Matilda, Catbells and Crabbies: UK and Scotland
We didn’t celebrate Halloween when I was a kid in England in the ’50s, although they do now. So while everyone else is getting ready for Halloween I’m still reviewing our four weeks in the UK this summer.
I plan other posts with more detail. This is a skip across the terrain of my memories to share some high points:
London (which was having, according to a headline, the driest July in 237 years, and it was hot):
“Matilda” My cousin from New Zealand and her husband were near the end of their UK stay when we arrived, so we had arranged to have lunch and see a matinée of Matilda, the musical based on a Roald Dahl story. The lunch (New Zealand “fusion”) was overpriced and disappointing but we all enjoyed the show. That evening, Gary and I attended a second play, “The Woman in Black,” a thriller with an extra twist: we left the theater through a side entrance and the door banged open as a young woman came around the corner. Hearing the door bang and seeing me (in black) she screamed, genuinely terrified. I apologized profusely but she was clearly still shaken.
British Museum: What is there to say? Half a day doesn’t scratch the surface. I found myself fascinated by jewelry, which is timeless. I could wear a piece hundreds of years old and it would be stylish. They may have thought I was casing the joint, I took so many pictures of jewelry.
A walk past St. Paul’s, the Millennium Bridge and a few hours in the Tate Modern.
Escaping hot London, we took the train to Yorkshire to visit my cousin Kay, her husband Phil and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It’s interesting to meet for the first time people to whom you are related and in whom you see family traits and resemblances. Kay and Phil took us to a terrific local museum, the
The Preston, in Stockton-on-Tees, and
Whitby, famous for its ruined Abbey, James Cook, Dracula’s landfall; also my grandmother’s birthplace.
St. Andrews, Mecca for a golfer like Gary.
Edinburgh was fascinating; also cool and rainy, blessed relief from the heat in England. The misty, mysterious castle in the rain, an escape into the National Gallery, the Royal Yacht Britannia, the Royal Mile, St. Giles Cathedral, jazz in a pub and lots more for future posts.
Inverness: Rick Steves gives Inverness very little praise, but we found it beautiful and friendly, a perfect jumping-off point for Loch Ness but worth visiting in its own right. The walk along the river is gorgeous.
Culloden Battlefield, where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s forces were defeated.
Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle. A boat ride on the Loch and visit to the castle ruin.
Return to England:
Lake District. Keswick, charming little town on Derwentwater. This is the actual “high point,” where we climbed a mountain called Cat Bells, my first “fourteener,” except it was fourteen hundred, not fourteen thousand, feet. But it was rainy, chilly and windy, with wet, slippery rocks and a real challenge. The ascent took about two hours, then we found a short way down, which was grassy, so that’s where I slipped and fell on my butt (luckily unhurt). We also got lost and went many miles out of our way trying to find our way back to the lake and a boat to take us back to Keswick.
We also visited Bowness and Grasmere (Wordsworth’s home) and rode through Windermere. Keswick was the least touristy.
Our b&b was run by a former mayor, so we had insider tips on what to see and do in our two-day visit. Unusual and interesting city which I’ll cover more later. We caught a breathtaking production of “King Lear,” with David Haig as Lear.
Cambridge: King’s College Chapel, the Scott Polar Research Center and museum (which we luckily stumbled across, since I’m fascinated by polar exploration. I was awed to behold items Scott used before his death in Antarctica. A very brief closing-time visit to the fabulous Fitzwilliam Museum and a relaxing break watching punters on the Cam.
Newmarket, my birthplace. We walked past my old home and the church where I was christened, and had Sunday lunch on High Street.
Back to London, where it was cooler and even rained:
Courtauld Gallery: I had wanted to see Manet’s “Bar at the Folies Bergère,” a reproduction of which we have in our house. I also hoped to see Manet’s “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe,” but it was not on display.
Trafalgar Square: We missed Piccadilly Circus and Buckingham Palace this trip, but, like Times Square, Trafalgar Square is a crossroads of the world. The blue rooster had been dedicated only a few weeks before. Its significance and appropriateness to the site escapes me.
We had lunch in the crypt at St. Martin in the Fields, and spent an afternoon in
The National Gallery, where I was chided by a guard for a forbidden photo (most galleries do allow photos without flash).
Big Ben, Parliament and Downing Street, on a rainy evening
The Tower and Tower Bridge as the sun set
British Library: astonishing. Original manuscripts, music from Bach to the Beatles, really weird statue of Isaac Newton.
Greenwich: Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory and Prime Meridian, the Painted Hall, Naval Hospital Chapel, the Cutty Sark and unexpectedly good margaritas and nachos (prepared by a friendly Turkish chef)
Army Museum, Saatchi Gallery, Spamalot: our last full—and packed—day. I was about museumed out, but the Saatchi was another lucky find. The Army museum was just about one museum too many for me. That evening we saw Spamalot, after deciding we wanted to see the most “English” of the available shows. We loved it despite no dinner—the nearby pub (Sherlock Holmes) didn’t have a kitchen, so we had only crisps and drinks, but I got my Crabbies, a ginger-flavored beer I fell in love with when Kay and Phil took us to Sunday lunch at the Black Horse Pub. Their grandson Matthew let me have sip of his Crabbies and I had found my drink for the duration. It reminded me of the “Ginger Tom” at the late lamented Dux de Lux pub in Christchurch, New Zealand , closed after the 2011 earthquake.
Victoria and Albert Museum: last stop. I was too tired to appreciate this phenomenal museum. It features a beautiful oriental carpet that is only lit 10 minutes each hour (to preserve it), with comfortable sofas around it. I appreciated it (and the sofas) in both light and darkness.
There was so much we wanted to do and didn’t get to: the Isle of Skye, Wales, Salisbury, the Cotswolds, many other London museums and sights. We will be back. Last shots just for fun: