Spring Vacation X
Once Again To The Scepter'd Isle
by Jeffrey Scott Duly, Age 48
It's been ten of these already. You should know the drill by now. The characters are me and my sister, Karen. Click here to skip the report and go directly to the photos.
Prologue: My sister had been to the UK on a couple of previous occasions but never really out of London. So I had told her that if she ever wanted to go and see the rest of the island I would go with her. After all I was familiar with driving on the left after my trip to Ireland and as long as I had a rental car with an automatic transmission I was good. As we talked about the idea of going more, we eventually decided to go ahead and plan a trip. Well, actually I planned it. In a previous life I believe I was a travel agent. I booked a bunch of B&B's, a rental car and bought plane tickets. Eventually the day arrived to leave.
The trip over was uneventful. We flew Delta. I upgraded our tickets from JFK to Heathrow to Economy Comfort. That gave us a little more leg room for the long overnight flight. Dinner was kind of ehh. I had pasta and white wine, hoping that perhaps the wine would make me a little sleepy. If you are familiar with any of my trips you would know that had to fail. I didn't get any sleep but did get rest which is almost as good. I usually hold up pretty well the next day with little or no sleep but a bit of rest. On the way over I watched Frozen, which was fantastic.
Saturday, 22 March (Day 1): We landed around 7:30 or so and got our rental from Hertz at 8:30. There was a guy in our car about ready to leave but we informed him he had gotten in the wrong car. We upgraded to a Volvo station wagon. It was a good car with a fancy sat-nav (which I named Fiona) and all sorts of sensors for blind spots, lane changes and proximity of things in front and behind.
Our first stop was a town called Ashton-under-Lyne. Why you ask? While I wanted to show Karen around England, Scotland and a little of Wales, I wanted to do a bit of a family tour. Our grandfather, Ernest Whitworth, was born in Ashton-under-Lyne. I have a copy of his birth certificate which allowed me to find out the house in which he was born. So we parked on the street and took some pictures of the house. Driving in that town was nerve-wracking. The roads in his neighborhood are narrow and people park their cars on the street, or to be more accurate partly on the street and partly up on the curb.
We needed to get some lunch and I discovered before the trip that there is a cafe in Old Trafford Stadium, the home grounds of Manchester United. It was on the other side of the city from Ashton-under-Lyne, but it wasn't too difficult a trip through the city to the stadium. Lunch was pretty good. I had a hamburger and chips (that's fries to you and me) and watched the Chelsea-Arsenal match on the televisions they have. (Chelsea laid waste to Arsenal 6-0 on Arsene Wenger's 1000's match at the helm of the Gunners.) The day was almost all driving so there wasn't much else until we arrived at the Alexander Guest House in Gretna Green, just across the Scottish border. I figured we should get as far north on the first day and Gretna Green was about as far as I thought I should go before I started to get sleepy. As it turns out I wasn't sleepy at all driving, which was good. We didn't eat dinner as we had had lunch and meals on the plane not too much before that, so we checked in and crashed.
Sunday, 23 March (Day 2): Catherine got us breakfast in the morning. My usual was scrambled eggs, toast and tea. Then it was back on the road. The next stop would be Edinburgh which was only about a couple of hours away. Before we left Gretna Green, Catherine recommended stopping by the Famous Blacksmiths Shop. It's not so much an attraction as a historic place where a lot of people elope to get married. After that we got on the road to Edinburgh, using a scenic route suggested by Catherine. We got to Edinburgh at midday. It took a little longer to get to the Adria House B&B because Fiona kept telling me to take a road off of a certain roundabout that I couldn't find. After going the wrong way on a very small part of a street I finally got to Royal Terrace. We were early for checking in, but the owner Eddie put our bags away so we could walk into the city to see the sights.
I had been to Edinburgh before so I had some idea about what we could see. First we walked to the Royal Mile, the street that runs from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. We went the direction of the castle first. Before we left I bought a money-saving pass that included entry into a lot of sites in Scotland, including several we would see on this trip. Edinburgh Castle was one of them. It was pretty much the same as when I was there over a decade earlier. After the castle we walked to the other end of the Mile to see (but not go into) Holyrood before leaving the Old Town to cross over to the New Town to find dinner. We found a pub called The Kenilworth where I had a steak and kidney pudding and my first pint of cider of the trip. I can get cider in the States, but rarely a good one on tap. We watched a game show in the room called Catchphrase.
I had a little problem with my debit card on the trip. The trouble was that it didn't work. After a couple of attempted purchases that failed I realized that I could not pay for anything with it, but I was able to get cash out at ATM's. That meant that I had to make sure I had enough cash on hand at any time to buy whatever I might need. It also meant that Karen would have to pay for several things as her Visa card worked just fine. It wasn't the most ideal arrangement but it did the trick.
Monday, 24 March (Day 3): Another morning, another eggs and toast breakfast and another drive. First stop would be another family visit, but one that I had done before. Our great-grandfather, Stephen Galloway Duly, was born in Little Dunkeld, Scotland and apparently baptized in a small church there. So after a rather strange detour Fiona took me on down a very small dead-end dirt road, we found the church for a brief visit. Then it was back on the road to Pitlochry. I have been to Scotland three times now and each time I have stopped in Pitlochry, although this was the first time not staying the night. It's a nice town but there's not much there. One thing that is there is the Heathergems facility where they make the jewelry. I bought my sister a Heathergems necklace a long time ago and she wanted to visit the shop to get some more.
Again Fiona took me on a road that I wasn't expecting on the way from Pitlochry to Loch Ness, but it was a more scenic drive that took us by a couple of other lochs and through some snow-capped mountains. We arrived at Urquhart Castle a little after 2:00 and walked around the ruins along with what appeared to be a teen school group from some European country I could not identify from their language. We didn't stay too long because the kids were being kids, and by that I mean being generally annoying. We barely caught the 3:00 Jacobite Cruise of Loch Ness and enjoyed the boat ride back to the castle we had just left. That was the last planned thing for the day. There was nothing left to do than to check in at St. Ann's House B&B in Inverness (or as we called it, Stan's House) and walk into town to get dinner. We ate at the Ash Restaurant where I had a passable minute steak and a wonderful pint of Guinness. After a little telly, including University Challenge, it was time for bed.
Tuesday, 25 March (Day 4): I know what you are thinking. Eggs, toast and tea again, right? Nope. A bowl of porridge and tea. Man cannot live by eggs and toast alone. It was going to be a castle day with three on the docket, but the first stop was a distillery. To be specific, it was the Ben Nevis Distillery in Fort William. I do enjoy brewery and distillery tours even if I don't like their products. Lucky for us there was a tour starting just after we arrived so there was no waiting for us. I am not one to drink and drive but the tiny sample of whisky we had at the end of the tour didn't have an effect on even a lightweight like me.
Then the castles, the first two of which I had never seen and had a Monty Python and the Holy Grail connection. The first was Castle Stalker, which is a tower house located on an tidal islet in Loch Laich. More importantly it was Castle of Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh in the movie. We couldn't get to it for a visit, which are offered on a limited basis, but we stopped off at cafe and gift shop located with a view of the castle. After driving through some rugged mountainous landscape we arrived at Doune Castle. In it's early life it was a 14th century fortress but in the 1970's it was the filming location that served as many of the castles in the movie including Castle Anthrax and Camelot itself. The last castle was Stirling Castle, another one that I had visited before. That was a rather short visit as we got there late in the afternoon.
When I travel abroad I try to take in a football (that's soccer to you and me) match if possible. Fortunately the Scottish leagues were playing mid-week matches so we were able to take in a match Tuesday night. The one I chose was Falkirk v. Dumbarton, so we stayed in a B&B called Ashbank Guest House. There wasn't much in the way of restaurants in the area so we were forced to eat at a family restaurant/pub called Brewer's Fayre. They had an Italian buffet that night that I can only call food, but it did its purpose of putting sustenance in our bellies before the game. Falkirk won 2-0 and I was able to get another scarf for my wall at home. The match atmosphere was less energetic than others I have experienced on my travels, but I just chalk it up to being a mid-week night.
Wednesday, 26 March (Day 5): You know what I had for breakfast, so I'll just skip that. Wednesday was one of the longest stretches of non-stop driving on the trip. We went straight from Falkirk to Liverpool in order to get there by noon or so. The thing I wanted to do was visit Beatles things. The first place on the agenda was the Beatles Story museum located near the Mersey. I had been there before, but it is worth a second trip. Lots of Beatles stuff on display. Then since we were already parked at Albert Dock it was a short walk into the city to see Mathew Street where The Cavern Club was located.
Then we drove to the Avenue B&B where we had a wonderful time. That is what I would like to say, but it was not true. This is where the day sort of went pear-shaped. Firstly we got there around 3:30 but Sue, the owner, was nowhere to be found and there was no indication where she was. Some girl happened to answer the door but as we soon learned she was staying there that night and didn't know where the owner was either. We waited a while for someone to show up before eventually deciding to take a walk. I knew the B&B was near the childhood home of Paul McCartney, so we walked a few blocks to see it, took a couple of pictures and went back. Still no Sue. We were getting annoyed at that point. I started to write a note saying that we were going to look for some place else to stay but we decided to drive up to Tesco to fill up the Volvo. After that we returned to the B&B to find that Sue had finally shown up. She said she was visiting some family that had come into town that day and she was sorry she was not there when we arrived. She showed us to our room which was not the one I had booked. It only had one bed. She offered us two other singles that were not en suite, but after all that we just wanted to leave and find someplace else.
Rather than stay in Liverpool, we drove down the route we would have taken the next morning. After not finding any vacancies at a Days Inn, we came across a Travelodge outside of Chester and got a room. The hotel had a Toby Carvery attached to it. After an annoying afternoon my pint with dinner and delicious clotted cream cheesecake for dessert put a positive end to the day.
Thursday, 27 March (Day 6): As we were farther along than I had initially planned at the start of the day, I had to find something to do that morning. The only thing I could come up with when searching on my iPad was to go into Chester where there were ancient walls and an old cathedral. It turns out that the fiasco with the B&B in Liverpool ended up producing an unexpected surprise in Chester. It is a picturesque town and Chester Cathedral is a beautiful Gothic structure. Like I always say, I love a good old church.
I wanted to take my sister into Wales for a little bit and I found a nice castle to visit in Welshpool called Powis Castle. Unlike the other castles on the trip, Powis Castle developed from a fortress into a manor home and an extensive garden. The tour was good and we got to walk through many fancy rooms, including the bedroom where Prince Charles stayed when he visited the castle on several occasions. The gardens were nice even on a cold early spring day.
After our brief excursion into Wales it was on to Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of Sarah Douglas, who played Ursa in Superman II. Oh, and as it turns out William Shakespeare was from there too. We checked into the Woodstock Guest House and walked into town to see things. We saw Shakespeare's birthplace, walked along the River Avon and visited the Holy Trinity Church where the Bard is buried. Another dinner and another pub, this time The Windmill Inn. You know when I think of British food I usually think of a pie and a pint, which is what I had.
Friday, 28 March (Day 7): All together now. Eggs. Toast. Tea. We started this trip in London, drove all the way to the Highlands of Scotland and then back down. Friday would end on the south coast of England but a couple of stops along the way. I figured it might be nice to stop in a university town and since Cambridge was not on our route it would be Oxford University. It was not what I expected, which was a campus separate from the town. Actually the colleges of the university are all over the place with regular streets with shops and restaurants and such mixed in. We walked around a bit, picked up a souvenir or two and used the restrooms at a shopping centre before hitting the road once again.
Sometimes when you travel you almost have to see certain things, no matter how obviously touristy they might be. One of those places is Stonehenge. It has changed since my last visit. Actually it hasn't changed much for thousands of years, but I mean there is a new visitor's centre that had opened only months before. I don't really know what to say about Stonehenge that everyone doesn't already know, so I'll just say Stonehenge! Where the demons dwell, where the banshees live and they do live well. Stonehenge! Where a man's a man and the children dance to the pipes of Pan.
We were longer in Oxford and at Stonehenge than I planned which meant that we wouldn't get into Eastbourne until after dark. What didn't help was that we hit rush hour traffic on the M25, the ring road around London. The put us behind probably about a half hour. So we got to the Marine Parade Hotel at around 6:45, too late to walk around and see the place. Instead we walked around to find dinner. One of the places recommended to us by Carol, one of the owners of the hotel, was the Pomodoro e Mozzarella. It must be a pretty popular place because it was fairly busy. There was a male singer at the little pub in the hotel that night and since our room was directly above it we had to put up with the noise until he was finished, which fortunately wasn't too late.
Saturday, 29 March (Day 8): To make up for not being able to see much the night before we went out walking to see the beach and the pier before breakfast (eggs, toast and tea). It was still before the season for a seaside town, so there wasn't much going on at 7:30 in the morning. After checking out we were back in the car for the last day of driving with London as our final destination. Before that, we took a brief stop in a village called Herstmonceux. This was the last of the family heritage tour. Having done a bit of genealogy work I found that there were generations of Dulys who were from there and other towns in East Sussex. I don't know if there are any left there these days, but to be fair they weren't exactly going around with big name tags on or anything.
We got to the Jury's Inn at Heathrow Airport a little after 11:00 and were able to check in early. That was fortunate since we wanted to go ahead and get into the city. The hotel was rather close to the Hatton Cross Station Underground Station. I had bought London Transport day tickets that were mailed to me before the trip so we were prepared, though we had some trouble with them at first. They didn't seem to work in the gates. There was transit officer that look at the tickets and let us through. After that, my sister's card worked at the machines and mine never did the rest of the day. I always had to wait on help from someone to get me through. But that was not the most trouble we had. They were doing some work on the Piccadilly Line, so the train stopped at Acton Lane. They had buses running from that station to Hammersmith, the first after the closure. The buses drove on already busy streets, making a trip that would have been a few minutes on the Tube last an hour on the bus.
The event of the day was another football match, this time Queens Park Rangers v. Blackpool. Karen had been to a QPR match on a previous trip with her family but it was my first time at Loftus Road. I haven't done two matches on one trip before and I was putting my mojo to the test once more. It was tense for most of the match as Blackpool jumped out to an early one-goal lead, but QPR scored late in the second half to keep me undefeated in league matches when I travel. Six wins, three draws, no losses. Oddly enough the three draws were all in London. After the match we walked through Regents Park for a little while and then looked for dinner along Baker Street (one of my favorite songs, by the way). We came across a place called Nando's, which we had never heard of before but apparently is chain with restaurants in many countries. There were free refills on beverages and I had about four and a half glasses of Coca-Cola, but that was still less than Karen who had at least five of whatever she was drinking.
We didn't have to get back to the hotel early for any reason, so we went down to Westminster for some nighttime photos. Then we walked up to Buckingham Palace for some more pictures before going back to the hotel and sleep. We just happened to be leaving the day after they changed to British Summer Time (like our Daylight Savings Time) which meant that we would lose an hour that night.
Sunday, 30 March (Day 9): We would end up getting to the airport pretty early after returning the Volvo to the Hertz place. The flight back was mostly if not completely full, including a big pack of teenagers from Arkansas returning from a school, church or some other kind of trip. I watched a couple more movies on the trip from London to Atlanta. The first was Nebraska, which was a pretty good one, and then Despicable Me 2, which was nothing to write home about. Instead of getting the pasta again for lunch, I chose the chicken. If the pasta was like the one on the way over, it was a better choice.
Epilogue: Now I have taken two driving trips where they drive on the wrong side and I think I am getting good at it. The only real trouble is in cities where the layout of the roads are a little wacky. I would have problems even in my own car. I got to experience things again that I can't really at home. Passionate soccer fans, good cider on tap, Walker's prawn cocktail crisps. I got to listen to the afternoon BBC Radio 2 shows in the afternoon rather than in the morning at work when I usually do. Overall a successful trip with a couple of bumps but also some unexpected plusses too.
Addendum to the Epilogue: Four months after our visit to Eastbourne, a fire broke out on its Victorian pier that damaged about a third of the structure and completely gutted the arcade, leaving only an empty metal shell. When I watched the news footage, I knew exactly what was burning and hoped that it would not spread to the rest of the pier we had walked on just a short while ago. Fortunately, the damage was contained and the pier will be repaired and reopened.
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