IN THE BEGINNING- September 30, 1999
This is the first entry into what will become my journal of Arthurian study. Last spring I came to Jake with the idea of contracting our own interim in Great Britain. Both of us enjoy traveling and figured we could visit pubs across the country. The only thing we were initially lacking was a topic of study. We settled on the legend of King Arthur because the literary tradition attests to real places we could visit.
A few days later we had set up a meeting with Dr. Susan Hagen. A specialist in Chaucer and other medieval literature, she agreed to sponsor our trip and gave us the preliminaries of requirements.
Jake and I began researching fairly quickly and came across The Travellers Guide to Arthurian Britain. The author, Geoffrey Ashe, is one of the most noted scholars on historical Arthur, and this guide soon became central to the planning of our tour of the UK. Later, while browsing on the Internet one day, I came across the journal Arthuriana. I poked around the site for a while before I stumbled onto a page relating the history of the publication. At the very bottom I discovered that an earlier journal had been incorporated into Arthuriana. Dr. Mildred Leake Day started Quandam et Futurus: Newsletter for Arthurian Studies while teaching at Birmingham-Southern College in 1979. I quickly looked up Dr. Day and, finding that she lived right outside of Birmingham, contacted her. A short time later we had a dinner meeting at her house.
This first meeting was mostly a chance for the three of us to get to establish a relationship, Dr. Day being somewhat of a mentor to us. Dr. Day was the first to translate from Latin the Arthurian text, The Rise of Gawain, Nephew of Arthur. She gave us some book titles and told us that she knew Geoffrey Ashe very well and would try to help us get a meeting with him.
The last month has found us working on the detailed itinerary and plotting of our trip. We will travel by car for 22 days from Cornwall to Scotland in an Arthur-packed road trip through Great Britain.
Tomorrow Jake and I meet with Dr. Day again.
READY TO GO- January 3, 2000
Well, I made it through the New Year and I fly to Atlanta tomorrow morning. My bags are packed and Im ready to go. I havent really gotten nervous yet, or even that overly excited, Im just ready to hop on a plane and have a nice vacation. I hope Ive brought the right clothes (Ive basically got 3 of everything) and Ill do wash in the sink at night. We got a nice e-mail from the Ashes complimenting us on the web site, but thats it. I am going to sleep to get plenty of rest.
ATLANTA AIRPORT- January 4, 2000
I met Jake in the Atlanta airport and we are now waiting in the international terminal. Our flight is scheduled to leave in 2 hours. I will be taking sleeping medicine in about an hour and a half. Tomorrow morning we will arrive at about 7 AM and we will get our car at 9. I have to learn to drive wrong within hours of landing.
After all these months of planning we are finally heading out. I just started feeling sinus pressure, a bad omen, but have some medicine for it. The trip is pretty optimistic with regards to the itinerary, but as long as we keep moving we wont have to miss much.
PORTCHESTER / WINCHESTER- January 5, 2000
Well, Jake and I made it though the first day and we are exhausted. Neither of us got more than an hours sleep on the plane and I realized today that I have developed the first sinus infection of the millennium. Luckily I had the foresight to get an antibiotic before leaving (Im already feeling better.)
Learning to drive again was difficult, but Jake has been a wonderful co-pilot and navigator. Unfortunately, about twenty minutes into the drive Jake got carsick and puked out the window.
An hour and a half after picking up our car we arrived at our first sight in Portchester. Within the Roman ramparts of Portchester Castle many later armies had set base. It was truly amazing to walk inside of walls that we almost 2000 years old. I had to hop a fence onto a dock in the bay to capture one of the pictures of the Roman walls set against the water. It turned out rather well.
After lunch we traveled up to Winchester. We parked near the cathedral and walked around it some before heading to the Great Hall (the only thing left standing of the Winchester Castle ruins). Inside the hall is a large painted Round Table set against the wall. It is believed that the table was created for a royal Camelot pageant in the early Middle Ages.
We headed straight for our B&B after that, only to arrive while our hosts were out. We waited and walked around the house, but no one seemed home. After a while Jake and I let ourselves into the main house. I promptly fell asleep on the couch in the foyer.
The man of the house returned and checked us in. He recommended a place for dinner, a great little pub in the middle of nowhere.
Everything is well and I am going to sleep. It is 10:00.
LIDDINGTON / STONEHENGE- January 6, 2000
This morning I woke up at 4:30 with terrible sinus pain so I went into the empty guestroom next door and watched the early morning new for 2 hours before Jake woke up. Mrs. Hicks make us a wonderful English breakfast before Jake and I headed to Stonehenge.
Unfortunately the entrance was closed to Stonehenge so we started up to Liddington Castle through Marlborough. We only got slightly off track looking for the hillfort, but eventually we found a place to park and attack the hill with the shortest possible hike. Jake found a place to squeeze under the fence surrounding the field on which the hill stood. After a laborious climb in the high winds, we reached two ring shaped mounds separated by a ditch. The flat inner circle was filled with grazing sheep. After the hike up, the site was very fulfilling. This is the first place we visited that was in no way touristy. We were the only people with in a half-mile radius of the ruined fort.
We ate lunch at the Bear Pub in Marlborough (great salmon omelet) and then we sent to the college campus to see Merlins Hill, which wasnt too exciting. Afterwards, we went back to Stonehenge and got some great pictures of the sun setting behind the megaliths.
We had dinner in Andover and walked around (uneventful except for my headache). Jake and I hit the sack at 8:00 PM (the first time since 3rd grade).
DOZMARY POOL / FOWEY- January 7, 2000
The weather was great today. The sun shined through most of the day and it actually warmed up a bit. We hit the road at 8 this morning headed for Cornwall. At 11:00 we reached Dozmary Pool, one of the sites reputed to be where Bedivere threw Excalibur at Arthurs Death. I had to drive down tiny dirt roads, but the view of the lake was beautiful and the countryside was awesome. We continued down to Fowey, where we saw the Tristan stone and walked around the town for a bit. Then we went to Castle Dore, the site of King Marks fort. The earthen works were very impressive, much more pronounced than Liddington.
Ive started to feel very adventurous, trekking where (relatively) few have gone before. We finished up in Tintagel. We wandered down to the castle peninsula; it was incredible to view it by twilight. We got back we had drinks and dinner.
TINTAGEL / CAMELFORD- January 8, 2000
After a nice English breakfast, Jake and I headed back to see Tintagel by daylight. As we walked up we say the island standing among the crashing whitecaps. We got to the cliffs before the ticket checkers arrived, but we met one guy as we walked down the path and showed him our English Heritage pass.
The hiking up and down the cliffs almost killed me. There must have been about a thousand steps (trite hyperbole). The neatest thing on the peninsula was a chapel from the 14th century. The walls are now only about knee high, but the stone altar is still in place. The view from the chapel must have been very inspiring to anyone visiting there.
We wandered around the cliff overlooking the water, before climbing down the coastal cliffs at low tide. We wandered across the boulders below the castle isle and down to Merlins Cave. The cave actually goes through the rock all the way to the other side of the land bridge. We wandered through the cavern, having to jump up on boulders every time a big wave came crashing in. I got some incredible pictures.
Then we decided to climb down a dark side cave. Jake threw pebbles into the darkness and we followed the sound. I got the idea to take flash pictures of the cave with the digital camera and then review them to know where to go (it actually worked pretty well).
Oh, by the way, by looking at the narrow land bridge, it is easy to see how well a fortress on the island could be defended. Monmouth says that one man could defend the pass against an entire army, given the width (6 feet max).
At Slaughter Bridge, the King Arthurs stone place was closed so we went onto the property and got our pictures without express permission (although we did have an e-mail confirmation). Next we searched for an Internet connection in Camelford. Then we went back to Worthyvale Manor (the stone was on their property). The guy that we were supposed to meet wasnt there, but his mother was and we talked with her in the kitchen of the incredible Manor while she served us tea.
When we got back to the Cornishman, I called Laura. It was nice to hear her voice. She leaves for her trip tomorrow morning. Jake and I went for drinks and dinner at a pub called the Wharncliffe Arms. The couple that runs the place was very nice. They were possibly the first people over here that were actually curious about our trip. The drinks were cheap and the food was great. Good Night.
LOE POOL / MARAZION- January 9, 2000
Jake and I hit the road at 8:00. For breakfast I ate what was left in the car of yesterdays lunch, a Cornish onion and cheese pasty. We drove down to another earthen-work circle (this one partially destroyed) called Kelly Rounds/ Castle Killibury. This site is supported as the Kelliwic of ancient Welsh legend. This was Arthurs first fortress in the old triads. I parked in front of a gate to a pig farm. It was only 9 AM so nobody was around. We set up the tripod and I took another panorama while Jake scoped the place for other picture opportunities. I left the tripod in the field and followed Jake over to one to the mounds to an over-grown moat that surrounded the defenses. I couldnt get any good pictures of the moat so I climbed out onto a thick branch hanging over the water. Jake handed me a camera so I could capture a picture from inside the scrub. It was very cool.
At Marazion, we walked out on the path to St. Michaels mount, but the tide started coming in and soaked our legs. So we headed back up. There were quite a few bird watchers in the bay looking for a rare Scandinavian bird that had nested. By the bay we walked along Marazion Green, where Cornishmen once chastised a raven that might be Arthur. We wandered around that park taking pictures of every raven we could, hoping to find a majestic and inspiring image, but mostly they just ate trash and perched atop cars.
Later we drove out to Loe Pool, another potential resting-place for Arthurs sword, Excalibur. The scenery was lovely and we got some great pictures. We ate in a pub in Porthleven that came highly recommended by our CAMRA guide. The people were very friendly and very curious about our research into Arthurian places. I ordered steak and kidney pie, which was great (except for the kidneys). The owner of the pub (Atlantic Inn), Roger Baker came out when he heard I was from Florida. It turns out he is an avid fisherman and often spends months at a time in the Florida Keys at a house he owns. He was very friendly and let us go up to his flat above the bar to use the Internet on his computer. We checked our e-mail and talked with him and his wife a while before we headed up to St. Ives. Unfortunately, we met no polygamists on the way there, but did have a nice bangers and mash dinner at a pub first opened in c. 1312, The Sloop.
Tomorrow we head back up towards England proper and we get to see Cadbury Castle before heading to Glastonbury.
CADBURY / TOR / ASHES- January 10, 2000
This morning Jake woke up at 7:30 startled and realized that we had overslept by a half hour. After a cold breakfast we headed out of Tintagel bound for Cadbury hillfort. We arrived at the hill at about half past eleven and we began a muddy trek up to the top. The thick mud in the cut pathway was maybe 4 inches deep, and very sticky. We got some pretty good pictures of the succession of three and four earthen work ramparts, but overall it was hard to get a picture that could show how impressive the fortifications were as a whole. There was no place to give perspective of how big this site was compared to the other hillforts weve seen.
After we finished up we headed for Glastonbury for lunch. We ate at the St. George and Pilgrims pub. We had tortellini in honor of Lark and Lauras first day in Italy. Then we walked around downtown past all of the hippy spiritual shops. I got Laura an old leather bound Anglican Book of Common Prayer for 2L at a charity shop benefiting area Sufi practitioners. Many New Age and Eastern groups are represented here in the spiritual capitol of England.
We found our lodging, The Little Orchard, nestled at the bottom of Glastonbury Tor. Jake and I settled and spoke with the very kind owners for a short while. Jake called the Ashes to tell them that we were in town. Patricia told him that Geoffrey would give us a tour of the Abbey tomorrow and invited us over for evening tea after we hiked up the Tor this afternoon.
Jake ran up the imposing hill while I trailed slowly behind taking pictures of the flooded fields surrounding the Isle of Avalon. I got some nice pictures of the sunset and of the church tower at the top. We could see Brent Knoll, but we couldnt quite make out Cadbury. The Beacon Theory of communication between these hills does seem plausible over the low-lying country. On the climb down the Tor we stopped at the Ashes place, Chalice Orchard. Patricia invited us in and we had tea and crumpets with her and Geoffrey Ashe. They were both very nice. Patricia talked with us about Alabama and BSC and Geoffrey talked about Arthur as well as his many years of research.
We meet up with them tomorrow at 10:30 AM. We finally get to sleep late. In one day we traveled from Arthurs birthplace to his castle fortress, then to the place where he is buried-- quite a pilgrimage indeed.
ABBEY / ASHES- January 11, 2000
We got to sleep until 8:30 this morning. At 10:30 after breakfast we walked up the busy street to Chalice Orchard. Patricia packed us up in her Volvo and drove us over to the Abbey. Patricia went shopping a bit while Geoffrey gave us a private tour of the ruined cathedral and the grounds. He has a wonderfully dry sense of humor and an incredible memory for the facts concerning the Abbey. He showed us what he warned was the most disappointing part of the tourArthurs original gravesite. Discovered in 1191, the site now remains unmarked, with most tourists flocking to the site of the reinterment within the cathedral at an honorary place before the high altar.
It was inspiring to stand at the site of the oldest Christian settlement in Britain, a place supposedly founded by the legendary Joseph of Arimathea. Geoffrey told us that the buildings survived for many years after the dissolution, but eventually was broken up and sold for scrap rock. It is said that the original road to the nearby town at Wells was paved with Abbey rock. How unfortunate that such an incredible place (the final resting place of Arthur?) should be destroyed by pure greed.
We went by the Glastonbury Thorn at the Abbey. It is a descendant of the original, but is itself quite old. Taking Dr. Days example, I plucked off a small leafy twig to take with me. In the gift shop, I found lead reproductions of the cross found (supposedly) in Arthurs grave. It was so cool that Jake and I each bought one.
The Ashes introduced us to the Abbey teahouse for lunch. I had pork, stuffing, and apple pie. It was wonderful. Jake and I insisted on picking up the tab for the meal. Jake and I went to Chalice Well, right across the street from the Ashes by ourselves. The supposedly spiritual atmosphere cost 2L to get in and was overflowing with screaming children.
After the well we returned to the Ashes house for an interview. It went rather well, and we feel very good about the tape we made. Also at the house, they allowed us to use e-mail and they let me search for ammonite fossils on the property (I found several).
BRENT KNOLL / CAVE- January 12, 2000
Today was long and arduous. Jake and I woke up at seven and had a quick breakfast before heading out at eight. First we went up a hill called Brent Knoll. The trek up was through the thickest slush I have every witnessed, which reinforces my belief that the entire nation of Britain is built on mud and sheep dung. This hill is part of the Beacon Theory, which I dont think has much merit. Afterwards, we had an early lunch in Cheddar at the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company. We each bought a wedge of aged cheddar and had toasted cheese sandwiches with Sprite. Little Doward was our next stop, through the town of Monmouth. We drove up a small, one-lane dirt road until mud prevented us from driving any further. We proceeded on foot in search of Arthurs cave, the only site of the legendary sleeping king that can actually be found (or so we thought). Finding the cane actually turned out to be harder than we expected. We knew what side of the giant hill that the cave was supposed to be located, kind of. We did not know at what elevation to find it, so we had to wander up and finally down the hill before Jake stumbled upon it. As it started getting cloudy and dark, I began having Blair Witch type fantasies and was started our way back to the car.
Luckily our compass worked and we knew (generally) how to get back. We drove down to the Brick House outside of Newport. The house was very nice and the beds are the best weve had yet. The hosts use wonderful antiques to fill the house and they have a small bar with a fine wine selection (we had a bottle of Bordeaux). This is the nicest place we have stayed yet.
CAERLEON / CARMARTHEN- January 13, 2000
I did not want to get out of bed this morning. This inn was wonderful (I wish all the places we stayed were like this). Unfortunately we were only at the Brick house for one night. This morning we headed to Caerleon, the ancient, Roman legions. We walked around the amphitheater and barracks for a bit before I joined up with a kindergartens group tour. After they moved on I took the panoramic and we moved on to the museum. The museum of the Roman Legion was cool, as was the baths (very cool)!
We ate a simple lunch and headed on to Dinas Powys, another side in the beacon theory. I hope Jake didnt get mad, but after looking for a few minutes we gave up and headed for Carmarthen. In Carmarthen we took a few pictures of Merlins Hill and then started back on the road to Pembroke.
Our room at the High Noon Guest House is very nice. We walked into town and had a more expensive than usual dinner at the Kings Arms. We also had a few drinks more than usual, but everything was great.
ST. GOVANS / BOSHERSTON- January 14, 2000
Today we went to St. Govans Chapel. It is believed that Govan may be the same person as Sir Gawain. We drove out towards Bosherston and on to a military installation. Access to the chapel was via a military installation. The chapel was nestled between the seaside cliffs. It was jammed perfectly into the space between the rocky crags and cliffs. We even saw a seal swimming among the rocks and foam. Next we crawled into various caves and onto rocks and boulders. In the chapel (11th century) we found a cross and a seal set into the wall.
After we wandered up from the chapel, we ran into a group of older ladies. It turns they (15-20) ladies have lunch together every Friday and travel up and down the coast collecting money for cancer charities. Then we went to the lake at Bosherston, where Excalibur was supposedly thrown by Bedivere. We got some wonderful pictures and we were followed by a tiny little bird that we think was a titmouse.
We had lunch at a rugby pub and the owner was very cool. Then we went to some antiques stores. I found some pint glasses at a charity shop for 15p per.
LLYN LLYDAW / LLYN OGWEN- January 15, 2000
Then we went for dinner at a nice place that gave us two packs of coasters, which were very cool. We just finished watching My Fellow Americans on the telly, so Im hitting the sack.
We left Pembroke this morning and headed up the coast to Northern Wales. The drive was very long, but the scenery kept it interesting and every once in a while we would come in out of the hill for a few miles of sunny coastline. The roads were very narrow and I felt very nervous at times. Im surprised Jake hasnt gotten sick (since that first day anyways), especially after today. The winding roads into the mountains even made me a little disoriented. Then we rounded a bend and saw these incredible snow-capped mountains came into view. I thought we might be near our first site for the day, but then Jake told me we still had quite a way to go. This was the longest drive weve made yet; we didnt reach the site until 2 PM though we did hit the thousand mile mark today. Around Llyn Llydaw we started seeing a lit more cars. We realized that we had entered. Snowdonia National Park, a Mecca for British hikers and climbers. We paid 2L to park our car by a path and then headed up to see the lake. The hike was very refreshing after hours in the car. The air was dry and brisk and sheep climbed on the rocks along the way.
It took a while before we could see the lake but when we reached it the view was amazing. Rock and snow towered on all sides and the water was crystal clear (and quite tasty). We jumped around and played on the rocks, and I swear that I could see something that looked very sword-like at the bottom of one of the smaller ponds. Jake and I argued over which direction the blade was pointing who knows?
The second lake we saw just at sundown, Llyn Ogwen. Some very nice pictures of the lake and mountains here as well. We headed into Betws-y-Coed for the night. Oh, we were informed this morning that the place we had reservations, the Byrn-y-Gwynt Guest House, was having electrical problems, so they booked us at another B&B. We are now at the Bron Celyn House, not a bad place, but not en suite.
The town looks like a little ski resort town, lots of winter sports stores and the like. Oh, I finally got my Barbour jacket today. Very cool!
DINAS EMRYS / BARDSEY / GWRTHEYRN - January 16, 2000
Jake and I had a hard time getting up this morning. It seems weve been tired since we got here. I think some if it might be the altitude and the hiking. My shower this morning alternated between freezing and scalding. At least the cycle was consistent so I made progress when the water was starting to get hot and when it was just cooling off.
Somehow we managed to find Dinas Emrys, the site of Vortigerns last stand. Jake located the coordinates on the Ordinance Survey CD-ROM. We pulled off the road and had to jump a barbed wire fence with postings on it. A man in the field on a tractor saw us, but didnt seem to care.
We climbed the rocky crazy by following sheep paths all the way up. Given our hike, Ill say this would have been a very efficient fortress. At the top we found the ruined walls of two medieval buildings. I also found what could be the walls of a third building. Cut into the rock was a collecting pool for water (now severely overgrown). Once we figured everything out, it was pretty impressive, but at first we though we had climbed the wrong hill.
After that we drove to Nant Gwrtheyrn (Vortigerns Hollow). The infamous King is allegedly buried along a stream that rolls into the Sea. The hollow now lies in a ghost town (formerly mining) along the coast of North Wales. We drove down and wandered along the riverside but saw no forgotten tomb. The town would be quite scary by night.
The area around Nant Gwrtheyrn was terribly foggy, you could see maybe 20 feet in front of you (very dangerous along a rocky coast. We kept driving towards Bardsey hoping to find a place to eat lunch (it was after 1 PM). In Tudweiliog we found the only place open for miles. A good pint and hot meal warmed us right up. Few people were in the bar, but they all wanted to know about our research (every Welsh person has an opinion about Arthur.) One of the Welshmen we talked to exhibited a bit of his native tongue (Welsh) and told us he hadnt learned English until he was 5. Very talkative.
Down at Bardsey we parked and walked up a rocky hill to get the best view of the island, through the mist. Sheep dung covered every surface of the hillside.
Jake climbed down to an outcropping while I stayed in place to meditate or something. He ran down a good ways and says the pictures are great but I havent seen them. The computer was a great idea. With the camera we have already uploaded almost 500 pictures. The ordinance Survey Map on CD gets us perfect directions every time. Technology is wonderful. I started getting drowsy on the drive back to Betws-y-Coed, which in the mountains made me quite nervous. These roads are incredibly narrow (sometimes one-lane) and perilous.
At the B&B I hit my pillow fully dressed for a two hour nap before getting up for dinner and coming back for bed again. We got a fax from the girls tonight.
ROUND TABLE / LLANGOLLEN- January 17, 2000
I am so full. Jake and I ate at a nicer place tonight. We had a beer each, a three course meal, and split a bottle of wine. Jake can hardly breathe he ate so much.
This morning we headed north to see a rock formation known as Arthur's Round Table. Of course we had to climb a hill, but it wasn't bad. At the top was a field with sheep and two horses. We climbed a hill again, but things didn't look quite right, so we walked down to the other side. Looking back on the hill we recognized the formation was grassier than we had thought. Jake ran up to another formation, Arthur's chair, to get some pictures. I walked over to the horses and they came to me. One tried to eat my shirt, but overall they were polite. In Langollen we searched for the Pillow of Eliseg. We looked all over the hills behind this ancient abbey, but couldn't find it. Then we asked these people walking their dogs and they said it was just up the road. Lo and behold, we had ridden right past the sign; it was right by the road. We had managed to waste an hour looking for the all-too phallic monument.
After lunch we searched for Dinas Bran. I drove up a one-lane (really one lane) dirt road, and we thought we might get to the top, but the road didn't even come close. I stayed we the car while Jake ran up the hill/mountain to get some pictures--he made damned good time. By 3 PM we were on the road to Goose Green farm. We had a reservation mix up, but all is well. God I'm tired.
ALDERLY EDGE / PENRITH- January 18, 2000
This morning Jake and I had a great breakfast at Goose Green Farm. Today was the first time we were served with other guests at a single table. There was a funny older man who had some very amusing comments on our project.
The fog was pretty thick this morning. At Alderly Edge the flash reflected off the mist and ruined quite a few of the pictures. Luckily I could review the shots on the LCD and got better pictures sans flash. Without the digital camera we would have had no good pictures of the wizard carved on the rocky edge. (As a side note, we now have over 600 pictures stored on my computer.)
Trying to get from Alderly Edge to the motorway was quite a hassle. Somehow we missed numerous turnoffs and ended up lost in the suburbs of Manchester. After about an hour Jake got us back on track and we were headed north to Penrith. On the upside we did stop into a cool restaurant/Pub supply store and I bought some stuff for our bar: a brass drip tray and a three-bottle pourer for liquor). The drive to Penrith was terrible. I could barely make out three car lengths ahead of me at times. There we saw another Round Table, this one an earthen work circle/ditch/mound over 4,000 years old. We ate at a pub across the street and then drove to a castle, which was closed, so we took a few pictures of the exterior and headed on to Carlisle.
We reached Carlisle with plenty of time to check out the main pedestrian shipping district. We looked in a few antique stores to see if we could find anything interesting, but nothing came up. Before dinner we went to an Internet café connected to our hotel. I was writing Laura an e-mail when the front desk told me I had a call. I talked to Laura for a while before I told her that I would have to get back to her. Jake and I finished e-mailing and then got a bite to eat before calling the girls back. Jake and I alternately took showers while the other was on the phone so that we could have a little privacy. We've only got one week left. I hope we can make the best of it.
CAMBOGLANNA / DRUMELZIER- January 19, 2000
We got out this morning at 9:00--not bad, and a little before 10:00 we got to Camboglanna (aka Birdoswald), a Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall. This fortress was also used after Roman withdrawal and is the northernmost candidate for Camlann, where Arthur and Medraut fell. It was fascinating to rebuild the fortress in my head. There are many recognizable elements even in its fallen state. There was a granary with raised floors for air to circulate and prevent silo explosions. We got plenty of pictures along the wall and of three relatively well preserved (recognizable) entrances.
The fog was horrible again today. At one point we could only see maybe 15 yards in front of the car. This made photographing the wall difficult, but the results are really quite interesting. As soon as we hit Scotland (maybe ten miles in) the fog suddenly dropped back and the bright sun shone. The rest of the drive was wonderful and clear. We reached Drumelzier and realized that we probably wouldn't find a place for lunch in town. There were about 8 houses and three hundred yards within the city limits.
Following Ashe's directions from the guidebook, we went down a hill behind the church, hopping an inactive electric fence in the process. We were looking for a thorn tree along the burn (small stream). We took pictures of a few before we found a tree with a fence and a sign. We didn't expect anything that official in such as small town, especially considering the creative tactics we've had to use elsewhere. After lunch in a larger town we headed up to Edinburgh through some nice countryside, except for the roadwork. I have never encountered as much roadwork in a year as I have seen in the last two weeks. It is a real hassle. Jake reserved us a great place right outside of town. We have a room overlooking a beach on the Firth of Fourth. We took a bus into town, but we didn't really buy anything, just scoped out the streets for checking out later. Tomorrow we got to Glasgow to see Dumbarton Castle.
DUMBARTON / STIRLING- January 20, 2000
I had a very hard time getting out of bed this morning. I got up a full half-hour after Jake. We got on the road at 8:30 AM. By 10:00 we had arrived at Dumbarton Castle. All that we could see was Medieval Remnants and walls, but it was very cool. The castle stood on two small mountains side by side. On the drive back to Edinburgh Jake took a picture of the Livingston, Scotland welcome sign. Then, on a whim, I turned off on the exit towards Sterling. I figured we could have our first free day on our tour tomorrow. Tomorrow will be the first day that I have not driven, once we got here. What a relief, tomorrow a bus driver will chauffeur will escort me around throughout the city.
In Stirling we took a picture of another supposed Round Table, later incorporated into a tiered garden known as the King's Knot. We had to walk through the cemetery at the Church of the Holy Rude to get a picture from the mountain above the trees. We ate lunch in a nice little coffeehouse down the street from the castle. I ate 2 sandwiches, grilled bacon and cheese and an egg mayonnaise (salad). I am going to have a heart attack.
Over lunch we decided, hell, if we're this far up we might as well drive to St. Andrew's. We reached the Old Course a little after four as the sun was beginning to set. We got a few good pictures of us on the course before going into the Pro Shop. I got a book for my brother Win with pictures and descriptions of the course (a late Christmas present). My paternal grandfather was an avid golfer and tried to get up to St; Andrew's on a trip to England before his death; his train broke down so he never actually made it, but I bought him a ball marker. If heaven is the way he would want it I'm sure he could use it.
The drive back wasn't bad. We rested, wrote a fax to the girls, and headed to a nearby Italian Bistro (wonderful food). We also enjoyed a bottle of wine and added another scotch (single malt) to our list. We walked back to the B&B along the beach (the low tide goes out so far) and as I prepare for bed the window is open. The waves make me a little bit homesick (but not much).
EDINBURGH- January 21, 2000
Today was fabulous. We woke at a leisurely 8:00 this morning. We started out walking up the hill and down a street to a few Charity shops. I got a pewter mug with an antler handle for my brother William. We caught a bus into town and went into a few stores. At 11:00 we arrived at the Scotch Whisky Heritage Center. Before the tour started we each got a dram of whisky. The group with us consisted of 5 Japanese businessmen. The tour started with a description of the process, then a tour of a model distillery (miniature), and then a lesson in blending. The final part of the tour was a semi-animatronic tour through the history of scotch production.
Afterwards we went to the scotch bar and joined the Scotch Whisky Appreciation Society for 5q. We got a dram from each of four production regions. The only one I had a time with was the Islands Malt, they are known for being very strong and oily tasting. The best was from the Speyside region. The rest of the day we spent going into shops. I found a wonderful pin for Laura, made by a master silversmith; a noble admirer once gave the Luckenbooth breech to Mary Queen of Scots. There was a gold and diamond ring, but I opted for the silver brooch (out of modesty).
We returned to the Italian restaurant that we ate at last night for an early dinner. The owner was very nice and thanked us for our patronage. With all the wine and whisky of the day, I think I'll probably sleep pretty well tonight.
BAMBURGH / BATTLES- January 22, 2000
Today we left Scotland. The weather was relatively good today, with a bit of light rain. At Bamburgh, the wind was blowing something fierce. Unfortunately the castle was closed. Jake was more disappointed than I was. The castle was huge, restored early this century by Lord Armstrong. A lady Armstrong still lives in the behemoth, but opens it up for visitors in the spring and summer. Too bad.
We walked around behind the castle to the beach. The wind was burning my face with sand and salt spray. We could lean forward without falling on our faces. The tide was out, but a thin sheet of ripping water blew across the flat sand over our shoes. The next two sites were not as exciting. We found Yeavering Bell on the River Glen, a potential for Nennius' Glein. We took a picture of both the hill and the river, but didn't care for the mile hike from the road. At High Rochester we first pulled into this tourist trap thinking that it was our site. After paying 2.50L and looking at a reproduction Dark Age homestead we realized our mistake and headed up the road though a military installation. The fort was in no way marked, but we found a hill with low stone walls around it in a circle and another one forming a small room. This is our best bet so we took plenty of pictures.
To break the monotony of driving, Jake has been reading from an old edition of Sherlock Holmes that he bought recently. The mysteries are great, as the limited selection of tapes is growing old. Tomorrow I am driving us down to Oxford and he'll probably finish up Doyle, but he's bought some others too. We are skipping York because I wanted to get to a place and take another break. I'm sick of driving. So well spend two nights in Oxford before heading down to Gatwick and home.
YORK / OXFORD- January 23, 2000
We are no longer bound by our itinerary. Tonight we are in Oxford, but I doubt that we will have spent any time exploring the oldest English University before we set off again. Tomorrow I believe we will set off for Dover, possibly going back up through Coventry first (Jake wants to see the Jaguar plant). In Dover we plan to see the chapel where Gawain's supposed skull was displayed as a relic in the Middle Ages. On our drive back up to Gatwick (our last day) we will try to visit Canterbury.
Today we had three run-ins with the law. In Sewing Shields we walked out this morning to load up the car and discovered that we had received a parking ticket over night. I had tried to park like everyone else on the street, but obviously I had missed some subtle order to the other cars. I plan to ignore it and hope it works itself out.
We went to the ancient walled city of York today to visit the Cathedral and eat lunch. The church was lovely and really the first we had explored that was still standing. We had figured that parking was free on Sunday since we had seen a man park and walk off. When we returned to the car after lunch we were getting another ticket. I talked to the cop and he thanked us for visiting and told us not to worry about it.
The final COPS moment came when we were pulled over while looking for lodging in Oxford. The woman asked if I owned the car and I told her that it was rented. She explained that she could not read our tag because of the caked dirt and grime. Jake and I had been aware of this for days, and were secretly very proud of the compliment on our filth collection. We promised we would clean it first chance and she helped us find our B&B. It is late and I have to get up at around 6.
CANTERBURY- January 24, 2000
This morning I drove Jake up to Coventry to see the Jaguar plants. We first went to the Engineers Plant, but we couldn't get in. They sent us into Coventry proper, to the general plant. At the gate the guard told us that we could probably join the 10:00 tour (an hour wait). We of course decided we didn't have the time to take a full tour. So he took some pictures and we started the drive towards Canterbury.
In Canterbury we ate lunch, and then paid our way into the Cathedral. The Cathedral was beautiful. We saw the spot where Sir Thomas Beckett was martyred. We also saw the tomb of the black prince. I said a short prayer and wrote a prayer to be placed on the altar for the next service. We drove around to the B&B we had chosen.
For dinner we couldn't find an open pub that served dinner, so we had to get food at a fish and Chips take-out. I had chicken nuggets and we drank the rest of our jug of cider that we bough in Cheddar. We mixed it with some sugar and Famous Grouse scotch, which we have named a Pendragon. It is a pretty good drink. It might be my new specialty. Tomorrow-- Dover.
DOVER- January 25, 2000
Today we almost went to France. We woke up and had breakfast in Canterbury. By 9:00 we were on the road to Dover. Jake read another Sherlock Holmes story on the way over. When we got to Dover the castle wasn't opened yet so we went to the cliffs. We had to climb down from one path to another because we didn't care to find where they met. I wouldn't recommend trying to climb on frozen chalk, there is damned little grip. We got some good pictures but on the way back the ice had melted into a muddy chalk slush, which stuck to our boots (and clothes) like nothing else. Afterwards we went to the castle and scammed our way in with a 7-day expired pass. It's nice saving money. We went to the church within the fortified walls believing it to be the former resting place of Gawain's supposed skull. I took 8 or more pictures from inside and out before we headed into the keep (or castle proper).
Inside the castle we discovered a chapel that more closely fit Ashe's description, the Thomas Beckett Chapel. I took a few pictures, but we didn't find out that it was the right one until we ran into an employee of the site. Even he was unsure, but figured the royal chapel to be the site of any relics during the Middle Ages.
After this we thought it would be cool to go over to France for a few hours so we drove to the Chunnel depot. The price for a round trip was over $150 so we decided that we were content eating a lunch with beer rather than wine. We ate in the town of Ashford and wondered the main market street before heading up to Gatwick.
Jake got the perfect place to stay. We are maybe six blocks from the airport. We checked in and then cleaned out the car, bringing everything up to the room. For the next hour we figured out how to pack all of the stuff we picked into our bags. I think we can manage it. After packing we went to a nearby pub for dinner. We drank plenty to make up for weeks of sobriety. I had a snakebite, which is 1/2 porter (Guinness) and 1/2 cider (blackthorn). It was excellent. Last night we created the "Pendragon" which is 1 part scotch, 4 parts cider. Damn that's good.
WHAT A LONG STRANGE TRIP ITS BEEN- January 29, 2000
Ever since I got back I have woken up before 8:00 each morning. I'm having no problem adjusting back tot he time except for the nuisance of continuing to wake up early. I've been showing off my digital pictures and some of them are incredible. I lucked upon some great photos, but my favorites are of St. Govan's head and Stonehenge.
It took a few minutes to adjust to driving back on the right side of the road, but I'm doing ok. In a bit I'm heading up to Birmingham. Jake and I are going to meet Laura and Lark at the airport from their return to Italy.