England, 1981, Part 9

Coach tour, Day 1, Tuesday, 3/24/81

We knew that we might never get back to England, the future being uncertain as it is, and so we decided to wrap up our trip with a coach tour that took us up the East side of England and down the West side over several days. This tour visited a number of locations, some of which we might want to return to some day, others which we can cross off our list as having seen all there is to see. So off wwe went.

We got up at 6:00 and had a cup of coffee at the house before taking a taxi to the Royal National Hotel. We planned to get breakfast there, but they would only serve residents of the hotel. So we went across the street to the Hotel Russell, where we got an expensive, but very good breakfast. Then we were off.

We spent one hour in Cambridge, which isn’t a lot for such an old, historic town, but that’s what happens on these twenty-cities-in-two-days tours. We decided to go to King’s College and see the Chapel. The college was founded in the reign of Henry VI, in 1440, and the Chapel was begun by Henry VII, in 1519, and completed by Henry VIII. The Chapel is noted for its fine stained glass windows, which are among the oldest and finest examples of Flemish Rennaisance glass painting. There is also some fine wood carving, and a recent addition, Rubens’ “Adoration of the Magi”. At 12:00 we were on our way again.

At 1:15 we stopped at a roadside truck-stop for lunch, and then were off to York. York has been a major city for thousands of years. It was the major Roman city of the north, and the place where Constantine was proclaimed Emperor by his troops. Some time later it became one of the major administrative centers of the Church in England. It went on to become one England’s major duchies, and home of one of the two parties in the Wars of the Roses.

York is a walled city, but the walls are no longer complete. Still, we had to drive around to a side gate large enough to take our coach. Then we got to our hotel, where we had a surprise — a lake where the entrance is. The Viking Hotel is on the bank of the river Ouse, which goes through the center of York. Heavy rains had created flooding, but we were able to enter through a back door and check into our rooms. We then went out sightseeing.

First we went down a street called the Shambles, which has been preserved just as it looked in early Victorian times. In a wood crafts shop we bought a pair of bookends, and then went on to York Minster.

York Minster is a Cathedral, which means it has the cathedra, the throne from which the bishop officially presides over the diocese. The term “Minster” originally meant a mission center from which the surrounding country would be evangelized. York Minster claims to have the largest stained glass window in the world, about the size of a tennis court; the East window, which portrays scenes from the Book of Genesis. Some of the stained glass has been preserved from Norman times. The South window is called the Rose window, and is decorated with a combination of the red Tudor rose and the white York rose. It was Henry Tudor’s marriage to Elizabeth of York that ended the Wars of the Roses. High up on the stone work on either side of the Nave are the shields of the nobles who accompanied Edward II to the Scottish wars of 1309, and those of the barons who stopped at York on their way to Bannockburn in 1314. The main entrance to the choir is flanked by a screen on which are carved statues of all the kings from William I to Henry IV. The screen was done in the mid-1200’s and took one man 25 years to carve.

After seeing the Minster we walked back to the hotel, where we had an excellent dinner of smoked mackerel pate, filet of lemon sole, brussels sprouts, potatoes, and braised celery hearts. We shared our table with the Yen family, who are Americans of Chinese descent, over here from Colorado, and a Frenchman named Philip. Dan Yen directs Shakespearean plays, and brought his family here for the Spring vacation. He told us that he was excited about going to Hong Kong to direct Chinese actors. After dinner we went out to the lounge with Philip to talk about U.S. politics, French politics, etc. before going to bed.

Coach tour, Day 2, Wednesday, 3/25/81

We had a continental breakfast at the hotel at 7:30 before leaving at 8:20. Our first stop was Durham, which we reached around 10:15. Durham was an old Saxon city, which was rebuilt by the Normans. It was governed by a Prince-Archbishop who had sovereign powers, including the power to collect taxes, raise an army, and the power of life and death. This continued until 1836, when the title was relinquished.

The Cathedral was built by the Normans, and houses the tomb of the Venerable Bede. Durham sits atop a hill on a U-shaped bend in the Wear river, and so is surrounded on three sides by water. At the top of the hill is the castle, with the Cathedral next to it. We spent about one hour in Durham, seeing the Cathedral, and then hit the road.

Not far from Durham we stopped for lunch at another of those road-side truck stops, this one located in Washington. This town is where George Washington’s family came from. Then we took off across the Northumberland Moors and the Scottish Lowlands for Edinburgh.

Our first stop in Edinburgh was the Castle. The Castle sits atop the hill overlooking the city, and commands the area. There are seven gates to pass through to reach the summit. The Castle has been surrendered several times, but never conquered. There is a small Norman-style Chapel on top, named for St. Margaret, who was the Queen of Scotland, and the wife of King Malcolm, successor to King Macbeth. It holds only twenty people. The Castle is still an active military installation. Soldiers on duty there may use the Chapel for weddings, christenings, etc., if they don’t mind having only a few people inside the Chapel.

The Castle was the residence of Mary, Queen of Scots, for a time, and her son James, who became James I of England, was born here. The Castle now houses several military museums, a memorial to Scotsmen who died in the two World Wars, and the Scottish Crown Jewels. The Jewels were not extensive, comprising a crown, 2 sceptres, 2 pendants, and a claymoor, the traditional Scottish sword that is so large it has to be wielded with two hands.

From the Castle, down the hill to Holyroot Palace, is the Royal Mile. Along here is the Cathedral Church for all Scotland, and the former House of the Scottish Parliament, which was merged with the English Parliament by the Act of Union in 1707. Holyroot Palace, at the bottom of the hill, is the official residence of the Queen when she is in Scotland.

We then drove around Edinburgh seeing some of the monuments and buildings from the bus. Then we went to the hotel, and after checking into our room, Cheryl & I rushed out to the Post Office to mail the rest of our postcards. When we got there they had a first-day commemorative issue, so we mailed one to ourselves.

Then we went back to the hotel for a dinner roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, which for some reason we did not have while we were in York. This led to some speculation that haggis, which was not on the menu tonight, would be served tomorrow in Chester. However our driver, ever on the lookout for a chance to help us poor tourists, informed us that you aren’t allowed to hunt the Haggis bird until after Easter, and that there are strict fines for shooting Haggis out of season. That’s why we weren’t served any.

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