I’m a bit of a romantic at times. I don’t mean the roses and perfumey kind. I mean the idealizing kind. The kind that, on a whim with my significant other pops off to London at the last minute with basically no plans and thinks that it’s a good idea. The kind that really believes that it’s fun and spontaneous to just show up at Heathrow with the notion of catching a cheap flight somewhere sunny in Europe for two days before we need to be back to watch the Prologue of La Tour de France make its way through Hyde Park. Unfortunately, I’m not enough of a romantic to think that spending $2000 for that flight is a good idea nor do I really think its romantic to spend another four hours on a plane, after I’ve just spent 10 hours on one. But, there we were, Cam and I, at Heathrow on Wednesday morning, with no idea of what we were going to do next. And, clearly we weren’t the only loons doing this… the line at the British Airways ticket sales counter was about 100 people long, and after about 20 minutes waiting in line and moving about 5 steps, followed by running around to other airlines checking on flights to Cyprus, Lisbon and Reykjavik, we decide train travel must be the right way to go.
Of course, the fun doesn’t stop there. Trains go all over the place in the UK. How do you go about picking a destination? You grab a book at the bookstore and read it on the way to Paddington, of course. So, we grab a London Getaways book, and start leafing through, talking out the pros and cons of each destination, hoping we can nail something down in the 15 minute Heathrow Express trip. There are too many options, but we do agree on three choices… a small down in Wales that is known for its book markets, and two small coastal villages in Norfolk. Cam’s done enough research in the past to know that Kings Cross Station is the most likely place to get a train, and when we arrive at Paddington, we quickly run to catch the tube and are pleased to find that the direction we need to go isn’t running 20 minutes late “due to a customer issue.”
At Kings Cross, it’s just a matter of figuring out the right train. As we scan the boards, we start to get worried. We don’t seem to be able to get to any of our destinations via the GRE. A quick check at the information booth, and indeed, the trains we need run out of, yep, you guessed it Paddington. We decide to consider it a sign and choose a new destination. A bit of scurrying around, flipping through more guide books, and we finally decide on Cambridge which has a train departing in just 15 minutes. The train ride is quick and pleasant, and we catch a cab from the train station to the local tourist information shop in the town center. We are a bit tired at this point, having travelled and run around quite a bit already, so you can imagine the look I gave Cam when the nice woman behind the counter’s response to “Do you have any rooms for tonight” was laughter, followed by, “No, none.”
After confirming with her several times that she wasn’t pulling our leg, we headed next door to an internet cafe to consider our options. I started doing frantic web searches for rooms in Cambridge and close destinations that might be interesting. Cam ran around to 4 or 5 different hotels and B&Bs, in the rain, just to make sure they didn’t have any last minute cancellations. Finally, we settle on heading over to Bury St. Edmunds, a quaint village “founded on beer”, and most importantly, with an available room at a pricey, but nice looking Inn outside of town. From there, luckily, things started going our way.
The Ravenwood Hall Hotel is just what you might imagine if someone told you to picture an English country inn. A lighted path through a short wooded area leads to a splendid lawn, gardens in full bloom and enormous old tree. The front room of the hotel was full of old English kitsch, and our room up a steep set of Tartan carpeted stairs was enormous by European standards.
Dinner at the Inn’s restaurant was wonderfully prepared from seasonal, local produce and meats. I had the simply roasted spatchcock and Cam went with the fish and chips which came with the most delicious side of mushy peas. Perhaps it was the tiredness, and the glee with finally being somewhere we could relax and settle in, but the dinner, especially the mushy peas, had me simply giddy. Fate had led us to those mushy peas, and I was going to enjoy every second of them.
The town of Bury St. Edmunds itself, described by Dickens as “a handsome little town, of thriving and cleanly appearance” is home to some spectacular ruins of an abbey from the 1400s, as well as beautifully kept gardens that are lovely to wander around, even on an overcast day. Lunch was at the Dog & Partridge, a pub that serves the local Greene King beer as well as a beef & Yorkshire pudding wrap…yep, that’s a wrap with the beef on the inside and yorkshire pudding wrapped around it. With a bit more wandering, we found The Nutshell, reportedly England’s smallest pub, at just 2 by 5 meters.
Then, it was back to Cambridge (with a room booked ahead this time), and a day of wandering through the colleges, cows and markets and a few more pints in the pubs.
Finally, it was time to return to London, to meet up with our friends for the opening morning of Le Tour, and then home again, where of course, I would make some mushy peas.
I like these peas plain, made from just-shelled peas. But try them with herbs, like mint or lemon thyme for a change of pace. Just add the finely chopped herbs in with the peas.
1 T butter
1 T chopped onion
1 cup green sugar peas
2 T water
2 T whole milk or half and half
In a heavy bottomed pot, heat the butter and chopped onion on low heat until the butter browns. Add the peas, water and milk and give them a quick stir. Cook for 10 minutes on medium heat at a low boil. Remove from heat and season to taste.
Spoon about half the peas into a food processor, and process a bit until they are pretty smooth. Spoon the other half of the peas (leaving any excess liquid in the pot) and mash them by hand. I do this because I like a few pea chunks, rather than a completely smooth mixture. But, if you want them completely pureed, you can skip this, and just process all of them. Then, combine the two different mashes. Best served immediately.