Tuesday, June 1:  To the Border

After breakfast we loaded up the car, along with accumulated dirty laundry, and painfully negotiated the traffic jams just outside the city walls around to the long-promised “Washeteria.” In about a mile’s drive we passed three post offices, so I began to think I might be able to side-step a planned excursion back into town. I inquired of the proprietor about a xerox machine, and he suggested the newsagent on the opposite corner, which just happened to have a post office in it. Right. Xeroxed the boys exams inside, borrowed a stapler from the clerk, assembled a package for St. Charles and then hit the Post Office. Sent the exams by priority mail, sent some CD backups by slow mail and sent off some post cards. Then I bought a phone card from the newsagent, wandered down the road and phoned St. Charles to tell them that the previous day’s fax was a mess and they should wait for the real thing. And while I was doing all this, Pat got all the wash done.

The proprietor seemed an intelligent fellow, so we chatted some, and had a good laugh about how the Brits don’t take to the French and the French don’t take to the Brits. He said to me, tongue-in-cheek, “Paris, its a real nice place. Too bad about the people, though.” I asked his advice about the route out of town, and he gave us a great recommendation for a scenic, fairly direct, low-traffic route. Out of town, traffic was backed up for miles coming in, but we made it out just fine.

After a little more than hour’s drive, Pat suggested a stop at an NT site, Fountains Abbey, also a World Heritage site. The Abbey was once quite huge, and the ruins are fairly intact, just no roofs or windows and some destruction of the tops of the walls. The church was on the scale of all but the biggest cathedral we have seen, and the cloisters were the most impressive and the longest. It took little imagination to sense the grandeur it all must have once contained. The nearby mill house had a working waterwheel, and a fabulous milling demonstration the boys could just barely crank-up by hand together, where they converted corn to a coarse flour. After Henry VIII dissolved the Abbey, it passed into private hands, and the stream fueling the mill was channeled into a massive set of reflecting pools and gardens as part of the estate. The long walk to these features coincided with a steady increase in the rain, but we didn’t get too soaked. Lunch was in the restaurant where the boys had a great kids meal and I had a wonderful apple crumb pudding, covered with warm custard. (Photo 179)

The drive in the rain featured heavy traffic, and the addition of farm machinery driving for miles at half the posted speed limit. But quite soon, our recommended route left the cars and lorries behind, and we passed through ever smaller villages and the roads got skinnier and windier. The scenery changed dramatically as we passed open hillsides criss-crossed with stone fences, and huge hillsides with no trees or agriculture. In the Allston Moor, we passed through a free range area, with several dead lambs by the side of the road. Once through Allston, we ended up on a one-lane road (that’s one lane total, serving both directions, with further constrictions at bridges), at times bounded by high stone fences on both sides, passing up and over a ridge before descending into the valley formed by the River Tyne (which empties into the ocean at Newcastle). The view from the ridgetop was quite nice, because by now the rain had stopped (or we’d driven out of it).

Into Haltwhistle proper, and a phone call to John Lewis got us directions out of town to our rooms at Doors Cottage. Only took two extra exploratory turns to find the proper route. We have two separate rooms in the daylight basement of a small house. As this is the total capacity of the lodgings here, the bathroom and lobby area are all ours also. Out the windows we see sheep and many rabbits about, Hadrian’s Wall a few hundred yards away, and the next ridgetop over is Scotland. Its a nearly ideal setup.

For dinner we walked a perilous quarter-mile further down the road with no footpath and around three or four blind corners to the Milecastle Inn. Seemed every table had children at it, and we ended up in the one alcove with a regulation height ceiling, along with a table with two fathers and their two sons, aged 13 and 10. Very quickly we began a long conversation about all sorts of topics, such as the euro, the price of petrol, France (“How is being called a ‘roast beef’ an insult? I’ve never figured that one out.”), travel, and British humor (Monty Python, Benny Hill, etc.). They were very enjoyable to talk to, had a good sense of humor, well informed on politics, and the older son was very interested to learn all he could about “America.” The pub was about as authentic as we’ve seen, and the food was delicious, so it was a great evening with the locals. They are both police officers from down around Oxford and they are walking 45 miles of Hadrian’s Wall in three day-long segments. Fair chance we might see them tomorrow night again at the same place for dinner.

As we walked home, the moon rose over the hill, and the sun set in the other direction. The brief rain squall and thunder that had accompanied us to the pub had stopped and now the skies were clear and crisp. We said hello to our neighbor as he worked the gate so he could bring his car out onto the road, a sheep farmer that looked like he was right out of a James Herriot episode.