Merrie Olde England

What’s the best way to travel from Paris to London? Take the “Chunnel”, everyone said. That’s the tunnel that was dug 250 feet under the English Channel. While that in itself seems miraculous to me, I couldn’t believe how easy it was to make this trip. All we did was go to the station, get on a high-speed train, kick off our shoes, and voila! 35 minutes later we were in London. We had crossed the Straits of Dover, underwater.

"Chunnel" train

This Eurostar train travels under the English Channel

hello London

London street

Phil loves big cities so London fit the bill for him. He loved the iconic red buses, the famous bridges, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Abbey Road, eating fish and chips and, of course, sampling English pubs. He easily mastered the underground transit system, called the Tube, so we could go anywhere in London, with me hanging on to his shirt tail.

London was a wonderful place for us to splurge on accommodations. We had long saved our Marriott points for a special occasion and we found it. We used them to get ourselves an 8-night stay at the exclusive Hyde Park Marriott. We also splurged and bought the executive lounge privileges, which gave us breakfast, cocktails and a light dinner. It also included something everyone must try in England – afternoon tea, complete with cucumber and butter sandwiches on white bread with the crusts removed.

I must admit that I rather preferred the scones with clotted cream and jam or the little cakes. But in England, you gotta have the tea, which over time I came to enjoy.

Our hotel was situated by the famous Hyde Park, so I could easily go there on my morning exercise walks. Horse riders, brave souls swimming in the lake and the Princess Diana Memorial were on my daily route. If it was raining – yes, it rains in London – a handsome doorman in a black top hat would pop open a brolly (umbrella) for me to take along

Entrance to Princess Diana Memorial in Hyde Park

The Princess Diana Memorial in Hyde Park

Memorial for Princess Diana in Hyde Park

I found her Memorial rather “understated”

Stonehenge and avebury Stone circles

Less than 90 miles east of London lies the amazing Stonehenge, Britain’s best known prehistoric site. We booked a tour with an archeologist who had dug at the site and was eager to share the site with us. He filled us with wonder as he explained how, some 4500 years ago, these enormous rocks were brought here from some other place by ancient Neolithic and Bronze Age people. They artfully arranged these enormous stones to create an ancient temple aligned on the movements of the sun.

Scholars say the stones may have been brought from as far away as southwest Wales. Some of the standing stones weigh up to 50 tons and it likely took 1000 men to move each one into position. It is still not known why, and how, Stonehenge was built. Seeing it for myself evoked a sense of mystery, power, endurance, and just plain awe.

Stonehenge

The awe of Stonehenge

IMG_5517

About 25 miles from Stonehenge is another similar marvelous and mysterious site – Avebury Stone Circles. The stones here were erected some 500 years earlier than Stonehenge. While Stonehenge is cordoned off from the hoards of tourists who visit it, you can walk out among these lesser-visited Avebury stones, at least for now. There are even sheep grazing around them. It was a magical feeling wandering around in the midst of something this old and mysterious.

Avebury - 25 miles from Stonehenge

You can walk among the stones at Avebury Stone Circles

Essential Englishness – the countryside

Our next adventure took us to the marvelous English countryside where we had the good fortune to stay in two iconic English “big houses”. The first one was 5 hours northwest of London in the Lakes District, famous for its idyllic lakes-and-hills landscape. It was a splendid 17th century country house in Lancaster. Thurnham Hall can be traced back to 1068, before the Doomesday Book.

The Doomesday Book, now in The National Archives, records the results of the great survey ordered by William the Conqueror after he invaded England. King William sent out surveyors to assess the land and land holdings to determine how much he was now owed in taxes.

17th century Thurnham Hall

We stayed in this 17th century country house

One evening a local historian gave a presentation and tour of Thurnham Hall and the nearby church. Thurnham has been owned by Earls and Lords and Colonels and daughters (or rather, their husbands), by spinsters and Catholic virgins and those imprisoned for treason, and even some American descendants. It still has its impressive Jacobean Great Hall where cocktails and dinner are served nightly. It also has its own chapel, which was built when one of the Catholic spinster owners had a falling-out with the nearby church that she had financed.

Our historian is a deacon at the church. On our tour he pointed out the lovely chancel arch painting by Henry Doyle, the uncle of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes’ fame. We saw other interesting objects, such as the small challis, an important object used during Catholic mass, that the church priest would take with him when he had to flee to the “Priest’s Hide”.

The “Priest’s Hide” is a tiny, hidden room which Catholic sympathizers built in their homes so the priest could hide from persecution. Catholics were persecuted in England after Henry VIII was denied a divorce by the Pope and consequently denounced Catholicism and formed the Anglican Church. We saw Thurnham Hall’s Priest Hide in our tour of the big house. When the priest had to hide here, he took that small “travel” challis into the hiding place with him.

Church of the Catholic Parish of Thurnham in England

Catholic church opened in 1848, partially financed by Thurnham Hall landowner

Henry Doyle painting in church in Lancaster

Painting by uncle of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes’ author

Over the years houses like this have often fallen into disrepair as they became too expensive to maintain. We see this in the TV show Downton Abbey, where the manor was kept going by the money from the American wife or by the fortune of the daughter’s husband. Currently, the two houses we stayed in are hotel/timeshares and wedding venues, but lucky for us, they have retained some of their original character. Fortunately, too, they have modernized for today’s travelers. We couldn’t have been more pleased, well, unless they had come with a “downstairs” staff to cook, clean and dress us, like at Downton Abbey.

Our other country home

We spent the following week in the East Midlands, that is, the eastern side of the middle of England. Barnsdale Hall was originally constructed in 1890 for the 6th Earl Fitzwilliam as a family hunting lodge. Its location is in the heart of one of the most prestigious fox hunts in the country. Fitzwilliam regularly played host to Royalty, including Edward, the late Duke of Windsor, and the cream of England’s aristocracy.

Our residence in England's East Midlands

Our residence in England’s East Midlands

During the postwar years the Hall fell into disrepair and, like Thurnham Hall, passed through the hands of a variety of owners. In the 1970’s two nearby valleys were flooded to create a reservoir. Rutland Water, Europe’s largest man-made lake, is now a nature reserve which attracts a large number of endangered species, particularly the osprey. From what we saw, sailing regattas seem to be a favorite past time as well. Barnsdale Hall expanded in the ’80’s and ’90’s and became a hotel/timeshare on the shores of Rutland Water. Its 26 mile long shoreline was a favorite spot for Phil and me to take walks and enjoy nature.

Woman and sheep in EnglandHarvested wheat
English town

Small English town nearby

A typical English country house

Quintessential country house

Infatuated with Englishness

As Americans we were fascinated with castles, big houses, thatched roofs, English gardens and royalty. Some Brits found this amusing. One of these was our friend from Manchester, whom we met while traveling in Viet Nam. Beau met up with us at Thurnham Hall and we toured Lancaster Castle together. I think she enjoyed seeing how excited we were about all things English. I explained to her that you just don’t see many castles or houses with thatched roofs in the USA.

2 women in England

Our love of castles amused our Manchester friend

Castle in Lancaster

Sinister Lancaster Castle where you “kick the bucket”

13th century Lancaster Castle was a different sort of castle. We didn’t see a lot of lovely dinnerware and grand portraits in this castle. Rather, it is well known as the site of the Pendle witch trials in 1612. The castle was a prison until the 1900’s and the tour guide locked some of us willing women in a prison cell, just to “see how it was”. Not pleasant, was my reaction.

Lancaster has been called “The Hanging Town” as the court there in the castle has sentenced more people to hang than any other outside London. We stood at the spot where, as the townspeople watched, a noose was tied around the doomed person’s neck while he or she stood on a bucket. (Yes, there were some “she’s”.) The hangman would “kick the bucket” out from under the prisoner so the noose would tighten. If they didn’t die soon enough, a sympathizer would “pull their leg” to tighten the rope and end the doomed person’s agony. Now you know how the terms “kick the bucket” and “pull my leg” came into use!

best bread in England

While wandering around in quaint English towns with equally quaint names like Stamford, Oakham, Uppingham and Market Harborough, we came upon a bread shop claiming to be the “Best Bakery in Britain”. It was also named “Baker of the Year”. With such accolades, we had to give it a taste test. By George, I think they’re right!

Britain's Best Bakery posted on this shop

The sign on this shop says “Britain’s Best Bakery”

The bread at Hambleton Bakery

Inside Hambleton Bakery

Hambleton Bakery’s Master baker comes from a family who have been Master bakers for generations in Bath and Liverpool. He says he didn’t start out to produce a ‘health food’ but to rediscover the taste of good bread that can only come from “unadulterated organic flour, salt and water using the slow, traditional processes that made the bread that fed our ancestors.”

Hambleton Bakery ferments its dough for up to 24 hours and bakes the bread in a wood-fired oven. People who usually have trouble eating bread often find they can tolerate the long-fermented bread from this bakery. Hambleton bakers say the wheat they use retains its vitamins and minerals because it is stone-ground at a local windmill.

A windmill? This we had to see….

Windmill in England grinds wheat

This 60 foot tower mill, built in 1810, grinds the flour for Hambleton Bakery

Miller with windmill sail

Miller Nigel Moon tells us his story on a ledge at the top of the mill

Inside of Whissendine Windmill

Whissendine Windmill grinds 2.5 tons of flour a week

Flour on clothes from windmill

You can’t mind a little flour on your clothes

phil’s take

Here is an email that Phil wrote to our daughter in San Francisco. It gives some insight into his take on England:

Dear Nicole,

I never had a desire to visit England. I just couldn’t see anything of interest other than the Beatles and Eric Clapton. I have to admit that I was wrong. Its a beautiful country with a long history that seems very familiar because of our cultural connections. Like WWII, The Hobbit, Shakespeare, Kings & Queens, Castles and all the other stuff we associate with England.

I really enjoy the Medieval country villages. Many villages are still as they were in the 17th century. Its really amazing how old they are yet they’re alive and thriving in the 21st century.

I forgot to mention the challenge I’ve experienced while driving on the left. You know they drive on the wrong side here. Its very weird. My rental car has the steering wheel on the right side but the real challenge is shifting a manual transmission with my left hand while trying not to have a head-on collision! It took some getting use to but I think I’ve got it down.

Love, Dad

Garden in England

English garden

Have you visited England? What did you like best? Please share your thoughts in the Leave a Reply section below. Thank you for reading the post Merrie Olde England on carolsuestories.com

27 responses to “Merrie Olde England”

  1. Donna says:

    Dear CarolSue,
    I so enjoyed your latest adventure in England. You have a talent for finding wonderful places to hang your hats and a gift for sharing your travels with us.
    I got a kick out of hearing Phil’s take. Growing up with an English war bride mother, I thought that England could hold no surprises for me and was also kinda meh about going there. When we traveled there in our twenties I was completely won over. We worked at an inn in Devon for one summer and enjoyed all the small villages, pubs, and ancient stone circles. No rope around Stonehenge back then.
    Especially important was my trip with mom for her 92nd birthday last year. Now a treasured memory.
    Keep making your memories and thanks for another wonderful story!
    Cheers,
    Donna

    • CarolSue says:

      Dear Donna,
      Thank you so much for your nice comment on my blog about England. So glad you got to go – and take your mother! How precious. Tell your husband that the Carrick name was big in Scotland, e.g. the famous Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge. I thought then, “Wonder if George and Donna have been here.” Hope you have – otherwise go and enjoy. Will you be on Kauai in January when we come?
      Take care,
      CarolSue

  2. Colleen says:

    Hi Carol!
    I too have visited England and loved it! The city of Bath was one of my favorite places. I enjoyed seeing Stonehenge but have always been curious about it because of all the uncertainty of its true story. I loved the architecture, London was a blast. I also stayed at the Marriott overlooking Hyde Park! I was there for 9 days and absolutely enjoyed everything about my trip! (excluding the warm beer in the pubs….yuck!) I found it difficult to get a cold beer anywhere! Lol!
    I enjoyed taking the time to read your blog today…sometimes it takes me a while to get to them. What a fantastic life you lead ?
    Happy trails! From your hairstylist in Huntington Beach, California!

    Colleen

  3. Mushroom says:

    I’ve never been to England, but it is on my bucket list. I need to take Denise to Ireland first, since we are both Irish. Ireland has its own version of Stonehenge, not far from Limerick.
    I’m glad to see that you are having so much sun.
    Love Mushroom

    • CarolSue says:

      Thank you, Mushroom, for commenting. You’d love England. Ireland – well, 2 Irelands actually – they are very different. The tension, while under wraps, is palpable. I’d love to write a blog about my experiences there, and will, but finding the time amidst all this travel is tricky. I don’t know how you found the time to write your book, VietNam Body Count, but hats off to you for completing it. Go to England, Ireland, and of course, Viet Nam. BTW, check out Housesitters.com if you’d like to stay in the European destinations for a while. Good deals. Take care, and stay in touch.

  4. Di says:

    Hi CarolSue & Phil,
    Such a fun blog re: England!
    Such pretty countryside. My only recollection of London was spending an evening at a delicious Indian restaurant with a friend, en route from Kuwait to NYC , 1975!
    When do you catch the cruise ship back to Florida?
    Miss you!
    ALOHA, Di & John

    • CarolSue says:

      Dear Di,
      Thank you for your comment. London still has lots of Indian restaurants. I forgot to mention that we are not crossing back to the USA, but taking an 11 hour flight to Miami instead. We decided we’d gain too much weight on the ship but need to slim down instead! Not to mention we were afraid that the ocean may be rough this time of year. We’ll be in Miami Oct. 25. Let’s have a phone chat soon thereafter. I miss you!
      Luv, CarolSue

      • Di says:

        Hi,
        I totally concur with Jodi.
        You are a master storyteller!
        I feel carried along on the ride with each of your blogs.
        Thanks for that; looking forward to Talk soon.
        OX, Di

        • CarolSue says:

          Diane,
          I’m so happy you like my blog. Thank you for your swell comment. I wish you were actually along for the ride on my trips. I’d like Jodi to come, too.
          Luv to you,
          CarolSue

  5. You kids are having the time of your life, and Larry and I are having ours on Kauai. See you when you get back to paradise.
    Love Erna

  6. Phil Ayala says:

    Loved England! This is one place I’d definitely return to for a second visit. There’s so much to do and see and transportation is so easy. The trains seem to go everywhere including across the channel to Europe. Its a relaxing way to get to the next destination. From big city London to the smallest countryside village I enjoyed it all.

  7. Steve Hoch says:

    Another great post Carol. Still envious!

    Cheers,

    Steve

  8. Pete says:

    Carolann and Phil:

    Next year when you drive the RV back to San Fran, maybe stop by in St. L. and you can visit with me and my wife and we can take you up to our Cabin in the Woods. Right near Hannibal, MO (Mark Twain territory). Looks like a great trip to Europe and England. Hope I can go there some day.
    Thanks,
    Pete Hueseman.

    • CarolSue says:

      Thank you, Pete, for your swell offer. It sounds like fun to visit with you guys in Mark Twain country. I love that guy and am reading one of his books currently. I hope you get to England also. It has a lot to offer us Americans. Best always, CarolSue

  9. Aloha – just before the “German Girls” I hosted left my house (on to more of their travel adventures), I pulled out my scrapbook of photos of when I went to London, France, Switzerland, and Germany on a Eurailpass ticket. I was amazed at how many photos I took while we were in England. In fact my girlfriends and I enjoyed London so much we ended up going back there, earlier than we had planned. Anyway, love your photos and getting to hear your take on the UK. My husband and I keep talking about doing a home exchange to the UK so he can continue his genealogy research of his “Williams” family. He’s done the DNA testing and it says the UK is where they were from. We just have not found all the missing pieces to that story, yet. Some big clues have come from Scottsville, NC in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

    Joe and I will be traveling the US mainland (from Oregon to Florida on two long term home exchanges) from Nov.3-Jan.17, 2016 for the holidays with our college coed daughter. Hope your Winter Holidays are interesting where ever you end up spending them.

    Mahalo,
    CAP-W

    • CarolSue says:

      Dear Carol, Thank you for writing about your travels, past and future. It was fun doing a little genealogy sleuthing while in England. When I mentioned my Crawford name, the fellow that ran the windmill said, “There’s a whole lot of them right over there. Go see them, they’d love to meet you.”
      Love that you are doing home exchanges-a good way to travel. I would like to do more pet/house sitting in the future. Take care and enjoy your travels.
      CarolSue

  10. Carolyn says:

    CarolSue & Phil — I was wondering where you guys have been since Israel! Your adventures are magical 🙂 I’ve been to England many times, but mostly on business so haven’t had the relaxing evenings or the long strolls in the country side, but would have to agree that the historical stories and sayings we use every day seem to all tie back to “olde England”. Phil is braver than I’ve ever been to drive over there! My favorite UK memories have of been touring the castle & gardens of HighClere (Downton Abbey’s film location), the privilege having Afternoon Tea in Parliament and Butler served happy hour on The London Eye. 🙂 I might prefer the more relaxed version someday when I get to travel like you do! ps. I agree with Jodi – thank you for the gift of sharing your travels!
    Carolyn

    • CarolSue says:

      Dear Carolyn, Thank you so much for commenting. It seems like it was long ago that we were in Israel together. I would have loved to go to Downton Abbey, but they were sold out way in advance. I guess TV fame does that. I did meet a Duke of a castle in Scotland, which I hope to write about soon.
      Say, maybe we can get together when we are in the Bay Area and share our stories of Israel – a blog I also hope to write.
      Hope that you and your daughter are doing well.
      Best always,
      CarolSue

  11. Great stories great adventures always so glad to see them. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Jodi says:

    Aloha from Koloa, how amazing was that last blog. Man, I just want to go along with YOU guys next time you visit England …and I’m FROM there! In fact I just got back from there, and still, I couldn’t make my month-long trip sound even HALF as exciting, I swear! Kudos for not only your literary talent, Carol Sue, but also sharing Phil’s sweet postcard to his daughter, that was precious.
    I looked at every photo with great envy; damnit, I saw the very same stuff, what’s up with THAT???
    What a fabulous gift you give to your friends every time you take time to compose your tales. I know it is not an easy task, but please, keep ’em coming. I am just lovin’ ’em! Mahalo from Jodi and Victor XXXXX

    • CarolSue says:

      Dear Jodi, I’m tickled that you, a full-fledged Brit, liked my post about England. Thank you so much for your touching comments. I’m humbled. Plus, I would LOVE to take you along next time I go….Luvnkisses, CarolSue

  13. Vickie Lambe says:

    Dear CarolSue and Phil:

    Enjoyed all your stories about your travels! Keep on keeping on!! Hope to see you soon.

    Love,

    Your Cousin,

    Vickie Lambe

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