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London Walking

Exploring England #42

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I do love London! On our second last day, we made the most of the fine weather with a walk in the city, where we found monuments, memorials and M&Ms!

After leaving the Jewel Tower, our destination was the Prince of Wales Theatre for a performance of  The Book Of Mormon. With a few hours to spare and not far to go, we had plenty of time for sightseeing on the way.

From Abingdon St, we turned into Great George St where we paused while the bells of Big Ben rang out on the hour.

At Westminster Bridge, we admired the mighty Boudicca on her chariot, charging into battle against Roman invaders.

Modern battles are also remembered along Victoria Embankment. The Royal Air Force Memorial is dedicated to Air Force members who were casualties of World War 1.

Further along, the dramatic Battle of Britain London Monument commemorates British airmen who took part in the Battle of Britain in World War 2. The monument also acknowledges those from 14 other countries who joined the Allied Forces.

Just before the Golden Jubilee Bridge, we turned onto Northumberland Avenue which leads to  Trafalgar Square and Admiralty Arch, commissioned by King Edward VII in memory of his mother, Queen Victoria.

Trafalgar Square is dominated by Nelson’s Column, dedicated to the memory of Admiral Horatio Nelson, who was killed during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Four Barbary Lions surround the column while a statue of King George IV dressed in Roman regalia overlooks the square.

Leaving Trafalgar Square we walked around the National Gallery into Charing Cross Road. The small restaurants lining Irving Street reminded us it was time for lunch. After a break for pizza at Il Padrino, we walked into Leicester Square, the entertainment hub of London.

A kaleidoscope of colour greeted us at M&M’s World, where we stocked up on sweet treats for later.

Even after stopping at all these places we were still early for the theatre, so we continued on to Picadilly Circus and the Cool Britannia store where we bought some last minute souvenirs.

Finally it was show time, so we joined the crowd waiting to enter the Prince of Wales Theatre on Coventry Street.

That’s another thing I love about London – so many theatres, so many shows.

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Waiting in London

Exploring England #41

Waiting to board the special shuttle bus from Watford Junction to Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Leavesden…

Waiting for the traffic to move across Westminster Bridge before continuing on our walk…

Waiting in anticipation for the theatre to open…

All these were worth the wait!

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Waiting

Out the Window

Exploring England #40

Even with careful research and diligent attention to the details on booking websites, there’s no guarantee that what you see is what you will get when it comes to accommodation. On our journey around England, we stayed in eight different places and fortunately all were exactly what we expected. What we usually didn’t expect was the wonderful view we had out the windows of our vacation homes.

Our first night in England was spent in a small family-run guest house in Cranford, a few kilometres from Heathrow. The building was surrounded by a pretty cottage garden, filled with late summer flowers and apple trees laden with ripening fruit.

The only hotel we stayed in was in Portsmouth. As its name implies, the Royal Beach Hotel is located on the seafront. From the top of the shingle beach we could see across the Solent to the Isle of Wight.

Our Airbnb studio near Bridport was the top floor of a converted barn, on farmland owned by the same family for more than a century. The walk up Colmer’s Hill was tempting, but we couldn’t fit it in this time.

We knew from the photos on the website this Airbnb apartment in Falmouth had wonderful views. That was partly why we chose it and we weren’t disappointed. Looking out over the waters of Carrick Roads to the village of Flushing, we were intrigued by the constantly changing colours before us. We weren’t the only ones enjoying the view one morning!

We knew our Airbnb apartment in Manchester would have neither rural nor ocean views, but we weren’t expecting to see a worksite. From our living room we looked into the backyards of the Victorian terraces in the next street. We were fascinated by the renovations over the fence and wondered what the final outcome would be.

Every morning we watched the antics of this hungry little fellow, who helped himself to breakfast from a bird feeder in a tree.

Our next Airbnb home was in Holme Mills, just outside the Lake District. Once again we had beautiful rural views, this time accompanied by the rich rural aroma only cows can provide. The millpond lay behind our cottage and, at the top of the hill, was Lancaster Canal.

On the outskirts of York, our Airbnb cottage was a one in a modern complex located in the grounds of a plant nursery, so it wasn’t a surprise to find a beautifully landscaped formal garden on our doorstep.

While we admired the carefully tended garden beds, it was the local birds who kept us entertained every morning.

In London, we were back in familiar territory. From our studio in Cartwright Gardens, we could see the top of BT Tower above the neighbouring apartment block and, if we looked down, the tiny patch of lawn behind our building.

It would have been tempting to stay home all day in every place we stayed, but after travelling more than 15,000 km to get there we had more to do than look out the window!

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One Tower, Many Stories

Exploring England #38

London’s skyline is dominated by skyscrapers and towers; some are famous and are visited by thousands of tourists each year. At a height of 27 metres the White Tower, part of the Tower of London, was the tallest building in London at its completion  in 1098. Standing at a far more impressive 306 metres and completed in 2012, The Shard is the tallest building in the UK.

Another tower, less well-known but claiming an equally significant place in English history, is the Jewel Tower, located behind the Houses of Parliament. Dating from the 14th century, the tower is one of only two buildings to have survived the 1834 fire which destroyed the Palace of Westminster.

Built in 1365 on the orders of Edward III, the tower was originally known as the ‘King’s Privy Wardrobe’. It housed his personal collection of jewels, silverware and luxurious wall-hangings. To protect the king’s belongings, the ground floor had no windows and 18 locks were placed on the doors. A moat surrounding the tower, filled by water from the River Thames, added extra protection.

The tower later became known as the Jewel Tower because of a misconception that, in medieval times, it had housed the Crown Jewels. From 1580 to 1864, it was used as a storage facility for the official parliamentary records of the House of Lords. Documents including Acts of Parliament and the death warrant of King Charles I were filed by the Parliamentary Clerk, who lived in a small house next door.

Occupancy of the tower changed again in 1869 when the newly-created Standard Weights and Measures Department took up residency. With its thick stone walls, the tower was the perfect place for testing delicate instruments and creating standardised units of weight and measure. It was here the imperial system of measurement was developed. The Department continued its important work until 1938, when it was found that vibrations caused by an increase in passing traffic affected the precision of the instruments.

In 1987, UNESCO declared the Jewel Tower and its surrounding land a World Heritage Site. It is also protected as an Ancient Monument and Grade I listed building. Today, English Heritage has custody of the tower, which is open to the public every day. Exhibitions on all three floors showcase the different roles the Jewel Tower has played over the years, with replicas of King Edward’s silver plate, copies of historical documents and 19th century measuring instruments on display.

The Jewel Tower may not be imposing or beautiful, but it’s worth spending a couple of hours learning more about this unique building and its fascinating contents.

Hidden Treasures

Exploring England #37

London is full of historic sites commemorating people and events from the past. Many are famous and teeming with visitors, while some are almost unknown. On our way to the Museum of London, we discovered a small green square containing two hidden treasures.

The dilapidated ruins of a medieval gate, built on top of the original Roman city wall, fill the front of the square.  Even when dwarfed by  the surrounding modern buildings, the 13th century bastion is imposing. The Roman wall, constructed in the 2nd century AD, was fortified with 21 bastions added in medieval times.

Behind the bastion are more remnants of the city wall and, tucked into a space between the wall and the Barber-Surgeons’ Hall, is the Barbers’ Physic Garden. Created in 1978, the plants are representative of those used for medicinal purposes from medieval times to the present; they were all listed in a botanical book published in 1597 by John Gerard, Master Barber-Surgeon.

Each plant is accompanied by an explanation of its medicinal benefits. Some have been in use for centuries but, with modern research methods,  others have been found to have unhealthy side effects.

Many of the plants are familiar to us. They grow just as happily in Australian gardens as in this hidden garden in the centre of London.

 

A Walk Around York

Exploring England #32

On our first day in York we had one goal – to visit The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York, more commonly known as York Minster.

Dating from the 13th century, the church is the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. To make the most of our visit, we took a guided tour around the vast interior. With our enthusiastic leader, we learned the stories behind the medieval stained glass, Gothic carvings and ornamented ceilings inside the church and marvelled at the intricate stonework outside.

It would have been a mistake for us to think, once we’d seen the minster, we were finished with York. We spent the rest of the day exploring beyond the minster and found a wealth of historical buildings with their own stories.

Described as the best preserved medieval street in the world, The Shambles is  lined with haphazard half-timbered buildings. Each storey overhangs the one below until, at the top, they almost touch. Once filled with butcheries, the street now bustles with artisan stores, cafés and souvenir shops.

Until King Henry VIII’s reformation of the churches in the 1500s, the Treasurer’s House was the official residence of the Treasurer of York Minster. It was given to the Archbishop of York in 1547 and now belongs to the National Trust. Built over the top of a Roman road, the house is said to be haunted by a group of Roman soldiers who march in formation to an unknown destination.

The Abbey of St Mary was another building forever changed by Henry. Once the richest Benedictine Abbey in England, it was closed during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. Much of the stonework was reused on other buildings; today only the north and west walls remain. The gardens of the nearby Yorkshire Museum enhance the jagged beauty of the ruins.

In contrast to the ancient buildings of York, the museum is relatively new. Opened in 1830 by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, it was one of the first in England specially built as a museum.

We came across many more wonderful buildings on our walk. We did not know their history but we were entranced by their appearance.

After wandering the streets, we found a different way to view the beautiful architecture of York. The city wall, complete with medieval gates and defensive towers,  gave us another insight into the past.

It also provided us with excellent vantage points to appreciate once more the glory of York Minster.

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More Than Words

Exploring England #20

Foremost among the many beautiful buildings in Manchester is the John Rylands Library. Founded by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband John Rylands, the library was gifted to the people of Manchester and first opened to the public in 1900.

The library houses a vast collection of precious books, manuscripts and illuminated texts, including a Gutenberg Bible. An entire wing is dedicated to the Althorp Library, which Enriqueta acquired from Lord Spencer for £210 000 in 1892. But as fascinating as the collections are, it’s the spectacular Victorian building many people come to see.

The neo-Gothic interior is richly ornamented, with stained glass, vaulted arches and soaring ceilings. Statuary fills every niche.

Enriqueta and John Rylands, immortalised in white marble, greet visitors to the Reading Room, where alcoves are filled to overflowing with aging leather-bound books.

Historical figures of artistic and scientific importance line the walls of the Reading Room, They look down serenely upon those who visit, as if ready to impart their knowledge to a new generation.

Whether it’s ancient words or wonderful architecture, this beautiful library has something to offer everyone.