Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Phoole's Pilgrimage, Part 4: Sadie, a Snail, and the Room of Requirement

(This entry continues the tale from where I left off here. Click here to get all of the chapters in the story so far.)

It never really occurred to us before, but in getting to know Muncaster's Events Coordinator, Sadie, a bit better on this trip, we realized that Sadie is the UK version of our friend Mary. Exhibit A:

This is a picture I took of Sadie (using my Palm Pre), near Sca Fell. It looks like a lot of pictures of Mary anywhere, except that Mary will occasionally allow her picture to be taken, as long as she's got her tongue stuck out at the camera.

The similarities between Sades and Maaaary (as we call her) don't end there. Either of them could have subbed in for Jack Palance in City Slickers. Either of them could also reenact any of Calamity Jane's Pony Express rides. They are, in a word, tough! We should be glad they're on our side, and that they've got healthy senses of humor.

Tom and I are both Anglophiles, and of the two of us, I'm possibly the bigger Gigantic Geek for All Things British. I was raised on BBC TV and radio, comedy and drama, and a steady diet of Wodehouse, Wilde, Tolkien, Douglas Adams and Stephen Fry from a very young age, and the default setting in my brain has always been, "If it's funny, clever, cultured and articulate, chances are it's British."

So, in getting to know Sadie better, it was so strange to hear her extol the virtues of American things! We were driving into a caravan park to drop off brochures to attract visitors to the Festival, and we laughed at how many campers had satellite-TV dishes hanging off of their tents and caravans, whereat Sadie revealed she'd lived in some pretty rough places, herding cattle on the Great Plains. She's lived and worked on cattle ranches across North America (you can learn more about the ranch she worked on in Montana here); she misses Hershey bars; she loves True Blood; she grew up watching The Dukes of Hazzard, and when we showed her photos of Tom and his best friends clambering into the General Lee, she flipped. While I often daydream about just upping and moving permanently to the isles where my motley make so much more sense, she's practicing with the bullwhip she got while driving cattle in Australia and learning deep South slang. She's a real cowgirl who's had crazy adventures all over the world, and after that conversation, we frequently joked about just trading places with her -- sending her back to the States to rope and ride, and moving in with her folks and her dogs and doing her jobs in the UK for her.

Another thing she has in common with Maaaary is this: she has two dogs, of the same breed, one of which is calm, the other of which is completely, utterly koo-koo. But we'll meet her hilarious puppehs in a later chapter.

So after devouring a thoroughly wonderful meal at the Brook House Inn (in Eskdale, quite close to the tiny town of Boot, which became important a few days later in our trip), Sadie took us to see more fells and deep lakes and verdant rolling sheep-covered hills. In honor of our friend Rico, Tom found a good rock to throw out into the lake:


And we saw this huge snail, which was curious to us, because back home, the snails are tiny:


And then Sadie took us back to Muncaster, to settle in for the first good night's sleep since leaving the US. We didn't, though, because the sun-staying-up-nearly-all-night thing is a huge novelty when you first arrive, and we weren't sleepy enough yet. We went for a little stroll around -- I had to show Tom the cannon bank, the brain-melting vistas, and Tom Fool's Tree, for starters.

When we'd wandered around to the lawn side of the Castle, where the Kingdom of Fools' stage gets set up, we found Peter Frost-Pennington and his son Ewan grappling with a tent, preparing for the arrival of Maximus, a Roman Soldier who'd be there during the Festival of Fools, recruiting and training young soldiers and gladiators. (We learned a great deal more about the Roman history of the area a few days later.) We helped get the tent put up, and it was delightful to pass a bit of time with Peter and Ewan. They're hilarious, much funnier than we are, not that it's a race, but there it is. And then Peter said, "Have you ever visited this room? I don't think you have."

And there he indicated a door we'd never really noticed before, probably because it's as old and beautiful as the rest of the castle, and it blended into the rusticated stone and vines. And Peter showed us the room behind the giant old door. It was definitely J. K. Rowling's Room of Requirement, containing wonders. You're going to have to trust me on this one -- we didn't feel like we should photograph anything there. But Antiques Roadshow could spend a two-week special on this room, and we felt humbled and really pretty giddy that we got to have a look.

When the sun finally started to actually set, we knew we'd be doomed if we didn't rest up for opening day of the Festival, so we bid our hosts goodnight and climbed up to the Coachman's Quarters, prepped costumes and props for the next day, fell into our incredibly comfortable beds, and passed out. (If you click here and then select the Virtual Tour of the "double room [disabled access]," you can see the actual room we stayed in.)

In Part 5, the Festival of Fools begins!

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