Today the United States celebrates Thanksgiving while we in the UK go about what is known as Thursday. I have found explaining this holiday to friends in the UK quite difficult, but I suppose it can be summed up as Christmas without the gift-giving and based loosely on a historical event (very loosely). It is also a chance for couples to practice their arguments ahead of Christmas about whose family they will be spending the holiday with.
Only slightly less tongue-in-cheek, Thanksgiving in America today involves family, food, and football (of the American variety of course), with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade thrown in for good measure (although how they’re going to be impacted by the helium shortage is anyone’s guess). It prompts some of the busiest travel day of the year in the United States, as people hop on planes, trains, automobiles, buses, and most likely watercraft to get to wherever they need to be to spend the day with family and friends (and then cause the same travel chaos in reverse a few days later).
Children are taught about the first Thanksgiving at school as an event involving the Pilgrims, portrayed as refugees escaping religious persecution, and the Native Americans, who taught them how to survive in a new land, sitting down together to enjoy a feast and give thanks for the harvest. Until the age of 10 or 11, this time of year sees students creating feathered headdresses, buckled hats, and handprint turkeys, giving the impression that headgear and wild fowl are of prime importance to the celebrations.
The reality of the first Thanksgiving in 1621 is nowhere near as clear-cut as textbooks would like us to believe. Instead, much of what we “know” originates in the 19th century and appears to be based on a centuries-long game of telephone (UK readers: Chinese whispers). Yet at its core is thankfulness, so I would like to use today’s blog post to share a few things I am thankful for: MrElaineous, who lets me use this pseudonym for him and doesn’t mind me sharing our adventures with the wider world; those of you who take the time to read this blog (hello, mom and dad!); and a UK institution that manages to tick all of those boxes up there in my tagline (travel & nature & history & tea).
The National Trust was established in 1895 by Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter, and Hardwicke Rawnsley, and in the intervening 120 years has grown to become one of the UK’s leading charities looking after the country’s historic properties and protecting areas of beautiful countryside. If you have been following along on social media, you’ll have seen photos recently from one of the jewels of the Trust, the incredible landscape gardens of Stourhead.
These gardens have their origin in the mid-18th century when they were designed by Henry Hoare II at the beginning of the landscape garden movement. It’s easy to see the inspiration of the aristocratic Grand Tour in its construction, with buildings like the Pantheon, Temple of Flora, and Temple of Apollo seemingly take directly from the landscape paintings that were popular souvenirs of the time. Indeed, perhaps one of the most photographed views in the whole of the National Trust is looking across the lake to the Pantheon, itself a miniature replica of the one in Rome and full of statues of Roman gods and heroes.
In looking back through the blog posts I published this year, it is clear that the National Trust has played an incredible role in shaping my travel experience, and I have definitely gotten my membership’s worth throughout 2018!
Brockhampton Estate: This massive estate has a medieval manor house at its heart, complete with moat and gatehouse. The Trust restored each room to a different time period, really giving the visitor the feeling of time travel as they proceed through the building.
Berrington Hall: It was an incredibly friendly volunteer at Brockhampton that encouraged MrElaineous and I to investigate Berrington Hall, which was Lancelot “Capability” Brown’s final completed commission. This kicked off what has become known in our household as the “Year of Capability Brown” as it feels like we’ve stalked him across various English counties.
Croome Court: Of all the properties visited this year, this one has probably been through the most changes, from family house to school to Hare Krishna centre and back to family house! It’s claim to fame, however, is being the first major commission for landscape architect Lancelot “Capability” Brown and architect/interior designer Robert Adams, and let’s just say that its “Expect the unexpected” tagline is incredibly accurate.
Coleridge Cottage: “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink”: these famous lines were penned by the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge at a small cottage in Somerset, and MrElaineous and I found it quite an accurate description after a sudden downpour!
Castle Drogo: It isn’t just Americans who bend the past to suit them. Castle Drogo was constructed in the early 20th century by Julian Drewe, who adopted an illustrious pedigree to go with his modern castle, built to medieval Norman specifications. Unfortunately medieval Norman specifications were not a good match for 20th century British weather and the castle has leaked from the moment it was built. Cutting-edge scaffolding and an ambitious building project has seen the Trust work towards making the building watertight, and it was fascinating to take to the heights to learn more about it.
Lytes Cary Manor: This medieval house in Somerset was lived in by the same family for 500 hundred years. Its garden is absolutely stunning, and the National Trust was hosting some incredibly cute tenants during my visit.
Mompesson House: This former family home has one of the best views of Salisbury Cathedral as well as a glass collection that has somehow managed to survive several centuries of use. I’m not usually one to fawn over bric-a-brac, but the social and political commentary encoded into beautiful drinking vessels has to be seen to be believed.
The Courts: Although a fairly local property, I must admit I haven’t visited this lovely garden as often as I should. Having the chance to visit during the height of summer was a real treat, and worth it just to see the dragonflies put on an aerial display.
I hope the travel & nature & history is obvious somewhere in all of these, but I had a friend ask me recently about the tea. I confess I don’t write about it as often as I should, despite it being a drink that powers much of my day. But most National Trust properties have a café or tearoom, which is the perfect place to sit with a cuppa to warm your hands on cold days, stay hydrated on warm ones, and enjoy a tasty treat regardless of the weather. So even though it isn’t explicit, there is a strong current of tea running throughout all of these visits, and it is yet another thing I am thankful for.
So, there is just one more thing left for me to do: wish a very happy Thanksgiving to my American readers and, to those in the UK, have a wonderful Thursday.