Showing posts from June, 2010

Literally literary

As far as I can tell, Carlisle is nothing but one way streets in the direction no one wants to go and strange parking rules. Well, it also has a cool cathedral, but who doesn't?! Their cathedral originally dates back to the Normans, built in 1122. I mean, seriously? Then in the 13th century they did a little DIY refurbishment which increased its size and kind of made it not line up properly. It survived the reformation, but during the civil war Oliver Cromwell and his mates decided it would be a good idea to tear down half of the Norman part, leaving the cathedral an unusual shape and quite a bit smaller. But, it is still pretty magnificent, quite a beautiful place and a very interesting history, once we found someone who could explain why the aisle didn't line up properly.
Near Carlisle, is the Birdoswald Roman Fort (that's 'bird-oswald' as opposed to 'birdos-wald' like I was saying), where the longest complete section of Hadrian's Wall is. Back …

'Not even Wensleydale?'

There are a few places when mentioned to some English, causes them to get a wistful, faraway look in their eyes and smile dreamily. The Yorkshire Dales is one of these places. 'Oh, the dales!...' they'll say before composing themselves long enough to tell you that there's no way to see it all in one day. Indeed not! But we tried to see as much as we could. We started in Grassington. What a lovely little town. Oh, the dales are also a place that cause me to overuse the words 'lovely' and 'charming' but seriously, there are no better adjectives for it.

We stopped liberally, which meant pulled over a lot, because there is no shortage of lovely views, but there is a shortage of safe places to pull over and enjoy them. The hills got higher, sheep more cheeky, and the ammount of dry stone walls was incredible. It's like the dry stone wall salesman came to town, for real! We stopped in Hawes to go into the Wendsleydale Creamery. Cheese, Cheese, Cheese…

A bit of everything

In the morning after exploring the metropolis of Dalton, we drove to Ripon, where their cathedral is home to some of the finest miseracords and other wood carvings I've seen. England's oldest crypt is an exciting stop on the tour, dating to the Normans. Lewis Carroll's father was a canon in this cathedral, and some of the carvings are though to have been inspiration for Alice, including a rabbit escaping down his hole. Well, that and pot.
Yet another great cathedral.

We lunched and headed to Fountains Abbey. We thought Whitby Abbey was a ruin, hell, that ain't no ruin! Fountains is absolutely enormous, and was also home to a monastic order that was dissolved during the reformation. Since then it has, well, sort of fallen down a bit, and is now under the care of the National Trust. It's a very cool place to visit and explore. Photographers have wasted away there looking for that perfect shot. Well, they probably wasted away because they got lost in there and …


I really liked Whitby. The curator at the Captain Cook museum there had an interesting necklace on that was a small picture of Whitby Abbey. We asked her about it and she explained, 'I don't travel very far but my mother always told me that if you can't see the Abbey, then you are lost. So she gave me this so I could travel more.' I really loved this small town sentiment. And how awesome is a town that you'd want to carry a piece of it around with you everywhere? Well, very awesome, it turns out.
Well, maybe it didn't have any more or less than any number of seaside towns in the UK; an old church, beach, lifeboat, water, crappy novelty stores, gambling. But it must have caught me on a good day. I can be bought with sand, sun, and a good fish and chips.
Whitby has charm. Despite all the usual beachy stuff, the town exuded charm. We visited the abbey in the morning, and that is simply beautiful. A bit drafty, but lovely, and old! 13th century buildings a…

Golden Ticket not Required

The crushing disappointment at the lack of Viking bones at Stamford bridge did not leave us in despair. We headed to Yorkshire Lavender, which is a lavender farm where one can go and smell lavender, and stock up on lavender products. Yes, I am seeing how many times I can put lavender in a sentence. It was a bit strange, but a lovely place and if you ever need lavender jam or lavender honey or lavender soap or lavender clothes or lavender candles of every shape and size. Five! A new record.
I am happy to report that I have kind of figured out how 'rock' is made, and how they get those tiny letters in the candy sticks. It isn't actually magic or oompa-loompas, or other height deficient people with very small pens, but it is still insane. I can't even describe it to you really, but know that all rock, which ends up being a stick of candy about an inch or less in diameter, starts its life out as a huge, 3' long, 1' wide piece of freshly minted sugar. The letters sta…

The Best Kind of Strange

I expected it to feel strange to have people from home visit me here, and it surely did. I absolutely could not believe what I was seeing when I saw two baggage laden, jet-lagged tourists standing curiously outside of a tube station in central London. They weren't just any tourists, with their heads swivelling around, taking in the sights and scanning the growing crowd. They were the tourists I'd been looking for since April, and there they were, right where they were supposed to be.
There was no one in that city happier than I was.
After Mom got the next picture in the series of me crying in public, we spent an hour at the National Gallery before boarding the train to York. When we were first planning this trip, York was the place that I enjoyed the most of those I'd seen, so, to York we went. Well, and it was convenient to the few things that they had requested to see.
In the afternoon, we wandered the charming streets of York and got to the Minster just in time for e…

Feels like Home

It was a bit strange playing tour guide in my own town, but I enjoyed it. For the first time since they started charging admission I visited the cathedral and was pleasantly surprised by the changes they've made. There was also a wonderful display of pictures from Afghanistan in the 70's that was touching and frustrating. I'm very happy to report that in my absence, they removed the scaffolding from the ruins, and now they look great. Well, they're still ruins.
And how could I take anyone to Coventry and not go to the transport museum? I constantly underestimate the size of the place, and it too has changed a bit since my last visit. I'm proud at its Coventry-centric displays and they've added some stuff to show how the car industry impacted the city. Still, needs more ambulances.
Then, of course we got real ale and had dinner with some friends before heading back to London. He even got to experience an early morning fire alarm. I know he was both honored…

Kayaking with a Shark

Okay, perhaps I should clarify. When I say 'shark' I don't actually mean Bruce, but rather a toothless, plankton eating, basking shark. Still, a shark! With menacing fin and all. It's strange that I was so keen to get closer, as usually if I see a snapping turtle in the water I panic, and that hardly compares to a shark.
We kayaked for the day around Arisaig bay which after nine months of life on dry land almost fulfilled my kayaking needs. We were with a group of eight others and in addition to the shark saw many seals either curiously popping their heads out of the water or lounging in large groups on the surrounding shore.
We added to our collection of great picnic lunching spots as we perched on the top of a hill overlooking the bay, the ocean, and all the way back to Skye. It was great kayaking too, propelled by changing tides in a 17' venture kayak was just about perfect.
The next day we headed through Argyle (didn't get any socks though) and stopped in Oba…


I spent the rest of the trip overestimating the size of towns. We headed northwest to the Isle of Skye. The scenery continued to impress and it was strange to cover almost half of the Great Glen Way in about an hour of driving (which took us over 16 hours to walk). I can now continue to demand the A82 upgrade with a little more experience on the road other than walking on it.
It was pretty rainy by the time we crossed onto Skye, but it seemed the right weather for there. We visited Portree, which is a lovely little harbor town. Little did I think that this would be the largest town we'd see for a couple of days. The roads got curvier, narrower, and more full of livestock. What a joy it was to herd sheep out of the road, truly! We encountered a few camper vans a little close for comfort, and not knowing the single track protocol led us to only a couple of stand-offs with oncoming cars. 'No, you back up, there's a passing place right behind you! Oh, fine, whatever.'
We tho…

The Ben

It seems wrong for me to be in Scotland and not be in pain, thanks to my experiences on the Great Glen Way. So we made up for my happy muscles by hiking to the top of the UK on Ben Nevis.
I was warned that at the summit, absent-minded hikers could 'fall off the edge' seemingly at any moment and that hiking it required a map, compass, GPS unit, Sherpa, and oxygen tanks. But, while the summit was in a cloud and there were several opportunities to wander off a cliff (literally) hiking on a Saturday meant that there were tons of other people on the mountain doing charity hikes or three peak challenges. And the path is well worn (and very well kept, I might add). This doesn't mean that one shouldn't be prepared to deal with the unpredictable nature of the Nevis range, but perhaps shouldn't be scared into reconsidering. What should keep people from doing Ben Nevis should be the 'long slough' to the top, the endless demoralizing switchbacks, and the painful, roc…

Neighbor to the North

In the morning we took the train to Edinburgh (let me give East Coast trains a big shout out for cheap prices and free wifi). We arrived in time to explore this beautiful and extraordinarily hilly town. We climbed the 200 foot Scott Memorial which was, well, high! The stairs became more and more narrow and at the very top I felt as though I was being extruded, scraping my shoulders and backpack out of the spiralling staircase. It was well worth it and gave us great views of the city and beyond.
After that we simply wandered around. The weather was cool, the people nice, and the company excellent. We bravely cooked dinner at the hostel as gas stoves and ovens rightly scare us both. I asked how to work the stove and the girl told me that they had a small problem with one, so it's constantly on. Oh no, there's no great way of telling the temperature, just wing it! So we carefully monitored our dinner and managed not to burn the place down. As for dessert; what trip to Edi…

Down by the Sea

On Saturday I took my last school trip to Brighton. I was expecting a beach town full of burnt tourists and drunk people. I was partially right, but Brighton also has plenty of culture and non burnt or drunk entertainment. They have a great little museum that has a couch designed by Salvador Dali, and even, randomly, some Egyptian mummies. Are there any left in Egypt? Everyone has one here, you can buy them at antique stores.
They have a great building, the Royal Pavilion, commissioned by George IV in 1803. From the outside it looks like an Hindu temple, which is quite surprising as you head to the English beach.
And, the coast! I hesitate to call it a beach as it is not sandy at all, rather full of tiny, beautiful rocks, that at first glance I decided would be therapeutic on my bare feet. How wrong I was. I gingerly stepped out of my sandals and into the path of the surf. Struck by the freezing water, I attempted to retreat but the now decidedly non-therapeutic rocks were qui…