Tag Archives: England

More from the journal: England, Part Four

[For Part One, see https://storiesbycarrol.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/more-from-the-journal-england-part-one/.]

In early 2006, after a long period of ill health, I traveled to England to take the walking trip I had dreamed of since my teens. My 17-year old niece, Maddy, accompanied me. Maddy had Asperger’s Syndrome and had never been so far away from home.

Photos are my own except when credited to others.

June 8

I had to walk into town from our B&B across the Avon River to get cash to pay our hosts. My hostess got into a bit of political ranting when I returned and happened to express my interest in her thoughts. She’s the second person on this trip who has complained to me about immigrants (particularly from Eastern Europe) ruining England, and the second to remind me, “We’re only a small island, after all.” She expressed the belief that this Labour government and the modern welfare state are sending England to the dogs. It was interesting to hear the same sentiments expressed twice.

We caught the 10:42 for Paddington Station, and checked into our hotel, the Phoenix (Best Western) at Kensington Garden Square. It was horribly hot and even a bit humid, and nothing is air-conditioned (a situation that is bound to change with the global warming). Maddy and I bought passes on the Underground and learned how to navigate, which turned out to be far easier than New York’s subway system because of superior signage and organization. We ate some grocery carry-out snacks and caught the Underground to the British Museum, where we spent two hours strolling through roasting-hot galleries without air conditioning. Maddy was in raptures over some of it, like the Egyptian stuff, and indifferent to other stuff (like the Assyrians, whom she’d never heard of) and the Elgin Marbles, although she did agree, once I had told her their history, that they ought to be returned to the government of Greece.

Photo courtesy www.tripadvisor.co.uk.
Photo courtesy http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk.

When we were properly wearied, we hopped back on the Tube and rode down to the Thames Embankment, then walked upstream to the Houses of Parliament, which shone handsome and brown in the blazing sunlight. The gold on Big Ben was particularly handsome – I had never realized it had gilt decoration. Across the river, the Eye of London (an enormous bicycle-wheel Ferris ride) slowly rotated. Behind the Houses of Parliament was a huge heap of a church built from a pale stone. “What’s that?!” asked Maddy, all agog and totally thrilled and taking photos of everything. I consulted my map and replied with surprise, “that’s Westminster Abbey!” Click, click, went her camera. I had left mine in my hotel room, not wanting to lug it in the heat.

Photo courtesy londynprzewodnik.pl
Photo courtesy londynprzewodnik.pl

We walked next west along St. James Park as far as Buckingham Palace, which looked grander in the sunlight than I had remembered from my previous trip. The entire circle in front of the palace was adorned with Union Jacks on standards, so I hazarded a guess that the Queen might be at home, since it wasn’t decorated like this when I was here before.

We walked north through the park to the Green Park subway station and rode the rest of the way home. My feet were in sorry state, and my knees were stiffening after two consecutive days of forgetting to take my glucosamine. We watched an entertaining nature show on BBC-2, and then watched a very interesting documentary about Temple Grandin, the famous cattlewoman and animal behaviorist who has Asperger’s, like Maddy. It was very enlightening. Maddy told me some extremely poignant things afterwards about her own struggles with Asperger’s. She explained that she had trouble with humor – what others find funny she does not find humorous, and what she thinks is funny leaves other people staring at her. “When I was little, I had seen a few movies by the Three Stooges, and I thought they were really funny. I like slapstick more than other forms of humor. So I tried doing that kind of stuff to the other kids, but I just got in trouble.” She said she was too young to realize that the Three Stooges weren’t actually poking each other in the eyes or clobbering each other on the head. I fault my brother for providing that sort of movie to his daughter without explaining to her that it was an utter fantasy.

June 9

I’ve been sleeping with sleeping pills every night; I’ll have to break my habit when I get home.

Today was our last day in London. We took the Tube to the Tower and did the place without a tour, by ourselves. It was not particularly crowded; I had envisioned having to shuffle through long queues for half the day. But it was completely endurable; perhaps the continual heat is putting off the number of visitors. It was nice to get to see the inside of the place, but it was (of course) enormously altered by the passage of time. I liked the old Norman part the best, with the round arches; the barrel-vaulted passages; the garderobes up a step or two and around a corner (did they use anything back them to wipe their bums?); and the lovely arched chapel with its fabulous geometrical simplicity of line. I also really enjoyed the armor and weaponry, but Maddy was completely bored and had no interest whatsoever, so we kept moving along quite swiftly. I barely got a good look at Henry VIII’s tournament armor (with his initials entwined around Katharine of Aragon’s in a lover’s knot) which showed that he had been in his youth as slim as my brother, if perhaps a bit shorter-waisted (although that might have been the styling of the armor). The tournament armor came complete with horse armor as well and was a magnificent sight. Then there was his old-age armor, by which time he had swelled to Frank’s girth (if not slightly more). There was also a set of armor for a man who was well over 6 ½ feet high and who must have been an amazing, almost giant-like figure of a man; and some little suits of armor for boys about Miles’ size; but I had to scurry after the plodding Maddy.

King Henry VIII's tournament armor. Photo belongs to beingbess.blogspot.com
King Henry VIII’s tournament armor. Photo belongs to beingbess.blogspot.com

We then got in line to see the Crown Jewels, which were housed in a building filled with gold and silver plate and ceremonial panoply. When looking at the series of tall golden maces, each one with a different date and a different monarch, I wondered aloud to Maddy, “What was wrong with the first one, that they had to keep making them?” The shuffling of the line (the only line we encountered anywhere at the Tower) prevented me from stopping and reading the descriptive cards next to each item. Maddy was even more bored with crown jewels than she had been in the armory, and didn’t even want to go in until I told her that her family would be disappointed if she didn’t. We stepped onto a moving sidewalk that whizzed us past all the crowns with their purple velvet and big shining jewels, and the last one of all was simply sparkling with gazillions of tiny diamonds, and then were outside again, with hardly time to draw breath. We went to the Tower Green where Anne Boleyn, Jane Gray and Essex were beheaded, but there was nothing to see, just a shady grassy place with some paving stones that were being pulled up in preparation for some sort of restoration. We went quickly to see Sir Walter Raleigh’s quarters in the Bloody Tower, which were furnished reasonably well despite the conditions. To an Elizabethan, the accommodation was probably not much worse than at his regular residence. Then we exited, after purchasing some trinkets at the Tower gift shop (Maddy is a perfect addict of gift shots and booksellers).

We strolled down to Tower Pier and caught a water-taxi down to Greenwich, which turned out to be a very pleasant, laid-back place. We toured the Maritime Museum, which was a top-notch museum but sadly lacking in air conditioning. We grew so hot and weary from tramping excitedly from one gallery to another that when I found I had completely overlooked Nelson’s last uniform, the one he died in, in a gallery we had already visited, I declined going back. We trudged out the doors back into Greenwich town, which was sweltering beneath a merciless sun, and I decided it would not be a good move to walk up to the top of the nearby hill to visit the Royal Observatory and see the strip in the pavement that marks zero degrees longitude, and see the place from which Greenwich Mean Time gets its name, because Maddy was faint and dizzy again. I think she’s in extremely bad physical condition and ought to be exercising at least an hour a day to give her growing body the workout it needs to be fit; but she is firmly convinced that she is simply weak by nature. I was strongly reminded of myself as a teenager – always slightly languishing rather than physically active, and wondering why I was so weak, the cycle perpetuating itself. In fact, now that I’m off eating wheat, and recovering from what amounted to a long period of slow food poisoning, I feel fabulous. In the old days I would have wilted in the sun like Maddy. Now I feel strong, even immortal, hooray!

The restored Cutty Sark (which burned after I visited it). Photo belongs to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cutty_Sark#/media/File:Cutty_Sark_2012_landscaping.JPG
The restored Cutty Sark (which burned after I visited it). Photo belongs to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cutty_Sark#/media/File:Cutty_Sark_2012_landscaping.JPG

After the museum, because of the heat we visited the local market, where Maddy purchased a pentagram necklace from a local witch / capitalist / vendor and we toured the Cutty Sark, one of the fastest China clippers ever built, a noble vessel. Her hold now contains a stunning collection of 1800s figureheads from other ships, which reminded me strongly of American carnival ride animals in their carving style and the thick layer of shiny varnish atop bright paints. The one I liked best was a sultry lady in a scarlet dress that was off both shoulders and half over one swelling breast, her dress plastered against her voluptuous body as if by the wind itself. There was one figurehead of Abe Lincoln, to my astonishment (there was a statue of Lincoln in front of Westminster as well – what does he represent to the British mind, I wonder?).

We caught the water taxi back to Tower Pier, took the Tube to St Paul’s, and got out to walk along Cannon / Fleet street. St Paul’s was not really visible from street level, I mean the famous dome; all we could see was beautiful, lovely pale outer walls rising high above us. Maddy was in no mood for any more churches, and it was 5:00 pm after all, and I was afraid it would be closing its doors to tourists, so we strolled around the churchyard and watched people picnicking atop the old tombs, and we went on down Fleet Street in search of Dr. Johnson’s house. We found it down a tangle of tiny lanes that undoubtedly dated back to the Middle Ages or even the Saxon era; for all I know they could have existed since the city was rebuilt from the ashes of Boudicca’s rebellion. Johnson’s house was not open, or at least, the woman who answered the door told us in a markedly unfriendly way that it was closing in five minutes. I went back down the steps, looking up at the red brick building with regret, but I thought with delight, “Boswell walked here! Johnson and Boswell walked arm in arm through this lane!” The court adjoining Gough Court where the house is, is now called Johnson Court, and there is a building nearby named after Boswell, which is nice. There were two Elizabethan buildings on Fleet Street within the next block or two, one in splendid shape, the other deformed and altered by the years but still handing out over the street. I was amazed by the fact that I could walk through 2000 years of history on one day of walking through London, and see a statue of Johnson’s cat (“A very fine cat indeed”) to boot.

Johnson's cat, Hodge, adored oysters. Photo belongs to settojet.files.wordpress.com
Johnson’s cat, Hodge, adored oysters. Photo belongs to settojet.files.wordpress.com

Maddy was doddering with exhaustion, so I bought her a Cornish pasty and we took the Tube home to the hotel, where we hung out and relaxed after another grueling day in the sun. We are both glad we’re going home tomorrow. It’s been good, but it’s time to go.

June 10

We had a long talk last night, and Maddy wiped tears away as she told me agitatedly about how her parents had to put down their old dog, Zorba. “He didn’t want to go!” she cried in a passion. “And they killed him! They kill all their dogs – Shondo, Sadie, and now Zorba. I hate it. It’s totally wrong.” I said gently that the dog probably didn’t want to leave Maddy, but animals know when their time was up, and since he was old and very ill with cancer and congestive heart failure, it was a mercy to put him to sleep to spare his suffering. “Maddy, if I’m ever in a position where my own survival is hopeless, I’d want someone to help me along gently,” I said; “Frank on the other hand wants to be kept on life support forever, even if he’s a helpless blob.” Maddy said savagely, “I don’t care what happens to PEOPLE when they get old and sick. Animals are all that are important to me.”

We got up, breakfasted and strolled a little in the Bayswater neighborhood around the Phoenix Hotel, then checked out and caught the Tube to Paddington, then the Heathrow Express, then a Virgin Atlantic flight to JFK, then a Delta mini-jet to Indy. Actually I’m in the Delta jet right now as I write. It’s almost seven in the evening, which is midnight English time, yet I don’t really feel weary (yet). I have time to think about what I did, and learned, on this vacation.

First, the British are infinitely superior to Americans in politeness and friendliness. Secondly, their public transport is splendid. Thirdly, whenever British people express satisfaction with something, they say “It’s lovely!” Fourthly, I left part of my heart in Cornwall on the cliffs and moors and in the sudden secret lush valleys. Fifthly, Maddy proved to be excellent at navigating the airports, train stations, and buses. The only place I equaled her was the subway – am I slipping in my old age? I feel distinctly “blurry” in comparison with her instant comprehension of the arcanities of English transportation. I used to be far more accurate, I feel sure. So what has happened? Countless times during this trip I stood holding a schedule or map, puzzling, working it out slowly in my head, only to have Maddy say somewhat impatiently, “Oh, we just have to do such-and-such.”

I'll never forget the cliffs of Cornwall.
I’ll never forget the cliffs of Cornwall.

And lastly, I found that Maddy and I have a lot in common. Her Asperger’s is quite mild; she said on a scale of one to ten, she might qualify for a three; but if so, where does that leave me? A one? or a fraction of one, perhaps? I’m literal and often can’t tell if someone’s telling a joke if they do it deadpan, at which I often become annoyed instead of laughing. I used to have problems making eye contact. I used to be physically weak and clumsy like she is. I used to be a social “bug” whom the other kids made fun of, and when I was with my peers in an enforced setting, they’d draw back from me because of my over-enthusiasm and gaucherie. I have problems handling light in my eyes, and I have problems with noise, and with crowds in tight public spaces. But that’s the extent of it, really. I become more “Aspergerish” when I’m pre-mensing, and it goes away altogether when I’m not.

And that’s the end! “Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.”

More from the journal: England, Part Three

[For Part One, see https://storiesbycarrol.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/more-from-the-journal-england-part-one/.]

In early 2006, after a long period of ill health, I traveled to England to take the walking trip I had dreamed of since my teens. My 17-year old niece, Maddy, accompanied me. Maddy had Asperger’s Syndrome and had never been so far away from home.

All photos are my own except for the ones that are credited to others.

June 4

We ate a good breakfast and Maddy was able to walk as far as Mousehole, another mile and a half from Castallack Farm. Again it was blazingly hot and searingly sunny. I cursed my foolishness in not bringing a hat, but who’d have known that England at the beginning of June would be like this? Apparently, up to a week or so ago, they had been enduring one of the coldest and most rainy springs in recent history. And now it’s in the mid-80s and cloudless. Go figure! The “normal” temperatures for this part of the country for this time of year generally range from the upper 40s to lower 60s.

Mousehole is pronounced
Mousehole is pronounced “Muzzle”.

The thing that impresses me is the number of other walkers we’ve spoken with who think nothing of striding off for a good ten or twelve miles’ walk. A couple who were at our B&B this morning had walked from Sennen to Castallack in one day. The German we spoke with yesterday on the cliffs said he’s been coming every year for years, to walk from X to Y along the Cornish Coast. If I had been by myself, or with another reasonably fit adult, I could have walked much farther than we did (5.5 miles the first day, and about 7 the second). I’m astounded at how good I feel (notwithstanding perhaps the most extensive sunburn I’ve ever had, on arms, upper chest and face). No arm pain, no bad numbness (except while writing); nothing to report save a muscle cramp in my left calf. Compared with Maddy, I’m a model of physical fitness. I could not believe I carried both packs yesterday (even though it was not for very far, really). I’m so amazed at the physical change in my body – it’s like being reborn, or having an all-new body to marvel at and inhabit and enjoy. When I did my stretches yesterday I could touch my toes with no problem, and could perform all the other exercises that used to be painful and onerous. And instead of 17-year-old Maddy running circles around me, I ran circles around her.

We strolled slowly through part of Mousehole and ate luncheon at a tiny eatery, and looked at gimcrack tourist gifts through the windows of the many shops. All the shops had names like “Cat and Mouse” or had piratical or nautical themes. The village was perched on impossible hills above the water, with a handsome stone jetty sticking out into the water. Boats were tied up in the water and shrieking children ran chasing each other through the water at the shore. A stream issued from a culvert and spilled out over the rocks down to the sea. Gulls wheeled and cried overhead. The sun was blazing and we had little energy for touristing, what with our packs. We learned too late that we didn’t need to pack our bags on our backs each day; we could have chosen one B&B and taken the excellent bus system to anywhere on the Penwith Peninsula effortlessly without worrying about getting back. We could have walked from Sennen to Lamorna in one day, like the couple we met this morning, without being encumbered by heavy packs. But we didn’t know, so we can’t be faulted. Next time I do this, I’ll carry only a small bag with snacks and binoculars. (Sadder and wiser.)

Cottages in Mousehole.
Cottages in Mousehole.

Mousehole was very cute, with tiny stone cottages on narrow streets of appalling gradients, but it was filled with wandering tourists and one had the distinct impression that it was not real, but part of Neverland. So without examining it more closely, we caught the bus (which was standing right there) back to Penzance. We found our next B&B, unpacked and relaxed for a while, went to the Turk’s Head for a second lunch, strolled through the Morrab Gardens and the grounds of Penlee House, and did a coin laundry. It was notable that Penzance, which had looked so exotic to us upon first arrival, now looked rather seedy and unimpressive compared to the lofty cliffs along the coast, the beautiful cove of Penberth, the lush hidden valley of St. Loy, and the incredible quaintness of Mousehole. “Oh…..it’s Penzance again.” Our B&B this time was much less noble than Camilla House had been (although perfectly adequate for our purposes) and life seemed a bit flat in comparison to the adventures we had just been through. I had a headache from the constant blazing sun. We ate dinner at the Admiral Benbow (he’s the chap who finally caught Captain Kidd, apparently) and were amused with its décor, which was garish faux ship-style, with curved beams in the ceiling, ships’ wheels, bright paint with thick shiny varnish, and a fake hatch in the ceiling. We went “home” to our B&B, read, and worked Sudoku puzzles. Maddy has become a complete Sudoku fiend, thanks to me.

June 5

All these B&Bs are charmingly done up with flowered duvets with ruffles, but who wants to sleep under a toasty duvet when the day has been 80 degrees and the nighttime temperature is scarcely any lower?

Everywhere we’ve been, except for Castallack Farm, had seagulls everywhere that screech and wail like peacocks, all night long. One of them sounded exactly like a whining puppy in the middle of the night, a puppy that had been locked outdoors with no friend, food or shelter. Yet I’m sure it was a bird. At breakfast this morning a woman at the next table asked the host about the poor puppy that had been locked outside. “I nearly phoned the RSPCA even though it was the middle of the night,” she said, “I was so indignant.” The host looked blank. “I never heard a puppy,” he said, “none of the neighbors have one. It may have been a gull. It’s breeding season and they do make quite a bit of noise at present.” “It was a dog,” the lady insisted. She began making conversation with me; it so happened she was from London. I asked the population, learned it was 15,000,000 (twice the size of New York City – that’s something to consider) and then her face darkened. “It’s that size because of the immigrants,” she told me. “Everywhere you go you see Poles. And people from Eastern Europe.” She looked as visibly disgusted as if she’d been a white Mississipian in the civil rights days, talking about blacks. I found it striking that she would agitate herself more on behalf of a dog than a Pole, but of course said nothing.

We settled the bill, shouldered our backpacks and set off for the post office (to mail another batch of postcards) and the bookstore (to get a Cornwall book before it was too late) and then the train station. I looked at the city with affection as it shone in the bright, warm morning sun, and realized I didn’t want to leave Penwith. I could very happily spend the entirety of my next vacation in Cornwall. As the train moved out of the station and rolled past Saint Michael’s Mount, I found I had tears in my eyes, and wiped them furtively several times until I mastered myself.

Poulteny Bridge at Bath, on the River Avon
Poulteny Bridge at Bath, on the River Avon

The trip was long and was made longer by mechanical problems with the next train up the track. We pulled into Bath around 4:00 pm and found our B&B, which was totally swank, with a ceiling featuring floral bas-reliefs in the plaster and great swags of salmon-colored curtains with sheer lace behind them. The garden outside was to die for; the poppies were in full bloom and were as wide across as my fully-extended thumb and pinky (eight or so inches across, magnificent flowers). We strolled back across the river into town to get Maddy something to eat, so we therefore missed out on getting in to see the Roman Baths and the Pump Room before they closed. We walked beside the River Avon, looking at the lock, the weir, and the charming old bridge with shops built along it, and we climbed up to the Circus and the Royal Crescent.

Maddy found the whole place off-putting instead of exhilarating, because she does not like anything that is swank or classy, and the sheer magnitude of it gave her sensory overload. I began to regret having brought her there, since it was so obviously wasted on her. Tomorrow we are signed up instead for a day-trip tour to Stonehenge, Avebury and the edge of the Cotswolds. The next day I had hoped to “do” Bath, since Frank and I missed doing properly long ago, but now I’m wondering whether I should try to get us into another different tour instead, to Glastonbury and Wells. It’s a shame to come to a World Heritage Site and not make the most of it, but it’s also no good to have a bored, diffident teenager on my hands who says that she despises this sort of thing in a voice that rings through a crowded street. She has no idea how loud she talks. I wonder if I was the same when I was her age? I suspect I was very similar to her in many ways, but I do know that I was quieter in terms of decibel level.

She confided to me how she feels she was born in the wrong era and in the wrong country, and how she believes that things like Harry Potter’s Hogwarts and other magical worlds actually exist on a different dimension and how sometimes a person can make the dimensions come together and touch. Suddenly I had a strong sense of déjà vu, recalling my awful first year at IU and how I took refuge in fantasy to block out my unhappy “real” life. I had completely forgotten.

June 6

We took an all-day bus tour of Stonehenge, Avebury and part of the Cotswolds today. Maddy was thrilled with Stonehenge and exclaimed over and over how excited she was. It was WAY more crowded than I remembered from 19 years ago, several tour buses from London having rolled up just as we arrived, the visitors all crowding through the gate and shuffling past holding audiophones to their ears. I myself like Avebury better for its vast scale and its picturesque qualities, but Maddy was less impressed because she had never heard of it before. She is now totally enthusiastic about ley lines and believes implicitly in them, although she thinks dowsing for them is bogus. Our tour guide demonstrated the dowsing rods at Avebury, just as Harry had done at the Merry Maiden stone circle, but I realized when I handled them again that the rods naturally cross (as they’re reputed to do if you’re on a ley), and they flip outward if you raise or lower the tips slightly. I think any crossing of the rod tips is completely due to the holder’s own subconscious desire to find a ley, and Maddy is of the same opinion.

Maddy being unimpressed at Avebury.
Maddy being unimpressed at Avebury.
Sunburned selfie at Stonehenge.
Sunburned selfie at Stonehenge.

We drove on past Silbury Hill to Lacock, an astonishingly handsome mellow old medieval-Tudor village with limestone buildings and wider streets than is common (were they built wide perhaps for market purposes, or for driving droves of sheep?). We ate at the King George, which dates to the 1380s and has the oldest continuously-operating pub license in England (although for obvious reasons it cannot have been named the King George back in the 1300s). I had my first hard cider: bubbly and sweetish-tart, a little like sparkling fruit wine. We strolled down to Lacock Abbey after lunch and got in to take a super-quick tour of the cloisters; the rest of the building being closed. I had no idea that it was used as a backdrop in the “Harry Potter” movies. I took what I think are some good photographs inside the ruined old galleries of the cloister, impressed at having just found out that William Fox Talbot (the inventor of the photographic negative process) also lived there for some time.

A lovely medieval lady carved into the church at Lacock.
A lovely medieval lady carved into the church at Lacock.
Lacock Abbey was one of the many places that the Harry Potter movies were filmed.
Lacock Abbey was one of the many places that the Harry Potter movies were filmed.

We drove on the Castle Combe where we spent a half-hour, a ridiculously charming picturesque village only one street wide, with old stone houses of the same era as Lacock. Our guide told us that the villages with the most remaining historic atmosphere are the ones that suffered the worse economic privation in the past and therefore found it impossible to afford any alterations that would have modernized the appearance. The town was undeniably beautiful, but its narrowness seemed almost stifling, and its quaintness almost oppressive. Apparently it costs over half-a-million pounds to buy a cottage there nowadays, so it’s very gentrified.—We went into the little churches at both Lacock and Castle Combe. The first had several original brasses left in the floor, behind velvet ropes, and the second had a Crusader effigy tomb, very impressive.

Picturesque Castle Coombe has been untouched by time because for centuries it was too poor to tear things down and update.
Picturesque Castle Coombe has been untouched by time because for centuries it was too poor to tear things down and update.

We came back to Bath with enough time left over to see the Roman baths. Maddy seemed less interested in the Roman ruins than I thought she might. And she definitely dislikes Georgian Bath, finding it boring. I resolved to forego one more day of exploring Georgian Bath in lieu of taking another day-tour tomorrow to Glastonbury and Wells, since she’s so interested in ley lines and New Age weirdness. (It’s funny that after arguing that she hates Christianity, she’s now apparently interested in looking inside churches, having seen two in Cornwall, two today, and the Bath Abbey yesterday.)

We ate dinner at a little café just above the oval-shaped weir, and then went out at sunset for a “Bizarre Bath” comedy walk with a local stand-up comic and sleight-of-hand artist. Maddy, being completely literal, was barely amused by any of it and asked loudly several times if he could explain. When the comic tonight made a gentle jibe at her expense, even though I had told her in advance to just smile and take it silently, she told him “Same to you” in a tone that sounded exceptionally rude. I should have known that comedy would be problematic for her. I regret having gone on the tour, even thought she had asked yesterday in particular if we could go see this attraction.

June 7

We took the day tour to Wells and Glastonbury. Wells was initially interesting, having a medieval cathedral, the first we’d yet seen (and a magnificent specimen), but it was market day in town and the place was filled with day-trippers, literally thousands of them, and my phobia of crowds kicked in with a vengeance. By the time we left, two hours after getting there, I was completely fed up with the place and could not wait to leave.

This scissor brace was added to Wells Cathedral centuries ago to help brace the sagging vaults above.
This scissor brace was added to Wells Cathedral centuries ago to help support the sagging vaults above.

Glastonbury was different. I had looked forward very much to the tour and knew what we were heading into. When the tour guide was driving down from the crest of the Mendip Hills, he pointed out Glastonbury Tor, which lay straight ahead of us across the Somerset Levels, and my heart leaped at the sight: a high, perfectly shaped tall hill on a misty horizon, surrounded improbably by a flat plain. A tower jutted from the top. The tour guide stopped the bus at the foot of the Tor, which was itself atop another broader, lower elevation, and let all of us off except those who had no interest in climbing (three elderly ladies). There was no way I was NOT going to climb; I had come a long way to get the satisfaction of doing exactly this. Maddy had had enough of climbing hills in the sun, and she stayed at the bottom while I and the others charged up the path to the top.

At the top, sweating and out of breath, I felt no ley line energies prickling the hairs at the back of my neck. I felt peaceful, and reflective, and I walked slowly about on the small top of the hill, examining the 1300s ruined tower and the silver shining “compass” that shows you what you are looking at in each direction, and how far it was. I sat on the grass on the brink and watched the jackdaws fly past beneath me in the air. The Tor is so very high that the viewer can see in all directions over three different English counties. The pleasant pattern of fields and hedgerows stretched in all directions to the far-off hills. I was perfectly happy, sitting there with a gentle hot breeze flowing past, baking in yet another day of unseasonable English heat. I chatted with a fellow American on the tour, a man from Seattle who was interested in King Arthur. He was friendly, a fellow American in a strange but fascinating land. I never learned his name, but I warned him about stinging nettles and taught him that the crows with gray heads were jackdaws, and told him how lively Cornwall was. By the time we descended together, we were friends.

Photo courtesy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glastonbury_Tor
Photo courtesy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glastonbury_Tor

When we descended the hill to the bus, which had driven off to town with the elderly ladies and then returned for us, I found that Maddy had gone with them without telling me. “She said she was tired of ley lines,” the tour guide told me. I was horrified at the prospect of searching through all of Glastonbury in every Magick shop and emporium for my niece, and explained that she has Asperger’s. This of course concerned the others quite a bit. But as it turned out, Maddy was fine. She had been hanging out in a New Age bookstore just across from the bus parking lot, and came out when she saw us (“us” being me and the tour guide, who felt somewhat responsible for losing a passenger thus). I ended up allowing her to continue her shopping by herself after lunch, since she expressed the desire to do so, and promised she’d stay in one of the two shops opposite the car park. I went up along the high street to check out the action.

Glastonbury is the very heart of New Age weirdness in England and I saw two practitioners of Wicca striding the streets in black hooded robes. (I must say, black is not a good color for a hot cloudless day, but they DID look impressive.) There were shops selling incense, tarot cards, tattoos, hippie clothing, Wiccan costumes, books on astral projection, Native American beliefs, and Egyptology stuff. The number of groovy individuals walking back and forth was impressive, not to mention the fact that they all seemed very interested in the free exercise of the capitalist system. I bought a lovely little hand-embroidered hippie-chick blouse for £12.50 and went away, quite satisfied, to have a quick look at the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. There I met my friend from the Tor, and we strolled around the grounds sociably together. He had been there for a while already, and showed me where “Arthur’s tomb” had been, and the cutting of the Holy Thorn (not a cutting any longer, but a tree the size of a crabapple). The ruins were lovely and I was glad I went to see them. Even in a state of ruin, they radiate serenity. I very much enjoyed Glastonbury in contrast to Wells.

Glastonbury Abbey was intentionally destroyed by Henry VIII, its bishop brutally executed.
Glastonbury Abbey was intentionally destroyed by Henry VIII, its bishop brutally executed.

On the way back our guide took another road, this one through Cheddar Gorge, and stopped at the side of the road so we could marvel at the formations towering high above us. The limestone cliffs were brownish, not the color of grey Indiana limestone, and the rocks fell apart along ragged cleavage lines instead of separating in neat layers.

Cheddar Gorge is one of England's most spectacular natural formations.
Cheddar Gorge is one of England’s most spectacular natural formations.

The gorge was several hundred feet deep and very steep and winding, and as the bus labored up the long, long road, the cliffs above were visible through the van’s skylight – indeed, they filled the skylight entirely. When we parked and got out and looked upward, the effect was vertiginous. There were wild (or feral) goats making their way along the sloping grassy shelves halfway up the cliffs. The guide said they were an actual rare species, but they were all multicolored (browns with white markings) instead of uniformly drab, which made me privately suspect they were simply feral.

My feet are killing me, particularly today. I’m simply grateful they did not act up on the hike last week. I have a seeping large blister on one toe, and both little toes have been driven completely beneath the adjoining toes because the boots turned out to be too narrow at the ends. I shall gladly dispose of them when I get home. When I think of how straight and independent my toes used to be, and then look at them crushed and constricted today, I wonder if I’ve caused lasting damage.

[Find the fourth and final installation of this travel journal at https://storiesbycarrol.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/more-from-the-journal-england-part-four/.]

More from the journal: England, Part One

In early 2006 I thought my days of action were numbered due to worsening autoimmune illness, so I resolved to go to England to finally take the walking trip I had dreamed of since my teens. Two weeks before leaving I drastically altered my diet, with outstanding results, and thus left for England with what amounted to a new and improved body.

My 17-year old niece, Maddy, accompanied me on this trip. Maddy had Asperger’s Syndrome and had never been so far away from home. Neither of us knew what to expect, but we turned out to be excellent travel partners who enjoyed each other’s company.

Following is the first part of my travel journal. All photos are my own except for the ones that are credited to others.

May 31-31

Sat next to a 300-plus pound man on the overnight flight from Newark to Heathrow. The armrests obviously gave him great pain, and I suggested that he feel free to raise them. He did this gratefully, but then his enormous bulk pressed all against my side and thigh. I spent the night squeezed painfully away from him, unable to sleep at all despite having taken half an Ambien. It sent me into a drowsy, murky twilight but gave me no sleep. Maddy, who had been inexplicably seated by the airline four or five rows in front of me, played Tetris on the personal TV set built into the back of the seat in front of her, then slept. It was a long, long night. My tailbone and legs protested. I declined the in-flight food but gratefully accepted orange juice. In the early morning we flew over what I supposed might be Wales, a coastline adjacent to impressive rolling hilly country, and we landed at Heathrow soon thereafter. We tried to fix our tickets which were all messed up for our return flight, since I deemed it better to fix it then and there (which they were unable to do) rather than wait ‘til the last moment next weekend, and this made us late for the bus to Reading, which made us miss the train to Penzance by about three minutes, causing delays that expanded and grew as the afternoon wore on.

Reading was filled with handsome little tri-colored brick houses all joined together, their original yards now taken up by parked motor vehicles, everything with a sad, shabby air of run-downness. We passed a Staples, a Toys-R-Us, and a Burger King. The view from the highway between Heathrow and Reading had been very similar to what we could have seen at home (save for the Victorian buildings). I thought of Oscar Wilde on the platform at Reading, in his prisoner’s stripes; and thought about homogenization of culture, and about the vanishing of true national character due to global ugliness. Past Reading, the countryside grew prettier, with herds of cattle and hedgerows and blossoming wildflowers, yet even there I could see traces of homogenization.

We ran for train connections and sweated over timetables all day, after having run for our flight in Indy and again at Newark. I tried to phone Frank with a credit card but was turned down by the machine. I found that I was sick of schedules and itineraries. If I ever do this again, I want spontaneity instead of regimentation. Long live my own spontaneous spirit of adventure, untrammeled by global standardization.

Later—near Exeter, which was pronounced “Axter” by the heavily accented conductor—the countryside drew increasingly beautiful. Maddy slept on the train seat beside me, head forward, mouth open, breathing the heavy slumbering breath of the truly exhausted. We passed old churches, ruins, farms; an estate filled with probably at least a hundred spotted deer moving about grazing in clumps like pale African gazelles; a farm field filled with huge lolloping rabbits; and briefly (just around Dawlish) the train ran at the very side of the sea. At first I saw on the left what looked like an exceedingly muddy marsh, then I realized it was a tidal estuary with the mudflats exposed; then suddenly the train window was filled with gray ocean and small whitecaps. Then we went inland again, the train going slower and slower the closer we came to Penzance. Finally we reached the end of the line and we climbed out, half-dazed by weariness.

Train running along the Dawlish estuary, courtesy www.railmagazine.com
Train running along the Dawlish estuary, courtesy http://www.railmagazine.com

I don’t remember when I’ve been so tired, except perhaps the last time Frank and I went abroad. All the way on the train, my head kept nodding as I sat beside Maddy, and I’d begin to fall asleep, only to jerk awake again with a start. If I had fallen asleep I would have missed the alpaca farm! and the huge plateau that looked like an enormous Iron Age hillfort! and the ruined tin mine buildings! and a castle! and a huge brown bird that I later learned was an English buzzard. Packs on our backs, we trudged into town, following the written instructions I had for our B&B, Camilla House. We arrived, I rang the bell, and our host, Simon, opened the door with outstretched hand of welcome, expecting us. He sat us down in the parlor of his 1836 house and plied us with tea, and answered questions. We washed up, combed our hair, and went down again for dinner. I was famished in addition to being mortally weary, and tucked into a meal of sautéed fresh sole, new potatoes with homemade butter, and steamed green beans, carrots and summer squash. I drank about four glasses of water, being dehydrated. I had had no food on the airplane, no breakfast, and almost nothing to eat all day. We went to bed by 9:30 or 10 and slept like zombies. Or at least Maddy did, whereas I woke at 2:30 to pee and then suffered insomnia due to being excited to wake up and remember that I was in England, not my home. I took half another Ambien and slipped back to sleep peacefully.

The handsome front of Camilla House, courtesy www.camillahouse.co.uk
The handsome front of Camilla House, courtesy http://www.camillahouse.co.uk

June 1

In the morning we had breakfast and then went on a “Harry Safari” hosted by a local personality, raconteur and singer-songwriter named Harry. We were the only ones in his tour van this morning and received a personalized tour. “What do you girls want to see?” he asked, and I said at once “Ancient sites!” He took us first to Sancreed holy well, where the mossy hole in the ground was rock-lined, filled with ferns, and topped with a hawthorn tree covered with strips of cloth tied on by neopagans. On all the crevices of the stonework inside were little offerings (including a small plastic dinosaur). I left an American quarter, sorry I had nothing better. “See the flowers floating on top of the water?” Harry said; “they’re recent offerings. Usually there are many more pieces of cloth tied in the tree but there was a baptism here two weeks ago and the Christians removed them all. These have been tied on since then.”

Offerings in the hawthorn tree beside the well.
Offerings in the hawthorn tree beside the well.

He showed us stonework in a rough square which was the ruins of Saint Creed’s monastic cell. “This was the local water source, so people would come to get their water, and the saint was living right here and could see who was coming and going, and he’d talk to them and convert them,” said Harry, who appeared to be warm on neopaganism.

He drove on through impossibly narrow lanes lined on both sides with hedgerows, and stopped so we could see the masses of wildflowers growing naturally at the bottom and sides. Navelwort is a sedum-like plant that grows in cracks between rocks and has round conical leaves with a gentle indentation in the middle, like a belly button, with little spikes of colorless flowers; English bluebells drooped their little blue heads; Queen Anne’s lace was a different sort altogether than ours, being juicier, with a different sort of umbel at the top and a similar but distinctly different leaf (Harry claimed there were over 10 types of Queen Anne’s Lace); foxgloves – digitalis purpurea – with huge fat inch-thick stems [including some that stood as tall as myself]; wild alliums with white clusters at the end of a triangular stalk; Herb Robert; and yellow buttercups. Harry wadded up an herb that looks similar to sweet woodruff and showed how swains used to toss it at their girlfriends, and if it stuck to their clothes (as it always does, like natural Velcro) their love was returned. He showed how the hedgerows in Cornwall have stone at the bases, and he showed us a fox run that went over the wall and down the bank, across the road, up the opposite bank and over the opposite wall, the hedgerow rising up on both sides of it but kept from growing by the constant comings and goings of generations of foxes.

Fox traffic keeps this part of the hedgerow free of plant growth.
Fox traffic keeps this part of the hedgerow free of plant growth.

He showed us rabbit scrapes excavated between stones in a wall near the holy well. He showed us English buzzards soaring in the sky above a field, an English buzzard being not a vulture at all but a large brown hawk almost the size of an eagle. We drove to see the Merry Maidens stone circle, where we met with a family who were hiking along the public path. Harry went into his tour guide spiel for the strangers and told us all about how there are many things that stone circles could have been – worship places, astronomical observatories, public markets, or gathering places for tribes; and how the number 19 may have been significant since it appears over and over again across Cornish circles, but how we can’t know for certain.

The Merry Maidens.
The Merry Maidens.

He produced dowsing rods and let everyone try their hand, claiming that when you walked along the path to the center, the rods would jump in your hand when you passed the spot where the two ley lines crossed. (Maddy refused to try, being completely annoyed with Harry’s constant teasings about how he was going to divorce his wife and marry her.) I tried the dowsing with great interest, having read of this many times, but although one rod twitched strongly, I attributed it to mishandling the rod combined with wanting to feel an effect. Harry said that some people can do it, while others can’t, and expounded a theory of the earth covered with a complex network of lines of magnetic intensity, pulsing invisibly. The strangers were happy with the free show. I put a buttercup blossom on the top of a stone, since neopagans had done the same on many of the rocks, and we moved on and examined the nearby standing stone called The Fiddler (as opposed to The Pipers on the opposite side of the stone circle) and the nearby stone burial chamber, now despoiled by destructive early archaeologists and almost bisected by the road. The tomb was a round circle of rocks with a capstoned round burial of the Beaker Folk in the middle, a neat and symmetrical bull’s-eye. Harry told us how the existing stones across the top had been pilfered from a nearby stone wall and were not original, and how the multiple-holed quernstone in front of the tomb was simply a lichen-encrusted cement replica, to deter thieves. “Hmphhh….inauthentic,” I sniffed to myself.

Harry took us to a lovely 1400s church at Sancreed with the most beautiful graveyard I’ve ever set eyes on, the sort of place I’d like to rest in myself had I not already planned on cremation. The church was locked and Harry was disappointed since it was nearly always locked nowadays to deter theft. “Thieves took the carpets out of the church at Tre——-,” he told us, shaking his head, “and they took the furniture from the church at ——.” The key-keeper for the church saw Harry’s van parked in front, and came next door to unlock it for us, which we thanked him for. Inside it was musty, damp, and with a slightly dank odor, with green patches on the wall from too much disuse and not enough human activity. The pews were handsome but of a later era; the spectacular window was turn-of-the-century; there were indeed original carvings left at the base of the medieval carved screen, which had been cut down to table height much later, and the roof was exactly like an upturned boat hull. It makes perfect sense for a seafaring people to build rafters like that.

The ancient stone cross at St. Creed predates the church.
The ancient stone cross at St. Creed predates the church.
The flooring is very old, perhaps even original.
The flooring is very old, perhaps even original.

Harry was an original, and was well-informed. One pale blue eye roamed off to the side independent of the other eye, and his hair and scraggly goatee were very gray. He kept teasing Maddy mercilessly until I explained in an aside to him when we were at a teahouse having a midday break that she had Asperger’s. Then he cooled it. — The teahouse had fabulous baked goods as well as pottery tchotchkes and gewgaws for tourists. I had a big slab of treacle tart and Maddy had apple pie, both with huge gobs of clotted cream on the top. Maddy tasted hers and pushed it off to the side, but I ate most of mine. It was buttery in texture but not in taste, or perhaps I should describe it better as ice-creamy in texture but not sweet. It was thick; it was rich; it was satisfyingly schmaltzy. A bold chaffinch landed on the end of the table and begged for scraps; his song was like that of the song sparrow. An iridescent black-green magpie landed on the next table over. A tiny English robin perched on the fence and a jackdaw flew over. I was in heaven in that beautiful tree-shaded yard.

Harry took us also to Carn Euny, an Iron Age settlement with ruins of circular houses (of comfortable size, I must say) and farm enclosures, with a curious underground place called a fogou, reachable by a low passage in which we had to walk doubled over. Then we could stand inside the roomy (but damp) inner chamber, which was corbelled with heavy blocks of rock. It was used perhaps for cold-storage, perhaps for defense, or perhaps as a way to worship the womb of the Earth Mother. A curious phenomenon – when you moved and caught the light on the wall just right, the moss lit up like the reflective strips on clothing meant to be worn at night, bright green. When you moved only slightly, the green glow winked out completely. I really was struck by the eerie effect.

The unique light-reflecting moss at Carn Euny.
The unique light-reflecting moss at Carn Euny.

Harry gave us a lift over to Marazion after the tour was over, where Maddy and I went to see St. Michael’s Mount, an English version of Mont Saint-Michel in France, founded by the same order of Benedictine monks. We walked across the causeway to the island and walked up through the little village to the castle, where we paid a stiff price (£6 each) to watch a bad introductory movie and tour the castle, which was swathed in scaffolding and was having work done on the exterior. The castle was actually quite interesting despite being largely Victorian.

The view from the top, looking down at the gardens and the rocks falling down to the shore, was completely vertigo-inducing. “How would you like to be a workman up on the roof, looking down at that?” I asked Maddy. I found with surprise that in addition to being dyslexic, she has no depth perception. Although she sees the drop-off and knows it’s a good way down, she cannot estimate distance nor judge relative danger and even more interestingly, perceives no difference at all between looking at it with both eyes open and one eye shut. “There’s no difference,” she said a bit defiantly, confused as to why I was asking. “Do you see things flatly, or in three dimensions, like when you look into a View-Master?” I asked. “I can’t look through those things,” she said with disdain, “I don’t know what you mean by three-dimensional.”

View of St. Michael's Mount.
View of St. Michael’s Mount.

We walked back along the causeway and all the way back to our B&B in Penzance, along the Coast Track. Maddy, being dyslexic, also cannot tell that English traffic flows along the opposite side to ours, and cannot tell the difference between the driver’s wheel being on the right as opposed to the left. “Couldn’t you tell that Harry was sitting on the side of the front seat that’s opposite to your mom or day when they drive your car?” “What do you mean? Is it different?” asked Maddy, blankly. I think, myself, that she ought not to get a driver’s license.

I went out for a little walk after dinner by myself, Maddy choosing to stay in the hotel room playing Sudoku. I felt a bit apprehensive about being by myself in a strange town, walking narrow lanes with no company, but nothing happened, and I put in another mile or so of walking. Tomorrow we begin our trek on foot around the Penwith Peninsula.

Snail on a gravestone in Penzance.
Snail on a gravestone in Penzance.

*   *    *    *

[Part two of this travel journal is posted at https://storiesbycarrol.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/more-from-the-journal-england-part-two/.]