easy, despite the airport being crowded.

We picked up our luggage at the baggage claim and waited some 30 minutes for our driver. Our hotel was right across from Windsor Castle, and convenient to the historic city of Windsor. Fortunately a room was available, and they checked us in early. After stowing luggage in the room, we were departing the hotel when the royal guard came by as they were marching to the “changing of the guard” on the castle grounds. By the time we made it out the door, they had just passed the hotel; better luck next time, except we won’t be there next time! We walked around town, looking at the old pubs, eateries, and souvenir and clothing stores. The sidewalks and streets were lined with people as it was a three day weekend, and seemingly all of England traveled to Windsor, resulting in large crowds of people. We saw the River Thames, “Crooked House”, lawn bowling, and old telephone booths.

And how about this wee lad eating ice cream (photo made with parents’ permission).

As we were walking around town, the retiring royal guards came marching by, on their way to the barracks. A short nap helped relieve the symptoms of jet lag, followed by a dinner of fish and chips.

Sunday through Thursday, April 24-28, 2022—Back to Pickleball and another Adventure Awaits

Not much happened through this reporting period. I played hooky from church on Sunday, feeling kind of blah, but Kay did go and represent the family. We played bridge with Jim and Jackie in the evening, and Kay was the big winner.

Golf was washed out on Monday as our spring rains continued. This provided time to catch up on photo processing and blog writing. Tuesday was another washout for golf as the courses are really wet. 

Kay played golf on Wednesday, slogging along the fairways, but conditions yesterday allowed the Hot Springs Village pickleball courts to dry sufficiently for the Paddle Wheelers to play in the afternoon. Drinks and dinner at El Jimador followed.

Good photography conditions on Thursday provided for great visits to the Cooper Preserve and to Barren Forks Natural Area just outside the Hot Springs Village. A number first of season blooms greeted Dan and me, including this Lady’s Slipper.  

These other blooms “begged” to be photographed. 

And, the fern fronds were just too cute to be ignored.

Blue Stars, Shooting Stars, and Fire Pink are among my favorite blooms.

Even a couple of dragonflies landed just long enough for me to snap a picture.

Not to be outdone, a few butterflies “posed” for photographs.

I played pickleball on Thursday, and Kay and I both finished packing for our next big adventure…

Thursday through Saturday, April 21-23—Visitors from the Midwest

Cousin Shelley and Jeff came for a visit Thursday evening; Shelley is a sweetheart, and one of, if not, the youngest cousins in the huge Dunn clan. The last time we saw her was eleven years ago. We spent several hours catching up until the late hours of the evening.

After a light breakfast of coffee and Kay’s homemade lemon blueberry scones on Friday morning, we drove to the Hot Springs Village pickleball courts where Shelley and Jeff witnessed their first game. After that, we did a short walk on Hot Spring Village’s Cedar Creek Trail.

Kay, Shelley, and Jeff

Wildflowers and birds were everywhere, though only the wildflowers posed for photographs. Mayapples, Dwarf Crested Irises, and Spiderwort covered the forest floor.

Other blooms were scattered hither and yon.

Even Dog Vomit Fungus was observed (you can’t make this stuff up)!

Dog Vomit Fungus

And not to leave a bad taste in your mouth (pardon the gross pun), an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail stopped for an overhead shot.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Lunch was at Caddy’s, followed by a visit to Hot Springs National Park. It was a delightful time at the national park, and my first time to see Bath House Row up close and personal. The old carriage paths and trails were awesome, and warrant another visit, as does the Superior Bathhouse Brewery (a craft brewery).

The full day was wrapped up with a Molly O’Brien’s pizza and more telling of family secrets.

Saturday morning was a time for chillin’. A big breakfast of eggs, Southern fried potatoes, bacon, and English muffins was followed by more family stories. Shelley and Jeff departed shortly after noon. We so enjoyed their visit, and hopefully can see each other again before crossing to the other side.

Monday though Wednesday, April 18-20, 2022—Muddy Golf and Rain

Rain Sunday made for muddy golf on Monday. Our group played Ponce de Leon Golf Course, which is the wettest golf course in the Village, and today it was soaked. The course was cart path only, and what with hitting every shot from the wet fairways, putting on freshly punched and sanded greens, and applying Friday’s lesson made for a really bad game, score wise. The good news is that it can only get better.

Kay played pickleball a good portion of the day on Tuesday. First, she played with a group of women at the Hot Springs Village pickleball courts, had lunch with the neighborhood ladies, and then returned to the pickleball courts for drills facilitated by Laurie Furney, a really good 4.0 player. I played golf with our church scramble group on Magellan Golf Course, Much to our surprise, it wasn’t too bad and was 90° on all holes but one; it sure made a difference in my game as I played pretty well, at least for a scramble.

It rained practically all Tuesday night and Wednesday. Dan came over for coffee and he and I shot the bull for a while as Kay did some baking.

There were no photos taken this week, but here are some throwback photos from our RV trip to the Yukon and Alaska in 2009. These are of Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada.

Lake Louise, AB
Moraine Lake as seen from the shoreline (near Lake Louise, AB)

Saturday and Sunday, April 16-17, 2022—Easter Weekend

Another “acceptable” weather day for photographs came on Saturday, despite wet conditions and misty rain. Cedar Creek Trail in Hot Springs Village is the “go to” place right now for wildflowers, and the target today was the Lily. However, it’s way too late for that bloom, but there were lots of Dwarf Crested Irises along some sections of the trail. They are such pretty blooms!

Other wildflowers and blooms made for good photographs as well.

Easter Sunday began with light rain. I really didn’t want to go to church, but Kay’s “gentle” urgings changed my mind (I was concerned about crowds and COVID, or at least that’s what I told myself). As usual, our pastor Sieg Johnson gave a great sermon. He is such a great teaching pastor! We drove from church directly to Karyn’s for lunch with Kay’s family—great visit, great food—and returned home about mid afternoon. In the photos below, Ridge and Aker are grandkids, Ron is Kay’s son, Karyn is Kay’s daughter, and Cheryl is Ron’s wife.

Thursday and Friday, April 14-15, 2022—The Book Club Meets Again

Kay, Pam, Jackie, and Martha drove to North Little Rock Thursday morning to the monthly “The Book Club” meeting; it was an all day affair, and all the members were present for the first time in a long while. I was scheduled to play golf, but course conditions were wet and it was cart path only. But, the sun was shining and conditions were right for a few flowers to be blooming and some bugs flying—in other words, great conditions for photography.

I waited until after lunch to allow time for butterflies to warm up, and drove to Middle Fork Barrens Natural Area. A few butterflies landed, but most just flittered by.

Even the dragonflies were skittish, or hungry. And, a few wildflowers presented themselves for photographs.

Good Friday was a relatively quiet day for us. I did fit in a golf lesson with Mike Socha, our favorite golf pro. He is so good at analyzing one’s swing and immediately suggest fixes that work! I was off balance, gripping too tight with the right hand, had the ball position wrong in the stance, etc.—just MINOR issues. I felt good about the lesson, but putting the fixes into action may be another story.

Saturday through Wednesday, April 9-13, 2022—Rain

As you will note from the following paragraphs, we had a pretty dull existence the early part of this week, almost to the point that it is not worth reporting. Rain was forecast practically everyday this reporting period, though Ridge did get in a soccer game on Saturday. He plays his heart out but there are some weak teammates, so each game is difficult. He is well respected by his team, and gets involved in every up and down field action. Close games and losses may be character building, but not too much fun! Anyway, Kay and I were there to cheer him on as were another granddad, Uncle Ron and Aunt Cheryl, and of course his parents. Photos courtesy of Karyn.

After the game, Kay and I shopped at Costco, the first time in several weeks. And then, it was back home again. Later in the afternoon I visited Middle Fork Barrens Natural Area for the first time this year, and despite the wind was able to photograph a few wildflowers.

Sunday was truly a day of rest for us. On Monday, Kay had her semi-annual dental cleaning and checkup; golf for me was cancelled because of wet conditions! And, it hailed in the evening.

Kay played pickleball on Tuesday at the HSV pickleball courts, and I played golf at Granada, despite last night’s hail storm. Kay had a great time, and held her own score wise. The golf scramble for the church group was fun, but our team did not fair so well.

Storms on Wednesday kept us practically housebound all day. The area received about an inch of rain. Trees have almost all leafed out, Dogwood trees are blooming, and shrubs are beginning to grow.

Wednesday through Friday, April 6-8, 2022—Finally, More Photographs

Kay played golf Wednesday morning, and I forced myself to walk Cedar Creek Trail in Hot Springs Village to photograph a few flowers. Unfortunately, Kay played golf at the Coronado Golf Course on rain-soaked fairways, making for a “sloppy” game. I had been waiting for the perfect day to take photographs since returning from Arizona in mid-March. And, of course, the perfect day doesn’t come often; we have been beset with wind, rain, and/or cold since returning. Today was no exception as was windy and overcast—but overcast is good. My target bloom today was specifically the Trout Lily, but I had waited a bit too late. However, upon entering the trail, a Fire Pink stood to the side beckoning for a photograph. It is one of my favorites.

And several Rue Anemones and Violets were blooming.

It is difficult to capture the detail in yellow wildflowers, but they were too beautiful to ignore.

And Wild Cherry trees were still in bloom, and the first Dogwood tree bloom of the season appeared, hidden off the side of the trail.

The forest floor was carpeted with Mayapple plants, and upon close examination, a bloom exposed itself, facing the good earth rather than the overcast skies. I couldn’t refuse.

And this spring beauty appeared, perhaps a Violet?

After the long walk, photographs were downloaded and Kay and I met Ron and Cheryl for dinner at the Copper Mule in Bryant, catching up after a long winter absence.

On Thursday, Kay played pickleball at Diamante and I played golf—very badly—at Isabella Golf Course.

Friday was haircut day for me, and it was so good having Melissa do a trim. She is such a good “barber” and stylist. She was able to fix the horrible haircut I got in Arizona in early January when the stylist practically did a buzz cut—and I don’t have that much hai