United Kingdom, Week 1

Wednesday 26 September 2007 - Sunday 30 September 20070

Karel and Samantha at xxx

The flight from Istanbul to Zurich was uneventful - and this is the way that we want all of our flights to be. We had just enough time to walk from the disembarkation point to the embarkation point and enter the plane for our flight to Heathrow.

Disembarking at Heathrow at 5:30pm (we'd lost another two hours and are now operating on Zulu time - GMT - which is ten hours behind AET), we found to both our surprise and dismay that all of the hire car offices were firmly shut. Not only shut, but none of them were answering their after-hours numbers. It's certainly not what we expect to find at home, where even smaller airports like Canberra keep their booths open until the last flight.

This initiated a rapid change of plan and we were forced to catch the bus from Heathrow to Reading and then transfer to the train for the journey from Reading to Swindon where Rose picked us up.

[Above - Karel and Samantha at Faringdon]
[Right - Margaret talking to Marcus, Faringdon]

With all the fussing about flights and so on, I'd missed taking my medication and got really confused, flustered and bad-tempered. I'm not sure how Margaret puts up with me sometimes. I finally ended up taking my tablets at 7:30pm local time which meant that I was about 12 hours overdue! It was only at this time that I managed to realise that I should sit quietly and keep my mouth shut. It was a good plan, but more than a little late.

We've used these few days for Margaret to catch up with the family gossip and the changed conditions for the family in a new location.  I probably haven't said that son-in-law Karel is an Australian Army officer selected to do his Staff College course in the UK.  He'll come back home to a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel.

Karel's just started his Staff College course and has his head down already. There's not been much opportunity for them to do any sightseeing, even locally, but I'd imagine as they settle into their routine that things will be easier for them.

Samantha is walking now and has quite a few words already.  She understands a lot more words than she can speak. "Grandpa" though, is as clear as a bell - as of course it should be!

Marcus is starting to settle in to his routine. He maintains his independence, and will continue to be a handful for his parents because he is very bright. He understands concepts very quickly and is able to extrapolate them without any effort at all. His vocabulary is extensive and expanding every day. His friend is French, so he's been learning some French words as well as honing his English accent!

Margaret talking to Marcus
Rose, Karel, Marcus and Sam at kids' soccer

[Rose, Karel, Marcus and Sam at kids' soccer]

They've all picked up a bit of a twang, but I guess that's what happens when you live in a foreign country, even one like England.

On Saturday we went into the town of Faringdon while Rose attended a first aid course. Karel and Marcus had haircuts while we had a look around the town with Sam. Afterwards we had morning tea.

Karel spent the afternoon studying, while I used the time to revamp this web site using tables so that I could better control the way that it appears on screens which are not as wide as the ones on this laptop. I also sorted the pictures into chronological order using a system which also groups the pictures by country.

On the Sunday we went to a pub for lunch, near Chiseldon I think. Karel had slow-roasted shoulder of lamb and left nothing but a clean scapula and a shiny plate. Rose and I had the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding - suitably rare - while Margaret had a stuffed chicken breast. Lovely food.

We carried on down to Marlborough which was abuzz with activity, people everywhere and pretty much every shop open and doing a thriving business.  Unfortunately for Karel and I there were umpty eleven dress shops, no computer shops and no hardware shops.  There were some bookshops, but we didn't actually get to go into any of them.

It was a very pleasant outing though, and we all enjoyed ourselves to a greater or lesser degree!

Marlborough shopping centre
Pulteney Bridge at Bath

Monday 1 October 2007

Rosemarie drove us in to Swindon to pick up the car that we had hired over the internet. Our intention is to tour the west of England, drifting north as we go and ending up in Darley (Yorkshire) on Sunday for the Houseman Family Reunion. We'll drive back to their house on Sunday evening so that Margaret and Rose can go to morning tea at Kensington Palace on Monday.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that the vehicle had been upgraded and we ended up with a new black Peugot 307 which is a good chance for us to check out the brand as we'll be shopping for a new car when we get home and like the look of the diesel 407.

It's a nice vehicle to drive, plenty of extras and good to travel in too.

First stop was the town of Bath, famous for its Roman Baths and Georgian architecture, which includes the bridge [pictured left], which is modelled on those in Florence with shops lining the edges.

We parked the car and very quickly discovered a tour bus. It was raining continuously, so it looked like an attractive proposition. The tour of Bath's attractions and architecture took about an hour and a half and kept us out of the rain.  Pictures were difficult however, and later we went back to Royal Crescent to take better pictures.


When we finished, we had lunch at a cafe underneath the bridge. Afterwards we toured the Roman Baths [Right]. The whole area is much better presented than it was when I was there some 18 years ago. This is the case for most of the places that we've been so far, and while admissions are expensive, it makes it much better value.

There are a swag of pictures of the various parts of the Baths, the archaeological items discovered over the years, masonry, carvings, mosaics [below] and so on. It's difficult to classify them all in this particular form of presentation, so I won't even start.

Margaret was entranced by the history of the Baths and the various ways in which the hot springs have been used and exploited by people over the years.

The Roman Baths at Bath
Merhorse mosaic at the Roman Baths, Bath

From the Baths we went to the Tourist Information Centre where we booked a B & B for the evening, and having secured our accommodation, walked up to Royal Crescent.  This is probably one of the best known of the Georgian Buildings and it was well worth the walk [see below].

We came back through the Queen Victoria Gardens.  The plantings in Bath are an absolute picture, even at this late stage of the year.  They're a credit to civic planning.

It would have been nice to have had a look at the Jane Austen Museum as well, but I'm afraid we ran out of puff. Going back to the carpark we used the GPS to locate our B & B at No 1 Pulteney Gardens, and settled in. It's a lovely house and while just a little bit run down, it was comfortable and clean. We went across the road to the Royal Oak (one of only 1,736,283 pubs in the UK with this name) for a drink and dinner.

Tuesday 2 October 2007

We left Bath heading south-west to Wells and Glastonbury - so much for heading west and north!

The Cathedral at Wells is magnificent, although most of the carved limestone figures are entirely unrecognisable due to the effects of wind, water and weather.  And I guess the acid effects of pollution haven't helped at all.  The Cathedral and its surrounds are undergoing extensive restoration.

We could only find half-hour parking in Wells, which made things a bit problematical, but we were able to see the outside of the Bishop's Palace with its moat, limestone walls and substantial gate-house [below]. Obviously Bishops in those days earned a lot more than they do today. Either that or the incumbent came into the job more than just a little well-off!

Royal Crescent, Bath
Gatehouse of the Bishop's Palace at Wells

Just down the road is Glastonbury, site of a ruined Cathedral and a number of Arthurian legends.  It's like Nimbin with older buildings.  Almost every shop sells crystals, tarot cards, psychic readings, insightful druidic predictions and similar.  It's scary how many fringe dwellers can be packed into such a small place.

There's a supposed Arthurian burial, but I wouldn't think that anyone would place any credence in it.

The Cathedral was part of the dissolution of the Church presided over by Henry the Eighth.  The ruins provide an insight into the impressive extent of the original Cathedral and its environs. Colour was obviously an important part of the buildings and their presentation.

[Below - Panorama of Glastonbury Cathedral (Note the dog and owner who appear three times!)]

Panorama of Glastonbury Cathedral and environs
Eroded stone fretwork on Lady Chapel, Glastonbury Surviving buttresses of Glastonbury Cathedral

[Above Left - Eroded stone fretwork above entry to Lady Chapel]
[Above Right - Surviving buttresses of Glastonbury Cathedral]

After Glastonbury we drove to Gloucester. Not for any particular reason, but just because we could. We didn't get into the town until quite late and didn't get to see a lot.

We stayed in a B & B called the Edward Hotel. It was a rabbit warren of stairways winding through what was probably three separate houses originally. We actually had to go down half a flight of stairs halfway through climbing up to our room!

It was a very nice place, marred only by the fact that up until the recent legislative changes here, they were rooms where smoking was permitted. The smell still permeates the carpets and soft furnishings.

We went for a walk and had dinner at a nearby pub which had been recommended by the proprietor of the accommodation.  Margaret had Glamorgan (vegetarian) sausage and I had an 8oz steak which was terrific. We'll probably both come back weighing 600 kilos. In reality though, we're doing a lot of walking and I suspect that it is a zero-sum game where we'll come out even in the end!

We've noticed that the English are really friendly towards Australians, and that many of them have strong familial links there. They're keen to chat and always ask where we're from. This is sometimes a mistake, as Margaret is not as taciturn and reserved as I am.

[Right - Gnarled elm outside Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford-on-Avon]
[Below - Anne Hathaway's cottage]

Gnarled elm outside Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford-on-Avon
Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford on Avon

Wednesday 3 October 2007

We got away early in the morning and drove to Stratford-on-Avon to have a look at the Shakespearian link.

Shakespeare's house looks very impressive from the exterior, although we later found that it was completely renovated in the early 1800's. Although that renovation was relatively sympathetic for the time, they substituted sawn oak beams for what would originally have been adzed beams and generally tidied everything up.

The entry-point presents a lot of material which also initially looks good, but perhaps it's my cynical nature, I can't see how a map display which says "Press the button to see which of the two most likely routes that Shakespeare used when he travelled from Stratford to London." is at all relevant.

Noting that, we then discovered that almost everything on display fell into the same category: "This - insert name of object - is typical of those used in Shakespeare's time", or were so qualified as to be useless. For example, there's a notice saying that there are virtually no records of the interior decoration of homes of the period so that this house has been decorated in a style based on that depicted by the Flemish, Dutch and Belgian painters!

It's all interesting from the perspective of seeing how people lived at the time, but when you try and relate it directly to the playwright it engenders a sense of desperation that is totally unnecessary. Fortunately this is the first time that we've struck this.

In the movies it's called "suspension of disbelief", so tomorrow we will try to suspend our disbelief and take everything at its face value!

On the right is Anne Hathaway's cottage.  We've not heard Bruce talking about her at all, so we're assuming that she's from a less favoured branch of the family.  Perhaps she ran off with the family silver or something similar.

We then drove about a hundred miles to Chester, which we'd chosen as the next victim of our discerning analysis. The route included the A46, A 435, M5, M6, A54 and finally the A51 freeeways. Tedious but very useful in the bigger scheme of things for getting from point A to point B.

Anne Hathaway's cottage, ouside Stratford-on-Avon
Row of Tudor shop-fronts in Chester

Chester is an absolute treasure trove of Tudor and mock-Tudor architecture.  This is the black oak framework with whitewashed wattle and daub in the interstices.  (Maybe this is the principle that the Turks were using with concrete and bricks!)

The town walls are still substantially in place and there are a number of quite early buildings including the castle, the cathedral and a very impressive town hall.

We stayed in a B & B at number 28  Hough Green. The house has about 12 foot ceilings on the first floor and 14 ft on the ground floor is beautifully turned out and full of antiques. It's a pleasant walk from the city centre where we had dinner and a nice bottle of French pinot grigio.

[Left - Row of Tudor shops in Chester] [Below - Chester Cathedral]

Thursday 4 October 2007

Breakfast was excellent - certainly in keeping with the decor and we decided to park the car in Chester and see a bit more of it. 

The car park is beside the river Dee and just below the keep, so we climbed onto the wall and followed it around into the city.

This gave us a better view of some of the buildings and of the four-side clock erected over the city gate in 1894 as a result of donations and public subscription.

A group of high-school students were doing a field-trip and completing various observational questions.  Margaret took some controlling, but I managed to get her away before she joined in.

Chester Cathedral
Clock over Chester City Gate

Chester was a centre for gold and silversmiths and there are still many manufacturing jewellers there with new, old and antique jewellery for sale. 

There is also a large number of up-market clothing shops, including a shirt-maker!  Shame that I'm retired really, as I had no excuse at all for getting some lovely shirts with french cuffs.

Going further down into the city we decided to go down towards the river and were totally fooled by a canal!  It was a pleasant walk along the canal and we admired the canal boats, the ducks and the fisherman on the bank.

Unfortunately we'd walked too far and taken ourselves away from where we thought we were.  Had to retrace our steps back into the city and after that we were able to follow the remaining part of the city wall [ to find our way back to the car park and get on our way to Ambleside in Cumbria to see the Lakes District up close and personal.

[Left - City Clock in Chester]
[Below Left - Canal Boat] [Below Right - Bridge over the Dee]

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