Friday, July 13, 2012

United Kingdom

We spent 10 days in the United Kingdom over the 4th of July week. We left home here in Germany on 29 June bound for Calais, took the Eurotunnel beneath the English Channel and spent the night in Folkestone, England. The next few days were spent visiting some places we’d never been to before in the UK. Our last three days were the reminiscing part of the trip, visiting friends and places from the four years we lived in England 1983-87. Although this may be rather long, it covers ten days. Here’s what we did and where we went.

Day 1, Friday, 29 June

When we leave the Ramstein Air Base area, bound for northeast Europe, the last place most people stop, prior to leaving Germany, is Spangdahlem Air Base to fill the car up with US priced gas. Everywhere in Europe gas costs double the US prices so it’s a bit of savings before totally living off the European economy for a few days.

Almost to the French coast and the Eurotunnel.

Here’s an image of what the Eurotunnel looks like beneath the bottom of the English Channel; two railway tunnels, one going each direction, and a middle service tunnel.

Here's a video of the loading process onto the Eurotunnel. The tunnel is 31.4 miles long and the train attains the speed of 100 mph during the crossing.

We got into Folkestone, England around 8PM and had a roomed reserved at The Ship Inn, an old pub right on the coast.

Here’s our room at The Ship Inn. Kind of a quirky setup behind the pub but certainly comfortable and the view out our window was right onto the beach and the English Channel beyond.

Perfect first meal in the UK; cod and chips with a cold beer. Not an English lager though, it’s Stella Artois, Belgium.

Day 2, Saturday, 30 June

Next morning we started our drive across southern England. Along the way we passed Stonehenge, which we’ve visited at least eight times in the past.

OK, we had to at least stop and take a picture . . . from across the street.

From there we drove on to one of our never-visited destinations just outside the village of Cerne Abbas in the county of Dorset. We were there to see the Cerne Giant, a large chalk figure carved into a hillside outside the village. We took this picture from across the valley. The Cerne Giant is 180’ tall, 167’ across. It’s not known who created it or why. The first time it’s mentioned in literature was 1694 so most experts believe it’s certainly not prehistoric. Some think the Cerne Giant was intended as an unflattering caricature of Oliver Cromwell. Today the Giant is rechalked about every 25 years and is now owned and cared for by the National Trust. Jeff and I did walk up to the Giant but that hill is deceptively steep, about a 45° angle, and there is a barbed wire fence restricting access.

Now we’re in the village of Cerne Abbas; a pretty ivy covered pub and a newly thatched roof beyond.

Where else would we stop for lunch but The Giant Inn?

The sign out front of The Giant Inn. You can see just what the Cerne Giant looks like. Nice little pub.

Jeff had a Hobgoblin ale with his meal.

From Cerne Abbas we pressed on to our overnight destination, Jamaica Inn, which sits on a remote hill in the Cornwall moors. The hotel was originally a coaching inn built in 1750 and was famously used as a smugglers base for operations. Jamaica Inn is also considered one of the most haunted places in the country. Here’s Jeff standing outside the hotel’s Smugglers Inn pub.

Me with a couple smuggler wenches.

After our meal we decided to try a couple deserts that we’ve seen on menus in England before but had never tried. On the left, Spotted Dick, on the right Sticky Toffee Pudding; both quite excellent.

Day 3, Sunday, 1 July

Our main destination for the next day, Land’s End, the western most point of England.

Here’s our GPS display as we approached Land’s End. Almost the edge of the world, at least that’s what some folks believed just a few hundred years ago.

One of my favorite pictures of our time in Europe, Jeff and I at Land’s End. You can see we’re 4806 miles from our home in Colleyville, Texas. John O’Groats, 874 miles away is the furthest point in Scotland from Land’s End.

The Land’s End settlement which includes souvenir shops, cafes, a number of entertaining displays and movies, plus a hotel.

Me at the top of the cliffs at Land’s End. It was a sunny but windy days. You can see the lighthouse island in the upper right.

A closer image of the lighthouse.

Images of Land’s End coast line.

We are in Cornwall. One of Jeff’s favorite foods is a Cornish Pasty which originates in the county of Cornwall. It’s a pastry filled with ground beef, onions and rutabagas. It was developed as a hot meal that miners in Cornwall could take to work and still be warm for their lunch. The restaurants at Land’s End offered what is Cornwall’s national dish.

A golden treasure of Cornish Pasties. We bought a couple, to-go, and said good-by to Land’s End.

Here’s where we stopped with our Cornish Pasties, just a couple miles inland.

This is the way to eat a Cornish Pasty, at an English pub with a pint of beer.

This is a church next to The Last Inn in England. In Europe there’s moss everywhere but his church seems to have an abnormally serious moss issue.

A short drive east of Land’s End, along the southern coast of England, is the village of Marazion. Just off the coast is the tidal island of St. Michael’s Mount. It's the counterpart of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France, both previous Benedictine abbeys.

A closer view of St. Michael’s Mount. Most of the Mount is now owned by the National Trust. At low tide a man-made causeway allows access to the island. The day Jeff and I were there the tide was in so the only way to get there was by boat.

Next stop the Admiral Benbow in Penzance, England right next door to Marazion. This is a really cool, old nautical pub.

Here I am at my cute little Admiral Benbow desk having a pint. From here we pushed on to Taunton, England in Somerset to our hotel for the night.

Day 4, Monday, 2 July

If you’ve watched the PBS series Downton Abbey, then you’ll recognize our first stop the next morning, the actual castle that’s used in the series, Highclere Castle. And here we are on a cloudy rainy day.

Highclere Castle is located in the county of Hampshire and sits on the 1000 acre estate belonging to the Earl of Carnarvon. This property has been in the Earl’s family since 1679. The castle was renovated and largely rebuilt in 1839 by Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the Houses of Parliament; the resemblance is quite apparent.

The front entrance to Highclere Castle, used extensively in scenes for Downton Abbey.

The door knocker on the front entrance. The deer leg in the wolf’s jaws moves up and down to create the desired knocking noise. No pictures allowed inside the castle.

Today the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon still live in the castle but to help pay for the upkeep of the building they allow tours and events such as weddings and dinner parties. The castle also has an Egyptian Exhibition begun by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who was one of the discoverers of the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Our ticket also included a tour of the gardens which were quite beautiful but very wet.

As I mentioned, it was a rainy day but it was a wonderful visit to Highclere Castle.

Our next destination and stop for the night, Cardiff, Wales.

It’s been a tough couple of sightseeing days and we need some time to visit some pubs. This was our first stop in Cardiff after checking into the hotel, Rummer Tavern.

A Stella Artois for me and a Carling (England’s only mass produced lager) for Jeff.  Notice the Union Jack coin purse.  Just a little touch of creative art.

Conveniently, the Cardiff Castle was across the street from the Rummer Tavern. It’s a medieval castle that’s built around an even older Norman keep.  I think we can squeeze in some sightseeing.

The Norman keep, built around 1091, in the castle courtyard.

The Victorian mansion, part of Cardiff Castel, built in the late 18th century.

The Victorian mansion clock tower.

OK, let's stay focused! We got off track here with a some sightseeing. Our next pub in Cardiff, The City Arms. Nice selection of beers.

Jeff had a Brains Black. Brains is a Welsh brewery. Better than Guinness according to him.

Brains Black and my dark Czech Budweiser.

In Wales, most signs are presented in both English and Welsh. Here’s the sign to the ladies room.

Gentlemen in both English and Welsh.

Last Cardiff pub of the day, The Cottage. Good food, good beer.

A clever advertisement for Brains beer on a railway overpass in Cardiff.  "It’s Brains You Want."

Day 5, Tuesday, 3 July

Drove from Cardiff to south of Manchester the next morning to the town of Crewe. We have friends, Kevin and Jackie, who run a pub, The White Lion, on the edge of Crewe. We stayed at a GREAT country hotel, The Bear’s Paw.

The Bear’s Paw was a GREAT hotel. It was completely renovated in 2008 after a fire and what a GREAT job they’ve done. We’d make a trip to this part of England just to stay in this GREAT hotel.

Kevin picked us up at The Bear’s Paw and drove us back to The White Lion, just a couple miles away. Here’s The White Lion.

Kevin and Jeff. Kevin was conveniently off for the night so he could go toe-to-toe with Jeff on the beers. Hell, he’s the boss so he can be off when he wants.

Kevin behind the bar. No he’s not working, he’s getting a fresh beer for Jeff and himself.

Jeff with Kevin behind the bar.

Kevin and Jackie treated us to a wonderful meal and recommended we start it with a Blood Pudding. So we did and here it is. Pretty tasty I must say.

Jeff and I with Jackie and Kevin at The White Lion in Crewe.  What a fun night!

Day 6, Wednesday, 4 July

The following morning we were on our way to Sheffield to visit my Aunt Pat and my cousin Vivian, her husband David and their kids. From Crewe to Sheffield we cross the Peak District moors. The moors are a strangely, eerie, magical place and the day we drove across was perfect; the clouds resting on the hilly peaks and the stoned walls seemingly runny endlessly across the fields.

On the east side of the moors is the village of Eyam. The story of Eyam is tragic but also amazingly selfless. In 1665 this small village became infested with plague when a wool merchant from London delivered fabric to Eyam that was contaminated with plague carrying fleas. The people of Eyam chose to quarantine themselves to prevent the spread of plague to nearby villages and towns. By the time the plague abated, 260 people died in the little village of Eyam.

Many of the buildings from 1665 still exist in Eyam. These are two of what became known as Plague Cottages. Walking around the village you can see a small sign on the cottages where family members died during the 1665 plague.

Two of the signs telling about the plagues impact on these homes.

This window in the village church depicts the events of the 1665 plague in Eyam. The prominent figure in the center of the window is Reverend William Mompesson who was the driving force to quarantine the village and supported the families during the crisis. Reverend Mompesson survived the plague.

The grave of Catherine Mompesson, who died from the plague, wife of Reverend Mompesson.

Also in the Eyam graveyard is this Celtic Cross that dates back to the 8th century.

Day 7, Thursday, 5 July

Well, we totally forgot to take pictures of my aunt and cousin during our stay in Sheffield, my bad. We left the following day bound for Cambridge to begin the reminiscing part of our trip. Our first stop in Cambridge, which we’ve been to many time before, Auntie’s Tea Shop.

The world’s best cream tea is sold at Auntie’s Tea Shop; pot of tea and a scone with cream and jam for each of us.

Now that looks delicious!!

Obligatory picture of one of the colleges in Cambridge. This is Kings College.

One more stop in Cambridge before we press on, The Eagle pub. The Eagle dates back to 1667 and is the oldest pub in Cambridge.

Jeff with a Guinness in The Eagle. During WW II The Eagle was a favorite pub for Royal Air Force aviators and there’s all kinds of memorabilia from the war and also current RAF and US flying units. The Eagle is also the place where Francis Crick announced that, along with James Watson, he had discovered DNA.

This is the ceiling in The Eagle where WW II fliers used candles to burn in their names and squadron identifiers.

Above the bar in The Eagle is this sticker from Jeff’s old reserve squadron, the KC Hawgs from Whiteman AFB, MO.

From Cambridge we drove to RAF Mildenhall. This is the Officer’s Club which was a great place to party, back in the day when anyone could simply drive/walk onto this part of the base and into the club which a lot of British women did. Today, the entire base, including the club, is behind secure perimeter fences. Sadly, the club was locked up and we couldn’t go inside.

Just a short walk off base from the Mildenhall Officer’s club is The Bird In Hand pub. Upon my arrival in the UK in 1983 the Air Force put me up here at The Bird for a couple months.

Had to drive next door to RAF Lakenheath where I was a labor and delivery nurse at the base hospital from 1983-87. Although they’ve extended the hospital in the rear, from the front it pretty much looks the same. The best thing about this hospital, Megan was born here.

48th Medical Group, my old unit. It’s fun to reminisce but that was a tough four years of work, four twelve-hour shifts, two days off, then back on.

From RAF Lakenheath we drove to our first home in England, The Old Rectory, in Stanton. This was my drive everyday for our first year and doing it now was really shocking, the distance and the little roads. I rented this house for us from Major General Sir David Thorne who was moving to Germany to take command of the British Forces on the Rhine.

The Old Rectory was a drafty place. Five fireplaces and not one of them with a flue damper to prevent the warmth in the house from going up the chimney and the cold blowing down.  But, it was new to us and a fun experience.

Nearby is Bury St. Edmunds where we stayed for the next two nights. This is the gate to the Abbey ruins in Bury.  After Henry VIII’s confiscation of abbey properties in 1539 the abbey was allowed to be used by local builders as a quarry, a source for a needed stone supply.

The Angel Hotel in Bury St. Edmunds. A beautiful hotel with a wonderful tea room.

A road marker in one of the squares in Bury St. Edmunds. Looks exactly the same as it did 25 years ago.

After we checked into our hotel we went to the smallest pub in England, The Nutshell. There are other pubs that claim the same, but who cares, we’re not there.

The Nutshell from the outside. What you see is all there is. Where you see the dark wood on the exterior defines the width and depth of the pub. There use to be benches that you could walk out and sit on. Now, the city, requires that pub patrons remain indoors, so if you want to drink at The Nutshell, you gotta stay inside.

Jeff and I stopped at a meat pie shop and brought them with us to The Nutshell. I had a beef and stilton cheese and Jeff had, what else, a Cornish pasty. Tasty!!

Jeff inside The Nutshell, smallest pub in England.

So there we are in The Nutshell, smallest pub in England, in the middle of the UK and Boots McCormick walks in. Jeff and Boots flew A-10s together in Alaska and hadn’t seen each other in 13 years. What a small world! Boots went on to fly the F-15 on active duty, F-16 in the guard, Blackhawk helicopter for the US Border Patrol and now is flying KC-135 tankers with the March guard.

Later that night, Jeff and I, along with Boots and his tanker buddies went to another pub, The Grapes, for some food. I ordered Bangers and Mash and this is the interesting way they served it. The whole thing on a pastry, even the gravy boat.

Well, it’s the end of the night in Bury St. Edmunds and we said goodbye to Boots. That’s one of the best things about our lives in the Air Force, good friends just keep popping back up.

Day 8, Friday, 6 July

Our second day in East Anglia we drove to Debenham, our second home in England and the first house were we brought Megan home. Debenham is a village in Suffolk. We lived about four miles north of the town. This was our local fish fry. Looks just the same as we left it.

I always thought this was a pretty house in Debenham. It’s called The Bleak House. I assume it got its name from the Charles Dickens book with the same name.

Here’s where we lived for three years in England, the Moat Farm. It was a wonderful home and a great place to begin our lives with Megan. Our landlords, David and Wendy, lived right next door in the Green Farm. We stopped in to see them and then walked over to the Moat Farm where their daughter now lives.

Here I am inside the Moat Farm, once again on our spiral stair case that leads to the upstairs bedrooms.

This was Megan’s nursery and her crib was set against this beamed wall. Now, this is a full bathroom. Nikki, David and Wendy’s daughter, has made a great many wonderful renovations to the house and an upstairs bathroom was certainly a must.

The Moat Farm is over 700 years old and the history, although somewhat speculated, is believed to be known. It’s thought that it was originally a one room dwelling where monks lived to watch over the king’s wildlife and prevent poaching. It’s also believed that there was a tall turret that allowed the monks to see much further out onto the king’s lands. History classes and groups came from across England while we lived here to climb up into the rafters of the house to show their students the building techniques that were used hundreds of years ago. This unique beam structure was the highlight of their visit. Each group would always give us a little brief on their findings before departing.

Here’s the Moat Farm. The sunroom didn’t exist when we lived there, that’s one of Nikki’s add-ons.

The back of the Moat Farm.

Jeff and I in front of the Moat Farm. We loved our three years here.

Me at the front door to the Moat Farm. What wonderful memories.

After our visit at the Moat Farm we all drove a few miles north to the little village of Thorndon for lunch. This is the church in Thorndon where we had Megan christened.

We’re having lunch at the Black Horse pub in Thorndon.

Outside the Black Horse with David and Wendy. They were great landlords and became even better friends. We’ve kept in touch over the years and they even traveled all the way to Texas to attend Megan’s wedding.

We left David and Wendy to drive to Bressingham to see Dawn, Megan’s nanny when we lived at the Moat Farm and for a short period in Germany. We had a great visit with Dawn but repeated our Sheffield mistake and forgot to take any pictures. Since we were running late we stopped by an old favorite in Martlesham Heath outside of Ipswich, the Doublas Bader pub. Douglas Bader was a famous RAF fighter pilot and ace who accomplished all his wartime heroics inspite of losing both his legs in a crash in 1931. He became a POW in 1941 and after a number of escape attempts he was moved to the special POW prison at Colditz Castle. He was present when the pub first opened in 1979.

Day 9, Saturday, 7 July

Our last full day in England was an change to our plan. Since it got to be too late to visit Bentwaters the previous day, we decided to make a quick visit before starting our drive to Dover for our return home the following day. That Bentwaters visit turned out to be a bit more extensive than planned which is a good story. That’ll be for another blog very soon. So I’ll jump to the rest of our day.

Our final destination for the day was Dover but before that we stopped in Canterbury, someplace we’d never visited before.

We didn’t have much time in Canterbury because of our extended stay at Bentwaters but we definitely wanted to see the Cathedral. Here in the UK, a lot of these big cathedrals now charge an entry fee. So just like Westminster in London, the Canterbury Cathedral charged £9.50 per person. It was worth it.

The Canterbury Cathedral consists of three main sections built in line, the Nave, Quire and Trinity Chapel.  A fourth section, the Crypt, lies beneath, no pictures allowed there. Upon entry, you walk into the Nave, which you see here.  This is a 14th century structure which was used during medieval times for an informal gathering place of pilgrims.  Today, it's used for Sunday Eucharist on major festivals and for special services and concerts.

This is the spot where Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170. Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, was involved in a heated dispute with the king, Henry II. After the king made comments about wishing to be finished with this priest, four of his knights traveled to Canterbury and killed Thomas Becket in the Cathedral. Soon after his death he was canonized by the Catholic church and would also eventually receive sainthood with the Anglican church.

An interesting plaque next to the Thomas Becket murder site.

This the second main section of the Canterbury Cathedral, the Quire.  This structure dates from the 12th century.

The front of the Quire and the Trinity Chapel beyond.

Henry VIII had Thomas Becket’s Shrine and bones in the Canterbury Cathedral destroyed during his dispute with the Pope in Rome.  All motivated by Henry’s desire to divorce and then marry Anne Boleyn.

This is the candle that burns in the Trinity Chapel to mark the spot where Thomas Becket's Shrine once stood.

Graffiti in Canterbury Cathedral dating from 1667 and 1670.

Finished in Canterbury we drove on to Dover.  Our hotel in Dover, the Herbert House. That’s our room with the open window at the top. No elevator and steeeep stairs.

Dover Castle high above the town.

The White Cliffs of Dover from the town harbor.

Day 10, Sunday, 8 July

It’s Sunday morning and we’re loading onto the Eurotunnel train.

As you can see, the engines for the Eurotunnel vehicle trains aren’t the fancy, sleek engines on the high speed passenger trains. These are working trains that spend their day going back and forth, Calais to Folkestone.

Loading onto the train. Once inside it’s an immediate ramp up to the upper level and then drive along the length of the train until its full.

We’re back on the continent on our way towards Brussels and then onto Germany.

After over 2200 miles of driving we’re back in Germany and just an hour from home. Just one stop at Spangdahlem for the “cheap” gas.

Well, it was a wonderful 10 days. Even the rain couldn't spoil it. I'm quite disappointed though that we didn't get pictures when we visited my Aunt Pat in Sheffield and our nanny Dawn in Bressingham. In spite of that this trip just added to the fantastic memories that we already had of our life in the United Kingdom. CHEERS!!


  1. I can't believe all that time in Canterbury and no story about Edmund, the Archbishop of Canterbury... and what about the baby eating Bishop of Bath and Wells... Too many Black Adder jokes! I do have to say I loved the pictures of the Moat Farm. That was where Kelly and I visited, right?

  2. Day 1: I liked seeing how the Eurotunnel works and looks underneath the English Channel. It's amazing to me that it is only a little over 30 miles. I enjoyed watching the video too. I love The look up the Ship Inn with the pub. Pretty cool place to stay. If you can't have an English lager at least it is a Stella.

    Day 2: Wow, Stonehenge 8 times...that's crazy! I guess I have probably been there around 4 times. The Cerne Giant is pretty cool and I think it is neat that they keep it updated. I see your Hobgoblin Ale...yummy!

    Day 3: I enjoyed learning about the history behind Land's End and seeing the GPS go right up the ocean is cool. I love all the beautiful pictures in Cornwall. The lighthouse looks really cool. Of course, I'm jealous of the Cornish pasties. Is St. Michael's Mount the castle they used in Monty Python's Holy Grail?

    Day 4: I loved that you guys went to Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey). I love all of the pictures and of course the weather. I love the Rummer Tavern. I enjoyed the pictures of Cardiff Castle along with the Norman keep built in 1091 (amazing!). Brains Black...better than Guinness? Wow..I thought Daddy was a Guinness man now. I guess he is now a Brains Black man.

    Day 5: The Bears Paw and White lion look like amazing places. How do you know Kevin and Jackie?

    Day 6: The moors look amazing. You got to see them on a great day. I felt like I was in an Jane Eyre novel just looking at them. I love the pictures of Eyam....brings back wonderful memories. Mom and I spent a whole day at that place haha.

    Day 7: Great pictures of Cambridge and Auntie's Tea Shop. I loved the history of the Eagle and the story behind the announcement of discovering DNA is really cool. That's awesome about the A-10 sticker. Had you put that there before? LAKENHEATH!!! I was born there! I love all the pictures. Mom's schedule does sound she had a brand new baby! I like the Old Rectory bubbles? The Nutshell looks awesome! It looks like a chick is drinking beer outside though haha. Gravy boat on the pastry is pretty funny. That's great that you guys ran into old Alaska friends.

    Day 8: I love seeing all of the pictures of the Moat Farm, very emotional seeing them. I love seeing the church were I was christened too, I don't ever remember seeing that. That's great that you guys got to see David and Wendy. Amazing friends and loved them coming to my wedding. I enjoyed reading about the history behind Douglas Bader and how he was a POW at Colditz Castle. Thanks for all the interesting info.

    Day 9: Looking forward to the Bentwaters blog. I loved the pictures of Canterbury Cathedral. Very interesting about Thomas Becket and where he was murdered in 1170. Wow, I can't believe his shrine and bones were destroyed by Henry VIII, that's just unbelievable. I mean I know all the history behind it, but it's just crazy to think about. I'm glad to see a picture of the White Cliffs of Dover...beautiful!

    GREAT BLOG with many wonderful memories.

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