Posts Tagged ‘England 2022’

Folks, time is flying. It was about a month ago that we set out on that last trip, so perhaps I should finish up my posts on said trip – because there’s more coming.

So let’s review:

We were on a journey from June 14-30, most of which was to England but which began in New York City. Explained here.

So let’s talk about where we stayed.

First of all, who are we? Because that matters. In just a couple of weeks, my travel-type posts will shift in emphasis because I’ll mostly be going solo, and believe me, in the short bit of time that I’ve spent pinning down some stays for the fall, it has been most enjoyable because...it’s just me. And I am very low maintenance (as you will see if you continue to follow me), and can basically stay in a corner of a room or hell, probably the back of a car for days, if not weeks at a stretch, and it’s a lot different making those arrangements than it is to figure things out for a 61-year old female Me, a 21-year old male and a 17-year old male.

But for this trip, well, it was three of us and no regrets, but still, it was three of us – three adults who did not want to share a bed, no. And booked and paid for by a cheapskate, so there’s that, too.

So here you go:

New York City: The Wall Street Inn: This was a new one for us. In the recent past, we’ve most frequently stayed at the Leo House in Chelsea – a unique Catholic guest house for which I’ve usually been able to score some deals because I’ve booked and paid for the stays ahead of time. Not so this time – I suppose demand was higher, and there just wasn’t anything available. So, via booking.com, I found this one, and it turned out great.

Wall Street Inn, NYC

We are familiar with and fairly frequent visitors to NYC (my oldest lives there) so there was no need to have some definitive Midtown or Times Square experience, plus he lives not far from the Financial District, so it worked out. Three of us fit in one room for a bit under $200/night, the place was very clean and nicely run – by…I hate to say it in the current climate, but judging from accents either eastern Europeans or Russians (not sure which, sorry), and I’d definitely stay there again.


Oxford: The Red Mullions Guest House Staying super close in to Oxford would have been quite expensive, but this lovely guest house was about a ten-minute bus ride from the center. We had breakfast one morning, and if we were breakfast-eaters, would have done it more. The proprietors were friendly – making a great deal about the elder son’s “‘tache” – (not ‘stache’ – no – “‘tache'”) – and helpful, the room spacious and clean, and the food excellent.

York: Airbnb. This was fairly dramatic. We were to go to York on Monday, and on Saturday afternoon, I got a message from the owner of our rental that she was cancelling on us. There was work being done, she’d thought it would not be a problem, but it turned out it was.

O -kay. What does one do?

Well, luckily, another was available – and Airbnb came through with a refund and a coupon to make up the difference – and this one had a washer and dryer, which was a bonus. It was a lovely apartment with lots of space, which is what we needed.

Photos 1,2: Interior. 3: the street where the apartment was located; 4: the city gate to the area; 5: the view at the ridiculous hour of something like 4 am from my skylight.

Hexham: The Station Inn. The point of this stage of the trip? Hadrian’s Wall. This was not the most luxurious hotel, but who needs that? It was just what the name suggests – a hotel for travelers near the train and the bus station. The room was clean, the people at reception were super helpful especially on the next morning when I was trying to get us the heck out of there on the day of a rail strike – and yes, I’d stay there again.

Seahouses: The Bamburgh Castle Inn The most, by per/night measure, expensive stay, but that’s because it was a good hotel in a popular vacation destination. The room was nothing spectacular, but it was clean, with three separate beds and a nice view.

Edinburgh: The Mackenzie Guest House– Again, if you are into fancy hotels, or even higher mid-level American hotels, you would probably not be pleased, but it was fine – we had two adjoining rooms – one with a double for me, and then another with two twins for them – with a shared external bathroom – on the top floor of the guest house. A nice breakfast with a very helpful and kind proprietor. If you want something else, you can pay $200/night more, but I’m not going to….

London: St. Athan’s Hotel: Another shared bathroom situation, this time with more folks, but again – no problem. We had one room with four beds (including a bunk), and there were, I think, maybe four floors of the hotel with four bathrooms for each two floors – that were kept very clean. I think these proprietors were either Turks or Syrians (again apologies for not being able to nail it), and it was located in an area near King’s Cross that had lots of these small hotels. I’d stay there again, no question.

Photo 1: – stairs from our floor to one of the two sets of bathroom that were in between each floor.

It’s expensive to travel, especially with a family. If we weren’t moving around so much, of course my first choice would have been an apartment. But honestly – we didn’t have a bad experience in any of these stays. Probably the Station Inn in Hexham was the “worst,” but even that was fine. You just have to adjust your expectations – the Residence Inn is not the global norm, guys…..

Read Full Post »

Let’s finish this up. There’s a lot going on around here, more coming, so I need to wrap up this narrative. Today: London, then a couple more posts on where we stayed and what we ate – and then onward.

As I mentioned before, we’d be flying in and out of London, but in the trip planning, London didn’t play a huge role. After all, we’d been there before! And it wasn’t that long ago – 2017 to be exact. So let’s use London as a base for a couple of day trips – definitely Canterbury, and maybe Portsmouth (the reason).

I was open though, considering it would be the end of our trip and we just be mighty tired of hopping on trains.

(Narrator: They were.)

And then: When we arrived in London on Monday afternoon, checked into our hotel and took a walk around, the youngest – now 17, who’d been 11 during that last trip, said, “Yeah, I don’t remember any of this.”

And considering he’s the museum and history guy, I figured – well, maybe we’d just better stick to London.

Good choice. We saw a lot we’d not seen before, and that youngest had plenty of time in the British Museum, some with us, and more on his own.

So let’s do a quick recap:

First, the trip down from Edinburgh. I had purchased tickets way ahead of time for a train trip from Edinburgh to London. Total cost was about $120 for the three of us for about a 4.5 hour trip. Not bad. (It would have been a lot more if I’d waited until the last minute – that’s the way it is with most European train tickets).

Even though the strike was supposedly over, the system was still experiencing fallout from the previous week, plus there had been cable theft down the line that meant there was a section at which the train would have to be manually guided.

Now, I am still confused about this, even though my seatmate explained it to me, but there was additional pressure because of cancelled trains and so on, the line had essentially lifted all reservations, making it possible for anyone to get on any train. At each stop, more people kept getting on, to the point that the train manager was telling people to get off and that she wasn’t going to let the train move forward unless people got off. Luckily, we had our seats, but it was an interesting, slower ride…

NOW – here’s an interesting point, especially for those of us in a country like this one where “consumer protection” means that you need to perform a surgical operation to open a ketchup bottle, but good luck at getting a company to respond to a complaint.

The British rail system is VERY clear and direct about how customers are to be compensated for delays. In fact, it’s almost automatic. Our train arrived in London a little less than an hour late – as such, we were due a 50% refund. If it had been over an hour, it would have been 100%. (A good incentive to make the trains run on time).

Getting that refund? Automatic. A couple of hours after the journey, I got an email from LNER giving me a simple link to click for the refund. I clicked it – and that’s it. Three days later the refund had been processed and had been credited to my credit card.


Navigating the crush at King’s Cross (they were holding crowds of outgoing travelers back behind a line as the incoming travelers disembarked and got out of the station), we walked to our hotel, checked in, and then set out. We walked down towards Westminster, went to Vespers at Westminster Cathedral (no photos allowed) , saw a couple of my books in the wild at the St. Paul Media bookstore (unfortunately none of the books I actually get income from, since both of these were works-for-hire). Saw other obligatory sites.

The next morning (Tuesday), I woke up early, as per usual, and, thinking about the London trip a friend of mine had taken a few weeks before, looked up a tour of the Royal Court of Justices – and there it was. I emailed the fellow to see if there were spots – there were – so I got us signed up.

It was a good tour (no photos allowed inside) of the Royal Court of Justice, the Inns of Justice and then the exterior of the Old Bailey – we were given a schedule of that afternoons trials and instructions for how to attend. I would have been up for it, but others weren’t that day. The guide is a former journalist with strong views on the system. He also offered insight on the current conflict related to payment of what we would call public defenders – they are woefully underpaid and overworked – a common problem, I now see.

Lunch at the Seven Dials Market, where they have a wonderful, marvelous creation called the Cheese Bar – perhaps you’ve heard of or experienced conveyer belt sushi restaurants. It’s that – but cheese. Yeah, I know. Heaven, right?

And potentially very expensive – fortunately I popped in (the guys were downstairs eating other things) on Tuesday afternoon, when a lot of the selections were 2 pounds/plate. So that worked.

But still – brilliant.

Then…British Museum, where we split up to see what we liked, regrouped, went back to the hotel, and then to the Globe.

I am normally not much interested in cross-gender casting (even though there’s historical precedence for it, for example, Sarah Bernhardt played Hamlet back in 1899) – but I was very interested in the Globe’s production of King Lear, which starred Kathryn Hunter as Lear.

Some of you have seen Joel Coen’s recent film of Macbeth – Hunter played all of the witches, offering an amazing turn with her hyperflexible body (partly due to a car accident when she was young) and distinctive, deep, resonant voice.

Yes, I thought, I could see her as Lear.

It was a wonderful production (no photos, of course) – with the interesting twist of two of the players being out, and since there are no understudies, a couple of actors replaced those out by reading – that is, they had scripts with them. Because they are pros, it was a bit odd for about two seconds, but then flowed very well.

And Hunter was a magnificent Lear. She’s tiny, and, as my sons observed, is completely believable as a wizened old man.

Of course, seating at the Globe is….problematic especially if you’re not prepared, being almost all narrow benches (unless you are a Groundling, of course). I’d read that it was best to get seats that were either the back row of a section, giving you a wall to lean back on, or the front row, giving you a rail to lean forward on. All of the latter were sold out by the time I got tickets, so I went with the former – which was fine, but still, the benches were so narrow, the wall didn’t help a lot – I’d say go for the rail if you can.

The next morning (Wednesday), we separated – the youngest went back to the British Museum for the morning, and the other guy and I wandered a bit – we started down at Liberty London, made our way up Regents Street, then took the tube to Portabello Road – there weren’t as many vendors as there would be on a Saturday, but still, there was a bit going on, and we did some exploration.

Later in the afternoon, we all met up at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where then we separated and saw things there and at the Natural History Museum. I spent a lot of time with objects I’d enjoyed on the last visit – the massive altarpieces, most of German provenance – and then the Cast Courts (there’s an entire museum in Paris dedicated to casts like this, which I greatly enjoyed when we were there in (gulp) 2012).

Pub dinner near the hotel. Flight the next day was at 2, so no hurry – took the regular subway out to Heathrow – but thank goodness we got there at 11 – the check in lines (and yes, we had to check luggage because of some liquids I’d purchased) and security were ridiculous. Thank God we at least didn’t have to do a Covid test.

The flight from the ATL to BHM was, of course running about an hour late, but nonetheless we were home by 10, and ready for the Next Thing, whatever it is.

So as I said, general reflections, a full rundown of accommodations and food forthcoming.

Read Full Post »

And now, sheep.

Because we’d never been to Scotland, and we really didn’t have the time to explore much, it seemed as if sticking to Edinburgh would be the extent of it. But once I started hunting for reasonably priced accommodations, I was flummoxed. There was hardly anything available – reasonably priced, as I said, suitable for our needs (three beds). I figured it must be because it was a weekend – the first weekend of the summer holidays. Finally I settled on a guesthouse with two rooms next to each other on the top floor, sharing a bathroom, and when I mentioned to the owner my difficulty in finding a place, he said, “Oh, that might be because it’s the weekend of the Royal Highland Show.”

Oh, and what’s that?

Well, it’s this – a big national agricultural show. With sheep, cattle, competitions, a “Scottish Larder” featuring food and food samples..

Well….we’re definitely going to Edinburgh that weekend. No doubt about that now!

(It was also Pride, as we discovered upon arrival. So, yay and that probably had an impact, as well.)

We were staying on the east side of Edinburgh, very close to Leith, and the RHS was on the west side, near the airport. No problem – there was dedicated public transportation, both buses and trams going back and forth constantly, so we hopped on the bus on Sunday morning and off we went.

It was a delightful day. As I said about the museum and Castle experience, what I learned from that was a sense of the Scottish national identity and pride. The Royal Highland Show made that even more clear. 

We walked amid loads of sheep, cattle and goats – mostly sheep, encountered breeds we had not idea existed, not that we knew much about sheep to begin with. There were sheep that reminded us of cattle, those that had heads like pigs and others that seemed to be little stunted llamas.

The cattle were impressive, too – some huge ones, and the favorite, native Highlands.

We sampled cheese and various types of whiskey and meats and jellies and jams. We had burgers from Angus beef. We watched sheep-shearing and show jumping and pole-climbing competitions, and while we didn’t stay until the very end and therefore didn’t see the grand finale (we were ready to leave and were not interested in dealing with crowds exiting all at once and competing for a spot on the buses), we did catch a bit of the final parade of cattle breeds which wound its way around and around the arena, the announcer explaining the history and value of each breed as they came out.

A lovely day, and not what I expected to experience when I booked an Edinburgh weekend, but really, what better way to spend it?

We returned to the city early enough to wander around town a bit more, and then have dinner at a tiny little Italian place not far from our apartment that was quite good – the first antipasto/charcuturie plate I’ve had in a while that didn’t seem as if the kitchen had simply phoned in a Publix order and called it a day.

My view a week ago today…

You can see video of all of this at Instagram in the Story “Highlights.” Or this post.

Read Full Post »

Well, we are BACK, and while I’ve not finished posting day-by-day journals, I had time on the plane to pull together this summary of the trip, and so as the first load of laundry is going and the house is cooling down, I’ll post it.

I’ll admit it. I’m still basking in my finest moment of the return journey. Standing in line at a currency exchange joint at the ATL, knowing that it would be a rip off, but with 40 pounds still in my purse and no plans to return to the UK in the near future (no offense), I noted that the fee for the exchange was TWELVE DOLLARS AND NINETY-FIVE CENTS. Well, that’s stupid. And even more of a rip-off than I had expected. I turned to the people in line behind me and murmured, “Anyone need pounds?” Someone did. We looked up the conversion rate. We made a deal. He got pounds, I got dollars, no fees involved, a good deal all round.

As always, all posts will be linked on the Travel page.

All right, let’s go:




We’d been to England once before (well, twice for me, if you count a few hour-long layover at Gatwick) – to London back in 2017.

Before this, our last – that is the two remaining sort-of-living-at-home guys and my – overseas trip had been Spain in the summer of 2019. (The youngest and I had been to Honduras in the fall of 2019, the other one spent spring 2021 in Florence, Italy)  and by no means had any of us lived in a locked-down mindset over the past couple of years, either. But of course, others placed limits, so there we were.

(Speaking of Honduras, strangely enough, the plane we took from Atlanta to Birmingham tonight had come from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where we’d flown into back in 2019.)

During the late winter and early spring of 2022, restrictions stated lifting. The first to really give an all-clear was England, in early February, and I was on it.  I purchased round trip tickets to London as soon as restrictions lifted, not having a plan, just knowing that we would head over there and See Things.

It was far cheaper to fly out of NYC than Birmigham, even with a return directly to Birmingham, so I decided to combine it with a quick trip to NYC, where my oldest lives and works. We’d not been there since February 2020. What made it all the more interesting (potentially) was that there were two Broadway shows of possible interest playing during our time: Hugh Jackman in The Music Man and Daniel Craig in Macbeth. Plus, I wanted to take College Guy to Hadestown which I’d seen with the youngest back in 2020. Three shows in two days! How fun!

Well, as it turned out…we didn’t see either Music Man or Macbeth (explained here). But it was a good time anyway, and it’s weird that was all just two weeks ago, and we’re going to be home in a few hours.

So let’s do the basis itinerary, and then in the next post, I’ll share a bit about accommodations and meals.

First on “plans.” As I have written many, many times before, when it comes to life I am not a planner. I am an obsessive preparer but not a planner. However, there are certain things one must plan – for example, accommodations for three adults in busy, high-priced cities during tourist season, and then train fares in places where last-minute fares are many times more expensive than those purchased ahead.

(Although, I will say in defense of my non-planning – you can plan all you want, but when a rail strike is announced two weeks before your visit, you’d better have prepared.)

So yes, I planned. And everything went pretty much according to plan except:

  • We didn’t see either Music Man or Macbeth.
  • I had planned for possibly doing both an afternoon and much of the next day doing Hadrian’s Wall things. We decided the one afternoon was enough for this trip, so left the Hexham area earlier than planned. Then, of course, we got on the wrong freakin’ train to Edinburgh, thanks to me, so who knows if we saved any time at all?
  • Since we’d been to London in 2016, when I looked at those last couple of days, I’d initially thought : “day trips!” – Canterbury was first on the list, and then Portsmouth. But once we got to London on Monday, two things happened: First, I was sick to death of trains and train schedules and delays. I suspect others were as well. Secondly, my youngest, the history and museum fiend, walked around the city that first afternoon saying, “Yeah, I don’t remember any of this.”  So….maybe he’d enjoy just revisiting the British Museum and other places? (Narrator: He did.)

Tuesday, June 14:   Birmingham-New York, quite delayed, Chris Christie sighting in DC, Daniel Craig sighting at the stage door after Macbeth.

Wednesday, June 15: A day in NYC. Hadestown matinee. Dinner with the oldest at Raoul’s.

Thursday June 16:  Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island. Brooklyn Botanical Gardens with Ann Engelhart, who then took us to JFK. Fight to LHG supposed to leave at 10. Nightmare at JFK, our flight didn’t leave until maybe 1 am.

Friday, June 17: Arrived at Heathrow (late), bus to Oxford. Strolled around Oxford.

Saturday, June 18: Morning 30-minute tour of the Bodleian Library, afternoon private tour of Oxford.

Sunday, June 19:  Mass at the Oxford Oratory, visit to Tolkien’s grave, Oxford museums, Corpus Christi procession, no punting, unfortunately.

Monday, June 20:  Train to York. Stroll around York, including Yorkshire Museum Gardens and city walls.

Tuesday, June 21:  Mass at York Oratory. Jorvik Viking Center, York Minster, Shrine of St. Margaret Clitherow, Bar Convent Living Heritage Center.

Wednesday, June 22: Train from York to Newcastle, then change to Hexham. Afternoon: Hadrian’s Wall things, including the Roman Army Museum, a bit of the wall at Wallscrag, and the Vindolanda Fort and Musseum. Overnight in Hexham.

Thursday, June 23: Bus to Newcastle, train to….Edinburgh, unintentionally. Then train back to Berwick-on-Tweed. Lindesfarne, or Holy Island.

Friday, June 24:  Morning/early afternoon: boat tour to Staple Island. Puffins. Afternoon – train to Edinburgh, for real this time. See a bit of Edinburgh in the evening. But..rain.

Saturday, June 25: Edinburgh. National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle. Mass.

Sunday, June 26:  Royal Highland Show.

*****Note***** – the posts below….have not yet been written! As soon as they are, I’ll link.

Monday, June 27: 8 am train to London. Arrival late – because of residual strike-related issues and a delay on the line caused by stolen cables. Still plenty of time to stroll around London – starting down at Westminster Cathedral, working our way back up through the Westminster area, Covent Garden, etc.

Tuesday, June 28: Morning: Guided tour of “Legal London” – mostly the Royal Court of Justice. Afternoon: British Museum. Evening: King Lear at the Globe, starring Kathryn Hunter (who played The Witches in the recent Joel Coen Macbeth) as Lear.

Wednesday: June 29:  Youngest spent much of the day back at the British Museum, and then wandering around London. College Guy and I went down to the Piccadilly area, Liberty of London, and then up to Portabello Road/Notting Hill. We all met back up late afternoon at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Pub dinner, pack.

Thursday, June 30:  2pm flight from Heathrow. Very grateful not to have an early flight or to have to Covid-test. Slight delays and nonsense lines at Heathrow, and then, being Uber-ed in, very startled by the sight of huge black fences near our house because of the World Games. But we’re home and glad to be here.

Accomodations – where we stayed.

Read Full Post »

Well, I am stuck on a train that has stopped somewhere in a field in the middle of England, so might as well write a bit more.

We had (have) ticket from Edinburgh to London, but train travel has been chaotic because a) leftover complications from the strike (i.e. still reduced service, more people traveling who didn’t ravel last week) and b) theft of some cables from our route, which has made a “special working” necessary, I assume, so we don’t barrel along and crash into another train.

So let’s write about puffins.

Again, you are wondering….how…? Why?…I think it all goes back to me thinking about Scotland, and having associated puffins with Scotland, wondering, Where can we see puffins? And it turning out that a fantastic place to see puffins is not in Scotland, but in England, on the Farne Islands.

As I wrote before, the Farne Islands, off the east coast of England, are a favorite of David Attenborough. Every spring and summer, tens of thousands of birds nest and breed here – and you can, indeed, go see them. Which we did…via Billy Shiels Boat Tours.

We could have chosen to simply ride and view from the boat, but why do that when you can get off and walk amidst the puffins? Why?

So here you go. I don’t know what the other birds are. I was told, but I don’t remember, except that there are three different types of gulls. It was fascinating, loud, smelly and a great experience. For video, go to Instagram and click on the appropriate highlight. At some point I’ll do a proper Instagram post on it, but probably not until we get back.

Puffins live in burrows that are about an arm’s length long, and that split into two chambers.

We couldn’t help but continually wonder about St. Cuthbert sailing out to these islands (which he did) for a little peace and quiet away from the monastery…

We left from the harbor just below our hotel, and returned a little before one. Travel would be a little fraught – it was not a strike day, but of course, everyone was still living with the consequences.  We rode the bus from Seahouses up to Berwick-on-Tweed, where we’d hopefully get a train to Edinburgh (about 40 minutes by train.) I hadn’t purchased tickets ahead of time because I didn’t think it was necessary, but when we got off the boat, I noticed that a lot of trains – including the one we’d planned on taking – had been cancelled. So, out of an abundance of caution – as we say – I went ahead and got a ticket from 3:40.

The train station had a weird vibe going on – basically a post-event vibe. An attendant (they were just milling around outside) told me the trains had just started running again, and good luck – it might be crowded on ours.

Well, it was crowded, but it was also on time, and we had our seats, so no problem.

To Edinburgh!

Where we checked into our guest house – two rooms on the top floor with a bathroom that was not ensuite, but still just ours.

Dinner? Just down the bock was a well-reviewed Polish restaurant, so that was my choice for the night, and yes, it was excellent. And very Polish, including the clientele,

This was also the night that we really did understand that the further north you go…the more the sun is around this time of year. By 11pm…it was still pretty light outside. Crazy!

Read Full Post »

Well, here we are at last. Seahouses, UK. That’s our hotel in the center of the photo up there, the only “regular” hotel of the trip – all the rest have been small guesthouses, B & B’s and one apartment. The taxi driver got us to the hotel, kindly helped with our bags, we got checked in even though it was early, got ourselves ready, and set out for the Holy Island.

Here’s the brief history of Lindesfarne:

Possibly the holiest site of Anglo-Saxon England, Lindisfarne was founded by St. Aidan, an Irish monk, who came from Iona, the centre of Christianity in Scotland. St Aidan converted Northumbria to Christianity at the invitation of its king, Oswald. St. Aidan founded Lindisfarne Monastery on Holy Island in 635, becoming its first Abbot and Bishop. The Lindisfarne Gospels, a 7th century illuminated Latin manuscript written here, is now in the British Museum.

The island of Lindisfarne with its wealthy monastery was a favourite stop-over for Viking raiders from the end of the 8th century. These Vikings raiders obviously concerned the monks somewhat as they vacated the monastery and did not return for 400 years. Lindisfarne continued as an active religious site from the 12th century until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537. It seems to have become disused by the early 18th century.

Like Mont-St. Michel, Lindesfarne is a tidal island. It’s only accessible by road or walking at certain times of the day. The tidal charts for the current timeframe are here.

Not a great photo, and taken from the taxi. But you get the idea.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, and so this popular spot was very busy on a Friday afternoon. Our driver dropped us off a little after three and we agreed to meet there again at 5:30.

There was a very good little exhibit before you went out to the priory. The setting of the priory was not what I expected – I thought it would be high up on the coastline, looking out onto the sea, but it was actually set back a bit and down low, protected by a natural barrier.

There is a castle, though – and that sits up very high. It’s closed for the moment, but you can walk out there and around it, where you will have close encounters with sheep.

We started out with food – of which we’d not had any that day – crab salad sandwiches for two of us and a ham and cheese toastie (grilled cheese) for another. Then we wandered, together at times, splitting up at times. We hit the priory, of course, one of us got down to the tidal pools, others of us made our way to the sheep, and we all tasted some mead at  Lindesfarne Mead

Returning, we rested a bit, then had some fish and chips here, wandered a bit more, and one of us decided he wanted to take a dip in the North Sea. So he did.

Read Full Post »

Now things get complicated. And they also get stupid because of my mistake.

First off, let’s review. I had built in a potential almost full day for Hadrian’s Wall sites, with us then getting to the next stop (Seahouses) in the early evening, and doing the activities in that area on Friday. It would be tight getting them both in on one day, but I was pretty sure we could swing it.

But after our afternoon at the Roman Army Museum, a bit of the wall and Vindolanda, it was decided that this was enough. More would have been great, and perhaps will be another time, but given the complexities of travel, especially on a strike day, we thought it best to just get going Thursday morning in case we’d end up having to take a bus all the way.


The original plan had been to ride the train from Hexham to Newcastle, and then Newcastle to Alnmouth, where we’d get a taxi to Seahouses. There are buses from Alnmouth to Seahouses, but honestly, I just didn’t want to bother with figuring out and coordinating with one more schedule. It seemed as if it all work out – but then the strike was declared.

So..plan B. We’d have to take a bus from Hexham to Newcastle, since that train would not be running. However, there was limited service along the Edinburgh-London route, with a stop at Alnmouth. That would do fine.

Early Thursday morning I got the bright idea, though, of doing a taxi to Newcastle. It was only 22 miles, for heaven’s sake, and the bus would be almost an hour and a half. (78 – yes 78 – stops). The hotel clerk called a couple of services for me, but the answer was the same: “They’re all out taking kids to school and won’t be available until 10.” Taxis take kids to school in England? Okay, well good for them, bad for us, time to get up and get going to the bus station.

Newcastle train station was almost empty (of course. There’s a strike!) The ticket-taking gates were wide open. A train arrived at the right platform, destination Edinburgh, we got on for the 20+ minute ride to Alnmouth. Our tickets were never checked. We sped along. And kept going. And going.


I walked up and down the cars. There was no one working (it’s a strike!). I asked one of the four other passengers on the train if he thought the train would stop. He said maybe at this place…but also maybe not. But why? Was this an effect of the strike?

No, idiot – you got on the wrong train, that’s what. Which happened to be an express train to Edinburgh. Geez. Lesson learned. If a train pulls up and leaves early – that is probably not your train. And if you are not sure…ASK. (if you can find someone)

I had already booked tickets for a boat trip out to the Farne Islands from Seahouses that would be leaving at 1:30 that afternoon. Even getting to Edinburgh and getting on another train immediately to come back down south would not get us there in time. I did some rearranging, the boat company kindly transferred our tickets to Friday – and they didn’t mind because that freed up three more seats on an afternoon boat that was sold out. The taxi driver was kind and sympathetic, and even though I told him to charge me, he refused, and just asked for a good review instead – which he got and deserved. I was pretty upset about my stupidity, but it really did turn out fine. We just were able to flip our plans around, doing what we planned for Thursday on Friday, and Friday on Thursday….

So on we sped to Edinburgh, which would have been fantastic if that had been our train. Luckily, there was a train back leaving in about twenty minutes, so we just were able to get on that. It wasn’t stopping at Alnmouth, however, but at Berwick-on-Tweed, which was north of Seahouses, rather than south. Which was fine – we’d get there sooner, but not soon enough.

Arriving at Berwick-on-Tweed, I was really relieved to see a taxi stand. I went to a random driver, who was sitting in his car with his mate and explained the issue and the plan. Could he A) Take us from Berwick-on-Tweed to Seahouses so we could check into our hotel and drop our luggage then B) from Seahouses up to the Holy Island or Lindesfarne and C) get us a couple of hours later on the Holy Island and then take us back to Seahouses?

(There is a bus from Berwick to Seahouses, but you know – it’s a bus, with a schedule, and then I’d have to find a way up to Lindesfarne and back, which required a car on this particular day, since the tourist bus wasn’t running – so might as well use the same driver.)

They worked it out, consulted on a price, which was very fair, and off we went!

So yes, those were our two destinations on this very short leg of the trip:

Lindefarne, or Holy Island, where St. Aidan came from Iona to found a very early monastery, the Vikings invaded very early on, and the source, of course, of the famed Lindesfarne Gospels.


The Farne Islands – off the east coast, islands which David Attenborough said were his favorite place to see nature in the UK. Every spring through early summer, hundreds of thousands of birds nest here, including….

Well, that’s enough of this nonsense. Let’s do Holy Island in another post.

Read Full Post »

This is…a fairly crazy trip. I really cannot reconstruct how I came up with this itinerary except to say that, well, since we’re on this island, we might as well got to Scotland, and Hadrian’s Wall is on the way to Scotland, and people in this crew are interested in Romans and archaeology in general, so why not…

I am not sure if it was the best decision, but it is what it is, so where we are. Or were. Because we’re in Edinburgh now.


Time to leave York!

The route? York to Newcastle to Hexham, with fingers crossed that the rail strike that had been called for the previous and the next day wouldn’t affect our travel. It didn’t.

Newcastle train station

Everything went smoothly, we arrived at Hexham before noon and walked the very short distance from the station to our hotel, quite appropriately called:

It was a little shabby, but what mattered was in place: the beds and sheets in the Family Room (three twin beds) were super clean and the employees were incredibly nice, so we were good.

It was too early to check in, but we parked our bags at the hotel and found the Hadrian’s Bus and off we went!

But first – the original “plan:”

I had built in the afternoon of the 22nd and most of the day on the 23rd for Hadrian’s Wall stuff, after which we would make our way further north, to Seahouses. For puffins. But more on that in the next post.

I had a couple of destinations in mind, but beyond that had absolutely no idea how much time we would need or want to spend in the area. Of course, spending a lot of time, and doing so hiking along the path of the wall was something that would ideally be in the cards, but given that this trip was this trip and not that trip – well, as it turns out – it wasn’t in the cards after all. There are a few major sites to see and lots of smaller ones. One could hike a chunk of the Wall, or on another trip, the whole thing. What would we want to do? There was no way of predicting until we got there and saw how long it would take to get from one spot to another.

So here we go. First off – the Hadrian’s Wall Bus is a bus, obviously, dedicated to the route along the Wall, obviously. It runs seasonally, you buy a day pass, and hop on and off. It was certainly helpful, but would have been even more convenient if it had run more frequently – say every half hour instead of every hour. Perhaps during the really busy season (which I assume is July and August) it does.

First stop: The Roman Army Museum and, with a very short walk, Walltown Crags, one of the spots where one can see a stretch of Hadrian’s Wall.

It is just what it says, the exhibit beginning with a decent, albeit a bit cheesy 3-D film, and then continuing with a clear and interesting exploration of Roman army life on the frontier.

The women’s restroom was….interesting.

As I said, a short walk from the museum was a stretch of the Wall.

Of course, we had to time everything so we wouldn’t miss the next bus – or else we’d have to wait another hour after that.

Next, the spot I’d really been looking forward to – the Vindolanda Fort and Museum. It didn’t disappoint!

The site is a working excavation, continually turning up new finds, many of which are featured in the museum. The most well-known find at the site is the Vindolanda Writing Tablets:

The Vindolanda writing tablets, written in ink on post-card sized sheets of wood, have been excavated at the fort of Vindolanda, immediately south of Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. Dating to the the late first and early second centuries AD, the formative period of Roman Britain’s northern frontier, they were written by and for soldiers, merchants, women and slaves. Through their contents, life in one community on the edge of the Roman world can be reconstructed in detail.

I believe most of the tablets are in the British Museum, but they have a few on display in Vindolanda. The writing is faint, and they are delicate objects, but the display is helpful – the tablets are gently lit in a cycle, with a card and audio offering the text in both Latin and English.

Of course there is a lot more at the museum, since hundreds of people lived here and left signs and evidence of their lives – including shoes. Because of the composition of the soil at the level these were left – no oxygen – they did not decompose. Fascinating. I’m particularly taken with the designs of the textured soles.

There some folks working on the excavation.

We had to wait a bit for the bus for a few minutes after the site was closed, all alone in the parking lot, sheep gazing placidly at us from the other side of a fence. I got a touch concerned and wondered how we would get back to town if the bus didn’t show, but of course it did, so it was back to Hexham to actually go into our room (they’s gone ahead and put our bags in after check-in time), then walk up to the town for dinner in a pub, pop into the should-be-Catholic Hexham Abbey (closed to visitors, but the door was open and it looked to me like there was a wedding rehearsal happening), a stroll through Aldi, some time with a few rabbits on an athletic field..and back.

Now….tomorrow’s a strike day. We need to go somewhere. Huh.

Read Full Post »

I’ll make this quick.

I began the day by going to the 8:15 Mass at St. Wilfrid’s – the York Oratory. It was a Latin Low Mass. 9 people besides me in attendance, four men, five women. Two of the women were veiled, all but one wore slacks. I only mention this because in my limited travel and even more limited presence at Traditional Latin Masses, I’ve found that in such Masses in a) cities and b) non-US countries – the demographic is always diverse and one does not see the concerns and expectations associated with the TLM crowd – either in reality or via caricature – being expressed, at least in the externals.

Anyway, a stop for pastries and then a walk back to the apartment (York is very walkable – absolutely no public transportation needed) to awaken folks, and then up and out.

First stop: Jorvik Viking Center. I thought it would be cheesy, but it actually wasn’t. It’s a combined animatronic tour through a typical Viking village – the center is built over such a site – and a small museum, with a very well-informed and interesting docent giving a presentation. I can’t believe it, but it actually worked, and was well-done.

(I guess I didn’t take many photos there. To see more go to the York Highlights on my Instagram page.)

Then York Minster, including a climb up the tower. Imposing, beautiful in its way, but also sterile and expressive, not so much of Christianity but of national religion, which…makes sense. One can’t help but look around and wonder, What is this were still Catholic?

We joined in part of a short tour and went through the very good Undercroft Museum, which relates the history of the cite as it went back to the Roman era.

That’s Constantine sitting there – he was proclaimed emperor in York.

A walk along the famed “Shambles” – supposedly one of the inspirations for Diagon Alley, and as such, peppered with Harry Potter-themed shops. But of most interest is:

It’s the shrine of St. Margaret Clitherow, who lived on this street, hid priests and hosted them saying Mass and catechized children here.

Then….to the Yorkshire Museum, which was excellent – hosting good exhibits on the Roman era, the Jurassic period and the medieval period.

I am always so moved by these ancient funerary/memorial stones, especially those that are about children.

Then back towards our apartment and the nearby Bar Convent Living Heritage Center – basically a small museum offering exhibits on Recusant Catholicism and specifically the establishment of Mary Ward’s order, the Congregation of Jesus.

Included below are images of a portable altar set-up, a bed headboard which doubled as an altar, and a very interesting vestment which, when folded, looked like a bundle of ribbons sold by a peddler, but, with all of the proper colors, was suitable for celebrating Mass in any liturgical season.


Then…back through the gate, rest, and dinner. Pretty good Thai at a small chain.

Read Full Post »

Okay, I am waay behind here.

Monday it was time to go to York. I’ll begin by saying that this step had become a bit fraught because on Saturday afternoon, the owner of our Airbnb in York had messaged me to say that she was very sorry, but the work that was being done on the apartment would not be finished by Monday, and she was cancelling our reservation.


Luckily, there was a lot of availability, and I immediately got another apartment for just a touch more but with a lot more space and – best of all – a washer and dryer. Well, a washer/dryer combination that was, as per usual with European appliances, festooned with code and runes impossible to understand with no manual anywhere and no manufacturer name evident on the machine and no searching of “WD001” bearing any useful fruit. The owner did give us a rundown on how to operate it before she left us, which I made my sons listen to as well, since I am not, to say the least, an auditory learner.

But we are jumping ahead!

Monday morning, we got up, checked out and rode the bus to the train station, and after some delays – a truck had rammed into a bridge somewhere so we had to take another track – we got to York by 2pm.

(I will say that I am impressed with the English forthrightness about refunds. It’s all very clear and direct. We were only delayed by 22 minutes, but if it had been 30 – we would have been entitled to a 50% refund, no questions asked. An hour? 100%. I assume it all works, and if it does, it certainly is an incentive to run those trains on time.)

We walked to the apartment – about a 10 minute walk, through the Micklegate and over to Priory Street. As I said, the apartment was lovely, and the space just what we all needed after three nights together in one small (nice) room with two beds, total.

(Note Diet Coke. Spoiled brat me is grateful that they drink Diet Coke, not Coca-Cola Light, in England.)

Then off to York, and the first thing there was food – so let’s do fish and chips, of course.

Drake’s Fish and Chips. York Minister in the background.

By the time we finished eating, it was around 3:30, and the problem – something we’d found in Oxford as well – was that everything closes at 5, or at the very latest 6. I guess that is not a problem for employees who have a decent workday, but it is a little challenging when it comes to sightseeing or even shopping. We even found a lot of restaurants close by 7 or 8.

And I thought Birmingham (AL) was bad on that score…

So what that meant was that “attractions” – such as York Minster and the Yorkshire Museum – might have been open by the time we finished eating, but only for a short time. Oh, and I should mention that one of the major sites of York – the National Railway Museum – is close on Mondays and Tuesdays – both days of our visit, so that was out.

Well, what was in? The Museum gardens, for one, including the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey.

Followed by a walk atop a good chunk of York’s city walls – the largest stretch of city walls still remaining in England.

Followed, once we got back, by the always incredibly fun activity of figuring out the washing machine without a manual.

Tomorrow: More York and starting to stress about this “Industrial Action” – aka rail strike.

(Remember – I am posting more as we go on Instagram Stories, and each day’s set is archived in the Highlights.)

And I am writing this in a place that is not quite York:

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: