Thursday, June 16, 2011

Family!! And Archery!!

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. We really wanted to attend the local church, but, sadly, the church isn't doing well in England. I don't think we saw a small, local church that had enough parishioners to pay a full-time pastor/vicar/cleric. The one in South Scarle "rarely has services," according to our innkeepers. An earlier innkeeper told us, "The Church used to be used to control people. Now that that isn't necessary, I guess people see no need for the Church." Sad.

We headed out to meet some family, cousins who live near Sherwood Forest. Yes, that Sherwood Forest.

Many moons ago, (some 1300+ of them) my ancestors left England for the US. The story I've been told is actually pretty funny. Seems my great-grandmother decided she didn't like Jolly Old, and that my great-grandfather also had weak lungs. His doctor told him to emigrate somewhere dryer; they chose Australia.

Along the way, the ship docked in New York. Great-Grandma, an Anglican, still found her way to a fortune-teller. The lady told her that Great-Grandpa would never survive a sea voyage. Great-Grandma announced her plan to stay in the US. Great-Grandpa, like many husbands, seemed to have no choice, even though the Northeastern United States doesn't have the dry climate of Australia.

Two years later, my grandfather had been born. Great-Grandma decided that she didn't like the US, and, despite the dire prediction of her husband's chances at sea, the family boarded a ship for England. Apparently, midway, she decided to return to the US, but the ship was committed. And, when they got to Britain, WWI had begun, so they were stuck there for 2 more years. Finally, however, the family returned to the US, living in Massachusetts for a few years before migrating to Chicago. Grandma and Grandpa met there in the 1930s, and, the rest, as they say, is history.

But Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa left family behind in the Preston Lancashire area. Their children and grandchildren moved around, and one cousin now lives near Sherwood Forest. We spent a lovely afternoon visiting with her, her husband, her two daughters, and two grandchildren. Stories were swapped, pictures were taken, and Mary even got to shoot a longbow! What a memory!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

South Scarle

We left the north of England and headed south. It was a long, long drive, and, again, we got in too late. Those two drives, more than anything, confirmed my notion of staying in one place when we return. Sitting tight and exploring an area, then moving on after a week or so, is a much better plan than this command raid we did on Britain!

But, again, our innkeepers were terrific and forgave us for interrupting their sleep. They cooked us a wonderful full English breakfast the next two days, pointed out a great pub for dinner, made sure we didn't miss Lincoln Castle (and we might have) and were, in general, wonderful. Their inn was in a small town which reminded us of the small town we left for the month. Both mornings we were awakened by horses clip-clopping down the street, taking their riders for a morning constitutional. It was very relaxing.

The first morning, a Saturday, we stayed in a bit, did a little laundry, and tried a walk. It rained, so we headed out for some adventures. Our first led us to the town church, built by the Normans just before 1100. Some of the original stonework and art is still there, in bits and pieces. Between persecutions of Catholics and the English Civil War, however, the 15th through 17th centuries weren't very kind to English churches, though, and it can show. This particular church was lovely, and the congregation runs a small farm store in an outbuilding on the grounds. Local cheeses, jams, baked goods, meats, produce, etc, are sold there. Armed with bread, cheese and popcorn, (it made sense at the time) we headed into the town of Lincoln.

Lincoln Cathedral was established just after the Norman Conquest of England. The Romanesque building was damaged by an earthquake in 1185, and the Gothic portions of the building were constructed. the bishop of Lincoln must have been cooperative with Henry VIII, as the Cathedral and Monastery were not ruined during the Dissolution of the Monasteries during Henry's reign. The buildings are more complete than similar structures in the rest of Britain, and are very interesting. The Cathedral houses a copy of Magna Carta. In fact, when King John and his barons hammered out the thing, it was copied by monks at Lincoln. They sat in a room, 85? 43? of them (oh, heck, I can't remember everything) and it was dictated to them. Copies were then sent to all parts of England. Only 4 survived.

We ended our day with a pub supper at the Lord Nelson.
We ate in front of the fireplace. Yes, we'll be back someday!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hadrian's Wall

When I was in junior high, one of the highlights of my week was riding my bike to the library. The old Schaumburg Library is now a Baptist mega-church, and the new one is a huge edifice next to a grocery store. Such is Schaumburg. But, somewhere in the stacks, I discovered Rosemary Sutcliff, who wrote wonderful historical fiction about Bronze Age and Roman Britain. One of my favorites was Eagle of the Ninth, which was set along Hadrian's Wall and was actually made into a film this past year.

I wish that watching such films would send today's junior high kids to the library to learn more, but I have my doubts.


Carlisle has been called Luguwaljon and Luguvalium and Caer-luel and Cumberland before Carlisle, was visited by the emperor Hadrian around 122AD, and had a lovely stone fort by 130 AD, which was the largest and strongest fort along Hadrian's wall. It's a pretty city with a nice Victorian covered market and friendly people. Our innkeeper there was a sweetheart who put up with us arriving way too late, made us a lovely breakfast, and showed us the best way to Hadrian's Wall.

Hadrian's Wall was ordered by said emperor to keep the northern border of Roman Britain safer from those nasty Scots and Picts. It was an imposing thing, about 5 feet tall, with a deep ditch to the north and a double ditch-and-bank device called a vallum to the south. There were milecastles, small "fortlets" built roughly a mile apart along the Wall, and turrets evenly positioned between those. The Wall itself was about 2m thick, although that varies.

Along the length of the Wall were also several Roman forts, among them Brisoswald, Housesteads and Vindolanda. At Vindolanda archaeologists have discovered Roman writings, including a birthday party invitation from one officer's wife to another.

I love how land is used in Britain. In the US, we're afraid to subject tourists to poo poo. In Britain, they graze critters everywhere, and the tourists have to sometimes watch where they step. But the critters are friendly, as Mary learned.

We picked a really lovely day to visit the Wall. Little did we know that cold, blustery weather would set in by day's end, with rain finally sending us south.

We missed out on an ale at Newcastle, which would have been wise, but we had points south to visit and knew we'd be, again, arriving too late for our innkeepers to be very polite. But at least we warned them via e-mail, and they were ready for our motley crew.

So another item checked off my life list. Mary and I have decided that we want to walk Hadrian's Wall sometime before I get much more old and creaky. Sadly, though, she wants to walk it with two girlfriends and I want to walk it with her. We'll iron that out someday!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Wales was a wonderful place, although it rained. The people were friendly, the food was good, and the scenery was beautiful. I drove along, listening to BBC Cymru, (Welsh radio) while the rest of the people in the car wondered what the HECK the guy on the radio was saying. For the record, I didn't know, either. But Welsh is a pretty language.

Funny story. One program involved a translator repeating BBC news in Welsh. At one point, his cell phone went off. He said, "My cell phone. S&!*." The first phrase was Welsh. The second, pure English!

We spent a day driving, and spent that night in a pub in Shrewsbury called the Buck's Head. Another funny story. We stopped at the city limits of Shrewsbury to ask directions, and were told that the Buck's Head was just a few doors down from the city bus station. We got lost finding the bus station, so we stopped at the police station. A policewoman was just leaving work, and led us to the bus station, saying, "The Buck's Head? Just down from the bus station? Hmm..." Should asked. We walked two doors from the bus station...and found the BULL'S Head. Fortunately, a patron knew of the other pub, and we were soon checked into our rooms and enjoying a Bombardier in the pub.


Next morning, we headed toward Preston, from which our great-grandparents left for the US at the beginning of the 20th century. I hope they wouldn't recognize it now. We saw a town that had seen better days, full of not-very-nice people. Even the vicar of the family church was less than enthusiastic about the city, calling it "dismal."

We looked for, but did not find, family graves. We did take some pictures of the local parish churches.

The day ended on a disappointing note, and we headed for Carlisle, just 10 miles from Scotland.

Monday, June 6, 2011

In Which our Author meets a Friend

We left Wells and headed for Wales. (Like my alliteration?) Some of us (-cough-John-cough) were surprised to see roadsigns, etc, in Welsh. It really is another country! Our destination was Caerphilly Castle, a truly beautiful castle. More important, though, than seeing the architecture and military strategy of medieval Wales was meeting my friend Marta.

Marta and I met through a webring for Lutheran homeschoolers. We are radical and revolutionary; we have no problem meeting up with our internet friends. Marta and I did not have to resort to wearing a geranium in our hats. She is, as you can see in the picture, about to meet her fourth child, so finding her was no problem! In fact, because we saw an ambulance leaving the castle as we came in, and Marta was late, we figured we knew why we couldn't find her!

But, no, she was just late. Along with her came her husband and father-in-law. We had a great visit!

After a nice supper of Welsh cawl, we headed out for Shrewsbury.

Funny picture of me and Marta!

June 6, 1944 Canterbury Cathedral

Sunday, June 5, 2011


We stayed in a great B&B in Wells. If you ever get to Number 23, tell Liz the Motley Crew says hello! One of the best innkeepers on our trip, and she's a great cook, and she has a sense of humor, too. Or is it humour? Well, anyway...

While we stayed with her, we visited Stonehenge.

That was one of those places on my life list; now I've checked it off. We saw it on a very windy day. I love how they told us all sorts of things about the site...but not what it was used for. I realize that no one knows, but they only needed to say it once. And they said it many more times than that!

Stonehenge is on a hill in the middle of thousands of acres of sheep pastures. One of the sheep was lying down, with a leg in the air.

She acted so much like a goat in labor, we were sure she was going to lamb at any moment. We, and several other visitors, spent about 20 minutes just watching her. When she got up and just walked off, we knew we'd been had. We decided it was something the sheep did. "Hey, Edna, it's your turn today. Lie down over there and pretend to be lambing. We'll all snicker at the tourists!"

After Stonehenge, we visited Old Sarum, the original site of Salisbury, England. When the people moved from Old Sarum to Salisbury, Old Sarum fell into ruins.

They're beautiful ruins, though, and we enjoyed our time there.

Then we went down the hill to Salisbury Cathedral.

Just closing up for Evensong, we took a quick trip through yet another beautiful European cathedral.

I don't get tired of them. This one had the most beautiful baptismal font I think I've ever seen.

After a delicious pub dinner (mine was braised lamb with mint mash) we headed back to Wells for a good night's sleep.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Of the three countries, we found England to be our favorite. It wasn't just the shared language, although that did give it an edge over Germany. And I suppose we should call it a very close tie with Austria. But England was...

The people are friendly. Italians, with isolated exceptions, didn't seem to have the time. Germans are perhaps a bit more courteous, and don't "butt in," or maybe it's their famous efficiency that keeps things a bit "stand-offish." That's what I liked about the Austrians; a little friendlier than the Germans. But the English will laugh with you, and, when they sense you can handle it, at you. We were almost instant friends.

The English are courteous. As I was told on an earlier trip, "No, chivalry hasn't died here. We've made a history of it." From the youngest pup to the most elderly geezer, with one exception, the men are gentlemen and the women are ladies. Dress is mostly appropriate, unlike the Italians, who have a penchant for see-through couture and neon underthings. Really. You have no needs in England; they are met the instant you realize them. Try staying in a British hotel/B&B for a few nights, and them in one that is foreign-owned/run, like we did. You see the difference immediately.

England is homely. I don't mean that in the American sense. The Brits, when they say that, mean "down-home, comfy, su casa es mi casa." The pubs, the streets, the service personnel, all helped us to feel right at home and comfortable. I felt like I could whip out my mucky boots, walk into any barn, and find the tools I needed to help out. Except that their courtesy wouldn't let me.

When, not if, I go back, I plan to spend a week just soaking up London. Not that that was my favorite place, but I missed so much there that I wanted to see. We actually planned a quick in-and-out of London, knowing that it would take more time than we had to really "see" the city.

I've told John for years that I'd like to live in England for a year when we retire. This trip just confirmed that. If health or circumstance don't allow that, I'd like to plan future trips to be such that we park ourselves in a corner of Britain and wander around there for three weeks or so.

You know, just being homely.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Portsmouth to Wells

We set out early-ish for Wells, our "home" for the next two nights. It's really tough, we found, to get 5 people "up and at-'em" much before 10, especially these 5 people. It got tougher later in the trip.

Along the way, we came upon Arundel Castle, home of the Dukes of Norfolk for some 900 years. It looked interesting, so, even though it was not on our list, we stopped. We were disappointed to learn that, since it was Monday, the castle was closed. We did find a small craft fair put on by the Friends of the castle, bought some neat things and met some neat local people. One of them recommended the Black Rabbit pub for lunch. It was a great recommendation! We had our first English fish and chips there.

Fish and chips was a tradition at our house when I was growing up. My mom used a beer-batter recipe that was supposed to have come from our great-grandmother, who came from Preston, England (more on Preston later.) Grandpa (her son) and Grandma would come over many Friday nights, and we'd eat fish and chips. If we asked right and Grandpa could be convinced (not difficult; he was a big kid himself!) Mom would clean the deep fryer, add fresh fat, and he'd fry up doughnuts. We were considered too young to get near the hot fat, but we could roll the finished doughnuts in powdered sugar, and eat them!

This fish was made with ale in the batter, so it ended up tasting the most like our family's of any of the fish and chip meals we ate on the trip; and there were many!

We left and headed out to Portsmouth, where Ethan had told us we should stop to visit the Spinnaker Tower

and the Dockyards. There we would see the Mary Rose (built during Henry VIII's reign) and the Victory (which Lord Nelson sailed at the Battle of Trafalgar; he won the battle, even though he died during it.) Mary's goal was to repeat her brother's feat and do push-ups on the glass floor of the Tower.

Well, she did it.

And she earned a rest afterward.

She, John and Debbi went up; Janet and I stayed below. I have this thing, you see; if God built it, I can stand on it, walk around it, and enjoy it. But, if some guy built it, well, I'm not sure I can trust his engineering, you know what I mean? About the only exception to that is an old castle, but then, those walls are usually pretty thick.

We missed the Dockyards. The price to see one ship (only the Victory; the Mary Rose is closed while they build a museum around it!) was just too much to be sensible. I've since been told that, while the Victory is very cool, it's just like any other tall ship, except for the spot on the floor that they point out is where Nelson died.

Um, yeah.

We got in late that evening to our next home-away-from-home, passing by Stonehenge as we did. But we planned to see it the next day...


We're home!

The last 5 days of so in Britain were extremely busy, so I'll be finishing up our trip over the next fews days or so. I have added some detail and photos of Canterbury, to keep you entertained while I write....