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Trip Report Keep Calm and Carry On--Trip Report of 13 Days in England and Wales

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“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page,” said St. Augustine, while Francis Bacon, Sr., thought that “Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.” And so to provide more reading, education and experience for all 3 of us, especially for 21 year old DD, we traveled to England and Wales in late summer 2010, and we will herewith give our report! In brief, we spent 3.5 days (4 nights) in London and then traveled via auto in a loop, spending 1 night each in Oxford, Shrewsbury, Conwy, Carlisle, Durham, York, Dartford (just a way-stop), Dover, and at LHR.

First thanks to all who had any input in my planning; I am growing to really love planning “tours-for-us” and can’t imagine doing it without this Forum. “We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.” (John Hope Franklin) Well, we didn’t really get out into wilderness, but we did go on what was for us “untrodden paths” (even places we were revisiting, we had never been to as a trio) and now we will want to share with the Fodors world the “glories of our journey”!

This first “installment” or chapter (yes, it will be a long TR!) is the background/planning info that I find fascinating when reading others’ but if you’re just wanting the TR facts, feel free to skip/wait for Chapter 2/Days 1 and2!

Chapter 1—The TPR—Trip PLANNING Report!
Warning: Our trip this time was not a wandering, lingering one. We planned more of an excursion: Sargent Shriver said “to travel with a purpose is educational and exciting,” and this fairly well describes our plan: We set out a specific route with specific stops with a few specific sites to see. A more leisurely journey or a trip that had no set itinerary could be great, but not for us this time.

This trip’s itinerary was one I designed both WITH and DESPITE input from here—it’s not quite whirlwind but it wasn’t slow travel either! We spent 4 nights (3 whole days) in London which were rather leisurely, but then we spent 9 nights in 9 different places, making a loop from London to Hadrian’s Wall and back, a pace many advised against. It was an itinerary designed for US, THIS YEAR, for our desires AT THIS TIME; we decided we’d like to at least see briefly a good bit of stuff (and maybe go back!) rather than do as much of an in-depth look as we’d sometimes like to. In educational theory there is a concept referred to a “learning hooks” to describe how a first experience or lesson may be rather introductory or even superficial and is not expected to provide deep or full appreciation or understanding. However, these initial experiences provide a “hook” on which future experiences or lessons can attach and make for better comprehension. This trip was a lot about providing such “learning hooks” for future trips/reading/experiences!

Us: DH and I are in mid-50’s; DD, 21. I teach English; DD is a university senior double-majoring in English and history; and DH is a chemical engineer/IT manager who has read lots of the fiction DD and I like and enjoys taking pictures by the 1000’s of historic/scenic sites!

UK travel background: DD and I went on an EF tour to England in 2005; DH and I came on a 30th anniversary trip for 2 weeks to England in 2008; on business DH has traveled a good bit to Europe over the last 5 years, mostly in Germany, but a trip to England last fall included his first UK driving.

Impetus for this trip: DD looked into studying abroad, preferably in London, for summer of 2010, but in early fall 2009 she decided that she didn’t want to pursue this, as it might make her unable to graduate in May 2011. DH had enough AA/FF miles for 3 tickets, so I urged an early graduation present (she’s done quite well in college) of a trip for the 3 of us and he agreed! And he agreed to drive this time, so I began to implement a plan.

First thing first: As we had a pretty narrow time window (barely a month in late summer because of school and personal commitments), I first had to secure AA/FF tickets if available. Flying from Corpus Christi, not a hub, makes choices a bit lean. We spent a couple days in late October running dummy flight plans through the system and were able to get 3 tickets with fairly decent times and connections, if we stayed13 nights. (We put the tickets on hold for a few days; a couple days later DH tried to look for other AA/FF tickets that might work for us around the same times, but there were none available, so it was good we decided to secure these so far ahead!)

Itinerary planning: With the tickets in place, I began developing an itinerary. First, I took wish lists from the 3 of us and sat with maps for many days trying to figure out what our priorities were and what an itinerary might look like as we tried to get to most of those choices. We agreed on London and Oxford again, Hadrian’s Wall, Dover and York. DH’s wish list was topped by “Less walking per day than in 2008”! And I hoped for Scotland, Wales and tons of literary-connection places. We all agreed we wanted to see cathedrals, castles, Roman “stuff,” and as many literary-connected things as possible. We all agreed we didn’t care about fine dining, stately homes, hiking, shopping, or night-life. With such points of interest so far apart geographically, and finite days, something had to give, like Scotland and a lot of literary-connections. Next trip! I also wanted to limit DH’s driving to no more than 4-5 hours on even the long days, if possible, and have few of those long days. I made up about a dozen different loops and shared the top 3-4 with DH, from which we chose the one that seemed to fit most off our needs/desires/boundaries.

Accommodations: We must plan ahead, for peace of mind, so finding rooms was the next task. For our London nights, I used an agency we used in 2008—At Home in London—and located a Bed and Breakfast in Bayswater. I started with those rooms secure to make sure my itinerary (beginning in London and going clockwise) would work. I decided we’d stay in B&B’s as much as possible for the rest of the trip, too. I hoped this would put us within walking distances, more than some hotels might, of sites in towns; would hold down costs somewhat; and would let us meet some folks along the way! Having 3 adults in a room does narrow choices somewhat, I found quickly, so I spent a hectic couple of weeks with every spare moment given to looking. I used the internet almost exclusively for my research; I’d Google-map a city, spot B&B’s, look at their web-sites and then on Trip Advisor and other things like that for feedback, and finally search the Forum for comments. Then I would email the top 3-4 in each city and see what their response was in terms of availability and price (and in a couple cases, the promptness of the email was the only deciding factor.) (A couple nights would be in hotels for various reasons. We used points for one free stay and chose Jury’s Inn at LHR, upon recommendations on the Forum, for the last night because of an extremely early flight home.)

Auto rental/transport: In 2008 we had ridden the Tube from LHR to a B&B in Belgravia, but for a variety of reasons, we decided to have JustAirports transport us from LHR to B&B and from B&B back to rental car at LHR. We decided to rent a car from LHR on Day 5, heading to Oxford, and turn it in at the same place on the evening before our flight home. This was a better plan, logistically and economically, for us than having pick-up and drop-off at different locations. DH (fairly experienced in rental car procurement in Europe) did most of the research and picked National.

A word about Food: We aren’t “foodies” and don’t arrange our trips around fine dining, so in general I don’t have much to say about food. DH likes food to be available, tasty, and not real expensive and I will eat most anything. However, we had an extra factor this trip: DD is slightly gluten intolerant and so strives for a GF diet and recently has decided to try to be vegetarian, even vegan. So I will comment on some of our food choices as meals were a bit more of an “issue” than they had been before.

Other pre-travel purchases: I purchased three Great British Heritage Pass—7 Day version. Got DD a new rainproof jacket. DH bought 3 pairs of small Sony earbuds. We got 4 UK plug adaptors (we had one adaptor already).

Pre-travel tasks: I did all the typical stuff like notifying financial institutions and leaving contact info with people and such. I made sure we had cash accessible from two accounts. A few idiosyncratic things: 1. Called AA to arrange for vegetarian/gluten free meals for DD (they only offered vegetarian meals on the flights, they said—comment about that later) 2. I won’t go into all the details of my Blackberry-with-Sprint talks, but in the end I arranged to have stuff blocked or leave unused so I wouldn’t have expensive data-use charges but could use it as a phone sparingly. 3. I find an accordion file with reservation confirmations/travel info/maps filed by day to be helpful, so I got that ready. It also serves as a semi-organized place to file each day’s receipts/brochures/postcards/etc.

Electronic equipment: Two Sony DSLR’s each with extra battery/charger/cord for picture transfer; Sony flash; DH and I each carried Blackberries, chargers, and one car-charger; DD took her Dell Notepad small laptop which would serve as an internet access and photo storage; a portable external hard-drive; “Sheila” our Garmin GPS and the “stuff” that goes with her.

*****DH--aka VolCrew--and I are going to try something a bit different here; we are going to “tag-team” or consolidate our separate comments, so after most of my “chapters” about a day, DH will also post his take or evaluation.

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    DH here.

    You know how it is, guys. You go on one of these jaunts and you end up driving, walking all over the place and schlepping the luggage up three flights of stairs too narrow for Friar Tuck. At the end of the day, you just want to rest comfortably. In my following posts, I will give you my view of the places we stayed. Frequent Fodorites will know DW planned this trip so I will have to make like Grasshopper and tread the rice paper lightly.

    Also, I don’t mean to flame anyone, but offer these comments in the spirit of improvement. For example, I live in an area with a lot of restaurant turnover. If we like one and get bad service, I don’t hesitate to tell the manager there is an improvement opportunity. I don’t want to get comped; I just want them to stay in business so we can enjoy it.

    The ratings you will see are really closer together than I thought they would be when I started. That’s good, because all these places are comfortable, in most ways, have clean rooms and satisfying food. The difference visually is that some of the more recently remodeled rooms might sparkle a bit more than the older ones.

    Ratings will be 1-5 stars with 1 being poor and 5 being great. These impressions were discussed in the car each day and, although I intended for them to be solely my view, I found there were some strong opinions that did modify my final ratings in some cases.

    I hope, too, that your travels will be pleasant and you can use my observations to pick the best place for your next trip. I will also be commenting on some special topics, but if you have questions about something, ask. I know there is more I can write.

    Next installment will be from DW: Chapter 2: Travel Day and London!

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    Looks so promising! Although I wish wish wish that Fodorites would call each other Just H or W or B___ or L___, the way they did in 18th C novels, instead of this everylasting D business ... sometimes it tempts me to insert refs to DxS (dead ex-spouse) or CB (cranky Brother). Ah well, Fodorism tradition triumphs ... I'll keep calm, you carry on. :)

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    travelerjan--I totally agree, but when in Fodor do as the Fodorites do?! I have to stop and think what some of the initials mean--BF--boy or best friend or something else? Anyway, thanks to both so far for the encouragement.

    Chapter 2—Days 1 and 2—July 29-30—Ta, Ta, Texas and Landing in London

    All the clichés can kick in now—at long last/after months of planning/I can’t believe the day is really here! Since our flight wasn’t until about 6 pm, we all worked some during the day and finished preparations. DS#1 took us to the airport about 3:30. In general our flights (to DFW and then on to LHR) were unremarkable. We were a bit delayed on the first leg but had a smooth flight. In DFW we ended up meeting briefly with a colleague of DH’s stuck in the airport for about 9 hours on the way home to Germany. The flight from DFW to LHR was delayed almost an hour, as we waited on a rather large group; I guess AA felt responsible or something; I’d never been on a flight held up so long for late passengers. None of us slept much (there was a “burper” and loud talker in front of me!). DD’s veggie meals provided her with enough and were also almost GF (the same was true on the return flight).

    We landed about 1:15 pm just a little late. We were through passport control in about 15-20 minutes; got luggage fairly quickly; got some cash at one of the ATM’s somewhere! The JustAirports driver was waiting at the Hertz desk as promised. Yeah! Efficiency! We left the parking garage at 2:00. I thought that was pretty fast---and we’re here!! On our almost hour-long ride we wound around lots of narrow streets to get to Tenniel Close, which is in Bayswater off Porchester Gardens near Queensway/Inverness Terrace. Tenniel Close is a very, very narrow “street,” as a close really is more like an alley. The driver had difficult time but did it safely and was most patient, taking us to the very doorstep and unloading our bags before 3pm. (£48 plus a tip for this trip)

    Our host unlocked several locks and greeted us warmly. #7 Tenniel Close is in a block of little narrow flats; brownish brick and boxy; not attractive or “quaint” but well-maintained. We went up 2 flights of narrow stairs (of course) into a sort of suite. On the right is a big room, on the left, a big bathroom. The bedroom has three beds and a couch in a long room with windows all along one side (overlooking similar rows of flats). The remodeled bathroom has all sorts of wooden closet/cabinet space and is quite nice and huge. Staying here reminded me of being in a family member’s guest bedroom—the rooms are made up cleanly and neatly but not redecorated or fancy. Bayswater is not as upscale as Belgravia, where we stayed in 2008, but looks just as convenient to transportation, shops, restaurants, corner stores, atms, grocery store, etc.

    We left before 4 for a walk. The point was to walk to ward off jet lag, find Mildred’s Restaurant for supper, and take some pics. I had a tentative route mapped out. Cloudy and low 70’s. We walked to Bayswater Tube, about 5 minutes away, along very busy Queensway and bought our 3 Oyster cards, loaded with £17 plus deposit. The short ride to Green Park was on a stuffy and full Tube—welcome to summer in the city!

    We walked down Picadilly to Hatchard’s, England’s oldest bookstore, for a short look around this lovely and busy shop, full of gleaming dark wooden shelves and crammed with books, of course! Too early in trip to load ourselves with any purchases. Then we walked through Picadilly Circus, which was just as busy as pictures often depict.

    I had only done minimal research for DD to find specific veggie places, but Mildred’s came highly recommended. We walked (a little further than I had imagined) to Lexington Street and found Mildred’s, a tiny restaurant in the middle of the block. DD really enjoyed it; DH, a committed carnivore but a willing dad, was ok with it! Then we headed toward Bond Street and found the Allied Statue with Roosevelt and Churchill on a bench on Old Bond Street (had to ask directions as it is really a bit north of where I thought). Our after dinner stroll continued down St. James past all those old and new shops (including oldest tobacco and oldest hatmaking shops), past St. James Palace, and along Pall Mall to Trafalgar Square. It was predictably crowded on this Friday evening. DH found some nice photo ops even with grayish skies. (This became a standard for most of the trip—gray and overcast skies not providing the prettiest of backgrounds but good photo ops found anyway.)

    For a quick peek at the Thames, we then proceeded to Golden Jubilee Pedestrian Bridge, which we had not been on before. There is something about standing near the Thames that to me is so evocative of the history and might of London: “Spirit of place! It is for this we travel, to surprise its subtlety; and where it is a strong and dominant angel, that place, seen once, abides entire in the memory with all its own accidents, its habits, its breath, its name.”--Alice Meynell. For me all along the Thames, whether on one of the bridges or strolling the bank, there is something that makes London “abide in my memory.” I feel like I’ve arrived in London when I stand along the Thames. It was getting cooler and wind picking up but felt nice to our tired-of-the-Texas-summer-heat selves. The traffic—pedestrian, street, and river—was heavy. We caught the Tube at Embankment and came back to our rooms, where we met our hostess. So ends our first (but only a half) day in London!

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    Luggage
    We traveled “heavy” with two large rollers, one medium roller and a small roller. Additionally, we all carried our personal shoulder bag or backpack. We checked the two large and the medium rollers.

    This volume was a little excessive, but I wanted to be able to bring back some souvenirs. For me alone on an international trip, I usually carry one large roller and a laptop/camera backpack with a second backpack packed in the roller. On the return trip, this second backpack will be used for fragile items and carried on-board with the laptop/camera backpack. On our return, all the fragile items fit into my backpack and the other items went into the rollers as planned. We had room to spare.

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    Oh I am so enjoying this and looking forward to more. We have just finalised our itinerary for 6 weeks in the UK next year and am starting the B&B bookings so really looking forward to reading about yours.

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    Thanks to all for your encouragement; afraid it had too many details! Maudie, hope you find some of th B&B info helpful, maybe even for specific places. As you will see, we would return to/recommend all (well, maybe not one) that we chose.

    Chapter 3--Day 3—July 31—The Southbank of London and St. Paul’s

    Our first full day in London! We slept well despite some rain and a little neighborhood noise. Breakfast as requested was waiting for us at 7:30 in the small but lovely dining area which looks out at a tiny patio garden full of hydrangea in bloom. Our first of many full English (with various permutations along the way)--fresh squeezed OJ, nice toast; beans, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage in warming dish. Dishes kept warm for us, too. And a nice full pot of great tea. We had a bit of a visit with our host; they are in their 70’s, I think; his background is in art; they have been in this home since the early 1990’s and been hosting B&B guests for about 15 years. I settled up our bill with the hostess (with cash as requested—AtHomeinLondon does accept credit card payments ahead of time, but there is a surcharge, so this year I paid in cash.)

    When we left before 8:30, it was drizzling, gray, and pleasantly cool. Our first “stop” was an ATM in the wall of a Boots on the corner right across the street at the end of the close and then on to the Tube. This neighborhood really does have about all the conveniences a traveler needs. Our tube ride to Monument was much less crowded this early Saturday. We found...the Monument of course! In 2008 it had been hidden with scaffolding/coverings, so this year we admired it and took pics (but didn’t go up—saving our stair-legs). We walked a short way from there to St. Dunstan-in-the-East. I’d stumbled on the info about it in doing my research, and it sounded like a good brief photo op. It is now a lovely park set in the ruins of the church that’s been left as it was after bombing in WWII; it is covered with greenery and flowers and has plenty of benches and walkways and a fountain. No one there. Quiet oasis, I imagine, even on a busy weekday. Everything was still drippy, but it stopped raining.

    Then we went across the London Bridge headed toward our first real “major” destination, Borough Market. Good morning, Thames, again. We walked straight (ha, not many streets are straight for very long in London!) down the street for a peek into the George Inn. I knew it’d be closed this morning but just wanted to set my foot on the general area of the Canterbury Pilgrims’ embarking point. Right across from the Inn is one of the entrances to Borough Market, so we entered and began our wandering around the big maze of booths. We started off at Stony Street, supposedly used in Harry Potter movies for Leaky Cauldron environs, but DD can’t see how. Hard to imagine with all the modernly dressed people, delivery vans, and taxis all around. Then we meandered around the I guess hundreds—well, dozens and dozens anyway—of stalls, seeing and smelling and even sometimes tasting cheeses and meats and sweets and produce and other products. And hundreds of people—“locals” with their shopping bags; tourists like us; families; lots of kids to enjoy watching! I would love to have bought some different cheeses and fruits but no way to store them. I found Kappacasein Cheese sandwich stall and got my very early lunch. Oh my. Beyond yummy. Cheese on sourdough; halfway through the toasting, they add leeks and grill some more. Yes, greasy and tasty! A young man was preparing stacks and stacks and stacks of them to keep ready for toasting when ordered; I guess they do a brisk business! The stand is right by an entrance into the courtyard of Southwark Cathedral, so that’s where we camped out and ate our individually purchased lunch/brunch meals. I also bought some most-excellent (and GF) brownies and an apple. DD found a veggie burger and some GF snack/breakfast bars while DH found a lamb burger. And a coke. As we ate, we enjoyed the now lovely and much brighter sky and people watching (including spotting AquaLung shuffling along and then sitting on a park [church courtyard] bench). We visited the gift shop in the Cathedral but only DH went into the church. He and I had had spent a nice visit in there before, but DD was happy with just enjoying the outside and peeking in.

    Next we walked toward the Globe along the Thames walk, threading through the crowds, past the Golden Hinde replica, noting the Clink and Westchester Palace, and stopping at some steps where DD went down to touch the cold Thames at a lowish tide level. We talked about its tidal river nature and later from the other side noted how “her” beach was under water.

    We went into the Tate Modern for the first time and spent about 90 minutes, DH off on a look for a suspended piano (it’s now at Barbican and we decided later not to spend the time and money to go find it this trip) and a place to sit (but he ended up covering more ground than we did actually), and DD and I took a brief look at a few things. None of us is “into” modern art in its most abstract form, so a brief visit was enough. We got some postcards, watched some ballet practice and marveled at the building. I do think the Tate is fantastic as a space and a very cool reuse of the old building. Outside we took more pics and then lots more as we mingled with the heavy crowds now on the Millennium Bridge. I love the views of and from this Bridge. Last time there was a yellow petal structure obstructing the view of St. Paul’s from the Bridge, but not this time. Lovely. The sky actually had some blue in it now.

    We went into St. Paul’s and encountered our first admission queue. DH went into the Crypt Café for a coke-rest while DD and I re-visited St. Paul’s just minimally (her 2nd, my 3rd visit). We admired the dome, walked through the American chapel, and went into the crypt to sit with DH for a bit of a rest. We were tired. Then we climbed to the Golden Gallery, all 576 steps. It was quite crowded with a line and it went slowly. It wasn’t as hard as I feared but we will all be sore! The crowds here at the end of the day meant we were herded in a counted group onto the staircase from the Stone Gallery up to the Golden Gallery, onto the Gallery for the view, and then quickly (for us) herded back off. DH didn’t get his pic-taking quite out of his system. The view was amazing and skies had cleared enough so we could see far. We stopped at the Stone Gallery and spent more time a bit more leisurely but were requested to leave too soon because it was nearing closing time. We did not find the climb claustrophobic or overly strenuous even for us flat-landers, but we sure would have liked having longer (unlimited?) time once we got there.

    After some discussion of what to do (we’d made it to the priorities I’d set out), we decided to get some food where we were, rest, and probably just ride back to the rooms. It was 4:45 on Saturday. Everything around St. Paul’s was closed except for pubs—and a Marks and Spencer Simply Foods. So we got £15 worth of salads and sandwiches and sat in PaterNoster Square, which had a few people, some playing ping-pong, and enjoyed the absolutely lovely late afternoon. DD and I walked to Old Bailey/Central Criminal Court and past Newgate, just to say I had, in tribute to Dickens, Rumpole and others, and to try to find a trashcan, which we never did. (I remember some helpful policeman-type Fodorite explained a couple years ago that trash can removal was anti-terrorism move.) Then we ended up just riding the Tube “home.” This time I decided we should try the Queensway stop, as it is only a little bit further from the B&B and would be one less line change, but this was a bad decision, as we ended up having to walk up 123 spiral steps because the lift was broken. Ouch. Queensway is VERY busy with tourist shops and interesting ethnic eateries and convenience stores and chain food places and specialty stores. Back in the rooms we did what became our evening routine: write in journals, download pics of the day onto her laptop and then copy them onto the external hard drive, find plugs and charge up camera batteries, and find plugs and charge up phones. Glad DH bought all those plug adaptors as we use all five almost every night. Early sleep!

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    Kit
    I carry a back pack almost every time I get out of the car. I have learned from experience some of the things I’ll need and the precautions I will take. Here is the get-out-of-the-car-and-tour-a-site backpack inventory:
    + LL Bean Gore-Tex jacket - I started wearing Gore-Tex soon after its introduction and would never go to the UK without it.
    + Cabela’s Gore-Tex pants - my normal uniform is a Columbia or Magellan fishing shirts over a pair of Columbia shorts. I slip the rain pants on and off if I get cold or have enough of a rain (we had both cases on this trip).
    + Zipper Plastic Bags - during my last trip to Wales, I was soaked. I had gallon-size bags for the camera gear, but my Blackberry failed, I suspect from excessive humidity (I don't think it was ever exposed to rain). This year I upped my weatherproofing with zip locks for the passport and BB.
    + Camera gear - will discuss it later
    + Water bottle(s)
    + Baseball cap - when not on my head (as in a church), it is clipped on the backpack with a large D-clip
    + Snacks, napkins, fork, etc for on-the-run eating.
    + Solo solar charger/battery for BB - I don’t use the solar function (who could in UK?), but after charging with the laptop USB or the wall power, the Solo battery will give me a couple of added bars on my BB battery.
    + Map or contextual guide

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    Hope we are going to see some photos soon? Looking forward to more....already memories of past trips are flooding back when you mentioned staying around Porchester Gardens,Inverness Terrace & the Bayswater tube, and more recently Borough Market!

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    (tod--I would love to share pics and have put some in Photobucket but can't figure out yet how to copy a link that goes to just the slide show of pics of that day--still working on figuring that out!)

    Chapter 4--Day 4--August 1—London Museums, an Opening Show, and the Nightlights

    Today we are sore and tired but all slept well. London is full of steps even if you don’t climb to the top of St. Paul’s! We appreciate the space in this loft/attic/top floor suite. The view is just of rooftops and windows of other rows of flats but interesting. The day was cloudy and gray but it never rained. After breakfast at 8 and a leisurely getting ready, we left about 9:30 and got to the British Museum a little after 10. As expected it was very crowded. But the British Museum is a world-class wonder, whether you can spend an hour or a day. We split up for a while, although DD and I went to a lot of the ancient stuff together, and met at 11:30 in the café. DH and I got sandwiches at the cafeteria and DD ate what she’d brought (she always packed nuts and fruit and got bars, hummus, chips, veggies when she could along the way). Then DH rested after seeing some Chinese stuff and cuckoo clocks while DD and I wandered separately but crossed paths often. I mostly revisited favorites like Sutton Hoo.

    About 1:15 we began to walk to the British Library let us say in a leisurely manner, but we still got there about 2. We spent over an hour oohing and aahing (quietly!). Austen, Shakespeare, Carroll, Bronte, Milton, Wordsworth, Beowulf, Gutenberg, Beatles, Handel. Beyond cool. DD wished she could go into a reading room but not on Sunday. She was amazed at the core of the library—the floors of archived texts and tomes towering up. Wow. If we were pagan, this might be a graven image!

    This was a “glad to have flexibility built in” moment as DH had decided he wanted to see the Tower Bridge go up again, as we had in 2008. I had investigated that months ago, but nothing was listed for this date and then I forgot about it. He used his Blackberry to Google more current info and found Bridge openings at 4:45 or 5:45. So we rode to Tower Hill, browsed souvenir shop at the Tower (and got a teabag caddy like I’d hoped, but I hadn’t scheduled a special trip here this trip—silly whim), and sat in the shadow of the Tower. Maybe this is my favorite London spot?! So glad we did come. Enjoyed the rest and people watching as we waited. Right on time, about 4:43, the traffic stopped, the Bridge went up, the ship went through, the Bridge went down, the traffic resumed. Great show!

    Then we were hungry. We looked at the Wagamama but there not enough GF/vegan options to tempt DD and DH can skip noodles easily! DH got fish and chips at a little place right across from Wagamama while DD and I made it into the EAT right there just as they were closing and got several small salads, all still fresh and tasty. Had a nice view from the upstairs area with DH. We sat and enjoyed the evening for awhile as we tried to decide if and what we wanted to do on this Sunday night when most things shut and legs not wanting much strolling. DD said she might want to go into a Park after a bit, so we went back to the B&B. After a short rest she and I went on a short visit to Kensington Park, something else conveniently close to our rooms. On this walk we went to and from the Park on Queensborough Terrace and Porchester Terrace, which parallel Tenniel Close and Queensway; these are more residential tree-lined roads and made a pleasant venue for our stroll. London’s parks, her “lungs”, big and small, are amazing, and many families were enjoying the late sundown, pleasant weather, paths, playgrounds, and lawns.

    About 9:30 DH got his second wind and he and I went on an adventure. He had definitely wanted to see the Thames bridges in the dark, which would be very late in early August. We headed to Tower Hill again and walked along the edge of the river so we could see the Tower Bridge all lit up. Not a lot of people out. We couldn’t walk behind the Tower next to the river like during the day but still got good pics. Then we rode the Tube to Mansion House and walked down deserted streets to the Millennium Bridge and snapped St. Paul’s. Wow. It sprinkled some but was mostly holding off. Lovely to be on the River at night. The lights, the cool breeze, the mostly empty streets, the lack of crowds—great. We heard St. Paul’s 10 pm bells. Back to the Tube and on to Westminster. (I think it was here I thought the Oyster reader screen as we touched in our cards said £1.70 left as a balance, so I topped up with £5 each at a manned window. Later a screen said £10ish for balance, so I misread something. But I knew I could always get back what was left when we left LHR –or next June when I bring some students on a tour.) We walked out of the Tube stop and there’s Big Ben and Parliament and Westminster Bridge. Awesome. M took pics until almost 11 and then we waited for the 11 “BONG” ‘s before heading to the Tube. It was still in use but much less so. On the way back up Queensway, we negotiated the still crowded sidewalks past the hookah bars, still open eateries of various sorts, and brightly lit souvenir shops. DD was already asleep when we got back to the rooms. One more London day to go!

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    London

    We occupied the top floor of the apartment in a spacious room with three beds, couch, table and chairs overlooking the rear courtyard. Extra large separate bath overlooking the Close. The Bayswater neighborhood is very different from Belgravia, where I stayed in 2008. Queensway, just a block away, has a huge diversity of shops and restaurants, as well as a convenient tube stop. The scene I will keep as my best Bayswater memory was on Sunday night just before midnight. I had been along the Thames on a photography tour - Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s, Westminster - and noticed how early the attractions and shops closed (4:30 to 5ish - I thought this was silly during tourist season, but apparently it is a wide-spread practice to close this early throughout the week and nationwide) . Sure, there were still people on the streets, just walking. But Queensway was hustling and bustling with people still living their lives. Shops, hookah bars and eateries were still open. Even McDonald’s and Burger King, about a hundred yards apart, were still battling it out to sell that last Coke or Pepsi. I would stay here again just for the Life.

    Bed: With three beds, I had a separate bed. I rested very well here. A general word about beds: I am comfortably under six feet tall, so I fit in most anything. I think it will be hard to find a king size bed; most of the rooms we stayed in were too small for one anyway. Rating: ***

    Breakfast: Breakfast was always ready when we came down at 0730. We were asked what we wanted when we checked in and it was served buffet-style with orange juice and our requested black tea. The tea pot held six cups and we lingered and drank it all every day. Rating: ***

    In the USA, you typically have the other house guests eating together at a common table. Since there is only one room here, we were always alone. I like jams and there were several to chose from.

    Shower: The shower is a low-flow affair over a tub. I learned to adopt a sort of oomph-loompa crouch that would allow me to spring backwards when the hot water stopped, as it did when someone opened a faucet elsewhere. Still, this was better than my Belgravia experience, where, after DW took her shower, there was hot water only for half of mine. I like bar soap and we had some here. Rating: ***

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    Great start - looking forward the the rest. I love the tag team approach.

    In educational theory there is a concept referred to a “learning hooks” to describe how a first experience or lesson may be rather introductory or even superficial and is not expected to provide deep or full appreciation or understanding. However, these initial experiences provide a “hook” on which future experiences or lessons can attach and make for better comprehension. This trip was a lot about providing such “learning hooks” for future trips/reading/experiences!

    I love this explanation for the "suck it and see' whirlwind tour so often disparaged here on Fodors. I'm so going to use this rationale to justify my decisions to see "more of less" in my trip planning.

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    Texasbookworm,

    I am so loving your report, including the great introduction:)

    The more details the better to quote you. I also enjoy the tag team. Great to get two perspectives.

    We had just happened upon the tower bridge lift when we left the Tower of London and really enjoyed seeing the bridge open. It was not listed on the schedule when I checked before we left but it was opened that day to let a boat through. A great highlight.

    DH and I also loved the clocks and the Chinese section of the British Museum along with all the highlights we wanted to see--The Chessmen, The Sutton Hoo, the Bog Man, Parthenon Marbles etc. etc. We went twice to the British Museum in that week--once all together to see the highlights and once with just DH and I after seeing the John Soane Museum and the Strand the day DS and MIL stayed in the room when DS was sick. We spent about an hour in each place which were all near our hotel and then headed back to the room. We did not make it to the British Library this trip but look forward to going again someday to see the sites we didn't get a chance to go to and to explore Oxford and the surrounding areas.

    Anyway back to your trip report--looking forward to the rest!

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    Again, thanks to you encouragers!
    Chapter 5--Day 5--August 2—Westminster Abbey and Imperial War Museum

    After another nice breakfast, we went out into the grayish day to Westminster Abbey, getting there about opening time, and used the audio guides and enjoyed the 90 minute tour. I love all the history, especially Elizabeth and Mary’s tombs, the coronation chair (which was not on display as it’s being restored but we saw it in a room as two people were working on it), and Poets' Corner. It was very crowded, of course, but still afforded us an enjoyable morning. There is so much to say about this remarkable place—and so little space here to do so! If I had to pick the two “must-sees” in London, places to go into to tour, they would be the Tower and Westminster. I will say no more.

    We took pictures outside a little and crossed the Westminster Bridge, heading to the Waterloo area to find Master’s Super Fish, a fish and chips place. I had picked very, very few specific eating places, but this was one that sounded good and would be close to where we would be. Found it. Closed. Looked out of business (later discovered in small print somewhere--not open for lunch on Monday!). ??!!! So we just (wearily!) walked over another 10 minutes to the Imperial War Museum and had food there. Soup and stew and loaded baked potato. All good. DD explored the museum alone for couple of hours while DH and I saw part of it, spending most of our time in the Holocaust exhibit area, which we thought excellently done (except for a few too-low-to–read displays). A good handling of emotion-laden-information. I especially appreciated the filmed testimonies by survivors. In the gift shop I found the WWII phrase “Keep calm and carry on” on lots of items and really liked that thought. The stress and danger of a trip does not really merit a serious comparison to the situation in Great Britain and London when that phrase was introduced, but the mindset/encouragement encapsulated in those few words do apply in any difficult situation, and so I sorta appropriated that phrase for the trip. (Except I forgot to follow the instructions sometimes! Should have worn the button I bought every day!)

    We then returned to the rooms where DH fell asleep while DD and I went to Whiteley’s, the shopping mall just a little walk away. We shopped and she tried on a few things in H&M, Zara and some other store but didn’t find anything. It was still fun. We then walked over to Porchester and got food at the Waitrose and took it “home.” We love Waitrose and Marks & Spencer selections for takeaway! DH woke up hungry, so while DD stayed to rest and shower, he and I went to… Pizza Hut! Sometimes he just wants the familiar (although we never go to Pizza Huts anymore at home)! There’s a Pizza Hut on Queensway, and a very busy one it is, too. I had one slice of his pizza and my first glass of water that had ICE in it! Then we went to Kensington Park briefly and back up Queensway, stopping in several of the many souvenir shops for postcards and cheap souvenirs. Back to the rooms to complete all the charging up and picture care we do, finish repacking, and gather up needed info to have it available for the next stage of the adventure—renting a car and heading out! (And had to add a chore—pre-programming our GPS named "Sheila" with our tomorrow’s destinations so we could just start driving the next day.)

    Our time here was fleeting but fabulous and not overly rushed or packed. And I’m glad we started out in London so we could get over jet lag and get oriented before we (well, DH) starting any driving.

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    Photography Kit Details

    Most of the gear I carry is related to photography. I am not a professional, but I enjoy journaling adventures with pictures. If I have time before a trip, I will scout on the internet and then try to hit some places on a photographic scavenger hunt of sorts.
    My normal backpack photo kit consists of:
    + Sony A700 with 18-250mm zoom - Sony does not have as extensive a line of equipment as Nikon or Canon, but I really like the functions, feel and controls of this body.
    + Spare battery - this battery will last all day usually, but I have had enough experience with Murphy to know I need to carry a spare. This also provides camera power while the depleted battery is charging.
    + Polarizing filter - I know; I must be an optimistic to take this to UK. The joke became when the polarizer came out, we could expect rain shortly.
    + Mini-tripod - seldom used and will probably be left behind in the future.
    + Sony HVL-F58AM Flash - awesome in large indoor spaces
    + Spare AA Flash batteries
    + Remote control for camera - fun for group shots
    + Spare memory card – the 12.2 megapixel A700 loves memory cards so I keep a blank ready
    The only thing I was wishing I had was the new vertical grip for it. I took lots of portrait-orientation pictures on this trip.

    Then, for support after a day of sight seeing, we also need the following back in the room:
    + Laptop
    + Cable for connecting camera to laptop
    + Camera battery charger
    + External hard drive - for making a backup of the photos moved to the laptop

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    Really enjoying the tag-team report! VolCrew, your list of camera equipment made me laugh a little. My brother and I are both amateur photographers as well and just got back from the Canadian Rockies. He's more into the equipment than I am and lugged his full size tripod all the way up there. He didn't use it till our last full day in the mountains, where, bound and determined, he got up in time for sunrise and drove out to a lake! I think it may be staying home on future trips too. :)

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    Splendid stuff! The details of what you actually saw are terrific, and I also appreciate reading about the particulars of your planning. And haha, the library archives that constitute a graven image! I'm with you there!

    By the way, I spotted Aqualung in a London park three decades ago. Glad to know he's still out there (poor old sod).

    Looking forward to more!

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    Chapter 6--Day 6—August 3--On to Oxford

    The weather today was partly cloudy but generally pleasant. To be ready for our pickup at 8, we got ready and all packed up before eating at 7:30. The JustAirports car was here exactly on time at 8, parked at the doorway and ready to load up; we said farewell to our hostess and the driver whisked us to the National Car rental at LHR. Boy, is that area ever confusing! All the rental stuff went pretty smoothly and quickly. We got a free upgrade to a Mercedes C130 which has plenty of room (and is an automatic with a/c—doubt if we need the a/c!). We got both big bags and some of the smaller ones in the trunk and DD still has enough room in her half of the back seat, with our “need to get to them” bags beside her. (Just a note about our luggage: We each had one rolling back, DD a 22”, DH and I a bit bigger. I had a small rolling carry-on and a very small backpack/purse; DD had a messenger back; DH had 2 backpacks, neither very full. At all the rest of our stops, we unpacked from our bigger bags just what we needed for the night so we only had to carry backpacks and smaller bags up the inevitable 2-3 flights of stairs. It worked well.).

    DH made sure he knew where all the major controls were and drove a bit around the parking lot before we headed to a real road. At first we couldn’t find a few non-essential accessories/controls in the car; I could only find one 12 volt power port, in the glove box, which we needed for Sheila-the-GPS, but then DH found another in a hidden compartment. We used the glove box one for his BB. He couldn’t find hood release, either, but I did later. DH is an excellent driver and had some experience driving UK rules, but he was still a bit stressed about it! He hooked up Sheila, who had our Oxford destinations already programmed in her, and off we went. He took only one wrong turn just at first but, with Sheila’s help, did great the rest of the way. We couldn’t even count how many times she said, “Approaching roundabout”!

    The road to Oxford was busy but flowing nicely on the multi-lane highway after we left the LHR area, and we headed toward C.S. Lewis’ house in Risinghurst, the Kilns, arriving in about an hour. We stopped there briefly and also walked a little way down a path in a nature preserve on former Lewis-owned land to a little pond. It was a brief but special stop for us, especially DD who had not been; how cool to see the windows of the room where he wrote so much that has shaped our worldviews. I know some people who have arranged to be given a tour of the house by the Christian organization there now; that would be awesome! Then we went to Lewis’ church, Holy Trinity, which was hard to find at first (just like when we walked there in 2008—it’s as if the church address on map services don’t match with where you would actually park to go in). We parked at the Vicarage, maybe not “legally” but there were several empty spaces, and from there walked down the shaded dirt path marked “To the Church,” meeting several moms with children in prams, coming from their Pram Service. I’d been told about this service when I emailed the staff to ask if the church would be open at the hours of our probable visit. There were quite a few moms and tots; if anyone is familiar with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) here in the states, I think it is a similar ministry. There were also some older people going toward the church and we passed some people we overheard say something about a funeral. The church was open, so we went in, but they did seem to be getting ready for a service, so we did not stay long, just long enough for DD to see the Narnia window and the pew where Mr. Lewis is supposed to have sat (although I’ve read it is actually not, because he liked to sit more behind a column!) We visited Mr. Lewis’ grave. The church and graveyard are beautiful, peaceful, invoking reverence. We came to honor Mr. Lewis’ memory but also to linger to thank God for the blessing of such thinkers-writers-Christian scholars as “Jack.”

    We drove what seemed like less than 5 minutes to our B&B, Pickwick House on London Road. They had the room almost ready, so we parked in the spacious (for England) car park in front and waited about 10 minutes (we were early; it was before noon). Here I began to understand comments I’d seen about British B&B’s, that they are usually like small hotels, not like a room or two in someone’s house. This one had over 16 rooms (we were in 16) and a lovely dining area and beautiful backyard garden. And this was the only time we were on the ground floor. The room was pretty, spacious, and comfortable with 3 beds (well, DD’s foldout couch wasn’t that great she said but not bad.)

    After settling stuff in the room, we walked to a nearby busstop and waited less than 5 minutes for bus which took us to a stop near Magdalen College in less than 15 minutes. On our walk to Magdalen along High Street, we ducked quickly into an antique shop to browse and then got sandwiches at Harveys right across the street. Magdalen, Lewis’ college, opens to visitors at noon and we arrived before 12:30. Inside the College, which is just as beautiful as I remembered, we looked around a bit before DD and I walked down Addison’s Walk in tribute to Misters Lewis and Tolkien. The grounds are immaculate, the flowers abundant, the spires breath-taking, the river charming, the walk shaded and quiet even though we met several other walkers, the history awesome. I am a bit biased because I appreciate Mr. Lewis so much, perhaps, but this is for me the epitome of the Oxford colleges.

    Next we ambled along, going past Merton and Corpus Christi Colleges. Oxford is pretty at every turn with a different college’s spires or carved front door around every corner it seems! Merton alumni include Tolkien, T.S. Eliot, and Sir Blackwell (more about him in a minute). DH had been trying to find out if we could see another Gutenberg Bible, since he’s seen one in Mainz and one in the British Library, and he found out there is one in the Bodleain Library. I asked the nice students at Magdalen College who said they didn’t think we could see it but should go there and ask. So we headed next in that direction, also seeing the iconic Radcliff Camera and Sheldonian at some point. At the Bodleian, which is also a pretty building, we could not get in and the Bible is not on display. But in the Library they had a free temporary exhibit on Aubrey whom none of us had ever heard of but was an important historian/librarian/writer/researcher. Bodleian’s website says “The Bodleian Libraries 2010 Summer exhibition examines the intellectual world of John Aubrey (1626-97), one of the Founding Fellows of the Royal Society of London, and a major seventeenth-century scientific and cultural figure.” It was an interesting display of books, records, maps and such. An unplanned excellent stop.

    In the gift shop I asked where a public toilet was and was directed to Blackwell’s Books, where I wanted to go anyway! So we headed that way to Sir Blackwell’s shop and had a very pleasant time in this historic, charming, big store. It has floors and floors, like Hatchard’s in London, with dark wood bookcases and brightly colored displays of current bestsellers. It was packed! DH found a table in the café and had “tea”—we shared some sweet which I can’t remember exactly but it was cake I think and was good. I read a bit from the pictures and displays on the wall about Sir Blackwell.

    Maria Edgeworth, a novelist from the early 1800’s who influenced Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott, among others, is a distant relative, it seems. A cousin’s research has found that Maria’s neer-do-well but reformed-later-in-life brother came to America and is my ancestor; Maria never married. I have found her books still in print but was hoping I might run across something by her while on this trip. I looked 2 or 3 places at old books but didn’t see any. Here at Blackwell’s, there was a table with a stack of re-published Helen’s by Maria Edgeworth! It was newly printed and prominently displayed, a featured book! Also I found Belinda. They are paperbacks—but they are now souvenirs! There was a “deal” to buy 2 books and get 3rd for free, so DD picked out something, too. It was fun. Forgot to take any pictures, though!

    Then we wandered through the Covered Market; DD found some more bars in a health food store. At some point there I pointed out the carving on a door what might be the inspiration for “Mr. Tumnus,” as we had had pointed out to us in 2008 (on St. Mary’s Passage?). Then about 4 pm I think we went into the Ashmolean Museum, which had been closed when we were here before, so since we had time, we popped in. DD found a bench to rest on while DH and I saw just a few things--some China vases, the Alfred Jewel, some Constable art. It’s not as big as the British Museum but quite extensive and has a lovely look of light in it that I liked. Then he bought a pretty ceramic vase in the gift shop—from China. Not Ming but will remind us of what we saw. (Morse’s Randolph with its bar is right across the street and made it into the background of some pictures!)

    Next we headed to the Eagle and the Child very nearby. We got there about 5:30 and found a table in the Rabbit Room! As we waited for our food, we took pictures and talked to some guys from Texas, a couple men next to us discussing Tolkien, and also a local who was showing “his” pub around to a tourist. The food is pretty decent, but even if it was poor, being in the room where these favorite and influential writers spent so many hours is for us worth it!

    We then headed back toward town to catch a bus. I had copied down directions for riding a bus back to the B&B from a stop on New Road, but there was no bus stop labeled as the one we needed. A bus pulled up, so DH asked the driver, who directed us around the corner on Castle Street—the bus stop was near where directions said but not visible—and a bus was there and off we went. Another short ride back to rooms where we did nightly “stuff.” Keeping up with all these electronics is a bit of a pain, keeping cords and plugs straight and making it all work. But it’s necessary to do what we are doing. I’m sure we could “do” this with paper maps, no phones, and film in our cameras, but there are definite advantages to the electronics we have, so we have to pay the price of managing them, too. Our room had sliding glass door onto porch onto a beautiful backyard area and we sat out there for a little. Fell in bed! (Great shower the next morning, too!)

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    Oxford

    This house was more hotel-like, but with a very home-like feel. It is a short bus ride from City Center and there is a bus stop less than a hundred yards away. Attractive grounds out back with a large and comfortable patio. Our ground floor room had a sliding glass door that opened onto a smaller separate patio. A third bed had been placed in the floor, resulting in some overcrowding. Since we had the car now, I decreed that the big rollers would stay in the trunk and the smaller bags would be used between the car and the room. This saved me a lot of schlepping later.

    Bed: I gave DW the big bed and had a comfortable twin-size bed here. DD said the floor “bed” she had was more like a pallet (as in a shipping pallet, not a sleeping pallet), but I was very comfortable. Rating: ****

    Breakfast: Interestingly, the cook actually took our order in waitress-style. We dined in a small multi-tabled room looking over the patio. Multiple choices of juices here, as well as the cereals we typically saw elsewhere. The patio is accessible to guests and you can have your tea and enjoy tobacco products out there. Rating: ****

    Shower: With a full flow head and a seemingly unlimited hot water supply, this was the best shower I had. Bar soap, too! Rating: *****

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    Chapter 7--Day 7—Aug. 4--Cruising the Cotswalds (more than we thought) and So to Shrewsbury

    We slept great and had a marvelous cooked-to-order breakfast in bright, windowed breakfast area about 7:30. We left by 9, into an overcast but cool morning, and headed to Wolvercote Cemetery. Sheila was not clear—“Approaching roundabout—approaching roundabout”--but soon got us on our way and we found it. By the little building in the middle was the expected plaque with Tolkien’s grave marked on it, plus there are some little markers along the paths. JRR and Edith are buried together, and their gravesite is covered with recent tributes in bloom and verse.

    Then we told Sheila to direct us to Black Bourton, the village where the Edgeworths--Richard, my ancestor, and Maria, my great-great+aunt--were born. Sheila was a little confused and confusing, but we did find the church. It’s a little country church with stone walls, small but pretty stained glass windows, old gravestones, and some important 13th century murals. It was not exactly a village proper, but a group of houses sat close by and some lanes wound by on their way to bigger roads. (This was as close as I’ve ever come to trying to “research” or visit places of my ancestors; there’s not really much left here of my Edgeworth kin, but I did so enjoy this brief visit to the church in the village where they lived for a brief time when they were small.) As we left it began to sprinkle.

    We were now driving on many NARROW two-lane roads winding around and through tiny and small and medium villages. Sheila directed us, and I think we were on more small roads than I anticipated. I think we went through/near/around Burford, Stow-on-the-Wold and Broadway; we were on M5 for a while, and eventually ended up on A458. The countryside, even with the sprinkling rain which muted the colors into almost Renoir-like pastels of gold, greens and blue, was gorgeous with hedgerows parceling fields into geometric designs that stretched in gold, green and tan patches toward the pewter sky. And some of those hedgerows created roofless, narrow tunnels that we wound through, sometimes meeting other cars that seemed to be using 2/3 of the road! I remember in 2005 our tour bus was scooted over into such a hedgerow and actually sustained a significant denting! DH negotiated quite expertly if tensely, despite his limited experience as a driver on the British side. On the Stourport Road southwest of Kidderminster, we stopped at a Subway for us while DD found some hummus and veggies at a little store next door.

    After the Subway break we continued to Shrewsbury. We had all three loved the BBC Cadfael mysteries with Derek Jacobi and then enjoyed the Ellis Peters’ books, so we’d always considered Shrewsbury as a possible stop sometime. When we decided to try to spend a day in Wales on this trip, Shrewsbury became a logical destination between Oxford and Conway. As instructed, I called before we got to the Anton House B&B but got no answer. When we arrived about 2, we parked on the street right across from the front door. We headed to the Abbey which was just down the street. It was fascinating; we all enjoyed it a lot. The abbey now is much different, smaller and much redone, since the medieval times, but pretty and interesting; I especially liked the Cadfael/Benadictine monk/Ellis Peters window. I asked what the Latin meant and the sweet ladies in the gift shop tried to help but didn’t know; said no one had ever asked! (Later a Latin-teaching friend translated for me: “Listen attentively to the words [or to every word or to the whole meaning or intent of the word] of the master” and “Pray and work.”) It was a great visit.

    Shrewsbury is hometown of WWI-poet Wilfred Owen (we passed a memorial to him near Abbey) and Charles Darwin (we saw his statue in town, near the library). We walked on into the small town and strolled through the old streets with lots of shops and pedestrian areas—but stuff was already closing, about 5 pm! We headed to the castle but didn’t pay to go in; you can walk around the outside yard and up to Laura’s Tower which gave a lovely view of town. Then we tried to find something to eat. After checking at a couple places which weren’t open for over an hour--Mad Jack’s and a pub near it—we went back into the town centre and entered the Darwin Center, a big, multi-level, newish, nice, busy mall but all merchandise stores, not eating places. A funny high point in our search for food was finding DH a WRC rally car (kiddy-ride!) to pose in. But—yay! We found a Marks and Spencer still open; DH went to the café which still could serve him a sandwich and cake; DD and I got some items in the food section and took them to the café. Shrewsbury is small and sure seems to close up early! We passed by and gawked at lots of little medieval structures and shops that look intriguing; if we had been here earlier, we could have gone in and out of plenty!

    Then back to the B&B where we were greeted by Louise; she said we could leave the car or bring it into a lot around back, so we just left it. She offered us refreshments and was very friendly, helpful, and informative, and our room was great. (DH found out he had to make some business travel changes AND would have to be on a conference call at 2:30 the next day, so his vacation wasn’t completely work-free!)

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    Shrewsbury

    Exceptional hostess and a very nice house made for a pleasant stay here. When we arrived, she offered tea and a run down on things to do, only one of two hostesses who made this offer. The corner location was convenient to the Abbey.

    Unique among the B&Bs was bathroom which had a separate tub as well as a shower enclosure. This suite would make for a romantic getaway for a couple requiring only the one bed.

    Bed: We had two beds here and the floofy (too thick) pillows did not suit me; I woke up with a jaw ache. The addition of a second bed led to overcrowding in the room. Rating: ***

    Breakfast: My hostess scored extra points with me by explaining, upon check in, what was available in the kitchen and welcoming us to raid the fridge (the only one that did). Although I didn’t take her up on the offer, I did look to see there were yogurts, drinks, fresh whole fruits and cereals available. She followed up with a very good breakfast the next morning. I especially appreciated her interest in finding me the right jam for my toast. Rating: ****

    Shower: The shower was a corner enclosure affair which made it a very tight fit inside. However, the flow and temp were fine. Rating: ****

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    Chapter 8--Day 8—Aug.5--Winding ‘Round Roads in Wales

    Louise at Anton House gave us a wonderful breakfast about 7:30. After DH took care of some business business, about 9 we headed off to Wales. We (well, DH did all the driving!) drove along mostly A roads--winding, narrow, all hedged in, through lots of villages, a lot like yesterday except maybe less traffic and hillier and even prettier. We only got stuck behind something, like a slow truck or farm vehicle, a couple times. DH said he that although he got a bit tired of negotiating the narrowness so much, he enjoyed today because he got to drive like a rally car driver a bit! Gorgeous land, reminding me a bit of Tennessee. Valleys and streams and craggy hills with sheep everywhere as well as horses and cattle. We got gas around Balas, pulling into a tiny station with service attendant. I loved seeing all the bilingual signs. Showers sometimes pelted down briefly, but generally we just had sprinkles and changing skies all day as we drove through part of Snowdonia National Park.

    We got to Dolwyddelan castle ruins where it was a little rainy but never dampened us too much. A few others were there at this rather remote spot. We parked in the lot and made the short climb to the entrance, which was somebody’s house it seemed like; a woman and her toddler in arms met us, and we used our GBHeritage Passes for the first time. The castle, which legend says is where King Llewellen was born although he probably was born not here but nearby, is set up on a hill commanding a fine view. Quite windy up there; I’ll bet it got pretty miserable in the winter. It is just a ruin now, but there is one tower that can still be climbed. The vistas were spectacular. The clouds were making the light change across the hills and valleys all the time, and it was just beautiful. We left about 1. We got lunch stuff along the way at a Shell station.

    We got to Castlebank Hotel B&B in Conwy about 2. We pulled into a big public parking area and I walked up the steep hill and steep steps into Castlebank and was met by Henrique, who explained that the lot right in front, with several rather roomy spaces, was for us, so DH moved car. It’s another small hotel with 8 or 9 rooms just across from the town walls. Lovely breakfast room; our room was great; lots of information available. Good parking, good view, good room, good food. I was feeling good about my choices of B&B’s after batting 4 for 4!

    DH had to wait a bit for the 2:30 business call which only took about 20 minutes, and then we headed across the street to town. It was just a short walk to Conwy Castle which is magnificent—not in terms of size or beauty or completeness but in atmosphere, accessibility and views. We enjoyed immensely the look around, the views, the walk along the tops of the castle walls and down into the great hall/courtyard areas. (Except for legs protesting so many steps!) We spent over an hour and saw just about all of it, but not exhaustively. There is plenty to see and read to keep you occupied much longer—this was true of every castle/cathedral/museum/site we visited. (Remember those “learning hooks” I mentioned in my introduction!? We never exactly rushed usually, but we could have gone more slowly and spent more time, but the pace we set allowed us to see enough for this trip.) We purchased a wool rug and small vases of pretty blue Welch pottery from the gift shop.

    We then headed toward the suspension bridge so we could walk out on it for the view back at the castle; it was about 5 pm. It closed at 4:30! We found a disconcertingly high number of places closing up at what seemed to us an early hour for peak tourist season. Anyway, DH walked out onto the vehicle bridge and took a few shots but was disappointed not to get on the suspension one. We didn’t even know or consider that it would be something with admission times.

    Then we strolled into town looking around and looking for a place to eat. DH often used his BB to help find a restaurant if I didn’t have a plan, which I usually didn’t because I wanted to remain pretty flexible with our times when pre-planning each day’s itinerary. We ended up at Shakespeare’s in Castle Hotel. They had one of those early bird/2 courses for a set price deal which DH and I tried; DD found a selection of sides she could eat. It was a bit of a splurge compared to most dinners we ate, but we’d been eating so much cheaper than I thought we might, we still stayed way under “budget.” Great food although a long time between starters and mains; DD got pretty hungry and got that “blood sugar messed up” feeling. I had this wonderful payenne soup; I asked what that meant—poor man’s—a lot of vegetables, mostly squash. Can’t remember what our mains were but I know they were good!

    After dinner DD just wanted to rest, so she went back to the room and used the internet. DH and I walked past Great Britain’s smallest house and to the harbor area. Lots of people out, strolling, eating ice cream, crabbing (kids mostly). Pretty picturesque! Then we got up on the town walls, which are still just about completely intact, and walked around about half of them, taking lots more pics. Walking along a town’s wall is about as atmospheric as it gets! The spirit of the place is strong here; spreading out before us we could see the town, the harbor, and even the Irish Sea from here. We could see into people’s 21st c. backyards (must be a bit strange to always have the probability of strangers’ eyes on your wash and backsteps!) while standing on these walls that had been patrolled for centuries. The weather had been cloudy all day but only sprinkled a little out in the country side, and we had some really blue skies part of the time. A gorgeous day all in all.

    We went back about dusk and finished those nightly electronic chores. In looking at the day’s photography efforts from both camera-people, DH discovered that he and DD had taken practically the exact same shot of a boat on the beach, although they hadn’t taken the picture at the same time. Funny. They had a few other shots over the days that were similar even though not taken at the same time. Our room had a view of the castle, which was great; I looked out right before going to bed to see if I could get a lit-up shot, but all was dark.

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    We got caught by the 4:30 PM closing times twice; once at Caernarfon Castle and once at the Parsonage (Bronte home) in Haworth. OTOH, we did get good pictures of Conwy Castle illuminated at night! Trade-offs...

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    hi, texas & volcrew,

    I'm enjoying your two-handed report very much, and your reflections on your trip are very interesting. your "if it's tuesday, it must be Wales" is not the most popular approach on this forum, but you show that it CAN work, so long as it doesn't involve trying to cover too much distance as well, which is the normal mistake made by those planning those sorts of itineraries.

    and isn't the British habit of closing everything by 5pm irritating? - especially as it often means that they start getting rid of you at 4.30. it drives us made too!

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    Texas & Co,
    Enjoying the trip report very much, one thing perplexes me though,
    "Chapter 7--Day 7—Aug. 4--Cruising the Cotswalds (more than we thought) and So to Shrewsbury".
    A lot of Americans and an increasing amount of Australians on travel forums seem to spell the Cotswolds with an "a", always wondered why that is (maybe the way its pronounced with an American accent), anyway, keep calm and carry on the good work.

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    Literary note: John Aubrey wrote an entertaining collection of "Brief Lives" of the celebrities of his time. He's the source of such stories as Queen Elizabeth and the farting courtier, Sir Walter Raleigh's way with her ladies-in-waiting, and someone who claimed to have met a fairy who vanished in a puff of blue smoke "and a most melodious twang". Well worth a read - I think there may be editions available still.

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    "to Sir Blackwell’s shop"

    And you teach English?

    Someone like Basil Blackwell (the son of the founder of Blackwell's), if he gets knighted, may be known as Basil, Sir Basil, Basil Blackwell or - Sir Basil Blackwell. But never "Sir Blackwell" - and there's not a single example in English literature of a knight being so described in the thousand years since the title came into commonish use.

    Now we see where the weird Hollywood "Sir Blackwell" thing comes from: they're taught it in school.

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    Again to all those taking time to read and then to respond--thanks.

    Hooameye--Yikes! I hate what looks like sloppy proofreading--missed that; I know it has two o's but was careless. And spellcheck is no help! Your correction will be my learning hook--probably won't mistype that again.

    flanneruk--I'm a great appreciator of your wealth of knowledge. I promise I never mis-instructed my students about such title usage--it has never come up but if it does, you, like Hooemeye, have provided another hook so I'll be more aware. I didn't spend much/enough time reading about the Blackwells, Sirs and not, to keep them properly identified, or I wouldn't have referred to the shop that way. And I don't think anyone has ever instructed me about title-usage. So know I now. A teacher must always be willing to be a learner, too, about all manner of things. And while English titles aren't a part of the general American course of study, calling someone by their proper (and correctly spelled!) name is important to me, so I will be more aware of this now.

    I am calm and will carry on!

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    Conwy

    The Castlebank Hotel is a three level house overlooking the City walls and Conwy Castle. There are two roomy lounge areas downstairs and a large dining room with half-dozen or so tables. I really liked the look and feel of the public areas of the house; they were very inviting and I would like to just lay around and read there.

    In the room, the televisions are not like the US, of course. Here, they are quite small and predominantly flat screens. This B&B had lots of cable stations with one of the tiniest screens I have seen, but it was in line with my bed and had no problem viewing it.

    Bed: We had three beds here and mine was great. Rating: ****

    Breakfast: We sat at a window table and enjoyed the view of the castle while having our tea. Although we were told breakfast would be at 0800, we went down early and found fruit and cereals already available. Our order was taken with the common paper form in which everyone gets to check off what they want. My comment on the breakfast was “perfect eggs.” I should note that this is high praise from a fried egg addict, but it was all good. Rating: ****

    Shower: Shower temps fluctuated. Bathroom sink is in the bedroom. Rating: **

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    Rental Car

    I shopped around on the internet months before our trip. After looking at the options, I rented with National. Although I learned to drive a stick and still can, I specified an automatic transmission in order to spare my brain from having one more thing to do. I had reserved a Vauxhall, but was given a Mercedes C130 auto. According to the National desk guy, this upgrade was because I was a National Emerald Club Executive member.

    This baby Benz, with its turbocharged engine, had plenty of power for passing and it seemed very tractable in traffic. The automatic transmission also had a nice bump shift feature that allowed me to easily downshift through the Welsh mountains without taking my eyes off the road. After the first half tank, the information center reported 34 mpg. I didn’t keep up with the actual fuel economy, but in the 1100 miles I drove it, I thought it was pretty stingy with the gas.

    The suspension was ride-tuned and the girls both commented they were happy with the ride. Of course, the handling suffered. We were loaded down and the car felt spongy in the corners and exhibited a healthy under steer. The C130 rode on 205/55-16 Continentals which seemed pretty quiet. DD liked the car’s rain-sensing wipers; that system got plenty of exercise.

    One of my concerns was having a car large enough for our bags. With the C130, I laid one large roller flat in the trunk, then stood the other large roller on its side with the small roller on one side of the trunk. The medium roller went into the backseat, along with our personal backpacks. DD still had plenty of room in the back seat.

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    Chapter 9--Day 9—Aug. 6--Lickety Split to (but not through!) the Lake District before Coming into Carlisle

    Another outstanding cooked to order breakfast. (DD was managing her diet well by eating beans and mushrooms mostly with potatoes sometimes and maybe fruit.) Generally all the B&B’s offered eggs, mostly fried, meat (usually bacon, sometimes also sausage), beans, mushrooms, sometimes potatoes, grilled tomatoes, and toast. Tea—always good and always abundant. Sometimes fruit. A couple offered yogurt, and most had cereal offerings I think.

    This was the day I had the least set expectations of, other than going safely from Conwy to Carlisle. I would loved to have had a day or more in the Lake District, but our schedule did not allow for this; I knew we would encounter traffic at this time of the summer if we drove through it, but we decided we would go that way instead of around on an M road.

    The day started rather clear, but as we drove it got rainier and rainier. We made good time going from Carlisle to near Kendal on mostly major roads. This was a time when we overruled Sheila’s instructions. Her route had us going near Liverpool, but we changed that and encountered no major traffic snarls at all even in the rain.

    We got off onto smaller roads near Kendal, and as we drove into the Lake District, it got pretty rainy and BUSY! I knew it would be busy, but the rain was making viewing anything even less likely. In Windermere, which we had to crawl through in a long line, we hoped to locate food and ..facilities. I had thought we might park at a visitor center, but it was full and traffic was bumper to bumper, snaking round about each roundabout (either there were several or we revisited some!) But as he was trying just to navigate us out of the jam-packed village, he spotted and then shot into a parking spot. It was raining pretty good, so I went across the street to check out a little sandwich shop which offered food but no…facilities. Right next to the parking spot was The Lighthouse with food, available table—and facilities! It was fast, convenient and reasonable for food in the center of an obviously seriously attractive summer spot but not that great. DH had potato with chili, DD had soup, and I had a cheese and tomato salad. I wouldn’t make a special effort to go back, but it was a good spot for us.

    We soon went back into the traffic, which did lessen some as we went further north through the Lake District. At some point we drove past the sign to Dove Cottage of the Wordsworths. (This whole area has so many connections with artists and writers, but our schedule didn’t allow for any real sight-seeing stops.) Then I spotted the visitor center at Brockhole, barely in time to alert DH to turn in. We parked in our first “pay-and-display” lot and walked just a little way out to Windermere Lake with its grey green hills under slate-grey clouds with the blue-grey water rippling in the rain. It is pretty. I could imagine the Swallows and Amazons sailing under the lowering skies. Hills climb abruptly up from along the edges of the long narrow lake. There were some hardy souls in wet suits in canoes. DH dipped a hand in the water and pronounced it cold! It started raining steadily, so we didn’t spend long. The short glimpse is just a promise of how lovely the area is; perhaps I will be back some day.

    Next we had Sheila take us to Castlerigg Stones a bit east of Keswick. She got a little confused, but we found them down a very narrow little lane. It was surprisingly crowded for such an out of the way place on a rainy day. It was too wet to be fun, and we only spent about 15 minutes. It was cool, though, to see another set of stones to compare to the much larger ones at Stonehenge.

    On to Carlisle now. We found the Eastview Guesthouse B&B on a busy main street right outside of the city center. DD didn’t feel well and just stayed in the room, sitting in the pretty common room to use the internet. About 3 or 3:30 DH and I walked into the city and saw the Castle and the Cathedral. The Castle has been used for various military things for a long time, so it has a lot of 18th and 19th century additions, so it wasn’t as “pretty” as some others, but it did offer us good views from the battlements. In the late afternoon there weren’t many people about.

    The Cathedral is pretty (no pics though) with a blue and gold painted ceiling. As we entered there was singing that stopped soon—we had heard a practice, we surmised. At 5:30 I think as we were sitting in the aisle beside the nave, savoring the peace and rest, the minister came by: Evensong was starting and we were welcome to stay. We asked if we could sit where we were, and he gave us a wide smiling yes. Very cordial. Soon about 35-40 people of all ages from maybe early teens on up (I seemed to have heard boys’ voices earlier but couldn’t see any when I peeped around the column, but there were some teenagers) began singing, and their voices absolutely filled the space up. Lovely. Not much of an audience/congregation. A Friday Evensong might not be a big draw for the members—but they did have a good sized choir.

    We then walked around the town a bit as DH Googled for places to eat again. We ended up near the B&B at the Andalusian, which is a tapas restaurant. We’d never eaten at one, although I knew the “concept.” DH discussed the ordering with our very friendly (but not intrusive) waiter who suggested 3 tapas each. We got way more food than we needed but, boy, was it all delicious! This ended up being probably our favorite meal. I had paella, bruchetta, and mushrooms in a creamy wine sauce. Delectable. DH had very tender steak in a chili sauce, shrimp in a chili and lime sauce, and some nachos. All wonderful. Then dessert. Cream broulee and a chocolate tart. Beyond yummy! We waddled back to the room, which was thankfully only a little bit of a walk!

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    Carlilse

    Corner location a few blocks from the City center which made an easy walk. Our room overlooked the car park. Several reportedly good restaurants on Warwick Road. My best dining experience of this trip was at a tapas-style place called The Andalusian on Warwick. I had never been to a tapas place before. After we sat down, I googled it and read to order three dishes per person. The waiter agreed. Turns out it was too much for us, but it was very good. A nice splurge.

    Bed: Rating: ****

    Breakfast: Made to order here. My notes say “best mushrooms.” Nice fresh fruit, especially big blueberries that I love. Rating: *****

    Shower: Weird arrangement with two steps up into toilet/shower room, but the shower was solid. Bathroom sink in the bedroom. Rating: ****

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    Chapter 10--Day 10—Aug. 7--Hurrah for Hadrian’s Wall! And Ditto for Durham Cathedral

    Today it was raining a little as we left. We stopped at a Tesco in Carlisle for picnic lunch items; the rain had almost stopped by the time we got to Birdoswald. Wow! We are at the Wall!! After some trips back and forth from the parking lot (had to pay-and-display, had no coins, got change at the shop, DD put ticket in car, didn’t bring receipt, you get your money back if you show receipt, she went back to car for receipt—morning exercise!), we made it into the Museum area. We looked around at the exhibits inside and remains out; we had some sprinkles and very misty air which was not great for taking pics but rather atmospheric—bet those Roman soldiers encountered lots of rain and mist while stationed there! A nice stretch of the wall here.

    Then we drove on to Housesteads, eating our early lunch along the way. When we got to Housesteads, the sun broke out! It was very crowded at this site spread out over the hills; they sent us to an overflow lot with some very friendly older volunteers. They were having a special day with “Soldiers at the Wall,” guys dressed up as Roman legionnaires; we got there in time to catch a little of a 12:00 demonstration. We spent a long time at this site. DD and I walked along the wall and the wall path for a bit. DH got to take a lot of cool pics. We watched a 1 pm demonstration with kids in costumes being shaped into a phalanx (a turtle). The sky cooperated. The views from the hillside of the countryside as well as of the wall were breathtaking. I have wanted to come to Hadrian’s Wall since I was maybe about 12 so this was exciting, and I was so glad the rain let up. And DD and DH enjoyed it, too, so I was happy. DH said it was so beautiful he hated to leave.

    As we were getting ready to leave, gray clouds began rolling toward us again. As we drove, it rained hard and absolutely pounded us on the way to Chesters Fort, but we decided to stop anyway. Here we sat in the car maybe 5 minutes and it let up. We visited the shop and then walked around the ruins and down to the river at the site of the former Roman bridges (now gone). It wasn’t as great a spot as the other two but still very interesting. All the museum areas we found to be well-done, clear, interesting; the most fun for me was actually touching the parts of the wall and the associated forts and buildings. History made real!

    Then we went on to the B&B in the Durham area--MoorsEnd. Their email said we could maybe call from the Wall and that they liked keys picked up by 6. I didn’t call and we got there about 4. They were leaving and let us in but were in a hurry and didn’t tell us the internet code or anything about the town or much else. They said they’d been about to leave us a note, (and I guess a key) so I guess we could have gotten in. They directed us to the parking lot around the back, which entailed a walk around behind the next door sports bar.

    We dropped some luggage, got back in the car, drove a short drive to Durham and parked in a multilevel parking garage that Sheila directed us to. We walked a little way into town and found the Tourist Info office, which is a nice big place. We got maps and some supper recommendations. We found The Oldfields which was pretty good. DD could get veggies from side menu, and we got lamb puff-pastry pies for reasonable price, one of those 2 courses for set price early bird thing again.

    Then we walked a little way to the cathedral and spent maybe an hour. It is lovely, but after our full day we were a little sensory overloaded and I don’t remember much. I am reading a book by Durham’s recently retired bishop,(Simply Christian by N.T.Wright) so that was a nice connection to be in “his” place and see his name on the wall. Then back to the car and back to the B&B, which isn’t in walking distance from town; it isn’t very far but glad we have Sheila to direct. (I had not tried to find a B&B nearer to town because 1. I didn’t know whether we would even have time to see any of Durham and 2. this one was fairly near the highway we’d be getting on the next morning.)

    DD tried to take a shower but couldn’t get any hot water. We couldn’t locate any switch or any way to figure out how to turn a heater on if there was one. DH said their car was there, so I started downstairs to see if I could get some info. The door lock was jammed and I couldn’t turn it! DH figured it out, pried it open and we weren’t stuck! But no one downstairs. I called and left messages but never got answer. The next morning I couldn’t get hot water either. I took a sink bath, got dressed and went downstairs. The host was in the breakfast room and said to just pull the cord, the one hanging from the ceiling (that to us looked like some emergency cord). I guess I looked confused and he offered to come up and show me. So he did, yanked on cord, and voila--yes. I had wondered about that cord but…. A couple hostesses at other B&B’s took the time to say something about the shower; a couple places had a pump or heater that was a bit more intuitive. This place needs instructions! (And a few other complaints--The shelf in the bath was loose and everything just slid off into the sink. The ceilings, as we were in an attic, were so low and sloping that our heads bumped—and we’re short. And my bed was lumpy. Also the next day their cc machine was broken and they wanted cash. Well, I had cash but it was still just another off-putting thing about the place.)

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    Durham

    The room here was formerly an attic and it shows. Randy Newman sings “short people got no reason,” but they will feel like giants here. If you are over six feet, you will have to especially take care. The center beam is about 6’2” and the side wall height is very short. I managed to bump my noggin around the bed headboards several times. And, in the bath, I could barely reach the toilet if I pressed my forehead against the ceiling.

    Bed: Here we had three beds. Mine was fine, but DW reported hers was terrible. Rating: **** (DW: *)

    Breakfast: The hostess had a nice continental spread out and an assortment of breads, including raisin bread, with a large toaster. My hot food was made to order. Served with some small talk banter from the host. The breakfast made up for some of the shortcomings of the room. However, it was here that I decided I had eaten my last English breakfast sausage; they are just too bland without the spicy English mustard. Rating: ****

    Shower: This room had a rectangular shower that you step up into. Watch your head again. Pump assisted. Rating: ***

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    "And I don't think anyone has ever instructed me about title-usage."

    Interesting observation: no-one ever gets instructed. But every second Austen or Fielding character's Sir Theodore Something (and always addressed as "Sir Theodore"), though, of course, it's Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - and Sir Lancelot and the Lake. There aren't too many knamed knights in Shakespeare at all.

    So what must stick in your mind are the 'Sir plus something funny' names (the something funny's actually always a Christian name, though it often sounds more like a surname)in people like Mallory, from which you've subconsciously assumed the norm is 'Sir plus surname'.

    Thus implying - contrary to all expectations - that US teachers of English are more familiar with chansons de geste and the like than with High Victorian literature. And I had you all clocked as Janeites.

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    Ah yes, the tricky showers with cords. Second nature to the English but incredibly confusing to Americans, used to just turning on a faucet! Sorry you had a cold bath, but you have good stories. :) Enjoying the report - I'm glad to hear about some (relatively) less-visited spots!

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    I'm so envious of your Oxford day...

    And your account of trying to find a place to eat in Conwy reminds me of our experience there. We left the castle and as I started up the steps to the tea shop across the street, the owner popped out the door, gave me a look, and shut the door. Not even a "sorry, we're closing now".

    Then, as we walked down the street looking for somewhere to have tea, we passed a pub with their "please leave quietly" sign facing the sidewalk. Didn't exactly make us feel welcome, but at that point in the day it was amusing.

    Lee Ann

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    Hi, Lee Ann, thanks for your positive feedback and funny story!

    Big Russ--in response to your request, DH wrote the following, which is a bit out of order in our story here but relates to our trip planning and our time in Wales:

    Here Be Dragons (or how we came to visit Wales)

    Whales. Wells. Wales. Maybe we should switch to the Welsh name Cymru.

    I have been trying to remember: what was I taught about Wales in school? I can’t recall a thing. “DW, what do you remember learning about Wales in school?” We came up blank.

    Flash forward from grade school to 2009, when, as I often do when embarking on a business trip, I asked DW for a book to read. She typically tootles off to her substantial library and returns with two or three options. This time, I settled on one almost too large to carry: Sharon Kay Penman’s 700+ page tale of Llewelyn and Joanna, Here Be Dragons. Beneath my corporate crust, I’m a romantic at heart and Penman’s story of their loves and lives in a rich historical setting captured my imagination. Wales came alive for me and I was “hooked.”

    Later that year, I had an opportunity to attend the WRC’s Rally GB, hosted by Wales. After picking up my credentials at Cardiff (apparently pronounced KA-dif by the locals) in the pre-dawn morning of a very rainy day, I sped away from the coast northwest to Rhondda. West of Merthyr Tydil (love that name) and east of the Vale of Neath, through the villages, Pentre, Treorchy, Treherbert, then up, up, up the mountainside to the rocky top shrouded in the mist. What the mountains here lack in stature, they make for in ruggedness. I found myself wondering how Llewelyn’s clan eked out a living on the rocky slopes and the narrow valleys.

    The Rhondda stage is apparently conducted on logging roads in the pine forest and as I hurried from the car park, I could already hear the staccato exhaust notes rattling like a chain saw in the stillness of the rainy wood. Across a swampy ditch (last time my feet would be dry that day), through the trees and suddenly I was standing on the outside of a sharp left-hand ninety. The turn is a slow one and the four-wheel drive dragons struggled for grip on the loose wet gravel as they accelerated past me. With the brake rotors glowing like lava and their turbocharged exhausts belching dragon’s breath, they slipped past, leaving a fine patina of limestone over me and the A700. But I couldn’t tarry here.

    Back to the car and, hurrying again (I’m always late), I crossed Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Becons) to a stage halfway between Llandovery and Trecastle appropriately named Halfway (practical people, these Welsh). The mountains here are balds with fenceless pastures primarily populated by sheep and ponies and dotted with timber stands.

    I arrived at Halfway amid a huge crush of like-minded fans trying to get on stage. I parked, it seemed like three miles out, and began the hike to Dixies Crossing, a high speed jump across a paved road, passing along the way the highest concentrations of Subaru’s I’ve ever seen. I arrived breathless to find I had missed the first cars, as usual. The corner marshal, armed with a radar gun, told me reigning champion Loeb just flew by at 99 mph moments before. Loeb was behind the Finn Hirnoven in the points standings coming into this rally, the final one of the WRC season. Crouching behind a round hay bale, I took pictures as they make the high speed approach and listened in amazement as he called out the speeds.

    Like a lot of stage outposts, there was not much at Dixies. What looks like a military Quonset hut anchored the temporary facilities erected for the rally. Four souvenir stands and one food service where I would later buy a few things (I love caps) and stand in line to eventually purchase what passes as a Welsh cheeseburger.

    Rally is a hard sport to follow in person. It is spread out over a large geographical area that makes it very difficult to move between stages during the day. On the flip side, one of the great aspects of rally is the proximity of the fans to the cars. I pushed this a bit too much and earned two friendly warnings from the marshals. Of course, all the fans know should one of these dragons lose their tentative grip on the wet limestone, there could be dozens of us wiped out.

    When the cars finished the Halfway stage and moved on to others, I had a chance to rest and dry out a bit. There was still a terrible crowd and I hiked back to reposition the car closer to the stage. The cars would be back just before dark for their second Halfway run and I wanted to able to get away quickly after I finished watching.

    Wales is showing me it dark, cold, windy, rainy personality. But in this interlude, I had the chance to study the landscape; it pleased me. Even here on stage, sheep were grazing and could wander into the path a car at any time. Eventually, a brief hole appeared in the sky and I followed a little beam of golden light across the meadow, determined to record with the A700 my first glimpse of Welsh sunlight to share with DW.

    That night I stayed at the Cardiff Hilton, a very nice hotel, located just across the street from “Castell” Cardiff. In the morning, I enjoyed the breakfast in the executive lounge that over looks the castle. The sun was intermittent and punctuated frequently by showers. I wandered around the town center, photographing St. Johns and working my way south, eventually walking all the way down Bute street to Mermaid Quay. Here there were more shops and restaurants and photo ops. I captured the “baby Big Ben” at the Pierhead Building, the Norwegian church, and of course, the Millennium Centre with it huge obelisk, it shiny surface eager to reflect your image, albeit a bit distorted.

    In my hotel room was a coffee table book titled “Great Castles and Historic Attractions in Wales.” I was smitten with it and sorely tempted to steal it, but I asked the desk if I could purchase one and was referred to the local tourist information office. They did not have it, but explained that I should contact Cadw. Back in the States, I was disappointed that the book was not listed on the Cadw website. Nevertheless, I emailed an inquiry and promptly received a pleasant reply that it was indeed available. A phone call later, I had one on the way. Now, finally, after my whirlwind tour through the Welsh countryside, I could show DW the idyllic beautiful of this land of mist and mountain, sheep and stone. I am not trying to sell the book, but it has detailed information on some 35 sites nationwide. Bilingual, softback. I think it was $10-15.

    So armed with memory and my book, we began planning for our trip of summer 2010. I wanted to drive completely across Snowdonia and visit the Castells Caernarfon and Dolwyddelan. DW wanted Conwy, so we ended up, after much map-studying, planning for Dolwyddelan and Conwy. This was a good compromise. I love the mountains and have hiked the Smokies and climbed Colorado fourteeners, but there was a romantic loneliness about the Welsh mountains that drew me close. I would like some quality chill time there some day.

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    Chapter 11--Day 11—Aug. 8--Yahoo! It’s York!

    After messing with the shower issues and an 8-ish breakfast, which was delicious, we left about 9:30 and headed south. Most of the roads toward York were major roads; they were a bit busy this Sunday morning, but not congested. We found the B&B--#34 on Bootham Crescent--about 11, with a parking space on the street right at the door to pull into while I figured out what we could do. Check in was set at 11:30 and I had called at 10:30 to say we’d be early but got no answer. However, upon arrival, Julie met us and had the room ready—and a parking permit! DH was glad and said to tell her she got brownie points. Parking so easily is cool. While DD and DH got stuff out of “boot,” I checked in. Julie, our youngest hostess, who DH found out later lives there with her mom, offered us refreshments and information about York. Our room was absolutely charming—DD had a little separate room, we had two more beds and plenty of room, and the décor was newish and chic. Great find. Plenty of info available too.

    We headed to York on foot as #34 is just a few blocks from the city walls. (I think I have consistently been inconsistent in using “town” and “city”—I know there’s a difference but don’t know exactly what!) We walked along the walls for a bit, meeting several tours, passing a couple ghouls and ghosties, and admiring the great views of York, the countryside and buildings outside the wall, and the Cathedral. I really love walking on all the different walls—city/town/Roman/castle—that we’ve gotten to trod on on this trip. We got to the Minster about 12:30. Inside—wow. There really aren’t words. It is gorgeous. We spent an hour or so. We are always glad to be able to take pictures—especially as the cathedrals: while every cathedral is spectacular with an individual atmosphere and unique architecture and features, they tend to run together in my mind until I sort them out by looking at the details we captured in the pictures.

    Then we wandered the Shambles, the cobblestoned, twisty maze of old streets lined by all manner of shops, and (after getting separated for a few minutes) found El Piano, a vegan/GF restaurant I’d found and DD was excited to try! Cool little place. Good food mostly (not the veggie burger bun so much).

    Next on to Clifford’s Tower, the tower being just about all that remains of the old castle, and up the steps for more nice views. The weather was not as clear as the Weather Channel on DH’s BB had made it sound like, but we enjoyed some sun and warmth. We took pictures of the castle area (a Victorian era castle that houses a museum but we didn’t go in), rested and had some ice cream. As we discussed what next, DD didn’t want to go anywhere else; DH was game, but I knew he and I were both tired too, so we just strolled leisurely back to the rooms, this time crossing the river for a bit of a walk on the other side, outside of the city walls.

    York is compact and charming and we enjoyed our afternoon here; I see how a person could spend a couple days exploring it, all on foot, more completely, and I also see how it could be a day-trip via train from London, as we saw a lot of it in our 6 or 7 hours.

    After a rest, DD really just wanted some down/alone time and had stuff to eat still in her bag. DH and I walked just a little way down the street (past W H Auden’s house!) to a doner place he had noticed and got a couple medium sized ones and went in a Sainsbury for some sweets and ate back in the B&B. These lamb-stuffed-pitas were overflowing; they were quite tasty but we couldn’t finish them. They were not really the portable sandwich DH was familiar with from Germany. He took the remains to Julie and asked if her dog wanted any; turns out there are 2 dogs and they love kebab meat! Evening—charging, resting, watching tv, moving pics, programming Sheila, and DD using internet. She hasn’t complained but has mentioned her phone-less-ness; I know she’s missing the networking/contacting and is glad to use the internet to “talk” to friends some, plus she has had some business from school she’s had to attend to via email, so we’re glad to have this feature for her as often as we have. The internet has been available and free in most B&B’s (if not in the room then in a common area).

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    York

    After a rather quick motorway drive down from Durham, I pulled up to the front of Number 34 in an empty parking space on the street. Moments later, DW returned with a parking permit, an indication that I would not have to move the car again before we left. Joy.

    Between the house and the city gates, we found a Kepap house called the La Bodrum. We ordered doners and got such a pile of lamb that I ended up giving half of it the hostesses’ two dogs. We could not eat it all. The two “medium” doners with chips was £10 40p.

    Bed: The room arrangement here is two rooms with bath. The main room has two beds and the adjoining room has one. It is through this second room that one must pass to access the spacious bathroom. The rooms overlook the rear alley and the walls are thin, fueling concerns that the night would be noisy. However, by the time I was ready to go to sleep, everything had calmed down and it was a quiet night. The beds were comfortable and properly oriented to be able to see the wall-mounted flat panel (this one was relatively huge, about 20”). Rating: *****

    Breakfast: Breakfast is served in a smallish room with three tables. Fresh fruit is available as well as cereals. Breakfast menu limited to four choices. Rating: ***

    Shower: Lower flow than I like. Rating: ***

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    Navigation

    A couple of years ago I bought a Garmin nuvi 275T (T for Traffic). I purchased it specifically because it came with North America and Europe maps. I have used it in the USA, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and the UK. The unit is nicknamed “Sheila” because of the Aussie female voice we use.

    Before this trip, I purchased map updates (EUNT 2011.10 and NA NT 2011.10). The new maps worked pretty well with a few of exceptions. Here is a list of some of the issues I encountered in the UK (just to be clear, these are more peculiarities for Sheila than of the UK):

    + It is good to know where you want to go. DW is pretty sorted out, but she did not have a good address for everything. Sheila and I had to improvise then.

    + At the Castlerigg Stone Circle, she reported we were “offroad” while we were still in the little town. Of course, in her defense, in just a few yards, the road becomes a narrow track barely wide enough to pass oncoming vehicles at a crawl.

    + Sheila’s speed limits were not always accurate. While this may not seem to be a big deal, it causes the wrong routes to be calculated as “fastest.” In the US, Sheila will pick a back road over the interstate because she thinks it will be faster when actually, with the lower speeds limits, it will take longer. I will have to try it with the new North America map when I get back.

    + I have to veto Sheila’s proposals sometimes. When we left Conwy, she proposed to go through Liverpool on the way to Carlisle. Fearing the morning rush hour traffic, I ignored her and bypassed Liverpool on the M road to the east. Sheila never shows any hurt over these slights; her response is always a dispassionate “Recalculating…”.

    + A couple of times, I asked her to add a via point and she responded that she was unable to calculate a new route. Immediately following this announcement, she goes into map mode, that is, the route that you were following initially is wiped out. This behavior is less than ideal. She should buffer the original route and then restore it if a new course cannot be plotted.

    + I had told Sheila to tell me about traffic cams. She chimed what seemed like hundreds of times.

    Despite her imperfections, I can’t live without her. We don’t always agree, but if I get tired of listening to her, I just remember she has a mute button.

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    We need to book a night in York but not at all sure about those thin walls in Number 34. There are a number of B&B's on that street and they seem awfully close to the rail line, did you notice any train noise? I have seen a few comments about it on TA reviews.

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    Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek
    I noticed the "Sir Blackwell" too, but kept quiet.
    Something that annoys me is when novelists set their books in Victorian times and refer to clergymen as "Reverend Bloggins".
    It is an Americanism which sadly is becoming more popular in this country.

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    Maudie--Number 34 was almost my favorite B&B--the noise won't be a problem. It is lovely, fresh, convenient. All the other B&'B's, highly concentrated in this area, are most likely to have similar walls. No train noise. I'd highly recommend it. We'd definitely go back.

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    >>Something that annoys me is when novelists set their books in Victorian times and refer to clergymen as "Reverend Bloggins".<<

    Me too, but then I come from a church-y family. No doubt the good Canon finds his patience tried too?

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    Chapter 12--Day 12—Aug. 9--Lingering a Little in Lincoln and Darting to Dartford

    Today was to be the longest drive in terms of mileage, but it went great. First we had a good breakfast (not quite “cooked to order” but good—some limit to choices but plenty and tasty, and fruit for the taking, too).

    Our first leg of the trip took us to Lincoln. On the way we encountered some Monday morning lorry and farm traffic on the country two lanes. Thanks to Sheila we ended up right at the Castle entrance! There was a parking lot right there but no spaces; DH waited while I darted across the square into the TI from whence I got a map and helpful info about where next lots would be. As I was gone, a spot opened up! Another pay-and-display, so I put in enough for 4 hours. We walked up to the castle. It is a great castle—lovely views from the walls and much of it is rather intact so we can get a flavor of life in it. We spent maybe 90 minutes. The high point here is certainly the Magna Carta; the display area is quite informative. Cool—we’ve seen 3 now!

    We considered eating in the little café, but DH wanted to try a place right next to the carpark--The Roman Place. We sat outside in a lovely patio. It was cheap--£5 for a lunch special of salad and fish and chips. DD just ate stuff she packed. The weather was terrific. We got our salads right away, but then it took a long time for mains to come. I felt impatient, but it was a pleasant place and we rested.

    After lunch we went right across the square to the cathedral. Another stunningly beautiful building. We had about 45 minutes left on our parking after that, so we walked up a street a little ways to find some Roman ruins, notably the only Roman arch still in use on a British street, and took some pics. Back to the carpark (and the nice toilets there at the carpark) before our time ran out. (The longish lunch meant we didn't make it to the Bishop's Palace this time.)

    We headed south and soon got on major highways with traffic flowing smoothly. We did encounter some more lorry backups on the secondary roads but never for long. DH made good time and we got to the London area I think before 6, came across the Dartford toll bridge, darted across the lanes right after the toll to take the proper exit immediately after the toll stations, and found the Hilton. It started raining as we got to the Hotel.

    The Hilton is very nice. This was the room we got with HiltonHonors points; DH found it normally went for £175! It was huge room with 2 double but roomy beds. We ate in the hotel restaurant because it was convenient, but was expensive, like about £50 for 2 buffets and some sides for DD. DH arranged at the desk to get free internet instead of paying £15, because he’s an Honors member, but we needed a cable, so no internet. DH figured it would be noisy right next to this busy busy highway, but the windows were double paned, with a several-inches-thick sill in between, and the room was very quiet. He thought that was cool. We had been “warned off” Dartford—well, we didn’t see anything of it except the Hilton, which was very nice, and it worked as a way stop for us—since we had a free room! If not, we would have stopped somewhere else, I’m sure.

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    Dartford

    After driving down from Lincoln in the afternoon, I was anxious to get off the London Orbital. Our huge Hilton deluxe room had two windows, one looking right onto the M25 Dartford Bridge and the other overlooking the toll booth. I was amazed how quiet the room was; there was no traffic sounds penetrating from below. I don’t know what was in the walls, but the windows had a double-pane on the exterior with a single pane on the interior. Separating the two was a six-inch air gap. Looks expensive, but it was effective.

    Bed: The room had two queen size beds, but they did not have the same quality of bedding as you will find in the USA Hiltons. The sleep experience was enhanced, though, by the heavy black out curtains and the exceptionally quite interior. The room was also air conditioned. Rating: ****

    Breakfast: We skipped the £10 breakfast here.

    Shower: The shower was the common hotel stand-in-the-tub model. A mixing valve showed some cycling initially, surprising me. But the head was adjustable and the shower was comfortable. Rating: *****

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    Traffic

    With a couple of notable exceptions, driving in the UK seems much like the US. One exception, of course, is the reversal of the cars and road. My brain, accustomed to driving on the opposite side of the road the last 40 years, really has a hard time adjusting. It was a team effort to keep me on the left side of the road. Hint: if you see “SLOW” upside down on the pavement in your lane, you are on the wrong side.

    The other notable exception is that, although the cars are generally smaller, many of the roads I drove through towns and hedgerows seemed to be on an even smaller scale. This led to a lot of grimacing as I met on-coming traffic, imagining side view mirrors slapping together and glass flying. The lorries and the tour buses seem especially bad center-stripe huggers. No room for Suburbans and F-250 Super Cabs here.

    The well-marked M road speeds are generally 70 mph, while most towns restrict speed to 30 or 40. We drove a lot of one lane roads with blind hills and curves on which I drove more slowly. Also, through the mountains, the limit was 60 mph and I found we could not comfortably go that fast - maybe 45-50 was good without pushing the C130 and its passengers too hard.

    There was not as much construction as I expected to see during the brief summer repair season. The A1M stretch between Durham and York was a notable exception where the speed limit is restricted to 50 mph. The worst M road volume was on the London Orbital and the worst traffic jam was at Windermere, where the one way streets were grid locked with vacationers enjoying a healthy dose of liquid sunshine.

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    "if you see “SLOW” upside down on the pavement in your lane, you are on the wrong side."

    Ah, that's where you were going wrong, over here we drive on the road, the pavement is for walking on (did all the pedestrians manage to get out of your way in time) LOL.

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    Chapter 13--Day 13—Aug. 10--Can We Go to Canterbury (and then Down to Dover)?

    I had always had Canterbury Cathedral as a “maybe” on this leg; my research made it sound like it could be problematic to find parking and get to the Cathedral via a car without spending tons of time and I really wanted to get to Dover around noon or 1. But DH was willing, and we decided we’d try it.

    It was raining as we left. We drove along the route from London to Canterbury, retracing the pilgrims used to travel—well, in same general area anyway! But much faster. We stopped at a Moto services area for some breakfast (BurgerKing and Costas muffin). It kept raining.

    We arrived at Canterbury between 10 and 10:30. We found a park-and-display area right by city walls. We walked in the rain a few blocks to the Cathedral (I didn’t think there was very good signage here.) This cathedral is absolutely gorgeous inside and out, too! We found St. Thomas’ shrine and the pilgrims’ steps. DH took some incredible photos of the towers and arches. I’m a literary/history nerd. I could picture the Wife of Bath and the Knight and his son the Squire trudging up these very steps at the end of their journey. We enjoyed being there. When we left about noon, it was still raining. On the way back to the car we got baguettes to eat for lunch.

    I called the Maison Dieu B&B along the way to Dover and we found it with no problems. Diane was a most charming hostess; she greeted us with an offer of refreshments and much info about town. In the room things--for example switches--were labeled; obviously they have done this a while and know how to help her boarders have a convenient time. Dover Castle was viewable from our window, as was their charming (but not accessible to us) garden full of small plots of plants and blooms, a little garden hut, and blue accents. We parked in front upon arrival, but the space marked for 5 or 6 cars can really only hold 2 or maybe 3.

    After we finished our lunches, we drove to the Castle. We had long ago decided we didn’t want to repeat all the walking from town to castle to cliffs we had done in 2008! The weather was now better (although not as pretty as in 2008)! Yea! There is free parking inside the castle walls because of our pass. But here we had the biggest disappointment of the trip, the only primary destination we didn’t get to; we had planned to head first to the Secret War Tunnels, the part we skipped last time. Upon arrival about 1, the young man told us at the main entrance that the tours for that had filled at 12:30, so we would only be able to see a portion of them. Bummer with capital B. But in all thirteen days, of all the things I picked as the top 2-5 things to do each day, this was the only one we didn’t do. Anyway, we went on into the underground part and saw what we could. Interesting even without a guide and with limited access. Back outside; the weather had cleared somewhat although it was very very windy. We spent 90 minutes or so more seeing a good portion of the castle again (again for DH and me). It is still lovely! Great views; we could see France a couple times. We didn’t go everywhere that we went in 2008, but we saw the prettiest and most interesting spots I think.

    Then we drove just a little ways to the White Cliffs parking lot (free parking with our passes again!). Here, about 4 pm, DH waited for us at the visitor center while DD and I had a walk of about an hour. Lovely lovely lovely. Only a few people were on the trail. We were so glad it had stopped raining even if the skies weren’t blue. We walked far enough to get that nice view of the SouthForeland Lighthouse in the not too distant distance (about a 30 min brisk walk one way) and then back. DD wants to come back to Dover some day and have a proper long hike along the Cliffs; they are certainly a lovely spot, whether for an hour or half day or longer.


    We drove back to the B&B where I ran in for a book in the room that had restaurant recommendations. We drove around a short distance (Dover is pretty little). It was before 6 pm. We found a parking space across from the police station and checked out a couple places just a few feet away—a pub (no food for DD) and a Bistro where we sat down, but they only had soup for DD and a confusing menu and hard to understand chef/waiter/owner. We left. It had started raining a bit again. Diane is also gluten intolerant and had said she would be glad to help with anything, so I called and she recommended a place with GF pasta—we were standing right next to it! So we went in and decided it would work—La Scala. It was good pasta for all of us.

    DD had seen a store she thought was a grocery store she wanted to visit to get chocolate for a gift (for a former roommate’s new husband who is from England and missing Cadbury!), so we drove around just a tiny bit and found Netto. It is like a dollar store with some food, I guess. She found chocolate, but I pointed out a Morrisons, a bigger grocery, in the same shopping area, where I had found out I could also get some cash. (I had estimated things pretty accurately, but having to use cash unexpectedly in Durham had us a bit short in case we needed much for transportation the next day, so I was in search of an ATM.) We went there—Morrisons is big, almost like the big grocery where I shop. Biggest grocery store I’ve been in in England. We found chocolate and tea for gifts, cash for us, and some cookies and fruit!

    Back at the B&B very nearby, we had to park in the public parking across the street, which is free between 6 and 9. I guess this is a good feature; it is just a very short walk from this lot across the street to Maison Dieu. We were amazed at how these B&B’s had their spaces marked, though—guess they are eternal optimists or deniers of the physics laws about no two objects occupying same space!

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    Dover

    Our hostess here was most like the Shrewsbury hostess, offering tea and local intel when we arrived. She guided us to a restaurant, the La Scala, that had gluten-free pasta for DW. There is a nice garden out back of the B&B, visible from our room, but we were told guests could not access it. Smokers will have to stand out front. The room did have a castle view, too.

    Bed: We had another two-bed night and the one shared with DW was a small one, allowing me to hang off. It was comfortable, but fitted with just a comforter and I missed a top sheet. The sleep experience was hampered here by the early racket of the laughing gulls and the lack of a black-out shutter or curtain. Rating: ***

    Breakfast: When I came down a couple of minutes late, there was cereal and juice available, but not fresh fruit. A pot of hot tea had just been delivered and was still steeping. Our breakfast order, as a choice from pre-defined options (like York), had been taken the night before and was now delivered in stages, served in a four table room. The hostess scored points with DD for making a loaf of gluten-free bread for toast. Rating: ***

    Shower: This shower is another corner affair with a clam-shell door. The pump unit is very quiet and the adjustable shower head produced a comfortable spray. The temperature cycled a bit, but not enough to send me looking for the door. Rating: ****

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    Chapter 14--Day 14—Aug. 11—Final—and Full—Day: Ramblin’ in Rye, Beautiful Bodiam and Hastening to the Hastings Battleground

    Lovely weather greeted us, finally, for our last full day of sightseeing on our way to a hotel at LHR. We had another marvelous breakfast from Diane (her method is to have you fill out a menu the night before and your choices are a little more limited than at other places, but still fine.) She had GF bread for DD! And for the first time we had stuff (eggs or beans) ON the toast.

    First we drove to Rye, found a parking place, and walked around to stretch our legs and peek around a little for about 15 minutes. It is really cute. Quaint doors, flowers everywhere, cobblestoned streets. A nice picturesque quick break.

    Then we drove on to Bodiam Castle under the most clear skies we’d had. We got there just after opening at 10:30. Cute cute cute. One of the only castles with its moat still intact. The castle is small and mostly ruins inside, but the outside is complete. Great example of a hexagonal castle. Lovely grounds. Tame ducks. Big fish in moat. Not much “important” historical events connected with this small castle, but its setting makes it most charming. WWII era pillbox set in front which had been manned so as to watch the hills and bridge for on-coming German tanks. This was another kid-friendly day with targets (for paintball guns as well as arrows) set up. A coal-driven train went by, puffing its gray smoke into the clear blue sky, running along its track to the little station visible from the castle. Wonderful! We looked around a good bit, took lots of pics (DH got great ones with reflections).

    As we got ready to leave there were lots of people arriving, with cars backing up in the single-lane entrance. We got sandwiches in the café, fought off the bees as we ate them, and got a Magnum ice cream bar to eat in the car before we left. Then we headed reluctantly away and toward Battle. From the passenger’s seat on the drive I got a lovely view of the rolling golden and green countryside.

    I was not expecting such a crowd here in Battle. It was really busy and no spots left in the lot at the Battlesite. I was willing to punt and go on, but DH found a spot a little ways down the road near the rail station, and we walked about 10 minutes back up the hill and used our passes for the last time. We spent about an hour here touring the Abbey and seeing a bit of the 1066 battleground area. It was amazing to me to be here where such a turning point in our history happened; our language, law, and many customs would be quite different if William had lost here. Not necessarily better or worse, just different; this is the site of a watershed event, and I loved getting to stand there.

    About mid-afternoon, I think , we left and headed to LHR, using mostly major highways including a long time on the busy but freely flowing orbital around London. We got to Jurys Inn around 4 and checked in. A smoke-stinky room but guess it will do for one night. We left DD in the room as we took the car back, getting gas along the way. Sure glad to have Sheila’s directions in this confusing busy area. We turned the car in with no problems. Then despite what people had told DH (both at National counter when we got car and at Jurys Inn desk) there was no courtesy bus to the Hotel. There was a courtesy bus to Terminal 4 where we had to catch a different bus (one on which we rode free though). We then rode this bus to near Jurys Inn and walked, from the Hatton Cross tube stop practically, about 5 minutes but across a pedestrian bridge and along a busy street. Glad it wasn’t raining.

    We just ate in the hotel again; like at the Hilton, it was convenient and acceptable. We also bought our tickets (£4 each) from the lobby vending machine for the Hoppa Bus transport at 5 am in the morning. We repacked and were in bed by 10 to get up at 4 (but I was awake at 2:30).

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    Heathrow

    After driving up from Dover, we cleaned out the car at the Jury’s Inn and returned it to the rental center. The Jury’s was not as nice as the Hilton and the room was much smaller, but the windows were of similar construction.

    Bed: We had only one bed here with a couch that folded out for DD. Neither was that great and, again, I missed a top sheet. Quiet with white noise from the A/C. Blackout curtains were of little use here because we got up at 4 am. Rating: ***

    Breakfast: We caught the 5 am bus to the terminal where we caught a bite at Eat in a Terminal 3 lounge.

    Shower: Shower-in-tub with nice shower head and plenty of hot water. Bathroom smelled of burnt tobacco products. Rating: **

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    Fuel

    Basically, I saw unleaded prices from £1.14 to £1.24 per liter. The lowest of these prices is slightly higher than the national averages I read in the newspaper while there. The higher prices were always on the M-road service areas. Food prices will be considerably higher in the service areas, too. A Burger King breakfast sandwich that costs £2.49 in town was £4.79 in the service area.

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    Wow, excellent report Texasbookworm!

    Love Volcrew's bed/shower& hot water ratings (I'm so fussy about these things on vacation). Glad you saw so much of Wales ..almost as much as I've seen and I grew up there ;)

    Feeding kebabs to the dog at the B&B is just classic LOL

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    Texasbookworm and Volcrew,

    I am loving your report. I enjoyed the story about not knowing how to obtain hot water from the shower. I mentioned in my report how I thought the different mechanisms to operate the toilet were interesting too.

    I enjoyed your Oxford segment especially since we did not get there since son got sick. More reason for us to go back another time to see it.

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    Chapter 15—Travel Day—Aug. 12--Good-Bye Great Britain

    We caught the 5 am HoppaBus which was right on time and got us to Terminal 3 in maybe 20 minutes. We got in line in our proper “zone” for AA check-in. There was a line already before 5:30, despite the fact that AA’s website says the desk opens at 6:00—so?? Anyway, this line took maybe 15 minutes, then we checked our bags and headed upstairs to security, which went fast, and into concourse/shopping/food area. We got a little food at an EAT and waited about 30 minutes or less before about 6:30 they finally posted our gate for our 7:55 flight. We went to that gate area and only a little bit after the scheduled boarding time of 7:10, they started seating us.

    Because we used FF miles to secure our tickets, our return flight had 3 legs whereas our flight from the US to London had only 2 segments. We made it to Chicago without incident and had about 3 hour layover (and had just missed crossing paths with DS #2 on his way to Pennsylvania to visit friends). (One odd moment—in coming through passport control, DH was asked if we had any food or fruit. He said no. But DD overheard and said, Well, yes, actually we do. She and I both were still packing apples, a pear, and nuts. Turns out we could have been fined if we had been searched without telling them. In the trip preparations, I’d checked on what we could take INTO the UK, but I didn’t think about checking what we could bring back INTO the US—can’t bring apples, it turns out! So we surrendered our fruits, and they did unzip our backpacks and look—glad we hadn’t left anything in our already checked luggage!) We were a little late to Dallas, but our last flight leg was also delayed a bit, so we had time to get some TGIFridays salads. Flight home also uneventful. DS#1 met us in the humid air about 7 pm and we were back!

    So home to do laundry and such, unpack and repack DH, and catch up with mails of all sorts. And look at 6000+ pictures!!! (A strange side-note about the end of this trip is that we decided to try to keep our bodies on Europe time, because DH had to leave 36 hours later for 2-3 weeks working in Germany.)

    I was not glad to leave. I could spend much longer enjoying the UK. But my companions were both ready to be home. We made many memories, mostly good ones, I hope, if nothing particularly dramatic. We were blessed to have had the time and for it to go so hitchlessly, all in all.

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    Best Photo

    I haven’t looked at all of the them yet, but a couple stand out at this point from memory. One possibility is the full reflection of Bodian Castle in its moat during a brief sunny period. Just lucky to be there when conditions were perfect. The other was at Housestead. There was a child standing on the wall reaching down, with the arm of invisible adult sticking up over the wall. I thought of it as a juxtaposition of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. A third and more likely best pic candidate will be one of the hundreds taken of DW and DD.

    Best Memory

    The skies cleared for us when we reached the Roman fort at Housestead. Here on this hill where now only ruins remain, Legionnaire actors were amusing families with demonstrations. After walking the wall and taking a bunch of photos, DW announced it was time to hit the road. Looking out over the southern valley below, I rebelled. "I don’t want to leave; it is so beautiful here.” When DD agreed, DW burst into tears. I guess we had pushed her “joy” button.

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    And in Conclusion

    Before we took this trip I read a couple books by Jerome K. Jerome—funny and recommended—Three Men in a Boat (an 1880’s boating expedition on the Thames from London to Oxford) and Three Men on the Bummel (turn of the century cycling tour in the Black Forest). A “bummel” is a synonym for “journey,” and what Jerome said at the end of that book speaks for me, in describing our travels this year: “Sometimes it is through busy streets, and sometimes through the fields and lanes; sometimes we can be spared for a few hours, and sometimes for a few days. But long or short, but here or there, our thoughts are ever on the running of the sand. We nod and smile to many as we pass; with some we stop and talk awhile; and with a few we walk a little way. We have been much interested, and often a little tired. But on the whole we have had a pleasant time, and are sorry when ‘tis over.”

    I am sorry ‘tis over.

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    I'm sorry 'tis over as well, so enjoyed reading this. You sure covered some ground, good for you.

    Thanks also for the details of Number 34 in York, I shall look into it.

    Where to next?

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    great report. My brother in-law (some serious historical professor in NZ and US) took me round York Minster a few years ago 3 times. We did the kid's guided tour (little cards are left out for children), then the adults (smaller cards) and then Pevsner's guide. Opened my eyes to the marvels. Still it took 3 hours and no treasury.

    Glad you enjoyed your visit and if I gave any advice I'm glad too

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    "I was not expecting such a crowd here in Battle. "

    Amazing, the power of TV

    Your entry is dated August 11 - a Wednesday. The previous Wednesday, this had been on the Beeb at 2100:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00tcgkl

    And this is what was going to be on that night, trailered to death the previous few days:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00tfdsk

    I've never seen anyone at Battle either. But, with all sorts of parallel shows going on at the same time, August was definitely the Normans' month - and with staycations the new black (Oxford visitor numbers are up 30% this summer), anything with a history tag is getting swamped.

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    Thanks to all who took the TR journey with us! Those of you who gave us feedback were like fans or family urging us on to finish what we started!

    isabel--no links; may not happen; wanted to get the writing posted but the whole photo thing takes more time than I have in the midst of school cranking up. Maybe I'll do a photo trip report separately sometime!

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    And forgot to answer Maudie's kind inquiry:
    Well, looks like Rome in November for a few short days on an EFTour training; then to England again next June with a small group of students/adult (just 6-7 of us) on an EFTour.

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    Wonderful report! Thanks for sharing. I am disappointed not to see pictures, especially ater DH tantalized us with his favorites. Maybe you could post those? Pretty please! (I really do understand about school and stuff like that getting in the way, however.)

    (I never minded school, but it sure got in the way of "funner" things--as I found out when I retired!)

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    Enjoyed the content and style from all writers of this report.
    I admit I made some location notes from your experiences. If possible, could you share your source for finding hotels or B&B's? I have spent the night trying to find triple rooms for stays throughtout the countryside of England/Scotland with very little success.
    Enjoy your new schoolyear.

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    Thanks for your positive comments and all the input for DW’s trip planning. For those still reading this report:

    jent103: Yeah, I can identify with that. It can be funny how we cling to things. I still have the first 35mm SLR I ever purchased, a Minolta SRT-101, and all the prime lenses that accompany it in those pre-zoom days. For our western tour last summer (http://www.fodors.com/community/united-states/how-many-western-national-parks-can-we-see-in-2-weeks-710-2509.cfm), DD and I got up early to photograph the Grand Canyon sunrise, albeit sans tripods. It is something you have to do, I guess.

    fanshawe: LOL. Glad to hear someone recognized that reference. I still listen to Ian occasionally.

    Maudie: I don't remember hearing the train at all. I think DD and I both liked #34 because we had more space there. And it is a short, pleasant walk to the city wall.

    kerouac: It is a long report, but I hope you have found your bearings by now.

    Hooameye: Ha! Of course, over here we use the word "sidewalk" to describe the improved walking surface used by pedestrians adjacent to whatever-you-call-the-thing-where-the-cars-drive. I hesitated to use the words "carriageway" and "motorway" in fear that they had some special technical meaning. What is the difference between the two?

    sassy_cat: Thanks for the feedback. I spend most of my limited forum-time elsewhere and was not sure how that input would be received here.

    europeannovice: If you would like to read more about Oxford, our first trip there is documented in http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/oh-to-be-in-england--and-we-were-trip-report-of-2-weeks-in-london-and-day-trips.cfm. BTW: I just read your European Extravaganza report (http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/europeannovice-european-extravaganza.cfm). I want to go to Paris, too, but I think traveling with you may be too much like traveling with DW (“…because our day was not yet done…”). Ha. Whew. I was interested in your description of Kew. I had read of Robert Fortune’s involvement there in For All the Tea in China (Sarah Rose) and was curious.

    Janisj: Again, my trip timing did not coincide with the British Grand Prix (I remember your post from our 2008 trip when we visited the Silverstone Classic). But, as you can tell, I am still reliving the memories of my Wales rally experience.

    Yk: Thanks for your encouraging words to DW. I just read your report London/Oxford Trip Report - 6 days of art, music, historic houses - a journey through English history (http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/yks-londonoxford-trip-report---6-days-of-art-music-historic-houses---a-journey-through-english-histo.cfm ). Marvelous detail. We are Morse, Lewis and Foyle fans, too. Please give me a link to your “Germany April 2007 solo trip: $143/day” report.

    Isabel: To my dismay, DW is slaving day and night to post pics. I think a link is forthcoming.

    Irishface: What is the saying? “Never let your schooling get in the way of your education” or something like that.

    Happy trails, all.

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    canuckk--How did I find B&B's Well it wasn't very scientific! First I would googlemap bandb in a specific city which would give me lots of dots; I would pick an area I though would be convenient for walking; I would then google several of those and/or look on trip advisor, which I always read with a shaker of salt handy; and then I might post the name on this forum. I also had some guides, like Rick Steves and Frommers, which I would cross reference. I'd pick 4-6 in a city/town, look at their website (and this eliminated several which didn't have rooms for 3), and then email each for availability and price. Then I'd decide. I would definitely go back to each of them except the one in Durham; I would definitely stay in the neighborhood of each of them. Each, except for Durham (and this wasn't a consideration in making that reservation) was within pretty easy walking distance and had free parking, of some sort or another, for the car. It did take lots of hours of internet searching and then diligent emailing to secure the rooms about 8 months ahead. Oh, and they averaged about 90-95 pounds for three.

    scotlib--taking high school students (just 5) and a parent

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    After reading your approach in selecting B&B's, I can appreciate the emotion behind the first sentence of Chapter 2.
    Guess all hours of my weekend will taken up by your outline for homework.
    Thanks,texasbookworm, for the strategy.

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    Thanks Volcrew, the price seems reasonable compared to a few others I have checked, we will be there over a weekend and a lot of the B&B's put up their prices.

    Loved your photo's, sigh. We have only about 9 months of hard savings till we are there.

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    PS, especially loved your photo's of St Pauls, Parliament House and the Bridge at night - we missed seeing that last time as we stayed out at North Earling. Can't complain as it was free accommodation but spent far too long on the tube back and forth. This time we are in Central London and making sure we spend time for our "night shots".

    I can relate to what you are saying about finding accommodation - many many hours spent sitting in front of this computer too!

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    >>I hesitated to use the words "carriageway" and "motorway" in fear that they had some special technical meaning.<<

    Carriageway: That part of any sort of road that vehicles run in (roadway is also used)

    Motorway: A specific type of road designed for fast motor vehicles only (modelled on the German autobahn).

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    Maudie, where did you find the link to Bookworm's photos? I have gone back through this report twice and cannot find the link. Am I blind or is my computer leaving info out?

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    irishface--no you are not blind!!! I made a mistake, posted a url DH thought was not anonymous enough, and am working on making another link--thanks for your patience--I should have up the same pictures via a new link by this evening!

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    (woops, hit submit instead of preview)--Anyway, I asked editors to delete my post and it looks like they did. If you can bear with me, do check back later this evening and see if I've got the new link up!

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    texasbookworm & VolCrew:

    I just found your delightful trip report. I chuckled when I read your comment about bar soap - that is my DH's choice.
    Many thanks for taking the time to share your experiences.

    Canuckk - B&B's have a look on http://www.smoothhound.co.uk or http://www.theaa.com

    Sandy

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    I chuckled when I read your comment about bar soap - that is my DH's choice.>>

    as opposed to what exactly? scrubbing oneself with cinders? oil and a scraper as per roman [or was it greek?] athletes? i really don't get why using a bar of soap is a matter for hilarity, or even comment. but then, I'm just a brit.

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    Just finished reading this. Thanks to both of you for a great report! I've lived in the US for the last 35 years, but it reminded me that I still miss the UK. Neat that you went to Rye - used to go to that area on holiday.

    BTW, for Oxford fans, the NY Times Travel section had a piece on staying in university dorms a few weeks ago, including in Oxford. I can't find the article, but this is the booking site referenced - http://universityrooms.co.uk/ (not the best site for London - go directly to the university sites there) - I'm looking forward to staying in Keble College next year.

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    If you want to see about 100 of our 6000+ pics, I think this link should take you to Photobucket and a slideshow. A lot of our favorite pics have us in them and we don't post pics of our family, but there are still enough of places and scenery here to give you a flavor of what our days looked like. (I'm sorry about the posting of a link this morning that I had to get rid of!) Again, thanks to all you who gave us feedback:

    http://s1235.photobucket.com/albums/ff427/texasbookworm1/England%20and%20Wales%20Summer%202010/?albumview=slideshow

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    Hello annhig:

    VolCrew said "I like bar soap" - it made me chuckle because that is my DH exactly. I have been taking a bar soap along for years for those places that only provide liquid soap.

    I also am just a brit.

    Sandy

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    aha, liquid soap. what will they think of next?

    [sorry sandy - i just didn't get why anyone would care about the type of soap, and wrongly assumed that this was a remark by one of our US cousins. mea culpa]

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