London day trip: Anglesey Abbey

London day trip, Anglesey Abbey
London is one of the great cities of the world and you can spend weeks, even years, exploring it. Sometimes, though, it’s good to get out. The towns and countryside near London make for fun day trips and one especially pleasant destination is Anglesey Abbey, six miles northeast of Cambridge.

The Abbey got its start in 1236 when Master Lawrence of St Nicholas sold 600 sheep to pay for the construction of an Augustinian priory. It survived until its 400th birthday, when Henry VIII shut it down as part of his dissolution of the monasteries following his break with Rome and setting up of an independent church.

It then became a stately home and changed hands several times. It was spruced up in the twentieth century by Lord Fairhaven, who installed his large collection of art, remodeled much of the interior while leaving many medieval elements intact, and added a sumptuous garden. He left it to the National Trust when he died in 1966.

The 114 acres of gardens, lawns, wildflower meadows, and wildlife habitats make for a relaxing stroll. In winter months there’s still some color thanks to a special winter garden with 150 perennial plant species. There’s even a working watermill. The interior is preserved from another age, when lordly manors were still common. There’s the drawing room, the banquet room, even his Lordship’s wardrobe. The whole thing looks like something out of Brideshead Revisited.

This week archaeologists announced they had discovered artifacts possibly dating to the Bronze and Iron Ages (1000-100 BC) while excavating at the site of a future parking lot at the Abbey. This pushes the history of the site back many centuries. Once researchers study the artifacts, they hope to set up a display at the Abbey.

The best way to get to Anglesey Abbey, assuming you don’t have a car, is to take a train from London to Cambridge and then the number 10 bus from the station to the Abbey. Click here for more London day trip ideas.

Photo courtesy Martin Pettitt.

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A miniature city from up on high


From high above the city, jusojin captured this time-lapse AND tilt-shift video that miniaturizes the bustling city of Osaka, Japan. Trivializing every aspect of the Osaka hustle provides a toyish cityscape where people are reduced to ants and cars look like turbocharged micro machines in a lavish play-set.

Jusojin shot the video from the roof of the Umeda Sky Building – a two towered structure that boasts a sky garden called the “Floating Garden Observatory,” and an underground market designed to resemble the Osaka of a century ago. With modernity clashing with old school Japan in such a cool location, the 40 floor skyscraper is a must visit in Osaka.

Time Lapse (Umeda Sky Building2011) HD from jusojin on Vimeo.

SkyMall Monday: Mombasa the Garden Giraffe vs. Boris the Bronotosaurus

gadling mombasa the garden giraffe boris the brontosaurus
Here at SkyMall Monday, we love lawn ornaments. By now, you should know about our affinity for the Garden Yeti, his baking abilities and incredibly high threshold for pain. This week, however, we take a look at the two biggest beasts offered up in SkyMall. Rather than litter your lawn an army of tiny Garden Gnomes, it’s time that you allowed your yard to be dominated with a true giant. So, this week, it’s Mombasa the Garden Giraffe vs. Boris the Brontosaurus.

Let’s take a look at how these two fearsome competitors stack up.

gadling skymall monday mombasa the garden giraffe boris the brontosaurus

In a close battle that I wish we could see actually play itself out in a suburban backyard, Boris the Brontosaurus edges out Mombasa the Garden Giraffe the win the title of Best Massive SkyMall Lawn Ornament. However, that’s just our scientific opinion. We want to know which garden monster you prefer.

Vote in our poll and share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Top five best castles of Yorkshire


Yorkshire has always been a troubled region of England. It was on the front line of fighting between the English and the Scots and saw lots of action in the English Civil War, when the forces of Parliament under Oliver Cromwell fought the Royalists supporting King Charles I. Because of this, many castles dot the landscape, including some of the most magnificent the country has to offer. Here are five of the best.

York Castle
Dominating the skyline of the city of York is this unusual fortification, often referred to as Clifford’s Tower. The first fort here was built by the Normans in 1068 and was a motte-and-bailey castle. A wooden stockade and tower sat atop a large artificial mound. Around the base of the mound was another enclosure protected by a moat and wooden stockade. Motte-and-bailey castles were cheap and quick to build and provided sufficient protection against the rather basic siege techniques of the time. The Normans threw up hundreds of these in the years immediately following their conquest of England.

In 1190 the castle sheltered the city’s Jewish population during an antisemitic riot started by a man who owed money to a Jewish moneylender and didn’t feel like paying it back. The castle warden let the Jews hide there, but when he went out to talk to the mob the Jews wouldn’t let him back in, fearing the townsmen would swarm in with him. The warden lost patience and called out the militia, which besieged the castle. The tower caught fire and the Jews committed suicide rather than fall into the hands of the mob. About 500 people died.

Like many motte-and-bailey castles, the wooden tower was eventually replaced with stone, in this case an odd design of four semicircles. The rounded walls helped deflect shots from catapults and in 1644 proved useful against cannon too. Local Royalist forces held out against a Parliamentarian army for several weeks before finally surrendering when it became apparent that no help was coming.

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Raby Castle
Unlike most English castles, this one’s still lived in. It’s been the residence of the Lord Barnard since 1626 but actually was built by the Neville family in the 14th century. In 1569, seven hundred knights gathered in the great hall to plot the overthrow of Queen Elizabeth I and install a Catholic monarch. The Rising of the North, as it was called, was quickly crushed, and many of its leaders executed. The Neville family saw their castle and lands confiscated and the property was eventually transferred to the Barnard dynasty.

While this imposing castle and its beautiful grounds are private property, it is still possible to visit Raby Castle at certain times of the year. The rooms have decorations from various periods and include many fine works of art from famous artists such as Teniers the Younger and Van Dyck. Make sure to take a stroll in the 200 acre deer park, with its own herds of deer that have been grazing here since Norman times.

Raby Castle is actually in County Durham, but it’s a quick drive from York and too good to miss.

Bolton Castle
Less grandiose than Raby Castle, the castle at Bolton is more geared towards defense. Finished in 1399, it looks like a solid block of stone with four square towers. While the walls were good for keeping people out, they were also good for keeping people in. Elizabeth I kept her Catholic rival Mary Queen of Scots here as a prisoner.

During the English Civil War the owner of the castle supported the king. Most of Yorkshire was Royalist, like the city of York itself, so the region became a prime target for the armies of Parliament. A Parliamentary force besieged the castle but, despite having artillery, weren’t able to take it. The defenders held out for a year and only gave up in 1645 after running out of food. The scars from the cannonballs can still be seen.

Skipton Castle
Another strong fortress is Skipton Castle. Like York and Bolton castles, it also withstood a siege during the English Civil War, but this time for three years. Looking at it you can see why. It started out in 1090 as a motte-and-bailey, but soon developed into a massive stone stronghold. So massive, in fact, that nobody dared attack it until those pesky Parliamentarians decided to try their luck in 1643. Not even cannons could break the walls and three years later the Royalist garrison was still holding out. All other Royalist resistance in Yorkshire had crumbled and the defenders finally agreed to an honorable surrender.

Despite its ill treatment at the hands of Oliver Cromwell’s men, Skipton Castle remains one of the best preserved castles in England. The fabulous gatehouse, towers, and Tudor-era courtyard really give a feel for what it was like in the not-so-good old days. It’s all very impressive, but I wouldn’t want to be stuck there for three years!

Ripley Castle
Like Raby Castle, Ripley Castle is a private residence but open to the public. This stately home been in the Ingilby family since it was built in 1309. It’s amazing they managed to hold onto it considering they remained committed Catholics when England became Protestant. One Ingilby was executed in 1586 for inciting a Catholic rebellion. Other members of the family were important members in the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, who persecuted Catholics. The family played a very dangerous political game but they were good at it. They even had a secret room for their priest to hide in so nobody knew they were still keeping the old faith. They also had a hand in the Gunpowder Plot to blow up James I and all of Parliament and make England Catholic again. Even after the plot failed and Guy Fawkes was executed they still managed to wriggle their way out of trouble and keep their castle.

Ripley Castle is famous for its beautiful gardens and deer park as well as its historic interior. You’ll see a room that used to be a British navy ship, a sumptuous dining room, and take in sweeping views of the countryside from the drawing room. The library is much as it was when Jane Ingilby held Oliver Cromwell at gunpoint and took him prisoner. Cromwell escaped, of course, yet despite him leading the Parliamentary forces to victory and taking power, the family still kept their castle!

SkyMall Monday: Slug Trap

This is the time of year when we all stop focusing on which sweatpants are most comfortable for when we’re watching TV and begin thinking about tending to our gardens. Am I right or am I right? From flowers to herbs to fruits and vegetables, it’s time for us all to thaw out our green thumbs. Those tomatoes aren’t going to grow upside down by themselves.

As we all look at our neglected patches of grass and soil, barren and ravaged from another long winter, we must develop solid plans for rejuvenation. In the past, SkyMall Monday taught you how to fend off one villain of the gardener with the Solar Powered Mole Repeller. Today, however, we direct our attention to an even more dastardly scourge of the backyard: slugs.

Slugs have wreaked havoc on human gardens since the dawn of time.* Don’t let their speed (or lack thereof) fool you. Slowly, methodically and with blatant disregard for all that we hold dear, slugs destroy gardens for no other reason than they just find destruction so erotically thrilling.** But how can one lowly gardener battle such an epic beast? For those of us who have tried to defeat slugs with traditional methods such as guerrilla warfare, trade embargoes and verbal abuse, we know that they are resilient. Thankfully, I’ve called in reinforcements. Leave it to SkyMall to finally figure out how to defeat our slug overlords. This week, we’re unleashing the Slug Trap.Slugs may be slow, but they are crafty. They lure you into a false sense of security and then strike when you least expect it. After a summer rain, you will often see slugs scattered around your yard seemingly overcome by the deluge. However, they are simply absorbing the Earth’s life force through the water.*** Strengthened and emboldened, the slugs unleash fire and brimstone on your flowers and crops. This is not only disheartening, it is life-threatening. For those of us New York City residents who rely on our gardens to sustain us through the long winter months, a slug attack in the summer can mean starvation for our elderly and children come winter.

Think that slugs can just be stepped on or ignored? Think that some salt will solve your problems? I bet you never had to stare a slug in the eye and wait until he blinked first. But, I’ll humor you (not that there is anything funny about slugs in your garden). Let’s take a look at the product description:

Slugs and snails can do a lot of damage in your garden, so use this charming slug trap to stop them in their tracks. No chemicals needed — simply bury the stem of the resin mushroom slug trap into the ground and add a few tablespoons of sugar water or your favorite beer to the tray inside. Instead of chewing on your plants, these destructive pests will be lured inside the slug trap where they’ll meet their end out of sight.

Beer is supposed to make you stronger, wittier and more attractive. The fact that beer kills slugs is proof that they are evil incarnate. And when evil incarnate is finally vanquished by beer and/or sugar water, it is best that they expire out of sight. Since slugs have no souls, their carcasses can turn humans to stone.****

Look, if you think you’re so smart, you can ignore the slug occupation and stand idly by as they destroy your garden, steal your wife and eat your children. But don’t come knocking on my slug shelter when your garden is overrun by those slimy angels of death. You’re on your own, buddy. I’m going to defend myself with the Slug Trap.

* Mike Barish does not employ a fact checker.
** Mike Barish has a wild imagination.
*** Mike Barish was never much of a biology expert.
**** Mike Barish may have dementia.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.