[comments in square brackets are from Rich]
[Full English Breakfast... this is not like anything you would get at Denny,s. The most elaborate one so far had an egg, a parboiled tomato, mushrooms, canadian bacon like ham, a sausage, mild baked beans and toast. Curious, but mostly good. ]
[driving in the UK ..... Driving on the left is not very difficult. Shifting with your left hand is a bit more difficult. Round-a-bouts are a challenge. Passing a bus on a road wide enough for two cars is not bad, except for the cars also parked on one or both sides, leaving barely one open lane. That is in the medieval towns. Once you are in the country, the roads are sometimes wider, but you need to keep an eye out for the cows, sheep and horses that graze along the shoulders. The people who have said we are going to have an adventure were quite right. And that is just driving]
written at Gareg Lwyd cottage, Conwy, Wales
Tuesday, July 1
After getting our rental car, which was upgraded a step or two from what we had reserved (no extra cost, and plenty of room in back for the kids), we had about a 1 1/2 hour drive (we thought) to Salisbury, our scheduled home for the next four days. Of course, we managed to get off course at least once (UK signage is quite different from US, and Rich was just learning to drive on the left of the road, sitting on the right of the car), and stopped at some tiny town to grab a take-out lunch. We did get to Salisbury, dominated by a tall and glorious cathedral, and to the Salisbury Hostel, without incident, and settled in. If you are unfamiliar with the Youth Hostel Association, they offer hostels all over (in the US too), open to anyone. At this one we had a family room - four bunks with a sink; shared bath, breakfast included in the cafeteria, a members kitchen we could use and store cold food in, a TV room, a quiet lounge which we made much use of, laundry facilities, and car parking. There were also tours and such available, but we didnt take advantage of them. The bunks were narrow and the sheets/blankets either too light or too heavy, but we coped by using our sleep sacks again, which, with a sheet, were the right weight. The hostel was clean and well-run, and quite pleasant for what it was. The grounds were especially nice, a secluded, park-like setting just out of the downtown area.
We quickly discovered that the hostel was full of a large group of teenagers - a youth group, not surprisingly - but they were only bothersomely noisy one night. There was a curfew which kept them from being noisy too late.
Salisburys downtown was just down the hill, so we walked down to check out the town, and see if Rich could get the computer hooked up at the closest Internet Cafe. This was a town unlike anything we had been in before, a very old town with stone houses and shops, narrow, crooked streets totally unsuited for the considerable car traffic careening down them, picturesque churches, and of course, the Salisbury Cathedral nearby. Rich went into the Cafe while the rest of us wandered around for a few blocks, ogling the interesting buildings, noting the yummy-looking bakeries for tomorrow, and looking for an inexpensive place to have dinner. At Colins insistence, after we picked up Rich we went to a middle-eastern place serving Shish-kebab, Hamburgers, and Pizza. Well, at least it was cheap. Then Rich went back to work on the computer some more, and we went to the nearby Tesco grocery to pick up some makings for lunch for the next couple of days. Going out a different door than we came in, we found ourselves in a nice little park with abridge over the canal that runs through town, and a playground, so Colin got to play for awhile before we headed back to the hostel.
Wednesday July 2
We had no definite plans, so we made lunches and put them in the car (the hostel is closed from 10-1, and we thought we might go to Portsmouth). We went to the Visitor Information Center to gather information about the area, and did some shopping for things like a new pair of sunglasses to replace my broken ones, a small calculator, etc. Also bought an interesting-looking construction toy, a bubble machine which had been set up in a toy shop we spent quite a bit of time at while waiting for Rich to sort out phone stuff. I sort of bought it because the owner was so nice, but but Emily also thought she would enjoy putting it together while we were in Wales, and of course Colin wanted to play with it, and I figured we could box it up and send it home with the next box. Rich was also looking for a computer store he could get some bits and pieces at, but never found it. However after wandering for awhile we were very near the Cathedral, so we decided to go on inside. We didnt take a guided tour, which would have gotten us up into the higher reaches, because it was too long and Colin was too young, but just the ground floor was impressive enough. It is an active and busy church, as well as an historic tourist attraction, so there was a service going on in one area, a childrens group being instructed in the religious meanings of various things in the church, and tour groups, all mingling together among the tombs and stained glass. It was a lovely and interesting cathedral, though I know there are much more magnificent ones, and we also enjoyed the outer grounds, and petting the beautiful black church cat.
By the time we were finished there it was lunch time, so we went back to the hostel and ate lunch at a picnic table on the grounds. Then we decided to visit Stonehenge, since it was so close. On the way we stopped at Old Sarum, the original location of Salisbury, and now just vague ruins. We had seen a reconstruction model of the way it originally looked in Salisbury Cathedral, so that was helpful in visualizing the original city, but mostly we just enjoyed the interesting bits (ancient privies and the like), the fine day, the glorious views over the countryside and back towards Salisbury, and (Colin and Emily) playing on the grass.
Then we went on to Stonehenge, which was way more impressive in person than I had expected. It is so over-hyped that I visualized masses of tourists and tourist facilities, but the facilities are discreetly across the road, and it wasnt overly crowded at all. Stonehenge itself is roped off, but one follows a path a reasonable distance all around it, listening to an interactive recording of the history of and theories about the place. We had all the fine views we could want, and a fairly dramatic day, weather wise, to take pictures on, as the sun was lighting Stonehenge against a stormy background at one point. (It began raining a bit just as we left).
Emily picked up a nice key chain to add to her collection; in the US, she had for some time collected those pressed pennies one gets out of machines at every interesting place, and had hoped to continue during this trip - they are cheap and small, and so a good thing to collect when space is tight. But so far we hadnt seen any here, so she decided to collect key chains instead.
I think Im collecting town maps. At least I have quite a pile already.
After Stonehenge we drove back to Salisbury for dinner - it was too late to buy supplies to make our own at the hostel kitchen - and had a wild time navigating around the narrow one-way streets and unexpected detours. It is a much better town to walk than to drive in! We were aiming for a restaurant that sounded good, and had a childs menu, and finally managed to park in the town square and get to it, only to find it was closed - only serving lunch. But there was a nearby pub that looked reasonable, and, as several people had told us would be the case, we found the food decent, plentiful, and relatively inexpensive.
Thursday, July 3
The initial reason we chose Salisbury to stay in was that it was within a days trip of Portsmouth (as well as many other interesting places), which Rich wanted to visit because of the historical ships there, and sounded like an interesting town itself. Today was our day to visit Portsmouth, but first there was another matter to take care of. I had called a friend of my mothers who lives near Bath (about an hours drive away), hoping we might visit on Saturday when we would be headed that way on our way to North Wales. She and her husband were busy that day, but available Friday evening, so we decided to move to Bath for Friday night and visit them then, incidentally cutting an hour off our travel time on Saturday. I went to the Salisbury tourist information office to make use of their Book A Bed Ahead service, and by midday they were able to book us a nice B&B within our price range. (It turned out to be on the wrong side of the city due to my getting directions mixed up, but thats another story...)
Portsmouth was about an hours drive away, and we found a parking garage [car park] not too terribly far from the waterfront. As we walked down we passed Victoria Park, and stopped to have our picnic lunch. It was a large, hedge-enclosed park with an aviary/small animal house, and a very pleasant stop. Afterwards, when we got down to the docks, we found that the main ship Rich wanted to tour (The Victoria) was very expensive, and a rather long tour. It was a lovely old ship, but the rest of us opted to take a bus down the waterfront to an aquarium and meet Rich later. This worked out well, once the bus finally came. The aquarium was small but interesting, with many lovely reef fish, and rays that often stuck their noses out of the water as they swam around. The highlight was a family of otters, complete with a peeping baby, which the mother carried around for awhile at feeding time.
[ I missed the last tour of the Victory so I decided to check out the Warrior instead. The Warrior is the first all iron war ship, built in 1860. It was typical of steam frigates of the period with the exception of the iron hull and breech loading rifled guns. I did get to walk around the Victory, which is in a drydock. The Victory is a 100 gun first rate, a floating gun platforn. Too big of a ship to be a handy sailer, or fighter in all but large fleet actions. I am a frigate man.
As we walked down the Hard to the waterfront, we past the George, a 18th centry public house were Horatio Hornblower was married.]
Then we walked back to a bus stop midway between our location and Richs, across one of the largest expanses of mowed grass I have ever seen. The day was lovely, breezy but mild, with storm clouds lurking off the coast but never raining on us. Right by the bus stop was a very nice large playground, so Colin got to play there for a half hour or so until we met Rich and caught another bus back to where our car was parked.
Unfortunately the mall where we had parked was closing up, and no restaurants (aside from a ubiquitous Burger King, which we were working hard to avoid) were to be found, so we started driving back to Salisbury, and once we were out of the metropolitan area ate at a small-town pub called The Green Dragon which was on the way. The food was good, and so plentiful that we vowed that the next time we ate in a pub we would only order two full meals for the four of us - it would still be plenty of food, and we would spend quite a bit less.
Friday July 4
In the morning we packed up our gear to move to Bath, then Rich took the kids into town while I did some garden touring, for the first time since coming to the UK. As a member of the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon, I had contacted a local branch of the original HPS in England, and June, the representative, had very kindly arranged with some area gardeners for me to tour their gardens. This was a real high point of the trip for me so far - a chance to visit with local gardeners and see their gardens. I was picked up by Lyn, who drove me to the first garden on the tour. It was a delightful yard with a stone wall-enclosed front yard and a deep and interesting back yard, which had been severely flood damaged this past winter (though I never would have guessed it by looking). We had tea and wonderful Cadbury biscuits, too. Then June, the owner (a different June than the one who arranged things) drove me to another nearby garden she had designed. This was an almost Mediterranean garden, with stone walls laden with lavender in different colors, and fine stonework in the patio. It also had one of the most interesting bits of wildlife I have seen - what looked like a teeny 1 hummingbird, but was actually a Hummingbird Hawkmoth, an occasional visitor from Europe. I tried to take photos, but but didnt know how to set the camera to a fast aperture, so all I got were blurs.
The final garden was out in the country, at one of nine homes in a group of fine stone farm buildings which had been converted to housing. It had a huge brick terrace in the back, ringed by a brick wall, then lawn, then a steeply-terraced back slope smothered in flowers. It was quite an exceptional site, and home. Behind the back fence were open fields, much as we had in Corvallis. The owners, Jenny and Patrick, were very nice, and drove me back to Salisbury after we were done, along windy country roads that we never would have found our way on ourselves. We stopped at a viewpoint on a hill to survey the classic, gently rolling English countryside stretching way back to Salisbury.
After a quick lunch on the Hostel grounds, we headed for Bath. We didnt have much time, but did manage to take the tour of the Roman baths themselves, which were most impressive. They have been preserved and presented in a very sensible way - the original ruins are there, with the modern buildings and walkways built among and over them in such as way as to, in many cases, sketch in what the complete room would have looked like when it was new. We used the recorded wands that were provided to listen to as much information as each of us wanted on the various parts of the baths. When was most impressive is that that basic system - the inflow of water, the main baths, and the outflow back to the river - still work as they did in Roman times! Now thats solid building.
The town of Bath itself was very different from Salisbury. Where Salisbury is all old, dark stone buildings and narrow, crooked streets, Bath is uniformly a lighter stone - sandstone? - and tier upon tier of pale Georgian-style townhouses climbing the hills and crammed on similarly narrow streets. The traffic was horrendous, and it was rush hour when we left, so it took awhile to get to our B&B - only to discover that I had misunderstood the location of the home we were to visit that evening, and gotten a B&B on the wrong side of town, so we had to go clear back through again, and were quite late.
Ginny and Richard were very gracious and wonderful to talk to, and fed us an excellent BBQ dinner and dessert. Their garden was another treat, with a shady pond in the middle with several large old carp in it, flowers for beauty and grass for the kids to enjoy.
Saturday July 5
Leaving for North Wales, I realized we would pass within about 20 miles of Hidcote Manor, one of the great English gardens. I had avoided planning any of our travels based on specific gardens, since I figured I would see plenty if I just paid attention to what was available locally. But I couldnt pass this one up! The roads to it were windier than Rich liked to drive on, and it took quite a bit longer to get there than I had hoped, but the visit was lovely. Hidcote has garden room after room, many filled with flowers, some very simple, such as one hedge-enclosed room that contains nothing but a rectangular hedge on stilts. Every enjoyed wandering around. Emily found 4-leaf clover and was quite pleased anticipating some good luck; then, moments later, a honeybee from nearby hives flew into her hair, apparently got stuck, and stung her on the head despite my efforts to get it off. She was so annoyed she threw away the clover. Fortunately the bee sting didnt hurt for long, and we did discover that she is not allergic to bees, a good thing to know. (She had never been stung before).
We would have liked to have had lunch at Hidcote, but the restaurant was expensive and had a very long line, so we left and stopped at a pub called The Kings Arms for a fine lunch. Then we headed on to Wales, and after more wrong turns which cost us time, and a fast dinner on road at a Little Chef fast food place, we finally got into Conwy fairly late. The parking was horrible - this being a Saturday, the town was crowded, and the streets incredibly narrow. It probably took Rich half an hour to maneuver the unfamiliar car into a tiny space along the narrow terrace (alley) we were staying on.
The house was small but nice. It is two stories, with three tiny bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, and a kitchen and living room down. Some of the space gets double use - the kitchen table and two stools fold out of the way, and the dining table in the living room also has to be unfolded and the couch moved to eat dinner. There is also an enclosed back patio good for drying clothes, and a pocket-handkerchief terrace outside, backed by a stone wall running the length of the terrace. (At the end of the terrace is one of the castle walls). Once we figured out everything, especially how to run the hot water, it was all fine. We asked directions to the nearest grocery store (a small Spar, just a couple of blocks away) and stocked up for the next couple of days.