We didn’t have to travel far across the border and back into England before we encountered the remains of Hadrian’s Wall, that most spectacular of all the Roman ruins still visible in England. It stretches 73 miles across the narrowest point in England and required 16,000 men to build between 122 and 128 AD. As we drove along its southern side it seemed to stretch endlessly, here almost full height, there just a trace of stone across the green fields.
Besides the wall itself, there are a series of forts, sixteen of which sit astride the wall. Best preserved is the fort at Housestead which includes the full array of customary structures including barracks to house the soldiers, farms just outside its walls, workshops, a hospital, a rather clever latrine with flushing toilets, and a granary with a sophisticated underground ventilation system which kept the supplies of grain dry in the damp climate.
Imagine a floor held up by the short pillars you can still see and how it worked becomes obvious.
We then continued to the west into the Lake Country, famed for its beauty and homeland of William Wordsworth and many of the other Romantics including Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was difficult to do much because of the endless rain we encountered, but we did have part of a day in Grasmere, site of Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage where he lived between 1799 and 1808 and wrote much of his most famous poetry. Dove Cottage is the white house in the foreground.
Wordsworth, sister Dorothy, wife Mary and their three children all lived here and are buried in the churchyard of St. Oswald’s Church beside the river.
From the Lake District we started heading for York but stumbled on a couple of treasures along the way. First was Fountains Abbey, founded in 1152 when a group of rebel Benedictine monks went there to set up their own abbey. Shortly thereafter they were taken in by the Cisterians and became the most successful abbey in their entire domain. When Henry VIII confiscated all church property it fell into disrepair and so remains in ruins to this day. But the ruins are beautiful, particularly in the misty morning.
We spent most of the dreary morning there wandering around the massive ruins, but the most spectacular building was the cellarium where food was stored. It is at least two football fields long with beautiful arches supporting the roof and looks as if it were in use yesterday.
The other treasure we discovered on our way to York was Castle Howard, pictured at the top of this post. It is massive in size, filled with magnificently elegant rooms and was the setting for both versions of “Brideshead Revisited.” Here is the front gate, which Romy was just able to squeeze through
and a look at the main dining room, still resplendent with carpets, paintings and gold.
We finally made it to York, our target since Scotland, and were amazed by how interesting and alive it is. Surrounded by a ring road with Park and Rides, we could easily get to one close to our campground and were into the middle of the city in but a few minutes. From there we could wander around the whole of the downtown and never lacked for interesting things to see.
We are particularly drawn to old timbered structures, and York abounds in them.
This was a particular favorite because it is so obviously sagging in the middle. Many of the streets are narrow, cobblestoned and old, our favorite being Shambles. Lined with Tudor buildings, it once held twenty-six butcher shops as the name Shambles comes from the Saxon word for slaughterhouse. Today it has a bit of everything including lots of tourists.
We also liked walking the city walls which stretch four and a half miles on the site of the original Roman walls
and from where we were able to catch a bride and groom just emerging from a lovely residence into the garden below.
In the background is the York Minster, built between 1220 and 1480, and the largest medieval cathedral in all of Northern Europe.
As in most cities, one often stumbles on ‘human statuary’ but this is perhaps our all time favorite.
Our last afternoon in York was spent at the National Railway Museum, a truly amazing place for anyone really interested in trains. It is a series of exhibition halls with over a hundred trains. Here are only a couple of examples.
This is a replication of George Stephenson’s Rocket, from 1829 and the worlds first real steam engine.
And here is the Mallard which set the world speed record for steam locomotives in 1938 at a screaming 126 mph.
Also quite fascinating were the long lines of Royal carriages used by Queen Victoria and Edward VII and later by other royals.
As the people in the photo demonstrate, it is pretty easy to have a look inside through the abundant windows. Here’s a look at part of one of Queen Victoria’s sitting rooms.
Dave could have spent days at the train museum and in fact Bonnie had to finally drag him out by his ear!
By the next day, however, we were close to Coventry and at the home of our long ago friends the Cawleys. We met them in Borneo of all places, as they took their kids for a year around the world. They later came to visit us in Santa Fe on their way home. Here they are five years later around the table in their beautiful sunlit home.
That’s Rick and Liz at this end of the table, and Isobel and Aiden at the far end. The bloke on the right remains unidentified.