Sunday, 26 August 2007

Day Eight - Light at the end of the Tunnel

After a rough night of coughing we awoke to a gray morning up North. Slight drizzle (or what Jon calls "English rain") stayed with us almost all day. At times it poured but the drizzle was what lingered the most. The weather stations were saying it was to be a windy and very rainy day. This put a bit of a damper on my plans to FINALLY see a castle. I've been to England 4 times now and not yet seen a castle (visited a few cathedrals but no castles). I had done a little research when at Becky's and had hoped we'd see Skipton Castle but it was at least another hour's drive North. We had to return to the South today as we were leaving England tomorrow. Alas due to the iffy weather and the distance of Skipton it just didn't work out.

Instead I stumbled upon a brochure for a tunnel ride. I've wanted to see some of the canals in England (especially after Luis Salazar showing me where his wife grew up in Bedford which has a beautiful canal running through it). Since this tunnel offered a dry way to see something I opted for it.

We picked up Chris and headed into Marsden (after viewing his garden and visiting with his very old hen which is kept at the back of the garden). The views of the land around the tunnel were quite beautiful even on the gray, drizzly morning.

If the day had been nicer I would have loved to walk some of the nature trails they offered around the Standedge Tunnel. Here are the boys waiting to board the canal boat.

The boat drive told me that we were about to enter the longest, highest, and deepest NAVIGABLE tunnel in the world. He said that there is a longer one in France but it is not navigable. I'm not sure how interested the boys were with this short ride but I found it interesting to listen to our guide. Back before engines the men who took the boats through the tunnel had to hoof it - literally! The horses were unhooked from the boats (since they can't go through the tunnel) and the men would lay on their backs and literally push the boat through the tunnel with their feet (lying on their backs feet in the air pushing against the hard jagged rocks in the ceiling of the tunnel). The ride was short but interesting. I immediately thought of my Mother as she would have been horrible claustrophobic in there. Our guide says they still take people through (people with their own boats) and quite often the riders get freaked by the utter darkness and close quarters.

We stopped in the town of Marsden on the way out because both Chris and Jon thought I should see a chemist (their version of a pharmacist). I spoke with the lady explaining my symptoms and she recommended what I feared....cough syrup. Almost all cough syrups make me gag. This one was no exception. I usually can't stand the fake cherry flavor most syrups come in but this was worse....I would have gladly traded for the cherry flavor. While Chris and I were in the chemist, Jon snuck into the local estate agent and got some information about houses in the area. He is wanting to reinvest his money from the sale of Northwood Cottage and was quite impressed with the beautiful countryside in Marsden.

We went to lunch and then dropped Chris back home and headed back to Becky's. The drive back was only bearable because we were still listening to "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince". Poor Jon was so "knackered" that we pulled into a rest stop and let him snooze for about 20 minutes.

Finally we got to Becky's more than a little road weary. I felt like getting out for our last night (Jon would be staying and working while Patrick and I went back home). So I asked Jon if we could go to the pub (not something I normally like). He decided to take me to the Hampshire Bowman . We had tried to go there once before but they were closed - now we know why. They expanded the pub and it is quite lovely in the new part. What I thought would be a "quick pint" turned out to be a rather lovely evening with us not getting back until after 10 pm! Jon knew one of the local brewmasters and turns out that Loopy (nickname) actually turned up that night. He was a delight to talk to (real character in a good sense) and brought his lovely doggie with him. I love that many of the pubs in England let you bring your well behaved dog inside with you. This ended my stay in England on a fun note. Tomorrow we would get up early and make our way to Heathrow. I think even though Patrick and I had fun we were looking forward to going home.

Day Seven - Library and a "proper English curry"

The barman at The Fountain Inn recommended a local garage where Jon could get the window for the rental car fixed. So Jon left us behind (at least we had the computer and TV). Nothing like sitting around in a room waiting to put a sour note on your vacation. Patrick and I decided to take another walk around the trout lake. Ran into 2 Weimaraners out walking with their humans. They look so ghostly - all gray with pale colored eyes. They are actually quite soft to the touch.

We laughed because at one point on the trail when I spied some blackberries. Dani had taken to eating the black raspberries right of the bush in our backyard back home. She didn't seem to mind the stickers at all but just loved the taste of the berries. We imagined that Dani would have loved walking this path because of the blackberries, ducks to chase and doggies to meet along the way. By now both Patrick and I are missing Dani dog a lot.

Jon got back around lunch time and had remembered passing a nice pub. Unfortunately, Jon is directionally challenged no matter what country he is in. We drove around for quite a bit trying to find this pub he had seen....finally pulled into one which turns out didn't serve lunch but recommended another pub up the road that did. We were just glad to be out of our room we'd would have eaten at McDonald's!

Later that day we met up with Jon's brother Chris, his wife Allison and daughters Bethan and Heather. We had drinks at the Inn we were staying at and then followed Chris to the local Indian restaurant. We parked across the street in what turned out to be the library's parking lot. Denby Dale Library - actually saw several libraries but never could get my camera out in time.

This was Patrick's first time having Indian food let alone a "proper English curry". He was brave enough to try a dish that was listed as medium on the hot scale. He said he liked it. I'm still not all that impressed with Indian food. It's okay just prefer Italian, Chinese, Japanese, French and a lot more over Indian. Maybe I just haven't had the "right" Indian dish that will hook me.

Back to the Inn for another night of coughing - poor Jon he didn't sleep much either. Tomorrow is our last day up North for we head South because we will be leaving soon. :(

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Day Six - The Crime Scene

The next morning we got up to do some site-seeing before checking into our next B&B. Jon ran out to get some cash to pay when he was greeted by glass all in the car. Someone had broken the passenger side window and grabbed Jon's cell phone. Ironically the one they grabbed was the one I had accidentally ran through the washing machine. If you had people's numbers in the address book you were fine but dialing numbers was impossible (several of the numbers did not work). Unfortunately, this caused us to lose a whole day.

We reported the incident to the police. A lovely woman came out and took Jon's details. She said they'd send someone out to take finger prints just in case but it had rained a bit that morning so she wasn't hopeful. He called the rental company's window people and it took 3 calls in the morning before they'd give us a time they could come out - between 1 and 3 pm. Mid-morning the CSI lady showed up (Patrick and I were secretly hoping that Grissom, Stokes, Willows or Brown would show up but alas not so). Our B&B owners couldn't have been more understanding. The wife was a great fun to chat with. Her husband offered us plastic and tape to put over the window (but the police said not to until CSI had shown up). Their sweet doggie even paid me a visit and gave me my doggie fix (I was missing Dani dog quite a lot).

Once we got a time from the window guy, we decided to have lunch at the local pub. Bottomleys Arms was hands down one of the best values and best food we had while in England. It made our not so nice start to the day just a bit better. The portions were huge and for the price of 6 pounds 25 pence you couldn't beat it. The place was packed and even if the tables were small the food and service made up for it. Jon said it was the best steak & kidney pie he had ever had. I got roast pork which was flavorful and tender although it was swimming in gravy (what is it with the English and gravy on everything??) and Patrick had their bar steak ciabatta sandwich with some out of this world beer battered onion rings and very tasty chips (our version of fries).

We finished a bit before 3 but still hadn't heard from the window guy. We got back to the B&B and phoned them again. The guy turned up about 20 minutes later. Turned out he couldn't put the window in for some reason so all he did was put some clear plexiglass in and tape it. We were then able to go to our next destination - The Fountain Inn.

Patrick outside the Fountain Inn where Jon's niece, Heather, works in the pub.

Our sat-nav took us in a very round about route but it also gave us a beautiful view of the Yorkshire countryside. What a difference from Shelf/Bradford. Finally the moors of England that I had heard so much about (from Wuthering Heights to Sherlock Holmes). I guess I had a different impression because the moors where quite lovely and not what I thought they were.
Jon was exhausted so Patrick and I left him to nap while we explored the area around our Inn.

To the left of our Inn was this lovely lake area. You were able to walk around the whole lake (for trout fishing) but unfortunately the modern windmills marred the hillside. The heather and other beautiful purple flowers made the windmills disappear.

Although not hungry after the large meal we had at lunch we decided to have a bit to eat in the pub part or our Inn. We then retired to our quite large and well appointed rooms. I fell in love with their bathtub as it was the first one I could lie down in full length and actually have room - my feet didn't stick out! My cough made for another rough night for both Jon and myself. I was alternating cough drops but to no avail.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Day Five - Stonehenge and Harry Potter

A groggy start to the day thank to little sleep and lots of coughing. Thankfully, the little corner store at the end of Becky's road sold cough drops - was nice to see a familiar brand amongst all the English ones (Hall's). Also tried the stuff that James swears by for my nose - Lemsip. Not sure it worked but that's okay.

After a quick goodbye we piled into the car to head North. James warned us that the area around Stonehenge would probably be wall to wall traffic - just hate it when he's right ;). However, I felt Patrick HAD to see it. I know most Brits think it is just a pile of rocks and it maybe but you have to marvel at the ability of man at that time (with no heavy machinery) to set those huge rocks on top of each other. If you look at it from that stand point it is rather amazing.

This picture shows barely any cars but just getting to this point was a lesson in patience. We were running late due to the stop/start traffic so we were unable to get out and walk around. But we managed a few good shots from the car (even if the chain link fence was in the way).

Thankfully Patrick had packed his Harry Potter cd's. So we popped in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" which certainly made sitting in traffic and driving up North much more bearable. Patrick and I had finished the 7th Harry Potter book but felt there had been too much time between 6 & 7 that we forgot things from the 6th book. Jon had never read it so all of us enjoyed listening to it (so much so that Jon ask Patrick to leave the rest of the cd's with him when we left England - Patrick left him what he thought was enough [he still wanted to listen to the rest as well] but Jon got through that rather quickly. He said is going to buy the 6th book and read it on the plane because he wants to know how it ends!)

The drive up North was a long one and we had booked a last minute reservation at the Rook Residence B&B in Shelf. Our hostess was a quite charming woman originally from Holland. We decided to drive into Bradford for dinner. Both Patrick and I were shocked by the difference between the South where Becky lives and this part of England. Much more industrial and it just seemed grayer, more dark and rather depressing. I'm sure there were lovely parts to it but we just didn't see those.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Day Four - D-Day and Liss

Our last lovely breakfast at the B&B and a found farewell and thank you to the Stevens. We had a full day ahead of us.

We thought that Patrick would enjoy the D-Day museum since many of the online/pc games he plays take place during WWII. We were lucky enough that they had 3 veterans of the Normandy Invasion (D-Day) there and you could ask them questions. To me, talking to these gentleman was more than worth the price of admission. Reading plaques or listening to looped broadcasts isn't the same as actually hearing about first hand accounts. The one gentleman was a pilot that took the Americans to their death on Omaha Beach. The other two actually landed at Gold Beach (where the British forces landed).

The two that landed at Gold Beach explained how the Omaha Beach was different and why so many Americans lost their lives that day. I think that is why the pilot who drove the boats full of Americans said he died that day too. I can't imagine taking mere boys to that beach and watching them get slaughtered one after another. War has a profound effect on the soldiers and one that I don't think we fully understand even in this day and age. The two I spoke with showed us pictures and explained so much (as my history is pretty shabby at best). Unfortunately, we had to cut them short since we were on a bit of a time schedule. We quickly walked through the rest of the museum.

Jon went to get a cup of coffee from the cafe while Patrick and I went outside to explore the fort behind the D-Day museum. It was another beautiful day and we got some nice pictures of the seafront in Portsmouth.

The round structure out in the water is actually a fort as well. There are several in the harbor. They were built during WWII to keep the Germans from invading England. Jon told me that one of the forts was built and turned into a night club. Guess you can't get too drunk out there because one wrong step and you'll be in the drink (literally!).

Next to Liss where Jon's Dad (Len) and Stepmum (Toko) now live. They had lived in Sidmouth (in the Devon region of England) until recently. Due to the nursing home where Toko was being closed they were forced to move. The one they are in in Liss, however is quite nice as nursing homes go. The staff were quite friendly and the grounds were lovely with beautiful flowers everywhere, tall deciduous and evergreen trees to give shade. We had hoped to take them out to lunch at the local pub but turns out Toko had a physiotherapist session. So we went to lunch and came back to spend some time in the garden with them. We even got to show them both the whirlpool swimming pool they use for therapy - I think Len was expecting a full length pool that you could do laps in but still seemed interested in giving it a go.

This was the first time Patrick had met Len and Toko. He did amazingly well considering that Len has senile dementia and Toko's memory isn't great either after her accident. It wasn't fun but he didn't complain about it and I was very proud of him. He was certainly exposed to a lot of things this trip and that all in all is a good thing. Perhaps he'll have some sympathy for his parents when they get old now that he has seen the downside of old age. He is very fortunate that both set of his grandparents are quite healthy (aside from back, knee problems). After our visit we went back to Becky and James place in Bishop's Waltham. I was feeling poorly again (cough and chest congestion) so I rested. James kindly made a pasta dinner for Patrick, myself and kids. They had a friend coming over and since I wasn't up to it and Patrick was able to have internet access again - we stayed home while they all went out for a bit. Becky came home to put the kids to bed and James, Jon and the friend went to the local pub for a bit of a boys night out. Thanks to my little nap early and the cough that wouldn't end...I wound up getting very little sleep that night.

Tomorrow we head northward!

Friday, 17 August 2007

Day Three - London Calling

We met up with Becky and James on Wednesday night. It was great to see Alice and Thomas (they've grown but then again kids do that)! Patrick was kind enough to babysit so the 4 adults could go out for "a curry". We went to a very nice Indian restaurant in Wickam. The service was almost a bit too much but I'd rather err on that side than on service at all. We talked about what we should do the next day or Friday. Becky and James both felt we should take Patrick to London. I had really wanted to but we had felt it would be too expensive and just not sure if we had the time. Turns out it was probably the highlight of our holiday.

Originally Jon was going to put us on a train and go visit his Dad and Toko at the nursing home. But he got to feeling he should be with his family and decided to come with us. We caught the train from Winchester and road in comfort (sad to say it wasn't like Hogwarts Express) all the way to Waterloo station. Since we didn't have a lot of time or money we decided to give Patrick a walking tour of some of the London sites. The London Eye was the first thing to spy once we got on Jubilee Bridge (a walkway with the railroad line down the middle) that took us across the Thames. Once across we stopped in a small park and had our picnic lunch. It was so well kept I felt guilty eating on the grass but lots of Londoners were doing the same.

After lunch we walked along the Thames (getting another view of the London Eye and London Aquarium) until we got to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.

Although the pic is a bit dark, due to the sun being behind the subject, I liked the idea of getting the Underground sign in with Big Ben. We found out later that we timed our visit perfectly. Big Ben has been silenced for the next 4-6 weeks for pre-birthday repairs. It turns 150 in 2009.

We turned the corner to see Westminster Abbey. Jon and I had toured it before but offered the option to Patrick. He didn't seem all that interested in visiting the dead old kings of England so we trekked on.

Next stop was to see the Queen! I'm not sure if she was in. Historically the Royal Standard is flown over Buckingham Palace (or Buck House as the Brits call it) when she is in residence. However, since Diana's death if she is not in residence instead of no flag flying they fly the Union flag flies over Buck House. I think she wasn't in as this is the typical time of year they go to Balmoral for holiday and the fact that the public was queued up to get in to see Buck House. If only we had gotten there earlier that would have been something to take Patrick to. I think he was impressed with it anyway as he took lots of pictures.

Patrick wanted to know if that was real gold on the gates - we assured him it was. Nothing but the best for the Queen.

We continued our journey by walking down the Mall. This is the road that Diana's funeral cortege took. I explained to Patrick about Princess Diana, the People's Princess, as we walked. I remember getting up early for her wedding as well as her funeral. The day of her funeral, Patrick came downstairs (he was only 6 at the time) and asked me why I was crying. How do you explain to a 6 yo that someone you've never met has died and it has sadden you because she was such a good person that had had a lot of strife in her life. Just as she seemed to be happy again her candle was snuffed out too quickly. I morned for our loss and for her boys who were so young at the time and that she loved so dearly. William was just a year younger than Patrick is now. It makes me shudder to think about it. As we walked I looked down to see this -

We walked towards the Admiralty Arch. Notice the "famous" Brit in the foreground on the left.

Then to Trafalgar Square.

Shame that right in the same square was St. Martin's in the Field (a church where many a great choral and orchestral recording has been done) was completely covered in scaffolding. While taking pictures of Lord Nelson's column and waiting to cross the street I spied one of the infamous double-decker buses and had to take this pic -

Harry was a theme throughout this trip without really realizing it. Later I found out later on the tram to the airplane leaving Heathrow, that they have Harry Potter tours in London and surrounding areas. Grrr! If only we had investigated or even known they existed. We were walked out by then so we just walked back to Waterloo Station catching one last photo op before going back to Winchester.

We all snoozed on the train ride home - in fact Patrick fell into bed and could not be woken for dinner. Tomorrow we'd have to leave our lovely bed and breakfast. Becky kindly offered to put us up for the night on Friday at her home. When we got back to the B&B I had a chance to talk to Mrs. Stevens again. Turns out she actually knew Princess Diana! She took over her job at the school when she left to marry Charles. She told me stories of Diana coming back and lunching with the staff (complete with body guards) and her clearing the table as if she was just anybody else. She sounded like such a lovely down to earth woman and Mrs. Stevens confirmed that she was. This makes her loss to England and the world felt even more.

Mrs. Stevens recommend a local pub that was in my eyes (and Jon's too I think) a REAL English pub. It was really off the beaten track. Basically just served ale and only a few selections of food. Only had seating for about 4 tables inside (but lots outside). However, it may have been one of the best dinners we had. I ordered their homemade ham quiche which was served upon a heaping plate of salad (yeah veggies). I couldn't finish it. It also came with 2 large chunks, not slices, of beautiful warm homemade bread and butter (with the wrapper still on). Jon got their infamous split pea, lentil and ham soup. It came in a huge bowl. Matter of fact as I looked around every one's dinner was just supersized. 2 couples were sitting at the table next to us. Jon heard they say something about Caterham (a car he had owned but sold). So when the one gentleman went up to get a pint Jon (who was paying the bill) asked him about it. They got talking cars and then he heard my accent. Told me the couples had recently been to the States on a musical tour (New Orleans and Memphis he mentioned). Very nice folk and an even better pub. What a find!

P.S. for Day Two

Failed to mention that Jon and Patrick had a real fun time doing something they both hate - shopping!

Jon knew that Patrick likes all the military garb so he asked the gentleman at the Royal Marines Museum if there were any good army supply shops around. Happened to be a good one literally up the street. I barely got in the door when the smell hit me - mildew. So since I still had that nasty cold I let the boys rummage and I sat in the car. I've never seen a place so full of stuff - I mean they had everything. Reminded me a bit of Flourish and Blotts (from Harry Potter books/movies) but instead of the books it was clothes everywhere. 110 pounds later they emerged. Patrick is now the proud owner of a Iraq war gas mask (complete with water bottle), British Iraq war camo jacket, hat and backpack. Jon bought some Union Jacks for our contractor whose wife is English. Although I'm anti-war the two of them had a great time and I think bonded even more over this so I was quite happy to sit in the car and just watch the Brits go by.

Patrick in full regalia.