We just returned from almost a month in England and Scotland, so there has been no blog since mid June.
We left Kauai on June 25 and flew to San Francisco and from there directly to London, a really long flight, but better since we upgraded to seats that had a little extra leg room. We arrived in London at 7 am, and since we wouldn’t be able to get into a room until 3 or so, we took the bus from the airport directly to Bristol in the west of England Bristol is a few hours west of London our friends, Bruce and Andrea had recommended it because their son teaches at the university there. It was a good move, Bristol is a nice city and close to such tourist destinations as Bath and Wales.
We stayed in a nice hotel in an eclectic part of Bristol, with lots of activity in the surrounding blocks. Mostly young people, students and vendors. The day after arriving, we took a bus trip to Bath, well renowned for the Roman baths located there. The bus trip was fairly quick and the bus station was central and within an easy walk to the baths. After taking the official tour of the baths with an audio description by Bill Bryson (well known Iowan and now Brit), met outside to join an absolutely fascinating and free tour put on by volunteers. Most of the places we visited had free guided tours recommended by our Rick Steves guidebook.
The baths were beautifully restored, though the water doesn’t look all that inviting.
We returned to Bristol by train to visit the Bristol museum as well as some street scenes and a few pubs We discovered that the two characters featured below, Grommet and Wallace, were created in Bristol. If you’re not familiar with Grommet and Wallace, well, too bad!
We took a day trip also to the Cotswolds from Bristol. We rented a car (in itself an adventure). And a car rental company (Europcar) that doesn’t have handout maps of the city! Very un-American! Driving on the “wrong” side of the extremely narrow roads, with no shoulder, turned out to be pretty stressful. However, the Cotswolds were lovely, even in the rain. Below, a couple of the interesting houses and manicured gardens typical of the area.
One thing that impressed me was the number of homes, everywhere, that had flowers in pots hanging or in general decorating the streets.
We left Bristol after a few days to drive north to Shrewsbury, from there we took a day trip into Snowdonia National Park in Wales. Braving the narrow roads again, we visited this lovely, wild area, quite hilly . Every day, it seemed, we would walk at least a few miles and Wales was no exception. There are waterfalls and walking trails across private land and in Conwy there is even a castle.
The signs are in Welch and English…Conwy Castle
From Shrewsbury, we continued on, stopping along the way to check out the first iron bridge ever built – the prototype for subsequent steel bridges. The designers completely over designed it, as they didn’t have a lot of confidence in the iron structure.
On to the Lake Country and Keswick, which turned out to probably, be our favorite place. Keswick is rolling countryside with many lakes and miles of hiking trails. Most of the tourists appear to be quite athletic, since it is a popular trekking area. Very few visitors weren’t wearing hiking boots. Up the hill not far from the town we hiked up to the ancient, Castlerigg Stone Circle, similar to Stonehenge, at the beginning of a lovely 12 mile walk through rolling hills and pastures full of sheep. Beautiful, sunny and pastoral. Note that we didn’t visit Stonehenge – it’s quite the tourist trap, and you can’t get very close to it any more.
Charlie’s the one in blue above; the ones in white are locals.
The last day at Keswick it rained and rained and rained. It didn’t, however, deter us from another trek, which after 8 miles, we chickened out and took a bus back. Our feet were soaked and we were starting to get chilled. Note: both gortex and umbrella.
To escape the rain, we took a little side trip to a whiskey distillery, the Lakes Distillery, in Cumbria, not far from Keswick. We sampled some of their blended whiskies and savored a lovely gourmet meal, an apt way to end our visit to the Lake Country. The distillery is also close to another small village – we didn’t get to this one, but wondered about it. I guess its only natural to wonder about a place called Cockermouth!
Now on to Glascow, Scotland….again driving, where we turned our car in. We thoroughly enjoyed the city. Our hotel was located on Bath Street, right downtown. Two blocks from the bus station and close too, to the train station as well as Buchanan Street, a busy pedestrian mall. One block from Bath street is another pedestrian mall, Sauchiehall St. We walked west on it for several miles to check out The University of Glasgow as well as Kelvingrove Park, named after Lord Kelvin, a pioneer in the field of thermodynamics, who gave his name to the alternative to both Centigrade and Fahrenheit. A highlight was a visit to a malt whisky bar, The Pot Still, established in 1835 and renowned for having over 600 different whiskys. I bravely approached the bartender pleading ignorance, whereupon he introduced me to single malt scotch whisky…..and I loved it. The one I chose had been stored in three different types of barrels. Who Knew?
After a couple days, we picked up another rental car and drove past Loch Lomand and Loch Ness to The Isle of Skye (Nessie wasn’t home, so didn’t get to see her). The rolling hills and lakes of Scotland are not to be missed, again the narrow roads though are a challenge! Public transportation is minimal, so driving was the main option. We stayed in a B&B overlooking an inlet right in the middle of a sheep pasture and felt we were back in the 19th century. The scenery was spectacular, reminding me somewhat of Iceland with steep mountainsides, few trees, gray and misty. The only real town we visited was Portree. Ok, the only town on Skye! I was impressed by the huge tides they experience. When the tide is out, the boats are sitting on mud. The town was quite picturesque, though rainy…..again. And it was also blustery and cool (cold for us Hawaiians!) Fortunately we found a little bar, with a wee bit of whisky………….England and Scotland lived up to their reputations of gray and rainy, we only had 3 days with sun for the first 17 days we were there. We were glad to be well prepared for rain.
Then after two nights, back on the narrow winding roads to Glasgow, where we, thankfully, got rid of the car and took a bus to Edinburgh.
After Skye, Edinburgh was frenetic, tourists everywhere. We stayed down town with a view of the Edinburgh Castle, a large ferris wheel, a memorial to Sir Walter Scott and a park masking the railroad tracks. This was the view from our hotel…… the gothic Scott memorial is in the foreground and Old Edinburg is in the background.
It’s a beautiful, old city, quite interesting architecturally, with many styles shown. We walked The Golden Mile, to Edinburgh University, and around town…..we even had some blue sky (short-lived, but it was there) I took the opportunity to try the traditional Scottish breakfast and, since breakfast was included, I tried haggis and Black Pudding. Both are a bit weird, especially the haggis, A traditional Scottish dish basically consisting of sheep’s internal organs, ground up, spiced, with oatmeal and cooked in the sheep’s stomach. It was actually pretty good once you got by the thought of it. Charlie wasn’t interested in trying either. The black pudding is made from pork fat and blood and mixed with lots of oatmeal and is solid and sliced into rounds, It was available at all of our provided breakfasts in both Scotland and England. I liked it too, it was truly black, no doubt my iron count benefitted. English breakfasts typically consist of eggs, potatoes, fried mushrooms, and beans. Strange………
From Edinburgh we hopped on the train to York, another quaint city with an almost intact city wall. We stayed at a active convent, The Bar Convent, founded in 1686 as a school for girls and is still a convent for “the Congregation of Jesus community”. It is a lovely B&B that is separated from the Sisters by a hall. It was clean, spacious and the staff was extremely friendly. It’s located just outside the city wall. Our introduction was a small cruise down the River Ouse, followed by a visit to the York Brewery, a microbrewery offering tours of their facility along with a tasting at the end. They offered some excellent brews. The second day we took advantage of another free tour hosted by the Association of Voluntary Guides, many of the cities have these tours, in fact our tour of Bath was one.
Besides the brews, we met a couple of ice-cream boats on the tours.
York is well known for it’s old town walls and buildings, the Minster cathedral (beautiful stained glass), the Harry Potter book store, and the old city market. We also traveled down Grape Street – if you’re familiar with Rick Steve’s, you might know the significance of that. If not, ask me………..
From York it was on to our final stop, London. Another train ride on Virgin Railroad. This time we stayed in an area near Victoria Station, Westminster, quite convenient since it was close to the train station, the bus station and the Tube.
We toured the obligatory London Bridge (actually the Tower Bridge), walked around the Tower of London, and observed where the corpses were thrown into the river. We decided we had enough time in London that we could also take a trip out of the city. We asked one of the clerks in the bus station, if he had a day off, where would he go. He suggested Portsmouth, we bought bus tickets and went the next day. That turned out to be a great choice….it hadn’t been on our original itinerary.
I had my picture taken with Henry VIII, begging for my life. He spared my life, and we continued to view the naval museum at Portsmouth. We read about the ill fated Mary Rose (Henry’s pride and joy) that had sunk in the harbor and not raised until the 1982. The Victory, a steel sailing warship, is also one of the ships on display.
We spent the rest of the day walking the oceanfront and old town. The day was even sunny – hurrah!
The third day in London we strolled around Buckingham Palace (the queen was in) but we didn’t see her. My idea was to see the changing of the guards, that starts at 11 am and Rick Steves recommended being there an hour early. We were there at that time only to see crowds 6 deep against the fence and around the circle. Too many people, so we continued down the street to St James, where the replacement guards were assembling ….not nearly as crowded……and watched whole pantomime of the troops, and the escort police horses starting to march to the palace. That was pretty cool, and we didn’t have to brave the crowds.
Click here to see a video of the event.
The people that were there then walked down the street, following the troops. We felt we got to experience the ceremony without dealing with the masses. We spent 5 days in London, and hit highlights such as the Victoria and Albert Museum and Hyde Park but one sight that we thoroughly enjoyed was the Mews. That is where the queen’s carriages and horses are housed. One horse had just been exercised and we were able to stroke his nose.
We were floored by the elaborate, gold-plated carriages and enjoyed the monologue provided by the tour guide. The huge (gaudy) coronation carriage was particularly impressive, pulled by 6 horses. It was pointed out that each pair of horses had one rider guiding (there is no seat on the carriage for a driver). They did mention that none of the carriages were particularly comfortable and each served a specific function.
Because we were in London, we had to check out a couple of iconic department stores. We first went to Selfridges and then to Harrods (below)
where we had a drink at the (very expensive) caviar bar. There were also special chocolate displays and the seafood display below was amazing.
No trip to London is complete without a view of the London Eye.
At last it was time to come home – it was a great trip, lots of fun, and rain!
And one final thought – as I write this, I’m watching TV, and thinking back to watching English TV. Not once did we see any ads advocating us to ask our doctor if ‘abracadabra’ or some other miracle medication was right for us. Who knew that English TV is so much more advanced that US TV!