Beautiful Island

imageIt’s hard to believe that I’ve done so much but have only covered territory about the size of Minnesota. Time to go home now, but many thanks to all the good people of Scotland and England, and to Chris, Melissa and Michael, the rolling hills, historical sites, great trains, quirky signs, good food and public footpaths of this green and pleasant land!

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Last March Through London!

We clocked an impressive 16,000+ steps in for a last family trip to London on Friday. Sights seen: a cat sleeping on the ticket machine at the train station, Tower Bridge, the beginnings of the poppy display at the Tower of London that Melissa will be participating in on Sunday, Borough Market and Liam the politically loquacious bag seller, St. Paul’s cathedral, south bank and it’s assorted Love Festival, skateboarders, British Film Institute gift shop, and various food markets, There was also a good dinner at Bubble Dog: specialities: hot dogs and champagne. We really wiped ourselves out, but it was worth it and we had a good time together. The tube makes it so easy to travel, though on this unusually hot London day, it was pretty warm!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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London with Michael and Bunco with the Army Wives

Thursday Michael and I went into London. He took me to the Camden area, which has several large markets. One of the markets was called the Stables Market and is a huge above and underground area that was home to many horses in London. It is just massive, and full of twists and turns, with sellers in what used to be the horse stalls. We had a good time looking around, and sampling from some of huge many food vendors, including one that makes ice cream using liquid nitrogen. Delish! We then went to brick Lane, which is a little quieter during the week. Great neighborhood, lots of indian and middle eastern restaurants and shops. Michael took me to a favorite record store and we did some browsing. A last stop for a salt beef bagel (with mustard and pickles!) and then we navigated to the tube, back to Waterloo and then home. Lots of fun!

In the list of cultural activities, the final one was Bunco with the army wives. Melissa had tried to pitch me on starting a game when she lived in Arlington, but I was not convinced. It seemed rule bound and scary. Well, it turns out it is rule bound and scary, but lots of fun! It’s a dice game, relies solely on luck, and there is table switching, hollering, bell ringing, wine drinking and money winning. And snacks. Lots of fun chit chat with the women who came. I liked it, and am tempted to try it myself when I get home. Melissa is satisfied that she has roped me in.

 

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Yay for the National Trust!

The National Trust is an organization that has taken over the care of some great houses in England, and we went to one Wednesday. (FYI, when I return I might need to be hospitalized, I’ve done so much in the last three weeks.). Stourhead House is one of the great homes of England and Melissa and I really enjoyed our day there, starting with a tour of the house, and then walking through the lovely grounds.

There is a great push all over England to commemorate WWI, and Stourhead house has taken on “The Story of Harry.” (Or maybe it’s always been that way, but the signs seem very fresh, and it makes sense given the other things I’ve seen as I’ve gone through other places.) So Harry was the only son of the couple who took on the revitalization of Stourhead house in 1902. (The Hoare family had built the house in the 18th century, and it was passed along. The guy before Henry Hoare and his wife Alda was a bit of a gambler and he had let things go, so it was a fixer upper. The grounds have been taking shape for a long time though, and some of the trees are just massive.). Anyway, Harry was much beloved, and the signs talk about his and his family’s life there, but 1914 arrives and young Harry enlists, and like many young men of England, dies in the war. His family considers moving, but decides to stay, because all their memories of him are there. The details of the stories put a human face on all those. WWI memorials that are in every town.

It was a story that was repeated both in small homes and great houses all over England from 1914-1917. Many of the large estates left without an heir were sold, and death duties were often so much that the estate was broken up and the house torn down once it deteriorated, but then our hero the National Trust comes along. The Trust has saved many of these homes and now they are like our national parks, places that anyone can visit (though they do charge admission, you don’t keep gardens like that going without some coin.) Stourhead was turned over to the Trust in 1948, with the provision that direct descendants could always live there, and indeed we spotted a tv and a drinks trolley in one of rooms that is still used.

The grounds (also called the park) at Stourhead are incredible. Thousands of acres, filled with trees, a lake, bridges, paths, and several small temples. It is so peaceful, with birds singing and fresh air that it puts you in a very peaceful and quiet frame of mind. I think we could have stayed there all day. We kind of did, really, once you add in lunchtime and tea time!

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Downton Abbey Time AKA Highclere Castle

One of the dates that was locked in 6 months ago was the July 15th visit to Highclere Castle. Since the show the visits to that house have increased about a hundred-fold, and they sell out quickly, so Melissa was on it the day they went on sale.

Little did we know that the standard tour would have a huge bonus. Lady Canarvon is arranging a huge WWI commemoration, and in hoping to spread the news wanted to talk to Chris. So we (not really me. I mean, sure, it’s probably not everyday that she gets to meet the one person in the world who teaches a Downton Abbey elective to high school boys, but Chris is the titled one in the crowd, my timing was just “spot on” as they say) were invited for coffee the morning of huge tour. We were allowed to drive past the standard parking and park behind the house, and then hung out in there old stable yard while we waited for her. While we were waiting, Lord Carnarvon greeted us, and then she came. We headed in to the old coach room that is now a cafe and had coffee and a chat, and she told us all about this massive event. Going to be in the area on August 2nd and 3rd? Check it out!

It’s really going to be quite a day, and my favorite part is when there will be an England/Germany soccer match, and if I understood her correctly, what ever the score is, the Archbishop will act as referee and make sure it all comes out a tie in the end!

She is very nice, very smart and quite down to earth. After coffee she walked us around to the front of the house, and we said our farewells. Very cool! Then we got to the real action, because of course the fan girl in me really wanted to check out the house! It’s very beautiful, smaller than it seems on tv, and as another cool bonus has a large display of Egyptian artifacts, because the earlier Lord Carnarvon helped fund Howard Carter and the Tutankhamen find. We took our time in there house (kind of had too, as there were lots of people there, ogling along with us.)

After some snacks, we walked around the grounds, which are very open, with beautiful big trees, I think perhaps they are cedars, I want to say cedars of Lebanon, I don’t know if that applies. They are huge, and some date from the 1700s. That is the thing that is continually amazing here; there is stuff that was around and organized long before we were even a country.

It was a great visit, really neat to see it after watching it so many times on the tv. Of course, now I am going to have to go watch it again, and see those rooms in action, now that I have seen them in real life.

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Stonehenge, Old Sarum, Salisbury Cathedral

Monday, Chris, Michael and I went out to see some sites! Stonehenge was one of my “must sees.” Old Sarum is another awesome Hill Fort, and Salisbury Cathedral was a big and impressive church, and we do not skip those!

Stonehenge was smaller that I imagined from the road, but pretty robust when you get up to it. There are theories that the presence of two types of stone from far and different locations might have been some symbol of uniting different groups of people. (One of many theories of course.) Chris and I were talking and both noted that in a time where there weren’t modern distractions, building great awesome things was not only a good project, but could show how impressive you were to others. I also think people like a challenge. In addition to the stones themselves you can also see the burial mounds and earth berm “avenues” leading to the site. Back at the visitor’s center, there was another excellent museum display, and of course, the gift shop. It was the largest and most commercial so far, but considering the number of people that were there, it made sense. Chris had wisely suggested we get there early, and he was right, since there was a large line waiting for the shuttle bus once we came back from the site.

A short drive away is old Sarum, another hill fort. The remains of the castle of William the Conqueror are there. I am really interested in the stone that was used there, that I have also see place as decorative stone in the villages. It’s got a plain outside, but seems to split so hush at it has a shiny flat center of another color. From the upper wall you can look out and see the outlines of the old cathedral. Very impressive. Poor Michael has been here multiple times, so he was glad to find what he called “Medieval Jenga, on one of the picnic tables, and amused himself there while Chris and I walked around.

After lunch we went to Salisbury cathedral in the town below the fort. It was really beautiful, with alots of light coming in, and a beautiful nave and side chapels. There was also a copy of the Magna Carta there. It’s an very well kept copy and the line that was most striking to me “to no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.” Very forward thinking, fellas.

We finished the day wandering around Salisbury. Michael found some music shops, and Chris and I after a wander found a bakery serving “Lardy Cake” or “Lardy Slice.” Of course we got some, why are you even asking?

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Greenwich Mean Time

There is no resting when you are on a Reed vacation. There must be a church spire somewhere that needs climbing or some such. Sunday, the four of us got moving early and caught the train to London. We saw the Cutty Sark, a clipper ship that has been beautifully restored, and has yet another great display about history. This ship was big in huge tea trade, and speed was important, because whatever ship unloaded their tea first got a bonus. It was amazing to see this beautiful ship, because, like the train stations in Scotland, it heartens from an age, where craftsmanship wasn’t just about efficieny, it was about style. There is beautiful carved wood, and polished brass fittings everywhere.
After the usual stop in hue he gift shop, we moved on to the naval observatory at Greenwich. I was very excited about this, because of course, this is where you can stand on the Prime Meridian. I am a big nerd, so that’s some major excitement for me. Outside the gates Michael and I also acted out some sort of fierce watching pointing, which we called, Greenwich Mean Time. Get it? Ahh nerds, where would we be without them? Lost out in there sea apparently, because after we waited our turn for our prime meridian pictures, we went to the Maritime Museum and saw a special exhibit about the search for Longitude. In short, latitude is pretty easy to find, but longitude, not so much. The English government had a contest to get ideas about ways you could reliably figure this out, especially at sea. The winners ended up being a guy who made a really accurate watch (one that would not be messed up by the rolling of the ship) and a guy who made extremely accurate lunar tables. I’m not completely clear about the lunar tables, but the thing with the watch was, if before you left, you set one watch with Greenwich on the Prime, you could figure out the local time and thereby calculate your longitude. Nerd Club triumph!

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