May 30 - June 2:  Cheers from York and Hadrian’s Wall

We had a great time in northern England. York is a beautiful walled city with lots of tourists. (It was a bank holiday and children were on holiday from school, too.) The Minster, the local cathedral, is large, impressive, and beautiful. It dates back to 1220 and is the largest Gothic church north of the Alps. It has a Chapter House with a large dome and no central pillar. It is filled with stonework with funny carvings of heads of strange looking people and animals. The choir area and organ were nice. There were beautiful stained glass windows, of course. The Shambles is the oldest street in town, with nice Tudor buildings and leaded glass. Clifford’s Tower is all that’s left of the castle. There are 4 city gates, and walking the wall is fun. Right near our B&B were the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey and a beautiful park.

The next day we went to the Yorkshire Museum. York was conquered many times. There were prehistoric people and Celts before the Romans came along and made England famous. In fact, Constantine was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in York in 306 AD. Then came the Saxons, Vikings, and Normans, before we start getting into the English nobility. I didn’t realize what a nasty fellow Henry VIII was until I learned about his dissolution of all the abbeys in the country in order to take over their wealth. The country is littered with ruined abbeys. Later that day we went to the local cinema to see our first movie since we left home. We just had to see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on opening day, which was May 31 in England. It was lots of fun. That Hermione is getting cuter than ever. After that we made a quick visit to the National Railway Museum. Not my cup of tea, but Rob really liked it. We had excellent Indian food that eve.

The next day we drove to Haltwhistle, who’s claim to fame is that it’s the middle of Britain, and the gateway to Hadrian’s Wall. On the way we stopped at a neat N.T. site called Fountains Abbey (1132) and Studley Royal (an 18th century. water garden). The Abbey was a ruin, but well preserved and quite large. It was one of the richest abbeys in Europe. It had an interesting mill that survived Henry VIII’s dissolution of all the abbeys. You could see the mill and how it functioned. There was a little museum that helped recreate the life of a Benedictine monk.

Our B&B in Haltwhistle was out in the gorgeous countryside with lots of hills, stone walls, cattle, and sheep. It was all pasture, no farmland. We drove through some stark fells to get there. Our rooms had a view of Hadrian’s Wall, and we were only a short walk to a great rural pub called Milecastle Inn. We met two local fathers and their sons at the table next to ours, and talked for a long time. They were going to hike and camp for three days. They hoped to hike fifteen miles per day of the Wall. I think Alex and David may become e-mail pals, especially after spending our second night having dinner with them at the pub.

We hiked three or four miles of the wall the next day. Hadrian’s Wall was built by the Romans from coast to coast across this skinny part of Britain to keep out the difficult Scottish clans. Part of it we walked on, but most of it has a trail next to it. The views were great. Later we went to Alnwick Castle where they filmed the outdoor scenes from Harry Potter I and II. People still live inside, and you can tour the State Rooms which are fully furnished including family photos. People go to see the castle and gardens, and the Harry Potter angle is downplayed. After that, we stopped at a N.T. site called Cragside House. William Armstrong (1810-1900) was an inventor and this house was the first in the world to have electricity. All the rooms were furnished and left the way they were, even though no one lives there now. It had a huge rock garden with hundreds of rhodies.

That’s all for now, Pat