Months of preparation went into this special trip, after DW said she wanted to be in Great Britain for her birthday. I previously posted a trip report on our first stop, London, where we spent 7 days. ("Seven nights in London, day by day") From there, we took a train to Bath, and Phase 2 of the trip began. (Sorry for the length.)
9th Day, 27 June, Wednesday
Today we leave London for Bath. DW wanted a ride in an iconic black London taxi. We hadn’t been in one yet, so after breakfast and saying our goodbyes, I told the doorman we wanted a classic black taxi to Paddington Station. (I know. We could have taken the underground for 4 GBP, but I didn’t want to haul the luggage up and down any more stairs.)
Across the street was a cab painted with a mish-mash of British flag colors. I said no, need black. He went running down Whitehall, and quickly came back with a cab black on top, white on the sides. Nope, says I. DW was becoming embarrassed. I told the guy it’s her birthday, and by golly, we need a black cab. Doorman runs down the street and disappears. 2 minutes later back he comes in the back seat of a black cab. I tipped him pretty good. DW was embarrassed, but enjoyed her fun ride to Paddington.
At Paddington train station, I bought our one-way senior tix to Bath, 29.60 GBP ea. Then I went downstairs to the underground to cash in what was left on the Oyster cards, including the 5 GBP deposit. Long line, only one window open, but he was friendly. Back upstairs, we missed the 11:30 train, and began to wait for the announced track (platform) number for the 12:00 train.
For those new to the trains (like us), there are boards up that list all scheduled departures and the time. About 5 to 10 minutes before departure, they post the track number. Once they do that, you will see a bunch of people heading for that track. You don’t have to run; there’s plenty of time. We boarded and found seats, and settled down for our 1h 15m ride. Our luggage was in a rack at one end of the car. Back packs went up in the overhead shelf.
It was grey and drizzly when we arrived in Bath. Hauled our luggage about a ¼ mile to 3 Abbey Green, our chosen B&B for the 2 nights in Bath. What a beautiful little square – Abbey Green, with a huge London Plain tree in the center, planted 1795. Surrounded by little shops, tea rooms, and one pub.
Our room was the “Lady Hamilton” room, named after the mistress of Lord Nelson, one of England’s most famous military hero’s. He is on that iconic column in Trafalgar Square. She has a rather tawdry reputation. (I’ve reviewed the B&B on Tripadvisor.) Only about 2-300 yards to the Abbey and a little more to the Roman Baths. Very quiet serene little corner of the city.
After settling in, we went directly to the Roman Bath Pump House for their tea service, which is legendary according to DW, and on her “don’t miss” list. We got in (no reservation, but it would help if you had one) a little after 3. It was indeed impressive, with little sandwiches with the crusts cut off, little cakes and sweets, all arranged on a porcelain stacked series of little plates. Pretty nice. With all that sweet stuff, not sure I need dinner. Classical music was being played by a couple of musicians. I made sure my little finger was pointing out as I sipped my tea.
After tea and crumpets, we went into the Roman Baths (Sr price 10.75 GBP). By this time, the tour buses from London had left, and the crowds had thinned out pretty good. We spent a couple of hours in there. This was very interesting, and the audio guides were quite explanatory. This, of course, is a must see for anyone visiting Bath. After all, it’s why the town is there. The attached museum shows a little of the excavations, and some fascinating history of the Romans in England.
With sun still shining, we walked along the river to the famous bridge, but it began to rain and get cold, so we went to find dinner and called it a day.
10th day, 28 June Thursday
The next day, we had scheduled a 9 am departure to Stonehenge with Scarper Tours, who I found on the internet. It is a 3 hour trek in a small van, max 18 persons. Today there was only 8. The cost was 14 GBP for the trip, another 7 for entry (senior price). 1 hour out, 1 hour in with the stones, 1 hour back to town. The audio guides, included in the price of admission, were excellent, and we could go at our own pace, not forced to stay in a group. During the ride, our driver, though not a “guide,” gave us a running commentary as well as pointing out one of the white horses carved into the side of a far off hill.
We liked Stonehenge and the mystery it congers up. We were a little underwhelmed by the size and scope of the exhibit. I guess we expected it to be bigger. You cannot walk among the stones but are kept outside a rope. The audio guides had lots of stories and explanations, and of course, theories. It is certainly mind bending to try and figure out exactly how and why they made these stone arrangements those many years ago. For a while, we turned off the audio and just stood in wonderment at the mystery of the whole thing.
Back in Bath, after a little lunch, we walked up to the Royal Crescent, the great arc of thirty or so terrace houses, with beautiful architectural features. They sit on a hill above a large green area, and Royal Victoria Park. We lingered there for a while, soaking in some rare sunshine.
We stopped back at the Abbey, walked around in it, then called it a night. During both days, we would stop frequently in the large squares around the Abbey and Baths, sit and people watch, and listen to a changing array of musicians. Oh yeah, the ice cream was pretty good too.
Dinner the first night was at Sally Lunn’s for a snack instead of dinner after our gorging on tea and crumpets. It was so good, we went back the second night for a full course meal, which was also terrific. However on this night the service was not good. Could have been a bad night or our particular waitress. We were assured by many that it was unusually slow.
11th day 29th June Friday – Leaving Bath
After breakfast, we got a cab for the 2 mile ride to EuroCar’s office in an industrial section. My reservation was in order, and after the paperwork, I was introduced to my VW Golf. Everything was fairly straight forward, except the steering wheel – it was on the right. No parking lot to tool around in. Nope, in we go, and after several minutes of re-acquainting myself with stick shifts, this one on the left – off we went. Remember to look right, stay on the left. Look right, stay left. Keep thinking that!
Let me introduce you now to Dorothy. She was newly acquired for this trip Garmin hand held GPS, with a Great Britain map loaded into her memory. I got her a few weeks before the trip, and worked with her some to get familiar with her quirks. Didn’t find them all until later. Keep reading. We named her Dorothy in reference to another Dorothy that was searching for Kansas. That Dorothy was following a yellow brick road. Our Dorothy wanted us to follow a purple lined road.
Our target this morning is Avebury, and with Dorothy’s help, we got there in about an hour without so much as a dent in the car, nor any sirens after me. I was proud of Dorothy. I stayed on the left, well, most of the way. The VW Golf handles well, and has a good amount of git up and go. DW had to pry my hands off the wheel, but all was well. On the way, we saw a huge white horse carved into a very nearby hillside. We pulled over for photos.
There is a car park south of town, no tourist parking in the little village. 5 GBP. Once in the little village, at the museum we found a tour starting with a volunteer docent (12 noon, also at 2 pm). We decided to take it, and it is a good thing we did.
The Avebury circle is much more impressive than Stonehenge, but it is scattered over 28 acres, so is more difficult to visualize. Our guide for one hour was very informative in explaining the layout of the stones, what they knew about the stones and the people that put them up, and what they didn’t know about it. Like, Why?
We spent about 2 hours there, walking among the stones, touching them, then lingered in the Red Lion Pub for lunch. There is a ghost here. Seems the Red Lion was a carriage stop on the road from London to Bath/Bristol operated by a husband and wife; she was named Florrie. He went off to fight in the civil war in 1640, and when he returned, he found his wife with a lover. He killed them both, and dumped them down a well. The well is covered and is in a wing of the pub, serving as a table. You can eat your fish and chips on the cover. (This wasn’t the last time we would hear about the civil war.)
She didn’t stay down there in the well, it is said, as she haunts the place from time to time. Many modern day guests in the rooms over the pub have left suddenly in the middle of the night. Truth, or fiction? Who knows. Our waitress had not met Florrie, but had seen some guests get very spooked.
Could have spent another 1 or 2 hours there, wandering the slopes amid the stones and mounds. This place was very interesting to us, almost a spiritual aura about it. Hard to explain. Many people were walking about on their own, or just sitting on the lawn taking in the scenery. At the moment, the sun was shining. By the way, watch your step. Sheep are used to mow the lawn. Again, this is much more interesting than Stonehenge, though I guess one “has” to see Stonehenge.
We left Avebury, direction Chipping Campden, Cotswolds. All went fairly well until a town named Swindon. Unfortunately, we had muted Dorothy cause she was getting on our nerves with her constant nagging about where to turn. Me, now feeling pretty cocky about driving here in England. This was a mistake.
Swindon is a non-descript town not even mentioned in Michelin. Most of the round-abouts were little white circles about 6 feet across painted in the middle of an intersection. There are squiggly lines and arrows all around it. None of the hiway numbers matched our navigation aids. With Dorothy’s audio turned off, and trying desperately to stay on the correct side of the road, I quickly got confused in the rush hour traffic. The good thing about roundabouts, though, is you can keep going around them until you figure the right exit. When we finally escaped Swindon onto a motorway, I felt like a spaceship might feel after using the gravity of a planet to fling it into space, thereby escaping it’s clutches.
I know I entered some of the roundabouts without giving right of way to cars on my right a couple of times. There must have been a few other minor transgressions. But nothing as bad as a lady who pulled a complete U-turn as she approached a roundabout I was just exiting, cutting in front of me. Finally out of town, I kept checking the mirrors to make sure there were no red lights chasing me. I apologized profusely to Dorothy, though she stayed silent for miles, apparently miffed at being muted. She got even with us later.
We followed directional signs to Chipping Campden, arriving about 5 pm. The people that own Badgershall, our chosen B&B, also operate a tea room on the property, so the ground floor was full of tea drinkers, with a lot of pastries and cakes. Karen came quickly to the front and greeted us warmly. High Street is divided, with the ancient market structure in the middle. The town is charming and iconic Cotswold. It felt really good to be there.
We got a list of recommended restaurants from Karen, but I needed a bar after my day-long introduction to driving on the left. This is when we found that some pubs are not “cocktail pubs.” Even though they had all the ingredients, they couldn’t mix them up. I suggested they put the ingredients in separate glasses, and I would do the mixing, but he just shook his head. We found a proper bar in the King’s Hotel across High Street, and relaxed in style with our chosen cocktails. Dinner at Caminetto (Italian) was excellent.
12th day, 30 June Saturday
Headed out for Stratford upon Avon, taking a shorter back road than the usual directions. The landscape was gorgeous. The wind was blowing pretty good, and big clouds raced across the sky, painting a tapestry of colors on the green hills and valleys. Just beautiful. Inside the car it was warm; outside it was cold. Dorothy took us right into town without a hitch, seemingly forgiving of the insult yesterday. I was beginning to develop an attraction for her.
We found a parking structure near the Tourist Information office, and bought tickets for the HOHO (hop on, hop off) bus (about 10 GBP and keep your ticket stub for a 10% discount on other city HOHO buses.). DW wanted to see three specific things related to Shakespeare, all stops on the HOHO route, and we determined this was the easiest and most economic way to accomplish her goals.
The first stop was Shakespeare’s birthplace. The actual house in which he was born in 1593. Docents in period costume give brief lectures in some of the rooms, informing you of the way folks lived back then. There was the same set up at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, about 3 miles out of town, also on the HOHO route. Very handy, those HOHO busses, with running commentary enroute. Those two stops were very interesting, not just for Shakespeare fans, but as historical information about construction methods and lifestyle. The third thing she wanted to see was where Willy was buried, but when we got to that stop, we didn’t get off the bus for some reason. Think we were tired.
It was during these two Shakespeare stops I learned about the origin of the sayings: “worth your salt,” “upper crust,” and “frog in your throat.” We used the computers in the Information center for a while. The wifi at our B&B continue not to work, which is becoming somewhat of an irritant.
On our way back to Chipping Campden, a little after 4, we saw a sign for Broadway, and decided to drive there before calling it a day. One of the Cotswolds villages, it is a beautiful little town that had a great feel to it. There were many lodging choices here. We also drove through a rather upscale residential section. Wow! DW opined that had she seen this town first, it would have been where she stayed instead of Chipping Campden.
Going home, Dorothy took us the shortest way, as GPS machines are wont to do. This road over a sizeable hill was only wide enough for the car. When meeting oncoming traffic (we met one), somebody had to pull off the road for the other to pass. I was thrilled with the road, and the views from this little road were the best we have seen so far, and we thanked Dorothy profusely. Back in Chipping Campden, we had a great Mediterranean dinner at Michael’s, on High street.
13th day, 1 July, Sunday
Today the Olympic torch is being run through the Cotswolds, and is coming through Chipping Campden between 10 and 12. So we decided at breakfast to take in Blenheim Palace. PS: today is DW’s birthday, she’s not particularly happy about it.
Dorothy got even today. She took us on a bewildering selection of “single track road” (that’s what the sign said), with hedgerows higher than the car on both sides. Again using the shortest in miles, but made the 40 minute trip into a little over an hour, not counting getting lost once and adding to the anxiety level. I found out that John Deere tractors the size of a small house don’t give much. Lost in a maze of tiny little roads, we had no choice but to follow her convoluted instructions, and finally got there without mishap. I was conflicted, because we saw some very beautiful countryside. Isn’t that what we’re here for?
Driving in the gate, you are struck by the sheer size of Blenheim Palace. Lots of more recent history, since the palace was built in the early 1600’s. The weather was nasty; rainy, grey, blustery and cold. These most beautiful grounds are on some 2800 acres, and a World Heritage Sight. Winston Churchill was born here in 1876, and there is quite an exhibit of his life within the palace. We took the video tour, and then went through the apartments on our own. It really was a beautiful park, but it continued to rain heavily, and so walking around outside was not possible.
On the way back to Chipping Campden, we stopped in the little village of Stow and strolled around for a while. Stopped into a pub for a soda. This is like all the Cotswold villages, buildings made from Cotswold sandstone going back hundreds of years. Another little charming gem of a village. Back in Chipping Campden, tonight we went to Kings Arms Hotel and had cocktails and dinner, plus used their wifi for a couple of hours.
14th day, 2 July Monday
Out last day in the Cotswolds, and DW, now an old lady, (happy birthday) and I decided to go to Oxford. Weather was downright crappy. Rain and cold. Dorothy, behaving nicely, found our way to the Pearl Tree Park and Ride lot, and we rode the bus in to town. Immediately found a pub for a hot cup of coffee and a rest room break. Then found the Hop On, Hop Off (HOHO) bus. This time we brought along our tix from Stratford, and got our discount. (There are several Park and Ride lots around the outskirts of town, in an effort to keep car traffic down in town. Don’t try to drive in town, but do remember the name of your Park and Ride lot.)
With earphones plugged in, sitting up on top, under cover, we started our tour. We were cold and damp, but undaunted, stopping first at the Christchurch College. Nearby, the Alice in Wonderland store took some of our money. The Christchurch cathedral is beautiful. And warm and dry. Got into a great conversation with one of the docents, a retired Chemistry teacher there. Later, the Great Hall, (opened at 2:30 pm) inspiration for Harry Potter locale, was jammed with people, but you still got the drama and essence of this huge dining hall.
We are now tired, cold and hungry. This is the first time the weather has impacted our touring. Enough rain already. We had basically had it. We started longing for the 106 degree weather at home. We found an Italian restaurant near where the Park and Ride bus let us off, and had good lasagna. After a little shopping, back to the (Park & Ride) bus, back in the car, and back to Chipping Campden.
Had dinner tonight at Eight Bells in Chipping Campden, a great pub with free wifi for diners. As we were finishing, our B&B host came in with a bunch of other guys. Told use that they have had a weekly “guys night” going on 30 years. We had some laughs and stayed there over two hours, using the internet provided. I’m starting to really love pubs.
15th day, 3 July Wednesday - Destination: Malpas
(After much of the planning for this trip was done, air purchased, most lodging secured, we both suddenly found an interest in visiting the areas where relatives are known to have lived. Hers back in the 1600’s; mine 16 and 1700’s. This threw the itinerary for a loop. For her relatives, we chopped a day off of Cotswolds and added a day in Malpas, a small village near the Welsh border south of Chester.)
Woke early and were in Moreton a little after the (closest) launderette opening time, 7 am, despite more of Dorothy’s fun and games. (Beautiful roads, though.) Found some coffee at the nearby train station. Got into a conversation with a local lady drying towels, as they don’t “fluff up” right at home due to the weather.
Back at Badgershall about 9, with a bundle of clean clothes, got our breakfast, and off we went. We followed the A429 to the M40. The motorways are very good to drive on. Dorothy tried to derail us just shy of Birmingham, but we were onto her tricks. Using our Michelin map, we stayed on the motorways around B’ham, all the way west to the A41.
Turning north, we stopped at a pub just off the motorway for a great goat cheese and beetroot salad. Also, got into a conversation with 3 gents holding down the bar. They gave me directions to Malpas, which does not show on my maps. We had a laugh or two, said goodbye, and were on our way. (Love these pubs.)
Malpas is cute little town, but not a particularly easy to get around in. All of their streets have enough room for 3 cars. With cars parked on both sides of the road, one takes turn with cars at the other end of the string of parked cars. A quick blinking of headlights is the signal for the other to go. All very civilized and calm.
The old church, St Oswald’s (c 1400), wherein some of DW’s ancestor’s are entombed is closed. No one around. Drove around some, checked back at the church and the rectory, still no one around.
Our B&B for the night, the Manor House, is a farm complex on Bickerton Road, about 3 miles out of the town of Malpas on narrow farm lined roads. Jan, the proprietress, maybe 80+ yrs, and her son run the place. The gardens are wonderful and enchanting. Our room is basic, but this is the least we have paid for a room in our trip. If the sun would ever come out and stop raining, it would be delightful to sit around in the garden enjoying the countryside.
On Jan’s recommendation, we went down Bickerton Road to the intersection with the A49 to the Cholmondeley Arms Estate School Public House, a converted school house now serving as a pub and B&B. There is literally nothing for miles around, except farms.
We had excellent steak dinners and a dynamite desert called “The Cholmondeley Mess,” a concoction of merengue, whipped cream, strawberries and raspberries. We voted it the best meal we have had in England to date, and surprised that we would find it in such a remote location. Vowed to re-create the “mess” at home.
More conversation with patrons and waitresses, as I think we are a bit of an oddity up here. Not too many tourists in this mainly agricultural area. Fun place, great food. I really love pubs.
Tomorrow perhaps we’ll get lucky with the Malpas church. Then we will drive the approx. 3 hours to Cambridge.
14th day 4 July Wednesday
It occurred to me upon waking that we were celebrating our independence from England in . . . . .England. No fireworks and not a word of it in the English Press.
Well, we did get lucky with St Oswald’s church in Malpas. We drove back over there and found “Vicar Anthony,” who had been assigned to this church 2 days ago. Had a wife and a 9 months old child. The Minister was in Chester, but Anthony enthusiastically returned to the church with us and gave us a tour. This church is generally not open to the public. It is really old, and still in use today.
Up in the right corner toward the front were two plaques indicating the tomb of Owen Stockton and his son John Stockton. DW is a direct descendant some 12 and 13 generations back. Anthony’s major from the “vicar factory” (as he described it) was history, and he was a wealth of information regarding the history of the area.
Malpas is located almost exactly on the Welsh border, a little south of Chester. Originally, Malpas was a fort established to keep the Welsh out. Later, it was a bastion of Royalists during the English civil war, 1640-1649.
We learned that to be entombed in the church, they must have been highly regarded by the church. Most likely they were Royalists. The church comes from the 1400’s, and includes a font in which it is likely Owen and John were baptized. There were several other stories of the area Anthony shared with us, and we were very fortunate to have met up with him. We immediately became interested in the English civil war, about which we knew nothing.
We went out of our way to return to Cholmondeley Arms for lunch, and were welcomed warmly. The wait staff remembered us from the night before. After lunch, we had another “Cholmondeley Mess,” and amidst hugs, goodbye’s and happy wishes, left for Cambridge.
Back on the A41, decided to stop for a rest room at the same pub we stopped at yesterday, just before we would get on the M54. There, holding down the bar, were two of the guys from yesterday. We laughed at recognition as soon as I walked through the door. We had a great laugh. He was proud of his directions, and I bought them a pint before we left.
While I could never totally relax driving, I was getting along fine. We stayed on the motorways most of the way, and it was an uneventful journey, which is as it should be. Entering Cambridge, Dorothy brought us right to the EuropCar station, which I overshot because we didn’t see it. Circled around (love those round-a-bouts), got some directions, and got there with about 10 minutes to spare to closing time.
Due to the extra time spent at Malpas, we arrived at Hotel Regent about 6:30, really not enough time to do any site seeing. The hotel backs up to the south side of Parkers Piece. We had a deluxe room on the 1st floor (one floor up from ground floor) looking out at Parker’s Piece. Long ago, Mr Parker ran a meat market, and his cows and sheep grazed here.
The room was large and the view of the Piece was filtered by London Plane trees. This is an older hotel, about 10 minutes walk to the colleges, but a good value compared to the pricey hotels closer to city center. We ate at nearby De Luca. Our second night, after a rare warm and not raining day, there was a lot of frivolity out on the park, and noise was a problem until midnight or so.
15th day, 5 July, Thursday
Today dawned clear. We couldn’t believe it. No rain, no grey. Actual blue sky. After breakfast of cereals, breads, assorted cold cuts and cheese, we walked to the city center and got on the City Tour bus, HOHO bus. We hopped off at Christchurch College, and went through the open area, including the chapel.
Today was “Open” day, where all the colleges are open for visitation by a vast number of young adults, most with their parents, checking out the different colleges, and which one they may wish to attend in a year or two. City center and the colleges were very crowded.
It was actually warm, about 25c, blue skies and a little breeze until late in the afternoon, when we got just a few drops from a passing cloud. Since we’ve been in England, we’ve had rain every day til now. Locals can’t believe all the rain. They’re having trouble with schedules at Wimbleton, and some of the Olympic projects are behind.
Back on the HOHO bus, we went the rest of the way without getting off. The narration on the bus is interesting with many stories of the history of Cambridge and the colleges.
We returned to Kings College too late to see the cathedral, but we were lucky enough to be there on Thursday, and tonight would be Evensong, featuring the Kings Cathedral boys choir at 5:30. We returned to our room, cleaned up, and were back for admittance to the cathedral for Evensong. It was vey beautiful singing, and we enjoyed it immensely.
Afterwards, we walked to the Oak Bistro, near our hotel, for a wonderful dinner in a little patio/garden in the back of the restaurant. This restaurant is highly rated and we can see why. The service was excellent, and the food very good.
18th day, 6 July, Friday
Raining again. The Olympic Torch is coming through Cambridge today. They are making preparations in Parker’s Piece. We get a cab to the train station, and the rain is really coming down. The train station is packed, with many students coming and going for “open” days. We bought our oneway tix to York (Sr price; 73.80 GBP each) and I now realized I should have investigated the train prices more thoroughly. As we traveled down the tracks, rain water poured off the train, blowing across the windows.
The train from Cambridge to York includes a train change in Peterborough. On the way, in Ely, out the left of the train, was a large very beautiful cathedral. Pointed out to us by a fellow traveler with whom we were talking. It is mentioned in Michelin as one of the largest in England.
We made the train switch at Peterborough, but at Grantham the train was held as there is flooding in a tunnel up ahead. Yes, it’s raining again. Hard. Turns out this was true all over mid to north England. In Hexham, it rained 1” in one hour. York 2” in 24 hours. There were several flash flood events. In York, the rivers jumped their banks, bad enough to cancel the city’s 800th anniversary of founding. But the city was not flooded.
About an hour and half later, the announcer told us they would try the tunnel, but only at 5 mph. We made it through, and on to York, arriving about 3, 1.5 hrs late. It was still raining so we got a cab to our B&B, the Coach House, on Marygate, very close to the York Minster, which we could see from the dining room of the B&B.
Our welcome couldn’t have been warmer. KC greeted us, and later the owner, Julie. They were so friendly and helpful. And funny. We had lots of laughs. They have a full bar and a very comfortable public area on the ground floor. We spent evenings there with cocktails reading the paper or watching TV or reviewing our day’s pictures. There were many Brits there for a music festival in full swing.
After an early dinner at Café No 8, recommended by Julie, we strolled all the way down to the end of Shambles. It was twilight (the sun sets around 9:30 up here), it had stopped raining, and the walls were not open, or we would have walked them. Most shops were closed, but pubs were busy as were several sweet and desert shops. There were few people about, and we got some wonderful photos.
19th day, 7 July Saturday
Breakfast hour for guests was shortened to 8 – 9 AM today, as there was a wedding reception at 11 at the inn. That was ok, cause it got us up and going.
OMG, the sun is out, and it is warm. I walked to the train station and rented the car for our next segment. EuropCar is closed on Sunday, when I actually need it, so had to get it Saturday. Coach House had a small car park, so no problem there. I got back to the B&B just in time for some breakfast.
We immediately got on the wall at Bootham Bar and walked around to Monk Bar. There were some beautiful views. We were marveling at the sunshine and blue sky. Everyone we talked to along the wall were likewise incredulous. Our moods had changed to jovial.
We went then to Jorvick Viking Museum, and thoroughly enjoyed every part of it, including the “ride” through a Viking village of c. 900 AD. We are very interested in history stuff like this, and it was very well done. We were in there about 2 hours, but took our time with the various exhibits, reading each one in detail. There was a chart beside a mummified skeleton showing deteriorated back discs, arthritic joints, a bursitis shoulder, and signs of wounds on bones, etc. Very fascinating. We laughed, because the skeleton had a lot of symptoms we both suffer from now. In some ways, not much has changed in 1000 years.
We walked through the Shambles again, stopping at the baker with all the meat pies. Many were taking out, but we wanted to be able to sit. She told us the name of the pub, “Last Drop Inn,” that buys from her, so we went there for lunch. We had the ‘Ploughman’s Lunch, which features, among other things, a piece of the pork pie. We learned at Hampton Court Palace that in the 1500’s, the pastry part was actually a cooking “dish” and was not eaten by the diners, but thrown away. But we ate ours which was very good.
We then went to the Minster, finding that the main part was closed for a wedding, but the rest was open for a reduced fee, which we paid, and saw what we could. The vows were piped throughout the Minster, and of course the organ was beautiful. When we exited, it was clear the wedding was about over, and the couple would be coming out the front. So we hung around.
The groom was a Captain in the British Army, and 6 military men were in full dress uniform in front of the church, preparing for the couple to pass under crossed swords. As they did so, the last pair of sword holders lowered the swords, so the couple could not pass until they kissed. This was not rehearsed, as the bride was very stunned.
They kissed, the swords went up, and the couple of thousand assembled tourists broke into loud cheering and applause. It was a neat moment, and the bride was greatly embarrassed. The guy next to me yelled out, asking where the reception was to be. He didn’t get an answer. We had a laugh. It was a real “feel-good” moment.
We got on the HOHO bus and did the about 1 hour tour listening to some interesting stuff about the city, including some more history. We were done about 4, and agreed this was one of the best HOHO’s so far on our trip. Course the sun and blue sky surely helped our general outlook. And we agreed York is a most interesting city to visit.
After cocktails in the B&B reviewing our pictures, we had dinner that night at Cre another excellent meal recommended by Julie. Next morning, off to Fountains Abbey and Hadrian’s Wall.
20th Day, 8 July, Sunday
It’s grey again. The Vauxhall I rented was gutless, but a little more room inside. We got to Fountains Abbey about 11, a little later than we wanted. Dorothy wanted to go a certain way, but we saw signs, and over rode her. Turns out, she wanted to go to the West gate, which is very close to the Abbey itself. Saved us a lot of walking after we recognized our error, and moved the car. Dorothy was right again. It wasn’t raining but lots of standing water and signs of the streams flooding.
We spent about 2 hours there, taking the short loop walk from the Abbey around the first of several large “lakes,” which showed signs of recent flooding. There were large white clouds among some grey ones, and a smattering of blue sky. The Abbey is a bit haunting, and must have been very beautiful. Having just come from York’s Minster, we could imagine what it must have looked like. For a while I just sat in the roofless abbey, wondering about the past and the lives lived at this beautiful site. I also wondered about man’s inhumanity to man, from time immemorial, and still with us today. It was kind of a mystical moment.
We got back on the road about 1 and made for our B&B for the night, also called the Coach House in Bardon Mill, about 12 miles west of Hexham. Dorothy, if course, disdains major highways, choosing instead, the most direct route, as we have learned. So when she decided to get off the A1, we wondered if we should. Finally we agreed to go with her.
The next hour and one half took us through some very beautiful countryside and tiny little villages. We saw fields of sheep and cows, long vista’s and rain forests, on “single trak” roads canopied over by huge yew and oak trees. It was obvious that it had been raining, as everything was very wet and soggy. The road twisted and turned over rolling hills, and got very narrow in places. One bridge was 6 feet wide. I got out and measured it.
It was really gorgeous and fun to drive. If we’d have stayed on the major motor way, we would have saved maybe an hour. But heck, look what we saw. Priceless. We came out in Hexham, got turned around, and had to reboot Dorothy who lost satellite connections. Then we found Bardon Mill.
At the Coach House B&B, Fred recommended some dinner places, so off we went to nearby Haltwhistle, where we found a festival in full swing. Lots of young people hanging around drinking beer, and several restaurants and pubs open, but not serving food. Well, it is Sunday night, so we backtracked to Haydon’s Bridge, where we found the same conditions: beer festival and no food. A waitress sent us up a mountain to a place she thought would be serving, but we got discouraged too soon, turning around and finding a castle with a fixed prix menu of 45 GBP per. No thanks.
Now resigned to going home to a couple of energy bars, we stopped at the only pub in Bardon Mill. Nice lady there told us about a pub called “Twice Brewed,” gave some convoluted directions, and off we go again. We drove on more single trak roads through hill and dale, (in the process, passing the entry to Vindolandia) in the rain which continued unabated, and finally found it. Our delight in finding it was boundless. Needless to say, the meat pie, chips and beer was near the best we had.
Exiting “Twice Brewed,” it was clear, and the setting sun cast long shadows on the nearby mountains, creating a myriad of shades of green. We could see part of Hadrian’s wall in the distance. These were memorable views, DW called them “stunning.”
21st day, 9 July, Monday
We met Hostess Carol at breakfast, and what a wonderful lady. Just full of information and suggestions. Cooked a good breakfast, too.
With the confidence of Northumbria natives, we got back on the little road we found last night to Vindolanda, and found it easily. Dorothy stayed in the glove box. This site was very enjoyable for us. After getting tickets, we stood over a model of this large Roman fortress and city, listening to explanations. Then we walked freely among the ruins, in the continuing drizzle, with active digs in progress along the way. We thought of the Roman soldiers and their families living here 2000 years ago, in what must have felt like a real wilderness.
We found our way down to a small but incredibly stocked museum, with a huge amount of artifacts, including writing tablets with letters from inhabitants here 2000 years ago. There was a letter from a soldier complaining about a shortage of beer (as a soldier, I wrote a letter home like that some 1,966 years later), and most curious, an invitation to a birthday party.
Some of the footware, especially a pair of woman’s slippers, were very much intact, and some could be worn today. A very interesting look into the life of a Roman garrison 2000 years ago. We both agreed we would have rather been at Vindolanda 2000 years ago, than at York with the Vikings 1000 years ago. The Romans were worlds ahead of what was to come in many ways. We were cold and wet, so the hot soup and a sandwich at the museum’s café was welcome indeed.
We drove a few miles to Housesteads, but the rain was continuing to fall, and it was about half a mile by foot to the ruins and the wall, so we opted not to enter this site. We were very happy with Vindolanda.
So off to Edinburgh. Dorothy had us going north on the A68 a little east of Haydon’s Bridge. Thinking we were now smarter, we overrode her again, and continued on to Newcastle on the major A69, thinking that while longer, would be faster due to the major road status.
All went well to Newcastle, but as we turned north, we went through one small town after another, on a road that was rarely divided. So maybe Dorothy’s route would have been better. We stopped at the border pullout with tremendous vistas. It was raining pretty hard, and a cold wind was blowing. Clouds and mist swirled around the surrounding mountains. Beautiful in a way, but we did not linger.
Dorothy outdid herself getting us into and through Edinburgh to the Waverly Bridge where we were to dump our gutless Vauxhall. Problem was the Waverly station where the EuropCar office is located, is underneath the Waverly Bridge, and we couldn’t figure out how to get down there. We drove around some busy cobblestoned streets, not causing any accidents that I know of, and finally stumbled on the car return car park.
We could see our hotel, the Scotsman, from the car-park, but it was three streets up, at the aforementioned Waverly Bridge, and about a quarter mile away. We were standing there with luggage out of the car, clueless where to go to turn in the car, and how to get up to the hotel, when this jolly Scot named Charles came up. In his green EuropCar jacket, he happily piled the luggage back in the car, and drove us to the hotel. He had a great sense of humor, and we were so thankful.
Check-in to the Scotsman Hotel (the building formerly housed “The Scotsman” newspaper) went well, and we were upgraded to a suite. We loved the room, but were beat up after the long drive, so we dined in the hotel’s restaurant. Good bar (Silas followed my instructions for our Cosmo’s) and great young waitstaff. (Laslow, Hungary; Anna, Hungary; Veronica, Bilbao; also a girl from Latvia) Very personable and extremely friendly and talkative. We had wonderful conversations with these interesting young people.
22nd day 10 July Tuesday
Didn’t get going real early today. Went down to breakfast and read about flooding along the borders, and on the A68 in the border area (The road Dorothy wanted us to take, so I guess we took the right road afterall.) and flooding in Edinburgh and the surrounding areas. We finally got up to the castle around 11, waited 30 minutes in line, got the tickets and audio guide and off we went in the rain and cold.
We learned some more history about British royalty, and the conflicts between England and Scotland, especially some information on Mary, Queen of Scots, William Wallace, and Robert the Bruce. DW especially is continuing her keen interest in things royal. We really enjoyed the castle, even though it was cold, windy and wet.
We shopped at the wool mills just outside the castle, and saw some tartans being woven. We had information that some of each of our relatives may have been in Scotland at some time, and wondered if we had a tartan or a clan. Our brief research was inconclusive. They certainly were in Scotland, but there is no clear clan connection, and no specific tartan. A bit frustrating, but the tartan/clan thing is not an exact science. The history is murky past about 1600.
We lunched in what was the workshop of a guy named Dean, who was the inspiration for Dr Jekl and Mr Hyde. Really neat little restaurant with really good food.
23rd Day 11 July Wednesday
Last day in Scotland and the Holyrood Palace is on the agenda, where the Queen is required to spend at least 6 consecutive days a year. ‘Tis the sight of many fine functions. Also the sight of much drama surrounding Mary Queen of Scots. It is where her presumed lover, Rizzoli, was killed by her irate husband. (I stepped back when it was explained that I was standing on the exact spot.) After which, Mary, cousin to the English Queen Elizabeth, was thrown into prison by Liz, to be beheaded 19 years later. Very nice tour by audio guide. (BTW, Queen Elizabeth is the daughter of the ill-fated Ann Boleyn, according to DW, showing some of her newfound expertise on British royalty.)
Outdoors, grounds are soggy, the gardens drowned, and water standing in the ruined abbey. But we certainly enjoyed Holyrood, and thrilled to the history of this remarkable old building.
Back on our HOHO bus for a tour through the rest of the city, this time with the sun shining. Heard some very entertaining stories of Scottish history, and a little local gossip and political tales. Tonight dined in at the Scotsman, and said goodbye to our wait staff and bar tending pals.
24th day, 12 July Thursday
Today, we have a flight to Belfast for phase 3, the last, where I will try to find some roots of my relatives, and continue our Great Britain DW birthday trip. Trip report will be continued on the Ireland board.
We really enjoyed our 3 weeks in England & Scotland, even through the less than ideal weather. Everywhere we went, we met wonderfully friendly and helpful people. We went to church with some long past relatives. We learned a lot of history, piquing our interests in several subjects. DW is captivated by the machinations of royalty. I, life styles and military events of bygone eras. We saw beautiful countrysides and charming little villages. She had a really good birthday.
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Bath, Cotswolds, Malpas, Oxford, Cambridge, York, Hadrians Wall, Edinburgh
Months of preparation went into this special trip, after DW said she wanted to be in Great Britain for her birthday. I previously posted a trip report on our first stop, London, where we spent 7 days. ("Seven nights in London, day by day") From there, we took a train to Bath, and Phase 2 of the trip began. (Sorry for the length.)