A = London – Friday, 21 March
B = Battle – Saturday, 22 March
C = ASDA/Wal-Mart – Saturday, 22 March
D = Glastonbury – Saturday-Sunday, 22-23 March
E = Ludlow – Monday, 24 March
H1 = Shrewsbury – Monday-Tuesday, 24-25 March
G = Oswestry and Offa’s Dyke – Tuesday, 25 March
I = Durham – Wednesday, 26 March
J = Hadrian’s Wall – Thursday, 27 March
K = Holy Island of Lindisfarne – Thursday, 27 March
L = Edinburgh – Friday, 28 March
M = Kinross – Friday, 28 March
N = Dunkeld – Saturday, 29 March
O = Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness – Saturday, 29 March
P = Fort William – Sunday, 30 March
Q = Paisley-Glasgow – Sunday, 30 March
* * *
Thursday, 20 March
Our big trip begins! We got up pretty much per usual, and dropped Tristan off at school.2Anne embarrassed him a bit by making him kiss her goodbye. We won’t see him for almost two weeks. Then Anne and I drove from Natchitoches to Houston, only stopping a couple times – at the McDonald’s in Many and then at the Jack in the Box in Splendora, Texas (about halfway from Lufkin to Houston). We arrived at the George Bush International Airport about 1 pm. We left our car at Fast Park (for which we had a coupon for a really good price for long term parking) and were bussed to the terminal. We breezed through airport security almost scandalously easily, then had a long wait. I started reading Jack Whyte’s The Skystone, the first in a nine volume series, The Camulod Chronicles, setting the Arthurian stories against a realistic background … starting on Hadrian’s Wall (see Thursday below).3
We boarded the plane, a British Airways 777, just before 5 pm, were moving by the posted 5:05, and were off the ground by 5:30. We sat toward the back, on the right side, the two seats nearest the window, but there were over a hundred empty seats on the plane so there was plenty of room to spread out. The in-flight entertainment screen included a “GPS channel” constantly showing our position, air speed, ETA, etc. By 6:35 we were about over Atlanta when we had our first round of refreshments. I got red wine, Anne got two tiny cans of Diet Coke. This was shortly followed by dinner, which was pretty good – a chicken and rice pilaf dish, salad, and roll, with a pack of cookies and a candy in addition to a piece of cheese cake. By 6:50 it was getting dark outside. About 7:50 the captain, Adrian Potter, pointed out New York City on the left (we were on the right side of the plane). For this overnight flight British Airways provided a pillow and a blanket, and a packet with socks, a sleep mask, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a headset for the entertainment screen. I slept from about 9 pm to a bit past midnight, and woke up when we were approaching Ireland with about an hour and a half left to London. Anne had watched a movie and taken a nap as well. They served us a simple breakfast not too long after that – a deli box with a ham and cheese sandwich, orange juice, and strawberry yogurt. We left off the ham since it was Good Friday.
Friday, 21 March – Good Friday
We landed at Gatwick Airport south of London just before 7 am local time (2 am Houston time). We were herded into a huge area – Passport Control – where the line was reminiscent of Disney. It moved pretty quickly, however, and we were through it in about a half hour. I think I overwhelmed the immigration lady when I started the litany of places we intended to visit! We dropped our bags at “Left Luggage” and were on the Gatwick Express train to Victoria Station by about 9 am. It was a half hour trip.
We then took the Underground or “Tube” to King’s Cross Station, where we found Platform 9¾ of Harry Potter fame. The baggage trolley seemed to be stuck halfway through and I could not get to the Hogwarts Express, though! There was a small crowd of other folks there taking pictures as well. We took the Tube back to Victoria Station. Outside, we found the red Original Tour double-decker bus and took the Red Line around ultimately to the Tower of London. We sat up top for the best view. It was quite cold and windy although at this point it was sunny. We crossed the Thames River a couple of times, including via the London Bridge.
Along the way we passed such landmarks as Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, the London Eye, and St. Paul’s Cathedral before crossing the Tower Bridge from the south.
At the Tower of London, we got off the bus and began one of the Yeoman Warders’ Tours but realized that was going to take longer than we wanted to spend, so we left it.
We took a brief look through one of the several gift shops on the Tower grounds, then went into the White Tower, the oldest part of the castle, completed by the end of the reign of William the Conqueror in 1087. At the time it was the tallest structure in London, the tower being the keep of the castle symbolizing his domination of England. Unfortunately, the exhibits inside mainly preserve its very late post-medieval character as an armory so was of less interest to me than I had hoped. In a second gift shop there we bought a couple of gee-gaws, then went out to the thirteenth-century “Medieval Palace” of Kings Henry III and Edward I. That was more interesting. But it was starting to rain as we emerged up top along the outer curtain wall, so we went back down to the first gift shop where I bought a £10 umbrella with the British flag around its edge – whereupon the rain stopped.
We left the Tower then, walked around to a restaurant on the grounds where we got £5-each fish and chips.4 About 3:30 we were headed toward resuming the bus tour. On the way back to where we started at Victoria Station, we saw the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Cathedral and Buckingham Palace – all from the outside, of course.
We took the Gatwick Express back to the airport, another half-hour ride. This time we sat across from a nice couple up from the Channel Islands (he reminded both of us of Anne’s brother-in-law Darrell). We retrieved our luggage and bought tickets for the hotel bus, caught it a few minutes after 6 pm, and were in our hotel room at the Travelodge-Gatwick by about 6:40. It was nothing fancy. Actually, Anne has some choice things to say about it. Some aspects, it turns out, must be just the British, maybe European, way – no sheet except for the fitted sheet over the mattress, with a comforter thrown over; no such thing as “washcloths” – but there was a general grunginess made worse by only one tiny soap for the room, as well as the bulbs in the bathroom were so loose that we thought they were out until I had trudged down to the lobby, had them scrounge me up some bulbs, and went to change them. Given the dinginess of the comforter, I slept under an extra towel, and Anne slept under our two coats. Nevertheless, we were very tired, and we slept pretty well.
Saturday, 22 March
We were up early, finding a cold, rainy day. We had picked up a muffin at the airport last night, so we made some tea – this being England, every place has the makings for tea! – and shared the muffin. We checked out of the hotel – luckily they did not ask how our stay was, because Anne was prepared to let them have it. We caught the bus back to the South Terminal of Gatwick Airport from where we called our car rental company, 1car1, just before 8 am. A really amiable chap picked us up in a van and took us to get our car, a dark grey Vauxhall Astra. At Anne’s urging I asked about upgrading to an automatic, and they did it for free! We headed out a bit hesitantly, but frankly driving on the left side of the road proved a lot less daunting than I had feared.5 We needed gas, and foolishly did not ask for the nearest petrol station. I just programmed the GPS and we hit the road. Somehow we ended up going the wrong direction anyway, all the way to Leatherhead, southwest of London, but there we did manage to find a Texaco station – it was over $100, the equivalent of about $8.50 a gallon!6
We got back on the road and amazingly made it to Battle without incident, driving all across the southeastern English countryside. It was only later that we realized why we had gone so far off course earlier – I had on Friday reset the “home” position on the TomTom to the center of London in an attempt to get it oriented when it seemed to be having trouble even finding any satellites, and for some reason it would occasionally get confused and recalculate a course “home.” When we realized what was happening … well, I’ll get to that…. On this trip to Battle, Anne started what was going to be her refrain through the whole trip – “Sheep!”
Anyway, we made it to Battle. Driving was itself amazingly easy; Anne was a great navigator, keeping track of the GPS and interpreting what it was telling me to do. There are really things I like about the British road system – the roundabouts are not bad at all (especially when the GPS is telling you, “Turn left at the rotary; take the first exit”), and I really liked the frequent “laybys,” clearly marked in advance by “P” as places to pull off the road and park. And, for all its annoying habit of trying to go back “home,” the GPS was good about warning me that I was exceeding the speed limit or that a traffic camera was coming up.
At Battle we experienced the first of many instances of just not enough time to see everything. We would have liked to wander the town, but had time only for Battle Abbey itself, the site of the Battle of Hastings, 14 October 1066. Wow! Hastings is actually a port on the English Channel about seven miles due south. Battle is where the armies of Harold Godwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, and the invading Duke William of Normandy, met on that Saturday over nine hundred years ago – the last time an invading army has won a victory in England, making Duke William King William the Conqueror. We took the long walk around the battlefield – through intermittent sleet interspersed with rain and sunshine. Overall, our waterproof jackets proved their worth! Frequent plaques allowed us to trace the events of the battle. We ended the tour of the battlefield at the remains of the abbey built by William on the site of Harold’s death.
Like most of the hundreds of magnificent monasteries that dotted the medieval English landscape, all that remains of Battle Abbey are ruins. In the aftermath of his break with the Pope in the early 1500s, King Henry VIII ordered the monasteries stripped and closed, for two reasons. The monks had sided with the Pope. And the monasteries were very rich. Henry used that wealth to reward the nobles who supported him. Abandoned, no longer maintained, the buildings decayed into ruins. Most, anyway – parts might be converted into noblemen’s palaces, such as part of Battle Abbey, which now hosts a boarding school.
|The image on my shirt|
After climbing all around the ruins, we ate lunch in the café on the grounds. It was very good; we were really hungry. We shared a pasta salad, a roast beef sandwich and chips – er, crisps – a delicious bowl of wild mushroom soup, a couple big slices of homemade brown bread, and a slice of lemon drizzle cake. Then we went through the gift shop there – typically at these gift shops we would pick up some kind of souvenirs in addition to post cards for the little post card book Anne was assembling, and also some kind of commemorative guide book. Here Anne got me a tee shirt showing a scene from the Bayeux Tapestry, a medieval embroidery telling the story of the Battle of Hastings – the Tapestry is not here at Battle, but rather in Bayeux in France.
We got back on the road sometime near our planned time and headed back toward an ASDA (“part of the Wal-Mart family”) on the southwestern outskirts of London … we thought. Here is where we first realized the GPS was leading us astray, toward the center of London – as we passed through increasingly heavy urban traffic – not the kind of driving I wanted to be doing my first day! Well, we did eventually realize what was happening (deep in southern London), and how the TomTom was warning us something was wrong, by yelping “Toll charge” before recalculating a course for the center of London. I showed Anne how to reset it for the proper destination whenever that happened, and we eventually found the ASDA, about two hours later than I had planned. That was a bit of an experience – Anne called it a “nightmare.” It was very crowded and chaotic; there did not seem to be any real organizational scheme, but we finally found almost everything we were looking for. We picked up various things – a soft ice chest, drinks, snacks, as well as a couple of duvets, the nearest thing we could find to sheets. We called our first B&B hostess, Daphne, as we were leaving there, about 6 pm – apparently she had never really believed we could do what I said and be to Glastonbury when I planned. In fact, once we arrived, she was surprised we had made it that quickly.
Anyway, we drove westward across southern England from London to Glastonbury through the dark, not seeing any scenery, stopping for petrol and getting a quick bite at a KFC.7 We did take a couple of wrong turns, just not recognizing the roads that TomTom was telling us to take in time to make the turns in the dark, but as long as it kept the right destination in mind it was great about recalculating a new course to that destination on the fly. We ended up at the Pippin Bread and Breakfast in Glastonbury right at 9 pm. There was one other guest (who was taking up all the driveway so we had to park on the street), but we never saw him this evening. We went to bed pretty quickly.
Sunday, 23 March – Easter
It was snowing like crazy for the first few minutes after we got up – big flakes – but it was not sticking. It remained cold all day, however, even though we had sun for a while and rain at times. We had breakfast at 8:30 along with the other guest – a “psychoanalyst” (well, psycho-something) Barry, and also the hostess Daphne’s husband Tony (Anne’s assessment: “a perfect English gentleman”) – and her dog, Zoe, a big brown Labrador retriever. It was a very good “English” breakfast – cereal, fruit, fried eggs, “bacon” (more like ham), mushy sausages, mushrooms, fried toast, and fried tomato, followed by regular toast (from bread Daphne had made) and jam. Zoe ended up getting into the toast at the end – “Naughty Zoe,” admonished Tony. Barry left while we were finishing breakfast … I commented to Tony, “I guess y’all see all kinds, huh?” Barry was a sight – a mop of long black hair covering his eyes like a sheep-dog’s, he looked something like a ‘60s rock star, sporting loose tie-died clothes that looked more like pajamas. Knowing Glastonbury has become something of a New Age Mecca in England, I figure he was not the first such guest Pippin B&B had seen.
Anyway, Anne and I headed off to Mass at St. Mary of Glastonbury Catholic Church, which the website had said was at 10 am – turns out it was at 10:30 instead, so we walked around downtown Glastonbury a bit. We stopped in a newsstand, walked on past a spire-like structure at what seemed to be the town square, a bit back up High Street. (Just about all these old English towns had a “High Street.”) Mass was nice. We were out about 11:45.
We then walked across to Glastonbury Abbey – Wow! According to legend, St. Joseph of Arimathea, the uncle of the Virgin Mary, was a tin and metals merchant who ranged as far as southern Britain in search of metals. On one trip he supposedly brought his grandnephew Jesus with him – and together they built a place of worship right there, of mud and straw, called the “Wattle Church” – where the abbey church would later be built. Long revered as the birthplace of Christianity in England, Glastonbury would be one of the largest and richest monasteries until the Reformation. A guide in sixteenth-century period dress, supposedly that of the nobleman set by Henry VIII to dissolve the monastery, told us the whole story including that of the Glastonbury Thorn, a shoot of which was there on the abbey grounds, the main tree itself being within sight on “Wearyall Hill” – because that is where St. Joseph supposedly stuck his staff in the ground and proclaimed, “We are weary all!” “But they would not have been speaking English now, would they?” commented the wise guide.
I ran around taking pictures in the rain, then the sun came out and I went all around and did it again. Anne was so happy when the sun came out that she just stayed on a bench and enjoyed it while I took pictures all over again. Among the highlights, of course, was standing at the site of the tomb of King Arthur – Glastonbury has long been identified with Avalon, and the monks discovered the grave of King Arthur in the twelfth century. At least, that was their story ….
We left the Abbey in time to catch a 2 pm bus the mile or so to the base of Glastonbury Tor, a big steep hill that juts up from the relatively flat landscape north of Glastonbury, surmounted by the remains of a church. We made the long climb up the north side away from town, took in the view, then made the long climb down the other side back toward town. On the way down, Anne got to take some close shots of some sheep. I tried to get them to come to her by chanting “Baa-Ram-Ewe!” It worked in the movie Babe.
At the base of the downward climb from the Tor we went into the Chalice Well and Gardens – where St. Joseph of Arimathea supposedly buried the Holy Grail when he came back to Britain after the Crucifixion. Thus the waters that spring up there are said to have curative powers. We spent about an hour in the gardens. We bought a bottle and collected some of the healing waters; Anne dipped her wrist in the water; I put my left hand in and hoped it would migrate up to my left shoulder that has been bothering me.
The girl selling entrance to the Chalice Well had indicated a good place to get food would be the Rifleman’s Arms Pub not too far away from the Well, but we walked back into town to the Abbey Gift Shop before it closed at 5 pm and I got a souvenir guide book as well as a small bottle of Glastonbury Mead. We also went around to Burns the Bread bakery on High Street (suggested by Rick Steves) and got several treats for later (shortbread, gingerbread, meringue muffins, and a “chocolate devil”), then moved our car from where we had parked it in front of the Church to the Pub. We had a really good meal there – I had beef stew, Anne had macaroni and cheese; I had an ale – Skinner’s Cornish Knocker. There were a lot of locals at this pub too – engaged in a rather messy-looking “Easter Egg Roll” that seemed more to consist of smashing the eggs on each other’s heads.
After supper, we then drove to Wells, only a few miles north of Glastonbury (but along a road barely wider than our car for part of the distance). We parked and walked a few blocks to Wells Cathedral – a nice local lady walking her dog helped us find it. The cathedral was closed, so we walked all around the outside, down to the Bishop’s Close (a medieval street) then made our way back to the car – where I realized I had parked in a Paid Parking lot without realizing it. I went ahead and dropped a pound or so in the slot, but worried all the way back to Glastonbury that I may have been ticketed.
We made it back to Pippin B&B about sunset, 6:45 or so. Daphne said that if I did not have a paper ticket on the car, they had not gotten me. She let us use her washer and drier to do a little laundry – our jeans had gotten muddy around the legs at Battle. Anne made tea and we had some of the pastries. We also visited with a new overnight guest, a young man from the Czech Republic who works in Leeds but is touring England during his breaks – Jiri (pronounced “Yeary,” means “George”). Later, Anne and I watched a TV show on BBC1 that “Tony likes” – The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. We turned our lights out about 11 pm.
Monday, 24 March
We were up and packed before the 8:30 breakfast, pretty much a repeat of yesterday’s (except that Jiri had had a cold breakfast much earlier and left to catch a 7 am bus). Once again it was with Daphne, Tony, and Zoe. We had another nice visit with them. Yesterday they had been very interested in the small photo album we brought from home; today we talked more about Tristan and his interests – mostly sports. We also found out that Tony is 93 years old … and that he and Daphne have only been married three years! We were out of there by 9:20-ish.
We drove basically north, across the Severn Estuary Bridge, through southern Wales for some distance, through Monmouth and Hereford, to Ludlow. We stopped in briefly at another ASDA in Hereford, looking for Anne some gloves to replace one she lost at the Tower of London, not finding that but getting a couple other things, including some ibuprofen for her hand which continued to hurt her through the entire week. It was cloudy leaving Glastonbury, then there were periods of sun, but it was cloudy with intermittent rain at Ludlow (and after).
In Ludlow, we parked quite a way from the Castle at a Tesco supermarket and walked about half a mile through town to the Castle, going through the market in front of the Castle (where we found Anne some gloves). Ludlow Castle is great – all ruins. It also may have some family significance to me, through my maternal grandmother’s family, the Ludlows. Probably not, but for today I pretended so! We went all through it, including up in and on a couple of towers.
But we were running late all day, which really worried me for Thursday when we would be on a really tight schedule due to the tidal causeway to Holy Island. We spent only a bit more than an hour at Ludlow Castle, then walked back to our car and went through the Tesco for just a few minutes, exploring another example of a UK supermarket.
We left Ludlow about 3:30. Again, there was intermittent rain and sun to Shrewsbury, which we reached about 4:20-ish. We made our way to Trevellion House, where the hostess Sonia Tappin was out but her teenaged son Ben let us in and showed us to our room. The room here was very nice but very small, a bit too crowded with furniture, including a wardrobe that looks like it could include all of Narnia.
After dropping our bags and having a snack of pastry from Glastonbury, Anne and I headed into Shrewsbury, parking just across the street from Shrewsbury Abbey – Brother Cadfael’s church (yes, I know he’s fictional, but …). Anne and I walked across the English Bridge into town, up Wyle Cop, Fish Street – all these names go back to the twelfth century at least and I am familiar with them from the Brother Cadfael mystery novels by Ellis Peters, a native of Shrewsbury, set in that 12th century abbey, the town of Shrewsbury, and the surrounding countryside.
Not only are the street names medieval – they are narrow, windy, cobbled. Shrewsbury may preserve more of its medieval character than anyplace else we saw on this trip with the exception of Durham. I was very excited – Anne complained that I kept just taking off walking and leaving her behind.
We made our way to the remains of the old St. Chad’s Church, possibly the first church in town at the site of the original Anglo-Saxon settlement at Scrobbigsbyrig – all that remains is the Lady Chapel, the rest having collapsed in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, whereupon the “new” St. Chad’s was built a few streets over. But then we had our first real disappointment of the trip – we were set on getting some “real” pub fish and chips (not the quasi-fast-food kind we got outside the Tower of London) but we found that all the pubs were out of food – Easter Monday being a Bank Holiday, they had seen really heavy traffic earlier in the day. Each one suggested another down the street but it was the same story everywhere, until we finally gave up, went back to the car (it was sleeting on us a little bit at this point) and started trying to find some place outside of town. We ended up making a really bad assumption – that you cannot go wrong with Chinese … Dragon King Chinese Restaurant in Shrewsbury is to be avoided at all costs!
We were back at Trevellion House about 7:30 or so, where I introduced myself to Sonia our hostess. We retired to our room, watched a bit more British TV, then called it a night.
By the way, one of the complaints about the Travelodge had been that there was no sheet – just a fitted sheet over the mattress, and a down comforter with a bedspread above it. Well, no sheets appears to be the British way – Daphne’s beds had that same arrangement (but seemed much cleaner), and so did Sonia’s. Well, Trevellion House was warmer and the down comforter was too warm – but it was too cool without it. Sometime during the night I dug the duvets we bought at ASDA out and it was better.
Tuesday, 25 March
Again, we had quite variable weather – still cold, sometimes sunny, sometimes rainy – even a few snow flurries.
|Anne, Sonia, and Sheila|
We had breakfast at 8 am. It turns out that Daphne’s B&B custom is not standard in a couple of ways … most notably in that other B&B hosts do not join their guests for breakfast. So we never got to visit with and know Sonia like we did Daphne and Tony. But we did visit with other guests over a very good breakfast – an older lady named Sheila from Warrington (north of Shrewsbury in Cheshire), a really outgoing talkative Israeli girl named Lucy (who apparently works in Shrewsbury for the “Detsi” Company – she laughed at my Southern drawl which in this case kept me from distinguishing the words she rapid-fired as “Dead Sea Company” [cosmetics]; why she works in Shrewsbury and stays at a B&B was something Anne and I could not figure out), and Lucy’s very quiet mousy friend Odelia. The breakfast was pretty much the same as Daphne’s, plus baked beans but no fried toast. The fried tomatoes were larger, though – a bit overwhelming to me. We headed out for the day from Trevellion House only a few minutes after 9 am.
We drove northwest and managed to find the Tourist Information Center (TIC) in Oswestry, a town right on the border between England and Wales – where St. Oswald, king of Northumbria, may have been killed in battle by Penda of Mercia sometime around 642 (the location is disputed, not that he was killed). A couple of ladies in there gave me directions to where I could see Offa’s Dyke – a long earthen barrier marking the boundary between England and Wales, built by the eighth-century Anglo-Saxon king Offa of Mercia.8 With a couple of false turns, ending up a short distance into Wales, and having to interpret from some other information I had, we finally found it near the Old Race Course near Rhydycroesau with the help of an electrical lineman – “Well, we don’t ever think much about it because we live here – but there it is! – with the gorse growing along its top.”
It was not really that much to look at – just a bit of a ditch on the western side, but a distinct ridge of earth about six to eight feet high with stones here and there along the top – and the gorse, of course. It seemed to go right through sheepland – “Sheep!” There were snow flurries coming down at that point. That trip goal, to see Offa’s Dyke, accomplished, we went back to the TIC, used the facilities, and found out how to get to St. Oswald’s Church in Oswestry, which we did. One thing that comes to mind that I saw there is something I noticed in many other locations across England and Scotland – memorials containing long lists of townsmen who were killed in World War I or II. Relatively speaking, those wars had much more devastating impact on Britain than on the US.
Then we headed back to Shrewsbury, parking in the Paid Parking lot along the river off Wyle Cop a few minutes before 1 pm. We set off walking a good bit of a walking tour I had printed off the internet, seeing a length of the old medieval town walls, the Roman Catholic Cathedral (Mass was going on right then so we didn’t go in), the new St. Chad’s Church, the Quarry Park including a large indoor swimming pool (in use), and the Welsh Bridge. “English Bridge” and “Welsh Bridge” are, again, designations that go back to the Middle Ages and recall the nature of Shrewsbury as a border town between English and Welsh territories. Most of Shrewsbury is in an easily defensible loop of the Severn River, open only in the north, where stands Shrewsbury Castle. The English Bridge is on the eastern side crossing the Severn; the Welsh Bridge is on the western side. Incidentally, besides its medieval character and the Cadfael connection, Shrewsbury is best known as the birthplace of Charles Darwin, and we saw several statues and commemorations of him around town.
We made our way to the TIC near the center of town, then to the Post Office to mail a postcard Anne had promised to Mary. We went into Barclay’s Bank to change some £50 notes for some more negotiable smaller bills. Then we went into St. Mary’s Church (Anglican, but very pretty). It preserved some decorations from Old St. Chad’s, including, according to a very amiable guide, the Jesse Window above the altar. A Jesse Window illustrates the genealogy of Christ. From there we went to one of the very pubs that had turned us away yesterday – today they did have fish and chips, including peas (it’s an English thing – these were not “mushy,” though). It was there, at the Bull Inn, sometime after 3 pm, that I realized I had forgotten all about going to Brother Cadfael’s Abbey Church – which should have been the first thing we did!
After finishing our meal with a dessert of apply pie with cream custard, we rushed across the English Bridge, only to find (about 4:30-ish) that the Abbey Church had closed at 3 pm. I was a bit disappointed, but I took pictures all around the outside. The nave of the medieval church is all that stands today, because it was where the parishioners of the local area still called the Abbey Foregate would attend Mass, and it is still used as a church today. But there are scattered ruins of parts of the structure of the old abbey still to be seen, some jutting out from the church building itself. There’s also the pulpit of the Abbey Common Room, standing across the street right in the middle of the Paid Parking lot we used last night – I unknowingly parked right beside it!
By that time, Anne’s feet were hurting, but she gamely kept up with me walking mostly uphill back across town for some views of Shrewsbury Castle (I was not interested in going through its museum because it seems to all be much more recent things than I am interested in – mainly eighteenth- and nineteenth-century). Then we made our way once again across town to our car (“How many times have we passed this store?” Anne asked – “Including last night, six, I believe,” I replied).
We then went in search of a coin-op laundry Anne had seen driving back from Oswestry, to wash a few more things – but I was wearing my long johns so they would just have to get a sink wash later. The people there were very helpful to a couple of bewildered Americans – a general thing, we found – these even brought us tea as we waited for our wash. We made notes about our trip during that time, about 6:30, while our clothes were drying. On the way back to the B&B we stopped and tanked up at the ASDA (by the way, I had asked our breakfast companions and found out it is not pronounced “A-S-D-A” but “Asda”); we also ran in and got some ice cream which we ate in our room as we watched some more British TV – actually a show I had heard of, The East Enders. We packed up as best we could to leave early in the morning.
Wednesday, 26 March
Breakfast was at 8 am again, same table companions. We managed to leave by 8:50, which put us into Durham only ten minutes past my plan (1:40 pm). It rained on us all the way – was very foggy in a couple of places – and we made a couple of stops along the way as well. Our route took us north basically to Chester, east across the Pennine mountains, some of which sported snow at the higher elevations, past Manchester to Leeds, then north to Durham along the A1 (the main north-south highway in Britain).
After a couple of wrong turns getting into the old part of town, we parked on the Palace Green – with Durham Cathedral looming in front of us and Durham Castle behind us. The whole area is now under the aegis of UNESCO World Heritage Site status and the University of Durham. This old part of town is, like Shrewsbury, inside an easily defensible loop in the River Wear, with the castle guarding the land-ward end. Our first sight of it was magnificent – it’s the best example I saw in England of a classic motte-and-bailey design, the oldest style of castle. In the beginning, a castle was just a defensible area surrounded by a ditch with a wooden palisade inside it. The earth from excavating the ditch would be piled at one end of the defensible area to form a mound called a “motte”; the ditch itself would typically fill up and form a “moat” (the words are clearly related).
A wooden fortress or “keep” would be built atop the motte. The lower area inside the palisade was the “bailey.” Over time, the wooden construction was replaced with stone, and more and more structures were built; the moat would often be filled in. One thing about all the castles and monasteries we saw on this trip – they were all the product of five hundred or more years of continuous habitation and construction, so they were typically of a mixture of successive styles with the original pretty much obliterated or overbuilt. In the case of Durham Castle, the period of habitation was much longer, continuous for most of a thousand years from the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, when William the Conqueror made the powerful Bishop of Durham his main enforcer in the north. Over time, the “Prince-Bishop” built up not only the castle, but all around the area between the castle and his cathedral, leaving the Palace Green empty in between. (Well, it was not originally empty – the cathedral is even older than the castle, and the Palace Green was the site of the original Anglo-Saxon town of Durham. In the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, the bishops cleared that area between castle and cathedral.) Today, the castle and most of the buildings form the core of the University of Durham.
We checked into our B&B rooms in Durham Castle (!) – normally dorm rooms for the University of Durham, but when the students are on break their rooms are let out as bed-and-breakfast.
|Choir of Durham Cathedral|
Then we headed across the Palace Green to the monolithic and magnificent Durham Cathedral (!!). The site of a monastery since before the year 1000, the present structure was begun around 1100 and stands as the main example of Norman architecture in England. Again, continuously added to over time, it combines Romanesque and Gothic styles. We were trying for the 2:30 guided tour, but the tour was cancelled because a funeral was going on in the cathedral choir area. We spent a little while walking around outside, mainly on the eastern side. We were unable to get around to the western side to see that façade with the two towers – in any case, the cathedral is so big we would have had to get across the river to see it properly anyway.
|Tomb of St. Cuthbert|
Then we went back through the rear of the cathedral to the cloister and the Undercroft Café. We got a snack there, then spent a few minutes in the gift shop. By that time the funeral was over, so we went back into the cathedral and followed the self-guided tour in Rick Steves’ Great Britain 2008.
We saw the tomb of St. Cuthbert in the Chapel of the Nine Altars and the tomb of the Venerable Bede in the Galilee Chapel – my personal highlights, a couple of my overall trip goals. St. Cuthbert was a seventh-century Anglo-Saxon holy man we would encounter again at Lindisfarne (tomorrow); in 995 his relics were enshrined here at Durham. The “Venerable” St. Bede is the early eighth-century author of The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, our main source for knowledge of early Anglo-Saxon England.
Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed to be taken in the cathedral, but I did take some in the cloister9 – Durham Cathedral was a monastery as well, one of the few not to be devastated by Henry VIII (as were Glastonbury, Shrewsbury, and many, many others). A scene from the first Harry Potter movie was filmed in this cloister.
Then we made our way back across to the Castle for the 4 pm tour – by one of the UD students, in suit and tie, with a black robe over top! When I first saw him coming across the bailey/courtyard from the gatehouse to where we stood on the steps into the Great Hall, I said to Anne, “Look! – It’s Percy Weasley!” Actually, his name was Joel. It was an interesting tour, but I hoped for a bit more than we got – mainly just around from the Great Hall, through the kitchen, up the Black Staircase through the second-floor Tunstal Gallery to the Tunstal Chapel, back to the fourth-flour Norman Gallery then down to the relatively newly-discovered (in the last hundred years or so, I think) original Norman Chapel. Unfortunately, once again, they did not want any photographs taken.10
At 5:15, we went back to the Cathedral for Evensong – unfortunately, despite what Rick Steves says about visiting choirs filling in during university breaks, there was not one tonight, so it was more Evensaid, but it was spiritually uplifting even if it was from the Church of England Book of Common Prayer. It was cool to sit in the choir area of the cathedral along with a handful of other participants.
After Evensong, we walked out into the town, across the Elvet Bridge near the neck of the peninsula to an Italian restaurant suggested by Rick Steves – Emilio’s. It was “happy hour” on entrees – this was one of our cheaper meals. We shared a “Four Seasons Pizza” (quartered with tomato, onion, mushroom, and ham) and Penne Pasta a la Crema (mushrooms, onion, cream, and parmesan cheese), with Treacle Pudding for dessert. We caught up on our notes, noting that it was currently 7:15. Dinner was excellent.
Afterward, we walked around a bit in downtown Durham, but it was dark and deserted so we just went back to our room (in the Castle!) and got to bed pretty early. The room was initially a bit cool, but once I got the radiator by Anne’s bed going it warmed up – I actually got a bit too warm in the middle of the night.
Thursday, 27 March
We woke up to sunshine – it didn’t last though. It was raining lightly on us by the time we were leaving and continued to do so for much of the way on our first leg of today’s drive.
We were up and packed and out of our room by 7:30. We walked around a bit, put our stuff in our car, and found the foot path down on this side of the river along the western façade of the Cathedral – but it was way too close, I could not get a good angle. Given time constraints, we never had a chance to make an excursion to the western bank of the river to get a proper picture.
We went back up to the castle to the front desk and checked out, then went up to the Great Hall of Durham Castle for breakfast. We sat at a table with a young lady from central Wales in for a conference at the University. Another slight variation on the English Breakfast, but this time served more like a restaurant.
We were out on the road about ten minutes before 9 am, and made good time for a change – even with an unplanned stop along the road.11 We had driven up the A1, turned west onto the A69, then cut onto the B6318 and were just a few miles short of our goal of Housesteads Fort on Hadrian’s Wall when I spied a small layby with a large standing cross and saw the word “Heavenfield.”
I turned around and went back to the site of St. Oswald of Northumbria’s (the king who died at Oswestry) victory over Cadwallon of Gwynedd (a Welsh kingdom) ca. 635, by which Oswald gained kingship in Northumbria. The way the Venerable Bede (and Adomnán in his Life of St. Columba) tells it, on the night before the battle Oswald (who had grown up in exile on the western Scottish monastery-island of Iona12) had a vision from St. Columba of Iona assuring him of victory, whereupon he had erected a cross with his own hands for he and his men to pray before. The divine visitation had resulted in the name of the battlefield. I knew it was somewhere in this area but I had no idea we would drive right by it! Wow!
Then we continued on to Housesteads Fort on Hadrian’s Wall – the Roman Vercovicium. Hadrian’s Wall was built in the 120s or thereabouts to fortify the border between the Roman south of Britain and the barbarian Picts (the native people of Scotland) to the north – seventy miles from sea to sea, roughly between modern England and Scotland. Housesteads is just one of a dozen full-scale forts along the Wall, and the best to actually see the excavated ruins along with a surviving stretch of the wall. It was great! We ended up taking the full two hours I had allotted there. It was a half-mile mostly uphill hike from the TIC to the small museum/gift shop where we spent only a few minutes. Then it was a further hundred yards or so to the fort itself, where we explored every nook and cranny, inside and out. I stood on Hadrian’s Wall, walked along it speaking Latin – “Hic sum, ambulans in vallum Hadrianum, loquans linguam Latinam!” (grammatical errors and all13). And Anne got to see more … “Sheep!” … this time being herded by border collies.
Housesteads Fort is a major tourist stop along Hadrian’s Wall, part of a series of UNESCO World Heritage Sites stretching across northern Europe along the border of the Roman Empire. It gets a lot of traffic. There is a sign out in front of the TIC saying “Welcome!” in a variety of languages – “Salve!” (Latin, of course), “Croeso!” (Welsh), “Fáilte” (Scots Gaelic). At the time, I did not know the latter, leading to a funny exchange with one of the caretakers, a humorous old man who’d greeted me when I first drove up by saying, “Aye, this is Northumberland, where we see all four seasons in a day!” (I heard the same thing everywhere we went, with the locale changed appropriately.) Near the top of the “Welcome” sign was, “Hae ye gannin’!” – he asked me if I knew what it meant. I guessed Scots (a dialect of English distinct from Scots Gaelic which is another language altogether). “No, it’s Northumbrian – proper English!”
We missed our schedule getting back on the road by only a few minutes – 12:20 rather than straight up noon. We purchased a sandwich, “crisps,” and a shortbread candy treat to eat on the road. Our route took us back mainly along the A69 to the A1 then we headed north, passing within sight of the North Sea coast a couple of times – and arrived at the Holy Island of Lindisfarne about 2:15 – well before the 4:25 pm tidal closure of the causeway. Lindisfarne is “Holy Island” only about half the time. The rest of the time it is “Holy Peninsula.” (We got there despite the one time I scared Anne almost to death with my driving. I adapted pretty well, as I said, despite my fears, but there were times when I would get confused. Like when a car would come around a curve in the road and instinct would say it was in my lane. Like [this time] I was about to pull into a petrol station but a car was pulling out – and I froze up unable to decide on the fly which side of that car I was supposed to go. I stopped dead in the middle of the road – Anne cried out, “Oh my God!” and basically assumed crash position – and cars were flying by on both sides of us. It worked out okay, though.) There were still plenty of day “tourists” on Holy Island, but they were generally headed toward their cars and making their way back across the causeway.
We checked in at Cambridge House, a nondenominational Christian retreat house (paired with Marygate House, which is where we actually reported to begin with). A lady named Rachel got us situated, giving us a quick tour of the house. (By the way, this bed actually had a regular sheet!)
We walked to the small Priory Museum, spent a few minutes there, then walked all through the ruins of the Priory itself, on the site but much later than the monastery founded after the Battle of Heavenfield by a monk from Iona, St. Aidan, at the behest of the victorious King Oswald, which later in the seventh century had St. Cuthbert as its abbot and bishop. The Priory was established about 1100, I believe, by monks from Durham Abbey – where as we saw yesterday St. Cuthbert’s relics eventually were enshrined after the monks were driven from Lindisfarne by the threat from the Vikings.14
Right behind the abbey ruins to the east is a large pasture. Anne got some pictures of triplet lambs playing with a local boy. Immediately adjacent the ruins to the west we saw St. Mary’s Church – actually in the Middle Ages when the Priory still was an active monastery, this was the parish church for the people of the village that grew up outside the gates, hence, kind of like the nave of the Shrewsbury Abbey church it was spared by Henry VIII’s goons.
We went down to the beach, where we could see St. Cuthbert’s Island – about a hundred yards offshore, where he would retreat into further solitude. Anne got a really nice picture of it against a background of sunrays shining through clouds. In the distance to the south we could just make out Bamburgh Castle, once the stronghold of the Northumbrian kings such as Oswald. From the Priory itself to the east on Holy Island we could see the ruins of Lindisfarne Castle about a mile away. We never made our way to see that, though. We were too late for the last bus tour from town (everything revolves around the opening and closing of the tidal causeway), and the road from the town to the castle was posted as private.
Then we walked the streets of the town as evening fell – it did not take us very long! The town is only about three or four streets one way, no more than five the other. It was also very quiet – all the shops closed when the causeway closed at 4:25. We saw the Catholic church, St. Aidan’s, but the contrast with the Anglican St. Mary’s was actually kind of sad. One consequence of the English Reformation is that in most cases the really old, magnificent churches are Anglican; the Catholic churches are much newer and generally pale in comparison. (St. Mary’s of Glastonbury is an exception, for whatever reason I do not know.) St. Aidan’s is very small and modern – “sparse actually” are Anne’s words. By the way, it was actually quite sunny, although still very cool, into the evening. Having passed on the evening meal provided at the retreat house, we made reservations for 7 pm at the restaurant attached to the Crown and Anchor Pub and B&B, then we went back to the room and rested for a spell.
Anne had asked about us using the Marygate House washer and drier – we took the clothes there intending to do them ourselves, but the lady who checked us in earlier took over and said that she would handle them and deposit them at our room along with the new bed linens for in the morning. (This was not a B&B – we had to remake the bed with clean linens before we left, and also fend for ourselves in the little kitchen for breakfast. But there was no fee – the retreat houses run on a donation basis. I left them an average B&B fee.) We went on to the restaurant and made notes while we waited for our food. We had leek and potato soup (huge bowls); Anne had fish and chips (actually the best looking ones I saw the whole trip, particularly the chips [fries]); I had the special of the day, a Pork and Guinness casserole with mashed potatoes. Dinner was excellent once again!
Afterward, we walked back to our room, had tea – meeting a very old but very funny lady in the kitchen – and headed to bed.
Friday, 28 March
We got up, dressed, fixed our own breakfast. I had a bowl of cereal; Anne had toast. It was windy and very rainy outside – probably the hardest rain we saw on the trip. We visited briefly with some other guests – including a (literally) purple-haired female “vicar and priest(ess?)” from Edinburgh (obviously Anglican – and Anne’s pretty sure she was the one violating the “No Smoking” policy last night), and the little old lady from last night. We hit the Lindisfarne Post Office/Gift Shop when it opened at 9 am to buy gifts and souvenirs. Among other things, I bought Anne a St. Cuthbert’s Cross necklace. Then we headed out to Edinburgh. The causeway had opened at about 8 am, but there was still standing water on it as well as a bunch of sand washed across it. Cars were moving across it just fine, however.
Just after getting back on the mainland, we were stopped at a railroad crossing. The lights were flashing and the barrier was down, but no train – then whoosh! – it passed by in seconds, north to south, going at least 150 miles an hour! Once we got on the A1 we continued northward, frequently riding right along the North Sea coast on the way to Edinburgh.
Our “Sat Nav” (the British term) took us right around to the Park and Ride at Hermiston on the west of Edinburgh, at the intersection of the A720 loop and the A71. We caught the Lothian Bus no. 25 to the City Center, getting off a bit early at Princes Street. We walked along that street in the general direction I knew we needed to go to catch one of the bus tours which start from Waverly Bridge. We found another souvenir shop, The Works, as well as a Lloyd’s Bank where we finally exchanged the Euros Mary sent Anne. At The Works we picked up a bunch of stuff, including an Edinburgh tee shirt for me and an Edinburgh hoodie for Tristan. Then we ate at “The Scottish Restaurant” (McDonald’s) for a quick bite. We found the TIC and bought tickets for the one-hour bus tour with a live guide named Brian.
We did about half of the bus tour, seeing such things as: the (Sir Walter) Scott Monument, St. John’s and St. Cuthbert’s Churches (the live guide regaled us with the story of Burke and Hare – I told him my last name and he said he had a lady named Burke on his last tour), and the apartment building where J. K. Rowling lived in the early 1990s, the café where she wrote the first Harry Potter book, and the old castle-like school that supposedly inspired Hogwart’s. That was all in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle perched up on a rocky mount. We jumped off the tour as it turned onto the Royal Mile (connecting the Castle at the western end with the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the eastern end) because Anne saw some discounted wool scarves, etc., in a storefront.
I walked up to the foregate of Edinburgh Castle and got some pictures. Anne bought a pretty blue wool cardigan. We continued the bus tour on a different bus with a different guide, a lady whose name we did not get. We went most of the rest of the way along the tour – past the National Library and Museum of Scotland (separate), around to a very modernistic Sci-Port-like museum called “Dynamic Earth,” in the shadow of “Arthur’s Seat,” another rocky mount, around past Holyroodhouse (the queen’s official residence in Edinburgh), past the Robert Burns Monument, back to pretty close to where we started. There was another loop of the tour from there, but by then I had become worried about time and we had completed the “Old Town” part, so we hopped off to catch the no. 25 bus back to the Hermiston Park and Ride.
Unfortunately “a serious accident on Haymarket” made the half-hour trip back out to the P&R more like an hour. Then the Forth Road Bridge across the Firth of Forth was very backed up – rush hour – the forty-minute trip up the M90 to Kinross was at least an hour and a half. All told we were at least an hour and a quarter late getting to our B&B there – the Burnbank. Our hosts, the Cathcarts, were gone to Glasgow for a wedding; a friend named Grace was there to let us in, but she had gotten worried about us and was about to have to leave by 5:30. We got there at 5:15 – just in time. Grace showed us to the Blue Room (very attractively furnished), gave us all the information we needed (and the keys), and let us know the Cathcarts would be back about 11 pm.
We barely lit at Burnbank before we headed back out to grab a quick bite to eat at the Burger King at the Kinross exit and head back to Edinburgh. It turned out that our trip back south was much quicker, and we arrived at the Merchiston Castle School in Colinton (a western suburb of Edinburgh) about 6:50, in plenty of time for the 7:30 first concert of the Edinburgh Harp Festival 2008. We got our bearings and found the theater and picked up our tickets. The concert, 7:30-10 pm, was very entertaining. We sat up close, on the fifth row of about twenty.
At the “interim” we bought two CDs by Maíre ní Chathasaigh (harp) and Chris Newman (guitar), and even got one autographed by them. (They were joined for this concert by a bassist and a percussionist. The video is of a song they played, but from a different event.) The interim included refreshments – I had a glass of wine; Anne had apple juice and a chocolate biscuit.
We got back to the Burnbank B&B about 11:10, finally meeting our hosts, Ewan and Myra Cathcart. She had already changed, but he still had on his formal kilt from the wedding. They were a very pleasant couple. We went to bed quite late, after midnight.
Saturday, 29 March
We had breakfast at 8 am again – since we are now in Scotland, it was a “Cooked Breakfast,” not “English.” But it was pretty much the same thing, except starting with some porridge – basically oatmeal. And there was a wider selection within the basic “Cooked Breakfast” “food groups.” For instance, we had a choice of cereals and fruits, as well as a choice of sausages – we got pork and apple, very tasty. Again, our hosts served us rather than joined us, unfortunately, so we visited with them very little. We really wish we could have gotten to know them better. At one point, Ewan asked if we live near where Tabasco Sauce is made, then a few minutes later, right as we were leaving, he appeared in a Tabasco tie a Baptist church choir from Lafayette had given him. (From various reading materials laid about, it was apparent that Ewan and Myra are pretty religious, and we gathered that they were part of the group hosting that choir.) He also regaled us with a couple of anecdotes about Holy Island. The one that sticks with me is that the people there have a taboo against saying the word “pig” – they refer to one as a “young’un” or “that article over there!”
We were off by 9:15 headed north, continuing along the M9 to Dunkeld. There we saw the Cathedral of St. Columba, Kenneth MacAlpin’s royal-ecclesiastical center ca. 850.Cinead mac Ailpin was the king of both Dalriada Scottish and Pictish descent who unified them into one Scottish kingdom (he’s considered the first Scottish king15) – and translated some of the relics of St. Columba from Iona to Dunkeld. Once again, much of the church is in ruins (thanks to Reformation iconoclasts) – only what was once the choir and the chancel survive as the modern parish church and a small museum.
In that museum I saw another of my trip goals – a Pictish stone, “The Apostles’ Stone” (named for one side showing two rows of six human figures each – the interpretation is not unanimous. There is a battle scene on the other side). Not one of the older stones with the mysterious, almost hieroglyphic symbols, unfortunately, but pretty impressive nonetheless.16 Anyway, the main part of the church stands only as a roofless shell overlooking the River Tay. We walked briefly around part of the little town, finding a bakery where we got two scones, going in the requisite gift shop, then were back on the road.
We stopped briefly at Blair Atholl for petrol, then a few miles down the road (at Myra’s suggestion) at Bruar, which was kind of like a Cracker Barrel – a restaurant with a country-store/gift shop plus a mini-mall around it. Cold as it was, we got ice cream there. Then we were back on the road, passing up across desolate moorland through the Grampian Mountains into the Highlands of Scotland. Magnificent. Many of the mountains had snow atop them in much greater amounts than the Pennines in central England. (We had also seen some snow patches on the ground round about Hadrian’s Wall on Thursday.) But it was so misty and cloudy that in many cases we could not really distinguish where the top of the mountain was.
We lost about thirty minutes due to some kind of oil tank truck mishap ahead of us, but made our way up the M9 through the mountains to Inverness and turned down the A82 to drive along Loch Ness down to Drumnadrochit. We stopped at one point where I saw a path down to the shore of the loch – I picked up a couple of rocks as souvenirs.
We arrived at the Loch Ness Centre in Drumnadrochit about 3:20 – but their boat cruise that I had found on the internet was not running. The chap in the lobby suggested the Clansman Hotel a few miles back up the road, however, where we managed to get tickets for the (last) 4 pm Jacobite Cruise, a one-hour trip basically to and from the ruins of Urquhart Castle (which is actually near Drumnadrochit). That cruise was an experience. Even though reason says that there is no such thing as the Loch Ness Monster, well…. We started out on the upper deck, and got some pictures, but cold wind and misty rain drove us to the covered lower deck where they were even selling hot tea. At one point it felt like something hit the bottom of the boat. Predictably they said it was Nessie’s tail. All through the cruise a tape gave a running commentary both on what we were seeing, the history of the Loch and the monster sightings, and general Scottish history with an emphasis on the Jacobites – largely Scottish Highlander adherents of the Stuart line of claimants to kingship after the ouster of King James II in 1689 – Jacobus is Latin for “James.” Anyway, back at the Clansman dock, we went into the gift shop for more geegaws.
Then we drove back to Drumnadrochit to the Knowle B&B, where we checked in with our hostess Mirjam (she and her husband – we barely ever met him – are actually Dutch). A little past 6 pm we went out and (following Mirjam’s suggestion) had a good meal at Fiddler’s Pub and Restaurant. Anne had gnocchi and vegetable gratin, I had “Hunter’s Chicken”; we each had desserts – Anne a chocolate almond tart, me “Columba’s Cheesecake” – we switched halfway. I also had a bottle of Fraoch’s Heather Ale with the meal. We wrote up our notes for the past couple of days.
Back at the B&B, we went ahead and changed our watches forward to “Summer Time” (like our Daylight Savings Time, but a few weeks later – so starting tomorrow the difference between British time and Central US time is back to the normal six hours). Even though we had been depending on our cell phone alarms to get us up every other morning, I was not sure how they would handle the time change, so I set my watch to wake us up. We got to bed fairly early.
Sunday, 30 March
We were up, packed, and dressed for 8 am breakfast. Anne decided to go light – just porridge and yogurt. I had the Cooked Breakfast – a fried egg, mushrooms, baked beans, “bacon,” sausage and a fried tomato (I declined the Black Pudding, which includes blood – yech!) plus cereal and toast.
We were out a bit before 9 am, continuing down the A82 the length of Loch Ness southwest through the Great Glen, the big valley cutting straight through the Highlands, stopping a couple of times for photo ops. Pretty quickly after leaving Drumnadrochit we got a good view of the ruins of Urquhart Castle. St. Columba of Iona once made a trip up the Great Glen to the castle of a Pictish king, either at the site of Urquhart Castle or at Inverness. Incidentally, Adomnán’s Life of St. Columba contains the first historical reference to the Monster. Continuing on, we drove for quite some distance with the Loch just to our left (but fifty to a hundred feet down) and sheer rocky cliff just to our right. Sometimes we would see waterfalls in the rock on the right. Once we had passed the southwestern end of Loch Ness, as we neared Fort William, but missed (in that we were not sure which one was) Ben Nevis to the south, the highest mountain in Scotland. Of course, per usual, it rained on us off and on the entire way, and many of the mountains were shrouded in mist.
We arrived in Fort William twenty minutes before the 11 am Mass. It was very nice. The church (another St. Mary’s) was consecrated like our own Immaculate Conception in Natchitoches (we could tell by the crosses inscribed in the walls). One big difference was that the kneelers did not have pads – ouch! We were out of Mass and back on the road by 12 noon, continuing south along the A82. We stopped at the TIC in Ballachulish, then again just a couple miles further along at Glencoe, the site of a treacherous massacre of Clan MacDonald by Campbells in the service of the English during the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Jacobite rebellions – after the Campbells had accepted the MacDonalds’ hospitality. At the Glencoe TIC we had a light sandwich lunch – and found a pressed penny machine – Anne pressed one for Tristan. We drove on through more magnificent terrain, mountains on every side – but the road was very windy and treacherous. At one of the TICs I had seen a petition to do something about the A82, “The Most Dangerous Road in Britain.” I could see why.
At one point (after a couple other photo stops), we came upon a layby with large Scottish deer right there with people, as well as a gift stall, a hot drinks stall, and a bagpiper playing for donations!
(I dropped him a couple of pounds.) We continued southward along Loch Lomond to Paisley and the Glasgow Airport Travelodge, where we found a warm reception (in contrast to London). The girl at the desk walked us to our room to make sure everything was all right – and it was.
We dropped our bags there at the hotel then emptied the car and took it to the drop-off point. (I took some pictures right before we turned it in, just in case.) We had put 1405 miles on it since last Saturday morning. We left it there an hour and 45 minutes early – 4:15 pm, with all of 3/8 tank of petrol (they gave it to us virtually empty). A bus took us right back to the Travelodge. We had considered catching a bus to Glasgow, but decided to stay in the hotel for the evening. We ate supper at the Bar Café, catching up on our notes. We had fish and chips one last time – this time with truly mushy peas but frozen “chips.” Unfortunately, Anne was disappointed when the waitress told her the sticky toffee pudding was “finished,” that is, they had run out. (The rather overworked young lady seemed to be Eastern European of some kind.) Anne had had an envie for sticky toffee pudding ever since she saw it on the menu at the pub on Holy Island but had been too full to get it, then did not find it on any other menu until here at the Travelodge. After supper, we organized our bags,17 read, got drinks from the bar, then finally went to bed.
Monday, 31 March
We were up at 5 am and out a few minutes after 6 am. A shuttle transferred us across the highway to the airport. We found out there that our 9:30 flight to London-Heathrow had been cancelled, but they put us on an earlier flight. We passed through security with a bit more scrutiny than at Houston, but some things are no different. Their equivalents of TSA agents are just like ours – typically pissy, probably waiting for the good job opportunity at McDonalds. Late add-ons, we could not sit together – both of us had middle seats in rows of three. The flight went okay – a bit more than an hour in the air, with another in-flight GPS showing us our progress. They served us a miniature English Breakfast along the way. Then we had to transfer from Heathrow Terminal 5 to Terminal 4 – a twenty minute bus ride, standing room only.18 We went through another security check, then had a long wait – the flight to Houston was not until 1:15. Anne was finally able to use some of the Euro coins (the bank in Edinburgh would only exchange bills) to get some last minute gifts. I also bought the first Harry Potter book in a paperback edition with its real title – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. (The American publisher believed that “philosopher” would turn dumb Americans away, so changed it to “sorceror” instead.) We boarded the plane about 1 pm – or rather Anne did. They pulled me aside at random right before boarding and subjected me to another search, including a pat-down. I think this was the fifth time today I had to take off my boots. The big black guy conducting the search was, however, daunted by my bag. I was carrying the red duffel bag into which Anne had put all – all – our souvenirs. He took out a couple of layers, said, “This bag is very complex!” and let me go on. Anne had gotten a little worried. First, she had tried to stay with me but they would not let her. Then she thought it was taking too long. Anyway, we finally got situated. We sat about the same place in the rear of the plane as the flight to the UK, except that we were on the left side this time. We took off a bit late, about 1:30 or so, but landed pretty much on time at 11:30 British time – 5:30 pm Houston time. They gave us a pretty good meal really early in the flight – but then little or nothing. We each watched parts of a couple movies, but not the whole thing in either case. Got very little of a nap, either. I watched the in-flight GPS most of the rest of the time, and read.
By the time we got through Customs and Baggage Claim, it was 7 pm (1 am according to our bodies). We picked up our car from Fast Park, drove almost an hour to Anne’s sister Jude’s house, stopping at a couple places near there: Target to get me some contact lens solution because I ran out; Barnes and Noble looking for the second volume in The Camulod Chronicles (I was nearing the end of the first on the plane) – I did not find it, but bought Steven Saylor’s Roma; Taco Bell. Once at Jude’s19 we reconsolidated our luggage and Anne ran a load of laundry. We finally got to bed about 10 pm or so, which felt like 4 am.
One bit of adjustment for us coming back is going to be the temperature – while we were there the digital thermometer in the rental car read between the extremes of about 2C and 9.5C (36F and 47F), more typically between 5 and 8 C (40 and 46 F) – we landed in Houston with it over 80F – and the Customs area of Bush International did not seem to have any air going.
Tuesday, 1 April 2008
We were up pretty early – jet lag was telling our bodies that 5 am was really 11 am! We left Jude’s before 8 am, got breakfast at a kolache shop, and hit the road for home. We ate at the Jack in the Box in the town just south of Lufkin, and arrived back in Natchitoches some time before 2 pm – in time to pick Tristan up from school. Our big trip came to an end.
* * *
- I am adding any other things that come to mind here, rather in the text, because getting those pictures to reposition properly when text is added is too difficult.
- As we were walking through Gatwick Airport soon after arrival, we were immediately exposed to the strangest British name we came upon during the trip. A man was holding a placard to welcome a traveler named “Sourbutt.” We thought it must be some kind of joke and laughed about it for a couple days. But they really exist –www.ancestry.com shows a couple clusters of Sourbutts in England! But it made us think of “Mr. ‘Titspuhvuht’” in the first Bridgit Jones movie.* * *Notes
1. Out-of-sequence alphabetic tags results from the way I had to program Google Maps to accurately reflect our itinerary.
2. Tristan did not want to come on this trip and we did not make him. It turned out that the Boy Scouts were having their big Easter Break hike during this period anyway. So Anne’s sister and mother came to Natchitoches, took him to Lafayette for a few days, then brought him back for the Scout trip which departed on Wednesday the 26th. Finally, they came back and stayed with him from his return Saturday until our own on Tuesday 1 April.
3. I actually brought several books, but only ever read in this one. Anne gave me what-for about those books, their weight, and the space they were taking up several times during the week.
4. The exchange rate hovered within a cent or two of $2 per pound – everything was relatively very expensive.
5. Anne later admitted she had worried the whole flight and all day Friday and Friday night about it.
6. It was actually about £1.07p per liter. At home, the price of gas was increasing, and had just passed about $3.10 per gallon.
7. I did not realize until much later, writing this journal and tracing our route in an atlas, that we passed within 150 yards of Stonehenge. That prehistoric megalithic structure was not on my list of things to see, but it would have been cool to glimpse it anyway. If we had not gotten lost earlier in the day, there may have been enough light to do so. As it was, it was pitch black.
8. Northumbria? – Mercia? – Until ca. 900, Anglo-Saxon England was not a single kingdom but a group of kingdoms. Northumbria was basically the north. Mercia was the midlands. Among the others were East Anglia, Kent, and Wessex.
9. The gift shop sells a £5 CD with jpegs of the highlights – I bought it of course.
10. And this time I am not aware of a CD for sale. That is one reason we bought the guidebooks everywhere.
11. It was along this drive that we saw one of several signs we wish we had gotten pictures of – in this case, “DO NOT RELY ON SAT-NAV” (the British term for GPS). Another we saw near the end of the trip, in Fort William, Scotland, had an icon of a bent old man and old lady, saying something like, “ELDERLY PEOPLE.”
12. Iona was the site of St. Columba’s monastery, established ca. 560 from northern Ireland, which became the northern focus of Christianity in Britain in the next century. It was the spiritual center of the western Scottish kingdom of Dalriada, itself an import from northern Ireland. The major goal for this trip that went unfulfilled was to visit Iona and maybe stay there overnight. Logistics and uncertainty regarding the weather at this time of year scratched that idea … this time.
13. It should be “in vallo Hadriano” – what I said was “walking into Hadrian’s Wall,” which I am sure would have been a sight in itself. And I think “in muro Hadriano” would be more correct still.
14. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, s.a. 793, Lindisfarne was the site of the very first recorded Viking raid in northern Europe. After suffering several such raids, by the late 800s the monks finally abandoned the island for the mainland, carrying the relics of St. Cuthbert first to Chester-le-Street for over a century and then (995) to Durham.
15. A brief history lesson: When the Romans ruled southern Britain, basically modern England and Wales, during the first four centuries AD, they called the people of modern Scotland Picti, “the Painted People,” from their elaborate tattoos and war paint (think Mel Gibson in Braveheart). The Scotti lived in Ireland. Ca. 500, some of the northern Irish Scots migrated to northwestern Britain and established the kingdom of Dalriada along the western coast and islands. Over the next couple hundred years, the Scots and the Picts competed for control, until Kenneth MacAlpin united in his person the two royal lines and created “Scotland.”
16. Seeing one of the older-style stones proved logistically impossible. For a long time I had planned to cut across to Aberlemno, about an hour out of our way, risking our scheduled arrival at Loch Ness for a chance to see two standing alongside the road and one in the churchyard there. It was actually fairly late in the planning that I happened upon a website that revealed that those stones are literally boxed up – covered and out of sight – from 1 October to 1 April, to protect them from the elements. I would miss them by days. Then I had decided on Sueno’s Stone, which is more like the Apostles’ Stone but a lot bigger (thirteen feet tall, I think), sitting alongside a road about 45 minutes east of Inverness – permanently covered by a glass enclosure, but worried about the time. Finally, studying up on Scottish history I learned about Kenneth MacAlpin and Dunkeld, and the fact that the chancel museum there has a Pictish stone presented itself as a way to kill two birds with one stone (so to speak). Adaptability – that’s the name of the game!
17. Although we managed to bring everything we needed as carry-on to the UK, we knew that going home we would have to check luggage – with stuff we bought we had too much for carry-on. So we brought a collapsible bag inside our carry-on.
18. But dealing with the literally just-opened Terminal 5 as little as possible was a good thing. It opened Friday, I believe, and while we were in the bank in Edinburgh a TV was showing what the caption called “Chaos at Terminal 5.” We were worried, although as it turned out the real problem was baggage being checked in there – the system apparently broke completely down. Since we were checking our baggage at Glasgow and it was just transferring at Heathrow, we were told we would probably be okay, as it turned out we were.
19. Jude and Paul were not there, doing Cat[astrophe] duty in the Dallas area [Paul is an insurance adjustor, and there were recently major storms with hail damage in the area], but we have a key and their gracious permission.