Monthly Archives: August 2016
Nothing says summertime like packing a picnic and driving off in your automobile for a jaunt into the countryside.
In addition to the sandwiches and iced-tea, don’t forget to bring swimming attire in case you have clear skies long enough for a dip in the lake or swimming hole.
This summer I did just that with my family and we had a splendid time. We set out for Elora, Ontario, which offers a quaint village for sightseeing and shopping, the Elora Gorge for hiking and exploring, and an old swimming hole.
We had variable weather on the day we visited, so we started with a hike down the stone steps into the gorge, taking in the unusual tree roots, rock formations and fossils. We splashed through the shallow water and explored the caves on the other side of the gorge.
Elora Gorge and caves
After a walk through the village and a browse in a few of the shops, we drove to the other side of town to the quarry where we enjoyed our picnic lunch. The swimming quarry and conservation area includes picnic tables, a sandy beach area and is encircled by sheer cliffs up to 12 metres (40 feet) high.
The Elora Quarry, originally a limestone quarry, is spring-fed by the nearby Grand River. The quarry didn’t become a conservation area until 1976, but it was a popular swimming spot long before that. Upon visiting I could see why.
Even if the air is cool the water in the quarry retains the heat from the sun, making for a refreshing and relaxing swim. Granted, you must tread carefully when wading through the water due to the remaining quarry rocks under the surface, and since the depth can change quickly, but once you’re in the water you quickly get the hang of it and can enjoy the novelty of swimming in a natural setting.
This was my first trip to a swimming quarry and I dare say it won’t be my last!
Hearing Diana Gabaldon speak at the Fergus Scottish Festival recently was inspiring and motivating.
When I started reading the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon in 2000, they stoked my love of historical fiction. I was instantly a fan, drawn into her world inspired by the melding of historic Scotland at the time of the Jacobite Rising of 1745 and England during the Second World War. Outlander and its subsequent series took me back in time, vividly experiencing the plot through the eyes of heroine Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser. Suddenly, I eagerly anticipated my long public transit commutes because it meant another opportunity to immerse myself in the story. I often fantasized about a future movie or TV series since the books were so detailed, but at that time, despite being best sellers and Outlander being optioned several times for scripts, the Outlander TV series was not to be for at least another decade.
After I attended Gabaldon’s 2001 The Fiery Cross book tour and had the opportunity to meet the gracious author, I was reminded of my own interest in writing fiction. Following this I felt inspired and slowly brushed up on my creative writing skills with short poems and journal writing. When I later moved and reconnected with my roots and hometown history, I again took up the pen, taking it a step further by writing short stories and adding historical research into the mix. Then came the Eldon House ghost story research and the rest is, well, history…although it’s certainly not the end! More on that sometime later…
For the last several years, I’ve kept an eye out for news on the inspiring Gabaldon and have enjoyed the Outlander TV series that finally came to fruition. It was worth the wait!
Over the years, Diana Gabaldon has been the featured author at the Fergus Scottish Festival in Ontario. I’ve been promising myself for the past year or two that I would go the very next time the opportunity came up. Luckily the stars aligned! Despite finding out on very short notice, I recently got my chance to attend her session at the festival.
Hearing her speak about her characters, the plot, time travel and the TV series, as well as her research and creative writing process was fascinating and motivating. Seeing Diana Gabaldon in person again a decade later reminded me of how exciting it was when I first experienced her books and how characters really come alive in historical fiction when research is thorough and creativity is embraced.
I love research and writing historical fiction because I think it’s what one would expect time travel to be like…a choose-your-own-adventure type of experience. As a reader you follow the course that the author sets out for you and along the way you can use your own historical knowledge and imagination to enhance the experience. As a writer, you get to play an advanced game of connect the dots, making up what you don’t know but using historical bits as a framework. And while sometimes such time travel can take longer than expected when the research takes you deep down the rabbit hole, it’s always a ride worth the price of admission.
What’s even better than having tea at home? A Downton Abbey tea party at a historic museum, complete with vintage clothing of course! I’ve been very lucky to attend two of these, so here’s a little taste of the experience.
How to Downton
Before you leave the house you’ll have effectively strewn most of your wardrobe onto your bed or floor and found those items from your collection that make you feel like you’d be right at home at Highclere Castle. But nevermind the mess, you can pretend for the moment that your staff has it covered, meanwhile you can clean it up post-tea party to burn off the calories!
For ladies, depending on the era you wish to embody, your outfit for the day might include a tightly laced corset and head to toe early 1900s threads, or you may lean towards more trendy and recent times like the 1920s or 30s, offering looser clothing… besides, who doesn’t have a sleeveless dress and a pair of evening gloves just waiting to be taken out for a spin? And if you don’t here’s an excuse to go find them! A cloche hat will do nicely, or a wide brimmed hat with flowers is also a nice touch. This is a great opportunity to phone a friend and see what they’ve got in their closet, sharing items is great fun and saves your pocket-book!
Gentlemen can have plenty of fun with their duds too…black pants, white shirt with a vest, blazer/jacket or tuxedo tails if you really want to go for it…and why not break out a bow tie or that fancy cravat in a bold pattern or colour! Got a pocket square or handkerchief? Throw that in too. Like hats? This is your lucky day! Pop it on your noggin…just be sure to raise it now and then to the ladies.
Etiquette for hats and gloves? Ladies can leave their hats on the whole time if they’d like especially for a daytime event, even when eating, while gents should remove upon entering the building or at the very least whilst eating. Got gloves? Remove them when eating, however ladies with long gloves can keep them on, although using utensils is highly recommended for obvious reasons!
If it’s at a museum or heritage site, you’ll likely be ushered into a community room, or in my case, the carriage house at Eldon House. When I’ve attended these types of events, we were welcomed in the entranceway and then led into the tea room. Once you’ve been announced you can proceed to your table, set with pretty tea things and hopefully name cards indicating the seating arrangements.
Taking it all in
Once seated at the tea table, it’s a good idea to do a quick check to ensure all is still intact with your ensemble, since wearing vintage items can have unique challenges. Cloche hat tweaked to the side, hair pins and coiffure patted back in place, jewelry in check to ensure nothing has moved or unfastened.
After confirming you’re not falling to pieces, you can take a closer look at the name cards at your table, get to know others nearby, or do a tour of the room if there’s sufficient space which is a great excuse to mingle.
Tea parties are especially fun when they’re lovingly planned with attention to detail. At the event I attended the organizers really got into it, right down to framed photos of characters from Downton, delicate china cups and saucers, tea strainers for loose leaf tea, including servers dressed in period appropriate uniforms with aprons who were excellent at staying in character for the party. We were delighted by the creative table cards and the little satchets of tea that were given as mementos of the occasion.
Time for tea
At a tea party such as this, you can be on the lookout for the first course which will usually be a small sweet or savoury item. But first, you’ll sort out your tea situation…most importantly confirm where your cup sits in relation to the table set up. Tea may be brought over in a pot for your table and the server will tell you what kind and whether it is fully steeped or not. Teas served were special blends from a local tea shop, but in general Orange Pekoe, Earl Grey, Berry blend and a Signature tea. As the tea is being poured, this is it’s good to note where the sugar and cream are located on the table so that you know who to ask and where to reach for it when the time comes.
The food served with our tea was lovely, even vegan palates were accommodated, although a vegan scones can be hard to come by. First was a light almond biscuit, followed by a savory small sandwich or roll. Then came the fancy sweets, and lastly fruit.Tea time lasted nearly an hour with lots of great conversation with friends new and old.
What to do
Entertainment at this Downton themed tea party included watching highlights from an episode and bloopers from the show. A guessing game was created as well, about character traits, plot details and who said what scenarios… very fun when done in teams. Suddenly everyone in the room got highly competitive! Prizes were awarded to the winning team. Our table didn’t win the game, but we had a great deal of fun.
A visit to a heritage site also provides its own entertainment, so don’t forget to tour the grounds and museum or any exhibits they may have. Even if you’ve been there before, it’s even more fun to connect with a historic location when you’re in period appropriate clothing.
The Downton tea event was a smashing good time and my husband and I even left with some fun prizes for best attire (otherwise known as best costume). I’m continuing to enjoy the treats from the prize basket including teas, a china cup, 2 excellent Downton Abbey books and our very own miniature model of Highclere Castle. They’re great reminders of a lovely day.