Ring Someone’s Bell – Part 2

Sunday afternoon we took a trip with Jennifer into the countryside to the Ridgeway, Britain’s oldest road. Our first stop was The Bell Inn. A small pub in Aldworth, The Bell Inn was built 1349 to host travelers who chose the high road over the lower, often difficult terrain of England. It was named for the Bell which was located just across the street.

Because of its antiquated nature, everything is extremely short and small. I had to duck everywhere I went.

I went with Jennifer on her suggestion, “the tongue sandwiches are pretty good here!” The taste was similar to salami, but the texture left something to be desired.

We followed up our tasty (use your imagination) meal with a walk along the Ridgeway. It was our only sunny day, so we soaked in the vitamin D and chilling wind as we shuffled along.

Our final stop was at the St. Mary The Virgin parish church, where supposedly there rests ancient giants. Some of the graves inside have men who are 7 feet tall.

Outside the church there is a thousand year old tree. It looked pretty ragged to me, but at a thousand years old, it deserves to be.

Ring Someone’s Bell

Sunday morning we attended church with Martin at St. James the Less Church. In the morning they have a team of bell ringers who ring the bells for quite some time.

The service was a traditional Church of England service. This morning they also had a Baby Baptism and Communion. The child was about 2 years old and his family was all there to celebrate the occasion. Neither Crystal nor myself have ever been to a baptism like this before.
The minister tried to explain that although the child does not understand what is going on, the church promises to raise the child in this teaching. We were not quite able to draw the connection on why you would baptize someone who does not understand what is going on, nor has placed personal faith in Christ. It was a sobering learning experience for us to see what many people believe.

Following the service we met some of the church members. One lady asked where we lived and we explained that we are from Minnesota. She was surprised and explained that her husband was from Minnesota as well. We told her that we lived in Minneapolis (again the city of her husband) and she asked which part. “We live in Edina” we replied. “That is where my husband grew up!” was her answer. Weird.

Following the service, Jennifer took us for a drive out in the country side to one of the oldest roads in the world. More on this to come (and an explanation on the tongue sandwich seen below).

On the road

Queen or Queen Mother?

We have had quite a few discussions about the government and monarchy of the UK. One of our discussions has revolved around the succession of rulers. If the King dies and leaves behind a queen who is not of the royal line, what happens?
A brief answer is this, in order to keep the monarchy “pure”, only those who are a direct descendent may rule. Therefore, because the previous queen was not in the line, but her husband was, when he died she became the “Queen Mother” and her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II ruled. And, because Queen Elizabeth was in the line, and not her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, she rules and he is called The Duke not the King.

The monarch’s oldest son becomes the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cornwall. It then gets complicated.

The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows was written by Kenneth Grahame most likely as he lounged around the Thames near Pangbourne. We decided to take this route as we spent some time in the English countryside. 
Getting to the Thames involved crossing under the railway about a quarter mile from where we were staying. Normally we were running at this point desperately trying to catch the next service to London.
There are many old inns along the Thames which provide great places to stay or swing in for a bite to eat. This one, The Swan Inn, is from the 18th century and serves a pretty mean fish ‘n chips.

We greatly enjoyed our time just walking along the river, observing the river boats, ducks, and pastured animals. It is a far cry from London! I was amazed at how much of England is farm land and how little is actually city. I had always figured that if a country had been around for over two thousand years, there would be no forests or wild areas. In England there are!

That evening we enjoyed a great meal with Martin, Jennifer, and their daughter Helen. We had great fun talking about their travels (as they have been all over the world) and experiences. One of the more interesting conversations revolved around each of our favorite foods experienced in our travels. We didn’t eat Kidney Pie while in England, but I have a feeling that I could stomach it alright.

New Year’s Resolution #1 – Visit England. Check.

Because of our hectic schedule we stayed around Pangbourne today. Our relatives have lived in this village for much of their lives and they greatly love it. The word “bourne” means “river” in old English and therefore it is accordingly named, “River of Pange.”

Legend has it that the village goes back to the days of Beowulf.

We spent our morning walking around the small community of 2000 occupants. They still have their own butcher, their own cheese shop, their own milk man, and their own ancient church building.
As we walked through the graveyard behind the church we were struck with the fact that nearly 1 out of 3 tombstones made reference to the fact that this person died in WW2. In many cases, WW2 did not grow the villages because of people fleeing the bombings of London. Rather, it killed the villages. The men of the communities went off to fight the war and died in the battles.

In the afternoon we took a trip up the Thames through the countyside to the small town of Wallenford. It was an ancient market town and one of the strongholds of King Charles I during the Revolution.

We visited several antique shops and walked through the cramped streets of town. The roads here were built for Mini Coopers, not for Chevys and Fords. You really need a Mr. Bean car if you want to feel comfortable driving around the narrow, winding roads with thick hedges scraping the sides of your vehicle.
We stopped for tea at a Brazilian place – oddly enough, and talked with Jennifer about English life in these villages.

In the evening we were invited to a neighbor’s New Years party. We spent several hours eating snacks and speaking with people from all over the UK. One couple comes from near Edinburgh, Scotland. They told us of the weather, the people, the sites to see, and attitude of the culture. It was quite interesting.
We headed back to the house and relaxed with Martin (who recently had a hip surgery, so he wasn’t up for a party). We watched a humorous show on the pessimistic nature of the British people. It was funny because it was blatantly honest. The British people view Americans as overly positive, overly patriotic, eager people. (I suppose worse things could be said).
Because none of us really wanted to stay up till midnight (there is that pessimisity again!) we figured that it was the New Year in Germany, so we sang “Auld Lang Syne” which is a Scottish song. We had to look up the words to see what it was saying, but here is an extended explanation. Briefly, the title can be translated “Long Long Ago.” I guess you are supposed to sing the song while crossing your arms and grabbing hold of the persons hand next to you. This was quite comical due to the fact that we had one man sitting in a chair nursing a hip replacement, two travelers suffering from prolonged jet lag, and one cheerful lady all joining in. We managed to sing the song so the New Year actually commenced and then we slipped off to bed.
As we drifted off to sleep they began shooting fireworks over the Thames. I don’t know if it would be considered in poor taste or not, but I started to sing “and the rockets’ red glare…”

Cup of Tea with the Queen

Today we opted out of the long trip into London. We don’t really fancy spending so much time in transportation. We instead went to Windsor Castle which is located outside of London near Eaton College.

It is a residence of the Queen and spectacular fortress. We saw the Queen’s Dollhouse, the photo gallery with sketches by Leonardo Da Vinci, and many other amazing sites. Through the castle there were rooms upon rooms of huge paintings, silver furniture, elegant furnishings, and ancient relics. Under Queen Victoria the empire flurished and the pieces from India, Africa, Egypt and others attest to that fact. One of my favorite rooms was lined with huge paintings of those who had defeated Napolean in 1815.

Another impressive part of the castle was St. George’s Chapel. It is the burial place for King Henry VIII and others.
Some of the bonus features of the castle were the Rembrandt and Van Dyke paintings displayed. We also met a Beefeater (a term which began as a derogatory name given to the posh care which these special guards received in the service of their sovereign).
We made it back more quickly than the other days, met one of the neighboors who had stopped in for a visit, and then had an excellent supper of Indian food (we have heard that England has some of the top Indian food in the world).

(Crystal shooting an attacker)

On the road

The Bloody Tower – or, the Tower of Blood.

Today’s trek took a longer time because we missed the first bus. However, we were able to get a lot of sightseeing accomplished. We started at one of the oldest churches in England, All Hallows. It is right between the Tower of London and a developed business complex.

We then entered the Tower of London and walked around the diverse complex. Since it was first built following the conquest of the Normans but has had renovations up until today, there is an interesting mixture. We walked through old chapel rooms, bedrooms and prison cells. We walked along cobblestone pathways and by archery stations upon the wall. The Bloody Tour was not like I expected and I am thankful I was allowed to leave.
The crowning exhibit of the whole place was the Royal Jewels. It was amazing to see how much is involved. Case after case of gold, silver, diamonds, and precious stones were displayed. I have never seen so much wealth in one place. It was not so much the number of diamonds or weight of gold which catches one’s attention, but their placement. Crowns studded with row after row of these valuable minerals create an impressive piece of royal art.
From London Tower we moved to Tower Bridge and took a tour through one of the most famous bridges of the world. 
Along the south of the Thames we saw Churchill’s Britain at War exhibition (not quite Hogan’s Heroes style), a replica of Sir Frances Drake’s boat, 
Shakespeare’s Globe theatre 
(I think my acting career was “not to be”)
and London Bridge (which was still standing when we got there).
Our final big stop was St. Paul’s Cathedral. This was probably the most amazing piece of architecture I have personally seen. There are many amazing structures which I have walked through but this was incredible! It was built by Wren following the great fire of London in 1666. Because of it’s survival of the Blitz during the second World War it was actually celebrated in their Evensong that afternoon.
The Cathedral stands 365 feet to the top (not very high when you read about it, but incredibly high when you walk the 550+ steps to the second dome and survey London below).
 It has two domes, the lower one a huge dome, decorated beautifully and able to be seen by the church visitor. The second dome is placed above this one so that all the city can see the imposing cathedral. We climbed up and saw the city light below, shimmering in the fog. It was amazing. Following our tour we attended Evensong and then caught the Tube to Covent Garden. Throngs of people greeted us at the station entrance and we waded through the fog through the rambling streets. We ended our trip with the normal Tube, train, bus, bus, walk.
We run everything we saw past Martin and Jennifer who fill in the gaps and expand on the stories.
We slept well after all that walking!
(Crystal in front of the Tower of London and the Medieval Skating Rink)
On the road

Reading Railroad (pronounced "Reding")

Walk. Bus. Bus. Train. Subway. Walk.

This was the beginning of our day. We found out that because the train station would be out of commission every day of our visit (just the days of our visit, mind you) there would have to be an extended work around to get into London. When we did make it in we began to walk around the west end. We started ar Westminster Abbey, the House of Parliment, Big Ben,

(checking the time. Where did I put that watch?) the London Eye, and the like. We then proceeded north past King James’ banqueting hall, through the Queen’s Horse Guard – the Royal Mews” and into St. James Park. We were ushered away due to the Bobbies dealing with a suspicious car and then took quite a nice stroll through Trafalgar’s Square. It is hard not to imagine C. S. Lewis sitting beneath one of the large lion statues and thinking of Aslan.
Buckingham Palace was huge and the Guards had big hats (not sure why they are not in red at this time, perhaps due to the season). We found a small cafe in Victoria near all the theatres and ate the customary fish ‘n chips.

Our relatives think that they are too greasy, but they were quite good.
We walked through Westminster Cathedral and were amazed by its mosaics. Stocking caps are looked down upon, aparently not fitting head coverings (they do have a fountain in the back to fill your water bottle). From there it was back to Westminster Abbey for Evensong. We had never attended a service like this before, but enjoyed the experience. They charge $20+ for entrance during the day, but the services are free (with no visiting). We were able to see the graves of the Wesley’s, Roosevelt, Churchill, Isaac Watts and others on our way in and out.
Following the service we walked through the thick London fog to our station and began the long trek back. As we worked our way down the winding streets I am not sure whether it was Sherlock Holmes or Basil whose faint figure we saw before us, but it was surely not Dr. Jeckel’s.

UK (not pronounced "yuk")

Sunday night we began our trek. The flight to London was reasonable amidst the surprising snowfall along the East Coast. The movie showing on the flight over kept my mind occupied as the seats kept me from sleeping.
We landed at Heathrow Airport. Famous for the long lines and unexpected delays, it did not disappoint.
We were able to secure some friendly help in getting us from the airport to Reading (about an hour bus ride).
Our relative, Jennifer, picked us up and we headed to their house in the village of Pangbourne along the Thames.
As we sat next to the fire in their 19th century home, our conversation turned to and fro, landing on everything controversial and exciting.

We spoke about England’s relationship with Scotland, the popular attitude toward the royal family, religion, conservation, house construction, education, The Pound, English History and the like. Martin and Jennifer explained life in their village and also London. We quite enjoyed our evening.
After a warm meal of roast, roasties, vegetables and Yorkshire pudding we again sat by the fire and discussed our plans for the following day.
Evidently our reputation preceded us for the train station in Reading was closing down for the week and we would need to take a mixture of buses, trains, and the Tube to get to Old London.
Our bed was warm and sleep came quickly. The movie from the flight kept my mind questioning, could this be a dream?

On the road