Posts Tagged ‘English Heritage’

Bear was now healed up and fully ready to hit the road, a mere 27 days after his falling ill while in Paris. He scouted out the English Heritage Map, which hadn’t seen any pins added to it in quite a while, and spotted a gap in the area of Lincolnshire, and that’s where he set his sights.

One of these areas is not like the others

One of these areas is not like the others

Our first stop was the ruins of Tattershall College, a grammar school for church choristers.

Interior of the school (formerly two storey) which was in use from the 15th century up to WW2.

Interior of the school (formerly two storey) which was in use from the 15th century up to 20th century.

Snow plus Bear = watch your back

Snow plus Bear = watch your back

Tattershall had been built by the same man (Roger, Lord Cromwell) who built the nearby Tattershall Castle (sensing a theme here), which is managed by English Trust, and looked like it had been quite something back in the day.


Church conveniently located next door

Church conveniently located next door

On the way to the next stop, we stumbled on Lincoln Cathedral which wasn’t actually in the original plan.

Lincoln Cathedral

Lincoln Cathedral

Lincoln Cathedral (the other pointy end)

Lincoln Cathedral (the other pointy end)

Yes. Yes, that's Yoda clinging to man's back.

Yes. Yes, that’s Yoda clinging to man’s back.

We then hit something of a snag as we tried to visit the Bishop’s Palace. We had gotten directions from a nice lady in the cathedral and went straight over to it but for some reason no one was home.

Who knows what lurks behind the green door? (Answer: Marilyn Chambers apparently.)

Who knows what lurks behind the green door? (Answer: Marilyn Chambers apparently.)

Yep--they said they would be open

Yep–they said they would be open

So we decided that since we’d come all this way, we would do a little guerrilla touristing and just climbed over the gate and walked around ourselves. (Honestly, they could have put up a sign or a notice on the website. It’s like the country has never seen snow before.)

Escape from the Bishop's Palace

Escape from the Bishop’s Palace

After working up an appetite climbing over walls and gates, Bear said it was time to look for lunch…

Oh look what was just two miles away!!

Oh look what was just two miles away!!

We went to Bolingbroke Castle next, which is more accurately “the ruins of what we think was probably at one time Bolingbroke Castle”. Most famous perhaps as the birthplace of Henry IV, they made an unfortunate choice of Spilsby greenstone as the chief building material, which according to Wikipedia is “porous, prone to rapid deterioration when exposed to weather and a substandard building material”. Wow. Not what you want to read in your building report.

It comes complete with a frozen moat that a labrador retriever was romping around on when we got there (leaving scuffy paw prints on the slushy ice)

It comes complete with a frozen moat that a labrador retriever was romping around on when we got there (leaving scuffy paw prints on the slushy ice)

That would be the Spilsby greenstone

That would be the Spilsby greenstone

Probably looked more like a castle with a...castle. Back in the day.

Probably looked more like a castle with a…castle. Back in the day.

There is something of an English fascination with windmills that I’ve never gotten a firm grasp on, so we decided to stop at the Sibsey Trader Mill in Sibsey since we were in the area also.

Sibsey Trader Mill

Sibsey Trader Mill

It was at this point that I extended our sort of dubious guerrilla activities since we hadn’t technically, exactly, precisely yet renewed our English Heritage, which just came up for renewal this week. I have the cards. I in fact had them with me and wanted to do the renewal on site, but none of the places we had been to yet that day had an admissions person. So it was with a little trepidation that I walked up to the windmill and asked the guy if he wanted to see our cards. He did…but as soon as I pulled mine out, he lost interest and didn’t even want to scan it or look at the number, so we went right in. (I swear, I am renewing as soon as they open on Monday. The very second.)

Windmills. Not that interesting to Munk. They’re not bad, but anything that smacks of the mechanical is inevitably going to be less fascinating than another structure where blood was shed. Not that people haven’t probably lost limbs or cut themselves in the gears, but that wasn’t purposeful bloodshed.

There were six storeys of this.

There were six storeys of this.

And when you're done, you get lots of different cool flours.

And when you’re done, you get lots of different cool flours.


After we climbed up all six floors and gave everything a good look, and managed to climb back down without killing ourselves, we stopped at the tea room next door which was surprisingly well stocked and doing some local business. We had a very reasonable little scone with two pots of tea for just 4.20 (a figure which seems very appropriate when it comes to stopping to get a munchy snack).

4:20--munchy time!

4:20–munchy time!

While we were there, Bear overheard a couple at the next table talking about problems they’d had with their car when it pulls a trailer/caravan and the engine knocked, so he chatted with them about it and gave them a tip to have their mechanic turn up the fuel mix when they knew they would be pulling a load. They seemed to be really grateful and chatted with us some about their travels to Scotland and the Black Isle, which weirdly enough is a spot that I wrote a short novella about when I was in high school (what are the odds?). It led me to understand that the people we have a lot in common with in England are caravan (RV) owners. They just have more of an urge to get out and explore it seems. They gave us some recommendations about a boat trip up around Edinburgh that could take us to an island with some puffins, so we thanked them and made a note to check that out if we can’t find puffins in Ireland this summer.

There was just time to get home before it got dark and the roads started to freeze up again, and we were very fortunate to luck into finding a new road to get home on. By that, I literally mean it was a new road. It had just been build, had sufficiently wide lanes, and even lighting in appropriate areas. It was almost like driving in America. Bear even teared up a little.

Teatime Bear

Teatime Bear


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After we returned from the expedition to Aldeburgh/Framlingham, Juliet had spent all night in our room, draped over my legs, thinking perhaps it was the safest place in the entire house. She seems to be sensing the onset of a second Prison Day with greater and greater accuracy.

When we got everyone rounded up, we first headed down to Dover Castle which we had visited when we first arrived so it was nice to see it again through slightly more experienced eyes.

Approaching the keep

Roman lighthouse next to Saxon church, all within the grounds of the castle

In the Dover tea shop — Joy, Madison, Katja, Moira with Bear’s arm

The two low jetty-like extensions in the sea form a sort of harbor through which the ferries to Calais, France go out.

We toured the interior of the Great Tower, stopping on each floor to see the displays. They had gotten the fires going again in the great fireplaces which was very welcome and chatted with some of the attendants. One girl told us a very funny story about how they let her try on some chain mail and armor one night after everything closed down and how heavy it was. “Well, I was a bit smashed,” she confided,” and then I saw a spider and I screamed and tried to run, which was really ridiculous for me, carrying a sword and shield, to be running from a spider like that.”

In the Great Hall

A bed fit for a (very short) king

Enough room to seat and feed a whole Swiss army!

Kids on the battlements

We headed out for the town of Battle, just north of Hastings, which is the site of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The rain and the back roads made the drive trickier than Bear had anticipated, but we arrived just at the start of the battle as the armies were shouting insults at each other.

Normans advancing up to the defending Saxon army

English Heritage had set up a good sound system all around the battlefield and a narrator walked the crowd through each step of the battle, explaining the actions and movements and giving it a really nice overall storyline to what would’ve looked a little confusing on its own. The men of Duke William of Normandy were at the bottom of the hill while King Harold’s men defended the top of the ridge, trying to beat them back.

The Norman army’s encampment (all the re-enactors really did camp out for the battle)

Camp complete with little camp accessories

The mess hall?

Food and snacks (And some of them take credit cards too!)

One of the most interesting parts of the battle was the Norman cavalry who rode and charged along the side of the battle we were watching from. I had found a stall selling vegetarian jerky of all things and was happily munching down on a snack while I watched the horses and followed the action.

Norman cavalry in a rare still moment

The re-enactment took a full hour to play out. One particularly dramatic moment came when Duke William was unhorsed and his soldiers weren’t certain if he had died or was still leading them. When he (the re-enactor) re-mounted, he rode across the field without his helmet, screaming that he was alive. I don’t know where he was from (the re-enactors came from all over England and Europe, as far as Scandinavia and Russia), but it was a really powerful moment for me as the timeline blurred and it was easy to see what it must have been like a thousand years ago when William, not yet Conqueror, had to rally his troops.

Saxon infantry (and shoulder of random attendee)

Finally the battle wound down and King Harold was killed with an arrow in his eye and the men of his house closed around him to protect his body until the end. Even though they had no hope, they were sworn to stay with their lord until death and with Harold died much of the best of England.

Last stand of the men of King Harold’s house

After the close of the battle, the forces withdrew and there was a really nice bit of narration from the perspective of Harold’s queen as she searched the battlefield for his body for burial.

Some of the Norman cavalry rode back by me, some doing a fancy side-step maneuver, and one yelled out, “Look upon your new lords!” which got a round of good-natured boos from the crowd.

Something here doesn’t seem historically accurate…

As we rounded up everyone and headed back to the car, the rain started up and the already muddy field turned slick. Having worn just sneakers for the day, I wound up with soaked and muddy feet and mud splashed up to my calf on my khakis. We found that the car was still safe on the side of the road and not stuck as we had feared. A very nice couple in a caravan-RV thing parked behind us offered some plastic bags so we could take our shoes off and stow them in the trunk which the girls were very happy to do.

The rain returned and turned everything back into mud again and English Heritage had to decide to cancel the Sunday schedule for the re-enactment so I was really, really glad we got Saturday tickets.

There wasn’t much food in the area, at least not that my unpracticed eye could find, so I made reservations for seven at a Pizza Express in Royal Tunbridge Wells, and for all that finding parking there was challenging, the walk to the restaurant was really nice and through the high street.

Everyone at dinner–God bless Pizza Express for being able to handle larger parties and taking reservations

The girls caught on when we were ordering coffee after dinner and asked for coffees also, so the waiter Bill (who liked to talk and was a whole lotta fun) very kindly brought them all-steamed-milk cappuccinos

Juliet was all too happy to see us when we got home and then dove straight under the covers again, just like she had on the Queen Mary 2, so we knew she would be fine as soon as she got adjusted to the noise of happy kids in the house.

A safe and secure homebase under Grandma’s blanket

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This last week has been an exceptionally good one on several levels. I’ve been able to work out every day, which is really important for my overall health (mental and physical). I have to give thanks to my co-workers, Kevin in particular, for helping me get a regular lunch break so I can do that and I’ve tried to repay the trust by staying late if necessary and also working on some on larger projects. In addition to that, some things have taken a really good turn in terms of getting more time to write and do some things that are really important for my mental health.

Bear put together the weekend plans as he had spotted a gigantic empty spot on the English Heritage map where we hadn’t put any pins in yet. Part of his plan though involved some mildly illegal things, so we had to get up extra early to head over to Norwich, one of the central cities of Norfolk County.

Bear had done very good Google research and it looked like no parking was to be had in Norwich around the Cow Tower so we got up around 5:30 a.m. to make the drive over before anyone woke up in time to notice that we’d parked illegally.

We found some residential parking right along the Norwich river walk and prayed no one would wake up. In England, if you live in a certain area along a well-traveled street, then you can get a permit that lets you park on the street so understandably fines are pretty hefty for taking those parking spots and people can get irate with you. I’m not saying this is from personal experience, but it just might be.

Bridge over River Wensum, leading to the city center

A very smartly located pub, IMHO — dinner outside, watching the waterfowl in the spring and summer would be really great.

The Cow Tower got its name (possibly, no one’s quite sure) from having been built in a meadow area called Cowholme (Cow Home, yes?). It served as a kind of artillery tower that housed cannon and other explodey stuff to help protect Norwich.

Bear taking a walk along the Norwich River Walk

Cow Tower (Bear for scale)

We also spotted what may be the northernmost bird condo in the world perched in one of the trees right by the Cow Tower. I have no idea who thought that birds would go for this, but as far as I could tell they were all using the ruins of the Cow Tower. That’s just like the English –go with the old stuff over new construction

Now taking applications for the fall of 2012

I’m pretty sure this is the lantern from Lantern Waste in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Carving on a park bench dedicated to an avid park walker and his faithful friend Sophie. (Not the first time we’ve seen a bench dedicated to a man and his dog.)

We headed out of town then before traffic could pick up and went to visit St. Olaves, an Augustinian priory in St. Olaves near the River Waveney. The priory was for Augustinian canons, which means they were priests living together and not monks, which made the order clerical rather than monastic. While there, I saw two of the brothers still working in the fields.

Brother Push-Me and Brother Pull-You, the Holy Llamas

OK, it’s not stained glass but it’s better than an empty arch

The undercroft of the structure is what it’s best noted for and it seems to have been reconstructed on the one exposed side in order to let it be sealed from the elements.

Interesting to see the cutaway to see what’s within the whitewashed walls.

The entire undercroft

Bear steered us over to Burgh Castle then, parking by a fish pond and then hiking out to see the Roman fort. This took us through the field in front of the fort where the vicus was found originally.A vicus was an informal camp settlement that usually sprang up around a military outpost (I think the word is from a more formal Latin term for a neighborhood) and eventually it could grow into an official town. The word vicus turned into “wick”, as in Gatwick, Ipswich and Norwich (so Norwich –> North village).

Open field before the fort walls

We met a number of people with dogs along the way which reinforced some observations I’ve been making about what the English consider to be a fantastically fun day out. Are you ready? Got a pencil? They go somewhere mildly historical and walk with the dogs. Probably take a picnic with them. Don’t get me wrong, I think this sounds great, especially if you’ve never left The Shire before. Today we met Yorkies, two obese Jack Russels and a whippet named Higgins.

The interior walls of the fort — the area it could enclose felt fairly large. Three walls are still standing but the fourth fell into the sea.

One really interesting point about the Roman forts in the coastal Norfolk area is that Norfolk used to be a lot more coastal than it is now.  The reason is that over the last 10,000 years there’s been a lot of change to the area and yes, some of it was due to climate changes (I’m not looking to start a debate, but folks, we used to have ice ages and currently we don’t — that counts). During the most recent significant ice age, the seabed between England and Europe was exposed as in there was no sea due to it being called off for glacier duty. So much was exposed that the British Isles were just the westernmost tip of Europe and that area now submerged was known as Doggerland. Eventually the water started coming back, slowly taking away the walk-able areas and England was cut off again. Some of Doggerland was still exposed though and was known as Dogger Island until it too was submerged at last. They’ve done dredging and found artifacts in the seabed (tools, weapons and even bone needles) from inhabited prehistoric times.

So when the Romans came, all of that was gone and the coastline was actually closer in (later filled in by sifting silt and tidal patterns and other causes), so some of the forts which are advertised as being coastal aren’t quite as close as you might think and they’re also missing the fantastic estuary system that made for such a great location.

From the back of Burgh Castle, across the Breydon Water but what I think of as a salt marsh (influenced too much by my Florida background), you can see the Berney Arms Windmill.

The Berney Arms Windmill, a marsh mill that now pumps water out of the marshland. You can only get there by boat, so I thought this was close enough for me. There were sailboats going up and down around the marsh the whole time.

On the way back to the car, we went past a church of St. Peter and St. Paul which was open for a little graveyard maintenance.

St. Peter and St. Paul’s

After that, Bear took me up to Great Yarmouth to see the row houses on the historic quay. We didn’t get into the houses exactly, but we did see the exteriors.

Exterior of some of the Great Yarmouth Row Houses

While there we tried to get into the interior also, but in all his careful planning Bear had neglected to notice that tiny bit of info in the English Heritage Brochure which said “Monday through Friday”, so we went walking up and down the quay instead to see some ships, then went out to the point of the spit of land to see more ships.

Historic Quay (not taken by me)

Bear is fascinated with industry and quite possibly consumed with a need to know what the major economic underpinnings are of any city we visit. We were standing on the quay, surrounded by shipping vessels and oil rig equipment and he kept saying, “I wonder what they do here–wonder what all this is for?” “Gardening?” I suggested. He wonders why I don’t take him seriously.

We drove a little further north to Caister-by-the-sea and saw the ruins of a large Roman fort there which had also once been closer to the sea.

Caister Roman Fort

It’s a testament to how important the Romans thought this are was that they built so many forts close together to protect their ability to ship in and out, as well as to defend from naval attack.

We had managed to get all that done before noon so it was time for a well-deserved Nando’s break We drove back to Norwich to find one of their locations. At this point the perfectly planned day began to go a little off the rails thanks to a smart phone that wasn’t smart enough to inform us that we were being taken into a dead end with no way to cross the river to get to the site. We ended up parking in a bus lane on a street and saying a very sincere prayer over Dieter that he would still be there when we got back. We had to hike over a footbridge to even reach the area and it was at this point that I began to wonder if this wasn’t where they filmed some of 28 Days Later, when Cillian Murphy wakes up and wanders the deserted streets now that everyone’s died in the zombie apocalypse. That particular area in Norwich is, to put it mildly, not a place you probably want to be after dark; however, during the day all the vampires seem to be asleep so it’s OK if you want to scurry around.

The Nandos experience itself didn’t go quite as planned either with a dual highlight of a malfunctioning bathroom stall lock and my inadvertent demonstration of an Andy Murray backhand which sent my soda glass flying across the table at Bear who managed to agilely avoid the whole thing. I have reason to believe that the woman who eventually brought us paper towels was the same one involved in the earlier bathroom door lock fiasco (judging by shoes that is) so my humiliation was complete.

Very thankfully Dieter was still parked in the bus lane and unticketed so we managed to make our way out of the riverside slummy area and drive by the castle but somehow got misdirected into the cathedral enclosure instead. The security guard said it was just fine with him if we wanted to park in the interior quad and let us through and offered to give directions too. On our way back to him we decided to duck into the cathedral which we didn’t really know anything about and were really stunned by how gorgeous it was and well-preserved in comparison.

Cloister walk

Transept (south?) and spire

At this point, I made the perennial mistake of trusting that Bear knows what he’s doing when he says “No, no, it’s OK, we can go in there.” The “there” in question was the main part of the church as there was a wedding going on and signs were posted on all the doors saying “Wedding in progress, guests only past this point please” How I fell for this is a mystery to me, but like an idiotic little lamb to the slaughter, I followed right after him and walked into the path of the wedding video as the minister was giving a funny little homily about how from this point forward Maneesh wouldn’t just be Maneesh, he would be Maneesh plus one and Margita would, yes, still be Margita but Margita “plus one”. Everyone was laughing along with this which gave me the opportunity to keep slinking to the back of the church. By the time I got there I had decided that God wouldn’t forgive me for using any of His furniture to kill my husband with, so I agreed to wait on that one for a while.

To distract myself, I was able to get some very nice shots of the architecture on the non-quarrantined portion of the cathedral.

Organ and roof

At this point I heard two things — one, the minister said, “Now repeat after me, I Margita…” and Bear said, “I think we’re clear — let’s go.” I finally put my foot down and said, “No, they’re doing the vows, we’re going to wait for that to finish.” He looked at me in exasperation and said, “Well, how long is that going to take?” I resisted the urge to point out that of the two of us, he had been married twice as many times as I had so he damn well ought to know the answer to that, but settled for, “Not long, Mr. We’re Allowed To Go In, It’ll Be OK”.

Things did actually wrap up very quickly and we snuck out in a less than solemn moment and made it back to the cathedral guard who turned out to be Mr. Chatty, even in comparison with other much chattier cultures, say, Brazil. We decided to skip Norwich Castle for the day since it sounded like we could make a day of that alone and went on to Baconsthorpe Castle.

If you’re thinking, hey, I haven’t heard of Baconsthorpe Castle before, there’s probably a reason for that. It’s at the end of 14 dirt roads and at one point Bear really thought he’d broken an axle (I thought it was a clump of dirt that ossified in the middle of the road).  But don’t let that put you off–it was a nice little property actually.

The house itself was built around 1450 by the original lord of the Heydon family and added on to from that point forward by successive generations.

Baconsthorpe Castle

The fortified gatehouse was a later Elizabethean addition and then someone got the bright idea to convert parts to industrial purpose and they had some kind of wool mill going on the side. Eventually bad management and debt caught up with them, plus they had to pay for digging the mere (moat) around the whole place.

So they took to breaking up parts of the buildings to sell them for building materials and that’s pretty embarrassing when you think about it.

Lots of ducks and waterfowl who were camera shy that day

As we were leaving, two police officers pulled up complete with little vests and went out into the area of the ruins which seemed very odd to me on several fronts . First, there’s nothing out there. Second, that was probably only the fifth police officer (or set of officers) that we’ve seen in the entire time we’ve been here . Either the English are very well behaved, comparative to Americans, or they just catch everything on CCTV and send out an automated car to pick people up in order to save on administrative costs. I have no idea what they were up to–perhaps the ducks in the mere were being anti-social and got a complaint filed.

After that, we tried to head over to Holkham Hall, which we had nearly visited once before but there was a little misunderstanding (something along the lines of my saying, Hey, we’re in the parking lot, let’s go through that gate and Bear saying, “No, there’s nothing back there”. This is the little known reverse of the principle we saw in action at the cathedral of “Sure, c’mon, what could possibly go wrong?”) As a result, I never got to see Holkham Hall which everyone else raves about, so this was Bear’s way of trying to get that particular day erased form the marital annals.

He did a great job but was thwarted by a music festival we knew nothing about which had blocked off all reasonable routes so we happily called it a day and decided to head back, still having seen a record number of sites for the day.

On the way home, we decided it was appropriate to stop off for a soda and I was sent in to do this. The problem is that Bear has a very limited number of things that he will drink. Right now, it has to be calorie free and also tasty (unless of course he feels like a Coke). This limits us to Diet 7 Up and, well, Coke. I went into 3 successive convenience stores and came up empty, once buying a Regular 7 Up by mistake (still bitter about that). On the last time I came out with an orange soda, which he often likes, but when he took the first swig he went dead silent which is how I know it was awful. Against my will I was starting to giggle at the expression on his face and I asked how it was and he replied, “Pretty good until the aftertaste burned all the papillae off my tongue. I ca’d feel ah togue!”

In the trash, where it belongs. (Still not sure why it’s my job to go inside to pick out his drinks when even he doesn’t really know what he wants.)

One more service station later and I found the Diet 7up to carry us home.

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We set a new record of being on the road before 6 a.m. to get to our first stop by 8 a.m. Along the way we spotted something you just don’t see every day — cows using an overpass walk to get over the highway.

This is not an episode of The X-Files

We were in search of the Sandbach crosses, two carved stone Anglo-Saxon crosses from the 9th century that had been shattered, then the pieces gathered and reassembled in the town square.

Sandbach Crosses

Detail of the larger Sandbach Cross

It was a short ride over from there to Chester, a really nice little town, to see the Roman city walls and amphitheatre. First though I spotted a bathroom that was both nicely done in tile but also featured something…well, I’m still not sure what function this particular sink was designed for.

A foot sink? Soak your laundry and come back for it?

On the walk there, we passed the church of St. John the Baptist and stopped in.

Inside the church of St. John the Baptist

Bear serving as scale in the exterior ruins

An oaken coffin embedded in the wall up near the arch with the inscription "Dust to Dust". They weren't fooling around. (Trivia -- what other two words have something in common with "oaken" and what's the underlying commonality?)

The amphitheater itself had only been discovered fairly recently, in 1929, although its presence had been suspected for a long time given that a Roman legion had been posted in the area and they went with ampitheaters (for gladitorial combat) like modern army bases and strip clubs. City workers uncovered one of the walls and the usual discussions followed about what to do and how to avoid destroying them.

The amphitheater! OK, OK, it's a tiny scale model but you get the idea.

Bear did a very nice job of giving his version of the famous line from Gladiator, “Are you not entertained?”

I confess, I thought of the climactic scene from the final episode of the first season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand where he ran up the shield of his friend and launched himself up to the balcony and proceeded to absolutely decimate the gathered Roman nobility.

It's only a replica positioned in front of the mural, but just the idea of a tethering stone where a gladiator (or victim) was chained to fight to the death was really powerful.

I even did my best investigative report in the field update of the day so far.

My work friend Rachel had actually lived in Chester for about a year as a zookeeper assistant/intern and had worked with the orangutans and chimpanzees. She spoke well of the zoo, so we decided we need to come back to Chester sometime to spend more time and maybe see the zoo itself. It looked like a very interesting, nicely laid out little town.

We continued on into northern Wales and towards Rhuddlan Castle which was previously the center of power for the kingdom of Gwynedd. The princes of Gwynedd (what, no kings?) played an important role in English history, or rather the English kept mucking around with the Welsh.

There are some links between Chester and the Welsh, particularly back in the 12th century at the time of Ranulf, the Earl of Chester who was particularly bad at tinkering in other people’s business. To put it succinctly, he had a grudge with King David (of Scotland) as a result of something King Stephen (of England)  did and then proceeded to spend the next 20 years trying to get back at both of them by switching sides, allegiances, betraying his oaths and generally trying to take over any unattended castle that was near at hand. Finally one of King Stephen’s advisors poisoned him, and took 3 of his men in the process. Because Ranulf also tried to pick up lands in Wales as well, the princes of Gwynedd kept a close eye on him.

At this point on the drive we were nearly to Rhuddlan and Bear was trying to trip me up by springing questions on me like how to pronounce certain Welsh place names from the road signs. I did have a very brief class in Welsh back in college, but it was more of an overall cultural education and included a video on cricket and having to learn to sing the Welsh national anthem and recite some Welsh poetry. What I retained was the ability to say “Bore da!” (Hey there, good morning) and recite the first four lines of Taliesen’s elegy to Owain ap Urien.

Enaid Owain ap Urien
Gobullyid rhen oi raid
Reged Udd ai cudd tramlas
Nid oed fas Ei gywyddeid

(It goes much easier if you let go of the idea that W’s and Y’s are consonants.)

The soul of Owain ap Urien
May the Lord provide for in its need
Prince of Rheged, the heavy green sward conceals him;
Not shallow was his song.

That really won’t do too much for you probably, but it does seem to amuse people when I mangle the recitation. (Actually, one Welsh woman I met told me that my pronunciation was actually fairly good, although I think I owe all of that to Dr. Gareth Williams at Stetson who taught the Welsh class.)

In a hitherto unequaled bit of genius planning, we arrived at Rhuddlan Castle just as the caretaker pulled up and unlocked the gate. We were happy to discover that we get half off all entrance to Cadw (pronounced Kah-du) managed sites. The castle was deserted and we were even given a key to unlock the viewing platform as the first people of the day.

Rhuddlan Castle from the interior viewing platform

Badgers prefer Cadbury

Yes, there was a sign that said not to climb on the castle walls. It was in English.

While there, a gaggle of Romanians showed up on holiday and we managed to stay out of their vacation photos. there’s nothing like going home, opening up your pictures and finding out tons of people you don’t know are in all of them. When that happens to me, I give the people names like Reggie and Maxine and make up stories like how we met them in the Cotswolds.

Exterior approach to Rhuddlan Castle

Just as we finished it started to rain so we retreated to the gift shop and I shamelessly bought up some things to send back to America as soon as I find a box to put everything in. (I’ve recently made progress on locating the local post office. You really can’t assume that things will be sitting out there and obvious.)

We headed about 10 miles away to Denbigh Castle then which is remarkable for two reasons. First, it’s the ancestral home of the family of my good friend and college roommate Becky Watts (now Dr. Watts at our alma mater, Stetson University). Secondly, my college professor Dr. Gareth Williams of the Stetson math department is also from Denbigh. He taught the brief class I had in Welsh, so it only seemed fair to go and visit the source of some very happy college memories.

Getting to the castle was another matter as Denbigh has some very narrow streets and when I say narrow streets, I mean if one of them had been named Birth Canal I would have said, my, what an excellent choice. How insightful your planning commission was back in 1385.

Denbigh Castle, front approach

As I discovered at Orford Castle, these stone steps can be extremely slick so I’ve been wary of them ever since. I think the culprit is as much my hiking boots as anything, but they’re so practical for everything else that I just gimp my way up and down the steps.

No kidding

Bear had taken a very wise step in scouting out places to eat before we left. You simply cannot expect to just wander into a town and locate a restaurant district. Let go of that little dream or you will be a very hungry adventurer. True, there are usually pubs to be found a’plenty but Bear does not care for the pub and probably neither does his heart and since we’re committed to keeping that in the best possible shape, we go out of the way to find healthy food which isn’t easy to do on the fly.

Bear had, by the all mighty power of Google, found a Nando’s in Wrexham which was going to be our next stop on the way to Beeston Castle and we hit it right at 1:30 which was perfect timing. As good fortune had it, this was St. George’s Day and they had some special activities going on at the castle although at first we just opted for marching straight up the hill.

Up on a hill -- good idea!

Beeston Castle is set on top of a very imposing hill (small mountain if you ask me) and as we agreed it would be virtually impossible to take the castle. (As it turns out, it did change hands just twice and both were during the Civil War. Unfortunately, as with many other structures such as Nottingham Castle, the Parliamentarians decided to blow up big chunks of it at the end so it couldn’t later be used against them.)

Natural built-in moat, another good idea!

Panoramic from Beeston Castle

This place has more panoramics than a...a panoramic store

We had a really great view of the surrounding countryside, including the Wrexin which is a large hill over in Wales which we had driven past a few months ago on our Brother Cadfael adventure (link).

Me, looking at all that panorama

While wandering around, we had a brief discussion about a somewhat convoluted episode from my life just  before I met Bear which can best be summed up as having been a little lost and down on myself in terms of life direction. Someone I knew at the time had gotten to visit England for a few weeks while I was basically unemployed with no real prospects and it had made me wonder exactly what God had in mind and why wasn’t he letting me in on the plan?. So now roughly a decade later, here I was standing on top of a hill (mountain) on the Welsh borderland with my amazing (occasionally odd and lovably bizarre) husband and I get to stay and see anything I want for years on end which really beats a short trip. I was trying to make this a very meaningful exchange about life and how it turns out better than you think and Bear just put on a goofy smile that said “Well, duh, you have me now!” which of course made me laugh.

Beeston Castle from the road

Then we had a little episode when we tried to go back to Chester to pick up snacks at Pret A Manger, which is a sandwich-like shop chain with healthy fruit, salads and other sides. At the risk of sounding critical of my wonderful, humble husband who had just stood on a Welsh-ish mountain-ish and declared himself the reason for all my good fortune, he has the sense that if he knows a restaurant exists, then he should be able to instantly spot it. Let me tell you this–just because it exists in an English town does not mean they have a big sign for it or that it’s visible from the road or that it’s even in a vehicle accessible district of the city. There is no guarantee of these things. Hell, there’s no guarantee of that in America! Nevertheless, forth we went. To his credit, Bear had looked up the address, but Uma the sat nav had never heard of that road and Bear’s phone was down so we drove around until he got increasingly hot and frustrated with the situation. We will not be providing a free transcript of what was said.

Finally we spotted a sports arena named Northgate which was the same name as the road this was supposed to be on and I convinced him to pull over so I could go inside Carphone Warehouse to ask for directions. The very nice girls there got us straightened out but pointed out that, yes, it was only 7 minutes by foot from there but it was in a (say it with me) pedestrian only area and you couldn’t get there really by car anyway. They took pity at the look on my face (I may or may not have muttered something about my husband’s blood pressure) and they said that we could leave the car there and they would put us on the list (not to be towed) and we could just walk over and back.

Fortunately Bear thought that was a great idea so we hoofed it over and found it very shortly with all the great sandwiches we had been hoping for. If it had been closed you wouldn’t be reading about all this here; you would be watching me relate it on the evening news as my explanation for why Bear had been arrested for throwing a patio chair through the glass window of the closed Pret A Manger.

On the walk back, now able to enjoy the surroundings, we spotted the Chester city walls, some Roman ruins and even a gelato shop. Nothing makes a rueful Bear more calm and happy than a chocolate/mint chocolate gelato.

Chester city walls

Back in the car, we did a little mood management by discussing all the nice things we’d seen on the walk, how we hadn’t really lost time and the how nice the Carphone Warehouse girls were, what a wonderful day it had been and truly how lucky we were to have found each other, and yes life really had turned out for the best before we set out to get home to St. Neots and baby Juliet who was waiting for us by the door, just as we’d left her that morning.

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Juliet has now taken to lying down in front of the door when she senses that we’re leaving and this has become really hard for me to watch, so Bear distracts her while we get out the door for our Saturday excursions.

We’ve taken trying to take our own snacks and drinks as much as possible which has led to some issues with the cupholder. It was a dealbreaker when we got the car and they had to actually go find the accessory that fits into the console just so we could have something. It was a good effort, but I had a sense that the upper level holder would work but the bottom level one (aka “mine”) would have issues with certain kinds of cups, as in the very narrow kind. Which leads us to our current situation which is the question of how to take tea and hot drinks with us on the road. There’s a plan in the works to get some great travel cups that are vacuum sealed and will keep stuff hot for at least 6 hours but they’re vastly more expensive to purchase over here.

Because we’ve just watched the extended editions of each installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy (twice) in the last two weeks, Bear had lots of questions about particular back story bits of the plotline, things like “Who is older—Elrond or Galadriel?” and “She called Aragorn a man of Númenor —wait, where is that?”  (Answers: Galadriel, by a few thousand years and Númenor is basically at the bottom of the ocean.) So I started with a very cursory overview of the cosmology and moved into the coming of the firstborn Eldar and we got up through the Oath of Fëanor, the burning of the ships at Losgar and into the Dagor-nuin-Giliath (Battle-Under-Stars) by the time we got to York. (I married a very tolerant man.)

We found a nice all day parking place but the trick was that you needed to pay by phone, which fortunately we could now that we have phones and a real bank account. It’s a bit of a process and involves putting in your vehicle’s registration number (which is the license plate actually), but once you’re registered they somehow know it’s you whenever you call and that makes it a lot easier the next time. We did have a bit of a difference of opinion though about what “Long Term Parking” meant. It asked me how many hours I wanted or did I want Long Term Parking. We knew the limit was 5 hours before the rate was the same to get 24 hours, so of course I pressed Long Term Parking. At that point it asked me how many weeks I wanted to be there. Hang up, start over.

We walked up from the parking to find ourselves right on the river and walking along a very nicely kept area to some bridges. As it turns out, it was the River Ouse, the same river that runs behind our house, which oozes all over the countryside it seems.

The rowing club on the river had several boats out

An apparently withered tree, which only reminded Bear of the withered tree in the court of the fountain in The Return of the King.

The bridges we crossed several times had some clever things worked into the existing structure, like tea rooms in what used to be little guard houses.

York Minster is an extremely impressive cathedral to say the least and is the seat of the second highest ranking bishop in all of England, if I read the brochures correctly.

York Minster


We took a peek around the eastern side of the cathedral while waiting for the tour of the Tower, which was fortunate because they closed it off shortly after we left for some other services.

We also looked in the crypt which has some very interesting items, but most of that was closed off for further renovation also..

They had charcoal art up all over the central area which was themed to Passion Week with various scenes from the sufferings of Christ, to which I was relieved that at least it was thematically relevant unlike what we saw in Gloucester.

Veronica's Handkerchief (Judy Kirk, this is for you!)

We also saw some sculptures that I jokingly called Semaphore Saints…until I saw a placard explaining that this is exactly what they are. Little angels making signs in semaphore, which you could decipher (decoding key included below–hint, it doesn’t say “Drink more Ovaltine”).

First half...

Second half

Decoding key

We undertook the climb up the tower which was a lot more daunting than they advertised at first, although to be fair there were multiple signs saying that the staff had the right to deny anyone access if they judged it best. It was nearly 300 steps pretty much straight up in a very narrow spiral stone staircase, not too unlike the stairs of Cirith Ungol which we’d been watching in The Return of the King (yes, yes, in the books it happened in The Two Towers, I know) just the night before.

Note ferris wheel to the left of the towers


A white horse hill figure carving is visible in the distance to the left

Unidentified gardens below

From the descent to the main cathedral


But the view from the roof is completely worth it and we even felt justified in heading to a tea room and having a scone immediately afterwards just to get the calories back in us. Bear was able to get his favorite black currant jam, brought to us by an extremely androgynous waiter (if his name had turned out to be Pat, I was going to have to leave the room for fear of cracking up inappropriately).

Cream tea, a good reward

We wandered through the center of town along a pedestrian mall for quite a while and really enjoyed the buskers playing piano and creating a nice atmosphere.

Down one of the main pedestrian avenues

Along the way we spotted a very sad reminder of the recent British losses in Afghanistan.

For the Yorkshire Regiment soldiers who had just died in Afghanistan days before

We wound up back at Clifford’s Tower, which was a somber note because for all the bright yellow flowers, it’s perhaps most famous for being the site where over 150 Jewish citizens retreated in 1190, chased by an angry mob, and most ended up committing suicide rather than be captured and tortured.

Clifford's Tower

Interior of Clifford's Tower

It was also at Clifford’s Tower that we learned from the helpful English Heritage worker that the York Minster people should have given us a discount for being EHS members. It was of course my own fault for not whipping out my card and asking, but they certainly didn’t volunteer it either. For some reason we both felt equal levels of desire to get that money back, so we marched off to return to the Minster and somehow got turned around and ended up walking on the city wall which actually gives you a great view of some interesting points along the city.

The York city wall--we could see the Minster ahead and kept stalking towards it

It was a detour well worth taking and we eventually wound up back at the Minster and got the partial refund, which covered our earlier trip to the tea room and gave us a valuable lesson in the process.

We walked along the river a lot more, looking for a place for lunch and wound up in the guildhall by accident where they were having a crafts show so we got entrance for free on this one day.

The river you just can't escape

I spotted someone making fresh pasta in a storefront window and it turned out to be a clever ploy to get you to come in to Peccolino’s the restaurant itself. Hey, it worked! We had a really nice risotto con funghi with bread and Bear said our waitress reminded him of a meerkat. We also spotted a machine to slice up prosciutto in the back and stopped to look at it on the way when The Meerkat bounded over and offered to show Bear how it worked and he got several slices to sample out of the deal.

On the way back, we stopped through St. Mary’s Abbey and visited the grounds along with everyone else in the city who was enjoying the end of winter. While there we saw a a family with really amazing floppy curly ginger-blonde hair (although the Mom had darker hair).

Seriously, that is some amazing hair

We felt like we’d walked close to 5 miles and we probably had in the course of going all over and back, so we headed home having gotten our money’s worth out of the all day parking deal. I quizzed Bear on what he’d learned out about The Silmarillion that day and  we listened to Classic FM at the Movies where they featured Bernard Hermann, most famous for his work with Hitchcock but also (to me) for his second marriage to Lucille Fletcher, the author of such classic radio scripts as “Sorry, Wrong Number” (starring Agnes Moorehead), “The Hitchhiker” (with Orson Welles in the lead), “Fugue in C Minor” (Vincent Price) and “Diary of Sophronia Winters” (Agnes Moorehead again).

Juliet was, of course, very happy to see us as she seems to have grown to forget that we used to leave her during the day all the time back in America when we would go to work. She’s become accustomed to our faces.

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