Thursday, April 30, 2009

We're sailing away on the crest of a wave . . .

If you are a left-hand-shaker then you will recognise the following lyrics by the famous Ralph Reader:
We're riding along on the crest of a wave, and the sun is in the sky.
All of our eyes on the distant horizon, Look out for passers by.
We'll do the HAILING ! When all the ships around are sailing,
We're riding along on the crest of a wave, And the world is ours.

For those who have no idea what I am talking about, this is the chorus to a famous scouting song, sung at every Gang Show! And it seemed an apt way to start todays blog as we set sail for the Emerald Isle, the Isle of Smiles, the land of the little people - Ireland!!

So we had breakfast with the other Aussies and an English couple on their way home from a 2 day visit to Belfast. It was raining very steadily this morning and we could not see across the Bay to Stranraer from Cairnryan. Kay and Steve at Cairnryan House chatted with us as we were off, sharing some of their travel experiences which was lovely. We also had a chat about the various booking internet sites and together we agreed that advertising in print publications is hardly worth the money for the return through bookings from them these days. Better to have a good website (like they do) with an online booking form and good keywords.

Got an SMS from Donna this morning throwing some light on the truck slogan from yesterday - Quilton is the brand evidently! Thanks sis.

A visit to the Post Office was the first order of the day. We had accumulated 14kgs of brochures and booklets from our travels and visits to various attractions! So, bundled into four parcels we managed to get them and another bottle of amber gold on their way home for the princely sum of £94. Back home, double that and then say OMG!!

And still it rains. So we went to the Starfish Restaurant for a nice hot cuppa before going down to the Tourist Information Centre to get some information and a map for Ireland. Michael sets off for a walk in the rain to take a look at the local Museum (sans camera), while I settle down in the car with a novel. We still have a little while to wait before we can check in for the ferry.
Two hours before the ferry is due to leave we are able to check in - just to wait in a vehicle queue. Both of us with novels now - and still in the rain, although it has lessened somewhat now. After a little while, the sun wins out and the rain is banished - there are still clouds, but it is dry enough to encourage the owners of 4 MGs in the queue to fold down their canopies - showoffs!

At about 2:25pm we are given the signal to start our engines and progress to - - the next queue area! Not for long though and we are soon filing two by two (cars that is) onto the very impressive HSS Voyager - one of the stars in the Stena Line fleet. We manage to snaffle a window table on the passenger deck just six steps up from the car deck and have an uninterrupted view out. The engines roar and the captain annouces that we are about to depart Scotland for Northern Ireland. Then all goes quiet and we glide away from the dock noiselessly. Stranraer quietly slips by as we steam out into the calm waters of Loch Ryan. I am thrilled as we hardly feel a thing and my stomach stays put! As we come out of the regulated speed area of the Loch, the engines again change pitch as they rev up and the whole boat rises out of the water so that the bow is much higher than the stern - this act generates a wave that is about 1 metre high! So yes, check out that song chorus again - that us!

There are two lighthouses out on the western coast of Scotland here and the beacon on the Corsewall lighthouse sends steady bursts out into the Irish Sea as does the one at Portpatrick as we are sailing by. There are a couple of things that we find amazing - the patches of turquoise water amidst the blue of the deep, the calmness of the water - not even much of a swell today, and the fact that looking in one direction we can still see the lands of Scotland as the ferry cuts speed entering the channel to come into Belfast Harbour! Our sea trip is 48 miles, but at the shortest point, it is only 21 miles from coast to coast.

On board the staff are conducting a raffle to raise funds to train a guide dog. Most people are buying tickets and as it is only £1 and for a good cause, so do we. And what do you know? We won first prize! A bottle of DKNY Woman perfume and a bottle of SE Australian Semillion Chardonnay wine.

As we come into Northern Ireland the land looks very similar to Scotland's coast. But of course Belfast is a large city and there is no town of this size on the Scottish western seabord! The docks of Belfast look amazing when coming in from the sea-side. So we are here for three nights, staying at the Parkview B&B about 1 mile from the city centre. Much bigger than any of the other B&Bs we have stayed in - and really more like a hostel. Thankfully we have our own ensuite shower, but the toilet is on the landing below. Oh yes, we are three floors up! In the attic!! And for £61 per night! Belfast is a lot more expensive than any other city we have stayed in with the exception of London.

On the recommendation of the B&B staff we went to a small local restaurant. Satisfying but all in all a little ordinary. The staff were very very friendly though and the Magners Cider is, of course, wonderful as usual!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In search of the little green man

No, I am not referring to Absinthe!
And I am not referring to that carry over from pagan times that can be discovered in most of the churches in the form of foliage infested carvings of the male head.
I am of course, referrring to that lucky Irish being - the Leprechaun!!

Despite trying not to re-trace our steps, today we headed north into Scotland again (told you we were having trouble leaving!) in order to get the shortest ferry across to Belfast from Stranraer - all of a 1 hour journey. From York we got on the A1(M) and headed back across the beautiful countryside that is the southern edge of The Lakes District and in fact went through the edge of Penrith, making us only about 8 miles from Skirwith where we spent a lovely week in March. There are fields and fields of bright yellow with the rapeseed in full bloom. It provides such a beautiful contrast to the various greens of the fodder crops.

En-route we made two stops. The first was at Brough Castle which we had previously passed once. It was a bit of a surprise. First of all, there was heaps of traffic turning off to Brough. Turns out there was a funeral in town - complete with 'Parking for today's funeral' and an attendant in a field near the church - and the field was full! And parked only two spots where we are in the castle carpark (the parking extrended right throughout the village), there was a Goggo-mobile! The driver looked just like the fellow in the advert, complete with a suit that obviously is not worn too often! Never did find out who the funeral was for - obviously someone that was well loved locally.

Michael set off up the footpath to the castle ruins. The remains of Brough Castle include a round corner tower and two obvious floors of a formerly four storied square keep. The original castle dated from 1090s with all but the base of the keep destroyed by William the Lion, a Scottish king. The current remains date from 1180. You can get some sort of idea of the scale of the castle from the photos here - it was H U G E.

Back out on the motorway, we pass a truck with an unusal question posed on its tailgate - and no answer provided - there was absolutely nothing else written on the truck. Of course with Michael's fixation with many things anal, he had to have a photo!

We are travelling further west now. On the map there is a notation for the Ruthwell Cross. We saw an example of a cross in the museum in York the other day and wonder whether this might be one in a real life setting. So off the motorway we go in search for it. And find it we did - though not quite as how we expected. Indeed, the cross - all 18 feet of it now sits inside the church after being found lying in the grounds. It is impressive not only for its size, but also for its carvings. Not all are original as it was partially destroyed, but as a whole, even with its repairs, it is a sight to behold.

The weather has closed in now and we are travelling with quite a few trucks in the rain. So, no more stops - we are headed for Stranraer to check out where we go to get the ferry tomorrow and to our B&B in Cairnryan just up the road a bit further.

Tonight we have a room at Cairnryan House B&B overlooking the waters of Loch Ryan and the ferries going to and coming from Northern Ireland. Kay welcomes us and shows us to our room with a view. She explains that they don't do dinners at this time of the year, but just a few hundred yards down the road we can get a meal at The Merchants House, a Licensed Restaurant, Coffee shop and B&B. So off we go in search of a meal. Proprietor Tom, Dick, Harry - oh gosh no, I remember it eventually ALAN! greets us warmly and shows us into a nice and cosy (and warm) restaurant room. The menu is surprisingly well developed for a small town and we eventually make the following choices:
Soup of the day (Tomato and Tarragon) served with crusty bread - Michael
Homemade fishcakes served with dip (homemade [egg] mayonnaise with curry) Maria
Steak and Kidney Pie (served with mashed potato and fresh vegetables) Michael
Lamb Tagine with Rice - Maria
Treacle sponge with ice cream - Michael
You have got to be kidding - I was so full I could hardly move let alone eat dessert!

The food was fabulous. Home cooked, hearty and with huge servings. Fiona (Alan's wife) does the cooking and it is easy to see she enjoys it as there is a well balanced variety on a menu of food that takes someone passionate to prepare well. Alan on the other hand is an excellent host and wait person. He is full of local knowledge and took it quite well when I ballsed up his name initially!

Funnily enough, we see two couples come in for a drink and hear conversation re Australians. So I am thinking to myself that there are either some fellow countrymen in the house, or some locals taking the mickey out of us when the restaurant door opens and in comes one of the ladies who it turns out is from Brisbane and has been over to celebrate a grandmother's 90th birthday. Sure as heck is a small world when you are travelling! Turns out they are staying at the same B&B as well!! Yep, a small world and getting smaller.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Two days in York

Kitson, Garfield's cousin (you have to see him to appreciate his grand size), resides with the Livingstone family and tolerates their five dogs - primarily I think, because he has the total run of the house and everyone's emotions! Andrew and Joanne have made our stay a very pleasant one and had lots of suggestions for places to visit. With 11 rooms in the St Georges B&B, the semi-detached house is huge. They explain that their 3 bedroom apartment in is the basement area of the building.

The houses in St Georges Close are all large. Two doors down is a separate house that was until a few years ago a 17 bedroom B&B before being bought by the current owners who live in it with their two children who are at boarding school for much of the year. Sheesh can you imagine the cleaning? And hardly being used!! A little further up the street is another large house that was home to an elderly couple until the wife died recently. The man has now listed the house for sale - you can have it for a cool 2,500,000 - oh gosh hang on, that is £ so that makes it a cool $5,178,056.46 at todays exchange rate - and this is regional England!

We have had a very full two days taking in the best that York has to offer. While I stayed in yesterday nursing a hip that was sore after many stairs, Michael walked in to the City which is only about 1 mile from where we are staying. And then he just continued to walk - right around the City Walls that enclose the old town of York - that is 2 3/4 miles long.

To view the old town from the city walls is a sight which can only be experienced first hand; and the only way to fully appreciate a locality is by walking; from street level or in this instance from the walls.
The strategy in protecting the old town is evident when the battlements and parapets are followed. The old city of York was entered by passing through either four gates or 'Bars': Mickelgate Bar, Bootham Bar, Monk Bar and Walmgate Bar. Each of these gateways were further protected by a barbican, which is a fortified outpost or gateway enclosing a walled road called The Neck. During the Victorian era, sections of the city walls were demolished including three of the four barbicans, whereby the Walmgate still retains its fortification.

Anyhow from the vantage point on the walls, I was able to marvel at this city with a new perspective. I commenced my venture at the Mickelgate Bar, the interior being converted into a museum which gave a portrayal of life in these fortifications - defensive and corrections. In case of Mickelgate, a pedestal for displaying the severed heads of those unlucky souls with a Leftist persuation towards the monarchy!

After this illuminating lesson I continued my promenade along the wall towards Bootham Bar. The interior of this fortification had also been converted into a museum surrounding Richard III's involement into the murders of his sons. Being presented with both conclusions for the Defence and the Prosecution, I was left none the wiser. However, I was to discover the bartizans were used as cells and most unaccommodating at that, regardless one was provided with a gravity shute!

He went into places such as:

  • the York Dungeon where he had the pants scared off him by local actors who retell the story of York with appropriate props,
  • St Matthews Church with the best preserved medieval stained glass in the world,
  • the remains of the once impressive St Mary's Abbey set in the Castle Museum grounds,
  • the City Park with the Roman undercrofts and the last remnants of the roman fort that stood here almost before time began,
  • the York Observatory where he is disappointed that it was not open and last but not least
  • searched out Dick Turpins grave and found it in the grounds of St Georges Church - the only tombstone to be standing up where all others are lying down (why do we revere criminals??) and finished
  • with a walk along the banks of the River Ouse to the York City Art Gallery. A huge day (but he is too jaded to elaborate on it all - thank god, I hear a number of people mumble!!)

And today we continued our exploration. We had set aside today to visit the York Minster - the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe (only the Seville Cathedral - been there -is a larger gothic structure). Although it is raining lightly, we know that much of the day will be spent indoors, so it does not worry us. You enter through the south doors so that once inside, you are greeted by the sight of the huge and amazing northern window - known as the Five Sisters Window. Completed around 1260 AD, this amazing work is not as colourful as the rose window (also known as the marigold window for its yellow centre panels), nor quite as grand as the Great East Window. But for me, this was perhaps the most amazing due to its detail and very careful use of colour. It contains the largest amount of Early English 'grisaille' ('grey in background', the groundwork of this type of glass being greyish-white) glass in a single window, anywhere in the world. It has five lancets, each of which is fifty feet high and five feet wide, and contains more than 100,000 pieces of glass.

The great East Window is about to undergo a TEN year restoration project of the glass and stonework at a 2009 cost of £7,000,000. So over the space where the window should be is the world's largest digital photo - can't really do it justice though because it is 2D! Turns out that the glazier who made it took three years and was paid a total of £56! But in those days a horse valued at £1,000 today would cost £1.

There is just so much to see and describe here and it will bore most of you (not having seen it) so if you want more information - just click the link! But before we leave the cathedral it is worth saying that in the undercroft are the remains of an earlier Roman fort on top of which was built a Norman church and then much later, this Minster. (See the photo) You can't take photos here so I can't show you this amazing space. But in the minster above there are lots of early remnants such as bosses, the Chapter House that is 800 years old (which is amazingly well preserved being indoors), lots of stone carvings and tombstones - the oldest we found dates to 1585!

Michael took a walk on the high side and climbed the narrow stairs up the Bell Tower for some amazing views of the city and a very interesting perspective of the Minster itself and the grounds in which it is set.

Back on the ground, we head off from the Minster after a visit that lasted 4 hours for The Shambles. This is England's best preserved medieval street and at times is so narrow that you can easily shake hands with your neighbour across the way, just be extending your arm out the window. Down on the ground level, one of the shopkeepers was padlocking grilles to the front of his shops as he was closing for the day - multiple padlocks at that too. Sad indictment on society today we conversed.

We find chocolate and fudge makers that continue their trade much as it was ever done - and we indulge in some handmade chocolates - why not! Even though the day has remained wet, we have had a great one. The dampness continues with the welcome side effect that it keeps some of the growing number of tourists inside.

And so, we have a final meal at 'our local'. Could have tried somewhere new, but it is close to where we are staying, the food is fabulous and the company of the staff very pleasant. The Manager tells us that he is quite taken with the blog! We have noticed that there are a growing number of people who are looking at the blog regularly and as of this morning have 2358 hits with regular new users recorded. Seems like there is a world of people out there you might wish they were doing what we are. But honestly guys, these days it is more about getting it down so we can remember what we saw where - we get it so mixed up at times! Anyway our last meal at the Fox and Roman is as follows:
That fabulous Whole Baked Camembert they do
Grilled Sea Bass with parsley and lemon butter, seasonal vegetables and baby potatoes (Michael)
Luxury Seafood Pie (Salmon, king prawns, cod and smoked haddock in a light cream and wine sauces topped with cheese and potatoes) served with seasonal vegetables. As usual they do not disappoint.
Not hungry enough for dessert tonight - and we have those choccies to go back to ;-).

So as we are having our last breakfast at the St Georges B&B Andrew comes in and in all earnestness asks whether we have heard of the Swine Flu currently infecting people in the UK. "Yes", I said. "Well", he continued "I've heard that people are coming out in a rash with it. But don't worry - I've got some oinkment!" Takes all types of humour I figured as he laughed heartily and left the room chuckling with a funny sort of leaping walk.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Grand Old Time in York

(Thanks Meredith for the inspiration for the title! - sung to the tune of The Grand Old Duck of York)

We slept really well last night - this travelling caper can get tiring at times. And we do try to sit up so that if people want to talk with us they can in the Australian morning. Last night we managed to Skype Susan and John for the first time! They were full of news from home and lots of tips on what to plan to see when we are back in France later in the year.

St Georges B&B is full this morning and we get the last two seats for breakfast. After such a great meal for dinner last night we do now want too big a breakfast so after Alpen Muesli Michael has scrambled eggs on toast and I have mine poached. We don't have a lot of time before the only City Tour Bus that passes by here is due. So we set off with a mind to do some of the local attractions.

But as always, we first do a full circuit on the bus to get an overview of the history, the attractions and to orient ourselves. York is a very compact City inside the walls that were erected from the 1100s AD. But these walls were built atop a much earlier earth rampart and even on top of the earlier Roman Wall - part of which is visible from time to time - fancy that, a walls that has not only stood for almost 2,000 years, but that supports a later wall as well! The City itself dates back to 71 AD and has over time been ruled by the Romans, Vikings (after 410 AD), Saxons (from the late 800s AD) and then the Normans after the conquest in 1066.

After one turn of the city, we stopped at Clifford's Tower to explore the precinct. Construction of the castle was started in 1068 after William the Conqueror's first visit to York, a sign to the inhabitants of his power and rule over Yorkshire. The tower and fortifications were first constructed in timber which was eventually substituted with stone. You enter the tower by a very steep rampart (at an incline of 45 degrees) with a set of 59 steps! However, the view just from the top of the rampart is impressive - that is until the journey is completed by climbing onto the battlement. The vantage point is most commanding, with a 360 degree sweep across York city.

We complete our inspection of the tower and proceed onto the
York Castle Museum. This museum is certainly a treasure trove which enables the visitor travel through different eras via full-size dioramas. The museum has constructed a Yorkshire street, Kirkgate, depicting life between 1870-1890. This setting was complete with a sweet shop, where we bought two jars of confectionary: 'Olde Fashioned Dolly Mixtures' and 'Olde Fashioned Edinburgh Rock'. There were even opportunities to try your hand at olde-time activities such as carrying these empty water buckets - god knows how they carried them any distance filled with water.

There are exhibits reflecting Jacobean, Georgian and Victorian life; and a moorland cottage of the 1850's. Apart from life being exhibited the traditions in death are also represented in artifacts. One major exhibit is representative of 20 century lifestyle - 'The Sixties' (...gross!) - I (Michael) may deplore the era but this exhibition is most impressive.

Now, this museum is situated within the original castle precinct, and at one time the museum was used as a prison - particularly for those miscreants awaiting the gallows. One famous transient was Richard Turpin a.k.a Dick Turpin the Highwayman, who spent the last few months of his life a guest of His Majesty.

We end our visit to the York Castle Museum and as we are making our way to the Viking Centre, we come across the Parish and Guild Church of All Saints Pavement. This church obtained its name from the need to expand the marketplace with pavement blocks. During the 18th century the chancel and aisles were demolished to allow the broadening of the markets. The demolished sections of the church were rebuilt in 1887 onto the pavement, hence the name given to the church.

The most defining architectural section of the church is its bell tower, or to be more precise - lantern tower where on winters days and at night, bonfires were lit to guide travellers to York. However, its notoriety is derived from it being the resting place of some 39 Lord Mayors! Each church we have visited provide individual uniqueness which depict a chronological history of the area. Here, one of the unique statements is the testimonials to past benefactors who had given generously to their community. These testimonials are by way of wooden panels attached to the interior pillars. We thought it quite ambitious that most of the donations were assumed to be given for distribution forever. Other intersting things here included a 14th Century stained window and the little mouse left as his mark by the carpenter.

The Jorvik Viking Centre is an attraction which must be seen to be appreciated. We were just mesmerised by the overall attention to detail in chronicling the life of these early immigrants. Our initial introduction was via a virtual tour of a Viking village; the tour was not too dissimilar to an amusement ride. We were placed in a suspended gondola which could rotate on its axis, which carried us through the village. The special effects were provided by animatronics and airborne scents which added to the reality. The scents represented the various odours of the village: human, animal and 'industrial' (a Smithy's workshop). The acrid odour of a cesspit was thrown in for good measure! There was so much to absorb - visually - we decided to take the virtual tour a second time. The remainder of our visit was as engrossing as the introduction, not just with the exhibits but with museum personnel who dressed, spoke and interacted as 'Vikingr'. Regrettably, taking videos and/or photographs of any part of the exhibition was forbidden so we are unable to support our enthusiasm - but check out the link. The attraction has been built on the site where during excavations for a highrise apartment block there were 45,000 (yes, 45,000) viking artefacts uncovered. What has been developed mirrors on the spot the activity that had been laid down in the prexerving mud. And many of the actual items found are on display. There is even a stretch of original basement shoring wall!

As we came back onto the street we could hear brass bands playing. Coming up onto the main streets, we see a sea of thousands of Scout and then Girl Guides marching. Plenty of people watching them, no applause and no explanation. Later I stop a family and explain that we are involved with the Scouts in Australia and ask the occasion. It is the annual St George Day march! They have a service at the York Minster and then march through the City Centre.

Walking back down to get the last bus that goes out near where we are staying, with 5 minutes to spare, Michael takes a quick stroll into The Shambles. This is Europe's best preserved medieval street and we will alaborate more when we spend some serious time there in a couple of days.

It has been a pretty full day both physically and mentally so we went back down to our 'local' the Fox and Roman for dinner tonight. Again we shared a baked Camembert for starters. Sunday is Roast Day so we had thought we might have a roast but when we arrived at 6 pm, they were out of both Roast Turkey and Roast Beef with the only other option being Lamb - hmm, not my favourite and as Michael had lamb last night we opt to have something else. So tonight we followed our starter with:
Rib Eye Steak (9 oz rib eye steak <blue of course> with seasoned chips, crispy onion rings, chargrilled plum tomato and garden peas with a lemon and parsley butter) Michael
Bef Mushroom and Guiness Pie (deep filled with slow cooked beef topped with puff pastry, served with mashed potato and seasonal greens) Maria
We both had (but I couldn't finish) profiteroles served with chocolate fudge sauce and whipped cream. They have great lemonade here as well!
Another day passed!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Off the rails!

Watershed day - I have banished the Ewok! The spencer came off for the first time in 133 days!

We had a lovely late start to the day. The George Hotel served breakfast until 10 am and we shared the dining room with one couple we met last night also dining late and the bride and groom from the wedding. It was so funny because I had run into the Bride in the toilets where she was lamenting how you never think of that need when you are choosing a bridal gown. Her Matron-of-honour offered to stand in front of the stall as she could not get herself and the dress in and shut the door. "I promise I wont look" she said, at which time I (in the next cubicle) said quietly "Ah, but me, I'm going for my camera!" Don't know who laughed hardest - me or her.

The breakfast was huge - a full cooked English breakfast truly sets you up for the day. Michael took a walk down to the Piercebridge Roman bridge while I uploaded the blog photos and we checked out right on the dot of 11 am. The bridge, which crossed the River Tees, is located about 300 yds from the Hotel - which was convenient considering the Roman fort (Morbium) which I had visited yesterday afternoon, is about the same distance in the opposite direction! Anyhow, all that remains is the lower elements of the southern abutment of the bridge: a washway of irregular flagstones which made the water flow evenly under the bridge arches; piers which were built onto the flagstones had become disturbed through subsequent flooding. The piers appear to have been built of large blocks and joined with iron clamps to resist the flow of the river. The piers supported a roadway of timber beams and planks.

During the time of Roman occupation, the main route from York to northern England was through the strategic region guarded by the garrison stationed at Morbium (Piercebridge). It is believed the bridge was built around 150 AD, and some time after it was washed away. The bridge was rebuilt about 250 yds downstream to where the remains can now be seen.

We then headed down the motorway for York and there was nothing of real interest to us marked on the map. So we discussed the plan for the next month and have made a major change. Who would have thought that we would be spending so much time in the United Kingdom? The mother country is fascinating and while we all know of the history, when you see it first hand, it really draws you in. And the country is beautiful. And the people are so hospitable and so friendly!

So we will be in England for about another 5 days - stopping in to see Mick's sister and brother-in-law in Stoke on Trent and then we are going over to Ireland for three weeks before coming back to England for another week to ten days. We just thought that we should finish seeing what we have started here. We drive down the motorway where the daffodils on the roadside have been replaced by dandelions, thick like a blanket.

So, decision made, we are getting closer to York. Mick in Brisbane has given us some insight into places to go and things to see and when we left Piercebridge this morning we were telling the guy at the desk what we are up to and he also gave us some great tips. So we decided that we would go to see either the Jorvick Viking Centre, or the National Rail Museum this afternoon - whichever we came across first. And as luck would have it, we got to the National Rail Museum!

Well, Michael described it as like being in a Cathedral while I just sighed after the first one-and-a-half hours and joined the other 'rail widows' moving from area to area trailing behind our other halves. Don't know why it takes them two to three times as long to see what we can see in such a much shorter time. I am convinced that it is a boy thing! There were groups of men walking around, young and old - all excited! There was even one enthusiast with tape measure and digital camera taking very specific measurements of a part one of the old engines - so he could build a true scale model. Geesh! Seriously though, it is a truly impressive collection and it has been set out amazingly.

Regardless whether any visitor does not possess any interest in railways, surely one could not help but appreciate this excellent treasure house. The museum chronologically presents the history of British Rail through the display of over 100 locomotives and almost 200 rolling stock items. It's warehouse of railway memorabilia is a wonder in itself - and it is far from being junk!

I suppose the uniqueness of the museum is not only through the exhibits, but it is also the smell. The scent of oil, grease and burnt coal just enhances the overall experience. Albeit, it is the locomotives, carriages and rolling stock we had come to see; and in my case, to absorb. The array of locomotives ranged from George Stephenson's Rocket ; branch and main line steam locomotives - such as the sleek Prairie engines ; the classic curves of the 'Streamliners' represented by way of the Mallard ; and finally through to the diesel and electric powered locomotives. I can't believe he didn't mention the Flying Scotsman!

We are at St Georges B&B in York tonight. Ground floor, walk in shower - yeehah! With ten ensuite rooms, this one is a little larger than the last few we have been at. It is in a quiet street just off the racecourse - which we are told has a huge following in York and the surrounding areas. The house next door is Tudor - yep, a real one, while the B&B is more Edwardian in style.

Andrew, the owner, has suggested that we have dinner at the Fox and Roman tonight. This is a classic English pub that although modernised, has retained all its charm. There is a good mix of locals who are socialising at the end of the day and diners wo hve come for a meal. The staff are young and very friendly. They have a relly extensive menu that is a mix of traditional pub fare such as 'Toad in the Hole' to more innovative modern recipe mixes. We made our selection, ordered at the bar (along with a Bulmers Pear Cider for me and a tonic water for Michael), collected our wooden spoon table marker and waited.
We shared a Whole Baked Camembert - oven baked with a caramelised onion marmalade, celery and crusty bread
Mediterranean Lamb (slow braised lamb with chorizo, tomatoes and rosemary served with roast pepper, baby potatoes and seasonal greens) Michael
Hunters Chicken (double chicken breast served with smoked cheddar and sweet cure bacon with smoky barbeque sauce, mustard mash and steamed seasonal greens) Maria
Roasted mediterranean vegetables and Steamed asparagus with Italian hard cheese
We each had Eve's Pudding (Bramley apples slices covered in almond and lemon sponge, topped with a buttery crumble and served with Devonshire toffee sauce and custard). I know it is hard to believe but you could distinctly taste each of those flavours as you ate the dessert! The food was fabulous. The poor little waitress nearly dies when in response to her question "How was it all?" I replied "Terrible". She stood, stunned, not knowing what to say or do until I finished "Terribly, terribly good!". Gets 'em every time!
Forgot to take the camera with us (because the batteries were charging) so you will have to use your imagination.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Wish us luck as we wave you goodbye

So today we leave Scotland after a wonderful month touring around and meeting people. At the start of this journey we had only planned to spend 1 month touring all of the UK, but you know how the Aussie saying goes "when you are on a good thing, stick to it". As we have remarked before, Scotland has been a wonderful surprise to us - we really didn't know what to expect and it has just been the best month. The people are just so warm and friendly, the food is fabulous and the scenery is stupendous. And the staff of the De Vere Venues Barony Castle have been no exception to this! So Tapadh leibh, slàn leibh to all our new Scottish friends (thank you, goodbye to the uninitiated!)

One our way south we make a last couple of stops in the Scottish world. The first was to see the memorial site where legend has it Thomas the Rhymer was spirited away from under the Eildon Tree to Elfland for seven years, after which he returned with the gift of prophecy in rhyme in the 13th Century. Now, while we do have a passing interest in the other-world stories, our real interest lay in the fact that Thomas the Ryhmer is the subject of a Steeleye Span song - one of our favourite bands! Here is a little of the song (and a link for those who would know more!)
Thomas the Rhymer by Steeleye Span
True Thomas sat on Huntley Bank
and he beheld a lady gay
A lady that was brisk and bold
come riding o'er the ferny brae

Her skirt was of the grass green silk,
her mantle of the velvet fine
At every lock of her horse's mane
hung fifty silver bells and nine

True Thomas, he pulled off his cap
and bowed him low down to his knee
`All hail, thou mighty queen of heaven
your like on earth I ne'er did see.'

The memorial is simple, but nice. Then it is further south. We are headed for Piercesbridge, a distance of only 144 miles from Edinburgh. Trouble is, there are all these things that take our interest along the way! Our next pause is at the site of the Roman Fort - Trimontium, which means 'Triple Mountain'. The fort was built to keep the hostile Caledonians at bay around 100AD under the watchful gaze of the three Eildon Hills. Regrettably, very little exists of the fort today with the exception of a few depressions, information boards and the 'Trimontium Stone' which marks the spot where the main gates stood. But the walk to and around the fort perimeter was most enjoyable.

The area which the fort occupied is now under freehold pastoral land, however you can appreciate the enormity of the encampment by walking round to each of the five information boards. I only managed to reach two of them - but time was at a premium, so I couldn't tarry. The largest of the Roman Scotland forts, it housed up to 2500 men at one point in the second century. The view from the site is a reward for any lack of physical evidence of the fort. Situated above the River Tweed the view is commanding over the outling vistas and the Leaderfoot railway viaduct.

Then back on to the A68 where we passed the Wellington Memorial in the distance - tried unsuccessfully to find a road to go up and take a look. The in Jedburgh we stop at the site where Mary Queen of Scots spent some time. The museum they have is really well done and puts forward her case as the contender for the British Crown. There are furnishings as would have been in the building during her visit including a tapestry that was there and where souvenir collectors of long ago have cut small pieces from the bottom hem! There is also a small piece of a lock of here hair and a shoe she wore while there and left because the heel broke!

As we leave Jedburgh, we look to our right and see the ruin of the Jedburgh Abbey, a 12th century Augustinian Abbey. Such a sight! And although in ruins it's indeed an impressive edifice. Our visit was rather hurried, but well worth the haste as the view from the bell tower, overlooking the aisle is just amazing. The architectural beauty of this abbey is evident even after the ravages of the Reformation. It never fails to amaze me that right up to the modern day, peopls differing religious beliefs are held as the reason for wreaking absolute destruction - will we never learn?

Only foundations remain of the Cloister and the Chapter House, however, the visitor's centre provides patrons with an elevated view of this area. Only with the aid of this vantage point, can one appreciate the area occupied by the abbey and its west range. Surely in its day it must have been one of the most beautiful churches of its time.

Continuing down the A68 we finally cross the border from Scotland back in to England at Carter Bar. High on the moors in the Northumberland National Park, it was windswept and a good couple of degrees chillier. Not sure whether it was Scotland wreaking its anger at our going, or England giving us a cool welcome! And while we have seen part of this area before, the open scenery and vast space in countries where space is usually crammed with built structures still takes the breath away (or maybe it is just that cold wind). We wind our way down, at times (like a number of times) travelling down 12% to 15% slopes. And where there are 15% sloped down, well in the opposite direction, those slopes have to come up. Could not help but smirk when we passed a Rolls Royce broken down on the side of the road, bonnet up, exposing itself to the world. Nice to know that even the wealthy can experience the same as us plebs.

So we are now very close to Hexham and Newcastle which like the same cities in New South Wales back in Australia are only about 11 miles
apart. On the map we are using there are some of the attractions noted - certainly not all of them, but some. We see that there is a Saxon Church nearby, so we follow the signs (ok, ok, I had found it first on Google Earth when I was planning the route between hotels). It is in the middle of a residential area that has grown up around it and so kinda looks out of place. When we get there we find the gate has a padlock on it but there is a note on the gate to day the key can be collected from a chain at one of the nearby homes. So collect it Michael did. And we are glad we did. The oldest part of the church dates back to 700 AD (yep, its old!) and the oldest gravestone we find has been moved into the vestibule of the church - it dates back to 1628 and the oldest one in situ in the graveyard dates to 1720 AD - some of the oldest we have seen to date.

For the last little while as we have been travelling the A68 we have been getting glimpses of an amazing viaduct. Trouble was that one minute we could see it and the next we couldn't as we went up hill and down dale. As we are coming down the hill to the Saxon Church at Escomb we see it much closer. Stopped and got a couple of (obscured) photos and then thought that as it was so close, we would go find it. We finally found it just as we are about to give up and turn around. We come down another hill into Bishop Auckland (strange town names - but by far not the strangest - like what were they thinking when they named Snod's End!) and all of a sudden there it is - and it is a road bridge, but heading away from where we want to go. This is an old bridge with a new deck on it. So we just stop briefly to get a pic or three and then push on the Piercebridge where we have accommodation for the night at The George Hotel. This is the home of the clock that inspired the song 'My Grandfather's Clock' - want to know more? Click on the link and read for yourself!

Found this one on also. This has been a great source of finding accommodation - particularly when you want something a little different, or in an out of the way area. It lives up to its reviews as we drive in - a stunning location on the Tees River. And to add to the appeal, there are the ruins of a Roman Fort and a Roman Bridge here as well.

It must be the season for weddings as there is one in progress here when we arrive. But it did not affect other guests and we book in for dinner at 7 pm. We ask in the bar if we just take a seat, and they advise they have booked us in to the restaurant. So directions received we turn another corridor and find a very stylishly decorated restaurant with a fantastic view. Service was wonderful and the meals really delicious. It is amazing what quality you can find in rural England!
Soup of the Day (Potato and Leek) Michael
Golden Breaded Brie (served with a mixed tossed salad and accompanied by a cranberry compote - not thos little packet things, a lovely large wedge cut fresh froma wheel - so more cheese, less breadcrumbs - mm, mmm) Maria
Steak and ale pie (Ale marinated pieces of steak and onion bound with rich gravy topped with a puff pastry lid) Michael
Pork medallions (Served on a poached apple and white wine cream) Maria
Both came with jacket roasted potato and fresh vegetables - heaps of them!
Banoffi Pie (Banana and toffee in a pastry case with freshly whipped cream) Michael
Creme brulee (Vanilla, silken and creamy) Maria

And the sunset was just beautiful. So off to our comfy bed. Now, we know that there are a few people who are hurting back home for a whole range of reasons - it is times like these that we wish we were back there with you all. Know that we remember you, care for you, love you (and OK miss you!) Take care everyone. And take care of each other!!