Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Recap: The Road to Edinburgh

I just want to offer a few observations about the UK - general impressions.  First off, when we checked in with customs upon arrival, I went up first and Leon waited in queue because we had gotten reprimanded in the US on our return from Italy 2002 for going up to the window together.  The US custom agent had said, "You're not related, get back behind the line."  At Heathrow, the agent asked Leon if he was traveling with someone and he said, "yes, my life partner".  The agent said - "Go, be with him,  this is England."  He did so and we were interviewed briefly. When the customs agent asked me if I had been to England before, I told him yes, many years ago.  I said, "I was the guy who asked the Bobby how to get to Traffle-Gar Square".  "Oh", he said, "That was you? They're still talking about that one."  I would never even consider such an exchange with the humorless, stone-faced US Customs Agents - who think their serious-business attitude is necessary to "protect the country".  The Brits achieve the same end with decency, respect, class, and, yes, humor. They have a sense of order, with rules and systems to make things run smoothly and they make allowances for for free and paid use of facilities, so long as one follows the rules - as in the rest-stop parking area.
Well, back to the tour:

We had arrived in London a few days ahead of the tour and so joined Trafalgar Tours for two more nights in London beginning on Saturday. The real Road Trip began on Monday morning at 6:30am with luggage call and breakfast. It took a day or so to get the hang of the routine, but everyone was soon on board with the schedule. We headed out of London and into the countryside. Like much of Europe, the population is concentrated in cities and towns with little suburban sprawl.  This leaves the countryside to the sheep and the farmers, and a few landowners with large estates.
Our first stop was Stonehenge which is in the middle of a great expanse of pasture and fields.  It was not as grand as my expectations.  I'm not sure what I expected, but I think the fact that visitors are kept at a distance - probably 150 to 200 feet or more - made the experience a bit underwhelming.
Leon was intent on saving Doctor Who who was supposedly trapped underneath Stonehenge, but could not get close enough to find the hidden button on one of the rocks.

Our tour took us to Salisbury for a brief orientation with tour guide, Paul, an Irish gentleman with the gift of gab, who has made England his home. It was basically a lunch stop with a couple of hours to explore on our own.
Paul, our tour guide in cap, holding folder
Cornish Meat Pies for Lunch


Salisbury Cathedreal


Who was St. Osmund?
I love stone.  My grandfather was a stonemason.  I build stonewalls at home.  I was fascinated by the decorative detail in the wall at St. Anne's Gate.

Off to the city of Bath, settled by the Romans and famous for natural hot springs that fed the pools in the elaborate public baths, the ruins of which we toured.

The Roman Bath at Bath

Stone "Tiles" at the Bath
Leon Could be a Professor at the Academy
Dress Shop Window with Antique Sewing Machines

Nice Water Feature
Not Quite Bristol, Connecticut
Bristol was just a night over.  We were up at the crack of dawn so did not see much of this town.  Then to Chester and the Lake District.
Typical Row Houses

Cheese Rolling Contest

One of Many Cathedrals Bombed in WWII
The Name of this Tourist Restaurant is So Out of Place
We took a side tour to Wales where they take letters of the alphabet, throw them in the air and make words.

A Personalized Camper

That can't be one word, can it?
Pastoral Scene
The countryside is truly beautiful.  It is, in some ways, like New England, except the fields and pastures are so much more expansive.  Paul, our guide, said that the grazing land was all forest at one time, but it has been cut and cultivated for hundreds of years; much land is used for sheep which need something like two and a half acres each for grazing.  The stonewalls in this area are made with quarried stone without mortar and there are hundreds of miles of walls.  In New England there are also miles of stonewalls made with fieldstone that was removed from fields as the land was cleared and plowed.  I found it fascinating to compare and contrast the Old England with New England - where just about every town is named after a city or town in England.
Pastoral Scene

Lake Windermere

Grasmere is the home of William Wordsworth.  This is where he is buried along with a couple of other Wordsworths. Our tour guide suggested that many people come to pay homage to the poet and writer.  At the risk of having my readers think less of me, I must confess that as I entered the churchyard, I harbored thoughts of how he, along with the other Romantic period authors, made my High School English class miserable and how got my only "F" in college when I had to take a course in Romantic Literature for Humanities credits I needed.  Needless to say, I still needed those credits going into the next semester.  Damn the Romantics!

Isn't the Stonework Superb?

To Gretna Green for lunch and souvenirs.
It's Only World Famous Because All The Trafalgar Tours Stop Here
Although we had an opportunity to tour Roslyn Chapel as an "add-on" but we chose to pass.  We purchased a couple of other "add-on" tours and had to limit our expenses.  Also I think the hype around the DaVinci Code turned me off somewhat to the Chapel, but those who took the tour found it fascinating.

From here it was a hop over to Edinburgh. 


  1. I'm loving your pics. I like old cathedrals/churches, and especially the church grounds. I'm glad you took plenty of pics of them.

  2. Hey Frank, this is the third time since Sunday I've tried to post a comment - for some reason Blogger won't let me leave one here though I am signed in. I've tried all kinds of tricks but can't fix the problem.

    Anyway, here's what I've been trying to say:

    A few comments out of many I could make:

    "Go be with him, this is England" - marvelous! And poignant too.

    And so just what did those Cornish pasties taste like, anyway?

    Now that you've seen Salisbury Cathedral in person, google up the very famous painting of it by Constable and compare.

    I was secretly hoping you would encounter "a crowd, a host of golden daffodils" when you got to the Lake Country - they are blooming in my so-called garden now - but maybe not yet in England, huh?

    Pity you have a mental block on Wordsworth. With your love of nature you would really like his attitude if only the veil were stripped from your eyes.

    Your observation on the indecipherable Welsh language is very good, very apt. Wish I'd thought of that. Grin.

    St. Osmund - now let me think. Um, he was a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll, wasn't he?

    All those miles of stone walls make my back hurt just looking at them. Imagine the labor.

    Great pics though, sure seems like you guys had a great time, I'm glad.

  3. Russ, thanks for the comments. Cornish pasties were scrumptious; the Cathedral on canvas seems more timeless when framed by lofty trees and without scaffolding; the daffodils in England were in blossom - but the cold spell made them shiver and bow their heads; cherry trees and rhododendrons were in flower; the crocuses were just about passed; I think not even years of therapy would clear my mental blocks - I have so many of them and they are heavy; glad you like the pics. Will post a few more in days to come. Thanks.



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