Tuesday, October 14, 2014

And No One Died (Part 1)

I am about to begin a foray into the two-plus week vacation I just had in the UK.  For those of us about to embark… we salute you.

Pre-Trip Introduction

This trip was unusual in that I had two travel companions, April Moore-Fager and Sharmon Pruitt-Blank.  For a year, I made plans, adjusted plans, re-adjusted plans, asked myself WHY I put myself through this (because I love it, of course), and got every duck and duckling in a row I possibly could.

Because this was such a long trip, you can never plan for everything.  But, I had planned enough that *most* of the trip went without a hitch.  It was magical, fun, giggly, eye-opening, amazing, and beautiful.  If they gave grades for trip planning, I think this would’ve gotten an A+.  However, there were those surprises. 

Day 1/2

Day 1 was not Day 1, really, because April and I had planned on only one afternoon in London (we were more interested in the countryside).  Sharmon came along on our trip at the last minute, and wanted more London time, so she took off ON HER OWN, to a country she’d never been before, and amused herself in the city for several days prior to our arrival.  Kudos to a lady who has more guts than I ever would in a similar situation! 

April and Joy’s Day 1

April left from Kansas City to Houston where she and I both picked up a United flight heading for London Heathrow.  I don’t think either of us slept going over (I can’t ever sleep on a plane!).  We arrived in London just before 7 am, and (surprise!) even though we had to stop by the luggage carousel for my luggage, we were through immigration and customs, on the tube, and at our hotel by 9 am. 

On the way, I had IM’ed Sharmon that we were in town.  I think she had been lonely because we had barely arrived when she said she was on her way over!  We were exhausted and just wanted to shower and rest before our tea at Fortnum and Mason (the first stop on our trip).  But, Sharmon was enthusiastic and really excited, so we waited for her arrival.  And waited. And waited.

She kept saying she was in the coffee shop downstairs, but I never saw her.  Turns out, she’d gone to the wrong Premier Inn!  Twice! (two different hotels) before finding ours.  But, she finally made it and it *was* good to see her!

We decided to go on over to Fortnum and Mason to our afternoon tea (we had paid in advance).  I’d never had tea in London before (yes, after all these years, I ticked something off my bucket list!).  We started by shopping in the tea area.  I love Fortnum and Mason tea, but it’s cost-prohibitive to ship.  So, I just wait til I get there and buy all the tea I can get my hands on before heading home!  I love F&M.  It’s not as pretentious as Harrods – or as large.  Not as crowded.

We were upstairs by noon for our 1 pm tea, and they graciously took us early.  We were still running on fumes, but even so, it was a wonderment of tea cakes, sandwiches, pots of tea, and all you could eat for one price!  The restaurant was beautiful and the staff were very helpful. 


After our lovely tea, we headed to the underground for a trip to North London and the RAF Museum… well worth the trip for Military historians or enthusiasts. 

RAF Museum
 As if we hadn’t done enough already, we made our way to the British National Library to see a Guttenburg bible, a copy of the Magna Carta, and various other cool books!
British Library

We came home to our hotel (Premier Inn, Kings Cross) and crashed mightily. 

Day 3

April and I got up early and had breakfast at McDonalds before checking out and meeting Sharmon at Kings Cross.  I had pre-paid for our train tickets, so all we had to do was locate our train to Durham and head out!

Sharmon and I on the train!

April on the train!

The Enterprise folks met us at the Durham train station with our rental car and then it was off to our B&B!  The Hollycroft was very nice, but our GPS kept sending us to some other town for the address (the proprietors had warned us this happened sometimes).  It was a lovely stay, though, and we were very happy with it. 

Hollycroft B&B

There were a few things we had planned for Durham – one of which was to meet up with my friends Linda and Chris for a tour of Durham Cathedral.  However, at the last minute, they couldn’t make it, so my initial trial by fire was to drive to central Durham and find parking! 

I actually did pretty good, and we were soon cloistered in the Cathedral (can you be cloistered in a cathedral???).  Wow, what a tour!  Loved it.  The architecture was beautiful… the stained glass… but the most exciting thing for me was to see the sarcophagus for the Venerable Bede!  Wowser. 

 The plan was to return to the B&B, which we did, and prepare for our Elizabethan banquet that night at Lumley Castle!

After a few wrong turns, we finally made it to the castle – only 2 miles from the B&B!  Initially, we were lead to the Library bar and had a few drinks.  But we got restless and asked where the party was going to start.  We were lead to another bar, much noisier than the last and inhabited by would be medieval types (members of a group who were attending the banquet).

Motley Crue

We never met these folks, but were subjected to their loud conversation all evening to the point that we couldn’t understand a word the actors/singers on stage were saying. 

One bright spot in the night was that Sharmon got to speak to a bagpiper who agreed to play us a lovely song on the pipes – just for us – out in the garden.

The night was lovely, and the castle was beautifully lit.  It’s supposedly haunted, but we never did see a ghost!  We did chat with a guy who was there for business who sat next to Sharmon, and a Scotsman who sat next to me (and was very much for Scottish separatism!).

All in all, it was a wonderful evening (except for the raucous lot sitting behind us).

Lumley Castle
Elizabethan Banquet

The funny bit was, after the banquet it was so dark we took a wrong turn and ended up on a tiny private drive.  It was so narrow that when I went to turn around, my car all of a sudden wasn’t moving!  Oh no… did I get stuck in a rut?  We pondered and mused and pondered some more.  I got out of the car and lo and behold, there was a sawed off tree trunk pushing against the front right tire!  All sorted, we got the car turned around and on the right road before you could say “Bob’s your uncle!”

Day 4

Day 4 started off beautifully with Ray and his wife Lyn (and Bross and Rusty – the German Shepherds) lead us northward to Lindisfarne.  I had always wanted to visit the area and had heard much of the “Holy Island”.  It was another beautiful day – we were blessed with many this trip.  So, it was with awe and admiration we caught our first glimpse of the tidal island.

Lyn came with the girls and I to view the different parts of the island (there is a priory, a church, the castle, and a small village).  On the way, we saw some fisherman huts made of boats turned upside down!
Fisherman Hut

We spent some happy hours exploring each before meeting up with Ray and the dogs at the local pub for a small bite to eat.

Ray wanted us to see Bamburgh Castle which wasn’t too far away.  Though we were too tired to tour the castle by then, it was definitely an awe-inspiring piece of architecture.

Bamburgh Castle
It fairly ate up the coastline.  By the way, the sand was so soft and wonderful that it was all I could do to keep my shoes on.  The dogs had a rush playing in the waves, and a good time was had by all!

Afterward, we decided against fish n chips at Sea Houses, and went back to a pub at Chester-le-Street.  There, we were served fish and chips bigger than our heads!

Bigger than yo Head!

Needless to say, the dogs had a lovely dinner later that evening because there is no way we could eat it all!

It was with great sadness we bid goodbye to Ray and Lyn.  They are such wonderful people and went way out of their way for us that day.  But, they said that they would meet us the following week when they were in the Lake District for Ray’s 214th Wainwright walk.

Day 5 (September 14, Sunday)

Day five was full of adventure!  We bid a fond farewell to lovely Chester-le-Street, County Durham (home of the Prince Bishops) and headed north!

Our first stop was the Angel of the North (just off the A1).  It is a huge sculpture you can see for miles!  I’ve always wanted to see it, so here we were.
Angel of the North

Lots of great pictures later, we were off, again, and heading northward to Hadrian’s wall ).  

Hadrian's Wall
I aimed us toward a Roman Fort called Birdoswald which has a nice visitor center and short tour of the property (with a walk-through of the fort's history).  They also have (as I discovered) spartan group accommodations for hikers, bikers, and others visiting the area.

Afterward, we stopped for lunch at a little place called the Slackhouse Farm about ½ mile from Birdoswald.  This was my second visit there, and I had the roasted vegetable quiche (to die for).  Remember to ask her to heat it up first.  The Victoria Sponge dessert was beyond reproach.  All in all, a mega wonderful meal!

After lunch, away we went onward into Scotland and to our next destination, Stirling Castle. This was my second visit to the castle, so I let Sharmon and April off the hook to explore on their own while I went the other route to investigate an interesting churchyard just adjacent.

Statue of Robert the Bruce at Stirling Castle

John Knox once lectured on the grounds of the Church of the Holy Rude.

Statue of John Knox

I saw several graves with skull and crossbones.  When I looked this up, it said the primary reason skulls appeared on memorial and headstones was as a Memento Mori, a reminder of our own mortality, an aide-mémoire, should it be needed, that you too will die one day - death is inexorable!

Memento Mori

With all this spookiness going on, I quickly got myself back to the car park to meet Sharmon and April who were already waiting for me to leave on our last leg of the day’s journey.

We meandered upward, past civilization, into heavily forested areas of Scotlands Trossachs.  On small roads, through tiny villages without a “Spa and Resort” in sight.  We were going to a place I had seen from the road the prior year – (MacDonald Forest Hills).

Indeed, when we finally did find it, it gleamed like a jewel along Loch Ard.  We were quickly checked in, but April and I found out our room had three beds!  So we resituated so that Sharmon was able to stay in our room and we saved some money that way.  What can I say about this place?  The grounds were impeccable.  I could have spent days just sipping tea on the front veranda.  The rooms were modern and very nice.  The hotel staff couldn’t have been more helpful. 

Comfy Room

Beautiful view from the veranda
Needless to say, we were in our happy place!

Day 6 (September 15, Monday)

We got up the next morning (slowly) and went to have breakfast).  I had booked us through www.booking.com, and didn’t expect too many perks for that… but we were given a HUGE breakfast (normally 17.50 GBP) free (included with the room). 

We had to do some laundry, but the hotel didn’t have a laundry service (which amazed us).  They did offer, however, to have housekeeping do our laundry for free while we were gone!  OkYES!  We didn’t hesitate.

We ventured out around 10:30 for Aberfoyle where we met up with the
Scottish Wool Centre and saw a sheepdog demo prior to entering.

We shopped til we dropped, then got some cash and headed to Balmaha to catch the cruise around Loch Lomond. Sadness ensued when we realized that the cruises weren’t running that day.  So, to assuage our hurt feelings, we went to the local pub.  I ordered a J2O and turned April onto this tasty drink (my favorite is orange and passion fruit).  Soon, a young couple we’d met at the dock stopped by to tell us that the cruises weren’t running, but the ferry was.  Ferry?  What ferry?  We trudged back to the boat landing and found out that a ferry goes over to “the island” by request.  What island?  As it turns out, one of the first and best of our spontaneous moments.  We landed on Inchcailloch.  What a beautiful place it was!  Fern-encrusted forests, easy-to-follow hiking trails, and breathtaking views of Loch Lomond!

Nature Preserve

Sharmon and April - intrepid exlorers

Stunning views from the top!

Drove back to Aberfoyle, got some gas, then found a tiny bite to eat at the Wool Centre.  Sharmon got a horrible hot dog from a truck vendor outside.  We got back to the hotel and our laundry had all been done for us and ready to take back to the room to be sorted and reunited with the correct owners.

Day 7 (September 16, Tuesday)

We left the Trossachs around 8 am after another breakfast that couldn’t be beat.  We stopped at services (which impressed April and Sharmon to no end!).  I wish they had services like that for us.  Basically, in the middle of nowhere, you’ll find a mini mall with restrooms, grocery store, gift shops, fast food, and gas.  Even cash points and slot machines!  See an example. It makes traveling so much easier.

We reached our destination (Goodwin House in Keswick) around 1 pm, checked in and began our Lakeland adventure!

I picked up my rental hiking gear from George Fishers (thanks to them, hiking was MUCH easier for me this year).

After a tour of the town, we got some Fish n Chips at a local shop, then returned by St. John’s church (my favorite church in England) to show them why I liked it so much.

St. Johns - Keswick

Day 8 (September 17, Wednesday)

Got up at 7:00 and I went up to the church for a bit to take some pictures.  I may do an article on St. Johns at some point because that church and the zen-like churchyard are a place I’ve spent many happy hours just sitting with nature, praying, meditating, and enjoying the view of the fells.

After breakfast, we drove up to the car park at Latrigg so I could show April and Sharmon one of the best views in the Lake District.  From the car park up to the top of Latrigg is about a 30 minute walk.  We ran into a fellsrunner (Abbie) and she took the following picture of us.
Photo by Abbie (April, me, Sharmon)

After Latrigg, I drove the girls to Grasmere to see Wordsworth’s house (Dove Cottage).  And a more congested village I’ve never seen.  This was mid-week in September, so it shouldn’t have been so crowded, but there we were – tasked with finding a parking spot.  I finally located one on the other side of the village, and we walked over to Dove Cottage.

Dove Cottage

I left Sharmon and April to tour the cottage (I had seen it before and someone needed to move the car before our hour parking was up!)

But then we had a slight issue with April and Sharmon finding the car again.  Not too big a deal (only about a 10-minute wait).  We packed back into the car and were off in search of Ray and Lyn Bradshaw, who were in the Lakes for their anniversary.

Now, I had asked a guy at the Herdy shop (http://www.herdy.co.uk/) about the best way to get to Hartsop where the Bradshaws were staying.  He said, “Well, you can either take this A-road (a fairly decent road) or you can take “the Struggle”.  I said, “We’ll take the A road!  No Struggle. NOPE!”

But, with our GPS acting up and in unfamiliar territory… you guessed it… I ended up driving the STRUGGLE!  (http://www.visitcumbria.com/amb/kirkstone-pass/)

It was a narrow road with no passing room and sometimes fairly steep gradients.  However, the intrepid trio made it all the way to Hartsop.  And no one died!

There, we were met by our lovely friends, the Bradshaws, and Lyn made us a wonderful lunch while we visited.

Lyn, Sharmon, April, and me

 Ray offered to lead us to Aira Force (a beautiful waterfall near Ullswater).  Thank goodness he knew his way because the car park was EXPENSIVE and the walk would have been much longer.  But, we parked a little further up the road and made our way to the falls.


Aira Force
Aira Force

We said a tearful goodbye to Ray after the walk and headed to the Rheged Centre for some “cheap gas” and a look-see.  Note that gas in the UK is currently running almost $8 a gallon.  We have nothing to whine about in the U.S.!

Rheged was not all I had thought it would be, though it was interesting (the store is built into the side of a hill).  And there is a cool playground for the kids.  But that was about it!

We came back to the B&B and while everyone else rested, I went back into town to gather some change for the laundramat, and picked up a cheap daypack for hiking later in the week (this turned out to be a pivotal moment in our trip – which will be explained later).  I also got some socks in one of the shops there.  I love the comfy woolly socks I find in the UK much better than the ones in the states. (At least, in my mind they are!)

I also picked up a couple of flashlights as we were going to walk at night to the Theatre by the Lake to see a play of Dracula. 

So, with flashlights in hand, we walked down to the Lake and into the theatre… hoping for a nice evening out. 

But, the production was… not awful, but not great.  There were no microphones and the cast spoke in a fast northern dialect, so I was having a very hard time following.  Plus, the script just wasn’t “all that”… so we left at intermission.  Don’t have to do that again! LOL

That was the end of the first half of our travels... 

And no one died!

Read Part II here.