In spite of being a bit cathedraled-out we nonetheless felt the need to see this city’s famous building. And, we truly lucked out when we met John O., a guide who answered our questions and offered a tour. With him this cathedral became illuminated with treasures and connecting points to other historical facts and figures.
As one would expect of a building this size, the grounds on which it sits ensures the cathedral maintains a prominent position in the city.
When approaching the entry both Max and I noticed the face carvings that on closer inspection displayed tortured contortions. Welcome to Medieval Christianity.
Once inside, the cathedral opens up into a huge central area (nave) leading to the choir area (quire) and ending at the altar with Trinity Chapel behind it. Sitting in the middle of the nave between the north and south transepts (perpindicular to the nave) is the spire, the largest of all of Britain’s cathedrals.
For the holiday season a huge tree stood at the entrance to the nave, which made the space less austere in its Gothic grandeur.
Before we met our guide we began looking around and noticed a detailed model of the cathedral under construction. The display provided an excellent lesson on the coordinated activities required for each construction phase, helping us understand how these remarkable medieval craftsmen could create such a magnificent cathedral with relatively simple yet clever tools.
We wandered towards the center of the aisle to a large modern fountain. The plaque identified it as a font commemorating the 750th anniversary of the cathedral in 2008. And, this leads to the truly astonishing fact that this impressive structure was built in only 38 years (1220-1258). What a feat considering most cathedrals at the time required up to 100 years.
The font also provided a great photo op.
When we met up with John we began our informative tour at the medieval clock, considered to be the world’s oldest working mechanical one (1386) and still running today. It keeps time by only striking the hour (no clock face with minutes is displayed).
From there we saw the tomb of William Longespee (1176-1226), the first person to be buried in the cathedral.
It retains some of its original color, painted over 800 years ago.
What’s more interesting, though, is Longespee’s history. As the recognized illegitimate son of Henry II (the one of Dover Castle and husband to Eleanor of Aquitaine… the 1968 movie THE LION IN WINTER provides an interesting take on the history of these two), Longespee’s half-brothers were King Richard I aka Richard the Lion-Hearted (ruled 1189-99) and King John (ruled 1199-1216).
Through his marriage to the Countess of Salisbury, he became an Earl (3rd one of Salisbury). He served under both of his half-brothers, fighting alongside Richard in Normandy and later holding appointed positions under John. He was John’s advisor during the 1215 Magna Carta negotiations and one of the reasons one of the four original copies resides at this cathedral.
In spite of John’s putting his seal on the Magna Carta June 15th 1215, he renounced clause number 61, which provided 25 barons the power to over-rule the King. This set in motion the First Barons’ War (1215-17) to which the French added their two cents. John died during the war and his son, Henry III, was crowned King. I won’t go into any more detail but the lead-up to the Barons’ rebellion is fascinating. As one writer put it, there was a perfect storm composed of land, power, women, religion, and money (http://www.thamespathway.com/chapter9/runnymede-and-magna-carta.aspx).
William Longespee supported the young king and continued to wield influence both in administrative and military positions. He was rumored to have been poisoned by Hubert de Burgh (as chief political and justice official for Henry III perhaps he was jealous of Longespee’s influence over the young king?) and upon opening his tomb in 1791 remnants of a rat was found inside his skull carrying traces of arsenic. Lovely story but could be just a story as opposed to a true story.
During our time in the cathedral a boys choir was rehearsing,
and, at one point, John asked us to sit and just listen to the singing. He mentioned it was his favorite carol, “Abide with me”, one of Max’s favorites as well.
Continuing on we entered a small chapel where the only remaining carved symbol (the pomegranate and the rose) of Katharine of Aragon and Henry VIII still rests on the ceiling (all others in the country were replaced by Anne Boleyn’s falcon). Tucked away in a little side chapel evidently it wasn’f found by Henry VIII’s smashing squad.
There were other tombs such as the Shrine Tomb of St. Osmund, the first Bishop of Salisbury, who died in 1099 and was made a saint in 1457),
the tomb of John, Lord Cheney (1442-99, served as bodyguard to Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII during the War of the Roses),
and Edward Seymour (1561-16120 and wife Lady Catherine Grey (1540-68), younger sister of the nine-days-queen, Lady Jane Grey (both Grey stories are tragic). I won’t go into Catherine’s life story here but did discover there’s an Ipswich connection: because she married Edward secretly without her cousin Queen Elizabeth I’s permission, Catherine tried to get help in pleading her case. The place she did so was in Ipswich (!) when the court was on progress (when a ruler toured his/her realm).
Our tour with John ended in the Chapter House where Salisbury’s original copy of the Magna Carta resided.
John also pointed out the intricate needle-pointed cushions sitting atop the stone seats against the walls , several of which were created by his wife.
We left the Chapter House walking out into the open-air corridor surrounding the Cloisters, the largest of the British cathedrals and designed for processions.
Must say our tour of Salisbury Cathedral was another major highlight of our Winter Ride thanks to the considerable knowledge and warm welcome we received at the hands of our gracious guide John. He certainly added some wonderful Christmas spirit to our December in the UK.
Our Winter Ride finale ended with candlelit singing in St. Martin’s Church, reputedly the oldest building in Salisbury (mentioned in a 1091 document). Named after the earliest settlement of Salisbury, the Sarum Voices choir beautifully highlighted ethereal notes with their a cappella singing.
May there be peace on earth and joy in everyone’s lives.
We left Stratford-upon-Avon and headed to Bath, another historical city. On the way we noticed an English Heritage sign touting the Roman Cirencester Amphitheatre. Thinking it’d be worthwhile to stop, we did, but not before driving right past the poorly-marked location. However, it was worth the hunt just to chuckle at the site’s opening hours.
By the way the only remnants were literally the earthwork.
So, back in the car towards our original destination. Locating a parking spot in this crowded city was quite a feat, but find one we did and began our brief tour of Bath.
While waiting for the Bath Abbey to open with its angels climbing Jacob’s Ladder:
we wandered around the square off of which stood the Roman Baths (expensive so we looked at the posted diagram and called it good enough)
and the Christmas shoppers (jam packed through the holiday stalls).
Soon the Abbey opened its doors and in we went.
Like many of these church buildings the present Bath Abbey (dating from 1499) actually stands on a former religious site, a Norman cathedral. A plaque lists not only the Christian leaders from the 11th century but also those from as early as the 7th century when abbesses led the local community.
One of the key historical events that took place here was the 973 C.E. crowning of the first king of “All England”, Edgar, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, an event depicted in one of the stained glass windows:
Must say of all of our Bath touring the most fascinating was a busker posing as a silver-clad, wind-blown cyclist.
Returning to the car we saw a notice stuck on the windshield. Sure enough, the parking space we gleefully squeezed into was evidently not a valid one. We had checked the other cars to see if any paid & displayed parking stickers (no); checked any parking signage (yes, touting no fees for Sundays).
Evidently we don’t know what to look for because, in spite of our scouting out parking requirements, we still got a ticket. Anyhow, Max as a Bath (Maine) native son has emailed Bath (UK) parking powers-that-be to plead our foreign innocence. We’ll see what comes of it as we were able to get another ticket earlier this year revoked.
Then we were off further south to Salisbury where we landed, once again, in a parking lot scrounging for a spot only to discover it was for day trippers only (no overnighters, which is what we needed). Great.
This time, however, parking gods bestowed upon us a gracious and kind shop owner. He must have noticed our frantic ‘what-now?!’ looks when he said the lot was truly only for day trippers for he then told us to use his personal space behind his shop (he was leaving for the night and would return at 9a the next morning). A true gift.
We lugged our backpacks to our hotel and settled in.
Monday, December 14
Knowing it’d be a good time to view Stonehenge due to fewer visitors at this time of year we hopped in the car for the thirty-minute drive north.
Too late we realized guaranteed entry was only via online, advanced booking; but, since it was off-season, we lucked out. And, with our English Heritage membership entry was free. (FYI: this is a great organization to which we belong. By visiting just a few sites your membership fee is easily covered and then some. There are even short-term membership fees available depending on the focus of your visit to the UK)
The first mention of Stonehenge or “Stanenges” was in a 1130 C.E. archaeological study by Henry of Huntingdon. By 1610 “Stanenges” morphed into its current name “Stonehenge”. By the beginning of the 20th century more than ten excavations had occurred. Fortunately, an effort was made to ensure the protection of this historical site with the lobbying of the site’s owner, Sir Edmond Antrobus, by the Society of Antiquaries. With funds for preservation, this landmark was ensured longevity; and, a new visitor center opened in 2013 hosted us as we wandered through the various exhibits.
There’s a jitney taking visitors to the actual stones 1.5 miles away; so, we hopped aboard for the short jaunt. We probably should have gone the full ride so we’d be the first of only four tourists at the site; but, we opted to walk the last half of the trip.
However, the bonus of walking (through what turned out to be a cow field) was our gaining a broader view of the area’s offerings via a large plaque.
Neither Max nor I realized the existence of extensive earth and stone structures built in addition to Stonehenge. During the Mesolithic period (8,500 to 7,000 B.C.E.) pine poles had been erected in the area, possibly used as totem-poles. These holes are called Aubrey holes after the 17th century antiquarian who found them.
During the Neolithic or New Stone Age (4,000 – 2,300 B.C.E.) and Bronze Age (2,300-800 B.C.E.) people used this location for both burials and pilgrimages, with Stonehenge being the most prominent.
Archaeologists defined the constructions as cursus (rectangular enclosures with an external bank and internal ditches) and barrows (earth-covered burial mounds). I won’t go into the definition of henge except to say, when applied to this monument, it means hanging – as in suspended – thus ‘hanging stones’ or Stonehenge.
Their chosen location, now called Salisbury Plain, would have provided a prominent view of any monuments due to the wide open space.
You can see the red dot positioning us on the map below.
We walked through the cow field that contained some of the Bronze Age burial sites called the Cursus barrows.
This is how historians believe these burials appeared when in use:
The first and last time I had visited this iconic formation was in 1971. This 4,500-year-old site happened to be part of an American Youth Hostel biking tour, which a high school friend, Annie Bommer, and I joined (it was during that trip I envied dogs whose heads stuck outside their owner’s four-wheel vehicles as they whizzed by our two-wheel mounts). Forty-five years ago one could picnic on the stones, which we did along with tossing frisbees about.
No more. After reading about the limited access I feared we’d be peering at these monolithic stones from way far away; but, happily we could get to within 100 feet or so. And, due to being winter, we were some of the first and few people there compared to summer traffic when as many as 5,000 visitors daily tour this site.
During its use as a monument, Stonehenge went through various reshufflings of two types of stones: smaller blue stones from the Welsh Preseli Mountains (150 m. NW) weighing about five tons each; and, larger sarsen stones (local sandstone blocks, 20 miles north) weighing over 27 tons each. What we currently see is the last of three stages of stone formations at the site.
By zooming in we could see how the lintels (horizontal pieces) joined to the standing ones with ‘bump’s to hold them in place:
A 1.7-mile road called Stonehenge Avenue connected Stonehenge to the River Avon.
Although we didn’t walk it we saw faint outlines of it once we arrived at the stones themselves.
The Heel Stone (formerly upright) was part of the sight-line for the winter solstice sunset and summer solstice sunrise:
With only a week to go until December 21, winter solstice, we checked out the markers supposedly used for celebrating the lengthening days.
By the time we had finished touring the site and the center the sky was beginning to spit rain, so we scurried back to the car for a picnic lunch prior to returning to Salisbury.
Whatever the purpose of these megaliths, staring at those huge stones sitting in the middle of a hilly, windswept plain is pretty awe-inspiring.
As a darkening, overcast sky began sweeping across the plain, I recalled again my visit 45 years earlier in the sun and warmth and realized how today’s weather felt more like the true dressing for these majestic stones.
In case my last sentence in PART II didn’t help you locate our next stop it’s Shakespeare’s home where we headed. With all of the fame he engendered beginning during his lifetime, his hometown is a bit like an amusement park, albeit a tasteful and cultural one. And, we happily went along for the ride.
This is the short and long of it…
Our first stop was his childhood home where his parents John and Mary lived, the largest one at that time on Henley Street. His father is painted as quite a wheeler-dealer who didn’t just make gloves but also bought and sold commodities and even became a Bailiff, the highest public office in Stratford. Shakespeare grew up here, the third eldest of eight children, and returned to this house with his wife Anne Hathaway for the first five years of their marriage.
The house itself is quite small inside and included John’s glove-making workshop.
We were fortunate to meet one of the guides who held court in the workshop. He thoroughly entertained us with stories of the house including the etymology of phrases deriving from ‘board’ (for example, the chairman of the board came about due to the leader of a meeting sitting in the chair at one end of a table comprised of a board atop a stand… other attendants would sit on benches on either side of the board table). We also learned about medieval architecture such as why many homes back then were so gloomy: windows had shutters versus glass windows; and, the windows were opened to let smoke out, not air in, which is why they used to be called ‘wind holes’).
The guide must have liked our group for he followed us upstairs to the bedrooms where a prized stained glass window once hung. Now, it’s behind glass itself as it features visitors’ scratched names. He pointed out famous ones such as Tennyson’s and Sir Walter Scott’s. Unfortunately our photo didn’t highlight these names but here’s one of the window itself:
I found myself fascinated by this guy’s tutorial on medieval architecture and the inhabitants. At times I felt I’ll not budge an inch this guide was so entrancing. I easily could have followed him around all day begging for more information on the how’s and why’s of these buildings, let alone any tidbits tossed out about the inhabitants.
William Shakespeare, like his father, was also quite a businessman. William did become famous during his time and used his fame to create wealth, one venture being converting part of his childhood home into the Maidenhead Inn (later the Swan and Maidenhead Inn) when his father died in 1601. Shakespeare’s eldest daughter Suzanne inherited it followed by her only child, Elizabeth, on her mother’s death.
Elizabeth, Shakespeare’s only grandchild (1608-1670), married twice but had no children; so, upon her death, her aunt, Joan Hart, Shakespeare’s only living sibling, inherited it.
For 250 years, until 1847, it remained in the Hart family. At that time a rumor sprung up that P.T. Barnum was planning on transporting the house to New York. He had toured England in 1844 with Tom Thumb and, during that time, also visited Stratford-on-Avon. Later he professed interest in purchasing Shakespeare’s home to add to his collection and show. A British group, including Charles Dickens, formed the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and raised enough funds to purchase it for £3,000 at public auction. Today the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust covers five homes associated with Shakespeare’s time in Stratford-on-Avon.
We left his home and walked down the crowded streets to the Harvard House.
This home was rebuilt by Thomas Rogers in 1596 after a fire destroyed parts of Stratford. It’s one of the reasons it has a tile roof (versus thatch) and a fire escape hatch as delays have dangerous ends.
A hook to pull thatch down off a burning roof:
As a successful butcher and corn & cattle merchant, Rogers managed to build a substantial home, one we had all to ourselves as we climbed the stairs to deluxe rooms. Compared to Shakespeare’s home, the house seemed palatial with tall ceilings on the ground floor and some of the original paint decorating the plastered wattle (woven wooden lattices)-and-daub (animal dung, earth, clay and straw) walls.
We also saw a 1570 wool and silk tapestry panel, probably used as a cushion cover. [Reminded us of Judy’s (Max’s sister’s) interest in weaving, hence a photo of it :)]
The home also featured a rare stained glass decorated with some plants known at that time.
If you’re wondering why it’s called the Harvard House: Roger’s grandson John Harvard, married Ann Sadler and emigrated to Newtowne, Massachusetts Bay Colony, where he worked as a preacher and teaching elder. He died of tuberculosis in 1638. Before he died he wanted to contribute to the Colony’s fund to build a college, so he bequeathed £750 (over £3 million today) and his library of 250 books.
The powers that be honored him by renaming Newtowne “Cambridge” where John had attended university, and the new college “Harvard.”
A few blocks away we entered Shakespeare’s daughter Suzanna’s home where she lived with her husband Dr. John Hall.
Now this felt luxurious compared to previous two homes. It was furnished from that time period including dish ware, paintings, even Dr. Hall’s pharmacy filled with jars that would have contained herbal remedies from their garden.
Onward to Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare was christened (1564), possibly married (1582) and buried (1616) along with his wife Anne (1556-1623). His three children, Suzanna (1583-1649) and twins Hammet (1585-1596) and Judith (1585-1662) were baptized here as well.
Just a side note about his children, Suzanna was known for being clever. Her intelligence and marriage to a prosperous doctor (interestingly, his detailed medical records reveal he developed a treatment for scurvy made from asorbic-high, local plants and grasses over 100 years before remedies were widely known) created a rich life for herself and family.
Shakespeare’s only son, Hammet, and second daughter, Judith, were named after close friends of William’s, the local baker and his wife. Unfortunately, Hammet died at age 11 and Judith had a sad life thanks to her marriage to a local vintner, Thomas Quiney. They were excommunicated because Thomas didn’t obtain the necessary license to wed during Lent, and later he was charged and found guilty of carnal copulation. Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall. In short, Judith didn’t have the best of times and her tragedies also caused a lot of pain to her father, changing his will to protect Judith from her husband.
Back to the church… there is a wooden bust that is lauded as being the only true representation of Shakespeare since it was put in place during his wife and daughter’s lifetime. However, repainting of the bust over the years means the original painted features and details have been lost.
The church also features a sanctuary knocker where someone could escape pursers for 37 days, similar to the one at Durham Cathedral.
With it becoming twilight we hurried back to the car park (we had only put in three hours and were over by five minutes, but, as good luck would have it, no ticket was attached to our windshield). We drove just out of town to Anne Hathaway’s cottage. It was located in a beautiful garden setting that would have been a leasehold during her parents’ time.
Here, Anne grew up, the eldest of eight children. What I found very unusual is she was eight years older than Shakespeare, which was rare for that time (and in today’s world, too). However, their fathers were both bailiffs at one time so possibly William got to know Anne when the families visited one another; and, who knows? Maybe he had a crush on the older sister Anne? Anyhow, she ended up pregnant, and William’s father had to quickly get the priest to shorten the posting of the bans to two weeks from the typical three. Susanna was born six months later.
During their marriage, as good luck would have it, William became wealthy first as a successful playwright and theatrical operator then as the writer and presenter of his own plays. However, there is no record of Anne visiting and living with William in London while he worked as an actor. She remained at Henley Street with her in-laws and later moved into New Place, one of the biggest houses in town, which Shakespeare purchased in 1596. This entitled Anne to a very comfortable lifestyle in Stratford.
We were welcomed by a young guide who relayed wonderful stories about the house and the Hathaways. Anne’s ancestors actually lived in the house until 1892 when purchased by the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust mentioned above.
The guide told us the Hathaways use to give tours embellishing a bit. They claimed that a settle (high-backed bench) by the kitchen fireplace was where Shakespeare wooed Anne. They then would carve off a piece to sell as a souvenir. Others must have had a difficult time believing that for the bench still stands fairly intact, which just proves the better part of valour is discretion.
At least he must have walked on these original floors in the main part of the house (The guide told us folk have actually kissed the floor but Max opted for a less familiar touch.)
Upstairs a four-poster bed could be where Anne was born as well as the ‘second-best bed’ bequeathed by Shakespeare to his wife. As the guide explained this isn’t as demeaning as it sounds because beds were a prized piece of furniture, with the best ones generally used for guests while the plainer ones would be the husband-and-wife’s, thus having more sentiment attached to it and more valuable to the surviving spouse.
Perhaps William lulled Anne to sleep with a verse: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate”, then woke her in the morning whispering in her ear “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, rounded with a little sleep.” To which she may have responded “I have not slept a wink” due to his snoring.
If anyone would like a quick read about Shakespeare’s time, Bill Bryson’s SHAKESPEARE describes the setting in which this writer lived. As Bryson states, there is very little known about Shakespeare’s life, which wasn’t unusual back then (author Ben Johnson’s date of birth, names of parents, number of children is unknown, and architect Inigo Jones’ first 30 years on earth are a complete mystery). Instead of creating a cast of assumptions regarding this famous playwright’s life, Bryson provides the living background (from architectural to dietary) in which Shakespeare operated.
It was dark by the time we left for our B&B outside of town but we did catch a glimpse of the beautiful Hathaway gardens. Here I thought I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it.
Ahh, can one desire too much of a good thing? I think not.
Next, a prominent location for any solstice watchers.
Our friends Helen and Gus Wilson had just visited two towns a week or so prior to our road trip, and we decided to follow in their tracks based on their experiences. So, off we drove to Chester, a walled city dating from the Roman occupation 2,000 years ago. The cathedral is a must-see with some of the finest medieval carvings in Europe decorating the quire. Originally founded as a Benedictine Abbey in 1092, the church contains a mix of Norman and Gothic styles during its evolution to the present day cathedral.
As we’ve discovered, these cathedrals are living museums still used today by congregations. Blending old with new, Chester’s cathedral was decorated for Christmas including Dicken’s tale of Scrooge.
It was a bit odd to walk amidst large, storybook characters while touring a medieval building (actually, it was in the Chapter House Room where the monks use to meet and where the monastery’s founder, first Norman Earl of Chester and William the Conqueror’s nephew, Hugh Lupus, was buried) ; yet, I really appreciate keeping architectural and historical gems alive through modern-day use.
In the nave Max spotted the Chester Imp or devil hidden amidst the upper windows.Legend has it a priest saw the devil in that spot, so they carved one and placed it there, on the north side – the side where, according to medieval belief, bad things happen (odd, but so is seeing ‘the devil’).
We wandered into a room used for a Consistory, or church, court. As one of the oldest surviving examples of an ecclesiastical courtroom, Chester’s dates from 1541 with the judge or Chancellor sitting in the raised canopied seat flanked by two clerks. The guy in the raised corner chair was the ‘Apparitor’ who was in charge of logistics during the trials, ones covering slander, theft, even witchcraft. If these walls could talk…
Reading that the quire stalls hinged-seats had misericords, small wooden rests you can prop up on when standing, were of exceptional craftsmanship, we wanted to check them out.
It was here we ran into a guide who generously answered our questions and explained that the carvings were so intricate the woodcarvers even detailed the hollow interiors of some of the knobs.
And, these carvings were created using fairly imprecise tools compared to today’s equipment.
He invited us to listen in on a short explanation he gave to several school children, one where he pointed out the elephant carving. He pointed to the animal’s feet, which were actually horses’ hooves because the carvers had never seen an elephant before and had to come up with their own design.
The guide then took us to a monument for a 17th-century bishop partly financed by an American bishop’s donations in 1863.
Evidently the Bishop of Maryland thought very highly of this John Pearson, a Bishop of Chester (1672-86) who was instrumental in creating the first prayer/service book of the Church of England in 1662. Frankly, what interested me the most was seeing a mustache without any beard on this medieval face. I later read that in England facial hair (for men) ebbed and flowed with, no surprise, favored styles depending upon the royal’s facial coifing (James I and both Charles I and II in the 1600s displayed luxurious mustaches).
Running into the guide was a gift, and it’s not the first time–nor the last–that we’ve left a cathedral in awe of the knowledge shared by such warm hosts.
With that we exited the cathedral climbing up to the city wall ringing the back of it (it doesn’t look it but there’s a ten or so foot drop-off on one side of this walkway).
Here we also glimpsed the Eastgate Clock commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
Eager to arrive at our next destination we headed back to the car via The Rows, one of Britain’s oldest shopping arcades built between 1200 and 1350. With Christmas just around the corner we have found many places packed with holiday shoppers, which made parking difficult but lent a spirited festive air to our travels.
On the road again we drove directly to Conwy, another beautiful site, this one on the coast. In addition to being one of the finest surviving medieval fortifications in Britain, Conwy is also close to the home of a cruiser friend we met in the Azores during our 2014 crossing; and, we had arranged to meet Martin and his wife Hilary at their former cruising club.
But first, we stopped to unpack at our lodgings, the local youth hostel, which, I must admit wasn’t my first choice based on previous hostel stays during our earlier travels. Yet, this one was stellar. It was also practically emptied, which made the common areas easy to use and very quiet.
Once we were oriented with the kind help of the guy at the reception desk we walked downhill, under one of the city gates and to the waterfront where we supped at a local pub before entering the North Wales Cruising Club. There we were greeted by one of the members while the club quickly filled with others who were creating goody bags for their upcoming volunteer activity of playing Santa who comes by water, not by air.
Soon Martin and Hilary arrived and we caught up over drinks in the warmth of this cruising club before heading back to our bunks.
Friday, December 11
After breakfasting in the hostel dining room we left for the fortress castle eager to stretch our legs and learn more about this UNESCO World Heritage City.
With over three-quarters of a mile long wall interspersed with 22 towers, this town represents England’s fear of Welsh insurrection under the rule of King Edward I (1239-1307) or ‘Long Shanks’ (6’2”). This English king was the heir of Henry III and Eleanor of Province. To secure control of Wales Edward built and refurbished a chain of 17 castles by 1283.
The fortress that juts into the River Conwy sits on rocks which provide a natural deterrent to invaders. It’s a beautiful setting and remarkable considering these structures have remained standing since medieval times.
What amazed Max and me even more is that this structure was built in seven years! Can’t you just imagine the hustle and bustle associated with creating the foundation, ferrying the stones, then actually building block by block such a giant infrastructure? And, this was done without the benefit of modern cranes, bulldozers and CAD design…
As we climbed the inner passageways and stairs to towers and walls
and gazed out from the castle
mounted placards explained the historical signficance of the rooms and time Edward I spent cloistered in his stone fortress. What clearly came through was the Welsh sentiment towards their English ruler and fellow conquerors.
For instance, check out the last line in this excerpt under the heading “Hostile takeover stimulated building boom”:
And, if that didn’t give you a clue to how they really felt, try this one:
We felt we could have been speaking with someone from those times due to the commentary provided on these 21st century displays. Obviously, King Edward I couldn’t die soon enough; and, from their view I can understand why.
As in Scotland, signs and communications are bilingual to ensure this country’s language lives. Of course, we couldn’t understand a syllable much less a whole word when confronted with it. But, it’s a lovely language the few times we heard it spoken around us.
Some historical footnotes resulting from Edward’s rule:
In 1301 he named his son Prince of Wales, an appellation continuing to this day.
He was responsible for the hanging, drawing and quartering of the Scottish hero, William Wallace in 1305.
And, Edward died on route to fight the next Scottish rebel, Robert the Bruce, in 1307.
Again, history’s fascinating connectivity captured us in its spell as we both recalled our Scottish travels earlier this year.
Strolling down to the waterfront we passed a 14th-century timbered stone dwelling (Aberyconwy House)
and the smallest house in Great Britain.
We couldn’t help noticing some paper stuck to the hulls of overturned dinghies and, after reading them, were thankful JUANONA’s dinghy was carefully stowed aboard.
Due to the time of year another site, Plas Mawr, a 16th-century Elizabethan house, was closed for the season, so we decided to walk part of the town walls. Built in only four years (1283-1287), they ran for nearly a mile. The English lived inside, the Welsh, outside. Great way to engender comaraderie.
Encircling the entire town, the walls make for a great viewing platform, both of the river and of the town itself.
With more daylight time ahead of us we jumped back in our car to toddle around the countryside for an hour, noticing flooded areas due to earlier storms that devastated the Lake District just north of here.
Back at our hostel we prepared our dinner in the well-outfitted communal kitchen. Another fairly early night in our bunks
with tomorrow’s itinerary involving an Englishman and his home. I cannot tell what the dickens his name is. :)
Wiinter being a slow time at our marina in ipswich, we decided to explore more of Great Britain, this time heading NNW towards Liverpool and environs.
But, before we landed on the west coast of England we wanted to catch a glimpse of one of our favorite people, Stephanie Green. We had met Steph in English Harbor along the Turkish coast in the summer of 2003; and, ever since we’d been in touch including several visits, one in the U.S. where her travels drew her from Mexico to Maine with her faithful pup, Muneca, and then, again, in London in 2010.
The reunion occurred just down from her place of employment. Hugs abound and a too-brief reunion, one we hope to expand upon next time we’re together.
After leaving Steph we made it to our destination in spite of several mis-turns during Liverpool’s rush-hour traffic. With backpacks loaded we headed to our hotel and then began our exploration of this city at night. Determined to hear some music while here we decided to check out a Mumford & Sons concert. Unfortunately, the scalped ticket price seemed a bit high so we ended up fortifying ourselves with a picnic dinner of chicken that goes round-and-round and a salad. A bit odiferous of an elevator ride to our room (one my sister knows since we did this in 2000 in a much fancier hotel…). Afterwards back to the streets where it seemed all the bars shilled live music and free shots. We visited the small iconic Cavern Club, site of many of The Beatles early concerts, then called it a night.
Tuesday, December 8
Of course one of the major draws of Liverpool are The Beatles’ roots. Opting for a magical mystery bus tour along with ten others, we were driven to various historical sites:
Penny Lane (Paul’s tribute to his childhood neighborhood)
and its sung landmarks…
“Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs …”
“In Penny Lane there is a fireman with an hourglass …”
“Behind the shelter in the middle of the roundabout …”
John lived from age 5 to 22 with his aunt and uncle in the house below (John’s room was in the upper left). Our tour guide, who personally knew the Beatles, offered interesting background such as how John’s mom was killed on the street in front of this home by an off-duty policeman who didn’t yet have his driving license, who John came to believe was drunk. Charges against the officer were subsequently dropped, and our tour guide suggested this was a major factor in John becoming disdainful and distrustful of the Establishment.
Paul and his family lived just around the corner from John. It is estimated that the two of them wrote more than 100 songs here (not all of them published):
We re-boarded our tour bus at the same stop where Paul would actually ‘get up…and catch the bus.’
We also drove to George’s childhood home (the smallest of them all), and, I believe, one of the poorest (no inside plumbing at one of his family homes)
And, the bar on the corner where Ringo and his mom lived, and for which he named his first album: “Sentimental Journey.”
Many of the Beatles’ songs include references to all of these landmarks, such as the orphanage for girls off John’s back yard named Strawberry Fields. Aunt Mimi would tell John “if you get caught sneaking in there to spy on the girls, you’ll be hanged…” John’s reply in verse: “Nothing to get hung about.” This is also where John sang “No one I think, is in my tree …” He sees himself as different, outside the mainstream.
All during our tour guide’s patter and landmark views I couldn’t shake a feeling of melancholy. Our tour coinciding with the anniversary of Lennon’s death in 1980 may have contributed to an underpinning of sadness; yet, the feeling came from more than a single moment in time. In retrospect I believe it’s visiting sites that are part of my time in life. I grew up with The Beatles, watched them on The Ed Sullivan Show, listened to their songs all through high school and college and then some, and still catch sight of Paul and Ringo on TV during nostalgic flashbacks.
So, driving down memory lanes led to reflecting on my own childhood. And, to be looking back versus forward also meant remembering a time filled with people who are no longer with me. I guess the short answer to this source of melancholy was I felt old, something I avoid when possible. Yet, here I sat on a bus reliving a part of my generation. An odd sensation.
Among all of the interesting tidbits shared by our bus host two stood out to me: one, what great musicians these guys were; and, two, just how much they were like ‘boys next door.’ I mean, I could actually visualize how they formed their band. What also helped later with that impression was a documentary Carol E., a friend of ours recommended, called GOOD ‘OLE FRIDA. That movie really drove home the boyhood spirits of The Beatles.
But, enough of that! After hopping off the bus we made a beeline for one of Liverpool’s excellent museums: The Merseyside Maritime Museum.
Located on the River Mersey at the Albert Dock this museum includes other informative displays, including the International Slavery Museum and exhibits on two tragic cruise liners: the Titanic and the Luisitania.
The International Slavery Museum came to be due to Liverpool atoning for its horrific part in the slave trade. As some historians say, the city was built on the backbone of slavery, and Liverpool decided to shine the light on their past as a way to educate, versus whitewash, this heritage.
During the 1700 and 1800’s this port city served as the place for slave ships to offload raw goods produced by slave labor (sugar, tobacco, coffee and cotton) and load up on finished goods (textiles, copper, brass and guns among the bulk of the cargo) before sailing to the west coast of Africa. In the early 1700s a total of 15 ships left Liverpool as part of this trade triangle. By 1750 it had grown to over 100 ships.
Over 1.5 million Africans were transported by Liverpudian ships. This trade created huge wealth for many, including James Penny. Rich merchants populated the city resulting in quite a few streets carrying their names.
In 2006 protests sprung up demanding the street named for James Penny, Penny Lane, be renamed due to its association with slavery; however, for most people the street name was linked to The Beatles, an important tourist draw. So, in lieu of changing the name the city opted to focus on expanding its popular 1994 Transatlantic Slavery Gallery. This world-class museum was opened in 2007 documenting Liverpool’s involvement in the odious slave trade.
The International Slave Museum provides a thorough history of the slave trade beginning with various shipping routes per colonizer: from Europe to West Africa to the New World (the Caribbean and the Americas). From there exhibits depict the agony of human transport and further inhumane treatment on plantations. Along the way one can hear live interviews given by individuals whose ancestors were involved in the slave trade. Lest we think this has all ended, the museum reminds visitors human trafficking continues today.
With those sobering images and voices in our heads, we walked to another part of the Maritime Museum, one covering the 1912 sinking of the TITANIC …
Clothes worn by a survivor during the Titanic sinking:
Titanic artifacts pulled up from the seabed:
…and another part of the museum covering the 1915 torpedoing of the LUISITANIA. Each of these liners represented the height of luxury for two competing companies: the White Star owned by the J.P. Morgan’s conglomerate International Mercantile Marine Co. (IMM), and the Cunard bolstered by loans from the British government to ensure a foothold on the transatlantic cruise line industry. The displays were fairly brief but still interesting. (If anyone would like to read more on LUISITANIA, check out Eric Larson’s DEAD WAKE.)
With minds buzzing from factual overload we decided to return to our rooms, grabbing another picnic dinner. We planned our next day’s activities, then crashed for the night.
Wednesday, December 9
With Max still interested in more Beatles history, he headed off to The Beatles Story, a separate exhibit. He was fascinated by their early history and tried to figure out how they broke out from being a popular local band to becoming a global force. As Max related “they were good, but so were many other bands in Liverpool. Their stint in Hamburg helped them become performers (rather than just musicians) when the audience repeatedly told them to “act, don’t just sing.” They had some lucky breaks: a friend of a friend got them in to meet so and so, who got them in to meet so and so. Eventually, after several rejections, they were introduced to George Martin. Had he known that other producers had already rejected them, George said he would not have bothered to hear them play. And his first observation was that their music was OK, but not exceptional. What he did notice, though, was something very magnetic in their personalities. And the rest, as they say, is history.”
The front page of Liverpool’s music magazine from 1962:
Meanwhile I explored the Tate Liverpool museum, both back on the waterfront where we were the previous day.
To me modern art can engender either a ‘WOW’ factor or an ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ snort, and the exhibits here caused both of the above along with a ‘glad I saw it, no need to do so again’ thought. The WOW response occurred during the viewing of a traveling Matisse exhibit. Four bronzes, the artist’s largest sculptures and cast posthumously in 1955-6, chart Matisse’s migration from more realistic to more abstract versions of a model’s back, “Nu de Dos”. Definitely imposing, informative and beautiful.
From those I wandered up several floors with an interesting concept for displaying art: Constellation Exhibits where the curator selected one artist who then influenced others. I actually recognized some of the artists but must say the more modern, the more I made ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ snorts. By the end of one exhibit showcasing five folded blankets I realized my snorts were becoming audible and definitely not attractive.
Fortunately I arrived in front of a piece by the sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth and could happily stop snorting and give a grunt of satisfaction. Her ‘Single Form’, a monolithic piece out of brass, showcased the connection between nature and surrealism; and, I especially appreciated her belief that “… every person looking at a sculpture should use his own body. You can’t look at a sculpture if you are going to stand stiff as a ram rod and stare at it, with a sculpture you must walk around it, bend toward it… “.
Frankly, some of the best art were the framed views glimpsed through large windows in each gallery.
The last floor I toured showcased a special exhibit called “An Imagined Museum”. It wasn’t the best use of my British pounds BUT have to say every time I’m in front of such art I have a friend’s admonishment in my head reminding me that, although this may look easy, it’s not. With that I finished my snorting and grunts, left the floors and rewarded myself with a cup of luxurious, non-instant coffee while sitting in the lovely museum cafe and gazing through to Albert Dock’s inner harbor.
Meeting up with Max at the Museum of Liverpool we toured it together, walking through the city’s history.
At one point I stopped at a plaster footprint of one of the area’s earliest inhabitants from 4,000-6,000 years ago only to note it had the second and third toes stuck together. Made me feel at home considering I have the same on both feet as did my father and my mother’s mother and also a first cousin’s son. Reminded me of another excellent book, a historical novel written by Edward Rutherford called SARUM. The tale covers a swath of English history, beginning with inhabitants with web toes. (Note: Unlike fingers, there is no extra skin webbing so I prefer ‘stuck together’ as the correct descriptor for my trait… ).
Then Max decided to see yet more Beatlemania while I preferred to stroll around the city. I must say Liverpool, for both of us, was a surprise. I had expected a much more industrial city, grimy and time-worn. What we found was a beautiful city with striking new architecture amidst lovely renovated buildings.
The docks, of which Albert Dock was only one of many, offered visitors plenty of education thanks to the museums strung along the river bank. Better yet, most of them were free, which always makes a city tour easier.
When walking along the waterfront you can’t help but notice the Royal Liver Building with its two, huge birds on top. These birds, called Liver Birds, have become the city’s symbol. The closest actual representation of a Liver Bird is the Cormorant. (When I asked the Tourist Office about the building, he kindly corrected me using a long “i” for “Liver”. That made more sense to me for I couldn’t understand why someone would want to have a city symbol named after a body organ. ) Also, the city had just unveiled a new Beatles statue, another famous symbol for Liverpool…
My last foray before meeting Max at the hotel was a visit to the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, the longest one in the world, the fifth-largest, and, just to throw in another superlative (as if you care), one of the world’s tallest, non-spired church building. Had enough? Me, too. This cathedral is also where Paul auditioned but didn’t get a position as a choirboy (his voice wasn’t good enough). One more interesting cathedral fact: it was designed by Giels Scott who won the 1903 competition at age 22.
Right next door was the entrance to Liverpool’s Chinatown, which we didn’t explore but did appreciate the colors.
Discovering that the Annual Carol Concert would be held later that evening, I hurried back to our room where I mentioned it to Max. He also wanted to hear the music; so, we ran back only to find out we were two hours early. Off we went to dinner returning just in time to find seats next to a family with two young children. The boy who must have been around ten had his ears plugged and leaned forward in his seat as protest for most of the night. Obviously not a big fan of church music. Must say I would have joined him during the last reader’s presentation. The guy who was one of the sponsors of the concert probably doesn’t get a chance to talk much. On and on and ON he went. Finally someone must have performed the universal signal of hand slicing the throat for he finally left the podium. You could feel the overwhelming thank-the-lord sighs emanate from the audience, mine being one of the loudest, no doubt.
Still in search of more music Max and I scouted out several haunts for live acoustics. Unfortunately, nothing really panned out; however, our visits to three different bars only reinforced the enchantment of Liverpool with no small thanks to the young folk who appeared happy to sincerely help us in our search.
Thursday, December 10
Our last day in Liverpool found us revisiting the church where John and Paul first met
The day John Lennon met Paul McCartney:
and the graveyard where Max spotted an “Eleanor Rigby” who certainly couldn’t have been that lonely considering how many relatives surrounded her.
Then driving a bit further to the Casbah Coffee Club in the suburb of West Derby.
Unfortunately, the latter required a pre-booked tour, so we were unable to get inside the place which Paul said The Beatles really felt was the site of their roots as a band. Surprisingly, in spite of a tour fee of £15 each the place itself looked scummy, more in tune with how I thought most of The Beatles’ Liverpool would have been. Trust me, the photo below puts a really good face on it:
By now we were Beatled out and ready for the beautiful of Wales and hopefully another reunion with some more cruisers.
Onward and westward we drove our faithful sleigh. (Sorry, had to throw in some holiday musings…)
With Rudy leaving from Heathrow on Friday we decided to book some berths at the Cruising Association located at London’s Limehouse Marina.
We joined the CA last year and have taken advantage of their inexpensive rooms and warm welcome by Jeremy Batch whenever we’ve needed to spend the night in London in order to catch an early morning flight.
The three of us took the train in after planning what sites to see over the day and a half we’d be in London, similar to our Road Trip approach the previous week. Rudy then researched locations along with opening-closing times, and we mapped out our itinerary and associated routes beginning with our train ride into London.
Our first afternoon was spent poking around the British Museum
where you see a lot of artifacts ‘borrowed’ from their original sites, such as those from Sutton Hoo:
First we poked independently, scouting out various exhibits of personal interest, then as a group joined a guided tour through the reconstructed walls of an Assyrian king’s palace dating from 800 BC. We were all very impressed by the carved scenes, many of which highlighted the King’s triumphs in war.
From there we walked to the British Library’s collection of rare literary items, one of Max’s favorite sites, and perused various items, from one of the four original Magna Cartas to a letter from Galileo prior to his trial to Scott’s diary from the fatal South Pole expedition to Paul McCartney’s scribbling of lyrics for “Yesterday”.
A dinner at the Prospect of Whitby pub, built in the 1500s and frequented by pirates, politicians, Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, and many others, ended our night with all feeling happily sated culturally and gastronomically.
Thursday, September 24
Full steam ahead the next morning beginning with Rudy’s visit to Churchill’s War Rooms located underground (a site both Max and I said should not be missed).
Max and I filled some time touring England’s Supreme Court building followed by St. Margaret’s Church, both of which were close to our rendezvous point at Westminster Abbey.
While Rudy and Max were touring the Abbey
I walked to Kensington to scan the Victoria & Albert Museum until 3p when I’d meet up with them
at the Natural History Museum.
Both Rudy and I were keen on seeing the Treasures Room in this cavernous museum, another of Max’s must-sees. We understood why after circulating around the fairly small gallery hosting 22 specimens, each one selected based on its contributions to culture, history, or science. Amongst the items on display was the original fossil which first proved a link between birds and dinosaurs, and one of the three Emperor penguin eggs collected after a horrendous journey in the Antarctic winter during Scott’s expedition (and later described in the book “The Worst Journey in the World”)
From there we headed to Diana’s Memorial in Hyde Park,
then home to Limehouse for some drinks and OH HELL games in the Cruising Association’s bar/dining area.
While playing our first round a couple entered, ordered drinks and sat at the bar. They asked us where we were from and then we invited them to join us. As the introductions continued we discovered we had actually met one another (via email correspondence)! Both Daria and Alex (Blackwell) are authors and Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) folk. Max had reviewed their book HAPPY HOOKING (it’s not what you might be thinking, trust me–it’s about anchoring), and I had done some work on OCC’s website of which Daria’s the webmaster. Happy shouts in exclamation marks all around :)
After sharing stories about sailing, Ireland (where the Blackwells live), and travel we decided to go to dinner together and left for a pub Daria and Alex had heard of. Without reservations we couldn’t squeeze in, so we set off in the other direction and found another eatery close by. On the way I pulled Daria aside and mentioned we were planning a surprise celebration for Rudy’s upcoming 21st birthday.
Dessert time came and the waiter who was in on the surprise convinced Rudy to try the tiramisu versus some gelato-type concoction in which candles (we had snuck some to the wait staff) wouldn’t disappear in goo. It arrived (a humongous slab) , Rudy was shocked, and the entire restaurant broke out in a rowdy version of “Happy Birthday”.
Thankfully, Daria had a camera to document the event. It was a fabulous way to celebrate Rudy’s last night with us. Daria and Alex enhanced our evening ten-fold, making it even more memorable. There’s nothing like sharing a meal and laughs with new-found friends.
Friday, September 25
The next morning Max and I travelled with Rudy as far as Earl’s Court tube stop.
With tight hugs and good-byes, he boarded the correct train to Heathrow Terminal 3, and we watched the train depart full of thanks for the time spent together.
But, before I end our adventures with Rudy, there’s just one more group of photos to show.
In 2004 Max snapped a photo when Rudy was aboard for a sleep-over…
so, Max took another one 11 years later in our traditional pose.
Then, we decided to add another pose featuring two adults:
We were sorry to leave the East Harting cottage that was quickly becoming ‘our’ cottage after two wonderful nights, but onward we went, this timea couple hour’s drive away to Hastings where, you guessed it, the Battle of Hastings occurred on October 14, 1066. Again, we walked outside in glorious September weather. The battle field sits below an Abbey constructed by William the Conqueror a few years later as a monument to the 8,000 who died (to put the number killed in perspective 2,500 represented a typical town’s population back then).
The actual site was dotted with plaques explaining the battle and the two primary antagonists: William, the Duke of Normandy, and Harold Godwinson.
What both Max and I found interesting was seeing panels using the Bayeux Tapestry, which we saw in Normandy, to augment the text on the plaques.
In spite of the tapestry being biased towards William’s view (it was commissioned by him and his Bishop brother, Otto, as propaganda), the pictorial panels complimented the audio guide’s detailed description. I required the modern description because I definitely couldn’t interpret the woven little guys’ actions.
Having been slightly prejudiced myself towards William (de Bruses/Bruces came over from Normandy), a first cousin once removed from King Edward the Confessor, I was pleasantly surprised to see Harold Godwinson, a powerful noble, gifted politician, and brother of Edward’s wife, portrayed in a more objective manner. He was well-loved by the nobles and easily could have made a great king.
Unfortunately, Harold was impulsive, which resulted in his marching his tired troops from York (over 250 miles away) after they had just won a battle with the Norwegians on September 25. If not for that–OH, and being killed in the battle–he easily could have won, one reason being he held the better terrain – the top of the hill where the Abbey now stands – whereas the Normans occupied the bottom of the hill.
Yet, William successfully employed a tactic that initially occurred by mistake. Basically, some of his troops turned and ran causing a contingent of the enemy to follow. In doing so, the enemy’s line became broken, and the pursuers became isolated, and easily cut down as they were surrounded by the Normans. Unusual at this time, the battle lasted all day ending with William becoming the conqueror of the Anglo-Saxons.
During our stroll we noticed blackberries scattered around. Pretty soon a big clump captured our attention, and for a bit, battles and historical figures were forgotten as we succumbed to berry picking.
A quick stop-in at the abbey, noting where a guesthouse had been constructed for a possible visit from Elizabeth I, then
a cup of take-away java from an old house across the Abbey’s entrance
put us back on the road again, this time to a small village north of Dover.
Our second airbnb was also difficult to find not the least due to directions being a bit confusing (there were two gates to the place and the one to the coach house was located on a lane with no sign). However, this place, too, was lovely. And, it had a T_U_B!!! It lacked a proper kitchen but a grill served us just as well, especially since it was the first one we’d used since Max’s and my stop atHelnessund in July with Betsy. No s’mores, though :(
Friday, September 18
The next morning we headed to Dover where we had two missions: for Rudy to see Henry II’s castle, and to tour the headquarters hidden in the cliffs where Operation Dynamo (the Dunkirk rescue) was run…
and, for him to meet the family on s/v LEANDER who may have a possible crew position available.
Since this was a repeat visit for Max and me, I opted, once again, to tour the castle and associated Military museum then head for a coffee shop on the premises. And, yes, it was raining… NOT that I’m a fair-wather tourist… Okay, somewhat, yet, fresh water coming down is a heck of a lot better than that salt stuff.
Just an aside, touring with someone who’s excited about what they’re seeing opens my eyes even wider to appreciate the significance and/or beauty in which I’m immersed. I also tend to experience something new from that site. And, Dover’s repeat visit fell into this category.
Two interesting facts I picked up during this visit were: (1) during Henry II’s and subsequent kings’ castle stays, it could be one big sleep-over for guests; extra mattresses would be flopped down on the floor all over the royal bedchambers to accommodate guests; and (2) England’s army was established after Charles II (1630-85 ) was convinced by the Duke of York that professional soldiers (versus everyday residents) were necessary to defend the establishment.
After a few hours Max and Rudy returned with Rudy wanting to see one more area, the medieval tunnels; so, Max and I lounged in the returned sunshine.
We then left to meet up with Sima andPaul and their two little ones in the Dover Marina. Paul, originally from Lynn, MA, and Sima, from Turkey, had met in Boston and are on the last legs of a circumnavigation. It’s always interesting hearing other cruisers’ thoughts on passages and sailing, and this time was no different.
After an hour or so, we left for Hawkhurst and to prepare for our last day on the road.
CHARLES DARWIN’S HOME
Saturday, September 19
We had located several other sites to explore on the way back to Ipswich, one being Charles Darwin’s home, Down House in Downe, Kent.
I won’t go on and on about this man and his family but, if you’re ever in the area, it’s definitely well-worth a visit. Be warned, allow at least two to three hours because the exhibits throughout the home and the gardens are fascinating and very informative.
The home on the ground floor (1st floor to us) had rooms furnished the way the Darwins had lived in them, including his study, sitting room, and fabulous dining room. I say fabulous because of the huge table, comfy chairs, and sunlight streaming in floor-to-almost-ceiling windows. We left this site full of Darwin’s personality and accomplishments. Unfortunately, you weren’t allowed to take photos indoors, so the following are pulled from the Internet only to provide a sense of the home.
The upstairs rooms were filled with displays on his HMS BEAGLE voyage (he suffered from seasickness, poor guy), his discoveries, and his family life. As we traipsed from one room to the next, I realized just how large this home was (he and his wife had added a separate wing, much needed, no doubt with all those kids).
Some interesting bits:
His family didn’t think he’d amount to much. Both he and his wife (whose father was the famous founder of Wedgewood china) came from wealthy families, which meant he had plenty of resources and time to indulge his curiosity about nature.
He was a very affectionate family man, unusual for the Victorian times, and, subsequently, well-loved by his wife and children (they had ten with seven surviving childhood).
He achieved his discoveries using very simple instruments.
He was a famous hypochondriac possibly begun when he was bitten by a Benchuga bug from his time aboard HMS BEAGLE (1831-36), which left him debilitated at times. There was also a small foot-tub in his study where Darwin would soak his feet to help alleviate his eczema.
He was agnostic while his wife was very religious.
He weighed everyone who visited him as well as his relatives. Why, I don’t know, but I do know I wouldn’t want to visit after one of our pasta passages.
He and Alfred Russell Wallace, who also devleloped a theory of evolution similar to Darwin’s, actually became lifelong friends. Wallace shared his idea of evolution in a letter to Darwin. Alarmed to learn someone else was working on a similar theory, Darwin hurried to finally publish his “Origins of Species” in 1859. However, in 1858 both of these naturalists’ ideas were presented to the Linnean Society in London, the world’s oldest active biological society ; yet, not much was made of their theories of evolution. (On a side note, Darwin along with three friends persuaded Prime Minister Gladstone to put forth a proposal to Parliament to grant Wallce a much needed pension of £200 a year.)
After touring the greenhouse and gardens
we headed to our last stop of our Road Trip:
LULLINGSTONE ROMAN VILLA
This surprise site is one of the best examples of an English Roman villa. Constructed in roughly 100 c.e. and renovated over the next two hundred years, the foundation and associated mosaics are housed in a museum with simple wall exhibits explaining the history and layout of the house.
One of the most significant features of this site was a room deemed a house-church with artwork representing some of the earliest evidence of Christianity . Interestingly, underneath was a hidden room dedicated to the pagan gods and goddesses and only accessible via a ladder.
The museum descriptions were pretty simplistic (geared towards children), which only meant I was in my element when we hit the gift shop. What’s that saying? When in a Roman gift shop, do as Romans would do?
After five full days of touring this part of England, we were happy to be heading back to JUANONA.
But, wait! A mini-road trip occurred the next day (Sunday, September 20) when we piled into our road warrior vehicle and headed to…
Another beautiful day and another repeat visit for Max and me, resulting in Rudy heading into the museum housing artifacts and displays from this early medieval burial site (assumed to be the burial site of Raedwald, the Ruler of East Anglia (560-620 c.e.). But, before the three of us figured out who was going to do what, we had to check in at the ticket office.
Remember when I mentioned how miraculously entrance fees disappeared when with Rudy, e.g., Warkworth Castle at the beginning of his visit? Well, we approached the young man at the counter saying we’d like to purchase a ticket for Rudy who was an adult. The young man asked if we were going in, and we said, no, since we had visited earlier and now wanted our nephew to see it. However, when the transaction was completed and we were exiting the building, Rudy exclaimed he had received not one but three tickets (in the form of stickers) for the price of one child. Hmmm… as I said, there’s something about Rudy!
Max and enjoyed the sunshine as Rudy toured the small museum for the next hour or so. He seemed entranced by the history, enough so we went looking for him and found him asking questions of one of the staff. We finished the visit by walking up the path and through the field to the actual burial sites where we spotted humongous mushrooms whose necks were bent/broken due to the weight of the caps.
And, where, once again, Max proved why he’s married to such a goofball as I.
NOW, we had completed our Road Trips and were ready to stay on JUANONA doing boat errands and R&Ring prior to heading for Rudy’s last tour of his voyage,
After arriving that morning and settling JUANONA into a temporary berth at our winter marina, we were already planning our next adventure: watching the second-to-last stage of the UK’s highest ranked cycle race. Anne had mentioned it the day before when we met at the Pin Mill, and she followed it up with an email asking if we wanted to join them at the finish line and see some ‘hunky thighs’. I could do that, no problem.
So, early afternoon we headed towards the center of Ipswich with Anne and Peter and some other boaters, Ange and James and their daughter Gracie. We had arranged to meet up with Helen and Gus Wilson as well, bringing our group to ten amidst 100s of other spectators.
It was a zoo, but a fun one in spite of the yelling and nudging as everyone attempted to reach the barriers next to the finish lane.
Fortunately, they had a screen so everyone could follow the cyclists as they paced themselves.
Not knowing anything about cycle racing except it’s hard and, yes, it requires those hunky thighs, I was happy just observing everyone and absorbing the high energy of the crowd. It helped that it was a beautiful day and that there would be hunky thighs to view.
Sure enough, I saw heads turn from left to right, which was the only indication of racers crossing the finish line. Then the awards were given out of which I had no idea who was who and which prize was which; however, I did see hunky thighs:
And, I felt really bad for the poor soul who raced his heart out only to receive a stuffed doll. I felt almost worse for the unfortunate guy who had to dress like the doll and present this ‘prize’.
Upon the crowd dispersing we headed to a local pub to enjoy some quiet and pints on the back terrace. It’s also where Rudy showed his affinity for youngsters, and Gracie must have reminded him of his spunky little sister, Acadia. Must say it was a wonderful Ipswich welcome for Rudy.
Road Trip: BLETCHLEY PARK
Tuesday, September 15
Because this was Rudy’s first time in the UK and he had a couple more weeks to enjoy it, we wanted to show him a bit of the historical sites. Finding meaningful places to visit is easy here. From Roman times to post WWII we’ve toured some amazing places; so, we made a list of some we had seen and thought he’d enjoy then asked him to check out those plus any others he might like to see. The list then was culled down based on geographical area (primarily SE England) and time (back by Saturday night), and a road trip became a reality starting Tuesday.
When we do this, we find staying in an airbnb or VRBO-type place allows us to not only economize (generally less expensive than inns or hotels, sometimes even hostels) since we can cook our own meals and easily make lunches, but they’re also more relaxing (generally room to sit around after being out all day and don’t have to suss out any restaurants). So, Rudy and I researched plenty of apartment/condo/cottage offerings including homestay.com and other UK-focused sites, and we hit upon two places that would be fairly equidistant amidst the six or seven sites we’d been visiting over the next five days.
First we drove counterclockwise from Ipswich landing at Bletchley Park, located N/NW of London.
We began in the main museum where Max and Rudy tried their hand at code-breaking.
Next, we picked up audio guides and started our tour of the grounds.
Due to the movie “Imitation Game” released last year I had some familiarity with what Bletchley Park meant to the Allies during WWII; yet, seeing this site in person really made one understand the scope of the code-breaking operation.
It’s a huge area: it began in the mansion and quickly grew to take over the stables/cottages, then expanded to huts; over 9,000 people worked there with 131 daily buses bringing them in. Actually, it was a good opportunity for women to get good jobs. Unfortunately, the pay (of course) wasn’t commiserate with the men and jobs reverted back to the men post-war.
I had mistakenly assumed everyone lived on-campus but only one family did. All others stayed in the nearby towns, many boarding with local families. Yet, absolutely no single person could tell anyone what they did at Bletchley Park. They all had to sign the Official Secrets Act and it wasn’t until 1976 that they were released from that agreement. Many of them were astounded to learn the scope of what had gone on around them.
I also wasn’t aware of how important code-breaking was during WWI. Two separate organizations, one established by the War Office–‘MI1(b)’–and another one–‘Room 40’ were set up under the auspices of the Royal Navy. It was the intelligence gathered by Britain that led to the US getting involved in the war thanks to an intercepted telegram (see description of the Zimmerman telegram below). Prior to WWII Room 40 and MI1(b) evolved into Government Code and Cyper School (GC&CS), and in 1939 the codebreaking division took up residence at Bletchley Park.
Churchill’s appreciation of code-breaking was evident during WWI when he followed the work of Room 40 closely. In WWII when the head of Bletchley Park sent the Prime Minister an appeal for more resources, Churchill immediately signed off and made it a reality. Matter-of-fact he requested all important translated messages to be sent to him daily. And, trust me, there were a LOT of messages with thousandsbeing derived daily to Bletchley Park from the radio interceptors located all over the UK and beyond.
What was truly mind-blowing to me was the code-breaking exercises and thought patterns used by these code-breakers. Even they (except for a few) appeared humbled by the magnitude and importance of their work.
Some were rather eccentric such as Dilly Knoxwho cogitated best when soaking in this tub.
Eisenhower said the codebreaker’s work shortened the war by two years; and, a German said thank god the war didn’t drag on, otherwise, Germany may very well have been hit with an atomic bomb like the one which horrifically decimated Hiroshima.
Thanks to the Poles who cultivated a German spy after WWI, the Brits were given a head start to some key elements of the Enigma machine. To see a sample machine used to break the code was mind-numbing. Especially when the staff started to explain what was what. [It was called the Bombe, so named because the Poles had built a precursor and called it after some ice cream they were eating (bomba); the Brits changed it to Bombe.] By the end of the war there were about 200 Bombes, mostly operated by Wrens (Women’s Royal Naval Service) and most of them at two other locations. Even the Americans had built some.
Unfortunately, all of us felt the suggested touring of the campus could have been better. For instance, at the end of our three hours of walking around, we reached Block B where there was an excellent display on the wall explaining the Bombe. We should have gone there first as the exhibits carried the clearest explanations of Bletchley Park’s work. Just to recap that linear display:
1. Y stations (located elsewhere in case of bombing) intercepted and listened to coded enemy communications.
2. The transcripts of the messages were all sent to Bletchley Park by teleprinter, underwater cable, and motorcyclists.
3. When received at Bletchley Park each message was meticulously logged and cross-indexed in the Registration Room.
4. From each batch of messages received from the Registration Room, one or more were selected to identify, if possible, the message’s topic. The messages were scanned looking for “Cribs” – frequently-used salutations or headings such as “To the Group” or “Weather Forecast”. The codebreakers were greatly helped by the fact that no letter could be encrypted to itself–in retrospect this was a fatal shortcoming of the Enigma machine.
Max observing Alan Turing’s tiny office in hut eight.
5. From the crib, electrical settings were derived and ‘plugged up’ on the back of the Bombe machine by the WREN operators. The Bombe would then test thousands of possibilities and stop whenever a possible rotor setting was found. One of these settings would be part of the Enigma key. The others were due to the effects of chance.
6. A separate machine called the ‘checking machine’ was used to test whether the possible solution worked (its rotors were set to the possible solution to see if messages typed in translated to German). The wrong rotor settings had to be identified first and rejected (are you confused yet? and, trust me, this is the simple explanation. I won’t even go into the addition of a fourth rotor…)
7. After the complete Enigma key had been found then all of the messages in that corresponding batch could be decrypted (by hundreds of women) using the British Type-X cypher machines, which had been modified to emulate Enigma machines.
8. The deciphered messages came from the machines in five-letter groups. The letters were divided into individual words so they could be translated into English, assessed for level of importance, and then forwarded to the appropriate people.
9. Before these intercepted Enigma messages could be passed on the information had to be rewritten and attributed to another source (reconnaissance plane, or a spy, for example) so the enemy didn’t realize their coded messages were being deciphered.
Max, who’s currently reading a book about the code breakers has even more information: “Since the Germans changed their Enigma rotor settings (the Enigma machine began with three, then the Germans added a fourth) every 24 hours, the entire codebreaking exercise had to be repeated daily. The codebreakers were often under tremendous stress, knowing that breaking the day’s code a few hours earlier or later could spell the difference between say allowing the RAF to intercept a German bombing raid, or having a city bombed with the corresponding loss of life. For more information go to https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombe.”
Before I sign off on my laborious description of the codebreaking, one last panel that I hope helps explain the Bomba:
At times like these I wish for a mind like a friend’s daughter named Amy who would probably have been one of those figuring out a crib if she’d been born way back when.
Max generally asks after we tour a site, a city, a region, a country (I’ll stop here) what was/were the highlights each of us carried away. This exercise enhances the memories of a particular time we’ve shared. The answers also remind me of a particular, acute informational nugget I may have forgotten when overwhelmed by a site. Rudy mentioned one that I felt was particularly poignant: The guilt individuals felt at not being able to express how they were helping the war effort. Some said their parents were ashamed to tell others that their children were sitting (safely) at a country house doing office work of some sort (standard job description when a Bletchley Park staffer was asked). Hard to imagine the regret not being able to share such an important mission, one that helped thousands survive the ugliness of war.
Still, it was a beautiful day (only a few sprinkles) and a fascinating glimpse into the efforts of many who kept a secret. Oh, what a secret.
By the time we arrived at our airbnb several hours away it was dark, which meant we had a couple of missed turns before we actually found where we were supposed to be staying for the night. We were met by Chris who welcomed us warmly and ushered us into a fairytale abode.
The little home was charming (not the least due to some wonderful artwork adorning the walls,
along with a poster commemorating Chris’s wife’s father, the late John Crittenden, a well-known British sailor who competed in numerous around-the-world races–in both directions)
and perfect for the three of us to drop our bags and cook our frozen pizza (it was late, we were tired, and, hey, pizza can be wholesome :) and nosh on a fresh salad. But, not before we had received an email from our sailing friends Helen and Gus asking if Rudy would be interested in a possible crew position aboard some friends’ boat setting off for a winter’s crossing to the Caribbean from England. Can you tell what Captain Max thought of this? :)
Wednesday, September 16
The next morning we breakfasted on our usual yogurt/fruit/cereal and coffee with Max performing culinary geometry by building symmetrical lunch wraps…
then headed to Portlsmouth on the southern coast a half-hour away.
Max and I had visited the Portsmouth Historical Dockyards when we were working our way up the southern coast last summer. With Henry VIII’s flagship, the MARY ROSE, and Horatio Nelson’s HMS VICTORY and associated exhibits and museums, taking Rudy here seemed like a no-brainer.
Rudy was in his element with his knowledge of different ships and battles. He and Max went off to visit the two ships after the three of us had perused the Nelson museum (where we snapped a shot of Nelson’s chair from HMS VICTORY. He had difficulty sleeping and often napped in this chair).
I ensconced myself happily in one of the several coffee shops leaving the boys to their boats as I enjoyed a lovely hot cup of coffee and read. Oh, it had started to pour rain, so you can imagine I was doubly happy not to be out and about. Fortunately, most of the exhibits involve inside tours so they didn’t get too wet either.
One notable fact (out of many) I’lll mention here is Nelson’s inventing a new signalling system using flags. He assigned each flag a number associated with a word noted in a special code flag. The most famous message is the one he sent prior to the famous Battle of Trafalgar located off of Cadiz, about two hours west of Gibraltar. The message “England expects that every man will do his duty” is flown even now.
An excellent exhibit in the museum covered the British attempt to halt the slave trade. The true horror of this evil business is difficult to portray, but it’s always a strong reminder of how prejudices and racism twists human souls and minds to the nth degree.
The obligatory “Nelson died here” photo
and, those from Henry VIII’s flagship:
Max and Rudy also did a quick tour of M33, the last remaining ship of its kind from WWI.
The docklands are still in use today for current naval operations, which is why some gates are guarded by police with guns. Although, when we were there, the gates were being sandbagged, which left us with a bit uneasy feeling. But, all turned out fine.
Back to our English cottage for our second and last night, we arrived early enough for Rudy to put on his chef hat and prepare an amazing, and, I mean AMAZING, homemade Ragu alla Bolognese sauce.
We gorged ourselves and just writing this makes me wish that was our dinner for tonight. Afterwards, we enjoyed the lit fire and played our nightly OH HELL game. Life was brilliant :)
Sutton WHO? Which is how the conversation began a recent Saturday morning as Max leapt out of bed (actually, crawled out of our V-berth) and landed in the main cabin. From there we almost began an Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First” conversation.
“Let’s go to Sutton Hoo.”
“Yeah, Sutton Hoo. It’s that old settlement an hour or so away by bus.”
“Now I remember, but how soon is the bus?”
With that he looked at the clock (that has been temperamental lately) that had decided to continue to tick-tock through the night correctly and said “in twenty minutes.”
So, with quick gulps of yogurt with coffee and clothes donned, off we jogged to the bus stop fifteen minutes away.
Max had first heard about this from other cruisers, notably Helen and Gus Wilson, and then recently again by Sandra and Barrie Letts. He filled me in as we trotted in the beautiful daylight through Ipswich lanes to our first destination, the bus.
In a few words Sutton Hoo, located on the Deben River just outside Woodbridge in Suffolk, is the 6th-7th-century burial ground of Anglo-Saxons. The site was discovered in 1939.
Mrs. Edith Pretty on whose estate 17 suspicious mounds were laying had invited a local archaeologist, Basil Brown of Suffolk, to excavate. Knowing war was soon to arrive on their doorstep, Brown with the help of volunteers began to dig. An archaeologist Charles Phillips of Cambridge University soon got involved, and history was made.
They discovered the richest Anglo-Saxon burial in Britain ever found, including the most silver (most of it tableware for feasting). These extraordinary treasures now reside in the British Museum.
The 500 pieces of a helmet, which has become an emblem of the site itself, has been painstakingly pieced back together… twice. As one of the Sutton Hoo guides told us, it took two times to have an accurate restoration of this helmet. In 1947 the British Museum got it wrong when they assembled the hundreds of tiny pieces because they used preconceived ideas. In 1968 it was dismantled and reconstructed based on the fragments’ evidence. Now you can see the actual helmet as well as the detailed shiny replica. Both are impressive.
Other priceless findings are a shield, belt buckle, sliver platters, jewelry, and musical instruments.
One of the artifacts is a hanging bowl, which indicates wealth because it was used as either a wine holder (my preference) or for cleaning fingers after feasting (probably the only body parts cleaned way back then).
All of these artifacts were found inside the iron rivet remains of a 90-foot long ship along with the outline of a body presumed to be Raedwald (560-620/17/25? C.E.), the ruler of the East Angles. The archaeologists were fortunate there were still items and outlines to be found. Many of the artifacts and all of the body were destroyed by rain leaching the acidic soil into the site since the early 600s.
What’s fascinating about this king (also spelled Redwald) is his connection to the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, BEOWULF, set in southern Sweden. In that poem the grand ceremonial burial site was that of a man and a ship, the same type of boat and associated wealth found at Sutton Hoo.
Raewald also helped spread Christianity. He was baptized in Kent, most likely at Canterbury were Augustine had set up shop in the late 500s (see Blog on Canterbury October 2014 for more of that dude). Yet, this ruler may not have been convinced Christianity was the way to go. The Venerable Bede (English monk, 672-735 C.E., known as the Father of English History) recorded that Raewald could have lapsed since he had a temple with altars to both Christian and pagan gods. Smart guy.
Further digging and mapping (1965-71, 1983-92) brought new discoveries such as the graves of an Anglo-Saxon warrior with his horse and execution burials estimated to be from the 8th-11th centuries. Of the 17 mounds one had been pillaged by grave robbers but another escaped that fate because the robbers didn’t dig down far enough. Many had been plowed down over the centuries but now the site is preserved. When we asked one guide why more mounds hadn’t been excavated he told us nowadays archaeology involved high-tech equipment enabling exploring sites without disturbing them.
The site is only open on weekends, and we were among quite of few visitors checking out the exhibit rooms and grounds on this bright spring day.
After touring the informative visitor’s center we walked out to the mounds. Sheep grazed amidst the mounds
and a temporary tower stood at one end. Temporary because a permanent one would depend on tourists’ feedback over the next two weekends. We were fortunate to have timed our visit with a chance to climb for a an overview of the site. When asked on the the visitor survey if the tower added to our understanding of the site, we said not really but it did enhance our overall visit, especially the guide’s knowledge who answered our questions.
We headed back to the bus stop, passing by a free-range chicken farm and onto the main street.
Max hiding some chips (our lunch) behind his back. He’s onto my snapping a pic when he’s eating, and Chris (his son) and I know how he eats his potato chips (‘crisps’ here), which means it’s worth a photo.
Instead of continuing back to the bus stop we decided to walk along the river to Woodbridge. We passed sailboats moored in a creek or on the mud (with much of the river draining out each tide, boats are made to rest gently on the ground),
other Saturday strollers usually with pups, barges/house boats advertised for sale,
and even spotted Sutton Hoo across the water.
Spring had definitely sprung, and thanks to Max we were out in it.
And, thanks to Sutton Hoo, I’ve since discovered ‘hoo’ can mean a strip of land or a spur or ridge. So much for an Abbott and Costello routine, which I use to practice with my colleague Wayne much to the rolled eyes of our fellow coworkers at the Bath Y :)
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22nd
Almost a year to the date when we launched JUANONA it was time to see just how much gunk of sea encrustations had adhered to her bottom. Max arranged to have her hauled out during a lunch hour so the bottom could be cleaned, prop scraped, and zincs exchanged (the latter are sacrificial lambs because they corrode before other metal parts of the boat; hence, the need to keep these fresh).
With Peter’s help (always nice to have extra hands when handling lines) we took JUANONA around to the haul-out pontoon and then watched as the yard crew oh-so-carefully put slings under her hull and lifted her out and into the parking area.
And, she looked great with a pretty clean bottom, so to speak :)
So, Max and I were able to just hose her down (my hosing, Max brushing) without having to use a pressure-washer allowing us to save on the ablative paint (paint that sloughs off with growth leaving a less encrusted hull). Within one hour, she was cleaned, prop scraped, zincs replaced and ready for being swung back into the water.
One more task checked off the to-do list!
THURSDAY, APRIL 23rd
Where do we PUT this STUFF?! Wednesday night, thanks again to Anne and Peter, we were able to do one huge provisioning at a big supermarket a bit out of town.
First we figured out what dinners to make as staples (Gail, your Indian stew is definitely one of them) followed by the ingredients per dinner; add in all the other staples needed (tea, coffee, condiments, baking needs, dishwashing liquid, tp, sun screen, etc.); tally up quantities required for 12 weeks (knowing we’ll be using and replacing as we head up the coast/Scottish Isles); then plan to spend at least two hours going through aisles and checking off items. Hence the need for spreadsheets.
The result? A pile of dry goods and non-perishable items needing a home not just on, but in, JUANONA.
The reason for such a large stash was our plan to not buy anything in Norway other than some fresh fruits and veggies. For the past year or so we’d heard from everyone, cruisers and land travelers alike, how expensive this Scandinavian country is. So, now JUANONA was loaded to her gills with cans and packages all needing a home.
We began on Thursday morning and fine-tuned the stashing through Friday afternoon until everything was labeled, organized by shapes and usage, and placed in lockers leaving JUANONA shipshape.
Another task completed… although, remembering exactly where everything landed will take another spreadsheet…
SATURDAY, APRIL 25th
With boating season already begun (these Brits are hardy sailors) we wanted to meet more marina folk so we held another BYOBW on one of the last Saturdays we’d be in Ipswich.
Primed with Max’s now famous deviled eggs (our Orr’s Island friends will recognize these in spite of his not being able to locate his caviar sprinkles), we awaited any attendees.
Within a few minutes our friends Anne & Peter arrived, soon followed by marina folk, some we knew such as Rick & Julie (below) and some we hadn’t met yet. And, the party began.
Because of the short notice on posting the signs and with a lot of boats out for the weekend and cruising season, there were fewer of us than last time; however, it made it easier to speak with more folk. Once again we discovered how many great boaters there are hanging out at the marina both full- and part-time. Another reason to return next Fall.
The last gasp photo of Anne, Max, Peter, and VJ as we turn off the lights and lock the door until the BYOBW Round III.
SUNDAY, APRIL 26th
Max had heard from Julie and Rick about their recent visit to the Mayflower Project just down the way a piece in Harwich, the birthplace of this historic ship, on the Stour River (we’re on Orwell, NE of Stour).
Anne and Peter kindly said they’d like an outing to Harwich having never really explored this historic town. So, off we trundled, driving down to locate the building of the s/v MAYFLOWER.
Actually, it’s the third building of a MAYFLOWER, the first occurring in the early 1600’s, a replica in the 1950s as a thank-you from the Brits to the U.S. (now residing in Mystic Seaport, CT), and now this one just beginning to take shape.
We arrived in Harwich parking along the harbor and oriented ourselves via the displayed map (across the way is Felixstowe, which we last saw when entering the Orwell River to head up to Ipswich September 2014).
We found the center was open only during the week, but we headed off anyhow thinking we may be able to espy some sort of building going on.
It was easy to spot thanks to the colorful murals surrounding the center.
We peered through the locked gate,
then discovered an unlocked one around the corner where we met Roy who was manning the small visitor center.
The project is headed up by an enthusiastic and extremely likable and knowledgeable local named Sean Day. We met Sean, head of the Harwich Mayflower Trust, when Roy in the visitor’s office called him at home to say there were four people here interested in a tour. Sean immediately said he’d be there in five minutes, and so he was explaining that he had been in the midst of fixing a plumbing issue at home. Technically, no tours were available unless pre-arranged for the center really operated as a training center Monday-Friday targeting young people in the art of ship building, successfully, I might add.
Sean proceded to explain how the project began (the interest in and the success of the recent replica of HM Endeavour, James Cook’s vessel)… what their goal is (construct a full-scale, seaworthy replica while helping to rejuvenate Old Harwich via the training center and increased tourism)… the current status (keel’s being laid and frames will go in soon, as well as raising funds for a half million British pounds for bronze bolts)… and how many Mayflower descendants on both sides of the pond are now showing interest (Max is a descendent, specifically one of his ancestors fell off the ship and luckily caught a line to haul himself back in. Fortunate for me :) let alone him!).
It was difficult not getting caught up in Sean’s excitement and passion about this project. At many times it must be a thankless task, but you’d never know that being in his company. He’s managed to catch Sir Richard Branson’s interest, which raised the project’s credibility and visibility considerably.
Sean mentioned he was considering getting rose buses donated with the idea of planting one for each original crew and passenger from 1620. Deciding to be the first to do so, we offered to start and a gentleman’s agreement was made.
After the tour Sean said he’d walk us through Old Harwich where the Master (captain and part-owner) of the ship, Christopher Jones, lived.
While strolling through the lanes Sean would stop every now and then to point out some architectural interest, such as a 15th century building where graffiti from Tudor times still decorates the wall.
We reached the harbor and he pointed out Mi Amigo, one of the Pirate Radio ships. These ships served as the Davids against the Goliaths (well-established networks, such as the BBC and Radio Luxembourg). The BBC only had one program a week playing the rock and roll music that was hitting the airwaves, and Radio Luxembourg, in addition to having a weak signal, would only promote those artists with big record labels, the ones who could afford to pay a fee to the station. Consequently, many up and coming artists wouldn’t be heard. So, a way around this was to take a ship, outfit her with a studio, radio transmitters, and an antenna, plunk her three miles offshore in International waters.
Sean had more than just a connection to the history of Pirate Radio ships besides Mi Amigo being moored in Harwich. His brother Roger helped build one of the antennas as well as ferried contraband supplies to one of these ships. For an entertaining history of these ships, check out the 2009 movie “The Boat that Rocked” with Bill Nighy and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
We said good-bye to Sean, stopped in for a pub lunch, then headed to the Redoubt (‘Redoubt’ means a defensive fortification providing a 360-degree coverage). Built in 1808 this fort was one of the original 103 Martello Towers. These circular forts were constructed along the Essex and Sussex coastline as a defense from Napoleonic invasions.
Being so close to Europe and having an excellent port, Harwich had to prepare in the event of any sea invasion. Fortunately, none occurred although over 100 German U-boats surrendered there in 1918. And, in WWII an anti-aircraft gun was stationed at the fort to try to fend off the bombing raids that struck a large part of the town.
We toured the fort where Anne pretended to be a gunner,
and then pretended to be a shot gunner.
We saw where troops would sally forth to meet the enemy,
and, a Nazi missile that just missed Harwich.
Then headed home through country roads lined by blossoming rape seed. A lovely Sunday drive :)
We can’t say good-bye to Ipswich without saying how great it was to have new-found friends aboard JUANONA. These are only two of the occasions but at least you’ll get an idea of what we mean about enjoying company with others.
Here’s one dinner with (l to r) Jo, Paul, Lily, Jayne. Jo, a young woman from Tasmania, crewed with Jayne, Lily and Paul on their boat, s/v DELPHINIUS, last summer in the Baltic then was first mate on a boat taking charters to South Georgia in the Southern Ocean. You’d never know she did this because she’s so gentle and self-effacing. We had to pull the stories out of her for she isn’t one to talk about herself. She’s now finishing up a trek along one of the historical pilgrimage walks to Santiago de Compostella, Spain. Her dream is to skipper her own boat for global exploring. We have no doubt she’ll achieve that.
Another small party included Sandra and Barrie from s/v PASSAT II.
Julie and Rick off of s/v BELIEVE are some other cruisers who wintered their boat in Ipswich while they returned home to Florida then left for Rwanda and Kenya on a medical mission. They attended the BYOBW (photo with me) mentioned above. They’ll be heading south to the coast of England and then France about the same time we’ll be going north.
VJ, who also was caught in a shot (last gasp photo) at the recent BYOBW, will be heading off to the southern coast of England. He once single-handed his 21-foot boat across the Pacific Ocean. He’s on a little bit bigger boat now and planning on heading south soon.
We’ve also met Andrew on s/v CHILD OF THE WIND who played the viola for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and who’s deciding where to head later this spring.
Becky, a Kiwi, and Trevor, a Scot, off of s/v DIGNITY have provided great info for cruising the coast of England and Scotland. Trevor also tells a wonderful story about his mother’s parrots. Made me almost want a parrot aboard JUANONA.
And, we don’t know what we would have done without Anne and Peter off of s/v SACRE BLEU. As you can see from this blob blog and previous ones, we’ll be looking forward to seeing them as well as Becky and Trevor at the end of the summer when we hope to be back in Ipswich.
So, here’s to Ipswich and all the wonderful people we’ve met. We couldn’t have asked for a better winter home.
Barton Mills and environsWednesday, April 8, to Friday, April 10 If anyone knows the lyrics to “Camelot”, you’ll understand why I use this excerpt to introduce our time with our friends Maya (below with fellow visitor Noodles) and Hugo (in the Spring sunshine) Morriss. On Wednesday, April 8th, we took the train to Kennett to be met by Hugo and whisked away to The Dhoon, their country home in Barton Mills. (In asking how the house name came about, they briefly mentioned that previous owner Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, had named this Suffolk country retreat and used to come here from 1921 until his death in 1955.) Immediately we immersed ourselves into the lovely indulgence of a springtime stay with friends who welcomed us with sumptuous meals, a lovely room,
a head with a tub (!), daily tours, two adorable pups, an introduction to their good friend Wendy, some race-horse knowledge, and wonderful conversations. We couldn’t have asked for anything more.
I had first met them in northern Scotland, January 2001, at a birthday party held by Marci and Joanna, the latter a first cousin of Hugo. Later we caught up with them again in London, November 2002, at another event staged by Joanna. Besides these connections there is another link due to Maya being a fellow Mainiac whose family lived around Mount Desert for years. Yet, even if one had just met this couple, you would be embraced by their genuine hospitality. And, we were the lucky ones to find ourselves in their home.
After a delicious dinner we headed to bed only to be awoken by the lovely fragrance of sizzling bacon. Downstairs we found Hugo at a huge, old-fashioned oil stove frying up breakfast. Maya’s homemade marmalade (and Hugo’s bobbing ducky tea infuser) along with poached eggs, toast and good java ensured we wouldn’t be touring on empty stomachs. Hugo then shepherded Max and me to his car where we set off for Cambridge where we’d spend the day exploring some of this city’s historic sites. Our initial destination was the Scott Research Institute’s Polar Museum. A boating friend on our pontoon had mentioned her exploration of this gem, and it was one Hugo had visited some years ago. The three us entered this small museum only to be captivated by the large amount of information available via displays and accompanying audio guide. Both North and South Pole explorers were examined, and I won’t go into all of their exploits here. Max gravitated towards one of his inspirations, Ernest Shackleton. Here he saw the sextant and journals from the navigator of that 1915 expedition, Frank Worsley.
For those of you who haven’t had the chance to read the story of Shackleton’s ENDURANCE expedition, do so. You couldn’t make that stuff up.
We also saw artifacts from Robert Scott’s doomed TERRA NOVA expedition (1910-13), including the black flag marking the Norwegian Roald Amundsen’s December 4, 1911, arrival at the South Pole (imagine how you’d feel seeing that in the distance realizing you weren’t first in this historic race)… and, the abandoned sleeping bag of Lawence Oates, who with Scott, Henry Bowers and Edmund Wilson, died on their return from the North Pole. They were only 35 days behind Amundsen.
Not wanting to be a burden, the ailing Oates left his tent to walk into a blizzard in spite of pleas by his fellow explorers. (His sleeping bag is slit open so he could keep his frostbitten leg out of the warmth; it would hurt too much to have it thaw.) Recently discovered photographs from Scott’s expeditions were on display. Looking at the stark and magnificent beauty of this perilous continent, I could understand the magnetic pull. Yet, the sacrifices made were more haunting. Sketches of the terrain by Wilson illustrates the scientific aspect of Scott’s TERRA NOVA expedition. Here, Scott took a photo of Wilson as he took pencil to paper. On one of the audios there was a reading of Wilson’s letter to Oates mother testifying to Oates’ bravery. Also on display was the poignant farewell letter Wilson wrote to his own parents after it was clear he, too, would not survive the Polar journey.
A year earlier, Wilson had figured prominently in another mind-boggling event when he, Henry Bowers and Apsely Cherry-Garrard made a 120-mile round trip in the dead of the Antarctic winter (in complete darkness and temperatures I can’t even begin to imagine) recovering some Emperor penguin eggs. This feat is immortalized in Cherry-Gerrard’s book The Worst Journey in the World (1922). Wilson thought this flightless bird’s egg would prove the evolutionary chain between birds and man. The northern hemisphere explorations covered the many attempts to reach that Pole as well as traverse the Northwest passage, one currently becoming more and more feasible thanks to global climate change. Those from Maine who know Eagle Island may be familiar with Robert Peary’s claim of reaching it on April 6, 1909, as well as the tragic Franklin expedition. One of the many interesting items was a rescue fox collar, and the message cylinders used by explorers to protect their information from the elements. After an hour or so looking at the display of the ‘Heroic Age’ of polar exploration, I couldn’t agree more hardily with Cherry-Gerrard’s description: “Polar Exploration is at once the cleanest and the most isolated way of having a bad time that has ever been devised.” Fortunately we weren’t on either pole, which meant we found ourselves at a wonderful restaurant Hugo had booked. Fortified by some Scottish seafood and libations we walked across the street to another Cambridge landmark, the Fitzwilliam Museum. The IV Viscount of Fitzwilliam of Merrion bequeathed his collection and library in 1816 to University of Cambridge. He thoughtfully also included funds to house them hence this museum, which opened in 1848.
In addition to artwork by El Greco and Picasso, we also saw some special exhibits. One was of the two bronzes recently attributed to Michelangelo and, the “Treasured Possessions from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment” featuring 300 items representing the purchases by European shoppers during that time, from exquisite pocket watches to gold snuff boxes to high-heeled shoes.
We left this museum knowing it was another place we’d like to return and headed off to the King’s College campus, one of two royal and religious foundations (the other is Eton College) begun by the young King Henry VI (1421-71) in 1441. These two schools would each enroll a maximum of 70 students from poor backgrounds, with those from Eton guaranteed acceptance to King’s. Nice scholarships way back when. Once there we strolled into another Cambridge showpiece, the King’s Chapel. The chapel was begun by that same king in 1446 and later renovated by his descendants, one being Henry VII. We saw the banded iron chest from which had carried 5,000 GBP (worth roughly $4 million in today’s currency) compliments of Henry VII for completion of the chapel. It’s a stunning example of Gothic (perpendicular) architecture and features the largest fan vault in the world. Your eyes can’t help but float upwards to gaze at the soaring height banded by huge stained glass windows. This chapel’s poster explanations of ‘who was who’ and ‘what happened way back when’ cleared up some of my confusion regarding England’s medieval royal family and the Wars of the Roses 1455-85 [Red rose stood for the Lancasters, white for the Yorks, with both of these families being descendants of Edward III (1312-77)]. A diagram (god bless pictographs) showed that Henry VI descended from the Lancasters whereas Richard III was a York. FYI: Richard III is the guy who reputedly murdered his two nephews, one who was briefly King Edward V. Richard III, also, was the king whose bones found under a car park were recently reburied in Leicester Chapel in March of this year (he died in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth). Henry VI was a pious king and not the best. However, it was in the Tudor’s best interests to build the VI up as a saint while maligning Richard III (politicking never changes). Some people say even Shakespeare got into slinging mud on Richard III.
This King’s Chapel at King’s College is beautiful with its light-filled, stained glass windows. Not being a huge structure, you can absorb the architecture by simply walking down the long nave, through the wooden screen donated by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn between 1433 and 1436 to the choir stalls (we found his initials but not hers)… and into the choir area on the other side. We ducked into several small chapels along the sides with more examples of stained glass including the Tudor red rose and fleur de lis representing their French rule…
and a memorial to King’s College alumna killed in WW I, one being the poet Rupert Brooke. Exiting we walked down towards the river Cam to which King’s College and other colleges back up. We saw many punters out, both guides as well as families who were trying their hand at this ancient boating technique of poling up or down a river. Throughout Cambridge we saw evidence of a busy college community…
a pub named the same as the good friends (Colleen, Billy, Mary Lee to name a few) frequent Friday nights in Portland…
markers note famous events, and we saw two while keeping a look out for others. Yet another reminder of the historic events this city hosted.
That night Maya had invited a good friend of theirs, Wendy, who arrived with her little pup, Noodles. More fun was was in store along with another excellent dinner a la chef Maya.
The next morning greeted us with an even warmer day with Maya and Hugo’s garden smelling of fragrant spring. Do you know how wonderful it is to be amidst all this flora when one’s view has been of an industrial marina? It was heaven scent. Good bye fall :)
Hugo, Max and I set off again only this time to Ely Cathedral. Once surrounded by marshes and later drained by Charles II (1630-85) to form extremely fertile farmland, this cathedral is often called ‘Ship of the Fen’. This cathedral was sited on an ancient Christian community site founded by Queen and Saint Etheldreda in 673 C.E. After two marriages, neither of which she deigned to consummate, she retired to Isle of Ely (so called due to the water being filled with eels) and built a Christian community. St. Audrey (shortened from ‘St. Etheldreda’ because her name was a mouthful) died in 679 from a neck tumor reputedly from her vanity of wearing necklaces in her youth. The fairs held in the town sold cheap necklaces in her honor, thus, the descriptor ‘tawdry’ was coined. Not the best way to be remembered. Supposedly, when her body was brought into the church in 695 the tumor (actually from the bubonic plague) was healed and the linens clean.
Her community thrived over the next 200 years, becoming one of the richest abbeys in England until destroyed by Danes. In 970 it was resurrected as a Benedictine monastery. Then, in 1081 work began to convert the original building into a cathedral. In 1322 one of the stone towers fell, and work began in the same year to replace it, this time out of wood, resulting in the Ely Octagon completed in 1342.
Keep in mind it was a guessing game as to how the structure would stay in place. As the guide told us, this was before the time of measuring the exact forces on structures. Luckily, it worked.
When gazing at the next group of photographs just imagine looking up and seeing this painted ceiling with the light splashing through. The guide was talking while I kept snapping due to the stained glass effect. The exact dates are known of these constructions because they were carefully chronicled throughout the years; and, unusually so, the actual names of those working on the wooden tower were known in addition to the master carpenter (in today’s world he/she would be considered an engineer who concentrated on wood construction), William Hurley, provided by the then King of England, Edward III. Due to the growing popularity of the cult of Virgin Mary the Lady Chapel was erected in the same time period and completed in 1349. This side building was also considered unique due to it being separated from the main cathedral building and was exceptionally wide. Similar to how the King’s Chapel educated me on the Wars of the Roses, this cathedral gave me the clearest example of Norman vs. Gothic architecture. A later renovation added the pointed arched windows of Gothic structures to the earlier rounded windows of the Norman period (remember William the Conqueror who came over from Normandy? This is from his time.)
The main building was renovated several times, the first due to that disastrous falling of the East tower, the next during Victorian times when two volunteers painted the wooden ceilings. Upon entering I was amazed at the length of it considering its overall size; and, I discovered it’s the longest nave in Europe measuring 565 feet from the west porch exterior to the eastern buttresses’ exterior.
One guide began our tour due to the original one being delayed due to a traffic jam. Both were informative but the latter, you felt, could go on for quite awhile. Our clue was his question ‘what time did you think you’d be leaving?’ Normally this could cause some nervousness on my part along with my feet turning sideways to inch out a door, but his knowledge of and excitement only meant we truly were taken back in time.
As we walked through this beautiful cathedral we also spotted some tombs of famous bishops. Both would have been folk I would have liked to have met: St. Hugh of Lincoln (Bishop of Lincoln 1186-1200) known for his kindness, good sense of humor, and the swan who followed him about. He was also able to tame temperamental kings, such as Henry II who sent Thomas Becket to his grave for misspeaking. Another favorite was Bishop Richard Redman (Bishop of Ely 1501-06) who, when traveling, would ask to have a bell rung so he could invite the poor to join him in a meal. His was the only tomb not relocated due to renovations or damaged. One of the most splendid examples of why this is a glorious place to visit is the Lady’s Chapel mentioned earlier. Here, there was a choir practicing for a concert later that day. Our guide said this chapel was often used by visiting choirs to record due to its beautiful acoustics, including an echo. I loved hearing the singing and music rolling out of the doors as we peeked in at the rehearsal. It also was one of the brightest church buildings from that time that I’d seen. (Not that I’ve seen a ton.) Unfortunately, all but a small portion of the stained glass had been smashed by Henry VII’is thugs during the reformation. They also managed to scrape off the beautifully painted murals and smash all the tiny heads off the statues recessed along the walls. Reminded me of the intolerance and destruction by other fanatics (ISIS for one) of other historical monuments. Some things never change. Oliver Cromwell also caused suffering during England’s Civil war 1642-51; but, since he’d moved to Ely in 1636, he and his soldiers didn’t do as much destruction as they easily could have. Hugo had mentioned one of the unique aspects of Ely Cathedral is the way it is still surrounded by large open spaces, and this greeted us as we exited. Ely also boasts the largest number of medieval buildings still in use.
Another wonderful lunch reserved by Hugo meant we walked outside the cathedral, through the green, and into an old fire engine house. We once again ate a delicious meal begun by some beer and wine, then left for our last exploration of the day, a neolithic flint-mining site. Grimes Graves is one of ten flint mines in England. Over 400 pits are found in this cleared area named Grim’s Graves by the Anglo-Saons. And, to this day we could see the pock-marked landscape where miners over 5,000 years ago picked flint out of the white chalk. Their tools were antlers and animal (I hope) shoulder-blades for picks and shovels. Used for axes, a highly prized tool, this jet-black flint was a valuable commodity traded up and down the British Isles. We were able to visit one pit and descended the 30 feet with our yellow miner hats. Not one of tunnels or height, I was thankful to climb down, peek about, then quickly return to the surface. With time for a tea prior to catching the train back to Ipswich, we stopped back at The Dhoon were we found Maya comfortably resting under the furry warmth of Treasure and Barry. As we said our good-byes we realized how much we were going to miss Maya and Hugo, and, yes Treasure and Barry. They had opened their home to two cruisers from Ipswich who definitely felt this spring week end could not have been spent in a more congenial spot.