So I took it to the local shop- Fixation, which happens to be excellent. I just asked for them to get in there and clean the sensor, but they said, Oh, Nikon is fixing that for free. You get a new sensor.
The best part was that it took them about four days to turn it around. Now that I have it back, it's shooting really cleanly again, and the new sensor appears to be an upgrade as it is super fast and accurate. Have I really been riding in a jalopy this whole time when I could have been in a Bentley? And why didn't the Nikon dealer in Paris tell me that Nikon was replacing the sensors on this model, gratis, and charged me for multiple cleanings with a shrug and a smile?
Bitterness aside....not having a camera to shoot meant I had to depend on my cell phone camera. Granted, it's a new Nexus 5, and supposedly the camera integrated in the phone is A-MAZE-ING. I've had it for several months now and never really bothered with it- I used it when I was apartment searching, and that was about it. I decided to take it out on a walk through forest and field in the countryside with me, like it was perhaps a loyal dog.
It was a lovely Saturday and I had a great little guide that I had picked up at a charity shop on local-to-London countryside walks. Here it is if you want one- it's about 10 years old, so you might have to improvise the route here and there, but no problems so far. There are a few of these guides out there, and I saw several other couples on the trail following book guides as well, proving that e-readers haven't taken over every subset of publishing. England is filled with lovely old paths- public rights of way. These are paths that used to connect villages and farms and churches, and are still widely used to today to get around, even though some are now on private land. You can connect the dots across the countryside on these lovely muddy lanes and walk all day. The guide books come in handy to plot out your day...they usually give you a rather realistic time line and detailed instructions on how to find some of the paths, and there are plenty of themed walks and recommendations on how to find a place for a pint where you wouldn't have thought to find one. Me, the queen of overambitious planning, sometimes needs help in choosing an ideal route to walk, if only to save myself from hustling to finish off a 20-miler before the sun goes down. Most of the walks avoid the roads whenever possible, but sometimes you'll find yourself on a short stretch here and there. It's really become one of my favorite things to do here: choose a walk and head out and try to follow it. The directions are minutely detailed, and with good reason, as most of the paths aren't labeled at all, but more of a folklore through the hills and downs.
I chose a route, rather randomly, that started in Hever in Kent, if only because it was an easy train ride out. Much to my delight, the path left the quiet countryside train station and veered into a sheep field.
Look at that camera phone at work.
But...lambs! There were several parts along the path where you either have to squeeze through a chute or climb over a fence and cross various pastures. The animals would always look at you as a curiosity before moving on to graze some more, not really bothered by someone clumsily heaving themselves over the stile, trying to avoid landing in knee-deep mud in the process.
The book came in super handy, as at some points, the trail twist and turns and ends up in someone's back yard, and I would never even think to find a trail there. The American in me is weary to cross private land, but it's not a big deal here to follow a path over the fence and past a cute little house and come out their driveway to continue a walk. Back in Maine, I had a friend with a beachfront cottage on a public path that went through the dune grass and skirted the edge of her yard, and she said that no one ever ever used it- they assumed it was private and took a much longer path around her land.
Onward, to Hever Castle.
Admission was kind of steep at 18 quid, but probably in the category of being worth it at least once. I'm sure if I was local, I would get a membership and come here all the time, if only to picnic in their fantastic gardens.
Plus, the castle wasn't bad inside either. Like everything else castle-like, this started as a Norman fortress, then a posh country house, but this place goes down in history of the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and the place where dearest Henry VIII courted her, and later a country home for the American family of William Waldorf Astor. They restored it beautifully, planting vast Italian-themed gardens and building a lake to row around in.
Inside the castle- (no pictures allowed, of course) was some period pieces of furniture from the Tudors, and some very luxe turn-on-the century art nouveau formal rooms courtesy of the Astors. There were old religious text that were owned by Anne, notated in her handwriting, and a couple of timelines of owners of the castles. After the Boylens fell out of favor with the King, he gifted the castle to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as a sort of divorce gift. How romantic!
Outside the moat: it was May Day, and there were all sorts of bizarre fertility rituals going on.
Still, my little phone camera captured rather odd things. In the late-morning strong sunshine, the colors became rather over-saturated and vivid, like a 1950's postcard, with no depth of field at all. Le sigh.
I loved the gardens here, with the roses and rhododendrons and hedge mazes framed by tulips.
A walk around the man-made lake got a little wilder and quieter.
You could spend a good part of the day here, as they allow for picnicking on the lawns. You can get a gardens-only admission ticket for a bit cheaper than the castle ticket and have a really nice day out.
I spent hours there, and almost forgot about my walk! I picked it up again at the old Norman church outside of the castle walls.
If you cross the cemetery, a public footpath appears. I would have never even thought to look for it there, never mind have the gall to follow it.
The trail crosses a lot of woods and fields, with small farms of chickens and pigs along the way.
Lucky me, the forest floor was covered in bluebells.
This area of Kent was known for it's pork once upon a time. There were lots of old oak forest here, which is an ideal food to get a pig to be less than skin-and-bones. As a child, I tried to eat an acorn once, after cracking one open with a rock. It was terrible, and too bitter to do anything but run around wanting to get rid of the cottony texture in my mouth. I'm still not quite sure why pigs love them so much.
The path took me to Chiddingstone. There was another castle here, but it was closed for what appeared to be a raucous wedding. Chiddingstone the town was purchased wholesale by the National Trust, and maintained as a slightly sleepy tourist attraction of perfect Tudor-style homes that adorably line the main drag.
There was an adorable tea house in one of the courtyards that serves a really refreshing slice of cake with your tea.
Just behind the village, on the edge of some farm fields, there lies the actual Chiding-stone.
It's a large boulder, which is quite unsual for the countryside here. The legend is that naughty housewives and petty criminals would be brought to the rock to be chided and heckled, hence the town name of Chiddingstone. Today, it's a place for aspiring graffiti artist to have a go at wearing the stone down bit by bit.
I allow no one to chide me here.
By this time, my sturdy little phone up and quit me. Batteries, schmatteries. In truth, I never knew how much power this thing sucks up because I generally only check it a couple times a day.
Off to Cowden train station from here, which is the next station south from Heaver. It was a perfectly pleasant walk through the countryside, with lots of woods and friendly cows and some nice lofty hills to climb. We stopped at a tiny country pub called The Kentish Horse on the way. These tend to be my favorite kind of pubs: friendly, local, with a cast of characters taking up residence. A rather drunk woman showed us her boobs. She had gray hair.
As the sun was setting, Cowden finally came into view. It's a train station in the middle of nowhere- no pubs or cafes within walking distance- so you better get your timing with the train right.
The entire walk was only about 7 leisurely miles, with a couple more miles added on for wandering Hever Castle gardens and around the lake there. It was just so perfectly pleasant we picked another one right away, and went out for drinks at a posh London pub in our caked-mud clothes to meet up with some friends.