Enter the Dragon’s Lair: Part 3 – Halloween in China

I am sure that over the years much has changed in China when Halloween comes swooping in. Unfortunately I believe it is most likely not for the good. Western celebrations, if we count Halloween as a celebration, do tend to be carried out to a level of craziness I have not seen at home. The following is the story of why I will never offer to do anything for the day unless I am either paid exceedingly well or have helpers chained to me to do my bidding – preferably both.

My daughter likes Halloween so I did a bit of decorating

The day was October 31, 2001, Xin Cun, Guangdong, China. Halloween 🎃. I have a vague memory of a white pumpkin, or possibly it was green. The following are from the crypt archives. Cue the spooky music – I think I played Monster Bash first. Sadly, no pictures were taken. I hope everyone has a marvellously crazy Halloween! Time to read the Monkey’s Paw again.

It was indeed a Monster Bash!  500 students is a lot. 
We set up three stations with apples hanging from
poles to have apple bobbing which meant everyone was sitting in
a large three deep circle.   I put candles at each station, we had some “scary” music, turned out the lights and told a scary story.  This meant reading by candlelight. To this day I am surprised there was not a fire!After each sentence, read slowly and with what I hope was a relatively spooky voice, another teacher translated. Like the mists of October much most likely went over their heads but the translations had enough of the creepiness that students listened.  
I walked around the room – a good size auditorium- and would approach a student to
emphasize things. My two younger daughters wandered behind the students and
would say BOOOO! every now and then.  Great spooky effects.After that things were a bit crazy!  My junior students were the ones most interested in doing apple bobbing. My youngest would try to pick students from
different classes but they were mostly unwilling.  We had about 200 students try bobbing for apples then I handed out the remaining apples. It is no small feat to tie up a couple hundred apples!
Unfortunately none of the teachers “helping” actually helped!  This meant I had to keep telling the students to sit down before I would give them anything.  The candy was another story!!!  One of my daughters was so incensed at how rude, in her view, everyone was and lost her voice from yelling at them! One would think these kids did not get fed. I swore that if I ever do anything like that again I will insist on having more time in the one day and doing each class separately. 
I already knew that was possible after putting on a great Halloween party I with other English teachers at a different school a year or so earlier. We even had a moving, talking mummy! (We wrapped my youngest up in toilet paper, she was laid out on a table and would rise when given the cue. As each class came in separately through one door then out the other end there was no chance of warning other students. That was a major success.
Originally I was going to do things in each classroom but that would have meant two or three days of Halloween!  I had 7 classes, each 40 mins. I really didn’t want to take that long for what is supposed to be a one day activity and setting it up would have been a logistical nightmare.

UK Bound: Inverness (the last two days)

Three weeks have already passed since I finally made it home – flying is fine, getting through airports is not – and I find myself mired in trying to go through my 1900+ photos and memories to share with family and friends. What I was not prepared for is how fleeting those memories can be. We visited many places. We put away our phones. We talked, walked, pondered, marvelled, and stretched our days as far as we could before sometimes collapsing onto our beds, exhausted after adventures fulfilled.

Inverness expenses I made note of: The Bakery: 2 Lattes, croissant, sausage roll, scone & baps £12.00 Hop On Hop Off bus: £10.00 The Bakery: Chocolate au pain, latte £5.00 then back again for my daughter’s latte, sausage roll plus 2 buns for lunch £6.60 Inverness Palace Hotel: coffee (probably my go to latte) £2.90. Laundry: we had seen a place not too far from us. My daughter offered to take everything to give me a chance to rest after having an upset stomach. £10.00? Encore Une Fois: dinner my daughter found a great place to sit down for a drink while she waited for the laundry. She eventually called me to join her. I was feeling better so I did. I have no recollection of what I ate and she paid for my dinner. I did try to open their menu online, only the lunch and kids menus were online. Jimmy Badgers: dinner a recently opened cocktail bar – tapas, mushroom bruschetta, cauliflower pakoras – (I do not recall if this was my share or the total, however, my notes say something about prices being very expensive) £16.25. Daily steps: probably over 23,000 each day.

Inverness Castle. I ate a quick lunch in the shade of the castle before going back into the museum where we ended up spending about two hours. The castle is closed for renovations until 2023.
We nearly did not get off at the second of the stops until I turned my head and nearly grabbed my daughter in my excitement. There were hairy cows! I found out later some passengers in advance knew this and made their plans solely to visit the cows. We were at one of the Jacobite boat tour docks.
Sticking her tongue out at us. Sort of how I felt upon seeing them after spending 12 hours hoping to see one in the Highlands!Most likely just chewing. They really are quite adorable. Also not within arms reach like some people were hoping.
Rather than take an expensive cruise, especially with me having a bit of an upset stomach, we chose to take a walk along the riverside. This little one was very excited to have visitors and my daughter was equally excited to visit. The owner was in a little cabin – we think it was for fishermen or people working on the river, perhaps both.
Across the road from River Ness are the three statues, Faith, Hope & Charity. Commissioned around 1860 by the YMCA they were eventually moved in 1955, eventually moved to the grounds of a private collector near Orkney before being brought back to Inverness to stand in the Ness Bank Gardens in 2011. Our Hop On-Hop Off driver said they are actually out of order. I have no Christian background so can only assume he was correct. The anchor represents Hope, the bible (or a cross) Faith so the child must be Charity. Whichever order they are a lovely addition to the riverside.
Once assumed lost, two stone dogs that guarded the now refurbished Inverness Townhouse on Castle Street had two wolves carved to replace them. Now the wolves guard the entrance and the original dogs (circa 1880) sit high above in their original spot overlooking Inverness.
River Ness. I loved that there are so many foot bridges, as well as some for vehicles, to cross over the bridge. It meant we could start on one side, cross over, continue along the opposite bank the across another bridge without backtracking. Gorgeous walkways.
Time to cool our feet! I was not as brave as my daughter.
Tapas anyone? Of course we were hungry after our long day of seeing the sights.
Our last night we finally made it further along River Ness to a section we had not been to. The view of Inverness through the stone gateway seemed like the perfect farewell. We reluctantly turned back towards our accommodations. We had train tickets for 1:00 the next day.

UK Bound: Glasgow

With the hot weather keeping me inside today and a new “for you” photo album of my visit to Glasgow I decided to once again try out my technical skills to download specific photos in one lump. The only downside so far has been trying to match some of my recollections with the photos that will make sense here. It has helped to have some pretty good notes – unlike for many places. I even kept details of expenses!

We took a train from Inverness to Glasgow where we would spend two nights to enjoy our visit to Glasgow. This was a city neither of us really had any expectations of. Which made it such a pleasant surprise. The first was leaving the railway station and landing nearly in the centre of a bustling city. With its mix of old and new architecture, many many cafes & restaurants, and weekend vibe we were ready to explore. After checking in to our hotel.

We turned a corner to see Caffe Nero at St. Enoch sitting smack dab in the middle of an otherwise fairly modern square. I was quite taken with the building and knew it could not have been purpose built for a cafe. Sadly there is nothing at the site to indicate its original purpose. They do make good coffee though. My curiosity still not satisfied I finally looked it up and later found a small piece somewhere on our walks about the building. It was built in 1896 as the ticket office and entrance to the subway. Now a great space to sit outside to people watch although the footprint allowed for that is quite limited. Of course I had a coffee despite how late it was. I also went for a walk along the river and crossed one of the many foot bridges to see what was on the other side. Not much where I was.

The next day we ate breakfast at the hotel, mainly because I had checked out opening times for a few nearby places the day before and that morning. Nothing seems to open particularly early in many places in the UK. £7.50 for a simple breakfast including coffee. My daughter joined me later and had a more substantial meal. Smart. We ended up doing a lot of walking that day. We had a few ideas of where to visit. Unfortunately, most of them were closed! Thank goodness for the Internet. We adjusted our plans and headed to Riverside Museum and the Tall Ship Museum, both entry by donation. As our path was along the river we were able to take in so many sights.

That day I heard the news that the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision had been overturned ( legal terminology: overruled). As we were discussing this we came upon a statue of a woman facing the river with her arms raised. Not knowing anything about it I thought it fitted with my views on our topic. Reading the inscription on the front I still thought the same although the statue was to commemorate those in the Labour Movement who fought in Spain 1936-1939 against Fascism. I do not know why they chose a Spanish woman, Dolores Ibarruri, beyond her political and staunch support to eradicate Fascism. Nor do I think she, a Catholic, would have been in favour of the original decision. However, not knowing any of this my initial thought was how fitting, a woman expressing freedom. We do not have it, we are going backwards. I am grateful to not be an American. (An often asked question during my trip to which I perhaps too often vehemently, yet politely, replied, Canadian).

We continued our walk. Yet another sight caught our attention. This time it was a river cruiser paddle boat docked on the opposite side of the river. As we were admiring it we saw people boarding, the paddles slowly begin to churn the waters and a much smaller boat begin to nose around stern of the much larger ship. Intrigued, as well as rather apprehensive, wondering if the lone boatman had a death wish, we watched and pondered what was happening. Then that very small boat slowly, gently, began to push the paddle boat away from the dock, until it was sitting across the river rather than with the flow before finally, with paddles madly turning made its way upriver. That little motorboat seem to wag its tail as it turned away from the onlookers. Such a perfect name.

As the photos show, we were not done with the connection to the river. I mention that we did not find a place to eat at the rotunda. However, on our last night, before the play, we came across a place called the Butterfly & the Pig. We thought such an interesting name, carried on. Then, after some discussion over the wisdom, or lack of, of returning to our room to freshen up and find dinner before trying to buy tickets, and a couple of blocks, we turned around to find a place. Of course we stopped at the Butterfly and the Pig – a downstairs ‘shabby-chic…mismatched furniture, vintage wallpaper’ bar & restaurant. This was a very ‘in’ location and we were lucky to get a table. There were at least three ‘hen’ (bachelorette) parties coming and going while we were there. Lots of laughter, a funky menu – that seems to change & I cannot recall what I ate . Most likely a couple of ‘Smalls’.

Glasgow may not have stunning natural beauty but its combination of old and new architecture, a very hip scene, fabulous, as well as free, museums, and fantastic eateries makes it a city not to dismiss.

Closed! I suppose the area is just not bustling enough to open early for commuters or visitors.
“Better to die on your feet than live forever on your knees.” (Dolores Ibarruri)
One of two tunnel rotundas built on opposite sides of the river between 1890 – 1896 these originally covered 24m deep (79ft) shafts to tunnels used to reach the other side of the river. Access to the tunnels through these shafts were by hydraulic lifts. People, carts, horses and eventually vehicles! An early Chunnel? (Which I did not have the chance to do). The North rotunda, as pictured, is now a restaurant. It appeared there might be more than one eatery but no menus of hours.
Glasgow Science Centre (forefront) we had hoped to get there; exhaustion kept us away. In the background is the auditorium SEC Armadillo. (Completed 1997) I kid you not. The architects said they were inspired by the shipbuilding past of Glasgow, with the interlocking pieces based on ship hulls. I don’t see it but it certainly is noticeable.
Three way juxtaposition: Tall ship rigging, modern glassed transportation museum and a nod to Pride. The 3 masted Glenlee was built in 1896 and is now docked at the harbour of Riverside Museum. This was a fascinating trip into the past without having to set sail.
Too long – the hull is 245.5 – for me to get a full length photo. I sadly turned away only to discover this wonderful mirror image in the Riverside Museum where I would visit the second floor of ships built to scale, including one I recognized from the northwest coast of B.C.!
For’ard for the crew. Look carefully for the stowaway here and in the next photo.
Transportation is the theme of Riverside Museum, including all sorts of paraphernalia one would not think of. From inviting posters to cruise to Canada to the fashions of old. Of course I could not resist buying postcards and stamps to pop in the post of the ‘old town’. I do not know if they were ever delivered. Perhaps crossing the ocean by ship?
How could I resist visiting a place with this name? Kibble Palace is a glass house that was dismantled and moved from its original home in Coulport, Loch Long, to the gardens in 1873.
A view of one of the domes.
Yet another church we could not visit! This became a theme in some areas of the places we visited that were directly on the tourist trail. Even then at times.
On a whim we decided to see if we could get last minutes tickets after we had dinner. We did! Some of the other theatregoers were not only green from the suffocating heat but with envy when they heard we only paid £13.00 each. This was the final night and it was great – perhaps more so because my daughter rarely gets to the theatre. A somewhat edited, yet excellent, version from when I saw it many years ago with Donny Osmond playing Joseph.
The only downside was one of us had to sit in a row behind the other. I tried very hard to keep my mask on. Until I thought I would faint from the heat. Thank goodness for my programme because I foolishly left my fan at the hotel.

St. Enoch Caffe Nero: latte £3.00, Hotel continental breakfast: £7.50, 4 postcards and stamps: £10.50, Food Truck (at Riverside Museum): plant based burger £5.00 (it was £5.50 but they wanted my change), Dinner: Butterfly & Piggy: £11.95, Theatre (Joseph): £13.00, Black Sheep Coffee: £6.00 (train station)

UK Bound: Scotland (Inverness – Day 1)

I do not recall why we thought we needed four days in Inverness. Yet we managed to fill them. First we had to get there. I was horrified to discover that not only were passengers not wearing masks at the Birmingham Airport they were not required to do so on the flight either. We did. We splurged by taking a taxi to where we had to check in for our room. Then a five minute walk to the actual place. First glances of Inverness, a lovely city dotted with many old buildings, and of course Inverness Castle high on its hill above the river. Nearly everywhere was within walking distance. An evening stroll to find dinner took us over the bridge where we found River Grill. Very expensive (£18.95 just for me) but a good meal. I was beginning to seriously worry about my remaining funds and was grateful for my credit card despite the horrendous exchange rate. We picked up breakfast and snack items for the next day at the Co-op.

We had booked a 12 hour bus tour that would leave at 8:00AM to the Highlands and the Isle of Skye the next morning. Thank goodness we were told about The Bakery, just five minutes from our room and on the way to the bus station, we picked up goodies and excellent coffees. This would become my routine for the next three mornings, pastries and coffees shortly after 6:00AM while my daughter slept in or prepared for the day. Perfect way to start each day. Each morning would be approximately £5 – £6 each for a latte, a breakfast pastry (or two) and buns of some sort for our lunch. This worked out well as it meant no searching for a restaurant or such. We had the foresight to buy cheese and some other easily packed lunch type food. Inverness has some lovely spots for impromptu picnics.

There are not enough words in my vocabulary to describe the scenery, the sensations, the commentary during those 12 hours. Our guide/driver regaled us with funny stories, fascinating history, somber facts, a little Gaelic and enough stops of historic and scenic interest to satisfy all of us while secretly wanting more. Scotland is indeed a beautiful country with so much history within its hills, glens, crags, lakes and rivers it is no wonder that poets, writers, explorers and now tourists are drawn to it. Our 12 hour appetizer whetted my thirst and an appfor more.

There was so much to see that I often kept my phone in my pocket to better enjoy everything. We returned just shy of 8:00PM, tired, full of wonder, ready to sleep to be up early for another day of exploring. Did we have dinner? I think we found something on our last stop before Inverness, or possibly that was when we had our buns and cheese. We were so full with our adventures that food seemed a secondary thought.

My first view of Scotland from the plane!
Urquhart Castle on the Strone, Loch Ness, Glenmoriston. Not too far out of Inverness. Sadly not one of the main stops for exploration. Archeological research suggests this may have been an early Pictish 700 – 800 AD stronghold. Myth suggests that St. Columba baptized the dying nobleman Emchath there around 580 AD.
From 1200 – 1692 the castle was in a constant tug of war between Scotland and England before finally having its gates blown up in 1692 by the last soldiers marching out. 500 years of history with the Loch Ness monster, Robert the Bruce, King James (VII of Scotland & II of England) – not very original – Mary II & William of Orange, & the Jacobite uprising are all connected to the crumbling site.
Kyle -Glenshiel. The rocky hills were a complete surprise. The clouds, mist & light rain were not. At one point it got heavier. However, being west coast BC women we were prepared. Unlike many of our fellow pThe lush, dark, velvet greens of the landscape nearly invite you to wrap yourself in the blanket of land to curl up with the land.
Kyle – Eilean Donan Castle. (Donan Island Castle) This one is open to the public as well as remaining a private home. A smart financial move! My daughter asked why castles in Scotland were built close to waterways whereas the castles in Wales (and England) tended to be up out of the way hills. No answer. However, considering how remote the Scottish castles were perhaps they did not worry about land attacks. History does suggest that building on a waterway was actually a strategic move.
£9.00 for a senior to visit inside! We did. I was very impressed with how they displayed the kitchen using life-size depictions of kitchen maids, cooks, and very lifelike foodstuffs that would have been served. They have worked carefully to preserve the spaces and provide information in a tasteful manner.
The first fortification was most likely build in the 1300s. Over the centuries it went through various modifications and uses. The castle was used by the Jacobites in the late 1600s – 1719 when the English overwhelmed the garrison inside and discovered 343 barrels of gunpowder. With 14 foot deep walls the English had not been able to put much of a dent in the castle – numbers of men first overwhelmed the castle – the discovery of so much gunpowder already only need a match.
After 200 hundred years of sitting in ruins the island and remains of the castle were bought in 1911. It took 20 years, using surviving ground plans, to rebuild the castle. I always find it interesting that despite being destroyed so many castles have plans available!
Complete with a Juliet balcony.
And a lakeside patio I would be ecstatic to sit at each morning sipping my coffee. For nearly ten minutes I was the only person to have discovered this spot. Absolutely no sign it is ever used by the present owners. However, they do rent out some of the castle for weddings.
Crossing over to Isle of Skye – River Sligachan. Just a taste of the landscapes we would see.
But first a stop in Portree. A bustling tourist stop. With several places to find a bite to eat, a chance to stretch the legs, and do a little shopping (I bought a card) Lunch at Birch, fantastic coffee, and a delicious open face sourdough sandwich. £13.50
The sun even came out and presented us with blue skies. As my daughter said, once an island girl always an island girl. Of course we were drawn to the fishing boats out in the harbour.
Kilt Rock in the distance and Mealt Falls. We had a wonderful half hour tramping about the cliff side. Carefully. With a boundary ensuring stupid trampers do not fall off.
Another waterfall nearby Kilt Rock. Very far down. They have a lookout to walk out on to get those great photos. I somehow managed to refrain from crawling back once I realized how high above the falls I was.
A stop at Carbost on the return trip. It has taken a long time for me to feel comfortable having my photo taken. Granted, I tend to delete many of them. The backdrop of the Highlands makes anyone look good!
Strome Ferry. Our guide told us that on the other side is a trail that the Scottish hairy cows (aka coos) take but that’s another tour. I had been hoping to see one before we were back in Inverness.
Can it get any greener? (A bit pixelated photo – the lushness was dangerously inviting)
I refused to get much closer. Below are the remains of where mined slate (?) arrived before being shipped out. The slate (?) was mined on an opposite hill, put on tracks then winched down to the water. Forgive the (?) but I cannot find anything about this to confirm what I thought we were told so it may have been something else.
A calm lake and silent rowboats. I could sense the gentle rocking.
Colourful houses/businesses along the harbour of Portree and a church above. We had intended to check out the latter but spent too much time admiring the harbour front.
We saw a lot of sheep dotting the hills, and regular dairy cows, but no hairy coos.

UK Bound: Edinburgh (our final morning)

With our bags packed early and about three hours before our train to York we decided to return to our first stop in Edinburgh. First, very good coffee at a little, local Italian shop to help us once more climb Colton Hill for the view, and to check out the damage from the fire we discovered on our first day.

Before we had rounded the last incline the smell of charred wood still lingered in the air. Then the skeletal remains of trees and bushes came into view. This was a fire that could have so easily been out of control if it had started any lower down the hill. We recalled the positive of our four days while also shaking our heads at what was most likely a stupid action of one person.

Foreground: skeleton of broom (not a favoured bush at home but one that will take over where others will not return). Background: Edinburgh Castle at the top of the hill. So much history in such close proximity.
all the undergrowth burnt to cinders. In the far background Arthur’s Seat. Next visit will be to the top!
Holyrood Abbey ruins and Holyrood Palace about a mile in the distance.
As we were turning away from the hill we could hear the faint cry of bagpipes and rolling drums rising up from Holyrood Palace. What a send off! Edinburgh charmed me. I will return.

UK Bound: Edinburgh (Day 3)

Surely there was not nearly enough to keep us out for another full day of discoveries! Our plan was to have a relatively easy day, along with doing our laundry, finding coffee (and breakfast for my daughter – I had eaten earlier), and once again seek out our elusive tea party with the Queen. We had to walk 20 minutes to the ‘launderette’ which meant we were getting quite desperate for coffee. Fortunately, laundry sudsing nicely, and an attendant on duty, we left to find a promising cafe. Which we did. Kukina Bakery & Turkish Street Food where my daughter found a delicious looking sausage roll and we each had pretty good lattes while we sat indoors to discuss our plan for the day. Once everything was put away we headed out to visit two churches just up the street from our hotel that had caught my daughter’s eye.

St. Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral 1814 – present was such a delight. Entering through a side door into a spacious anteroom gives visitors a few minutes to prepare rather than be bundling coats, clasping bags or whatever last minute things one tends to do when entering a house of worship. Which also leaves you open to be awed. I do not recall seeing such a beautifully painted proscenium arch. (I had to look that up) I found it refreshing, no heavy handed gilt, no overpowering strong colours, not even any subliminal, nor in your face, messages. (Except the majority of the angels seem to be on the blonde side of things)
These lamp arms are so interesting. Completely different in all ways from the angels, yet they work. Bold colours, bold patterns, geometric versus the softness of The proscenium arch. Perhaps a nod to the Polish congregation? Mass is offered in English and Polish.
Scottish National Shrine of St. Andrew. Two relics of St. Andrew are said to be enshrined here, behind glass, gifted in 1869 and another in 1969. Relics gifted in the Middle Ages were lost during Reformation. This shrine is also not heavily adorned, another pleasant indication that not all that is sacred needs to be encased in gold. (Or silver)

As inviting as the second church appeared, and despite the large ‘all welcome’ sign everything was locked up tight. We could not find a sign indicating when they would open so off we went to finally go to inside the Writers’ Museum.

Nifty stairwell going up inside the Writers’ Museum. We finally made it!
All very well to have a warning for anyone going up, but coming down can be a bit of a surprise! The Museum is currently set up to prevent people clogging the stairwells – not always successful.
Tall narrow houses were quite normal. Built in 1622, restored in 1897, Lady Stair House was spared from being a wreck, a tenement or, more recently, becoming a B&B. Not that I would turn down a chance to stay.

After a quick, late lunch at The Albanach just off the Royal Mile – not memorable, all I wrote about it is that I paid £6.60 – I most likely had soup with bread and a coffee. There was live afternoon music, that I could only hear, rather than also see the musician, after being tucked practically against the front door and bay window, and with staff running to and fro. Note, anyone travelling with me needs patience of steel. Not that I am trying to be difficult, it’s just dietary restrictions tend to mean checking menus prior to choosing a place and then I pick a place apart if disappointed when something I can eat is not available. Impromptu dining is a thing of the past. We did not want much. We had a tea party to attend and were running late.

Are they taught how to maintain a stand on guard slouch?
Knock, knock? Are we too late for tea? Admittingly, closing in on 5:00PM is pushing into dinner time. (Photo from one of the side gates) As we were coming down the last several feet of the Royal Mile towards Holyrood Palace we encountered nattily dressed gentlemen and fascinator adorned ladies dressed to their teatime nines exiting the Palace. Actually walking out the gates.

If you look very carefully to the right of the Queen’s banner (Or is it standard?) you will see a very small red speck. Now listen carefully…oh, sorry, I forgot to record. We could hear the whirring sounds of a helicopter before seeing a gleaming red machine gracefully rise above our heads then swing around the palace in an ever up arc and flying off. We had missed the party by mere minutes. Perhaps the Queen was going out for takeaway? Just in case she was inside the shiny red helicopter we waved farewell.
Holyrood Palace. Tents coming down. Having missed everything we took a stroll towards Arthur’s Seat, made it as far as the foot of his throne (basically just entered the pathway) where we had great views. Calton Hill in the background. The Parthenon lookalike is an unfinished monument to remember those who died in the Napoleonic Wars. Only one set of twelve columns was finished due to lack of funds and loss of interest. Over the last 100+ years ideas have been bantered about to complete the monument with no concrete success.
Banner still flying high. The Palace from the back. Nestled next to Holyrood Abbey, which sadly is temporarily closed; it would have been a wonderful last place in Scotland for us to explore. The Palace was of course closed to the public when the queen is in residence.
One of the challenges with photos of massive buildings is taking photos to encapsulate what I see. Although still on the Holyrood Palace grounds this butts right up to the sidewalk. There is not always a lot of space to back up for safe camera angles. This little cottage is known as Queen Mary’s Bath (1542 – 1587) On the gate a sign says there is no indication of there ever being a bath, which makes sense considering the lack of bathing by anyone 500 years ago. She resided at Holyrood from 1561 – 1567. (Interesting note, she was nearly 6 feet tall, very tall for women in those days)
A view from near the top of Calton Cemetery gives an idea of how closely knit Edinburgh is. Arthur’s Seat in the background with Holyrood Palace at the base of the hill. (There is an abbey ruin off in the distance a quarter of the way up the hill that we chose to not walk to) As we were readying to finally turn our backs on the Palace our ears picked up drummers drumming and pipers piping! Zooming in I could just make out the red uniforms of guards outside the palace walls. A wonderful send off.
With the discovery of the cemetery we also found out how close Calton Hill was to everything, including the route back to our hotel. It made me shudder to think how close the fire from our first day was to everything, especially on a nearly tinder dry slope.
A view from below. We could not see any indication of the fire from where we were standing and I am quite sure the black on the monument was from decades of coal burning. What would we discover on our final views of Edinburgh the following morning?

By the time we made it back down the hill from the topside of the cemetery, wondered about the colossal derelict building on the side of Calton Hill (We were told it was formerly the US Embassy or Consulate but I have not found anything to indicate if corr) and tidied up a bit we made the decision to just eat at the hotel where I was pleasantly surprised to have a very good salad and shared a starter of salt and pepper squid. We would sleep well for our final half day before boarding a train to York.

UK Bound: Edinburgh (Day 2 the afternoon)

We had such a busy day, took in so many wonderful sights, as well as photos I had to seriously sit down to recall just what we managed to add to the day. Ah yes, St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle, tea with the queen, and just a little fire.

Our pit stop at St. Giles’ Cathedral should have been at least a couple of hours. At least we left with some idea of what we might see at the castle, or if not, music singing in our souls. Considered to have been build by King David 1, (he was a busy man) starting in 1124, the Cathedral has witnessed many changes and histories.

My knowledge of the Bible is sketchy which meant I had to look up the meaning of what this window is depicting. However, it also means I am entering any house of worship , I hope, with a very open mind and eyes. Finished in1922, I thought Jesus stilling the sea of Galilee was beautifully crafted. The colours are so brilliant.

Just one section of the beautiful carved stone ceiling bosses. I believe these are in the nave if I have my architectural references correct.
I apologize for the poor quality, my phone camera zoom could not get any closer. St. Giles has high rafters and wondrous works. James the VI coat of arms after he became James I of England and Ireland in 1603. (unicorns symbolized purity, innocence, masculinity and power) Somewhe
I became enraptured by this choir practicing. Their voices really did rise to the rafters in joyous song. I spent more time listening to them, and lifting my eyes to what was above than anywhere else. Or perhaps I just did not want to venture outdoors too soon. The stain glass is a memorial to Robert Burns, installed in 1985. I wonder how parishioners, or the people of Edinburgh, felt about having a non-Scotsman design the piece.

Our allotted arrival was 2:00 – 2:30, I assume staggered to prevent crushes of people. They were unsuccessful with that plan and anyone with prepaid tickets was shoved into the same line as those who had just walked up to the ticket booth. It reminded me of the chaos at the Birmingham Airport line to enter security. (I will include that in another Blog) However, once through we could avoid the crowds if we were careful. While in line a simple notice in a few places explained the 21 gun salute. Queen Elizabeth was indeed in Edinburgh for the week, the decision having only been made that morning! Too bad she was staying at the other end of the Royal Mile in Holyrood Palace. Tea would have to wait.

A forbidding sight and one to surely make generals and their soldiers seriously rethink their plans. Not that the size and fortifications stopped them. Edinburgh Castle is the most besieged place in the UK. I suppose the fact the castle is still standing is a testament to how well built it is.
Now I understand ‘down the barrel of a gun’. Such views from the castle!
St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, mother to King David. Although the glass is much newer the Chapel was built around 1130.
Saint Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh. Well, the arches and sections are original. Left forgotten for a few centuries it saw light again in 1845. A lovely, simple place for reflection, or just to get away from the busyness of the castle.
Do they get bored marching up and down such a short distance? Guardhouse to where he is standing is such a short space. We missed the changing of the guards (most likely not nearly as grand as in London) but I did see four of them stepping sharply in time, followed by a small crowd, as they headed to their quarters. (I think is what the sign said – could have been from years gone by but that was where they disappeared to)
Keeping up appearances.
Although the rain had finally stopped it was an extremely blustery day. For much of our visit to the castle I wore my gloves. (I could have used a scarf!) None of these cannons were used in the 21 gun salute, they are all capped.

There are a few indoor areas of great interest where photos are not allowed. Or of enough wonder, plus a lot of reading, that made me forget about pictures and just have history take me back in time. The embroideries of Mary Queen of Scots, held in the castle under house arrest, although replicas, show a simplicity in style with perhaps meaning behind their making. I suppose a queen imprisoned cannot simply take up a hobby to bide her time.

After a few people on our morning tour mentioned hearing about the Calton Hill fire I decided to look it up. Not exactly a ‘small fire’! We had been standing at the top of the ridge the day it happened.

We closed out the castle, guards were patiently waiting to pull the velvet rope across the entrance of the road to our final castle museum. Full of history, a bit damp, and looking forward to a trip to the other end of the Royal Mile on our last full day, we made our way back to our hotel. I know we had dinner, just no recollection of where or what!

UK Bound: Edinburgh (Day 2 – the morning)

After such a full half day I did not think we could be even busier and find more excitement. Instead we were looking forward to a more in depth walk on our own around the Royal Mile before heading to Edinburgh Castle at the top of the hill. As mentioned in Day 1 we were staying at the base of Calton Hill, (Marriott Courtyard – I might do a Blog about all of our stays. At this place I had to use my credit card to pay for £3.65 coffee because they, ‘stupidly’ was my note that morning, would not take cash – grrrr!) about 1 mile away from our destination. Thinking in miles vs. kilometres messes up my brain; much to the chagrin of my daughter I tended to use time instead. If I have to be somewhere I want to be there ahead of time. Starbucks coffees (if readers have not figured it out yet I have been drinking more coffee than usual – lattes)in our hands we had barely arrived a block down from St. Giles Cathedral when we were drawn to a booth and a gathering of people preparing for a ‘free’ two hour walking tour. Five minutes later we were off with Graeme, our new leader, to explore, discover, and learn. The best £10.00 I spent (at least that day).

The only drawback with a walking tour for me was trying to hear what was being said, keeping up when dealing With all the stairs, and forgetting to take photos! Of course not everything has been retained. My advice is to go on at least one walking tour. Our guide was very knowledgeable, friendly and quick to respond to questions. The reason I did not hear everything is that we were outside, in a group of about 15 and I have one ear that does not cooperate. (In other words partially deaf – caused by a flight descent some years ago). We walked to, stopped at, and carried on, to several points of interest. The Writers’ Museum happened to be one of them, through Advocates Close this time. It was open! It is free, we went the following day as a walking tour tends to omit going inside places.

The door is open! Try to visit anywhere other than on a Sunday. The museum is housed at Lady Stair’s Close. The home, also Lady Stair, was built in 1622, eventually renovated to the building we now see. The following day I would discover thr requisite narrow, winding staircase is deceiving; it leads you up to two floors, plus down to a lower floor, that hold the works and memorabilia of three of Edinburgh’s greatest writers, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson. None of whom had any connection to the house.
As usual I was looking up when given an opportunity to stop to drink in my surroundings. (one of our few rainy days that eventually saw the sun come out) The Closes were once nasty, tightly packed tenements that are now mainly self-serviced accommodations for visitors. However, it did appear that the few windows I found interesting might have been either more personalized for the discerning guest, or permanently occupied and/or decorated by someone with a sense of humour. On a higher floor there was a tailor’s dummy in the window. Also look down at your feet. Closer to the Museum are flagstones with inscriptions that commemorate the city’s literary heritage.
These add to the relative peacefulness of the courtyard that is Makar’s Court. Many of the tour guides we saw seemed to understand that not everyone wanted to struggle through throngs of visitors gawking at whichever site was being discussed and kept a respectful distance from the one narrow entrance to the museum. Not all, but most.

Of course how can any good guide pass up the chance to discuss one of the better known tales, and the Edinburgh connection. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a definite draw. Based on the life of well respected town counsellor, Deacon Brodie – cabinet maker by day, thief by night who was eventually caught sticky handed and hanged close to where he lived and worked – remains a popular name for the now restaurant where he resided.

I have been attempting to save what we heard to the last, except it was halfway through our two hour walk. However, rather than manipulate the day to suit my writing here we are. After winding down one steep hill, (I had no idea Edinburgh is so hilly), being shown various points of interest, climbing down more stairs, then halfway up Prince’s Street, we stopped across from the Prince’s Street house and garden that abut Edinburgh Castle. Sort of a tantalizing taste of what is around the corner for anyone who had not managed to sneak a peek earlier. As our guide explained to the damp group what we were looking at a massive boom surrounded us. A few seconds later, another boom, then another. Of course we were all extremely taken aback because it was not the construction site below us collapsing or something worse. Our guide was just as startled. So the chatter started, could they be practicing cannon fire at the castle? For what purpose? The Tattoo is not until August. Still wondering, still hearing the booms, we carried on. When we hit 13 I said it must be a 21 gun salute (I had been counting). Of course we all speculated why. None of us had heard anything about a royal visit and my daughter and I had tickets for the castle that afternoon. Besides, the Queen is 96 years old, surely she would not be traipsing around the place! Once we were sure we were not under attack we carried on, rounded the corner, and there was the castle. Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary unless a line up to enter the castle was unusual. (We learned later that it is not) Our ears still ringing, we passed the tantalizing entrance to take yet another long staircase down to a lower street.

Our first view of the outer section of the castle as we walked down yet another steep set of stairs. Going up is easier for me. I kept being left at the back of the pack and missing scraps of information or stories. Fortunately I was happy to just gaze around me and capture interesting angles if any caught my attention.
Despite the controversy over the author’s views on transgender issues no tour seems complete without mentioning JK Rowling. We had already passed close to, or sort of within view of, some of the cafes she wrote her first Harry Potter book, then shown the direction of where the final book of the series was written – Balmoral Hotel – definitely a move up in the world. We had already walked past it a few times to and from our hotel. Which brings us to the Greyfriars Kirkyard (cemetery) where she is said to have found some of the names for her characters. I am sure everyone knows who her Thomas Riddle was, but who was the person buried? We were not told. (Do a search of Greyfriars Cemetery where they mention a few well know names)
I believe we were the only two from our group to take time to visit Greyfriars Kirk (Church – not a direct translation as Kirk was for the clothing worn by Franciscans – pre-Reformation) that sits inside the cemetery. The church has gone through many transformations. This stained glass is mid-Victorian. This was the first Scottish church to have stained glass since Reformation. I believe these panels were put in after a mid-1800s fire.
Peter Collins organ. Built in 1990 to replace an older one. Pretty impressive far above us in its own alcove . I enjoy organ music, we heard none in any of the churches we visited.

Besides the Harry Potter connection to the cemetery there is a lovely, somewhat touching tale about the faithful dog Bobby, a Skye terrier who visited the grave of his master for 14 years! One story is he, the dog, was given the freedom of the city after the gardener of the churchyard complained and had Bobby taken to the pound only to be reprieved by the Lord Provost. Bobby had a wonderful life, and there is even a Memorial fountain with a life size monument of him – no photo by me. Also a headstone in Greyfriars Kirkyard -also no photo. I was getting tired, dampish and hungry.

Of course we had to eat here! The lower rooms were where the Deacon had his cabinetry business, now a cafe-bar. Of note is that it seems many of the more well-to-do also had small courtyards; these days a great spot for more tables for those willing to sit in the rain. The upper floor, where he lived, is a tearoom.
The tomato basil soup was quite tasty. Something I rarely like. This was probably the only day we had any significant rain on our whole trip in Scotland, soup seemed like the right choice before an expected long afternoon of castle climbing.

By 1:15, warmed, and our head’s buzzing with everything we had seen, heard and discovered we were ready for the last bit of the Royal Mile, that leads to the gates of Edinburgh Castle. Would the queen be home? (Or could she have gone to Holyrood Palace, at the other end of the Royal Mile? Was the 21 gun salute even for her? Our entry time was for between 2:00 – 2:30. Do not be late. But first, we had to squeeze in Saint Giles Cathedral! Would we be on time?

UK Bound: Edinburgh (Day 1)

Fleeting moments. We arrived in Edinburgh with the plan to drop our bags and explore. Of course we had to stop for lunch. We had not gone far when I spied The Newsroom. Nourished and very full we continued our adventures. Pretty well in the order as presented.

I will not bore everyone with more food photos, perhaps a Scotland food Blog will be added down the road. I chose the fajitas. A friend queried, fajitas in Edinburgh? (Perhaps it was merely an observation) This is a cosmopolitan city. Also not much I can eat in most places. If vegans have a difficulty with choices try following a diet with restrictions that include many foods that are plant based. I am not starving, just frustrating at times, as it would be the case in Canada.
Monument to commemorate Sir Walter Scott. Pretty neat to have a monument built for an author. Unfortunately not open to go inside for the last two years. We all know why. Would I have wanted to climb the 287 spiral staircase steps? Probably not.
As our room was not yet ready we ambled down the street and around the corner to discover the Greenside Parish Church. It was closed. Undaunted we turned right and discovered Calton Hill where there is another monument (actually a few are there), this one for Admiral Lord Nelson. Great views from the hill. Not so from the monument as it was also closed. Similar storyline.
‘Arthur’s Seat’ in the background. This will be my only volcano, ancient or otherwise. Not an easy climb but one we were planning to tackle on our last full day if no rain. At 855 feet high I am hoping for torrents! Not really. However, we were not completely committing our day in the event of a very busy second day – that will be another blog. Besides, best to view a volcano from a distance.
The monument was designed to look like a telescope. To my recollection there are over 140 steps to the top. Also around 80 steps for the hearty to go up the hill, or an easier winding road-path to the top of the hill. Well worth the walk for the stunning 360 degree views. Unless there is smoke.

As my daughter and I were checking out the views from the monument I had moved away to look back to where we had been. I saw smoke. And more smoke. Told my daughter. Now here we differ, I wanted to find the tea or gift shop, she wanted to inspect further and be available to phone the ‘fire brigade’. She would also have been good to have around in the event some idiot (there were several) chose to hang around in the smoke. It became much worse and we left the hill. Back at our hotel our room was finally ready, we mentioned the smoke and possible fire, they had heard nothing. Our room faced the church I mentioned and smoke was wafting over it. Reception thought it was not a problem. Eventually other people could smell the smoke and the fire brigade had arrived while we were heading down.The next morning I checked the news, it took four fire trucks with crew ten hours to put out what ended up being “a large gorse fire”. A bit too much excitement for me.

Just before much darker smoke started to billow up and over the hill. I believe the two women in forefront worked for one of the shops.
Courtesy James Coltham BBC News
St. Giles Church. We were too late to go inside which meant we would have to go the next day. As Edinburgh Castle was on our agenda and both are on the Royal Mile it would not be a problem. Remember that.
Writers’ Museum. Closed, but only because it was a Sunday. Plans are to return on our last full day, most likely on my own while my daughter visits the Anatomy Museum. I cannot wait for some inspiring words.
We were so close to Edinburgh Castle, just beyond the gates. This day was all glimpses of what and where we planned to visit at length the following day. If that was just a taste I knew I was in for a feast for the eyes, ears and mind the next day.

We were both getting somewhat hungry despite our big lunch and stopped at a neat outdoor, covered area called the Secret Garden where there were drinks and several venues to choose from. Seating was where you found it, live music set a nice mood. I was not exceedingly hungry despite a tally of 20,000 steps. I only ate half my generous grilled three cheese sandwich. I was definitely ready for bed after. I could not imagine how the next day could have anymore surprises. Until we heard… but that’s for Day 2.

UK Bound: the days in between

Although the title might suggest some down time during my trip it is really all about an attempt to highlight some of the areas, sites and thoughts visited before they become solely a fleeting memory. We managed to pack in a lot between leaving Tintern and arriving in Tenby a few days later. Our goals were two castles and Porthcawl before Swansea where we would spend two days with a side trip to Hay-on-Wye and a visit to Mumbles. Did we make it?

Castles tend to look like unfriendly fortresses, Caerphilly was no exception. Of course that was one of the purposes for building them. Caerphilly Castle, built in 1268 by the English lord Gilbert de Clare (he was a greedy fellow with his castles). Twice destroyed by Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (his name, or those of his descendants cropped in other sites we visited). What is it with destroying castles? However, within a year, staunch (perhaps stubborn or a poor loser.) fellow that he was, the same Englishman rebuilt Caerphilly to become the largest castle in Wales. In 1326 the English king Edward II hid out in the castle to escape his queen. Caerphilly was indeed a strong fortress.
As with so many castles Caerphilly fell into disrepair. In the 17th century the tower started to lean. The wooden statue of Marquess de Bute, the man who saved Caerphilly Castle from complete ruin in the 19th – 20th centuries, seems to be doing his best to hold the famous Leaning Tower in place. I did not make it anywhere near the statue, and it could be that it is protected from anyone getting too close. It is rather impressive upon seeing it from across the water.
Why does the tower lean? There is some dissent between local folklore and science. The tale is that it was damaged during battles between the roundheads and the cavaliers in the 17th c. (The English Civil War) Science says subsidence. Whatever happened it leans more than ten degrees, double that of the leaning tower of Pisa.
The Canadians are invading. I counted over two dozen goslings between four adults. Further up the way there were maybe thirty more adult waddle marching in a single line from the water to the main path where a man was feeding them. I am quite sure this was a daily ritual. Although we have geese this is not a sight I would see in Victoria!

Of course I took far more photos and selecting the best was extremely difficult as so many can tell a tale. Such as the more recent battle of restoration vs. leave as found. The former won. Most recently with plans for a £5m investment for Caerphilly, “to strengthen the site as a world-class heritage attraction by 2023.” (Cadw) I am undecided as to how I feel about that. Granted, extensive work had already been done to the site by the Marquess, some of which could do with a closer look as to accuracy and probably safety. I am far, far from being knowledgeable about castles, architecture and the history of each. I choose instead to enjoy each site I encounter. There were some interpretive areas, one room with an interesting angle to tell the tale of Edward II, his queen and others involved in deceit, affairs of the heart, politics, and dastardly deeds. Unfortunately none of my photos managed to capture even a glimpse of the aura I think the artist captured. More the fault of my ability than what was presented. Caerphilly is absolutely one of the castles in Wales a visitor should make the trip to visit.

And don’t forget to feed the dragons! This was an unexpected, fun end to our Caerphilly adventures. The story of a king turned dragon, who found his dragon lady love. Do they belong? Of course, they are Welsh dragons after all. Now permanent residents they will come out to play once in a while.

After spending far more time than we expected to we sadly turned our backs on Caerphilly. We had one more castle on this portion of our trip to visit plus making it to Porthcawl then Swansea before dark. Closing time was fast approaching at Castel Coch.

But first we needed lunch! Late as usual. Once fortified we made our way up the long, sloping hill to the drawbridge.
Castel Coch, fairy tale castle fit for a ‘princess’. We were utterly enchanted with what we found inside. Do you recall Gilbert de Clare and Marquess Bute? Despite centuries apart their architectural pursuits were once again entwined. When you have the money there is little that cannot be done. The towers were de Clare’s as part of a hunting fortress; everything else came about in the 19th c. using Bute’s money combined with William Burgess’ experienced eye for design and architecture. Although Burgess died before the rooms were completed his foundation left room for the artistic talents of others.
Bute’s wife even had hot and cold running water in her drawing room! We had to be content with facilities outside of the castle. And what a room!
The detail in the paintings of the flowers, birds and other animals are beautiful. The whole drawing room depicts various Aesop’s Fables, monkeys (one supposedly done in the image of Darwin as an insult to his views on the origin of mankind), and a variety of wonderful creatures. I was enamoured with the carved animals.
We were told that all of the birds painted on the side panels leading to the dome are native to the area (it might have been Great Britain) as are the florals on the walls.
These are panels in the drawing room dome. Not necessarily any depicting Darwin. I am not sure I would want to sleep with monkeys watching me and throwing down grapes in my dreams. I am somewhat afraid of monkeys.
An interesting note is that not only did deClare spend very little time at the site in the 12th c. but neither did Bute in the 19th c. after his architect-designer and friend died. The castle eventually fell into disuse, even after being purchased in the 1930s, before renewed interest around the 1960s brought about restoration and the fairy tale dwelling can once again hold our dreams. I could sleep in a bed with crystal bedposts but probably not the monkeys. We were ready fo a nap, and still had many miles to go. A fond farewell just before we were to be gently shown the door and the portcullis lowered ( no idea if it ever is) with our Sat Nav set for Swansea.

What happened to Porthcawl and Hay-on-Wye? Time was running out. We reset our plans to retrace our route the next day for Porthcawl, the main destination on my list, and Hay-on-Wye the following day.

UK Bound: Raglan Castle and Llanthony Old Priory

One of my very early notes was made after Chepstow Castle. However, the same thought fits all of the abbeys and castles. To me, reading about each site as we explored them – even places with barely a hole for a window or doorway yet alone a wall – had one major difference. At times palpable, others just sad reminders. Abbeys were built to impress God, and perhaps as an afterthought the brethren; whereas castles were built to oppress, and therefore impress upon, the people. Of course the latter were also built as protective forts – from whom might remain up to discussion.

On the day we visited Raglan Castle, plus the Llanthony Priory neither had been on my list for that day. However, after discussing our plans with our host she suggested we switch our order of exploring which would give us time to drive to Hay-on-Wye. One place I was quite looking forward to that did not include castles.

Raglan Castle still has a very impressive moat around its Great Tower. This was indeed a Fortress-Palace. Crossing over it on a now solid bridge did cause me to pause in thought but I was not willing to pause my steps.
The view from the Great Tower. (To the best of my recollection)
The Welsh ‘blue knight of Gwent’, (Sir Willam ap Thomas) built the tower in 1435.
His son, Sir William Herbert, would continue to build a castle fit for a king. (Confused yet?) Henry Tudor, the future King Henry VII, was sent to Sir William to be brought up at Raglan Castle.
Approaching the main Gates was impressive. As one writer says, the Castle was built to impress and intimidate. Sir Herbert added apartments to suit his status.
Of course, many great men fall hard. Sir Herbert was captured and executed in 1469 during the battle of Edgecote. He was buried at Tintern Abbey.
Nothing more was done to build the castle until William Somerset, Earl of Worcester (1548-89) made even grander additions and changes to the Hall and apartments. This window had heraldic stained glass in it. Imagine cleaning all that glass!
The 3rd earl’s heraldic crest is still above the entrance to the hall.
The First English Civil War (1642 – ?) forced an extended siege then the eventual surrender of the Castle. (Being on the wrong side usually meant being on the short end of a stick or some other nasty demise. The Earl died in prison.) After losing the battle a command to pull down the Great Tower was not completely successful, with one wall finally pushed into the moat. There was another floor above that was destroyed. Even climbing to the top of the truncated section is not for the faint of heart! I failed that winding stairway. It is quite breathtaking to discover fireplaces midway up the inner walls, windows that look outward and inward – to peer down on what was happening below – and consider the workmanship to build these grand castles.
Shattered or stolen windows, the frames are all we have to look into the past of mighty men fallen. Their bricks and stones bearing witness to our stares.
A sad reminder of the library that included Welsh documents and books that were either destroyed or stolen.

After a farewell and turning away Raglan faded back into the past. However, we were not quite prepared to completely enter the present beyond some intense focus on the roads we had to traverse. We had two goals. Llanthony Priory and Hay-onWye, all before dinner. The Abbey was, according to our SatNav, only 30 minutes away and Hay-on-Wye a mere 40 minutes beyond that. Perhaps SatNav had not considered the horse and carriage roadways.

We nearly missed the turn to Llanthony Priory. However, once we realized that the Brecon Beacons National Park was indeed where we wanted to be, with nearby washrooms (ask for the toilets though), we discovered the priory on the edge of the park. Although now privately owned, and therefore why we could not find it, thinking it was the Llanthony Priory Hotel, it is considered a historical site and is open to visitors.

No swinging on this massively heavy gate! Although not dated I imagine it is about as aged as the 900 year old remains of the priory.
The large archway in the background led into the chapel. The arches in the foreground remain an impressive, and somewhat intimidating, nave leading up to the chapel.
You can see where winding stairs narrowed as they go to the top of the tower – I could visualize a monk climbing these in his billowing black robe to possibly ring the bell. (Recent archeological research have found there was possibly a 13th c. clock in one of towers)
Additions were made to the priory over a couple of hundred years, this is one of the 13th c. vaulted ceilings that remains.
The views are breathtaking, it is easy to understand why a knight in the 1100s would decide to put away his armour and want to remain in such a peaceful setting for prayer and reflection. Unfortunately, it was also so remote it was subject to dispute and the first priory was destroyed. Not that the second buildings did much better, they were sold off by Henry Vlll for £166.00!

Although I do not like the idea of a hotel attached to the corner of the site it appears the owners are maintaining the priory and area as historic treasures. There is a small bar that cleverly appears to be part of the Old Priory. We never did make it Hay-on-Wye having been turned around at a sign that claimed the narrow back road was closed due to a ‘landslip’. Rather than take our chances we turned around and headed back, this time to discover the bar is aptly named Cellar-Bar, where we were told the sign had been there for ages and we could have made the trip. I guess the lesson here is to ask before setting out. We had coffees, my daughter managed to get some more charge on her phone, for a charge, then we headed off. Back to Tintern for our last night and a fabulous meal at Parva Farm. (UK Bound: Wales – the Food)

UK Bound: Wales – the Food

I am not the sort of person to arrange my plates in a beautiful still life photo, and I often think of taking a picture, or jotting down a note, when partway through a meal. For my Wales trip it was a lot of hit and miss, which also meant my pandas were often stuffed in my small Lug along with a package of cookies, or sometimes a croissant, to appease them. However, from the back of the car to the Michelin Star, and only the memory of a meal (good and not so good) they were all special. Enjoy, we did for the majority of our time. I do wish I had tried the Welsh Rarebit. I did have Welsh cakes.

In Tintern we stayed at a somewhat quirky B&B, our room sloped. It certainly needed some updating yet was comfortable enough to disregard any of the minor problems. We also liked our host who happened to be Canadian. I am not including the name of the place because she has sold it and will be moving to Hay-On-Wye this summer. Breakfast was always delicious. Although the first bite of my waffle was a bit dry it ended up being quite tasty, especially with the naughty bit of real Canadian maple syrup. (I checked the label) Another morning I had the salmon omelette. Wonderful. Every morning the coffee was fantastic! Well breakfasted each day we were always prepared for our adventures. These were meals I did not take photos of. I don’t think I took any breakfast ones.

After exploring Tintern Abbey we were in dire need of something warm. (We had picnicked on the riverside earlier) The Wild Hare Cafe was perfect and had such cute cups. Do I recall what I ate with my coffee? No. £9.95 We would have dinner at their restaurant the following night – dreadful and what may have caused my to have a swollen, then numb, and eventually chapped upper lip for much of the rest of our trip. (It made enjoying some meals a challenge) However, our first night for dinner we ate at the Wye Valley Hotel where I had a Brie & Onion Tart. £12.95
When your host recommends a place that has a Michelin Star of course a booking is necessary. We were a bit worried I might not enjoy the meal after the night before and nearly cancelled. I was so happy we did not. Parma Farmhouse is accessed from one of the narrow side roads. We were greeted by the chef’s wife, settled into the understated lounge, drinks ordered (always hot water and lemon or lime for me) before being brought to our table. My nearly immediate thought was to note how quiet it was. No musical interference! I enjoy music, I prefer live if out for a nice meal. Instead, we were given a lovely meal, pleasant conversation between us, and a chance to unwind. My starter was asparagus with a poached egg in a thyme cream sauce. Silky sauce, perfectly blanched asparagus. The poached egg not so soft as to turn me off.
Divine duck. Two ways. I could have licked my plate but resisted.
I do not usually eat dessert and only then share it. Oh my. I thought my sauce was silky. The pistachio cheesecake was heavenly. A small round of raspberry ice cream balanced everything perfectly. Was what we paid worth it? In my opinion, yes. My share £41.50 for a once in a lifetime meal.
A car boot picnic somewhere!
Mumbles, a place I wanted to visit solely for its name. We were quite pleased to discover that’s where Oystermouth Castle is which was on my list. We even managed free parking before moving to a car park closer to the stunning promenade with its variety of beachside food trucks/shacks as well as ‘classier’ restaurants. The calamari at this little beach stand was succulent and priced very reasonably. £7.00. We sat in sling beach chairs and people watched. Dinner was also Mumbles but not nearly as wonderful. Perhaps by the time we ate the wind had picked up – we were on a patio. So what did we have for dinner and where was it? The fact I cannot recall the name even after searching online, nor the meal, although overlooking beach, means it was not very memorable. I found the receipt, Oyster House. I had the asparagus side as my main. Not nearly as wonderful as the Michelin Star meal a few days earlier. I do know I had an issue with the restrooms – probably out of toilet paper.
Porthcawl. We stopped at a little cafe, Fulgoni’s, to ask for directions to the town centre after finding the house my mother was born in. Paddington must have enticed us. We also bought coffees. Coffee being our go to if we ask for help in an establishment. We bought a loaf of bloomer sourdough at a local bakery after doing some sightseeing to have for an impromptu picnic at the community park lawn on New St. (Where the house is). A lovely break, fresh baked bread, with cheese, ham, lettuce and fruit from our cooler.
We knew there was a Starbucks off the main road in Swansea after passing it a couple of times to and from Porthcawl and Mumbles. Fortunately we also needed gas on our morning of departure to Tenby & SB was next door. I don’t know why we felt we needed more coffee but according to my notes we had more along the way.

Time for a bit more about why some photos were not taken. In Tenby we went to Caldey Island before we had checked in at Pen-y-Bong Guest House as it was far too early and about a 20 minute drive. Even more coffee, with sandwiches bought at the busy cafe on the island and enjoyed at a table on the grass would sustain us until the second to last boat back to Tenby. However, with all the visiting, exploring and therefore walking still to do we did not spend a lot of time dallying over our simple meal. The sandwiches were quite good. £7.00 for my meal. Perhaps we had a treat too?

We ate dinner at the Fat Seagull in Tenby after seeing it on our way to the boats for Caldey Island and tucked the name in our memory banks in case we could not find a place later. Fortuitous for us to have caught the second to last boat – we nearly did not get a table and would have been out of luck nearly everywhere else as bookings are about the only way to get a spot. They squeezed us in between reservations. At least six other groups also tried to get in. I had vegan meatballs in a very spicy tomato sauce (remember my upper lip?) and a lovely salad. Outstanding meal and great service. Only the chef and server working in an establishment that could have used more help. Yet we did not feel rushed nor neglected even after other diners arrived.
My daughter had the seafood trio (or perhaps it was a quadruple) She declared it delicious.
Another day of adventures always meant we needed to find dinner. We had considered driving to Tenby before stopping at Saundersfoot to find a place. We were striking out, once again everywhere was booked up. (We were eventually clued into half-term break for students) One eatery suggested the Australian place around the corner. It’s called Kookaba. Despite the chilliness and raindrops starting we were quite willing to sit in the back patio under a giant umbrella until a table was found for us inside.
My daughter’s order of a Billabong burger was so massive it deserves two pictures! Two burgers with cheese stuffed with shrimp in between and skewered with three prawns. Plus sweet potato fries! It was a good thing we had done a lot of walking and climbing stairs that day.
I had a more sedate chargrilled chicken salad with a few of the chips to help out. Delicious! My share £12.95
The Light of Asia in Aberystwyth. Another search for a meal was proving very difficult and I was at the point of picking up anything. Although hostel was next door to fort/castle ruins it too had seen much better days and was not in the most select section of town. Stumbling into this restaurant our expectations were not high. We just wanted food. Our meal nearly surpassed Parva Farmhouse. We shared onion Bhaji, tandoori king prawns, korma chicken and vegetable biryani. All cooked to please. Outstanding meal after yet another day of exploring.
Breakfast was at 8:15, I was starving! We booked for earlier the following day.
High tea across from Caernarfon Castle at the County Hall (I think it was something else when first built, perhaps a courthouse). We sat between two pillars. We had no idea there was a grand piano being played or other high tea visitors. I liked our setting. It was a lovely ending to visiting the castles, abbeys and churches of Wales.
Staffordshire: Littleton Arms in Penkridge. A lovely salmon tart with asparagus. We then headed to the large tent where there was a very good jazz quartet. We chose to eat inside first.
Although no longer in Wales we were still on our travels. Our final meal out
was in Lichfield at Bistro Number 19, across from Lichfield Cathedral. We had not intended on visiting here but were so glad we did. The Cathedral was beautiful. My oatcakes with cheese were delicious and my latte very good. We picnicked in our room with what little we had left before heading home the following morning. For some reason no breakfast was ready when we thought
it would be. Perhaps because it was a Sunday. We did not stick around to find out.

Some honourable mentions: Pen y Bont Guesthouse in Amroth, our two night stay included breakfast. Lovely view overlooking the gardens. Simple choices, eggs/toast/yogurt/fruit. We did love the touch in our room after a long day of adventures of two Welsh cakes. There was a clever pattern with each place when it came to B&Bs – we would be given a slip of paper to mark down our next day’s breakfast order. It works well for the hosts; the only downside for guests is if you change your mind overnight! Taldrwst Farmhouse: we slept in one of the stables, the only place we had to share a bed, a short walk to the main house for a delicious breakfast – I had to take care with how I made my order. Seems my eggs order read as one egg. Not that I needed two. What made this place extra special was dinner was also served. As tired little teddy bears we were not looking forward to searching for a place to dine out so we made a booking for when we determined we would be back. Delicious selections. As a result also the most expensive overall stay. After a couple of days ‘relaxing’ we are ready for some day trips until we head to Scotland.

UK Bound: Chepstow Castle

Before our epic trek we went for a short walk to the opposite end of Tintern (within sight) where we discovered a nearly 1000 year old church before continuing on a lovely path along the River Wye. Then, once breakfasted with a delicious meal of waffles with real Canadian maple syrup for me (a major indulgence), an omelette for my daughter, and fortified with delicious coffee we set off. By the time we hit our pillows many hours later we walked well over 30,000 steps. (My phone is not as accurate as my daughter’s fancy watch)

Chepstow Castle’s foundation was laid before 1070, and the castle went through many changes until it was dismantled in 1690.

The Parish Church of Saint Michael of Tintern sign: “This site has absorbed the hopes & prayers of villagers and traveller alike for over 1000 years. Our hope is that within these stones you have discovered meaning, peace and contentment.” Such a lovely beginning to our morning walk. The church was established on the site of an old Celtic Church. We went for our walk quite early and found the church was open. I do not know if visitors are always welcome but it felt like they are.
What creature lurks within? Bars across the entrance meant we would not find out. Or would we….
After the barred tunnel, and into perhaps 2 km, we came across this train tie creature sitting at the start of yet another tunnel – this time one we had to enter if we wanted to continue our journey. The lighting is kept dim to accommodate the bats that live in it! This was the most unexpected section of our Wye Valley Greenway walk despite being told there is a tunnel. At 1 km in length Tidenham Tunnel is not for anyone claustrophobic. No flash photography, nor flashlights are allowed. It was a bit disorienting after walking about halfway.
After getting slightly lost, finding a little tea shop in Sedbury where we stopped for much needed coffee and directions, we took the slow, scenicbridge, some steep hills and paths before coming to the foot of a driveway where we saw Chepstow Castle in the distance. We were very excited. We were also getting quite worn out and a little damp from the rain that had been threatening all morning.
Chepstow Castle doors. Testing has found these date to no later than the 1190s which makes them the oldest set of castle doors in Europe. Sadly they were taken down, replicated and now stand rather forlornly in a somewhat neglected corner of the castle. Protected from the elements but not much else. Note the small door within the left hand gate. I am only 5’2” and it did not appear much more than 5’6”. Were people really that much shorter? Perhaps my perspective was off.
I have absolutely no idea what the room was – I took the photo from the damaged wall and doorway and was quite pleased with the result. It might have been a Chapel as the back, bricked up arches appear to be windows and the side windows have decorated arches. There also did not appear to be any beam inserts in the walls for a second level.
To my recollection this was an undercroft. Used for storing food, wine and ales.
A damsel in distress? I believe this was the great tower. Deceivingly low it has a section below ground level and was too dizzying and high for me to go all the way up to where one could walk the ramparts. However, my daughter managed.
How anyone could run up and down such narrow steps, in a long dress, is beyond me. This was me – half way up or half way down. And I had a handrail.
Some of the details in the architecture can still be found. To think that the whole castle was built by hand with quite simple tools.
I was impressed to see there is still glass in so many of the windows.

After spending perhaps three hours at the castle we were definitely in need of sustenance and washrooms. There was a large coffee emporium across from the castle so of course we had to try it out. I know we had something light to eat but cannot recall what it was. We did not have any thought of walking back. Having already checked for when the buses would run we headed to the area where they seemed to congregate and were back in Tintern in time to book dinner, clean up first, and head out again. Sadly, my meal was not great, and I either had a reaction to something in one of the dishes or was bitten later in the night as I woke up with a sore upper lip, mainly on one side, that was also swollen. It felt similar to when I had extremely spicy Thai food many years ago. My lip is still bothering me despite keeping hydrated and lip balm. We were both very worn out and excited for our adventures the following day.

Too bad the restaurant was not up to the same excellence of their coffee in the little coffee bar. I loved the little cups and plates.

UK Bound: Tintern

Yes, the very Tintern in the title of Wordsworth’s Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, except I have no clue why he said a few miles above. I did not find I was ever above the Abbey, and, although not mentioned in the poem itself the Abbey is the anchor of the village. Tintern village is on a slope. the Wye River does wind along it. It was a tranquil spot to begin our journey through WalesI have not been able to find the words to describe all we saw. That I shall leave to Wordsworth. I hope my captions will suffice.

Tintern Abbey was Founded in 1131 by Cistercian monks. First build of timber This was our first “wow” of many more to come.
The view from the banks of the River Wye. A stunning sight for anyone approaching for the first time from the river.
By 1269 wealthy merchants provided the funds for the monks to have lofty dreams of grandeur.
After all the stonemasons, scaffolding and various workers had gone life in the the Abbey seemed set for quiet contemplation.
A mere 237 years later Henry VIII had other ideas. He ordered that the Abbey stripped of all its stained glass windows, and all its valuables removed to be sold for his coffers.
Yet the Abbey remains. A symbol of resilience? (The grand doors from inside the church).
Our room. Two single beds. The beds were a bit lumpy but great after a day of trekking through Abbeys and castles. A quaint respite with quirks such as the sloping tiled bathroom floor that found us always leaning and a little concerned about falling off the toilet seat if not for the cramped quarters. Our host was great, mainly running the house on her own. She is a Canadian!
Our view over the River Wye from our little room.

UK Bound: 5 hours in Cambridge

We decided a trip to Cambridge sounded like a good plan. A drive to St. Ives in the morning to the Park & Ride, hop on the bus and there in about an hour after leaving the house. Our stop was across from the Round Church.

There seems to be a theme running with what I see. Everything is massive and very old. This was my attempt to exclude people while still showing size.

Unfortunately the church was closed to the public for a private event. I did a little research about it. Built in 1130 the Church has gone through several alterations and renovations and is now used for a variety of public activities and is usually open for visitors. Everywhere did seem somewhat busy until I recalled Cambridge is a city and it was a Saturday. Then we started to explore other areas near the church. I began to suspect there was more going on other than it being a weekend. Undaunted, and after taking photos of the church, we pushed and prodded our way towards the Cambridge Market. We were only deterred by a unique dress shop and a craft market as well as getting slightly turned around. Finally down an alley, up and down some streets and there is was – Cambridge Market teeming with people.

It took carefully balancing on the low wall to finally get a photo of King’s College without anyone in it. We gave up for one of the main gates.
The road was closed for the day to accommodate all the graduates
Trinity College

I believe not all the stalls were set up which explain how I somehow found chicken and mushroom pies for dinner. We bought paella for lunch, and on our way back we stopped to buy apricots and strawberries for our Wales trip as well as two kinds of cheese and olive bread. (As of writing this we still have some cheese left) So many choices it was difficult to make a decision on anything. Then we rounded a corner and were smack dab in the centre of masses of students in their flowing black robes, some joining their families for picnics and champagne on the grass outside the gates of King’s College. I was positive every College held graduation that day. We saw similarly attired students at Trinity, plus other colleges, sitting at crowded patio tables, and generally adding an excited air to the day. We quickly decided to join in the festivities and sat on the wall to enjoy our own little picnic.

Huge pans of paella were quickly being emptied. There were many hungry people that day. Of course we chose the place with the longest line up – that’s always where the best food is.
Intricate stone work at one door of the college I cannot recall the name of.
Same door but with a view of the window.

King’s College is massive, also usually open to visitors, but due to all the events happening only some sections were available. We chose to wander about the area instead. We could have gone on a walking or punting tour, or even both but decided another time. The architecture of King’s and Trinity is fabulous. There is so much to look at that training your eye elsewhere is a good idea. There was one other college nearby, I forgot the name, equally beautiful although smaller. All on a scale of grandeur to equal that must surely be wasted on the students intent on completing their studies.

Always to remember look up. Gargoyles doing what they do best.
Silently watching.

Perhaps the fact we were there for only a few hours is one reason I hope to return. There is such a rich history.

Expenses: chicken pies (3) £4.40; apple & caramel streusel (treat); cheese for Wales trip £3.50; apricots for Wales trip £2.64; olive bread & bus return £7.00 (28.50 CAD)

UK Bound: The Manor in Hemingford-Grey

I am astonished that it is already barely a week since I arrived. Equally, how is it possible I fit so much in already? That is how extended trips seem to go. Fortunately there is also time to fit in down time. One week in with a busy day of preparing for our first major trip – perhaps the only two weeks without touching home base. Laundry, snacks, gas, water, a cooler (so far we have not found one small enough for the ‘boot’) and packing are planned. So I decided to take advantage of the washer running to catch up.

On Friday we joined a friend and her mother in-law for a visit to the Manor Hemingford-Grey and lunch. Although tea at the Manor was the original plan that was no longer offered, for which I was sort of happy as it gave me time to fully leave the past as we wended our way into the present. All four of us approached the Manor without a clue of what to expect beyond a house tour. A tour unlike any I can recall. A mix of architectural, patchwork and personality history, we were entering one of the oldest continuously inhabited homes in Britain. Welcome to my recollection of this circa 1130 house and its story. The only problem I ran into was not being able to hear everything – our host spoke softly and I am partially deaf in one ear.

As a young woman Lucy Boston fell in love with the house around 1915 but would not purchase it until 1937. There seems to be some confusion of the year, her book says 1937, (Memories by Lucy M. Boston. Reprinted. We were encouraged to start with the second half). Our host said 1936, and the brochure said 1939. What is significant is that she was probably no younger than 45 in a time when women did not have bank accounts, nor could they easily purchase properties on their own. It was also on the brink of WW11. Rather than being swept into the past we were drawn to it. Her daughter in-law, most likely close to her 80’s was our host. She wove a soft patchwork of Norman timbers, recessed windows, misplaced archways, hidden rooms and fireplaces and the final restoration before landing on a woman built of fortitude, words and art. I believe that without Lucy Boston we would no longer have the Lodge.

So what was so special about this particular house? My group all agreed that listening to the gramophone took us back to an uneasy, yet simpler time, and seeing the many patchwork quilts gave a sense of great artistry punctuated with loneliness – all of which are specific to Lucy’s history – that will remain in our memories. This was a woman with a passion for art. Her gramophone is still in the music room, played for visitors to have a sense of what RAF visitors would listen to. Our host had a bit of theatrics in her storytelling. For a few brief minutes we were sent back in time to the 1940s juxtaposed with a 900 year old Norman room. At the time I did not think to ask if there was any thought to it possibly having been what is often called a great room in modern builds.

There was more to come. Despite being told we could “take photos of anything except the patchwork” none of were prepared for what may have been the entirety of Lucy’s meticulously hand stitched, king size patchwork quilts. These are works of art that could easily, and probably should be, hanging in a textile museum. These were done over the winter months – as was writing the Green Knowe children’s series based on the Manor. Carefully peeled back, with my daughter’s gloved assistance, each quilt was a page of Lucy’s story.

Although the next room is most likely considered the piece de resistance (I could not get the accents for this) I was most enthralled with the quilts. Perhaps because I sew and only once attempted a quilt. However, that child’s room was a replica from the imagination of the author, and our host a subtle, accomplished presenter. Despite having no knowledge of the books we were all mesmerized by the little touches of what the characters may have encountered in that attic room before being brought back to reality. Norman cross-beams, foolishly sawn off, then partially repaired 19th century were a reminder of how fortunate we were to even be in the house. It could have all come tumbling down some hundreds of years ago or during various renovations over the centuries.

I reluctantly left the main part of the house but not before we happily bought the reprint of Lucy Boston’s autobiography and a set of the children’s books. I left wanting to know more about Lucy, her story and her family still living in, caring for, and showing, the house.

In addition to restoring a a Norman/Elizabethan/Georgian house Ms. Boston had an extensive garden. Her irises were famous. The gardens remain well maintained.
The Norman fireplace. Uncovered during renovations.
One of the music room deeply recessed windows. By this time I was rather confused as to which windows were Norman or ‘newer’.
Original beams that were chopped in a previous renovation. 19th century nails (more like spikes if the nail-heads are any indication) were used to prevent loss of integrity.
Original drawing for one of the Greene Knowe children’s books by the author’s son.
Lunch at The Cock. The baby peppers with feta were fabulous. The pandas are still a little shy.