Friday, November 21, 2014

And No One Died (the Finale)

Monday, Sept. 22

We sat down to breakfast and the proprietors, Peter and Julie, were the perfect hosts!  Peter’s breakfasts are award worthy… and his specialty, the porridge brulee, was nothing short of amazing.  I would almost travel all the way back to England for that one thing!  It’s made with jumbo oats – which I must find on my next visit.

As we prepared for our trek to King Arthur’s castle, I suddenly came across the lost car keys! They were hidden in the fold of a compartment in my new daypack.  How had I missed that!?!  We were able to contact Enterprise and have them remove the $500 payment from our bill. (Yay)  They still said they needed to charge us 700 pounds for the courier (they would remit the difference of the courier’s invoice from this total).  We were trapped! But that’s a learning lesson I will never forget.

We began our day with a walk into the village and then down to the coastline to see King Arthur’s castle.  It really wasn’t more the remnants of a castle, but the views from atop the hill were awe inspiring!


Castle Sign
After a long look up top, it was finally time to descend down to Merlin’s cave.  Merlin’s cave is a tidal thing.  You have to wait for low tide to be able to walk inside.  It’s a lovely cave, but Merlin wasn’t much of a decorator.
Merlin's Cave
After a good look round King Arthur country, we decided to try Anne’s advice and head to St. Nectan’s Glen.  This turned out to be one of the most awesome things we did all our trip long.  This place is located on the way to Boscastle on the north side of Tintagel… only a couple of miles or so up the road from our B&B.

You park at the car park and then walk through an ancient forest for about a mile.
Entrance to St. Nectan's Glen

Path to the Waterfall

At the end of the path is a tea room – seemingly erupting from nowhere!  The servers were all dressed in goth costume (I assumed they were wiccan). 

We were hungry, so stopped for a bit of food and drink before seeing the pièce de résistance, St. Nectan's Waterfall.
St. Nectan's Waterfall
People built fairy stacks from local rock.  I’m not sure of their significance.  But, they also place ribbons to make wishes or in memory of someone who has passed.
Ribbons for Wishes

The mystical vibe of the place is indescribable.  You just have to go and visit for yourself!

We made our way back out of the glen and rode back to our B&B. Our day ended in the King Arthur's Arms pub (as every evening in Tintagel did).  It’s a friendly place with decent food.

Tuesday, Sept. 23

We had another breakfast that couldn’t be beat, and since we didn’t know anything better to do, we went with what we had on the schedule – which was to go to Port Isaac.  As some of you know, Port Isaac is the real life “Portwenn” from the Doc Martin series.

I’ve been a fan of the series, and April had watched it as well.  So, we entered the hilly seaside fishing village of Port Isaac looking forward to seeing some of the film sites.  

We did see Doc Martin’s surgery.
Path to Doc Martin's Cottage

Doc Martin's Surgery

Mrs. Tishell's Chemist Shop
I loved the natural vibe of the village, and its hills really gave us a workout!  We ended up having a bite at a café near Doc Martin’s place, then headed back to the car park from town.  Very long walk… lots of exercise!

That afternoon, we had some spare time, so we decided to make our way to Boscastle.

We had heard there was a Witch Museum there (there is - and it's pretty comprehensive).  However, the town of Boscastle was so very quaint and beautiful!  It would definitely be a good place to land if you wanted to see Cornwall.

We made our way back to Tintagel where we were finally able to do some laundry (the one little laundramat was always full of people!).  It was a long wait, but worth it as afterward, we had our final meal at the King Arthur’s Arms.

King Arthur's Arms (Note April with her J2O)
I loved Tintagel, and if (lord willing) I am able to travel back to England beyond 2014, I will put it on my list of places to stop by.  And the Avalon B&B will be my place of residence!

Wednesday, Sept. 24

We took off from Tintagel.  Peter had packed us some sandwiches, crisps, and bottled water.  I can’t thank them enough for all they did for us!

Our plan was to drive far past our B&B for the evening (Cathedral View in Salisbury) to go visit Stonehenge and the Avebury Stone Circles.  Things have changed VERY much since the 1980s (the last time I saw Stonehenge).  Before, you would drive down this lonely country road, and there Stonehenge was.  You walked up, took pictures, and that was that.  This year, they had us purchase tickets in advance for certain time slots.  You show up and there’s a car park. You walk up to a VERY crowded visitor center/gift shop/ticket stand.  It actually looked like you didn’t have to pay in advance, though the website said differently.

We were hungry, so we ate the goodies Peter had packed for us and headed to the visitor center.  We went inside, and there is a lot of info about the history of Stonehenge, artifacts found, Stonehenge through the millennia, etc.  Then, outside to a bus transit that takes you out to the actual stones.  Of course, all the stones are roped off, but you can get close enough to get some great pictures.


We spent about an hour looking around the big rocks.  And then shopped a bit in the gift shop.  Afterward, we were too tired to go to the stone circles, so we decided to head for Salisbury and our B&B.

Now, this may not have been my best idea, but I didn’t realize how BIG Salisbury was.  Our B&B was located on a busy city street (and I do mean busy!).  It was a decent enough place, but we had been spoiled by the Avalon.  The folks who ran Cathedral View gave us what we had asked for (a comfortable, clean room).  And the views of the cathedral were very nice.  It was also within walking distance of Salisbury Cathedral and some of the town shops.

We decided that we’d head over to the Cathedral.  What a stunning cathedral it is, too! Every bit as imposing as Durham Cathedral was.

Salisbury Cathedral
It was here that I got to see another copy of the Magna Carta (there are several copies).  We had a lovely meal at the café and then decided to join the choir at Evensong.  How beautiful, melodious, and amazing!

From inside the cafe looking upward

Thursday, Sept. 25

The following day, we had reserved a full day tour of Glastonbury.  So, after breakfast, we popped in the car and headed out.  I wish we’d have stayed in Glastonbury rather than Salisbury, but then the drive to Heathrow on our last day would’ve been too long.  As it was, I didn’t get nearly enough time to see what I wanted to see (Glastonbury Tor, etc.). 

We met up with Tor (our Norse tour guide).  He was an old hippie with a hippie style to his tour leading.  When he didn’t know an answer, he’d venture guesses.  Most of what he said was a tangled web of wicca, Avalon, Joseph of Arimathea, ley lines, vortices, and other mystical stuff.

It didn’t feel like the tour I was hoping for.  This was one time Trip Advisor kinda failed me.  Tor was a great guy, but if I had it to do over again, I’d tour Glastonbury on my own.  I did get to see the Chalice Well.

Chalice Well

We also saw one of the proposed graves of King Arthur...

King Arthur's Tomb
 and Glastonbury Tor.

Glastonbury Tour
We went back to the car park only to find that a notice had been placed on our car! We had thought we’d left enough money for the day, but it turns out, it wasn’t.  It seems the only bad parts of our trip happened around the car!  Lesson #26945.

Still, we had a decent day and headed back (through much traffic) to our B&B.

Friday, Sept. 26

Our last day in England.  Packing Annie got us all situated in the morning, but not after a brief keystone cops routine.  I had forgotten that the last B&B only took cash.  So, while the girls ran to get cash, I brought the car around and parallel parked in front of our lodging.  This was no mean feat for being at rush hour, and all the other “opposite side” stuff that went into it.  Still, we made our way in good time.  Our destination was Heathrow airport.

Now, I have always said I wouldn’t drive through London, but Heathrow is so far on the West side of the city… how bad could it be?  Really?

Oh my gawd.  Picture the awful Birmingham tangle of cars, but everyone going 70 mph… then you about have it.  There were exits all over the place, but none that looked like the right one.  I finally ended up in the taxi queue looking for an Enterprise car rental shuttle to give me directions (the taxi drivers were not amused!).  Luckily, the driver was able to lead us to the safety of Enterprise.  Quite honestly, we were whisked away so quickly that we didn’t even have time to say goodbye to Sharmon (who was traveling on another airline).

We finally made it to the airport and were able to relax until our departure.  United flew us to Houston where April caught another leg to Kansas City.  I got into my car and drove to mom’s to stay overnight and then home to my little house and puppy dogs.  How strange it felt – surreal, in fact – that this morning I had driven on the wrong side of everything through London traffic, and today I was driving on the right side of everything in a totally different world than I’d just left.  It’s like going through the looking glass, in a way.

My trips are always learning experiences.  I learned a lot and made a lot of memories.  I met new people, did things I never thought I’d ever do in my life, visited mystical places, enjoyed the company of travel friends, drank pear cidre, opened my heart and let England rush in as it always does.  Like a comfortable old blanket is how I think of it.

There were the downsides too… the missed exits, crazy vertical roads, lost keys, parking violations, and London traffic.  However, as I’ve said so many times before…

At least no one died!

Friday, November 14, 2014

And No One Died (Part II)

Thursday, Sept. 18

On Thursday, I had planned to tour the local hostel and take a few pictures.  I’d never seen a hostel before, but the one in Keswick had always intrigued me.  It is a lovely place that can hold up to 85 people.  There’s a large kitchen/restaurant and enough bathrooms to handle a full house!  It’s located just next to the River Greta and I’d recommend it to anyone on a tight budget!

Afterwards, we went into town and browsed the market for about an hour.  Then, picked up some sandwiches at Greggs bakery and wandered over to St. John’s.  The churchyard was a beautiful place to share lunch and admire the gorgeous day!   

St. John's Churchyard

Afterward, we went to the B&B to wait for Chris.  At 12:30 he came by to pick us up.  He’d driven all the way from Workington to pick us up and drove us all the way back to Workington after having worked all night!  We could’ve driven over if I’d known, but, he took us everywhere.  We can’t even remember all the places we went!  I know we were at the power plant near his home.  We went through St. Bees and saw the church where George Washington’s grandmother is supposed to have been buried (though there is no gravestone).  We stopped by a small church with ancient celtic monument.  

Celtic Monument

We saw the start of the Coast to Coast walk and the Coast to Coast bike trails.  We were taken to Wastwater “voted the best view in England five years ago”.  We had pear cidre at a pub high in the fells and saw amazing sights!  On the way back, we picked up Fudge Labrador and headed to the pub to meet up with our friends in Keswick.

The Dog and Gun was packed solid, so we decided to head over to the OddFellows pub where there’s a beer garden.  The bartender got mad at Chris for having Fudge inside while ordering his beer, so we moved outside and waited for folks to show up.  It was a great party.  Ultimately, we had Chris and Fudge, Ray and Lyn, a couple from Finland (I think), Stephen and Jennifer McGuigan, Sarn and Neil Penney, and the three of us.  Dawn Sharples and Don Dawber got held up in traffic, so we didn’t see them that night.  It was a wonderful meeting of people who love the lakes and there was a really great vibe to the evening.  I remember just feeling so much gratitude for everyone there.

Most of the Gang - OddFellows, Keswick

It wasn’t til we got back to our B&B that I realized I’d lost the car keys somehow.  We tore up the room looking for them, and they weren’t to be found.  I was so upset, but called Enterprise – and at that moment began the lost keys drama.  They were going to have someone come and re-key our car the next day (the day I was scheduled to hike Haystacks with the gang).

I was so worried and so upset, but Sarn Penney quickly took charge of the situation and handled Enterprise so I could do my hike and so that April and Sharmon could enjoy their day in the lakes.  She was really a lifesaver that day!

In the meantime, I rode up with Neil to the appointed spot for our hike (Gosforth Farm).  We followed Chris up to the car park to leave our car and then drove to the Honister mine to leave his car while we began our hike.  On the way to Gosforth farm, I got to see a REAL sheep herding demonstration.  Six collies were bringing hundreds of sheep down from the high meadows, and traffic was stopped while they crossed the road.  Really an amazing sight!

The hikers included Neil, myself, Seany Tanner and his friend Mike, Don Dawber, Dawn Sharples, and Chris (along with Fudge).

If I would’ve known about the difficulty of this hike beforehand, I would’ve probably called it off.  Thank goodness I didn’t, because I have some great memories.  It was an amazing day – rather hot to start off with.  Even for a Texan!  But, we made it to the top and had lunch (I was so pleased with myself that my body seemed to be just fine with all the exertion).  I had no idea what I was about to face!


Yayyyy for Joy!  - Fudge Labrador

Large, loose stones for a large part of the walk meant that I had to watch every single step coming down the mountain.  It was two hours of deep knee bends and steadying my feet on loose rock.  By the time I got to walkable territory, my feet were aching beyond belief! 
 This Should've been Called "The Struggle!"

We were near Gosforth Farm at that time, so piled into our vehicles and drove back up to Honister to drop folks off by their cars.

I must say that without the encouragement of the entire team, I might not have made it down again.  Seany Tanner and Dawn really stood at the end of the trip going “you can do it – not much longer now!”  Thanks guys!  Because of you, we didn’t have to call Mountain Rescue. *wink*

Don and Dawn on the way down...

Neil and I got back to Keswick and opted to clean up a bit and meet at the Pack Horse pub for dinner.  It was just long enough to shower and get over there where April, Sharmon and I met up with Neil and Sarn as well as Don, Dawn, and Dawn’s dog – Kimmi (who had also been on the hike with us).

Halfway through dinner, Kimmi – who is extremely afraid of flies – saw a couple of flies and totally freaked out.  Don and I took a couple of turns walking her outside to get away from the evil creatures.

Sarn explained to us the strangeness of Enterprise car rental and her dealings with them that day.  The spare key wasn’t in Durham – it was in London at headquarters.  So, they were couriering the key from London to Durham and then from Durham to the Penrith Enterprise near us.  Because they were down to one key now, they couldn’t let us have the same car, but would have to swap us out for another.  They would be in Keswick early Saturday in time for us to stay on our schedule for the trip.  However, we would be charged about $500 for a replacement key and for whatever the courier fee was.

I was astonished… $500 for a key?  I used to get keys for $7 at Wal-mart!  But now cars are more complicated and keys are small computers.  Evidently! 

The new car was a little smaller, but thanks to “Packing Annie” (as we called April), we were able to fit everything in.  Let me just say that April was invaluable on the trip.  It was extremely difficult driving on foreign roads, with everything backward and two GPS’s that were so bad we began calling them Beavis and Butthead!  Without April’s ability to work things out, we would’ve been stranded numerous times. 

After a sad goodbye to Neil and Sarn, we were finally on the road and heading southward toward Wales.  Goodbye lovely Lakeland friends! Goodbye mountains, streams, St. Johns, markets, lakes, dogs, and all the things I cherish about Cumbria.

Speaking of Beavis and Butthead… they decided to direct us to the M6 through ALL of the highly tourist-dense towns in the Lake District!  I knew to go through Penrith, but when you turn on a GPS, all of a sudden, your brain goes “duh”… and there you are in the middle of a trillion billion tourists all hoping to catch a glimpse of Wordsworth daffodils or, perhaps, visit the Disneyesque Beatrix Potter adventure.  After an hour of negotiating the small, packed roads – we finally hit the M6 and were on our way to Stoke-on-Trent.

The main reason to stop in Stoke is for the shopping.  Outlets for the major potteries are located here, and I was determined that Laura Hodges would get a Doulton “Pretty Lady”.  As for myself, I picked up a figurine of Prince William with Kate and the baby as well as a tea cake tray and a trinket box for my friend Sharon Williams.  I also wanted to go to an out of the way pottery to pick up a Maggie Thatcher figurine, but couldn’t find it quickly and had another stop before we wended our way toward the Wye Valley.

We had picked a town I had never heard of before (Bromsgrove) to meet my friend, Judith Yates, from Coventry.  I had met Judith online where I had admired her paintings and commissioned one of my mom.  We had remained “virtual” friends up until today when I was going to meet her for the first time!

We called Judith to let her know we were on our way… and zoomed happily along the M6 until…

TRAFFIC.  Major traffic in Birmingham.  We were moving at a snail’s pace and I wrung my hands wondering if we were ever going to *really* make it to Bromsgrove!  But… sooner or later, it finally did let up and we were on our way again.

Well, Bromsgrove was easy to find, but the meeting place – not so much.  I had hoped Bromsgrove was a much smaller town than it turned out to be!  I wish we’d had a recording of all the “missed exit” screeches and my seemingly inexhaustible vocabulary of swear words.  However, we did locate a promising looking car park and parked our butts… then headed toward the town center.

And there, in the middle of the market square, I picked out Judith from the crowd!  She looked exactly like her photo and she had all the Joie de vivre I had come to love about her. 

We sat in the Art Café and had a lovely visit as she handed out four of her beautiful prints to us as gifts. I had brought her a couple of figurines of an artist painting natural settings which had reminded me of her. Whatever cockles are… the ones in my heart were warmed.

Judith Yates, artist extraordinaire
Judith's Figurines

Poor Judith had waited all that time for us to show up, and our chat was only to last about an hour or so.  Unfortunately, the time was slipping away from us and I wanted to make our B&B by sundown.  So, with more sadness, I had to say goodbye, once again, to a good friend.

I will say this bit about driving in England.  It is at once a much better and a much worse situation than driving in the U.S.  Strangely, it’s not the driving on the wrong side of the road that bothers me so much.  It’s the roundabouts and the fact that if you make one wrong exit you could potentially be doomed to the wrong direction for miles.  I will also say that roads like “the Struggle” and that 45 degree uphill road near Tintagel should be banned!  But we will come to that harrowing story soon.

This evening, we made it handily to the Wye Valley in Wales and to our B&B, the Old Rectory.

Though this place had been highly reviewed in Trip Advisor, this was a near fail for us.  It was sort of quaint, but in a shabby way.  And, though I love dogs and though the owner’s dogs were so very cute, they were terribly dirty and allowed into the breakfast room, up the stairs, and onto the guest’s bed.  I must raise my guilty hand and say that I did ask to pet the dogs, but they became overwhelming very quickly!  I would probably recommend the Best Western down the road for American visitors.

The good part of our B&B was the location just near the River Wye, and within walking distance of Tintern Abbey.  Also, the breakfast there was amazing!  However, that first night we were just tired and ready to get some sleep.

Old Rectory breakfast room

Welsh breakfast with a cockle and laverbread (seaweed)
patty on the right.
I can’t begin to tell you how gorgeous the weather was during most of our trip.  Perfect temps, clear skies… walking weather for sure!  And the Wye Valley was soooo green!  We definitely picked the right places to visit this trip.  I tried to create my “last trip ever” to England and am glad I got to take two friends with me who had never seen it before.  It was a glorious triumph for me to be able to see the land I love in such beautiful weather and to show it off as well.  The best part, though, was checking off things for my bucket list that I thought I’d never see!

For those that haven’t read Tintern Abbey, you can read the full text HERE. 

It was a nice hook to see this just after visiting Wordsworth’s home town in the Lake District!
Tintern Abbey
After our tour, we checked out of the B&B and began our southward trek to the small seaside village of Tintagel.

Our B&B was above and beyond anything I could have possibly imagined.  Sharmon and April’s room opened to a million dollar view of the Celtic Sea.  The B&B owners (Julie and Peter) were lovely, and the breakfasts!!! To die for gourmet meals.  Don't miss the brulee'ed porridge!  Amazing!

Julie mentioned that one guest looked extremely goth, but was a very sweet lady and a very good artist.  We saw her prints and were amazed at how totally beautiful they were.  It even inspired me to redo my bedroom with some mystical prints.
The Avalon B&B overlooks the Celtic Sea

 The next morning at breakfast, we were to meet this artist, Anne Sudworth.  It was hard not to stare... her look was definitely goth, but her face was made up so beautifully that I wondered out loud... "she's made herself a work of art!"

Anne Sudworth

We were talking about where to go that day, and Anne - in the sweetest quiet and gentle voice told us about a place we should visit called St. Nectan's Glen.  And so began our southern adventures!  We had driven all over the Lake District, switched cars, faced traffic and roundabouts, got lost in Bromsgrove and found again, ate cockles and laverbread in Wales, and landed like the aliens at Roswell into the mystic land of King Arthur...

And no one died!

Read the finale here.