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Leaving the memories of the States behind me, I set off for London on 8 May for an overnight stay before the beginning of my 2008 travels in Europe.

Heathrow in the early morning is a really easy airport to negotiate and customs and baggage collection were very quick. I had such a lot of luggage. As well as my large case, my cabin bag, my laptop, my handbag, and my mallet, I’d also brought a backpack for Suzi who’d left New Zealand on her OE with just one huge pack for her travels around Asia and Europe before she arrived in London. She was getting a little short of clothes!

Negotiating on and off subways and Sky Trains at JFK had been quite hard – mostly because there was such a crush of people – but it was all really easy at Heathrow in the early morning, and I made my way from the carousel down to the Heathrow connection to Paddington Station. There are two choices here. Heathrow Express costs over 17 pounds but Heathrow Connect only costs about 9 pounds. The difference is, of course, that one train doesn’t stop, and the other does, so if you’re not in a hurry, catch the Connect – they both go to the same place after all!

Greater London has a population of between 12 and 14 million people. So you can imagine my complete astonishment when I spied one of my cousins walking past where I was waiting for my daughter. We’d been emailing each other the day before, but she had no idea when I was arriving, or where. Huge coincidence!

I only spent a day in London but Kate (my eldest daughter) managed to fit in great things for me. She took me for a quick visit to the shops before I lay down briefly once back in her apartment – and fell fast asleep! I woke in time to spend special time with my two beautiful granddaughters, followed by a lovely dinner with Julie and Suzi, my other two daughters whom she’d invited round for dinner, and Bret when he came home from work. A very brief visit but jam-packed with happiness. So full, in fact, that I forgot to get out my camera!

Then I set off for France.

After six weeks in France, it was good to be looking forward to seeing family and friends in England. Sally and I had an excellent journey back to London on 5 June – via Lille again. We’d actually booked separately so thought there’d be no chance of enjoying the journey together. The Eurostar and TGV give everyone specific seats and inspectors come through the trains to make sure you have your ticket and that you’re sitting where you’re supposed to be. But as it happened, both of us had spare seats beside us so we moved and the inspectors were very relaxed about it.

Many of the trains are double-deckers and we were upstairs, which provides even better views than one gets at ground level. There were more people on the leg from Lille to St Pancras, however, so we spent the last part of the journey apart – a good opportunity to read our books.

When I got to St Pancras there were buskers waiting to welcome returning travellers and send others on their way with a happy tune. It was very heartwarming.

I called into the Eurostar office to ask about becoming a ‘friend of Eurostar’ so that I could, perhaps choose a seat in future – or something! They told me that once you’ve spent GBP180 booking Eurostars (or TGV’s through Eurostar), you get special treatment – so I’ve got a wee way to go. However, at that point, whether you travel normal or first class, you’re allowed into the lounge at St Pancras, which may be a nice thing to do. Also, they said that although you just book your seat normally, you have the opportunity in the lounge to change your booking to one that you’d like better because there are always some free seats available. This was good to know, especially because I prefer to face the engine.

Back at Kate’s apartment in Maida Vale it was great to be with the family again, and although I was only there for two nights, there was plenty of time for cuddles and stories.

The next day I was not only off to Ealing to have lunch with my cousin (who’d spent Christmas with me in New Zealand with her husband and two children, and who I’d bumped in to on Paddington Station on my first day in London) but I was also allowed to look after Riley for the day. So Riley and I took Tyla to school and then set off together on the underground! Riley and Tyla have the most wonderful scooters. Their front wheels aren‘t fixed so they can change direction at a whim. With one little hand planted firmly in mine, she can travel at an amazing speed and doesn’t seem to get too tired – at least nothing like as tired as she would if she was walking! And we walked a very long way, running a few errands at the same time.

After a lovely walk from the South Ealing tube station through the park and past the croquet club, and a delicious lunch with Jules and Clive and their two cats, we set off on our journey home. One tube station later, Riley was fast asleep! Having thought how easy it had been to travel with a child holding one hand, my bag on my back and carrying her scooter up and downstairs where necessary, I now had a dead-weight toddler in my arms as well! Fortunately, she’s only a dot but the change from the Piccadilly Line to the Bakerloo line, off the train, up the stairs, along tunnels, downstairs and onto the next train again was quite hard work and I was very glad when she woke up just one stop before Warwick Avenue! By the time we got to the school to pick Tyla up, she was full of energy all over again! Grammy, however, was feeling quite tired!

on 7 June, I set off for Hertfordshire. It always amazes me that I can live 12,000 miles away from England and yet manage to be there when some momentous event occurs. This year, unfortunately, two momentous events coincided and I had to miss one. While the rest of the family went to a lovely family reunion with my cousin in Lincolnshire to coincide with the visit of his son and family from Adelaide, I went to a wedding. And what a wedding it was! The son of one of my oldest friends was getting married to the love of his life. Di is Adam’s godmother and I was matron of honour at her wedding to Mal. They now live in Busselton, south of Perth.

The wedding was held at St Edmund’s College, an independent college located on a beautiful 400-acre site in the East Hertfordshire countryside. The proud parents of the groom took their places, surrounded by their family.

It’s England’s oldest Catholic School, founded in 1568, and provided a stunning venue. Many of the guests were staying at a hotel at Welwyn, further west, and we travelled to the service in a big red double-decker bus with white ribbons on it! Unfortunately it was a pretty cold day and we were all wearing fairly flimsy outfits so became quite cold – otherwise, the journey would have been even more delightful.

It was great to be reunited with old friends and their family, James’ new wife, Jo, his twin sister, Jemma and their elder sister, Krista but also Di’s two sisters and their families and Di’s lovely father who’s now over 90 but has just the same twinkle in his eye that he had back in the early 70’s when Di and Mal were married.

The wedding was really wonderful and so was the reception which was held at Jo’s parents’ home in Knebworth under a huge marquee.

Every possible thing had been thought of. Jo’s bouquet was a riot of colour.

Two little flower girls handed round bags of petals to all of us and then set the ball rolling as the couple arrived at the reception, passing through a bower of roses.

The three-tier cake was made of chocolate and cut at the beginning of the evening. The caterers took it away and served it up for dessert with beautiful soft fruits and raspberry coulis. Yum!

And it was obvious that both families (and possibly an army of friends too) had been hard at work for weeks beforehand. I felt so privileged to be in the right place at the right time and will remember the occasion with great happiness.

But it wasn’t quite over. The following day I was invited to a fabulous BBQ brunch with James’ extended family and we gathered together in the garden in glorious sunshine and reminisced about old times – all those years ago!

Knebworth is not far from Broxbourne and it was there that I headed from 9-15 June. Broxbourne in Hertfordshire is where our four children grew up before we left for New Zealand so it’s always a great pleasure to return there and it’s easy to feel right at home very quickly, especially staying with Sally and Alan and visiting, or being visited by other old and dear friends. The sun shone for the first two days and Sally and I actually spent some time relaxing out of doors and catching up – even though we’d done a bit of that in Montpellier!

Alan is a member of Rotary and his Club had a lot on so it was a great pleasure to be included in three of their events in one week, a Charity Golf Day, a normal meeting and a cruise on the Regent’s Canal from Camden Lock to Little Venice. This was the farewell event for the outgoing President, their first woman member who’d come to the end of a very successful term in office.

A century ago, the idyllic scene we enjoyed on the river would have been unimaginable. In those days, the canals were noisy, smelly and full of industrial bustle, crowded with barges making their way to London from all corners of England. But in more recent times, London’s canals have been rejuvenated and there are now over 40 miles of towpaths so that people can enjoy walking or travelling on the water as you can see from this photo when we passed the Jenny Wren, one of the pleasure boats on this part of the canal.

The canal boats, which are known as narrowboats, are all decorated with bright colours. They used to be pulled by horses, walking along the towpaths, but in the 1860s steamboats were introduced and the air was filled with smoke and the smell of burning coal, a far cry from the pleasant journeys that can be enjoyed these days. We passed the Regent’s Park Zoo and could see just a small number of animals from the river.

Another of our days together was spent visiting selected gardens in the small village of Bayford in the heart of the Hertfordshire countryside. Here’s a picture of Sally standing in front of Bayford Manor.

Choirs, brass bands, stunning gardens, large country houses, cake stalls, lunches and BBQ’s awaited us and the weather was kind though not overly warm (again)!

Leaving Sally, I set off to visit my friends in Kent on 16-17 June. 

Kent is not a county I know well but very good friends live there and on this visit, David and Barb drove me around to visit sights I’d never seen before. We visited some lovely gardens which were open to show off their delphiniums

And the beautiful Eastwell Manor – just the place to relax for a weekend getaway – and with a variable price range to enable the locals to pop in and enjoy its offerings. The photo I took of the front didn’t really do it justice but here’s one of its back entrance and I’ll leave the rest to your imagination!

Many moons ago, Barb and I played hockey together for England. She was, without doubt, the best center-half (what are they called now, I wonder) I’ve ever seen. She represented England and played all over the world, including in an IFWHA tournament in New Zealand (I won’t say when!). But many years ago she developed a virulent strain of rheumatoid arthritis and has been in a wheelchair for over forty years. You’d never know it to speak to her over the telephone and even on a visit, both she and David and their lovely daughter, Michelle, are unfailingly cheerful. Here we are enjoying a fabulous dinner out at Trattoria Romana in Ashford, one of their favourite haunts.

A few years ago two of their friends from Ashford Rotary Club had visited us at Plimmerton Rotary so I’d coincided my visit with their Monday evening meeting and experienced another great Rotary meeting in yet another part of the world.

Leaving my very good friends again, I made my way back to London for four days from 18-21 June.

It’s always good to spend time with Kate and the family in London. This year the visits seem to have been all too scarce. But it was great to get onto their WiFi with my lap top and have unlimited internet access to catch up with some of my backlog. I’m spending so much quality time living my life at the moment that there isn’t much time left to write about it! On this visit, Tyla was performing in a school concert. With five of her friends she was singing ‘Wouldn’t it be loverley’ – and it was. Tyla’s the one on the right in the front row!

Riley (spellbound) and I actually went to both the afternoon and evening performances and Kate and Bret managed to get a video of the evening performance.

As I’d taken Riley out for the day to visit cousin Jules a few weeks ago, Saturday morning was an opportunity to take Tyla out to brunch and it was such fun that it almost felt like being with a girlfriend!! When we came home she showed me some of the moves she’s learned for an upcoming ballet performance.

With the school week in progress again there was an opportunity to run a lot of errands in and around Oxford Street and what better companion to have than a little 3-year-old on her scooter.

I’m sure she smiled all day long and she enchanted more than a handful of shoppers. Having a little difficulty in finding an outfit for Tyla I wondered how to occupy Riley while I deliberated. On a shelf were several battery-operated animals and she had a wonderful time while they squeaked, barked, jumped and performed on all sides of her.

Of course, all that shopping made a cup of coffee absolutely essential so Riley decided what she wanted to drink and ate her raisins while she waited to be served.

And then she decided that the whole adventure had been just too grown up for her.

Fortunately, we were the only couple in the café and it was very hard to resist the beatific smile when she quickly became upright again!

Back home again she was very tired but fortunately, her delightful elder sister was home from school and, after their bath, was on hand to read her a story or three.

My next stop was to visit friends in Essex from 22-28 June. Where we lived in Hertfordshire before moving to New Zealand was very close to the Essex border but this visit was much further north in the county. Saffron Walden is an ancient medieval town set in the midst of beautiful Essex countryside. I was visiting old friends for a few days, Ann and Cyril, who live on the edge of the countryside, just outside the town.

Ann’s garden is her pride and joy and it was looking spectacular.

Two of our mutual friends from our tennis club days came to lunch on the first day and gave us all the opportunity for special reminiscences and opportunities to reconnect as only really old and true friends can.

It’s always hard to move after one of Ann’s amazing meals, so we ventured out into the countryside to get much-needed exercise, and explored the golf course where Ann plays, and the adjoining farm land.

Although I’ve been to Saffron Walden many times, this was the first opportunity with enough time to explore the ancient medieval sights that make up the town.

It’s a small country market town with early origins, the name Walden meaning ‘valley of Britons’. The growth of the East Anglian cloth industry had an impact on the town during the Middle Ages and the nearby Abbey kept flocks of sheep. At about the same time the name Saffron was added to Walden when it became the major English centre for the production of the Saffron Crocus. The saffron was used to produce dye for the cloth trade, food colouring and medicine, and the trade continued until the 18th Century when cheaper saffron from Spain and the Middle East was imported and more artificial dyes were developed.

A prominent Quaker family, the Gibsons, started in Saffron Walden as brewers but eventually formed the Gibson Bank (the founding company of the present Barclays Bank) and they were also important benefactors to the town. Here’s a view of the interior of the Bank which is very unlike anything we have in New Zealand!

In 1968, Saffron Walden was designated a Conservation Area and there are some 400 buildings of special architectural or historic interest. St Mary the Virgin is one such building. It is one of the largest parish churches in Essex with a nave nearly 200 feet long. 

The church was mostly rebuilt between 1450-1525 during the prosperous years of the saffron industry. The interior is lavishly designed.

The spire, added in 1832, dominates the town.

At the junction of Market Hill and Church Street, are a magnificent group of houses dating from the 14th century, among them the Sun Inn. These show some outstanding A 30pargetting dating from the 17th century. Legend has it that Oliver Cromwell lodged here during the Civil War.

Sadly all visits have to come to an end but the memories they leave behind are always special.

Then it was time to travel to Dorset and my old secondary school on 29 June and then on to Sussex for the annual school tennis team reunion. This was the third year in succession that four of my old school (Sherborne) tennis team have got together during Wimbledon fortnight. This year, however, it started somewhat differently. Gill lives near Wimbledon and Kate dropped me there as I’d sadly put my back out and she didn’t trust me with all my suitcases on the underground! Lucky me!

Gill has held a number of positions on the School Board for many years and had to attend a meeting down at the school in Dorset the following day – the start of our reunion in Sussex – which meant that we’d be delayed. We set off early, Gill attended her important meeting, and I was treated to a magnificent tour of the old school and a chance to catch up on all the things that have changed since I saw it last in 1960! Many things have, and it’s very impressive. Not much change to the school stage and the Greek motto above the curtain though!

It’s very good to know that next year marks the occasion of a special reunion (Gaudy) at the school for the ten year period covering the departure of all four of us. We’ve made a date to go together and to round up as many of our old friends as we can to make sure they come too!

At the end of a very full day, including playing tennis on ‘the Fronts’ where we played so many school matches all those years ago, we set off together to our reunion, this time at Pip and Mike’s house in Emsworth, the burial place of Sir Peter Blake.

By this time it was getting quite late but our wonderful hosts had waited patiently for us. Mike was ready with the Pimms and, although Bub was unavoidably delayed, the usual reminiscences began and we had a fabulous evening. Pip qualified at a cordon bleu college so we were treated to a wonderful dinner. And the next day the sun came out so we had our beautiful breakfast al fresco.

Bub duly arrived and we sorted through the old photos and took another one to show the passage of time although, looking at this healthy, sporting lot, we still look hard to beat – (by any four of the same vintage!). And we set aside a bit of time to watch some tennis too!

The next day it was time for sad farewells – again – to most of the team, but we’ve already planned our reunion for next year so we can anticipate yet another great get together.

Bub drove me down to her home in Hampshire in the late afternoon of 2 July, after we left Pip and Mike.

She and Martin live in a beautiful Georgian listed house situated quite close to Winchester, which makes for a wonderful environment in any circumstances (can you just see one of the croquet hoops on the lawn?) although, of course, it can present difficulties with renovations and the like. Martin had been up on the roof of one of the outbuildings for several weeks, retiling. He did a fabulous job (the best they’d ever seen according to the people who came to remove the scaffolding). Look at the size of the task!

I stayed with Bub and Martin (and their lovely son Jack and golden retriever Asali) for 17 days which were full of a huge variety of activities and lots of fun.

I visited Winchester Cathedral and it’s amazing Bible – which one isn’t allowed to photograph of course. A church in Winchester dates back to the year AD648. Work started on the Norman Cathedral in 1079. The Cathedral was consecrated in 1093, St Swithin’s bones were solemnly transferred there on 15 July that year, and the old Minster was demolished. The nave was remodeled in the 14th Century and is said to be the longest Cathedral nave in the perpendicular Gothic style – approximately 520 feet. It is absolutely beautiful.

The Cathedral has many claims to fame. Jane Austen’s grave is there. There are six chests containing the bones of bishops, a queen and early kings including Canute. The quire is the oldest of the great medieval quires in England to survive substantially unaltered with beautifully A 5carved characters, beasts and foliage.

We shopped in Winchester (this is the High Street).

Bub also took me to try and find the croquet club but organizing a game with anyone proved just too hard so we gave up on that idea. We kept hoping that Martin could mow their lawn and we could play at home but the weather for the whole time was quite dreadful and it just wasn’t possible to mow.

We went for a wonderful day out in and near Milford, visiting both her sister (who also been at Sherborne) and brother, and had a spectacular drive through the New Forest both ways where there were so many horses and donkeys and so many beautiful trees.

I helped Bub to pick some of her soft fruit crops of gooseberries, raspberries, red and black currants and found a Rotary Club right in the middle of Alresford! Once again I struck gold – they had three events in one week so I joined them for two normal meetings and a new members’ night – all of which were really enjoyable.

One evening Bub and I, with three of her friends, visited the cinema in Winchester and watched Mamma Mia. It was so good to laugh uproariously and it’s a must for any one of our vintage who likes Abba music and outrageous good fun.

Another evening, we went with other friends to one of the offerings of the Winchester Festival – An Evening with Maureen Lipton – which was very funny and most enjoyable.

One of the potential new members of the Alresford Rotary Club had talked to me about a recent purchase she’d made of an electrically assisted bicycle. Talk about serendipity! I’d been thinking of making such a purchase myself and she invited us to visit her home and try it out! I loved her description of her house when she and her husband had purchased it – ‘a wreck with a view’! It certainly isn’t a wreck now, just a few years later and Bub, who’s an avid gardener, couldn’t resist taking a tour!

Riding the bicycle was a delight and I now have a retail contact in New Zealand and look forward to following that upon my return. It isn’t that I’m becoming lazy about riding my bike – it’s just that a little assistance might be nice when riding into 120km headwinds! That is, of course, if someone doesn’t come up with an affordable electric car in the meantime!

After a wonderfully long holiday with one of my oldest friends, it was time to move on again, this time to Sussex!

I took the train to Shopwyke, near Chichester to spend a long weekend with Jen and Colin, my aunt and uncle, who live in the grounds of a boys’ prep school which they used to own and run. Suzi had travelled down from London at about the same time and Adam arrived the next day on his way back from Norfolk, through Brittany, and home to Zurich. And to our surprise, Kate, Bret and the girls turned up with a cake for morning tea on their way to a corporate function in the New Forest! So it was a big family occasion considering that all three of my cousins, Jan, Caro and Jules, and all their children, were also there at some time during the weekend.

After a lovely lunch at their eldest daughter, Jan’s, house at Saturday, we dodged the showers and walked into Chichester, wandered around the shops, explored the Cathedral and walked on the City wall.

Sunday was very cloudy but the rain kept off for a change and I counted twelve cousins and three ‘olds’ engaged in one sport or another. There was heaps of tennis, cricket in the nets, rounders – and croquet of course! And when it was time for a rest, there was always the fish in Colin’s pond who’ll come up and suck your fingers if you have enough patience!

And in the middle of all this, the famous Red Arrows put on a fifteen-minute display during the Festival of Light at Goodwood, which made us feel as if it was carried out over the school grounds entirely for our benefit!

Like every other family, Colin had been prevented from lawn mowing by the almost continuous wet weather. But Monday morning dawned fair and he set to work on the croquet lawn so that we could have a game with the lawn slightly shorter! I’ll never complain again about having to mow my lawn!

It's always hard to leave this very important 'branch' of my special family but it was time to move on again. (Is life just a series of partings, I wondered?)

And so I moved on to Gloucestershire on 19 July. Sometimes it’s very hard to connect with the most important people and so it’s proved with my brother and me. But we managed to change a few arrangements and make it possible to get together. Tony and Janet live in a delightful little village called Little Compton, close to Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire. Tony met me just outside Abingdon and the three of us had a lovely short weekend together and the weather was (finally) kind, so we sat out in their garden which is (obviously) at the back of their cottage (this is a photo of the front!).

It was only to be a very short visit but, unknown to any of us at the time, I was going to turn up again and our days together were very special.

On this visit, Tony took me to visit Chastleton House, the place where the original rules of croquet were written. It’s a Jacobean residence and its entrance is quite unique in that the front entrance doesn’t show a door!

Chastleton House was built as a lavish status symbol for a wealthy wool merchant in the early 1600s. It remained within the same family for almost four hundred years until it came to the National Trust in the 1990s.

It was a Sunday so the House was closed to visitors but Tony was determined to do his best to take a photo of me on the croquet lawns, wielding my mallet – even to the point of seeing if we could get in through the back gate! No such luck, unfortunately!

On the left of the photo, you can see the Church and a bit of the Manor on the right. You might be able to see enough to notice that the architectural detail at the top of both buildings is identical.

In the late afternoon on 21 July, Tony kindly drove me to Cheltenham, about 20 miles away, for the start of my first croquet tournament in England. Here I met up with Pauline who’d also come over from New Zealand on a walking holiday and we’d arranged to play at three tournaments together. More of that later!

Pauline had organized a pleasant self-catering hotel in Cheltenham for our tournament there. It was a listed building so there were restrictions about the windows and no possibility of installing air conditioning. We struck the only fine week so far this summer and found the nights incredibly hot! Adding to the misery, there was a Turkish pizza place opposite the hotel which remained open until 4.00 a.m. Even three floors above the road, the noise some nights was indescribable!

Playing croquet in England is a very different experience. The people are very friendly, the lawns are lovely (if a little fast for me who’s used to the slow lawns of Plimmerton) and no-one seems to worry in the least about time! We had to walk 2 miles to the club (which is now the centre of the Croquet Association in England). We were both greeted very enthusiastically and told who our first opponents were. There was no introduction from the Manager and no words of counsel from the Referee of the Tournament. It was refreshingly laid back, but I felt a little uninformed!

Games were 3¼ hours long and 3½ if it was double banking (two games on the same lawn). Games don’t begin until (approximately) 9.30 so it’s lunchtime by the end of the first game. Everyone makes their way into the clubhouse where a two-course lunch is available for purchase. The cost was about £8-10. Whoever wins offers the loser a drink.

Our first day comprised a handicap single, a handicap double and a level single within grades. Mixing up the various tournaments can be confusing!! I won my handicap single, Pauline and I won our handicap doubles but I narrowly lost my open single so was out of the main draw.

Because we started so late (compared to 8.0 or 8.30 in New Zealand) and played longer games, I didn’t finish my last game until 9.20 p.m! And my feet (not to mention my knees, hips and back!) hurt after the first day in trainers (sneakers) since the end of April! Fortunately, a kind spectator gave me a lift home – Pauline had already gone!

On the second day, and another 2-mile walk to the lawns, Pauline and I won our second round of doubles and I lost the second round of the handicap singles. I could have opted to play a third ‘fun’ game in the open singles but decided that two games was enough and went home early with my kind opponent. My feet were dreadfully sore but I got a bit of relief by drawing the fluid out of all the blisters under my toenails and decided that I’d definitely be playing in sandals the following day! Pauline arrived home very late and tired.

On Wednesday we found a bus to the ground (which couldn’t bring us back because it stopped running at 3.25 p.m.) but that got the day off to a much better start! Pauline and I had another win in the doubles so felt quite good about that! But, after two days of play in the tournament, playing in my trainers (sneakers) for 12 hours a day, the blisters, now underneath every toenail, were getting markedly worse. I hadn’t worn sneakers for 10 weeks and either they’d shrunk or my feet had grown! In any event, it was very, very sore. That day, hoping it wasn’t against tournament protocol, I played in my Birkenstock sandals which stopped things getting any worse but which didn’t, unfortunately, halt the infection which had set in. I consulted a fellow competitor who was a doctor and he recommended a visit to A&E at Cheltenham Hospital. A two-hour wait isn’t bad for the NHS I’m told and they were very good to me and prescribed penicillin which had the desired effect. 

Thursday dawned bright and sunny and sufficiently hot to wear a singlet! We won our doubles yet again and found that we were in the finals on Friday. And I finally won a singles game too! There was a lovely dinner put on for all the competitors in the evening for only £5, which was very delicious and then Tony and Janet arrived at the grounds and we all went off to the cinema to a late performance of Mamma Mia. It isn’t really a chick flick but Tony said he did feel a bit outnumbered in the cinema!

Friday was our last day as Saturday had been reserved for finals. But when Tony and Janet had driven into Cheltenham to see Mamma Mia, they had suggested that a weekend of tender loving care might be the order of the day and on Friday evening, Tony drove all the way back (for the third time!) and took me back to their home! The Manager had kindly allowed our final to be played on Friday for this reason. As it turned out our opponents were far too good on the day and we didn’t get many opportunities to play because they had the bisques (extra turns). They deserved the win. The surprise was that there was a special prize-giving then and there, and although they were awarded a handsome trophy, we were thrilled to be given a glass tankard each to take home, engraved with the Cheltenham Croquet Club logo.

So that was Cheltenham. We made some good friends, exchanged addresses and hope to meet them again one day, perhaps even in New Zealand. One already spends quite a bit of time in New Zealand so we’re sure to see him this coming season.

So we had a second lovely weekend together – this time a bit longer, and managed to fit in some special moments. We went into Stratford-upon-Avon (home of the famous bard).

I marvelled at the hanging baskets everywhere which I thought might match my purple top!

We meandered through the busy streets among the beautiful old buildings, looking for such trivia as old fashioned English potato peelers (you can’t get them anywhere else!) and bean slicers! We had a lovely lunch at a typical English pub with a back garden and then spent an idyllic afternoon in the truly hot sunshine, idly chatting and enjoying the sights and sounds of an English summer. And we were able to have dinner al fresco and enjoy a stunning sunset. A truly lovely interlude.

So, on 27 July, I was off again on a National Express coach the next morning for London with one change at Heathrow airport. My lovely Suzi met me at Victoria bus station to help me cross London with all my luggage. Not only did she help me to get to Ealing on the tube, and safely to Jules and Clive’s home, but she also insisted on going with me to the supermarket to stock up for a two-week siege – so that I didn’t have to carry the shopping all the way home by myself. What a star!

My cousin Jules and family had left that morning for two weeks’ sailing in Turkey and I had been entrusted with their beautiful home and two cats! What a very fortunate coincidence for me. Suzi and I went out in the evening to find somewhere to have dinner and opted for an Italian restaurant. It was a mistake! They had absolutely no idea how to cook! Suzi ordered garlic bread which turned out to be tomato pizza!! I ordered melon and fruit salad which turned out to be a quarter of melon with a slice of tinned pineapple on top. The rest of the meal continued in the same vein and we won’t be going there again!

Jules’ nephew and my cousin once removed, Jo, is living in London at the moment while he completes a year working for Treasury before returning to Bath University for his final year of a degree in economics. I was very surprised one evening to return home to be asked what I thought of the Kiwi Saver scheme. One of his projects at Treasury is to compare superannuation schemes throughout the world and he’d happened upon Kiwi Saver that day!

And so I passed a lovely week and on Thursday went back to Kate’s for two days of nanny duties. On Friday I took the girls back to Ealing via the Chinese Embassy in Regents Park. This was a very frustrating experience! I’d tried to get a Visa in New Zealand before I left but you can’t apply for a visa for China earlier than 3 months before you arrive there. I spent a long time on the net, downloading the correct application forms, collecting the correct documents and return envelope to complete the deal. However, when the three of us turned up at the Embassy we were told to go to the High Commission further down the road, and when we got there we were told we couldn’t be seen unless I had an appointment. I didn’t see anything on the web that told me that and it didn’t help when the official adamantly refused us entry and told me I could go to another venue by bus where I could be seen. With two tinies, I decided to defer the experience to the next time I’m in London. I imagine that the Olympics had something to do with it!

In the event, we hurried to Ealing so that the girls could enjoy the cats, the trampoline, padder tennis, and the sprinkler if it got hot. And Tyla could play music on Luke’s mini piano to lull Tabs to sleep!

We had a lovely day together and in the evening Kate and Bret came over in the car. The traffic had been light so there was still plenty of daylight for Kate to play hockey with the girls and for Bret to play swingball.

And then we all had dinner together before they drove home again and took my little charges with them!

And so it was on to seven days of a croquet tournament at Hurlingham from 2-8 August. Hurlingham used to be the home of the Croquet Association but not any longer now that the Club is being run by a management company to whom croquet is just another event in their enormous calendar of events.

Pauline had also arrived to stay at Jules’ house and we set off to walk to Ealing South tube station, took the Piccadilly Line to Earls Court and then the District Line to Putney Bridge. It was actually about the only time we had to use public transport because another competitor, who also lives in Ealing, very kindly transported us both, morning and evening.

From Putney Bridge station, it’s about 200 metres to the Hurlingham gates but another 300 metres through the beautiful grounds, passing fountains and statues, beautifully manicured lawns and cared for gardens to the clubhouse – and I use the term loosely!

Before play starts it’s common practice to sit in the outside bar area, have a coffee and soak in the environment! Sometimes we had the company of the feathered variety!

Hurlingham is an outstanding venue at which to do almost anything, I imagine, including playing croquet. A club was first formed there in 1869 as ‘an agreeable country resort to promote pigeon shooting’ and the pigeon is still the Club’s crest. Other pastimes have included polo, pony shows, car rallies, balloon ascents, archery and bicycle competitions in the early 20th Century. Lawn tennis began in 1877 and croquet in about 1900 and from 1903 there was a programme of concerts and pastoral plays. The Hurlingham Ball (to which I went as a young thing) can be traced back to 1908. An outdoor swimming pool was built in 1933, squash courts were constructed in 1934 and bowls lawns put down in 1935. The Club was opened in winter with the re-establishment of a nine-hole golf course. Amazingly the main polo ground was turned into allotments during the war! After the war, the London County Council purchased the polo grounds compulsorily and the Club was left with the residue of the original estate – about 42 acres – as it is today.

Tennis has flourished since the war and the cricket field was opened in 1951. We played on the cricket field where the four lawns are slightly heavier. In this photo, you can see a plane coming down to land in London airport. These come past every 90 seconds!

I never did manage to count all the tennis courts, but there are heaps! The Croquet Association had its headquarters there since 1959 until it transferred to Cheltenham quite recently. There are ten croquet lawns (four of which are situated on the cricket pitch area) and six on the fronts. There are also two bowling greens between lawns 5 and 6. The Club has more than 10,000 members and great numbers of guests and visitors.

Hurlingham exudes an old-world charm and there are very definite ‘rules’ which must be obeyed! Cell phones are only allowed in the car park. No sporting equipment can be taken into the bar. Nothing can be eaten on or around the lawns. Anyone playing in a tournament becomes an automatic member for the duration and can sign in a maximum of two visitors. And so on. The hospitality is second to none and made one believe that the croquet was a secondary consideration! We met some lovely people with whom we’ll doubtless remain in touch. A lot of time was spent in the bar or the restaurant enjoying the company of fellow competitors and chilling out.

Before we left New Zealand we’d corresponded at length with Hurlingham to try and find mixed doubles partners for both the handicap doubles and the ‘Class’ doubles which is a seriously senior event! Pauline had found someone she’d met the previous year for the handicap doubles and a lovely man called Richard Hoskins agreed to play with me. Richard plays off an English 1.5 (the grades in England are two above those in New Zealand and no-one knows quite why as every other country conforms with England! Pauline, who’s a scratch in New Zealand is a 2 over here and I’m a 5 in England for the same reason).

Richard and I won four out of our six games – and so did Pauline and Alain – so that was a fairly good start to our week.

The following two days were spent playing handicap singles and I had to give up a lot of bisques to very capable players! At the end of two days, I found myself in the final of the plate which could have gone either way but eventually went to Gina Lewis by two hoops – she played beautifully. At the presentation, only the winner received a prize – a tumbler engraved with the Hurlingham logo. Gina received this but insisted that I take hers home as a memento (and confided that she’d already won heaps by playing in so many tournaments there!!). So now I have a tankard and a tumbler – so don’t be surprised if you drink out of one of them when you come for a visit!

The next two days Pauline and I both played in ‘class singles’ which is where everyone is divided into their grade range. In this tournament, I played two of the best games I’ve ever played but also two of the worst so ended up out of the prizes!

The final day was spent playing in the Championship Mixed Doubles with two partners who’d been found for us. Pauline played with Nelson Morrow – a New Zealander who’s been living in England for some time but who often goes over to New Zealand to play in senior events.

My partner was Nigel Polhill with a handicap of minus .5 (remember that’s 2 higher than in New Zealand!) - seriously good! However, on the day neither of us performed to anything like our potential so we bombed out. Still, Nigel gave me a lift home in his dark green Mazda MX5 with the roof down.

What a treat, which brought back memories of driving my MGB all those years ago when I was really young!

On Sunday morning 11 August, with croquet over, it was great to greet the Turkish sailors who’d arrived home in the middle of the night, exuberant and thrilled with their newly acquired skills, but covered in bruises sustained while sailing in very high winds. Clive and Alexandra kindly took me to the tube and I set off for Victoria Coach Station to meet up with Pauline who’d left the day before to take in a West End Show.

I’ve always preferred trains to buses and this journey absolutely reinforced the reasons why! It’s almost always a tube ride to a train station so the tube has to be negotiated whatever you do. But Victoria Coach Station, central though it is, is quite a hike from the tube and mainline stations and it feels as if everyone else is making exactly the same journey. They’re either going the same way as you are – very slowly – or they’re coming towards you! Negotiating pavements full of people trundling luggage is a very slow process and when you’re trundling a case behind you on both hands, you need even more space if you’re going to pass anyone. I was hot and cross when I finally arrived at Bay 18 of the Coach Station and Pauline was on the point of ringing me to see where I’d got to.

Even when you’re on the couch, you have to wear your seat belt and the journey in this case from London to Nottingham takes 3 hours and 20 minutes (only 1 hour and 20 minutes by train where you can walk through the train unrestricted!). I hope I never have to go by coach anywhere again!

When we lived in Broxbourne we had two lovely neighbours called Roy and Elissa. Soon after we went to New Zealand, they moved up to Cropwell Butler, a village about 20 minutes east of Nottingham. They’d very kindly opened their home to both Pauline and me and we had a week of unbelievable hospitality – and unlimited use of Elissa’s car – which was a huge bonus.

Elissa used to have her own business providing catering to corporate dining rooms, weddings, special occasions and the like, and is a fabulous cook and provider. We felt very pampered, coming home quite late evening after evening and being treated to sumptuous fare like the meal she gave us on our last evening – starters of potted shrimps from Morecombe (Elissa told us that the Queen eats these frequently!). And delectable Grape Brulée for dessert.

With magnificent roast duck in between (that photo didn’t come out very well and by the time I realized, I’d eaten it all up!!)

The Nottingham tournament was much the same as the other two. The weather was the worst we’d experienced and we spent a lot of time in our waterproofs. The grounds, however, were absolutely stunning with lawns 1-5 stretching out into the distance one way, and magnificent trees surrounding lawns 6 and 7 stretching out the other

On the odd moment when there was a gap between games, it was lovely to wander in the grounds behind the lawns and enjoy the tranquility and the wildlife.

Neither Pauline nor I covered ourselves with glory at this tournament and didn’t make the final day on Saturday, so we had a lovely day out with Elissa instead.

She took us to the Workhouse in Southwell.

This was built in 1824 but this exterior picture doesn’t give any indication of the grim reality that existed within, where we weren’t allowed to take photos. The Workhouse concept introduced a harsh and revolutionary system that was designed to cut the cost of caring for the poor. The system started in Southwell and was later adopted across a national network of over 600 Union workhouses. I found the experience very upsetting and saddening.

From the Workhouse we moved on to a lovely garden centre nearby in Southwell where we had a delicious snack lunch (not daring to eat much with Elissa’s cooking to look forward to in the evening) and wandered around a swan sanctuary in its grounds.

Then we drove into the town and visited the beautiful Minster.

Southwell Minster was founded in Saxon times and rebuilt by the Normans as an independent church in the Diocese of York. The different architecture of the two periods is very evident. It was damaged in the Civil War and later restored. It became the Cathedral of Nottinghamshire in 1884.

Instead of returning to Cropwell Butler the way we’d come, Elissa drove us through the centre of Newark with its quaint streets and lovely old buildings.

Our coach didn’t leave Nottingham until the afternoon so we had time (and the weather) to spend in their beautiful garden, pulling out the odd weed. Elissa has designed and built a beautiful Japanese area for which she still has many plans but, situated as it is right outside the spare bedrooms, it’s a very restful sight first thing in the morning when pulling the curtains!

Finally, it was time to say goodbye to good friends, and Honey, who’d all been unfailingly kind and hospitable. 

I spent another five days in London with the family before Suzi and I set off for a two-week tour of northern England and Scotland on 23 August. It was a Bank holiday weekend – something we hadn’t thought of when we’d decided on our dates. As the expression goes, ‘the world and his wife’ were out and about and we were very glad that we’d booked our first three nights of accommodation in advance!

Kate and family very kindly dropped me off at Kings Cross on their way out to make a start on their own long weekend plans. Suzi wasn’t far behind me and we soon found each other under the departure board – an easy meeting place.

Our train was called the Flying Scotsman, bound for Edinburgh. Apparently the 10.00 a.m. train is always called the Flying Scotsman, based on a long tradition! Just as the train to Inverness is called the Highland Chieftan and the train to Aberdeen is called the Northern Lights!

I couldn’t believe that this was the name of the train! The original flying Scotsman locomotive was completed in 1923. It was called 4472 following the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924 and 1925. Its inaugural journey from London to Edinburgh (a distance of 392 miles) took place on 1 May 1928. It hauled 9 tons of coal and a water trough system, and the journey in those days took 8 hours non-stop (it’s about 4.5 hours today). On 30 November 1934 Locomotive 4472 became the first steam locomotive to record a speed of 100 mph.

But that was then. This was now!

York was the third stop on the express route and this was where we’d decided to pick up our hire car (rather than making our way out of a very congested London!). The train part of the journey was wonderful. In less than two hours, we were transported effortlessly about 175 miles north of London.

However, total pandemonium awaited us at York. Rain had fallen incessantly for much of the previous week and the Bank holiday weekend races had been cancelled. As a result, the city was teeming with people at a loose end because the hotels had refused to refund anyone’s money. Why should they really – the weather was hardly their fault.

We’d been told that it was a ten-minute walk to the hire car company but when we asked the way we were assured that it was at least a ten-minute car journey! And of course the taxi couldn’t penetrate the traffic or the pedestrians and we only had 30 minutes from the arrival of the train until the closing of the car hire company – until Tuesday morning! Sitting in the back of a stationary taxi was hopefully the most stressful thing we’d have to endure for the whole of our fortnight’s holiday!

We just made it!!

Well – if our first day was a forerunner of what was to come, then it was going to be a memorable two weeks. Suzi is the most wonderful companion and, in such close proximity for fifteen days, that’s fairly important! As you’ll see, if you decide to read on, we had an amazing time!

So it was that on 24 August, we set off on the A59 towards Knaresborough. Our first destination was Mother Shipton’s Cave, Petrifying Well, and Historic Park. This is a ‘must see’’.

Royalty showed considerable interest in this site. In 1538, Henry VIII sent a member of his staff to research and investigate the Well’s reputed magical powers. King Charles 1 sold the Park to a local gentleman, Sir Charles Slingsby, in 1630. He soon realized its earning potential so he charged people for guided tours and to sample the Petrifying Well’s magical waters. In doing so, he unwittingly created England’s oldest tourist attraction.

The Park is unique and is now all that remains, unspoiled, of the ancient Forest of Knaresborough on the banks of the beautiful River Nidd.

The Forest contains many varieties of old English trees, oak, beech, ash, and hornbeam. Sir Henry Slingsby created the Long Walk and Beech Avenue in the 1700s, where the rich used to promenade. The Walk is listed by English Heritage. The beech trees are truly beautiful and very tall as you can see.

A ruined castle stands on the hill above the river. It’s likely that a Saxon fortress originally stood on this site although it wasn’t mentioned in the Domesday Book. Historians believe it must have been built by Henry 1 or Rufus.

The earliest reference to the castle is in a document dated 1130 AD which records that £11 was spent on the ‘King’s works’. Richard II is believed to have been imprisoned there and many Kings stayed there while hunting in Knaresborough forest. James I gave it to his son Charles. It was finally partly dismantled in 1648 so that it could not be tenanted again.

Having walked along Beech Avenue and past the Castle, we came at last to the Petrifying Well, so-called because it was long believed to have magical powers.

The magical waters that fall over the front of the rock and into the well come from a natural lake about a mile underground. As the waters climb to the surface, they travel along a narrow band of porous rock called an ‘aquifer’ and dissolve the massive amounts of minerals, just the right amount for turning things into stone. Compared to a stalactite or stalagmite, any item placed in the water (or hung below the drips like those in the picture), turns to stone, or petrifies, very quickly. A small teddy bear can take 3-4 months to become completely solid.

Beside the Well is Mother Shipton’s Cave. This is a legendary place. In July 1488, Agatha Sontheil sought refuge in the famous cave and gave birth to a baby girl she named Ursula and this is where the amazing story of Mother Shipton began. Agatha was only 15 and wouldn’t reveal the father’s identity. Ursula was born disfigured and twisted, unable to walk without a stick. When a local carpenter, Toby Shipton, married her, local people said she must have cast a spell on him. She had no parents to support her and no-one was prepared to give her shelter or work. She and her daughter lived in the cave for two years until the Abbot of Beverly placed Agatha in a Convent. The 2-year old Ursula was taken in and raised by a local family but many people thought she was a witch and she was constantly taunted by townsfolk because of her rather frightening appearance.

For peace and quiet, she would spend time near her birthplace and as she grew into a young woman she realised she could predict the future. Her reputation spread.
As she grew older, her prophetic visions became known and feared throughout England. She foretold the invasion of the Spanish Armada, the discoveries of the potato and tobacco. Samuel Pepys’s diary of the Fire of London grimly records ‘Mother Shipton’s Prophecy is out’. Her legendary prophecies included planes, boats, cars, and telephones.

Ultimately, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey became aware of her. He sent the Duke of Suffolk, Lord D’Arcy and the Earl of Northumberland to seek her out and, hopefully, to silence her. Although they disguised themselves when they visited her, she knew who they were and predicted their death on the pavements of York. Some years later in a Royal rebellion, all three were executed and beheaded at York. Their heads were mounted on wooden stakes and placed above the pavements on Micklegate, just as she had prophesied.

She died in 1561 aged 73. The church refused her a Christian burial. Instead, she was given a secret resting place by friends and followers, believed to be near to her birthplace. It remains a secret to this day.

From Knaresborough, we took the A59 to Harrogate and then turned onto the A61 to go up to Ripon. We passed through the City fairly quickly but stopped to admire its beautiful Cathedral.

Ripon’s first recorded church was an Anglo-Saxon Monastery in 657 AD by Alchfrith. In 671 AD, St Wilfrid, the Bishop of York, was given the Monastery, which was near the site of the present Cathedral. In 672 AD a first stone church was built on the same site by St Wilfrid, Ripon’s patron saint. However, owing to the destruction of churches that took place periodically in England, probably by the Saxons in 950 AD, in this case, all that remains of St Wilfrid’s church today is the Anglo-Saxon crypt.

Almost immediately after Ripon church was destroyed, a new one was built, this lasting until its destruction by the Normans sometime after 1066. The Normans began building a new church in 1080. Further reconstruction took place a century later in 1181 under Roger de Ponte l’Eveque, who rebuilt the church in the Norman traditional style. The Cathedral as we see it today is largely his work.

We continued on up the A61 and joined the A1(M) motorway to spend our first night at Bedale. Our accommodation was at The Lodge at Leeming Bar, Great North Road, Leeming Bar, Bedale DL8 1DT, +44 1677 422122, and we’d recommend it. Breakfast the next morning was sensational!

The next day, we set off early to drive through the Yorkshire Dales. We marvelled at the enormous number of dry stone walls and wondered how much longer they’d take to build than the traditional New Zealand fences.

Our first stop of the day was to visit Castle Bolton, situated between Leyburn and Aysgarth off the A684.

Bolton Castle is a stunning medieval castle, owned by Lord Bolton and preserved in outstanding condition. It was built in 1379 by the first Lord Scrope, Chancellor of England, and completed in 1399.

It was used as a fortress from 1568-1569 when Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner here by Elizabeth I. Its scars bear testament to over six hundred years of history including A 10being besieged during the Civil War and Mary Queen of Scots imprisonment.

There is a medieval garden, Including herbs, roses, a vineyard, and maze.

We were extremely fortunate to find that our visit coincided with that of a group of people whose hobby it is to tour from venue to venue to re-enact period events. On this occasion they inhabited Bolton Castle for the weekend in the guise of Knights, Earls and Ladies in the time of Edward I. Here the Earl of Warwick helps Suzi to try on his helmet as he prepares to dress for a jousting tournament with some of his ‘enemies’.

Suzi and I climbed to the very top of the battlements where the views were lovely and peaceful.

From Bolton, we travelled to the Aysgarth Falls just a short distance away on the A684.

These had been enthusiastically written up in the guide book but we found the National Trust visitor centre disappointingly short of information. The entry fee to walk to the three levels of the Falls was £3 and we had to pay to park as well – as was the case at every National Trust site. It’s possible to get a clear view of the point at which the previously placid River Ure suddenly begins to plunge in foaming torrents over wide limestone shelves.

The Falls are on three levels, and it was certainly a very pleasant walk to get to each level. Turner painted the impressive lower falls in 1817.

Probably more spectacular was our next visit to Hardrow Falls, a fairly short drive away towards Kendal. At the tiny village of Hardraw is England’s tallest single-drop waterfall, with no outcrops to interrupt its 29m fall.

It became famous in Victorian times when the daredevil Blondin walked across it on a tightrope. We’d been told that it was possible to walk right under the fine waterfall against the rock face and look through the stream without getting wet. Unfortunately, construction work was taking place when we visited and such a walk was considered too dangerous.

In order to access the Falls, you have to pass through the Green Dragon Inn.

We weren’t quite sure why, unless it was to encourage you to partake of their sumptuous food and drink because no-one took your money inside the pub. However, there was a man waiting at a gate just behind the pub who took a fee of £2 from each of us and directed us to take care! We passed a camping ground on the way to the Falls and it was clear that many people stay here and A 18cycle and walk in the surrounding countryside.

We left Hardrow and drove in the direction of Kendall on the A684 and from there moved onto the A591 to Windermere where we stopped for a moment to admire the lake and drove along the lakeside road, with Lake Grasmere keeping the scenery beautiful.

We drove through Ambleside with its lovely church.

And on to Keswick where we turned off briefly to visit the Castlerigg Stone Circle.

Unfortunately a coach load of tourists had spilled out all over the circle just before we arrived, which made photo-taking very difficult! It’s believed that the stone circle at Castlerigg pre-dates Stonehenge.

From here we took the A66 towards Penrith and the M6 to Carlisle. Our hotel for the night was meant to be on the outskirts of the City, but we didn’t know in which direction!! We should have taken more trouble to get ourselves an internet map because we went around Carlisle a few times before we managed to follow the directions we were kindly given by many of the locals! The hotel was called Wallfoot Hotel and Restaurant in Crosby on Eden and is probably not one that we would recommend. Dinner was superb but the choices for breakfast were only mediocre (no fruit at all!) and the service at reception was really quite bad.

On 25 August, we crossed into Scotland. My maternal grandfather was a Scot and Suzi was very keen to explore some of her ‘beginnings’. As everyone knows, Scotland's emblem is the Thistle.

It’s money is Scottish and because we couldn’t take a photo of the Forth Bridge, even though we crossed it four times, we thought we’d take a photo of the note instead! It was interesting that I got some funny looks from English retailers when I got back to England and proffered my remaining Scottish notes!

And we’d expected to hear lots of music played with these – but we didn’t!

Before we actually crossed the border, we decided that, as our hotel was on the eastern outskirts of Carlisle, we’d travel further east along the A689 and visit Hadrian’s Wall.

On our way, we passed Lanercost Priory, one of the most romantic and superbly preserved medieval monastic sites in northern England.

It was founded in about 1169 and became the home of a community of Augustinian canons. For five months in 1306-07 the Priory unexpectedly became the focus of national affairs during a prolonged visit by Edward I. Lanercost was dissolved in 1537 during the Reformation and its buildings were converted into a grand residence. During the 18th century, the house was abandoned and the whole nave of the priory church was restored and re-roofed and continues to serve as the parish church.

Only a few miles further along the road we came to our first evidence of the famous Hadrian’s Wall.

On the orders of Emperor Hadrian, work began in AD120 on a 73 mile wall, to be erected across northern England to mark and defend the northern limits of the British province and the north-west border of the Roman Empire. Troops were stationed at ‘milecastles’ along the wall and large turrets, later forts, were built at 5-mile intervals. The wall, now the responsibility of English Heritage, was abandoned in AD 383 as the Empire crumbled, but much of it remains.

More evidence of the wall appeared beside the road as we drove along. Look – a tiny bit of blue sky!!

We arrived at Birdoswald, which is a well-preserved turret and pre-war signal tower, where there’s much more evidence of a fairly large fort having existed.

We saw some very healthy cattle nearby and sheep, all of which were sufficiently tame to allow us to touch them. Because of the enormous amount of rain that’s fallen in Europe this summer, the land, and consequently the animals grazing on it, looked extremely well nourished!

Although our first two days had been relatively fine, rain was predicted for this day, but we were fortunate that it didn’t start until we finished our visit to the wall. As we were still so close to Carlisle, we decided to go back into the City on the A69 to visit the Cathedral and the Castle. Suzi had been told by a friend that Carlisle was ‘eminently missable’ and although she agreed somewhat with that opinion, I was impressed with the City for a number of reasons.

It was raining by this time but despite the wet weather, market stalls remained up and traders continued to sell their wares. They were very cheerful and friendly.

From the town centre, we strolled in the drizzle to the Cathedral.

An earlier church close to the present cathedral has long been suspected by the number of 8th to 10th century cross fragments found in the vicinity. Evidence of the Christian graveyard used between 700 and 1000 came with excavations in 1985 and 1989. Viking-age objects were found and burials may have been those of immigrants, perhaps even real Vikings!

Founded in 1122 it boasts stained glass windows from the 14th to the 20th centuries and an amazing ceiling. In 1122 King Henry I replaced the original building by founding the priory. Ten years later, perhaps more to consolidate the Border than for any ecclesiastical motive, he created the Diocese of Carlisle. So the priory church became the cathedral and Athelwold of Nostell in Yorkshire its first Bishop. Most medieval cathedrals were ruled by Benedictine monks. Carlisle was unique in being in the care of Augustinian canons.

Because of its proximity to the Scottish border, Carlisle has long been a defensive site. It’s one of Britain’s oldest cities and dominates the borderlands between England and Scotland. Originally known as Luguvalium by the Romans, it was an outpost of Hadrian’s Wall. Carlisle was sacked and pillaged repeatedly by the Danes, the Normans and border raiders, and suffered damage as a Royalist stronghold under Cromwell. The Celts, Romans, King Arthur, and Bonnie Prince Charlie have all left their mark on Carlisle. Today it’s the capital of Cumbria.

The Norman Castle has a small museum devoted to the King’s Own Border Regiment. The Castle dates from 1122 and features a decorative east window.

But the weather was pretty dreadful by this time, with fairly heavy rain and strong wind so we decided to forego our sightseeing and only managed to take a photo of the Castle as we drove past on the other side of the road.

And so we set off for Loch Lomond, our destination for the night. Travelling on the M6 from Carlisle to Glasgow in driving rain and heavy mist was very disappointing and we were quite glad to divert north-east on the A701 to find an attraction recommended by a friend, the Devil’s Beef Tub, near Moffat. Whether it was the weather or the lack of a signpost, we don’t know, but we missed it completely and spent the next couple of hours doing a tiki tour to get ourselves back on the right route via all sorts of small country roads.

We have no idea where we went but the weather began to improve and we stopped to have a picnic as soon as we felt comfortable that we knew where we were! Looking out onto the hillsides covered in purple heather and realizing that the sun was finally emerging from the clouds, we began to enjoy the beauty of Scotland at its best.

By-passing Glasgow, an accident on the M8 from Edinburgh to Dumbarton (the road we’d just joined from the south) caused a diversion which must have cost us about an hour. Fortunately the road the rest of the way was just fine (can you hear the Scottish intonation?) and we arrived at Luss, on the western edge of Loch Lomond, with plenty of daylight left to explore and the sun appearing magically to enhance the views. Before we checked into The Colquhoun Arms Hotel, we passed these two delightful cottages on the shores of the lake and noticed that most of the cottage gardens in this village are similarly well stocked and cared for. This was the view they enjoyed.

We walked down the main street – our view from our bedroom window! When we reached the jetty, we weren’t surprised to find that even the ducks couldn’t get enough of the view.

Loch Lomond is considered to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. A mere 14 miles north of Glasgow it’s hard to believe that this awesome natural beauty spot is less than an hour’s journey away from more than 70% of Scotland’s population. For all its accessibility, it remains a gloriously unspoiled place. It’s now the centerpiece of Scotland’s first National Park. The Trossachs National Park came into being as recently as 2002 and covers a huge area of 720 square miles.

The Loch (lake) looked truly beautiful in the setting sun with Ben (mountain) Lomond towering over it.

Twilight was approaching, but there was just time to take a speedboat ride and see the view from a different perspective. Loch Lomond is the largest surface area of freshwater in the UK. It’s 24 miles long and 5 miles wide and 600 feet deep at its deepest point. There are 200 species of birds on the islands and over 25% of Britain’s wild plants have been recorded there. Although Loch Lomond is not the deepest loch, it has claimed more lives than any other loch because of its dangerous waters.

The Loch contains 38 islands, one of which, called Inchlonaig (Yew tree island) is just off the coast at Luss.

The yew trees after which this island is named are reputed to have been replanted by King Robert the Bruce after using the wood for the bows of his archers. The island was owned for centuries by the Colquhouns who farmed deer here. The island is one mile long and has a maximum height of 200 feet.

This was an exhilarating end to another splendid day.

On 26 August, we set off for the Western Isles.  Our day dawned fair and we travelled north from Luss on the A82, passing this lovely looking hotel, The Tarbet, just north of our own. The Information Centre in Luss was closed until after 10.00 but this hotel was a mine of information – much more helpful than our own! In fact, we wouldn’t recommend The Colquhoun Arms Hotel – nothing we could really put our finger on and we both slept really well – but the service was almost surly – not at all what we expected from Scottish folk!

The road would round the western edge of the Loch so our journey was very picturesque for mile upon mile – although very grey!

Unfortunately, the cloud dropped lower and lower and rain soon set in – not a problem for us as we had quite a long journey to cover. Occasionally there were road works and this sign by lights amused us both!

Close to Fort William we passed Glencoe one of the most poignant names in Highland folklore, remembered for the infamous massacre. In 1692 the Chief of the Glencoe McDonalds was five days late in registering an oath of submission to William III, giving the Government an excuse to rout out a nest of Jacobite supporters. For ten days 130 soldiers captained by Robert Campbell were hospitably entertained by the unsuspecting MacDonalds. At dawn on 13 February, in a terrible breach of trust, the soldiers fell on their hosts, killing some 38 MacDonalds. Many more died in their wintry mountain hideouts. The massacre, unsurprisingly became a political scandal although there were to be no official reprimands for three years.

As we neared Fort William, there was a break in the clouds as we passed beside the beautiful Loch Linnhe.

Leaving Fort William on the A830, we got stuck in some serious road widening of the road to Mullaig (which has been going on for over a year already) we had time to sit and enjoy the beautiful heather.

When we arrived in Mallaig in an uncomfortable drizzle, without a reservation for the night, we happened upon a lovely B&B called The Anchorage, Gillies Park, Mallaig, anchoragemallaig@btopenworld.com which we’d highly recommend. We found the Ferry terminal for our early morning sailing and then wandered around the tiny village and talked to the local shopkeepers who were a fount of information.

We crossed over to Skye on 27 August. What a day! Having Sunny Suzie around is always a delight! Despite the weather forecasts, she always manages to bring out the sunshine!

The ferry crossing was excellent. Thinking that we’d find ourselves surrounded by all our fellow passengers at every beauty spot, we hurried straight to our first destination, Armadale Castle. We thought that Bolton Castle might have spoiled us for all subsequent castles we visited, but each one had special attributes that made it different.

The MacDonalds arrived in Skye from the Southern Hebrides in the 15th Century. They occupied castles at Dunscaith and Knock, both within a few miles of Armadale and Duntulm castle at the north end of Skye. From the 1650s the MacDonald chiefs stayed at Armadale as well. From the 1700s onwards, it was used first as a dower house and then rented out to others. Flora MacDonald of Bonnie Prince Charlie fame was married at Armadale on 6th November 1750. Around 1790 Lord MacDonald returned to build a new mansion house. With these exciting new beginnings and the start of the plantings that are visible today around the gardens, Armadale was and still is, a demonstration of the wealth and lifestyle of the landed aristocracy. In 1815 the Mansion House was extended to form Armadale Castle, designed by the architect James Gillespie Graham. In 1855 fire destroyed much of the original house which was replaced by the central section designed by David Bryce.

In 1925 the Macdonald family moved to a smaller house leaving the castle to the wind and rain. Today the Gillespie Graham section is a sculptured ruin and garden. With the staircase and façade remaining, it is often used for wedding ceremonies. Housed in the original mansion circa 1790 are the Somerled Rooms; a unique conference and wedding facility.

The Clan Donald has exercised a powerful influence on Highland history. Translated literally as the children of Donald it was named after its founder, Donald until forfeiture of the Lordship in 1493 when the Scottish King took the title away. Even then the influence of Clan Donald survives. The seven main branches of the Clan (Antrim, Ardnamurchan, Ranald, Glencoe, Glengarry, Keppoch and Sleat) held extensive estates from Ulster to Skye. Gradually these lands were sold or confiscated. In 1971 the last remaining lands to be held by one of the Clan chiefs came up for sale. These were the lands in Skye of which Armadale is the heart. They were purchased by a charitable trust, the Clan Donald Land Trust, founded and now supported by Clan Donald members worldwide. Clan Donald is still the largest Clan in Scotland. Descendants of the thousands of MacDonalds who emigrated make it the largest in the world.

The gardens were lovely and the views that the occupants of the Castle must have experienced across the ocean were splendid.

We decided to play the day by ear and stop whenever the opportunities presented themselves. Our route was through Portree, and right around the Trotternish peninsula, before ending up in Dunvegan for the night.

We had to stop and photograph the tiny lighthouse at Isle Ornsay
before passing through the wonderful Cuillin mountains, which looked particularly splendid with the passing clouds.

When the Cuillin mountains are wreathed in low cloud, creating ever-changing eerie forms looming over the landscape, they’re felt to be at their most mysterious and Skye at its most characteristic. The word Skye means ‘island of mists’ – derived from the old Norse word ‘sky’, meaning a cloud and ‘ey’, an island.

The Cuillins, perhaps the most spectacular mountains in Britain, are visible from every point in Skye and their lonely splendour has played its part in creating the island’s myths and legends.

We watched the Ferry approaching Raasay.

So much of the landscape reminded us of New Zealand. Had it not been for the almost continuous purple heather covering the hills, one could have been forgiven for believing that we’d been transported back there! This young pine forest certainly reminded us of home.

Until we came across sights that were completely unique to Skye like the Mealt Falls at Staffin and the minute cottages containing authentic memories of bygone years contained at the Isle of Skye Museum at Kilmuir.

Close by is the cemetery where Flora MacDonald, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s saviour, was buried.

I wonder if you remember the story? Early on a June morning in 1746, Flora MacDonald was woken by her cousin, Neil, with the dramatic request that she help save his companion, the fugitive Bonnie Prince Charlie – Prince Charles Edward Stuart – the young Pretender to the Throne.

He’d been pursued relentlessly for three months following the defeat of his Highland army at Culloden. Now on the island of South Uist, a daring plan was necessary if he were to escape the Government troops and make the perilous journey to Skye. Flora first obtained passes for her manservant and her fictitious maid, Betty Burke, the disguised Prince Charles. Knowing they faced certain death if they were caught. Flora, her cousin Neil, the Prince and a party of oarsmen then set off on the evening of 28 June.

Having been fired on by soldiers from the Skye shore, they eventually landed to the north of the island after fifteen hours at sea. The small party made for Portree where they made their farewells and parted. Flora and the Prince were never to meet again.

In 1774, Flora and her husband Alan, and two of their five sons left Skye where their farm income had fallen and set sail for North Carolina. Almost immediately after settling on a plantation, the family became caught up in the unrest leading to the American War of Independence. Alan and their two sons joined the British but their fight was short-lived. Alan was captured and held for two years during which time the loyal Flora refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to the North Carolina Congress and the family plantation was confiscated as a result.

After a brief reunion, Alan rejoined the army and in 1779 Flora decided to visit her homeland. At sea, their ship was attacked by French pirates and during the skirmish, Flora fell and broke her arm. She was in pain for the rest of her life.

Flora and her husband were reunited on Skye in 1784. Both had suffered physically from their adventures and from the loss of two sons on active service. Their last years were peaceful – they could look back with pride on lives of courage and loyalty.

In 1788 Prince Charles died in Rome. A little over two years later, Flora too passed away. At her funeral, thousands came to pay homage. Wrapped in the sheet from the Prince’s bed she had kept for 44 years, Flora was laid to rest at Kilmuir on her beloved Skye.

Finally, we arrived in Dunvegan after a really lovely day journeying around an island of remarkable beauty. We finished the day as we’d begun, exploring another castle, seat of the MacLeods where the current Chief is the 30th in line.

Dunvegan Castle has been the stronghold of the Chiefs of MacLeod for nearly 800 years and remains the ancestral home of the present Chief, Hugh MacLeod of MacLeod, the 30th of his line and family. Anyone who visits Dunvegan follows in the footsteps of the present Queen who visited the Castle in 1956. As indeed, did her parents, the then Duke and Duchess of York in 1933.

Dunvegan is steeped in history and Clan legend, providing a glimpse into its rich inheritance through the full spectrum of great Clan battles, legends, tragedies, murders most foul and great loves and romances. A MacLeod crest is inscribed with a bull’s head and the family motto, Hold Fast. This originates from one of the exploits of Malcolm, the third Chief, 1296-1370.

On our tour of the castle we learned about the Fairy Flag, the sacred banner which is said to possess miraculous powers for the Clan. Legend has it that when the flag was unfurled in battle, the Clan MacLeod would defeat their enemies. The flag is displayed in the Castle surrounded by the fascinating legends of its mysterious origins.

Leaving the castle, we wandered through the beautiful gardens and then it was high time to retire to our lovely hotel, The Tables Hotel, and Restaurant, Main Street, Dunvegan IV55 8WA – bookings@tableshotel.co.uk which we’d highly recommend, although it was on the expensive side at £77 a night for the two of us.

On our second day in Skye, our first visit was to the Whisky Distillery at Talisker. The only distillery on the Isle of Skye, it’s set on the shores of Loch Harport with dramatic views of the Cuillins. The publicity says that this alluring, sweet, full-bodied single malt is so easy to enjoy and, like Skye itself so hard to leave.

Despite the fact that I have never liked whisky, and neither of us took advantage of the free tasting (with apologies to the whisky drinkers!), Suzi and I enjoyed a forty-minute tour around this splendid distillery. We’ve since spoken to a number of Scots who tell us that Takisker whisky wouldn’t be their first choice!

We were told that Talisker’s style is totally unique. They say it is ‘assertive, but not heavy, pronounced in flavour and aroma but extremely elegant’.

Talisker’s ‘peat reek’ comes from the kiln and from the distinctive, peaty spring water. It also has a ‘marine’ aroma – a seaweedy seashore fragrance that permeates the texture. These characteristics mingle with its more readily identifiable features – ‘the aroma of smoke and wood, the velvet smooth flavour and the satisfying weight’.

Talisker malt whisky had already built an outstanding reputation when Robert Louis Stevenson visited Skye in the 1880s. He immortalized it in his poem, The Scotsman’s Return from Abroad in 1880, ‘the king o’ drinks as I conceive it’.

We learned so much and had a last look at all the barrels of whisky that will be hitting the shops in the future – some not for many years but one, 29 years old, next year!

We spent the rest of the day travelling, on the lookout for anything that might catch our fancy. We were again impressed by the similarity between Scotland and New Zealand. We passed so many beautiful views, unusual coloured rocks, stunning ‘purple’ heather, and traditional highland cattle, which Suzi adored!

There were many, many apparently isolated white houses on hillsides covered with the purple heather and road signs in both English and Gaelic.

We passed the ruins of the beautiful Eileen Doonan Castle just south of the Kyle of Lochalsh. A Jacobite stronghold, it was destroyed in 1719 by English warships. In the 19th century it was restored and now contains Jacobite relics.

We also passed yet another stunning ruined castle, Urquhart Castle, on the shores of Loch Ness south of Inverness. Urquhart Castle is one of the 345 heritage sites, from the Scottish Highlands and Islands to the Borders, in the care of Historic Scotland. This is an atmospheric ruin overlooking the dark waters of Loch Ness and the mountains beyond. This dramatic castle has a long and bloody history from clan feuds to Jacobite uprisings. Once one of Scotland’s mightiest strongholds, Urquhart Castle’s strategic location gave it a key role in the Scottish battle for independence. It came under the control of Robert the Bruce before a 150 year power struggle between the Stewart dynasty and the MacDonald Lords of the Isles.

Loch Ness is 23 miles south-west of Inverness. It’s Scotland’s second largest lake with a surface area of 21.8 m² but owing to its great depth it’s the largest loch by volume. It’s 230m at its deepest point and contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined!

We arrived in Ullapool and started our search for a Bed and Breakfast. We were fortunate in our very first choice and stayed in a lovely room at The Old Surgery, 3 West Terrace, Ullapool, Wester Ross IV26 2UU – which had everything we needed for £60.

Leaving Ullapool this morning, we set off early to drive all the way to the Castle of Mey in Caithness. A 74It was the most beautiful journey with astonishing views at almost every turn.

Much of the road was the standard width, but there were quite long stretches that were single-lane with parking places.

We made our first stop at Smoo Caves at Durness. Archaeological excavations have established that the main cave and three of the adjacent small caves have been both workshops and home to many generations of seafarers. There’s evidence of a past life at Smoo, possibly as long as 7,000 years ago when the first hunter-gatherers arrived in the north of Scotland. Here’s the view looking down at the caves below.

Viking evidence including deposits of ship nails, rivets, and metal slag indicates not only fishing but also boat building and repair. Also recovered during excavation were pieces of worked bone and antler fashioned into pins and possibly knife handles dating from 12-13 centuries.

Then we saw the beautiful Castle Varrich in the distance.

We passed absolutely heaps of cyclists laden with panniers and backpacks, but, given the vast distances, it was often impossible to know where they were coming from or going to.

Living as we have in a rural area in New Zealand, we’ve always been very impressed by the huge area our postie covers. When we passed posties in rural Scotland, we had to believe that rural posties in New Zealand had an easy life by comparison!!

Having passed black rocks on the side of the road, we passed some beautiful pink ones too!

Our next stop was at the Dunnet Head Lighthouse, just north of Thurso. It’s the most northerly point of mainland Britain (further north even than John o’Groats!).

Although this building is high above sea level, we were beset by flies which apparently come out of the kelp on the seashore below. They didn’t bite – they just landed – in droves!

Dunnet Head lighthouse was built in 1831 by Robert Stevenson, grandfather of the author Robert Louis Stevenson. The stone was taken by horse and cart 3.2 km overland from Brough Harbour. Three keepers staffed the lighthouse until 1989, when it became automated.

Despite standing 105 metres above sea level, windows in the lighthouse have been broken by stones hurled up by waves. To the seaward side of the lighthouse stands a tower housing the now unused foghorn.

Erosion and subsidence caused two earlier foghorns to fall into the sea.

Dunnet Head is formed from layers of old red sandstone which, over the millennia, has worn away to create these cliffs with their numerous ledges. These ledges now form ideal nesting conditions for thousands of seabirds including guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes and puffins. Overhead, marauding skewers patrol.

Moving back from the cliff edges, a rich fringe of heathland quickly gives way to blanket bog and dubh lochans (black lochs). Here, among the rarer semi-arctic and common moorland plants, can be found discover spring squill, orchids and insect-eating sundews.

Leaving Dunnet Head we headed for the highlight of the day, the Castle and Gardens of Mey, the late Queen Mother’s home in Caithness, the most northerly castle on the UK mainland.

The Castle stands in a magnificent setting on the Caithness coast with glorious views across the Pentland Firth toward Orkney. The Castle of Mey was built in the late 16th century by George Sinclair, the fourth earl of Caithness and was occupied by his descendants for over 300 years. This colourful period in the Castle’s history embraces the dark deeds of the earliest owners as well as the eccentric activities of later occupants, such as the 14th earl who brought the first steam car to this part of Scotland in 1860. The 15th Earl of Caithness was the last Sinclair to live at Mey. When he died in 1889 the Castle entered a period of decline until it was bought by the Queen Mother in 1952. She then restored the Castle and Gardens to their former glory.

When the Queen Mother first saw the Castle of Mey it was in a poor state of repair. Recently widowed and looking for somewhere to escape from the public eye, she decided to save it from ruin. This she did and in the process created a much loved holiday home to which she returned every summer for the rest of her life. Today the Castle is kept as it was when the Queen Mother was in residence. With the help of knowledgeable guides, visitors gain a fascinating insight into her personality, her interests and her love of life.

The Queen Mother established the Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey Trust in 1996 and transferred ownership of the Castle to it later that year. It was her wish that the Trust should maintain the Castle for the benefit of the local community. As President of the Trust, Prince Charles takes a keen interest in events at Mey. Since his grandmother’s death in March 2002 he has stayed at the Castle in early August each year and was there two weeks before our visit.

By the time we’d meandered around the Castle and the Gardens, we were too late to take in Dunrobin Castle at Golspie so we took ourselves off to Shin Falls. Situated in the heart of Sutherland in the Highlands of Scotland, the Falls of Shin is a truly wonderful experience.

For us, the most wonderful sight was the famous salmon leap where you can watch salmon hurl themselves up the Falls. It was remarkably difficult to take photos of the salmon as they jumped. They were very small compared to the huge volume of water cascading down the Falls. I hope you can see this one?

Once again we were incredibly lucky with our choice of accommodation for the evening. The Golf Links Hotel in Golspie proved to be an excellent choice and we had dinner there, enjoyed the company of the locals and take advantage of WiFi access so that we could check our emails and go through our photos. It was a Friday night and the three guys who attached themselves to us (mostly to Suzi if the truth be known!) became noisier and noisier as they downed their ‘wee drams’!!

On 30 August, we woke to a beautiful breakfast. Our hosts were absolutely charming and we’d recommend the hotel very highly. The venue was The Golf Links Hotel, Church Street, Golspie, Sutherland, Scotland KW10 6TT.

They told us that the hotel used to be the manse for the church next door. Considering the size of the church next door and the size of the hotel it was clear that there have been lots of additions and alterations to the hotel!

It’s right on the beach and we decided to celebrate our first beautiful day by taking a quick walk along the sands.

After our walk, we headed for Dunrobin Castle after a long chat with the neighbours living to the right of the hotel, Dorothy McKay and her husband and daughter, Michelle, who gave us heaps of useful information.

We explored the gardens first before sitting in on a wonderful falconry demonstration with Cedar, the European Eagle Owl, Ash, the Harris Hawk from Arizona, and a Peregrine Falcon (whose name I’ve forgotten) seen here guarding the prey on his handlers glove.

There was also a Tawny Owl, a Blue Eagle, and a Bengal Eagle Owl but we didn’t see these in action.

The demonstration over, we turned to the Castle with its 189 rooms.

Wow! We entered the Castle through the main front door, just as the Duke of Sutherland would have done after disembarking from his yacht in 1850 and coming up a steep hill from the shore in a coach and four. The earldom of Sutherland is one of the seven ancient earldoms of Scotland, and the Sutherlands were one of the most powerful families in Britain with many matrimonial and territorial alliances.

Dunrobin is mentioned for the first time as a stronghold of the family in 1401 and its name may mean Robin’s Castle after Robert the 6th Earl of Sutherland whose wife was a daughter of the barbarous Alexander East of Buchan, a younger son of King Robert II and known as the Wolf of Badenoch. The present Castle dates from the late 13th Century and parts of the oldest portions can be seen from the corridor window.

The third Duke built, at his own expense, the Highland Railway which passes the gates of Dunrobin on the other side of the trunk road. Trains still stop at the charming little Victorian rustic station. Standing by the line and looking down the Castle Drive is a statue of the second Duke. It was the second Duke who commissioned Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament, to transform Dunrobin from a traditional Scottish Castle into a vast Palace in Franco-Scots style. Barry encased the ancient parts and added all the main rooms now seen by the public.

During the Great War, Dunrobin was used as an auxiliary naval hospital but in 1915 a fire destroyed much of Barry’s work. When the war was over, the great Scottish architect Sir Robert Lorimer was called in to make good the ravages of the fire but he did more. He simplified Barry’s main tower and remodeled much of the interior.

As we explored some of the rooms in this beautiful castle, we had opportunities to look down on the gardens below.

When we finally managed to tear ourselves away from this beautiful place, we started our drive down to pass through Inverness, across the Firth of Cromartey, and up north again towards Moray. As always, the scenery was astounding and, at times, awesome.

We stopped briefly in Inverness, rather sad to see the ugly building which had been permitted to be built in front of the beautiful Inverness Castle and Law Courts. Our visit was primarily to check out our Scottish ancestors and their insignia and tartan at the Highland House of Fraser. We’d searched high and low at every gift shop and information centre throughout Scotland but believed that, having finally arrived close to their ‘seat’ we might find what we were looking for – information about the MacDuff Clan. And we did! The Gaelic name is MacDhuibh and the Clan motto ‘Deus juvat’ – God assists. The Crest shows a demi-lion rampant, holding a sword. Naturally, I immediately bought a brooch!

Returning to our car, we were charmed to find two ushers standing at the side of the road, waiting for their transport from the wedding to the reception. They very kindly allowed us to take their photograph! We thought they looked incredibly smart!

Leaving Inverness, we set off for our destination for the night, Lossiemouth. It was here that my grandparents spent their summer holidays and where we children joined them, along with many of our cousins. I wanted so much to take Suzi back to enjoy some of the family memories, but sadly too many years had passed by and I couldn’t recall anything – not at the Air Force Base, the Golf Course or even the house which my grandparents rented each summer. In the end, we decided not to stay there but to drive a few miles to the west and we found another wonderful Bed and Breakfast at Burnside House, just north of Duffus (where we had a lovely dinner at the Duffus Inn).

Home from dinner we settled into our beautiful room which was totally decorated with the Black Watch tartan.

The Black Watch regiment is considered by many to be the most distinguished in the British Army. The Black Watch tartan is perhaps the oldest indisputably authentic tartan, although no-one is certain how the sett and colours came to be decided.

We were told that there is some similarity to the Campbell tartan, and certain earlier commanders were Campbells, but it’s apparently unlikely that the Black Watch tartan can have derived from the Campbell, more likely the reverse.

We were sad to leave our wonderful B&B for the night. Burnside House in Duffus, 01343 835165, came at the top of our list. Our hostess, Anne Begg, spent quite some time with us as we ate our fabulous breakfast. We also met her lovely English setter, Tara.

Sadly Ann and her husband will shortly put their B&B on the market after ten years in business there. Theirs is not a seasonal business because they’re on the list for nearby Gordonstoun School (where Prince Charles went in the 1950s). As a result, they’re busy all the year-round.

We passed through Elgin on the way to the Cairngorms where we wanted to spend part of our day. With its equitable climate, fertile soil and strategic position, Moray has played an important part in the story of Scotland from earliest times. Its principal town, Elgin, was founded on a well-drained ridge with a natural defensive mound and protected on three sides by the river Lossie which was also a source of power and a means of communication. There was probably a castle here as early as the 11th century and the land hereabouts was a favourite hunting ground of the early monarchs. David I raised Elgin to the status of a royal borough and in 1224 the town received the additional accolade as being chosen as the seat of the Bishop of Moray.

It was pretty cold by the time we got to Aviemore in the Cairngorms, a town we thought was absolutely delightful and was really buzzing. The weather was closing in so we decided that horse riding at nearby Albie was something that we’d love to do before we went up Cairngorm. It was a lovely interlude in beautiful surroundings and Suzi loved it so much that she’s wondering how she can ride on a regular basis.

Riding over, it was time to drive to the bottom of Scotland’s first mountain funicular to take us almost to the top of Cairn Gorm, UK’s 6th highest mountain, in just eight minutes. At the bottom of the mountain, we passed this beautiful sight.

There was so much information to take in that we spent quite some time at the Visitor Centre.

The Park covers an area of some 3,800 square kms of which 39% is designated as being sites of special natural heritage importance. The park is a home to a quarter of the UK’s threatened species. The central mountain zone forms the largest area of arctic mountain landscape and ecology in the British Isles, hence the evidence of the last ice age can be seen in the high corries and the glens which cut through hills. Many of these glens form the natural routes for the hill tracks. The heather moorland which covers much of the lower slopes includes wide ecological diversity while much of the woodland around the foothills contain remnants of the original pine and birch forests.

The clouds had gathered so the view from the viewing platform was disappointing but this photo gives an impression of the surrounding countryside.

We really enjoyed our visit – in fact, Suzi jumped for joy!

By now the rain was pouring down but fortunately, we had a long car journey ahead of us. We drove south around the Grampian mountains until we arrived in Crieff which we’d been told was really beautiful. We stopped a local woman, out walking her beautiful Labrador but she couldn’t think of anything very special that we could stop (what an indictment!) and look at so we drove on to Dunblane. This looked more promising but when we looked for a B&B we followed a route which soon became single track and we got thoroughly lost.

We emerged at the other end of the road about an hour later – what a disaster! By this time we found that we were on the outskirts of Stirling, so we missed Dunblane altogether. Suddenly we were surrounded by B&B’s and chose one quickly and easily. They directed us out to dinner at the Birds & Bees.

The food was spectacularly presented and we even succumbed to dessert to celebrate our liberation from that awful single track road! Yum!

Our B&B was fairly ordinary – it had everything we could want but the service was a bit ho-hum! However, we got some good advice about what we could do and where we could go.

On 1 September, we set off early to the Bridge of Allan. Robert Louis Stevenson had apparently come here to ‘take the waters’ for his poor health and the river was certainly very beautiful. We didn’t try the waters though! Bridge of Allan is a lovely town and the library there provides free internet access – a big advantage as so many of the B&B’s didn’t have WiFi.

From here it was just a short step to enjoy the William Wallace Monument and this visit took us literally hours. This was another ‘must see’.

Our knowledge of Scottish history was woeful and we were enchanted with the information provided at the centre. Standing tall and proud outside the city of Stirling and overlooking the scene of Scotland’s victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, this is a place where history is something you can touch and feel as you trace the story of Sir William Wallace, patriot, martyr and Guardian of Scotland.

Sir William Wallace lived from between 1272-1276 until 1305. He was a Scottish knight, landowner, and patriot who is known for leading a resistance during the Scottish wars of independence. Along with Andrew Moray, he took his campaign for freedom into battle and defeated the English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 and became Guardian of Scotland, serving until his defeat at the Battle of Falkirk. After several years in hiding, he was eventually found in Scotland and handed over to Edward I of England who had him executed for treason. We had time to learn a bit about the story of his life and discover how he became a national hero.

Inside the Centre, the audio system had thirty different tracks and there was an excellent visual presentation on the first floor with an enactment between William Wallace, Moray, and King Edward. In fact, it was so good that we stayed there to watch it a second time!

The second floor (and it was a huge climb between floors!) contained busts of many famous Scotsmen, among them Gladstone, Robbie Burns, Livingstone, Sir Walter Scott, and many others. There was information on each one on the audio system. Here’s the one of King Robert the Bruce.

From the third floor we could see a panoramic view on all sides and at the same time hear about the bloody battles that had taken place below.

Finally back on the ground again it was another short journey to the memorial to Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland from 1306-1329 to commemorate the Battle of Bannockburn.

This famous and decisive battle was fought on 23 and 24 June 1314. Probably the greatest which ever took place on Scottish soil, it is known to all Scots as the Battle of Bannockburn.

Edward I of England had long coveted the Scottish kingdom. After destroying the Scots army at Falkirk in 1298 and thus avenging his defeat the previous year at Stirling Bridge, the country seemed to lie at his mercy. And when the great patriot leader, Sir William Wallace, was captured and put to death at the king’s orders in London in 1305, hope ran out and final surrender seemed apparent. Scotland was occupied from end to end and a foreign garrison lay in every town from Annan to Dingwall.

In 1306, Robert the Bruce was crowned King of Scots at Scone. But he had yet to recover his kingdom and regain freedom for his subjects In the years which followed the tide slowly turned, almost imperceptibly at first and then with gathering impetus. One by one, the towns and fortresses were retaken until by the spring of 1314, of the few castles which were still in English hands, Stirling remained the most important.

The history of the lead up to the battle is long and fascinating. Suffice it to say that the English contingent was large and included archers from Wales, Ireland and the midland and northern English counties. They were well-armed and were joined by a Scottish contingent who, for various reasons, were at that time opposed to Robert the Bruce.

Robert the Bruce, with two months’ warning, had concentrated his army for training by May. He is believed to have had about 5,500 trained men to meet the English army of nearly 20,000. The Scottish patriots were determined, under Bruce’s great leadership, to defend the independence of Scotland with their lives.

This spirit was reaffirmed a few years later in 1320 in the Declaration of Arbroath, an assertion of the right to independence by the Scottish nobles which was sent to Pope John XXII. It famously proclaims:

‘As long as a hundred of us remain alive we will never be subject to English dominion because it is not for glory or riches or honours that we fight, but for freedom alone, which no worthy man loses except with his life’.

Details of the battle can be found in the National Trust booklet entitled Bannockburn. Suffice it to say that when Edward tried to retreat to Stirling Castle, his entry was refused by Sir Philip Moubray and he escaped to Dunbar where he secured a small rowing boat which took him to Berwick, an ignominious end to his campaign to conquer Scotland. His boastful resolution to wipe out ‘Robert de Brus who calls himself King of Scotland’ was unfulfilled.

King Robert the Bruce proved himself at Bannockburn, not only as a superb leader but also a skilled general, whose handling of his resources was decisive and masterly. His personal courage and ambition were decisive in the struggle for Scottish independence, coinciding as it did with the upsurge of national aspirations among the majority of the Scottish nobility.

Bannockburn was the greatest victory ever won by the Scots, although it took some years before the Declaration of Arbroath and then the Treaty of Northampton led to formal recognition by the English of Scottish independence.

Bannockburn certainly made Scots feel more than ever before and possibly since, that they were one people and one nation and it irrevocably consolidated Bruce’s supremacy over his opponents in Scotland itself.

From here it wasn’t too far to Falkirk, the place where the Falkirk Wheel is situated.

This feat of engineering was completed in 2002 and connects the Union Canal from Edinburgh with the Forth and Clyde Canal which goes from Grangemouth to Glasgow and on to Bowling, by means of a gigantic wheel, rather than by the use of locks.

This impressive boat lift is the first ever to revolve and is the centerpiece of Scotland’s ambitious canal regeneration scheme. Once important for commercial transport the Union and the Forth and Clyde canals were blocked by several roads in the 1960s. Now the Falkirk Wheel gently swings boats between the two waterways, creating an uninterrupted link between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Three boats passed through the wheel while we were there.

Our last planned stop of the day was at the Linlithgow Palace and St Michael’s Church adjacent to it.

Before we went around the Palace, we were treated to some marvellous information from a delightful Scottish woman inside St Michael’s Church right alongside the Palace. She explained that the church stands on church property and is nothing to do with the Palace itself, although many of the Palace’s occupants have worshipped there in the past.

The first thing she proudly showed to us was the new stained glass window which is one of the most beautiful we’d ever seen and she described each panel to us in detail. This window was created by Crear McCartney to mark the 750th anniversary of the Church. It’s designed around the theme of Pentecost. Twelve tongues of fire burst out to touch the traditional symbols of the apostles. Beneath the butterfly wings and peacock feathers, representing the risen Christ, there is a depiction of the images associated with the New Jerusalem.

St Michael’s Church is one of the outstanding medieval churches in the country and one of the most beautiful parish churches in Scotland. It stands in a commanding position overlooking the loch beside Linlithgow Palace and is seen from miles around. The loch is a site of special scientific interest due to the extensive wildfowl population.

A church has stood on this site for many centuries, the first documented reference is in a charter of King David in 1138.

Over the centuries, the church has experienced varied fortunes associated with the turbulent history of the kingdom of England and Scotland. During the Wars of Independence, Edward I of England used the church as a military storehouse until King Robert the Bruce sacked the garrison here.

The Royal association with the Church is seen in the four figures carved in wood around the Pulpit – Queen Margaret, Queen Mary, Queen Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth II.

Beside the church, the magnificent ruins of Linlithgow Palace stand, set in a park beside a Loch. Most of the Stewart kings lived here and numerous renovations to the palace’s grand façades and chambers were carried out as each sought to create the ideal modern palace. The magnificent courtyard fountain has been carefully restored and is now on view to visitors.

Finally, we ran out of time – again – and set off to find a B&B in Edinburgh on 2 September where we hoped to spend two nights. We settled on one just out of town which would enable us to take in most of the attractions we wanted to see. We found one but, again, although it had most of the things we needed, we wouldn’t recommend it!

Edinburgh falls into two main areas, divided by Princes Street, the city’s most famous thoroughfare and commercial centre. The old town straddles the ridge between the castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, with most of the city’s medieval city clustered in the alleys of the Grass Market and Royal Mile areas. The new town to the north evolved after 1767 when wealthy merchants expanded the city beyond the medieval walls. The district contains Britain’s finest concentration of Georgian architecture.

Standing on a basalt core of an extinct volcano, Edinburgh Castle is an assemblage of buildings dating from the 12th to the 20th centuries, reflecting its changing role as fortress, royal palace, military garrison, and state prison. It is Scotland’s premier visitor attraction with panoramic views of one of Europe’s finest capital cities.

We arrived there on the day after the fireworks concert at the end of the annual Edinburgh Festival so there was heaps of scaffolding and unattractive blue stands in front of the Castle which restricted our ability to take lovely photos at the entrance.

Edinburgh Castle is a proud and majestic symbol of Scotland, famous the world over.

The Castle only has one small entrance which used to have five gates within it, which has made it almost totally impregnable.

Though there is evidence of bronze-age occupation of the site, the original fortress was built by the 7th century Northumberland King, Edwin, from whom the city takes its name. The Castle was a favourite royal residence until the union of crowns in 1603, after which the King lived in England. After the union of Parliaments in 1707 the Scottish regalia was walled up in the Palace for over 100 years. The Castle is now the zealous possessor of the so-called stone of destiny, a relic of ancient Scottish Kings which was seized by the English from the Scone Palace, Perthshire, and not returned until 1996. The stone is, however, and will continue to be, returned to England on the occasion of any coronation.

The military status of the Castle is most evident by the presence of Governor’s Residence. He is present for every occasion when royalty is at the Castle.

The Scottish crown is on display in the Ancient Crown room within the Palace. The crown was restyled by James V of Scotland in 1540. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the Scottish Crown Jewels area – not surprisingly! Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI in this 15th century Palace where the Scottish regalia is on display.

The Great Hall with its restored open timber roof dates from the 15th century and was the meeting place of the Scottish Parliament until 1639.

The Prisons of War recalls the era when the castle held captured sailors from enemy nations such as the newly independent USA, France, Germany, and many other countries.

We walked through the prisons and tried to imagine life as a prisoner. What their meals would be like.

And their sleeping arrangements

Out in the sunshine again, we took in the amazing views from the walls over the city. And took a look at the One o’Clock Gun which, presumably, is fired at One o’clock each day – although we didn’t hear it because I think we were down in the dungeons at that point!

As we had two nights in Edinburgh, we decided to drive out to St Andrews as we could afford to get back late.

Scotland’s oldest university town and one-time ecclesiastical capital, St Andrews, is now a shrine to golfers all over the world. Scotland’s national game of golf was pioneered on the sandy links around St Andrews. The earliest records date from 1457 when golf was banned by James II on the grounds that it was interfering with his subjects’ archery practice! Mary Queen of Scots enjoyed the game and was berated in 1568 for playing straight after the murder of her husband Darnley. Suzi stood near the clubs of someone just about to drive off the first tee, which was the nearest we got to see if we could get a game!

The seven courses are in the most wonderful position, situated beside the most beautiful stretch of coastline.

St Andrew’s three main streets and numerous cobbled alleys full of crooked house fronts, dignified university buildings, and medieval churches converge on the venerable ruins of the 12th-century cathedral. Once the largest in Scotland, the cathedral was later pillaged of stones to build the town.

St Andrews was the focal point of the Scottish church throughout the middle ages. During that time many buildings were constructed and monuments erected on a scale of magnificence unequalled anywhere else in Scotland. Fortunately, many of them survive today, at least in part.

The remains of what was Scotland’s largest and most magnificent church still show how impressive St Andrews Cathedral must have been in its prime. The Cathedral, sited on a headland to the east of the town, was begun about 1160 and grew to become the longest and greatest church in the land.

Beside it, a Priory was built for the Augustinian canons serving the Cathedral. The Cathedral was built close by its predecessor, St Rules Church, dominated by its lofty tower. Photos couldn’t begin to capture the size and magnificence of what we say, but this plan shows the relationship between the two buildings.

A great precinct wall, the most impressive in Scotland, enclosed the whole sprawling cathedral complex.

St Andrews cathedral at 140 metres in length was by far the longest church in Scotland and on a par with the major cathedrals in England, such as York and Durham.

On a headland to the north of St Andrews stand the ruins of the town’s castle, the main residence of the bishops and archbishops of St Andrews, the focal point of the Church in mediaeval Scotland. It was built for the bishops of the town in 1200. Suzi bravely explored the underground 16th-century siege mine and countermine but I decided to keep my feet firmly above ground and thoroughly enjoyed the ancient magnificence and stunning position of the Castle.

And to finish off our travels beautifully, we took the coast road home and stopped off on our way back into Edinburgh at The Ship Inn beside the Harbour at Elie for a lovely dinner.

For our second day in Edinburgh, we visited the Palace of Holyroodhouse. This is the official residence in Scotland of Her Majesty The Queen, which stands at the end of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile against the spectacular backdrop of Arthur’s Seat, the site of an ancient volcano (in the top left-hand corner of this photo).

This fine Palace is closely associated with Scotland’s rich history and today is used by The Queen and other members of the Royal Family when carrying out official engagements in Scotland. It is very beautiful.

The State Apartments are renowned for their magnificent plasterwork ceilings and unrivalled collection of tapestries. One of the most popular rooms in the Palace is the Great Gallery, hung with Jacob de Wet’s portraits of the real and legendary kings of Scotland. The interior was absolutely stunning and we’d have loved to have recorded some of the things we saw – sadly not permitted!

The Palace is perhaps best known as the home of Mary, Queen of Scots and was the setting for the many dramatic episodes in her short reign. Mary witnessed the brutal murder of her secretary, Rizzio, by her jealous husband Lord Darnley in her private apartments.

During the 1745 Jacobite rising, the Palace served briefly as the headquarters of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

The ruins of the 12th century Abbey enhance the Palace’s romantic atmosphere.

According to legend, King David I founded the Abbey in 1128 on the very spot where he had a vision of a stag with a cross between its antlers. Despite being the burial place of several Scottish Kings and the site of the coronation of Charles I in 1633, the Abbey was abandoned after the roof collapsed in 1768.

During our visit we managed to savour The Art of Italy Exhibition. This highly acclaimed exhibition of 16th and 17th-century Italian art highlights some of the finest paintings and drawings of the Italian Renaissance in the Royal Collection. Naturally we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the exhibition but I wonder if you can smell the lilies that adorned the entrance?

Opposite the Palace, and in complete contrast, is the Scottish Parliament. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore inside but the building was impressive, designed as it was by the Barcelona architects EMBT and their partners RMJM Scotland who won an international competition to design a new building for the Scottish Parliament in 1998.

We had an unexpected treat before we left Edinburgh – a telephone call from an old school friend, Maggie, and Keith, asking us to call in. It was a very short reunion because circumstances had prevented us from having a longer time together but it was great to catch up briefly and make promises for A 39the future. The heavens had opened before we left the Royal Mile and made our way to their house, and rain continued as we left the city. We decided to get as close to Lindisfarne as we could and find somewhere to spend the night. We passed through Berwick-upon-Tweed which we thought was lovely.

Finally, we found a lovely B&B at North Ancroft Farm House, Ancroft, TD15 2TA, 01289 387422, just south of Berwick. We had a great dinner at The Black Bull in Lowick and enjoyed a great night’s sleep and a lovely breakfast.

On 4 September, we set off for Lindisfarne and Durham. We were so close to Lindisfarne that we were able to take immediate advantage of access to the Island which was from 9.45 to 4.45 that day because of the tide). The causeway was still fairly wet but, despite that, the car park was already full when we arrived so some intrepid souls must have set off while the tide was still receding. We took the shuttle to the Castle to save a bit of time although the distance is quite walkable and it was a lovely, though cold, day. Twice a day, a long, narrow neck of land sinks under the North Sea tide for five hours separating Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, from the coast. At low tide, visitors stream over the causeway to the island, made famous for several reasons. Firstly St Aidan, an Irish missionary, founded a monastery at Lindisfarne and became Bishop of Northumbria. He’d arrived in Northumbria in AD 635 from the island of Iona, off western Scotland, to found the monastery on Lindisfarne from which so much of pagan England was converted. The monastery became one of the most important centres for Christianity in England. This and other monastic communities thrived in Northumbria becoming rich in scholarship, although the monks lived simply. It also emerged as a place of pilgrimage after miracles were reported at the shrine of St Cuthbert, Lindisfarne’s most famous bishop. But the monks’ pacifism made them defenceless against 9th century Viking raids.

St Cuthbert, the monk and miracle worker, was most revered of all. He lived as a hermit on Inner Farne (a chapel was built there in his memory) and later became Bishop of Lindisfarne.

The Island was also made famous because of the Lindisfarne Gospels. Held in the British Library in London, this book of richly illustrated portrayals of Gospel stories is one of the masterpieces of the Northumbrian Renaissance which left a permanent mark on Christian art and history writing. The work was carried out by monks at Lindisfarne under the direction of Bishop Eadfrith around 700. Eadfrith himself was the scribe (though other monks did the illustrations) and he spent at least two solid years writing the Gospels in Latin. Monks managed to save the book and took it with them when they fled from Lindisfarne in AD 875 after suffering Viking raids. Other treasures were plundered. Nothing remains of the Celtic monks’ monastery, but the magnificent arches of the 11th century Lindisfarne Priory are still visible.

The Priory was built by Benedictines in the 11th century on the site of St Aidan’s earlier monastery. But after 1540, stones from the priory were used to build Lindisfarne Castle.

In 1902 the Castle was spied by Edward Hudson and he bought it from the crown and commissioned Sir Edwin Lutyens to restore it. He made it into his second residence. Edward Hudson enjoyed inviting his friends to stay in the castle. One of these was Madame Suggia who would practise her cello and perform concerts for other guests on holiday. In 1908 the then Prince and Princess of Wales visited the Castle and in 1944 it was given to the National Trust.

Suzi and I were very impressed to find that children visiting the castle were given a couple of tasks to perform. One was to match names to portraits hanging in the various rooms and the other was to find eight miniature cellos hidden around the Castle. Even Suzi and I had to take up that challenge!

Knowing that we wanted to visit Durham before the end of the day, we hurried down the A1(M) and had a great journey. We passed through Alnwick on the way and would have loved to have lingered but it was such a happening place that we couldn’t find a single parking space and thought we’d better hurry on.

Durham was pretty busy too and all the parking possibilities are some distance from both the Castle and the Cathedral. However, we managed to park near the river and paid a very quick visit to the Cathedral.

Durham Cathedral has been described as ‘one of the great architectural experiences of Europe’. From quite a distance, one can take in at a glance what it is that makes Durham unique – the Cathedral and Castle positioned on an acropolis surrounded by the River Wear with the medieval city gathered at its feet.

All the historic functions of this site are a clear defensive military fortification, religious shrine, academy and market place.

The Cathedral is renowned as a masterpiece of Romanesque (or Norman) architecture, the style brought from France to Britain through the Norman conquest of 1066. It was begun in 1093 and largely completed within 40 years. Durham is one of a handful of English cathedrals to have preserved the unity and integrity of its original design, and the only one that retains almost all of its Norman craftsmanship. It’s part of a World Heritage Site, one of Britain’s best-loved buildings and an icon of north-east England. But this great church was built to be the shrine of a humble saint, a place for pilgrims and as a home for a community of prayer. In a new millennium, it continues to stand as a sign of faith.

Then we turned to the Castle.

Few buildings in England can boast a longer history of continuous occupation than Durham Castle. Founded soon after the Norman Conquest, the Castle has been rebuilt, extended and adapted to changing circumstances and uses over a period of 900 years. From being a key fortress in the defence of the border with Scotland, it was gradually transformed in more peaceful times into an imposing and comfortable palace for the Bishops of Durham. Since 1837, soon after the foundation of the University of Durham, it has served as a residential college for many generations of students.

The peninsula of Durham had already been occupied by the former monks of Lindisfarne some seventy years before the Norman Conquest as a resting place for the body of their patron, St Cuthbert and it is likely that some fortifications were built early in the eleventh century on the site of the present Castle to supplement the natural defences provided by the steep and narrow gorge of the River Wear.

It is impossible to set a date when the Castle’s military functions ceased and its residential ones began. The military significance of Durham Castle finally vanished in the first half of the seventeenth century. The union of the English and Scottish crowns under James I and VI in 1603, the changing methods of warfare and the dilapidations which the buildings suffered during the Civil War and Commonwealth all combined to make it obsolete as a fortress.

Suffice it to say, the Castle is very beautiful and appears extremely well maintained. Unfortunately, it’s only possible to explore the interior by means of a guided tour and the last one had already gone for the day.

Leaving the Cathedral and the Castle, we paid a quick visit to the Durham Library where they were very hospitable and gave us free internet access. Suzi managed to choose a B&B in York and, leaving Durham just as the rain started, we had a wonderful run down to York. We discovered our B&B easily, found them extremely accommodating, and went out to an excellent dinner near Bootham Bar, one of the City’s four Bars, and still had a long evening to unpack and start to sort ourselves out for the remaining days of our lovely holiday.

We spent 5-7 September in York. We slept in on the first day! It was the first time on our wonderful holiday when we weren’t in a rush to achieve a certain amount in a day so we took it easy for the morning, unpacked everything, sorted through the things we’d acquired and got ourselves into some semblance of order for our return home in three days’ time. And then we walked to York Minster in the pouring rain – and spent the whole afternoon there! What a wonderful place and how fortunate we were to have a gentleman called Brian Lilly to show us around.

There’s so much to say about the Minster so if you’ve already been there, you may want to by-pass my ramblings. We found our visit there very relaxing and the only restriction on photography was in the Crypt so we were able to take photos of all the beautiful things around us.

York Minster is a wonderful building, even seen in the pouring rain, seen here from the west.

It’s the largest medieval gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. Not all cathedrals are minsters, not all minsters are cathedrals, but York Minster is both. A cathedral is the mother church of a diocese. It’s where the bishop has his cathedra or ‘seat’, which is only found in a cathedral, and shown here. York Minster is the cathedral church of the Diocese of York. A ‘mynster’ was the Anglo-Saxon name for a missionary church – a church built as a new centre for Christian workshop. The first Minster in York was built as such a centre in 627 A.D.

We started our tour in the Nave. It is in the Decorated Gothic style and is one of the widest Gothic naves in Europe.

The name, nave, derives from the Latin navis, meaning a ‘ship’ and compares the Church to a ship in which the faithful will be saved.

Looking down the nave, we could see the High Altar more closely. The principal altar is at the east end of the quire because Christian churches are orientated towards the east. The altar cloth is a symbol of Christ’s shroud.

Behind the High Altar we could see the 15th century Screen. It’s decorated with statues of fifteen kings of England from William I to John on the left and from Henry III to Henry VI on the right

When I was at school, we were taught a great rhyme to help us to A 51remember the Kings of England. It came in quite useful here!

Willie, Willie, Harry Ste
(William I, William II, Henry I, Stephen)
Harry, Dick, John, Harry 3
(Henry II, Richard, John, Henry III)
1, 2, 3 Ned, Richard 2
(Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, Richard II)

And I’ve forgotten the rest, but it was helpful to know that the screen ended with Henry VI because the last three must be Henry IV, V and VI. It was a very, very impressive Screen.

Behind the Screen is the Quire, built in the late 14th century in the Perpendicular style. Music has always been an important part of the worship and many of the services in the Minster are sung in the Quire which is arranged so that the choir is part of the congregation. The wooden choir stalls were restored after a fire in 1829.

Suzi and I spent so long in the Minster that we decided to remain there for Friday Evensong. The congregation wasn’t too large (not the 1,500 congregation they normally get for Sunday services at any rate!) and so we were sitting among the choristers. The whole service was sung by the choir alone and it was a real treat to listen to their beautiful voices. There were 12 male choristers (the 18 boys and 18 girls had only just returned from holiday and had not resumed services). Of the 12, 4 were bass voices, 4 were tenors and 4 were countertenors. The music created by all the voices was really wonderful, but that created by the countertenors was enough to make me gasp (very quietly of course!). Brian had told us that there were no women in the choir and he didn’t imagine that this would change in the foreseeable future at York (Ripon sometimes use female contralto voices in an emergency we were told). I spoke to one of the choristers after the service and he explained that music has traditionally been written for male voices and the countertenor voice is able to accomplish a range both higher and lower than the female contralto. In addition, the strength of the male voice enables the sound to travel further and if the choir has to penetrate to the back of a congregation of 1,500, I’m not surprised! In any event, it was a rare treat to be in the right place at the right time and be able to sit through a service.

At the back of the nave, under the beautiful Great West Window are an unusual group of carved angels. As you know, during the reign of Henry VIII, churches were ravaged and often destroyed. This was the case at York where heads were knocked off many of the statues. Following an exhibition of carving by a local craftsman, he donated his work to the cathedral. The six headless angels on either side of the back of the nave are using semaphore to get their message across. On the left and the right.

Fortunately, there was a sheet under the carvings which enables people to work out what the angels are saying

I’ll leave it to you to work out what message they’re sending!

Another beautiful sight was the Rose Window above the entrance door in the south transept. This was created in about 1500 to commemorate the union of the royal houses of York and Lancaster. After the fire in 1984, this window and the roof needed extensive restoration. Unfortunately, the photo is a bit blurred – probably because it was so very far above my head.

The Striking clock is situated in the north transept which is also early English Gothic. Two 400 year old oak figures strike the hours and quarters. The clock’s movement dates from 1749.

York Minster contained an enormous number of stained glass windows. We learnt that the lead in each of them only lasts for 100 years. The Great East window dates from 1405-1408 and is currently obscured by scaffolding and tarpaulins.

It contains the world’s largest area of mediaeval stained glass in a single window. It depicts the beginning and end of the world using scenes from the Book of Genesis and the Book of Revelation, the first and last books of the Bible. It’s currently being restored and is expected to cost approximately £40 million. Considering the amount of stained glass in the Minster, one wonders how sufficient funds continue to be raised.

And so our wonderful England and Scotland holiday came to an end. It was a holiday both of us will always remember. On 7 September, Suzi returned to her flat in Kent and I returned to spend the last two weeks in England with Kate and family. 

Undoubtedly the greatest excitement during my last two weeks in London was provided when Kate and Bret successfully purchased a house in Queens Park. With the 'grandies' growing fast, the need for a garden and more space were becoming more and more important. And it’s only a short distance from their current apartment so won’t involve a change of school – thank goodness.

The house is in a quiet street running at right angles to Queen’s Park, which is a stone’s throw away. And there was an annual party in the Park on my last Sunday so an opportunity for the girls to see the environment where they’ll be living, and for all of us to enjoy some of the many activities on offer.

Riley had a lovely donkey ride and Tyla climbed up a very tall tree and abseiled down again!

But the house itself is a ruin!

It’s been occupied by the same man for over 90 years and, apparently, almost nothing has been done in all that time – so no power points!

You can probably imagine the dramas that happened during those last days. Contractors to find and interview, City Councils to visit, plans to fine-tune and, most importantly, pigeons to evict from the attic! Unfortunately the cover to the loft access was faulty so the pigeons were actually in the whole house!

Professionals carried out the highly toxic job and the house became hygienic once more. A roofer fixed the loose roof tiles so that the pigeons couldn’t get back in and apparently they’re still sitting disconsolately on the roof, hoping to rediscover their long-time habitat! So the house was ready for serious renovation but it was very, very dirty as well as being in total disrepair! You’d never know from looking from the road though!

Apart from the new house dominating every waking hour, I did have time to slip off and enjoy a lovely lunch with David Aberdeen, an old friend from our days in Broxbourne. I had a special dinner with my good friend and former mixed doubles tennis partner, James Robinson, another lovely evening out with Elissa who’d invited several friends round to her London apartment for a ‘girlie evening’. And finally, I met up with Katie Highet whom our Rotary Club had sponsored to Switzerland for a year in 2000-2001. We had a lovely lunch together in Bow Lane and it was a real joy to hear all about her amazing achievements over the past eight years.

But all too soon (hard to believe after five months!) departure day arrived. Julie and Suzi came round for a special farewell breakfast of all our favourite things and, with my bed no longer occupied, we started packing up the house for their move – albeit a few months ahead. Julie had to leave, but in the early afternoon, Kate and Suzi took me to Paddington Station for the easy Heathrow Connect train to the airport. We were all very sad.

Around England and Scotland - 8 May - 7 September 2008

 
 
 
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