England, 1981, Part 10

Coach tour, Day 3, Thursday, 3/26/81

After a rather skimpy Continental breakfast, we hit the road to travel across Scotland. Our trip took us along the river Clyde for a way, which is in the Clydesdale region. We took a short detour to go up to the top of a hill and get a panoramic view. Every now and then our driver would point out trails on the hillsides, ehich he explained were the Haggis bird runs.

Then we stopped at Moffat, where we went into a woolen mill. I bought two sweaters and Cheryl bought some scarves and shawls. We stopped for lunch near Carlisle, and then went through the Lake District National Park. There are some twenty named lakes in this area. The lakes are in the valleys of the Cumbria Mountains. We stopped along Thiremere, which is the reservoir for Manchester, 100 miles away. Across the road is Helvellyn, the tallest mountain in England. We then drove through Grasmere, where Wordsworth used to live and is buried. We finished up with a drive along Windermere, the largest of the lakes. Our driver informed us that Stan Laurel was born in the Lake District.

From the Lake District we sped down the motorway to Chester. Chester is a city with a long history. It was originally a Welsh settlement, and then the Romans came and drove the Welsh out. The 20th Legion was stationed here for several centuries, and in 1929 workmen excavating a school site uncovered the remains of an 8,000 seat amphitheater, the largest discovered in England. The Welsh moved back in after the Romans left, but were driven out again by the Normans. William the Conqueror gave Chester and the surrounding area to his nephew, Hugh Lucas. Hugh was a marcher lord, which meant that he could collect taxes, keeping a third, over a radius from the city as far as his army could march in one day. The great aristocratic family of the area are the Grosvenors, whose present head, the Duke of Westminster, is one of the richest men in the world.

When we arrived a local guide came around to take anyone who wished on a walking tour, for the price of £1 each. We started at the amphitheater, and then walked along the walls. Chester is the only city in England that is entirely surrounded by complete walls. The city is only two miles from the Welsh border, and the walls were needed for protection against the Welsh raiders until fairly recent times. This is why the walls have been maintained over the centuries, where in other cities they have been torn down or allowed to collapse.

The present North wall and East wall are built upon the foundations of the Roman walls, but were lengthened by Queen Aelfreda of Mercia, who built new South and West walls. By expanding the area inside the walls she allowed a greater number to take shelter within them. But by medieval times even this proved insufficient, and a unique solution was developed, called the Rows. As the number of shops increased they ran out of room. But no one wished to locate outside the walls. So an upper level was added above the sidewalks, thus doubling the space available for shops. No one knows when the Rows were first built, but they were mentioned in accounts as far back as the 13th century.

The word Chester derives from the Roman word “castra”, meaning a fortified place. The word evolved through several stages, which we see in the names of the various cities and towns: Doncaster, Worcester, Manchester, etc. All these towns are presumed to be the sites of Roman fortifications. Our local guide told us that some of the local historians see evidence that Chester was the capital of Roman Britain, though this may only be local chauvinism. The first bit of evidence is the amphitheater, which is the largest discovered in Britain. The second point concerns the name, which has no additional word of description appended to the root “castra”. This may imply that it was the only place which didn’t require any further description.

After the tour we returned to the hotel for an excellent meal of Roast Cheshire Chicken, leeks, beans, and potatoes.

Coach tour, Day 4, Friday, 3/27/81

After a real breakfast of bacon and eggs we hit the road at 8:20, bound for Coventry. Coventry was severely bombed by the Germans in 1940, and the 13th St. Michael’s Cathedral was destroyed. The new Cathedral was built with donations from all over the world. Coventry was the home of Lady Godiva. The story goes that in the the 11th century Godiva pleaded with her husband Leofric, the Earl of Mercia, to reduce the heavy taxes he had put on the townspeople. Leofric, for reasons best known only to him, said he would do so only if she rode through the town naked, and so great as the Lady’s compassion that she agreed to this outrageous suggestion. She commanded all the townspeople to remain indoors and pulled her long hair about her as a cloak. According to the legend only one man, named Tom, was unable to resist a peek, and was then taken to court and his eyes were put out. It is from this story that we get the appellation “Peeping Tom”. Lady Godiva further ordered that he be shunned by all the townspeople, from which we get the expression “Sent to Coventry”.

The new Cathedral is probably the best modern church I have ever seen. As is fitting for a church destroyed by the war, it is dedicated to Resurrection and Reconciliation. While the Cathedral is beautiful, it is more than just another pretty place. It is the center for the Community of the Cross of Nails, a world-wide Christian service organization.

After a one hour stay, we headed for Stratford-on-Avon the world renowned home of that great English playwright, Christoper Marlowe. We saw the Shakespeare Birthplace. It is primarily restoration work, with furniture from the period. The main interest is in seeing a typical home in a small Elizabethan town. They also had on display a copy of the first Folio, some contemporary books which mentioned Shakespeare, and similar memorabilia. We then went to the Falstaff Hotel just down the street, where Cheryl had pate, and I had Welsh Rarebit. It was the first decent lunch we’ve had on this tour. At 2:00 we took off for Oxford.

Along the way we passed Blenheim Palace, home of the Churchill family. This provided an occasion for the driver to tell us the two most famous stories involving Winston Churchill and Lady Astor. Our stop in Oxford was only for one hour, so Cheryl and I just walked around the town and took a few pictures. At 4:00 we took off for London.

We arrived in London at 6:00, and took a cab back to Swiss Cottage, where Diane and Tom were waiting for us. We had arranged before we left on this tour that we would give the Sea Shell another try tonight. So we got in the car and drove down. The reputation of this place has obviously spread far and wide, since there was line out the door when arrived. But most of the people in the line were there for the take-out, so we did get a table without too much wait. And the fish and chips were excellent.

After dinner we went back home and collapsed. You might not think that sitting in a coach all day would be tiring, but we felt quite drained by that point.

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