“The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.” — Chaucer
Late last summer, I spent a month in England, Scotland and Wales (with a day and a half in Ireland on my return). It is a trip I’d been planning in my head for 40 years.
Most assuredly there are not enough adjectives to describe all of the wonders I saw and experienced. I joked that by the end of my journey I had completed an ad hoc degree in the history, art, architecture and geography of Great Britain. As for Ireland, I was just there for an overnight and almost completely winged it in Dublin, where I went to see the Book of Kells.
As a child, I traversed the Pacific twice and since then, I’ve visited Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, but this was my first transatlantic journey. Although I had carefully planned the flight so that I would sleep, I hardly slept because of my excitement. I gasped when I saw Ireland and cried at the first sight of Britain, at long last.
From the moment my feet hit the ground at Heathrow, I was on-the-go, armed with coffee, British pound notes, my passport, a carry-on bag (travel underwear is the secret), umbrella, raincoat and newly purchased comfortable walking shoes, along with all of the research I’d done in preparation, months of reading guidebooks and such and a lifetime of reading the literature of Great Britain and watching English films and television. Oyster card in hand, I quickly mastered the Underground (Tube) and London buses and acquired my National Railway Senior Pass for many train journeys to come. I had seven days on my own and then joined a guided tour.
I paid for 99 percentof my purchases with my phone via Google Pay (“contactless” is what they call it in the U.K.). Also on my phone were many apps for navigating mass transit and such, and all of these photos were taken with my Google Pixel phone.
No cooking or cleaning for a month! Morning coffee with the Times of London each day as my companion.
At Hatchard’s (“Booksellers since 1797”), near Picadilly, I purchased two Moleskin journals into which I scribbled hundreds of words. Later, our intrepid guide, John, gave us each a U.K. map to follow as we traveled to and fro. There were only two rainy days in the month I spent there, which is remarkable for this part of the world.
My Moleskin journals.
My priorities were castles and palaces, gardens (which were at peak bloom), parks, cathedrals and museums. I stopped to look at nearly every statue I walked by (and there are many) and ate all of the local delicacies, including haggis when in Scotland. I gobbled up a Cornish pasty every time I had a chance and consumed more scones with clotted cream than one probably should, however, most days I walked from 10 to 13 miles in addition to taking all the forms of mass transportation. And if there was a tower, I climbed it. All of the pastry was divine — I’m going to have to rethink my pastry making now.
By the time I joined the guided tour, after seven blissful days on my own, I was more than ready to let someone else take care of the required details and quite enjoyed having my luggage handled by a porter who called me “Madam.” I was blessed with the delightful company of 19 travelers, 10 of whom were from Australia, two from Canada and eight of us from the U.S. Our guide, John, was from London. He filled each day with adventures and shared with us the myriad details of his country’s rich heritage. John quickly pegged me as someone who might ask a record number of questions along the way.
Best of Britain 2019, Insight Vacations for Grand European Travel (missing Nick). I’m in purple, center back row.
Although I was not on a birding tour and was making observations on my own, I compiled a decent list of new life birds, with a couple of assists from Brian (one of my tour companions), who is from Australia but had grown up in England. When I couldn’t make the identification, I would text a photo to my daughter in North Dakota who would text back confirmation of the species — which was fun. The app “Merlin” also rendered vital assistance. Here is my list:
Mute Swan, Rook, Ring-necked Duck, Red Kite, Coal Tit, Great Crested Grebe, Common Wood-pigeon, Eurasian Jackdaw, Black-headed Gull, Great Cormorant, Common Swift, Common Buzzard, Barnacle Goose, Eurasian Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, White Wagtail, Tawny Owl, Northern Gannet, Eurasian Magpie, Little Owl, Greylag Goose, Grey Heron, European Robin, Eurasian Marsh-Harrier, Mistle Thrush and Tufted Duck. My traveling companions were amused when I would listen to owl calls on Merlin from my seat on the bus. Owl Discovery had four captive owls at the Victorian-era train station where we embarked while visiting the Lake District.
I was on the move every waking moment and wouldn’t have had it any other way. Midway through my visit, I hiked to the top of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland, at a very fast pace and reveled in the views of the Firth of Forth. When I rejoined my companions, they were astonished that I had squeezed this hike in, with a full evening yet to come at a Scottish Cabaret.
Hike to Arthur’s Seat, looking back toward Hollyroodhouse.
Edinburgh Castle, where the Stone of Scone is safe.
Because so many wonderful words have been recorded about Great Britain by far better writers than I, my photos will mostly tell the tale, with annotations. This is a fraction of the places I visited and the pictures I took. (You can also Google all of these places and objects to learn more on your own.)
What a glorious part of the world! I feel very blessed to have been able to visit and hope to return someday. We were all very aware that we were witnessing an extraordinary time in England’s history. The daily headlines and frequent commotion at Parliament Square were ample evidence.
Everyone asks me what was my favorite, to which I say, “all of it!” Every single thing I saw and did was my favorite. I can die happy now. (Well, I still have lots of U.S. national parks to visit. And then there is France and Italy, more of Canada, and return trips to the U.K. and Ireland on my horizon).
Somewhere in Devon, typical tabloid headlines.
Somewhere in Devon, typical tabloid headlines.
St. Paul’s Cathedral, a few blocks from my lodgings near Blackfriars Bridge on the Thames. I attended Morning Prayers. I was determined to stay near St. Paul’s, to be awakened by its bells.
First Afternoon Tea at the Swan.
Millennium Bridge, looking toward St. Paul’s Cathedral.
View from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral, 528 steps up a narrow tower on stone steps. The Shard is the pointed building. The next day my shins ached.
Toured Shakespeare’s Globe on the South Bank, and that night returned for a performance of “As You Like It”. Nerd heaven.
Mailed my parents postcards.
First National Railway journey to Salisbury, home of a grand Gothic Cathedral where I saw the Magna Carta (the one that had been attacked not long ago by a madman). Salisbury is a lovely city and it was market day. I learned later that what distinguishes a city from a town in England is the presence of a cathedral.
British Library (St. Pancras Station in the right upper corner). I walked all over Bloomsbury. The statue is inspired by Sir Isaac Newton. So much genius in Great Britain.
St. James Park, one of the many tranquil London parks. From here I could hear the band signaling The Changing of the Guard at nearby Buckingham Palace. My first view of the Palace hence was minutes away.
Morning worship at Westminster Abbey. Later I toured the Abbey with my sister and niece but no interior photos allowed. Saw Poets’ Corner and the burial locations of so many legendary people of this sceptered isle, St. Edward’s Chapel, and imagined all the coronations and royal weddings, christenings, and funerals.
Another train journey to Cambridge. This is the King’s College Chapel. Cambridge was one of my favorite destinations and one felt a little smarter just breathing the air (same in Oxford). This guided tour was my first “Blue Badge” tour in England.
Glorious fan-vaulted ceiling, King’s College Chapel.
Viking Round Church, Cambridge.
Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge.
One of the many breathtaking stained glass windows at King’s College Chapel, Old Testament above, New Testament below. This NT scene shows a red-headed baby Jesus, a nod to King Henry VIII, patron of the College. The windows were all removed during the Blitz and painstakingly returned to their glory after the war.
Punting on the River Cam, Bridge of Sighs, Cambridge.
Punting on the River Cam, from the Anchor Pub where I had supper .
The pub where Watson & Crick made their DNA announcemen.
Back to London on the ThamesLink fast train.
Hyde Park, Serpentine.
Victoria Palace Theatre, from my Grosvenor Hotel window.
Victoria Station entrance to the Grosvenor Hotel.
Tour of Westminster Hall and Palace, the Houses of Parliament where we got to enter the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, Trafalgar Square,
Dicken Museum, Bloomsbury.
rafalgar Square on a warm summer evening.
Shakespeare Birthroom, Stratford-upon-Avon.
York, Clifford’s Tower. Not every night one steps out of one’s hotel front door to the view of a medieval tower right across the street.
York Minster, home to a Church of England Archbishop. Constantine the Great statue.
York Minster interior. I attended Evensong.
York Shambles scenes.
Mutton Scotch Pie, Jedburgh, Scotland.
Mary’s Cottage, Jedburgh, Scotland (where Mary Queen of Scots holed up just before she fled to England, to her demise).
The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland.
cotch, what else?
Tour of Edinburgh Castle by a local guide in traditional Scottish dress, including a brief look at the Scottish Crown Jewels and the birthroom of King James (he of the King James Bible) who became the first king of the United Kingdom, joining Scotland to England after the death of Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen.
Mons Meigs at Edinburgh Castle.
Jock the faithful Scotty dog of Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh. Said to be good luck to have touched him.
Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, an unforgettable extravaganza one should see live at least once. Hundreds of bagpipers and drummers march into the Esplanade from the Castle, with fireworks. Google it. I hadn’t necessarily planned to go to Scotland, but when I realized I could attend this, I did, and glad I am.
Hollyroodhouse, where the British royals stay when in Edinburgh, the site of the murder of Rizzio in front of Mary Queen of Scots (mother of James, later King James the I), the beginning of her downfall.
Royal Yacht Britannia.
Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn Battleground.
Callender, Scotland (I said I ate most everything. Despite what you might have heard, the food was delicious, fresh and local, and the fruit divine. We were, however, puzzled at the mushy peas served with the fish & chips.)
St. Mungo’s Cathedral, Glasgow, Scotland.
Cruise of Loch Lomond.
Sterling Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots was born.
Three Bens from Loch Lomond. “Bens” are Scottish peaks at least 1,000 meters in height, from Gaelic beann.
Heather-covered peaks in Cumbria, the hottest English bank holiday on record.
Grasmere scenes, Lake District.
William Wordsworth grave, St. Oswald’s Church Cemetery, Grasmere, England. I also visited his Dove Cottage.
Victorian-era train journey with new friends.
Haverthwaites Train Station, Victorian-era.
Lake Windermere scenes, after boat tour.
Mute Swans come to beg from me at sunset, Windermere Lake.
One of the many elaborately decorated rooms in Cardiff Castle, Wales. This is the Children’s Room and the tiles depict nursery scenes.
Norman Keep, Cardiff, Wales.
Interior of Norman Keep.
Millennium Center, Cardiff Bay (constructed of all Welsh materials), where we were regaled with Welsh stories & songs.
Market scene in Ludlow, Shropshire, England.
Tower steps of St. Laurence Church, Ludlow, England. Yes, I went to the top, all 200 steps. The bells rang just as I passed by that area of the tower. When one meets someone coming down, one must back up to find and slip into a chink in the wall to let them pass by. I had a serious panic attack midway up but after a pause for deep breaths, pressed on.
Porridge, a typical English breakfast when not gorging on full-English breakfast (aka Heart-attack Express).
Full English Breakfast (why tomatoes, I wonder?)
Bath Cathedral, Jacob’s Ladder.
Jacob’s Ladder close-up at Bath Cathedral, the original stairway to heaven.
The Cathedral (left) and Roman Baths (right).
The Royal Crescent, Bath, taken from the Ha-Ha (a low wall that hid the view for the wealthy inhabitants of the lower part of the park crowded with the unwashed masses).
Roman Baths tour.
Polperro, a Cornish village.
Dartmoor National Park.
Dartmoor National Park.
Glastonbury Abbey ruins.
Isambard Kingdom Bruenel, a world-famous engineer of the Victorian period. He designed the Royal Albert Bridge shown in the photo, near Plymouth England, connecting Devon and Cornwall.
Roasted crab, Cornish pub. Upper right is John, our English guide.
A classic thatched house in Cornwall.
One of my new Tasmanian friends at a Polperro pub. “Cheers, big ears!” is the Australian toast.
Quay on the River Tamar which flows into the Plymouth Sound, Devon on one side, Cornwall on the other bank, where we embarked for a boat cruise of the Sound, including lunch in Plymouth. Here Sir Francis Drake was warned of the approaching Spanish Armada coming across the English Channel.
Plymouth Steps, also known as the Mayflower Steps, from whence many of ancestors took their last step from England into boats bound for America. This was a very humbling moment for me.
Classic English scene.
Stonehenge, “A very Temple of the Winds.”
Victoria Statue, Buckingham Palace. My sister, Beckie, and my niece, Katie (daughter of another sister), have now joined me.
Beckie and Katie in front of Buckingham Palace.
Changing of the Guards, Buckingham Palace. We toured the Palace later that day (no photos allowed) where there was a very special Queen Victoria exhibition on the 200th anniversary of her birth. Good timing, eh?
The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, where my favorites were “Sunflowers” by Van Gogh and Delaroche’s “Execution of Lady Jane Grey.”
Buckingham Palace Park (private).
Not every day one walks down a London street and meets a guy like this.
Capped off the day with another visit to Tate Modern where we “supped.’ View of London from the top. That domed building is St. Paul’s.
Christ Church Gateway, Canterbury Cathedral (the other CoE Archbishop here).
Beckett memorial, Canterbury Cathedral.
White Cliffs of Dover, Battle of Britain Memorial, my sister, Beckie & me. This was a deeply spiritual moment for us as 75-years before our father had crossed the English Channel bound for the Normandy beaches on D-Day (He boarded at Portsmouth, west of here).
White Cliffs of Dover, Beckie, Lillian, and Katie. Yes, we could see France. Later I was told there were signs warning us of poisonous asps.
Leeds Castle. The gardens here were gorgeous. This was one of the prettiest of many pretty views. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn frequently stayed here.
Beckie in front of a massive tree, Greenwich Park. From Greenwich Pier, we took the ThamesLink boat back to Westminster Square.
Our day began with a walk through Belgravia and Kensington to the British Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, chock-full of delights.
Our lodgings in Belgravia.
British Science Museum.
Kensington Palace gardens.
Beckie’s favorites were the gardens. Here at Kensington Palace.
Afternoon Champagne Tea, Kensington Palace.
Royal Albert Hall. My chief regret was not having attended a show here. Someday.
Rotten Row, Hyde Park. “Rotten” comes from the smell of the horses’ manure. That is my shadow at the end of a long day.
The British Museum. I didn’t get to see much as I was dealing with a British Airways strike that was destined to give me two bonus days in London but I came back later.
Jarndyce Bookstore, across the street from the British Museum. See the blue Caldecott emblem. These markers are everywhere in England, an island rich in history. Know Jarndyce from Dickens?
The Tower of London, one of the most fascinating places I visited. Norman Tower, built in the reign of William the Conqueror .
Anne Boleyn’s grave, Chapel of St. John’s, Tower of London, where she died.
White Tower, Tower of London.
Queen’s Stairs, Tower of London.
Traitor’s Gate, Tower of London. Shivers down my spine.
Jack the Ripper Walking Tour, guide standing in front of one segment of the Roman Wall in the City of London. Lots of walking at the end of a long day.
Entrance to Churchill War Rooms.
Churchill bedroom, Churchill War Rooms, London.
Downing Street, Whitehall.
Horse Parade Grounds, Whitehall.
One of the many protests we witnessed at Parliament Square and Whitehall.
Victoria Palace Theatre for “Hamilton.”
“Hamilton” was a real highlight. Tickets were cheap in comparison to Broadway. We had terrific seats in the center third row.
Hampton Court Palace – stunning.
Rail journey to Hampton Court Palace.
Hampton Court Palace.
Hampton Court Palace Rose Gardens.
Hampton Court Palace.
Hampton Court Palace, the Maze. Beckie knew exactly what to do.
Their last view of the Thames, Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben) and Westminster Palace in the background. Big Ben was covered in scaffolding.
We missed the London Eye by one day. I was content with the view of London I had seen from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Castle Combe, the prettiest of the Cotswolds village we saw.
Covered Market, Tetbury, Cotswolds.
Blenheim Palace .
Blenheim Palace Lillian in front of enormous oak tree.
Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill.
Blenheim Palace. “Prettiest view in England,” according to Winston Churchill.
Blenheim Palace, last view.
Woodstock, a charming village on the edge of Blenheim Palace.
Back to Oxford for another night. C.S.Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, professors at Oxford, dined here.
Bridge of Sighs, Oxford, Hartford College.
Radcliffe Camera, Oxford.
Bodleian Library. We toured the “Bod” and the Ashmolean Museum. All this lovely honey-colored stone is typical of the Cotswolds.
Christ Church College, home of Lewis Carroll, among others.
Sir Thomas Bodley.
Seen in Oxford, England, of all places.
Another train journey, from Oxford to Windsor via Slough.
At every turn, these pastries tempt.
Windsor Castle tour, Queen Victoria statue.
It being a Sunday, I went to the door of St. George’s Chapel to be admitted for Matins. It was my honor to be invited by a local to join him in his stall just behind the quire. The singing was heavenly.
Going to Matins at St. George’s Chapel.
St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
The Long Walk, Windsor Great Park.
Sunday Roast with Yorkshire Pudding, Windsor.
Alexandra Park, Windsor, soon to be Autumn Equinox.
Alexandra Park, Windsor.
The Thames, Alexandra Park.
Back on my own, for my two bonus days in London courtesy of British Airways strike, I move into lodgings near Baker Street.
Almost a full day at the British Museum, home of the Elgin Marbles and millions of other fascinating objects.
Finally I get to see the Rosetta Stone.
Lewis Chessmen. My favorite is the bored queen.
This Aztec turquoise serpent was bigger than my head and one of my favorite British Museum objects.
One more musical, “Come From Away,” at the Phoenix Theatre.
Abbey Road Studios, Beatles Walking Tour.
Samuel Pepys, National Portrait Gallery.
Sherlock Holmes Museum.
Oliver Cromwell, Westminster Palace (Parliament).
Last view of the Thames, near Lambeth Palace.
Last view of Westminster Abbey.
Victoria Tower, Westminster Palace (home of the British Archives).
Victoria Tower Gardens.
Emmeline Pankhurst, Victoria Tower Gardens.
Burghers of Calais by Rodin. Victoria Tower Gardens.
Last Tube ride from Charing Cross Station.
One last English rail journey, pre-dawn from Paddington Station to Heathrow for flight to Dublin.
Spire of Dublin.
The Spire of Dublin, Monument of Light, 120 meters tall.
Ode to Vikings.
My Dublin lodgings, Trinity City Hotel. Whiskey, of course.
Naturally, I walked the James Joyce Trail. Dublin, oddly enough, is big on donuts, not scones, just a short hop across the Irish Sea and so many changes.
James Joyce, most famous of Dubliners.
Trinity College, Dublin.
The Long Library, Trinity College, Dublin, home of The Book of Kells (the main reason I came here, even if ever so briefly).
The Long Library, Trinity College, Dublin.
Typical Irish pub.
You can see a map and the list of all of the counties I visited here. Sorry Miranda, but London is the “greatest city in the world” if one manages to dodge the silently lethal bicyclists amid the cacophony of lorries and buses.
Here is something Bill Bryson writes in his book “The Road to Little Dribbling”:
“If you tried to visit all the medieval churches in England — just England — at the rate of one a week, it would take you 308 years. You would need additional vastly daunting lengths of time to visit all the historic cemeteries, stately homes, castles, Bronze Age hill forts, giant figures carved in hillsides, and every other category of built structure. Brochs would take a decade to see. All the known archaeological sites in Britain would require no less than 11,500 years of your time.
“You see what I am saying. Britain is infinite. There isn’t anywhere in the world with more to look at in a smaller space —nowhere that has a greater record of interesting and worthwhile productivity over a longer period at a higher level. No wonder my trip didn’t feel complete. I could never see it all.”
And he lives there!
Finally, as my month ended, a long flight to North Dakota via Dallas, on which I watched four feature films in a row! It was good to be home, in the arms of my waiting husband and daughter, filled with happy and priceless memories, where I can begin to plan my next visit to Great Britain — hopefully sooner than another 40 years! Think I might spend some of my coronavirus quarantine time watching “Outlander.”