Posts Tagged ‘England’

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…..

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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:

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…where the internet is not great.

So this will be short. Not many photos to speak of. Hopefully lots more tomorrow.

This is the part where “flexible” gains meaning. I have no problem at all with being flexible and flowing during travel, but it just all gets more complicated in every way when you are traveling with others, even if the others are mature and flexible 21 and 17-year olds.

The reason for the need for flexibility? Train strike, of course. We did well today. It wasn’t a strike day, but we were warned all over the place that travel would be impacted on non-strike days as well. Well, today was fine, and didn’t seem impacted except maybe that the trains were not near full – and our York-Newcastle leg was almost empty until Durham.

Oh, and here’s Durham. One of the many places I would have liked to have gone to….

But…tomorrow. A strike day. But I think we have worked it out, helped by the fact that today we essentially knocked off all the Hadrian’s Wall sites we wanted to see which means we can get away earlier and give ourselves more time for strike-related stress. At another time, on a different trip, we would have taken a couple of days and done some serious walking between parts of the wall, but this wasn’t that trip. What we saw was great and fun, and I’ll tell you more about it tomorrow, along with more about York and then, hopefully…another thing. Which hopefully we will get to tomorrow.

So until then, a couple of things:

I misspoke in a previous post when I declared that the sun sets around 10 and rises around 6. I was awakened by the sun this morning, blinked, looked at my phone….

4:09 AM.


Secondly, from York Minster yesterday. I’ve seen a lot, but I’d never seen this:

Also, the most entertaining aspect of Brit-talk to me is the almost universal service person (cashier, server) greeting of “Hiya!”

Will be adopting it immediately so get ready.

In the meantime: Cheers!

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Lots of places had Corpus Christi processions this past weekend.

So back in Alabama – my parish of the Cathedral of St. Paul. These are wonderful photos – go check them out!

Then down in Mobile:

And then in Oxford, England – where we continued our tradition of seeing a Corpus Christi procession in a another country (well, if by “tradition” you mean “we were in Seville for Corpus Christi in 2019”).

We didn’t process – but I knew that it began at 2, and would be passing by the Ashmoleon Museum while we were there. So we popped out and there they were:

(Remember that with a gallery in these posts – you can click on the individual photos and you’ll get a larger version)

Here’s what I particularly liked:

They were handing out cards to those on the street (and there were a lot – this was one of Oxford’s main streets on a busy Sunday afternoon) – cards which explained what this was all about, with contact information.

As Pope Benedict said on nearly every occasion of a Corpus Christi procession during his papacy – this is a moment in which we do what we are called to do all the time – take Christ out into the world that needs Him so badly. Taking that one, very small step further – of actively inviting and engaging the curiosity and interest witnessing the procession might inspire – is, yes, brilliant.

We’re hearing about the “need” for a Eucharistic Revival which, in the United States, is animating much of the energy for the Corpus Christi processions and 40 Hours devotions this year. The “need,” though, is often articulated in terms of Catholic identity and not much more. Well, there is much more – and it’s what this card expresses. The “need” for the Eucharistic revival is, at its simplest, the need of every person in the world for Christ.

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I mean—for some reason, I just did not expect that here in the UK and it is sort of messing with me.

Anyway, we are still here, with tomorrow beginning what was always the most complicated part of this journey, made even more so by the rail strike. We shall see…

Anyway, let’s try to catch up.

When we last spoke, it was a weekend in Oxford. Let’s take care of Sunday.

The goal Sunday was: Mass, museums and punting. Everything happened – except the punting. By the time we got to that part of the day, it was raining off and on, so no, we weren’t going to push a boat around in the river with a pole in the rain, as fun as that sounds.


The Oxford Oratory. I had thought we might try to 11am Latin Sung Mass, but everyone agreed that would be too late, simply because all of the museums (and everything else) closes at 5. We weren’t sure if we’d have enough time, with the later Mass.

It was a lovely Mass – in English, with Mass parts in Latin in familiar settings. We all marveled at the experience of going to Mass in a foreign country, and for the first time, being able to understand everything.

Including the homily, which was so very good, and one of those good homilies that had depth but clarity and simplicity in a way that makes you wonder, “Is this really so hard? Why can’t more homilists do this?”

You can hear it here.

Right after Mass, we hopped on the bus that would take us a just a few miles north to visit a grave. Whoe grave?

We weren’t the only visitors. On the bus with us were two young men speaking, I think, a Scandinavian language – and they got off on the the same stop. They walked more purposefully (we didn’t know they were headed to Tolkien or else we would have just followed them), and a woman with a dog asked us, “Looking for Tolkien?” and as we answered affirmatively, she led us part way there, advising us that his house was about halfway between the cemetery and town, but really wasn’t worth going to.

As we left, we saw here putting on gardening gloves, tending to a grave. She wasn’t the only one – there on Father’s Day, there were quite a few doing the same.

I had made, changed and finally cancelled reservations at a pub for a traditional Sunday roast lunch – I thought that traditional experience would be fun, but ultimately decided that time was of the essence, and that might take too much of it, especially since I figured out that a visit to Tolkien’s grave was possible. So we settled for meat pies at the Oxford Covered Market instead:


There are several in Oxford, all free. We hit four of them

1 – Museum of the History of Science

2 – The Natural History Museum

3 – The Pitt River Museum

4 – The Ashmoleon Museum.

1 – The smallest of the four, with three floors jammed with scientific instruments. Interesting – more so if you are knowledgeable about, well, science. What struck me most of all – as it always does with exhibits of this sort – is the evidence of a time long ago, when beauty was valued:

Also, Einstein’s blackboard:

2 – I’ve been to plenty, and this was a good one! I wander through, on the lookout for things to learn. Here I learned about a few types of non-flying birds of which I’d previously been unaware, and got a good look at some interesting fossils found in England.

The museum’s most well-known holding is the only remaining organic tissue sample of a dodo bird – part of its head. It used to be on display, but is only available to be seen by appointment now.

As interesting to me as the exhibits was the building itself. You can read about it here – but it expresses, quite powerfully, the ideals of the 19th century, a time of confidence in the interrelation of the natural world, art and human experience. It’s filled with statues of famous scientists, of course, and the design is Art Noveau/Pre-Raphaelite, using nature as the inspiration. Column capitals are each a different type of plant life and the exhibit hall itself is ringed by columns made of stone – each identified – from the British Isles.

3- The Pitt River is the back part of the natural history museum, and you can read about the origins of the collection here – as with so many museums, in the gathering of curiosities. I didn’t spend a lot of time here, even though I usually enjoy that type of museum very much. It was…big, the collection was a bit overwhelming, and it was hot. Sorry.

4 – The Ashmoleon was excellent – a real mix of archaeology and art. One of its more well-known pieces is Powhatan’s mantle:

That was…a lot of museum!

Oh, we also got a visit to Blackwell’s bookstore in there – which was marvelous and inspiring. Let’s get writing and reading again!

I’m always particularly interested in new angles on presenting old information – for example this series of books from Princeton which essentially repackages new translations of classical authors with titles that frame the contents in terms of questions and issues that people are still wondering about today – How to Keep an Open Mind, How to Tell a Story, How to be Content, How to Run a Country…as these Brits like to say…Brilliant!

Oh, and here’s a copy of James Joyce’s death mask for sale for a few thousand, if you like:

Meals? Late afternoon snack at a fast food sushi/bowl place/chain called Itsu, and then a kebab from a truck later, when we’d returned to the guest house.

But let’s not forget the Corpus Christi procession!

More on that in the next post…and then we’ll head to York.

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