Llanberis and Snowdon
This is the day I was kidnapped. On Monday, September 3, I took the train from London to Bangor, Wales. When the train got near Conwy, it was running just above the beach and the ocean waves. When I arrived at the Bangor station, I called the Barron car rental office where I had a car reserved and they said they would come and pick me up. A man drove up in a car and got out. It was a large sedan and he was having trouble keeping it running. He motioned for me to get in and I said “Barron car rental?” and he answered in the affirmative. So I put my luggage in the trunk and got into the front passenger seat. I asked him again whether he was from the car rental office and he again answered in the affirmative, although I had some difficulty understanding him with his accent. We drove through town and I could see by the signs that we were headed for the next town of Caernoffen. I said that the car office was in Bangor and he seemed to say that there was also an office in Caernoffen. He pulled into what looked like an industrial operation with assorted outdoor storage and stopped the car and got out and told me to follow him. A man in the second story window above us started talking to the driver in Welsh. The driver now realized he had the wrong passenger.
The driver asked me for the phone number of the car hire company and called them and agreed to take me to Bangor to Barron’s office. The people at the car company thought that the whole thing was hilarious, that I had a special tour of Caernoffen and they did not charge me the extra fee for the pickup. After all the formalities and forms, I drove out of the parking lot working hard to remember to drive on the left. The direction lady on my phone helped a great deal as did the many roundabouts and signs. My problems started in my destination town, LLanberis, where I made a wrong turn into a secure facility and had to do a three point turn to get back out. I stopped at a parking lot to take pictures of the beautiful lake and the rugged mountains behind it. Following the phone instructions, I turned into town and immediately came to a barrier for road construction and was forced to drive up the hillside into the residential part of town on streets not much wider than my car. I called the hotel and the woman on the phone helped me find my way.
The Dolafon guest house was a lovely, large old house recessed back from the street. My room was a large attic room up three flights of stairs with a bath but no shower. It turned out to be a great location in the small mountain village convenient for what I wanted to do, with a small grocery next door and a pub across the street. Immediately after checking in at the guest house, I walked two blocks to the mountain rail station for the train ride up Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. I generally have a rule that I don’t climb mountains that you can drive up or ride a train up. I asked the women at the counter when the next ticket would be available, and she said that I could buy a ticket for the last run of the day at 5:00 pm. I had time to kill, so I walked from the Dolafon on the main street into the village. A few blocks down the central main street were restaurants, a laundry, which I needed after two weeks of travel, and several outdoor shops. At one of the outdoor shops, I bought a hiking guide and some more socks. This was clearly a village catering to hikers and climbers. I bought a cone at the ice cream shop and back at the station, I bought a beer in the restaurant.
I got on the train, which was a cog railway. We climbed through a bit of forest and by a waterfall but were soon above the trees. A stark mountain landscape surrounded us, with sheep scattered over the grassy meadows and steep peaks above us. At places the train was above vertical cliffs and below were creeks and lakes shining in the late day sun. Near the top, I could see the sunlight shining on the sea beyond the mountains. After climbing for about 45 minutes, the train stopped at the top by the visitor’s center and café, and I climbed above a short distance to the summit which was a small, circular area about twenty feet in diameter at 3,560 feet above sea level. On top, the wind was very strong and the 360 degree views were incredible. Then, we enjoyed a beautiful descent as the sun dropped in the sky down into the mountain village.
The Carneddau and the Glyderau
O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep,
On Tuesday, September 4, I drove from Llanberis over Pen Y Pass to Llyn Ogwen. Llyn is a Welsh word for lake. The Welsh, like other peoples, claim King Arthur as their own and some say that his sword was thrown into Llyn Ogwen. This day, I intended to hike the high Carneddau loop starting at Llyn Ogwen, a hike of about eleven miles with an elevation gain of over 3,000 feet. I parked on the shoulder of the busy road across from the lake and asked other hikers to make sure the parking spot was legal. From there, I started a long climb through steep open country following a stream until I came to a basin containing a lake called Ffynnon Lloer. However, the trail did not go to the lake but instead circled around the foot of the high ridge above me and began climbing up a very rugged trail over boulders. At one place, I had to put my poles in my pack for a short, hands and feet scramble. The trail continued to climb steeply up to a high point called Pen-yr Ole Wen.
From there, I started a long walk along the Carneddau ridge , and as I did, clouds streamed in from the west, and I was soon walking in the dense fog of the clouds. The trail on top of the ridge was relatively level and easy and, except for in a couple of places, I had no trouble following it. Even when I got a bit off the trail, into wetter terrain just below the top, I corrected by working my way back to the top of the ridge. I had seen a couple of people ahead of me climbing to the ridge, but now, I was alone and could see no one else. It was an eerie feeling walking by myself in the clouds, but I was comforted by the ever present sheep.
The clouds were coming from the west so I couldn’t see any views in that direction. I was sure the views would have been out to the ocean. I ascended to another high point, Carnedd Dafydd. Further on, the ridge narrowed and I was sure there were dramatic drop offs which I couldn’t see on either side. Views of the basins and valleys below on the east side, from where I had climbed, appeared and then disappeared into the clouds. I sat by the trail to eat my lunch, and when I started again, I ran into a group of seven people. I asked them if they were a group and they told me they were a fellowship group from Lancashire hiking for the day. The leader asked me where I was from and I told him. He said he could tell I was not from around there. I asked him: “How can you tell?” They were doing the same loop but in the opposite direction.
From there, I began to ascend to Carnedd Llewelyn, the second highest point in Wales, named after a famous Welsh prince. At the top, I was completely in a cloud. I descended the eastern ridge and was soon in sunshine. I slowed my pace and explored the ridge and stopped to take pictures of the wonderful scenery on the east side. With some scrambling over boulders, I descended to a saddle where I had trail options. I could scramble an exposed trail section to a small summit or I could descend to another lake below. Instead, I took a very narrow and rough trail that followed the contour across the face of the peak. I soon came back to the main trail which descended the ridge through very grassy pastures. At a junction, I took a side trail in the direction of the car. I descended into a pasture densely population with sheep. I came to a gate which was padlocked, so I had to climb over it. I was apparently somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. I followed a trail by a canal and had to step over a short wire fence. There by a macadam road, I found a sign telling me to go down on the road to the highway. When, I got back down to the valley bottom, I looked back at Carnedd Llewelyn where I had hiked in the clouds, and it was now clear with blue sky above it. Oh well.
Back in Llanberis, I bought a pint of ale at the grocery which I drank while I took a very nice warm bath in my attic room. I went across the street for dinner at the pub and had a nice Welsh Cottage Pie, which was a beef stew with a crust composed of mash potatoes and cheese.
On the next morning, I drove back to Llyn Ogwen to hike another loop hike in the Glyderau. This would be a six mile hike with just under 3,000 feet of elevation gain. It turned out to be quite a bit more challenging than that sounds. It was mostly overcast when I started my climb from the lake with the well-constructed trail following a stream with small falls. I climbed steeply up to a stone wall and climbed over the wall on triangular ladders. Above the wall, I was a bit lost in a large grassy area with a lake. Possibly, I took the wrong trail at an intersection, but I spotted the trail continuing up the ridge and walked to it through the tall grass. I climbed steeply up the trail to the top of Glyder Fach where there were distant views to the east and west and over the peaks to the sea. By the time I summited, the sun was out and it was very clear. On top, teeth-like boulders formed interesting rock sculptures.
With all the rocks on the top, the trail was not clear and I walked forward and backtracked several times. I came to a large, fantastic formation called Castell y Gwynt, Castle of the Winds. It was clear I could not go around the formation on the right where there was a drop off. I tried going around the left on a rough trail that went steeply down, but I needed to continue on the ridge beyond the Castle and the trail did not appear to be going that way. I saw others scrambling over the Castle. So I went back to it and tried to scramble over it. I scrambled up the rocks to a point where climbing became too technically difficult and then carefully scrambled back down. Going back around the left, I scrambled down the steep trail and came to a grassy area where I could see the trail continuing up the ridge to the top of Glyder Fawer, the third highest point in Wales. As I climbed, I passed a number of interesting, sharp rock formations. From the top, I could see back to the Carneddau and Carnedd Llewelyn where I had climbed the day before. I could also see the top of Snowdon, where I had ridden the mountain train. I could clearly see Llanberis, far below by the large lake.
The descending trail started gently following a series of cairns. Soon, however, the trail became more steep and difficult with switchbacks on a trail covered with loose, fist-sized rocks. Climbing down proved to be slow and difficult. I descended down into an area known as the Devil’s Kitchen, an area with interesting rock formations and rugged terrain. The trail appeared to disappear over the edge of the Devil’s Kitchen, and at the edge, I could see the trail drop vertically. The trail was constructed of boulders of various shapes and sizes and many were slanted. At one point as I descended, I had to drop my poles and scramble down boulders. At a couple of spots, I had to descend seated on my rear end. The trail reminded me of the climb Sam and Frodo had to undertake, except I was going down. It was slow going. I came down behind a couple about my age who were struggling. They had only one pair of hiking poles between them. My poles proved to be essential, keeping my balance on the very steep and rugged trail. Eventually, I got down to a place where the trail became wide and more level and paved with boulders. The trail went around and above beautiful Llyn Idwal. From the end of the lake, it was an easy descent to the car.
The snack bar in the visitor’s center at the trailhead was closing, but I managed to snag a very American diet coke. Back in Llanberis, I had dinner at the Pub and ate a nice, creamy chicken pie with a flaky crust; that was with the two most common sides of chips (french fries) and peas (washed down, of course, with a pint of British ale). It had been a difficult, exhausting and very satisfying two days of hiking. That evening, I had some difficulty going up and down the three flights of stairs to my attic room.
Caernarfon, Conwy, and the Great Orme
On Thursday, September 6, I drove to the town of Caernarfon. It was not a long drive on good roads and was no trouble out in the countryside. In town, it was more difficult because the roads were narrower and not well marked, but I found the parking lot below the castle. It was still raining and a bit early to go in the castle, so I used my umbrella and visited the shopping area in the center of town. Soon, I entered the castle and began exploring. There was a large courtyard inside and from there, I climbed into the castle and up to the higher level. I walked completely around the castle on the upper levels and climbed a number of towers using spiral stairs, reminding me of the towers in Tuscany. On the top of the towers, above the roof, I had to use my umbrella to protect my camera from the rain. From one tower, I could see the whole castle, the town and the river and bay beyond with many boats.
Caernarfon Castle was constructed under the direction of King Edward I of England as a part of his efforts to conquer Wales. The English constructed a number of castles starting at Conwy. The famous castle builder Master James of Saint George designed the stone castles and supervised their construction. The construction of Caernarfon began in 1283. Edward I’s successor Edward II was born in the castle and became the first English Prince of Wales. In 1294, Madog ap Llywelyn led a Welsh revolt against the English, took Caernarfon Castle, and nearly destroyed it. The English later retook the castle and rebuilt it. The investiture of Charles, the current Prince of Wales, took place in Caernarfon Castle in 1969. The medieval castles in north Wales are all part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I saw a film on the castle and went through several large rooms in the castle with displays describing how they were used. The royal family stayed in the castle and there was a space where the church had been and a large area for the kitchen. There was a museum to the Welsh Fusiliers, including a display on their role in the American Revolution, and they had some not so nice things to say about General Washington.
After touring the castle, I drove back to Llanberis and walked a bit in the rain, stopping for a sandwich and cappuccino in a busy coffee shop near the guest house. After lunch, I took a nap in my attic room. When I woke, the sun was out and there was blue sky out the window. So, I went for a walk around one end of the lake and ended up at the ruins of Dolbadorn castle with its small tower. From the ruins and the tower, I had great views back over the lake. From the castle, I kept walking to the posh Royal Victoria Hotel where I stopped for a pint of ale. That evening I splurged with reservations at the higher end Pike Restaurant where I ate Thai fish cakes, gnocchi carbanora, and a toffee tart with ice cream.
The following morning, I drove to Conwy. Most of the drive was on a freeway which was easy driving, but again driving in the town was more difficult with roundabouts, narrow streets, and cars parked in the drive lanes. I first visited the Conwy castle, another castle built by Edward I, which was not as well-maintained as Caernarfon but was interesting with beautiful views from the towers to the town and the surrounding hills and estuaries. The castle had a chapel with stain glass windows. The cook rooms were on one side of the castle and on the other were the royal residences. Underneath the residences was the dungeon.
The nice lady at the castle admission center persuaded me to buy a double ticket for a couple of pounds more to allow me to tour Plas Mawr, a house in the town from the Elizabethan era. The house has been reconstructed inside to recreate Elizabethan life with authentic plaster work, antique furnishings and even food on the tables and in the kitchen. The first floor had a large room for greeting people along with a kitchen and brewery. On the second floor, I found the master bedroom of the aristocratic owner, a small room for his man servant, and his wife’s room. The large main room of the house, used for feasting and entertainment, with colorful plaster work and beautiful furniture, was on the second floor. The headset program featured actors playing the part of Elizabethan residents.
In the main room, I talked with a staff woman about historic preservation. She knew surprisingly little about American history. She had just discovered Lewis and Clark, and I told her a bit about the American Civil War. She mentioned the English Civil War, and I informed her that the English Civil War was also fought in Virginia. We talked about Trump. She didn’t know that he isn’t popular in the United States but thought that everyone liked him. Plas Mawr had the best gift shop I had seen in Britain and I bought dragon earrings for Karen and music CDs for myself. Next I walked a bit in the town and on the old stone walls around the town where I had great views. I stopped for fish and chips which seem to be the thing to do in Conwy.
I next drove though Deganwy and Llandudno to the Great Orme Country Park, which is a large headland park jutting into the sea. The park has a large pasture with many sheep, surrounded by stone walls. The views of the coastline and the sea were heart-stopping beautiful from high on the uplands under broken clouds and sunshine. I decided that Great Britain is basically a large sheep pasture from Scotland to Wales and from the top of high peaks to the sea with people who are friendly and even-keeled with a delightfully understated sense of humor.
London is a city of flowers and monumental stone, of great words and heroes.
I arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport in the morning on August 20 after an overnight redeye flight having had just one or two hours of sleep. Some members of our walking group were with me and together we found our way to our hotel via the Heathrow Express train and the Tube. We had to immediately figure out the ticket machines for the Tube but it wasn’t so difficult.
After storing our luggage at the hotel, Leslie and Kathy and I took a walk to Hyde Park. To get to the park, we walked through the higher-end Earls Court neighborhood with rows of townhomes and through commercial areas with shops and stores. We specifically noticed the Ferrari dealer as an indicator of affluence. At the park, we started by admiring the Albert Memorial with its beautiful sculpture and golden statue of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s much loved husband. Prince Albert died of Typhoid Fever, an infectious waterborne disease common in the 19th century, in 1861 at age 42. Victoria remained in mourning and wore black the rest of her long life. The memorial was completed in 1876. Across Kensington Road from the memorial, we admired the Royal Albert Hall, the large round concert hall, opened in 1871 and constructed mostly of red brick with neoclassical architecture and friezes. It too, was dedicated by Victoria as a memorial to her prince.
It was a nice, partly sunny Sunday and there were many people in the park. I noticed that in portions of the park the grass was mown but in other areas it was left in a more natural, unmown condition. We walked through the South Flower Walk in Kensington Gardens and enjoyed its beautiful flowers. We continued on to the Serpentine Lake where it was crossed by the stone Serpentine Bridge which was constructed in the 1820s and then to the Princess Diana memorial fountain, a roughly circular stream of moving water, in which children were playing on this warm Sunday.
Next, we visited the Victoria and Albert Museum. On the way, we passed the Royal Geographic Society with its sculpture of Ernest Shackleton. Leslie and I agreed that he was likely our favorite explorer with his unsuccessful trip to Antarctica but with his incredible adventures and success at saving his team. We didn’t explore all the exhibits at the V & A Museum but instead enjoyed its public spaces and architecture. Mostly it is a late nineteenth century brick building with industrial and neoclassical motifs but also with some interesting postmodern structural elements added on the front. The large courtyard was full of people with children playing in the parabolic water feature. We rode the tube back to the hotel and that evening we had our first English meal at Lilly’s near the hotel. I had a vegetable pastry with Yorkshire pudding and gravy and, of course, a nice pint of cask ale.
On Monday, we rode the tube to the Hampstead area of London. Adam, a friend of Kris Ashton who lived in London, met us and walked with us through the neighborhood describing what he knew about the area. We walked through commercial areas comprised of shops, restaurants and pubs in old buildings. Adam told me that Hampstead was originally a separate village overtaken by the growth of London. We passed a very old pub and arrived at a central square where, on the corner, there was a coffee shop which had once been a book shop where George Orwell had worked. There was a marker memorializing Orwell. Kris had cleverly given us each an assignment of a person’s name to research and talk about briefly when we arrived at the appropriate location. I had drawn Orwell’s name and talked at this location a bit about the great essayist and novelist. I provided some aphoristic quotes which seemed appropriate given the situation at home.
A people that elect corrupt politicians, impostors, thieves and traitors are not victims, but accomplices.
Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.
In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
We continued to walk into the residential portion of the neighborhood with its Georgian, nineteenth century and older homes. We came to the Keats house and Kris had assigned a couple of people to talk about Keats. They talked about Keats and read some excerpts from his poetry. Keats was one of the great romantic poets who lived in the house from 1818 to 1820 and composed some of his best poetry while living there with his friend Charles Brown. In the summer of 1818, Keats and Brown walked through northern England, Scotland and Wales but had to cut the trip short because of a severe sore throat. He died in 1821 in Rome of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five. Keats is known for his sensuous and monumental poetry, but he also wrote:
Give me women, wine and snuff
You may do so sans objection
Till the day of resurrection;
For bless my beard they aye shall be
My beloved trinity.
During those two years, this house in Hampstead must have been an interesting place to visit.
We walked on to Hampstead Heath, which is large open space park famous for its high hill overlooking the city. It was another large park which, like other London parks had natural areas with in it, including large areas of unmown grass and forestland. We walked by the lovely Hampstead Ponds which reflected the old townhomes beside it and then climbed Parliament Hill. From the top of the hill, we had a grand view of old London down to the Thames. In the center of the view, stood the postmodern Shard with Saint Paul’s Cathedral next to it with its grand dome. It was hard not to notice all the construction cranes in the view. London gives the impression of being vibrantly prosperous.
From the hill, we walked through the dense deciduous forest with its great diversity of tree species. We walked through a large, open park area to arrive at the Kensington Mansion where we stopped for refreshment. We walked from Hampstead Heath to the old Spaniards Inn where we had lunch. The Inn was built in 1585 on a tollgate boundary and the old tollgate building is still located across the road. It is sometimes said that Keats wrote Ode to a Nightingale at the Spaniards Inn and Dickens wrote about it in the Pickwick Papers. Kris read the section of the Pickwick Papers describing the Inn and we had a nice lunch of well-prepared pub food.
From the Inn, we rode on top of a double decker bus to another commercial area and walked steeply downhill to Highgate Cemetery, and walked through the stone gate and between chapels to a courtyard where we met Neal, our guide for a tour of the cemetery. With Neal in the lead, we began climbing into the cemetery. The cemetery is a place of mournful celebration with sometimes elaborate and beautiful death monuments engulfed in intense vegetation. There are many stone angels in Highgate, some are sculpted as in mourning while others are shown joyful for the entrance of the soul into eternal life.
Most of the graves are from the Victorian era although new graves are still being inserted among the densely packed burials. Neal described the cemetery telling stories in a very entertaining manner with jokes and laughs and winks. He explained that cemeteries were places you could laugh in celebration of the lives of those whose bodies were now interred in the graves. Neal described the symbolic nature of the monuments: the many urns partially covered with carvings of fabrics represented the release of souls contained within. The stone wreaths represent eternal life. Highgate celebrates life and death as the solemn monuments gradually decay and are swallowed by never ending green riot of life.
Neal told us many stories about the graves. At one mausoleum, he told a long story about a lesbian writer and her two conflicting lovers. Despite her inclinations, the writer had written disparagingly about gay and lesbian practices. Neal said he didn’t favor such disparaging terms, but didn’t mind being called and “old queen,” which he said he was. He also told us that he was against Brexit because he favored immigration to Britain as long as the immigrants worked hard. He showed us the graves of immigrants who had worked hard. Today, as in the past, you have to be wealthy to be buried in Highgate. He said that today a grave in Highgate cost 20,000 pounds.
After the tour, we visited the newer portion of the cemetery and found the grave of Doug Adams, the author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Kris had assigned Leslie and Stacy to talk about Adams and Leslie talked while Stacy cleverly acted out the narrative in pantomime. We next found the boldly monumental grave of Karl Marx and the assigned people talked about Marx. In bold gold letters, the grave read “Workers of All Lands Unite,” and there were a number of flower bouquets and tokens left on the grave of Karl Marx.
On the tube ride home, I left the group to visit Camden Market which a guide book had said was the top “alternative” tourist stop in London with its large outdoor market. Unfortunately, when I arrived, the outdoor market was closed. Generally, in Britain I found that, except for restaurants and pubs, commercial activity stopped by 5:00 pm. The commercial area and shops in Camden were obviously geared toward the interests of very young adults and many of the young folks there were relatively outrageous with their punk tattoos and fashions. I immediately escaped and walked a half a mile to Regents Park which was another lovely, very large park. I visited flower and sculpture gardens, found the nearest tube station and managed to find my way back to the station near our hotel. I ate dinner with some of the group at the Atlas which was a Mediterranean restaurant, with its façade covered in Ivy, where I had a nice, spicy penne dish.
On Tuesday, August 21, we took the tube to Westminster Abbey. This grand, gothic cathedral is one of the great religious buildings in Britain but also a key center of English culture and history. Under overcast skies, we spent some time admiring the details of the building. Like most great cathedrals, one views it a section at a time without necessarily grasping the totality from the outside. It is easier to see it all from the inside and we entered the enormous space and used audio headsets as our guide. The inside was highly ornate with its gothic arches and gilded sculptures. The primary activity in the Cathedral appears to be viewing the graves of kings and queens and other heroes and artists. I located the graves of the great scientists Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. I found the tomb of Elizabeth I to be particularly grand and was interested that she was entombed above her half-sister and rival Mary I. I enjoyed seeing the grave of George Frederick Handel who wrote Water Music, one of my favorite compositions, well designed outdoor music with bold statements and flowing movement, composed for George I so that there could be fitting music for a royal celebration along the Thames River. Handel’s grave was in the poet’s corner where a number of writers were buried including Chaucer and Dickens. I spent some time finding the grave of Edward I whose castles I would be visiting in Wales. After visiting the Abbey, we boarded a train for Bath.
On Friday, August 31, after visiting Bath and walking the Dales Way, we returned to London and the rest of the group left for home or other places. I spent a sunny and warm weekend on my own as a tourist in London. On Sunday, I started by going to the British Museum which was another large, neo classical building, but on entering, I found the large, dramatic hall of postmodern design spiraling around the central structure. At the morning opening, tour groups were already crowding the beginning, Egyptian exhibit featuring the Rosetta Stone, so I went to an exhibit on family associations in Polynesian and Australian cultures and down into the African exhibit where I was impressed by the intricately carved art and designs which have had such an influence on modern art and design. Then I toured the South and East Asian exhibits and was impressed with the varied collection of Buddhist art.
Then finally, I toured the Egyptian, Assyrian and Greek sections with their uniquely monumental art. I found the Assyrian section to be particular unique because I had never seen such a large collection of art from ancient Mesopotamia. The sculptures were very large, intricate and representative of the gods and kings they depicted. There were also large guardian statues, winged beasts with human heads. I blitzed quickly through the Greek collection with its sculptures from the Parthenon. I suppose much of this collection probably came to the museum in a legitimate manner, but I couldn’t help but think that these were the spoils from the conquest of the British Empire.
I found the exhibits on ancient Britain to be the most interesting and most relevant to my trip. They included artifacts from the Bronze and Iron ages and from the Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods. The Sutton Hoo exhibit was particularly impressive, whose items were from an Anglo Saxon ship burial from the 6th or 7th centuries. The famous Sutton Hoo helmet is particularly beautiful.
I next took the tube to Trafalgar Square which was full of people listening to some talented street musicians. After photographing the square and St. Martins in the Field Church, I went into the National Gallery where I saw several nice Botticelli painting and one by Leonardo. The collection of low country art was quite large and again was something new for me. I particularly liked the Vermeer paintings with their special light and clarity. I also enjoyed the dramatic Turner seascapes.
Back out in the square, I went into the large Waterstones bookstore which was very well stocked and I walked from the square through the Admiralty Arch and onto the Mall which was closed to vehicle traffic on Sundays, and to the lake in St. James Park. The park was full of people on this sunny Sunday. I walked on to Buckingham Palace, which was surrounded by a tall, ornate fence. In front, there were many people on the steps of the Victoria Memorial with its gilt bronze angel and large statue of Queen Victoria. From the palace, I walked into Green Park with its carefully arranged, large trees. I rode the tube back to my hotel and my small efficiently arranged, “ethical” room and then ate fish and chips at an old pub around the corner.
But my peak day in London was certainly Saturday, September 1. I took the tube to a stop near the Millennial Bridge and after asking for directions, walked onto the pedestrian bridge across the Thames. From the bridge, I had a great view of the Thames water front in the morning light including views of St. Paul’s Cathedral. I arrived at the Tate Modern Art Museum for its 10:00 am opening and toured the free galleries which contained art from Monet to abstract expressionism, avant-garde sculpture and electronic art. I enjoyed the surrealism including Breton, Dali and Magritte and the pop art, including Russian pop art.
I had a ticket to see the Picasso 1932 exhibit and entered the rooms with a headset with an excellent descriptive program. The exhibit included all the work Picasso did in 1932 when he was fifty-one years old. During that year, Picasso was preparing for a show and worked in a range of styles and media, including oil painting, sculpture, charcoal line drawings and ink. He created series of works following themes like the woman in the red chair. As the series progressed, he experimented with styles. There was so much production in so many styles it felt like the work of a team of artists. It gave me a new appreciation of the artist and his enormous imagination and work capacity. It was quite a trip into the mind of a master.
After the Tate Modern, I had a vegetarian pizza for lunch which was very nice with its Italian-style fresh crust and while I ate, I admired the view of St Paul’s and the northern shore of the Thames.
At 2:00 pm I had a ticket to see Othello performed at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, a wooden structure built like the original. I sat on the second level balcony and watched the performance which was energetic and passionate in the old style with simple props. At several points, the cast broke into singing and dancing. This great tragic play really has a simple and somewhat absurd plot. With my hearing limitations, I could not hear everything that was said but could easily follow the story and could appreciate the depth of the words. Mark Rylance, a highly regarded stage actor, recently seen in Dunkirk and Bridge of Spies, gave an amazing performance of Iago, highly mobile and very entertaining. Tony and Oscar winner André Holland played Othello with great strength.
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well,
The theatre was open to the sky and much of the audience was standing in front of the stage. As they likely did in the Elizabethan era, the actors interacted with the audience shaking hands or pointing or winking. Late in the performance I sat in the sun and became quite hot. At the end of the play the cast came out singing for their final bow. It was clear the audience greatly appreciated the performance, and not completely realizing the intensity of the experience, at the end, I was surprised to discover tears running down my face.
After the play, I walked on the Thames through the postmodern reconstruction of the commercial riverside and across the old Tower Bridge and by the ancient Tower Castle to the Tube. All along the way there were crowds of people enjoying the beautiful day by the River.
On Tuesday, August 21, after visiting Westminster Abbey, we rode a train to the World Heritage City of Bath. We visited the main square next to the beautiful Bath Abbey. Small stone angels climb the ladder to heaven while a few go the wrong way. With some spare time, I went to the Henrietta House where we were staying, a guesthouse in an historic Georgian townhouse with lovely antique rooms, built in a curved row of townhomes, which with the other three quadrants formed a circle. To get there I crossed the Avon River on the Pultney Bridge, an old stone bridge with the crossing enclosed by small shops. Leslie and Cathy and I walked through the old mansion containing the Holbourne Museum and into the Sydney Gardens, a lush park with a beautiful canal running through it.
We next visited the Roman Baths. The Baths were built by the Romans between 60 and 70 AD on the site of thermal springs which were likely sacred to the local Celtic people, who at this site probably worshipped the mother goddess Sulis, possibly the goddess of the sun. The Romans combined Sulis with their goddess Minerva, the goddess of wisdom. The Romans dedicated the Bath temple to Sulis Minerva. One of symbols of Minerva is the owl and around town we saw colorful, modern owl sculptures.
The actual baths are surrounded by various English structures including a museum built in 1889. We toured the modern interior of the museum with a good audio program and viewed a great variety of Roman artifacts from the site and the area. There were many coins which were often offerings to Sulis who was known to help recover stolen objects or curse the thieves. Tablets have been found with requests of the goddess.
Solinus to the goddess Sulis Minerva. I give to your divinity and majesty [my] bathing tunic and cloak. Do not allow sleep or health to him who has done me wrong, whether man or woman or whether slave or free unless he reveals himself and brings those goods to your temple
Hot water rose up from the limestone aquifers below and into a main pool which we saw bubbling. The Romans did not bathe in that pool because it was a sacred place of the gods. Instead they engineering an intricate plumbing system which brought the water into the bathing pool and into hot, lukewarm and cold water rooms. The site includes ruins of the Roman temple and a sacrificial altar, and the museum displayed portions of the triangular pediment from the top of the structure onto which the museum projected color to show how it originally looked. The temple originally had a roof which was 100 feet high at its peak.
That evening we went to a pub known for its pies called The Raven and I ate a nice chicken pie.
On the Wednesday afternoon, after visiting Stonehenge in the morning, a group of us walked all over Bath. We started by visiting the Austen house where Jane Austen lived and wrote for a period of time. We saw a presentation on Austen and toured the site with various period furnishings and artifacts from Jane’s life and a life size figure interpreting what she may have looked like. Then, we climbed further into Bath and visited the circular structure of townhomes at the Circus and the long, curved structure of townhomes called the Royal Crescent. Bath is known for its beautiful and livable urban fabric with narrow streets and simply designed buildings of two to three stories. The Royal Crescent and most of the buildings in Bath are constructed with honey colored limestone called Bath Stone. Most of the buildings were built in the 18th century in the Georgian style and in all, there is a pleasant uniformity to the city broken by the hillside topography and the beautiful Avon River. From the Crescent, we continued to climb looking for views and then descended to a pub for pints and through the Royal Victoria Park and down to the central commercial area where I ate Pad Thai at a fancy Thai restaurant.
It is impossible today to say what Stonehenge was or how it was used. There are in fact hundreds of henge structures from the Neolithic period scattered around the British Isles. Most were constructed in at least a roughly circular pattern and most were enclosed by a ditch and embankment. It is likely that most were constructed in locations that had significance to the people over time and they likely were used to create special places separated from the common world. Stonehenge was located in a much larger “ritual landscape” where there are burial and ceremonial mounds, constructed linear features and other henges some of which were constructed before Stonehenge. Below the surface on Stonehenge and the other features in the area, various artifacts are found in large numbers, including stone tools, pottery and animal bones, which may have been the result of offerings or feasting. Also, found are various types of human remains.
We arrived at Stonehenge on the morning of August 22. We had ridden on a bus through the beautifully open Cotswold Hills, where we spotted a prehistoric white horse engraved into the side of a hill. Arriving at the Stonehenge complex, we left our bus to get on another shuttle to take us up onto the bleak Salisbury plain to see Stonehenge. There were many people there walking on the circular path around the site. You can no longer enter the actual Stonehenge, but we had been given audio sets that provided a great deal of interesting information.
Stonehenge was constructed in phases between 3,300 and 2,400 BC with the ditch around the site likely being the first phase. The ditch may have been six feet deep at one time. Ancient post holes are found throughout the site suggesting that various structures constructed from large timbers played an important role at Stonehenge over time. The ancient people appear to have begun placing standing stones on the site in its early phases. Although a southern entrance was present at various times, the primary entrance appears on the northeast aligned with sunrise at the time of the summer solstice.
There are two types of stones at Stonehenge today, the large sandstone sarsens which were quarried locally and weighed up to 50 tons and the smaller bluestones which likely were brought to the site from Wales from quarries approximately 180 miles away. After visiting the site, we enjoyed the small museum in the visitor's center and the reconstruction of what the homes of people looked like.
Stonehenge and the surrounding area were obviously a place where many people gathered for significant social, political or religious occasions or events. Some believe that Stonehenge was a pilgrimage site and that people may have visited it from substantial distances. The teeth from a man in one grave in the area show that he had grown up in Germany. Like modern pilgrimage sites, Stonehenge may have been a place of healing. On this day, there were many people from all over the world at the site.
Archeologist Francis Pryor believes that Stonehenge was a sacred place for ancestors and the dead. Stonehenge is linked to an ancient travel way, following natural features and with construction predating Stonehenge, which archaeologists call “the Avenue,” linking Stonehenge to the Avon River. Pryor believes that another very large henge complex a few miles away, called Durrington Walls, was a place for the living, with its wooden structure and surrounding village. There are more signs of activity at the Durrington Walls site, and it could have been a place for feasting and funereal celebrations after which the body would be taken to the nearby Avon River and transported to Stonehenge for funeral rites. Then the body would be buried in the barrows and mounds which can be seen all around Stonehenge or perhaps cremated and deposited on the site. A common ritual activity appeared to be placing cremated human remains in the ditches. It is also quite likely that Stonehenge was used for a variety of events and occasions under conditions of changing religious beliefs. Also, it is important to understand the various construction projects at Stonehenge were themselves major ritual events with large numbers of people coming together for a common purpose. Stonehenge could have also served political functions; religion and political power tended to be closely linked in ancient times. Imagine how impressed another tribe might be if you brought them to Stonehenge to establish an alliance. Construction and use of Stonehenge likely ended by 1,500 BC.
On Thursday, August 23, we took a train from London to Ilkley. That evening, I went into the All Saints’ Church and viewed the ancient, stone Saxon Crosses from the 9th century that were originally a part of older churches which had been on the site. The next morning, we walked down to the stone bridge over the River Wharfe where the Dales Way walk begins. The Dales Way runs 82 miles from the southern end of the Yorkshire Dales National Park to Bowness-on-Windermere in the Lake District National Park. Our Colorado Mountain Club group, led by Kris Ashton, was taking seven days to complete the walk. The trail was relatively level, following the river, and we experienced what would be a constant along the Dales Way: walking through pastures full of sheep.
In the morning we walked through the graveyard of the old stone church near the village of Addingham and went into the church. Inside, the organist was practicing what sounded like a Bach prelude. I always loved listening to preludes and fugues played on church organs and was momentarily transported. We talked with the organist and I asked him what he was playing. He said it was Mendelsohn who in fact did compose a small number of organ works. We walked on close to the river and through stands of trees and soon walked around the simple, but beautiful Fairfield Friends Meeting House. We went inside and admired the simple benches and large wooden ceiling beams. It was one of the early meeting halls for what became known as the Quaker movement and a sign outside said that it was among the “top ten” sites for religious belief in England.
We continued walking through the rural countryside in a valley with steep hills on either side. We soon spotted stone ruins ahead which were the Priory at Bolton Abbey. Originally, it had been an Augustinian monastery half of which was destroyed in 1540. The remaining half continues to serve as the local parish church. A man outside the church told me about his favorite window and I went inside and enjoyed the stained glass. Outside, I took pictures of the ruins. We had lunch in a tourist facility in a stone building. Walking along, we soon found ourselves in the Strid, a wooded section of the Wharfe River famous for its dangerous and deadly rapids, and there were signs warning against trying to cross it. The Strid is actually an ecologically important area preserving a diversity of deciduous trees and native flora. It is a lovely forest along the river.
As the forest ended, we came to the Barden Aqueduct crossing the river which still transports water, and we walked across the river on the path on the top of the aqueduct. We took a side trip to Appletreewick past a campground densely packed with tents. It had become cold and rainy so we looked forward to stopping at the Craven Arms Pub, but it was so crowded that we decided to go ahead and walk to our destination for the day, Burnsall. Our entrance to the stone village of Burnsall was very scenic across a large, open meadow and a stone bridge. We arrived at the Red Lion Inn an historic stone building. For dinner at the Inn, I ate fish and calamari and a fried, hard-boiled pheasant egg surrounded by black pudding.
In the morning, we started out from Burnsall. As we were waiting to start walking, Leslie said “Onward, onward Christian soldiers,” and I started walking with that awful hymn, which I sang so many times growing up, ring in my brain. In our hiking circles, we call a bad song playing in your head while you hike an “earworm.” The remedy that usually works for me is to think of a Beatles song to replace the earworm. At breakfast, there was a framed poster on the wall for a local school festive in 1868 which described the various activities that would occur at the event. It reminded me of the story about John Lennon, who was inspired by an old circus poster he had to write Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite which turned out to be a great walking song to play in my mind.
For the benefit of Mr. Kite
There will be a show tonight on trampoline
There were a number of people on the trail as we walked, and as we passed, we said, “good morning” over and over. That made me silently take up another song.
I've got nothing to say but it's okay
Good morning, good morning, good morning
In popular music, there is nothing more British than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
We continued this fourteen mile day walking by the river to Grassington where we went into the National Park visitor’s center. Outside the center, I met a family from Wales who were with two boxers. We talked about our boxers and what great dogs they were. We agreed that they were a misunderstood breed since many people appeared to think they were scary, but we agreed they were a beautiful, happy breed. Their male boxer was very large and quite handsome. We talked about Wales and I told them I was going there and asked them which castle to visit. They said to definitely visit Conwy.
Grassington is a lovely stone town and we spent time there visiting the shops and the central square where there was a Saturday morning outdoor market underway. Kris told us we would be out in the open countryside at lunchtime, so I bought a chicken salad sandwich and a fruit flapjack, the British name for a cookie bar, to put in my pack.
We next climbed steadily through the town and into the open pastures above, which were divided by stonewalls. We were learning that we would constantly be going through gates in the walls or over the walls on ladders. We climbed and crested hills where we lost views of civilization except for the walls and the sheep. We stopped for lunch in a broad ravine area surrounded by high hills and then climbed up to a high point where we passed an old stone lime kiln.
We had talked about having an hour of silent hiking on this day and at lunch the group decided that this would start after lunch, but no one told me, and I was embarrassed when someone had to tell me to be quiet after we started to walk. At this point we were in high open country and had endless vistas for miles. We climbed until we reached the Conistone Pie formation which is a rock formation shaped like a round mushroom. Climbing on top, we had 360 degree views of the surrounding valleys. As we walked silently, the puffy white clouds were moving across the sky projecting changing shadows onto the landscape below. The silence allowed me to focus on my hiking mantra from Nepal, Om Mane Padme Hum, and I soon reached a state of mind that was both serene and ecstatic with the glories of the place.
From there, we descended into the Kettlewell where I visited the church and had a pint in the pub. From Kettlewell, we took a cab ride with a pleasant Scottish driver to Hubberholme and the George Inn where we spent two nights.
On Sunday morning, August 26, we rode with our Scottish cab driver Gordon from Hubberholme back to Kettlewell. We walked in the rain along the river through very green pastures over walls and through gates. We walked through the small village of Starbotton and on to Buckden where I had a nice steak and ale pie for lunch at the hotel pub. Back to Hubberholme, we visited the church across the street from the George Inn. Kris gave us the assignment of counting the mice carved into the pews by the “Mouseman of Kilburn.” In the evening, we had Sunday dinner at the George Inn. I ate roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with an apple crumble with custard topping for desert. Cathy read a section of l All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot, a veterinarian who wrote about life in the nearby Yorkshire countryside. The inn keeper, Ed, entertained us with his dry English humor.
The next morning we started walking from Hubberholme in the cold rain. We walked through flat pastures, along the Wharfe River. As we continued to walk, buildings declined in number until there were very few left. We passed a home called Oughtershaw Hall and began to climb away from the river up a side valley and into the high moors. We walked on wet, grassy trails up to the Nethergill Eco Farm and into a large building where we were offered hot tea and a homemade flapjack. The couple who owned the farm described how they were conducting sustainable farming. They were planting thousands of trees on the hillsides and working to create and maintain habitat for diverse wildlife. I told them about the American approach using conservation easements but that approach is dependent on our taxation system.
From the farm, we walked along the contour of the hillside on a very soggy and somewhat muddy trail crossing small streams running down from the moors above. We walked on up the valley to Cam House, another collection of stone buildings where we stopped at a picnic table in the intermittent drizzle to eat our packed lunches. A young man came out of one building dressed in camouflage pants. He had recently come from Scotland to serve as the gamekeeper for the Cam House estate. His main job was killing foxes and vermin, which killed the grouse and other birds, using traps and a rifle with a night scope. The owner of the property brought people one week of the year to shoot grouse.
From Cam House, we decide to take the alternative high route climbing steeply up a paved road onto a high ridge above the valley. From the top of the ridge there were grand views of the undeveloped valley and open lands in all directions and of distant high hills with their tops covered in clouds. After walking along the ridge, we reached a marker and the high point on the Dales Way at 1,900 feet above sea level. From the top, we descended into the high moors on a trail called the Ribble Way. It was not raining at this point but remained overcast as we crossed the dark, brooding moors. We descended on the trail to a busy road and crossed it at an intersection and began to descend towards the Dee River. We spotted the beautiful Dent Head aqueduct below and when we arrived at the aqueduct, we admired its enormous arches. We walked along the Dee River which was dark and beautiful with rapids. Just before we arrived at the Sportsman’s Inn, where we spent the night, we saw a line of ten small mole carcasses hung on barbed wire. At the Inn, the bartender told us about grouse and mole management. Farmers who specialize in mole management, in competition with others, like to display their catch. The Bartender told me that the trout had been removed by the government from the Dee. Apparently, this has been done to promote the populations of native fish, especially salmon.
On Tuesday, August 28, we walked on from the Sportsmen Inn and Cowgill along the River Dee, through and over many stone walls and past many sheep and cattle and a few horses. It was cloudy most of the day but without rain. We climbed at one point perhaps 100 feet above the river for some nice views, and then we descended back to the river and into the quaint village of Dent. We visited the churchyard and found the monument to the local nineteenth century vicar Adam Sedgewick, one of the founders of modern geology. We had learned in the villages to not all crowd into one pub if there were multiple choices, and I had a quiche for lunch with chips that seemed to be served with just about any meal. After lunch, we again walked along the river. We walked around the back of a mansion called Gap Manor past its old beautiful but decaying stone gate. Climbing around the back, we could see the large buildings below. We hiked up through the beautiful Gap Woods with its large, widely spaced deciduous trees, and as we climbed, we had extensive views of the valley below. Soon, we could see the more substantial town of Sedbergh below and had a nice descent into the town past stone homes, the well know Sedbergh School and into the large town center. My notebook was running out of pages and I needed a new one, but it was nearly 4:00 pm and the stores were closing. Only the Sleepy Elephant was open, which sold both books and outdoor gear. So I bought a lovely small notebook and a pair of socks. The notebook had a cover with art from a Japanese lacquer box. I stayed in a large, antique room in Daleslea, a guest house in a large Victorian townhome. With some of our group, I had pasta and a nice glass of wine at an Italian restaurant.
It was raining the next morning when we started walking from Sedbergh. We took a short cut out of town climbing up through the southern edge of the Howgill fells, which gave us some fine views of the countryside. As we started to descend, we saw glimpses of blue sky and by the time we took a break in a large pasture by the River Lune, we were in sunshine. As we rested, we spotted what was likely a heron across the river. As we continued, we passed under the impressively enormous, Victorian Lune Viaduct. We spent the rest of the day walking up and down through forests and pastures near the river and past stone houses and thousands of sheep, many cows and some horses, including miniature horses. We walked over the busy M6 highway on a bridge. It was difficult to navigate at times and we had to walk on country roads, single file, on the right. After a long day of walking, we arrived at Burnside an hour and a half before we were to catch a train to Kendall. So in Burnside we went to a pub for pints and ate fish and chips from the small shop next door. Finally, we took the train to the large town of Kendall where we walked for almost a mile past shops and restaurants to our hotel.
On Thursday, August 30, we took a cab from Kendall back to Burnside and started our last day walking on the Dales Way. The day before, we had left the Yorkshire Dales National Park and today we would enter the Lake District National Park. We started our walk along the River Kent through beautiful country to the Village of Stavely where we bought food to put in our packs for lunch and had a long break in a coffee shop where I had an extended chat with Peter, a local primary school teacher. We talked about the British medical system, which he said was good because it is universal. He also said that it was not perfect because rural areas sometimes lacked medical resources. We climbed out of the village into remote countryside where we had views back over the flowing Pennine hills we had been walking through. Ahead, the landscape was not smoothly flowing like before but much more rugged as we entered the Lake District. We stopped in high rugged terrain to eat lunch. From the high point, we descended to a stone bench with a sign marking the end of Dales Way. From that place, we overlooked enormous Windermere Lake and the large town of Bowness-on-Windemere. After taking pictures and celebrating, we descended into the tourist town which was packed with people.
In Bowness, we stayed at a nice old hotel and I walked into the main shopping area and went in an outdoor gear store which was having a closeout sale and bought more socks and a couple of shirts. I struggled to find a place to take pictures of the lake and finally took a couple of shots on a floating pier. We had a fine meal at a restaurant that specialized in food from the area. I had a delicious pheasant dish.
The next day, we traveled back to London in first class on a fast Virgin train. First class was a new experience for us and we were served complementary sandwiches, snacks and drinks. The Dales Way had been a magical experience, a full-on taste of the rural Yorkshire countryside, its historic stone villages, and the friendly people along the way.