Saturday, July 30, 2016

The GCW Tour, A Few Bits of the UK and Ireland: One Last Castle

So it turns out Windsor Castle is about five minutes from Heathrow. Since we had some time to kill, we decided to visit. It's a nice castle in a nice town, with lots of swans...

The process of getting in is kind of brutal, but if you time it right (wrong?) you can "see" the changing of the guard, in so far as anyone can see anything amidst the crowds.

And then the castle itself is very nice, and more than just rocks...

The only downside, for me, was that the process to get in took so much out of me, when I saw the lines to see the insides of the castle I just couldn't do it. So I sent the boys in -- and they seemed to really like it, seeing Sir Elton John's shield, in particular -- but since photos weren't allowed I don't have anything to show you.

But we do have some proof that the boys were there...

And that, actually, is that. From here we checked into our hotel, returned the rental car, and tomorrow we get up at the crack of dawn to get on the plane for home. 

Anything they missed, the boys will have to come back someday to see on their own. Anything I missed, well, I guess is probably going to stay missed.

The GCW Tour, A Few Bits of the UK and Ireland: A Word to the Wise

Never, never, never drive on the A1. Do not believe anything your GPS says about the A1. Terrible, terrible road to be avoided at all costs.

Just sayin'...

The GCW Tour, A Few Bits of the UK and Ireland: Final Rocks

Our trip around the moors took us to Whitby, which was a massively crowded coastal town, so we didn't do much in the town, but we did notice a pile of rocks on a hill -- Whitby Abbey -- so we decided to stop in there. If nothing else, it got us out of the car for awhile.

The visitor center also had a video playing which raised an interesting (to me) question: were abbeys like this one placed where they were -- remote places but usually at the heads of rivers where land, ocean and river all came together -- because they were intended to be spiritual places located in isolated settings, or political places located in busy settings? 

Funny how, despite the public presentation, the church never seems to be too far from power and politics. 

Anyway, our little English Heritage guidebook had another map to surrounding places, so, since we were headed there anyway, we also stopped in to see the rocks at Pickering Castle...

All of which reminds me, should you find yourself visiting England and, like the boys, are interested in rocks, spring for the English Heritage visitor pass. Entry fees to these places are like $7 per person, but the two week pass I think was only $30 for all three of us. Not a bad deal at all. 

The GCW Tour, A Few Bits of the UK and Ireland: The Price of Admission

I wouldn't have bet on it ahead of time, but the North York Moors National Park of all places covered the price of admission for this trip. 

In my opinion, you can add the moors to the list of places in the world that photos and descriptions just don't convey (and yet I keep typing). I mean, I've read Hound of the Baskervilles. I've seen countless film and television versions of Hound, and even seen it performed on stage once, though that's not really relevant here. I've seen American Werewolf in London more times than I can count (and only in part because, once again, Jenny Agutter, naked). And I'm sure there are plenty of other movies and television shows set in the moors which have passed in front of my eyeballs.

But standing there is way different. Way different. But it explains a lot about the above noted stories. Eerie and beautiful are pretty much the first words that come to mind, so it's easy to see why the moors were used as a setting for eerie. 

The only down side for our trip is that, per our farmer, the moors don't "come out" until the last two weeks of July. When I pointed out that it was, in fact, July 27, she noted that they were late. Which lead to the follow up question, "come out?" Like they're hiding? Nope. The moors are covered in heather. For two weeks each summer the heather blooms purple. So when the moors "come out" they're covered in purple. We saw a few hints of the coming bloom, but I bet in a week or so it'll really be something to see.

So if you ever get the chance, visit the moors. All the better if you can do it when they're "out." But if you can't, here are a few photos -- even if they don't really do it justice...

Friday, July 29, 2016

The GCW Tour, A Few Bits of the UK and Ireland: Surprise!

It occurred to me today that it's been a long time (Vietnam?) since I've been surprised, really surprised, by something that happened on one of my trips. In the age of Google and Travelocity and Tripadvisor, among all the other tools, travel can sometimes feel like you're just running a script you've read before.

Today was a little different, but to explain I've got to take a run at it...

In planning this trip, the first thing I did was buy plane tickets. I knew I wanted to do a loop, and I wasn't really interested in screwing around with connections and the rest. So in and out of Heathrow it was.

Then we started laying out the details of the loop, and sorting out what could be done by train, plane or ferry, and what needed a car. The last thing sorted was the last leg, which turned out to be Glasgow to Edinburgh to Heathrow by car.

The next question was how long to spend going Edinburgh to Heathrow. You could probably drive it in one (brutal) day, but I knew that wasn't going to happen. For a variety of reasons, I decided on three days -- or, the part that really matters, two nights.

Now where to spend those nights?

Because I needed a single room that could hold three people, and I was booking the week before, my options were limited. And looking at the map, I decided I wanted to be in the vicinity of the North York Moors National Park. I've never seen a moor, and figured this would be my one chance.

So Travelocity gave me two hotel options: a classic (looking) old pub thing near Robin Hood's Bay, which had appeal as that's near where the coast-to-coast walk (which I was briefly interested in) ends, and then a farm-y thing near Thirsk. Eventually, the terrible review of the pub and the fact that staying there would commit me to an extra couple of hundred miles had me book the farm.

And then I forgot about it.

So yesterday we were doing the map thing, figuring out out to get from Edinburgh to Hadrian's Wall to Thirsk. The first thing that comes up? The maps start identifying Thirsk as "the world of James Herriot." Now, if you're like the boys, that name will mean exactly nothing to you; but if you're like me, raised in the seventies by parents who subscribed to the Book of the Month club, and with a local PBS station that would flog "All Creatures Great and Small" every time pledge week rolled up, that will strike you as interesting.

(Of course it also raises the more interesting question of how long a name like "James Herriot" will be recognized and have commercial value, such that it's worth the town using it, and when do they have to find another draw? But I won't bother with that now.)

Ok, so now we're driving. The GPS -- or "sat/nav" in English-speak -- doesn't know the location, but it knows the street and it's leading us there. So we don't blink when it sends us down this street...

And past this little town (we've left Thirsk in the review mirror long ago)...

And up and around and through the hills...

I do pause, briefly, when the GPS tells me to turn down this road...

...but we've made it this far, and how bad could it be? And a mile or two later we come to this...

When we park and head toward the door, the woman (if she's thirty I'll eat my sock) who runs the place comes bounding out to show us around, explain our room, ask about our dinner plans, etc., etc., etc. It was, shall we say, different than what we've grown used to. (As was the fact that she's got the wood stove -- the only heat -- burning in our room and it's nearly August.)

Oh, and dinner? She sent us back down the hill to the Carpenters Arms, that "pub" we passed. Not exactly what I was expecting there either...

And the food was some of the best we've had on the trip. 

The boys, of course, are in hell -- the wifi only works in the central tea room -- but I keep choking up because my Mum would've loved this place and I can't go twenty seconds without thinking about her.

But if you've ever had a hankering too see the moors and are contemplating a visit, I can highly recommend the High Paradise Farm. And if you're looking for something to do over the holidays, the Carpenters Arms is already booking Christmas and New Year's dinners...

I could think of worse ways to spend the holidays.

The GCW Tour, A Few Bits of the UK and Ireland: Roman Rocks

So we left Edinburgh and headed south via the A68. Various websites described it as one of Scotland's most beautiful roads, and at least one I saw called it mountainous. It was definitely nice, though perhaps not "most beautiful" (but definitely better than the A1). 

And I certainly I wouldn't call it mountainous. "Hilly," perhaps.

But the  boarder crossing was definitely festive...

From there we wound up at Housesteads Roman Fort. It's not what the Romans called it, but it's one of the least eroded sections of Hadrian's Wall left, and that seemed worth seeing. And as far as rocks go, I have to say they were quite picturesque, even if you had to dodge the sheep -- and sheep poo -- to get to them.

And it definitely seemed to be a thing to walk the wall. We saw a lot of people doing that...