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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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Meeting James and Jo

Exploring England #36

The list of notables who come from Yorkshire is long. Through the centuries many English inventors, entertainers, artists and writers along with those who have excelled in their chosen sport and those who were saintly have been Yorkshire born and bred. Explorers feature prominently. Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut, and Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia, are on the list.

In a single day we met two of Yorkshire’s famous wanderers; the 18th century navigator and cartographer Captain James Cook and the lovely lady known to many of us as Restless Jo.

Our first contact with James Cook was at the the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby.

He lodged in this 17th century house as a merchant navy apprentice from 1746 to 1749. Here he learned the skills of navigation, trigonometry and astronomy he would later use in his explorations in the Pacific Ocean. The museum’s extensive collection of Cook memorabilia includes letters and maps detailing his three great voyages of discovery. Of most interest to us was his first voyage, from 1768 to 1771 in HMS Endeavour, when he circumnavigated New Zealand and mapped the east coast of Australia. We imagined a young James Cook looking out over Whitby Harbour from the attic window, dreaming of future adventures on the high seas.

We found Captain Cook again, at the top of North Terrace in Whitby, gazing out over the North Sea. Depicted with his nautical mapping instruments, the statue pays homage to his status as one of history’s greatest cartographers.

We met Jo and her husband Mick in Great Ayton, the town where James Cook lived as a boy and attended the Postgate School from 1736 to 1740. The original building no longer exists but another constructed in 1785 in the same materials now houses the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum. Near the School on the High Green is a statue of Cook as a school boy.

Of course, cake and a walk are obligatory when spending an afternoon with Jo.

We shared a delicious afternoon tea at Stamps Coffee Shop before driving out of town to Gribdale Gate. Here a wide path led up onto Easby Moor to another monument to Captain Cook. Erected in 1827, this towering obelisk looks across the heather to Roseberry Topping where Cook often walked as a young boy, his thirst for exploration already evident.

There was one big difference between our travel-loving group and Captain Cook and his crew. Unlike James, who relied on artists to make detailed drawings of all he saw on his journeys, we waylaid a fellow sightseer and gave her our cameras. Memories of an adventure shared were captured in an instant.

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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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What the Devil’s Going On?

Exploring England #31

Imagine you’re driving from Kendal to York, and just past Kirkby Lonsdale you come to a car park on the side of the road . It’s full of cars, buses and motorbikes but there’s nothing to indicate why everyone has stopped. What would you do? Continue on, all the while wondering what the attraction was, or turn off to find out?

It wasn’t difficult for curiosity to get the better of us – of course we stopped to investigate. From the road there was nothing to see but a food and coffee van strategically placed nearby. Plenty of people were taking advantage of the treats on offer, but there had to something more, so we continued on until we came to a bridge over the River Lune. We soon discovered it wasn’t just an ordinary bridge – it was a scheduled ancient monument dating from medieval times.

Known as The Devil’s Bridge, the triple arched stone bridge is the finest of its kind in Northern England. It was probably built in the 14th century, but records of its construction were lost in York during the English Civil War. The bridge was in use until 1932 when, a little further upstream, Stanley Bridge was constructed to cope with increasing traffic demands.

How did the bridge get its devilish name? According to local legend, the Devil offered to build a bridge over the river in one night, and in return he demanded the soul of the first being to cross in the morning. He was outsmarted when a woman threw some bread which her dog chased onto the bridge.

We imagined the Devil may have been very annoyed by this trickery, but thankfully there was no sign of him when we crossed the bridge. On the opposite bank of the river, both The Devil’s Bridge and Stanley Bridge were beautifully reflected in the river.

At the western end of the bridge we found an intriguing sign.

Again curiosity took over –  what were Radical Steps? We thought perhaps a curving spiral staircase or a twisting set of ornamented treads leading to a mysterious destination! We set off along the shaded path beside the River Lune to find out.

When we came to the steps, they weren’t radical at all. Steep, worn and covered in moss, 86 steps went up the hillside in an orderly fashion. It was only when we got to the top that we discovered the origin of the name. Built in 1819 by Francis Pearson, the steps were christened “Radical” because of his strong political beliefs.

At the top of the steps we found a tiny cottage, just big enough for one.

Nearby on Church Brow was Ruskin’s View, a lookout high above the Lune Valley. A painting completed in 1822 by the artist JMW Turner later inspired the poet John Ruskin to describe the scene as ‘one of the loveliest in England, therefore in the world’. As we stood admiring the view of the valley and mountains beyond, it was hard to disagree.

A cheeky robin posing on the fence seemed to enjoy the view too.

From the lookout, the path continued past the Norman Church of St Mary the Virgin and its graveyard dotted with timeworn headstones to the old market square, complete with an ancient market cross. In medieval times, this was the site of the swine market.

Instead of taking the main road into town, we followed a footpath lined on either side with high stone walls and prickly hedges. It took us past beautiful old homes and green fields back to Bridge Brow and The Devil’s Bridge.

After a walk full of exploration and discovery, we were grateful to see the van still open – now it was coffee time!

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Meeting the Locals

Exploring England #30

Our Airbnb home near the Lake District was a pretty stone cottage, one of several in a row surrounded by verdant farmland. A mill pond complete with ducks and their ducklings lay behind the cottages, and beyond the pond at the top of the hill was the Lancaster Canal. A public footpath began at the end of our street, and we decided to go exploring in the hope of meeting some of the locals.

The path took us along the edge of the field where, even in the late afternoon, the thick green grass was still damp with morning dew.

We climbed over a stile

and up the hill to the path beside the canal.

From the top of the hill we could see our cottages and the lush farmland of the Lancashire countryside.

Late summer wildflowers bloomed in profusion along the water’s edge. Some we recognised, while others were new to us.

We did meet some of the residents but they had little to say, merely raising their heads in curiosity as we passed by.

As the sun sank lower in the sky, the temperature began to drop. We retraced our steps until we were on our lane again and, with the day almost over, our cosy cottage was warm and welcoming.

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Walking in Circles

Exploring England #29

Mention stone circles and most people’s thoughts turn immediately to Stonehenge, the famous prehistoric monument in Wiltshire. Ask about the other thousand or so located in the United Kingdom and they might have difficulty naming any.

Castlerigg Stone Circle was one we hadn’t heard of, and like Ambleside Roman Fort, it was clearly marked on our map of the Lake District. Unlike the fort, it was well signed and easy to find, not far off the A66 between Penrith and Keswick. There was no designated parking so we joined the rest of the afternoon visitors, leaving our car on the side of the narrow lane to walk past lush fields edged by ancient dry stone walls.

Archeologists believe Castlerigg is a Neolithic stone circle, constructed around 3000 BC. Like most other circles its purpose is unknown, but it is thought that the location, in a wide valley surrounded by rugged mountains including Helvellyn and High Seat, was deliberately chosen for its mystical atmosphere.

There is no cost to visit Castlerigg and, once inside the gate, there are no restrictions on accessing the stones. We walked around the circumference of the circle, examining the stones and marvelling at their placement in this remote area. We explored a little further along the valley, wondering about the people who once came here.

Perhaps they followed ancient paths over the hills, coming from their homes to gather for ceremonies or worship.

I was glad I didn’t have to walk that far!

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Searching for Romans

Exploring England #27

We knew there were Roman ruins at Ambleside – they were clearly marked on the map. There was just one problem. We couldn’t find them!

Driving north on the A591 we passed by the spot where we thought they should be but we didn’t see any signs. We doubled back and looked again, but there was no indication of their whereabouts from the road.

We spied a small tourist information centre, so we parked the car and went in to seek help. A friendly man said there definitely was a Roman fort and pointed vaguely towards Borrans Park. We set off on foot in the direction he’d indicated, walking through spacious parkland at the northern end of Lake Windermere.

We came to a rocky outcrop which looked a little like a wall – could this be the remains of the fort? It didn’t look quite right, but we climbed up and over and took some photographs just in case.

From the top of the rock we could see small groups of people in a field at the far end of the park, eyes down and looking very intent. Perhaps we hadn’t gone far enough. We continued on, until an information board confirmed our suspicions. This time we had found the ruins.

The foundations are all that is left of the stone fort constructed here at the start of the 2nd century AD. We wandered around each part of the fort, joining a herd of contented cows who seemed oblivious to the curious visitors in their field.

In one corner of the field was the start of a public footpath – a country walk beckoned and we couldn’t resist. We said goodbye to the the cows and headed off on a raised boardwalk over marshy land on the bank of the River Rothay.

The lush greenery of the woods was mirrored in the calm, shallow water of the river, and we stopped several times to enjoy the beautiful reflections. At the junction with the River Brathay the water was so clear we could see dozens of tiny fish swimming downstream.

Leaving the river behind, we passed through a turnstile and crossed another field before joining the footpath on busy Borrans Road.

As we walked back to our starting point in the park we checked once more for a sign to the fort. Had we missed it on our drive?

No, there weren’t any signs. Lucky we found the information centre or the Romans would still be undiscovered!

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Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Reflecting