The Long and Winding Road
By Dwip May 9, 2004, 8:25 am Comments (5) RSS Feed for this post

So many titles for this one… “No Dogs on the City Walls” was one that didn’t make the cut – it’s a sign on the York city walls. More I’ve forgotten. This one is the best, though, I think. You’ll see.

In any case, here’s the record of my six days, Canterbury, York, Carlisle, Hadrian’s Wall, and a few points in between. Enjoy.

5/3/04 Canterbury

Live from atop the Dane John Mound, Canterbury. This used to be the site of a Norman motte and bailey timber fort a thousand years ago in William the Conqueror’s time. Now it’s the centerpiece of a large park. It’s about sixty or seventy feet above ground level, which gives it a nice view of the city, though most of the Cathedral is blocked by some inconsiderate trees. Still, it’s one of the nicest bits of a nice city.

It also opens onto what’s left of the medieval walls – you can walk them for a good distance, and some of the towers still stand. Walk them long enough, and you come close to what’s left of the stone Norman keep, which is just a shell, now.

All of this is what greets you pretty much right outside the eastern train station, which I might add is horribly ghetto. But since it was a glorious day when I came out, I forgive it. I wandered around lost for a time, which is fine, since Canterbury is nice to wander in. Lots of pedestrian streets and old stuff, and finally got to the cathedral.

This, as it happened, turned out to be a mistake, since it started raining as I went in, and rained the whole time I was in Canterbury after. The Cathedral on one hand was impressive – kings, archbishops, and Edward the Black Prince are buried there, and the candle on the site of Thomas a Becket’s martyrdom is quite something, but the place lacks…something. Not sure what. Maybe I was disenchanted at how it cost me an arm and a leg to get in, and they wanted more besides for photos and any real info. Whatever.

I also hit two of the city museums, which were fair – the Roman one is merely ok, but the Heritage museum covers all Canterbury history and lives in an old medieval hospital, which adds to the charm. I imagine the West Gate museum would be worthwhile too, but it closed before I got there. Ah well.

I also ran into a gaming store, the first I’ve seen here. Felt like home, even if it was typically English, which is to say overpriced and with no selection.

And that was more or less that. I walked in the rain for a couple hours, which sure improved my Winchester cold. Pulling into London Victoria, which like all London stations is not the ghetto, I’m finally dry and warm again. Yay.

5/4/04 York Day 1

What does one say about York? Behind London, it is the most impressive city I’ve seen here, I think, and I haven’t even done everything yet.

York, like Canterbury, is another of those cities that you walk out of the station and run smack into the city walls. You can also walk them, and they’re quite extensive and well-preserved – 2 miles, about. And my feet, believe you me, feel both miles, not that the walls were the hard bit.

The hard bit was York Minster, which for some reason has been chiming bells for half an hour. It’s allowed, because it’s the single most impressive cathedral yet. And, unlike the Canterbury Cathedral, your admission actually gets you worthwhile things, like information and tours. Among other things, it has a choir screen depicting some of the kings from William the Conqueror on, all with impressive little statues. You can also walk down into the crypt/treasury/foundations, where you can see remains of Roman Eboracum’s fortress, as well as three or so seperate cathedrals, and the obligatory impressive church plate.

2 pounds will get you a walk to the tower. It’s 184 feet high, has 275 steps, and they’re all of the 2′ spiral variety. The walls, like I said, were nothing. The view from up there is amazing, of course. Panoramic views of the entire city. Good stuff.

I had lunch at a place called the Roman Baths. It’s a pub, with the usual good pub food, plus you can pay to see the remains of the baths. Not much, but I liked it anyway.

I also rather like the park outside the hotel I’m in. Among other things, it has a museum and the ruins of two medieval churches, plus a working one. Close to the train station, too, so one of the first things I saw.

And that’s the first of my two days in York. Tomorrow, I want to do the castle, the Viking stuff, and the city museum. We’ll see.

5/5/04 York Day 2

So going out of Clifford’s Tower this morning, I happened to pass a guy and his two kids, who I so happened to see yesterday on my wall walk. Real troopers, those kids. All of 5, and they made the whole 2 miles with me. Slept good, I bet. I did.

Clifford’s Tower isn’t much, and not worth the price of admission. You get to see…a gutted interior and a decent view of the city. Bah. Castle Museum next door, however, is sweet. Exhibitions on daily life abound, and just for kicks they’ve reconstructed multiple entire Victorian streets, with attendant shops. Oh, and they mention the Sharpe TV series. They’re not just books.

Speaking of Sharpe, I’m becoming a huge Bernard Cornwell fan. Sharpe’s Rifles was good, and he’s got an Arthurian series I’m devouring. York has a Borders (Yay!), so I’ve picked up some more of his stuff to occupy me. Too, it seems that not only is the sequel to Quicksilver out, Colleen McCullough wrote like two books when I wasn’t looking. One is sort of a Morgan’s Run “I’m still angry at the English for that whole transportation thing” rehash, but the other is a retelling of the Illiad. We’ll see. Too, I believe there’s a new Pratchett, and another one by somebody fairly important and good who I can’t remember right now. Ah well.

Anyway. The castle stuff took me about four hours to do, and I followed it with a trip to the Jorvik Viking Center, which involves a ride in a “time capsule” through Viking Jorvik, with sights, sounds, and smells. It’s corny as hell, yet entertaining.

That having been done, I browsed the Yorkshire Museum near my hotel, which coincidentally has some great ruins nearby (the ones in the park I mentioned before). The museum is packed – Roman, Saxon, and Medieval exhibits of greatness. Plus the reason why the ruins are so great – they’re the Abbey of St. Mary, which was like the second richest and powerful in all England. Oh.

In any event, that’s York. It’s on to Carlisle tomorrow.

5/6/04 Carlisle

The problem with Carlisle, one could say (or maybe just Longshanks), is that it’s full of Scots. Quite literally, during the ’45 when Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Highlanders took the place over, but even today half the folks have accents. Some worse than others – I still have no idea what that guy in the street was trying to ask me.

It’s been a strange day like that. I got stopped by random people twice today for things. Why the American tourist of all people? We may never know. Too, Carlisle is confusing in that it has like three roads that matter, all of which are well layed out, which means that I got lost all over today. Especially finding the castle.

The castle was pretty hard, since if you aren’t on the right side of the fenced off main highway, you have to find this well-hidden subway and go under said highway. That having been done, the castle is quite well-preserved and nice, which is because it’s this big red monster of a thing, with big red walls. Whole city’s red, actually, from the local stone, I imagine. Cathedral’s red, too. Mite odd, that – never seen a red cathedral before. Sort of a small one, too. Which is unfortunate, because there’s not much more to see here.

Doubly unfortunate since the Hadrian’s Wall busses are all bloody slow, and late, and early – I’ll get three hours in Housesteads if I’m lucky, and I’m not even sure I can make Vindolanda. A shame, because I really wanted to see Vindolanda. Ah well. Maybe I’ll do Birdoswald and take a weekend up here.

5/7/04 Carlisle (morning)

So the B&B I’m in is pretty nice, and has the best bed I’ve slept in here. This is good. What’s bad is that it’s 9am. Nothing is open here at 9am. Carlisle is kind of hick like that. Even in York, things are open at 9am.

The real problem, mind you, is that everything shuts at 5. Everything. So of course you’re left from about 5 to 11:30 when it’s a good bedtime with nothing to do. Before York, of course, I just caught the train back, and all was well. Even York you could walk around. Carlisle, well, I had a short day and saw most of it. I’ll see the rest today before Housesteads.

That’s worth a rant right there. Unless it’s a month from now and the AD122 service is running, busses on the wall suck. Frex, I’m taking the 185 to Housesteads, which only runs twice a day three hours apart, and then I’m going to walk a couple of miles to Vindolanda, see that, and walk a couple more miles to Haltwhistle and catch the 685 back to Carlisle. Argh. I have no idea what I’ll do tomorrow.

And while I’m thinking about it, if you’re a student, and you’re spending any time at, say, three or more places, get the 15 pound membership thing for English Heritage. Because you’ll really hate yourself if you don’t, like me. Also, pack light on these excursion things, because that extra change of clothing sure is annoying to pack. And tear pages out of your guide book, because the fucker’s heavy. Very heavy. Heaviest thing I have. Argh.

Ok. Caffiene and Housesteads, here I come.

5/7/04 Bardon Mill (evening)

This, as the two Great Ones once said, has been a most unusual day. I’m in Bardon Mill, it’s close to half past six, and I’m waiting for a train that will hopefully get me to Carlisle.

That’s the middle of the story. The beginning puts me in Carlisle, where my nice B&B lady, thinking I’m skipping out without paying, rather politely informs me to pay my two nights in advance. In cash. Well, since I don’t really carry 50 pounds in cash on a regular basis, this involves an appearance by the husband to I guess intimidate me, and a trip to an ATM. That having been accomplished, I got on with my day, which until I got on the bus consisted of a McDonald’s run for cheap food, and a trip to the Tullie House, which is a rather nice museum, with a good section on Roman Carlisle, among other things.

That having been done, I rode out to Housesteads, one of the forts in Hadrian’s Wall. It’s all ruins now, of course, but it’s nifty nonetheless. It is in the middle of nowhere, though, with sheep grazing it. Many sheep. Baa.

And if I thought Housesteads was the middle of nowhere, Vindolanda dove off the far side of the edge of the universe. I got partway there by means of a public footpath running through the middle of the forementioned sheep. During this I joined up with two nice old English ladies, who had impressive stamina for being old enough to be my grandparents. In any event, after hitting a road, we hit Vindolanda, which is surrounded by trees and meadows and things.

The fort’s not much, but the museum, both open air with reconstructions of Roman buildings, and indoors with tons of artifacts, was cool. The digging is still going, too – I listened to one of the archeologists talk about it.

In any case, the real fun involved getting out of Vindolanda to here, which got me lost on another public footpath on the way to Bardon Mill (this being closer than Haltwhistle – 1.5 miles as opposed to 4), and deposited me in this random field with horses. So I walked the mile back, after about 3 between Housesteads and Vindolanda, another mile or two down some assorted random roads, one of which had a nice random guy who directed me to Bardon Mill. So then I walked another mile or so to town, down the main road, which was lots of fun, all the while passing little “Bardon Mill, 1 1/2 mile” signs all over. Finally, I ended up in Bardon Mill about half an hour before the train was due, with some very sore legs and enough time to jot this down (or rather I cheated, and finished this on the train. Yay).

5/7/04 Carlisle (evening)

Well, I made it. I don’t think this part of my foot is supposed to hurt like this, though. Then, I DID walk uphill both ways to get places. And believe me, it was UP the damn hills. Lot of them in that part of the world.

Also, Rolo McFlurries were a bit of a letdown after the Cadbury one.

5/8/04 Greenhead (afternoon)

Once again, here I am, stuck at a bus stop in some shithole hamlet along Hadrian’s Wall, waiting for another goddamn bus that isn’t even the bus I was supposed to take, except the bus driver who got me here was wrong about when the bus came. Ah well. Not his fault. Nice enough fellow. Doesn’t prevent the bus service here from being teh suck, though.

In any case, the Roman Army Museum isn’t bad. It gives a decent account of life in the legions, and a video reconstruction of Hadrian’s Wall that is definitely not teh suck. It’s also near a bunch of ridges with bits of wall on them, so it’s all good. Except the damn bus.

Later –

So the company what runs the 685 bus doesn’t take 185 tickets. I hate this place.

Still Later –

We’re in some godforsaken town before London. My 15 pound return ticket to London apparently bought me a problem on my train and a bus trip back. I see another bus trip in my life, it dies.

Not only is said town in the middle of nowhere, it’s FIFTY MILES FROM FREAKING LONDON. And it’s 9 pm. Long day? Ha.

Yet Later –

THat was one of those bus rides from hell, the type that never ends, complete with a traffic jam in London at 10pm on a Saturday of all times, due to construction work, of all things. Aeeyah. And of course it had the obligatory annoying kid, with annoying parents or older brothers or whatever those guys were, all of whom were loud, annoying, and very rude all trip. Poor woman in front of me was apalled – after all the “kiss her!” and “shag her!” calls to the guy next to her, I was apalled, too. What a disaster.

But hey. I’m on the tube home, and life will be good at last, provided there are Rice Krispies to be had. I’m starving.

London, 11:45 pm –

Well, there were. And that’s good. And my bed’s here, and that’s good too.

Europe, Trips Comments (5) RSS Feed for this post
Comments on The Long and Winding Road
avatar Comment by Regina #1
May 9, 2004 at 12:11 pm

In some sort of order:

Mmm, Canterbury. Or maybe that should be Mmmm, Cadbury. All the English names are starting to blend. *shrug*

Roman ruins!! And I so want to go to Hadrian’s wall.

McCullough? Stephenson? Pratchett? When did they come out with all this good stuff? Last 30 pages of Anna Karenina, you can go die now.

Red stone, eh? Now you need to go to Dover for the contrast, or something.

And for the record, Carlisle will always be where I went to camp last year and am going back this year. Carlisle: home of Dickinson College, an army barracks, a lot of churches, and not much else, except Massey’s, which rocks all.

Ow on the busses thing.

And a question for you: Senior year, for the last 3 weeks, we have senior projects, where you go off and do something. I would love to find some excuse to go to England. Got any ideas, as long as you’re there? If I’m going to go that far it’d need to be some sort of actual project, too, so.

avatar Comment by Dwip #2
May 10, 2004 at 3:38 am

I can probably think of all sorts of excuses, given a bit more detail on what this project thing is supposed to entail.

avatar Comment by Regina #3
May 10, 2004 at 1:02 pm

Anything. It just has to be at least somewhat serious. If you stay around here, you can just work somewhere interesting. Lots of people do that. And like this year a bunch of people are doing creative writing projects and stuff. But then, the one girl who’s going to the Carribean, she’s doing marine biology. If you’re going to travel, you have to justify it, I guess is what I’m trying to say. To get back to what you originally asked, something to do with history, ‘specially Roman Britain, would be cool, though. Maybe working in one of the museums, somehow? *shrug*

avatar Comment by Rachael #4
May 10, 2004 at 10:54 am

Buses el sucko. Hell, I went Greyhound once and was sardined in a bus full of… um… chocolates, save for me and the Pennsylvania Dutch family (I shit you not). Not to sound racist or anything, but we were in Alabama. And the driver stopped every 15 minutes for a cig and 45 break, before he got lost altogether.

I feel your pain.

avatar Comment by Dwip #5
May 11, 2004 at 1:46 am

Well. The proper place to do the Romans is of course Rome. But if you want to do England, and you’ve got to WORK there…I dunno. If you just want to travel around and see some stuff, that’s not so bad. Could have you breeze around various parts of Britain for about a week and do nothing but Romans. Working, though…I haven’t the foggiest. Unless you’re a university student, I’m going to guess it’s pretty hard, but I don’t have the faintest idea.