Monday, May 22, 2000
We had a wonderful breakfast before making the 10-minute walk downtown to the Roman Baths. We wanted to be at the Baths as soon as they opened at 9 a.m. This was another site that our Heritage Pass covered.
We were given the ever popular "telephone tour device." This tour, unlike the one at Stonehenge, was very interesting. The Roman Baths should not be missed. The ruins of the baths are extensive and all covered by modern buildings. The baths were rediscovered a hundred or so years ago. The city had the foresight to preserve the baths and purchased the buildings in the area.
There is an extensive museum filled with a variety of Roman stone carvings. There is also a section showing the things found in the pools. These included coins and jewelry - just like what you would find at the bottom of a pool today. One thing you wouldn't find in the local YMCA pool is curses. "Curses" are small metal pieces on which a curse has been inscribed and thrown into the pool - some of these cursors were very funny.
The water still comes out of the ground at a very hot temperature and at a consistent flow -this is impressive when you consider it has been doing this for at least the last 2,000 years. The water flows through a series of three pools to allow it to cool enough to allow bathing.
Currently, the baths are closed and you are not allowed to touch the water. This is due to the finding of bacteria that can cause meningitis in the water many years ago. However, there is a plan to filter the water and open public baths in 2001. The water has the same smell as the hot springs in Yellowstone or Hauraz, Peru and that is the smell of sulfur.
We spent over an hour in the museum, which was just enough time. There was a free city walking tour at 10:30 that we wanted to take. Above the Roman Baths is the "Pump Room". This room was built during the nineteenth century and was used as a social hall. Today it is a fancy and popular tearoom. Before joining the walking tour, I made reservations for tea at 1 p.m.
Having a few minutes before the tour started we sat outside listening to a street performer playing a recorder. Now, I can play a recorder - just give me a tape. Ok, that is a bad joke. Actually he was very good and had a large crowd listening. He had found a perfect spot for busking.
I snapped a picture of a camera on the square. The one thing I noticed about England was the cameras. There are cameras everywhere: cameras on the interstate, cameras on stop lights, cameras on every street corner. Yes, I am sure this may be a deterrent and help to identify a criminal, but it is very intrusive. Just a comment. The question is, "Who is watching the watchers?" Can you identify the origin of that saying?
There are tours of Bath conducted by volunteers. The tours are free, and they meet right outside of the Roman Baths. There were perhaps 100 people or so waiting for the tour. We were divided into three groups. Our guide was very soft spoken. There were also three young British teenagers that kept interrupting with smart remarks and rude comments. Each time one of them spoke it threw our guide off track and it took him a moment or so to continue. We quietly excused ourselves and joined another group. I later saw these young "gentlemen" walking off, obviously having quickly grown bored with the tour.
Our new tour guide was a woman who was very knowledgeable about the town. We walked around the city center, up to the Royal Crescent, down Brock Street (where I actually ran into the Laundromat to check on my clothes. They were ready so after paying I gave them to Alan to run up to the room. It cost £6 to wash, dry, and fold and I left a £1 tip.), to the Circus, to the Museum of Costumes, through a shopping center (where we did not stop to purchase anything - just a short cut), to the Bridge, back to Bath Abbey and the end of the tour. The entire tour took just over two hours and was worth every minute.
Our table was ready when we arrived back at the Pump Room. Pat and I had soup, bread and cheese and Alan had chicken and couscous. I ordered a hard cider. These are very popular in England, and they are very good. We also order a glass of "Bath water." This is water from the spa that has been purified. The best way to describe its taste is to say that it taste like the water eggs have been boiled in - as if you would drink that water. There was live music being played during tea and the room was crowded. If you wish to have tea in the pump room, I would advise making reservations early in the day as I saw several people turned away.
Our next stop was the Jane Austen museum. On the way to the museum we stopped in a small store to purchase some postcards. We also passed a movie theater where the new Russel Crowe movie, "Gladiator" was showing. I found it interesting that they showed the start, running, and end times on the board.
Jane lived in Bath for several years and did not particularly care for the place. If she had been able to visit the museum in honor of her she would not have cared for it either. The "museum" (and to call it such is an overstatement) was mainly large pictures of the town with captions of Jane's descriptions from her books. There were a few period costumes and a few original letters and publications of her works. I was very disappointed with the museum and would not recommend it to anyone.
We debated about going to the Museum of Costume and decided to skip it. I had seen on a local map that an Internet Café was located a few blocks away. For £2 we got 30 minutes of Internet access. I sent a couple of quick emails and checked my online account to see my bank balance. I saw that I was getting the great exchange rate of 1.49 from using the ATM with no access charges. At the Internet Café were free "3D" maps of Bath - by this I mean a map that has the streets as well as drawings of the buildings. The only difference between these free maps and ones that were being sold in the stores was that these had advertisements around the outer edge. To me this was a bonus because it showed where various shops were located on the map. Later in the day I withdrew more money from another ATM to lend Pat and Alan.
It was around 2:30 when we arrived back at the room. We considered driving out to Cheddar Gorge but I didn't want to have to go to the trouble. Instead we decided to visit 1 Royal Crescent. 1 Royal Crescent is a museum allowing you to tour one of the town houses on the crescent. These homes are huge. There were 6 or 7 rooms you were able to enter. In each room was an attendant who would explain different items and answer any questions you might have.
The most interesting item I saw in the home was the dog wheel in the kitchen. (Now would be a good time to go back and read about the kitchen of Anne Hathaway's home). A dog wheel is a device like a hamster wheel, only larger. A small dog would walk on the wheel that would rotate the meat hanging over the fire to keep it from burning. I am not sure how they motivated the dog to keep walking. This was an extremely popular method. Some homes would employ small boys to sit and turn the meat.
Afterwards, I purchased a red "mailbox" coin bank in the gift shop. We went to the small side street and looked through several bookstores and antique shops. One bookstore had an original copy of the "Alabama" Arctic Expedition. I have always enjoyed reading about arctic and Antarctic exploration. I am not sure why this expedition was known as the "Alabama" expedition. If anyone knows about this, please write. One reason I still don't know is that the book cost £100 - way more than I would ever be willing to spend.
It was an nearly 5 p.m. when we went back to our rooms. Pat and I took naps and Alan settled into one of his computer magazines. Around 7 we got ready to go out for dinner. I had seen a Pizza Hut earlier in the day and had decided to go there. Alan had been very good about putting up with my restaurant choices so it was time to go somewhere I knew he would like.
We headed downtown to where I thought I had seen the Pizza Hut earlier. On the way we stopped in a huge bookstore and spent sometime looking around. As usual, I picked up a couple of books that I thought I wanted, carried them around for awhile, decided I didn't need them, and put them back.
Arriving downtown, I couldn't find Pizza Hut. It wasn't where I left it. So we went to find somewhere else to eat. We saw several places but nothing excited us. After walking several blocks we turned a corner and there was Pizza Hut.
Pizza Hut was having a "Watership Down" promotion. I understand that there is a new animated kids series in England based upon the book. For £14.50 we got two medium specialty pizzas, two orders of garlic bread, two orders of hot wings, and two stuffed kids toys (I got the Bigwig and the Hazel stuffed toys). The pizza was very good and this was one of the cheapest meals we had on the trip. I remember eating at Pizza Hut in Lima and paying over $25 USD just for a pizza.
It was late by the time we left and just turning dark. We leisurely strolled up the hill (for the third or fourth time that day) and back to Brocks. It was amazing to me how empty the city becomes - downtown was a ghost town even at 7 with the majority of the stores already closed. A friend of mine had been in Bath just two weeks earlier and on a weekend. He had told me how crowded the city was with twenty somethings out partying all night. We couldn't have found things more different. Of course, we were here on a Monday night, which does make a difference. Late that night I woke up and leaned out the fifth floor window in our room. The city was completely quite.
Tuesday, May 23, 2000
Today would be very different from any other day to this point. Today would be a driving day. We needed to be in Ruthin, Wales by nightfall. Ruthin is located in the North Wales. Driving directly there would probably take 3 hours or so, but we planned on taking a more scenic route.
We were up at 7 a.m. and carried our bags downstairs in time for breakfast. None of us wanted to climb 57 stairs back to the room. Once again breakfast was very good. We talked with another couple that was also going to Ruthin that day. They also had plans to attend the Ruthin Castle Banquet the next night, as did we.
After breakfast I went to get the car. I parked in the street in front of the B&B, and we quickly loaded the car so we wouldn't block traffic very long. With only a couple of wrong turns I found my way out of Bath. We first stopped for gas at an Esso (80.9 per litre, 44.5 litres, £36) before heading out of town. We also drove through Pennsylvania, England.
We reached the M4. This is a 6-lane road where you zip along, and we soon were approaching Wales. To reach Wales you cross Bristol Bay over the a toll bridge. I had some fun kidding Pat that we needed Welsh money to pay the toll.
Our first stop today was to be the Roman Baths and Amphitheater in Caerleon. Caerleon is a small town located on a small road. The Roman Baths are in a very nice covered building. These are not as impressive as the baths in Bath but were worth the stop - besides, our Heritage Pass got us in for free. There is also another Roman Museum next door that we did not visit.
The amphitheater is a few blocks away, and this was what makes stopping here worthwhile. Standing in the middle of the theater you can imagine a crowd of 5 or 6 thousand people watching some ancient sporting event. All morning it had been alternating between a slight drizzle and a heavy rain. With it starting to pour, we decided to skip the old Roman fort in the adjacent field and headed out of town.
About an hour later we stopped in the town of Llandovery Bwyty at the West End Café. This is a very local diner filled with local diners having dinner. Pat had soup, bread and a hamburger. Alan had chicken, peas, and chips. I had Bangers and Mash. Afterwards, Alan and I both purchased ice cream for a dessert. One thing we had noticed this day was the small roadside "portable" snack bars where hot dogs, hamburgers, etc. were being sold. These seemed to be very popular and there was always a car or two stopped at them. Makes me want to watch the movie "The Van" again starring Colm Meany.
It was now time to go on the Wild Wales Tour. This is a scenic drive outlined in the Eyewitness Guide to England that takes you through the heart of Wales and starts just outside of Llandovery Bwyty. With the rain this was a good day just to drive and sightsee. I only hoped it wouldn't turn foggy and cover the mountains - which luckily it didn't.
The tour is about 80 miles long if you don't make any wrong turns. At one point we missed a turn and drove 10 miles down a one lane, roller-coaster type road before realizing we were going the wrong way. It wasn't until we came to the next intersection that we realized our mistake. We had a choice to go a different way or to turn around and go back. I decided to go back and off we went. The amazing thing is that on this entire 20 mile round-trip I believe we only passed one other car.
A funny thing about Wales (and England) is that you find phone booths are the most unusual locations. You will be twenty miles from nowhere, turn a corner, and there on the side of the road is a red phone booth. In fact, these booths are even indicated on road maps!
If you enjoy mountains you will enjoy Wales. We were ooohing and aaahing to our hearts content. And I thought Ireland had sheep....I don't think they have any sheep compared to Wales. We did stop at the Llyn Brianne Dam, Spillway and Reservoir. No one else was there and we had the place to ourselves. The reason no one else was there was it was about 10 degrees Celsius, the wind was blowing at gale force, and there was very fine steady rain coming down. That didn't stop us from getting out and walking around.
We continued to drive around the Reservoir working our way up and down the windy mountain road. It was getting late in the day so we decided to skip some of the tour and head in a more direct route for Ruthin. I had let our hostess know that we would be there by 6:30 p.m. in an email I sent out before I left for England. If we weren't there by 6:30 I would call. We made a quick stop in Madynlleth for a toilet break and continued on our way.
Ruthin is nestled in a wide valley between large barren hills. The views driving in to town are beautiful. We reached Ruthin right at 6:30. I had a map and the address but was unable to locate our B&B. Finding ourselves in the town center I stopped at a phone booth to call. It turned out we had driven by the place and were only two blocks away. Our hostess met us on the street and told us where we could park on the street behind the inn. We ended up parking inside a small lot in a gate. I thought this was where our hostess said we could park but she meant on the street. However, she said we could leave the car there and it would be fine.
We were staying at the Manor House B&B. The Manor House is actually more of a small inn. There is a small pub/restaurant on the premises as well as another pub in the basement that wasn't opened while we were there. We had two separate rooms. Pat and Alan had a room with two single beds and I took a second room that had a double and a single bed.
We first walked to a nearby grocery store and looked around for a while. I purchased some water and Alan purchased another magazine. We dropped these off at the room before going out to find somewhere to eat. We stopped in one pub but it didn't look very appetizing. Our next stop was the Seven Eyes Restaurant and Wine Bar located on the city center square.
Alan had prawns, vegetables and fries. Pat had the Chef's Pie (chicken and ham), cauliflower, carrots and a baked potato. I ate about half of this myself and it was delicious. I ordered curry chicken and rice that was also very good. I also ordered another hard cider.
We were back at the room by 8:30. I was very tired from driving all day. There was a TV in my room and I kicked back to enjoy some good British entertainment. There was a very amusing show about traffic accidents....ok, it wasn't really amusing at all. I finally fell asleep about 10:30. I had my window open and there was loud traffic noise all night. This was a drastic change from the previous night.
Wednesday, May 24, 2000
Today was going to be castle day. After an 8 a.m. Full English Breakfast we were on the road with the intent to visit all 5 of the King Edward Castles (to which our Heritage Pass granted entry). Our first stop would be Conwy Castle. We soon found ourselves on a dual carrigeway (freeway) and were in Conwy by 10 that morning. On the way down the coast we passed a large beautiful castle that obviously is still someone's residence.
Conwy is a small town that retains its original city walls. We parked outside of town at the foot of the hill. It was only a few hundred yards to the city walls. Entering through a gate we climbed to the top of the wall and walked along it to approach the castle. We did not realize it but there is a parking lot inside the city walls directly in front of the castle.
The castle is huge. There are 8 round towers and many passages to explore. From the tops of the towers are excellent views of the city, the bay filled with boats, and the mountains of Wales. After a very thorough exploration of the castle we went to take a walk along one of the walls only to find that it was blocked off. So instead we spent sometime walking through the town.
The town is filled with small shops and small gray-haired people that pile out of huge busses. We stopped in a Woolworth's and purchased some colas. I also stopped in a fruit store to see if they had any figs but it was too early in the season.
At one time the major road down the coast went through the town of Conwy. This was an obvious bottleneck to smooth traffic flow. So a tunnel was built that actually goes beneath the town. Back on the main road we passed through this as well as several other tunnels where the mountains came down to the sea. After a few miles we stopped for gas at an Esso in Banger (82.9 litre/£33).
I got lost getting back onto the main road, and we took a twenty minute detour driving through the town of Bangor. But who knows when I will ever get to see Bangor again? I even saw an Aldi's grocery store. We soon found ourselves back on the correct road with our next planned stop to be Beaumaris Castle.
Beaumaris is the first castle that I have seen with a real water filled moat. There were large swans swimming in the moat. Originally, the moat was connected to the bay and ships could sail up and dock at the castle walls. We didn't explore this castle as thoroughly as the previous one. Alan and I did climb several of the towers and went through some of the passages. The castle is large enough that we got lost at one point and it took awhile to figure out where we had left Pat.
Before leaving Beaumaris we stopped at a convenience store and purchased some sandwiches and fruit to have for lunch. We ate this as we drove to our next stop, the castle of Caernarfon. Caernarfon is the castle in which the investiture of the Prince of Wales takes place. We paid £2 each for a guided tour of the castle that was well worth taking. The towers of Carneferon are square instead of round. There are also interesting arrow slits in the walls. There are three slits that allow three people to shoot at once but the arrows all come out a single hole on the outside wall. This is the only castle that has this feature.
By now we were castled out. There were several exhibits at Carneferon that we didn't take the time to view. Instead of continuing to the two remaining castles we decided to take a scenic drive. Whereas yesterday had been rainy, today had been beautiful. In fact, all during the trip we normally had wonderful weather on the days we were outside.
We drove through the mountains enjoying the scenery. At one spot was a beautiful view of Snowdon. We also drove through the gray town of Blaenau Ffestinog with its mountain high piles of slate from the mines. This seemed to be an interesting place, and I would like to visit here again. We also took a detour off of our route to drive through Betws-y-Coed. This town is listed in all of the guidebooks as being a popular destination. The only thing that we could see were lots and lots of souvenir shops - we didn't even get out of the car.
We were back in Ruthin by 5:30 that night and rested until about 7:15. The B&B was only a few blocks from Ruthin Castle where we were attending a "Medieval Banquet" that night. Ruthin Castle is also a Best Western Hotel (and extremely expensive). The grounds of the hotel are lovely with peacocks wandering about.
We arrived about 15 minutes before the banquet was to start. A wedding party was leaving as we entered the hotel. I stole a glance in several rooms all of which are very elegant. A few minutes after us, the couple we had met in Bath arrived. There were also several large tourist groups of different nationalities.
We were led into a small backroom where we were given a welcome speech. The seating had been pre-arranged and they begin to call out group names. All of the large tour groups were led in first and seated. This caused several people to comment that they were getting the best seats, and we would be stuck in the back. I was thinking the same thing. We were all surprised when we were finally seated to find we were in the middle of the room and right next to where the "stage" was located.
For dinner we were served soup, bread, lamb, chicken, beans, carrots, salad, lemon pudding, mead, and lemonade. You could also have wine but no one at our table ordered any. All of the food had to be eaten with your hands. The only utensil you were allowed was a knife. The food was delicious. My only complaint was I wish they had provided more bread with the meal. Even so, we were all stuffed by the time we were done.
After the meal came the entertainment. This consisted of singing and a lady playing the harp. There was a group of lady singers. There were also two male singers. One older man had won an All Welsh singing contest twice, the only person to have ever done so. He was a small man with a huge, deep voice. It was all very fun, and we had a great time being complete tourists. After the banquet we walked back to the B&B and went to bed.
Thursday, May 25, 2000
The plan was to be on the road by 6 a.m. this morning so that we could be in the Lake District by 9 or 10. I had informed our hostess and she said she would set out cereal and fruit for us to have in the morning - however, she forgot to do this.
As we left the beautiful quite countryside of Wales (where I saw a fox running across the road), we were soon on an extremely busy 6-lane road heading towards Manchester. We made good time and only had to make one emergency restroom stop. Just outside of Windemere we stopped at a Gas Station/Restaurant for breakfast (£6 each) and gas (£24). I was almost tempted to try beans on toast. I didn't have much of a plan for today and was deciding what to do as we went along.
We did not stop in Windermere at the Beatrix Potter Museum but decided to drive out to the Beatrix Potter Hilltop Farm. We took the ferry across the lake (£2) and were soon at the farm. Unfortunately, the farmhouse is closed on Thursdays and Fridays. We looked around the giftshop and I purchased several gifts for friends. We were also allowed to walk around the gardens leading to the house.
It started to rain as we returned to the car and continued to rain for the next several hours. We drove north and planned on stopping at Dove Cottage. On the way I saw a sign pointing up a hill to the home of William Wordsworth. So we turned and went to the house. This turned out to be Rydal Mount. Our Heritage Pass allowed us in.
Rydal Mount was Wordsworth's favorite home and he lived here with his family and his sister, Dorothy, for over 40 years. The house has a very modern feel. I am not sure how much refurbishment has taken place over the years. There are many rooms open to visit filled with the furniture owned by the Wordsworth family. Outside the home is a beautiful garden. The rain kept us from exploring the garden fully. Rydal Mount is located halfway up a steep hill. From the front room is a beautiful view of the valley below and the mountains across the way.
Just a few miles from Rydal Mount we found Dove Cottage. The cottage is located in a small village where all the buildings are built of stone. The Heritage Pass came in handy again. This is the more interesting of the two homes. There is a tour through the actual cottage. The guides were very knowledgeable and shared several anecdotal stories about the Wordsworths. Dorothy Wordsworth was known to walk to town twice a day to check for mail. This wouldn't be that big a deal except that town was seven miles away (thank goodness for email). One of the friends of the Wordsworths commented, "Dove cottage is a great place to visit. You get three meals a day...Porridge, Porridge, and Porridge."
After touring the cottage there is a large two-story museum to visit. This was the type of museum I had expected to see at the Jane Austen Museum in Bath. It had the typical "exhibits" on the life of Wordsworth, but it also had a large collection of letters, manuscripts, first editions, etc. This is what I like to see.
I was tired and wanted a chance to sit and relax for a few minutes so we stopped in the Dove Cottage Tea Room. I had soup and tea, Alan had a gigantic scone and tea, and poor Pat only had a glass or two of water. We continued north even though I still had no idea where we would stop for the night. I wanted to make it into Scotland just to say I had been there. I also wanted to see Hadrian's Wall. As we were driving I noticed that the Castlerigg Stone Circle was up a side road that we were approaching.
We turned and made our way up the small country lane till we reached the top of the hill. From this vantage point you could see the town of Keswick in the valley below. There were also several larger hills surrounding us. Supposedly, the stone circle is situated in a direct line between the two tallest peaks and on certain days of the year the sun passes along this line (we didn't stick around to find out).
Castlerigg Stone Circle is located in the middle of a sheep pasture so you have to watch your step as you approach. I actually found it one of the more dramatic stone circles that I have seen. The stones aren't large, most only four to five feet tall, but there is a sense of "completeness" about the place. The sun was out, the rain had stopped, and the sky was a bright blue. The biggest mystery to me about the stone circle is how did the sheep poop get on top of the stones?
The Lake District is certainly a beautiful area of England. The English rush to the Lake District like the FIBS (if you don't know what that means, write and I will tell you) rush out of Chicago to head to Northern Wisconsin.
Once again, we were on the road heading north to Scotland. We reached the border at 2:45 p.m. where we stopped to take view pictures of the sign to prove that we had been there. Now, we had to decide what to do next. A quick study of the map showed that we were not far from Hadrian's Wall so away we went.
Having gone a mile or so I decided to stop at a "convenience" store to see what type of souvenir I could get. The store was a very small shop, a small restaurant, and a large garden shop. Pat picked up a few postcards. She finally got hungry (two cups of water just doesn't cut it) and purchased a meat pie. Alan and I also bought some meat pies and ice cream bars.
We left Scotland at 3:30 p.m. As we were driving down the small country road I saw a sign for Birdoswald Roman Fort. As I passed the sign (and the turnoff) I saw a wall running along the crest of the hill. Being the amazing sleuth that I am, I immediately deduced that this was Hadrian's Wall. So we turned around and went back to Birdoswald Fort. There was a admission charge of £4. This charge allows you access to the ruins of the fort and a small museum.
The museum is barely worth visiting but the ruins were more captivating. While I enjoyed Housesteads Fort more, the ruins here are just as extensive. And Birdsowald is much more accessible. If you are unable to walk a great distance and up a steep hill, then skip Housesteads and come here instead as the ruins at both sites are very similar.
We walked around the site snapping pictures. The fort is built on a hill. To the north is a large open plain that would keep anyone from sneaking up on the fort. To the back of the fort is a very steep hill with a river at the bottom thus providing a natural defense from that direction. The wall itself snakes off east and west. At one time the wall was 15 to 20 feet high. Today, the only part that remains is about 4 to 5 feet.
It was around 4:30 so we decided to stop in the next town and call ahead to find a room for the night. The road (B6318) runs roughly parallel to Hadrian's Wall and we intended to follow it across England to the east. After a brief detour (a polite way of saying we got lost) where we got to see an electric train, we turned around and went back into Greenhead.
We finally found a telephone. Using the Rick Steves Guidebook I called one of the B&Bs listed. The first one was full so I asked for a recommendation. The lady recommended the Vallum Lodge Hotel (sort of redundant). Vallum Lodge had rooms available. After getting directions we took off. After going about 10 miles I realized that: a) I didn't write down the name of the B&B and couldn't remember what it was; and b) I had left my guidebook in the phonebooth.
I turned around and after going about five miles back towards town I realized I had stuck the guidebook in the door pocket of the car. So turning around again it was back to trying to find the B&B. I had directions but didn't know the name. I only hoped that when I saw the place I would remember. Fortunately I did.
Vallum Lodge is twenty miles from a town in any direction but it is a great location. Hadrian's Wall is in sight and there are multiple Roman sites within five miles. We actually had booked two rooms for only £50. One room had a single bed, which I took. The other room only had a double bed that Pat and Alan shared. My room shared a bath next door although I don't believe anyone else was using it. Alan and Pat's room was en suite with the bath one door down the hall from their door. The lodge has between 10 and 15 rooms. It seems as if it is a popular place for people hiking the wall.
All three of us took a nap for an hour. It was then time to find a place for supper. Just a few blocks down the road is a turn-off that takes you to a small car lot where you can walk along Hadrian's Wall to the ruins of a castle. We drove up to the wall just to look around. I am so glad we did as there was a bright beautiful rainbow coming down just behind the wall a few hundred yards away. Soon another rainbow appeared but only faintly.
Back on the road heading east we passed the Twice Brewed Pub (only a half mile from Vallum Lodge). It appeared to be closed so we kept driving. Nearly 10 miles later we finally came into the town of Walwick. We drove around until we found a pub that seemed to be very popular. The menu appeared to be fine to me but Alan didn't see anything he liked so we got back in the car to find another place. Driving around another fifteen minutes didn't turn up any other promising places so we headed back towards the Twice Brewed Pub. During this entire time we could still see the one rainbow shining brightly in the distance.
As we pulled into the lot of the Twice Brewed Pub, a group of five men walked off the road and into the pub. The pub still appeared to be closed, as there were no other cars in the lot. We watched the men to see if they could get in. They were all at the bar ordering dinner when we entered the pub. After they ordered we placed our orders for dinner. I had scampi, fries, and salad. Pat and Alan both had chicken strips, fries and salad. I also order a cider.
As we were eating we started talking with the five men. They were on a 270-mile walk through England going about 20 miles a day. They were staying at a nearby hostel. Each of the men was in there 50s (and perhaps 60s). It was very interesting to hear about their trip. One man stated that at one point on the wall that day they had been able to see the ocean to the east and west - so they could see all the way across England. I would love to return to England and do a walk such as this.
We returned back to the hotel and sat in the guest lounge talking with another lady. I found our hostess and purchased a coke from the small bar. After a nice visit with the guest and our hostess, it was time for bed. I had been up since 5:00 a.m. and had driven a long way that day. I was asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.
Friday, May 26, 2000
After a wonderful breakfast we loaded the car and headed for the Vindolanda Roman site. As I was pulling out of the parking lot I remember I had left my glasses on the table in the breakfast room. After retrieving my glasses we were on our way.
Our first stop was the Vindolanda Roman ruins. We arrived just after 9 a.m. and they didn't open until 10, so instead of waiting we continued on towards Housesteads Fort. We arrived just as they were opening. Once again the Heritage Pass came in handy.
Housesteads Fort is located next to Hadrian's Wall. To reach the fort requires a half-mile walk up a fairly steep hill. There was one tour group that had arrived just before us but Alan and I quickly outpaced them and reached the top before anyone else. Located just beside the fort is a very small museum.
The ruins of Housesteads are slightly more impressive than Birdsowald. The main advantage Housesteads has over Birdsowald is the view. Located high on the hill you can see for miles in all directions.
We spent about 30-40 minutes wandering around the fort before starting back down the hill. On the way we got to see a farmer/rancher (I'm not sure what you call someone who raises sheep) using two sheepdogs to move a herd of sheep into a larger barn. With the use of the dogs, he was able to herd several hundred sheep out of two large fields in only 10 minutes.
A quick stop in the gift shop and then we were on the road again. The next planned stop was to be the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby. On our way there I saw a sign for the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum. I got confused and thought this was where we were going so I followed the signs. This is an excellent museum for children. Although I was personally disappointed with the museum I would recommend it to anyone with kids. It has many multimedia and interactive displays; however, it really doesn't have that much to do with Captain Cook beyond being located within a few miles of where he was born. There is also a small (free) zoo on site and a large lovely park. We didn't spend much time in the museum's exhibits but they had a great cafeteria.
Alan had scampi, chips and smashed peas. Pat and I both ordered turkey sandwiches, soup and bread. This was the cheapest meal (less than £6 total for all of us) as well as having the largest servings and being extremely tasty. When I ordered the sandwich I was asked if I would like salad with that. My thought was a small dish of lettuce with a tomato and other assorted veggies and some sort of dressing. What was meant by the question was did I want lettuce, tomato, onion, and beets (yes, BEETS) on my sandwich. I said, "Yes, I want salad" and ended up with a turkey and beet sandwich! I would have never thought to put beets on a sandwich. [Writing this a few weeks after returning I can now say I made myself a turkey and beet sandwich just last weekend.]
Leaving the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum we headed south towards Whitby and the actual Captain Cook Memorial Museum. For a more scenic route we cut across to the road that runs along the ocean coming into Whitby from the North. I drove through town and didn't see any signs for the Museum. We soon found ourselves on the top of the hill next to an old ruined abbey. Having seen plenty of ruined abbey's we drove back into town. Looking more closely I finally saw a small sign pointing down an alley to the museum.
We had to drive back across the one lane bridge before finding a parking lot near what I believe is the city center. We had to pay £3 to park - the most of anywhere we had been. Whitby is a charming little town and it would be nice to stay here a day and explore it fully. The harbor was filled with fishing boats that could be chartered for a few hours or a full day. We walked back over the bridge and down the small side street to the museum.
The Captain Cook Memorial Museum is located in a house that the young Cook lived in during his stay in Whitby. The museum has 8 to 10 rooms filled with artifacts of Cook's voyages, information on his life, some journals and letters, and other exhibits. This was my kind of museum. We explored it from bottom to top and back to bottom. Back at the front desk I asked where the closest public toilet was located. The desk clerk said that we could use the toilets in the historical society next door, but not to tell them that she had sent us over.
I am glad that she did send us over. The historical society was just as interesting as the museum. There was room after room filled with antiques, newspaper clippings, public records, etc. all dealing with the history of Whitby. Unfortunately, there was a sign asking for donations as they weren't sure how much longer they would be able to keep the doors open. If you are in Whitby, stop in the historical society and gain a real appreciation of the town, and leave a few pounds to help out.
I was waiting to use the restroom when I noticed an old newspaper article telling about Whitby's role in Bram Stoker's Dracula. I had known this at one point but it had completely slipped my mind. Whitby harbor is supposedly where the ship came into port on which Dracula was a passenger after he had killed all the crew. No one was alive on board except a large wolfish dog that ran ashore and disappeared, Dracula in disguise. The ruined Whitby Abbey also plays a role in the book. Bram Stoker often came to Whitby and used the surrounding countryside, especially the moors, as inspiration for his book. Of course, there are now "Dracula Walks" you can take around town. In the small bookstore inside the historical society I purchased a 30-page pamphlet telling about the connection between the town, Stoker, and Dracula. On our way out I dropped some money into the collection box.
We spent some time shopping in several small stores before getting in the car and heading back out of town. Instead of taking the direct route from Whitby to York I wanted to drive through the Moors National Park. The moors are an open desolate land filled with brush. I found the area fascinating while Pat and Alan were less than thrilled.
We were going down a very small one-lane road and hadn't seen any other cars so I decided to let Alan drive. I had done all the driving on the trip. Only being 19, we could not add Alan as a second driver. But being out in the literal middle of nowhere it was a good place to let him get a flavor of driving from the right side of the car. After a few miles we switched back.
Approaching Rosedale Abbey from the north we encountered a hill that had a 1:3 gradient! As we continued along we begin to pass a steady stream of cars pulling very, very small camping trailers. It was the beginning of a bank holiday weekend and people were heading out to the country. We passed a former WWII Prisoner of War camp that is now a large military museum. I would have like to have stopped but it was already closed for the day.
We arrived in York just before 6 p.m. Friday evening. Large sections of York are pedestrian only. The town still has its city walls and is renowned for the huge York Minister. A "Minster" is different from an "abbey" or "cathedral" in that it was a center from which "ministers" were sent out into the countryside to preach and teach.
York is also a very popular tourist town and seems to have tourism down to a science. There are large parking lots located outside of town along the major roads. You can park and take a special tourist bus into town. There are also several large parking lots just outside the city walls but I assume that these may fill up quickly during the summer. Of all the towns we visited, York was probably the most crowded with people - during the day. At night, however, everyone disappears.
We made our way into town and with only minimal difficulty found our B&B. We were staying at the Feversham Lodge B&B. It is run by an Englishman and his Asian wife. They have a small parking lot where we were able to leave the car for the two days. Our hostess was very friendly. We had an extremely large ensuite room with three single beds, closets with a television.
Unfortunately the room completely stunk of the smell of cigars. It smelled as if those cigar-smoking, poker-playing dogs had spent the last several weeks holed-up in the room. I should have refused the room on the spot and demanded a different room or gone elsewhere. However, I was too tired to fool with it so instead we opened the windows to try to air the place out. This helped some but the odor was still there two days later and nearly just as strong. With this exception the B&B was nice but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else - mainly due to its location. It is at least a mile out of town and we passed many other B&Bs just outside (and some inside) the city walls.
We decided to walk into town and take a walk along the city walls. This is the big tourist thing to do and if we could do this tonight it would save time tomorrow. One of the thrills of walking the wall is to see down into everyone's backyards and enjoy their beautiful private gardens. There are also many wonderful views of the city and the Minster from the wall. We walked the section of the wall behind York Minister. A lady we had met at Vallum Lodge told us that she had walked the entire wall but found this section to be the best.
Having done our wall walk we headed for the Minister. It was 7 p.m. but my guidebook showed that it stayed open for another hour. I hoped we could pop in and take a quick look around. The streets of the town were empty and every shop was closed. Entry to the Minster is free but there is a charge to take pictures and to climb the tower or enter the crypt. These charges are nominal. There was no one at the counter to pay for a pass to take pictures. So, living by my philosophy that it is easier to get forgiveness than permission, I started snapping away.
York Minster is big, really big. And it was empty, really empty. There were only 10 or so people in the cathedral so we had the place almost to ourselves. I believe I took a hundred or more pictures. The stain glass windows (including the largest in the world) were just catching the evening rays of the sun and glowing with magnificent colors. York Minster claims to be the largest cathedral north of the Alps. We left the cathedral just as the guards were closing the doors.
We had passed a Chinese Buffet on our walk into York and decided to stop there for supper. The place was crowded and we were asked if we had reservations. I said no and was about to leave when a waiter said we could sit at a small side table. We sat down and were preparing to order when the head waitress came over and apologized but said that table was already taken. So we left and went next door to a Chinese Takeaway. I had ordered Egg Foo Yung and a Chicken Curry thinking they would be small because of the reasonable prices. What I got was two huge containers of food as well as two large bags of fries. We took our orders back to the room having stopped at a gas station to purchase some colas. I tried as hard as I could but was only able to eat less than half of the food. (Now, I am a real big guy and can really pack it away so this should give you a hint as to how much food we got). Regrettably, with no way to store the food I had to throw the rest away.
I laid down to read and Alan and Pat watched television for a while. I was worn out from the day and soon fell asleep.
Saturday, May 27, 2000
After a very good breakfast we walked across the street to catch the bus into town. After waiting 20 minutes and no bus, we started walking. I kept watching as we walked into town and never saw a bus so I am not sure what the schedule was. The day was cool and windy with occasional showers but overall very nice.
Our first stop this morning was York Minister where I wanted to take the guided tour. We had visited many other cathedrals but had yet to take a tour of any. The tours are free and last 1.5 hours (about a half hour too long). It was very interesting as the guide pointed out many details that you otherwise would have missed. It seems that each of the four arms of the church had at one time or another caught on fire and had to have major restoration, the latest being just 12 years previously. It was also pointed out where the original builders had made a mistake and the roof wasn't lined up correctly. After the tour I tried to convince Alan to climb the tower with me but he didn't want to climb 350 stairs for some reason.
Our next stop was to be the National Train Museum. I hoped to take the "street train" from the Minister to the museum but it wasn't running so we had to walk. On our way we shopped in several of the thousands of souvenir shops that can be found in the city. I bought some fossils at a small rock shop. Alan purchased a bagpipe from a shop for £80 pounds. I tried to convince him that it would be cheaper to buy a cat to kick. For the price it is actually very nice.
We made our way to the train museum where we paid £6 for the entrance fee. If you are at all interested in trains this is the place to go. First, it is HUGE!!!! I mean really, really big. Secondly, there are at least a hundred trains. There are small trains, royal trains, coal trains, electric trains, etc. etc. etc. Finally, there is everything that is remotely connected to trains. There is so much stuff in this museum that there is one room stacked high with items they don't have a place to display. We spent several hours looking at trains and none of us are even that interested in trains. If you are into trains, you could spend day(s) here.
After the train museum we walked back into town. By now we were hungry for lunch. Spotting a Burger King we decided to join the tourist crowd and enjoy a burger. Funny thing, we seemed to be the only "tourist" is the place. Everyone else appeared to be Brits (now how I could tell this is a mystery but you seem to be able to sort these things out). And the place was packed. We finally got our meals and found a table where we relaxed for awhile and people watched.
We next made our way down to the "Castle Area" of town near Clifford's Tower. We had thought about touring the museum but after we got there decided we didn't want to spend another £5 to go through yet another museum. Instead we found a park bench and relaxed for about 30 minutes enjoying the sun.
We finally decided to walk back towards the Minster, shopping as we went, to go to the 4:00 Evensong service. Of all the places we had visited York was the busiest. The streets were absolutely crowded with people. We saw several street bands playing. I toyed with the idea of visiting the Jorvik Viking Center until I saw a line that stretched 40 yards down the street from the doors.
In the center of town we stopped in a large store that consisted of a grocery on the first level and a department store on the upper levels. It is always fun to go to grocery stores while traveling. I also stopped at an ATM to pull out some more money. We made our way through the Shambles and found a large "Flea Market." I purchased wool hats for myself and a friend and a used CD of Welsh music. We also stopped in many small shops and I purchased several other souvenirs.
We arrived back at the Minster just before the evensong service began. While waiting in line I began talking with a lady standing nearby. Apparently there was a guest choir tonight and her husband would be singing. She shared with me many aspects about evensong services that I would have never known. The service was beautiful and it was wonderful to worship the Lord in this majestic cathedral.
After the service we walked back to the B&B. It was about 6 p.m. and the tourist crowds had once again pulled their vanishing act. The streets were deserted. I still find this amazing being that this was a holiday weekend you would think more people would be about.
On the way I stopped in the Ying Yang China Buffet and made reservations for 8:30 that night. I also went to the small store across from the B&B and bought some tea and cereal for souvenirs for friends. Back in the room we rested and watched Rocky on television. I also spent some time repacking my bags.
We left to go eat supper about 8:00. The buffet was o.k. but not great. It was interesting that almost every dish was strictly meat and there were very few vegetable offerings. It was just getting dark as we were leaving and promised to be a beautiful night.
Sunday, May 28, 2000
Today was our last full day in England. We got up and had the car packed by 8 a.m. We had to be back in London to have the car turned in by 12:15 or we would have to pay an extra day's rental. After a quick breakfast we were on the road by 8:20. With only a little trouble we soon found ourselves heading south on the M1. This is a major 3 lane road and I was going 75 to 80 mph most of the way. We did have to make two quick stops - once for gas and once for the toilets.
We passed a nuclear power plant that had 8 cooling towers. Later, we passed another nuclear cooling tower. The amazing thing about this is that we were on an elevated expressway passing less than five feet from the tower. In a country that is so paranoid about terrorism this seemed to provide a marvelous place for someone to try to cause a nuclear accident.
Being Sunday and a holiday weekend there was relatively little traffic. Back in London we somehow found ourselves in Hyde Park, but soon found the way that we should go. We pulled into National Car Rental at 12:10 - with 5 minutes to spare. We quickly piled the luggage on the curb. A man gave me a white slip and said to give it to a clerk inside. Inside there were 20 people in a line that didn't appear to be moving. I waiting for 30 minutes and only two people had been helped. Finally, another man came in and said, "Oh, if you have a white slip you can leave." Let me just say I wasn't impressed in the slightest with the service from National Car Rental.
I hailed a taxi waiting at a hotel down the block and we were soon on our way back to Bayswater Inn (taxi cost £9). I had made reservations to stay here our last night thinking that this would be easiest. Actually it did prove to be very convenient even though we paid $160 for a third-rate room. Our room wasn't ready yet so we stored our luggage and went looking for a place to eat lunch and buy a few last souvenirs.
We ate lunch at Halal, which I think was an Egyptian restaurant. Pat had chicken nuggets, chips, and salad, Alan had a hamburger and chips, and I had a shis-ka-bob platter. The food was very good. As we were eating there was a sudden downpour. By the time we were done with lunch the sun had reappeared.
Across the street we stopped in a small store where I bought several tins of tea. Back at the hotel our room was ready. This time our room was located on the third floor with a view out the front of the hotel. The room was no nicer than the one we had previously but at least it wasn't in the basement.
Tonight we had tickets to see Hamlet at The Globe. This was the premiere of the play. I had purchased tickets at the last minute before leaving home but had not told Pat or Alan. That way, if we found that we wouldn't be back in London in time I would only be out $20. I realized that we might have found something else to do on this last day in England. But seeing that we would be in London I had let them know the night before that we had tickets.
The play started at 6:30 that night. We rested for an hour at the hotel before heading to the tube at 4:00. It took about an hour to get to the theater. I wanted to get there early to guarantee that we got to be against the stage in the groundling section. There was already a long line of people hoping to purchase returns. As I picked-up our tickets at Will Call I heard that the show was completely sold out for the next several days.
Once again we found ourselves at the front of the line to enter the theater. After waiting about 45 minutes inside the building the courtyard was open and we were allowed to wait at the doors to the actual theater for another 45 minutes. During this time I started talking with a young lady from Minnesota who had been in England the previous 6 weeks studying theater as part of her college education.
It also started to rain as we waited in line. Fortunately, Pat had brought along some plastic panchos that we had gotten when we had gone on the "Maid-of-the-Mist" in Niagara Falls. You could also buy a pancho at the globe for about £2. These panchos were very handy as it continued raining for about half the play.
When the actual theater was opened, we quickly rushed inside and were able to secure a position against the stage in the very center. This was important as the play was 4 hours long and this allowed us to lean against the stage. I felt sorry for the people standing behind me who had to look over my 6'2" frame, but not sorry enough to swap places with them.
I have never enjoyed Shakespeare more than I did this night. The production of Hamlet was nothing short of amazing. I was at first slightly disappointed by the actor who played Hamlet. But as the play progressed, I was soon overwhelmed by his performance. At the point where Hamlet states "Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?" The sky itself cooperated by providing a large white cloud just above the theater.
If you are in London during the summer, do not hesitate to see any production at the Globe. And be adventurous and purchase a groundling ticket. Just get there early and get next to the stage. You will never have a better time.
After the play we were all tired so we rested for 15 minutes or so in the main building before walking back to the tube. We finally got back to our hotel around 11:00 that night.
Monday, May 29, 2000
We were up, packed, and in the lobby by 8:15 Monday morning. At 8:30 we were picked-up by the van to be taken back to the airport. At the airport Alan and Pat went to the tax-back booth to get his refund on the bagpipes he had purchased.
Passing through security, Alan had his baggage searched. We then spent the next 30 minutes spending the rest of our pounds. I purchased candy bars for the children of some friends. I also purchased the book "Longitude" by Dava Sobel - which I managed to read in its entirety before we reached the states.
As we boarded the plane, Alan was once again pulled aside. This time his bag was searched and his clothes were searched. Perhaps they thought he was the Jackal and was trying to sneak a copy of the Magna Carta out to sell on Ebay.
I managed to get an aisle bulkhead seat on the left side of the plane. Pat and Alan were seated about 10 rows behind me. I had a nice conversation with the young man seated next to me. He was returning from a 3-week whirlwind tour of Europe. He had traveled by train and stayed mostly in hostels. He was returning to Texas where he had just graduated college and had to start looking for a job. Across the aisle from me was an older lady who was returning to South Carolina after having visited her daughter and grandkids stationed in Europe with the U.S. Airforce.
A very nice lunch was served after which I took a nap. Later, looking out the window, I was able to see icebergs in the ocean below. Overall the trip seemed to go very quickly, and we were soon landing in Philadelphia. The plane was parked on the tarmac and a large "bus like" vehicle was brought out to the plane. This bus raised itself up until it was level with the plane. We boarded the bus which took us to an entrance at the international terminal.
It took about 20 minutes to get through customs. They didn't ask me any questions at all. Pat and Alan both had to answer several questions. I guess I just have an honest face. After clearing customs, we approached the USAir booth to check our bags. It was here that Pat and Alan learned that their flight to Birmingham had been cancelled.
It took the agents nearly 30 minutes to find alternative flights. I actually had to leave before everything was sorted out so that I could catch my flight to Chicago. The walk from the international terminal to where my next flight originated had to be over a mile. It took me nearly 20 minutes of non-stop walking to reach my gate.
The flight to Chicago was actually very nice. I had an aisle "bulkhead" seat but there was no bulkhead. This meant I could completely stretch my legs out. I was seated in a row with a young schoolteacher and another man about my age. We had a very nice conversation the whole way back. The flight attendants were also very courteous (as I have found on all USAir flights - if only the rest of the airline was as good).
I later found out that Pat and Alan had been scheduled for a United flight through Chicago reaching Birmingham at 11 p.m. that night. When they reached the gate, there was another plane just about to depart for Chicago. Fortunately there was room on this plane so they arrived in Chicago only 30 minutes or so after I did. They had to go between terminals, which took 20 minutes or more. If they had taken the later flight they probably would have been unable to make the next flight in time.
As I approached the baggage area, Dwayne walked in the door. He was my ride back to Madison. We grabbed my luggage and hopped in his car. I found myself back home at 9:00 that night - very tired but having had a wonderful time in England.