Work Retreat at Missenden Abbey

We don’t talk about work much, here at Boaz-Richards Expeditionary HQ. This blog is primarily for us, as a record of our experiences that we can look back on in the years to come, and there’s not much in the “work” category that really deserves to be celebrated. I’ll make an exception in this case: On April 15th, I (Brad) headed out for a five-day work retreat in Great Missenden, about 30 miles northwest of London.  This was the final gathering of the Share Project team, as the funding for the four-year project ends in May after a four-year run.  The goal of the retreat was to discuss and outline the remaining research papers that need to be written, start on some writing where possible, and make sure the project’s final report got finished.  This was the third gathering I’d attended, the first being in Cardiff, Wales in the fall, and the second in Canterbury a few months back.

Sally (my host and colleague) is not one to skimp on essentials like food, accommodations, food, and beverages. (Did I mention food?) This final retreat was held at Missenden Abbey in Great Missenden, an old abbey that’s been converted to a conference center. More about that in a minute. There’s a train station in Great Missenden, so getting there from Whitstable was relatively painless.  Except that Whitstable is southeast of London, and Great Missenden is northwest.  Surface trains don’t connect directly between the two endpoints — one needs to transit from one London railway station to another via tube (subway) to make the pieces fit together. As usual when confronted with a public transportation challenge, I consulted traveline, a website that knows about bus, train, and tube schedules (as well as trams, ferries, and coaches). You tell it when you want to travel and where, and it’ll stitch together a suggested path.

The path it recommended seemed a bit odd, so I consulted National Rail’s journey planner.  It suggested arriving at St. Pancras station in London and making my way to Marylebone before picking up a surface train (instead of arriving at Victoria station and taking the tube to Harrow-on-the-Hill, another stop on the line to Great Missenden).  Odder still, the traveline site suggested three different paths on three different days, for the exact same trip! After some digging I determined that none of the variations really made any difference — they involved the same train out of Whitstable and the same train on the other side arriving in Great Missenden. I chose to switch to the tube at Victoria, and emerge at Marylebone (shown below).

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The station at Great Missenden was tiny. On my walk into town, I came across an old postbox from the reign of George V (1910-1936).  (The initials of the king or queen in power are cast into postboxes, so you can tell their vintage. George VI added VI between the initials, so this was George V.)

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Roald Dahl lived and worked in Great Missenden, which now hosts the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre. I didn’t have a chance to go through the museum, but I grabbed a brochure that highlighted some landmarks around town that found their way into his books.  He’s buried at the local parish church.

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Then, on to the abbey…

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After about a 10-minute walk I arrived at the gate. Missenden Abbey was originally built in 1133, but was seized in 1536 and became a private home.  In 1946, after passing through several families, the house and grounds were sold to Buckinghamshire County Council for use as an adult learning facility.  The interior was destroyed by a fire in 1985, and rebuilding took several years. The abbey is now owned by Buckinghamshire New University and used as a training and conference facility.  It’s a spectacular place, with excellent food, very good coffee (we drank lots), and had everything we needed for our work.

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My room was in the “new” wing below.  The old abbey holds a few guest rooms, several dining and meeting rooms, as well as the bar and coffee-break area.

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The large evergreen is a 600-year-old Lebanon cedar.  Its cones were the size of beehives, and grew straight up from the branches.  The grounds crew mows regularly enough that I wasn’t able to find any intact cones on the ground.  You can see from the fragment below that they open up like flowers. In the final picture I’m trying to dash into the picture before the timer goes off (for scale), but didn’t quite make it.

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Over the next few days, we filled lots of boards with scribbles like the ones below. (They made sense at the time…)  We came away with some interesting papers mapped out (many of which are well underway) and the final report nearly finished.  Success!

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While I was there, Holly and I got drafted by some school kids in the States to show “Flat Stanley” around for a bit.  He joined me on the lawn, and then had a research chat with Sally and Josh.

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The gang, at the end of the retreat:

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Then, back through town to the train station, and home to the family.  (The kids are now sporting some fancy T-shirts from the Roald Dahl museum.)

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