Tag Archives: history

From East to West – The Road Trip Days, Part 1


Memphis to Oklahoma

From New Orleans in Louisiana to Mesa, Arizona with various detours has taken us about 2,500 miles across this vast continent. Very little time has been spare for such matters as blogging so I’ve got rather a lot to fill you in with now, from my room in Flagstaff while the other four members of Team Dean sleep quietly around me.

We bounced into Memphis and it was sooo cool! Sadly the Civil Rights Museum was just closing when we arrived but they have a fantastic interpretation display outside the incredibly persevered Lorraine Motel, where Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated. It’s a truly humbling experience and we used it as an opportunity to discuss race issues and inequality with Alfie… a little beyond him I know but good to introduce young in my view… lest we forget.


Standing in front of the Lorraine Motel is a humbling experience. An opportunity to reflect on our history, mistakes and hope for the future.

If you’re going to visit Graceland then check into the Days Inn across the street. It’s cheap and totally what you would expect from a hotel next door to Elvis’ place. With a guitar shaped pool and tacky memorabilia everywhere you get the chance to meet all the other real life pilgrims making their way to this iconic, bordering on ironic, place.


The guitar pool at Days Inn, Memphis. It was freezing but Alfie braved it and jumped in.

Graceland is unexplainable and quite honestly I don’t want to attempt it as you need to visit this place for yourself. We aren’t particular fans of Elvis, which admittedly resulted in us feeling somewhat like frauds or fakes amongst the silver haired worshippers, who needed to don their reading glasses every time we changed the number on our audio tour gadgets. The children were under stricked instructions not to ask who Elvis was whilst there. We had tested them repeatedly with the various Elvis pictures in the hotel room the night before but alas, by the morning they had forgotten and we were nervous of being caught out as intruders.


Graceland, surprisingly understated and homely.

Graceland tickets

Tickets to Graceland… keepers for the scrap book!

It really didn’t matter though. That place is spectacular! The house is uber cool with it’s mirrored ceilinged TV room, the Jungle room and the humble kitchen and sitting room. It’s a home. And it’s a reflection of the man, undoubtedly an interesting character regardless of personal favour for his music. If you do find yourself making the journey one day then definitely get the ticket to the aeroplane and car museum too… They were so fun. His private jet, bigger than many a house with it’s bedroom, dinning room, bathrooms, sitting rooms, all complete with gold plated seat belt buckles is like a dream, it doesn’t seem real, except you can walk through it and touch it and it is real. The car museum is a super fun time machine housing the most spectacular vintage vehicles from pink Cadillacs to toy snow mobiles altered to run on grass, Ferrari’s to a John Deere tractor – That man enjoyed his toys!


Inside Graceland

Elvis cars and plane

Elvis’s toys. His plane, Lisa-Marie and a few of his cars

We had really hoped to visit the Sun Studios but sadly children under 6 aren’t allowed in so it was off the agenda for us and by lunchtime we were crossing the Mississippi into Arkansas. A quick flick through the Rough Guide I’m increasingly relying on these days and we were detouring off the interstate down to a town called Hot Springs to visit the Fordyce Bathhouse, a Victorian spa. It was pretty fascinating to see the old tubs and it’s been impressively persevered. The town was a quirky place, long past it’s hey day when the rich and famous flocked there for it’s waters. It reminded me very much of Matlock Baths in Derbyshire, in as much as it was a Victorian holiday town struggling to maintain it’s tourism, encouraging the motorcyclists and hippies who naturally came for it’s surrounding beauty… I liked it! I didn’t like the revolting meal we attempted to eat at a little café there, ergh… shudder. That’s the last time I order Gumbo outside of New Orleans!


The gym at the spa reminded me of my days at a convent school with much of the same Victorian equipment, probably still in use now!

We decided to press on after dinner and drive as far as we could. With a film on for the kids and full tummies we made it past Fort Smith and stopped further down interstate ready for an early start the next day.

The early start didn’t seem to happen quite right though. We got up early enough and realised that we had paid as much for a room with no wifi or breakfast as we had the night before for both plus board – a rookie mistake we won’t make again. I scouted out the gas station opposite for sustainable and to improve the mood of the children but alas it was poor pickings. We packed up and headed for the Interstate, hopeful that the next junction or so would offer more appealing options. It did. We found a fantastic little diner, kitted out in true Route 66 funky glory… and then waited for what seemed like forever for the chef to cook a couple of eggs and some slices of toast! Man it took ages… by the time we set off again it was mid morning and we felt frustrated, vowing only to stay places where breakfast can be swiftly dealt with in our own time frame.


No breakfast served here!

Pressing on to Wednesday’s detour we headed North of the interstate, now in the state of Oklahoma. This beautiful dive took us closer to the Great Plains and we arrived at Woolaroc after lunch. There was a fun play park for the kids to burn some energy and there was what must surely be the most impressive museum and art gallery in this region of the States. The paintings and sculptures were utterly captivating and despite Patrick’s best efforts to ruin this little excursion (I’m sure they have an organised rota for their turns at being utter monsters) Alfie, Rob and I learned lots about the Native American history in the region from the fascinating artefacts and accompanying interpretation. If you are even vaguely near this place then detour to it.

Artefacts from Woolaroc

From top left, An Indian headdress, Stone axes, a fire drill and shrunken heads – warrior trophies!

We left after ice lollies and pressed South again to the interstate, stopping my a creek to get the kids into pyjama’s and making a cup of tea on the stove so as to drive on later and make some miles up around Oklahoma City. We made it to the edge of the city to a room with Wifi and breakfast. I did a couple of hours of work and slept well.


Sugar Slaves, Swamps and Coca Cola


“She had the idea that, as slaves were expensive, she would grow her own. She went to the market and bought five men and twenty women. Within ten years she had her first crop of young slaves.”

“If their daughter was to run the plantation as it’s president then she must be talented, accomplished and above all, beautiful. When she was 15 years old she broke out in acne. Distraught, her mother found out about a ground breaking new treatment in Paris for acne and so they sent their young daughter over seas to receive it. The marvellous French doctor injected her with the wondrous treatment – whatever it was – the single dose killed her”.

The Laura Plantation had a powerful impact on me… I’m still digesting and trying to manage my frustration and anger that in the last two hundred or so years we really haven’t progressed enough. The first story may not be common place these days although it still happens, it is thankfully considered abominable by all but the very worst sort of humans imaginable… but the later, well, it’s more common now than ever. It’s bordering on the norm in first world countries and is actively encouraged by most facets of society. Anyway, not wishing to linger on such odious topics I shall move on.


The Creole House at the Laura Plantation

The following day we had booked a swamp tour with Pearl River Eco Tours on their 6 man boat. Despite Orla’s impressive effort to absolutely ruin it we had an incredible time. Up close with alligators we had a wonderfully knowledgeable Cajun guide whose love and passion for the Louisiana swamps was both infectious and satisfying. I had hoped for better pictures but am actually very happy with these knowing full well how hard it was to take them. Not just in a swaying boat but one handed while my legs engulfed Orla, preventing her determined attempts to dive into the alligator infested waters and my other hand was continuously stuffing snacks into her unbelievably loud and aggressive mouth – jaws like a snapping turtle I swear!


An alligator silently moving through the water



A monster of an alligator lurking in a pond. They are so well camouflaged it’s amazing.


A little warbler in the swamp

This boat was carried 20 miles by hurricane Katrina before being deposited here where is it now home to a host of turtles, birds and other inhabitants. The swamps are so beautiful, peaceful and intriguing habitats. I’ve never been in a swamp before but I definitely want to explore more of them, and in greater depth in the future.


The power of Katrina, this boat was brought to rest from 20 miles away!


The swamp. An oozingly beautiful and ancient habitat with thousand year old trees dripping in lichen. Utterly still and peaceful, luckily this was the one part of the tour Orla was quiet and calm for… I’m grateful for that.

After the swamp tour and an incredible Cajun feast nearby we pressed northward again. I rapidly got bored of the interstate and frustrated that we were probably missing out on far more interesting places on the slower roads running parallel. So we detoured and ended up in the wonderful town of Vicksburg. Not only does it boast an incredible position towering over the Mississippi River but the result of it’s position means it has a rich history of Civil War battles. The old part of the town has been beautifully preserved and strolling along the sun warmed streets infused with jazz music from secret flowerbed speakers we decided interstate detours are going to be an essential part of our planning from now on!


It’s seat above the Mighty Mississippi


Interesting architecture in Vicksburg makes for a beautiful historic town


The classic American façade.

The next morning we visited the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum where the world best known brand was first bottled. Being the mean sort of parents that we are two of our three children had never tried Coke before and Alfie only had when he went out with someone else’s parents and got bought some! So we decided that it was time they tried some of the iconic tonic – plus we wanted some and it seemed a little too unfair not to let them have some too. Rob and I tried the original sugar cane type and the kids got the modern syrup made sort.


Coca Cola was first bottled in Vicksburg in 1894


You got to get a bottle of Coke after looking around the museum… it would be wrong not to!


Patrick trying his first bottle of Coca-Cola

Orla polished off the bottle, Patrick had most of one until a burp came out his nose, made his eyes water and shocked him into a strange fear of the fizz, and Alfie enjoyed the first few swigs but like his mother isn’t much of a soda pop fan anyway – we both passed ours over to Rob to finish off and we all burped our way back to the car for the next leg of the Journey… bouncing our way into Graceland, Graceland, Memphis Tennessee… Poor boys and pilgrims and families (that’s us), we’re all going to Graceland.


Washington DC


The Grand Hyatt in the centre of Washington DC is just wonderful! A stones throw from the White House and Capitol Hill it could not be more child friendly and generally welcoming. Which is lucky because when we rocked up in our crazy child filled car with a roof box on which needed dismantling and storing separately in order to fit in the tight city car park, a friendly welcome and patient help was just what we needed… and got.


The Old Post Office is soon to be turned into a Hotel. The view from the top of it’s tower is amazing.

Yesterday we visited the National Museum of American History. With three tired children and time limited by an appointment with our bank we just picked a couple of areas that interested us and wizzed round them. Having just watched the TV series Revolution it was fun exploring the section about Edison and invention of the light bulb. We also went around the transport section and got to see original Model T’s. In the Naval section we learned about the slave ships and also about pirates. Here are four facts about pirates that we learned:

  1. They don’t tend to go “Arrrgggghhhhhh” – that myth is thanks to a couple of pirate films
  2. They did have parrots. Not generally on their shoulders but certainly lots in cages on their ships
  3. They did drink lots and lots of rum, all the time.
  4. They didn’t make people walk the plank… again from films, the reality of the tortures and murders they committed where far more violent and gruesome.

Today we visited the Lincoln Memorial and the visitor centre at the U.S. Capitol. It’s hard not to be impressed by the stunning architecture of these important places. But more impressive is the history, which by UK standards is virtually yesterday. Appreciating what this young nation has achieved in such a short time helps us understand the current psyche of the people here. Given what they have overcome for their freedom, just a few generations ago, it is easy to understand their obsession with independence and personal liberty.


The Capitol


The Capitol (sunny side)

I am impressed by their humble, open discussion of the more shameful parts of their history, in particularly the slavery which built so much of the country. Far from shying away from it they openly talk about it and display the brutal facts, lest we should forget. They admit to the columns of the Capitol having been created by slaves and the statue of Rosa Parks is clearly their most prized piece within the building which buzzes with statues of impressive figures. The UK is not quite so willing to openly discuss their atrocities and that’s a problem with our nation as to better our selves we must learn from the past, not deny it. People will always make mistakes but we can strive to be better.


Rosa Parks… the most famous statue in the Capitol. People visit just to see this statue. Today is International Women’s Day so a particularly special day to see this work of such a great woman.


Emancipation is a major theme in the Capitol buildings


The Lincoln Memorial. Alfie asked if he was really that big!

The Lincoln Memorial is equally overwhelming and inspiring. It’s purpose is clear and effective as you can’t help but leave utterly determined for equality….

Okay so I’ve just been totally distracted from blog writing by a knock on our hotel room door… Our waitress from dinner sent us up a card with a bottle of wine and some cakes and desserts! How wonderful.

And now I’ve been distracted by Orla having done explosive diarrhoea all over her cot… Housekeeping brought new sheets but have to come back for the s**t covered stuff… nightmare…

Signing off to finish sorting poo bed clothes and cracking the wine open after that! I’m rather lost my train of thought on Lincoln and Rosa Parks but I’m sure I’ll pick up the tread again in the next few weeks. Now I’ll leave you with this rather interesting photograph I took today… Bon poo et bon nuit


Vertical Rocks and Waterfalls


These mountains are ancient. It’s a pretty abstract concept of mountains being “born” hundreds of millions of years ago and it’s hard to imagine really isn’t it? Well step into the Smoke Hole Caverns in West Virginia, walk on a third of a mile into the depth of these ancient mountains and you can step back in time to the moment it happened. You can witness with your own mortal eyes the incredible power of the Earths crust and it’s ability to create mountains.

We had noticed the curved, rainbow shaped rocks outside our cabin (pictured above) but didn’t understand just what we were looking at. Inside the caves, two miles from the cabin you see vertical rocks which once laid flat. Pushed up by the collision of plates which united America with Africa they are awe spelling and memorising. Walking on through the active caves we find the room of a million stalactites and the worlds longest (known) ribbon stalactite as well as a rare cave coral.


largest ribbon stalactite


Gigantic column


Beautiful wall of columns


Rare cave coral, more commonly found in underwater caves in New Zealand

The caves history includes interesting tales of Senca Indians smoking their meats, a gruesome hospital ward for Civil War injuries and an ingenious site for moonshining and white lightening production.

We also got a great view of a couple of bats hanging upside down in the, surprisingly warm, cave. (I’m so sorry I forgot my camera so the pictures are from Alfie’s camera which I commandeered!). The lady who guided us through the caves was so enthusiastic, knowledgeable and engaging and the kids really enjoyed it. Absolute pitch black was a first time experience for the boys and we spotted a frog in one of the streams.

After the caves we drove on to the Blackwater Falls National Park to see the waterfalls there and I did take my camera this time. It was a nice short walk to the viewing platform and we identified some animal tracks along the way – Patrick’s favourite being his own!


Blackwater Falls

In other news, we also had our first snowy campfire of the trip and cooked some yummy creamy chicken in a dutch oven. We also finally dropped off the travel bug we picked up back in Wales into a geocache here in the Mountains so it can explore America and clock up some miles. It’s been difficult to do sooner due to the heavy snow hiding all the caches we’ve attempted!


First snowy campfire of the trip


A fishing lure retrieved from the geocache we dropped Mr Frogglesworth off at

Windsor Castle


My 94 year old great aunt Lorna resides in Windsor so we took a trip there to see her before we head off. While in Windsor we decided to visited the Castle, which despite having grown up just a few miles away I only have vague memories of and only visited once or twice before. So we headed to the Queens house for a nosey about…

Well we were impressed, what a fantastic day out and an amazing history lesson for the kids! The bad first… It’s expensive (unless you live local, then it’s free). It cost us £48 pounds as a family ticket, at that price Rob was hoping for roller coasters. You have to go through security like at the airport so don’t accidentally leave your pen knife in your pocket or nail scissors in your purse.

Once you are through the payment and security barriers though it’s pretty much all good. The weather was great but if it wasn’t then you would need waterproofs as there is a lot of outdoors before the indoors. We whizzed around the dolls house as that wasn’t so up our street but the State Apartments are “Epic” as Alf said repeatedly.

Mega swords, daggers, guns, cannons, bayonets, suits of amour and every sort of historic war weapons adorn the rooms. Huge banquet tables and the queens throne impress the children and in every room you really must look up… Kids love cool ceilings! The history of the 1,000 year old castle is just wonderful, images of knights and dragons abound and capture your imagination. Wars fought, lives lost, dramas and mysteries involving kings, conquerors, princesses, politicians, peasants and all the other people who have lived and died within these impenetrable walls. In some places they are 4 metres thick and there is a secret passage too.

The staff around the Castle were really nice and helpful and there is a free cloak room for your pushchair and coats. You have to check in your pushchair but they lend you a sling or hip seat for free… A much appreciated service.

Warning: the banisters are very polished so if sliding down them you can really pick up some speed… Fun as that may be watch for metal poles at the bottom which can result in tears, bruising and a cool story.

We headed out into the sunshine to nurse the banister sliding injuries and watched the guards changing posts (not the full changing of the guards sadly as that’s alternate days in winter). They are a little scary, the guards, with their clicky shoes and guns with daggers on. But they are appealing to watch marching around and surprisingly young (or perhaps I’m getting kind of old?).

St George’s Chapel is a beautiful church within the grounds which houses the various remains of historical figures. One in particular captures my imagination – King Henry VIII. The whole Tudor period really does it for me and I love learning about it to enrich my imagination of the time and lives of the medieval people. So when the chap there offers to show us the seat the Queen sits in and let’s us have a sit on it… Then announces that they all sat there, even Henry VIII, well oh my giddy aunt (not aunty Lorna, she’s not very giddy)… I was pretty chuffed to be sitting on a seat which had been sat on by Henry VIII with my very own rump – I’d say that was worth the £48 alone!

A visit in the winter months is well worth the effort as it was relatively quiet. I should imagine in Summer and school holidays it must be heaving. We bought the children’s book which is well written and interesting and I’m feeling like I can put a nice big tick next to history for Alfie’s homeschooling this week.

I’m sorry to say that after my fantastic photography lesson yesterday I actually forgot to take my camera out today so the pictures are all from my phone. It is very photogenic though and I’d be keen to return just to photograph it more, the angles and shapes are just fantastic. I also can’t seem to disperse pictures throughout the post from my iPad so they are all below.

Tomorrow we lose the hire care and head to London. On Monday we will visit the science museum to learn about the moon.










Carreg Cennen Castle – Wales


We went to Wales this weekend to visit friends. Setting off straight from school we made the 3.5hr journey in one go thanks to a well packed picnic and the ingenious TravelJohns
 I recently discovered. They prevented no less than three separate toilet stops and the boys thought it was hilarious!

Our friends live just off the M4 yet on the edge of the Brecon Beacons and Carreg Cennen Castle was a short drive across moorland and through valleys which reminded me of our pre-children hikes in the Peak District – intriguingly alternative to the Cornish hedges and green hills down here.

Built upon a huge limestone crag nearly 90 metres above the river Cennen the Castle has utilised the natural defensive qualities of it’s position. It dominates the skyline from miles around and it’s easy to imagine why people dating as far back as the iron age occupied it as a stronghold.

View from the arrow loops.

View from the arrow loops.

The Castle as seen now was build in stages during the end of the 13th Century and start of the 14th Century and has a bloody history of battles and wars, including the Wars of the Roses (1455-85). However it was deliberately ruined in the Summer of 1462 on behalf of the Yorkist king, Edward IV, who had just won it back from the a Lancastrian supporter, Gruffudd ap Nicholas who was using it as a garrison. They destroyed it so it would not be used by the enemy again. It has laid there in ruin ever since.

Interior at Carreg Cennen Castle

Interior at Carreg Cennen Castle

For me the magic was in the ability to see how people lived there. The domestic quarters are surprisingly in tact so you can make out the kitchen, various private chambers and even toilets – always fascinating to our boys (oh okay, us too). You can see various stair cases twisting up the towers and picture the people using them all those centuries ago. In the inner ward the massive oven is still visible and of the style of modern pizza and bread ovens which are still fashionable and functional today.

Children inside the bread oven

Children inside the bread oven

Most intriguingly is a long dark tunnel which runs under the castle for some way but leads only to a chamber at the end. It’s not sure what the purpose of it was but, considering the effort it would have taken to create, there must have been a good reason for it. The tunnel and cave is covered in graffiti mostly from over 100+ years ago which is fascinating in itself. Not only picturing the medieval knights and princes but the Victorian tourists making their way along the tunnel with candles and ridiculous shoes, scratching their names and dates – claiming their own little victory over the Castle and mortality. I didn’t get a picture down in the cave because I was concentrating hard on getting both me and my kids down it and back out alive – sorry about that. You need to take a torch as it’s pitch black, although you can hire them from the shop.

After exploring the castle as extensively as possible with a gaggle of children in tow we headed down to the shop and café for lunch. Castell Farm surrounds the Castle and is run as a Welsh upland holding with rare breed sheep and cattle. The meats from the animals can be sampled in the café with Longhorn cottage pie and other hearty dishes. The kids were welcome and prices reasonable.

It was a fantastic day out, ideal for families of all ages as the paths are easy and the castle is interesting for all. You could probably do it with an off road buggy but we used an Ergo Carrier for Orla. You wouldn’t be able to do the cave with a pushchair or with a big backpack.

Prices and opening times available on their website


A great place to play knights and dragons!

A great place to play knights and dragons!

A medieval toilet. The waste just headed out of a hole in the outer wall of the castle.

A medieval toilet. The waste just headed out of a hole in the outer wall of the castle.

It's easy to see why they build it here with a defensive view from all angles. Carreg Cennen is an imposing feature on the surrounding landscape.

It’s easy to see why they build it here with a defensive view from all angles. Carreg Cennen is an imposing feature on the surrounding landscape.

Fitting in the Appalachians


The USA is vast. Just getting across it will take so much of our time. We only get 3 months on a standard visa.

I’ve been listening to an audio book by Bill Bryson in which he describes the Appalachian Mountain range and an email this morning from a fellow blogger who lives in those parts has left me thinking perhaps we should cut out the south and explore the central mountain region between Virginia and Kentucky more. The history of the region is fascinating, shrouded in mystery and intrigue and has played a key role in American history as a barrier to East to West travel. In 1999 a BBC correspondent Richard Lister talks about his journey to Sneedsville and the history of the Melungeon people of the region… I wonder if much has changed in the last 14 years – if the town is any easier to reach and if the knowledge of the first settlers to America is any further forward, perhaps having empowered the people as he suggests? I’m intrigued! The idea of such independent people living self sufficiently in the mountains commands huge respect. Yet their reasons for developing such self reliance is down to persecution and prejudice.

During our journey I am hoping to learn far more about the history of racial clashes from both long ago to present day and it’s something we hope to teach our children about. Knowledge and understanding of conflict from both sides are the tools we need to arm our children with so as to prevent perpetuating the ignorance which is the ultimate cause of most prejudice. But this can’t be done through education alone… diversity must be experienced.

Living in ethnically diverse England, albeit in one of the least ethnically diverse and more racially prejudice regions (possibly the only thing I don’t like about Cornwall), I am somewhat sheltered from the racism in the rest of the world and our children are thoroughly under exposed to alternative live styles and cultures (except perhaps of the hippy variety). Yet to move forward as a united race of people we must teach our children to respect and indeed welcome diversity and allow them to experience as many races and cultures as possible in a positive and enjoyable way.

The geology of the mountain range is fascinating too, having been born 480 million years ago, they were then almost entirely eroded to flat plains before being up lifted again. The second uplift rejuvenated the springs which had caused the erosion and are now, again, following ancient folds and faults or carving out new canyons through layers of hard ancient rock, exposing the layers and features.

In addition to a rich human history and stunning geological features it is also an area rich in diverse wildlife. The southern stretch of the Appalachian Mountains was never touched by glaciers and therefore is home to a range of “slow growing” species such as salamanders and interesting snails. The Ice Age induced extinctions in the north of the mountain range didn’t occur in the south and therefore the rivers in the region are rich with crayfish and mussels. There is also incredible bird life there from bald eagles to the scarlet tanager. And as for mammals… well, as the boys keep reminding me… “mummy, you’re scared of bears!”

So the question is… do we cut out Memphis and the Mississippi in lieu of the mountain trails, wildlife and people of the Appalachian Mountains – Or do we wizz through them to reach to south, to the culture, music and cuisine, to join poor boys and pilgrims with families, down the highway, through the cradle of the civil war, to bounce on in to Graceland?