Thursday 10 September
Our last day in Europe as Lilly’s Schengen Visa allows us only 90 days and that is up tomorrow. Catch the X95 bus just along from our apartment and make the airport about 11am. From the heat of Athens (down to around 30 today) to the cool of Edinburgh.
Our first EasyJet flight worked fine and we get into Edinburgh after a 4 hour trip at 4pm. First impressions of the city of Edinburgh are very positive. It is sunny and warm. Our apartment in North Bridge Road is beautiful, functional and central. Bit later we get supplies, the sun has gone and we need our jackets. Settle in for a quiet evening of TV with all stations in English, even if some of the accents are a wee bit different.
Friday 11 September
We visit the Tourist Centre and get a map and effectively confirmation of want we plan for today. Sort out the location of Europcar for tomorrow, then leave the station at Calton Road and climb up Calton Hill. Quite a climb. This hill contains iconic monuments and buildings: the National Monument (redolent of the Parthenon), the Nelson Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument, the old Royal High School, the Robert Burns Monument, the Political Martyrs’ Monument and the City Observatory. Lilly snaps away. We enjoy panoramic views of the city, including down the length of Princes street (the main shopping thoroughfare) and Edinburgh Castle.
St Andrews House is on the southern side of Calton Hill and is the headquarters building of the Scottish Government. It stands on the site of the former Calton Jail apparently a much hated prison 100 years ago.
We walk down through Regent Gardens to see a little turreted structure called the Bath House because it is supposedly where Mary, Queen of Scots, used to bathe in sweet white wine.
At the Palace of Holyroodhouse I enquire about ticket prices – a little more than Stg 20 each or almost A$100 for the two of us, a bit steep Your Majesty. I suggest to the ticket girls that those prices must be inclusive of a cuppa with the Queen, one of them says chip in another fiver and I might get lucky. We take photos from the outside only, sorry ma’am.
Mightily impressed by our next stop at the Scottish Parliament. Free entry and a great presentation of historical events and the devolution of powers to the new parliament since 1999. Unfortunately parliament does not meet on Fridays. Shows how little I knew of Scottish history that I did not realise that Scotland had no parliament from 1707 to 1999. It can now decide on a range of matters that are known as devolved matters but certain reserved matters remain the responsibility of the UK Parliament alone (bearing in mind Scotland has 59 representatives there). Reserved matters include foreign affairs, defence, immigration, social security and financial, although Scotland can also apparently change taxes by up to 3p in the pound.
Further up the Royal Mile we visit the Museum of Edinburgh which houses a collection relating to the town’s origins, history and legends. Watch an excellent film on the history of Edinburgh. On the other side The People’s Story explores the lives of Edinburgh’s ordinary people at work and play from the late 18th century to today. We don’t visit here nor John Knox House, former residence of the Protestant reformer John Knox during the 16th century. Knox was a leader of the Protestant Reformation and is considered the founder of the Presbyterian denomination in Scotland.
After lunch and a break our next stop is St Giles Cathedral, is the principal place of worship of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. The present church dates from the late 14th century, though it was extensively restored in the 19th century,
At the top of the Edinburgh Castle we find the esplanade where the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is performed annually by British Armed Forces, Commonwealth and International military bands and display teams.The event takes place annually throughout August, as part of the wider Edinburgh Festival.
In the castle itself we take a guided tour. Not always easy to hear the guide. There has been a royal castle on the rock since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. By the 17th century it was principally used as military barracks with a large garrison. Various restoration programs have been carried out over the past century and a half and the site is the most visited by tourists of anywhere in Scotland.
Edinburgh Castle was involved in many historical conflicts from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century to the Jacobite Rising of 1745. Research undertaken in 2014 identified 26 sieges in its 1100-year-old history, giving it a claim to having been “the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked in the world”. St Margaret’s Chapel within the castle dates from the early 12th century and is regarded as the oldest building in Edinburgh.
We make our way down a steep street past the National Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy to Princes Street. Also take pics of the Scott Monument, a Victorian Gothic monument to Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. It is the largest monument to a writer in the world. We enter the iconic shop Jenners briefly but don’t stay long, we are not in shopping mode.
A block over from Princes Street we see St Andrew Square began in 1772 as the first part of the New Town, designed by James Craig. Within six years of its completion St Andrew Square became one of the most desirable and most fashionable residential areas in the city. At one time the square could claim to be the richest area of its size in the whole of Scotland. There is a huge monument to Henry Dundas who was key in the encouragement of the Scottish Enlightenment, in the prosecution of the war against France, in opposing the abolition of slavery, and in the expansion of British influence in India, dominating the affairs of the East India Company.
Saturday 12 September
It is probably a typical Scottish autumn day, cold, wet and gloomy. We pick up our Ford Focus rental, no dramas, trying to remember we are now back to driving on the left. Most of the road signs I can understand and the traffic is not so chaotic.
First stop is the other side of the firth of the Forth, which is the estuary of the River Forth, where it flows into the North Sea. The adjacent rail bridge, which is 2,529 metres long and 100 metres high, was the largest cantilever span in the world when it opened in 1890 and is today a World Heritage site. The Forth Road Bridge is a suspension bridge which opened in 1964. It replaced a centuries-old ferry service across the Forth. We stop for photos of these two massive bridges but it is foggy and they are not good. Construction has begun on another bridge, following the discovery of potentially serious structural issues with the Forth Road Bridge.
We stop next at the Wallace Monument, a tower standing on the summit of Abbey Craig, a hilltop near Stirling. It commemorates Sir William Wallace, the 13th-century Scottish hero who was one of the main leaders during the Wars of Scottish Independence. He defeated an English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. Later following his defeat at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298 he was handed over to King Edward I of England, who had him hanged, drawn, and quartered for high treason and crimes against English civilians.
It is cold and raining when we get to Stirling Castle and we take pics from the outside only. Besides parking the admission fees are just too steep anyway. Also we have seen many castles (including Edinburgh’s yesterday) on our long journey. Apparently it date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and has been the site at which several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned, including Mary, Queen of Scots. There have been many sieges of Stirling Castle, with the last being in 1746, when Bonnie Prince Charlie unsuccessfully tried to take the castle.
What is it about Scotland that their admission prices are just way over the top? Having travelled extensively in Europe for three months Lilly and I have some idea of what is reasonable in the context of the attraction, particularly its historical significance. Stirling castle admission in our view should be a maximum Stg 5, parking free.
We travel on to the Falkirk Wheel which is the rotating boat lift, connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. The lift, named after the nearby town of Falkirk in central Scotland, opened in 2002. It reconnects the two canals for the first time since the 1930s as part of the Millennium Link project. The wheel raises boats by 24 metres, but the Union Canal is still 11 metres higher than the aqueduct which meets the wheel. Boats must also pass through a pair of locks between the top of the wheel and the Union Canal.
We travel through the city of Glasgow, which is Scotland’s largest city with a population of 600,000. The traffic is bad for miles before the city. We take photos but don’t stop as we drive through the central city and on to Lanark. We book into our B&B at the Lanark racecourse accommodation (basic but comfortable) to get changed out of our wet gear. Then drive to New Lanark a couple of kilometres away.
It has stopped raining but is now almost 4pm a bit too late to go on a guided tour of this village on the River Clyde. New Lanark was founded in 1786 by David Dale, who built cotton mills and housing for the mill workers. The mills were built here to take advantage of the water power provided by the only waterfalls on the River Clyde. It became a successful business and an epitome of utopian socialism as well as an early example of a planned settlement.
The mills operated until 1968. A trust was formed in 1974 to prevent demolition of the village and by 2006 most of the buildings were restored and the village is inhabited and has become a major tourist attraction. It is one of six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Scotland.
We wander around and end up viewing most of the site, including the Counting House (like a Head Office), an original dwelling in one of the buildings and the machinery that is still being used to produce wool after blending/teasing, carding, spinning, winding, plying and hanking. Caithness Row was completed in 1793 and converted into 16 housing association flats in the late 1960s. When it was first constructed it housed up to 200 families. We see where a canal has been diverted to power the mill. There is also a wedding group below at one of the original mill sites, proof of tenanted homes in this very impressive village.
Sunday 13 September
Today we leave early and head off for first stop at Peebles and from there on to Selkirk. We are taking the secondary roads which are often very narrow and winding but we are driving through the beautiful countryside of the Scottish Borders. It reminds us of New Zealand except for the stone fences and the homesteads. At Selkirk we try to find the tourist information centre. It is closed. We keep going to Hawick and then into England to Kielder where we stop for a snack. Driving around Kielder Waters we cross the dam for photos of the area. I think we are in the Northumberland National Park which is the northernmost national park in England. It covers an area of more than 1,030 square kilometres between the Scottish border in the north to just south of Hadrian’s Wall.
There is not much traffic on the roads. Drivers are very courteous and careful particularly compared with the French, Spanish, Italians and Greeks. In some of the cities of Southern Europe the traffic is chaotic and margins are small. Here folk don’t rush for the gaps and driving is enjoyable. I have to be careful about getting back on the left after driving for so long on the right.
Our main objective for viewing today is Hadrian’s Wall erected at the direction of Emperor Hadrian in the years after 122 AD. It was possibly a defensive fortification against the barbarians to the north or an expression of Roman power or it could have simply been erected to exercise a degree of control over immigration, smuggling and customs. It had a stone base and a stone wall. There were milecastles with two turrets in between. There was a fort about every five miles. From north to south the wall comprised a ditch, wall, military way and vallum (another ditch with adjoining mounds). It is thought that the milecastles were staffed with static garrisons, whereas the forts had fighting garrisons of infantry and cavalry. It stretched from coast to coast about 125 km. We track the wall along a bit. There are walkers everywhere. We stop at two or three places to photograph the remains of the wall. The mortar from about 1900 years ago is still hard. Did they use wheat flour, soil and water here? Whatever, on the walls we examine it is still hard.
Later we turn south to Alston in the North Pennines. This little town is surrounded by a unique landscape of moorland, hills, rivers and waterfalls. It is one of England’s highest market towns, being about 1,000 feet above sea level. With its cobbled streets and fascinating nooks and crannies it has been the location for ITV productions of Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist. We reach our accommodation about 2km out of the town at Nenthall. It is still raining, we don’t go out again, have quite a tasty dinner in the hotel bar.
Monday 14 September
We leave Alston and take the Hartside Pass to Melmerby. It is raining a little and foggy, not a day for photos. Pity because on clear days there are apparently beautiful views over the surrounding area.
Mainly today is another day through the beautiful North England countryside, narrow lanes and small villages. It clears a bit as we go. Through Penrith (where Lilly gets some bread and chicken for lunch), Caldbeck, Uldale, and then round the north end of the Bassthenwaite Lake. We struggle to find our accommodation, it has no sensible address and the co-ordinates are wrong. It is a farmhouse on the west side of Derwent Waters, is comfortable and functional, except the WIFI isn’t up to it.
After a break we head into Keswick. There is a huge crowd in the main street so we park to find out what all the interest is about. As we get to the edge of the crowd we see half a dozen guys walk into the centre of the crowd. This is Walk for the Wounded in support if soldiers wounded in Afghanistan according to a local. They are walking 1000 miles around England. The crowd has been waiting three and a half hours, we waited about 30 seconds, good timing for a change. Prince Harry is involved in supporting them but is not walking today. Much later they are welcomed back into London at a reception at Buckingham Palace.
We drive down Lake Road to Derwent Waters where we take a walk for about a km along the lakeside. It is a beautiful area but it starts raining again and we head back. The water is very cold but a couple of young women are in for a swim. We overlook Derwent Island which has a bit of history. Previously owned by Fountains Abbey, then by the Crown, then the Company of Mines Royal. In 1778 Joseph Pocklington bought the island and built a house, boathouse, fort and battery, and Druid circle folly on the land. Pocklington held regattas at which he fired off his cannon. Henry Marshall purchased the island in 1844. We do not swim across to the island.
Tuesday 15 September
Today is another countryside day. We leave our farmhouse accommodation on the west side of Derwent Waters and travel through Portinscale, Keswick and Ambleside stopping first at Coniston at the head of Coniston Waters. This lake is relatively small at only 8km long with a maximum width of about half a kilometre. It is calm and tranquil and we take a short walk around the top of the lake.
Half way down the lake is the site of Donald Campbell’s fatal accident in 1967 while trying to break his own world speedboat record. He had done 297mph on the first run and had apparently got to about 320mph on the return run when his boat Bluebird lifted out of the water and somersaulted. I still remember the images of the boat flying through the air. Campbell’s’ boat and headless body were only recovered about 35 years later.
We travel on through the beautiful area of the Lakes District to Hawkshead Hill, Hawkshead, Windermere, Ings, Staveley and Kendal. We re-set to go through Marthwaite, Sedburgh and Garsdale stopping at Hawes. For about half an hour we wander around this pretty village stopping at the local museum and browsing the street shops.
We take the minor roads through the Yorkshire Dales almost avoiding villages. I think we see Bainbridge, Askrigg, Low Row and Richmond some of them possibly areas and others we missed on blinking. The road is narrow and winding, in places little more than a goat track. For about half an hour we cover a really desolate high area – I presume this is no longer the dales, probably the moors, pink heather abounds. There are dales, but I am at the mercy of the GPS and this is fantastic countryside and views. We meet only two cars, both are a bit of a pinch, in one case I reverse to provide room. Lower down stone fences are everywhere, higher up there are cattle grids periodically, presumably that denote farm boundaries.
Then travel north through the Bishop Auckland area and skirt Durham to find our hotel in Hett Hills.
Wednesday 16 September
Before leaving Durham we visit the Durham Cathedral founded in AD 1093. The cathedral is regarded as one of the finest examples of Norman architecture and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with nearby Durham Castle. The cathedral occupies a strategic position on a promontory high above the River Wear which almost encircles it. From 1080 until the 19th century the bishop had military as well as religious leadership and power. The present cathedral was designed and built under the first prince-bishop appointed by William the Conqueror in 1080. Since that time, there have been major additions and reconstructions of some parts of the building, but the greater part of the structure remains true to the Norman design.
After spending some time on the cathedral we try to get into Durham Castle which was built about the same time as the residence for the Bishop of Durham. But the castle is now occupied by the University College and is available only for pre-organised tours by groups. The seat of the Bishop of Durham is the fourth most significant in the Church of England hierarchy, and he stands at the right hand of the monarch at coronations.
Drive through Hartlepool stopping for pics at the beach then through an extensive farming area before arriving in York early afternoon. We decide to go see the sights so we take the car to a central city park and set out for the city.
First stop is the magnificent York Minster which is the cathedral of York and is one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe. The minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the second-highest office of the Church of England. The first Christian church on the site has been dated to 627 and the first Archbishop of York was recognised by the Pope in 732. A stone Saxon church survived Viking invasion in 866 but was ransacked by William the Conqueror’s forces in 1069. William appointed his own Archbishop, Thomas, who by the end of the century had built a great Norman cathedral on the site. The present Gothic-style church was designed to be the greatest cathedral in the kingdom. It was built over 250 years, between 1220 and 1472.
Not far away is Treasurer’s House, a house restored to its present grand state by a wealthy local industrialist. The first Treasurer for York Minster was appointed in 1091. He was controller the finances of the Minster but also entertained important guests, the reason why he was provided with a grand residence.
Since Roman times, York has been defended by walls of one form or another. To this day, substantial portions of the walls remain, and York has more miles of intact wall than any other city in England. They were originally built around 71 AD but by the time the Danes occupied the city in 867, the Roman defences were in poor repair and were then restored by the Danes.
We go looking for the Holy Trinity Church which is difficult to find even having a map. It is hidden away behind the shops fronting the street and accessible by a gate on to the street that we were lucky to find. And lucky to get in because we were late and they had closed up. One of the two gentleman opened up for us and gave us a five minute rundown and time for photos. It is one of the city’s special churches, in existence by the late 11th century, the present building dates mainly from the 15th century. This is the only church in the city to have retained its box pews. The high sides protected worshippers from draughts and gave them some privacy during the service.
The Guy Fawkes pub is where Guy Fawkes was born. He and four co-conspirators were all to be hung drawn and quartered for their treason. Apparently Guy Fawkes either slipped on the ladder as he was about to be hung or climbed too high and died immediately, thus being spared the agony of being drawn and quartered.
Thursday 17 September
After another substantial full English breakfast we head to Beverley Minster the Parish Church of St. John and St. Martin in Beverley. John, bishop of York, founded a monastery on the site where Beverley Minster stands. He died in 721 and his body was buried in a chapel of the Saxon church. He was canonised in 1037. The present church was built around his tomb. Building work began in 1220 and was completed in 1425. Not surprising that it took 205 years to complete as this is one of the finest examples of Perpendicular design, the twin towers of the west front being a superlative example. These towers formed the inspiration for the design of the present Westminster Abbey.
We drive through Hull and over the Humber Estuary at the Humber Bridge. The bridge is 2,220-metre single-span suspension bridge, which opened to traffic in 1981. It was the longest of its type in the world when opened, and is now the seventh-longest. Its enormous and carries an average of 120,000 vehicles per week. The toll is only Stg 1.50, the first toll we have had to pay in the UK.
We head for the hills of the Lincolnshire Wolds but they are only bumps. Notwithstanding that somewhere cross-country around Nettleton and Caxby we get good good views of the surrounding countryside. It is all farming, sheep, cattle and cropping.
In Lincoln we pass under Newport Arch, the name given to the remains of a 3rd-century Roman gate. It is reputedly the oldest arch in the United Kingdom still used by traffic. There are quite substantial surviving sections of Roman walls on at least one side of the arch.
We visit the Lincoln Minster, the third largest cathedral in Britain. There is to be a war commemoration event on Sunday and the army is practicing marching up the aisle of the church. We watch for a while and take some photos. Building work on this cathedral commenced in 1088 and continued in several phases throughout the medieval period. It was reputedly the tallest building in the world for 238 years from 1311 to 1549. Standing on a prominent hill, this impressive cathedral must have absolutely dominated the landscape for miles around. It still does.
On the other side of the square and not more than about 100 metres away is the Lincoln Castle with a history all of its own. This major castle was constructed during the late 11th century by William the Conqueror on the site of a pre-existing Roman fortress. Lincoln Castle remained in use as a prison and law court into modern times, and is one of the better preserved castles in England. We see the Crown Courts on site which continue to this day. You can walk around the immense Norman walls which provide a magnificent view of the complex and panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
Friday 17 September
Travel down to London stopping only to go through Cambridge and to Cambridge University.