When Vikings and Cartoons mix

Covent Neils Yard 2014I’m not sure why I thought spending Easter Weekend in London was a good idea. It’s crowded at the best of times. When  you add in a holiday, it’s insane. Still, booking my vacation to include the Easter Weekend meant I used two fewer vacation days. Originally we were to be in France, taking the Eurostar to London on the Easter Saturday. Plans changed but we were able to get away for a couple of days and booked the train from Manchester to Euston Station, first class since it wasn’t too dear.

We arrived before noon and traipsed down into bowels of Euston Station where the taxis are, arriving at the hotel in short order. It wasn’t far but I had my large, heavy suitcase and didn’t feel like dragging it around. Luckily, we could get in our room straight away so we could get rid of the bags and sort things out.

We were quite happy with the hotel and the room. It was a Radisson which is well out of our budget normally but the travel agent got it for a pretty good price. The location was really convenient to Euston station and there were two underground stations within a block. We stashed the bags and headed out, walking down Tottenham court Road, intent on lunch.

There was a pub a block from the hotel, the Northumberland Arms and that’s as good as any, we thought. There were a few other likely candidates plus non-pub cafes and sandwich shops along the road as well. The food was pretty good but the portions were smaller and price a bit more expensive. That’s London for you! I have been on a pear cider kick since I had such a nice one in the Sedge Lynn pub the other night in Chorlton. The one they had here wasn’t very good, though, not compared to the other. That brand was Kopparberg and they do apple cider as well. This one was Bulmers which is normally good at least for apple cider but the pear cider hardly had any pear flavour at all. Be warned.

Never mind. The food set us up for the rest of the afternoon. My first order of business was to find a particular shop in Covent Garden to get something a friend had asked me to find. We wandered into the area and did some window shopping along Neil Street which has lots of great, funky shops. We found Neil’s Yard where the desired store was and made my purchase. “Job’s a good’un” as Graham would say.

Neil’s Yard is a little, hidden courtyard. It’s not that easy to find if you didn’t know it was there. I had discovered it years ago by accident while exploring Covent Garden. It’s got some little shops and a café or two and the buildings are brightly painted. There are a few little trees and benches around to sit and people watch. It’s a little oasis of peace in a very busy neighbourhood, away from the crowds. I love Covent Garden but it’s usually elbow to elbow with tourists.

British Museum, Viking ship

British Museum, Viking ship

It’s probably a good time to make our way to the British Museum. We have timed entry tickets for the Viking exhibit at 3:00 and thought as it’s still early we might be of a mind to look around the museum first. When we got there, we decided against that idea. It’s really crowded and our feet were already hurting from the walking so we found a bench to sit and wait.

At 3:00, we went to the exhibit. I don’t know how many they let in for each timed entry but it’s too many. The exhibit was extremely crowded and it was difficult trying to get your turn in front of the glass cases to read and see the items. The first rooms in particular were the worst as they weren’t large. Later on, the rooms opened up some and people spread out as they all took a different length of time to view. The last room was a hall where they had a large skeleton of the remains of a Viking longboat fitted into a metal frame. They brought it over from the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum which we’d visited a few years ago.

We did enjoy the exhibit, though, in spite of the crowds. The artifacts that have been found over the years and preserved are amazing when you think of the centuries they would have been buried until someone discovered them. Precious metals and stones, gilding, carving, everyday items, too.

Our feet were suffering when we were done there. A quick look through the gift shops and we were back out the door, perhaps to start thinking of looking for a place to eat before the theatre, or a coffee shop to have a sit-down, at least. But first, as we walked south away from the museum, up a narrow street (Little Russell Street) that was two or three away and parallel from the street that the British Museum is on I spied a sign for a little museum that I’d heard of. It’s the Cartoon Museum!

Exhibit in the Cartoon Museum, London

Exhibit in the Cartoon Museum, London

I can’t resist small museums like that and I had read about it while planning the trip. It’s a small, private museum and showcases the history of cartoons and comic art back to the 18th century when caricatures first became a popular way to skewer politicians and other well known faces of the day and satirize society. You can read a little more about the history here.

They have some great examples, both reproductions and originals of cartoons right up to modern day ones created digitally. Classic British comic strips are featured in the upstairs gallery and the temporary exhibit that was on while we were there featured the Spitting Image puppets and cartoons from the 1980s. They had a storyboard showing how they were made and other posters with information on the creators and a few memorable examples including Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, with very long ears that, in the old television show, used to wiggle all the time.

The museum appealed also because Graham is an artist and does marvellous caricatures and drawings and he enjoyed getting a closer look at the artwork.

We’re done there after about an hour and we head further back into Covent Garden. We want to find the theatre so we know where it is and then find somewhere to have a pre-theatre meal. Right, there it is down a small street off Shaftsbury Avenue, a longish street that cuts through the West End theatre district. Shaftsbury Avenue and the immediately surrounding streets probably have the highest concentration of theatres in London though the district spreads out for many blocks.

We have tickets to see the historic play, The Mousetrap. That’s based on an Agatha Christie book and has been running in the West End for 62 years, so the neon sign on St. Martin’s theatre says. I wonder how much it costs to change the number every year? It’s a tourist attraction on its own nowadays. We retraced our steps and found a restaurant at the intersection of Shaftsbury and Charing Cross Road called Leon de Bruxelles, a Belgian restaurant. The menu looked good, they had a reasonably priced fixed price menu that had items both of us liked, so in we went.

Nice place, didn’t take much notice of the regular menu item prices so it may have been a bit pricey but not out of the ordinary for that part of London. The fixed price menu was under 20 pounds for three courses, under 15 if you only had two courses. Drinks, of course, are extra. Pear cider time again, and they had pear and apple by the famed Belgian Stella Artois brewery. Not bad, still not as good as Kopparberg but better than Bulmers.

We enjoyed the meal and went back to the theatre to find our seats. The play, a murder mystery, was good fun, a bit overly dramatic in the style of acting but it’s set in the 1950s and is just like watching movies from that era, too, all similar in acting style. The performances were all great and Graham even figured out who the murderer was by the intermission. I hadn’t come to that conclusion but when he said what he thought during the break, it seemed likely. I can’t reveal the culprit’s identity because you are charged at the end to keep the secret so unless you’ve read the book, you won’t find out from me!

We caught the bus back to the hotel, as usual we got off a stop too soon and had to walk the last few blocks. Turns out there’s a bus stop right in front of the hotel! Oh well. It wasn’t cold, it was quiet and there were blessed few people around, unlike most of the day, so we enjoyed the stroll. We picked up some drinks and snacks at the Tesco next to the hotel and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

DP Weekly Challenge – Letters

I’m just finally catching up post-holiday and getting back to seeing what’s going on here at Word Press. Got a whole new batch of photos that I can use in the weekly photo challenges so here’s the first one.

This week’s challenge in the Daily Post is Letters. This photo was taken in Beauchamp Tower, in the Tower of London and is a preserved bit of graffiti from the interior wall in a room where people may have been held prisoner over the centuries. You can see the dates beneath one of the names, carved twice “Walter Paslew” with 1570 under the one on the right and 1561 under the one on the left.

Beauchamp Tower dates to the 13th century and was later used as one of the main gates to the Tower.

Medival graffiti, Toewr of London

Weekly Travel Theme: Glow

Where’s My Backpack’s weekly travel theme challenge this week is “Glow”.

Lots of things glow – candles/fire, neon, sunrise and sunsets, etc. Here’s a few photos from my travel archives.

Plunge pool at the Roman Baths, Bath. It glows due to the phosphorescence of the minerals in the water

The moon glows in the night sky over Brussels

Checking the ale, Alexander Keith’s Brewery, Halifax

Sunshine on the harbour waters, Halifax

Late afternoon winter sun makes the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey glow

Classic cars in the Lake District

Lakeland Motor Museum

Lakeland Motor Museum

When last we spoke, I described a nice road trip out for a day in the Lake District. We were last seen heading back towards Manchester in the general direction of Kendal where we could pick up the motorway nearby but went past a sign for the Lakeland Motor Museum. What a better way to end a road trip than to see a museum of classic British cars! We were very glad we decided to stop!

LLMPennyFarthingsWhat an excellent exhibit they have there! Dozens of classic British cars from right back to very early vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles, a fire engine, an enormous Cadillac limousine, so many different kinds of vehicles. One area had a display of classic Vincent motorcycles from the 1950s and another had a dozen or more pennyfarthing bicycles with the huge front wheels.


Replica of a 1920s garage

They had some mock shop fronts with fashion and items from different eras, a mock up of a 1950s era café, an example of what a garage from the 20s might look like, crowded with tools and parts. There is a display of child sized pedal cars.  They als had some newer model vehicles but still considered classic or unique such as a TVR red race car, a DeLorean with the gullwing doors and several cars from the 1980s that Graham remembered driving or being driven in. That made him feel old! There are models and toys and more gas station and auto parts and product signs all over the museum. There are really odd looking vehicles and some classics. There’s a good vantage point upstairs where you can look down over the lower floor.

I absolutely love old cars and I couldn’t get enough of these! They really need more space. There are smaller vehicles squeezed in between and behind the larger ones and in other rooms they are mounted on walls and shelves and doubled up. Most of them have signs and many have information as well.

Bluebird K7

Bluebird K7

In another building they, too, have a display about Donald Campbell and his father, Sir Malcom, with examples of a few of their vehicles, cars and boats, full size, not just models. There are information boards and video to tell the stories. The vehicles were all named Blue Bird or Bluebird and that came from Malcom Campbell’s early racing days when his efforts were not very successful. He saw a play in London called the Blue Birds and as it was making money he changed the name of his vehicles and started winning. He designed a logo and painted the vehicles bright blue. Thus, in this part of the Lake District you do see a lot of references to Bluebirds (cafes, beer etc.)

There’s also a café there on the site though we didn’t partake as it was still quite a drive back to Manchester. We didn’t really get lucky with the sunshine though it didn’t rain at all. It was a little cool but pleasant. It’s always a nice drive up through the Lake District. If you’re looking to get away from the crowds, though, avoid the Easter holidays and steer clear of Windemere and Ambleside as they’re the busiest spots. Grasmere is pretty though can also be busy. Keswick is a nice town, nearer the north part of the Lake area and there are lots of little villages and towns off the beaten track. It’s a popular area for water sports and walking and hiking the hills and countryside as well.

The two weeks in Manchester is done now. Over the two weeks, we’ve seen some interesting museums, lovely scenery and even seen the sun a lot more than I usually do while here in Manchester. It’s been nice catching up with friends, too. Tomorrow we’re up early and off to The Big Smoke for my last couple of days in the U.K.

Peel Trident Bubble car

Peel Trident Bubble car

Ground floor display

Ground floor display

1954 MG

1954 MG

The Lake District – Coniston Water

Rather than "Lake Coniston" or "Coniston Lake", it's called Coniston Water. Other lakes in the district are sometimes refered to that way, though not all.

Rather than “Lake Coniston” or “Coniston Lake”, it’s called Coniston Water. Other lakes in the district are sometimes refered to that way, though not all.

I haven’t had the chance to get back to this and blog the rest of my travels. It’s been a hectic second week away and getting back home, there’s been a lot to sort out. Getting back to work takes up the rest of the time! Here’s another installment, the first half of another nice day out.

We love the Lake District with its spectacular scenery. It’s not a long way from our base in Manchester so we have driven up through this gorgeous area a few times over the years when I’ve visited England. We decided to do another trip and, luckily, the weather cooperated. This time we chose an area we’ve not been before, Coniston, which is less touristy than Windemere and the towns along that famed lake. That was the anticipation, at least.

Away from the motorway, traversing the country roads

Away from the motorway, traversing the country roads

We started up the motorway and turned off, heading west towards the southern lakes. We found ourselves on some pretty country roads, narrow and twisty but no lakes in sight. Yet. We soon came to the lower part of Lake Windemere and the GPS sent us down a narrow road to a queue of cars waiting to board a ferry across the lake! The signs indicated it could be a 30 or 40 minute wait. That didn’t appeal (the GPS was set to send us the “fastest” route. a 40 minute wait kind of contradicts that). We decided to head further north alongside Lake Windemere and in doing so, we had to navigate the narrow streets of the town of Windemere itself, made worse by the crowds of  Easter holiday tourists.

We forged onward to Ambleside, suffering another bottleneck of traffic. This isn’t boding well but at least we could see some of the lake. I knew we could get to Coniston by driving through part of Ambleside and over the top of Windemere and that’s what we did, finally arriving in Coniston about noon. We had intended on going down to the lake, having lunch in the Bluebird Café and maybe taking a boat ride but we couldn’t find a parking spot at all! Even in the village itself, parking spots were scarce and there were a lot of people wandering around. So much for this being less touristy although it was less so than Windemere.

Country pubs don't mind if you bring your dogs

Country pubs don’t mind if you bring your dogs

We finally found a place to park behind a pub that dates back to the 16th century when it was a coaching Inn. It’s called the Black Bull and we went in there for our lunch since the sign at the parking lot warned us it was for patrons only. Lunch was excellent and we each had a pint of Bluebird Ale, brewed just behind the pub in Coniston Brewery. My piece of battered haddock was so large we joked it was a piece of whale! G. had a wild boar burger and was very happy with that, too.

From there, we walked along the main street past the shops, picking up some Kendal Mint Cake in one, basically that’s a block of minty sugar, some of it coated in chocolate or a brown sugar crust. We found the John Ruskin Museum which tells some of the story of Coniston. It was founded by W.G. Collinwood who was secretary to artist John Ruskin who died in 1900 (the museum opened in 1901 as a memorial to him as well as depicting the surrounding area of Coniston). There are interactive displays and lots of information signs.

Items that belonged to or were painted by artist John Ruskin

Items that belonged to or were painted by artist John Ruskin

The museum has some nice displays of linen and lace, geology and social history, mining and farming and a section honouring World War veterans including a local man who was awarded the Victoria Cross in WWI. His motorbike is there on display. There’s a miniature stone version of the village out behind the building. There’s a larger gallery that focuses on John Ruskin himself, including artifacts, books, letters, photographs and many of his paintings and drawings. He was an important man in the art world in the 1800s, being a strong defender of J.M.W.Turner and a strong influence to the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Most of his paintings are water colours and are nature-related or architectural features. Ruskin’s house, Brantwood, is on the opposite side of the lake and can also be visited.

A piece of wreckage from the Bluebird K7 crash

A piece of wreckage from the Bluebird K7 crash

Another newer gallery that was there told the story of Donald Campbell. I had never heard of him but he and his father both endeavored to break speed records on land and on water with various types of vehicles and boats. Donald Campbell died in 1967 while attempting to break his own speed record on water in his Bluebird K7 speed boat on Lake Coniston. The boat flipped and crashed on the water and his body was not found until 2001. They had photos and models of his boats and his father’s cars and they had pieces of the wreckage including a boiler suit that his remains were found in. Kind of creepy! Graham remembers when the crash happened, it was big news here in the U.K. It might have been in Canada too but I was only 8 at the time. I don’t think I’ve ever heard about it.

St. Andrews paris church, Coniston

St. Andrews paris church, Coniston

We walked through the village and stopped into St. Andrew’s church. It’s a pretty little church but there isn’t anything unusual or overly interesting in it. There’s a nice font in one nook at the back and the graveyard is nice. The grave of the soldier who won the Victoria Cross is here but Donald Campbell was buried elsewhere in the village.

We decided to drive on and see if we could actually see a bit of the lake itself. A short way out of the village we found a stopping point where we could look over the lake and take a few photos. We drove on and though the scenery was still nice, we really didn’t see much more of that or any other lake. The drive long Ullswater that we’d taken a few years ago was much prettier as far as water views go.

We drove along the rest of the road, intending on picking up the motorway near Kendal but ended up taking an unexpected stop. More on that later.

Chatsworth House

Following on my previous post as we head deeper into the Peak District National Park, we arrived at Chatsworth House, nestled against the River Derwent, about noon. They’re about 10 minutes or so from the town of Bakewell. Chatsworth is the seat of the Cavendish family, the Dukes of Devonshire. The current Duke is the 12th in the line. There’s quite a lot of history about the family and the house, both on Wikipedia and on the website for Chatsworth itself so I won’t go into it a whole lot.

The estate as a whole covers over 100 acres and there is actually quite a lot to visit if you were to spend the whole day here. You can walk around the extensive gardens and trails where you will see various out buildings, statues and fountains. You can visit their working farm and see some animals, mainly geared towards children. The old stables buildings have a restaurant and shops in them and there’s a little shuttle that will take you up the little hill to it if you want but it’s not far and not steep.

The house, of course, is the jewel in the crown. There are various prices for entry, depending on what you are going to see. The house alone without the farm or charity gift donation is 18 pounds for an adult which is not that expensive compared to other similar attractions. It’s 12 pounds to just visit the gardens and 6 to just visit the farmyard. They also let you take photos for your own use.

The Painted Hall, Chatsworth

We arrived at midday, as I said, and the parking lot was very full so we had to park quite a bit away from the house. Never mind, we walked over to the house, passed through a pretty courtyard and entered to the ticket area. That done, we went up a few steps and turned into the Painted Hall, the very impressive entry area. It really is impressive, with every inch of the ceilings and much of the walls covered in murals and paintings. The floor is black and white checked tiles and the hall is ringed with antique furniture, sculpture and artifacts. You could probably spend a half hour just looking at everything there.

There’s a route you follow through the public rooms, about 25 or 30 out of a couple hundred, most of which are the private rooms for the family.

Another highlight on the ground floor is the elaborate chapel with a high white carved altar piece. The ceiling in here is painted as well. We come back around  to the Painted Hall then go up the big staircase to a landing, also with painted ceilings and also some more lovely statues and artwork. There are also come cases with old swords and pistols here. It’s a good vantage point for photos into the Painted Hall as well. Up some more stairs to the upper floor of the house.

The beautiful music room, Chatsworth

Here you have the state rooms, including an elaborate Baroque music room and a state bedroom with a tall canopied bed and walls lined with paintings. The music room is filled with silver and gold pieces and very fancy marble tables. At the very back, behind a slightly opened door, is another well known sight. It looks as if there’s a violin hanging on the wall behind the door, but in fact, it’s fake. It’s a tromp d’oeil painting. There are portraits of various members of the generations of Cavendishes scattered around the rooms and hallways and there’s another smaller room lined with Old Masters paintings and sketches including a large portrait painted by Rembrandt.

The house is filled with art and sculpture and antiques. There’s a model of the house in a glass case in the Oak Room, next to (I think) the chapel, so called because it’s lined in oak panelling and carving. Also in here, bracing the fireplace, are two long narwhal tusks which is one of the more unusual finds in the house. In one room there was a portrait of Henry VIII, which we didn’t expect! There’s so much to look at and the guides or curators in most of the rooms are really good. They know their stuff, about the family and the house and volunteer information if they see you curious about something and very willingly answer any questions you have. There are little information cards in most of the rooms but the guides are even better and filling in details.

Even the corridors are lined with things to look at or have good views out over the gardens and courtyards. There are some rooms you can’t go right into and can only look from the end or they are partly roped off, such as the bedrooms and the library which looks like it would be a fascinating place to delve into if you could get in there. I would imagine the priceless rare books make that impossible. The light in the library is also kept low but there are lamps lit on the tables. There’s an ante-library as well because one of the dukes, the 6th I believe, was such a book collector that he overflowed his library. There are apparently over 17,000 books. Just past the library and ante-library is the state dining room with it’s long table set with china, and lots and lots of silver!

The last room you go through on the route is the sculpture gallery and that leads to the inevitable gift shop, housed in what was the orangery. There used to be a huge glass conservatory in the gardens but that was torn down in the early 20th century as it was too difficult and costly to maintain. Another interesting fact was that the house was used as a girls’ school during World War II and there were several displays about that on as well.

The cascade was built around 1700 as a series of steps where the water from fountains at the top would flow. The house was built in 1703.

We took well over an hour to walk through the house looking at everything and taking photos. After, we got a drink at an outdoor take out stand and sat in the sun for a rest. We didn’t feel up to traipsing around too much of the garden but walked down past the end of the house and up near the Cascade fountain to have a look. We decided not to go up to the Stables since we’d already had a cuppa and thought, as we were getting hungry, we might as well head off. We had a country pub to go to and a beautiful big late lunch to enjoy.

The Royal Oak is an award winning pub between Buxton and Bakewell and not too far from Chatsworth. They have some rooms and camping facilities and though are a little off the beaten track, it is well worth making the drive. The atmosphere is very friendly. There are several small rooms, with open fires and copper artifacts on the stone walls. They have a very good beer selection including a really tasty Bakewell best Bitter and a cloudy cider on tap called Rosie the Pig!

Their menu has lots to pick from and includes traditional pub grub and excellent up to day items as well. The special we were offered was guinea fowl with savoy cabbage and leek mashed potatoes with red wine gravy. Too tempting to pass up for me though G. decided on a mixed grill which came on a large platter filled with various types of meat and lovely homemade chips.  The food was hot and absolutely mouth watering. Well deserved for the awards they’ve won and I told them, too!

Full and satisfied, we finally headed back to Salford after a long and very enjoyable day.

Friday Drive Through the Peak District

Through the heart of the Peak District

Friday turned out to be a stunningly beautiful day, with blue skies and warm temperatures. Perfect for a drive out to the Peak District National Park and a visit to Chatsworth House.

But first, we head out of Salford, GPS (satnav) fired up and pointing us to the town of Castleton in the heart of the Peak district. As is often the case, the GPS sometimes gets it wrong and at one point, very near Castleton, it took us in a circle that included a narrow track not much bigger than a driveway. We weren’t sure so we followed the route but when we realized we’d come back around again, we didn’t go around again even though it wanted us to. Technology!

This area is also known for the Blue John mines. You can visit them and go down into the caverns to see how they mine this rare stone. The “Blue John” name comes from the colours in the stone, shades of blue and yellow and purple. Blue in French is Bleu and Yellow is Jaune, thus, Blue John.

The stone is really lovely but not plentiful and in fact is unique to Castleton. You can’t find it anywhere else in the world, so the decorative items they make, including really pretty jewelry, is not really cheap but it’s very different and a nice local souvenir. It wouldn’t be a good attraction to visit if you have any mobility issues or heart problems due to stairs. I’m not great on too many stairs so that’s out for me.

Driving down into the valley near Castleton

Anyway, we took the turn off for Peveril Castle which was just next to the mine visitor centre. We drove down a steep hill into a valley, with the steep hills rising on both sides of the road. The scenery in the Peaks is really lovely, very nearly as nice as the Lake District, just without the beautiful lakes!

At the bottom of the hill we arrive at Castleton, a nice little town which is central for walkers and hikers. It’s got lots of lovely shops and pubs and cafes and most of the shops feature the Blue John items, the other reason the town is a visitor attraction.

Castleton in the Peak District

We parked, paid and displayed for an hour to stretch our legs, have an ice cream and walk down the high street, window shopping and then we were away to Chatsworth itself, about 20 minutes’ drive from there. Near the parking lot, we even saw a small grassy area with a few sheep, right there in town. While this isn’t anything to get all excited about, I did enjoy watching the lambs skitter about.

Peveril Castle overlooking Castleton

Castleton is a very pretty town, too. Some of the oldest cottages and buildings are over 400 years old. The remains of an 11th century castle, Peveril, looks over the town and can be visited but you have to climb up there on a trail and a staircase. Again, not for the faint of heart or mobility impaired. The square keep that is standing today dates from about the middle of the 1100s. There’s a pretty church in the town with a Norman arch. If we hadn’t been heading to Chatsworth, we might have taken more time to look around there.

We’ll continue that in another blog post.

Ordsall Hall

Ordsall Hall, Salford

Ordsall Hall is a Tudor era manor house in Salford near the redeveloped Salford Quays. While there has been a house on this spot for 750 years, the current one dates back to the late 15th century and it also has connections to the infamous Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Guy Fawkes is the most noted member of the conspiracy that attempted to blow up Parliament and Ordsall Hall was allegedly one of the locations where the group met to form their plans, the Radclyff family who owned it for several centuries, being Catholic.

The Radclyffe family sold it in 1662 and it’s been used as quite a few things over the years. It’s been a museum since 1972 and was recently refurbished and is free to enter, open Sunday through Thursday as a rule. The hall can be hired for events and weddings which would be really cool.

Rear of Ordsall Hall

The first time I visited here was in 2001 and I was eager to see it again since the renovations. There wasn’t as much of it open to the public as there is now. We only had a half hour to see it before closing and that is nearly enough time as it’s not very big. There is also an upstairs space used for exhibitions and a little gallery but we didn’t have to time to have a look. There’s a small gift shop area and café on the ground floor as well.

Timbered beam ceiling of the Great Hall

You enter into the Great Hall with its superb beamed ceiling and lovely leaded glass windows. The hall is set up for a banquet with the antique oak table from the 1500s, and several wonderful old cabinets around the edges, near the big wooden studded doors. The hall itself is dated to 1512. The ceilings and the windows are really beautiful, especially the bay oriel window overlooking the knot garden at the back of the house (which is where the entrance is).

The Star Chamber, the oldest surviving part of the hall

The next room is the oldest part of the house, the Star Chamber, so called due to the metallic stars installed in the ceiling. There are some wattle and daub wall fillers still viewable and the old fireplace here still shows gouges in the stone where people used to hone their swords. This Star Chamber is the location of the supposed meeting between Guy Fawkes and Robert Catesby as they came up with their infamous plot. There’s no real evidence to support it but the lane following one side of the property is named after Fawkes.

There is even an alleged ghost and they have a “ghost cam” set up in the house. Also in the Star Chamber is a suit of armour and a box of armoured helmets. There was a table with an old writing desk on it and feather “pen” and another with some old musical instruments on display. There’s an Elizabethan globe in one of the other rooms. They also have six pieces of medieval stained glass hangings, mainly “heraldic” symbols like one of a bull’s head in the kitchen and two hanging on the oriel window off the Great Hall.

Italian plaster ceiling

On the top floor, there is also a room with an Italianate plaster ceiling which was rare in the northwest. This is newly opened to the public after the recent restorations. This is normally closed to the public but you can look into it through a glass panel.

The Great Chamber

You can then go upstairs to see another solar chamber, the Great chamber, with a canopied bed and an old fashioned bath (reproduction). There’s also a gorgeous off-white Elizabethan dress on display with really beautiful detail on the bodice, sleeves and around the ruff. There are a few pieces of costume in the wardrobe like hats and ruffs that you can try on if you want. The hall is often used for school outings and they have costumed guides to explain the history of the house to schoolkids.

Back on the ground floor there’s a kitchen set up as it would have looked in Elizabethan times and which has interesting items to look at as well and it’s got a recorded voice over of “life in the kitchen”. Some of the items are of later eras such as a bread oven from Victorian times.



Sir John Radclyffe campaigned with Edward III and was allowed to bring back some weavers to his manor where he set up a sort of factory and made his money in cloth production. The exterior of the oldest part is half-timber beamed and there is brick addition on the house as well. It used to be built around a courtyard but only two wings are left now, an L-shape. After the Radclyffes sold the house, it went through a number of owners. The last time it was occupied as a residence was in 1871.

More about the hall here.

My Flickr set of photos is here.

Navigating Heathrow

Air Canada's 777-300, Not as big as the double decker planes but pretty frigging big all the same

Air Canada’s 777-300, Not as big as the double decker planes but pretty frigging big all the same

No matter how many times I’ve come through London Heathrow, to change terminals I always seem to get it wrong somewhere along the way. I could use the excuse that it changes over the years as they renovate or I could say that I was used to Terminal 3 to Terminal 1 changes and then had to get used to changing to T5 in the past couple of years. But no. I think I’ll blame the long overnight flight.

I flew this time from Halifax in what must be Air Canada’s largest jet, a 777-300 which can, apparently, seat 500 when full. It wasn’t and the back where I was had loads of empty space so people were all spread out and comfy. I had three seats to myself. I watched a movie and then tried to doze a bit. Not sure if I did.

We were a little late getting in because there was a delay out of Halifax due to some de-icing and we had to wait a short while for the arrival gate as well. It takes pretty much a good hour minimum to get through Heathrow if you are changing terminals. You deplane and follow the purple Flight Connections signs and it’s fairly simple though a bit of a trek through the long corridors. You descend an escalator to an area where you get a shuttle bus to the next terminal, a 10 minute right through the working underguts of the airport.

Again, when arriving at the next terminal you need to follow the same purple flight connection signs and there’s where it all falls apart for me.  Somehow I seem to get into the wrong passport queue nearly every time. It usually happens when I’ve either got a tight connection or when the terminal is heaving with crowds. It’s a busy place even when it’s “quiet” woe betide you if you arrive on a morning when it looks like Trafalgar Square on New Year’s Eve.

If you don’t hold a British or EU passport, you need the “other passports” line which is usually the longest and slowest but at least there are lots of border guards so the line does move well. When I arrived at Terminal 5 this morning, I went to the first large queue I saw. It took about 10 minutes to snake through but I was a bit confused when he asked me what time my connection was and if I was leaving the terminal. Um. No. Right, I was in the wrong queue for connections.

Out of that one and down a little further and into another queue, shorter but with only one person doing the check in at first. Soon, though, there were two more and I made it through that one. This time, I got to skip one of the usual queues because my Air Canada web check in gave me both boarding passes, that’s a first. Since British Airways has been doing the Manchester flip, up to the last time I came through, I had to stand in another long queue to get the boarding pass once I got to T5. This time I had both so that saved me time.

You have to get your eye-retina scan thingy which only takes a second and then you go through the security scan, unloading and unpacking stuff like your laptop, liquids, maybe shoes, etc. Finally I can sit with a cup of tea and cool off. It’s always hot and sweating working my way through the crowds. I like to make sure I have several hours between flights to ensure that I am not rushing on a late arrival. I hate that kind of stress!

The next flight for me is pretty short, though not that comfortable as a rule. Today, that flight wasn’t very full, either, so I had the three seats to myself. Result! and thanks to the Travel Gods. My Luggage made it through with me too, that’s the Luggage Gods at work there!