A Travellerspoint blog

England

Blooming Britain

semi-overcast 17 °C

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As we wander down this leafy lane the words of an Ivor Novello song remind us of the beauty of spring in England.
"We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again
And walk together down an English lane
Until our hearts have learned to sing again
When you come home once more."

We are briefly back 'home' in England after a month in Spain and Britain is in full bloom. Spring came early this year and we enjoyed several weeks of balmy weather that brought out the daffodils and magnolias before we took off for Spain. But now we are back and the streets of London are scented with the blossoms of lilacs, wisteria, jasmine, and mock orange, while the woods and fields are simply carpeted with colour. These are woodland bluebells...
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And these are drifts of cowslips that thrive on open moorland in southern England...
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The rugged south coast of England is sculpted into numerous bays beneath towering cliffs of sandstone and chalk, and the windswept headlands are renowned for their abundance of golden gorse and broom...
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The wonderful 'coconut' fragrance of the flowering gorse at Hengistbury Head fills the air on a sunny afternoon and the view of Bournemouth Bay from the top of the cliffs is quite stunning...
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Rural England is particularly beautiful at this time of the year and we especially like the ancient villages and towns where historic buildings line the streets and surround the village common. For instance - this is the 900-year-old flint church in the village of Clapham in Sussex...
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All buildings of a certain age are protected by law and required to be maintained under strict supervision. They are known as 'Listed buildings' and are graded according to their historical importance. Owning a listed house or building can be very expensive and onerous and there are circumstances when it is necessary to take steps to preserve them. And that is where the Weald & Downland Living Museum comes in. This is a Medieval farmhouse that needed rescuing..
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This farmhouse, and many other buildings, have been moved to the museum in the beautiful Sussex countryside near Chichester where they have been lovingly restored and cared for. Houses, shops, farms, a school, and even a working flour mill, have all been reconstructed here. This is a substantial Tudor mansion...
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When we arrived, we thought we had slipped through a time warp back to the 16th century as costumed people wandered the streets and costermongers hawked their wares in the marketplace...
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We soon learned that they were actors making a Christmas movie. However, the museum is no stranger to the screen and a very popular BBC series titled, "The Repair Shop" is filmed in an ancient barn here. In the program, people bring heirlooms to be restored by expert craftsmen, but there is no point in turning up with granddads broken down bike to get the puncture repaired. Only specially selected guests get their knickknacks brought up to scratch.
On the subject of fixing things up on the screen, we have one more stop in England before returning home. See you soon.

Posted by Hawkson 12:25 Archived in England Comments (5)

London's Highlights.

overcast 10 °C

Anyone fooled by our last blog into believing that mistletoes are some mystical toeless creatures, should really have taken a closer look at the date! No fooling today as we take another look at some of London's highlights before we fly to Malaga on Wednesday. London's most iconic building, the Elizabeth Tower housing the giant bell known as Big Ben, has been under wraps for several years while being given a make-over...
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We have photos of the tower from previous visits but it's nice to see its shiny new face...
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Despite the fact that the 13-ton bell cracked shortly after installation, Big Ben has been chiming almost continuously since the tower was completed in 1859 following a disastrous fire that destroyed the Palace of Westminster in 1834. The enormous clock, with hands more than 14 feet long, can be reached by a staircase of 334 steps, but it is not open to the public. However, not far away, there is an equally impressive tower that was also built as a result of a great fire...
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The 311 stone steps of the spiral staircase inside this monument appeared as a question in our last blog entry. The monument, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was erected immediately after the Great Fire of London in 1666 and stands 202 feet from the place where the fire was believed to have started in Pudding Lane...
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The 350-year-old Monument to the Great Fire of London has also been given a facelift and the top has been re-gilded...
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The cage over the viewing platform, 202 feet above the ground, is not to stop gold thieves but to prevent suicides and accidental deaths; several of which occurred shortly after its construction.
Much of the City of London was destroyed in the Great Fire but 'it's an ill wind that blows no good,' and the inferno not only swept away countless rat-infested slums, but it enabled a new modern city to be built. The fire also had the effect of ending the bubonic plague that had ravaged the city in the preceding year. St. Paul's Cathedral, also by Wren, was just one of the magnificent buildings erected following the Great Fire but, today, this building, which is almost as big as St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, is dwarfed by ultra-modern glass and concrete towers with names like, 'The Gherkin' and 'The Cheese Grater' ...
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The 10016 foot high 'Shard' is another of London's soaring modern structures...
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There are magnificent views of London from the top of Wren's Monument, but it is not the only high spot on today's tour. This is London Eye...
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This giant Ferris wheel is still in its original location on the south bank of the Thames, even though it was supposed to be only a temporary construction to celebrate the Millenium 22 years ago. And this is the Emirates cableway that flies over the river at Greenwich...
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There are sweeping views of London's Docklands from the gently swaying cars...
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Now we are coming down to earth for the next couple of days in London as we prepare to take off for Spain.
Hasta luego amigos

Posted by Hawkson 15:48 Archived in England Comments (5)

Loving London

sunny 8 °C

Firstly - the answer to the question in the previous entry.
These are nests of the greater spotted mistletoes: a name derived from the
fact that the toes of these elusive nocturnal creatures are completely hidden by feathers
and were originally believed to be non-existent (thereby 'mistle toes or missing toes').
Both the greater and lesser spotted mistletoes deposit small white eggs in clusters
throughout their nests. For centuries, gullible young men have been persuaded to risk
their lives to collect egg laden branches in the belief that any young maiden will be
forced to kiss them under its spell. Some people will believe anything.

We are now loving London where there seems to be more wildlife than in the countryside...
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However, not everyone thinks of tropical parakeets as being a wild British bird, but when they
began escaping from aviaries a while ago they soon found that tourists couldn't read the multiple
park signs saying, "Don't Feed the Wildlife", and they thrived.
London's Royal Parks are splendid in the warm sunshine and the amorous waterfowl have put
on their courting coats. This is one of the many Egyptian ganders hoping to get lucky on the
Serpentine in Hyde Park...
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But there are plenty of other birds swanning about in search of a mate...
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While this beautiful heron seemed more interested in checking out his looks in the mirror...
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When it comes to preening, there is surely no creature more elegant than the cavalry horse and on two occasions this week we were lucky enough to watch a full performance of the Household Cavalry in full regalia as they paraded in Hyde Park in preparation for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations to be held in the summer...
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The drum horses of the mounted band were especially magnificent...
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These specially bred and trained drum horses are a unique feature of the Household Cavalry, having to carry the rider in full regalia together with a pair of heavy silver drums.
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As we watched, a hundred and seventy horses paraded for inspection by the General Officer Commanding the Household Division, Major General Christopher Ghika, and then performed a number of ceremonial exercises lasting over an hour. It was an exhilarating display of horsemanship accompanied by some excellent martial music - and it was absolutely free...

Our London 'home' is very close to Hyde Park which is radiant with spring colour, but many of the streets of London are simply bursting with blooms. Magnificent magnolias snuggle in the shelter of the tall buildings.
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However, when it comes to blooms, nothing is likely to rival the moat of the 11th century Tower of London. Preparations are under way to turn the fortresses's moat into a meadow filled with twenty million flowers to commemorate the Queen's Platinum Jubilee year. Hundreds of tons of specially prepared soil are being poured into the moat in which the 20,000,000 plants will grow.
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After two weeks of warm sunshine in England we decided to stay for a third - and then it snowed!
Yes, dear reader, an arctic freeze swept south and plunged the temperature nearly 20 degrees overnight.
Only a few more days and we will head south to Spain.

Now - today's puzzle. Is this some creative piece of modern art or part of some monumental historical artifact?
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Answer next time as we take a tour around London's high spots (hint!).

Posted by Hawkson 17:19 Archived in England Comments (7)

Blooming Britain

sunny 18 °C

When our government finally loosened the reigns and permitted us to venture back into the world, we decided that the British Isles might be the safest place to start. We planned a two-month tour that encompassed visits to all the family and to the four corners of Britain. And then the storms hit! One hurricane after another lashed the U.K. a few weeks ago and when we looked at the potential forecast for April, we cancelled almost all our plans and settled on sunny Spain instead. However, we first had to visit the family members in England whom we had not seen for more than two years, and so we dressed to suit the proverb that we learned as children. “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers...”
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But we were children long before “climate change” upended the weather. Two weeks of sunshine with temperatures hovering near 20 degrees have brought Britain into bloom more than a month early. As we drove across the country from London to the West of England the buds burst, and flowers simply shot out of the roadsides...
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The darling buds of May burst forth– in March! Daffodils, primroses, cowslips, celandines, peonies and magnolias were all in bloom, together with the first tulips and bluebells. Even the palm trees had put on their summer fronds...
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By the end of our first week with barely a cloud in the sky and summer-like temperatures we thought, 'this won't last'. But it did. The Tudor houses and great cathedral of the ancient market town of Hereford simply glowed in the warm sunshine...
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Hereford cathedral was begun 1079 but its most famous antiquity is this map of the known world that was created on a sheet of vellum made from a whole calf's skin around 1300...
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The Mappa Mundi was neglected for centuries but was restored in 1855. It is so rare and valuable that it was carefully hidden during the Second World War. However, in 1988, the cathedral was in such bad shape physically and financially that consideration was given to selling the map. Many benefactors came to the cathedral's aid and allowed it to retain one of its great treasures. The other treasure of Hereford Cathedral is the world's largest chain library...
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In medieval times, beautifully handwritten and illuminated manuscripts took months or even years to write and many of the books in this library are five or six hundred years old, These theological tomes were irreplaceable, so were chained to the shelves to prevent light-fingered clergymen from adding to their private collections.

Our visit to Hereford enabled Sheila to re-unite with five of her childhood friends: a reunion which was planned to take place in 2020 but was delayed by Covid...
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Here are the six friends together with Sir Edgar Elgar, the famous composer who was born in Hereford.
From Hereford we continued southwest to Devon, stopping overnight in one of the country's oldest hotels: The George at Norton St. Philip...
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We slept in a room that has been in use for some 700 years. Luckily, they have changed the beds.
From Norton St. Philip, we travelled on to the north Devon coast before crossing Exmoor to the south coast at Exmouth where Sheila was reacquainted with a friend from her teaching days in China forty years ago...
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It may be March, but the warm spring weather brought out the buckets and spades and we even saw people swimming in the sea...
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Now we are in London. There is so much to see and do that we may not rush off to Spain right away. In the meantime – here's a question for our Canadian readers. All over southern England we spotted these giant 'nests' high in the trees. But what kind of creature could have made them?
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If you have read this far – thank you very much for your patience. We have so many travel tales still to tell and have a lot of catching up to do. So, we are very happy that are joining us on our travels. See you soon from sunny London.

Posted by Hawkson 15:55 Archived in England Comments (13)

Great Britain

semi-overcast 8 °C

We thought we might stumble into a little history when we arrived in England and we made a start with a city closely connected to North America. This is the harbour in Plymouth...

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While every American firmly believes that: a) the Pilgrim Fathers were the first European settlers in America, and: b) the Mayflower began its transatlantic voyage from Plymouth, the truth is a little different. Here's the proof. This is us in 2010 in Southampton at the actual starting point...

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There were already many European colonies in North America by the time the Mayflower and a smaller ship, the Speedwell, set sail from Southampton on August 5th 1620. However, the Speedwell ran into difficulties in the Atlantic and was leaking so badly it returned to the nearest port, Plymouth. The Pilgrims continued to the New World on September 6th aboard the Mayflower but the voyage had begun in Southampton.

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As we watched this two-master leaving Plymouth under the cannons of the Citadel we could not imagine the conditions under which the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic 400 years ago – more than a 130 passengers and crew on a ship only 100 feet long. The Mayflower reached America in November but more than 65 Pilgrims and crew had died by the following spring when they finally found a safe place to land. While Plymouth wasn't the starting port of the Mayflower it was the place that Sir Humphrey Gilbert set sail for Newfoundland on Jun 11th 1583 to claim it for Queen Elizabeth I.

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This is Plymouth Hoe – the greensward where, it is alleged, that Sir Francis Drake insisted on finishing his game of bowls before he sailed to defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588. Here's Sir Francis standing high above the Hoe...

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And this is the entrance to the 16th century fortress, the Citadel, that is still a naval base today...

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Sir Francis Drake was an English Naval officer, a privateer, a slave-trader and a pirate who made his first voyage to the Americas in1563 with his cousin, Sir John Hawkins, (Not related to James – Or was he?) The Hawkins family of Plymouth owned a fleet of ships and, between 1577 and 1580, Drake sailed around the world and returned home with looted Spanish treasure worth more than 500 million pounds today. Queen Elizabeth I was very grateful as the treasure cleared the national debt. Sir Francis died and was buried at sea but his benefactor, Queen Elizabeth I, lies here, our next stop, in London's Westminster Abbey...

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There is so much history in Westminster Abbey that we wouldn't know where to begin. Thirty English kings and queens are buried here along with hundreds of Britain's elite. It is a magnificent building nearly a thousand years old but we were not allowed to take photos inside. We can show you the Pyx Chamber under the Abbey...

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This vaulted strongroom built in 1070 was where official samples of gold and silver coins were kept so that newly minted coins could be tested against them.

And so to the last event of the day – a thunderous evening of classical music at the Royal Albert Hall culminating in Puccini's Nessun Dorma, the 1812 Overture complete with cannons and muskets, and a rousing rendition of Land of Hope and Glory.

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It's enough to make us feel nostalgic!

Posted by Hawkson 06:08 Archived in England Comments (5)

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