Friday, June 15, 2007

June 15 - Sugar Creek - Lindesfarne pics

We're back from Britain - invasion successful. We had a ball and it's a vacation I'll never forget!

Here's some photos from Lindesfarne that I haven't had a chance to post yet but thought you'd like to see them.

And for my final image I'll leave you with this one. (Thanks Hannah for taking it - Terry was already asleep)


Thursday, June 14, 2007

14 June 2007 - Chicago

We're almost home. The flight from Glasgow to Newark wasn't too bad. We each got seats that were window or aisle with no one in the middle seat. I'm afraid I'm in the dog house though, I got bumped to first class PURELY BY ACCIDENT, I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT I SWEAR! Terry and Meg were not so lucky. Then someone gave her the wrong time and we ran to the next gate only to figure out when we were out of breath and feeling the burn that they were off by an hour. We are waiting patiently for the next flight...Home is within reach.

Now about Hannah, since she is sitting next to me whining that I'm leaving her out. So she got the middle bulkhead seat in coach and had a really fun time talking with the gal next to her and picking on me in my big wide leather seat while I drank wine and had a nubile young cabana boy peel me grapes (that last part is a lie...the grapes were not peeled)...We'll be home in awhile talk to you later...gj

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

One more thing

We're back in the land of $15.00 per mb of data so no more photos till we get home I think. Then I'll post something from Lindesfarne (for you ruined priory fans) and the cheviots.

Later gj

13, June 2008 Glasgow Scotland

Tomorrow we leave for home. It's been a whirlwind in spite of our best intentions to have it remain restful. The last few days have been especially busy.

Today we walked through the shopping district that starts (from our perspective) on Sauchiehall street. We had originally planned to do museums and such but we're all kind of museumed out after yesterday.

Hannah bought many textile objects and a shiny new red suitcase to hold her purchases. Meg finally found a particular tartan she was looking for and I bought a diet coke so I could break a 10 pound note to get into the bathrooms at Central (train) station. We had lunch at TGIF - a sure sign of travel fatigue. We also managed to find a way to avoid the 20% grade hill back up to our hotel. That would be 18 degrees of elevation in one city block for you who are keeping score. We also found another Tardis but someone was selling coffee out of it. There was a guy painted up like and egyptian kings tomb - an interesting choice of busking art - who we gave almost all our copper to in exchange for an elegant bow.

Yesterday was a travel day but having not yet learned the lesson we went out in the morning and hit the museum (having bypassed that the day before for Falkirk and the wheel). It was a great museum and we finally got to see the Lewis Chess Men. There was shopping in a great many kilt / woolen shops and a wonderful lunch at the Tower Restaurant in the Museum of Scotland afterwards. The winning dish was the carrot and fennel(or was it caraway - I can't remember now) soup. About five we headed back to the B&B to cab with our mountain of luggage to the train station and head out from Edinburgh to Glasgow.

Getting the four of us and the 9 bags onto a crowded train rachets up the stress levels and an hour later when we debarked at Glasgow we were already tired. We were collected at the station by a bossy taxi driver (not at all encouraging like our favorite driver Derek from Alnwick) in the rain. He managed to get us and our luggage into the taxi (not that we had any choice as he wedged us and our luggage in the back of a traditional black cab. He then did the usual quiz to make sure we still knew where we came from and how long we have been in the country. His brogue was quite heavy but we were able to keep up by picking out key phrases we were able to understand. The rest we nodded said Oh Aye, and when completely unsure what he had said laughed nervously. That last part usually works regardless of the language. He was quite a character, he thought Ronald Reagan waved his hand like a poof.

A foggy taxi drive later arrived at our latest mountaintop retreat. The Old Schoolhouse Hotel. Incidentally the picture on the website for the OSH is not the hotel itself but we suspect the old school house that the hotel is located somewhat near. That mystery has not yet been solved. These Scots are certainly wily when it comes to marketing their properties. Don't get me wrong each has been a pleasant facility with accomodations that met our needs and in most cases exceeded our expectations for service but there seemed to be a little slight of hand going on at any rate.

Once we were properly settled we set out for dinner in the rain by trudging down the hill where we found an italian restaurant that appeared to be owned/operated/staffed largely by Greeks. One of them in particular had a grand time poking fun of my pronunciation of water which is apparently more like wadder. Well, we got back at them good. About half way through dinner Hannah wasn't feeling well so I walked her back to the hotel (I get triple bonus points for walking up that hill at full speed TWICE last night). When I got back both the apparent owner and his manager had very worried looks on their faces and wondered what had happened. We were very tempted to tell them it was the wadder. Other than that dinner was very good with a nice sangeovese to accompany. There was really awesome bruschetta with tomatoes and basil and then I had a penne pasta with a creamy tomato and pesto sauce while Meg and Hannah each had calzone and Terry had a pancetta pizza.

That brings you up to date from our day at Falkirk I think.

Tomorrow we leave around 10am for the airport and the flights back home. Here's fair warning for those of you who may be eager to talk to us once we get back. We leave at 12noon Glasgow time which is 5am Kansas City time. Once we get to Kansas City (assuming everything goes as planned) it will be 10 pm then another hour for each of us to get home. So that's 18 hours travelling. I for one will want to sleep VERY VERY VERY LATE. I have two Dr. appts on Friday as well so give us until Saturday to get our brains back on Central Daylight time and our brains together before expecting a recount of our adventures. We can't wait to give you the 17 hour slide show presentation with charts, maps, books, videos, and 3700 8x10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us...... gj

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tuesday June 12. Day Twenty

6/12/07 Day Twenty. Tuesday.

A good breakfast, another 44 bus ride, and a walk of 7 or 8 blocks put us at the National Museum of Scotland this morning, where I finally got to see the Lewis Chessmen. I don't know why I am fascinated by these figures, but I just am. After staring at them for a long time, taking several pictures, and running to the museum shop to purchase a little book about them, I finally tagged along with the rest of the crew to look at the rest of the museum. It's an excellent museum. I was struck again with the sense of time travel while looking at the prehistoric Scotland exhibit. A large rock sits near a plaque which states that this country is founded upon Lewisian Gneiss approximately 3400 million years old. Somehow it seems poetic or something that we four started our own journey to Scotland sitting, walking, admiring and climbing on this same Lewisian Gneiss in its home turf, or bog, more appropriately.

This rock, with its smooth sides and mysterious ripply markings crashed itself into my heart when our trip began. I cannot look at it without also seeing huge waves crashing on cliffs, seabirds soaring overhead, feeling ocean spray on my face, smelling peat burning, hearing sheep bleating and watching the sunset from the most beautiful place on earth. This rock has formed my first and most lasting impression of Scotland, and I think it is indeed a most poetic and perfect coincidence that this rock is the foundation of the country itself.

A country built on this rock cannot help but be rugged, strong and beautiful. A person who treks across this rock cannot help but be changed forever.


We split up for a few hours in the afternoon. Terry went off galavanting by himself while we women just walked a bit down Princes Street, finally stopping at a coffee house and just doing some people watching.

Once we met up again, we went back to Melville and gathered our belongings, taxied to the train station, and hopped the next train to Glasgow. After getting our rooms and dropping off the luggage at The Old School House, we went for a short walk to a fine Italian restaurant not far from here. Hannah wasn't feeling well, and ended up going back to the hotel before her meal even came, but the rest of us (after making sure she was home and safe and alright) stayed and stuffed ourselves and enjoyed a nice Sangiovese before returning and heading to bed.


PS I think all of Scotland is uphill. I don't know how they do it. Everywhere we go though, we have some huge hill we have to walk everyday. This time it's where we're staying. Renfrew street is just one block from Sauchiehall, (pronounced SokeeHoe) the main shopping street, but to get back to Renfrew to go home, we have to walk pretty much straight up.


Quick Post on Falkirk for photos

Just a quick post before we leave this morning to post a picture of Falkirk Wheel. By the way it is the very coolest thing ever. I got lots and lots of pictures (Dad) and a CD presentation so we'll be able to give the full effect.

For the Joneses in the bunch -

Can you believe it - I ran out of battery half way through the trip. But not before I got this one of the locks at the top of the wheel.

And this lock below the wheel...

Monday, June 11, 2007

Monday June 11

6/11/07 Day Nineteen. Monday.

Alrighty then! Re-using the strategy we developed to invade the castle, We successfully conquered Falkirk today. Deceptively simple, yet ingenious; train to Falkirk High station, walk 6 blocks or so to the number 3 bus, ride that all the way to the wheel, keep handing them 10 pound notes until they let us ride in the nifty wheel thingee. Since the Union Canal runs into a tunnel there right under what's left of the Antonine wall, we walked on up there to take a look at it, too. Guess what??? Yup. Just like the other wall. 1/2 mile. Straight up. Gah. They really need to learn to put these ruin thingees much closer to the car parks, I think.

We celebrated this monstrous success by returning to Edinburgh (number 3 bus again, and the 17:22) and indulging ourselves at the Hard Rock Cafe.

Och, it was loovely, thank you very much. American sized tables and chairs with enough room in between them to actually get around without bumping people with your butt.. Vegetables other than of the root variety.. A menu that didn't require a translation.. or a dare.. I guess we must all be getting just a little homesick, because it just seemed like heaven.

Our invasion is almost complete. We've taken the Outer Hebrides, the Highlands, and now the east central portions of Scotland. Tomorrow, after a good breakfast and a museum or two, we'll gather our strength and head in full force for Glasgow.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sunday June 10

6/10/07 Day Eighteen. Sunday.

Today we saw Edinburgh Castle. Very impressive huge old thing set high on a cliff overlooking the town. At one point the castle had been used as a prison for war, and they held American revolution war prisoners there. I tried to imagine how horrid that must have felt to be a prisoner then, and being marched into town and seeing this huge old dour castle on the hill and the sinking feeling that might enter your soul as you realized this was where you were headed.

I got a bit emotional this afternoon, after touring the castle, we were walking down the Royal Mile, shopping a little. There were street musicians everywhere, and the bagpipe music was thick in the air. I've been shopping for scarves and badges for the clans that represent our family blend. It just kind of overwhelmed me at one point, after shopping and finding our Mackenzie, McCallum (Maccalum), and Campbell symbols, hearing the bagpipes and realizing that perhaps not just one, but many of my own ancestors had walked this same street at some point, looked at these same old castles and churches, listened to perhaps this very music.

It kind of stopped me in my tracks for a moment, this sensation of a whirlwind of time. I think Hannah felt it too, as she also got a touch teary eyed for a minute, and all of a sudden she wanted to shop for a kilt. Over the next few days we are hoping to find the right place to get her outfitted properly as a Mackenzie. Looking at these beautiful old buildings, seeing the art, seeing the beauty and strength of the Scots makes me proud to have a bit of this in my blood. I am so glad we are here.

Love to all

Sunday June 10 - Attack on the castle

Well, we decided that since we've just been vacationing so far it was time to get busy and do some serious attacking. So we started out in the morning to make a run on Edinburgh Castle and then we saw where they put the thing and decided to think about it a little more.

This thing is clear up on top of a cliff as you can see. Here's a better view from below...

Then we got to the top of the hill and found out if you give them 9 pounds they'll let you walk right in and do just about anything you want except take flash photographs of the "honors" which are the stone of destiny, the crown, sword and scepter. So we gave them the money and went for a walk around. Here's what we saw:

One of the windows in St. Margarets Chapel a beautiful tiny chapel on top of the hill. The window is a depiction of Wm Wallace I think.

Here's a little something for the warmongers among you. This is a Georgian Trench Mortar. It is quickly repositionable cannon made of bronze. This particular one is the first model they came up with. The base is wood and it is designed to move quickly to reposition and fire. Guerrrrrrrilla warfare if you will. This model was revised when they got it in the field and discovered that every time they picked it up to move it the thing wanted to turn upside down. Later versions had a wider wooden base and the handles were positioned on the sides instead of front and back to carry the thing.

They also have an impressive World War I memorial right smack on top. They really know how to make things look like they've been there all along. Maybe it's just that everything has the same layer of soot on it.

Once done there we went on the Whisky Heritage Experience and learned all about how to find a single malt that will become our friend for life. Hannah said "this is where alcoholics come from". I didn't take any photos there. We were taught how to properly appreciate a scotch whiskey and rode through a Disney-esque (sans moving mannequins) presentation in a four seat whiskey barrel. They have a real odd thing here for taxidermied dogs and cats. There were two dogs and a cat in this presentation.

Wandering down the Royal Mile we shopped again and again and then Terry and I went into St. Giles Cathedral for a look around.

Lovely stained glass (though I thought Meg's chapel were more beautiful) a huge pipe organ and a choir was practicing for a concert so the hall was filled with voices. It was a restful moment.

Later we continued down the hill and ended up back on Rose street which is where there are many restaurants. We selected a likely looking location and went inside for a pint or two and dinner. The hilarity began when we tried to order. For the sandwiches you could select from a wrap, multigrain or white bloomers, or white bap. I tried my luck with the bloomers and it turned out fine. Just whole grain bread. There was ketchup for the chips and Terry ordered nachos which were really good.

Then things started getting dodgy again. Meg and I went up to the bar to order more drinks (there's no table service in pubs here) and there was a man standing there wearing a car length coat and he did not appear to be wearing any pants. He was not wearing a kilt either. I'm assuming that he had on short shorts under that coat but I decided to restrain myself and not peek. The funny thing was another guy at the bar apologized to us saying it wasn't at all the usual fashion for guys to go into bars bare-assed (though I have seen them go out in their y-fronts - but that's another story). Meg and I shrugged it off Meg ordered three pints then went back to the table.

Well, we didn't look at the tap when we ordered the drinks and ended up with three pints of cider, which looks just like a lager but when you drink it just messes you up. We wandered on after that, unable to suck down an entire pint of the cider and went to another establishment for a nice predictable brown ale and another chocolate monstrosity for Hannah before heading back to Princes street and the buses back home.

We took turns plotting against the people on the inside of the restaurant who kept staring at Hannah and jacking with the locals by trying to remember how that song by ...oh hell, now I can't remember the name of the band. But we finally remembered the song and I'll share it with you now....(throat clearing noises)...Come on Irene oh I swear da da da mean everything ....da da da doo....Dexies Midnight Runners, yeah that's it. I hope you enjoyed this musical interlude and now we return you to your regularly scheduled program so that I can once again prepare to board old number 44 for the daily trip into town.


For the Dr. Who fans out there

Look what Terry found...

More later...gj

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Quickie post and bunch of photo links from last week

It's a grey morning about 6am local time. We're in Edinburgh and so far I think everything is just dandy here. We settled into the B&B yesterday afternoon and then went out for some dinner. The only problem with this place is that it isn't near anything. We have to hop on the 44 bus to take us into where the action is. It's about a 15 minute bus ride into town. We're kind of out in the suburbs if you will. Anyway the rest of this week promises to be a whirlwind. I'll get more photos up as I's a taste of what we saw last week...gj

Playing catchup here with the photos. Here's what you may have missed.

Alnwick Town Square
Alnwick Town Square
Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle
Alnwick town
Views of Hadrians Wall and the Roman Ruins at Housesteads Roman Fort
More - the roman latrines Terry blogged about
This was taken without a flash so it's a little blurry - our octopus friend
They had Seahorses, but they wouldn't let us ride them
I haven't gotten the photos from the cheviots downloaded from the camera yet so I'll save that for another time.

Yes his undergarmets were very pretty...


I <3 WiFi.

I'm a wee-bit home sick.

Saturday June 9

Hello everyone! Woohoooo! We are in the land of the WiFi again! Expect pictures soon for many of our previous blog posts. As you may already see, we're trying to catch up on our blog posts, too.

Today has been fairly uneventful as it is a travel day. We spent most of the morning just getting packed up and the rental car returned, and doing those sorts of things. We did have enough time to go back to Alnwick to the city center to check out market day. It was a lovely little farmers market which we quickly browsed, then enjoyed sitting outside and sipping coffee and people watching.

We took the 2:03 train, and have now arrived in Edinburgh and checked into our inn. We're just going to rest here for a few minutes, then go exploring a bit.

Love to all of you

Friday, June 8

6/8/07 Day Sixteen. Friday.

The morning was spent doing some laundry, sorting out things to be shipped back home, and just generally kind of getting packed up for our travel day tomorrow. Around noon we got out to the post office and mailed off our extra crap, then back to The Towers for lunch. (Hannah had a hankering for a real hamburger)

After lunch we took a drive up to the Cheviot Hills. Lovely. Absolutely lovely. That's all I can really say about it. Babbling brooks. Amazing colors. Little forests that look like little red riding hood might be wandering through them. Whippy windy little roads all the way. It was a wonderful drive. I think we're all still a bit tired from our Roman Road day, because nobody was too keen on the idea of getting out and walking much. We just stopped here and there and got out and took some pictures, then climbed back in the car. It was a nice relaxing afternoon.

We got home about 4, I think. I went over and settled up with Laura, our landlady. Then we just kind of relaxed for a bit before going out to dinner and a play. Dinner was at The Oaks again. We had heard good things about their "carvery", so we decided to give it a try. I'm glad we did. It was delicious.

The theatre performance was "The Knicker Lady", a one woman humourous talk/show about undergarments throughout history. It was very funny. I think we all enjoyed it.

We're back at the cottage by 10, and I think we're all planning on a fairly early night. Tomorrow we head to Edinburgh, and I think we're all looking forward to that.

Thursday June 7

6/7/07 Day Fifteen. Thursday.

Hannah is exhausted and has bowed out of joining us today. She wants a lazy day, as do we all, I think, but she is more adamant about it, so she's taking a day off while the rest of us go off in our rented car.

We were slow to move out, but about noon we three went off to Lindesfarne.

It was a drizzly day at the start, and we decided to stop at a cafe there for lunch, hoping the rain would end while we ate. Just as we were finishing up though, we heard some loud cracks of thunder and saw that it was raining quite hard as about 30 school children rushed into the cafe clamoring for ice cream. We ducked out of there as quick as we could, pulled our hoods over our heads and went ahead and toured the priory anyway. It was a bit of a bummer in the rain, but it meant we had the place pretty much to ourselves, so that was nice. The priory is a beautiful old place, and I enjoyed wandering around there a lot.

After the ruins, we toured the priory museum, which was also quite interesting. We finished our tour and were heading back to the car, thinking that perhaps we might go somewhere else, too, but it was raining hard and as we were walking, a car drove quickly by, splashing me and Gretchen pretty much from head to foot, drenching us with water. Thankful that we had a car, we just hurried to the car, then home to dry clothes.

Terry and Gretchen went off to the store and picked up a couple of frozen pizzas for dinner while I rustled up some dry clothes and hung about the house. After eating we stopped by Barter Books, the largest used book store in Great Britain for a little looksee. Oh my, I just loved it. If we had had more time, I might like to stay there and browse for a couple of days. The walls were lined with glass cases of rare books and first editions, and just looking at those took me close to an hour. Lucky for us, really, (or we might have spent a lot more money) the place was closing soon, so Hannah and Gretchen found a couple of things they wanted, but Terry and I left empty handed. The idea of hauling books home through three airports really hampered my desire. I do admit that a signed first edition of The House on Pooh Corner did make me consider it, though.

Gretchen, Hannah and I stayed up a while sipping whisky (Gretchen and I that is - not Hannah) and gabbing, but Terry made a fairly early night of it.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

June 6th - Newcastle and thereabouts.
We somehow managed to leave the house at 7:45 in time for Derek (the most wonderful taxi driver in the whole world and honorary member of our team) to take us to the train. So yesterday was filled with the joys of public transportation.

We managed to make it to Newcastle, find the AD122 bus that drives along Hadrians wall and get aboard without incident. There is only one morning bus at 9:00 am so it was important that we make that one. I thought the bus was great. The driver introduced our guide as Rob who then
informed us his name was actually Keith. I'm still not sure who he was but
who cares right?

We toured along the wall out to Housesteads Fort which was well worth the effort for the trip. There are several sections of the wall in ruins that
you can still see while on the way out of the city. The bus drove along the
route of the wall and once we were well out of the city you can still see
the huge ditches they constructed on either side of the wall to make life
more difficult for those wanting to cross it. They had a fancy name
"vallum" (maybe 1 L) for the ditch on the Roman side but the ditch on the
barbarian side was just called the ditch. We forgot to ask why. Perhaps
they felt the barbians didn't deserve a name for their ditch. But several
times we glimpsed portions of the wall still standing in some form or other.

In places the road was built over the wall itself. During the war between
the Scots and the English The military general Wade ordered a road built to
haul supplies and that's where they put it. It apparently made an excellent
foundation for the roadway. I think they called it the military road.

Many of the houses, churches and towers constructed along the way were made of the stone from the wall. The guide pointed out several with their
distinctive rectangular stones (I never saw any other kind so ...). The bus
travelled through a number of picturesque towns and paused to push his
hometown in particular. Later he pointed out another town and a
pub/restaurant/hotel there punctuated with "apparently" when referring to
it's quality. He was evidently English and several times made disparaging
comments (in jest of course...hmmm...) about his Scottish neighbors to the
north. We stopped briefly at Hexam (which was prophetic as it turned out) and experienced yet another English loo. They have the single little squares of toilet paper there just like in the states.

We stumbled along trying to figure out where we wanted off the bus until
that point and then decided that Housesteads fort was the place. At
Housesteads we hopped off and grabbed strange sandwiches (Meg and I had ham salad which was sliced ham with salad on top, Hannah had spicy chicken which was chicken salad) and a cup of coffee before heading up the hill. The operative word here is up. They could have put in stairs. We managed the quarter to half mile walk up the hill to the museum and the site of the ruins. It was a roman fort built up against the wall at the top of the hill. We could certainly see why it was built up there. You could see for miles. It's just inside the Northumbria National Park.

The ruin is basically a small city. There were several structures which had
raised floors presumably for heating. There is evidence of plumbing with
troughs covered over with stones that allowed the detrius to flow downhill. The latrines were still in good shape and you could see the washtub where laundry was presumably washed beside it. There were remains of columns still standing and it really was impressive. At the top of the hill was Hadrians wall. It ran along the ridge and then down to the field below. Not only for defense, the Romans used it for collecting tolls and controlling commerce for those who would travel across.
Meg and Terry will probably go into some detail and I have about two hundred photographs from the wall which will hopefully get posted (not all of them mind you) once we get to a town with some REAL internet. Once we were satisfied that we had absorbed the quiet ambience of the place and had documented each stone we headed back down the hill and waited for a bus to take us back to Newcastle. The plan was to visit an aquarium in Tyneside in the afternoon.

We successfully hopped a bus back to Hexam where Meg posted a brief blog entry from an internet "phone" booth and then we all hopped on the next train back to Newcastle. Once there we stopped in the Burger King for a quick lunch where "Have it your way" means something more like "You'll get whatever I decide to give you - and no arguments about it". Regardless we were happy for a very quick lunch of something we didn't have to look underneath and examine carefully for it's cultural significance before eating.

Finding and then boarding the Metro (subway) was relatively uneventful and we made our way among the school children in their monogrammed school sweatshirts out to Cullercoats stop where we walked for about 15 minutes (not the 5 minutes promised in the literature) to the Blue Reef aquarium. I think it wasn't as big as Hannah had hoped but it was a fun outing. I especially liked the sea otters - there were about six of them - and the sea horses a whole stable full. Hannah wanted to cuddle with the seals but I thought they were looking at me like maybe I'd be tasty. They also had an octopus there. He was awesome, very actively sliding along the glass like the gelatinous slithering thing that he was. Meg and I discussed the image of having to pull him off of your face (yours, not ours mind you). Though Meg thought he could give a heck of a sinus massage...
Once we were through the aquarium we headed back all the time wondering if we'd really be able to figure out how to get on the correct train and make it back to Alnwick without becoming stranded. The train tables aren't exactly the most intuitive. We somehow managed after a subway ride, bumbling around the station trying to figure out why the train at platform 2 wasn't going to where we thought it should be going (our train wasn't in yet, that's why) and once the correct train did arrive we boarded, everyone still had their tickets and we sat at a table all four of us together.

Feeling splendidly pleased with our transport navigation abilities things
were looking up until this nice older man climbed into the seat behind Meg. He proceeded to ask if the train was going south to which Meg replied, uh no, it's going north. He sat back in the seat wrestled with a quart of lager trying to get the lid off on the hook holding the tray table in place. Coughing just like the audio narration at the castle (see I finally came back to that) and making us just sure he was going to hurl his lunch through the split between the seats all over Meg's new purse - good thing that's weatherproof - he finally tried to hand Meg his beer and said "Open that". Meg declined, informing him she didn't know how (snort). We're rolling by this time so we are just sure we'll be dealing with him all the way to Alnmouth. He once again asked if we were going south to which Meg informed him "No, still going north".
Before anything else happened Meg made emphatic eye motions to the two cops that had climbed on board before we left and they escorted the old guy to the area between the cars so that we were no longer threatened by his
swinging the beer bottle trying to open it.

He spent the rest of his journey alternately falling down, crying and trying to find out of the train was going south or not in the presence of the two officers. They put him off at Alnmouth since he didn't have a ticket and he's presumably still wandering around Alnmouth trying to find a train south.

We were picked up by our wonderful taxi driver Derek and he proceeded to
deliver us to the Oaks hotel for dinner, after driving us by the Vauxhall
dealer and providing introduction so that we can rent a car to go to Lindesfarne and the Cheviot Hills over the next two days.

It was another wonderful dinner though Terry's steak was creamated. Medium well? - He must have been really tired when he ordered. Meg and I had a chicken and pasta dish that had a wonderful stuffing under the skin and morel mushrooms in the sauce. Hannah had scampi which here apparently means any shrimp breaded and deep fried.

We drank a couple of real ales and debated the wisdom of trying to walk the mile back to the cottage finally giving in, letting Hannah take the blame
and calling Derek to come get us. Meg obsessed about it for awhile feeling
guilty about calling him again but finally gave in and called. She tried to
fake that it wasn't us by just telling the woman who answered that we'd like to call a cab. The woman replied "At the oaks are ye? Four of ye?" Meg laughed and admitted that in fact it was us and we finished our ales then waited outside for the cab. Hannah took the blame and accomodated us by laying down on the wall so that when Derek pulled up we looked appropriately exhausted. He didn't charge us for the ride home - Did we say how much we really like him? He reminds me of someone, maybe one of the Blumenthal boys - Eric? I don't know. We hope to get a picture of him and will promote his services to the best of our abilities. He's really a wonderful guy. It doesn't suck being driven around in a Mercedes either.
Exhausted - really, everyone went straight to bed. Well almost, I needed to
do laundry but wasn't able to stay awake through the wash cycle and finally
gave up about 10:30 and went to bed.

So now here we are on Thursday morning, laundry is clanking in the dryer
like it's full of spoons. I've been cleaning out the lint trap every five
minutes having accidentally left a package of kleenex in the pocket of a
jacket I'm washing. It's cold and grey out, the hills across the road
generally obscured by the low clouds and mist. The last two days have been increasingly worse on that count pretty much ruling out Lindesfarne for today since I don't think we'd be able to see it. We may still try for that
tomorrow and if we ever get rolling today we may get to the Cheviots.
I'm looking forward to leaving Saturday and heading to Edinburgh as we have pretty much exhausted our Alnwick experience. There hasn't been a single bar fight. We thought about fighting amongst ourselves just to make sure we got the full Alnwick experience but that seems like an awful lot of effort.

Come to think of it one of the bartenders at the Oaks did kind of have a
black eye....

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Wednesday June 6

6/6/07 Day Fourteen. Wednesday.

Oh my it hurt to get up this morning after staying up so late with Gretchen and Hannah. But get up we did, all of us ready on time for our 7:45 cab ride to the train station. Derek was cheerful and chatty as usual, and we arranged to give him a call when we were on our train coming home and he would come and retrieve us, too.

Our 8:12 train to Newcastle arrived on time, and we were in that lovely city before we had even got settled. From the train station it was a short walk to the bus stop where we picked up our guided tour bus for the Roman Wall.

There were many points of interest, and I'm sure Gretchen has blogged most of the events of the day, so I'll just kind of concentrate on one thing that kept me pondering most of the day.

The guide was talking about a point in history in which the English and the Scottish were almost constantly having little skirmishes and raids along the borderlands. These were called the Reaver Wars. (A reaver, I found out at another museum, is an assistant to the king). So anyway, the people trying to live in the border lands were often getting their animals confiscated, or their homes looted, or even getting themselves killed because of these little skirmishes, and that became known as "being reaved". Our modern word "bereaved" comes from that, meaning "to have a loss".

I find it fascinating to be in an area where almost every building, every street, every hill, and almost every name have some historical story behind them. I wonder what it would be like to grow up in an environment like this, so aware of the history surrounding you. Would one feel much more connected to a place and those around you? Would one feel more sure of themselves, knowing their place in the long tide of history? I just don't know.

Anyway, the tour was fascinating, and we jumped off the bus at Housesteads Fort and took a look around. Oh. My. God. These ruin things are not easy to get to, I'm telling ya. To get to this one from the car park, you have to walk up a windy path up this absolutely HUGE hill. It's probably at least 1/2 mile of hard walking straight up before you get there. I am amazed more people don't just keel over from the strain of it. If you do it, though, you are rewarded. The ruins are wonderful, and we wandered around there for a couple of hours at least, I think. Terry really wanted to walk along the wall, so he did so while we girls took pictures of him. We probably would have stayed longer on a nicer day, but it was quite chilly, and it didn't take too long for us all to decide we'd had enough. Back down that bitch of a hill, we went, and got another tour bus to take us back to Hexham. We couldn't catch one all the way back to Newcastle at that time, so we just went as far as they went then, which was Hexham, and then we caught a train back to Newcastle. From the train station we hopped over to the subway station, and got on that for Cullercoats, which was our stop to get to the aquarium.

The sign at the Cullercoats station said "Just turn left and 5 minutes to the aquarium", but that was a just plain lie. It's at least a mile to the aquarium, so I don't think anyone but a track star could do it in 5 minutes. It's a pretty walk, though, stretching along the waterfront. If it had been warmer, and if we had had more time, I would have liked to explore the beaches some more. As it was, we were short on time, though, so we headed straight for the aquarium.

The aquarium was small, but nice. I think we all enjoyed it. At the very least, we all enjoyed being inside a warm building for a couple of hours. It was close to closing time when we decided it was time to make the trek back to the station.

Subway back to Newcastle train station, then as luck would have it, a train heading back to Alnmouth was there within just a few minutes. Other than a weird drunk behind me, which I'm sure Gretchen told you all about, the ride was fairly uneventful. Derek, the absolutely best taxi driver in the universe picked us up at the station and brought us in to town. We had him drop us at The Oaks, which is just about a 15 minute walk from the cottage, so we could get a bit of supper before going home.

The Oaks was warm and toasty, and their ale was tasty. The potato leek soup was fantastic. I don't actually remember what else I had. Something involving chicken and stuffing, I think. We were so tired by that time, I think the warmth and the ale got to us, and we all just bumbled through our supper. We all were dreading the walk home, too. We had walked so much all day, we just didn't have it in us to go any more, so I called Derek again, and he hopped over in no time at all to take us home. Bless his heart, he didn't even charge us for that one. I tell you. Amazing.

Needless to say, it was early to bed for all of us. We came into a cold house, and we talked about how someone should light a fire. That conversation lasted about a minute and a half, all of us realizing that no matter how cold the house was, our beds were cozy and warm. We all just climbed into bed, instead. I think I might have broken a personal record as to how fast I was asleep that night.

Hadrian's Wall

Today we went to Hadrian’s wall via Newcastle. I happen to like old falling-down rocks, and am a history buff to the core, so I had a blast. But this really is a big “don’t bother” unless you really like old broken things. There isn’t much of the wall left. Looking at the pictures made me think there were miles of the thing that one might enjoy hiking along. But the thing’s been pillaged over the centuries, and there are just a few fragments. Still, walking around what little we saw was fun for me, as well as wandering through the (broken foundations of the) buildings in the Roman fort at Housesteads.

There was one thing these Romans did right. The fort was built on the south slope of a tall hill, and the latrines were situated such that the drainage pointed away from the well. But the (broken foundations of the) village outside the south gate of the fort looked a little close to the latrine drainage path for my likes.

Quickie post

Hello all. This is just a quick post from the train station in Hexham,mostly just to see if it works. We are train hopping today, visiting Newcastle and Hadrians wall. Love to all -Marg

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Alnwick Castle

We visited Alnwick Castle today. This was what I was most anticipating for the area. Alnwick Castle is the second largest occupied castle in the UK, second only to Windsor.

The state rooms weren’t much to see. There was a wonderfully opulent display, but sadly not very much of it. For those in the states, if this is your kind of thing, see the Biltmore House in Ashville, North Carolina instead. It’s the same sort of affair as the state rooms here, but much more to see. I can say for the Alnwick Castle staterooms, however, that the view out of the windows is very nice.

Which brings us to the outside. This is a working castle (well, except for the military part) and kept in good order. So instead of looking at a bunch of ruins and trying to imagine what it was like to be in a castle, there you are. Some may not like this, considering it touristy, but I don’t agree. A thing doesn’t have to be fallen apart to be good history. This castle’s history just isn’t over yet. As to the bits of it that are for tourists, yes, but once again, so what. The castle was always more than military in nature. The lord always operated his business ventures from there (and the medieval lords were, primarily, businessmen). It just happens that tourism is currently one of those ventures.

A note for anyone thinking of visiting up here. That the shops close around 5:30 every day can put a pinch in your plans if you’re accustomed to American shops that frequently are open until 8 or so. Plan your day so that any shopping, haircuts, and such are done early so that you don’t have to pop out of something like the castle to get that last thing at the druggist.

June 5th - Alnwick - Alnwick Castle

Recounting June 5th's activities

It seems like we've been gone forever at this point. Today we went to Alnwick Castle, the one Meg keeps calling Dumbledore's
castle because it was the inspiration for Hogwarts in Harry Potter. We started out in the morning by getting Hannah a new 'do. She looks magnificent but I am sworn to secrecy and cannot reveal the details. Or at least I'll let her or her mom tell them. That pretty much consumed the morning.

While Hannah was being coiffed Terry and I headed off for the library and used the internet. We investigated all the possible things to do in Newcastle and surrounding countryside. After wearing out the computers at the library we headed back to pick up Meg and Hannah at the beauty salon and then off for lunch before scaling the castle walls.(This is an invasion after all).

The castle is a big rock thingy with stuff on top and more stuff inside. Terry bought a book Castles explained but so far he says he's not gotten a satisfactory answer out of it.

Really though it is a large sandstone structure that is what you would expect. Rounded crenalated towers arched windows, arched entrances and had the nicest bathrooms we've seen so far. It's a continuing theme. First we went into the state room and library which is the only part of the castle where they check your ticket except for the armament room which we skipped due to time constraints.

The State room really did have some specacular features. There were a pair of Louis the XIV cabinets that had the most elaborate inlay of woodland scenes I've ever seen. The walls were covered in a green silk and floors covered in carpets that were appropriate to the period as well though rather tattered. Shutters that were open beside the tall windows were hand carved
matching pieces that the labels said each took a year to carve and there were about 8 of them.

Over the fireplace was a matched pair of paintings of the duke and dutchess (couldn't tell you which ones - there have been dozens as far as I can tell) and they were assembled in perhaps the most elaborate frame I've ever seen. It was again carved in the Alnwick style and featured oak leaves I think, in a tangle of loose leaves that was clearly a fragile piece. I asked the lady
who was there for questions about it and she said that it comes apart in pieces and they had it down for cleaning last year. Apparently when they went to put it back together they got it all assembled except for a corner and then found that it wouldn't fit. Apparently there were some very tense moments as they took it apart again and tried to reassemble it in the proper sequence. This thing is huge maybe six or eight feet tall and four or five feet across. She said it was very heavy as well. So I took some amusement in the thought of a room full of workers struggling to put it back together under the watchful eye of the current duchess. I'm told she collects stuffed animals (we saw a number of victorian era taxidermied dogs throughout the place) so I can only imagine what the penalty for failure would be. Anyway it really was striking and I'm glad they finally got it all figured out.

The china I wasn't so impressed with. They had a hallway that held a few sets mostly of the hand painted with animals variety. Generally kind of ugly though the tureen lids with the birds of great britain were interesting. Also the notion that you would finish your salad only to find a rhinoceros looking back at you. Those were ok.

The Library had 14,000 volumes in a room that was lined with bookshelfs. The ceiling was elaborately gilded and had apparently only been repainted once. It was one of those ceilings with carved panels and about seventy pieces of moulding for each section. Very castleific. You'll have to take my word for it. The castle is a "copyrighted building" and no photographs flash or otherwise are permitted. We had to turn off cell phones as well as they are known to set off the burglar alarm.

There were many photographs of the current duke, duchess and their family as well as many paintings. Many of the paintings looked very familiar to me but because they weren't labelled it was difficult to recount them here. At one point Terry asked about one that he thought was familiar and the interpreter said it should then went on to tell us that it was a copy of a famous painting though a "Very good copy". After that I'm afraid all the
paintings not of the family were suspect to me. That was my main complaint about the interior of the castle. There were lovely things but I expected to see information about them like what you would see in a museum and it just wasn't there. Perhaps my expectations were a little too high.

We saw the dungeon though you couldn't go in there. It was an oubliette which basically means big hole in the ground. A ladder extended down beneath the locked iron grate. Throughout the exterior features of the castle we did not see animatronic mannequins (which I find kind of creepy anyway) but the dungeon like several other areas contained motion activated recordings. In the dungeon they featured the sounds of someone moaning and coughing which I found kind of gross. Not unlike the drunk on the train but that's another story.

We were able to climb the wall and walk along to see the views of the castle from up there as well as the surrounding countryside which was of course lovely if not completely breathtaking. The rolling green hills divided by stone fences of Northumberland really is pretty. After the stunning beauty of Lewis and Harris it was a tough act to follow.

We came off the wall with a walk through another audio enhanced display of military memorabilia with which we all posed for photographs - copyrights be damned!

Later after dinner - I assume we had dinner I don't really recall, we walked back to the cottage and settled in for a night of single malt and foolishness. Meg Hannah and I had a rousing laugh filled conversation about the propriety of farting in the castle and then discussed things totally unrelated to this vacation. We stayed up past midnight in spite of the fact that the 6th we planned to leave the house for Newcastle by 7:45.

Monday, June 4, 2007

June 4, Monday Blueberry Cottage Alndyke Farm, Alnwick, Northumberland, England. A day in town.

June 4, Monday Blueberry Cottage Alndyke Farm, Alnwick, Northumberland, England. A day in town.

We took the long walk (1.5 miles uphill both ways) into town this morning and spent the day horsing around in the town of Alnwick. Hannah wanted to get her hair done so we spent the morning looking for a salon and then shopping. We saw the dirty bottles which legend says are cursed and no one has touched them for hundreds of years upon pain of death, then ended the morning with a hairy lemon. Lunch was in a bar that we decided must be a pretty hopping place in the evenings and everyone had beef and onions on a baguette while I went for the Yorkshire Pudding with roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy and a couple of John Smith ales each (Hannah had coke).

Satisfied, we wandered through the grounds of the Alnwick castle before settling in for a long walk through the gardens. It was really beautiful. Not quite as striking as the spectacular Buchart gardens in Victoria, BC but beautiful nonetheless. The showstoppers in my eyes were the dinner plate sized clemantis blooms, amazing lupines, roses, and peonies. There were a number of interesting trained trees as well. One was a huge arched walkway that went all the way up one hill where small ash trees were trained along a series of arbors so that they arched over the walkway providing shade. Another was a rectangle of flowering crabs (not currently in bloom) that was trained along a trellis like grape vines.

Wisdom for the day etched in a rock was the quote - "The only fish that swims downstream is a dead fish". Don't know what that means exactly but it certainly sounded profound.

There was a garden of fountains that used all sorts of physical principles of water as their main feature. There was one that Terry said defied all the laws of plumbing by both having a vortex and overflowing. Another filled three plexiglas (lexan, whatever) tubes and when they reached the top it let loose and shot 90 jets of water straight in the air. There were two or three little kids there playing in the water. I thought it would have been a little too cold but the kids didn't seem to mind.

The central feature of the gardens is a huge course of steps that runs down the side of a hill for what must be almost 100 yards. At the bottom of the fountain there were a mass of John Deer front loading tractors - pedal powered - and the kids riding them rode over to the wall that overflowed from the fountain, filled the buckets with water then dumped them.

We also took the tour of the poison garden which was interesting if a somewhat bunk tainted presentation. The presenter had some excellent information on certain toxic plants and also told some tall tales about others that even managed to work in stories from the bible and a load of hooey about mandrake root that was based on the Harry Potter series of books by JK Rowling. For those of you who don't know, Alnwick castle is the castle that inspired the Harry Potter books.

We left just after 5pm and headed back into town to pick up another bottle of single malt and a few odds and ends then walked back to the cottage where I suggested we engage in the ceremonial burning of the sneakers as my feet were definitely feeling the 9 hours I spent on them.

Meg made a wonderful dinner for us and then I settled in to finish a book I had started. I've been fighting sleep for probably two hours now.

All in all it was a fun day. Tomorrow we plan to hit the used book store, the post office to see about shipping stuff home, and maybe stick around to have dinner then see "An Inconvenient Truth". Meg and Terry have seen it but neither Hannah or I have so we thought it would be fun to watch it at the Alnwick playhouse with a bunch of brits. Hannah's hair appointment is tomorrow too so it should be a full and entertaining day.

Lovely, Thank you very much...gj

Catching up

I’ve gone back through my notebook and photos, and made blog entries for the past week or so. I’d not posted anything since the 26th due to the inconvenience of connectivity around here, and Gretchen was persecuting me about it. They’re all backdated to the date of my notes.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Around Alnwick - Sunday

Sunday. Hannah was ready to walk off into town and pay a visit to Civilization. Gretchen was game as well. Marg’s back was giving her troubles so she had to bow out. We weren’t sure what we’d find open, but off we went. Surprisingly, a lot was open. It wasn’t at all like the Sabbath on Lewis. But the main shopper in the crowd was Hannah, and she wanted to comparison shop, so we decided to do it tomorrow when she could have a basis for comparison. We got Marg some ointment for her back, and hit Morrisons for a few more groceries. We also did a bit of hanging around the Triangle, smoked cigarettes while lounging on the Market Cross and popped into a little cafĂ© for lunch. I had to have beans on toast, since I’d never seen that offered in the US. Pretty satisfying food, I could imagine it being a staple. I also had a fruit scone. An American description of that would be a large, dense breakfast biscuit, baked brown with some honey drizzled on top and raisins embedded. That was satisfying as well. While in the area, I was happy to find the tourist information center open so I could ask someone where we might find internet access. Somehow, I had really expected that to be easier to find than all this, but there just isn’t much of it around. The lady there recommended the library and the second-hand bookstore.

After we got back to the cottage, I wasn’t finished walking yet. They make these Ordnance Survey maps here, which are just great. Especially the orange “Explorer Map” series. They’re great. They show the fences, buildings, items of archaeological interest, even the names of the little hills and such. But what’s really great is that they show all the public access walking paths and bridleways and such. So after taking a good look at the map I struck off across country. The track I walked took me to a spot called Bilton Mill, about a mile and a half southeast of the cottage. That’s about halfway to Alnmouth Station where we got off the train yesterday. Sensing that dinner time was due soon, and knowing that I have a habit to diverge from the trail if I see something odd or interesting on either side, I thought that enough. The trail was just a bit rough, but nice. It ran mostly through pasture and on the edges of wheat fields. The river Aln, sprinkled with flower petals, passed lazily by on one side. Not something I’d want to walk in the damp without better gear, with the grass so high and the way so narrow, but enjoyable this evening. It was also very fragrant. Lots of things are in bloom now, including a pink-flowered shrub that dominates the hedges and attracts lots of little bees and flies. And I met some very nice cows. The path went through their hillside pasture for a stretch. On my way back, the cows were clustered at the end of a small footbridge that I needed to cross. Cows are pretty docile, so a little hand waving and stern words made most of them disperse. However, one of them persisted in the path and looked at me thoughtfully until I modulated my voice from stern to nearly impolite. A couple of moments later, when I looked back, I saw this same animal performing the patriarchal office. So I guess his earlier stare might have carried a bit of authority that I hadn’t been keen enough to notice. I’m glad that, all in all, everyone here is so civil.

June 3, Sunday, Alndyke Farm Cottages, Alnwick, Northumberland, England

June 3, Sunday, Alndyke Farm Cottages, Alnwick, Northumberland, England

By the way, we're holding back on posting photos until we can get to an internet connection that is a little less expensive than using our cell connections. We are hoping to have better luck at the library or go over to the owners B&B across the street and post pictures later. Really we don't take many photos on travel days anyway so...

It's a little cooler today but that hasn't chilled the enthusiasm of the sparrows having some kind of little birdie confab in the giant clemantis climbing up the side of the cottage. I think they're up to something but I haven't figured out what yet. That clemantis is spectacular and I wish I'd been here to see it in bloom. There are thousands of those little round thingies from the middle of the flowers still hanging on the vines though all the petals are now gone. In the front garden lining the fence around the lawn are cornflowers, hydrangea (which may bloom before we leave) and a number of other things which Meg knew the names of but were recorded in my dingy memory as "blehhni" and may as well have been gaelic as it ran right out the other ear. I should get that fixed...

We got a slow start today but finally wandered over hill and dale and into Alnwick. It's very different here than on Lewis. We're situated on a busy main road about a mile an a half outside of the town. The promotional photographs of the cottage were very carefully selected to not show either the busy main thoroughfare or the steel building next door with the Rottweiler (fluffy) chained to it using the same gauge of chain I use to keep the trailer from running away if the hitch comes apart. Fortunately fluffy stays on his side of the wall and we stay on ours. It's an agreeable arrangement - for us anyway. Fluffy seems a little cranky regardless.

Seriously though the cottage is lovely, thank you very much. Hannah is in a room with two twin beds that is facing out the back of the cottage. Meg and Terry have a four poster bed with a canopy and I'm tucked in the front with a double (no ghosts so far). The rooms are small and cozy with armoirs in each of the rooms to serve as closets. Two bathrooms, one upstairs with a tub/shower and a half bath in the downstairs which flushes like a champion for large deposits (I know, too much information). You have to understand that the toilets here have been a curious issue. They seem to move a lot of water but don't flush that effectively. Oh and today I got a shot at some of the traditional cheapo toilet paper in a lunch room in town. I've always heard about english toilet paper and now I've actually come across some. My first impression was that it was a roll of waxed paper and then I thought "No, that can't be". Well, it wasn't but it coulda been. Maybe you had to be there.

We haven't been quite as "out of water" here as we were in Lewis. I'm at least a little less self conscious about offending the locals here - so look out Alnwick!

So about the town of Alnwick...It's hilly, formerly a walled city you have to walk through where the gate was (hundred's of years ago) in order to enter the main section of town. If you look up in the section of the wall that is open to the single lane of traffic entering and leaving town you can see where the gate once dropped down to block entrance to the city. There are lots of narrow walkways between streets and buildings as well as the roads that criss cross the square (really more of a rhombus if you ask me). The shops that line the streets are a mix of really ugly plain shops and ones that are quaint with signs for solicitors, chemists, architects positioned among the B&B's and various purveyors of comestibles in the form of pubs, cafes and take-away places. There is even an auto parts store but to my great dismay they didn't have anything suitable to bring back for Steve. I did however talk to the taxi guy - Derek who has promised to load me up with old motorcycle books to take back with me. (So much for getting rid of luggage).

The homes that line the road into town are just what you would expect. Picturesque larger homes with gardens bursting at the seams with rhododendron, roses and other flowering plants. Meg referred to it as the floweriferiousness of the place (she swears it's a real word I'm a little suspicious but will give her the benefit of the doubt here in deference to her delicate condition - Meg stayed home with a sore back today). Roses climbing the fronts of the houses alongside ivy compete with pansies, daisies, and lilacs all scenting the air. Flowers of every size and color seem to spring up everywhere. Between the cracks in the walls are beautiful clumps of pink, yellow, and purple flowers. Even the trees are exploding. We've seen numerous trees sporting clusters of yellow flowers dripping like clusters of grapes. I think maybe it's something like wisteria though I've never seen any that was yellow. It's just beautiful and I've been sneezing ever since I arrived.

We walked past a large used bookstore on our way into town which we plan to explore in earnest once we get a chance. It's supposed to be the largest in England I think.

Most of the stores in town were closed so we browsed for awhile and Hannah examined the windows of each of the town hairdressing salons to see which ones were suitable for her latest coiffure experience.

Terry Hannah and I had lunch at a cafe in the square. Hannah had the quiche special, Terry ate a bean sandwich served open faced on white bread and I had a three cheese and pineapple pannini with a side salad. We were all happy with our choices and headed off to the grocery store before heading back home to taunt poor Meg with our adventures.

By the way I've been talking with those Mulletts (and the odd Rucker) about getting off their duffs and posting something here. I've been carrying this blog now for about a week and they're just falling down on the job. We're going to have issues if they don't get with the program. I swear if I have to......oh, I see now that Meg posted twice today. She's officially off the hook until tomorrow. Good job Meg. Terry and Hannah however....grrrrrr....

Gasp! Two posts in a row from Margaret???!?!?

6/3/07 Day Eleven. Sunday.

Well, now I've done it. Crapitallstraittohell. Even after sleeping like a rock in our big comfy bed, I woke up quite stiff this morning, my back still aching from the workout it's been getting the last couple of days. After creakily making my way down to the kitchen to make some coffee, I sneezed, and well, I heard a "thock!" and felt the pain, and bam. My back is out. All the way. Full on, spasming, brings tears to eyes, lay on the floor and just moan kind of out.

Luckily, I had had the presence of mind to pack my back belt, so today I'm propped on the couch, cinched into my belt, popping advil and goofing on the computer while my three companions are exploring the town. We are hoping that a day of hot baths and plenty of rest will put me on the mend and I'll be back in action tomorrow. In the mean time, I handed over my wallet to Hannah and told her she must spend everything in it (luckily there wasn't all that much in it) so she was happy, dressed and ready to go in no time flat. They've all gone to town to check out the hair salons - H wants to get her hair done here- and just generally sightsee and shop a little.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

6/2/07 Day Ten - Saturday

6/2/07 Day Ten. Saturday.

I'm up early trying to catch this up from the hotel in Inverness. It's 5:30 and I've been up for a while. Terry's already up and out, wanting to walk a bit along the river Ness and snap a few pictures before we have to go. From what we can see of the city from here, Inverness is an absolutely beautiful city. We both wish we could spend more time here. Perhaps next time.

Later that morning:
We're on the train to Alnmouth. I've been trying to establish a wifi connection, as I wanted to log in to aol and make a "favorite" for Mom, so she could get to the blog.. but alas.. No Christmas :(


Arrived at Alnmouth and made a call for a taxi to take us to our new home. As luck would have it, the taxi driver we called was the father of the woman who runs our cottage. That turned out to be quite lucky, as when we arrived here, at first we couldn't find our landlady. He knew right where the cottage was, though, and brought us over here, where we found Laura still working on getting the cottage ready for us. We were early, and she wasn't ready for us, so Derek (the driver) was a real sweetie, and he gave us a mini tour of Alnwick (pronounce Annick) then dropped us at a nice place for lunch. We made arrangements for him to pick us up in a couple more hours at the market up the street. After leisurely enjoying our hamburgers and cokes we made our way up the street to the grocery. Alnwick looks like a lovely town, and I'm really looking forward to exploring it some more. It was "market day" and there was a farmer's market going on, and tourists were walking the streets browsing the shops and going in and out of the many restaurants, shops and pubs that line the charming streets. We picked up a couple of days worth of food at the grocery, then rode back to the cottage, Derek talking all the way and pointing out sights along the road. Once the food was stored and our bags were haulted up to our rooms, I was exhausted.

We three women stayed home and lounged, but Terry still had some energy so he went back out for a walk. He came home in a great mood, having walked back to the town and seen all sorts of interesting things for us to go see during the week. One is the used book store here, the largest in Great Britain. I'm looking forward to spending an afternoon or two browsing through that.

Gretchen and I tippled a few drams of Jura, which is strangely quite a bit less expensive in England that it was in Scotland where it is made, then I toddled off to bed early. My back was aching from hauling our bags all over the continent, and our big four poster bed looked just too inviting.

Saturday June 2nd, On the train between Inverness and Alnwick - and then I ate the Haggis...

Saturday June 2nd, On the train between Inverness and Alnwick - and then I ate the Haggis...

Yesterday was a travel day. We wrapped up things at the cottage and headed for the airport about 2pm. In spite of all the tension associated with making sure we had our luggage checked, liquids properly identified and isolated, correct gate and rental car returned we managed to make it onto the airplane and off we went to Inverness. Margaret had been certified as the most secure individual in Scotland but not before they pulled her aside and hand examined one of her checked bags, pulled her aside for a thorough frisking, xrayed her liquids not once but twice before finally giving her the boots back and allowing her to get on the airplane.

The flight was uneventful and scenic and we set down 45 minutes later in Inverness. Oh, well, I suppose that's relatively uneventful. The airplane had a few problems but all the important bits seemed to be working. The flight attendant seemed to have a number of challenges which were entertaining in their combined effect on her, though a little inconvenient for everyone else. The announcement system produced feedback, the ice was all melted, the coffee was cold, the cabin was hot. She was just having a tough day. So it was no surprise that when she came through the cabin with the cart she was pouring the gin a little more enthusiastically than we thought normal. Given our stress levels and uncertainty of what would happen at our next destination we passed on the booze. We managed to make it to our destination unscathed.

One comic note, I would swear that I saw a RAF jet (probably a trainer) sitting on the runway at Inverness with two beefeaters in it. I know that's not rational but I wouldn't put it past the Scots to play that sort of prank on the incoming travelers.

There was a confusing moment with the taxi cabs where we actually had to take two taxis, one for us and another for our luggage. Yes a trip to the post office is definitely on the schedule. We are not dragging all the stuff we bought on Lewis home in carry on or even checked baggage. Anyway, eventually we all ended up in the same place where we found that though we had confirmations for two rooms we only one of them had been recorded by the hotel staff. Meg indian leg wrestled them into submission and they gave in with the bonus of turning one of the rooms into a two room suite with a shared bath. (Meg is awesome Hannah and I like her a lot, we think Terry probably does too). Of course the tradeoff was that it was on the third floor with no elevators but it was a charming pair of rooms that felt a little like a garret.

We had dinner at the Waterside restaurant with a view of the river Ness, and yes I did eat the Haggis. It was wonderful. I enjoyed the blood pudding as well though If you'd asked me before I came here I was sure I'd never try it. It was preceeded by a duck salad served with mandarin oranges and black olives. The haggis was served in a lovely brown gravy with pork loin and baked apples that I wanted to roll in when I was done. Terry had a gateau of Haggis which he said tasted like potatoes, followed by a venison steak. Meg also had the Pork and Haggis, with a blood pudding salad starter. She and I were very happy. Hannah had a chicken cordon bleu that she seemed pleased was not weird and did not have any funky ecoutrements beyond the two pieces of uncooked spaghetti used in the presentation.

The dessert and coffee were forgettable. So forgettable in fact that we didn't think the waitress would ever bring it. We did finally finish with dinner and head off for the night.

Hannah and I walked to the corner and back. It was 10:30 or so and the sun was still a recent memory. The skyline along the river Ness outlined in contrast with all the spires and gingerbread of the Inverness skyline. I let Hannah into the hotel and went to sit by the river for a few quiet moments. It was one of those moments where you quiet yourself and realize how really big the world is and what a small part of it you are. There really is something more out there besides Kansas.

I have always thought that there weren't very many cities I would find interesting and I think that's still true but I could have spent another day and night in Inverness and been perfectly entranced.

I didn't sleep well last night. I don't know if maybe I was hallucinating or perhaps was tormented by a ghostie last night. (Basically the same thing isn't it)? I had a little too much wine with my haggis and woke up several times in the night. I had an odd sense that someone was watching me and once, I woke (mostly) to find a strange diffused (red) light moving across the hotel wall across from the bed (drapes were closed by the way). I remember thinking that it was wrong and that I had to prevent it from doing something (who knows what). This was quite urgent. So I kept moving my open hand across the wall until I finally got frustrated and hit the wall, hard yelling NO! After my heart stopped racing and my brain settled down, I finally rationalized it into a reflection from the red light on the TV though that wouldn't explain why it seemed to move across the wall. I managed to go back to sleep but woke several times and looked around, never really feeling quite settled after that. I have to admit in the morning when I turned on the light I checked behind the picture on the wall to make sure there wasn't some hole that could have been used to trick me. There wasn't. Needless to say I've been tired all day.

So today we travelled through the mountains from Inverness heading for Alnwick. The stations we passed along the way varied from ornate victorian gingerbread confections to austere stone places. I'll let you know how we find Alnwick. It's still about two hours away.

Update eleven or so hours later...

We reached Alnwick and after a trip to town for groceries we settled into the cottage. It's about a 20 minute walk with about 10 minutes to the nearest bus stop. Definitely do-able. Meg and I spent the afternoon hanging out while Terry walked into town and Hannah watched TV.

Once again we have managed to be blessed by the gods on this trip. We somehow managed to accidentally select the father of the woman who owns the cottage as the taxi driver to pick us up at the train station. He gave us a ration of grief for having so many bags and rolled his eyes at us for having spent a week on Lewis but was generally genial and extremely helpful. We had arrived early and the cottage wasn't quite ready for us yet. He let us drop off our luggage at the cottage then took us on a brief tour of the town, castle and vicinity then dropped us at a restaurant for lunch. Later he picked us up at the grocery store and took us back to the house for an extremely reasonable rate. The helpful advice he gave us about things to see and do was more than worth the fare.

The one thing that I continually find amusing is how they seem to consider distance a complete barrier to everything around here. We've talked about going to see Hadrian's wall for example, and he said, "Oh, well that's really too far away. It's over 40 miles". To which each of the licensed drivers in the group gave a silent but collective snort. Heck it's 40 miles between my house and Meg & Terry's. I drive that far all the time without thinking about it twice.

Of course now that we've driven around in the UK we have slightly more respect. Mainly because their roads here are in almost all cases two lanes and in many cases really lousy.

Anyway things have settled down in the cottage at Alndyke Farms for the night and I leave you these thoughts, but no photos. Tomorrow maybe...gj

Arriving in Alnwick

I’ve never been a train traveler. A few weeks of using a commuter train between Manchester to Boston, years ago, is the extent of it, but Hannah and Marg have told me lots of times how pleasant it is. I have to say, the train ride from Inverness down into Northumberland was very relaxing. I’d always thought they’d be noisier for some reason. I could easily have slept, if it hadn’t been a morning trip.

We were carrying around way too much luggage for a train trip. There was room to stow it alright, but getting around with it all was a pain. We were definitely playing the dumb American tourist there. I think we’ll be shipping some stuff home before we leave Alnwick.

Our trip started in the Great Glen. Broad green fields and patches of woodland made up most of the scenery. There was plenty of nice farm country, with those beautiful stone houses and barns. There also were plenty of sheep, but without all the colorful marks that were sported by the island sheep. Most of the trees were evergreen, but there were the odd deciduous trees that I couldn’t identify be the train was moving too fast. Larch? Sorry, obscure Monty Python reference. While we were pulling into one of the train stations, Marg wondered aloud what “the tall trees without anything on them” were, and Gretchen offered “light poles”. Gretchen could give the Python crew a run for their money some days.

As we gained altitude the trees became a lot fewer, and we saw a lot of bare hills and heather. After being in the Hebrides I half expected to see signs of peat cutting, but no, judging by the amount of gravel along the stream beds, we weren’t in that kind of moor. The weather changed from sunny and warm to overcast.

The way back downhill took us through Edinburgh, and finally into England. The train ran near the coast in Northumberland, and a fog had moved in. The ocean was at our side and we could sometimes see a bit of it, though not well through the mist. When we got off at Alnmouth Station, it was cold.

Gretchen and Marg write about the taxi to the cottage and the quick spin through town, so I’ll leave that to them. Except for one thing. Though the driver had pointed out the big Morrison’s grocery to us, he made quite a point of suggesting that we shop at the Co-op. Local politics? Interesting.

I had to walk around after it was all done. A new place is like Christmas morning to me. I can’t be in a new place and not start looking around, under and behind everything right away. Town center is a mile and a half from the cottage. The land rolls a bit along the way, but not so much as to be strenuous. It was right at a half hour for me when I reached Bonds Gate, the old piece of fortification that takes the road down to one (narrow) lane. Past that old arch, you’re more or less in town center. The Market Square (Gretchen calls it a rhombus, but it looks clearly a triangle to me) is in the middle of it all. There were four cash machines in about 50 feet and none elsewhere. A place for every thing and a thing for every place, we say. Lots of clothing shops, places to eat (or, better, drink) and plenty of choices for getting your hair cut. There was even a computer geek shop. And the bus station, which will be important later, I think. I hit town center at about 5:30, which is just when most of the shops close. Not the bars, though. But I wasn’t up for a nip just yet. I had some walking around to do, and a lot of that jaywalking, so the drink would have to wait. I did a bit of backtracking and circling, got lost a few times and found myself, and all told it was an hour and fifty minute walk. Cool in the shade and a bit too warm in the sun, so the jacket went on and off. I timed myself on the way back and found that the cottage was twenty minutes at a quite leisurely pace from the closest restaurant (the carverie and pub at the Oaks Hotel) and about eight minutes from the last bus stop.

After tromping over dunes, machair and peat moors on Lewis, this walk was a pretty easy one.

Morning in Inverness

Woke up to a really fine morning in Inverness and took a walk along the river. They have built a nice river walk along the Ness, lined with old buildings that are now (in our vicinity, at least) largely converted to small hotels and B&Bs. Just a short walk away is Castle Inverness perched on its promontory. I tried to get some snapshots from across the river, but at 5:30 am here the sun was just about to rise behind the castle. Maybe with a little manipulation they will be fine. There is also a beautiful Scottish Episcopal cathedral, St. Andrews, just across the river.

On the island, I had wondered whether the architecture I saw there was peculiar to the Outer Hebrides. But I’m seeing the same building plan predominant in the older buildings here. Box-ish buildings with high-pitched roofs, no eaves, and wide chimney stacks on both sides. The buildings here are generally much larger than on Lewis, though, and frequently of stone rather than the pebble or whitewash so frequent there.

Coming in on the plane yesterday was interesting. We were in the same type of plane, a SAAB 340, as the one that took us out to the island a week ago. Out the windows on both sides I could see the Great Glen and the Moray Firth, thanks to the clear weather. After spending so much time between the sea and the moors, it was great to see wide green fields and forest. And after driving on Lewis and Harris for a week, seeing roads with shoulders made me envy the cab driver.

I’m very sorry that we don’t get to spend more time here. It is a beautiful city. But our train leaves for Northumberland in only about an hour.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Lewis to Inverness

We traveled from Lewis to Inverness by plane, to spend one night there. We stayed in the Waterside Hotel on Ness Bank, town center (more or less). Quite coincidentally, we ran into Mike and Fiona (the walkers from Redding we’d met in the Cross Inn a few days before) at dinner. Even more coincidentally, they were booked on the same train with us for the next morning. Tiny world, sometimes.

June 1, Our trip to Harris

June 1, Decca Cottage - Our day in Harris (yesterday)

Yesterday we had the best day yet. The day was a clear and bright as we could ever have hoped for with the only remnants of the previous day's rain constrained to the puddles that form everywhere. The Outer Hebrides is apparently just one big sponge.

We got out of the cottage early for a change and headed south. Though a little hazy with all the humidity from the day before we had perfect travelling weather. We started out for Calanais to visit the visitor's center and see the #2 and #3 stone circles. We did the center then headed across for the two un-interpreted sites about half a mile away. You know these Scots just put those standing stones wherever. We found a place to park along the highway (snort) and walked the boggy path across a pasture to where
the first stone circle stood.

They have livestock everywhere on this island, sometimes constrained to a fenced area, sometimes not. In this case there were fences and when there are fences there are gates or stiles. In this case we had
gates. They were fabulous. If you look at the bottom of the curved part you will see that there are little people raising stones. I saw the people but didn't notice what they were doing until we got back last night and Hannah pointed it out. These gates are really cool. I suppose most importantly they keep the livestock from wandering out since you just about have to be a two-footer to get yourself through and us dumb tourists can't accidentally leave them open.

So anyway we got to the top and sure enough there were
standing stones right on top of the hill. We took
pictures and were suitably awed by the woo-woo ness of it all. Clearly so were the cows that stood guard over the stones. Well not so much stood as laid about. These were the fine
hielan' know the ones with bangs? They were not terribly annoyed by our taking their pictures
(though some of my cohorts may have been) among the stones and later provided us with an opportunity to get a good photograph of
the great standing cattle and stone circle at Callenish.

We thought that was
great fun and headed south towards Rodel and
the chapel there. Each mile further south became more and more beautiful...The scenery changed from rolling hills to
craggy rocky, rock covered, rocky mountains albeit short ones - and did I say they were rocky? This is in fact where rock comes from. Waterfalls, streams, lakes, rocks, mountains. Every time we turned a corner we just gasped. We finally drove through the narrow strip of land that acts as the divider between Harris and Lewis islands and the scenery began to change to
views of the ocean and the sea with the mountains, lakes, streams, rocks. Oh and if that weren't enough, then came the
south Harris beaches. Miles and miles of golden sand beaches.
Green and blue water golden sands, bright green of the grass on the machair, and the
many colored spots on the sheep. I never would have imagined it could be so gorgeous.

We did find Rodel and climbed around in it. There were many narrow
small passageways going up into the tower. The last two or three were
by ladder which I avoided since there wasn't anything up there except height and the windows were so small as to not make it worth going for the view. There were several
tombs in the church and gaelic knot illustrations carved into the
tombstones that were positioned along the walls. They had been moved but labelled so that people would be able to admire without walking on them. There were many
tombstones in the yard and most were for MacKenzies, MacLeods, and so forth.
(No, he wasn't so don't even go there)

After Rodel we drove back north and stopped to
walk along the beautiful golden beaches. I finally broke down and collected a few shells along with oh say a thousand photographs (don't worry I'm not posting them all here). We saw more standing stones including MacLeod's Stone which is atop a hillside overlooking one of the more picturesque beaches, apparently standing guard. It was just breathtaking.

Once we finally had our fill of beautiful scenery and squishing our toes in the sand and bathing our eyes with the neverending glory we headed north again back to Lewis.

The drive was the same route we took down so everyone got to see what was on the other side of the road. We stopped in Tarbert and had dinner at the Harris Inn which was the best meal we had out so far then headed home.

When we got back to the cottage Terry and Meg took off for the Butt to take in the sunset and I headed back to Eoropaidh beach and took another five hundred photographs or so of
the sun setting over the ocean. I just can't imagine a more beautiful place. Meg and I sat up until about 1 in the morning watching the "dailies" and saying to each other "This was just the best day EVER". And it was.

So long Outer Hebrides. I hope I come back soon.

June 1, About the Cottage - Decca Cottage, Lionel Isle of Lewis

June 30, Decca Cottage - Last day in the Outer Hebrides - About the cottage itself.

Today we leave this place we have fallen in love with. The Outer Hebrides. This
little white cottage with the red door has been a wonderful home for us up at the end of the world. I have to say that there isn't anything here that hasn't completely charmed me. There's the knucklehead sheep in the back garden, the chickens who run full speed for the side of the house every time you open the kitchen window and who will eat bananas (who knew? I still find that funny), the big marmalade tiger cat who tries to get into our side of the cottage every chance he gets.

Since we haven't blogged about the cottage I'll give you some details. The cottage sits next door to the Ness FC and Social Club (FC is football club we're pretty sure). It is a three unit building with a high white wall around each unit so that each has a "private" garden. The front wall of the garden stands about 3/4 car width from the road so when we park the car out front it sits on the road a bit. The roads are so narrow here that it's normal for the cars to take part of the road out of comission when parked.

The cottage we stayed in (finais) is on the north end of the building with another presumably similar unit on the south end. The center portion is where our landlady Elspeth lives. The main part of the house has a large hall off the kitchen which is the center of activity in the house. It is much larger maybe three times as wide as the remainder of the house and abuts what I suspect is the original structure.

Finais has three bedrooms, two up and one down. the bedrooms are carpeted but the rest of the house is linoleum or some variant. The
living room may be wood but I doubt it. There is a fire door at the end of the lower level hall that connects the rental unit to the main house. The kitchen has a small fridge that would fit in my camper I think, a freezer the same size. Both fit under the kitchen counters. There is a single pan sink and a "cooker"
(stove) that is electric. The house is heated with radiators which is convenient for drying your socks. There is a kitchen table and four chairs and sufficient other household stuff for day to day life.

The living room is small and cozy. A peat burning fireplace lies along one wall bordered by bookshelves. A small tv with the requisite five channels (courtesy of the bbc) and a tiny stream of wifi that manages to make it through the foot thick walls between the Finais and the main house. Apparently it is tuned to teenagers because only Hannah's PC can pick it up. Yes, my magical tiny laptop finally found something it couldn't do.

The two upstairs bedrooms butt up against the roof and reflect it in the ceiling. There is a window in each room that is positioned in the roof itself. They have amazing blackout shades that you can draw down and that block out the light almost completely. This is a good thing since the sun doesn't set until after 10pm and comes up around 4am. There is a twin and a double in one bedroom and two twins in the other. A freestanding wardrobe with a muslin cover stands by the door in my room and against the central wall opposite the door in Hannah's. Honestly, I haven't even poked my head in Meg and Terry's bedroom on the ground floor so we'll just have to assume it's similar.

They forego top sheets here in favor of a cotton duvet cover on the comforter. It works fine and reduces the amount of laundry Elspeth has to do so it's just dandy.

All the walls are papered. In many cases it's just to cover up what are lumpy bumpy and cracked plaster walls. Most of the houses here are of cinderblock construction with either a veneer of pebbles or whitewash over concrete applied to the surface. This house has the latter.

A few things that are noticibly different than in the states:

Each electrical outlet (and this is universal across Britain) has an on off switch. Even the ones that run the refrigerator. Found that out a day after we had loaded it up and the fridge was still only cool.

The sinks all seem to have two faucets, hot and cold. There are no mixing faucets except for the shower heads of course. Often times the hot and cold are not marked or are marked obscurely.

The automatic hand dryers that are found in public facilities do not respond to American tourists apparently. Every one that Hannah has tried to use ignored her.

Apparently there is only one brand of dish soap up here. It is called Fairy Liquid and is as
ubiquitous a brand name as Kleenex is in the US for tissue. We're still trying to figure out how they get the liquid out of the fairies. When we purchased the wool sweaters and hats from the guy at the Lewis Loom Center he recommended we wash them in fairy liquid. Don't use the washing machine (except to extract) the "cycles are a bluidy disaster".

A holiday at Decca Cottage never lasts long enough.

Oh, and that whole driving on that SIDEWALK SIDEWALK CURB! side of the road.