Pre-amble

This is a record of the four very pleasant weeks that we spent in England in May 2012, largely relying on the generosity of friends who put us up and took us around. The weather, it must be said first (to explain the grey, gloomy pictures) was lousy. The marvel was that it made no difference at all; we had a wonderful time thanks to the efforts of our hosts.

The preparation for the trip was different this time. Prior to retirement our trips invariably started with a last-minute scramble to acquire necessary items and a hurried packing job, resulting invariably in exasperation on the way to the airport as we remembered what we'd forgotten, and a first few days without deodorant or some darn thing. This time we started a week early, had a shopping list which we filled casually while out and about doing other things, and were packed two days ahead of time. As it turned out, the only thing we were both short of was warm clothes!

Go here to see a Google map showing all the places we stayed at and the walks that we took.

April 27th

On the day of our flight Dean dropped us off at the Seabus; when we reached the downtown side, we took a brief walk to the Canada Line, waited three minutes for the train to the airport and were at YVR less than an hour after we were dropped off. All this cost us $2.50 each!

Bit early for our 8:40 flight so had time to read; a pair of Bald Eagles and a Great Blue Heron flew just over the terminal on their way (presumably) back to their nests as the sun was setting, which we took as a good omen. Plane came in a bit late presumably because of a headwind because we made up the time on our flight over and arrived on time at Heathrow: 1:30pm the next day.

Both of us slept well, which always helps. Arrived in weak sunshine that only improved as time passed. Had an excellent sandwich in Terminal 5 while we waited for the bus to Salisbury. The bus, however, didn't appear on time (Friday evening rush hour in London) so after about 20 minutes we borrowed a mobile phone from a chap at the terminal to let Julia know we'd be late, and we'd call her when we got there. The bus soon sailed in and the driver drove like the wind, getting us into Salisbury only few minutes late; a young lady lent us her phone at the bus station and Julia was there five minutes later to pick us up and drive to her place. Thanks for those loan of those cell phones if you happen to check in on the site!

Julia and Lynda met and became friends when Julia—living then in Canada—started a flower club that Lynda joined. Julia returned to England some years ago and has hosted us often when we've come through England on our vacations. The last time we were here, she was living in a different house in Salisbury, so we haven't been to her new place.

April 28th: Tour of Salisbury

Didn't sleep too badly so we were up and ready to go by 10ish. Rain threatening but holding off as we walked into Salisbury to do a tour of the town. The Queen was due in Salisbury the following Tuesday as part of the 60th Jubilee celebrations so the police were here and there setting up the route and nervously attending to security needs.

Salisbury is an excellent place to wander round. The streets and buildings are quaint, clean and easy to navigate. Five rivers flow through the city adding the elements of bridges and views; many of the shops were decked out with welcoming messages, although a couple of massage shops on the route didn't seem to have picked up on the trend towards 'suitable' window dressing. We first wandered through the market which was open today then stopped into the local Tesco to pick up a SIM card for the phone. Had an unusual and excellent lunch in a little gallery off the main drag (on display: artworks by various members of a local family). We circled back to Julia's place past the cathedral, which we had toured on previous visits.

A quick nap and we're off again: heading out to visit Julia's daughter, Melanie, who lives a little out of town. We haven't seen Melanie since our last visit here in 2009 but it turns out to be a quick visit as her kids have to be dropped off a soccer practice. So we sit in front of the Auger fireplace which keeps us all warm, exchange basic greetings and then head back. Enough for our first day.

April 29th: Mottisfont Abbey

On our second full day, Julia drove us out to visit Mottisfont Abbey, a National Trust site that you can find out more about here. We were hoping to get into the Silver Plough for a quick lunch first but the parking lot was jammmed and a sign announced they were booked until 2:30pm. So we decided to 'do' the Abbey first and check back afterwards.

The Abbey is just up the road and on this bleak day there's still plenty of room in the parking lot. We opt to do the tour of the house first and then visit the gardens on the way back.

Mottisfont was founded as an actual Abbey and went through a variety of transformations before falling, in the middle of the last century, into the hands of Maude and Gilbert Russell. The Russells seem to have been a somewhat eccentric couple: enthusiastic supporters of the arts who surrounded themselves with a following of artists and intellectuals. When Gilbert died Maud didn't slow down. She had an apparently torrid affair with her resident ceramic artist, Boris Arpen as well as a fling with writer Ian Fleming. Eventually she too died and willed the Abbey and its considerable collection of artifacts to the National Trust.

Fortunately the artist Frederick Hill, on his death, also donated his collection of art to be displayed in the house. The house is marvellous but it is Hill's collection, of a variety of interesting British artpieces of the early 20th century, that is most impressive. On display is work by better known artists such as Augustus John but equally intriguing pieces by lesser known members of the Russell circle, including John's sister Gwen.

We finish the tour with a walk around the winter gardens. Even though little is out, there is a considerable variety of shrubs and flowers. We note on the way out that the recent rains have brought the stream running through the grounds almost to brimming over!

We're chilled after the walk around the garden but the Silver Plough—now thankfully almost empty—provides a warm fire and a fine lunch.

April 30th 2012: Salisbury to Southampton

Up not too early today; watery sunshine, which was a nice change from yesterday. We're packed and ready to leave by 11am when Barry's car appears in the yard. We've had two very entertaining days with Julia to start our trip and it all seems to be ending too quickly. But we say goodbye and head out on the road to Southampton.

Aided by the Garmin sat nav that Barry has mounted on the front dashboard, we navigate the tangle of motorways and side-roads that connects UK cities in the modern age, and in about 45 minutes, pull in to their drive in Southampton. And there's Anne to greet us at the door.

We met Barry and Anne in Crete in 2009 and since Barry and I have a shared interest in birds (although my knowledge pales in comparison with Barry's) we have stayed in touch since. They have a lovely house and Barry was keen to show us the amazing mix of rhodos that he has in the back yard. The weather was improving too, so we sat outside in bright sunshine on a green lawn surrounded by colorful rhodos and had tea. A variety of birds flitted to and from the feeder, including a pair of robins nesting in a window box, a pair of bullfinches and a pair of England's exotically decorated goldfinches.

After a quick lunch, we head out from the house to walk the public golf course nearby, heading down towards Southampton Common. It's a lovely walk, thankfully with less threat from errant golf shots than it might sound! We end up looking across a crossroads to the Common and turn back.

Back at the house we have an excellent dinner, our first exposure to Quorn, and hit the sack around 10.

Technology breakdown

Perhaps the weather has jinxed our technology because nothing is working! First we couldn't get the cellphone to work, then the camera we have had for some ten years gave up the ghost; then, we plugged our battery charger in and it emitted a few sparks and went dead; finally, we found that my computer couldn't be hooked up to the internet through Barry's connection! Eventually, Pete got the cellphone working; we didn't need a new charger; Barry lent us his camera and then we bought a new one; and we used Barry's computer and a flash card to connect to the internet.

May 1st: Keyhaven

Around 10ish—-the rain now only a drizzle-—we head out (aided by Garmin) for the seaside village of Keyhaven. Our journey takes us through the New Forest and by the time we get there to our destination the clouds have cleared and the sun really is shining.

Keyhaven is a seaside conservation area consisting of marsh and fenland…perfect for bird watchers; we see almost as many birdwatchers as birds today! As we begin our walk, to our right less than a kilometre away across a narrow channel of sea is the Isle of Wight.

We followed a nice path that wound along the marshes. There's an abundance of hedge birds, shore birds, gulls, ducks, swans, and even a couple of terns. Surprisingly there were no predators like hawks or buzzards around even though we pass about a dozen rabbits hopping about at one point. Lynda spotted what was almost certainly an otter before it dived, which was a possible but very rare sight along here. Ahead, the Isle of Wight ferries wandered to and fro between Southampton and the island.

We do about five kilometres, turning at last inland and reaching the Chequers Pub. Hurdling the large dog sprawled in the entrance to the courtyard, we seat ourselves at one of the benches and have a brilliant lunch under sunshine...with only one half-interested visit by the dog. A little less energized, we amble slowly back along the route that brought us here, and all but Barry the driver, nod off on the way home.

May 2: Ferry to Hythe

Overcast and cold. We have a leisurely start and then drive down "The Avenue" into Southampton and park in the lot of the building that Barry and Anne's daughter lives in and save ourselves five pounds for a day's parking in downtown Southampton. We take a ten minute walk through the streets adjacent to the waterfront and arrive eventually at the Hythe Ferry. The ferry dock sits opposite the monstrous (current version of) the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship, which dwarfs a sailing ship, the Lord Nelson moored alongside. Further up the shoreline however are several even larger cruise ships moored along the dockside. Apparently these beasts hold 4-5,000 passengers. Whole trains are dedicated to carrying luggage for these behemoths. The ferry arrives; we board; and we're off, toute d'suite, heading across the Solent to the small village of Hythe on the other side of the water. The ride only takes about 15 minutes. We dock, disembark and board the world's oldest pier railway, a train of tiny carriages that, after only a minute to get all dozen passengers on board, takes off with a jolt and rumbles along the pier at a sprightly 2 miles an hour. Two hundred meters later, we are at the terminus, and disembark again and walk in to the village.

Hythe seems to be a throwback to the era that I remember as a boy living in England. There are tiny houses and shops on either side of a narrow pedestrian-only street. Some of it is now a bit modernized: a Waitrose store sits on one side and a Costa Coffee house on the other. But generally, it somehow retains an atmosphere that you would expect to see only 50 years ago. We wander up eventually to the marina and have our sandwiches, board the ferry and head home: a very pleasant day. That evening Pete and Val—who we first met on our holiday in Crete some years ago—come over for dinner and we spend a pleasant evening with them.

3rd May: Winchester

We head north out of Southampton for what must be less than a 15 minute driver, park less than a minute off the motorway next to the River Ilchen and make our way along the river into Winchester City. It's only a 20 minute walk, through the grounds of Winchester College (one of England's top public schools), past the ruins of Wolvesey Castle and almost directly from there into the grounds of Winchester Cathedral. Entrance fee is £10—which includes £3 for the excellent audio guide. We spend perhaps an hour wandering around the cathedral, taking in about a thousand years of history, but find that our last stop—the Winchester Bible—is closed for lunch.

Never mind; we head out for lunch ourselves. The places close to the Cathedral look suspiciously twee...like tourist traps so we head up the high street and eventually stumble on the Wiltshire Pub, a Weatherspoon's establishment. I was nervous at first because the visual appeal of a carpeted interior and upholstered chairs is often followed by the nasal rebuff of stale beer and cigarettes that has been soaked into the materials over the years, but not so here! This place was clean and bright; the food turned out to be excellent and meals and drinks for four of us cost £26—about $40!

Back to cathedral to look at the Winchester Bible and then a walk up to the Great Hall where the Arthur's Round Table (all 2 tons of it) is mounted on a wall. For those of us uncertain about such things, there was no known historical king called Arthur. The myth, arising from a story written by ..., is thought to refer to a Celtic king of about the 4th century AD who, after the Romans left England, resisted the invasion of the Saxons. But it was King Edward 1st (around 11th century) who became a great Arthur enthusiast and gave spark to the myth.

A pleasant walk back to the car along the river as the rain starts to come down. The Winchester College phys. ed. class is huddled in the doorway of the sports center as we go past. We head out to the car, and half an hour later are back home for dinner.

04 May 12:Calshot/Southampton

Geez, cold and overcast again. But we're heading out in two directions today: Barry and I will head to Calshot to do a little birdwatching while Anne and Lynda head out to shop and go to an art gallery in Southampton.

We take Barry's camper van because he wants to give a run—otherwise it sits in his driveway and rots—but it gives me a chance to have a look at his to give us some ideas for when we buy ours. It's a great little van with all mod cons but drives more or less like a car. It takes us about 40 minutes to reach our destination—just along the coast from Keyhaven.

It's nice to get out and stretch our legs. We walk a total of about 10Km, out past the power station to have lunch, and back. We don't see a vast number of new birds for Barry—there's a north wind coming in—but we do hear a Nightingale (a very uncommon achievement for birders in Britain nowadays) and for me many of the birds are either new or nice to see again.

We head back a little early. We don't want to get caught in the Bank Holiday weekend traffic that clogs Britain's roads. But—perhaps because of the lousy weather—there doesn't seem to be much about.

Lynda and Anne get back after us and apparently had a great time.

May 5th : Hinton Ampner

Sorry to start every blog with the same winge about the weather but we're hoping that one of these days we'll awake to sunny skies and warm temperatures. Alas, today isn't the day!

We're off to Hinton Ampner today, a National Trust house, just to the west of Winchester. Takes us about forty minutes to drive there and the fact that the parking lot isn't full is encouraging. Perhaps there are advantages to coming on a cold, Bank Holiday weekend. The house is a collection by the 20th century gadabout, Ralph Dutton. It's an oddball collection of paintings, by a variety of unknown artists of obscure persons, statues, of classical figures sculpted often in porphyry, and the most interesting pieces: a variety of tables with tops set in marble, porphyry, wood, and an unusual stone found only in Derbyshire. There's also the odd piece of china.

The house looks out on an extensive garden with beautiful Wiltshire countryside in the distance. We take the opportunity to walk around. A few things are in bloom but the garden must be magnificent in late spring and summer.


More on Hinton Ampner......Wikipedia on Hinton Ampner...

May 6th: Chez Nicholson

We head out 10ish for a walk in the environs of Barry and Anne's place. We cover about a kilometer through the suburban streets of Bassett, admiring the sometimes considerable houses and gardens in the neighbourhood, before we hit on a path that takes us under one of the motorways and into woodland. We could, according to Barry, hike for hours without seeing much in the way of residences but we take branch off to have a look at the Chilworth Pub and the Science Park. Lovely walk—about 5-6km in two hours.

Back for lunch with Pete and Val—who we met in Crete.

May 7th: Walk in the woods

Drove out to Sherfield English, a small village about 30 minutes north of here. Parked in a layby and all six of of headed out, in drizzling rain, with packs and gear to do an 11km walk.

A brilliant day, but you had to be there. However, here are the highlights:

Farm

The carpet of bluebells

Diminutive Pony


Rapeseed through the barbed wire fence

Wild garlic

Cottage in Cheriton


Through the old cruise missile site
pillboxes either side


May 8th: Exbury Park

We seem to be drawn, like magnetic filings, to this area to the south and west of the Solent. Today, we make our way down to Exbury, the site of the world-renowned Rothschild gardens and their spectacular rhododendrens.

It's only about a forty minute drive before we pull into the grounds. Given that this is spring—the time when the rhodos and azaleas are in bloom—we expect more people but the parking lot is only half full. Luckily, Barry used to be a guide here so he knows what he's doing; unluckily, I realize just as we're paying (£10) to get in that I've left the chip for the camera at home in my laptop! So the photos that will follow are taken from a variety of websites rather than from our actual day. But frankly, after a day of trekking around we realize that we would have had to choose between about a 100 different photos to see which 10 best represents an amazing day.

Exbury is owned—as you may know—by the extremely wealthy Rothschild family. Lionel Rothschild bought the estate from Lord Forster in 1919 as a site with a climate ideally suited for pursuit of his interest in growing rhododendruns. Some 250 men were initially employed in clearing the woodlands, enriching the soil, and installing the 22 miles of underground piping that later became invaluable in times of drought for watering the plants. It took several years before the first plantings could begin and war brought development to a halt in 1939—occupation of the land by the army meant further setbacks. But Lionel's son Edmund restarted his work after the war. His main interest was not only in gathering rhododendrun types but in creating hybrids for the purpose not only of making some species more hardy but also of extending the flowering season. His stud books record some 1210 hybrids (it takes several years to see whether an attempted hybridization will be successful).

Lionel's work was continued by his sons, Edmund and Leopold, and his grandsons, Nicholas and Lionel. As a point of interest, Nicholas almost drove over us in his Land Rover as we were emerging today from an area where some Zimbabwean sculptures were on display.

We spent about 3 hours wandering the grounds (expertly guided by Barry). Yes, the rhodos and azaleas were spectacular, although not all were in full bloom yet. But they are simply part of a larger collection including massive Cedars of Lebanon, Magnolias, delicate Japanese and Chinese Maples, and literally hundreds of other unique shrubs, trees and bushes of immense variety. It's a gardener's dream.

We drove back through the neighbouring estate of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, which, Barry tells us, is much larger. The chief feature of that estate is Lord Montagu's vintage car collection, which we decided to save for a future visit.

It's worth noting that by this time, the sun was shining and it was warmer than we've experienced to date. At last! More on Exbury..

May 9th: Southampton

Barry dropped Lyn and I off in Southampton around 11 today. We managed to do a tour of the Tudor House and to buy a camera (most of the photos above were taken on a loaner camera from Barry) before the rain started in and we caught the bus back.

That evening, we went over to Peter and Val's place for an excellent dinner and lively conversation—an excellent way to end an excellent 10 days.

May 10th: Southampton to Bath

It feels as though we've only just got here but our 10 days with Barry and Anne are up and we're off to Bath. Barry has kindly offered to drive us there—about 2 hours by car from Southampton. We set off after lunch in steady rain; the weather is supposed to clear after lunch and we are due for a couple of days of sunshine. But it never does let up and as we pull in to the Old Mill Lodge in Batheaton (a couple of miles outside the center of Bath) it is still coming down. Thinking that Barry wants to be off smartish we dash in to register and leave him drinking coffee in the parking lot, and only realize when he drives off that perhaps we could have invited him in for a break before he heads back!

The lodge turns out to be an excellent spot (you never really know when you book a place with reasonable prices) and our room looks out over the Avon River, which, because of the rain is VERY high...good job we're on the second floor! We get settled in, have a nap and connect to the wi-fi set up so we can catch up on emails (and this blog). Then head up the road for a 15 minute walk into Batheaton for a bite to eat at a local pub. (Anne made us dinner but we thought we'd take that on our planned hike tomorrow).

We find out that it's only a pleasant hour's walk into the center of Bath from here so we have a lot of choices for activities over the next few days.

May 11th: Bath

What a great day! Woke to dark, threatening clouds but by the time we made it over to the dining room for breakfast, the sun was starting to break through and it stayed like that (sunny with clouds) all day. Started off with an excellent breakfast (included in our B&B price). We were seated looking out over the River Avon which, thankfully, was still flowing past the dining room rather through it. And then headed out.

Canal Walk into Bath

We thought we'd attempt the walk into town along the canal. The canal turned out to be no problem to find and a delight to walk! Walking out of the lodge, we headed south over the toll bridge (the toll for cars, not us) and half a kilometer down the road, just past the George Arms Pub, we saw the canal boats at anchor and were able to take the footpath all the way into town. Distance is about 5km total and it took us about an hour.

Hop on/off

Our plan then was to find the Bath Skyline Walk, which is much promoted on the web, but looked difficult to get to. To get our bearings we decided to take the Hop on/Hop off bus (£10.50 each). There are two flavours included in the price and we opted for the one that took us around the outskirts of town to start off with. The tour commentary was interesting enough and the value improved considerably when the tour guide informed us the bus would be going past a point where we could hop off and walk easily to the Bath Skyline trail. So we did.

Bath Skyline Walk (BSW)

In the UK, the strategy for identifying walks and following them is completely different from the North American experience. In Canada, the penalty for losing the trail may be one's life; the few trails into the mountains usually have a single destination, are extremely well marked and one doesn't stray. In the UK, the countryside is criss-crossed with public footpaths, rights-of-way, lanes, and roads and a walk consists usually of following pieces of many of these; since the penalty for losing one's way is no more serious than ending up at the wrong pub, directions for a particular walk can be casual. We were given instructions at the gate of the Priory Gardens to take a certain path through the grounds and then bear off on what we assumed would be a marked path to the BSW. Wrong assumption! Arriving at roughly where we were to turn, we spent 15 minutes eliminating all other options before making our way up through a field full of cows with no sign of any trail, and fortunately ran into a person who guided us onto the BSW (we were close).

The western half of this walk—from the Priory Gardens to the Golf Course—is definitely worth taking: the views are superb, the walk is clearly marked and the paths firm. However the northern and eastern sections were less appealing: difficult to find, boggy underfoot in places (we're talking mud as well as major cow dung in parts) and the views far less interesting. We ended up backtracking several times and then crossing a golf course because we couldn't locate BSW markers that were plentiful on the Bath side but absent—as far as we could see—on the east side. We slogged it down as far as the University before we got fed up of walking the roads and caught a bus from University back into Bath. So we didn't complete the lower half but we'd already walked 12 km that day and would add another 2 km before the day was out so we had our exercise. This is not to recommend against the whole circuit but it would probably suit the UK rambler more than it might the occasional visitor to the UK.

Holburne Museum

...another varied collection, including some Gainsboroughs. Click this link for More on the Holburne Museum.

Had dinner that evening in the Inn across the bridge to complete an excellent first day in Bath.

May 12th: Reunion Day

We're pleased to wake up again to cloudless skies this morning. We have a quick breakfast take what has become our routine 5km walk into Bath along the canal.

We're scheduled today to meet up with some guys I went to (high) school with and who I haven't seen in 44 years. But we have some time before our planned lunch so we take the Hop On/Off bus in town this time, and tour the city. Our guide is excellent and provides quite an illuminating introduction to the city which I won't record here as I can't remember it all!

We finished the tour with time for a quick recce of the Abbey. The Abbey has a stunning fan ceiling, a plaque dedicated to Bath's most famous 18th century playboy—Beau Nash—and no doubt many other features. Unfortunately the audio guide didn't match Winchester's excellent audio guide, we couldn't get as much out of our quick tour.

We made our way to our lunch destination, pausing briefly to see whether we could catch a glimpse of the pair of Peregrine Falcons that are supposedly nesting in the steeple. Couldn't see anything at first but I suddenly noticed a faint trail of feathers floating down from one of the parapets above and following this trail back up could suddenly make out the bum of what was obviously an adult falcon presumably in the process of dismembering a pigeon it had killed; Lyn spotted the nest in one of the alcoves above that.

Had an excellent reunion with my old school friends. We emerged from our excellent Italian lunch late into the afternoon sunshine to finish our conversation on the lawns by the river with tea (for some) and ice cream (for others). Hopefully we'll meet again next year and stay in touch.

Not feeling particularly like eating again soon, Lyn and I picked up some sandwiches for an evening snack and headed back along the canal for our walk home. We kept an eye out for the kingfishers that supposedly perch on the tillers of the canal boats along here, but didn't see any. Actually, we saw only the corpses of a mallard duck and what was probably a badger floating in the canal, so decided against a swim.

Hope the weather lasts as we've plenty to do in Bath yet!

May 13th: Bath hodge-podge

Woke to more blue skies and sunshine; more breakfast and another walk in to Bath along the canal. There was tremendous activity along the canal today, with boats moving up and down on both trips we made on this route. Perhaps the weekenders are returning their boats after a day or so out.

Our goal today is to visit several of the attractions that we haven't managed to get to so far. We start with a slog up the hill to the Jane Austen center where we find we have just missed the start of the tour we are obliged to take and have to wait half an hour for the next one. It's an odd arrangement, particularly since 'the tour' turns out to be a unilluminating talk about Jane Austen's life that doesn't go beyond some fairly pedestrian facts. This is followed by a walk through exhibits which again tell us about the era rather than Jane Austen so our heroine remains a mystery.

Lynda headed for an exhibit of Fashions just up the road while I headed off to spend the 35 minutes we agreed on to take some photos of the famous Crescent. I stopped in on a private art gallery on my way back and Lynda had thoroughly enjoyed the Museum, so at least things are improving. We headed down into town for a spot of lunch on a lawn, and then on to visit the Roman Baths that gave Bath its name. There was a longish line-up and large tours waiting so we were expecting it to be packed; but it isn't too crowded inside and the tour (excellent audio guide only) turns out to be more interesting than either of us had expected. I visited the Baths many years ago but they seem to have uncovered more of the old Roman ruins and added a variety of excellent exhibits since then, so we spent an hour or so there and were very impressed.

To end our day, we wandered over to what also turned out to be the excellent Victoria Art Gallery for a quick visit before we hiked the canal route back. We were both somewhat leg-heavy by the time we got home, having walked over 40 km in the last 3 days and we're not in quite the shape that we used to be in. We have dinner in the hotel this evening.

May 14th: Bradford-on-Avon

Summer's over: it's raining, cold and grey when we woke up this morning so we're wondering how to spend the day. We finally decided that it was raining lightly enough (at that point) to chance taking a bus to Bradford-on-Avon. We figured out last night that Bradford is only about 9 miles away (we were thinking about walking it if the weather had been good) and the bus between Bath and Bradford runs on the A36 main road which is only about a 1 km walk from here. So after breakfast we slogged along the same road that we normally take to the canal, cross the canal, and 1/2 km beyond that come out, as predicted on the A36 so there's the bus stop; the bus shows up 15 minutes later, brilliant! The return fare to Bradford is £12—not so brilliant! But then we worked out that it was only about $5 for each way so it wasn't too bad.

Lovely ride there, down a valley, following the canal before dipping left over the canal and into the county of Wiltshire (we were in Somerset). The average age of the other inhabitants of the bus is considerable and everyone is very polite; one woman who is only a century or so old gives up her seat to a lady who is probably about 150. A couple of miles later we wind down the narrow streets of Bradford into the town center and get out.

We find ourselves opposite a 12th century house with bulging walls that is now a cafe (see photo 1). We cross the River Avon (which goes through here as well) and take in a 12th century Norman church (the large one shown) and a 10th century Saxon church (the small one). And judging by the look of the townspeople, half of them were around when these buildings were built!

A hike along the river takes us past the weaver's cottages and there's a story here. Apparently, the town decided to turn to weaving about two centuries ago but couldn't seem to sell any product. An expert from London came down to find out what the problem was and after a brief look told them that they weren't selling anything because they weren't very good at weaving! That didn't go down well: the mob threw the expert in the river and turned on the owner of the mill. Being a practical kind of person, he he shot three of them and brought in some weavers from Holland to teach them how to weave. We don't know how the story went from there but the first part at least was entertaining.

After a quick hike up the hill to look at some interesting houses overlooking the town, we eat an excellent take-out lunch of fish and chips in the parking lot of the local station and catch the bus back. On the walk back over the canal, Lynda suddenly remembers that the small church on our right was the burial place of Arthur Phillips, the navy chap who took the first boatloads of prisoners to Australia and established the colony there. And sure enough, there's the plaque on the wall and a list of all the prisoners and crew who made the 8 month journey.

We're off to Derby tomorrow (6 hours on buses) so we have to pack and get ready. At least the sun comes out as we're on our way home!

May 15th: Bath to Derby

We woke to rain again, had breakfast, booked out of the Lodge and took a cab to the bus station in downtown Bath. Unfortunately we arrived an hour earlier than we needed to and it was bitterly cold in the bus station. So we decamped to a coffee shop over the road hoping they wouldn't notice that two people with gigantic bags were overstaying their coffee.

We both quite like travelling by bus. For one thing it was extraordinarily cheap (£33 for a 6 hour trip for two seniors) but it was a pleasant ride through the towns and countryside between Bath, Bristol, Birmingham and into Derby. Mind you, the weather we drove through was awful. We made our way north between and through a series of squalls, at one time passing (in watery sunshine) between storms on either side, and arrived in torrential rain that looked almost like hail.

Nora and Brian were there to meet us with their car and we threaded our way through rush hour traffic out of Derby and followed the A6 north, through the peaceful valley that follows the River Derwent. Their place is right on the river (see photo): beautiful spot.

May 16th: Hartington to Alstonefield and Back

The weather forecast was favourable so Brian and Nora opted for a Peak District Hike today between Hartington (Derbyshire) and Alstonefield (Staffordshire)—about 8 miles round trip.

Took us about 40 minutes to drive to the village of Hartington, where we parked in the center of the village. Even though it was a weekday, there were plenty of other hikers already there and we had company all day. It was a brilliant walk, with plenty of views across the Peak District from the high points and very pleasant sections following the Dove River. Cows were by and large outnumbered by sheep and of course lambs at this time of the year. We had lunch opposite the George Pub in Alstonefield and headed back by a different route that took us down to the Dove again, and we walked back along the river to partially retrace our steps over the last kilometer or so. We had two interesting bird experiences: as we walked along the river a Grey Heron cruised in along the hillside and landed just ahead of us with a view to fishing the river. And further along, all four of us had a prolonged look at a Mandarin Duck—a rare sighting—that we spotted in a field towards the end of our hike.

May 17th: Chatsworth

Raining when we got up: a good day to spend inside. So we headed for Chatsworth House. We'd already seen the first installment in a series of programs on the house put on by the BBC, so we were looking forward to the visit and weren't disappointed. Unlike many of the stately homes we have visited so far, this house is still occupied and run by its owners, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The enterprise, which has kept the House in private hands in an age when most such homes have been lost and handed over to the National Trust, was started by the currrent Dowager Duchess (The Duke's mother) of Devonshire and has becoming a booming business. A key component of it is the farm, which not only provides food for the family and servants but, through the shop, provides a substantial revenue stream for the estate.

It takes about 40 minutes to drive from Nora and Brian's to the house, and we got there a little before it opened so had a look around the village and spent an entertaining (and wallet-depleting) half an hour in the amazing farm shop—which is on the grounds—and then returned, driving through the enormous estate to the house with sheep, lambs, cows and deer browsing on the green grass all around.

The part of the house that is open to the public (the Duke and Duchess and staff live in the other half) has an astounding amount of art, sculptures and furniture on display. There is the assembled collection of all the purchases of a succession of Dukes over about 400 years and it is all out on display, ...a bit overwhelming in some ways! The audio guide wasn't quite as helpful as other such guides have been but there were information sheets lying around to fill in the gaps. There were a number of pieces of modern art on display, both inside and outside, reflecting, we are told, that the Dukes were keen to remain current.

We had an excellent lunch in the restaurant and then went for a walk around the gardens. Much of the garden is still to bloom but there are a large number of sculptures on display. Fortunately the weather had improved and we had watery sunshine.

As we drove out of the grounds, we suddenly realized that we had not stopped to look at the crocheted lions by Shauna Richardson—on display at Chatsworth until they can be moved for the Olympics. Have a close look at the last photo. More on Chatsworth

May 18th: Walk along the Cromford Canal

A bit of drizzle when we got up but we decided to walk the canal to Cromford today

It wasn't difficult to reach the canal: from Brian and Nora's, it's only about half a kilometer away, under a bridge, through a gate, a short river walk and we're there!

The Cromford used to be a working canal but fell into disuse and became a bit of a mess. But they have started to revive sections of it. There are no barges on it so it is now like a elongated pond.

It's about a 3 mile walk into Cromford village. There was plenty of bird life on the way: we saw several Little Grebes with two nests, Coots with nests and the occasional Moorhen. As we approached Cromford, where people are feeding the birds, there were Swans and Mallards galore.

 

Cromford is where Richard Arkwright built his first water-driven cotton mill, automating the process for carding and spinning cotton and revolutionizing the industry in the late 18th century. Unfortunately the original mill burned down about a century ago and they have only recently started to recreate the mill and its surrounding buildings. Good progress but they're apparently only 1/10th of the way through.

We make our way back along the canal and then take a detour, round and then up a hill into the village of Holloway, and then down behind Nora and Brian's place, passing through a large field that usually has deer and llama. It's probably just as well as the stags can apparently be quite aggressive.

May 19th: Derby Day

It was windy and raining when we got up but we forged ahead with our plan to head into Derby today, leaving Nora and Brian for a day of rest. We caught the bus at 10:10—fare was £13.60 for return for two of us—and were in Derby about 40 minutes later. Given the prevailing conditions, we headed straight for the large Westfield Mall next to the bus station and had a cup of coffee!

But it brightened up and we had a chance for a walk around. Our first 'event' was a volunteer group who were holding a Peregrine Falcon viewing event in the Cathedral Green. We could see the group as we approached—about half a dozen people clustered around a couple of scopes looking up at the Cathedral spire. It was a bit odd since—with their focus on the nest—they had failed to notice the adult bird wheeling about almost directly above them but were quite excited when I pointed it out to them. There's a webcam focused on the nest viewable here.

We moved on to have a look at St Mary's Chapel on the Bridge. This 14th century chapel was built as a place where travellers of the day could obtain their last blessing of the Virgin before they ventured out into the brigand-riddled wilds beyond the bridge in those times. This site provides a good history of the chapel but is slyly misleading. It is now a National Trust building and does not belong to the Anglican church so that diverse congregations can rent it for gatherings...including the UK equivalent of gay marriages.

We'd hoped to walk the 200 steps to the top of the Cathedral but this required joining a 45 minute walk-and-talk and we couldn't fit it in before we were due back. So we grabbed a couple of bottles of wine from the local Sainsbury store and headed for the bus. There's a bit of confusion as we board as Lynda inadvertently hands the driver what she thinks is our return tickets; he does his best to make sense of them but they turn out to be our tickets for Bath Spa! Bit of a laugh for everyone but we did find the right ones.

Nora and Brian's daughter Claire + husband Peter and sons Ben and Ollie were at the house by the time we returned. We hadn't seen them since they came to Vancouver a few years back for Police and Fireman's games, so it was good to see them again. We all had dinner together and then watched the Chelsea squeak out a win in the European Cup final in Munich.

May 20th: Bakewell

Slightly better weather today as Lyn and I caught the local bus heading in the opposite direction from yesterday. Our destination was Bakewell, a small town famous for its Bakewell Puddings. As it turned out there was a bit more to the town and we had another excellent day.

Bakewell is about 40 minutes in the opposite direction from Derby (fare is also about £13 for two return) and the road takes us further up into the Peak District, through Matlock Bath and Matlock; it's on the Wye River which eventually flows into the Derwent.

We get off the bus in the middle of town and again head for warmth and coffee. This time in a twee café in the middle of things. When we're warm enough we find the information centre and identify a walk we want to do. The walk is thankfully easy to find and our progress is immensely aided by the stream of walkers headed in both directions along the trail we want to take. We go out of town, up and over a hill—between fields of cows—and down the other side and after about 3km join the Monsal Trail. This turns out to be a wide and busy trail, formed from an old train track bed, with walkers and cyclists galore. We head back into town and complete the circuit (about 6km) in an hour and ten minutes.

Stopped for a very good lunch at a very nice little courtyard restaurant and of course had to sample the Bakewell Tart. Yes, it's excellent! Followed that with a hike up the hill to the museum (excellent) and then down again to take in a craft fair (not so good) but then the sun came out and we read our books by the bus stop and headed home.

Monday May 21:Crich and Shopping

Lynda went shopping with Nora today so Brian and I decided to do a local hike to Crich (the 'i' as in hike as opposed to the 'i' in rich). It's just back over the ridge opposite.

We walked south first on the main road, over the bridge and immediately onto the canal heading south again (as opposed to north to Cromford where we hiked the other day). After a couple of miles—almost to Ambergate— we turned left up through some woods and began to head uphill. Now when we started out the day had been cold and windy, so I had on fleece pants, two fleece sweaters and a rainjacket—more or less what I'd been wearing all trip. But now the sun comes out and we climb for about half an hour and I'm starting to cook in all these clothes. So we finally have to stop and I carry half my clothes for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately. when we get out on top of the ridge, it is a bit hazy and the great views we get on both sides don't come out well on the camera. We did hear two cuckoos while we were in the woods.

Eventually we found ourselves on stone steps winding down into Crich, a quaint little village apparently carved into the hillside. We hiked through town but saw few people about(and oddly, passed at least four buses with nobody on them) and out to the Monument to the war dead, passing two rabid dogs on the way that were held in check by an unnervingly small fence. We stopped for a few minutes at the monument but there was an irritating profusion of flies about and we took a footpath leading around the monument, out towards a disused stone quarry; we were then almost staggered by a repulsive smell presumably from something spread on the fields and an increase in flies, and it takes about 15 minutes and a descent of some 200 feet before we rid ourselves of both.

After a more pleasant descent through woods with more wild garlic on either side we find ourselves back on the canal and head for home, only a few minutes from here.

Tonight we head for a last dinner at a Chinese restaurant and then London tomorrow.

May 22: Derby to London

Wouldn't you believe it. After 4 weeks of mostly cold, rainy, miserable weather, we wake on this our last day in Derby to brilliant sunshine and temperatures in the 20's!

Nora and Brian gave us a ride into Derby and we caught the National Express bus into London. Made good time until we hit the middle of London inched along Oxford Street and down Park lane, taking 45 minutes to finish the last 1% of the journey. And if that wasn't enough of a bad omen about the state of London's readiness for the Olympics, we then took the tube but there were so many delays along the Circle and District lines that an inspector actually suggested that we reverse route and go by a less direct route. We did and that took another 45 minutes! But we finally arrived at the hotel, only a few minutes walk from Paddington underground station, and were quite pleased and relieved to find that it was respectable. You never know when you book online.

We went out for a wander in the area but found that we were in what is now a predominantly Lebanese/Persian area of town and we had set our minds on some kind of English pub for a half pint and dinner. We finally found one…that was run by a Lebanese family! Ah well, the food was good. Back in our room later we watched the Chelsea flower show.

May 23: London Walkabout

Hyde Park at 9am

Lyn at Marble Arch

We had planned to purchase theatre tickets for that evening, but a review of our plans for the day suggested that might be a little too ambitious so we abandoned that thought (and later in the day, were we glad that we did!) and so set off for a walk across London.

Our journey took us down Oxford Street where we popped into Debenhams for a little shopping, and then down through Carnaby Street, Piccadilly Circus, (where we stopped for coffee), Trafalgar Square and finally Charing Cross Station.

Oxford Street

John on Carnaby Street

Our destination was really the Tate Modern and the Bankside area of the Thames, the remainder of the walk all the way didn't look quite as interesting so we went for the tube. However, because of the ongoing tube problem we were advised to take surface rail and took a Southeastern train to London Bridge. Very quick.

The area here has been completely renovated from the drab and derelict area it had been. We walked through the old Borough Market and then out onto the bank of the Thames. It's a beautiful walk along the South Bank, past the rebuilt Globe Theatre, the old Clink gaol (hence the term "in the clink") to the Tate Modern. There's a variety of patio pubs and eateries out on the waterfront with great views across the river. But they were all full so we finally opted for lunch in the Tate cafe—not bad. Then into the Tate itself for a couple of hours...alongside 10,000 schoolchildren. Some of the kids were a marvel though: we saw kids of 9 or 10 walking around on their own, taking notes and studying or sometimes photographing the paintings. Lyn thought they might have been doing a project but to me, their interest seemed to go beyond performance of a set task. Again, here the audio guide was a disappointment. There was quite a variety of paintings: enough of the big names to make fulfil that interest but new names and ideas too.

St. Paul and
Millenium Bridge

Beach with Telephone
Salvador Dali

Soutwark Cathedral
(note flint walls)


Borough Market

Two hours later, we were both absolutely wrecked from our trek around 3 floors of exhibits—Lyn because she had bad shoes (she actually spent half the time in her socks) me because the pause and stop of museums and galleries does that to me anyway. So we went for coffee, onto a quick tour of the Globe Theatre and by then we were were completely done. Train back to Charing Cross and then a short walk to find an Indian meal and then home.

Thursday May 24th: Home

We'd planned a visit to the British Museum today but neither of us had museum legs after yesterday and the uncertainty about the tubes didn't help. So we did a leisurely walk out into Kensington Gardens and around to the Serpentine.