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In the last two columns I have been writing about my trip to the United Kingdom in late March to early April. This is the third and final installment and then I will go back to my regular nonsense. …
In the last two columns I have been writing about my trip to the United Kingdom in late March to early April. This is the third and final installment and then I will go back to my regular nonsense.
During dark events in our lives and in our country, I continue to seek distraction through the recollection of time joyfully spent in travels. You may recall, our group of five ladies and Scottish driver Kevin, first stayed in Wales and visited friends and the Rhos male choir, the harbor town Portmeirion and Ruthin Castle.
We then left Wales traveling to the Lake District, in northwest England. It is famous for its lakes, forests, mountains and historic literary associations. We spent a night in the charming village of Ambleside at a historic bed and breakfast. That evening, March 30, I jotted a note that I have since discovered which sums up my thoughts; “It’s dusk, I am sitting in The Lily, a restaurant on Lake Road in Ambleside. Am I really here eating this great fish dinner? I look out at the stone building across the street and I can nearly convince myself I might be back in Virginia, Minn. except the buildings have different names and are constructed of stone. Moreso, the food, clothing, language are all different here. Isn’t it a thrill? I am very fortunate and amazed every day that I get to be here…in Great Britain.”
While rambling north through the countryside with rolling hills, curvy lanes and babbling brooks, we visited Hill Top Farm, the holiday home and studio-sanctuary of children’s author and illustrator Beatrix Potter whose story, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” was a staple on every child’s bookshelf when I grew up. She was very keen and insightful, leaving her house and property to the National Trust so that today, it is very nearly like it was while she was living there, which I greatly appreciated. Tables, chairs the grandfather clock, dishes, a detailed appliqued bed quilt and more remain as always...we were told by a curator. Her gardens had the old rakes, tools, fences, stone paths and shrubs that had long since decided to stay. I could have stayed too. I was further impressed to discover Beatrix Potter was a fierce campaigner on local conservation issues and protected large areas of the Lake District from development.
We also visited Abbotsford, the country estate of Sir Walter Scott who wrote “Lady of the Lake”, the Waverley Novels, and “Ivanhoe” to name a few of his works. The estate is on the River Tweed with park-like grounds and a home’s interior filled with beautiful architecture, furnishings, wall coverings and treasures. It’s so much to absorb for a person, such as myself… who doesn’t “get out” too often and it becomes nearly overwhelming to push through so much rich history in the course of seven actual touring days. I felt the need to just pull away by myself a couple times a day and be in nature, walk down a path, study an ivy and not listen to the guides or try to cram in details from headset summaries as if I were going to have to pass a quiz. Time was limited, and I was able to fill in details of places I visited by watching YouTube when I got home.
On our way north, our Highland van driver Kevin, stopped at the historic village of Gretna Green on the Scottish side of the border between England and Scotland. It was very humorous listening to him talk to us about this famous wedding place referenced in so many movies and stories. Here is a romantic history tidbit: The Clandestine Marriages Act of 1753 prevented couples under the age of 21 from marrying in England or Wales without parental consent so couples crossed the border to marry in the famous venue that was actually a blacksmith shop. It sounded like something I would have certainly done once upon a day. We all sat at a table in the coffee shop near the blacksmith shop and watched various couples dashing by in wedding attire. Ladies in white dresses and gents in kilts passed by holding hands as Kevin, with a twinkle in his eye, made jokes about the young lads and lasses signing their lives away. I was able to record his stories on more than one occasion and have them as humorous keepsakes from the trip.
I enjoyed the food too and disagreed with stories I’d heard that it was “lacking”...the beef stews, fish and chips, puddings, pasties were all great, but I found no need to try Haggis, the national dish of Scotland. It’s made of the liver, heart and lungs of sheep or another animal with added mutton suet, oatmeal, onion and spice packed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled. I did not need to do that....no.
One of my lifelong goals had been to get to Edinburgh Scotland. I have always been fascinated with the life of Mary Queen of Scots and my lineage on my mother’s side goes back to the Beatons and MacBeth‘s of Scotland. The Beatons provided medical services to the Royal House of Scotland, from King Robert the Bruce until the 18th century. The city is a bit hilly to walk and the oldest streets along the Royal Mile such as High Street and Abbey Strand are between Holyrood Palace (the Queen’s residence in Edinburgh) and Edinburgh Castle and are made of cobble stone and lined tightly with shops and other fascinating structures.
There were so many places that I would like to have visited, the museums, Holyrood Palace, John Knox’s house, but we really only were able to quickly tour Edinburgh castle and do some quick shopping while we were there. The castle sits on top of the plug of a long-extinct volcano and as I walked uphill on the narrowing cobblestone street towards it I couldn’t help but feel the layers of history and acknowledge the souls that had walked and lived along those once very dirty streets.....people who struggled and made their living as crofts (tenant farmers), domestic servants, soldiers, fisherfolk, shipbuilders, weavers, spinners and pub owners. I also thought, had I lived back then, I would have been in much better physical condition and not puffing uphill to the castle with last night’s portion of rich toffee pudding weighing me down. Once up inside the fortress of Edinburgh, I saw sandstone walls around me and gray skies with a view to the Firth of Forth, the river that meets the North Sea. A strong sense of tragedy and darkness loomed there among the various structures that make up Edinburgh castle. It was very windy and cold with occasional sleet sheering my hooded head which added to the mood in general. I enjoyed shopping and seeing all of the plaid fabrics, kilts, sweaters and things that are uniquely Scottish.
At one point I veered into World’s End Bar for a Guinness and an adventure. The place had low ceilings, stone walls and cozy places to sit. The bartender informed me that it was built in the 1600’s and was named World’s End because it was actually located right at the edge of Edinburgh with one of its exterior walls having been part of the original fortress (flodden wall) which used to protect what is known as Old Town. The gates to the city were located right outside with brass cobbles still intact in the street marking the spot. What a thrill that I had been drawn inside, up the small tile steps that led inside to that rich-draught Guinness with its creamy white head.
While staying in Edinburgh, Kevin took us on a day trip to the southern highlands near Loch Ness and to visit Doune Castle, which was a filming site for Monty Python, Game of Thrones, and Outlander to name a few. We also drove down to Glasgow where we would drop off our travel partner Sofia, a student from Texas studying at University of Glasgow. All day long, Kevin told stories in the van as we traveled, laughing and snacking on “Digestives” he had bought....(Scottish biscuits or cookies first developed in 1839 by two doctors to aid digestion). I found them a poor comparison to our Keebler Fudge Stripes and don’t see how a cookie can aid in anything quite honestly, aside from weight gain. Not to be a prude....I consumed my fair share.
All good things draw to a close and we ended our trip in Manchester, saying our goodbyes to our friend and van driver Kevin, with hopes of seeing him on our side of the pond one of these days.
It was the best that a trip could offer. People always tell me they don’t care if they ever get to Europe because there’s so much to see in the United States. I agree there is much to see in our country but it lacks the history and different culture so you can take the Corn Palace...but I’ll opt for Edinburgh Castle.
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