I spent the first week of the Easter Break in the Lake District of Northern England. I went up with Phil to stay at his parents’ place in Carlisle.
I’d go into super great detail, but it’s come to my attention that the details are what’s keeping me from posting a lot of these entries. I guess I’ll just stick to the essentials for the time being.
Saturday: So it Begins
We started at a reasonable hour. On the way up to the North (yeah, it gets capitalized apparently), we were going to stop off in Leeds to see the Royal Armoury. I’d been to the one at the Tower of London only to discover that a lot of what I’m interested in is kept in Leeds. I’d mentioned as much to Phil and he was kind enough to make the suggestion of stopping there.
So that’s what we did. I wish I could say I was super excited about it, but it turned out to be just all right. There were more guns than swords and that was a tad disappointing. It was still all right, though. I mean, I’d planned on taking a National Express bus up, which woulda cost me a bit of coin. This saved me the trouble.
We drove through Sherwood Forest, or what was left of it, as well. Unfortunately, we didn’t really get a chance to stop. Strangely enough, Sherwood Forest isn’t really high on my list of places to see whilst I’m in England. I find that rather odd, but whatever.
Reaching the North was another couple hours, and even when we got there, we apparently had some time to kill. Phil took me to see some of the stone circles he knew of in the area, Mayburgh Henge and King Arthur’s Round Table. I’d like to say I really appreciated them, but it was pretty damn cold (thankfully I’d packed my Columbia coat) and I was more interested in staying warm than anything else. I snapped one or two pictures, though. (Yes, I know. I have to upload those since I still have all of Hastings and Brussels to put up as well.) We checked out one other site called Castlerigg as well. This stone circle was a little more impressive than Aurthur’s Round Table, that’s for sure!
It was back on our way to Carlisle shortly thereafter. By the time we’d reached Phil’s parents’ place, they were home (hence the whole needed to kill time thing). Phil’s mum and dad were all kinds of welcoming and Jess the Border Collie was definitely excited to see new people. Dinner, which consisted of lasagna, wasn’t quite ready so we took the dog out into the field and Phil showed me the general area of Hadrian’s Wall. The part that runs through the back field isn’t much to look at since it’s essentially a barely discernible mound, but it’s still pretty cool to think that it’s there. Well, it is for me.
I found dinner to be pretty spectacular. But then again, I like homemade dinners. I was pretty knackered thereafter and considering the time and the place, there wasn’t a whole lot to be done. (Most things in London close at 6 PM, as I’ve griped about on more than one occasion, I wasn’t expecting much out of Carlisle, which is a wee bit smaller than London Town.) We more or less hung out with the parents and planned what we would do during the week. When it got dark enough, we went out to go look at stars, since the chances of seeing more of them in the fields were better than trying to see them in Greater London. I wish I could say I saw as many as I did when I went up to Michigan with Tomczak forever long ago, but the skies hadn’t darkened nearly enough even at 9:00. I wish I could say I was totally up for staying awake later, but like I said, I was pretty knackered and really only wanted to sleep.
Sunday: The Wall
It was up and at ’em at something like 8 AM. That was all fine and dandy with me since I was already awake and such. Breakfast consisted of a choice of fruit, choice of cereals, and toast plus coffee or juice. (Huh. That made it sound like a restaurant.) I passed on the fruit, but helped myself to some Muesli! Phil’s parents were off to church and the like afterwards, which makes sense since Phil’s dad is a vicar. So we were left to our own devices before we had to be back for Sunday Lunch.
It was Hadrian’s Wall for us. Phil drove out to a better portion of the wall to look at. I’d like to say I remember the name of the area, but I really don’t. I just know I got to see part of the wall, walk alongside it and trail my hands over the old stones. Not the most exciting thing for most people, but I found it to be wicked cool. After admiring the first portion, we drove to another part of the wall, Cawfields Roman Wall and Milecastle 42. This was a bit of a more difficult trek along the wall, but it was still cool. Phil took a picture of me, well…standing on the wall. For the record, it wasn’t my suggestion! But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. And besides, my shoes were runners. They weren’t going to damage the wall. At least I didn’t take part of it!
After sating my need to see Hadrian’s Wall, ’twas off to Vindolanda. This was one of the Roman forts along the wall and it is a pretty impressive ruin site. Apparently, there is still a lot to be excavated. Vindolanda is also famous for the Vindolanda Tablets which are considered amongst the Top Ten British Treasures.
We spent something like three hours between Hardian’s Wall and Vindolanda. There was even time to stop and have a coffee, or in my case a scone. It was at Vindolanda that I rediscovered my love of scones (I ate ’em a lot when I lived in Japan of all places).
The adventures to the past completed, we were back to the present and lunch. Phil’s mum made roast pork complemented with vegetables and other outstanding fixings and for dessert key lime pie. I was definitely loving the homecooking!
Phil’s parents had another church gig to go to so that left me and Phil to our own devices. We ended up driving out to see the Bewcastle Cross. Now to be honest, I’d never heard of the cross before, but it was a piece of Anglo-Saxon history dating back to the Heptarchy so I was pretty happy to see it. It was quite a trek out to it, but it was all good. We passed many a farm with sheep along the way. (Oh yeah, that’s another thing about the North — there are loads of sheep farms around. There are probably just as many in the South, but I definitely noticed them more on the way up to Cumbria.)
On the way back to Carlisle, we took a detour through Scotland. I rather enjoyed the forested areas of the countryside more than the hills. I was actually rather keen on going for a walk. Unfortunately for me, the walk we ended up going on had no trees or cover from the wind whatsoever. When we crossed back to the English border, we passed a monument on the top of a hill overlooking one of the English towns. Phil used to walk up to see it when he was younger and so that was the walk we went on. I think I much preferred walking through forest trails. There’s less wind. It was a nice vista, however.
It was back to the house not long after. I know it doesn’t seem like we did a whole lot on Sunday, but the sites we went to weren’t exactly east to get to. There was definitely a lot of driving involved.
Monday: The City of Carlisle and Long Meg and Her Daughters
It had been decided that we would take a wander around Carlisle on Monday. When we first entered the city, I was rather keen on checking out Carlisle Castle. We were the first ones to arrive when it opened so we had the reign of the place for a while. I think the most interesting part of it for me was Queen Mary’s Tower, which was where Mary Queen of Scots was held in captivity not long before her death.
We spent something like an hour and a half wandering around the castle grounds. Afterward, we stopped for a coffee, as we are wont to do.
There really wasn’t a whole lot to explore in the town centre that I hadn’t seen before in other town centres; and I don’t men that in a rude way. It’s just like Schaumburg doesn’t look all that different from Elk Grove Village kind of thing. We found ourselves at Phil’s old place of work, Cranston’s Quality Butchers. He told me about how he used to get paid cash-in-hand and then walk around the corner to buy records at the local music store Pink Panther’s. Of course, this was all back when the butcher’s shop was much smaller and records were still sold. We stopped in to say hello to some of his old co-workers. It was all very much like when I used to stop into Crown Books or Denny’s.
It had been decided that Tuesday would be the family hiking day. We were going to go up one of the fells. Remembering how easy it was to go up Fuji-san in runners, I thought it might be in my better interest to finally get around to purchasing a pair of hiking shoes. It amuses me on some level that it took a mountain in England to decide this instead of, I don’t know, the tallest mountain in Japan to inspire me to buy shoes.
I’d have to count myself lucky in this respect. For one thing, since hiking is a pretty common hobby in the Lake District, there were plenty of stores for me to find that would sell what I was looking for. In fact, one of the towns we passed on the way to Carlisle, Keswick, it seemed that every other store was a mountaineering store of some kind. Anyway, I ended up at Millet’s, which is an incredibly common chain of sports equipment stores. It also just so happened there was a sale on women’s hiking shoes. You better believe I took advantage of it. Admittedly, I was a little wary of purchasing the pair of shoes for £19.99. I know, I have the incurable crazy. That’s an incredibly good deal considering the original price was something like £40. But it was on a brand I’d never heard of – Peter Storm’s. Being of the non-British persuasion, it’s no surprise I’d never heard of the shoes. In any case, I got around to buying them since they had a really solid grip – no tumbling down the side of a fell for me!! And let’s be honest, for £20, I got a pretty nice deal out of it. I just had to make damn sure I’d use ‘em again aside from just going up Dale Head Pike.
And what trip to a town centre would be complete without a stop at the bookstore? While it is true I’ve wandered back into Westeros (I know, I know), one never has to twist my arm to get me into a bookstore. Remember the part where I’m a bookstore whore? There was actually something of a purpose in going into Waterstones, however. One of the other things we’d planned to do on this trip was go up to Edinburgh. It was in our better interest to at least buy a city guide.
Our town purchases made, it was off to yet another Neolithic stone circle. This time it was to be Long Meg and her Daughters. On the way out of town, though, we stopped off at the Carlisle Football Club shop. See, this is how you know I haven’t been integrated into the British culture at all. I still don’t have a football club I’ve sworn allegiance to. But to be fair, I don’t care all that much about many major sports except college football; and the only reason I’m into that is because of the marching bands.
Getting out to Long Meg and Her Daughters, much like almost every other thing we’ve done so far, was quite a hike into the countryside. In fact, Long Meg is situated on some fellow’s farm property.
I think of all the stone circles and Neolithic sites I’ve visited so far, I’ve like Long Meg the most. There’s nothing particularly special about her…well, no that’s not true. She has these concentric circles carved into her and many a token left behind for her at her base. There was sage and obsidian snowflake and less “pagan” mementoes as well such as pennies and other knick-knacks. For whatever reason, this put Meg in a special place in my memory.
We had stopped off at Tesco’s before going to meet Meg. We thought to have a faux-picnic out with her, but a truck came onto the one lane road and it there was no parking anywhere. We bid Meg goodbye and ended up going into a nearby town to eat on the green.
There was really no plan after seeing Long Meg. Phil thenceforth decided to drive around through the Lake District. I’d been there for about a day and had yet to see any of these lakes the area is known for, after all. I wish I could say I remembered all the lakes we went to, but there really were a lot. Much like when we drove through parts of Scotland, I was all about stopping and taking a wander around the lake. Unfortunately for us, the weather was not all that agreeable. We made a stop in a place called Grassmere, as there was a really popular gingerbread shop that Phil wanted to patronize there.
We were in the general vicinity of another stone circle that Phil knew of. It was decided that we ought to try and find it. I’d like to say that it was an easy find, but we kinda sorta got lost on the way. So instead of seeing the stone circle, we ventured to Hardknott Roman Fort. Now that was an adventure! The thing about Hardknott Roman Fort is that it’s literally in the middle nowhere. In fact, we almost died on the way there. Okay, well, no not really. But there were quite a few sheer drops in the road (the fort was surrounded by mountains) and it was kind of like a rollercoaster ride. I was incredibly entertained by it all, but Phil was less so. I guess if I were the one driving, I wouldn’t be all that excited about the almost crashing the car thing either.
Hardknott wasn’t anything like Vindolanda, but it was something to see. If you had been a Roman soldier when the fort had been in use, you must have really done something to piss off the Emperor to be posted there. Like I said, Hardknott was in the middle of nowhere.
We traipsed around the ruins for a short spell. It was all muddy and drizzly, so we did not linger there longer than we had to. Because of our navigational mishaps, we were consequently late for dinner. It was kinda funny ‘cuz Phil thought he was gonna get in trouble by his mum for it.
All in all, it wasn’t that bad of a day out, aside from the almost dying bit and the weather of course. It was nice to come back to another home-cooked meal.
Tuesday: Dale Head Pike
As I mentioned before, there was hiking scheduled for Tuesday. We were supposed to have something of an early start, but truly, I’ve had earlier. We made it out the door at something like 9 AM or so. Jess the Border Collie was even coming along with us.
The drive out to Dale Head Pike was something like an hour and a quarter or so. There was also a stop along the way, though, so it might have been shorter than that. We had to drive through what seemed like quite a bit of the Lake District to get there.
Dale Head Pike is next to a still functioning slate quarry. Much like when hiking up Fuji-san, we were already a decent way up the mountain when we started the actual hike. The change in temperature from the bottom of the mountain to where we were was quite obvious, especially with the wind blowing. Phil’s dad had been kind enough to lend me a pair of hiking trousers to put over my jeans. At first, I thought they would be unnecessary. Then we got to the mountain and I was incredibly grateful for them.
Hiking in England isn’t like hiking in Japan. Or at least, it wasn’t like any of the hiking I did in Japan. The locations I chose to go up in Kansai were somewhat more picture-esque on the way up. Akameguchi had the 48 waterfalls, Nijozan had the surrounding forest, Arashiyama had the cherry blossoms, and Mount Fuji had…well, a typhoon, but also a forest and surrounding mountains. Dale Head Pike had wind and rocks and sheep. Again, first experiences in England haven’t been all that great for me. I might have enjoyed the trek up a bit more if it had been warmer but such is the timing of our hike.
I will say this: the view into Newlands Valley below and the Northern Fells was pretty spectacular.
We didn’t linger long at the top, though. I blame the wind for that. Phil’s dad made a joke that we should try and make our way over to the top of one of the nearby fells as well. Had the weather been better, I would have been happy to do so. But for the most part, we were all rather keen on getting back down the mountain.
After putting Jess the Border Collie back in the car, we stopped by the quarry shop for a hot drink. For all that the weather seemed bad to me, there were plenty of people who were visiting Dale Head Pike for a good hike. It was rather crowded when we got into the shop.
We were to the town of Keswick thereafter; that was the town I mentioned that had a mountaineering store across from another mountaineering store. ( “There’s a Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks!” )
Phil and I stopped into a local teashop for a spot of coffee, or in my case, a scone and a glass of milk. Like I said, I’m way back into scones. In fact, I bought four of them before we left. We still had time to kill, though, so we wandered around a little only to find ourselves at a Costa Coffee and a second-hand bookstore.
When we got back to the house, I pretty much crashed. I didn’t fall asleep or anything (I did that on the drive back), but I did chill out for a spell. Dinner that night was at a Toby Carvery, a place I’d always wanted to try because they had dead animal.
It was a grand Tuesday.
Wednesday: The Ruthwell Cross
I remember one man-to-man lesson I had back in the day at Nova where an English Professor from Kobe University told me about a cross that had “The Dream of the Rood” on it. At the time I didn’t know the name of it but I have since discovered it is called The Ruthwell Cross. And it just so happens that it’s located in southern Scotland, not too far away from Carlisle. Naturally, Ruthwell Church became one of our destinations. This excursion was much like my desire to see Hadrian’s Wall.
Since we were in the area, we also took a trip to the ruins of Caerlaverock Castle. This was one of the more interesting castle to visit because it was one of the only ones I’ve seen to be triangular in shape.
Phil took the hint about my enjoyment of walking through forest trails. He planned to try a jaunt through Galloway Forest Park. The only minor detail we seemed to be having was the weather; even as we were traipsing about Caerlaverock we were subject to a bit of drizzle. The clouds did not speak favorably and given the harsh wind from the North Atlantic we encountered yesterday…well, we thought we’d give it a go.
Okay, so Galloway Forest was definitely against us. After quite a car journey, we stopped off at one of the planning places. It was well past mid-day now so it seemed in our better interest to have lunch. There was a cafe on the lakeside so it made the most sense to eat there. I wonder vaguely if we had skipped lunch and started walking if we would have gotten more out of the stop. Probably unlikely.
In case you couldn’t tell from my exposition, walking the forest trail did not really happen. It was a bit too cold with the wind and the place where we ended up didn’t really have many trails. I blame the North Atlantic, personally.
Phil, bless him, offered to drive up the road to try and find another location or we could just pack it in and go to Wigtown, Scotland’s Book Town. I was well and truly indifferent. I had a mad desire to get some walking in…but it seemed nature was against me. It turned out to be a good thing we passed on the other location because whilst we were driving out of Galloway, the rain storm officially rolled in.
Scotland’s Book Town was pretty cool. It was all second-hand shops, but they were still pretty swank. And as you all well know, it doesn’t take much to get me into a bookstore. I was pretty good about not buying anything, too. Although, there was this beautiful copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight published by the Oxford University Press and printed in Middle English. I flirted with it quite a bit. Some part of me kicks myself for passing on it, but given my state of leisure, it was highly unlikely I’d seriously get any use out of it.
Seeing as how it was near to closing time and we’d pretty much gone into every open bookstore, we called it a day. Phil wanted to make another stop while we were in the area. This time to a place called the Isle of Whithorn, where Christianity was brought into Scotland around the 4th Century. It was also the southern most part of Scotland. In fact, we were able to see into Northern Ireland. The weather had cleared up considerably by this point and since I could not traipse about in the Galloway Forest, I decided it would be a good idea to venture out onto the cliffs around the bay. For the record, they weren’t that that dangerous. Besides, there were no warning signs saying we couldn’t.
It was back to Carlisle thereafter. We had a ginormous feast at Phil’s local pub, The Near Boot. Seriously, for the amount of money we paid and the amount of food that was brought to us, you’d think it was Americans who were running the joint.
In the evenings, we’d taken to reading in the family room. So that’ just what I did. It’s definitely a good thing I’ve wandered back into Westeros otherwise I’d be pretty bored.
Whilst in the area, it made sense to go up to Scotland. Well, technically, I’d already been in Scotland, but this time something a bit more traditional touristy.
We were on the road pretty early. The weather was once again Northern England with a good bit of Scottish thrown in. Not the most encouraging, but I have yet to develop weather controlling powers, so we were stuck with it.
I more or less passed out on the ride up to Edinburgh of course. The next thing I knew, we were at the Park and Ride just outside of Edinburgh.
I was pretty glad I was with someone who had a clue about where to go. Of course, if I had a guidebook of my very own I’d probably figure something out. However, I would have also taken the train in…I’m getting off-topic.
Anyway, the first thing we did was go to Edinburgh Castle. We spent a good hour and a half walking around the various rooms. After walking through, though, I was starting to think I liked ruins a bit more. This isn’t to save that Edinburgh Castle didn’t have its charms. Much like the Tower of London, Edinburgh Castle is home to the Honours of Scotland and there’s alsothe one o’clock gun. I could definitely see Edinburgh Castle as an impressive fortress when it had been functional.
After visiting the various museums and exhibitions in the castle, we took our leave of the might fortress in favor of finding some food. On our way, we stumbled upon The Writer’s Museum. It was only natural that so we made a brief stop to admire the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Burns before sitting down to burgers at Wannaburger.
It was a relatively good thing we stopped for food when we did ‘cuz I was starting to feel a headache settle in. At the time, I thought ’twas merely a hunger headache. Of course, I later discovered it was more ofa caffeine headache. (Yeah, I know, probably a psychological thing, but it was still there.) But hey, the burger was pretty damn tasty.
We decided to go to the National Museum Scotland after lunch. There really hadn’t been a lot of forethought to this excursion despite the purchase of a guidebook and a facebook message to Steve prior to arrival in the Scottish capital. Phil had hopes for some things on Medieval Scotalnd and I just generally like going to museums. Little did I know there would be more to see at the museum than I anticipated.
We started on the ground floor, which started at the formation of Scotland; you know, like back in Pangea. I wasn’t quite expecting that. It’s been a really long time since I’ve had the opportunity to explore that part of history, so yeah, I spent quite a while looking at each display.
The aforementioned headache, however, was starting to make another special guest appearance as we started through Neolithic Scotland, though. I couldn’t handle it any longer and begged leave to find caffeine. It wasn’t like we paid anything to go in, so we decided to retune after a much needed coffee fix. (Yes, there was a cafe in the museum, but if I was going to pay that much for a coffee, I at least wanted something a little more known.)
We managed to find a Caffe Nero attached to the Blackwell we were going to anyway. The way we figured it, kill two bids with one stone. The coffee wasn’t particularly brilliant, but the beautiful, beautiful books made up for it. Again, I had the Starks to keep me company so I had no need to buy anything…but I never pass up a chance to look at pretty, pretty books.
I was starting to feel better, so we made our way back to the museum. We had the rest of the Neolithic and Medieval Scotland to get through. Seriously, this museum was quite a pleasant surprise. We had some other things we wanted to do in the city as well, so we contented ourselves with only the first two floors before taking our leave.
We returned to Royal Mile. Steven warned me about the tourist traps, but I actually did have some souvenirs to buy. My mom collects refrigerator magnets from different countries and I didn’t think she had one from Scotland. Also, I wanted to get Phil’s parents a little token of gratitude for their hospitality. It was on the way to Holyrood Palace (one of our destinations), so it all worked out rather well. It only took me something like forty-five minutes and five souvenir shops to find the two things I was looking for. Heck, we also passed the Scottish Parliament Building, which I dutifully took pictures of for Rich. And we still had time for Holyrood! In sooth, both Phil and I were more interested in seeing the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, but you couldn’t go to one without seeing the other. It was all right though ‘cuz the price of admission included the audio guide, which, by the way, was the best audio guide ever. I mean, without its incredibly helpful instructions, I would have never figured out that if I wanted to enter the palace and the door was closed, I was supposed to turn the handle. Seriously mates, I would have just wandered around the quadrangle trying to figure out a way to bust in and get my £10 worth.
Okay, okay, so after my initial amusement, the audio guide was actually pretty cool. I didn’t know much about Holyrood so it was interesting for me to find out the history. I didn’t know the palaces was actually still in use for when Queen Elizabeth makes her annual visit to Scotland. The tour took us through the procession Her Royal Majesty usually takes. All in all, I didn’t regret having to go through the palace first. But of course, I took the most pictures of the ruins of Holyrood Abbey. Clearly, I’ve developed a love affair with ruins.
It’s a good thing we’d gotten to Holyrood when we did for not long after we returned our audio guides did the place close. (Again, that grammar convention. Anyone know if I used that correctly? Rich and I have debated that sentence formation many a time.) Holyrood is situated beside Arthur’s Seat, a hill just under 1000 feet. Naturally, I wanted to go up.
The hike was rather pleasant, but as we reached the top, the delightful North Atlantic winds made their presence known once again. I had to take cover behind the monument to take out my camera lest I get blown away. On the way up, I noticed the ruins of St. Anthony’s chapel. We didn’t stop to see them on our ascent, but you better believe I wandered over on the way back down. Like I said, I seem to have fallen in love with ruins.
Most things were closed by the time we descended Arthur’s Seat. I was kinda holding out hope that we’d stay in Edinburgh long enough to take a haunted walk…but I knew Phil wasn’t too keen on such things and there was still the drive back to Carlisle to contend with.
We pretty much called it a day after the hike. We managed to catch a bus back to the car park and were on our merry way back to England. It was something like half nine by the time we made it back into Carlisle. We ended up stopping in at a Burger King for dinner.
‘Twas quite a bonny day out in Scotland.
It was back South for us on Friday. Lucky for me, we didn’t have to leave ridiculously early or anything. We had breakfast with Phil’s parents, as we’d done every morning with the exception of Thursday, and leisurely packed up the car. We were to be on the road by 10, as Phil wanted to drop into Manchester and visit his brother who lived there. After heartfelt gratitude and good-byes, we hit the road.
The weather was as it had been almost all week: cloudy with a strong chance of wind and rain. Such is the North of England it seems. We made a quick stop at the Tesco’s on our way out of town for a few bits and pieces as well.
We made a brief stop at a roadside stop with a Caffe Ritazza attached. We vowed never to drink at a Caffe Ritazza again if we could help it. It had such an interesting aftertaste.
Despite our coffee mishap, we made it to Manchester in good time. Phil’s brother Simon and his wife Clare were having us over for lunch. I was quite entertained by Simon and Clare — they both have a wit I can totally savvy. There was definitely some good laughs over home-made fish and chips. It was quite a lovely lunch despite the consistent rain. I was actually surprised we didn’t stay longer.
The drive back to London was long. Yeah, I fell asleep for part of it, but not as long as I expected to. We were back in the Greater London area round six or so. We stopped for dinner at the Bullfinch, a pub we discovered on one of our many misadventures that had really good rib-eye and chips.
It was quite a lovely holiday to the North. I was definitely glad to have gone.
Clearly, my attempt to forgo attention to detail failed miserably.