Wells and Cheddar Gorge (and Covid-19)

We decided to go on a wee adventure today; before we’re entirely stuck in the house for who-knows-how-long.

No doubt about it, Covid-19 is going to mess up our spring plans; just how much remains to be seen. We had a busy spring planned ahead of us — a weekend trip to London for the Harry Potter show, a trip to Canada for Easter, a weekend trip to Isle of Wight, grandparents visiting, diabetes camp, the Queen’s Garden Party, a trip to Ireland, and Sophie’s school residential trip the first week of June. We know some of these will be cancelled. Maybe even all of them, if the current predictions and timelines are right. That will suck, but what can you do. We are among billions of people being inconvenienced and it’s no one’s fault that this happened. All we can do is follow precautions, hope, and wait.

That being said, we’re currently in a country that has effectively kept business as usual… Just stay home if you’re sick. Kids are still in school and people still going to work. Yet the Canadian Forces has essentially been told to stand down, if you can. Go home, stay there, and stay healthy. So… There’s a lot of confusion still and a lot left to be seen. However we do know that we’re not allowed to travel/leave the country that we’re currently in (for now, for the next 3 weeks).

So with all the uncertainty and knowing there is a lot more coming (anticipating UK closures in the next few days or week) we decided to get out just one last time- choosing a place that is not crowded, open air, practice social distancing, lots of hand hygiene, and no restaurants (I personally believe restaurants to be one of the biggest vectors for airborne/droplet disease in this world and I won’t go near them right now).

So off to Wells we went. Wells is the smallest city in England.

That moniker comes about because any location with a cathedral is a city and Wells has a truly spectacular cathedral; however, the city is quite small. There are villages around that are larger than Wells, but they don’t have a cathedral so don’t get to call themselves a city. It’s all so specific!

The Wells Cathedral is a stunner. Dating back to the twelfth century, with a large choral wing, Bishop’s palace, and more.

You can see the scissor arch in the middle, that was added afterwards to help support the sinking spire.
The Wells Cathedral clock is an astronomical clock from about 1325.
Cathedral cat hanging out at the heaters. Clearly at home here.

After touring the cathedral, we took a walk around the small, historic city. There was a Saturday market going on, too.

At the Bishop’s palace
Vicar’s Close — claimed to be the oldest purely residential street with original buildings in Europe. Dating to the 14th century.
A sweet market in the Wells town square.

After a toodle around Wells, seeing the cathedral, Bishop’s palace, market, and all, we drove off again. Cheddar Gorge isn’t far so we went there next. We had packed a picnic lunch in order to not have to go to a restaurant and practice social distancing. This also turned out to be super helpful because Sophie started going very low on the drive to Cheddar. It was nice that we were able to eat right away vs. waiting in a restaurant while she is feeling miserable.

Cheddar Gorge is England’s largest gorge. It has caves deep within the rock that they’ve been making cheddar cheese and aging it in for centuries. You can buy tickets to do things like climb stairs up the edge of this gorge, absail down, or tour the caves, but we wanted to do none of those.

We walked the main street of the gorge, popped into a few stores, sampled and purchased some cheddar, and then left.

Cave-aged cheddar. Yum!

And that was our day – our morning, really. Just a little nip out to see some historic and beautiful sites and home by 2pm. No interacting with anybody in the public, kept to our personal bubbles, and hopefully didn’t inadvertently bring Covid-19 home. But if we did, we’re ready to quarantine.

I hope everyone is ready and prepared but more so I hope everyone stays healthy and safe. Please stop the thinking that ‘if you’re healthy and young, it will be okay’ because some of us aren’t healthy and might not be okay through this. Every time you say that, it feels like you invalidate the life of the sick and elderly who are most at risk.

Take care, all. Xx

Christmas Markets!

The Christmas market is an outdoor market of stalls selling goods and food, often at nighttime, during the weeks of Advent, and originating in Germany. Their popularity has spread all over Europe and even into North America in recent years (heck, even Ottawa started a wee one this year!)

While we certainly plan to make it to a German Christmas market at some point in our 3 years here, we knew it wouldn’t be this year. However, there are many Christmas markets happening not far from us that we thought we’d check out this season.

First off, we did a big one – Bath Christmas Market. The Bath Christmas Market is one of the biggest in the UK, and consistently awarded one of the best in the country (this year being no exception).



Bath is only about 15 miles from Bristol, but as things are in England, it’s a 45 minute car ride or a 45-60 minute train ride. We opted for the train because it’s cheap (£13 round trip for all 3 of us) and then we wouldn’t need to search for parking.

However, we were warned – – – being the most popular market in the country means it’s busy! We originally thought we’d go in the evening, but were told we’d hardly be able to move then, and there’s too many drunk people around. So we changed our plans and decided to go at opening. Good thing, too, because when we left 3 hours later at 1pm, we could hardly move!
(We heard that brawls broke out on later trains because they were so packed and busy… so we’ll stick with going early!)

Our favourite stall – we had to circle back around and return to.

So, we may have missed the ambience of the evening market and the lights, but as none of us like a crowd, we were very happy with our choice. We spent a whack-load of money at the stalls buying gifts and treats for others and ourselves. We enjoyed sampling cheeses, charcuteries, and spreads at many stalls, and drinking thick hot cocoa and mulled wine as we ambled around.

We got freshly made sugar doughnuts that will haunt my dreams until next year – they melted in your mouth…
Grabbed a pizza from a mobile pizza oven along with a cider for lunch. I love that the UK doesn’t limit you to staying in beergardens if you want to buy a drink.
Our pile of shopping on the train ride home.

Overall we just loved the Bath Market. It was easy to get to, a fun morning out shopping, and a feast for the senses.



The next market we went to was a few days later and a bit more local. Okay, a lot more local. The Henleaze Christmas Festival is a one-night affair a few blocks away from us. We live right on the edge of Henleaze neighbourhood in Bristol, and we really love the Henleaze high street to do our shopping and errands.

Nighttime, people moving, etc… and I think I had a sausage in my other hand. Sorry, this is the best photo I got.


Apparently this was the 12th year this festival has been running, and it’s a market of about 30 stalls and 3 blocks long. It was a Wednesday night, so we had to pick Sophie up from gymnastics class at school (2 blocks away) and scuttle over there where it was already fully underway.

Sophie said she saw every kid in her class except 2. We enjoyed the stalls and the music, there were school choirs and children’s entertainers. We didn’t buy much at all because we had just spent so much in Bath, and there really wasn’t anything new. I was a little disappointed, as I would have waited for this festival and bought more locally had I known. Well, next year.

But we enjoyed sampling the cheeses!

We were able to grab dinner at a BBQ stall, get give-aways at local traders (Sophie got a big box of 6 full-sized Cadbury bars at a law office!), and enjoy the whole festival with local cheer. Every time we move, we love being able to find these great things to be proud of in our new home town/ neighbourhood area.


The third market we went to wasn’t much- it was the smallest yet. We stopped in at the Christmas Festival at Sophie’s school on Saturday afternoon. I don’t have photos to show due to privacy for all the children present. But I was very impressed with the school’s ability to put on a festival with crafts, games, music, food, stalls, raffles, and prizes. Most importantly– and this is something so important I think we need to bring it to all Canadian school festivals and parties — there was mulled wine.
Yes… to get through a couple hours at a junior school function with children running amok everywhere, I was able to purchase a warm cuppa mulled wine.
This. Is. Just. Civilised.
Every school Christmas concert really needs to have a cash bar – they’d make a mint for the school!!!! And before you get your panties in a knot, NO, I’m not suggesting anyone get drunk around children. Hell, even put a one-glass maximum if you want. But that one glass really helps a parent get through the screaming children/the children singing off key/the waiting for the 400 children that aren’t yours to finish their part so you can watch your own kid for 2 minutes/the putting up with overzealous parents.
Sure, maybe I’m a curmudgeon, but I’m okay with that. School events need wine. This was the best school event I’ve ever been to.

I’m sorry, I wouldn’t have mentioned the last market, because I didn’t have photos, and it was so small, but it really needed a shout out, just for the wine.

Our tree this year in our new home. (With a few new ornaments this year from our travels and the Bath Christmas Market, too!) – I just wanted to share with you! xx



Well we can’t wait until next year or heck- maybe even the following year, when we can make it to Germany for a Christmas market. Now that we know how fun they are and have had a small taste, we will definitely be putting this on our short list and be aiming to get there!

St. Mary’s Church, Redcliffe

Once upon a time, before cars were around and it took three days to travel from one side to the other of modern-day Bristol, Redcliffe was its own thriving port town next to the busy city of Bristol. History notes that there was a lot of rivalry between these two cities (for age-old reasons too numerous and odd to recite here). However, in 2019 Redcliffe is just a part of Bristol, sort of a neighbourhood area marginated on the edge of the river. We’ve driven through and around the area countless times.

One building Redcliffe is famous for is St. Mary’s Church. Its spire is the tallest building in Bristol (at 90m). While we’ve driven past and admired it many times, we’ve never gone in. I was at a charity shop a few weeks ago and found this awesome ink sketch dated 1940 and picked it up. It now hangs in our front hall.

So now it was on our ‘to-do’ list of places to get to, things to explore.

We learned a lot. St. Mary’s was the church where merchant sailors would began and end their journeys, praying at the shrine of Our Lady of Redcliffe.

John Cabot came to St. Mary’s upon his return from his renowned sail to America where he discovered Newfoundland. (There’s a big main road here called Newfoundland Rd, too). He presented St Mary Redcliffe with a whale bone from his journey. It still hangs there today, 500+ years later.

The whale bone is to the right, directly above Sophie’s head.

Beside Sophie is a statue of Queen Elizabeth I, who visited St Mary’s Redcliffe and described it as “the fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church in England”.

In 1997, five-hundred years after Cabot first set sail Eastward, a replica of his ship The Matthew sailed from Bristol on the same journey to commemorate it. The crew of the second Matthew gathered at St Mary’s Redcliffe right before they set sail to pray for a safe journey and receive blessing.

Model of The Matthew over the door of the Church

Here’s some photos of this gorgeous gothic church:

Then we stumbled upon a neat science experiment, right there in the Church, The Chaotic Pendulum.

There were a lot of notes about the building through history since it was built, about various wars and conflicts that threatened the entire structure. Most notable was the Bristol Blitz in WWII. Because Bristol was a hub for both aviation and shipping, it was a prime target for the Nazis and was the 5th most heavily bombed British city in the war. St. Mary’s Redcliffe was right on the flight path of the German Luftwaffe and suffered some minor damage.

During one large raid on Good Friday, April 11, 1941, a huge bomb hit only a block away, and a large chunk of tramline was thrown from the blast over the rooftops of nearby houses and landed in the churchyard. It’s been left there since, as a reminder of how close a call the church had and of how senseless war is.

We enjoyed touring St. Mary’s, exploring a little part of our new hometown, and are happy that we’ve now seen the building behind our lovely hallway picture.

PS- Happy Thanksgiving to all those back home in Canada celebrating this weekend! We miss you! We’re doing a roast chicken and all the trimmings this weekend, and I made Nanaimo bars for dessert and to share with the neighbours. Have a fab turkey day!!!

Caerphilly Castle, Wales

For those of you who didn’t know and haven’t looked at a map, Bristol is right across the River Severn from Wales. Cardiff (the capital of Wales) is only about 25 miles from here. Many people commute between Bristol and Wales every day. Sophie even has classmates who speak Welsh at home with their families! So we thought it was nigh time we ventured west and started exploring Wales!

We first thought of heading to Cardiff Castle, a much more popular tourist attraction; but one of the things we’ve learned by living everywhere is to save some local tourism for when we have visitors. If not, then we not only get tired of touring places we’ve already seen when we take our visitors, but we also get tired of paying for these attractions again and again. Sometimes once you’ve been to an attraction once or twice, you’ve just had enough! So we thought Cardiff Castle would be a fun one to save for when our parents or family visit sometime.

Instead, we saw that not too far from Cardiff was a town called Caerphilly and its claim-to-fame is a large, medieval castle. In fact, Caerphilly castle is the second-largest castle in the UK (second to Windsor Castle).

Caerphilly Castle did not disappoint. In fact, all three of us thoroughly enjoyed it

The castle still has both the outer and inner moat (And they have swans!)
On the bridge over the moat, about to enter the castle

Caerphilly Castle was an excellent tourist attraction. It is a great mix of history and fun. We got 50% off admission due to our English Heritage passes (we get half-price at Welsh and Scottish sites).

One of the first things we encountered was the Dragon’s Lair. It is a beautiful audio and visual attraction that tells us the ancient story of dragons in love at Caerphilly. (Because of course, dragons are inherently attracted to castles). You can read the Cadw Dragon’s Tale here.

Then we took to walking around and exploring. No one can miss the big ‘leaning tower’. This tower once held the kitchen and started falling over in the 17th century but never fully fell over. It now leans more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The above is a wooden statue of the Marquess of Bute, the man who in the 1920s started spending over a hundred thousand pounds of his own money to start restoring the medieval ruins.

Now enjoy the shots of us exploring this awesome castle:

While we were there, we were unable to access a few of the public areas due to a movie filming. I asked what movie and the ticket lady told me it was some Netflix show about King Arthur coming out next year. While we were on the first floor of the main gatehouse, they were filming right below us and we could hear them. We saw actors walking around too. Cool! As I looked around the castle, I couldn’t help but think it really was a perfect location for a movie set!

Sophie in a maze they had at the back, she had a blast going through it.

We spent about 2 hours walking around the castle. Climbing up and down ancient stone circular staircases (that were wet, too! Slippery!) and exploring much of the castle. It was so neat! Then we had a nice picnic lunch on the grounds and then went nuts in the fabulous gift shop – Christmas shopping for my nieces and nephews has started!

This is exactly what we envisioned when planning a move to England – just a random Sunday with no plans and so we were able to hit the road, explore an 800-year-old castle, and be home in about 5 hours total – still with lots of time before supper!
(I keep having to remember to say ‘supper’ and not ‘dinner’, because ‘dinner’ is lunch….. damn upper-Canadian lingo!)
The history and adventure that we can enjoy steps from our house is amazing! We love it!

Terry Fox Run 2019

As some of you may know, Sophie (and us, her parents, by default) does the Terry Fox Run every year.
(If you’re not from Canada and don’t know who Terry Fox is or why we run for him every year, click here for his amazing story).

Thanks to generous family members sponsoring her, Sophie has raised thousands for cancer research since 2013 when she first started her annual run. This year would be her 7th year running.
The Terry Fox Run is held all over the world, but we looked it up and there is no run in England this year. We couldn’t let a year go by without running for Terry, and Sophie didn’t want to miss it!
So we decided to take it upon ourselves to do it solo – but also make it spectacular! Sophie put out the call for donations and raised $475 CDN this year….

….And then we went to Stonehenge…..

At the start of the 2km walk to the stones

Stonehenge is about an hour’s drive from us in Bristol. We made plans to do this on September 15, the day that Terry Fox Runs are held all across Canada. We would have done this rain or shine, but were blessed with gorgeous weather the day-of.

We bought an annual family pass to English Heritage (https://www.english-heritage.org.uk) because with this pass, we get admission to hundreds of sites across England, and (due to a small discount for Eric being in the Forces) it pays for itself within 2 visits to larger sites such as Stonehenge and Tintagel Castle. With this pass and advanced-booking, we got to skip the general admission line and get in much faster, as well as get free audio tours, and free parking.

So back to the Terry Fox Run. Eric did it with Sophie, as he does every year. Due to my MS, I can’t walk that far (1 km uninterrupted is usually my max). So I took the shuttle bus to the stones while they walked and I met them there. But Eric took photos of the walk and I got photos of them nearing the finish line!

Walking through the fields to the stones
That’s them coming across
And here they come up to the ‘finish line’ (ie, the bench I was sitting on waiting for them)

After their ‘official’ walk to the stones, we then got to go see Stonehenge, which is a bit of a walk in itself! (Well, I was tired from it!)

Omnipod insulin pump on full display— Type 1s walking for cancer survivors!!

Right when we were halfway around the stones, we hear Sophie’s Dexcom alarm. She was going low (despite us carb-loading her before the walk with a £3 granola bar from the snack shop in the visitor’s centre!). Luckily, we’ve always got oodles of bars and low treatments on hand (she has some in her bag and I have extras in mine, Eric carries some on his key-chain). She had a granola bar and a few dextrose candies, suspended her insulin for 30 minutes, and she eventually got back up to a better level.
Sophie is in the habit of apologising for having to make us all stop and tend to her as she gets things out of her bag, fiddles with her devices, etc. We always reassure her and have patience. It’s not her fault, diabetes isn’t her fault. We are never mad that she’s gone low or needs medical attention! Even if it is an inopportune moment or time, we’re all okay with taking the time to step out of the way at Stonehenge, sit down on the grass, and tend to her.

Smiles once the BG is stabilising at a healthy level


After our time at Stonehenge we went to lunch and then decided to go to Salisbury to see the grand cathedral, since it was so close and such a beautiful day.

Britain’s tallest spire


Salisbury is a medieval city built around this stunning, huge cathedral. The cathedral houses an original copy of the 1215 Magna Carta (one of only 4). We viewed it – it looked old and indecipherable (my ancient Latin is pretty rusty). But I guess I can say I’ve seen it now.

Can’t take photos of the Magna Carta, but this is the beautiful Chapter House where it is kept


What impressed me more, is that the church also has the world’s oldest working mechanical clock, in use since 1386. There we were, watching it tick away, as it had over 4.4 billion times.

Sophie, with the clock behind her.
Sophie in front of the church Close

The town of Salisbury was adorable too, with bunting everywhere and medieval highlights throughout. We could have stayed for hours or even days, but it was getting late and we needed to start getting back toward Bristol for supper, as it was a school night and we were all getting quite tired from our busy day.



I’m hoping that next year maybe there will be enough interest from other Canadians posted here in the UK for me to organise a Terry Fox Run myself for everyone. They do it at the detachment in Germany and Brussels, but this year I didn’t have it in me to do so soon after moving. But Terry Fox wasn’t in it for the fanfare and the big fame – he just wanted people to do what they could – and I think we helped Sophie honour his memory this year and do the name Terry Fox proud.

Thanks to all who donated to her campaign this year and if you missed it but still want to donate to this amazing charity, you can do so here: http://www.terryfox.ca/sophiepoulin .