S: Four by England by Train
FC: Four by England by Train June 27-July 17, 2007
1: You are about to read the adventures of four friends who went on a vacation together. When we first thought about where to go, we threw England out there, mostly because Chris was a native, and he might know of some out of the way places to visit. When it became apparent that Martha also had some ties to that country (her love of literature and Judy Dench), it became a reality. Planning this trip was an adventure in itself, with multiple meetings and map perusals. Our planning get-togethers brought us from the screened-in porch and poolside on Carriage Drive to the National Seashore and solarium on Cape Cod. Our idea was to divide the country into four quadrants, with each of the friends taking a favorite region. The object was to plot a route that would encompass all the interesting places reachable either by train, bus, or underground system, without leaving out any “I’ve always wanted to see” places. We knew this was an almost insurmountable feat, but it became especially difficult when John presented his map of the London Underground, with all unfamiliar stations. Chris finally puzzled out that the listings were in anagram format, and that there really wasn’t a station called “Wifely Stench." And so the adventure started from such humble beginnings, and you will read how the four of us embarked on a trip that had all the makings of a Masterpiece Theatre mini-series. With the purchases of four BritRail passes, four backpacks, and several pre-bookings of cottages and Bed & Breakfast inns, we were on our way, and never looked back. We cemented a friendship(tightly bound to begin with), and met and experienced England as we never imagined we could. It was the trip of a lifetime and this is our record of those adventures. Martha & Margo
2: Mi | Tate Museum - lunch of VERY expensive nuts and soup. We began to review our spending habits quite early in the trip. Then the Globe Theatre -booking for Merchant of Venice sets us back a bit. | Millennium Bridge - finally something we could do for free!!
3: Juenasdf | 6-27-07- London - We arrived in London very early (5:15 am) and opted to buy a tube pass for our explorations. We took the tube to the Fairway Hotel where we planned to store our luggage. The tube ride was partly above ground through neighborhoods of older homes which looked like the chimney scene from Mary Poppins. We ate a quick breakfast at a little cafe near King's Cross and then took the tube to the Tower to beat the crowds. We saw the Crown Jewels in a leisurely manner and then joined a tour by a Yeoman Warder. From there, we walked along the Thames, crossing at Southwark Bridge to the Globe and The Tate Modern, where we ate our lunch of soup, nuts, and tea, spending 28 pounds ($60). Lots of incomprehensible modern art but also some classics. | Next, we walked across the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul's where one can't go in unless one pays! Back to the Fairway Hotel for a shower and wash before John and I visited the British Library. Meanwhile, Chris and Margo found a neighborhood pub, McGilly's, for supper, delicious, cheap, and charming! After supper, we took the tube to Hyde Park, strolled in the rain and back to our hotel for bed - an early night after a very long day.
4: 6-28-07 - London to Bath After a sausage and egg breakfast at the Fairway, we took a very crowded train to Reading. It was open day at Bristol, and the train was loaded with teenagers going to view the college there. We changed trains at Chris’ suggestion, and continued to the village of Avebury to the ancient stone circles there, older than Stonehenge. There was a darling tourist information stone chapel that had some very helpful ladies who filled us in on the local color of the village. We left our packs at the adjacent antique shop and navigated through the fields of sheep to view these massive stone boulders. Then we went to the Red Lion pub for our ploughman’s lunch – cheese and Bradford pickle on grainy bread. Upon finishing that, we boarded a double decker bus for a wild ride to Salisbury, crashing into branches along the way. We passed through several villages where we stopped to pick up local school children in starched uniforms on their way home from school, and a few brave souls chatted up the “American dudes”. Upon arriving at Salisbury, we visited the cathedral and saw one of the four original Magna Cartas. We strolled through the village, then boarded the train for Bath Spa. We arrived early evening at the White Hart Hostel B&B, where we checked in and dropped our backpacks. We wandered looking for a local pub, and happened upon the Royal Oak for a yummy dinner – at 9PM- of sausages and cider. We ended our day with a walk along the canal, and then climbed into bed around 11PM. | The sun reappeared after lunch and we were able to walk the stone circle among the sheep, imagining those who placed the stones and wondering at their intent. | above: the TI (and church) right: the Red Lion
5: Salisbury is a wonderful medieval town with modern shops along ancient streets. One can see the cathedral spire long before reaching the city and it seems to dominate the town center. We were able to visit just before the evening service while the organist was practicing. We strolled through the cloister observing the crumbling surface of the cathedral stone which appears to be a type of light colored sandstone in great need of serious restoration. | above: Salisbury and Cathedral right: Royal Oak Pub, Bath
6: We had a pub lunch and then split up, Margo and I visiting the Museum of Costume and Chris and John going to the library for Internet access, and the train station for schedules. On our way home, we passed by Jane Austen's house, and browsed through stalls for souvenirs in the town center. We met back at the White Hart and still had time for a stroll along the canal towpath - my favorite part of the day. Many canal boats, a series of working locks and the views of the city and surrounding hills made a glorious adventure. Swans and cygnets, ducks and ducklings with bright golden breasts and a lone coot shared the canal with the boats, and seeing the locks in operation made the afternoon even more special. We had a short nap before heading back into the city center to look for dinner - a golden evening. We walked along the river, crossed the Poultney Bridge lined with shops like the Ponte Vecchio, and found a pleasant pub for supper. We ended the night with gelati, and visited a used bookstore before heading back to the hostel for tea and chats. | 6-29-07 - Our full day in Bath began with "serve-yourself" breakfast in the company of a young man from Southampton who was working as a contract graphic designer in Bath, and a South African touring England - both very congenial. While working the toaster, we managed to set off the fire alarm, which was soon quieted by management. At last, we were off to the Roman Baths which were fascinating - a social meeting place for thousands of years. Situated right next to Bath Abbey, the baths once were the location of a temple dedicated to Minerva and a Celtic goddess, Sulis. We each had an audio guide and could stroll the exhibits and Roman ruins, each at his own pace. The sun was shining on the main bath and the green waters against the yellow stone of the buildings with the blue sky above was gorgeous. From there, we strolled the streets past upscale shops and restaurants, street performers and vendors to the Bath Circus and Royal Crescent - magnificent Georgian architecture in the same honey colored stone. Bath is set on hills along the River Avon and the views are spectacular.
7: In the garden at the White Hart | The public gardens in Bath | L: Margo "in costume!" R: John and Chris lost in the labyrinth
8: 6-30-07 - Bath to Penzance With a packed lunch of cheese sandwiches, we left Bath early in the light rain and took the train to St. Austell. It felt good to sit and watch the passing countryside from the train window -many fields of sheep and some cows and fewer horses on rolling hillsides with pastures bordered by hedgerows. Towns and villages do not sprawl into one another as at home in Connecticut and far fewer roads make for much more scenic travel. We passed through Bristol, Exeter, Newton Abbott, Plymouth, and many smaller towns on the way. The Cornish coast has sections of very red sandstone, especially near Saltash and Plymouth where many layers of strata are clearly visible. | We “alit” in St. Austell in rain and took a bus to the Eden Project. Begun in 1998 in an abandoned clay mine, it is an educational exhibit of a wide variety of flora and three different environments: rain forest, Mediterranean temperate, and Cornwall. Clearly, the idea is to foster an appreciation of the wonderful variety of plant life,an understanding of its place in our lives as a source of food and other products and of our impact on various ecosystems. Since about 2/3 of the exhibits are indoors, it was perfect for this rainy day. We continued by train in late afternoon to Penzance. Our B&B was quiet and lovely - a good place to catch our breath. A walk around the town and a pub supper finished the day at The Toby Jug; rather unpub-like but tasty! News yesterday and today of bombs found and bombings in London and Glasgow was a bit unsettling. We must try to call or email the folks at home tomorrow!
9: Everything grows big here in Cornwall (Eden Project bee made of recycled materials)
10: 7-1-07 –Cornwall - A glorious day in Cornwall! I opened the curtains this morning to bright sun but by the time I’d washed up, it had clouded over and was spitting rain again. We had a leisurely and legitimate English breakfast with real china and a tablecloth – a lovely start to the day. After consulting with Anne, the owner of the Penrose Guest House, we decided to head to Land's End and walk the coast path from there. We bought day passes for the bus and set off on the top of a double-decker - another Mr. Toad’s wild ride! On the bus with us were two German women who had been on the Eden Project bus with us the day before. We agreed they must be spies, following us for MI-5. That theory fell apart when they got off at the Merry Maidens, a small stone circle. We continued on the bus for Land's End, passing hilltop farms and the occasional English Gothic church, most appropriate for a Sunday morning. | Land's End is a bizarre assortment of souvenir shops and odd amusements like a pirate movie and a helicopter with dummy pilots. There is also a spot where one can have one’s picture taken beneath a signpost pointing the distance to one’s hometown. We chose instead to walk the path about a mile to the beachside fishing village of Sennen Cove where the houses cling the the cliffside and there is a sandy beach. The rain had stopped and the sun had appeared so our views of ocean, cliffs, rocks, crashing waves and wheeling birds were breathtaking. We passed such spots as Maen Cliff Castle, stone blocks still marking what must have been an entrance to a long-gone structure | Just before reaching Sennen Cove, another more recent structure stood on a headland. Inside was a guide for the National Trust with guidebooks and information. Discussion with her inspired Chris and John to continue on from Sennen to Cape Cornwall, just outside the town of St. Just. We all descended the path to Sennen Cove and had a snack before they continued on, and Margo and I explored the village more fully, lifeboat museum, small shops with local arts and crafts and of course, the beach. We then caught the bus, an open topped double decker, to St. Just and a walk out to Cape Cornwall. We opted for a public footpath which crossed several enclosed fields with cows and bulls (!) before returning to the main road. Just as we came out on the road, there were John and Chris! Together we explored Cape Cornwall, a spectacular spot with a golf course at the edge of the cliffs and the ancient ruined stone “oratory” of St. Helen, about 4 feet square. You'd have to be a saint to hang out there! Back in St. Just, we caught the bus back to Penzance and got several local restaurant reviews from the gregarious driver, Carl. Unfortunately, his top choice of a fish dinner in Newlyn wasn't open when we arrived so we had Indian food at a "Little India", recommended by Marc, husband of Anne at the B&B. It was a great day and the only disappointment was no ice cream shops were open after dinner! Margo and I made plans for tomorrow, while John went out for a run. Pretty great day: sunny, breezy, and warm!!! A rarity so far on this trip!
12: 7/2/07- Penzance Up for a full English breakfast then a morning of chores. We headed into town to check out the library to find an Oxford B&B. Martha and John checked email while Chris and I went in search of a telephone to extend our lakes stay for one more day. Both met with success. Then we went off to Lavender's to buy some Cornish pasties for our theatre dinner at Minack. Quick return to Penrose, then down to the bus station to pick up a day pass for a trip to Marazion and St. Michael's Mount. Met up with our bus driver, Carl, who in fact changed his route to include our itinerary. He took us to the ancient market town center with directions for our return. We walked the cobbled causeway path to St. Michael's Mount, exploring the monastery on the cliffs. Awesome, yet scary trek up the stone stairway, fabulous interior rooms and beautiful cliffside gardens. Back to Marazion for lunch: Martha's cream tea experience was worth the calories, and we enjoyed soups while craving her lunch. Returned to Penrose, and while Martha and John rested, we stopped for a cuppa at the Toby Jug, and read the local papers before the evening's play. With "rugs" from Marc & Anne, we took off by bus -Carl again- with rain pelting down. We stopped at a local pub for fish and chips, then hiked uphill to the Minack Theatre. Entering through beautiful, tropic-like gardens, we settled onto grassy steps, and enjoyed the first act "Of Mice and Men" in the pouring rain. As the waves crashed against the stage, and the actors were plastered in rain, we wrapped ourselves in clear garbage bags, and laughed through it all. By intermission it had stopped raining, but we were wet and cold. Although we enjoyed the play and the evening, we virtually ran for the 10:45 last bus of the evening, and welcomed a warm bed that night.
13: Off to Porthcurno and Minack Theater in a light drizzle. Our new bus driver friend, Carl, took one look at our bags of "rugs" and laughed, "You'll need more than that, Luvs." The theater is build into the cliff and is heart-stoppingly dramatic, surrounded by colorful gardens with some of the most gigantic blooms imaginable - sedums the size of cabbages. An evening to remember for sure!
14: 7/3/07 - Penzance to Oxford - Up early and, after breakfast and goodbyes to Anne and Marc, off on the train to Oxford. Clearing skies gave us a chance to see more of the countryside from the train window – farms, fields, cows and sheep, small villages children on school playgrounds starting their days, and, dotting the hillsides , what we assume are smelting chimneys at old tin mines. | After a “train picnic” of Cornish pasties and apples, we arrived in Reading and changed trains for the short ride to Oxford. Once there, we were able to leave our packs at the Oxford Backpackers Hostel for two pounds apiece. Chris then became our very official tour guide around his historic college town. The town was overflowing with tourists and American students so we felt lucky to have our own private tour with Chris and Margo. The cobbled streets and lanes were teaming with life and along the way we heard about how Chris came to Oxford and about some of his student experiences – most notably having to wear a white tie, black gown and mortarboard to take his exams!
15: Chris took us to Worcester College, his alma mater, where we strolled through the quad and enjoyed the lovely summer sun in the gardens where we had our first kiss some 35 years ago. To Martha's delight, we were able to enter the "Members Only" library where we were awed by stacks of old tomes. We then toured the city, past Christ Church, Magdalene Bridge (site of our first punt in 1972), Radcliffe Square, Bodleian Library, and Ashmolean Museum | Worcester College Chapel
16: That night, we landed in the middle of a fairytale village, Islip, about 20 minutes northeast of Oxford. Our b&b, Riversdale, was in an old stone house originally built in the 1600’s and beautifully restored by our hosts Mary and Richard Giles. All mod cons but with taste and in keeping with the feel of the original home. Every home in the center of this village, birthplace of Edward I ( the Confessor) has been preserved and restored with similar care. Supper was at the Red Lion Pub just steps down the street and what a cast of local characters we met there. The bartender/waiter, chef, and local patrons all entertained us and took turns giving advice and info about Islip (the local quarry supplied the stone for the Islip chapel at West minster Abbey – a fact we learned from Howard and his newly adopted Jack Russell terrier, Jack!) and about what to see/do and where to eat in the Lake District. We finished with a walk around the village before heading back to bed at Riversdale.
18: 7/4/07 Islip - Windermere One week in England already?? Mary fixed us a true English breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, and mushrooms on fine china and local pottery, then we said sad goodbyes and walked to the small platform known as Islip Station. We were off to Birmingham, with a change to Windermere. Through the long travel day - Islip-Oxford-Birmingham-Windermere - we ate a grinder lunch and watched some lovely countryside out the train window. There were sheep everywhere, including outside the train station bathroom window! | We found our B&B, Lingmoor Guest House, and visited the Lakes Tourist Information. Checked out hikes to Helvellyn, and then went for a walk along the footpaths around Lake Windemere. John almost fell into the lake from a mossy boulder - not boding well for his hike tomorrow. We continued through woods and gardens then back to Lingmoor to clean up for a supper at Magic Wok - nothing magic about it! Of course, after all this, we had to find an ice cream shop, but once again, the one in Bowness had closed 5 min. before we got there. We decided if we ever wanted to make a living in England, we would own an ice cream shop that stays open late. We once again explored the town, and past the boathouse and tour kiosks. Chris reminded me that we had booked a boat here many years ago. We stopped at Churchill's Pub and behold, we were able to order ice cream with our tea. We ended our night with a phone call to Julie to set up a future date, and in bed by 11PM.
19: 7/5/07 Grasmere - Keswick - A cloudy day from the start with rain predicted later so John and Chris opted to postpone their Helvellyn hike. Instead, we all got “rover” tickets for the buses and headed first to Grasmere to see St. Oswald’s, the Wordsworth family church and sample the famous Grasmere gingerbread about which our hostess Rose had told us. Chris also rediscovered another treat remembered from childhood, flapjack, an oat and honey cake that was sinfully delicious. The Church of St. Oswald dates back to the 13th century, with wood- beamed ceiling, stone floors, and an unusual stone font with a pointed wooden cover. We learned of the local custom of “rushing”, a church celebration during which children parade through town to church with flowers, branches and flower crosses. The custom probably dates to the time when the church floor was dirt and had to be covered with rushes several time a year. We also walked a bit along the river and visited a local art gallery where I purchased a small print of Lake Windemere for Dan – this is Arthur Ransome (Swallows and Amazons) country! | From Grasmere, we hopped back on a bus to continue north to Keswick on Derwentwater. We passed and noted the trail head for Helvellyn. Keswick is a market town so we poked in shops and stalls, had a lunch of lentil curry on wheat buns (baps) and then took a round trip bus around Buttermere. In this part of the lakes, the mountains come right down to the lake edges. The water is crystal clear and sheep in great numbers graze on the hillsides. The roads are impossibly narrow and today our bus had to actually backup to a lay-by on several occasions. Walkers and hikers are everywhere. The scenery is striking, not really what one thinks of as England, but more rugged and starkly beautiful . The mountainsides have few, if any, trees but are green and farmhouses are often tucked into the folds and fells. Because of all the rain lately, the lakes and streams are high and the waterfalls are gushing.
20: In Keswick, we changed buses to Ambleside, and walked to the "Bridge House", the inspiration for my Lilliput Lane house. After supper at "Queen" pub, we returned by bus to Bowness, hoping to see"Miss Potter" at the local movie house, but it was only playing tomorrow night. Once again, we walked home in the rain for tea with Martha & John, then to bed, hoping for a good hiking day tomorrow.
21: 7/6/07 Bowness - Ambleside This was a day to explore. The men set off to the Tourist office to check on walks in the area, and Martha and I went to get train times for our York - Carlisle trip tomorrow. The hike suited Chris and John, and Martha and I wandered down to Bowness and took a boat/walk tour on Lake Windermere to Ambleside. We walked through curious boutiques and hidden shops, then boarded a small wooden boat- Queen of the Lake- which took us to the Wray Castle. We walked for 2.5hrs. around the lake, discovering the famed "monkey tree" and avoiding sheep and ducks along the way. We met the men at the Churchill pub (quickly becoming our local), then headed to the movie house. We visited and shared childhood candy memories with the few people sitting there, our eyes on the blush satin scalloped stage curtain, and then watched Rene Zellweger warm our hearts in "Miss Potter". After the film, we enjoyed an authentic Italian dinner at Gibby's, then back to the Lingmoor for bed.
22: 7-07-07 Lakes to York - We left Windermere in clouds and rain, which made it a little easier to say goodbye to a magical place of great beauty. Roz and Gary, our hosts, bade us farewell and we hiked up to the train station to go first to Oxenholme and then on to Carlisle, a large city near the England-Scotland border. From Carlisle, we rode on to Hexham where we visited a very complete TI for directions and advice about visiting Hadrian’s Wall. The skies had cleared to some degree so we hired a taxi to take us out to Housteads, site of a well-preserved Roman fort and section of the wall. Our cabbie was full of information about the area: the major industry is a factory producing chipboard. He pointed out sections of the wall as we drove past and deposited us at Housteads in good order. We were able to lock up our packs in a locker at the gift shop before making the steep climb to the visitor center and museum. The ruins of the fort are spread out on the top of a hill with 360 degree views. We scrambled among the stones looking out over the rather bleak but starkly beautiful landscape made even more dramatic by the dark clouds approaching to cover the sun. It is absolutely incredible to think of the Romans here with their technology and culture. The chief officer’s home, for example, had a heating system in the floor such as we’d seen at the Roman baths. In the museum, we learned that the turrets on the wall had glazed windows. We got caught in a true downpour on our way down to the parking lot and were well-soaked by the time our taxi arrived to take us to Haltwhistle for the train to Newcastle.
23: At Newcastle, we changed trains for York, about an hour away. We passed through Durham with its majestic cathedral and castle sitting above the city. Once in York, it was a short taxi ride to 10 Water End where we met the owner and got our key to our home for the next week. We made a quick trip out for breakfast supplies and then had an Indian meal at the nearby pub, The Grey Mare. | Martha was thrilled to find the "Judi Dench" river walk, which led back to our cottage, about 20 minutes out of town. Since it was time to do our laundry, and we were blessed with a washer/dryer, Martha and I spent much of the evening reading directions and doing laundry, English style. We actually sat in front of telly for a bit, then navigated the narrow staircases to the bedroom, main bath, and up to our attic room. We will be very cozy here!! | After supper, we walked into York to the Minster, along the Shambles (where we found an OPEN ice cream shop!), through the grounds of the Yorkshire Museum and along the Ouse River to home. The sun was shining and it was lovely to enjoy the bustling Saturday night scene on the streets. We had a “cuppa” and a visit in our sitting room before bed.
24: 7-8-07 - York We woke to very dry clothes, full of wrinkles, and authentic cooked oatmeal, toast, and fruit. While Chris and I worked out the iron and ironing board, John & Martha set off to attend morning services at York Minster. We found the John Roundtree Estates nearby, and walked the curvy garden paths and beautiful flower beds, then headed into town for our assigned meeting place, the Roman column by the minster. | All together again, we explored the marketplace, the "Shambles" and found the tourist information - our best friends in every town. We paused to listen to a Centurian Street band with children on xylophones, then bought maps and headed to find the walls of Old York.We were caught by a passing thunderstorm, and sat out the lightening and thunder in a pub, savoring cheese, tomato, and pickle sandwich. | From here, we made a run for the York Castle Museum, and enjoyed the underground streets and dioramas depicting history. At closing, we passed by Clifford's Tower, a much sadder place than it sounds, where executions took place. Stopped by "Spars" for the making of a ploughman's supper- you can't go wrong with bread, cheese, cider, and ice cream! We settled in front of a travel show on telly about England, and saw many sights of Newcastle we knew. Stumbled off to the 3rd floor bed around 10:30PM - a very well-spent day!
25: 7-9-07- York SUN, SUN, SUN!!!! Up and at 'em, with a hearty oatmeal breakfast. Our day began at the York library, to use the computer for Milton Keynes booking, and to call Trevor to set up a visit - he's coming to York on the 12:30 train tomorrow! We confirmed our hotel for our last night in London (after borrowing a pen from two different nice people in a nearby bus line!), then into York again! We ladies shopped (something about lovely weather that brings our the bargain hunter in us!), buying a Lilliput Lane PO and some pen and ink prints from a street "artist", then met the men by our Roman column, and proceeded to "walk the walls". We bought some Cornish pasties and fudge from a local shop, and ate lunch in the Minster gardens by St. Mary's ruins. | We then spent over 2 hr. at the Railway Museum, walking through the Great Hall reading hilarious rail signs, and listening to "Explainers" demonstrate the turnstile. At 4PM, we headed back to market for veggies and eggs, and prepared a garden supper complete with cider on our cottage patio. John left us for a minster concert, and we three took a river walk (which involved crossing a marsh and soaking our feet). Spent the evening writing postcards and, on Martha's recommendation, reading "Swallows & Amazons", which we bought at a used book shop.
26: 7/10/07- York Today we took a free guided tour of York. Although the tour guide was quite poor, we learned all about the different periods of York. We saw the early Roman walls and heard about the Roman, Viking, and Medieval occupation. We saw some beautiful medieval homes and churches, and stopped at the St. Margaret Clitherow shrine right in the middle of the "Shambles." There we lost Chris, so we headed to the rail station to meet Trevor, and found Chris. Trevor arrived, looking quite nearly as he always looked. He took us around to some of the favorite spots he and Alex knew, and we had lunch in the Mulberry Cafe above an expensive china shop. Although we ate upstairs in the solarium, we peeked into the posh main restaurant . The rest of his visit was spent in the warren of streets looking for bone-handled silverware for John, and place mats for me. We stopped in Mark & Spencer's so Trev could buy dinner for the ride home, and after tearful goodbyes, he boarded his train, very happy that he had made the effort to come. Returning to our cottage, we folded laundry and made a salad, while John & Martha walked to get Indian takeout for supper. We ended the evening at a local pub, where we had a great time joining in a "pub trivia' quiz night, competing as the "American team". Although we scored a respectable 14points out of 20, we couldn't beat the winning 23pts. | After lunch, we visited the York Art Museum which was fantastic, especially the still-life exhibit by Henri Fantin-Latour. Other galleries held exhibits of portraits and landscapes, very well-presented and arranged. We finished the afternoon with a bit more shopping (Trevor is a pro!)
28: 7-11-07- Whitby -Today was our excursion to Whitby on the east coast. The bus to Whitby passed through the more residential neighborhoods of York, the villages of Malton, Pickering, Thornton Le Dale and skirted the southern edge of the North York Moors National Park and the Hole of Horcum before reaching the seaside village of Whitby. We saw poppies, bright orange, in the fields and the “purple moors” with heather in bloom. Rolling green pasture and farm land near York gave way to the stark beauty of the moors, dark with bracken, dotted here and there with sheep and with clumps of vivid purple heather. The Hole of Horcum is an interesting land form that resembles a meteor crater – couldn’t wait to look that up on the Web!
29: Whitby is situated on the mouth of the River Esk with the old part of the town on the east side and the newer part on the west. We ate lunch, fish and chips all around, before crossing to the other side of the river to climb the 199 stone steps which lead up a steep hill to the ancient Church of St. Mary the Virgin. The church is such a melange of styles that it lacks the beauty of others we have seen but its location high on the cliff overlooking the harbor is beyond compare. It is surrounded by massive headstones which have a beauty of their own. Continuing up the hill from the church, we reached the ruins of Whitby Abbey, the second abbey on the site. The towering columns and stone tracery that remain dominate the landscape. Whitby is the site of the synod which fixed the calculation for the date of Easter in the 7th century. Walking around the ruins, first in bright sunshine and later as the sky darkened with clouds off the North Sea, was a moving experience. To think of the hands that had built such a structure and the thousands of monks, nuns and pilgrims who had worshipped there was awe-inspiring. After touring the grounds, we walked a short distance along the public footpath at the edge of the cliffs. It seemed amazing that just over a week earlier, we’d walked the coastal path at the opposite end of England in Cornwall. We finished our visit with ice cream as we poked in the gift shops and then had a quick cup of tea in a chip shop before catching the bus back to York. Once back, we had supper in an Italian restaurant and then went back to our cottage for a quiet evening and bed.
30: From the Castle, we crossed the courtyard to the imposing Norman cathedral. I expected it to be heavy and dark but was surprised to find it the most beautiful of the three major cathedrals we’ve see, The enormous columns contrast with the delicate stonework behind the high altar. Modern stained glass windows and other contemporary sculpture and embroidery blend harmoniously with this glorious space.Chris and John climbed the tower for some spectacular views of the city of Durham, while Margo and I (just a tad acrophobic) explored the nave. | 7/12/07 - Durham - Another cloudy day as we headed off to catch the train to Durham. We arrived just in time for a castle tour. A sweet graduate, dressed in the Harry Potter black robe, took us through the rooms, now used for student housing and classes. We saw the oldest working kitchen, preparing for a wedding. We climbed the uneven, spiral staircase into the archbishops' fancier room, said to be haunted, but now used as luxury B&Bs. We heard about St. Cuthbert and ended in the underground Norman chapel.
31: Back in the central square, we decided to explore the indoor market in hopes of finding a stall selling real English cheese – something Chris and I had been dreaming of since early trip-planning days back home! We were about to admit defeat when a woman approached to ask if we needed help locating anything. We explained about the cheese and she offered to lead us through the maze to the proper stall. I should not have been surprised to see that the badge she wore identified her as a University of Durham librarian! The cheese adventure was a great success as we sampled a variety of local cheeses (Wensleydale, Cheshire, Cheddar and Swaledale) and then chose our favorites to take “home” to our York kitchen. After a walk along the River Wear, John and I visited the Durham Heritage Center housed in the old Church of St. Mary-le-Bow where we saw some quirky little exhibits on Durham’s medieval , Norman and more recent history as a coal-mining center. Chris and Margo spent some time back in the town square and shops before we all caught the train back to York and a concert at the Minster by the King’s College Choir. The choir was superb and it was such fun to see the youngest choristers. At intermission, we were able to explore much of the Minster. As for the music, there were a few lovely pieces, but a little “early music” goes a long, long way! John enjoyed it and the rest of us were good sports!
32: 7/13/07 Last day in York Rain couldn't dampen our spirits once we finished laundry and headed out singly for our final day. I stopped at St. Helen's church, and then found All Saints on the way back to the Viking museum. There we all met, and walked through the beautiful chapel with blue ceilings and flagstone floors - one of York's oldest and nicest chapel. We headed to the Jorvik Experience together. This was my mistake - thinking of all the material I could bring home for my class clouded my better judgment. It began with a ride back into ancient York via a virtual reality ride. Then we got into a cart and traveled through dioramas of the old city - a bit corny. The activity center was loaded with noisy school groups, but we did see the information about the disease that plagued many Vikings, and my brothers, as well. Interesting! | John and I headed out early for the Minster. John was delighted to get there in time to sit in on a choir rehearsal and I enjoyed exploring on my own with the music floating in that magnificent space. We toured the undercroft which was fascinating. The audio tour and exhibits made it very easy to see the Roman foundations, the Norman stonework of the smaller Norman cathedral and then the foundations of the medieval Minster on top. The Roman ruins included the fragments of a colorful wall painting and a still-functioning drain for rainwater. We finished up with a brief visit to the Treasury with displays of cathedral silver and pewter from all periods. Next, we made our way toward the Jorvik Viking Center with the assistance of an elderly gentleman who noticed us puzzling over a map. He lead us through the Shambles and actually took time to show us the old meat hooks on the butchers’ shops. He told us that the best view of the Minster is from the third floor of Marks and Spencers before leaving us at All Saints Church were we had wanted to see the stained glass windows. There we found Margo, doing the same thing!
33: We left and found the Castle Tea room, a quaint cafe with the most polite staff ever, had tea and sandwiches, beans on toast, and crumpets. Because of rain, we skipped the horse racing and opted for the York Brewery tour. The guide was very hard to understand, but took us through the brewing process and ended with a sample of their beers (since Martha and I don't enjoy beer, the men got to double their pleasure). Returning home, Martha and John went off to Evensong at the minster, and we met them for supper at Thomas' Bar - 1/2 chicken and chips dinner surrounded by a very boisterous crowd of locals. Tasty meal but too loud so we headed home for a relaxing shower and some journal writing. Sad to be leaving this exciting city and our little cottage by the river. | In the evening, John and I walked back to the Minster for Evensong, which was the best Minster experience of them all. Sitting right in the choir with the choristers, in candlelight, the music was simple and glorious and the service of lessons and prayers intimate and moving.
34: 7-14-07 - York - Milton Keyens We arrived in Milton Keynes, home to Chris’s sister, Julie, and her husband, Dave, a bit earlier than expected due to a train mix-up that Chris, being a native, was able to rectify handily. Milton-Keynes is an interesting place. Built 40 years ago as a “planned” city, it consists of a city center designed to be pedestrian-friendly for work and shopping. The residential sections are “villages”, again walkable, each with a convenience store, park and other amenities. The villages are very nice but the city center has the feel of a sci-fi movie set, which is a bit weird. John and I checked in to our hotel in the Center, near the train station. Chris and Margo are staying with Julie and Dave. Julie suggested that we take in a garden tour in the nearby village (a real one, not an M-K village) of Potterspury. Various residents had opened their gardens and were on hand to answer questions and proudly display their gardening achievements. The sun was shining and the village had a beautiful old church and some real thatched-roof cottages. The gardens were an eclectic mix – some stunning, others kitschy and quirky, and all lovingly tended.
35: We returned home to visit and enjoy a delicious dinner of salad with fried brie, rice, green beans, roasted potatoes, and beef stew - can you taste it? We were all impressed at her patience and skill. She followed with fruit and chocolate trifle pudding. We visited until our eyes were heavy, then Martha & John returned to the inn and we crawled to bed.
36: 7-15-07 – Bletchley Park John got up early to run and got hopelessly lost because so much of M-K resembles so much else in M-K! A half-hour run took well over an hour and I was starting to think I would have to call in MI-5 to find him! Chris and Margo were spending the day with Julie and Dave so after breakfast and some souvenir shopping at the enormous mall that anchors one end of Midsummer Boulevard, the central artery, we took a bus to Bletchley Park, where the Nazi code was broken during World War II. What a fascinating tour we had there! Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and engaging and the museum was outstanding. It will be even better the next time we go since they are clearly working to add and improve all their exhibits.
37: We woke to a cool and cloudy, but dry, day. Easy, lazy breakfast and morning reading the paper and relaxing. Around 11:30 we went off to Bletchley Park Enigma Museum, planning to meet the Churches there. We toured the park and marveled at the fascinating history of the WWII code breakers. Seeing their tools and hearing the stories made it all so real. Missing our friends, we left for Julie's local Chinese restaurant to enjoy a 3 course meal (how do they stay so thin and eat so much?) and shelter from the pouring rain. We returned home to watch old British comedienne, Tommy Cooper on TV. In the evening, we joined Julie, Dave, and Mark at the local pub, where it was karaoke night. The volume made us move to the outside patio for our second round, then back to Julie's for cheese, crackers, fruit and more trifle. Had a wine nightcap, some tea, and finally in bed by midnight. Couldn't sleep, wonder why, and played on their computer until 2:30AM. Too much of a good thing!
38: 7/16/07 Milton Keynes - London Woke early to say our tearful goodbyes to Julie, who was off to school. Then Dave took us to the train where we met Martha & John. We grabbed a tea breakfast at the station, then hopped on the London train. Our London hotel, Cherry Court on Hugh Street, was much the same as the Fairway/Central where we’d stayed the first night but a better location for major sight-seeing, as it’s near Buckingham Palace, Westminster , St. James Park, Trafalgar Square, and Downing Street. Once we’d dropped off our packs at the hotel, we had some breakfast and decided to use our last train ride to out to Windsor Castle. It was a nearly sunny day and the Castle, which is immense, was such fun to see. The audio tour was great and we all really enjoyed it. St. George’s Chapel, where the order of the Garter is installed, is gorgeous. It’s built in the perpendicular style of Gothic architecture with the most exquisite vaulted ceilings and the Garter Knights banners and regalia in the choir area. Queen Mary’s dollhouse was also a delight to see. It was never for play but created because of her love of miniatures. The detail is incredible – even miniature crown jewels! The art collection of the royal family is so impressive too. They own originals of so many famous paintings. It’s good to be a King or Queen, I guess. We also saw Henry VIII’s suit of armor – he was one big guy! | The Royal Lawnmower!
39: We were back in London for a quick supper at St. George’s Tavern, right near our hotel, before taking the Tube to the Globe for a performance of The Merchant of Venice. Seeing Shakespeare performed in the setting he would have known is an unforgettable experience, especially for an English major! The songs and music were part of the play, the groundlings were interacting with the actors and it was simply magnificent – a perfect open-air theater experience never to be forgotten! We walked back to the Tube station along the Thames, which was at low tide, and along Blackfriars Bridge with a view of St. Paul's and other familiar London sights. It was perfect for our last night in England.
40: 7-17-07 London to Home Fortunately, we were again able to leave our packs at the hotel for the morning so we could squeeze in a few more London activities before our scheduled flight in the late afternoon. We walked past Buckingham Palace and St. James Park, home to Princess Di's garden walk, to Downing Street, the Cabinet War Rooms, and Churchill Museum. What a fantastic place! We could easily have spent most of the day there enjoying the many outstanding interactive exhibits on Churchill’s life and the history of World War II. Seeing the bunker where he met with his cabinet during the war was enough to give me goosebumps – it made that time, place, and circumstance so immediate. This museum is an absolute must for any London visitor. From there, we continued to Trafalgar Square to see Nelson’s Column and the Lions before heading back to have lunch, get our packs, and take the Tube to Heathrow. The train we were on developed a mechanical problem so we had to change trains three times but made it to the airport in good order.
41: This trip was so very special and we can’t think of anything we'd have changed or done differently – even the rainy weather didn’t dampen anything but our clothes from time to time. The boys were disappointed to miss their Helvellyn hike but that was really the only real let-down. We had so many laughs and made so many special memories together. We know this book will remind us of all the fun we had and hope that it will inspire our kids to make time for a special trip with their special friends at least once!