London, the Start
Since we were flying into London, Clare and I decided to add a few days onto our trip by going early and seeing a few things in London before meeting up with the Road Scholar group. We took the tube into London and one sign caught my eye. We were at the first stop coming in from Heathrow and I was extremely tired so what do I think as I see a sign saying “Way Out” without an arrow. Through my foggy brain having little sleep my thought was, yes, we’re “way out” of London but why would you need a sign to tell you that? It took me a second or two to finally come to the answer of, oh yeah, EXIT. Later I saw way out signs with arrows and snapped pictures of them. Getting used to the terminology is part of the fun of travel. I got a kick out of hearing “Mind the gap” on the tube or “Mind the doors” on elevators. Another one is, a trunk is what you put in the boot of your car. At one restaurant, we were asked white or brown bloomers? We had to ask “what are bloomers”? As it turns out, bloomers are a crusty bread.
Our first stop was at John Soane’s Museum (free to visit) on Lincoln’s Inn which is one of the four Inns of Court in London that barristers belong to and where they are called to the Bar. After the two pictures of the John Soane Museum, there are two pictures of buildings along Lincoln Inn. Lincoln’s Inn is situated in Holborn in the London Borough of Camden. The impressive large building is the The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn.
The Royal Courts of Justice is a court building in London which houses the High Court and Court of Appeal of England and Wales. It was designed by George Edmund Street and has a large grey stone edifice in the Victorian Gothic style built in the 1870s and opened by Queen Victoria in 1882. It is located on Strand within the City of Westminster.
The area is also interesting since it is where the old city of London begins as marked by the dragon created in 1880 by the sculptor Charles Bell Birch to surmount the pedestal marking that marked the historic gates of the City of London. There is also the Twinings Tea store where you can try real English tea, not the version we get in the USA. I tried the Earl Grey and it was much better then what they ship to the colonies. No wonder we rebelled.
St Clement Danes and St Mary-le-Strand are known as the two ‘Island Churches’. St Clement Danes is an Anglican church surrounded by the Strand, across the street from the Royal Courts of Justice. The current church was finished in 1682 and designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Wren’s building was severely damaged during the Blitz and restored in 1958, and became the central church of the Royal Air Force.
No one visits the UK without noticing the large number of pubs that are liberally scattered throughout the cities and towns. Certainly London has its fair share, perhaps an over abundance of pubs. We did have one question; why were so many people drinking outside of the pubs? At one point we inquired about this and were told it’s about being able to smoke although I did see quite a number of people drinking outside pubs without a cigarette in their hand. And before you ask, yes, I did try fish and chips in one of the pubs. They were mediocre. We had fish and chips in Whitby that were excellent.
We walked along the river to find Cleopatra’s Needle, located on the Victoria Embankment of Thames River near the Golden Jubilee Bridge. Muhammad Ali, then ruler of Egypt and Sudan, gave the monument to the government of the United Kingdom in 1819 in commemoration of the British victories at the Battle of the Nile (1798) and the Battle of Alexandria (1801). Due to the expense, the British government declined to pay for its transportation to England and left the obelisk in Egypt. It was not until 1877 that Sir William James Erasmus Wilson sponsored the transportation of the obelisk at the cost of about £10,000.
Just our luck, we go to London and Big Ben and the Parliament both have scaffolding for major repairs and to boot, the Old Curiosity Shop behind a barricade and it’s overcast and raining lightly. I guess this will be a good excuse to come back to see the major sights at a more opportune time. The Eye was working and very cool to see Westminster Bridge with the monument to Boadicea and her daughters, queen of the Celtic Iceni tribe. Boadicea led an uprising against Rome around 60 AD which failed and she shortly met her end but was considered a folk hero.
A stop at Westminster Abbey is a must. It’s right around the corner from Parliament on Parliament Square. The crowds are atrocious so best to get tickets before your visit. We didn’t so, next trip….
For a nice respite for lunch, I’d recommend St James Park. We were just in time to see them feeding the pelicans that were first introduced into St James’s Park by a Russian ambassador, who presented them to Charles II in 1664.
After lunch, we strolled up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. On the way, there was a demonstration on Brexit and there were a number of demonstrations at Trafalgar Square. Having been a history major who took a great many English history classes, it was a fantasy come true to walk down Whitehall. Whitehall features many of the historical buildings and monuments that you associate with England. We walked past the Cenotaph (what’s so glorious about being the “The Glorious Dead”), old War Office building, Horse Guards, and the Ministry of Defense. Great Scotland Yard and Horse Guards Avenue branch off to the east, while Downing Street branches off to the west. Unfortunately we couldn’t see 10 Downing Street due to and iron fence and some guards.
The Tower of London, officially Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, is located on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. Our guide, Anne-Marie Walker, was a fount of knowledge about the Tower. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 and was to dominate the skyline, but also the hearts and minds of the defeated Londoners.
The castle was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952 but its purpose was to serve as a royal residence until the Tudors. The peak period of the castle’s use as a prison was the 16th and 17th centuries and despite its reputation as a place for torture and death, only seven people were executed within the Tower before the 20th century. As a whole, the Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat.
The current St Paul’s cathedral, built in the 17th century, was designed in the English Baroque style by Sir Christopher Wren. The old St Paul’s was largely destroyed after the Great Fire of London in September 1666. St Paul’s is one of the most famous and most recognizable sights of London. Its dome, at 365 feet (111 m) high, has dominated the skyline for over 300 years and was the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1967.
I’d highly recommend the British Museum. We only had a couple of hours but it was well worth it. I can only say, I was blown away by the exhibits that spanned the breath of human history. The collections go beyond incredible but breathtaking. Just seeing the Rosetta Stone was worth the trip.
Salisbury and Stonehenge, Avebury
We officially started our program with Road Scholar in Salisbury at the Red Lion Hotel. We did go to London on the program but that part was covered in the London segment so I won’t be revisiting that part of the trip. Salisbury has a remarkable history in that its beginning started with Old Sarum, two miles away that sits on a strategic hill with a commanding view of the countryside. Old Sarum was settled first between 600 to 300 BC before being occupied by the Romans, Saxons and Normans and subsequently abandoned in the 13th century for Salisbury. If you visit Salisbury, I would recommend finding the local tourist office and buying the “Walk-round guide to Salisbury” for a £. The map, very nicely illustrated, takes you to 16 points of interest in Salisbury and is very easily walked within a few hours.
The walk begins in Salisbury Cathedral which was begun by Bishop Richard Poore who moved the Cathedral from Old Sarum to Salisbury in 1220. By 1258, the choir, transepts and nave were completed and consecrated. The spire, 404 ft high is the highest in England and third highest in Europe was added 100 years later. Salisbury Cathedral is acknowledged as the most attractive English Cathedral in setting and appearance. The Cathedral has one of the best preserved of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta and oldest surviving mechanical clocks in the world. Adjacent to the Cathedral is the (2)Cloisters with a single central pillar from which the roof fans out.
(3)Mompesson House is one of the finest houses in the Close, built in 1701. (4)The College of Matrons was built in 1682. (5)High street gate was erected to protect the Close in the 14th century to protect the clergy from the rebellious citizens. (6)The Old Bookshop is a rambling timber framed building built in the 14th century. (7)The Old George is an ancient Inn originally built in the 14th century but the front was built in the 15th century. (8)The Poultry Cross was an open air market from the 14th century. Across from the Poultry Cross is the “Haunch of Venison” Inn where pilgrims stayed before visiting the Cathedral. (9)St Thomas’ Church of Canterbury is mainly 15th century with parts dating back to the 13th century. St Thomas’s should not be missed with its painting of the Doom above the chancel arch. (10)The Town Mill was one of the four mills mentioned in the Domesday Survey which was completed in 1086 by order of William the Conqueror. (11)Harnham Mill (did not visit). (12) The Guildhall was built in 1795 as a gift to the city by the Earl of Radnor. (13) House of John a’Porte, six time mayor of Salisbury, built this house in 1425. (14)The Pheasant Inn dates to the 15th century and was the Hall for the Shoemakers’ guild. (15) The White Hart, along with the Red Lion Inn, was one of the grander coaching Inns from where a stagecoach would leave for London. (16)St Ann’s Gate dates to 1333 when the wall round the Close was built.
Stonehenge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a British cultural icon. This prehistoric monument consists of a ring of standing stones. The stones are set within earthworks in the middle of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England between 3000 BC to 2000 BC. There are several hundred burial mounds that are chambered tombs called long barrow, perhaps erected as a system of ancestor veneration.
After Stonehenge, we visited Avebury, the largest prehistoric stone circles in the world, made up of three stone circles. The first two pictures feature stones of over 100 tons. How did these “primitive” people put these stones in place?
After a couple days in London that have been covered, we were off to Cambridge to learn about the university. We had an excellent tour guide, Tony Rodgers, whose dry wit kept us very entertained, particularly when he mentioned “that other university whose name will not be used”. The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209. King Henry III granted Cambridge a Royal Charter in 1231. Cambridge is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world’s fourth-oldest surviving university. According to Wikipedia, Cambridge has 118 Nobel Laureates as of March 2019. Among it’s illustrious alumni are Issac Newton, Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking, Bertrand Russell, Charles Darwin, Francis Bacon, Lord Byron, John Maynard Keynes, J. Robert Oppenheimer and the list goes on. Some of the university buildings pictured are the King’s College Chapel, King’s College, Cavendish Laboratory, mathematical bridge, Clare’s College, The Great Gate of Trinity College, The Eagle RAF Bar, Punting on the river Cam and the hangman’s house number. The Tudor’s had a very strong influence on King’s College Chapel in that they put the symbol of their authority in the Ante-chapel. The breath-taking fan vault was done by master mason John Wastell.
Burghley House was built by and still lived in by the Cecil family. It’s construction was between 1555 and 1587 by Sir William Cecil. The house is an example of sixteenth-century English Elizabethan architecture. The gardens and parkland were designed by “Capability” Brown in the 18th Century.
If Burghley House looks very familiar, it has been featured in several films. Among the better known films and television programs made at Burghley are Middlemarch, The Da Vinci Code, Pride & Prejudice, and Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
York and York Minster
York was established in 71 AD and has been the site of warfare, political intrigue and industrial breakthrough. It was in York that Constantine converted Rome to Christianity. Richard III planned his campaigns during the Wars of the Roses in York. Guy Fawkes, the greatest traitor in England’s history for planning the gunpowder plot, was born in York. In industry, York was the center of early photography and the Kit Kat candy bar created by Rowntree’s of York in 1911.
When visiting York, one of your first missions should be to walk parts of the city’s medieval walls that surround the central city. The city walls are the most complete defenses in England and incorporate part of the walls of the Roman fortress and some Norman and medieval work. A feature of central York is the Snickelways, narrow pedestrian routes, many of which led towards the former market places. The Shambles is a narrow medieval street, lined with shops, boutiques and tea rooms. There are medieval houses from the early-14th‑century at Lady Row. Harry Potter has had an influence in the Shambles as there are a few “wizards” shops. Also note the Black Swan is a “freehouse” which means they are not tied to a brewery so can serve multiple types of beers. Overall a lot of history in the buildings of York so worth the trip to experience.
The York Minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the third-highest office of the Church of England. The first church in York was probably built in the 4th century. The first recorded church in York was a wood structure built in 627. The church in York passed though many hands as invasions swept across the area until William the Conqueror solidified holding the area. The first Norman archbishop, Thomas of Bayeux, organized repairs. The Danes destroyed the church in 1075. The church was rebuilt in the Norman style, it was 364 ft long. In 1215, Walter de Gray was made archbishop and ordered the construction of a Gothic structure. The north and south transepts were both built in the Early English Gothic style. The Chapter House was completed before 1296. The cathedral was declared complete and consecrated in 1472. Since that time, there have been several restorations due to fires and neglect. The 20th century has seen a more concerted preservation and restoration programs.
When I saw Castle Howard, all I could think of was Brideshead Revisited. Castle Howard was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh and assisted by Nicholas Hawksmoor for the 3rd Earl of Carlisle. Vanbrugh’s design was a Baroque structure with two symmetrical wings projecting to either side of a north-south axis and a crowning central dome. We toured the grounds and visited the Temple of the Four Winds, saw the Hawksmoor’s Pyramid and Atlas Fountain by the sculpture John Thomas. Work begun on Castle Howard in 1699 and was not completed until 1811 under Charles Heathcote Tatham.
Durham, North York Moors, Whitby
On our way to Durham, we passed through the North York Moors, a somewhat desolate looking area, however, when the heather blooms in late summer, it must be a marvelous sight to see the area covered in an abundance of purple heather. The North York Moors is one of the largest expanses of heather moorland in the United Kingdom. We also stopped at Goathland Station on the North Eastern Railroad, best known for it’s part in the Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts Express stop at Hogsmeade. The stop is also well know in two television series, Heartbeat and All Creatures Great and Small. While at the station, two steam engines stopped at the station while we were drinking Yorkshire tea.
Whitby is a very colorful seaside town in North Yorkshire where Captain Cook learned seamanship. It’s also known for it’s jet jewelry that was popularized by the Romans and Victorians. The Whitby Abbey ruins, at the top of the East Cliff is the town’s oldest and most prominent landmark, was founded in 657. I had the best English fish and chips at the Quayside in Whitby. The whale bone arch on the West Cliff commemorates Whitby’s link to the whaling industry. St Mary’s church foundation dates to the 12th century. To get to St Mary’s and the Whitby Abbey, we climbed the 199 steps called the “Church Stairs” to get to the East Cliff.
Hadrian’s Wall was a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia, begun in AD 122 by order of Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian’s Wall is the largest Roman archaeological feature anywhere and runs a total of 73 miles. The normal height of the wall was around 15 feet, however, today the average height is about 4 feet due to scavenging for building materials for roads and buildings since it was built. Our guide, Sue (in pink raincoat), provided a detailed narration of life at a Roman fort ruin. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day with some rain so not the best for photography or looking at the Roman ruins.
Durham Cathedral was begun in 1093 and designed by William of Calais. For the most part, Durham Cathedral was finished in 1140, however, there were many additions and restorations over the years. The cathedral is regarded as one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in Europe. Durham Cathedral holds the relics of Saint Cuthbert. According to people of the time, when Cuthbert’s crypt was opened eleven years after his death, his body was found to have been perfectly preserved. I found the building techniques for pillars by the Normans very interesting. They cut the stones so that with only 2 or 3 designs, the columns would have what appeared to be intricate patterns. We had some time and I took a few shots in the town square but who could forget the hotel, “The Honest Lawyer”.
Thanks to our very gracious and vigilant group leader, Philip Tootill, I’ve ended with a group shots provided by Philip from Stonehenge and the Tower of London. I’d like to know how many headcounts Philip did during the trip, way too many.