We're back in England, this time coming south from Scotland. After visiting the
Falkirk Wheel we went to see Hadrian's Wall. This is the wall built by the Romans
(under Emperor Hadrian) to mark the limit of the Roman Empire. It was not big or
tall enough to survive a sustained attack from the outside. but it did discourage
the tribes in (what is now) Scotland from advancing south. It was started in 122AD
"to separate the Romans from the barbarians". We visited it at the Housesteads Fort. The
wall had a guard tower every Roman mile (a bit longer than ours) and 16 "forts" spread
along it. In the picture the wall stretches into the left beyond the stand of trees
and the fort is to the right.
The forts were built in a rectangle with a wall, gates and towers surrounding barracks,
administration and officer's quarters. A village of local natives often grew up
outside fort (soldiers meant business and profit for bars and certain women).
Today nothing is left but the foundations and parts of the actual wall (which Kathy
is standing on in the picture up above). Much of the fort had been used to make
the stone field fences nearby. There was an immense number of square, finished stones
in the stone walls surrounding the local pastures.
That night we camped in a small campground in a local farmer's field near the wall. Various
farmers have turned a pasture into a campsite. No hookups, primarily tents, and
toilets and showers in a converted shed. But it is cheap and suits our needs. In
the morning we watched the farmer exercise a sheepdog in the area in front of the
tents. He had his staff and his pipe and a tennis ball for the dog to fetch. He
gave whistles, shouts and held the staff in different positions, each of which meant
something to the dog. The dog would stop, run right, left, forward or back at each
command. When the dog did it right he got to fetch the ball which had been thrown
as far as the farmer could. He obviously enjoyed the fetching and didn't want to
give up his ball when he brought it back.
From there it was a one day run to the Sherwood Forest and the tourist center promoting
Robin Hood. At one time it might of been a forest of mighty oak trees. Today is
a stand of younger beeches and aspens with the rotting remains of over mature oaks
in it. It is in transition from an old dying oak forest to a new younger forest. Someday
the oaks will again be dominant, but that is long in the future. There is one oak,
called the Major Oak, that is still growing. It is about 800 years old and 33 feet
around. It has a lot of props and cables holding it up and together. It is hollow
and has been used for many things over the years, including storing fighting cocks
inside it. It has been a tourist attraction for about 200 years and until the 1920's
people would climb and carve on it. Today the government protects it.
Next is Nottingham, famous for Maid Marion and Robin Hood. It sits on a bluff of
sandstone that has been carved and caved by people since the beginning of time. Several
buildings are built into the face of the cliff, including a tavern that served ale
to Crusaders before they went off to free Jerusalem. The bartender claims the date
of 1189 painted on its front for its origin is incorrect, he says it was built in
1070. In either case it has served a lot of ale. We helped of course.
From here we took the scenic route to London, traveling east through Norfolk county
and south through Bury St. Edmunds (that sounds like something you're supposed to
do, but is the name of a town). The smallest pub in England, called The Nutshell,
is supposed to be here, but we couldn't find it (I guess it was too small!).
In London we stayed with a great couple, Peter and Lesley (and their giant teddy
bear Ted, who protects them from harm). They are the Global Affairs Director for
the GWRRA (our American GoldWing club). They travel a lot on club business. We
had conversed on the internet but the first time we saw each other was when we all
were at WingDing Europe in Denmark. They invited us to base at their nice house
in Mottingham, a suburb of London. In this picture we are having dinner at a London
restaurant called Fish! on our last night together. We really enjoyed them. They
are well traveled and articulate. We discussed people, places and events late into
the nights with them.
Peter helped me get the correct part to replace the patched together part from our
breakdown in Wales. And Lesley bought tickets to the musical Wicked and took us
to see it. It is a "different" version of the Wizard of Oz story. Kathy had read
the book and enjoyed it the most. Thank you Lesley! (One of the things one "must
do" while in London or New York is see a stage play. Now we have, thanks to Lesley.)
Our first sight to see was Stonehenge. The ancient stone construction in the plain
of Salisbury. The earliest construction here was a wooden one, we see only the latest
of several constructions and remodeling events. No one knows why the early people
built it. It could have been a calendar, an observatory, a church.... And the latest
one was built with stones weighing many, many tons. Some stones were brought from
Wales, over 200 miles away. Some of the stones look to be about 20 feet tall, 8
feet wide and 4 feet thick, and that doesn't count the one third of the stone that
is buried to hold it up. Then they capped the standing stones with curved stones
to make a ring. Each standing stone is fitted with a bump on top that fits into
a hole on the bottom of the cap stone. And the cap stones have their ends fitted
together in a similar way. Altogether it was very carefully and smartly built with
interlocking pieces. This was built about the same time as the Egyptians were building
their pyramids and was done without metal tools.
In the tall standing stone to the right center you can see the pin on top that fit
into the hole in the bottom of the cap stone. And on the end of the left capstone
you can see the vertical ridge that fit into a channel in the next capstone.
We spent an hour there listening to the audio guide and then went to Hampton Court,
one of Henry VIII's homes. We wanted to tour the gardens and the hedge maze. It
took us longer to find our way out than it did to find our way in!!!
The formal gardens are beautiful with carefully tended plants, lawns, fountains and
paths. The building in the background is only one wing of one of the palaces the
king had available. Being the king was good!
On the following day they took us to Greenwich. As a person who likes maps and has
been involved in mapmaking, this was a treat for me. Greenwich is an astronomical
observatory from the 17 and 1800's. This is where all measurements East and West
start today (North and South start at the equator). The Greenwich Meridian is the
zero point for time and measurement in today's world. Over the centuries there have
been many meridians, they each were an arbitrary north/south line on the face of
the earth, but today everyone uses the Greenwich Meridian. It is the line that ran
through the eyepiece of the telescope that was being used for star sightings back
then. Knowing how far east or west, as well as north or south, they were was very
important for sailors. It kept them from running into dry land with their ships! They
could take local star sightings and compare them with recorded sightings from Greenwich
to calculate their location. Today many of us use GPS, but the measurements are
still based on the Greenwich meridian.
Here you can stand with one foot in the Eastern Hemisphere (mainland Europe, Africa
and Asia) and one foot in the Western Hemisphere (the Atlantic Ocean, North and South
America). They come together again out in the Pacific Ocean.
East is to my left, the camera is looking north.
After the observatory we went down the hill and visited the Royal Naval Museum. Britain
is a country surrounded by water and at one time had colonies all around the globe. They
have a very rich naval history, both in war and in trade.
On Monday we took the train into London (Lesley had shown us how when we in to see
Wicked) and went to the Tower of London first. The Tower of London is not "a" tower,
it is a fortification with several towers and walls and buildings. This is where
the most sensitive political prisoners were kept during much of England's history. Despite
its fame (or infamy), only seven people were ever executed there (including two of
Henry the VIII's wives), all between 1483 and 1601. Most regular executions were
done elsewhere and were public exhibitions.
This is where the Beefeaters hang out, even "Teddy Bear Beefeaters". Notice that
Kathy has a small one in her hand as well as the large one she's leaning against. I
told her that there was no room for the big one on the bike unless she gave up her
seat. So, she settled for the small one.
We got to see the crown jewels (no pictures allowed). The series of crowns, scepters
and orbs had enough diamonds, pearls, emeralds and rubies to fund our trip for may
years to come. But the guards were very observant and the glass cases alarmed..
Right in front of the Tower of London is Tower Bridge. This is the bridge most people
think of when they think of "London Bridge" Some Americans bought the real London
Bridge some years ago, dismantled it, numbered the stones and moved it to Arizona
in the USA where they rebuilt it on Lake Havasu. Brits think that the Americans
thought they were getting Tower Bridge and when they showed up they found out it
was the next bridge up the river, a very unimposing bridge. It has been replaced
with a modern traffic bridge that is also known as "London Bridge".
We walked back and forth across the Thames River five times, had "a pint" in more
than one pub, and ended up at the London Eye. This is the huge observation wheel
that was built by British Airways for the millennium celebrations. It was supposed
to be up for 5 years and then removed. It has proved to be so popular that it will
be around indefinitely. We bought tickets (the books say you must book far in advance
but we walked right on). It was expensive and just about worth it. The trip takes
a half hour around the loop and doesn't stop to get on or off. It goes slow enough
to just step on or off. The views were great even on an overcast day.
On the way to the Eye we had passed, and looked in at, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. This
one is actually a replica (built with the tools and methods of the time and very
near the original's location) because the original burnt down many, many years ago. While
Kathy was in the gift shop I went to the ticket counter and bought two tickets to
the "Merchant of Venice" playing the next afternoon. No pictures were allowed during
the performance so you'll have to be content with the pre-performance picture at
the left. Our seats were in the third level, front row and even with the front of
the stage. The only other alternative was a second level behind a post. They weren't
bad seats, but they were almost $50 USD each!
That evening Peter and Lesley came into London too and we met them at a seafood restaurant
called Fish!. The next morning we headed for the continent and Octoberfest.
On the way to England we took the ferry across the English Channel. This time we
are taking the Eurotunnel. It is a train that goes under the channel. I got online
and checked prices for a one-way ticket to the continent, 241 British Pounds (almost
$500)!!! I check a round-trip ticket and it was 73 Pounds. So I bought a round-trip
and we "forgot" to go back to England! It can't be illegal to not use a ticket,
can it? The car trains are double deck and you drive in a side door (the top deck
goes into the first door and up a ramp) and then all the way up the inside of the
train and park behind the vehicle ahead of you. The motorcycles were the last on. Then
they close the doors to the outside and between the railroad cars and you stand around
and talk until you come up in France. Then the doors open and you drive on up the
train and out a door at the front. The ride is smooth, quick and air conditioned. It
took less than half the time of the ferry, including loading and unloading.
Then we did a two day dash on the Autobahns (freeways to Americans) across France,
Belgium and Germany to Munich and Octoberfest, the biggest beer party in the world.