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TR: Solo in LONDON for ten days on unfinished business ...

TR: Solo in LONDON for ten days on unfinished business ...

Old Jul 5th, 2014, 02:26 PM
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FRIDAY, JUNE 20 - the best day: a tour of DOWNTON ABBEY filming locales, lunch at the SWAN'S INN, and an afternoon at BLENHEIM with beautiful June weather in the Cotswolds
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Let me say this up front - WE DID NOT GO TO HIGHCLERE CASTLE, but this was the next best thing.

Up early (no hotel breakfast today) because I had to be at the Cumberland Hotel near Marble Arch at 7:40 - no problem on the Tube with a change at Oxford Circus after Charing Cross. Naturally, I was early. Many others were going on different tours, although we should have been waiting outside the hotel. In any case, my driver found me and we were off. Note: Viator is an umbrella organization through which you can book a variety of tours. I was satisfied with their communications and their secured site.

"Downton Abbey TV Location and Blenheim Tour from London" $207.69

http://www.viator.com/tours/London/D...-5528IFDOWNTON

The driver Sam led me to a mini bus where two other couples were waiting, one from South Africa and one from California. The gal from CA, semi-professional genealogist, and I struck up a conversation about our mutual interests until we reached Oxford where we picked up our guide Debbie. Born and bred in the Cotswolds, Debbie had followed the filming of DOWNTON ABBEY with unbridled enthusiasm since the first production in 2010. She maintained that she had designed this tour for Friends International or some such name which is sold by Viator. While the fictional series is set in Yorkshire, its creator Julian Fellowes and his associates chose to film most of the outdoor scenes in the Cotswolds for its authenticity and proximity to London.

Our first stop was COGGES FARM, an ancient, lovingly restored farmstead administered by a trust in Witney, Oxfordshire (PM David Cameron's home turf, I believe.) The first thing that Debbie pointed out were the "dovecotes," square holes in the brick work of the buildings, where doves or other fowl would nest leaving their eggs to be collected by the farmer's wife for family use in the old days.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cogges_Manor_Farm

All of the farm scenes in Downton Abbey are filmed at Cogges which includes the shed where the elegant Lady Mary and her aristocratic suitor wrestle in the mud to save the pigs who were trying to escape. Those familiar with the series would recognize the many outbuildings used as backdrops in various episodes. Debbie knew each installment well and jogged our memories in describing different scenes.

Then we entered the MANOR HOUSE to tour its old fashioned kitchen filled with authentic cookware and utensils. Debbie said that this is the home of farmer JOHN DRAKE in the series. I asked, "Isn't this a rather luxurious house for a tenant farmer?" She explained that the kitchen is the "whole house" in the story (perhaps with bedrooms above.) She said that on her visit a few weeks before, she noticed a cradle before the hearth. Fans may recall that LADY EDITH in the last episode of season 4 had arranged with DRAKE to board her secret love child. Of course, maintaining secrecy about the plot of Downton is critical, but observant locals like Debbie often get a hint of what is to come in the drama.

Earlier we had been joined by a delightful family from Singapore, parents with two young teenage girls. They had taken a tour of Stonehenge and Bath the previous day with a private driver who also remained with us. Curiously, it was the Dad who was more interested in Downton Abbey, rather than his daughters or wife, but all joined in with interest.

Before leaving, we had tea and scones in the ancient low-studded barn, now renovated and let for weddings and other gatherings. Meanwhile local folks were using the facilities of the farm. Many young children were playing on the various playground toys (of hand carved wood, of course) in the yard. Indeed, they were darling and had that "privileged look," but then we were in the affluent Cotswords. I believe that visitors to the area, whether Downton fans or not, would really enjoy a stop at COGGES FARM.

As the poet said, "What is so rare as a day in June?" And that Friday was a perfect June day with bees buzzing and flower blooming everywhere - some roses a bit past but still in blossom. We then drove through the villages of SWINBROOK and SHILTON where various scenes were shot. Then on to BAMPTON whose shops, houses, and byways provide the backdrop for most of the outdoor episodes.

For instance: CHURCHGATE HOUSE, the exterior of which is used as the dignified CRAWLEY FAMILY home (interiors are shot at London studios)

The old stone GRAMMAR SCHOOL which served as the DOWNTON COTTAGE HOSPITAL, Isobel Crawley's domain in earlier episodes.

CHURCH VIEW a lane where the two pubs, the GRANTHAM ARMS and the DOG and DUCK are located. The series is known for its exquisite attention to detail - such as the drain pipe on the exterior of one of the houses which has been skillfully covered so that it fits in with the rest of the brick. Just knock and it sounds hollow.

Finally ST. MARY'S CHURCH, a beautiful old stone edifice, the scene of weddings, funerals, christenings, and even a jilting at the altar. Walking down the path and approaching this church was an unforgettable part of the tour. An old fellow from the village was sitting in a pew and eagerly responded to our compliments on the church and answered several questions. Debbie said that Julian Fellowes & Company give champagne to nearby villagers at Christmas in appreciation for any inconvenience they may have experienced during shooting.

We then returned to SWINBROOK to have lunch at the famous SWAN'S INN where LADY SYBIL and BRANSON eloped in Season 2. The setting is just magnificent with ponds, streams, and gentle hills nearby - the quintessential Cotswolds for sure. Debbie had called ahead so two tables were put together to accommodate the ten of us: the family of four, the two couples, Debbie and myself.

The food was delicious - farm fresh, earthy crunchy. I had a large fish cake on arugula salad and a pear cider. One of the young girls had mac 'n cheese which came in a small crockery pot with a crispy topping. Our conversation was lively. Somebody asked the fellow from Singapore if they owned a car there. Both he and his wife were "in finance." He said that while car ownership is not encouraged on the island, it cost him some $100,000 to buy and get permits for a BMW he ordered last year.

After settling up (meals not included in the price of the tour), we had time to wander around the inn which is owned by one of the remaining famous (some would say infamous) Mitford sisters, Deborah. Known as Debo, she is married to the Duke of Devonshire. Together they restored his ancestral home, CHATSWORTH HOUSE - but that is another story. One thing I must say about the Mitford clan - they are a handsome lot as attested to by the old family photos, many from their debutante days in the 30s, that grace the walls of Swan's Inn.

http://www.theswanswinbrook.co.uk/

Footnote: Swan's Inn was in the news this spring when PM David Cameron brought President Hollande of France to the bar for a friendly pint. Cameron has also come here with his family for Sunday lunch we were told. A photo of the PM and his French counterpart, with the whole staff of the establishment, hangs above the bar. We left through the rear garden where folks were enjoying their lunch in the June sunshine.


We then moved on to the village of BLADON to visit the graves of Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) and his beloved wife Clementine. Before his death, Churchill expressed his wish to rest in death within the shadow of his ancestral home rather than at St. Paul's or Westminster Abbey in London.

While BLENHEIM PALACE is not part of the Downton story line ("yet" Debbie said), this was a fitting place to end our day. Presented to JOHN CHURCHILL, 1st Duke of Marlborough by a grateful nation for his service in the Battle of Blenheim against French and Bavarian troops in 1704, the latter's descendants continued to enlarge and adorn the palace and grounds lavishly over the years. By the end of the 19th century, Charles, the 9th Duke was near bankruptcy so he entered into a loveless marriage with the American railroad heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt whose father forked over some $62 million in today's money, most of which was spent restoring the property to its former glory. The marriage did not last.

So where does WINSTON CHURCHILL come in? His father RANDOLPH CHURCHILL was the third son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough (I think) so that Winston was a first cousin to the succeeding Dukes. In a word, though not in the direct line of descent, he was very close to the family. Quite by accident, Winston was born at Blenheim Palace when his mother went into labor prematurely while attending a party there. Winston proposed to his beloved Clementine while they stood overlooking a beautiful vista of the estate. Soon after, they honeymooned there. For those interested in this fascinating family, I would suggest reading THE CHURCHILL IN LOVE AND WAR by Mary S. Lovell.

Upon entering the Palace I drifted through the rooms dedicated to Sir Winston's life and work with letters, mementos, photographs, medals, his art work and such. The voice in the background was that of the greatest war leader of the 20th century : "... Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour." Wow.

We had time to join any number of tours through the various drawing rooms, dining rooms, and salons. Gorgeous, rich - but I have only so much patience for gilt, mirrors, and bibelots. So I walked out into the sunshine and enjoyed the acres of beautiful gardens in full flower. At one point, I ran into Debbie who was watching closely two men with camera equipment and notebooks. She remarked, "See, I am sure that those two are looking for film locations. Probably for next year's series." Who knows?

Almost time to go, so I meandered through the gift shops and had a cold drink on the way out. It seemed that the green velvet lawns stretched for miles, studded with ancient trees, as we drove out past the gates of Blenheim Palace.

We said goodbye to our friends from Singapore and shortly thereafter dropped Debbie back in Oxford. She gave us each a hug, saying "Come back again to Oxford. Then -you should have no problem returning to London because on Friday night, the traffic is going the other way." That was true for a while but the cars were soon jamming up on M40.

Our driver Sam put on the radio so we all could hear: Bus fire ahead - "all traffic diverted." Both couples and I told Sam to drop us off at the nearest Tube station which happened to be Shepherd's Bush. We each went our separate ways after hasty farewells. Finally back at the Strand Palace, I flopped down and ordered room service.

What a great day!
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Old Jul 5th, 2014, 04:59 PM
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What a great report!
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Old Jul 5th, 2014, 06:03 PM
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Hi 29FEB, thanks so much. It was a great tour. I am only surprised that there were so few folks on it, considering the high interest in DOWNTON ABBEY.
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Old Jul 5th, 2014, 06:04 PM
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hi Lateday! Just discovered your TR - great as always.

I remember standing for a long time before Maggie Smith in the Portrait Gallery, thinking that she looks both regal and vulnerable. Thanks for posting the link.
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Old Jul 5th, 2014, 07:00 PM
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Hi KOVSIE,

Thanks for following along. Have you been in London lately?
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Old Jul 6th, 2014, 06:03 AM
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I am loving your trip report! London is absolutely my favorite city.
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Old Jul 6th, 2014, 06:44 AM
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No LDT, no London for me this year, but I was in Oxford in spring. Your TR makes me want to go back tomorrow.

I am forever pulled between two alternatives: should I go to the many many other places that I have not yet experienced (Sri Lanka / Croatia / St Petersburg)? Or should I return again and again to one favourite city (so that you notice when the glassware commemorating the little prince's birth are marked down a year later!).

Choices, choices ... !
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Old Jul 6th, 2014, 07:01 AM
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Hi, Lateday,

Sounds like a lovely day. So good to get out in the countryside a little, isn't it, and have someone to point out the interesting spots. Maybe your report will help stir up business. I would be tempted to see Churchill's old stomping grounds sometime, and have a chance for a country walk.

You did make such full and observant use of your time there.

I got interested in S. Johnson recently after reading Marcel Theroux's Strange Bodies. (An enjoyable book that I can't describe in a way that would do it justice.) I wish I'd read it before my last trip; his house had been on my one-of-these-days-maybe list, but has now been bumped up.
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Old Jul 6th, 2014, 07:15 AM
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Kovsie, I've been a favorite city returner type, since I like to get to know a place well-ish and semi-jokingly decide on "my favorite Oxford pub" or "Paris bakery" or whatever. Getting off beaten path must be good for us, though I doubt I've enough supply of lifetime or funds to wander too much.
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Old Jul 6th, 2014, 07:15 AM
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Hi EMC, thanks for following along. What are your "must-sees" in London?

Kovsie, I hear you about "choices." Actually, I have traveled quite a bit through most countries of Europe, except for Scandanvia and Greece. I am surprised that I have returned to London so many times myself. But I just love all of those cultural venues!

And I am too old to start exploring Asia although I hear that it is addictive.
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Old Jul 6th, 2014, 07:32 AM
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kovsie - I know that this is a bit of a diversion, but if you are considering going to Sri Lanka, GO! just a wonderful place.
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Old Jul 6th, 2014, 09:55 AM
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Lateday--At Blenheim Palace did you spot the letters Churchill wrote home to his family requesting money? We got a kick out of that--someone of his stature asking his parents for funds. Interesting.
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Old Jul 6th, 2014, 11:36 AM
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ANNHIG, just wondering, how often have you been to Asia?I met some folks at a Fodors get together near Boston last year. Many were active on the Asia board. Once they went, they said that they HAD to go back. A tall order because there are so many destinations in that part of the world.


EUROPEANNOVICE, no I missed those letters at Blenheim but I have seen them referenced in his biography. I really enjoyed the whole experience there - of course, the weather was perfect and I wanted to explore the gardens and grounds too.
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Old Jul 6th, 2014, 12:22 PM
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Hi latedaytraveler! The "What's for Dinner" get together in late June kept me away from the Europe thread so I've just found your WONDERFUL TR. My goodness you packed it in on some of your days. The pub crawl sounded like great fun.

I did take busses and cabs because of asthma. FYI, the 87 stop is virtually across the street from Strand Palace and goes without any changes to Tate Britain. When I first googled the route, the #6 was given as the bus but that is incorrect info. I alerted google folks but didn't follow up.

I'm with you about abstract art although, Kandinsky's work called out.

Do they still have a "carvery" at Cumberland Hotel? DH and I had a wonderful "all you care to eat" feast there long ago.

More, please!
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Old Jul 6th, 2014, 12:34 PM
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lateday - sadly so far we've only been to Sri Lanka and Hong Kong. India is sort of on my list for the next long trip but probably not for a year or two.
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Old Jul 6th, 2014, 01:22 PM
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Hi TDUDETTE,

Nice to have you along. You did more research than I did on the bus situation. Bus 87 sounds like a good deal. The pub crawl was fun with a great guide and pleasant folks. I love that section of London - the courts, Fleet Street, the City.

Re the Cumberland Hotel - that was only the meeting point for the tour group - better than Victoria Station. The hotel seemed quite modern - didn't have time to see much more of it. Convenient location.

ANNHIG, thanks, I am sure you will get there....
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Old Jul 6th, 2014, 08:58 PM
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ANNHIG: my Sri Lankan travel guide is here right next to my computer! I have started a thread on the Asia forum. But, THANK YOU SO MUCH for the encouragement here, just what I needed.

LATEDAY: I read your description of BLENHEIM PALACE with interest. I think it was perhaps Stokebaily who said that this place could be used as an illustration of the word 'ostentatious'!

And yes STOKEBAILY, I also love to have a 'favourite pub in Oxford'!
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Old Jul 7th, 2014, 03:10 AM
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Hi KOSVIE

"...this place could be used as an illustration of the word 'ostentatious'!" True, that is why I did not spend that much time inside the house, except for the Churchill Exhibit.

This may sound funny, but the Palace actually looked smaller as we approached than I had imagined. Of course, the weather was great so the facade was shown to advantage.

This immense property (we only saw part - not the Pleasure Gardens) is still lived in by the 11th Duke of Marlborough for part of the year. The family opened the doors to the public in the 1970s, I believe, to defray the cost of its upkeep.
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Old Jul 7th, 2014, 06:11 AM
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************************************************** ********
SATURDAY, JUNE 21 - The British Library tour, Camden Town, "96 stairs," Lost in the woods on Mid-summer's Eve
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Another bright morning and I was on my way to the BRITISH LIBRARY - Charing Cross Tube directly to Euston Station. I had attended an evening lecture there the year before, but did not have a chance to visit the collection. I would strongly recommend taking a tour, offered at 10:30 and 3 o'clock (all right 15:00) for £8. Our guide John had extensive knowledge of the library, having worked previously at the BRITISH MUSEUM whose library holdings (with great difficulty) were transferred to this new facility in 1973. We learned so much from this hour, so I will summarize the high points.

* Selection of the site, building design, and construction was fraught with controversy. The architect Colin St John Wilson (1922-2007) referred to it as a "thirty year war."

* Style was red brick "British Brutalism" - some see the design of a battle ship from various outside angles - the "porthole" windows inside and out reinforcing the nautical theme

* The British Library is the recipient of LEGAL DEPOSIT which means the library receives a copy of "everything" published in Britain - the good with the bad.

* The Library holds over 150 million items in innumerable languages including Arabic and a variety of Asian tongues.

* The collection comes from various sources, the central one being that of King George III (he of the "late unpleasantness" in the colonies) who bequeathed some 65,000 volumes, now enclosed in a beautiful six tiered smoked glass case in the center of the library.

* Who can use the library? A READER PASS is given to any reliable person who presents proof of address and has the good reason to use its resources.

* The British Library is still evolving with more lectures, exhibits and public events. They also offer courses on subjects such as entrepreneurship. We passed by a well subscribed classroom during the tour.

John whisked us around various nooks 'n crannies throughout the building including a leafy terrace which overlooks a huge building site next door, soon to house a medical research center. He lamented that the land should have been used instead to extend the library. A vast storage facility in Yorkshire handles their overflow.

John said that the busiest time of year for them is at Easter break when a hoard of anxious grad students descend on the staff, hoping to finish their dissertations by graduation. He said that the students actually fight over desk space and become irate if their desired materials are not available.

John then led us to the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Room on the main floor which houses the MAGNA CARTA, GUTENBERG BIBLE, along with the works of DA VINCI, MOZART, SHAKESPEARE and the BEATLES. John told us that when these "treasures" (there is no other word for them) were being transferred from the British Museum down the street to the new British Library back in 1973, no insurance company would underwrite them. So trusted employees were given numbered, shrink wrapped, bundles for delivery. John said, "Who knows? I may have been carrying the Magna Carta."

Before leaving I visited the Library's small, but arresting, World War I exhibit ENDURING WAR: GRIEF, GRIT, HUMOUR. Several recruitment posters were displayed including one of a father dressed in a business suit, reading his evening paper in his comfortable armchair, with his daughter playing at his feet who asks him, "Daddy, what did you do during the war?" Very effective.

http://decodedpast.com/british-libra...t-humour/10764

Back out into the sunshine. I returned to Euston Station and took the Tube to Camden. Among my "must-sees" was a boat ride on REGENT'S CANAL which runs from Camden to Maida Vail. Wow, does Camden have a vibe on Saturday Market Day, eh? Teeming with people, hawkers offering tatooing (and removal), folks with elaborate body piercing and spiked hairdos, music blaring, and delicious street food in abundance. I finally made my way to the ticketing agent for JASON'S TRIP (located in a pub) who said, "Sorry, but a private party has booked our boats for the afternoon. You will have to wait until four." No thanks. I learned the next day that there was another boat service, LONDON WATERBUS, located nearer to the canal - but no matter.

Returned to the Camden station. A placard at the entrance read - "Escalator under repair - 96 stairs for entry" or words to that effect. Down I went with caution and returned to the Strand Palace.


That evening I looked forward to joining LONDONWALKS "Old Hampstead Village Pub Walk" which met at seven at the Hampstead Tube (the "deepest" Tube station in London direct from Charing Cross on the Northern Line). If I may quote from Wiki: "it [Hampstead] is known for its intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical and literary associations and for Hampstead Heath, a large, hilly expanse of parkland. It has some of the most expensive housing in the London area. The village of Hampstead has more millionaires within its boundaries than any other area of the United Kingdom."

OK, again I was early and was grateful to see an open bench outside of the Starbucks across from the station. The summer evening was lovely - the place so tranquil as I glanced around at the Victorian architecture. Passing Mercedes, Bentleys, BMWs and the like suggested that I wasn't in Camden Town anymore. Some six miles north of central London, this is a very privileged but understated community.

At seven o'clock, I joined the group waiting for the tour to begin. The guide collected our fees (again £7 for moi) while saying little. He then introduced himself dramatically as "Richard III" because two other Londonwalks guides were also named "Richard." We proceeded across the road to CHURCH ROW, a line of elegant brick terraced houses used in the 18th century as summer retreats from the heat and din of the city. The painter Turner and the novelist Galsworthy had lived there also. Richard then pointed out one house that was currently on the market for over £4,000,000. These units were not that large either. In a way they reminded me of the exclusive row houses on Louisburg Square in Boston, although the latter are much bigger.

The list of current residents of Hampstead Village is extraordinary including Judi Dench. Richard said that the arty types enjoy living in the country atmosphere of Hampstead, only a Tube ride away from their publishers and agents in downtown London. This district was impressive. Soon we were at our first pub, the famous HOLLY BUSH, located down an ally in a posh neighborhood. Outside, an attendant kept patrons from straying close to the nearby residences, especially on a summer evening when folks might be inclined to spill out into the street drink in hand.

http://hollybushhampstead.co.uk/

I had met a nice couple from Wisconsin along the way. In the pub, the wife tried to engage Richard in conversation but he just smiled distantly - not the normal reaction of tour guides from my experience. We then proceeded through other charming enclaves finally arriving at the edge of HAMPSTEAD HEATH, an eight hundred acre woods under the purview of the City of London Corporation (this fact was mentioned at Mansion House).

Suddenly Richard said, "We are now at Hampstead Heath. Sometimes we go down as far as the 'Pergola.' It's Mid-summers Eve - would you like to go although we will have less time for the other pub?" I guess there was agreement, but it did not sound like a good idea to me. We then descended down a hilly, rutted path into the woods. The twilight though was lovely and I felt a bit like Tess in Hardy's novel. Richard and the group moved steadily along and I was left with a rather large fellow from Sweden who was proceeding cautiously too. I guess I am pretty agile for my age - but I didn't want to fall! (Tripped once on a tour of Britain, broke my wrist, and had to fly home early for surgery.)

My Swedish friend said that he knew Richard from other tours, but he was losing patience. He said, "I have been an officer in the Swedish military, watch this," and he yelled "WAIT UP!" Still they continued on. We finally caught up with them a little bit ahead. Covered with confusion, Richard laughed, "Hey, who said anything about a Pergola, eh?" Soon we heard the reassuring sound of cars zooming by. We left the woods and crossed a busy road. I was so thankful that we did not have to retrace our steps uphill out of the Heath!

The group gathered around Richard who was using his cell phone. Clearly, he had lost his way. My Swedish friend and I exchanged a few expletives in the background. We then re-crossed the road and headed up a long incline. At this point, I hailed a passing cab, waved sympathetically to the group as they labored on, and returned to Hampstead Tube station for the direct trip back to Charing Cross. I was furious.

Back at Trafalgar Square I had a delicious salad with salmon and avocado - plus two red wines. Then back in the Strand Palace lobby I found a free computer and fired off a note of complaint to LONDONWALKS.

I must say that the company took my concerns seriously, would have "a conversation" with Richard, and offered their apologies. The responded immediately. In a few days I received an elaborate "mea culpa" from Richard himself. Case closed and I am happy that he did not lose his job - I eventually cooled off. Plus it makes a good story for retelling.
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Old Jul 7th, 2014, 10:39 AM
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Oh, to have heard your mixed Swedish and American expletives! But Midsummer is a perfect time to get lost in the forest, so maybe Richard III was playing an elaborate Shakespeare-based prank for no additional charge.

Didn't realized that about the millionaire concentration in Hampstead, but even I, who never notices cars, could tell there were some posh ones indeed tooling along the Heath. A beautiful place to live, and on my short list of Very Unlikely Large Financial Windfall Neighborhoods.

Clever of you to take British Library tour, and we appreciate getting some of the secrets without doing the legwork. Thanks for fun report, lateday.
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