Today (and by that I mean yesterday and today) was a long day. Joe and I decided a few months back to come back to the UK this January to further our Arthurian studies and let the project grow a little more. So we planned a two-week itinerary based on a new Arthurian travel guide we found (Fairburn) and some other Arthur-theory type books. And this time, by damn, we'd get to the Highlands.
But anyway, I spent New Year's Eve with Lark in Tupelo--saw a movie and had a nice long dinner at Vanelli's--but the night ended shortly after midnight because I would have to get up at 6 AM to get ready in time to get to Memphis to catch my 12:00 flight. But the neat thing was it was snowing at midnight and there was about an inch on the ground when I went to sleep. I've always been amazed at the silencing effect of snow--we stood out on my back patio and watched it fall, but it was like my sense of hearing was gone. I saw the snow and felt the cold, smelled the crisp air, but heard nothing. Almost magical. I'd kind of like it to snow over here this time--to get that same magical effect, but I'd be worried that it'd have the same secondary effect that I woke up to on New Year's Day. The snow was still there and had iced the roads over as well. Dad went out in the truck and couldn't even get up the small rise of North Gloster. Would I even be able to get to Memphis? I checked Delta's web site to see about my flight to Atlanta and discovered that it was cancelled. Great. But there were several others later, so Dad decided that we'd better leave Lark behind with Mom and crawl up to Memphis if we could and get on some other flight. We discovered that one lane of Highway 78 West had been plowed clean, so getting to Memphis was no trouble. And it was no problem getting on a later flight that would still get me to Atlanta in time to make my ATL-LGW flight. So I did that, checked in, and met Joe at the Sam Adams Brewhouse in the Atlanta airport. We ate a bite and went to find our gate.
We went to gate E12 and found a flight that was leaving at 7:50 PM (like ours) but it was going to Dublin (not like ours). There had been a gate change. No big deal. BUT our flight had been delayed until 9:30 PM. We didn't get in the air until almost 10:30 PM. That wasn't cool because we were already going to be pressed for time completing our itinerary for today if we had left in time and gotten to Gatwick at 8:30 AM like we were supposed to. Instead, we got to London about 10:30, and by the time we had picked up our Nissan Micra--the name says it all--it was 11:30. So we started out to Badbury Rings, planning to stop for lunch along the way. We drove a while and came to a little town called Midhurst and ate at a pub called The Wheatsheaf. Had chicken with chips with a Badger Best (ale, I think). We pushed on and got to Badbury Rings about 3:00. It was easy to find--signposted and just off the road with ample car parking, most of which was filled with dog walkers, kite flyers, exercisers, and families that most often take advantage of the place.
I wasn't prepared for anything special. A few banks and ditches with a central, elevated area, cluttered with trees. The actual thing, though, was absolutely huge compared to what I thought it'd be. Not only is it huge in area, but the banks and ditches were massive--excellent fortifications. It had been raining off and on all day, but we got lucky and had some sun for the Rings. And, as a result of this rain, there was a rainbow--the biggest, most complete and perfect one I've ever seen. I saw the beginning of it, a perfect arc, and the end of it. I hope some of my pictures turn out. It was almost like Joe and I were Noahs and that God was telling us we'll have perfect weather the rest of the trip. We'll see if that pans out. We walked all around the hill, up and down the banks, through the wooded center section, and finally decided we'd best be getting on the road by about 4:00. It would get dark soon, and we still had to drive an hour or so to Bath to sleep.
We decided to cut the picture we planned on taking of Cadbury from the nearby hill because of our time misfortunes. I would have liked to have done that. Maybe some other time.
But we got into Bath after dark, found Marishas Guest House only having to ask for directions once, and found an envelope with our names on it in the door. "Let yourselves in and make yourselves at home" was the gist. It was kind of funny because last year we got to our first B&B to find no hosts as well. So we brought our stuff up and went to eat at The Weston just down the road--ham, peas, chips, John Smith's--and then decided to play pool there over a Scotch (Glenfiddich) before retiring. We got back and still no hosts--but there are other people here--we've heard but not seen them--and tried to call home but we couldn't remember / figure out the International dialing thing. We gave up with the intent to ask somebody tomorrow, and then I took a shower to wash all the gunk off me that's built up in the last God knows how many hours. And now it's 10:00 in England. I'm surprised I've made it this long--we were out cold at 8:30 last year on the first night. Tomorrow shouldn't be too bad; everything's around Bath and we have some leisure time to see the city. I'm curious to see whether or not these people will show up to cook me breakfast in the morning.
WANSDYKE / LITTLE SOLSBURY HILL--01-03-01
Got up at 8:30--took a shower last night and felt ok so didn't take another this morning--and we were ready for a full English breakfast at 9:00. It was a pretty hearty one too--cereal, toast, eggs, sausage, bacon--it filled me up and lasted a while.
We set off around 9:30 for Wansdyke, the portion just north of Devizes. Had no trouble finding it. The only (minor) problem we came across was that the good part was on a private farm called Shepherd's Shore. There was a car in the driveway, so we rang the bell and the lady said it was fine if we went out on her property for a while. We were kind of concerned because there was a sign at her door that emphatically proclaimed that they were NOT a car repair shop and could NOT help stranded motorists. But she was very polite and showed us the best way to get out there. It was a big ditch. A real big ditch. We walked up and down it, taking pictures from a variety of angles, walking up the hill and down. It was real isolated countryside--you could see miles in every direction. There was a hill to the northwest of us that had one of those big chalk horses carved into the side. We missed those last time. Like everything else over here, its hard to imagine how people without helicopters or walkie-talkies accomplished such feats.
And then we tried to upload the pictures. BUT the computer decided he didn't want to cooperate and froze up and still is right now, as I'm about to go to bed. Hopefully it'll work tomorrow or we're gonna have to go old school for the rest of the trip.
Then we got kind of "sidetracked" on our way to Little Solsbury Hill--decided to take the scenic route for a while until we found out exactly where we were and where we were going. But we weren't lost. We found our way to some narrow, muddy (but paved) roads above the quaint little town of Batheaston. We got up to the bottom of the fort and had to hike around the ditches and banks and then up to the broad, relatively flat and boring summit. The surrounding banks and slopes were more interesting--irregular and apparently frequented by the locals because there were at least 10 recent campfire rings set up around the circumference. We think at least some were from New Year's, maybe to watch a fireworks show or something. It would be a great place to watch one from. The city of Bath is just southwest of the hill and you can see almost the whole city from the top. Mighty fine. We drove down a muddy potholed road that ran under the east ridge of the fort (but still on top of the hill) and turned around at some guy's farmhouse. I don't know why, but I found it especially odd and fascinating that somebody lives on the slope of this 2000 year old fort all by his lonesome above a town that can't have a population bigger than Mantachie, MS. That was my bit of culture shock for the day. By that time it was 1:30 or 2:00, and there was a squall a'comin' so we decided we'd best get back for our packed afternoon in Bath. We went right into the city with the intent to find the Roman ruins and stuff--the "must see" attractions of this neck of the woods.
After laboring long to locate a car park, we walked down by the cathedral, across the churning River Avon swelled with the recent rains that we had just missed (Damn!), we found the site, and eventually the ticket booth. This was the first attraction we've had to pay to get into. But we got a student rate. It is 10:30 PM and we have to get up early (and the place isn't necessarily directly Arthurian anyway) so suffice it to say that the place was well worth the money, the water is really green (from algae more than minerals) and Joe didn't find a strigil in the souvenir shop. We did find a Pitkin Guide about Merlin, though, so now we have three. And I wasn't aware that the hot springs there were the source of the heat. It was bubbling. And there were prayers to Minerva written on lead sheets like the ones they found at Caerleon. I don't remember if I mentioned that last year. Most were wishing harm to people--like so and so Maximus Agrippus stole my shoes so please Minerva strike him blind--that kind of stuff. But they had the actual lead sheets, most of which were illegible but enough so that a few lines could be discerned, that were about two or three inches square. Very cool. They'd roll them up and throw them in the spring, I think. Artifacts like that--that reveal a humanity 2000 years older than mine but so strikingly similar--make my head spin.
And then we walked around, found an internet cafe, sent an email or two home, darted in a few shops, and drove back here to Marishas. We trickled out on foot down Upper Bristol road to the Park Tavern next to Victoria Park, where I feasted on some pork chops, peas, and chips complemented by a finely drawn Bass Ale. It tastes a lot different warm and flat than it does out of a bottle. But that's the way they do it and it's just as good, if not better. And then Joe and I each had an after dinner Blackthorn, which just happens to sponsor the Bath Rugby team (a bit of trivia we picked up today).
Tomorrow, we must face our arch nemesis--the ever elusive Arthur's Cave. And we're gonna find out what exactly is on top of Little Doward. We should have a lot more time then we did last year. Good luck to us.
ARTHUR'S CAVE / LITTLE DOWARD--01-04-01
We began the day by getting up at 8:00 to pack and eat breakfast and got on the road by 9:30 or so. The first order of business was to fix the computer, so we went to a little computer shop on Upper Bristol Road not far from the Park Tavern where we ate last night. I want to say it was called SunCom or something but I'm probably wrong. The computer was locked up and we paid 15 pounds for a guy to tell us how to reset it. But it was worth it because we were clueless. We were able to leave Bath with the piece of mind that we were not without digital pictures or the OS CD-ROM map, and headed up to Little Doward along the same route we went last year--past the $7 toll bridge and Tintern Abbey--with a confident fervor of familiarity. We were sure we'd find the right cave this year (we have pretty much accepted the fact that the old one was the wrong one).
We got to the Ganarew exit above Monmouth and worked our way up to the hill, but tried going around to the east side of the hill instead of the west like last time. We dead ended at a farmhouse where two blokes were mortaring a wall out of cinder blocks. We asked if we could park in his driveway and go up the hill from there and he said that this part was private property and that we should go to an "official" car park. That was ok, we thought, we'll just go up the way we went last year. The real shocker came when I asked where Arthur's Cave was. He knew and pointed way across the valley to the very bottom of the hill. We were way, way off last year. We had to drive back down the hill and around this field and into a thing called "Doward Park," which I found similar to a US State Park--kind of primitive with lots of hiking trails around. It was popular with dog walkers, too. We walked down a muddy trail for about five minutes and there it was, just like the picture. A lot more like the picture than the other one. But it was a lot bigger and a lot more complex than the picture revealed also. Its one of those places that every book has the same picture of (if you can even find a picture of it) and its refreshing (and even a little ego-boosting) to know that we'll be publishing different pictures of it for the world to see--complete with decent directions. There were lots of nooks and crannies to climb up in--I'm a sucker for that kind of thing. It wasn't huge, not a cavern or anything, but très enjoyable. One of the neatest things was a roughly circular "room" as a tributary from the main cave. I bet that's where the Neolithic people that used to live there slept. That's where I would have slept.
We could see Little Doward the hill from Arthur's Cave, and it was a looong way from this "official" car park. We decided it'd be easiest to drive up to where we were last year and just go up. How hard could it be to find a fort on the top of a hill? We drove back over there and parked only feet away from where we had last time. We uploaded the pics to our perfectly functioning computer then began hiking up. We got to a forest of fir or something (I'm no botanist) that looked regular and planned like it was harvested every so often. Then Joe saw something dart through the trees. Probably just a wolf or a bear or something. We kept moving. There it was again; this time there were more. Closer inspection revealed a group of three or four deer--all does and fawns, no big bucks. Soon we were seeing several groups like this and probably saw fifteen deer the whole time we were up there. We tried to get some good pictures of them, but they were pretty alert.
We kept hiking up the hill and came to some real steep parts that, once we looked down at them from the top, looked like the old familiar banks and ditches, though overgrown with scrubby things and brambles. We walked along these because, if we know hillforts, the banks usually form the circumference and would thus lead to the rest of the fort. The interior at this section was overgrown with trees and grasses and didn't look much like a fort top. Nothing like Cadbury, certainly. So we walked around the rest of the top and eventually got to the southeast extremity of the fort top, an area cut off from the rest of the hill by sheer rock cliffs 30-40 feet high, affording absolutely incredibly breathtaking views of the Wye Valley. There was this one pillar of rock off by itself that we managed to get out to that made me feel like I was in a soap commercial or something. This was near an open, cleared area of the fort top that looked more like a fort top.
But then it was 2:30 or so and we needed to be on the road by 3:00 so that Shrewsbury wouldn't be too dark when we got there. We hiked back down and stopped at a petrol station to get some water because we figure we haven't been drinking enough lately. And Joe got some English Breakfast in a can, everything mixed together: baked beans in tomato sauce, bacon, egg filled sausage balls, mushrooms, and no telling what else. I think it's pretty nasty but he's excited. We got into Lythwood Hall at night, but I bet the place looks pretty cool in the light. Ate at the Bridge Inn up the road, had tortellini (cheese sounded good), a Grolsch, and a Guinness. Joe braved the mad cow stuff (if it's even real--we haven't heard anything about it) with a Steak & Guinness pie. It looked good.
VIROCONIUM / THE BERTH / CAMLAN--01-05-01
Got up this morning a little after 8:00, had a farm breakfast at 9:00, and we were on the road by 9:30 or so, headed to the town of Wroxeter, which was only 15 minutes or so from Lythwood Hall. We got there a touch before 10:00 (when it was supposed to open), but they let us in anyway. My first thought was, "I thought it'd be bigger." I had imagined a huge excavated site with several areas of conspicuous ruins hanging about, but it was a fairly small place and this actual habitat of the oft photographed "Old Work" was not as grand as the one in my mind. We began the self-guided audio tour and got through about five points of interest before we allowed ourselves to get sidetracked by the hunt for the elusive perfect photo. It had to include the Old Work, as it was the most egotistical of the ruins, saying, "Hey, look at me"; it knows that Wroxeter's Roman City cannot be identified without it. We did try to get as many of the other ruins as possible in the pictures so that the ones we publish will be unique. The other ruins were quite interesting in their own right anyway; there were several distinctly laid out courtyards and even a swimming pool that remarkably resembled a modern day one. I also found it mind jogging that Watling Street, the major Roman road through Viroconium that ran all the way to London in its heyday, was today no more than an insignificant "B" road (if that, even) in the middle of Wales. Why wouldn't post-Roman civilizations keep using these major thoroughfares instead of opting to tromp through muddy fields like we found ourselves doing later in the day? I really hope somebody invents a time machine someday. There's a lot of history questions I'd like answered.
But I digress. We left there and went on to a little store on the outskirts of Shrewsbury called Scottish Power (an appliance store), where we purchased a tape adapter for the computer to the car stereo. Then it was on to the Berth, accompanied by the BBC radio production of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that Joe had on CD. We got to the towns of Newtown and Baschurch (I couldn't tell the division between the two) and drove over the railroad tracks and under the power lines, then turned left to enter the little farm of (the map said) Mere Ho. We drove to the end of paving and continued on foot a bit to a gate that said, quite blatantly, that what lay behind the gate was the property of the Berth Pool Anglers and that absolutely NO TRESPASSING was to be tolerated. This was particularly hard for us, seasoned Arthurian veterans, to stomach. For here we were, at an easily passable gate with the pool unmistakably visible on the other side (and not too far away), and here was this sign simultaneously congratulating us for finding the correct place and forbidding us from (legally) getting to it. Out of respect for the tenants (certainly not out of concern for personal health, as the gate would have been a cinch to hop, as I've already mentioned, and the only other soul around was a dog with an uncanny resemblance to Frasier's Eddie), we decided to go around the other side to try to avoid anyone's forbiddings. There was another private farm on the other side which, fortunately, hadn't seen the need or had the foresight to invest in a NO TRESPASSING sign, so we took the perhaps undue liberty of driving down their muddy lane towards the hill, getting stuck and unstuck, backing back out to the road, then continuing on foot down the road to another gate where the Berth was plainly visible but, alas, seemingly inaccessible. This gate was tall and topped with three strands of barbed wire. Then beyond this gate were gates and fences galore. Most unwelcoming.
We found a hole, though, in the hedge on the side of the road that we could surely fit through as easily as the untold number of sheep who had gone through and had their wool pulled off by the fingerlike branches around it. We entered a wide open field through this hole and there were only two fences between us and the Berth. We had considered just taking pictures of it from afar and not hiking all the way, but this would be too easy not to. The grass, though wet, was infinitely easier to traverse than the mud, but the standing groundwater got a little more troublesome as we reached the first barbed wire fence. We hopped it, a small drainage ditch, and then another barbed wire fence before entering the field that led up to the hill. In this field, the water became noticably deeper--6 inches or so in places. Thank God for Gore-Tex boots. We found ourselves wishing we each had a pair of Wellies. It was then we remembered that Phillips and Keatman claimed this was an Avalon type place and would have been an island in Arthur's (Owain's?) day, and it should have come as no surprise that, with the recent rains they've had up here, the area was waterlogged. Our boots were pretty wet when we got up on the hill, which I decided was worth the sloppy hike. It had a decent set of banks and was of decent height, but the most unique aspects were the tentacle-like extensions of the hill's banks that went out into the pasture, one of which had a red metal hay wagon on it. And, perhaps more satisfying, we could see Berth Pool from here and laugh at the NO TRESPASSING sign that had attempted to thwart our efforts. We got some good pictures with questionable legality, which is better than no pictures at all, I guess.
We got back through a muddier pasture and back on to the road to head for lunch at the Boreaton Arms. I had a dish called Mississippi chicken, which was the same popular chicken, ham, cheese, and BBQ sauce dish as in the states. It was pretty good, but I just got it for the name. I've noticed Mississippi Mud Pie over here a lot as well; that surprised me. This pub was in that Baschurch / Newtown siamese twin town.
We drove down to Welshpool after this to go over to Dolgellau, and the drive was absolutely breathtaking, especially after we got into Snowdonia National Park.We got to stop outside Mallwyd to take a picture of the area called Camlan above the River Dovey, which turned out to be a hefty sized tumbling mountain river meandering through the flatlands below the mountains. I'd kill for a house on a river like that. But it was (I rarely ever use this word; my innate masculinity usually sequesters it...) gorgeous.
We drove through Dolgellau to Graig-Wen Guest House, outside the tee-tiny town of Arthog (we can only wonder about the name). I did play snooker at Graig-Wen for the first time in my life--our hosts were absolutely apalled that we'd never played and their son taught us well. I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep. We did eat supper tonight, in the Fairborne Hotel; had some chicken, beer, and a whisky.
GAMLAN / CAERGAI / ET. AL.--01-06-01
Woke up today in the Graig-Wen Guest House, one of the most eclectically decorated places we've ever stayed. Never got to play another game of snooker but did enjoy the Cocoa Pebbles and scrambled eggs for a change. We woke up early and were off by 8:30 or so. We had to take a picture of the estuary that the house overlooked before we left and have a little chat with the wife of the house, an oriental lady that seemed chipper despite her claims of jet lag (the couple had just gotten back from Taiwan the day before we got there). I put my black pen in the pocket of my shirt and we were off to see the Gamlan River. I would lose that pen somewhere along the way today. It was a good one, much better than this plain ol' blue Bic Round Stic I dug up off the car floor a few minutes ago.
Anyway, the Gamlan's probably 10-15 miles north of Dolgellau, along another beautiful stretch of highway with a mountain river running beside us. We didn't know what the Gamlan would look like because it should be a regular river but there were steep mountains on that side of us. The river we decided to label Gamlan was not marked as such but flowed under the road with a pretty good size for a runoff stream before running into a bigger river under the bridge. There was a pile of snow (basketball size, maybe) by where we pulled over, by the way. That was pretty neat. Didn't spend much time there, though. Had to get some petrol in Dolgellau and get up to Caergai. The big story about petrol over here lately is about how crude oil price has dropped by a third but petrol prices have hardly dropped at all. Everybody over here's mad--or so the media would have us believe...Went to the Texaco and headed up northeast to Caergai, which is rather nondescript; it just looks like a house on top of a hill, a working farm, except that there is a tiny little sign maybe 4'' square that you'd miss if you weren't looking for it. We found a farmkeep at the top of the drive that told us we were free to walk around the place but that the hoped we'd brought our Wellies. However wet it would be, it wouldn't be as bad as yesterday. It was muddy on that rather small hilltop, but hardly anything out of the ordinary. There wasn't much to look at--maybe one 30 foot stretch of ruined Roman wall (we never got confirmation on that) and maybe and original bank, but I guess that's what centuries of farming has done to the place. It is the place, no doubt, but it is much less interesting without antique vestiges to engage the mind. About the only thing that did engage my mind there was the thought of how many forts like that have gone forgotten in the daily routine of farm life. I had the idea the other day that all of Britain should be excavated and turned into a medieval theme park, a history extravaganza, and all the citizens could dress up in period costume like at Colonial Williamsburg. But, as with so many other things in life, you just gotta let the past go and be content with artifacts, ruins, and the imagination.
Then it was 10:30 and we were done for the day, free for a leisurely drive up to Southport. So leisurely in fact that we decided to stop in Bala to mail some postcards. Then we went up through Ruthin, almost to Mold, when we passed Carn March Arthur on the side of the road, completely by accident. We decided it would be stupid not to go back, so we did. It was a rock on the side of the road, under a quite attractive stone archway with a granite identifying plaque inset in it. The rock was supposed to have Arthur's horse's footprint in it, and it kind of looked like one, I guess.
Then we decided to go back to Ruthin because Joe remembered about Heuil's stone--the beheading platform of one of Arthur's lesser enemies, who happened to be a brother of Gildas the historian. (Joe and I hypothesized that that's why Gildas doesn't mention Arthur by name--he killed his brother...). But it was in the town centre of Ruthin, on top of the hill by a Barclay's Bank. It was just sitting on the wall on a pedestal with a little plaque above that related the gist of the story. Took a grand total of two pictures of it, but there weren't really more to be taken.
We headed back to Mold--just to say we've eaten in Mold and had Moldy food and Moldy beer--and ate in a Good Beer Guide recommended pub--Y Pentain. Had a Harp and a ham and cheese baguette. They put a good bit of cheese on there, too. Then we headed up to Southport, which I find a refreshing little city. Lord Street is the main one--I think I've seen it described as Victorian--and lined with little shops and lights and collonades. We're right on the water near some amusement parks and retirement homes, one of which we mistook for a pub.
Had supper at a chain type pub, though it was nice and the mozzarella, cajun chicken, and bacon (ham) baguette I had was really good. Then we went back to the Windsor Hotel, called the family (Dad was cooking a hamburger for lunch), then got the journals and headed back out to the Bold Hotel for a drink and a journal write. But I'm getting a little droopy-eyed, and it's almost time to bathe and catch 40 (hopefully more) winks.
Woke up in the coastal town of Southport today. It was a neat little city; the streets that were so crowded last night were practically devoid of life this morning and I'm glad I got to see that contrast. You kind of feel like you know a place when you drive through it on Sunday morning. It's not trying to impress anybody like it may have been the night before.
I realized this morning that I forgot to write about our visit to Wirral yesterday. On our way up to Liverpool we pulled into a place labeled "Wirral Country Park" outside of Neston and took a few pictures out on a little nature trail. Wasn't much Gawainly out there; just the name association and the imagination. Unremarkable, really, but would have been a nice trail if we'd had time and motivation.
Anyway, woke up to a fine English breakfast at the Windsor. The coolest thing that happened at breakfast was that I stood up to get some more orange juice but I knocked my fork off the table and somehow it stuck to my jeans. I didn't know what it was and Joe didn't either--it was magic. Then I started playing with it and turns out the fork had stuck to my magnetic money clip through my pants. Joe thought I'd forget to put that in here.
Then, after a long, boring drive on the Motorway (M6), we exited off towards Pendragon Castle. We took the semi-scenic route and bypassed the town of Kirkby Stephen and ended up on a little narrow farm lane that twisted through the hills. Breathtaking, to say the least. Its the kind of farm I'd want if I had to have a farm. Wide open rolling hills that begged to be galloped through on a horse. Indeed, there were plenty of horse "signs" around. We followed it a bit more and came to an intersection with the B6259, an intersection that just happened to have Pendragon Castle on the corner. It looked just like I thought it would. Small, out of the way, and no tourists. I was free to go play on a real, genuine, ruined castle. The child in me was reborn. We ran out there with our cameras and the tripod.
I had to be mature after a cursory inspection of the place because I had to put together a panorama. This is probably the only one we'll do this trip (hills just aren't that interesting unless they're Cadbury), so I decided to do all I could to make it perfect. I ended up with 45 pictures, I think. It will take a good while to get that thing in its final form. And by damn, it better look professional.
After that it was playtime. Most of it was spent trying to figure out what the place looked like originally and then running around all over the place like a monkey. It was kind of like an intellectual junglegym. I could spend a whole day there, camp out in the second floor hall room, and then spend another just walking around. I think its one of the places I'd rank up in the top 10 of our travels. I highly recommend it.
Then we drove up to Kirkby Stephen to have a hot Sunday lunch at the King's Arms. Pork and applesauce. And a Black Sheep Ale. There were a lot of people with their dogs there and we were able to strike up a little Arthur conversation and give out a card or two. Then it was up to Auchencairn. To Scotland.
We got in the area about 3:30 or so and decided it'd be worthwhile to knock out the Mote of Mark since it's a long way to Loch Lomond tomorrow. We got to Rockcliffe about 4:00 and dark was coming fast. Then came the misunderstanding, which I won't bother explaining because it's pointless and we have to go back tomorrow anyway. I ended up running across some low tide sand to Rough Island that I thought was Mote of Mark mistakingly while Joe tried to catch me and tell me the fort was up on this hill in town. I've gotten made fun of a lot for how my navigating and map reading ability seems to dissipate exponentially the further away I am from the car. I tried to deny it at first, but it's becoming chronic.
So then we got into Auchencairn to the Rossan and were greeted by Ms. Bardsley, a delightful Scotswoman who told us about Loch Arthur, another Excalibur Lake up the way that was given very little attention in our guidebooks; we'd never even noticed it. She's a Dozmary Pool fan, though, since she was brought up around there, even though she's a full blood Scot. She's fun to talk to and seems to know her stuff. Ate some fried Haddock from Aberdeen at a pub up the street she recommended, and actually enjoyed it over a pint of Caffrey's and a Tennet's Velvet. then we had some single malts--a Glenkinchie and some Island malt that starts with a B that I wrote down somewhere else (Bunnahabhain). Both outstanding. I love whisky.
Now I've bathed, typed an email or two back to the states, and now I'd better hit the sack so's I'll be rested up for our big day tomorrow.
TRUSTY'S HILL / MOTE OF MARK / LOCH ARTHUR--01-08-01
When I got to breakfast this morning, there was a map on the table with Trusty's, Mark's, and Loch Arthur circled in black and directions written around the border. As I said last night, she was a very good hostess. And breakfast was a tad different as well; "organic" porridge that was pretty much oatmeal to me--but very good--and eggs from their very own hens.
So we got on the road about 9:00 and got our route plan organized. We were headed for Trusty's Hill by Gatehouse of Fleet. Took a vista-packed coastal route most of the way and then had no trouble finding the footpath to the hill. the problem came when the owner of the farm by the footpath came out and told us quite sternly not to park on the grass, which we of course already had, so I had to get out and push the car down and backwards at the same time to do as little damage as possible to the grass. We ended up making about a foot long run in the grass, which was not bad considering, and we had to go park in a shoulder way down the hill. And then walk back up. But that's ok. It didn't take long anyway. The walk over to the hill was through a multicolored landscape--the paths were made of green grass and flanking them were patches of rusty red scrub bushes much like those that populated Rough Island, the Mote of Mark imposter that I've felt increasingly stupid for being fooled by. The hill was small and isolated and abrupt, requiring just a quick, sure-footed sprint to reach the pinnacle. And such a burst is aptly initiated by the notion of the carved Pictish stone at the top--I'd never seen one before. The view from the top was as incredible as I'm used to from these types of hills, and the stone was so in-my-face real and there that it was hard to believe it was held by a hand that felt an earth millenia younger than I felt it today.
Then it was back to Rockcliffe and the Mote of Mark. It was real easy to find this time, and we even got to walk through a cow pasture! Joe tried to pet several but they kept running off. Got to the top, took the requisite pictures, marvelled at the views over the ocean and the big rockpile on Rough Island that I had stood on only hours ago, and left. We were kind of pressed for time today, what with the Loch Arthur addition and all. It was also kind of neat to see the tide in--there was no way in hell I could have gotten out to that island this morning, and in such a state would have allayed last night's confusion. And I guess I knew last night that the tide was out but the prospect of running across an ocean to an island and getting the picture before the spectre of night shrouded the view invigorated me. But that's in the past now, and it was fun.
We drove from there on another coastal drive to the town of New Abbey before turning left towards Beeswing. New Abbey got its name from the "New Abbey" that got built after the "old abbey" got "dissolved." We saw it. So we drove up the road to Beeswing and got out when we saw the Loch Arthur and a pulloff. Joe took some smashing pictures of the place and we got back in the car to go to lunch in Dumfries. It was an ordinary little town; I found a 5 volume set of Churchill's WWII writings in a charity shop that I bought. Figured I couldn't pass it up, but I did mull over the idea at lunch so I couldn't classify it as an impulse buy. We ate at a cool little pub for lunch where I not only got macaroni and cheese--in meal form--but I played the electronic "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" steal-your-money game with somebody else's money and got money that they won. It's like they had done real well and then just left. I just touched a few buttons and money came out. For once I came out ahead in one of those games.
Then came a long, boring Motorway drive through Glasgow and up to Balloch, punctuated only by a low petrol scare and the familiarity of driving by Dumbarton again. Balloch is semi-touristy. I think its a lake town with similar lake town attributes to American ones. We're staying at Gowanlea, a guest house that's a little less of a family's home than the others have been--by that I mean it seems a little more professional and commercial. But that's good.
We ventured out to the Loch Lomond outlet mall just for the hell of it, but it was mostly a bunch of woman stores. There was a car museum downstairs because the building used to be the old Argyle car plan, so we went down to the gift shop because you had to pay to get into the actual museum. I bought a little mini bottle of Islay Mist Scotch Whisky and a Jaguar postcard for dad; Joe bought a postcard and a bigger bottle of mead. But he's "temporarily misplaced" our purchases.
Supped at the Balloch Hotel per the Good Beer Guide; had lasagne. Really cheesy. Had an IPA with supper, Deuchar's specifically, and then a Grouse with a fudge cake. We left and walked down a little along the lake to see what we could see, then came back for a whisky and a write--a Laphroaig and a Macallan. And, as I close off that dram, so is it appropriate to close this entry.
LOCH LOMOND / GLEN DOUGLAS--01-09-01
Got up and to breakfast about 9:00--a little later than we had planned but nothing serious. Had another bowl of porridge, that's two places in a row. Got on the road and drove a short bit up to Luss to take pictures of the islands of which Geoffrey of Monmouth spoke. He counted 40; we counted about 7, but we didn't try very hard and quit altogether after a short time.
Then it was another short drive up to Inverbeg, where the River Douglas flows into Loch Lomond. Drove up into the mountains a little ways and took some neat pictures from a bridge looking up the river to a small cascade in the background and then down the river towards the Loch. I think the up river ones turned out a little better, but I can't see either way really where a battlefield may have been. There's a road that runs the length of the river, but our hostess at Gowanlea told us it could be 4.5 hours to Inverness. That put a bit of a prod to us or we would have gone down there to find a field or something, but I got the feeling it was completely a mountain stream and never is what I would call a river. But be it duly noted that I speak out of ignorance.
Then we were done. Time for a relaxing drive up to the Highlands, Loch Ness, and finally Inverness. The drive up through the Highlands was the single most incredible drive I've driven in my life. A rough analogy: Highlands:Snowdonia :: Flowers Cask IPA:Natural Light. I said "DAMN!" a whole lot just looking at the scenery, and "Oh my God...". Not taking His name in vain, mind you, but as in "this is the most incredible scenery on the face of Your earth." No wonder the angels come here to get their share of the whisky. We got out of the car at a scenic overlook to get a picture; we got these Australian girls to snap it for us, which brings me to the sucky thing I just realized today--I may have left my camera at Pendragon Castle. Don't really want to talk about it. I missed some good vistas today. Good thing I've already decided to come back up here someday.
Stopped in Fort William for lunch, walked around the town for a bit, then ate at the Grog and Gruel per the Good Beer Guide's recommendation. Had a Cockspurra ale with my chili cheese baguette. That chili was about the spiciest, hottest thing I've ever put in my mouth, and I wasn't expecting it to be at all. But my tongue was on fire even before we decided to get a whisky, and the first sip was like gasoline--in effect, not taste. The tast of the Tamdhu--the malt I picked out of the literally 50 or so they had to choose from--was excellent (and I'm entertaining the idea of purchasing a bottle), but my mouth erupted past the point of mere discomfort and would have qualified as pain if we hadn't ordered a half pint of water. That gave us whisky fever, and we went in two whisky shops in town before leaving. Didn't buy anything, but I think a purchase is imminent.
We made it to Loch Ness in the early afternoon, in dense, dense fog. Perfect weather for a sighting of Nessie. About halfway up we stopped at the "official" Loch Ness Visitor's Center. We watched a film about Nessie which was admittedly a tourist trap movie but actually captured my interest. The loch is 25 miles long and a mile wide at its widest and up to 900, maybe even 1000 feet deep. They talked about the sightings and the expeditions and, afterwards, had blown up pictures of the most famous poses of Nessie. And they had a gift shop. I really wanted a shirt that said "I'm a Wee Monster" around a quite amiable caricature of the creature, but my frame is unfortunately larger than that of a twelve year old boy and, even if I could manage to get it on, I would disgust myself. Ended up just getting a postcard or two and the smallest bottle of scotch whisky in the world for 99p.
Just finished a pre-dinner dram of Glen Ord, and now it's off through the streets of Inverness to find a place to eat.
Today was a rest day. There is no Arthurian connection with the Highlands, unless of course you contend that his enemies were up here, and that's a fair rationalization for our northern excursion, I guess. I've been over to this Isle three times now and am just now getting to the Highlands. And, as I said yesterday, it's possibly the best place in the world.
So we got up this morning about 8:45 and got ready and found that we'd missed breakfast. We just fixed some tea in our room and ate some little cookie biscuit type things. We got on the road about 10:00 and headed to the Tomatin Whisky distillery, just about 15 miles south of Inverness. There was actually some snow on the hillsides while driving down there; I got my fix. We got there and found the visitor's center penultimately to finding out that there were no tours offered because there wasn't any whisky in production. As a consolation, the lady offered us a 15 minute video about the distillery and whisky making in general, as if it were an adequate reparation for the disappointment suffered by not getting to walk through forests of copper stills and oak casks. But we did get to have a dram of the stuff before 10:30. And there were some pretty cool wares in the shop, especially these little casks that had cask strength Tomatin in them--they only held about as much as an airplane bottle. Thought about getting one, but decided against it.
After our rather abbreviated "tour" of a distillery, we discussed going to another one but figured we'd run into a similar situation so we just went back to town. We ended up getting back to town around lunchtime, and it was by the time we had poked our heads in a few shops and found the Blackfriar's pub, as recommended in the Good Beer Guide. In fact, we're back here for supper and a few drams of whisky. Just finished a Balvenie. We ate and walked around the shopping district of Inverness in circles--many circles--not purposely but that's just kind of how it ended up. the only thing I bought was 4 books at a charity shop because I could get any four for 99p. Too good to pass up. I got a 2 volume Somerset Maugham short story set, an old leatherbound Bible, and some book about Tarzan. Eventually we hit a dead end and just got bored. Decided to go back and take a nap. Best idea we ever had. Laid around for two hours and slept for one of them. The rest of the time we watched My Parents are Aliens on the BBC, a sitcom about two parents from another planet who don't quite "get" Earth life and their three kids they adopted from a children's home, all of which have conveniently humorous personalities.
Now we're back in the Blackfriar's, sipping a Bowmore this time, and it needs my attention now.
MEIGLE / ALLEN / STONE--01-11-01
Back to work. Had a huge breakfast at about 8:00--two kinds of sausage--and got out into the cold, cold world of North Scotland, into our cold, cold, iced over and progressively dirtier Nissan Micra, and got on the road again. Drove through the snowy Highlands and stopped a couple times to take pictures with my camera that I found. It was in Joe's bag for some reason.
Now don't get me wrong; the drive down was incredible, but way not nearly as superbly unbelievably incredible as the drive up. The drive down was blanketed in fresh snow, though, a big plus, since one of my goals this trip was to see snow. This blanket gradually disappeared and was all but gone, except on shadowed hedges and a few rock, by the time we got to Meigle and began our Guinevere scavenger hunt extravaganza. We found the church easy enough, and the "Vanore's Mound" inside. It was even marked. The rest of the churchyard was a cemetery. We saw some gravestones--graveslabs actually--that dated back to the 1600s and had skulls and/or crossbones carved into them. Now that's a real gravestone.
Then we found the Meigle museum, which was closed as hell for the winter. But there was a phone number to call so we found a phone booth and some change. They gave us a different number and the next callee gave us another number, and then we got another number that was the same as the one we started with. We finally lost our spirits and decided that it really was closed for the winter and that even bona fide Arthurian researchers couldn't get in. We would have to take pictures through the windows, which would suffice since the windows were clear and the museum relatively uncluttered--Ganore's burial stone was plainly visible. The trick was that these windows were on private property. Knocked on the door, a lady answered, and she told us that the lady with the key lived just in town. Hope! Found her house with the help of the ladies at the town SPAR but God bless her, she didn't have the key. Of course she usually did, but not now. Damn. Back to the windows. We went on both sides of the building and got some decent pictures, actually respectable for not having even set foot inside the museum. So that's how we made lemonade out of lemons and averted a tragedy.
Down to the River Allen. We decided to attack it from the north of Bridge of Allen, thinking that there would be more country views up there, battlefields if you will. We drove down a nice little B road and came to an old stone bridge with high hills around that would afford some impressive pseudo-aerial shots of the river. We got high shots and low shots, forward ones and backward ones, then left to get into Stirling.
We came into Stirling through Bridge of Allen and stayed outside of town to get to some Pictish Standing Stone in the middle of a field. We found it pretty easily. We had to (or got to, as the case turned out) go through an old stone gatehouse in the woods to get close to it; the road led to these apartments that seemed to be on the grounds of some castle-style manor house with its own small scale golf course. Anyway, the field was open (the fences were knocked down and didn't prohibit our exploration) and the stone was obvious, even though there were no longer any discernable etchings or anything in it. But hey, that's what 1200 years will do to a rock. We did see some orange wax and shells laying around, evidence of the Celtic spirituality practices we've almost come to expect, especially when we visit old stone circles, certain hills, or anything Celtic or Pictish. A lot of people would assume we're that nature/spiritual type if we told them where we planned to go before we told what we were studying--and have. I still enjoy that kind of thing, but as a historical artifact as opposed to a spiritual one.
All that and it was only 3:00. And the Wallace Monument was right there. So we went, for only £3.50. It has a lot of steps that lead up to an absolutely incredible vista, but the coolest thing, on any scale, was the actual Wallace sword. The real thing. I had no idea that they would have that, and no idea that it would be the real thing. And what made my head spin was thinking about how many Englishmen that actual sword I was looking at had run through and gutted, assuming Willie had wielded it like Mel Gibson had. There could be 700 year old blood on that bent piece of metal. Not that I'm some violent sicko or anything, but it's fascinating to think about.
Then we found the Linden Guest House and got a little help finding possibilities for horseback riding up Dumyat tomorrow. We'll have to call tomorrow, but that'd be excellent if it works out. Now it's time for more whisky at the Portcullis, a pub in the shadow of the magnificent Stirling Castle.
ROUGH CASTLE / DUMYAT--01-12-01
I'm in the Hogshead in Stirling with a Famous Grouse winding down after a surprisingly exhaustive day. Originally, we had planned on visiting Dumyat, Rough Castle (at Camelon), and Bowden Hill today, but we got the name of a riding centre in Bridge of Allen that we inquired to about going on a ride up the mountain (and that's what Dumyat looks like from the road...a mountain). They said we could ride at 12:00 for £20 each. We said ok.
That meant we had to eat our breakfast and head on out. Had a "full" Scottish breakfast in every sense of the word--I didn't know where to start. So somehow I finished about 9:30 and we decided it was high time to hoof it to Camelon so we could get back for our excursion. Bowden Hill got reslated for tomorrow morning due to our equine comeuppance. We drove down the A9 to Falkirk and knew exactly on the map where we were, where we were going, and how to get there. Excellent.
I knew where a parking lot was from the map I got from streetmap.co.uk, so I navigated us there. It ended up being an abandoned gravel car park littered with old jackets, bottles, and appliances. It was filthy except for the rather attractive sign marking this as the "Rough Castle Community Woodlands." It even had a map of the walking trails. But this name for the area was about as much of a misnomer as I've ever seen, deviously named such as a set of psychological blinders so that the hiker would not be keen to the fact that he was walking through what I'd have called the "Rough Castle Strip-Mined Wasteland Hellhole." The hills before us were barren except for the exposed coal that was presumably waiting to be taken to what looked like a processing plant below. The "stream" was a drainage ditch running through thornbushes and weeds. But we walked through this because the Roman Fort was at the top of the map. We knew we were in the right place and that we only had two hours before we had to be at the stables.
We found the fort easy enough; it was in a cared for, manicured plot of land in stark juxtaposition to the ludicrous "community woodlands." There were no exposed stones or ruins, per se, just some rectangular layouts of several buildings on the south side of the Antionine Wall, which is now only the impressive earthwork that used to hold the wall itself. There was one system of defenses at the fort that consisted of 30 or so holes in the ground arranged in columns that in their heyday would have been much deeper and help upright sharpened wooden spikes concealed with brush, just like the classical booby-trap. I had never envisioned the Romans reverting to anything so barbaric. That's the good thing about visiting these lesser known places. You can get a feel for the way it really was out in the dirt and the struggles--it reminds you that every Roman day wasn't filled with baths and wrestling. But even though the place was out of the way and not very well signposted, there were four informative plaques around the compound. One of these was by a car park, and an attractive one nonetheless. Joe decided we needed to find this thing so he volunteered to go back to the car and drive up to this "official" car park while I stayed and took pictures. This move seemed risky to me, since it was about 20 till 11:00 and we didn't know exactly where this horse place was. But hey, what's life without gambles?
Joe pulled in a little after 11:00, after I had filled up the camera with pics, and we rushed back to the road but first had trouble getting to the Motorway before we were blessed with the difficulty of turning around once we decided we were headed the wrong way. All told, though, we pulled into the riding centre at exactly 12:00. Right on time. We were both tense from the morning's rushing about; a horse ride through the hills would do us good. We got our black English riding helmets (I really wanted to wear my other cowboy looking hat but I didn't want to make any waves right off). We mounted our steeds and had to ride around in circles in the barn as a warm up, I guess. My horse was gray and had a name that sounded like "Lorrie," though Joe's horse was the one as big as a truck. But his name was Samson, which fits I guess. Soon we went out through the fields guided by two young ladies who knew where they were going. We walked through some pastures, trotted up a field or two, then up a narrow but paved road, and then we got into the hills. Dumyat was visible in the distance. Way in the distance. There was no way we were going to get to the fort. And we didn't. But riding through the hills got us a lot closer than we would have otherwise and it was infinitely more enjoyable than hiking.
I don't know exactly how to describe the terrain we rode through except hilly. Low, rolling, rocky hills peopled only with grasses and the occasional clump of scrub bushes. No trees. And an incredible view of Stirling and the countryside. Beat the hell outta the Wallace Monument's view. And not only did we get to look around at all this for a good hour, not only did we get to trot up the trails, but they let us canter. I just didn't figure they would for some reason (not that I really had any reason for them not to) and so it came as a welcomed surprise, like when you hope for a bicycle all through December but don't really think you'll get it and almost don't believe it's sitting there under the tree on Christmas day. Anyway, it was fun as hell; I'm glad we didn't get stuck just walking along trails for two hours. And it helped that our guides were friendly and talkative and that the landscape was wide open and expansive. It was incredible. Well worth the £20. We saw an old crumbled foundation of a shepherd's cottage, too. It's another world over here, it really is.
We walked back through the hills and down the road and then back to the farm. There were pastures on either side of us. In one was a 40 year old horse and in the other was a weasel attacking a rabbit. A rolling ball of brown and white furs from which erupted horrendous but almost playful periodic squeaks and chirps. We think the weasel won, but we didn't see the end of the match. In this same field there was a sheep with a broken back right leg. It kind of swung around whenever he moved and it buckled whenever he tried to stand on it. Disturbing, to say the least.
Then we went and ate at the Westerton Arms in Bridge of Allen, had macaroni cheese (I think it's funny how they leave out the "&" over here), a McEwan's 70/-, and a Glengoyne--a new one. Damn fine meal, the kind you'd like to take a nap after. Which is what we did. For two hours. So now we're in the Hogshead, sipping on a Cragganmore, having gotten here about three hours ago for the two meals for £5.99 special. Both had bangers and mash, an Ossian's Cask Ale, and a Grouse.
Originally our plan was to get up the hill to the Portcullis again, but it's becoming increasingly obvious both that the place is up the hill and that in the bed is not a bad place to be. Let me say goodnight to my good friend John Barleycorn and put myself to sleep.
BOWDEN HILL / HIGH ROCHESTER--01-13-01
The fatigue has finally caught up with me. It's only 9:00 and I've already eaten supper (pork medallions in a mustard sauce--the Robin Hood Inn next door is a pretty fancy place--and a thing called a fruit snowbomb that was ice cream with berries on top. I didn't know what it'd be), taken a bath, and gotten in bed, never to get out again till the sun comes up. Maybe it has a little to do with the fact that we stayed up late watching Enemy of the State on TV.
So we got on the road today about 9:00. At breakfast I ate the Choco-flakes with folic acid since I was feeling a little health conscious. That's in addition to a full cooked breakfast, of course. And lots and lots of toast. We headed back through Falkirk on the A9, on the route we went yesterday, to get a picture of the Camelon city limits sign that we had passed yesterday in a hurry. It was by the Falkirk Golf Club parking lot and I'm sure more than a few people wondered what we were doing. Then on to Bowden Hill, the first "real" site of the day.
The map showed a long road going out really close to the the hill but lo and behold it was one of those muddy rutted farm tracks that a sane man would only attempt in a tractor or a Hummer. We had a Micra. We tried. We gave up and parked on the road. And walked. This road ended at a fence, which we promptly hopped, and then it was pasture between us and what was obviously the hill. It looked menacing but nothing we couldn't tackle. We dawdled around at the bottom for a while, though, captivated by the old, caved in shepherd's hut (if I may be so brash as to assume its identity), and even moreso by this huge stone "thing" (we never reached a consensus regarding its identity) built into the side of the hill with three archways in it. I won't bother to describe it fully because it is unlikely that I'll be able to write a good enough one to come back to in the future and decide what it really was. Plus I'm tired.
But fatigue won't keep me from talking about how cool the fort was, about how it was among the top five regular old hillforts that we've explored. This is because it was difficult to get to but not too slow of a climb (thorn patches coating the steep hllsides were only minor obstacles), the top was dynamic instead of just flat but still had a discernable pattern, and there was scant evidence of ruins to engage the imagination (that ever present prerequisite). And the views from the top were intoxicating and almost unreal, like paintings almost. The while plumes of smoke from the industries in the distance even seemed static. There was a big rock outcropping on the top, at least twice as tall as I was that is known as Wallace's Bed, supposedly, in an interesting mix of the two folklores. I thoroughly enjoyed the place, even though our long stay at the place cancelled our visit to Alnwick Castle, which is closed this time of year anyway.
So we kept truckin' to Jedburgh, where there was a big Rugby match set up that everybody in town was heading toward. We were going to stop in the town for lunch, at the same place where we ate last year, but we decided time had become our enemy if we were going to finish the itinerary for the day. We did poke our head in a Sue Ryder charity shop, where I bought a £1 of Macbeth last year, and I got a £1 German-English dictionary this year. Everybody needs a German-English dictionary. We stopped in a grocery store for a snack, so my lunch was a little pack of Ham & Cheese Lunchables and some Walker's Potato Crisps. No beer.
Then on to High Rochester. Turns out we had driven right through the place last time. Nobody bothered to tell us that there were houses on top of the old fort and a road running through it. That would have made it too easy to find. So anyway, there it was, a sheep pasture with pics that looked exactly like the ones in Fairbairn's book. We walked the perimeter of the fort, happy to be 100% sure we had the right one but feeling a little stupid we so blatantly missed it last year.
Back on the road to Sewingshields. It was during this journey that we decided we didn't really have time to see the place because there was nothing there, really. There used to be a castle, but there's not even a trace of that left, so we read. We decided we'd much rather see Housesteads, a very well preserved Roman fort that Sewingshields crags may well have been visible from. We got there at 4:00 and got to play around in the dusk on the ruins. They were pretty expansive--granaries, barracks, latrines, four entrances, officer's quarters, the praetorian's quarters, and a hospital with a room that may have been an OR and another with a big stone pit. Joe and I applied our expert knowledge of Roman culture and decided that this was the organ pit. There were several good examples too of Roman drainage and central heating; the infrastructure never ceases to amaze me.
Then to the Barn. Guest House that is, which turned out to be right next door to the Robin Hood Inn. It's a homey place, more like a real home than most places we've stayed. And the beds are comfortable; mine's been dragging me further and further under the whole time I've been writing. And it's about to swallow me whole till the mornin' come.
Today we didn't do a whole lot. Just drove mostly. Woke up at the Barn and had a full English breakfast with all the fixin's. We left the car running through breakfast to let it defrost, so it was clear driving by the time we got on the road. We decided to take little back roads--like B's and stuff--for the first part of the day because, like I said, we didn't have much to do. Drove through some small towns and by some farms, but then came to one hilly area kind of north of Barnard Castle that was quite unlike anything we'd come across. It was a complex of sheep pastures (nothing new there) but with no fences. We had to honk at least two sheep off the road when we were driving past and several more were hanging out on the shoulder that we honked at for their own good. And our fun--Joe hasn't gotten to play the sheep game much this time. We drove down a little farm track out into the hills (and by "we" I mean "I"--it was my one little English driving adventure), got out, and ran around a little. I enjoyed the exercise.
Got back in, drove, got gas, drove, ate at Burger King, and drove some more. We got to Sherwood Forest and stopped at a park but it was more like a recreational park than a cheesy Robin Hood tourist park like what we were after. So we drove back to this other place called "Robin Hood Land" (or something equally bad) that looked like it was based on--pretty good idea, by the way--Robin Hood era/style games, activities, and attractions in a semi theme park atmosphere. I guess. But it had flopped. We drove down to it anyway. It was kind of dumpy looking, but maybe that's just because it was deserted. There was a cool looking catapult outside though.
Then we drove. Through lots and lots of fog. Before Sherwood Forest and after. And we came to the Glen, which was kind of a regular, leveed, green colored river, not terribly attractive but seemingly popular with Sunday afternoon anglers. And got a pretty good low sun/evening shot of it. I think we'll go look for a few more views tomorrow. The place where we're staying is neat. Right on the river and above a pub owned by a pretty cool guy, not too chatty but conversative. The place has a few less amenities than we're used to, but the friendliness of the pub atmosphere is great.
Made some calls to the States tonight. Lark says our article came out in the Birmingham News and that it's big and impressive and we're famous. She also reminded me to get her something. Mom also said the article was good and that she can't wait to see me, etc. I'm about ready to get back myself, since things are kind of winding down Arthur-way.
We slept in a little today--didn't eat breakfast until 9:30. And we ate it in the pub, actually in a little side breakfast room. Mr. Moore and Wellington (the dog) served up a good one. Hearty enough to keep us going until about 2:00, after we had driven to Cambridge, found a parking place, and walked around shopping and seeing what all the city had to offer.
The drive down was uneventful, except for getting a little turned around in Peterborough. But we got to the city ok, and did what we always do when we come into an unfamiliar town--follow the signs to the city centre, and then to a car park. It's amazing how that always works. Looking at the map coming in, I noticed a River Cam flowing through the city and got to thinking about Camlann. I'd never heard of this one before, which either means that the possibility has been considered and discounted or that I've stumbled on something completely new, the former being infinitely more probable. But it was neat to notice, at least. And then it hit me: the name of the town was Cam-Bridge. I guess I always figured they put more thought into the name than that. I found some pretty good presents there--a Cambridge T-shirt for Mary (I got one for myself too, they had a special if you bought two) and a little silver clock for Lark. I think I'll wait until I get to Gatwick to buy my parents some Scotch to take advantage of the duty free prices.
And I never exactly "got" the way the college system works in that town. I just noticed a lot of them. I remember passing by Trinity College, which I think is pretty famous. That's what you get for going to a famous city like that unprepared--you don't get all you can out of your visit. This may sound shallow, but we really just went there to shop. We did choose this city so that we could do it steeped in culture and history, though. We got our culture and our gifts and went to lunch at a little sandwich shop where I had a tastly ham and cheese toasty with an Irn-Bru (a British soft drink that Joe said tasted like bubble gum--I agreed. Maybe it's one of those acquired tastes).
But after lunch--2:30 or 3:00--we decided it was time to get back down to Gatwick before dark. We took the east bypass around the big city, over the big bridge that spans the Thames. We got to Norwood Hill, a small town near Gatwick, about 4 or 4:30, where we laid down on the bed at Latchett's Cottage for about five minutes before we decided to clean out the car and pack for tomorrow. We did this while watching My Parents are Aliens--our favorite British sitcom. Then about 6:00 The Simpsons came on. We had to watch that. It was the one where Marge finds the bargain Chanel suit and gets invited to country club. A classic. By then it was time to got to the only pub in town--The Fox Revived. It was owned by Bass, so I had one. It was a pretty classy place, full of old books and high priced food. Joe found a book with sundry humorous things in it like a section of epitaphs, one of which I'm gonna tell Dad about. It was for a dentist, saying "he's filled his last cavity." I found that clever.
But the food...Oh My God was it good. I had a shoulder of lamb that was superb...exquisite even. Crispy on the outside, moist and flavorful on the inside, in a sauce of red wine and cranberries, and about the size of a honeydew. It was so good I had to have a Laphroaig to end the meal. But we couldn't dawdle because 6:00 is gonna come awful early.
Came back and took a bath in a huge wood-paneled bathtub, watched a little of Jumanji, and now it's about time to turn off the light. Got a long day ahead of me tomorrow.