England 2015

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Friend Carla from Rostock met me in the London train station as I came in from the airport, and we went to Stratford. I'd intentionally planned to be there for the Shakespeare Birthday celebration on September 23, and I wasn't disappointed. Our b&b was immaculate and within easy walking distance of the center of the festivities. My notes:

Although many people were in town for the marathon which is taking place today, Sunday, the parade itself is local people, from various Shakespeare Society members to boys from the local public school, all in their best suits, various dignitaries etc. After the parade, we went into Shakespeare's Birthplace and a handsome very modern museum which is next door to The Birthplace. And then we walked over the gardens next to the RSC theater and spent the afternoon. We watched ladies in Shakespearean dress dance minuets with somewhat antique spouses, we rode on a river barge, people-watched from the restaurant at the top of the theatre, walked to the church where WS is buried, and eventually got back to the b&b.

The houses here in Windermere, in the Lake District, are slate. So are the garden walls. Slate everywhere. In Stratford of course there are quite a few Tudor buildings, but in the countryside the little villages had red brick construction, or stucco of course.


Our room here in the Windermere guest house is just perfect, comfortable and new and immaculate. And after exploring the little town a bit last night, today we took a tour of "ten lakes" in the Lake District with 12 others on a Mountain Goat tour. Many many mountains, if you can call rounded peaks about 1600’ mountains. Many many sheep and many quaint villages. And took a cruise on the lake that abuts Keswick, possibly called Derwentwater. A highlight for me was the Castleridge stone circle, one of many around that are sort of mini Stonehenges.

The weather was chilly, partly cloudy much of the day, which was great, with swelling big billowy clouds that didn't turn into rain until after we returned to Windermere, after 5 pm. Though we had the stop at the stone circle, and Keswick for the cruise and lunch, and at Wordswoth's pet town of Grasmere, much of the time was spent just looking at one beautiful vista after another.

This is mining country, for copper and graphite, and slate. Slate is used everywhere in construction of the rock walls that delineate land ownership and in house construction, gray roofs and walls, in contrast to the red brick ones we saw as we rode out of Stratford.We stopped briefly at a slate mine with handsome plaques to be made to order ...but they were expensive and very very heavy.


I was amazed at the number of hikers on the many many trails that encircle the lakes and the mountains. Every vista you could see a hiker or two. And yet at this time of year it wasn't crowded. Also at this time of year you can see the daffodils, just past their peak, and GORSE. I had never had any idea what gorse is, but now I know! Bright orange yellow flowered bushes grow wild everywhere! The sheep don't eat them, most likely because of their thorns.

Thank heavens I didn't try driving myself. The roads really are single lanes in many places, lined in thick hedgerows. Nothing larger than out 12 passenger mini-van could drive them. Also our driver is a native Cumbrian who was extremely knowledgeable. You could ask any question about the area or geology or botany and he knew the answer. All in all it was a long but delightful day.

Speaking of sheep, there are three major breeds here, herdwick, rough fell, and swaledale. The herdwick are a Rare Breed. Beatrix Potter, who owned great swaths of Cumbria and gave it to the national Trust to form the Lake District National Park, insisted that the sheep grazed on HER land should be Herdwick. Such sheep are rare elsewhere and not handsome as the others. Their grey wool is discolored with the paints sprayed on them (instead of branding them) to identify ownership. Their wool is basically useless, rough and sold cheaply for some carpet kinds, etc, the other varieties' wool is also not good for fine uses. They DO all apparently make good meat though the Herdwick ones don't fatten up as well and farmers intentionally breed them with other varieties to fatten them.

The Swaledale sheep are prettier. They are dimorphic: lambs, plentiful and adorable, are black but as they age they turn to the sort of grey coat their mother has. (He informed us that Shaun the Sheep is a Swaledale). All are brought to market at a year or two, for meat. But seeing the sheep in their giant pens, and the lambs gambolling around them, you can't but contrast the situation with the very different factory farming in the U.S.

But start with yesterday. No problem taking the train from Windermere to Edinburgh. All the mountains now had snow on them and the weather was, as they say, "changeable".We were there about noon and not far from the castle, so we checked our luggage and got a taxi there. The guard at the entrance suggested I take the "mobility bus" up to the top (I was carrying my cane) and I was happy to do so. Carla, history maven that she is, loved to read all about all of the battles and who was killed and how many medals they had, what swords were used, etc, in the several museums which all seemed to be devoted to this. I loved the big gloomy rooms and a demonstration of the kind of armor and weapons a medieval knight would have worn. Saw the sword and scepter and stone of scone.

We got our bags and made our way again by taxi to our guest houses which are a few blocks apart. Carla came over to mine to go out to dinner and we had a quite marvelous meal at the Salisbury Arms. I had very lightly battered squid rings followed by duck confit and Carla had homemade gnocchi with vegetables. I can't justify buying dessert when I have in my suitcase a great stash of Marzipan straight from Lübeck in Germany, where Carla lives. It was raining again last night when I came in and again when I got up. Gloomy and raw. I loaded sweater over shirt over undershirt, with raincoat atop, and was warm enough, but barely.


Breakfast here was smoked salmon over scrambled eggs. Pretty good! I had told Carla this was her day to choose where to go, since it was her last day and she had spent some time researching what she wanted to see. So first was the National Gallery of Scotland which has more second rate paintings than I have seen in one place since teaching galleries in Rhode Island, but there were a few nice ones thrown in. We then made it over to St. Giles cathedral and spent some time there. Again, pretty gloomy but lots of stained glass, a good lunch in the church cafeteria, and a piano concert. Then to the Gladstone Land, which is a house dating back to the sixteenth century, run by the historical society with knowledgeable volunteer docents. Liked it a lot. (No picture allowed). Then off to Hollyrood House which is the queen's palace when she is in Edinburgh on her way to Balmoral. Nice palace, saw where Mary Queen of Scots was sleeping when her secretary was murdered.

But wait, there is more! It was only four-ish when we left the castle so we went over to a giant very modern, very out of place looking building which is the Scots parliament. And were handed tickets to go hear the debate, which was about trade agreements and actually quite interesting to watch. We were there for an hour (free, warm, comfortable seats, what's not to like!) then made our way back to the guest houses, stopping for a fast food sort of Thai food.

If I hadn't said it before, which I have! I would say I am happily tucked into bed, but given that it is only 7:15, that sounds a bit lonely But it has been a long day and I really enjoyed shedding all the layers I wore "in case" on the trip west today. I have the tv on for the first time this trip..I am not used to hearing language I can understand on one of my trips so I just don't have the habit. Tonight I wanted to hear if it is Beltane, which it IS! and people are gathering to walk up Arthur's seat which is a tall hill right at downtown Edinburgh.

Today was a beautiful day, with clouds gathering and dispersing, looking white or gray and threatening, and the ride to Sterling Castle was interesting, going through neighborhoods of Edinburgh very different from the crowded downtown. And so was the castle interesting, but since it is almost all completely restored, it doesn't look its age inside. I don't know how I feel about this, but it does, as they say, "bring history alive," and the many school kids there seemed to enjoy it. The views are spectacular from all sides. I didn't have any particular trouble getting around at my own pace, joining no tour but talking to the costumed attendants everywhere.


We then had an unexpected treat. We went for a quick stop at Doune castle, where Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed as was the pilot of Game of Thrones. Apparently it was the only castle they could secure. The cast stayed in an awful hotel while on location which, legend has it, was so awful that it became the basis for Fawlty Towers!

In the Loch Lomond National Park we stopped in a little town and had sandwich lunches at a tea shop or a pub, our choice, then took a walk around at Loch Lomond which is pretty but not prettier than the ones I saw in the Lake District.

All in all the guide was good, good patter about Scottish history, and I enjoyed the day. Tomorrow is a transit day to Durham, which isn't far away.

I have learned that it is not pronounced Edinburg, nor edinborough, but more edin-bruh. That scots have a fierce national pride, and everyone seems to welcome a chance to enlighten tourists about the finer, bloodier points of their history. That there is an election in a week, and the Baby is due.

So today off to Durham. I managed my pack alone and having it on my back actually made getting on the train very easy. Each day I am more comfortable walking father distances. Going it alone truly means going at my own pace; however helpful Carla was in toting my bag, I still felt I needed to walk faster and stop less often when I was with her. The hotel in Durham is an old, standard small hotel, with restaurant and bar, tidy and unexciting. Built post war but certainly not new. The kind you have wedding receptions in, I think, very different from the b&b houses up to now.

I walked to the center of Durham from the hotel and had a nice salad for lunch, chopped lettuces etc with mozzarella and a warm sliced sautéed portobello mushroom on top. Tasted better than it sounds! Then a bus ride up to the cathedral and the castle.

The cathedral is truly impressive. It was built from 1093 on for many years and of course there have been many modifications but it is still very Norman, with massive stone columns. We are talking PRE Gothic here. It is the shrine of St. Cuthbert, one of the early church leaders in England, and it also has the burial of the Venerable Bede, a monk who wrote the first history of Britain in the 600s. He was always someone I admired, and I had no idea I'd find him there.

Before leaving the hilltop where the church is, I went across its green to the Durham Castle. Though much of it is occupied by students at Durham university, you can see the 11th century Norman chapel, the 16 c.one, and a great hall that looks like it has been lifted from Hogwarts! Fun!

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I grabbed a takeaway box of paella while on the mount, caught the bus down, had a sherry in the bar here at the hotel and am now in for the night as usual.

Some things I am noticing: there seem to be few forests. Much of the north of both England and Scotland was practically denuded of trees in the past, taking wood for houses and heating. Hence the beautiful, almost treeless, hills and dales. And the major erosion of the mountains with no trees to hold the soil. The government has been encouraging tree farms, which are ugly dense areas of trees that then are clear cut at a certain age with the debris left in place. Ugly. The value of these is dubious to me. They do not look like the woods we see along the margins of Maine roads, for instance, and apparently have little variety of flora or fauna in their boundaries.

Another thing: right now the rapeseed plants from which canola oil is made are in full and beautiful bloom. Fields of bright yellow. Is it planted in the states at all?

And one final thing. When we started up to the Lake District a week ago, every field with sheep dotting the green seemed to have almost as many lambs as ewes. Today I noticed fields of adult sheep, no lambs, in several places. Sigh

For years Earthwatch has sponsored a dig at Arbeia, in South Shields, near Newcastle. It is excavation of a roman fort in the middle of this little town. I wanted to see Hadrian's Wall and had planned the Durham stop to go up to it, but there was no way to do it. No place to leave luggage in Newcastle, and the bus to the Hadrian's Wall sites left at 9:30.. And there was a lot of walking. I gave up but was talking to a young man at the Durham cathedral site,, it's a World Heritage Site so there is a TI there.. And I asked about Aribea. He knew all about it and gave me careful instructions to take the train to Newcastle and then the Metro to South Shields.

Well, in Durham the train station is at the top of a hill. So this morning I went to the BUS station, near the hotel, to take a bus to the TRAIN station, but saw a bus right there going to South Shields and boarded it. It took about an hour and a half for a thirty mile trip, definitely not an express bus. But I saw the towns themselves, the neighborhoods of flats and semi-attached houses and rather grand stand alone ones, all levels of people, really interesting.

When I got to South Shields, I needed food. I had skipped breakfast at the hotel since I had thought it was included in its rather pricey fee,and it wasn't. So I had quiche in a tearoom and thus fortified climbed up to the dig. Although everything more than a couple of feet above ground has been reconstructed, it is well explained and interesting. The fort had primarily been used as a storage site to replenish supplies for the soldiers guarding the wall.

I found that the Metro I might have taken had problems so I would have been even slower getting to the site had I gone by train. I took the bus back to Durham, slowly again,but I really didn't mind. Spent a couple of hours moseying around the shops in the shopping areas of Durham, from rather posh shops to an indoor market that was half flea market and half little stalls for food. And finally just before five I got to the Indian restaurant I had had my eye on ever since I got to Durham, and had a marvelous meal of tandoori chicken with a starter of a couple of tiny lamb chops!

Long, tiring, interesting day yesterday. York has an active group of volunteer guides to walk you around the old city. Mine was I believe John Shaw, whose ancestors go back in York many generations. We started walking the city on medieval walls built on top of the Roman walls that encircled the city from the earliest days of roman occupation of England. The weather was lovely, first really pleasant day here. I managed to make it through two hours of standing and walking but I think I about reached my limits. The city's history is fascinating and York was very much at the center of the history of England. I won't try to go into it myself.

After a street-food lunch I went into York Minster (one ticket is good for multiple days) and this time took a tour with one of the volunteer guides there. The intricacies of the stained glass and the stonework are incredible, and it was really delightful to see the humorous bits I would never have found on my own. The enormous east wing stained glass window is under restoration but I gather about finished so after this year it will all be in its glory, and glorious it is. In particular I enjoyed the Chapter House and its incredible carvings.


After a day spent walking, I needed a rest. I didn't want to spend the money tour companies were asking for a visit to the moors, but of course anyone who has read English literature, and the Brontës and so on, must see the moors. I checked out bus schedules and figured out how to make a loop from York to Scarborough to Whitby and then back through the moors national park to York. Connections were easy and I enjoyed the bus ride, a double decker bus through tidy prosperous suburbs, then the farms with green fields dotted with sheep, or blooming with rapeseed. Finally there were moors, brown and gray and looking the proper degree of desolation. Heather blooms in August so what may be lovely then was frankly ugly.

Whitby is a seaside town, with the usual shore restaurants and tatty souvenir shops and pensioners. I ate good fish (the chips were undistinguished) under the baleful eye of a herring gull, then took a tour ride up to the main distinction of the town, a ruined abbey that apparently was the inspiration for Bram Stoker in writing Dracula. Whitby has made the most of this connection and welcomes Goth kids each year for Halloween celebrations.

All day the clouds had crept in and out, and on the way back to York the rain started. The moors were dense on this part of the reserve. And over them there was a rainbow, the full wide arch.

I got to talking to another bus passenger, a woman traveling alone, from Melbourne. Great to compare notes on slippery showers with indecipherable controls, and the propensity of b&b hosts to put single travelers up in the maid's quarters at the top of the house.

And yesterday I gave myself permission to do nothing except to travel to Canterbury from York, skipping Cambridge (and justifying it by saying to myself that one has to leave something undone, to return again). I started reading Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett (only thing I have ever read by him, but recommended by many for its depiction of medieval life and the construction of a cathedral) and took a nap. After a lunch of a scotch egg in St. Pancras station in London, I found the food at a French restaurant next to the Canterbury hotel delicious for dinner. Today I will walk the city and the cathedral. It is Election Day and sunshine is guardedly promised by my weather app!


walked around a bit, in fierce wind, when I first got to Canterbury then went up to my room in the Pilgrim's hotel and read and napped before going out and exploring the old town a bit. Had a lovely dinner at the hotel and arose ready for more wandering.

Of course I went first thing to the cathedral and took a tour. The quire and the cloisters and the crypt are parts of a beautiful working church, but the long nave has modern chairs in it, no signs of hymnals or church use, and men were erecting scaffolding for the concert of Verdi's Requiem to be performed this Saturday there. The nave doesn't have side chapels and indeed the glass is not stained, perhaps broken in WW II since the cathedral was hit although not fatally. The origins of the cathedral are very old, in the 600s, and the construction went from Romanesque to Gothic. Like all the cathedrals, there is renovation and support proceeding.

The cathedral is fascinating but not in the way York or Durham is. In the tour and found how important Thomas á Becket is to this site. There is a marker where he fell. Long explanations of his death and the causes of it. Plaques showing where his tomb was installed, first in the crypt, then in the quire and then disappeared when the villainous Henry VIII sent his minions out to claim the riches of the roman church. And stained glass windows depicting his miracles. It has been many years since I chanted as the Chorus in Auden's Murder in the Cathedral, and made the processional banners from a duck cloth shower curtain and pieces of felt. (Those survive still; for many years they were hung at Christmas on our walls: st. Steven and St. John Chrisosthom and the Slaughter of the Innocents.)

I took a light lunch of a Croque Monsieur and a glass of wine at a French cafe on High street. The weather was alternately clear and cloudy but it was fine for sitting outside. An unexpected bit about Canterbury is that it claims at least to be more visited than any other site but London. A couple of reasons here. They are close to the French coast and there was a Norman influence from the earliest days? There is a French chapel in the cathedral. Meanwhile you get there from St Pancras Station, which is where the Eurostar train comes in. SO French school kids come over in great clots, to hear English spoken and see the cathedral, etc. there must have been eighty or so going into the cathedral just before my small group went in. There are several French cafés. And a couple of Mexican ones! Can't explain THEM!

After lunch it was clear and sunny so I took a ride on a rowboat up and down the little Sour river that flows through town. Twelve people and one strong rower! It was truly beautiful. The flowers are out in force. He pointed us to a tiny island that had belonged to the Greyfriars (the Benedictines I think) and I went back to it after the excursion. Public park, but entrances quite hidden and romantic abandoned house with brick walls spouting flowers, etc

I had really enjoyed the dinner at the hotel the night before, so I returned for onion soup and mussels in cream sauce. Delicious again.

I am sleeping pretty soundly although the changeable weather means the comforter can be cozy one minute and overpoweringly heavy the next. Now on my way to Bath, having successfully navigated the change from the Canterbury train to st Pancras to Paddington to the train out.


Bath was actually quite interesting. The Roman Baths, which had been built around 60 AD, were reconstructed in the 1800s and thereafter, but there is no question the site has been used as baths for much of the time, and the springs still flow. The whole site is intelligently annotated with an audio guide and I loved seeing some of the artifacts they have found, like the curses written on squares of lead in Latin and thrown into the bath in hopes Minerva would grant them.

I saw the baths the first afternoon and then the next day went around the city on a two hour hike with a Mayor's Guide, a free tour like the one in York, and very good. I was pleased that I was able to manage the whole walk, about two miles, which I would NOT have been able to complete a few weeks ago. After the walk I had a good lunch at a charming little restaurant just off the Circus, then visited the Georgian House museum and the whole Royal Crescent. The weather was changeable but sometimes warm and sunny. Unfortunately that is the kind that often encourages my body to develop a cold and I spent the night coughing and throwing covers on and off. I had made a reservation for a tour into the countryside the next day, though, so I went.

First on the tour was Stonehenge. When I had seen it in 1956 we walked up to it from below, just among the stones. No explanatory plaques, nothing. This time is the opposite, there is a new visitor center, a cafe, a gift shop, an exhibition, etc etc.. And a bus to transport you to the actual stones. You can't see them from it. With audio guide you walk around in a big loop and can see the other stones elsewhere in the landscape and how they may be related to Stonehenge. It really is far more enlightening than before, but it is also very much more civilized. We then however went to Avebury, which is a very large henge with a great many stones circling around a village.. Nothing stopping you from hugging a stone, our guide says, and I guess that's so! Families picnicking and enjoying a windy day. I was fading, though. The next stop was Laycock, a pretty little village which unfortunately had just had a power failure, so no one was serving food, at least at first. I finally got a cup of mushroom soup. On we went to Castle Comb which I had been hoping to see, but I didn't feel like walking around it, and just waited in the bus and dozed. Today I have felt better and had no problems getting to London.

I forgot to mention the horses on the tour yesterday. First there was a horse-pulled caravan, like a gypsy caravan, coming down one of the many narrow roads. Turns out it is a sham, it is a holiday you can arrange! And the kids riding in it were not gypsies. We stopped shortly thereafter to visit the gypsy cob horse not in use pulling the van, a sweet boy, with a Shetland beside him, looking for any handout they could get. And up on a hill behind them was a white horse. I had wanted to see a chalk horse on the hillside but I had no idea it was one of 24 dating from the 1800s to modern times. The first one, still visible in Uffington, is Neolithic. The rest are relatively new. One is apparently cement, not chalk as the others are. Handsome, though!

The first night in this clean but Spartan airbnb I thought I wouldn't be able to stay. The three other girls here were talking starting at ten pm and I was old-lady tired. But I made myself get up the next morning and get a breakfast croissant and cappuccino across the street at pret a manger, a chain as ubiquitous as Starbucks here but actually quite good. Almond croissant, yum! I went to Chancery Place to take one of the London Walks I have enjoyed here before. This one visited the home of Samuel Johnson, whose cat, Hodge, sits imperially on his dictionary by his house. We went in the church of st. Etheldreda which is one of or THE oldest Roman Catholic Churches in London, and very nice too. And to see the Church of st. Bride on a Fleet Street, which has an altar dedicated to fallen war correspondents (from all over). Very touching. So very much of central London was flat out destroyed during WW II. After lunch at a Wagamama's I walked over to see St. Paul's which is now fully cleaned up and restored but unfortunately was closed...and then I crossed the Thames on the Millennial Bridge which is popular for foot traffic. I caught a water taxi/tour boat out in front of the Globe theatre, (which I last visited when half completed) and rode the length of the Thames, down to Westminster. The sky was full of racing clouds and there was quite a breeze, but the trip was glorious. And cheap!

I then went to a performance of Noel Coward's Hay Fever, which I had been anticipating for some time. And it was the only real disappointment of the trip. Felicity Kendal has been one of my favorite English actors for many years. I saw her in Stoppard's India Ink in London some years ago and enjoyed her in Rosemary and Thyme. But in this farce, which is certainly showing its considerable age, she did an impersonation of Joan Greenwood which was to me highly annoying. Damn! I left at second intermission!

My cold has been annoying me, so yesterday I just went over to the British Museum to spend as much of the day as I wanted. And found it to be so full of school kids and tourists I just couldn't concentrate. I had a small lunch in their dining room, bought a couple of trinkets, and retreated to my room where I napped. Too bad, as it was one of the few beautiful sunny days of the whole trip. And today I am looking out at the grey skies again and killing time until I can go to the airport.

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So what have I learned this trip? What has impressed me or made me glad I came? The weather has been so changeable that I haven't had my sweater off but one day, and have never gone out without my raincoat. My ancient silk scarf brought as an afterthought has been a forties-style kerchief day after day. And since my mood tends to swing with the weather, it too has been changeable. But I have loved seeing the places I have read about most of my life, seeing from the top deck of the bus the tidy little gardens of the semi-detached houses, and seeing too the wild beauty of the Lake District. I could come back and visit all entirely different places and enjoy it all over again, and only the flowers would be the same. I love the architecture, from chimney pots to cobblestones, all different and from so many periods of history, but inhabited casually still today. And the pride the local guides take in their houses and cathedrals, each one with an special distinction, the oldEST, the LONGEST, the most impressive stained glass..

And only now do I acknowledge that I had doubts about doing this trip.. Were my plans made wisely? Could I manage the walks and the steps, the taking of trains and hauling of luggage? And would I still be secure traveling alone? I am pleased to say I could and did. No slips on cobblestones (though some near-slips in tidy shower stalls). No avoiding stairs much. No longing for an arm to lean on or someone to tell me where to go. No wishing I had booked in fancy hotels instead of b&bs. Maybe this won't be my last excursion after all...



So what have I learned this trip? What has impressed me or made me glad I came? The weather has been so changeable that I haven't had my sweater off but one day, and have never gone out without my raincoat. My ancient silk scarf brought as an afterthought has been a forties-style kerchief day after day. And since my mood tends to swing with the weather, it too has been changeable. But I have loved seeing the places I have read about most of my life, seeing from the top deck of the bus the tidy little gardens of the semi-detached houses, and seeing too the wild beauty of the Lake District. I could come back and visit all entirely different places and enjoy it all over again, and only the flowers would be the same. I love the architecture, from chimney pots to cobblestones, all different and from so many periods of history, but inhabited casually still today. And the pride the local guides take in their houses and cathedrals, each one with an special distinction, the oldEST, the LONGEST, the most impressive stained glass..

And only now do I acknowledge that I had doubts about doing this trip.. Were my plans made wisely? Could I manage the walks and the steps, the taking of trains and hauling of luggage? And would I still be secure traveling alone? I am pleased to say I could and did. No slips on cobblestones (though some near-slips in tidy shower stalls). No avoiding stairs much. No longing for an arm to lean on or someone to tell me where to go. No wishing I had booked in fancy hotels instead of b&bs. Maybe this won't be my last excursion after all...