Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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Darwin’s Down House near Bromley, England, a short train ride away from London. This view of the house was snapped from the gardens in back of the house. If you look closely, you can see part of the cafe (under the blue umbrellas) to the right of the crooked tree in this picture.

I am really proud of this photograph, by the way.

Image: GrrlScientist 31 August 2008 [larger view].

Sunday, the day after the Nature Network Science Blog conference had concluded, Mike, Mo and I caught a train to Bromley, England, where we toured Darwin’s Down House and gardens and walked along the famous Sandwalk that Darwin once strode as he contemplated his book and his ideas about evolution.

We went to the Victoria Train Station in London, where we caught a sleek silvery train to the nearby town of Bromley.

Here is the train that we rode from London to Bromley, England.

Image: GrrlScientist 31 August 2008 [larger view].

Professor Steve Steve, never very talkative, was nonetheless clearly excited about visiting the home of his hero, Charles Darwin. I finally had to place him on the table by the train window to calm him down. Here, he is listening Mike, Mo and I as we discuss our upcoming adventure while the countryside speeds by.

Professor Steve Steve was eager to see the home that his hero, Darwin, lived in. Here is Professor Steve on the train, sitting by the window as the countryside speeds by.

Image: GrrlScientist 31 August 2008 [larger view].

After the train ride, we caught a bus to Bromley and rode it to the end of the line. I was delighted by this tree with benches around it in the middle of a roundabout next to the bus stop, so I had to photograph it to share with you.

Roundabout with tree in the middle in Bromley, England.

Image: GrrlScientist 31 August 2008 [larger view].

Here is a glimpse of part of the town of Bromley as seen from the bus stop. It is quite charming, isn’t it?

This is a view of part of the town from the bus stop in Bromley where we began walking to Darwin’s Down House.

Image: GrrlScientist 31 August 2008 [larger view].

As we walked away from the bus stop, I saw two horse riders approaching, riding beautiful horses, and managed to snap a photograph of one of them. Isn’t this a fine looking animal?

A horse and rider near the roundabout in Bromley, England. You can see our bus parked in the background. Being a horse lover, I had to snap this picture to share with you.

Image: GrrlScientist 31 August 2008 [larger view].

After the horse riders disappeared, we walked down a road that was bounded on each side by a thick growth of trees and foliage. There was no sidewalk, and the road was narrow — a lane and a half wide, really. The thicket on each side of the road accentuated my feeling of being hemmed in. Interestingly, this was not an uncomfortable feeling for me, having spent much of my life walking through rainforests of the United States’ Pacific Northwest, looking and listening for birds.

Along the way, I would catch a glimpse of roads that branched off from the road we were walking along, which made me think of Robert Frost’s evocative poem, The Road Not Taken.

A side road as we walked to Darwin’s Down House near Bromley, England. I felt I had been transported back in time.

Image: GrrlScientist 31 August 2008 [larger view].

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

— Robert Frost (1874-1963).

Mike, Mo and I walked along a small country road to Darwin’s Down House near Bromley, England.

Image: GrrlScientist 31 August 2008 [larger view].

Along the way, I spied an antique letterbox by the side of the road. This style of letterbox is nearly extinct throughout England, so of course, I had to snap a picture of it to share with you.

As I walked from Bromley to Down House, I spied this antique letterbox by the side of the road. This is truly an endangered species that is near extinction.

Image: GrrlScientist 31 August 2008 [larger view].

Even though it had just finished raining, the walk was cool and pleasant and not very long, really. Soon we were walking through a parking lot next to Down House, peering at a lush overgrowth of brush and dried grasses, and then we were greeted by a sign that stood next to a brick wall;

The sign by the brick wall in the parking lot on my way to Darwin’s Down House. Bromley, England.

Image: GrrlScientist 31 August 2008 [larger view].

After a short walk along a pathway through a brushy area filled with apple trees, there it was: Darwin’s Down House!

Darwin’s Down House near Bromley, England, a short train ride away from London. This side view of the house was snapped as we approached from the parking lot.

Image: GrrlScientist 31 August 2008 [larger view].

The front of Down House, where Charles Darwin lived from 1842 until his death in 1882.

Darwin’s Down House near Bromley, England, a short train ride away from London. This is the front of the house.

Image: GrrlScientist 31 August 2008 [larger view].

Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed inside the house. I was terribly disappointed, since I wanted very much to share images of what we saw and learned in there, so instead, I had to be content with snapping pictures of the front door. Of course, but the gift shop was only to happy to separate us from our money in exchange for glossy gift books filled with images. I am proud to say that they were not successful with me (although, I would have happily purchased a t-shirt if they had one that was of good quality available).

The front door to Down House. It is open and inviting on this cool and damp morning.

Image: GrrlScientist 31 August 2008 [larger view].

We each got a free self-guided audio tour with our paid admission, so everyone walked around with headphones on as we gazed upon the rooms where Darwin did his writing and thinking and microscopy on barnacles and beetles and other things. The main floor of the house had been restored as accurately as possible, and much of the wallpapers, carpets, paintings, furniture and books in Darwin’s office were original. Standing in Darwin’s office was the highlight of the tour, in my opinion.

A drawing of Darwin’s Office. This is remarkably close to what I saw when I visited.

Image: Orphaned [larger view].

The next floor of the house, which was where the children’s bedrooms and “school room” (originally, the nursery) were located, had all been transformed into a museum of Darwin’s life and was filled with photographs showing Darwin’s ancestry, and photographs of his children, along with some of their personal artifacts and toys. Some basic evolution information could be found on this floor as well.

The third floor was closed to the public, which immediately filled me with a nearly insatiable curiosity to see what is up there .. I am sure my imagination made it seem more interesting than it is in real life, though.

It was eerie to walk around Down House, almost as though I had been transported back in time, and I might run into Darwin at any minute — as I walked around, I wondered what I might say if I should run into Darwin. What would you say if you came face-to-face with Darwin himself?

Overall, this was an interesting tour and was well worth the admission fee.

Comments

  1. #1 Ian
    September 12, 2008

    I’m sooo envious!

  2. #2 SimonG
    September 12, 2008

    It’s often interesting to read the accounts of visitors to the UK. I’ve often found that I don’t visit the attractions in my locality: because they’re close at hand I keep putting it off. Having a guest is actually a good excuse to go and see something.

    Down House is not exactly local to me, but I could visit it for a day trip quite easily. Perhaps I’ll make the effort next year.

  3. #3 "GrrlScientist"
    September 12, 2008

    that’s the advantage of having a blog: it’s like having a visitor whom you wish to show all the special sights around your area.

  4. #4 Larry Moran
    September 12, 2008

    Do you have a picture of you on the Sandwalk?

    If so, send it to me and I’ll post it.

  5. #5 "GrrlScientist"
    September 12, 2008

    larry, larry, larry .. you are such a silly silly flirt, tsk, tsk. i am supremely camera-shy, which you might know, so i doubt (hope!) there are any images of me on the sandwalk that are not a blur as i ran for cover. i do have a zillion pictures of the Down House gardens (coming tomorrow morning) and the sandwalk (coming sunday morning) without me in the frame for you to see, though! although i will admit disappointment that my attempts to photograph bumblebee butts er, abdomens, while they pollinated flowers was a failure.

  6. #6 Larry Moran
    September 12, 2008

    Okay. Just send a picture of Sandwalk and I’ll find some female that I can photoshop onto the path and pretend it’s you. :-)

    Alternatively, a picture of Prof. Steve Steve on the Sandwalk would be nice.

  7. #7 "GrrlScientist"
    September 13, 2008

    the sandwalk is coming up! i am posting a photoessay about the greenhouses tomorrow and the sandwalk will pop up on monday.

  8. #8 Horwood Beer-Master
    September 13, 2008

    When I visited Down last year I was (at first) unaware of the rule regarding no photography in the house, if there was any sign I must have missed it and we weren’t told on our way in. Anyway as a consequence of this I did manage to take four photos of Darwin’s Study (1. 2. 3. 4.), and one of his portrait in the stairwell, before the staff became aware and a rather upper-middle-class lady hurriedly walked up to me and politely (but with an unmistakable urgency) informed me of the rule, and I put the camera away. (bearing in mind this strange rule, anyone who likes the photos in those links might want to copy them quick in-case English Heritage find them and ask photobucket for their removal)

    I’m glad to hear that the audio tour now uses headphones, when I was there we were given a device with a speaker you had to hold up to your ear, which made your arm tired after a while. I hope it’s still David Attenborough’s commentary?

    As someone who comes from this neck of the woods I do sometimes get an ‘uncomfortable feeling’ walking along narrow Kentish lanes with no pavement (sidewalk) but this has nothing to do with feeling ‘hemmed in’ and everything to do with the speed with which some cars can sometimes emerge from around blind corners. But I loved you evocative description of your walk to the house – I could almost smell that lovely familiar ‘post-summer-rain’ scent in the air (it’s just not the same smell up this end of the country).

  9. #9 JBlilie
    September 17, 2008

    Beer-Master: Brilliant, thanks for the photos. GrrlScientist: great series of essays. Makes me want to go straight to the airport …

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