Category Archives: United Kingdom

Hadrian’s Wall: The Extraordinary Remains of Roman Life in Britain

Hadrian's Wall I’m on Hadrian’s Wall to defend Roman Britain from the barbarians in the north! Hadrian's Wall Actually, I’m at Housesteads Fort on Hadrian’s Wall, which was built, starting in 122 A.D., to protect northern Britain, which was part of the Roman Empire, from attacks by the Picts and other tribes living in what is now Scotland.  Along the wall, there were forts, garrisoned by both cavalry and infantry units, and surrounded by communities, every 5 miles. Turrets and milecastles, with smaller garrisons, guarded the areas of the wall in between the forts. Around 410 A.D., the Romans abandoned Britain, but archaeological evidence shows that native Britons continued to garrison the wall through the 5th century.  Over the next few centuries, the wall fell into disrepair, Hadrian's Walland many of the stones were taken away to build other structures. Today, visitors can hike almost the entire length of the wall, can explore the Hadrian's Wallexcavated remains of several Roman forts, and can see fascinating collections of artifacts that reveal how Romans, soldiers from all throughout the Empire, and local people lived together, socialized, traded, and intermarried in the forts and communities along the wall.

 

Housesteads Roman Fort is the most complete of all the forts along Hadrian’s Wall.  Construction began on the fort in 124 AD, only two years after the beginning of the Hadrian's Wallbuilding of Hadrian’s Wall.  The original name of the fort was Vercovicium, which means “place of the effective fighters”.  Today, visitors begin the self-guided tour in the excellent museum which gives a necessary and interesting overview of the layout of the fort, the various stages of construction, the use of the site over time, and the daily lives of the soldiers and families garrisoned there.  Next, venture out into the remains of the fort.  A wonderful guidebook, which I highly recommend purchasing, will explain the nature and purpose of each building.  There are also signs placed throughout the Roman ruins to help you understand what you’re seeing and see what the buildings once looked like.  Here are some of the remains that are interesting to explore:

  • the bakery where bread was produced for the soldiers and their families
  • the granaries (photo upper right) in which wheat was stored; be sure to read about the intriguing system that was used to keep the wheat dry and protected from vermin
  • the barracks (photo upper left) where the soldiers and their unit commanders lived; the soldiers were not native to Britain but rather came from provinces all across the Roman Empire including northern Africa, Germany, France, Belgium, Hadrian's Walland Italy; globalization isn’t only a modern concept!
  • the bathhouse in which soldiers could not only clean themselves but also socialize and relax
  • the hospital where soldiers were treated for sickness and injuries with medicine that was surprisingly advanced for the time
  • the principia, or headquarters, which served as a basilica in which justice was provided and orders were given, a shrine to the gods and to the Roman emperor, and a strongroom to hold valuables
  • the praetorium, or commanding officer’s house
  • the latrines, or restrooms, (photo to the right) which are the most well-preserved Roman latrines in Britain
  • the walls, ramparts, and gates
  • the civilian settlement where approximately 500 local people lived, worked, traded with, and intermarried with the Romans

Hadrian's WallWhen you’re finished touring the remains of the fort, I highly recommend taking a Hadrian's Walllong walk along Hadrian’s Wall.  Doing so will allow you to see the amazing feats of engineering it took to construct this defensive structure across the different terrains in northern England.  In addition, you’ll experience some breathtaking landscapes which I’m sure you’ll want to take photos of, like I did.  All alone, way out along the wall, you can contemplate what life was like here in the past when Romans and native Britons lived together, socialized, traded, shared ideas and customs, and even intermarried.  If I close my eyes now, I can still see the amazing landscapes along the wall.  It’s an experience that you’ll never forget.

 

Location of Houseteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall

Houseteads Roman Fort is located at Haydon Bridge outside the town of Hexham in the country of Northumbria, England.  For specific driving directions, click on the map below.   If you don’t have a car, from the beginning of April to the end of September, the Hadrian’s Wall Bus (AD122) can get you to any of the forts, Roman sites, and museums along the wall, including Housesteads.  This website provides detailed information about locations and timetables.

 

The Highland Folk Museum: Experience Living History in the Scottish Highlands

Highland Folk MuseumNo, I’m not at Goldilocks’ cottage and that’s not her hair hanging on the door.  I’m exploring the Highland Folk Museum, Britain’s first Highland Folk Museumopen air (living history) museum, which brings the history of the Highlands back to life before your eyes.  The Highland Folk Museum portrays daily life in the Scottish Highlands from the 1700’s to the 1960’s.  And best of all, admission is free!

My favorite part was exploring the 1700’s township.  The township includes four houses, two barns, and a weaver’s cottage.  The four homes are reconstructions made out of stones with thatched roofs.  Most are dug into the sides of the earth in order to conserve the heat in the cold Scottish winters.  Exploring each of the four homesteads allows you to understand how difficult life must have been in the Highlands Highland Folk Museumat that time.  Fires were fed with peat, which makes the air pretty smoke inside, as you can see in the picture below.  The majority of the family slept on Highland Folk Museumstraw mattresses, while mom and dad got a good night’s sleep (or not!) in a box bed.  Yes, you read that correctly; people used to sleep inside a box, that’s much like a huge cupboard, with a door in order to keep warm.  That doesn’t sound too comfortable!  Head on over the barns where you can try out a quern, which was used to grind grain into flour, take a photo with some traditional farming implements, and make some new furry friends.    The experience certainly made me even more grateful for the ease of modern living!

Highland Folk MuseumIn addition to the 1700’s township, visitors can also explore a logging encampment, an expansive farm, and an open air village.  The highlight of the logging encampment was the Victorian sawmill where you can see demonstrations of how felled trees were transformed into lumber using water power.  The huge farmyard includes a farmstead house, a tin cottage, a barn, and a smokehouse.  Surrounding the farm are other village buildings such as a post office and general store, where you can buy old fashioned penny candy.  Yum!  Strolling around the open air village, visitors can explore an early schoolhouse, traditional church, fascinating tailors and tweed store, vintage post office, joiner’s shop (where things were made of wood), quaint cottage, small summer house, and clockmaker’s shop.  There really is something that will interest everyone in the family at the Highland Folk Museum, making it a wonderful afternoon or morning out.

 

Location of the Highland Folk Museum

The Highland Folk Museum is located on Kingussie Rd in Newtonmore, Scotland.   It’s approximately one hour from Inverness or two hours from St. Andrews or Edinburgh.  If you’re driving from Inverness or Aberdeen to St. Andrews or Edinburgh, the museum makes for a lovely half-day stop.  That’s what we did.  Click on the map below for specific driving directions.

Glamis Castle: Birthplace and Residence of British Royalty in Scotland

Glamis Castle was the childhood home of the late Queen Elizabeth, the Glamis Castle GardensQueen Mother, and the birthplace of Her Royal Highness the late Princess Margaret.  The Queen Mother’s parents were both Lord and Lady Glamis and Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne. Glamis Castle has been the seat of the Lyon Family since 1372, and many larger than life figures have stayed at the castle, including Mary QueGlamis Castle en of Scots and King James I.  Today’s visitors tour the beautiful and historic state rooms, including the royal apartments of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth II’s parents), and hear the story of the murder of the Scottish King Malcolm III who died at that castle in 1034. He was succeeded by his son Malcolm who was, in turn, killed nearby in battle by his cousin Macbeth.  Sound familiar? These local historical events inspired Shakespeare to make Glamis Castle the legendary home of Macbeth.

Glamis Castle is considered to be one of the most haunted castles in all of the United Kingdom.  One of the specters who Glamis Castle lives at the castle is a pageboy who sits outside the late Queen Mother’s sitting room.  According to medieval legend, on one of the coldest nights of the year, everyone went to bed but forgot to dismiss the little boy from his seat.  He supposedly froze to death there, and it’s said that his ghost frequents the spot and likes to trip people who walk by. Another ghostly tale at the castle involves a secret chamber in which the second Lord of Glamis and his enemy were playing cards and gambling all through the evening and late into the night. After being begged to stop by servants, who were worried that it was the Sabbath, the two lords supposedly brushed them off by saying, “iGlamis Castle Gardensf we have a mind to, we shall play until Doomsday”.  The next morning a stranger appeared at the castle to confront them, and many claimed it was the devil himself who told them that “doomsday has come for both of you“ and took their souls. Tradition states that if you listen at the walls of the secret room at midnight on Saturdays you can hear the two lords crying and shuffling their fateful deck of cards. Perhaps, the most pitiful ghost at Glamis is the Grey Lady who is said to haunt the chapel. She was the wife of the sixth lord of the castle and died after being victimized by King James V of Scotland, who hated her family and wanted the castle for himself.  The king had her two young sons imprisoned and had her tried for, convicted of, an executed for witchcraft. She was burned alive at the stake in 1537, and since then, has been seen entering, sitting, and praying in the castle’s chapel. The Grey Lady is the most frequently seen spirit at the castle.

 

If you visit Glamis Castle, be sure to stop and spend some time with the adorable Highland cattle located near the car park.

Location of Glamis Castle

Glamis Castle is located just outside the village of Angus, Scotland, approximately 20 minutes from Dundee, 45 minutes from St. Andrews, or 1.5 hours from Edinburgh.  If you’re traveling between Aberdeen and Edinburgh or if you’re spending time in St. Andrews, Glamis Castle makes an excellent stop or a lovely side trip for a few hours.  For specific directions to Glamis, click the map below.

 

 

 

York: A Walking Tour of the City’s Most Medieval Destinations

York is a bustling English city with incredible medieval roots. Join me on a walking tour of the city’s medieval sites including the most intact city walls in Britain, a castle and prison, a street straight out of the Middle Ages, a magnificent cathedral, and a Holy Roman emperor’s sword!  Let’s go back in time to explore medieval York.

 

One of things that York is best known for is its city walls.  York has more miles of intact walls than any other city in Britain!  The walls date back all the way to Roman times, and you can see the best preserved structure from Roman Multiangular Tower Yorktimes if you visit the Multiangular Tower in the Museum Gardens (the free, public, botanic gardens in the center of York).  The tower is a defensive structure that is, likely, and addition to the Roman walls built around 310 A.D.  While the surviving Roman structure is fascinating, we’re here to see the medieval city walls, which were constructed from the 12th to the 14th century.  The medieval walls are interrupted by four gatehouses which are known asBootham Bar York “bars”.  These bars not only provided a way to close off the city in times of war but also to restrict traffic and allow the collection of tolls.  Collecting tolls to enter a city is not a modern invention!  The oldest of these gatehouses is Bootham Bar.  Bootham’s archway dates from Norman times, but the rest of the gatehouse was constructed during the 14th century, when the structure was heightened to add a portcullis.   In 1501, a larger knocker was added to Bootham Bar because the gate was kept locked and any visiting Scots were required to knock and obtain the permission of the Lord Mayor to enter the city.  I would imagine most people followed the rule because the heads of traitors were often mounted on the gate! Today, visitors are welcome to climb across and through Bootham Bar while they walk along the 2.5 miles of walls surrounding York.  The walls are the most complete of any English city, and I found the scenery along the wall walk to be incredibly beautiful.  Here’s a link to  map of the city’s walls, which I used during my walk.  If your mobile device can’t access the internet in the UK, be sure to print out a copy before you leave your accommodations.

 

York Minster The next stop on our tour of medieval York is the city’s most famous and most popular tourist destination.  York Minster, officially the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St. Peter in York, is a Gothic cathedral built over a period of 250 years between 1220 and 1472.  I bet you’re wondering why it’s called a “minster”? The first church on the site was built in 627, and during Anglo-Saxon times, important churches were called minsters, hence the cathedral’s name.   Many also don’t know that York Minster was originally built as a Norman-style cathedral but was dismantled as the Gothic architecture replaced the previous one. Today, York Minster has the highest proportion of surviving medieval stained glass of any European cathedral. This includes, what I considered to be the highlight of my visit to the minster, a chance to see the breathtaking rose window, which is often referred to as the “Heart of Yorkshire”.

 

 

If you’re like me, you might be interested in seeing how York looked during medieval The Shambles Yorktimes.  The Shambles is a street that allows us to do just that.  Many of its half-timber buildings date back to the 14th and 15th centuries.  The name “Shambles” is likely short The Shambles Yorkfor “Great Flesh Shambles (Shelves)”, indicating that all of the butcher shops of the city were once located along this street, all the way up through the Victorian Era.  Outside some of the shops, you can still see metal hooks that meat once hung on. Slaughter houses were located behind the store fronts, and meat would be sold from what is now the window bottoms. Looking up, it’s evident that the second floor hangs over the street, likely to prevent the sun from hitting the meat for sale.  Visitors will also notice that the sides of the streets are higher, creating a channel through which the blood and remains of the butchering process could be washed away. Medieval Europe was definitely not known for its sanitation!  Don’t worry because the butcher shops are long gone and today the street is lined with shops, pubs, and restaurants and is a popular destination for both tourists and locals alike.

 

The next stop on our tour is lovely St. Helen’s Square, which is the site of one of the most elegant Mansion House Yorkbuildings in York, Mansion House.  When I visited, Mansion House had beautiful trees of petunias standing in front of it, so I couldn’t help but stop and smell the flowers.  In England, a “mansion house” is home of the city’s Lord Mayor.  Completed in 1732, York’s Mansion House is the oldest in England, making it twenty years older than even London’s equivalent.  The Lord Mayor of York, who is also Chairman of the City Council, is appointed by that council each year and serves as the city’s civic head and its first citizen.  So why are we stopping at an 18th century structure on a tour of medieval York?  Well, since York’s first Lord Mayor was appointed by King Richard II in 1389, the Lord Mayor is second in precedence only to the Lord Mayor of London.  So the Lord Mayor of York would have presided over the city in medieval times.  In addition, York’s Mansion House is open to the public and features period furnishings, one of the largest collections of city-owned silver in England, and a display of civic regalia, including a sword once owned by a medieval Holy Roman Emperor.  That’s what makes Mansion House a worthy stop on our tour of medieval York!

 

So we’ve seen a medieval city walls, a towering cathedral, a street straight of the Middle Ages, and some medieval weaponry.  Let’s finish off our tour of medieval York with a castle, albeit one with a rather tragic past.  Clifford’s Tower, the keep of York Castle, has a dark and sad history.  In 1190, a group of 150 Jews were offered the official protection ofClifford’s Tower York the king against a mob of violent anti-Semitic riots sweeping through England.  A group of local gentry, who owed large debts to Jewish money-lenders, saw widespread rioting against Jews as an opportunity to rid themselves of their debtors.  Fearing betrayal, the Jews locked out the royal constable, who summoned knights and siege engines to open the tower by force. A local monk, who was inciting the mob gathered outside, was accidentally killed by a falling rock.  This event further enraged the crowd, who increasingly called out for Jewish blood. Faced with the fear of being killed by the mob or being forced to be baptised, most of the 150 Jews inside committed suicide and then set fire to the keep, which was wooden at the time.  A few Jews who did not take their own lives died in the fire, and the remaining were killed by the mob. An investigation, ordered by the king, was later held, and the city was forced to pay a heavy fine. However no people were ever tried or punished for the horrific crimes.  The tower was rebuilt out of stone and used as a jail until an explosion destroyed the interior in the 17th century. The ruins became a tourist attraction and are managed today by English Heritage. In 1978, a memorial tablet was installed at the base of the tower to remember those that died there, and in 1990, the 800th anniversary of the pogrom was held on site.

 

While you’re at Clifford’s Tower, I highly recommend visiting the York Castle Museum.  Located on the site of a former York Castle Museumcastle, the museum is located inside of an 18th century prison that once held both male and female prisoners.   If you purchase tickets to the museum you can tour (for free) a section of the original prison cells and what learn what life was like there for some York Castle Museumrather infamous inmates.  The museum itself contains many fascinating and regularly changing exhibits.  The main attraction for me was Kirkgate, an entire Victorian street that has been recreated inside the museum.  You can wander in and out of each of the shops along the street.  Each shop is based on an actual business in York, some of which are still in operation today!  Some of shops include Banks Music, Sessions Printers, Cooper’s Saddlers, Horsley’s Gunsmith, Cooke’s Scientific Instruments, Edward Allen Taxidermist, The Little Dust Pan Ironmongers, Kendrick’s Toy Dealers and Fancy Repository, George Britton’s Grocers, and John Saville the Pharmaceutical Chemist.  You’ll also wander into an alleyway known as Rowntree Snicket which shows us the poverty of Victorian cities and a working class family’s home.  While exploring the street, you might run into one of many Victorian characters who can tell you more about their lives or catch the Magic Lantern Show.  York Castle Museum is one of my favorite museums in the world, and therefore, I consider it a “must” to any trip to the city.

 

Locations in York

I’ve created a clickable map with all of the destinations mentioned on our tour.  Click on the map below and then click on the marker for each location to get detailed walking or driving directions to it.  York is a very walkable city, so I’d recommend plotting out a route by using the map and then hoofing it, like I did.  Clifford’s Tower and York Castle Museum are a bit of a distance away from the other sites, so you might want to see those on a different day, use public transportation, or hail a taxi to reach them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haddon Hall: The Finest Example of a Medieval and Tudor Manor House in Britain

If you’re looking to see the best preserved example of an English medieval and Tudor home, head to the spectacular Haddon Hall.  Haddon has been a fortified manor house whose walls were first raised up in 1195, but most of the battlements and towers were built in the late 14th century to be fashionable rather than to keep out attackers.   Haddon was added onto in the early and late 1500’s, but the family deserted the home and left it uninhabited for over 200 years! In the 1920’s the 9th DuHaddon Hallke realized the historical and architectural importance of Haddon and began restoration work that continues today.  The Manners Family, who has owned Haddon Hall since 1584, continue to live there but welcome visitors, like you and me, to explore their dreamy medieval home.

We were there on a very rain and overcast day, so most of my photos didn’t come out as well as I would have liked.Haddon Hall  Walking through the Northwest Tower and into the courtyard of Haddon Hall, I got goose pimples because I felt like I had just stepped back in time.  Off of the flowering vine and ivy covered courtyard, there are many rooms to explore, but we began our self-guided tour in the great hall, which in medieval and Tudor times, was the main communal living space.  In those days, the only private bedroom, located above the main hall and usually called a solar, would have belonged to the lord and lady, so everyone else would have slept on the floor in the main hall or in the kitchens.  Today, Haddon’s great hall is called the Banqueting Hall. Picture a huge table and fireplace, mounted horns of hunted animals, furs on the floor, tapestries on the walls, and a minstrel’s gallery above. Another interesting room is the long gallery, which was built in Elizabethan times to allow the family to walk along its long length Haddon Hallin order to exercise when the weather was poor.  Long galleries were also used to play games and to hold balls. Haddon’s long gallery overlooks the gorgeous Elizabethan knot garden which would have been planted with herbs and flowers that have medicinal purposes. Today, Haddon’s other gardens are planted in the Renaissance style on a series of terraces that descend down to the River Wye. They’re an ideal place for a fairytale wedding!  Speaking of weddings, I imagine Haddon’s chapel has seen a fair share of them in its long history! Originally built in the 12th century and widened in the 1500’s, the chapel is dedicated to St. Nicholas and still Haddon Hallfunctions as the local church of one of the smallest parishes in England. The chapel’s walls contain rare examples of medieval frescoes depicting the lives of St. Nicholas, St. Christopher, and St. Anne and of three skeletons that were part of a lesson on vanity.   During the Protestant Reformation, almost all church frescoes like these were destroyed, but the ones in Haddon’s chapel were whitewashed over and then, later, carefully uncovered and restored in the early 20th century. Although the historian in me was intrigued by the chapel, my favorite part of Haddon Hall was its kitchens. Haddon Hall also has some of the best preserved, intact Tudor kitchen in all of England. Built in the 1300’s, the kitchen is actually a small complex of rooms including a main kitchen with a medieval water boiler and water trough system, great fireplace, and a 16th century carving table, a milk larder with 15th century cupboards that are considered the best preserved in the world, and a butchery with a 15th century trough for salting meat and 17th century game-hanging racks.  I love places like the Tudor kitchens at Haddon because they allow us to have a glimpse into the lives of people in the past and to see how they did everyday things like preserve foods, cook, and bake. History can’t get more real and down-to-earth than that!

Location of Haddon Hall

Haddon Hall is located in the village of Blakewell in the country of Derbyshire in England.  It’s approximately 1.5 hours outside of the city of Manchester.  For specific directions, click on the map below.   Haddon Hall is open seasonally, so be sure to check the hours on their website before going.

If you’ll also be visiting Chatsworth House and Estate, Haddon Hall makes a convenient side trip, as it’s only 20 minutes from Chatsworth.  We combined both into a lovely day out.  For more on Chatsworth, see my post “Chatsworth House: An Opulent Day Out in Derbyshire”.

 

 

Chatsworth House: An Opulent Day Out in Derbyshire

Chatsworth HouseChatsworth House is a spectacular mansion house and estate located in the Peak District of England.  The home has seen its share of famous personalities.  MaryChatsworth House Queen of Scots was held as a prisoner at Chatsworth numerous times between 1568 and 1572, and the house’s owners, Bess of Hardwick and Sir William Cavendish, were entrusted by Queen Elizabeth I as the Scottish monarch’s jailors.   Other famous visitors to the house were Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who were entertained there in 1843. Chatsworth Chatsworth Housewas also the filming location for] the 2015 version of Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley, and the 2013 TV version of Death Comes to Pemberley.  Experts believe that Jane Austen actually based descriptions of Pemberley on her visits to Chatsworth House.  You can see a photo of me and Mr. Darcy (well, his statue!) below.  The 2008 film the Duchess (also Chatsworth Housestarring Keira Knightley), based on a biography of Georgiana Cavendish, wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire, was also filmed at Chatsworth.   The fascinating tour of the state rooms  introduces you to all of these personalities and gives us “common people” a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the ultra rich upper crust.

 

Chatsworth is located on a 35,000 acre estate that contains a plethora of gardens and landscapes to explore.  The Cascade at Chatsworth House was voted best water feature in England by a panel of experts.  Originally built in 1696 by a French hydraulic engineer who worked for Chatsworth HouseLouis XIV, it was redesigned and doubled in size in 1708.  The Cascade is a set of 24 stone Chatsworth House Gardenssteps over which water flows from a set of fountains at the top, where Cascade House, a faux Baroque Temple is located.  The Cascade is one of many water features in Chatsworth’s 105 acres of gardens.  Be sure to allocated some time during your visit to explore them.  Some of my favorites were the Grotto House and Pond, the maze, the rock garden, and the Ravine.  There’s also an adventure playground and a farmyard for the children.  As a nice break in your day out, have a bite to eat in one of the estate’s restaurants, located in the former stables, and browse through the lovely gift shop.  You and your family can enjoy an entire day out at Chatsworth Estate!

Location of Chatsworth House

Chatsworth is located in Derbyshire, England, about 1.5 hours outside of Manchester, in an area known as the Peak District.  The mansion and gardens can get very busy, so I would advise purchasing your tickets online and arriving when they open.  Then take the earliest tour of the house and explore the gardens and grounds after.   Click the map below for directions to Chatsworth House and Estate.

After visiting Chatsworth, consider a side trip to Haddon Hall.  It’s only 20 minutes from Chatsworth.  We combined both into a lovely day out.  For more on Haddon Hall, see my post “Haddon Hall: The Finest Example of a Medieval and Tudor Manor House in Britain”.

Chatsworth HouseChatsworth House

Bath: One of the Most Romantic Cities in Britain

Bath is one of the most romantic cities in Britain.  From visiting historic sites, to perusing art galleries, to shopping in local stores and boutiques, to taking in the natural landscape, there are so many things to do that you may not have enough time for them all.  Let me do the planning and prioritizing for you.  Here are my choices for the top six places to visit in Bath.

 

1. Parade Gardens

One of my favorite places in the city is Parade Gardens, which overlook the weir, or low dam, along the River Avon.  The floraParade Gardens Bath l beds are exquisite, and three-dimensional features (like the ones inParade Gardens Bath the picture) are on display in the summer months.  I couldn’t resist packing myself a small picnic, gathered in a local grocery store, and sprawling out on the lawn to have lunch. As luck would have it, a band was playing in the bandstand, so I had free entertainment on my leisurely afternoon.  Talking a walk or having a picnic in a local garden is a great way to take a break from the frantic pace of sightseeing and a cheap alternative to lunch or dinner in a pricey restaurant. You may even experience some free entertainment and get a chance to unwind like and with the locals.  Now that’s good travel!

 

2. The Weir at Pulteney Bridge

Putleney Bridge Bath One of the most romantic sites, especially in the evening, in Bath, England, is the weir, or low dam, at Pulteney Bridge.  Completed in 1774, the bridge connects Bath with another nearby town across the River Avon. On the north side, the bridge contains a series of lovely shops, but the western side is the most beautiful.  Against the backdrop of the Palladian-style buildings and bridge, the horse-shaped weir in the river is stunning. Stick around long enough to watch tourist boats make a u-turn at the weir, and come at sunset to see the water and buildings aglow with beautiful lighting.  The location is so impressive that it was chosen as location for one of the most important scenes in the 2012 movie version of Les Miserables. Take a walk along the riverbanks and a stroll through the adjoining Paradge Gardens. I was there on a solo trip, but I highly encourage you to bring someone special.  I guarantee that you won’t leave without a kiss or two and a memory that you won’t soon forget!

 

3. Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey (officially the Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Bath) was founded way back in the 7th century as an Anglo-Saxon Bath Abbeymonastery.  A plaque on the church testifies to the fact that the first king of England, Edgar, was crowned at Bath Abbey, not Westminster, in 973.  Next, the Normans constructed a cathedral on the site, but it gradually fell into disrepair. The current form of the abbey exists because of restoration work in 1610, the 1820’s, and the 1860’s.  Today, visitors enter at the West Front where they marvel at stone carvings of angels ascending long ladders to heaven. While some have attributed this artwork to the visions of a former bishop, modern experts point, instead, to the story of Jacob’s ladder in the Old Testament.  Artwork, such as this, was used in the past as a teaching tool to educate the often illiterate public about Bible stories and Christian theology. Next time you’re in a historic place of worship, take a look at the stained glass windows and see if Bath Abbeyyou can “read” the religious stories designed on them.

The spectacular Gothic fan vaulting of the ceiling of Bath Abbey was constructed in the early 1500’s and restored between 1864 and 1875.  A vault is a stone ceiling built along the same principles as an arch. The immense force of their weight pushes down the sides, making the vaults, if left to themselves, structurally weak.  So the fan vaulting distributes the weight of the roof down ribs that transfer it to the flying buttresses on the outside of the church. These ribs and buttresses prevent the walls from bowing out and collapsing.  Fan vaulting is unique to England where it was first developed in the mid-1300’s. Next time you’re at a Gothic cathedral, take a look at the outside to see if flying buttresses Bath Englandare helping to support the weight of the structure.  Medieval architects were geniuses to design and build such immense structures in stone and mortar. Imagine being a medieval peasant and looking at these huge buildings. They would have been the tallest and more grandiose thing that you’ve ever seen!

Outside of Bath Abbey, I took a photo of this marble fountain thinking that it was particularly lovely.  Upon closer inspection, I realized the motto “water is best” was carved into the base. After doing a bit of research, I learned the fountain is called “Rebecca” and was installed in 1861 by the Bath Temperance Association, which was a national movement that advocated abstinence from alcohol and attempted to influence the government to pass laws to regulate and even prohibit the sale of alcohol.  It’s a teetotaling fountain! And here I thought it was just a girl fetching water for her family.

 

4. Fashion Museum

One incredible place to visit in Bath is the Fashion Museum, which features fantastic displays on the history of attire from Fashion Museum Bath the 18th century to the present.  One of the many exhibits, at which I was amazed, was a display of mantuas, which you can see in this photo. In the mid to late 18th century, women would wear these elaborate dresses for important occasions at the royal court.  The enormous skirts were meant to show off the luxurious fabrics, such as silk, the fancy embroidery, often done in gold or silver thread, and the complexly woven pattern, all of which pointed to the wealth of the woman wearing it.  The fabric, alone, of the dress is likely to have cost the equivalent of £5,000 ($7,000)! Ladies, I don’t think you’re gonna find this garment at Primark.

 

5. The Royal Crescent
Royal Crescent Bath EnglandThe Royal Crescent in Bath is the one of the best preserved examples of Royal Crescent Bath EnglandGeorgian architecture in all of England.  This row of 30 terraced houses was built between 1767 and 1774 in the Palladian style. The Royal Crescent is the first arc of terraced homes to be built in the “country in the city” style, with each home having a views of parkland directly opposite them.  Each original owner bought a length of the facade of the building but hired his own architect to build a home behind it. So while the front appears to be uniform architecturally, with minor variations like balconies, the back is completely different. Of the 30 houses, 10 are still full-sized townhomes, 18 have been split into flats, one is a hotel, and the last is Number One Royal Crescent, a historic house museum which is worth a visit to see how people lived during Georgian times.

 

6.  The Roman Baths

Roman Baths BathThe Roman Baths in Bath, England, is one of my favorite museums in the world.  TheRoman Baths Bath baths date all the way back to Celtic times when the hot springs were used a place of worship for the goddess Sullis, whom the Romans associated with Minerva (Athena to the Greeks).   During their occupation of Britain, the Romans constructed a bathing complex, over a 300 year period, including a barrel-vaulted main bathhouse, a frigidarium (cold water bath), caldarium (hot water bath), tepidarium (warm bath), and a temple to the goddess Minerva.  The site also contains 18th century neo-classical buildings, including a redecoration of the terrace around the original Roman main bath and a Grand Pump Room, where visitors can still “take the waters” by drinking it (I thought it tasted gross!), as well as enjoy a meal at the posh restaurant.

Roman Baths Bath

Roman era hair combs

The museum hold countless artifacts from archaeological excavations at Roman Baths Baththe site.  Using modern lighting and visual projection techniques and actual archaeological remains, museum curators have recreated Roman bathing rooms (in their original locations) so that visitors can experience what they looked like.  The museum also hires interpreters, in period costume, to interact with visitors so they can learn more about the experience of Romans and Britons at the baths. Thousands of artifacts are also on

 

display. Some of my favorites are the countless objects that people had thrown into the sacred spring as offerings to the goddess Minerva.  They range from 12,000 coins, to metal pans for holy water, to curses written on pieces of lead or pewter, asking the goddess to harm someone who had crossed the worshiper. The Roman Baths Museum is a fascinating glimpse into everyday life in Roman Britain. It’s not to be missed!  Check out their wonderful gift store too.

 

Locations in Bath

I’ve created a special map that includes all of the locations mentioned above.  Click on the map below, and you’ll find each location marked on the map.  Choose the location to get specific directions to that place.

 

Blenheim Palace: The Only Non-Royal Palace in Britain

Blenheim Palace is the only non-royal and non-clergical house in England Blenheim Palaceto be designated a palace.  Since 1722, Blenheim has been the home of the Dukes of Marlborough. The palace was a reward from Queen Anne to the first Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, who led British and allied forces to victory Blenheim Palacein the 1704 Battle of Blenheim during the War of Blenheim Palacethe Spanish Succession.  The palace is also the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, whose paternal grandfather was the 5th Duke of Marlborough. Designed in the English Baroque style, Blenheim is still the home of the 12th Duke and his family, although the magnificent state apartments and expansive gardens are open to tourists.

 

Blenheim Palace’s formal gardens and over 2,000 acres of parkland wereBlenheim Palace transformed by noted landscape designer Lancelot “Capability” Brown from 1764-1774 into the masterpieces that they are today.  The landscapes look completely natural, but they were completely engineered by Brown, including the gigantic Great Lake and Grand Cascades waterfall. Other than the elaborate interiors of the palace, my favorite part was the grand formal gardens, especially the water terrace shown in the Blenheim Palacephotograph.  Other highlights of the grounds include the Marlborough Maze, Victorian Rose Garden, Temple to Health in the Secret Garden, and the Butterfly House. You can spend an entire day at Blenheim Palace and its expansive, beautiful grounds.

 

Getting to Blenheim Palace

The palace is located outside the town of Woodstock in Oxfordshire, only 20 minutes from the city of Oxford.   Blenheim can get very crowded with tour groups, so buy your tickets online and arrive when they open.  Take the earliest tour of the inside of the palace, and then explore the gardens and grounds after.  If you don’t have a car, take the S3 bus from Oxford Train Station right to the gates of Blenheim, like I did.  Click on the map below for directions.

After your visit to Blenheim, consider a day in Oxford.  Here’s my guide to the medieval city.

 

 

 

Oxford: You Can Say “I Went to Oxford!” by Visiting the University City

Oxford is best known for its world-renowned university.  One of the charms of exploring Oxford is simply walking around town to explore the historic architecture associated with the colleges.  Here are my highlights of a day out in Oxford.

Radcliffe Camera OxfordOur first stop is Radcliffe Camera, an iconic Oxford building that was constructed from 1737 to 1749 to house the Radcliffe Science Library at Oxford University.  The building is named after John Radcliffe, a doctor who left a considerable sum of money, in his will, to the university for the express purpose of constructing a library of science.  In 1850, the science collection was moved to a newly built science library, and the Radcliffe Bodleian Library OxfordLibrary of Science changed its name to the Radcliffe Camera to reflect its new function as a reading room (“camera” meaning “room” in Latin) for the Bodleian Library.  Head on over to our second stop, the Bodleian, the main research library at Oxford.  Not only one of the oldest libraries in the world but also the second-largest library in the United Kingdom, after the British Library.  If you’d like to go inside, both a mini tour (30 minutes) and a full tour (60 minutes) are available.  Check out their website for more details.

 

Trinity College OxfordIf you’re going to Oxford, you have to tour at least one of its historic colleges.  Pick one or two that you’d like to see, or better yet, book a tour with a local blue-badge guide who can get you into multiple colleges.  I took a tour, and the guide’s thorough knowledge of the Oxford system, the buildings, and the history helped me to much better understand a university that is far different than anything we have in the United States.  Generally, students live, eat, and attend tutorials (which is the main way in which students are taught) at their college, but tOxfordhe university runs lectures, laboratories, examinations, and libraries and grants degrees.  Faculty and students belong to one of the colleges, and students apply for admission to a specific college, rather than to the university as a whole.  My choice for the best college to visit is Trinity.  Trinity College (officially the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity) is one of the 38 colleges that make up Oxford University. Trinity College was founded by Sir Thomas Pope, a member of Parliament and wealthy landowner, in 1555.  The college currently has 400 students holding a wide variety of majors.  Trinity College, like most of the colleges at Oxford, is open to visitors, but each college charges their own entrance fee.

Merton College OxfordAnother lovely academic institution to visit is Merton College, which was founded in the 1260s.  Merton contains one of the university’s oldest quadrangles, namedOxford Mob Quad, built between 1288 and 1378, which was designed to provide accommodations for members of the college.  Merton’s most notable alumni include poet T. S. Eliot, theological and philosopher John Wycliffe, Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan, four Nobel Laureates, and writer J. R. R. Tolkien, who was also a professor of English language and literature from 1945 to 1959.  However, it’s not all academics at Merton; while I was visiting, I took in a cricket game and watched students punting (propelling a flat-bottomed boat in the shallow river), which is a favorite pastime here in Oxford.

 

University Church of St. Mary the Virgin Oxford

Don’t miss the unique columns at the entrance!

University Church of St. Mary the Virgin OxfordAnother location that’s a must-visit when in Oxford is the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin.  The church has been a Christian place of worship for over 1,000 years.  When Oxford University was first being formed in the 13th century, students and scholars used the church as a meeting place, lecture hall, and a place of worship.   Oxford University’s library and treasury were once even housed in the church.  In 1420, Oxford University moved its facilities to other buildings, but the church retained its prominent position in the community and university life.

University Church is known for several important historical events.  In 1556, Thomas Cranmer, who was the first protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, was put on trial for heresy at University Church.  His trial was organized by the Roman Catholic government, led by Queen Mary, who detested Cranmer for his part in helping her father, King Henry VIII, create the Church of England and remove her mother, Catherine of Aragon, as Queen, in favor of Anne Boleyn.  Cranmer was found guilty and was burned at the stake just around the corner from the church.  Two decades later, John Wesley, the Alice's Shop Oxfordfounder of the Methodist Church, preached many of his most important sermons at University Church.  Even though he was educated at Oxford, he denounced many members of the university for “laxity and sloth”, he was never invited to preach there again.

 

Our last stop is a literary one, but it has more of a whimsical and sweet nature.  Alice’s Shop is a location right out of Lewis’ Carroll’s famous Alice in Wonderland series.  The author (whose real name was Reverend Charles Dodgson) was a retired Oxford professor who decided to write and illustrate a story for Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church College.  That book became Alice and Wonderland.  One of the scenes that Carroll wrote about in its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, was a small grocery shop, called “The Old Sheep Shop”, which Alice frequented to purchase candy.  Today, that shop is named “Alice’s Shop” and is frequented by visitors who want to experience a piece of literature, and perhaps, purchase some Alice in Wonderland gifts as a souvenir of the historic city of Oxford.  Wouldn’t they make a unique Christmas or birthday gift!

Warwick Castle: A Historic Medieval Adventureland

Warwick CastleWarwick Castle brings history alive to its visitors with many exciting and interactive exhibits and attractions.  Guests can tour the opulent castle Warwick Castleinteriors, explore the dungeons where live actors and special effects bring gory tales to life, experience what preparing for medieval battle was like during the days of Warwick the Kingmaker, join the Countess of Warwick (in mannequin form) to see a Victorian high society weekend at the castle, participate in numerous children’s activities including a Princess Tower fairy tale, climb the towers and ramparts, and take part in a multimedia journey through 1,100 years of history.  There’s something for everyone in the entire family at Warwick Castle.

 

Warwick CastleWarwick Castle also has some incredible siege weapons on display including this ballista, a large catapult used for firing arrows or stones.  Even more impressive is Warwick Warwick CastleCastle’s trebuchet, which is the largest reconstructed siege weapon in the world.  Trebuchets were designed to hurl giant projectiles at castle walls to attempt to demolish them, or at least to make holes large enough to allow foot soldiers to storm the fortress.  Large rocks and stones were the usual projectiles of choice, but dead animals and manure were also used in the hopes of spreading disease among the besieged garrison and forcing them to surrender.  If you visit Warwick Castle, you can see a trained crew fire the giant trebuchet, from a safe distance of course.  Believe me, it’s a site not to be missed!

Warwick Castle

During your visit, you can also tour the extensive gardens, including, my favorite, the peacock garden!  Although formal gardens have existed at Warwick Castle since at least 1576, when Queen Elizabeth I visited, the famous peacock garden was designed by the Victorian landscape gardener Robert Marnock.  The castle has over 20 peacocks wandering the gardens, bearing their name, among manicured hedges, fountains, ponds, and topiary peacock sculpture.  Explore this and over 64 acres of landscaped grounds at Warwick Castle.

 

Location

Warwick Castle is located just 40 minutes, by car or rail, outside of Birmingham, U.K.  Click on the map below for specific directions.

Warwick Castle

 

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