The dream of a life time - to walk inside my ancestral home in England
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Three short weeks are taking an eternity to put up -
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| I had a hard time trying to decide how to put
all this together, in short yet in length for those who love the details.
So. Highlights are in bold at the beginning of each day. Links to pictures, further information and ratings are included.
Feb 14, 2010: David gives me a cute, pink, singing Valentine's Day card with the promise of a trip to England!!!
Aug 23: David buys the plane tickets, yikes - this is getting very real now.
Sept 6, 2010: broke my foot I ran my foot into a patio chair, ouch ouch ouch. X-rays two days later reveal I didn't break my toe. I broke my foot. Support boot ordered, crutches, acupuncture, massage, homeopathic pills, you name it, I tried it. Michelle agrees to move in to take care of and love our house, plants, gardens, puppies, cats, fish, birds.
Sept 26: Really got around to packing with only two days to go. Three suitcases, equipment case, laptop, purse, carry on, pillow. The lists go on and on.
Day 1 - Sept 28, Tues, 4 am: SF airport, Houston, then a 777 for London.
David wakes me up at this ungodly hour and I have a major headache. David gives me my pills, a cold washcloth and lets me sleep a few more minutes. Thank goodness all I had to do was dress. Off to pick up David's daughter, Glori, in Modesto, she drives us to SF and keeps the truck till she picks us up in three weeks. I spent the entire trip to San Francisco lying down in the back. My foot and cane earns me the right to have a wheelchair take me though security and down to our gate. Finally, at 11 am, we board.
The ride to Houston was unremarkable, and long. We sat next to a delightful woman who had the window, she looked like an old hippie, probably close to what people see when they look at me and say the same thing, and I would be flattered if this were the case. I should like to have gotten to know her. We thanked her for not wearing perfume and she smiled and said the same. The hour layover in Houston was taken up by walking as fast as I could with my broken foot to the next terminal where we boarded a 777 for London.
Another fairly unremarkable flight, and quite long. It took us a while to figure out we did not have to pay for the movies. World travelers, we are not. The guy sitting next to me, a regular traveler, watched us swipe our card a few times without saying a word, then took the offer to move forward to a better seat. Nice guy. I watched Robin Hood and Dave watched Ice Age.
We land in Heathrow Airport, buy a go-phone, exchange dollars for pounds, take a bus to Enterprise, get our itsy bitsy teensy weensy rental car (Toyota Avensis with a right side steering wheel) and learn driving in England is much, much more difficult than we thought it would be. The Heathrow arrival area is really quite ugly, no fancies, lots of metal, very industrial, no extras. We can barely stay awake, our bodies think it is midnight Tuesday night. Or, Wednesday morning, depending on your point of view.
Somehow, we made it out of the outskirts of London, found M1 (the main Motorway into London, built in the days of the Romans) and then finally Coventry a few hours away. Finding the hotel wasn't quite so easy as we had not gotten the hang of the rounds or the speed in which you must go thru them or be bullied by the locals. Somehow, we got lucky and suddenly, it was right there, the Cocked Hat, an incredible old brick building right out of a Charles Dickens novel, a fine example of what we were to see during our stay. We checked in with sweet, understanding Rachel who didn't blink an eye when David was ill. We planned a one night visit, we stayed three.
They had their own pub next door in the original homestead, quite good food, and this proved to be our mainstay. Rachel walked me through how to work the kettle, then the plugs, I felt like such an idiot.
We woke after 11 am, had lunch at the pub (Chili & Lasagna) then headed out to Morrison's, the 'super grocery store' which was also within walking distance. Our first visit was several hours, walking each aisle, peering and peeking, laughing, comparing. We had to get someone to show us how to work the trolleys. You put a pound in the slot which releases the trolly from the chain of others, re-inserting the chain after you are done pushes your pound back out. California wines, Drambuie, shortbread, wonderful vegies, incredible cheese for only a pound, imitation Italian salami, a deli section, plasters (band-aids) and two aisles dedicated to household items including their electrical kettles and duvets. No Tylenol, zip locks, Life Savors or real coffee.
Kenilworth Castle was next, my very first real castle ever, nothing short of breathtaking for me. The moment it came into my view, I was mesmerized. We did get there a bit late and had to leave after just past an hour, but the entire stay was spectacular. They handed us our tickets and said, "Have a good time." We were left on our own to tour as we wanted, where ever we wanted. So different than anything back home! There are remnants of the John of Gaunt's great hall built around 1375, and Gaunt's Tower as well as a few other buildings. The gate house is in tact and displays the nicest remaining antiques and information. The Queen's Garden, built by Robert Dudley in 1575 for Elizabeth's visit, is maintained with eight knot gardens and a tour guide. I was standing in the tower, walking down from the museum on the top floor, looking out a window when I was shoved aside by 'someone' in a hurry, running down the steps. This would prove to be a common event in the castles to come. The docents said the landing just below me was the most active. My umpteenth grandfather and grandmother walked those hallways and up those steps, danced to John's private minstrels in the grand room, looked out the same windows I did. Stunning.
Kenilworth was only 15 minutes away, but it took us three hour to get back we got sooooo lost. It kept getting darker and darker, we kept making wrong turn after wrong turn. We passed Warwick three times, but I was truly close to crying from frustration. After we finally got back to the Cocked Hat (what a welcome sight) and out of the car, David pronounced that if we wanted to eat, it would have to be within walking distance, lol. TGIF was too loud, back to the pub for dinner, chicken marsala and salmon.
As we were ready to leave the hotel for the day, I got incredibly dizzy. Back to bed to wake after 1 pm. Jet lag is worse that we imagined. Lunch at the pub, quiche with a jacket (baked potato) and BBQ chicken ciabatta. We needed a post office to mail off John's British birthday card and to exchange some traveler's checks. Dear Maxine, poor woman, pointed us down the street in front of the hotel, Rugby Road, to the hamlet of Rugby. How hard could that be?
Actually, it was not bad, although the parking lot was tough being so tiny and immediately off the 50 mpg road. Worse was the fact we learned we needed the 'big' post office for exchanging money. Down the street again, farther along towards Rugby, and again, there is the red round post office sign, again, they were not the 'big' branch. That was our first introduction to teensy streets with cars parked on either side in either direction, leaving less than a two car width remaining. The 'big' post office was downtown, and that area included one way streets. Oh dear. We made it, with ten minutes to spare, only to have the Indian post office manager examine every document, every travelers check, our faces, then back to the passports again, so thoroughly I just knew he was going to push some button under his desk and the police would swarm this tiny building and take us away for some espionage charge. $1500 became only £880.
We passed by the Rugby ASDA, one of the two large stores equal to our Savemart but with 3/4 food and 1/4 clothing, so you know we had to stop. We bought a hair dryer £8/$12, some gifts, cookies, a clear dome umbrella and a winged grey sweater for me £12/$18. The drive back was pleasant as we were not in a hurry, winding two lanes at 50 mph, very few homes, mostly scattered cottages and the typical rolling hills covered by little sheepies, separated by hedgerows. Rumbles are speed bumps. By the grace of God, we made it back to the hotel without a wrong turn.
The pub for dinner, mince meat pie with salad (dry, always dry) and I had fish n chips. There it was, a half a fish on my plate. Joy. We all know chips are potato wedges, but did you know they are made from heavy potatoes, and deep fried for a week in oil?
Rachel wakes us at 8, we pack up and head out, actually sorry to leave our safe little haven. Back to Morrison's for a Doncaster map and on-the-road snacks and goodies. By now we have figure out it is easiest to take our maps, write down the instructions to our next location, (A46, 10m, stay right, M69 to Leicester 6 miles, A5 to Tamworth near Hinkley) so I can tell where we should be next at a glance. The GPS in the car still mystifies us, although the backup camera is rather fun. Road signs are in miles, not kilometers.
We got to Tamworth (built by Grannie Æthelfelda in the 11th century) where it was starting to get noticeably chilly. Tamworth is next to or incorporated into what might be called a theme park, what is called the Pleasure Gardens, so the walk to the castle from the parking lot was not only long, it was quite crowded, although the castle itself was not, and again, we are left on our own to tour as we wished. Most of the castle is only from the last few centuries, little remains of Æthelfelda's days, sadly to say. Total traffic jam at M42, then we got to Ashby La Zouche castle. We left there with our legs and my toe hurting from the 98 steps up the tower, but it was worth every single ouch. I could imagine my twenty first great grandmother, Baroness Botetourt, Joyce de La Zouche de Mortimer walking these steps! The long twisted passageway beneath the kitchen leading to the tower is still there, and fairly uncomfy.
The sky was completely full of clouds and breathtaking, M1 was eight lanes wide as we made our way towards Doncaster. A sign for a 'crawler lane' means there is a passing lane ahead for the impatient locals.
Doncaster was quite a contrast from the lovely, peaceful English countryside. Serious, industrial looking town with a huge traffic jam at 4:45. Many cops walking around, a siren makes us all jump the curbs. At one round, David is still quite nervous as the British simply will not be courteous in traffic, we need to be over one more lane, and fast, I tell David to hop over quick quick, in front of that van, there's space, quick, quick, and we look up in the rear view mirror at this huge brown van and see "POLICE." Ooops.
The first hotel we spot that was not a dive was a private B & B, but they were full. The second, the Park Hotel, was grunge, I shivered as we walked thru the pub and the leers from the locals playing pool. The Holiday Express was full, but the sweet clerk called around for us, and booked the last twin room at the Park Inn, and we had more instructions on how to get there. Gulp. On the way, we spy a Premier Inn, that lovely big purple sign with the gold moon on it, and thanks to Maxine who assured us these were reliable and safe lodges, we took their last room, number two, a handicap on the bottom floor. Yesssss. £79/$128 with a Beefeater next door. We are still experiencing a slight language barrier. The clerk, Louise, asked if a disable room would be acceptable, David told her, sure, the stable would be acceptable, anywhere would be acceptable at this point.
Dinner next door would be available but only until 7:30. Huh? The reasoning here is that between 7:30 and 8:30, they like to focus on seating bookings opposed to walk-ins. We drop our bags in our room and run to the restaurant, 7:26. I am gulping, trying to keep my face from revealing too much disappointment, we are really, really tired and hungry, and the hostess whispers to us that she will find a way to seat us anyway. Bless her heart a hundred times. During the meal, we asked what was going on that there was such heavy traffic and police force. There was a rock/goth concert, a football game and a bugie show. A bugie show? Okay dokay. We made a joke about a bugie show and I would guess from the look the couple seated next to us gave us, that is precisely why they were in town. That would be another big ooops.
The people above us kept dropping bowling balls on the floor all night, David finally had to get dressed (no room phones) and go complain. Premier Inn guarantees a lovely night or your money back, but I think they are fibbing because we never got our money back after two horrible nights at a Premier, whine, whine. We are still at a half a tank of gas, wow. Good thing, as gas is £1.29. A liter. We ended up at the Lakeside Village Shopping mall, where a string of stores open onto the same, long outdoor patio. There we bought a tough suitcase for the equipment, turning the floral upholstery bag into the 'bath bag' with room to spare. Another angel statue and a pink knife, salt & pepper for Sam from the kitchen store, gloves and knit scarves from the mountain store. Our last lunch at the Beefeater, Cressi and Louise are there to chat with, Shaun from last night, too. Found out Shaun knows and likes that guy, whathisname, when we were at lunch at Toni's and the black rapper was there, Michelle and the girls had their picture taken with him, Flo, Flo Rida? Well, Shaun, Cressi and Louise all know who he is. Man, are we getting old and out of touch or what? Potato skins, mushroom and lamb koftas with yogurt and mint chutney, heavenly.
Off towards York, and smack into the rains. We saw more rain that one afternoon than we see all year at home. The sky was so dark the GPS said it was night time. Later, we found out if you turn on your headlights, the GPS assumes it is night time. Seriously, the water was rapidly up to the floorboards and no one slowed down but us. We thought about making a sign for the back window, "Please don't honk. We are Americans. We cry easily." After pulling up to a services, sort of a large 7-11 and Starbucks easily accessible on the sides of the larger motorways, we actually waited in the car until the rain let up a bit before dashing into the store. We have already blessed the fact we brought our California handicap plaque a few dozen times. Inside, we waited with quite a good sized crowd while the skies emptied.
New maps, travel mugs, and we are off the M18 and back onto country roads again. Life is good. Clouds followed us but at least there was no more rain. We hit the York city wall at 4:30.
What a sight, the original wall built by Vikings in a very distant century. Stunning. We found a Holiday Inn in this quaint, high walled city, but it was booked full. The entire reason we came so late in the year was that Julie TOLD us that tourist season would be OVER and we would be able to get a room ANYWHERE, and EASILY. Not this year!!!
We did get a room next door at the Hotel 53 on Piccadilly Street, quite a posh place, the employees have French accents. Very Scandinavian in design, very space age rooms and baths. I settle into room 308 while David parks the car. That's when the opera singing started next door, louder with each, um, uh, moment. I am thinking if you two are making love in the afternoon, is she going to be this loud all night? David found me in the lobby, politely asking for another room. Kudos to the manager, he didn't blink once. 313 was a much quieter room. The restaurant was a bit more 'duckish' than we prefer, and I don't have any notes about where we ate. I think we hit local mom and pop grocery stores for nibbles back in the room, not a bad meal at all!
We slept in quite heavily, David woke me at nine. That bed was like sleeping in a cloud, the duvet must have been down. Showers in that space age bath overflowed a bit, and again, there is no outlet for a hair dryer in the bathroom. Someone has to explain that to me one day. The big question of the day as we leave the hotel, turn right . . .or left? Breakfast was at the Dream Cafe £9/$15 for a standard Brit break-fast: two eggs totally liquid, two strips of bacon (a rasher) that resembles ham, fried tomato, sausage, beans and black pudding. The bacon and tomato were great, and the pudding was not so bad until David told me what I just ate. David had Brie and bacon on ciabatta with coleslaw. We ventured to Clifford's castle (another family castle occupied by marcher lord William FitzOsbern), played along the Viking wall, met a duck tagged R42, bought me a super bizarre spider necklace from the vamp store. We would really like to go back to York. We really fell in love with York. Back into the car, we head north for the first biggie, Chillingham Castle.
A short side step here. I had never planned anything so momentous as a trip to a foreign country before, so, during the planning stages, I had charts, mileages, maps, books, you name it, spread all over the house. I was trying to get a grasp on the size, and travel length of England, or the areas we had hoped to visit. I am thinking, oh oh oh oh, I am going to be on the same continent as Chillingham Castle? Oh oh oh oh. I guess I must have whined out loud because David said, "Find out how far it is, we can do that, too." I could have kissed him and hugged him to death. The end result was that we re-arranged the trip to include Chillingham, come hell or high water. And, for the record, 450 miles in England, Windemere to York, is simply too far to do in one day if you are over sixty years old. At home, if 100 miles would take you an hour and a half, double the time in England unless you are on the M1 all the way.
The Middleborough farmlands are simply gorgeous, the Tyne Tunnel had a toll of £1.20/$2 which you tossed into a basket at the toll station. Major traffic, then I get my first glimpse of the North Sea. Unreal. We have called Joyce at the castle, who advises we shop for groceries in Alnwick (An'-ick), and not to worry about being late as they actually live in the castle. Oh yeah, getting really real here. Sainsbury Market for groceries, and their trolleys with wobbly wheels are "wonky wheels."
When my beloved husband gave me the present of a lifetime, to see the home of my ancestors in the center of England, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought the trip could include Chillingham. I had seen the show "Ten most Haunted Places in the World" on telly and for some unknown reason, Chillingham gripped my heart like no other place had done before. While planning the trip to England I sighed and said, "Golly gee, wish we could see Chillingham." That's not exactly how it came out, but David casually looked at me and said, "Why not?" Everything went into high gear, calculating how far Chillingham, Northumbria was from Sheffield in North Riding. You have to remember, Californians have a huge state. We rather expect all other places to take as long to get to as it does here. When we found out Chillingham, (despite the fact it was near the north east corner of England) was only 150 miles from Ecclesfield, I went bonkers. The entire trip took on a different spin. Eventually I would find out my evil 20th great grandfather had a private bedroom there, eventually I would discover I was distantly related to the Greys through the Neville and Mowbray families. Meanwhile, visiting Chillingham, two years in a row, has been the dream of a life time. Meeting the Bobby and Joyce, then Sir Humphry was just icing on the cake.
Finally, we get to the castle. Even the gate, where a man is standing next to his car, is stunning. David stops, asks if we are in the right place, Bobby, Joyce's husband, answers something that makes David chuckle. We drive through the gate, Bobby follows and the gates clank closed for the night. If Bobby hadn't been so pleasant looking, it might have been scary. We are now locked in.
A long driveway takes us past the castle stone walls to a circle drive right in front of the castle itself, where we see Joyce standing on the front steps. She is a lovely blonde who just looks British, just as Bobby looks like he might have a leprechaun or two in his genes. She points us to an archway farther down, we drive thru where is a yard where we park the car and Joyce appears again, in another doorway. This is getting all too real now. I am going to carry my suitcases into a real, fairy tale 12th century castle!
Down a long corridor filled with antiques, cold stone walls, a turn and then a pretty, welcoming, light blue door. Behind the door is a two level, self accommodating flat, two bedrooms and a bath downstairs, a large living, kitchen and dining area upstairs. Every window view reveals Robin Hood forests or castle towers and ramparts. Each nook and cranny is filled with the antiques collected around the world by Sir Humphry Wakefield, Lord of Chillingham. Joyce took us on a quick tour of the areas always accessible to us, the hallways past their own apartment, the still room which leads down into the inner courtyard, and then, that very scene from "Scariest Places on Earth." It was an unbelievable thrill to take that step into that same courtyard, to see the towering walls all around me, the steep, beckoning stairs leading up into the castle's front doors in the great hall, the torch flames whipped by the winds that constantly taunt the courtyard.
We return to the first floor large bedroom where we had left our suitcases only to agree this room was incredibly cold and incredibly unwelcome. The overwhelming sensation over your shoulder was, "You are not wanted here." We took everything upstairs and only returned to use the loo.
Next was the ghost tour at 8 pm. We went down to meet the guide, William, and other castle guests, which consisted of seven Russians, of which only one spoke 'some' English. Poor William. The history of the castle is not a pleasant one, it's location used for war, torture and repeated take overs, opposed to any happy family scene. Starting in the inner courtyard, we went up the tower that leads to Edward I's third floor bedroom. A long talk about the castle in it's heyday and William's humor was fairly lost on our companions who did not recognize the name Mel Gibson, then we made our way back down the tower into the second floor great hall. From there we went down a few steps through a classic arched doorway to the chapel, and sat while William told us about small bones that were discovered under the floor in a corner. I sat on the steps where I encountered a young girl and started to cry, much to David and William's despair. Next was the minstrel's balcony overlooking what is now the tea room. Back down thru the tower steps to the first floor tea room with its deer sized fireplace and cast iron pots. William had mentioned how he was becoming more uneasy than usual, and we thought he was simply trying to add to the atmosphere. I had become tearful in the chapel after seeing that young girl in a horrific situation, but had composed myself in the tea room. That was when William turned to me and stated, "You know who is here, Madam." He saw a dog run across the upper balcony, and became even more upset, stating he had never been this spooked before, and asked me if I knew what was going on. My assurances were in vain and upset him even more, and we moved out to the inner courtyard where all the Russian women left us, too frightened to continue. On to the last room, the torture chamber. This is full of real instruments but not the original room, some are quite gruesome and made more so by the use of realistic dummies in agonizing positions. William walked us through the room, spoke for a bit, ended the tour and quickly left not only the room, but the entire castle, very quickly.
We stayed in the courtyard taking pictures, looking up at the star filled sky, feeling the crisp winds threaten a chill as they rush past your face. I was simply immersed in the castle, peering into the still room and finally too cold to stay out, and finally off to our apartment for a salami cheese cracker snack in front of a delightful, cozy, roaring fire. We nestled in on the sleeper couch right in front of the fire and I fell to sleep almost immediately - no ghostly encounter or even a waking whisper. David didn't sleep quite as well, but at least he was not bothered by any extra guests.
We slept in late, which seems to be our new habit with the time difference still confusing our bodies. We wandered around the castle grounds, through the back gate past the guard house, investigated the lovely little church, Saint Peter's, and graveyard, the wild cattle ranch, although we could not find their keeper for a tour, and said hello to a huge local horse looking for strokes. The guard house had a large fierce barking German Shepherd in it, making me miss my own puppies again. The church was surprisingly open, quaint and delightful with a breathtaking tomb for a previous Lord and Lady of Chillingham. The lake is Hollywood movie scene perfect, complete with a bridge and fish jumping out of the water for bugs. A leisurely walk through the forests was as close to history as one can get, right up until a military jet flies by at what felt like tree top level and we get jerked back into the twentieth century quite quickly.
The castle was open to the public during the day, so we toured again, delighting in the differences day light can make. The King James apartments were beyond stunning, the chapel still hushed, the grand hall very austere. One of the docents mentioned he heard we had been up at the church and we had to chuckle at the small town grapevine. Others prefer the Buckingham style castle and tours, but Chillingham, or even more decrepit, is definitely our style; realistic history.
Bobby and Joyce took us to the Tankerville Arms pub in nearby Eglingham via a well known taxi for dinner, one of our best dinners in England. On return to the castle, Bobby headed over with a glass of wine as he had agree to show us the best small towns in Scotland to visit without having to maneuver a large city. Joyce caught up, knocked at the door, which we opened to find Sir Humphry and Joyce behind him with a tea bag and a cat-ate-the-mouse grin. Lord Chillingham was simply a delight, and stayed for quite some time talking about everything under the sun with a proper old English accent that was like purring to my ears
Day 9 - Oct 6, Wed: Holy Island, Bamburgh Castle, lunch at the castle's Clock Tower deli, Scottish border, Old Dairy Antiquities in Ford, Wheat Sheath Inn at Swinton near Coldstream, dinner at the pub.
Another sleepless night for David, another heavy night of dreams for Anne. In the morning I dared the shower but ended up just washing my hair as we still had not figured out the instant hot water settings. Leaving Chillingham was not easy. I would have been content to have taken a maid's job to stay. Oddly, no other place would be quite so difficult to leave. Off we go again into the wild blue yonder.
We headed to Holy Island but didn't plan that too well as we only had an hour to stay. You cross from the mainland over to the actual island on a strand that is above water during low tide, and quite missing during high tide. We were not able to visit the castle nor the abbey we could gasp at from afar, and would dearly love to go back some day. We appeased ourselves with Bamburgh Castle, just a few miles south of Holy Island, and again, our CA handicap status saved us a strenuous walk, allowing us to park ten feet form the castle. Light lunch was at the castle's Clock Tower deli, and a few pounds were spent in their gift shop. This would prove to be our only 'in tact' castle tour. It was grand, and had some hefty history, but it could not match the romance of the ruins we had already seen, and the winds off the sea were strong enough to blow us over.
Heading for the Scottish border, we passed our first railroad crossing, round haystacks, pubs like the White Swan or the Black Bull, and the remains of Barmoor Castle next to a mobile home park. We passed an elegant old church in a village named Ford where Anne started to take gravestone pictures while David investigated an establishment across the street with a sign that said "Old Dairy Antiquities." (Website: The Old Dairy In Ford) We left over an hour later. David fell in love with the antique fireplace inserts, a half dozen Victorian keys and two brass Victorian hooks went home with us. The proprietor, Keith Allen, kindly helped us to make arrangements for the night at the Wheat Sheath Inn in near by Swinton, near Coldstream, where we originally intended to head for. Again, we had taken their last room in a separate building down the street, room #28 at the top of some steep stairs, making one wonder just how they managed to get a double bed up there! Dinner at the pub was quite good, and a tad on the expensive side, as was the small but perfect room. My salmon was "caught from a boat at Eyemouth by DR Collin , Fishmonger," and David's steak was "prime Scottish beef and fully traceable". The weather had turned quite cold, and the feather bed was so welcome!
Day 10 - Oct 7, Thurs: Kelso, lunch at the Hoot N Cat, Jedburgh wool store, Mary Queen of Scots stayed here house, Jedburgh Abbey, the Ironmonger shop, Hawick, the Elm House Hotel, Morrison's, drinks in the bar, dinner in the hotel.
Morning brought more brisk weather, hot showers and towel warmers. When we redo our bathroom, towel warmers will be on the top of the list. We made it to the small Scottish town of Kelso by noon where we had lunch at the Hoot N Cat, quite a busy and modern place. A quick tour of the stores on a brick road, Cloth Works was a fabric store, not the wool store we were searching for, but that provided me with some hand work for DL that was stunning, and Scottish money. Margaret-Not-A-Meter-Maid directed to Jedburgh (Jed'-bur), where we headed to next.
We stopped to inspect one of the speeding camera signs, I stole seeds from a lovely purple flower, and we stopped at the first wool store in Jedburgh. Many, many, mucho dineros later, we leave. The store manager had to have been smiling as she shipped a huge box of stuff home (Christmas presents, you will find out Dec 25th, David owns a new Harris tweed jacket at long last, as well as a vest and hat. I, however, am now the proud owner of a navy blue classic Scottish plaid cashmere blankie, and a taller cane so David could take official, legal possession of the shorter one we found at a 'reclaimed' shop in York. And, all of it was half off. Fifty percent. Oh heaven on earth, hit me again.
A house Mary Queen of Scots stayed in (rather like "George Washington slept here") and Jedburgh Abbey, double wow. The Ironmonger shop (hardware store) for a new rubber tip for my new cane, a pharmacy to discover they can only offer Codeine instead of Tylenol, and only one box a day. The town of Hawick was next, where we were corrected, the pronunciation is Hoyk, almost like you are clearing your throat. There we found a plain cracker for me, called butter crackers, plain, no salt, light, good for an upset tummy. Scottish breakfasts are disguised as English breakfasts but are served north of the border.
The Elm House Hotel is right on the main street, quaint, neat bar, we stayed in the annex, a bit of a normal room with two beds, so a tad larger. There are signs everywhere, in most towns, that warn you not to leave anything visible in your car so David lugs up the suitcases every night, poor man. Getting around town was a bit tough with a one way main street, but we managed. We walked to Morrison's for more wine, pretzels and aspirin, had drinks in the bar talking to owner Johnny, ate dinner in the hotel, and crashed in a bed with a sheet between us and the duvet!
You get a knock on the door at 10:15 to be out by 10:30 after a night on a very hard bed and another instant water heater in the shower. We checked out and drove down to the Pronto Cleen Launderette where the girl working there cheerfully assisted me, she reminded me so much of Jay back home. That was the first time I really thought about loved ones back home, well, besides a call or two to make sure everything was running smoothly sometime during the first week. We wandered the stores while we waited, the clerk at the purse store had real fangs permanently installed, yikes. We ate lunch at the Turnbull Coffee House, established in 1855. Don't let the word 'coffee' fool you, I still have not found a decent cup. This deli, however, was almost worth dying for, especially the tomato chutney. We ordered more cheese and chutney to go.
Lazy, rolling winding roads take us south towards Hadrian's Wall, through winds, forest and moors, blind summits, tractors with bales of hay on the roads, clouds and then a dense fog at the border. We filled up on gas for the second time at Chollerford gas station where they actually had an attendant who pumped the gas for us. I even took his picture. The first big stop along the wall was Chester's, foggy and almost spooky, quite heavy with history and the sounds of marching soldiers. Cawfield is the next stop, but it's on a looped road where we often question whether we have gotten ourselves lost or not. Bull in the Field sign, horseless carriages only. Finally, there is the National Trust fencing and a sign with a classic orb spider web on it, Caw Gap. The wall, now a scant two feet tall, is uneven and broken but unending, as I make my way up to the top of a hill in the dense fog, slowly, with my broken foot and cane.
Close your eyes, just for a moment. Feel the light winds dance and twirl about you, carrying the softest layer of moisture to gently drape against your face before it rustles your hair on its way back to the hills. The faint sound of approaching horses, louder, constant, rhythmic, men's voices slightly louder, mumbled, nonsensical, growing more and more urgent. They are headed your way, to the wall. It was a fairly astounding experience, that wall.
We drove on to Carlisle, tried to find the Information Center to no avail, spied a Premier Inn but they were full. Naturally. They were kind to the tired, almost crying Americans and called the 'north' Carlisle Premier Inn, where we once again, took their last room. A hot shower, night stands on both sides of the bed, towel warmer, we are happy campers. Dinner at their attached restaurant was a total disaster, (I never knew anyone could ruin food like that) but we were too tired to care.
At this point in Anne's notebook, is David's handwriting: "A" is castled out, "D" said, "Oh, another rock pile." "A" actually said she didn't want to see another castle, later she added "today."
Anne woke to see an old lady bruise on her hand and another next to her eye, swore she would get Julie for telling us it would be easy to get a room anywhere, and discovered Carlisle was so busy because they were holding cattle auctions. We left early, headed out of town of A595, windy, light hills, good road, but not as lush as Scotland was. We saw a "Meals on Wheels" on the roadside, the equivalent of our local taco trucks. A small three piece carnival, and we finally figured out the curved white arrows on the pavement means, "Your ability to pass the slow car ahead of you sanely is ending ever so soon."
There is the Atlantic Ocean. I have only seen the Pacific Ocean until I was 57 years of age and suddenly, I get to witness two more in the same week. Amazing. Huge windmills of Scandinavian design decorate the hills that stretch out of the ocean, the little town of Workington emerges as we wind our way southward and park where we could. Once we were outside the car, wild winds urge us to find lunch, soon. A liquor store client, who could have benefited from a night off the drink, suggested the Traveler's Rest on High Street. Every one, every village, every town has a High Street. We did find it and the food was well worth the effort. They wouldn't give me the recipe to their vegetable soup, despite my begging and my tears. Visiting with the Saluki Whippet, Gary, made me feel better.
Dave studied the last stretch of the journey to Keswick (Kes'-ick) and likened it to our driving to Chowchilla, giving him a better sense of road time. I had gotten a slight handle on giving directions using both the large map, the smaller, detailed local maps and the car's GPS system. Once, from looking at the maps, I knew we had an intersection coming up, and told David to stay straight, then I continued to plan the next maneuver, head down, immersed in maps. David hollers go which way? I remind him to stay straight and look up to see a Y intersection; nothing like the map. David will not let me live that one down.
Next comes the third biggie, the Castlerigg Stones.
You are no longer able to stand within or touch the stones at Stonehenge, now only to gaze at them from the outside of a restraining fence. I saw little purpose in seeing them, even if they had been in our path. Castlerigg stones are at the very north western corner of England, a long distance from most tourist attractions, yet they are heavily traveled. A teensy, heavily wooded Saratoga type single lane becomes a wide spot in the road where you see a dozen cars parked where ever they can fit, along with an ice cream truck, English style. (???) This must be it!
Sure enough, walking up the gentle grassy slope you see the tips of the circle of stones. A dozen people come and go during our stay, I settle down where a raven had landed to visit a bit, soaked in the combination of warm sun and determined winds on my face.
This visit has not been written before this, and still, words are not sufficient. I had started a collection of feathers on this trip, and the raven would provide me with the most lovely one yet. A friend had asked for a small quantity of dirt from such an honourable site, yet I found myself unable to remove anything from within those ancient stones. Leaving was difficult, but we had had a long way to go to get back to York that night. The time spent at the stones would be a life changing experience, one I can recall and use for calm any time I wish.
Pushing on to York was tougher than we anticipated, the mileage more than we had tried in one day. For the record and future trips, 150 British miles in one day is just too much. At home, 150 miles is nothing, really. On narrow winding country roads it's a bit more tedious, especially when you are driving on the wrong side of the road on the road side of the car. When David planned a three week stay, I wondered what we would fill our time with. Now, I could easily understand a two month visit if you wanted to see a little of every area.
Windemere was windy lake side road through a tiny crowded town with a winding main street full of stores, packed with tourists and traffic jams. Signs and towns on the way included Garden Makers, towns Giggleswick and Wigglesworth, and Old Mother Shipton's Cave. We managed to make it to York without having to drive on a motorway, and arrived rather haggard in dark and windy weather. We booked into a Premier Inn, room 53 on the second floor (thank God for lifts) in the little town of Colton just south west of York. My stomach was acting up again, so David went down to their wretched restaurant and brought up their soup (tomato, yuck) and a cold burger. I slept immediately, poor David kept watch as I moaned my way thru the night. Thankfully, I woke feeling fine. A hospital visit was not on our agenda!
Day 13 - Oct 10, Sun: Dream Cafe for breakfast, shopping on Walmgate Street, craft fair in the Shambles, Henry J Beans Grill & Bar Pub for tea and Beck's, closed Tesco, groceries at the Cost Cutter in Tadcaster, sandwiches at the Leeds Arms Pub.
10-10-10. Wow. We woke late, hard sleep on a hard bed, and drove into York. Someone proclaimed it a holiday and the streets were jammed with people and traffic. We managed to nab a good parking spot under our favorite bridge, and I was actually able to find my way past Clifford's Castle to the Dream Cafe for breakfast. Harry Potter's double works there, by the way. A miniature doll house store on Walmgate Street had more things than I had ever seen in one location. Two tiny Galleon type ships with full sails went into my shopping bag, only £3/$4.85 each. Back to the vamp store for necklaces for Michelle and Cheri. We followed the sounds of a loud speaker to find a bloke doing escape tricks on top of a tall ladder in the center of a shopping area. That led to a grand craft fair in an area called The Shambles. A new long grey sweater for moi, a black yak hat for Joey, incense, stone for Jay, a lovely painting of a castle sold to us by the artist, Paul Bane, and the best - a wooden duck named Annette and matching wooden mushrooms. If only we could have bought them all and shipped them home.
Henry J Beans Grill & Bar Pub for tea and Beck's, where there is an old circus mirror in the hallway downstairs on the way to the loo. You can easily spend a few minutes making yourself look terrifically tall and skinny or short and very wide. How fun! This day is exactly why we like to travel the back roads.
There is a Tesco in the immediate area, the other large super store, but imagine our surprise when we pull in the car lot and find it completely, astonishingly empty. We were sitting in the car stunned when a man walked by. I asked him why was it closed, he said, "It's after four." Well, hells bells, why didn't we think of that?? Tadcaster is a slightly larger town past Colton, we thought we would try our luck there. The one main street offered a closed Sainsbury but an open Cost Cutter, rather like a large 7-11 with basic groceries. The woman working there was friendly and just hilarious, one of the people we would know if we were at home. We left with beer, honey, bottled water, shortbread, and more Rennies, the UK's version of Tums. We spotted the Leeds Arms Pub, went inside on the diner side, opposed to the bar side and found out standard Sunday dinner of pot roast had already been served. The barkeep felt badly and said the missus might be able to rustle up some sandwiches for us. In just a few minutes, while we sipped on our Buie and beer, a slender woman came out with a large plate full of several different sandwiches, and later charged us just £8/$13. We watched rugby being played in the rain and ate to the songs of John Denver, listening to quite a few bar peeps singing along.
I am still having to watch my stomach with its 2 am complaints, but we are just crossing our fingers all goes well and I am not headed towards another disaster so far from home. David went so far in York as to find out how and where we get emergency medical care. Scary.
By 11 am we were in the car and on our way to Sheffield, biggie number three, through Pontefract and Doncaster again. Another fill-up for £44/$71 and we have gone about 1400 miles so far.
We made it to Rotherham by noon, stopped at the Earl of Strafford pub, and tried to curb, or at least disguise, my impatience. I spent the entire night awake off and on, thinking, dreaming, after all these years of yearning, followed by months of knowing, and finally just days of waiting. I am going to drive up to, see, and walk into, Whitley Hall, the home of the Shiercliffes. It's only minutes away, hard to believe.
We got a bit lost south of Rotherham in Darnall but got our bearings back quickly. That felt sooo good to get back where we wanted to be with more ease! We are in Ecclesfield, then suddenly there is Church Lane, quite squishy, turn the corner, and there is the church I have seen in postcards and pictures all these years, thanks to Steve Charlesworth. Gargoyles, Romeo and Juliet ramparts, St Mary's Parish Church. I rudely left David behind as I quickly walked down the walk to the open church doors.
I had received an email from a David Banham before we left, but had not managed to connect enough to have made any firm dates. I did not expect him to be there, but it was disappointing to be told he was out of the area all together. The few people inside the church, holding some sort of casual meeting, had no idea who the Shiercliffes were. My heart fell. Five thousand miles away from home and I am in the wrong church? That can't be, was Steve wrong about them being buried here? I turn around, almost in tears, look up at the wall above the door where I had just entered, adjust my eyes against the sunlight pouring through the window and realize, slowly, what I am looking at. Our family crest. That was a whopper moment.
I was 'told' to wander to the front of the church, which I did. I know my family was buried in the south chancel but my sense of direction is nothing short of pathetic, and I had yet to look up the word chancel. There, at the front of the main room of the church, I could easily see the upside down word "Shiercliffe" engraved in the stone of the floor. I burst into tears. Poor David. I burst into tears when I saw the whole slew of Stevens graves in Auburn, too. Odd reaction, but I am learning to live with it. Click, click, click.
We moved furniture and took pictures of the gravestones, as best I could, and because we felt we were keeping the people who really wanted to go home, we did it as quickly as possible. Once on our way to Whitley, I let go of my breath like a balloon. What a trip, after all these years, I get to see Thomas' grave dated 1631. Quite a privilege.
Whitley was almost anti-climatic. Just a few short blocks to Whitley Lane, which becomes so narrow you pray you don't encounter even a pedestrian, let alone a vehicle. The brass address plates at the stone gate are now painted wood, the view of the hall from the gate is now obstructed by the addition of a new, two story wing of rooms. Albeit they are done in a style to match the original manor, it's quite a blow to see. We checked in only to receive an envelope with my name on it. Secret squirrel messages, just like in the movies!! It was a hand written letter from David Banham from the church, exquisite handwriting, he was returning that afternoon about three, and would meet me at the church, or on the morrow after the two o'clock tea. We did run back to the church in vain (click, click, more shots), then returned to Whitley to settle in.
To enter the new wing you take this thingie-ma-bob on the same key ring as the regular key on a ring and wave it front of a little metal box at the front door. Two swinging glass doors slide open smoothly, silently, effortlessly, recessed ceiling lights turn on as you move along the corridor. Wave the thingie once more in front of a security door and you are in the main corridor, one door down on the right is our room, #35, opened with the normal key. I don't think there are 35 rooms here all told. Very nice room, very posh, hush carpeting, doors that face the back lake, bathroom plants, personable details everywhere, complimentary Sherry? The drawback to so many decorative touches about is that there is little to no room for your own belongings. A proper hint, perhaps.
I can't wait to get outside, go in the back and look at Whitley the way I have seen it for all my life. Two roof window peaks, the clock, the door, the windows. Where oh where is the shield that is supposed to be above the door? So many questions.
There is a woman smoking a cigarette out of the way, dressed completely in proper suit black, obviously an employee. I did not restrain myself and felt quite comfortable approaching her about Whitley. Turns out, she was the manager. Thankfully, and willingly, she opened up one of the upstairs rooms in the original building, the most haunted, reportedly the room where Mary Queen of Scots stayed, the Peacock room. A wooden four poster bed with the carved top, amazing. You actually let people sleep on this? Alas, it was booked, and I think that if ever we return, we shall know to ask for a room within this area of the hotel. She brought me down to the bar where she pointed out the 'Priest hole' (which was certainly not a fireplace, goodness, she said) and I received special permission to enter the kitchen from the chef so I might take photos of initials carved by my ancestors into the doorways. I hate it when I have to hurry a shot, but at least I have some. Jack with his wild hair and lovely manner was a joy to talk with. I found two peacocks, Mr and Mrs P, saddened that there were only two where Whitley was once famous for them.
We have planned to eat once at Whitley, and brought a nicer outfit for the occasion. Since my broken foot was still a problem, I had purchased two pairs of simple black ballerina type shoes, size 9 for my left foot, size 10 for my broken right foot. After all that, we never got around to dressing up. The dining rooms, and their clientele were quite proper looking, we were more in the mood for something more relaxing and voted for eating in the bar. It was the same food, from hamburgers to duck, and there was a three dollar charge to be seated in the dining room. Really. We ordered portabella mushroom burgers, and we asked they be cooked medium as they did not ask. When the food was delivered, the waiter was given a few points for keeping a blank face at our request, there was no meat, just mushrooms. We tried not to howl in laughter. However, it was the absolutely best food we had eaten since we landed, bar none. The celery and parsnip soup was equally delicious, and I ate until my stomach started to hurt. Did I mention that all the pubs, restaurants and bars have Drambuie, and most have David's Beck's Blue?
The first, main wing was what I saw as a child in our genealogy. The second section, built at right angle to the first now contains the bar and the so called priest hole. The next section, the east wing, attaches to the other end of the original section, creating a U, was updated in 1980 by John Fearn who incorporated his name, the date and our shield above the door to that area, now the dining rooms. A third wing was attached, and then finally, the brand spanky new guest wing with it's magic doors and lights.
As with Chillingham, the back of the manor is now the front, the front is now the back. A long time ago, one would come to see Whitley from a road quite a distance away, the manor would be seen grandly beyond a massive expanse of lawn. Very impressive, and rather intimidating, I should think. The back, where the circle drive always is, would be where you brought up the horses and carriages.
As far as a rating goes, had it not been my ancestral home, we would have probably never stayed. The Whitley website has no reference to its grand history, focusing on weddings and meetings, and applauds its rooms as 'shameless luxury.' Where?? It was terribly overpriced, the staff has horribly stuffy attitudes, the most economical room was priced higher than most San Francisco places and the luxury was simply not to be found, unless you count the complementary sherry. It was equivalent to a very nice Holiday Inn. You are paying for privilege and atmosphere.
Back to the bar. The priest hole is an area within the bar, several stuffed chairs and tables fit within, hefty beams of wood line the door frames on opposite sides. Stone walls complete the small, ten by ten area. Walk inside the area and you smell smoke, or at least I did, but that always happens. Look up, the walls come together in the upper level, just like a fireplace. Go outside through the short, old, medieval door and look up on the roof, there is the massive chimney. The priest hole may have hidden a few priests in its day, but I hope it was not when they had a fire going in that huge fireplace!! We ate both dinners, and one grand continental breakfast with a real and proper silver tea set, there at the same table, same comfy chair, just feet from where there was a long wooden table for preparing food, just below the meat hooks still embedded in the ceiling rafters, feet from the back door where the winds and rains came in as people came and went on stormy nights. This was the same room where Thomas and Mary, their son Thomas with his wife, Mary, and their children all sat and talked, ate and drank, cried and laughed, mourned and celebrated, and sang. More hefty moments.
Woke well rested, partially due to the classical music available through the telly all night, and partially because of the bed and feather duvet. We had proper morning tea with toast and jelly rolls, all brought on a gorgeous silver tea set in the bar at our favorite table. Next, off to the church where we met a neighbor, Sylvia, and David Banham after their morning activities were over. David brought me a print out of some internet Shiercliffe background he had printed out for me, such a kind thing to do. What was so funny was that the pages were from my web site! He explained that many, many people come to St Mary's in search of the Shiercliffes, and this print out is what he gives them. I was simply amazed.
David gave us the most delightful and knowledgeable tour, from the gravestones to the rectory where he brought out of a wooden safe that defies description, a 18th century copy of Hunter's Hallamshire for us to browse. It was hard not to ask for gloves before touching the book. David pointed out the large 4 x 8 floor stone that, if removed, should reveal the entrance to the crypt where the Shiercliffes are actually buried. He pointed out the seats that the lesser clergy would lean against, but placed in an upright position so the crowds would not realize they were resting their bums instead of standing at attention for the duration of the service. Some of the carved under sides (misericords) of the seats were quite graphic! The light in the church was much better so we once again, moved furniture, took pictures and replaced the furniture . David showed us the priory, formally known as Ecclesfield Hall and another home for the Shiercliffes in the 1200's. Finally we took our leave, tripped around Ecclesfield, found wicker balls at a florist shop, took pictures of the greyhounds that are found everywhere, from a pub name to an actual dog. We still do not know why our family shield has greyhounds on it, perhaps we raised them? Their influence is still here, today.
Lunch as at the Traveler's Inn, not the best we ever ate. One more stop at the local Morrison's, back to Whitley for a walk around the grounds. What a surprise to find, just beyond the chains and sign that said,"No visitors beyond this point" not only what appeared to be a man made lake, two tiny islands lined with stone and topped with a single tree, but what might be called a boat house. Lo and behold, on the front of the stone structure is the engraving, "T. S. M.S. 1630." Thomas Shiercliffe and his beloved wife, Mary Shiercliffe, six years before his death. What a staggering find. No book about the family, no publication, no whispers or rumors have ever included this structure. Dinner in the bar at Whitley, carrot thyme soup and portabella burgers, done medium! I spent that entire time in the bar, in the same seat, just quietly, contentedly communing with those who have gone before.
Day 16 - Oct 13, Wed: St Mary's, horse escape next door, Butterthwaite and Thundercliffe Grange, lunch in Wentworth at St George and the Dragon. Westminster Best Western in Nottingham, walk for food at a grocery co-op.
The light tapping at the window was two Mrs. P's wanting more shortbread. I am so bad. We loaded up, packed up, and returned to St Mary's one last time, but now to take photos of two Shiercliffes in the church graveyard, as well as Hallamshire's Joseph Hunter. What a privilege. The gardener, Linda, was there, and we exchanged plant identification frustration stories. David had spotted two lovely horses across the street from the church the day before, and we remembered to stop there before leaving. One of the horses was already up on the top of the cement sty that kept her area separate from the alley way, and she only needed my hello to make the rest of the journey. This was not a small horse! David kept her in a small area with his cane while I went to find Linda, who managed to find a neighbor who had an apple. They managed to get everyone back where they belonged, but not before two more horses got wind of that apple and headed over to see what the fuss, and the snacks, were about. I am thinking of my broken foot, looking at their monster feet, and left the details of locking up to the locals. The police showing up a few minutes later was odd, until Linda told us they had been called and had come to help. How different!!
I had noticed Butterthwaite and Thundercliffe Grange were actually on the maps, just as Whitley Hall was. These are family homes where the Shiercliffe women moved to when they married the Parkers or the Greens. Raised with the name Thundercliffe, I can't imagine a more romantic name. I wanted to stop by, David looked at me like I was nuts and who ever we were with said, "Absolutely do. The English love stuff like that, you'll be asked for tea." We were.
Butterthwaite of old was no more, but Thundercliffe, wow. A lovely woman approached us as we drove in their lane, I sheepishly explained why I was there, and she gallantly offered a tour, which I promptly and eagerly accepted. Marge's husband soon joined us and the tour was on. Five couples bought Thundercliffe thirty years ago, 82 acres for £80,000/$130,000. Can you imagine? Their friends all said they were nuts, now they are all envious. Slowly but surely they have restored the building, built in 1777, to its original, grand, elegant state, complete with music room, library, curled staircase, servants stairs out of stone, the original kitchen with the deer sized fireplace and stew pots, just incredible. We walked past the lake, the stables, the orchards, and there is the original building where Anne Shiercliffe Green lived, but it is the foundation only, excavated by the local university. Marge, bless her heart, gave me permission to take a brick. I picked out a small fragment with moss on it from Anne's favorite room, and it sits on my kitchen counter to get misted every morning. I could go on and on about the work they have done, the incredible level of craftsmanship, but words just are not enough.
Back on the road again after the most delightful time, again, reluctant to move on, and stopped in Wentworth for a bite at St George and the Dragon. We have noticed all pubs have signs saying, "Reserve for Christmas now!" and we finally asked the barkeep why everyone does pubs, not the home dinner thing. I know he answered us, at great length, but his accent was so thick I didn't get most of it. I do know he didn't enjoy a pub Christmas as much as a home Christmas. We rated this food as the third best food we had; beet soup, roast beef and horseradish. Guess who had what. (David absolutely hates beets and carrots.) We joked about the perfect California weather, 14° C, and told the barkeep, who said this was highly unusual weather this time of year, we were sorry, but we would be taking it with us.
Mansfield had acres of opium poppies on the roadside, and we finally get to the Westminster Best Western in Nottingham. Parking was insane, the path to the room was far, far worse. We did about three staircases, back and up and down, when I said gave up and insisted on another room. When I had asked for a ground level room, I meant no steps! What they did was take four two-story houses, side by side, and turn them into the hotel, so you walk up and down entire staircases to get from one house to the other They moved us to a room with only seven steps with little comment. The shower was also a spa, but what was so nice is that it was a walk in, like an old telephone booth, instead of a tub that is mounted, as all of them have been, almost a foot above the floor, making it very precariously to get in and out of. The king sized bed had two night stands, two points there.
The hotel bar didn't have any ice, simply amazing. It was after six when the barkeep said they were still setting up, David responded with most Americans would be drunk by now. Did I mention English humor is either quite dry or non-existent? So, we had an excuse to go walking. A quest to fill, ice!
I don't think this was the nicest of neighborhoods being on a mainstay, but it was busy, and had some houses to die for along the way. We finally found a grocery co-op, picked up some almost Italian salami, pastrami, blue and smoked cheddar, crackers, beer, ice and headed back to the room for a picnic. On the way back we saw a grand sign, "Don't forget to pay your taxes - 12 million aliens are counting on you."
The shower proved to be heaven sent, and David made arrangements to spend two more nights. We inquired as to whether we could have the towel warmer checked as it didn't seem to be working, walked out of the hotel and turned right. Breakfast was at the Sherwood Cafe where the owner, Rob, was a delight who knew his regulars well. Bacon and eggs with toast and tea, steak and onion pie with the largest, most delicious peas. We are in the Sherwood area of Nottingham and absolutely everything is named appropriately; Tuck's Grill, Robin's Rest. The Stationery store was fun, we talked with Julie while we shopped, and they had the Pilot V7 pen I had been looking for, boxes and tape to package up things to send home.
We have a list of things to see if we happen to run into that area, Hardwick Hall, King's wood, Sherwood forest. Edwinstowe seems to be the launching area for Robin Hood, grand quaint village with little to see. We stopped along side the road in an unofficial wide spot, and walked out into the forest on a path where many thousands had walked before. It was the most peaceful, flavorful forest I had ever experienced. Doofey (Duffey?) having his standard morning walk with smells abound with his mistress, Elaine. Such delightful people you find off the beaten path. I have been seeing feathers all the way thru our trip, just one feather like it had been placed there just for my hat band, and here there were none. Absolutely nothing. David says the birds fly too high, if they went any lower all you would hear was, "Crack, crack, plop." And judging from this area, there is no way, absolutely no way, you could have ridden a horse thru the untrodden woods at breakneck speed if there was no path.
The 'real' Sherwood Forest entrance wasn't as Disney as I expected, well done, dignified, a few statues of Kevin Costner, a gift shop where two silver necklaces were bought, a few trinkets for grands and friends, tea and cake in the tea shop. We far preferred the unoffical version. The museum held a wide selection of intereting things, though. An old proberb, "One for the rat, onw for the crow. One to rot and one to grow." We also leaned living "beyond the pale" meant outside the law, since the pale was the fence enclosing a deer park or forest, everything else was beyond its law. Nine Men's Morris was a popular game with a leather board and playing chips.
Rufford Abbey in Sherwood Forest, was next, recommended by Elaine. The abbey, founded in 1147, also belonged to Mary's keeper, George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, the richest man of all his peers. David found it without a map and it was breathtaking. It was also closed. A long, long walk thru their woods passing a spring and picking up litter took us back to our car.
Upon our return, the hotel informed us the end of the hotel we were staying, the first house, (lobby is in the second house), is being shut down for boiler repairs. Ooops, my bad. They moved us to a room literally on the first floor, very sci fi, but with a climb in tub. I begged a bit, probably got the manager a little angry although he did not show it. I told him I would just use more drugs for my foot and finally got a chuckle out of him. They put us is a huge room, in front, on the bottom floor, at the very last house, with a walk in shower/sauna. I wrote down the instructions on how to get there in case I got lost: Straight, turn left, turn left, 13 steps up, turn right, 3 steps up, cross the bridge (hallway between bldgs) turn right, turn left, 5 steps down, pass 4 corridors on either side, 2 steps down, turn right and then left to the lift.
Sherwood Forest (with Rufford Abbey)
Day 18 - Oct 15, Fri: Breakfast at the Sherwood Cafe, post office, the reclaimed store, Nottingham caves, Nottingham Castle, The Ye Olde Jerusalem pub, Salutations and the Royal Children Pub, La Capanna for the best Italian food ever.
A very slow morning, David brought literally everything up from the car to be re-organized, gifts packaged and mailed, laundry bagged. Breakfast at the Sherwood Cafe again, to the post office to post another set of post cards and the boxes, which cost a great deal more to ship home that the value of the contents!! The reclaimed store had a miniature tea set for Julie, a bone china bell for Gloria and a paisley tie for David. We found the center of Nottingham, what a traffic nightmare. We parked in a proper, multi story parking lot and walked to the mall to tour the Nottingham caves, saw Nottingham Castle, The Ye Olde Jerusalem pub, Salutations and the Royal Children Pub. The gambling parlour prohibit anyone using their facilities, no matter what.
Nottingham Castle had a beer garden party going, the castle is completely modern with only a fragment of a tower left from King John's day, the cave tour was closed. The Jerusalem Pub, the country's oldest pub, was truly great, built into the caves under the castle. We stayed for beer, buie, fat fluffy delicious bread and butter. Five o'clock traffic had begun and it was a complete stand still. We headed back to investigate Salutations, supposedly the country's oldest inn, but the music was too loud to stay. Next door was the Royal Children Pub, no buie nor a place to sit. We gave up, joined the traffic and headed back to our hotel for a rest. We had noticed a small, quiet Italian restaurant during our walk on the main street, and headed there for dinner.
La Capanna turns out to be the best food, bar none, that we have had since forever, possibly including places back home. David closed his eyes to savor the flavors, ate all the carrots (those who know David well have fainted to read this) and I ate until I was in pain. My notes include "Omg menu." I got so wrapped up with the dinner I didn't write down what we ate. Stuffed mushroom appetizers, minestrone soup, I think I had monkfish, and David had a beef dish. No mushroom died for a greater cause. I wanted to hug Luigi, the owner, and pleaded with him to move to the states, particularly central California.
Off we go back to Coventry for the night, then the Cotswolds, London and home by Tuesday. We bit the bullet and dared to drive back down thru the center of Nottingham on A60, only getting lost once at a 'Y' intersection, and managed to whip thru the side residentials to get back where we needed to be with moderate ease. Once we got off the A, we wandered through tiny towns again, Bunny, with its Bunny Hill Lane, love it. Loughborough for lunch at the Revolutions Bar, a place where we would be completely out of place after 7 pm. Soup and tea, Chicken malanese and ginger beer, not bad for £8. On the smaller roads, we spotted a horse competition, and couldn't help but stop. One lovely chestnut with a grand attitude, a black with the same neck held high but a tad rowdier. The rider asked me to open a gate for her, but she had to get him under control first. To my, "Lovely beast," she responded "Lovely devil."
Light rain then sun and we are back at the Cocked Hat, but we found it the first pass through Coventry! Yeah!! Maxine is not there!! She had an offer on a job she could not pass up and had to leave quickly. We were sad, but glad for her. Now we didn't have anyone to ask these burning questions, like are there really cameras along the motorways where there are those cute camera signs? We head down to room 15, find it totally not ready, and we are put into room #5, a very nice large room with a separate sitting room and a door to the private patio and lawn. Off to the pub for late eats and then sleep.
Not such a good night with my stomach acting unhappy again, so we grab soup from the reliable pub, meats and cheese from Morrison's and head on down towards the Cotswolds, where there is supposed to be a laundry in Shakespeare's haunt, Stratford-Upon-Avon, a highly touristy town we had planned on avoiding. It wasn't so bad being Sunday, so we finally found the laundry (I wrote, "What an ordeal!") and unloaded. David goes off to try and find change, and a black guy walks in, looking equally confused. I politely ask if he knows where to get change and he answers no in a clear California accent that was like music to my ears, lol. We had a ball washing clothes, figuring out the settings, Mike went with us to the West End pub for beer and tea during the wash cycle and dinner at The Windmill for a deli board which could easily feed two and club sandwiches. The caramelized onion chutney was scrumptious.
We saw our first British sunset on the way home on A46. We had never been on the road that late before! One bad turn which we thankfully recognized immediately, and we were back at the Cocked Hat in record time. 8 pm cauliflower soup at the pub, suitcase arranging with all our deliciously clean clothes, and sleep. Our last night in Coventry, and we never made it to see the Lady Godiva statue in the center of town. Oh well, next trip.
We packed up and headed south again, Moreton then Chipping Campden where we stopped to walk about, take photos of the incredible thatched roof elf homes, and stopped in the Red Lion for tea, beer and soup. Bear, the pub's ten month old Alaskan Malamute was larger than any of our dogs and a delight to meet, another example of why we like the back roads. We had their Wild Mushroom soup, absolutely heavenly. The sign said, "Wild Mushroom and Lion Soup" to which the owner said, "Someone was having a go at it . . me." When he asked a British couple if they enjoyed the soup, the man replied he felt the lion was a bit understated. Classic British humour.
A bit of a walk down the street to find the florist with the strange bubble Russian vases the Red Lion placed on their tables. Louise from South Carolina worked there. She decided to move to England one day, no job, no plans, and absolutely loves it there. We understand this. Chipping Campden may have made the favorite list, a great town.
We sped through the rest of the Cotswolds, past Oxford, A44 to A40 to M40 to M25 to M4. Whew. The less numbers on its name, the more lanes. We knew we had reservations in one of the four Premier Inns near Heathrow and finally found the right one, called the Bath Road Inn. Alex at the desk was grand, gave us a disabled room on the ground level. I like these as they have just a bit more room. Imagine our surprise to find the Enterprise rent a car building right behind the hotel. We still had to brave real traffic, but only around the block. I don't think David has ever been so glad to get out of a vehicle in his life. The guys took us back to the hotel, three streets and four insane rounds, in the car we rented as they would not let us jump the fence. Just plain silly.
We walked into the hotel, stopped at the bar and ordered a buie which we took back to the room. The attached restaurant is the same horrific place, so we are debating where to eat. We are too tired to fight trying to get a taxi and find Beefeaters so we opt for the in-house restaurant, one last time won't kill us. We are seated by a gentleman whose Indian accent is too strong to understand. Another Indian gentleman approached, asks what we would like to drink. I ask for a Drambuie on the rocks. His expression says I have to spell it for him. This is common, no biggie. I get to the 'e' and he says, "We don't have that." I put on my patient, tolerant face that says I am being patient and tolerant for you and tell him I just had one. Yes, here, in this building, at your bar. Without a word, he turns and leaves, quickly. We are trying to decide whether we should be amused or confused. He returns and says they do have that after all, what would the gentleman like? David asks for a non-alcoholic beer. The server says, "We don't have that." We got up and left.
Next, we called a taxi, asked for Beefeaters, no one knows where that is, a girl knows, gives details to the taxi driver, Johnny, he says he will just get lost. Where else do you want to go, I don't know, this is your town. Girl suggests The Pheasant, Johnny beams, then charges us £11/$18 for a five minute ride. Swiss Chalet style place, sophisticated servers, menu, attitudes, and possibly the worst food yet. The server didn't return to re-cook my raw salmon until after David finished his tough filet. I was so thrilled that they offered Bleu Cheese salad dressing when I asked if there was any salad dressing available, but it didn't even taste like dressing, let alone Bleu Cheese. A serious disappointment, especially when no one made any effort to fix anything. We just ate what we could, paid the bill, left no tip and asked for a taxi. Johnny was in the bar, we went home, another £11/$18 and tip. The most expensive and most disappointing meal of the trip.
Back at the hotel, the phone message light would not turn off, the front desk couldn't help, nor could they wake us like Alex assured us they could and would. We get our suitcases packed so David can take them to a weight scale in the lobby, and he comes back so confused. How much is a stone? No one at the front desk knows how many pounds are in a stone, we pay £9/$15 for the evening's wifi and find out 2 stone, 10 pounds and 7 ounces is 38 plus pounds, shower and pop into bed, trying to sleep. We are leaving England in the morning, returning to a home in a place that now seems so surreal, England feels like home.
Day 22 - Oct 19, Tues 7 am: Taxi to the airport, return our go-phone, power walk to Air Canada flight 855 Boeing 777 is boarding at the last gate, met Gina and Gerry, customs nightmare with mother's scissors in Vancouver, last stretch to SF in small plane. Dinner at a waffle house in San Mateo, drop off Glori, and finally home again.
I think David stayed awake all night, but he insists he slept. 7 am we are up and packing, loading up into a taxi, get to the airport, check in our three suitcases, keep our equipment, computer, my precious British clear dome plastic umbrella that one guy says will cause problems, my purse and a bag with our snacks, ipods, books and headphones.
Then we tried to return our go-phone. The phone costs £100/$162, our bill was £105/$170. Handing over the phone wouldn't work, we had to pay the five or keep the phone. We said fine, here is five pounds and the phone, we gotta go. The girl insists we keep the phone, we insist we don't want the phone and we gotta go. She goes away to her manager's office, another clerk listening to us say 'we gotta go' gets them, they explain all over how we should keep the phone, we insist we do not want the frickin phone, here is your five pounds, we gotta go, byeeeee. Incredible. Whatever works. Fast.
The departure area of Heathrow is nothing like the arrival area. The departure is full of half price booze and thousands of magazines and expensive clothes and expensive smelly perfume, and absurd levels of expensive make up and omg I can't breathe.
Air Canada flight 855 is boarding at gate 35 waaaaaay down at the end of the terminal. Power walk, out of breath, but we made it. A Boeing 777, our rose is named after this puppy! No wonder, 9 seats across, two aisles, 63 rows. David booked this because he wanted to see the icebergs but he forgot to book window seats. Oh well. We sit to a very nice gentleman from Scandinavia who sits at the window, and reads a book with a funny language in it. After we get up in the air, and I do mean up, 40,000 feet or so, we discover the back of the plane is basically empty. We snatch three center seats all by ourselves and settle in for the nine hour flight.
That is the end of my notes. We met a great couple, rather I met the wife, who live in England and are visiting Texas. We sat and chatted in the back, comparing our notes and idiosyncrasies, laughing about what we find hilarious or grand in each other's country.
We landed just fine in Vancouver while I made smart remarks about pick a runway, dude, any of them. The plane kept shifting sideways in an odd manner. Off the plane, walked with Gina and Gerry in their huge white cowboy hats until we got to customs. Gerry got dissected, scanned again and again, it looked like they might be asking him to undress down to his drawers any minute. We chuckled lightly, until they took my purse aside. This guy ransacked my purse with white gloves, one section at a time, removing my one inch long Swiss Army knife with those invaluable tweezers, then, my mother's antique folding sewing scissors. I am now crying, he is rude and tells me to wait. David had just traded all our pounds in for dollars and ended up with a bit of a wad of cash. Knowing he would have to empty his pockets at security, he tucked all his cash in my big purse pocket. I am politely asking this guy not to dump that cash out in front of the many people watching and he snidely says I can watch him to make sure he doesn't steal any. He is not making any friends, let me tell you, but he does leave it in my purse. A woman approaches with my two deadly items in her hand, says she will permit me to go back thru customs, get a bag for these and put them under the plane. She hands me my boarding pass and my passport and waves me back out of the room. David remains with our belongings, my purse, and all the money, ushered in the other direction.
I am trying to explain to the nice lady on the first side that I need my husband, I get lost turning around, I need my cane for my broken foot and I need money because you finally and clearly explained to me that I have to actually buy a suitcase to keep my mother's tiny antique folding sewing scissors, find Air Canada on the Canadian side of the airport, check the bag with our flight 562, or was that 592, and get all the way back thru security again, find our terminal and walk allllll the waaaaayyyy to the end of the terminal with a broken foot.
Thankfully, she heads thru security, past closed doors and finally returns with David and all our belongings. Good Lord in heaven above, this is insane. I am headed back to SF airport as soon as I can to take a picture of the Air Canada's little sign on the check in counter displaying what length of blade of any sort is acceptable, and I will photograph my short little scissors right next to the sign, mail it to Homeland Security in Vancouver with a nasty note: Everyone should be on the same page here, guys. Those scissors have seen Chicago and Georgia without any difficulty. Oh, and by the way, when you buy duty free booze on the airplane, or even in the departure area, and you have to go thru security of any sort, prepare to lose that bottle - what the airlines won't tell you as they take your money.
Now we are directed to go through Canadian customs. Man, was that office confused. He asked why were we here, and we told him. He asked who sent you here, and we told him. I am holding up my nasty weapons and he waves those aside, he says he doesn't care about them. If you want to know how Pooh got his head stuck in the honey pot, then I have to tell you about the balloon, you know? He asked how long have you been here, we sighed and said about an hour. How long are you staying? David asked him how fast can he stamp our passports. He sighed, stamped our passports rather loudly and waved us through. Another woman, Susan, had been allowed to take the King Arthur sword letter openers she had purchased for her grandsons as well, we caught up with her at this point. We find out she was on the same flight from London, and she and her poor husband, John, who got left behind at security, are on the same flight to SF, and live in Davis to boot. We make a joint decision, pop our weapons into our equipment suitcase, I tuck in a prayer nothing expensive gets hurt, and we check the bag, quickly, head back through a different security, thank God, head to the terminals, and my foot gives out.
David is off looking for a little boy's room, I am looking for anyone who can get a scooter for me, no one can, David is not about, we are running out of time and I have the boarding passes. Do not panic, do not panic. They offer to page David, but if I use that valuable time waiting for him up by the bathrooms, I have a long, long walk to the gate and we are really running short on time. What a mess. Finally he appears very puzzled, we walk as fast as I can back to the gate where Susan and John are waiting for us. The small airplane takes only a few hours to get to San Francisco, and I can sit by the window and watch the scenery.
A few short hours later, there is Glori looking like an angel, Susan gets her letter openers, we all head home thru six o'clock traffic. Glori drives at David's request, a quick stop to wait for traffic to ease and grab a bite for my tingling tummy at a waffle house in San Mateo, finally at Glori's in Modesto, and David slips behind the wheel again. It feels so wrong, David is driving on the wrong side of the road all the way home! That sensation remains with me today, three months later. How odd.
Michelle has left a huge welcome home sign on the piano, a card with two dogs holding suitcases in their mouths, gourds and a pumpkin, David's favorite pumpkin bread from Toni's Courtyard, a lovely, lovely home coming. The dogs are ecstatic, I swear I saw Miciah think, "They DID come home after all!!!!!" Sleeping in our own bed, with our own dogs on top of us, knowing we will shower in our own shower in the morning with an almost unlimited amount of hot water? Life is good.
After note: There were times in England that it seemed like we were home, that our lives in the states was surreal, unreal. Then, once home, after a week or so, the trip to England almost felt like a dream. Writing about the trip brought back these memories so sharply, so intensely and heart felt that we are, as of this week, planning our 2011 trip, but this time to Chillingham and Scotland by way of Edinburgh! Joyce and Bobby will be there and we will wander a day or two with them before heading out to who knows where. Stay tuned for the next chapter!