Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day 45 Gretna Green

We did a long drive today from Colchester in the South East of England to Gretna Green just over the border in Western Scotland.  We stayed at Smith’s Hotel in Gretna Green, which is used for weddings, mainly. 

Day 44 Colchester

Our bedroom at Mike and Gwynn’s looks out over their most beautiful garden.  Gwynn is a keen gardener.  She has a great variety of plants of many different colours.  We went for a walk through Colchester with Mike this morning.  Colchester was a Roman town and the walls are still there.  There are also signs of burnt walls where Boadicea burnt the town.  We visited a pub, which used to be a theatre.  The owners have dummies of  the Queen and other members of the royal family sitting in the boxes and dummies of ordinary people sitting in the balcony, while the downstairs is a pub.  We also saw the Dutch section of the town.  The Dutch were weavers in the town in bygone days.  This afternoon, we went with Mike and Gwynn to Melford Hall in Long Melford.  Queen Elizabeth I visited this grand house in 1578.  There was a tragic fire in this house in 1942.  We saw the beautiful library with its wealth of books and maps, the lounge, dining room and bedrooms, one of which was where Beatrix Potter slept when she came to stay.  She was related to the family.  Some of the toys that feature in her stories are still here as are many of her drawings.  Gwynn and Mike are volunteers here one day a week.  We met one volunteer, Jeremy Lever, who was showing visitors how to do water colour drawings like Beatrix Potter’s.  We bought two of them, one was of Jemia Puddle Duck with Mr Fox and the other was of Mrs Tittlemouse.  We also had a cream tea here in one of the beautiful sitting rooms in the Hall.  I am getting a little too fond of the English cream teas.  Tonight, we met an Italian couple, Luiza and Adriano, who are in England with their students who are learning English.  Luiza teaches English in a secondary school in Italy.  Luiza and Adriano are also staying with Mike and Gwynn who have plenty of room now that their children have all left home.

Day 43 Lavenham

Today, on our way to Colchester to catch up with our friends, Mike and Gwynn Arnott, we stopped for a considerable time in Lavenham.  This was once one of the wealthiest towns in the country, with its famous blue cloth exported across Europe.  It was a weavers’ village from about 1340.  The weavers’ cottages are still there.  Some have been restored, but some of the Tudor buildings are quite crooked now.  This gives the village a certain charm.  The Lavenham church is enormous and we saw a wedding about to take place there.  It was a cold day and even colder on the top of the hill where the church was situated, so you can imagine how the bride and bridesmaids looked in their backless frocks.  After this we drove to Colchester where we had lots of fun catching up with Mike and Gwynn.

Day 42 Cambridge.

Today, we did a walking tour of Cambridge with an excellent guide.  She took us to King’s College Chapel.  King Henry VI, at age 19, laid the foundation stone of  King’s College in 1441.  He had also founded Eton College and hence for many years, students from Eton were the only students admitted to King’s College and they did not have to sit any exams at the end of their time here.  After Henry VI died, the completion of the chapel was made possible through the patronage of Richard III and Henry VIII.  Because of interruptions to the building with the war of the Roses, two different coloured stones can be seen in the outside of the building.  The antechapel, apart from the stained glass windows, has no religious symbols, but rather, the decoration is a tribute to the Tudors with its crowns, roses and portcullises.  The stained glass windows throughout the chapel are truly beautiful.  The upper panes depict scenes from the Old Testament and the lower from comparable scenes of the New Testament.  These windows were lucky to survive the reformation because Cromwell’s men were sent to break all such windows.  It was only that the soldiers were billeted in this chapel and wanted the windows to remain to give them warmth that the windows were not smashed.  We saw Queens’ College named after several queens down through the centuries, including our present Queen, who have all been patrons for this college.  We saw the room in Queens where Christopher Fry lived and the room where Erasmus translated the bible.  The dining room was magnificently decorated in Victorian style.  We watched people punting down the Cam river and we walked along the grassy slopes beside this river.  We saw the Eagle Pub where Watson and Crick first announced that they had discovered the secret of life with their DNA discovery.  Tonight, we went to see Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” performed in St. John’s College Garden.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable production, but we left at interval because it started to rain.

Day 41 Rochester.

Today we drove to Rochester, another town with no cars allowed in its centre.  I think that Rochester is even quainter than Canterbury.  It oozes history and charm.  We visited the Cathedral, which dates back to 604.  The nave and crypt are of Norman architecture and it has a Romanesque fa├žade.  Some of the other parts of the cathedral are of later Gothic styles.  We saw Rochester Castle where the movie, Iron Clad, was made.  It’s keep which is 28 metres high is the tallest in England.  As a result of a siege by King John in 1215, the castle now has one circular tower and three old square towers.  The King had the south east tower undermined and burnt the props using the fat of forty pigs.  The tower was rebuilt round to better deflect missile attacks and to work against future attempts of undermining. 
The Rochester guild hall was built in 1687 and is one of the finest seventeenth century buildings in Kent.  The museum, which is in this building, was founded in 1897 and is absolutely a must see.  The collections in this museum follow a time line through Medway’s history and are housed in two separate buildings.  We saw the hulls where French, English and American prisoners were kept because there was no room in the prisons on land.  Some of these hulls housed prisoners in appalling conditions while they waited to be deported to New South Wales.  The museum also pays tribute to Charles Dickens who lived in Rochester for the latter part of his life.  Evidence of Dicken’s time in Rochester can be found throughout the city, and many objects he describes in his wrtings, such as the clock, can be found here.  The shops in the High Street bear such Dickensian names as “Sweet Expectations”, “Pips of Rochester” and “The Deaf Cat”.  Evidently, Dickens had a deaf cat who sat beside him while he wrote.  We walked along the esplanade of the Medway river in Rochester and then headed for Cambridge.

Day 40 Canterbury

We arrived in Dover at 6:30 am and were off the ship by 7:30 am. We went back to the Ramada hotel, even though we had great difficulty using the shower.  It was the most complicated shower I have ever seen.  First it was difficult to get the shower, rather than the tap into the bath to work, then to get warm, rather than cold water.  Eventually, after many trials and errors we were not sure how we got it to work but we could not turn the water off.  We told the guy at the desk and he just said someone would turn it off the next day.  So, we closed the bathroom door and let the tap run.  They do not seem to have a water problem over here.  We picked up our hire car and drove to Canterbury for the day.  This is a lovely town where people have to park their cars on the outskirts of the town, and only buses and taxis are allowed in the town proper.  It was graduation day today in Canterbury, so we saw many young graduates in their mortar boards and gowns.  As the graduation ceremony was actually in the Cathedral, we could only see the Cathedral from the outside.  The town was reminiscent  of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the Cathedral, with its spires was where Thomas a Beckett was murdered.  We walked around the town, which was a pleasant thing to do since there were no cars to worry about.  We punted down the river Stroud and each time we went under one of the low bridges, we had to lower our heads.  Overhanging this river, we saw the chair that was used in Tudor times to lower nagging wives into the river so that they had to keep their mouths closed.  It was also used for punishment for en who did not provide for their wives and families.  It is evidently the source of the saying “His business has gone down the gurgler”  Pilgrims came to Canterbury in pre reformation times, and we saw much evidence of Dominicans and Franciscans here at that time.  After the reformation, when their lands and buildings had been taken from the monks, the pilgrims stopped coming and money became scarce.  Heugenots, fleeing from France, then came to Canterbury and started up such industries as weaving.  Christopher Marlowe, the dramatist, lived in Canterbury and was baptized in the church here in 1564.  We saw beautiful gardens within Canterbury.

Day 39 At Sea

This was our last day sailing.  Bill had a haircut and I had a massage.  We said goodbye to the people we had met on board, went to a theatrical production on the funny things that happen on a ship by John Maxtone Graham and his wife, Sue.  Evidently, one of John’s children writes for the Simpsons.