Archive | September, 2014

Day out: Vindolanda

30 Sep

Another fantastical place ticked off our UK bucket list — Hadrian’s Wall and Vindolanda!  We took a break during our drive down from our Scottish trip for an overnight in Carlisle and several hours exploring the wall.  I don’t have very many photos — isn’t that crazy? — I was so busy reading my guidebook, running around shouting “look, latrines!”, and marveling at ancient shoes, that my camera stayed in my bag.  (Mostly.)

IMG_3232ed There are many places to stop along the wall and see evidence of the wall.  We decided to stop at Vindolanda so we could see a good sized outpost and for the amazing museum.  My oldest child, we has been taking Latin in school, was amazed to discover that the people he had thought were merely characters in his text book were in fact real, living people — and evidence of their life was found here, at Vindolanda.  IMG_3233ed Entry through a courtyard with a sparkling fountain.IMG_3247ed The site is still  being excavated — an excellent field trip might be signing up to volunteer with an excavation crew!  Here you can see the pre-Hadrianic military bath house.  (You know I love a good Roman bath house.  Almost as much as a good ancient latrine.)IMG_3257ed Both the military buildings and the civilian structures have left evocative remains.IMG_3258edBasically lost our mind when we got to walk in the footsteps of the guards, even inside their headquarters building.


From atop a recreated wall  sentry post, get a great view over Vindolanda.

IMG_3254edI often wonder how a soldier from Rome might have felt, sitting here in the frozen, nothernmost end of the empire (and seemingly the universe).  I tend to have a lot of sympathy for them.

20140419_154437ed The sit rambles on quite a bit.  And check out where you can sit and have a lovely sandwich or tea:


Life is no longer rough and tumble, here at the frontier.IMG_3267ed


I’d love to have the time to walk the wall.  We saw many families out walking, as we drove along the length of the wall toward Carlisle.  We contented ourselves with rummaging through Vindolanda and then joining the Legion at the Roman Army Museum.  Absolutely fabulous day out with kids.

Day out: Chepstow Castle

25 Sep

Along the English-Welsh border, you’ll find many dramatic ruined castles (Raglan Castle), religious complexes (Tintern Abbery), and Roman fortifications (Caerleon).  One beauty we hadn’t seen before — Chepstow Castle.  (Free if your English Heritage pass is more than 12 months old, discounted if it is less.)

IMG_3739edThe massive main gatehouse and Marten’s Tower give a strong first impression.

IMG_3743edA wander through the lower bailey presents you with various wall walks, towers, and open spaces.IMG_3744edIn a side corridor near the service passage and kitchen, the oldest wooden castle doors in Europe — 800 years old — are on display, out of the elements.  IMG_3753ed I’m always interesting in looking UP.  Here you are seeing a slice of the Great Tower from inside the barbican around the middle bailey.IMG_3754ed How do those flowers get there?  What would it be like to step through that dark doorway?IMG_3756edA view back down the middle bailey.IMG_3761edThe marginally brave can walk up to the top of one of the remaining towers for a view over the town and the walls.  I don’t remember if this is peeking through a musket loop, a window, or just general falling-down-ness.IMG_3766edThe shell of the Great Tower remains, including the very sides of two dramatic Norman arches.  This is the oldest part of the castle, and may have been used by William the Conqueror as an audience chamber.  (HOW COOL IS THAT.)  The round-arched niches in the back (there are four, one is just out of frame) contain remains of their original 11th century decoration, and are considered to the be oldest surviving secular decorations in Britain.  So, that’s pretty cool, too.IMG_3767edAlong with picturesque views toward the river through the lower windows.IMG_3771edHandrailings on the walls — that’s more than we usually see at ruined castles.IMG_3774edOn the other side of the castle, views over the muddy Wye. That little iron bridge is fun to drive over — it’s one lane, and controlled by a traffic light allowing one direction of traffic to flow at a time.  It also marks the boundary between England and Wales.  Here be dragons.IMG_3776edClimb the south-west tower of the upper barbican at the very end of the castle, and look over the upper bailey and Marshal’s Tower. IMG_3782edClimb down past the cellars, and find the remains of an aristocratic private garden and the water gate under the river cliff.IMG_3785edAnd, from along the walls near Marten’s Tower, and get a better sense of the various levels and styles all sealed within the membrane of the Chepstow Castle walls.

To my very great sadness, the Earl’s Chamber was closed for renovation during our visit.  The chamber was a gloriette and is the only surviving, accessible example of this type of indoor architecture and design in Britain.  (I say ‘surviving’, but it has been totally rebuilt, recreated, and restored.  Either way, I was eager to see it.  Oh, well.)
IMG_3789edAfter exploring the castle  (take your time — bring dress-up — bring wooden swords — bring a picnic) don’t forget to wander through the hilly medieval town of Chepstow at the foot and side of the castle, or wander off on one of the many hikes through the area.

Or enjoy tea in a local tea room.

10559832_10203701525392789_6170788621271042918_nThere’s a special magic about coming in from a drizzle to a warm cup of tea in a cozy tea room.  And if you’re very lucky, there’ll be cakes.


20 Sep

Rollrights.  Solstice and equinox, I like to visit.  (See: Rollright redux; Rollright stones; Stones at the end of the rainbow; Seventy-three)   Here near our Autumnal Equinox, I saw more people walking the stones than I have ever seen before.  Good weather?  Scottish Independence?  I don’t know what drew people to walk the stones on a slightly overcast but fresh fall day.  I didn’t care, I suppose.  It was a good feeling to see the stones surrounded by visitors.

IMG_20140912_144545edThe number of formations changes every time I walk the ring of stones.  And I do walk it.  There’s something peaceful in the pacing of the stone ring.  Always something poetical about the shifting lumps and crevasses of the stones, and the changing colors of the lichen.  I’m reminded that the lichen on these stones are probably some of the oldest life forms I’ve ever met.

IMG_20140912_145236edThe curving walk to the Whispering Knights is surrounded by blackberry bushes, blooming.  This may be the secret to the many visitors to the stones.

IMG_20140912_145604edThe knights huddle in their slumping splendor, overlooking the rolling cotswold hills.

IMG_20140912_150637edAcross the road, my witch has finally fallen.  Fallen, and disappeared entirely.  “The King won in the end,” speculated my son.  But I stood on the witch’s spot, threw my arms out at the king, and recited her curse.  So, who won?

IMG_20140912_122803edA visit to the Rollright Stones remains one of my favorite days out, and a quarterly touchstone to my year.  And every visit is punctuated most satisfyingly with pies and Hooky at puddingface, in Deddington.

This visit had an extra weight of promise and transformation underneath it — many changes happening behind the scenes here in Camelot.  It satisfies me to know I have been able to spend three whole circles of the sun visiting these ancient stones, and that they will continue to wait out their purpose long after I am able to walk their circle in spirit only.

Day out: Stonehenge

15 Sep

Yes, it has only taken me three years to finally put up a post about the thing most people see first when they come to the UK.  (After Heathrow customs, of course, but no one wants to remember that experience.)  We did visit in our first few months, and saw the stones on a chilly winter day under cloudy skies and in short daylight.  But …

Oh, what a difference the sun can make.  Stonehenge in July is amazing.


Uh-huh, yup, pretty nice.

Your first view of the stones is from the road as you wind your way toward the new visitors centre.

IMG_3685edFrom the visitors centre, ride the (free) shuttle to the stones, or give yourself some time for a walk of a mile or two.

IMG_3735ed Then join the queue of modern pilgrims.
Except under special circumstances, this is as close as you’ll get to the stones.IMG_3730edEvery turn around the circle provides a new interpretation of stone, grass, sky.IMG_3726edTurn around from this spot, and see the Wiltshire countryside rolling away.IMG_3724edThere are a few benches along the walking path around the stones, but we didn’t mind sitting right on the grass and watching the stones to see if they were going to move.IMG_3708edWe did see lots of ravens crowing around.  This one is perching inside one of the large obelisks.  How about that for a view?
IMG_3697edI like the scene of the (large!) ravens looking down on their human visitors.  Stonehenge makes quite a throne.IMG_3709edWhat a sky.  After burning out our eyes from the glorious summer sun, we were ready for the shuttle ride back to the visitors centre, and to pick up some cakes and tea (and maybe a souvenir or two).IMG_3738edOne last look back.

Visitor’s tip:  if you aren’t a member of English Heritage WHY THE HECK NOT?  Skip the lines, show your pass and pick up your ticket right away.

Day out: Urquhart Castle

10 Sep

What a pleasure to finally look back through photos of our spring holiday to Scotland.  Every day really was as sunny as I remember.  And I can finally look back to April without being overwhelmed with memories of my emergency surgery (again … I do not recommend emergency surgery).  We took a day — a very long driving day — to travel to Loch Ness.  We visited the requisite Loch Ness Monster edutainment centre, but even better, we had lunch and spent several happy hours exploring Urquhart Castle.

IMG_3086edThe castle has a large car-park with easy parking (not always the case!) and an excellent cafe with local slow foods — and a pretty good view.  There’s also the typical gift shop full of whisky, tartans, sheep-poop jokes, and some good books and inexpensive trinkets for the kids.

IMG_3087edOnce your tithe has been paid to commercialism, you can walk down to the castle.

IMG_3097edOh, those views.

IMG_3110edCan you tell how windy it is, by the ripples on the loch?
IMG_3115edView from one of the towers.
IMG_3121edOn the other side of the complex, looking back towards that tower where we were just standing.IMG_3122edAnd looking over the outside of the castle wall, towards the draw bridge. (And dock for the tour boat.)
IMG_3126edDown towards the water gate (below the cliff), previously the main access point for the castle. IMG_3134edOne more look, down the length of the loch.  Ahhhh.  Is Nessie out there?  No, of course not, but I could sit here all day looking.

Day out: Bletchley Park

5 Sep

From the (photo) archives — a day trip to Bletchley Park in the springtime.  But keep that intelligence MOST SECRET!  (If you don’t know anything about Bletchley Park already, read up.)IMG_3273edOne can play with virtual enigma machines. 158 million million million combinations, how will you do?

IMG_3275edMany of the heroes of Bletchley Park remain unnamed and unsung.  Nice to see this memorial.

IMG_3360edIt’s fun to imagine the strange atmosphere the campus might have had during WWII.  Like a super weird summer camp for cryptologists.

IMG_3364edOr a super-elegant stenographer pool.

IMG_3293edA loving restoration.

IMG_3291edCups and saucers, pencils and papers, purses and spectacles, all are set out on desks to give the impression of sudden emptiness — like everyone just walked out for a moment, and will return just as you turn around.

IMG_3298edThe ballroom, which was used for parties, or for quiet reading, or for movies.

IMG_3341edIt’s funny because it’s true.

IMG_3349edTuring has a memorable statue commemorating his life and work.  In the background, his teddy bear is preserved.

IMG_3332edA look into one of the ‘huts’ — where the action happened.

IMG_3330edPicturesque vintage bicycles.  The whole place has a Day After feel.  Evocative.

IMG_3322edInside the hut, the effort continues to make these spaces live with the sounds and sights of men and women working to solve puzzles and save lives in WWII.

IMG_3315edOld school!

IMG_3312edI have complicated and not-well-enough educated thoughts about the many women who worked at Bletchley Park.  We visited just after I had read “Life After Life” and “Code Name Verity” — both full of history and ideas which colored the way I viewed these spaces.  Watching the series The Bletchley Circle after our visit added yet another dimension to the experience.

IMG_3352edOh, dear, that looks complicated.  Here are the guts of a working Bombe — read more about it.

IMG_3308edThe Polish Memorial.

IMG_3366edThe gift shop has the expected mugs, tea towels, and books — and puzzles.

Worth a day out?  Definitely, but only if you’ve read something about it before hand.  There are interpretive signs and an audio guide which does a pretty good job, and some fun hands-on interpretive exhibits for the kids (and the kids-at-heart). As we’ve found in many spots, a day ticket can be converted to a 12-month pass for no additional fee.  There’s a minimalist cafe on site with cakes and coffee or tea, a good bit of walking through all the buildings, and an outdoor play space for kids – plan to spend several hours here.


Farewell to summer

1 Sep

Ah, yes … summertime.


It looks a bit different from just shy of 10,000 feet, atop the Zugspitze.

Zugspitze?  That doesn’t sound Englishy, or Cameloty, or even Crumpety.  Ya, what can I say, I ran away across the chunnel once again for a holiday.  But making no promises (and therefore telling no lies) I’m expecting to run through months of crumpety fun stored in my photo archives.  All the way back to Loch Ness!  A chance to look at flowers and bees and precious British sunshine before we fall into darkness once again.  So pull on your ski caps and get ready for a look back on summer.

(But, just for safety’s sake, don’t hold your breath.)