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.

LLMGarage1

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.

The Vikings are Coming

British Museum, London

Social media may have it’s skeptics and detractors but it has often come in handy for me. I’ve often seen links to really interesting things float by on my Twitter or Facebook feed, links to news, lifestyle, travel, books, movies, great websites and all kinds of other things.

When I joined Twitter, I followed a few Coronation Street actors. Well, I still do. One of them was also an artist and a man I would have liked to have a conversation with. He always seemed to have interesting things to say though he doesn’t seem to be tweeting much anymore. I own a portrait of one of the other Corrie actors that he did. It was part of an auction he did for charity. He also mentioned this very old library in Manchester that he’d visited. It’s in the city centre but it’s tucked away in a music school behind the cathedral and because he mentioned it, I made sure to go visit it the next time I went over.

Chetham’s Library Reading room, Chetham’s Library in Manchester. Apparently, Karl Marx worked at this very table.

I never would have known about this interesting place to visit had it not been for social media. The reason I’m bringing this up is that over this past weekend I saw a mention of a new exhibit coming up at the British Museum in London. It’s called Vikings: Life and Legend and it’s being put on in conjunction with the Danish National Museum (which we’ve been to!). Immediately I went looking for details and was gratified in discovering that it would be opening in March and ongoing while we are there at Easter.

I am lucky to have a man who really likes museums and galleries and I know he loves things like Vikings and ancient Romans, armour and weaponry. I would find this exhibit on Vikings really interesting, too. We both enjoyed the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum in Denmark a few years ago and apparently they have sent one of the ships, or remains thereof, to be part of this show. We are also both fans of the tv series Vikings which begins it’s next season soon.

Viking ship silhouette, Roskilde Viking ship museum, Roskilde, Denmark

Anyway, the upshot of it is, I didn’t even wait to consult him, I booked tickets straight away. The last time the British Museum had a big exhibit while we would be there was in 2008 for the Terra Cotta warriors from China. I waited too long and we couldn’t get tickets for the days and times that would work for us. I wasn’t taking that chance this time as it was again over Easter. The tickets are now booked and I sent him the link to the information the museum has online. When I spoke to him later, he was quite happy. We’re looking forward to the exhibit and I may even buy the exhibit book considering no photos will be allowed. These books are usually stunning in their content. I bought one from the Henry VIII exhibit that the British Library had a few years ago.

Isn’t the internet wonderful? Chances are that we would not get tickets if we show up on the day we arrive in London, and if there’s a chance, there would likely be long queues. We only have two days in London so would be limited in our dates so we probably would miss out if we couldn’t pre-book this far out. That’s what happened with the Terra Cotta exhibit. I did try to get tickets online but couldn’t and when we went to the musuem, all the tickets for the times we could get there were gone.  In some ways pre-booking does restrict you to dates and times but in other ways, you can skip the long lines, or not be disappointed by missing out.

This trip coming up looks to be quite a cultural one, with lots of museums and galleries. We’re planning on seeing Giverny and Monet’s house, also the Orangerie museum in Paris which has a lot of Monet’s Water lilies, and we’re going to see the Bayeux Tapestry. Other places on the list, and we will get to at least some of them, include the Musee Carnavalet, Sainte-Chapelle, possibly the Concergerie as well, and Les Invalides with the Army museum and Napoleon’s tomb. We’re also going to Rouen for a day as well. Monet painted the Cathedral there and it’s also where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.

Back to the original point of the post, social media. It’s not just all about following celebrities or news feeds. You can find something to match any interest you might have. If you don’t follow something specific, you may still see it shared or re-tweeted by someone else which is how I think I saw the Viking exhibit. I didn’t follow the British Museum (but I will now) on Twitter but I do follow the BBC History Magazine and I think that was the source of what I’d seen.

And while we’re on that subject, the British Museum shared this from the Guardian’s site, 10 Best Vikings from books, history, movies and even cartoons. Wonderful!

We got Day trips

Day trips, we got day trips. Now that we have a rental car booked for my trip to Manchester, we are starting to think about day trips to make. I fancied seeing Chatsworth house again. I visited there with a group of friends back in September, 2000 on a rainy day. Wasn’t very good for walking in the gardens, just the house and a quick trip to the cafe. It’s a beautiful manor house, home to the Cavendish family, the  Dukes of Devonshire. In recent years, it’s been featured in both the movie about Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire (“The Duchess”, played by Keira Knightly), and in two recent appearances, it has represented Darcy’s home Pemberly in a remake of Pride and Prejudice (also with Keira Knightly) and in a television series, Death Comes to Pemberly.

There’s been a house here since Tudor times when it was first owned by “Bess” of  Hardwick from 1549. The house that’s there now dates from around the turn of the 18th Century. It’s pretty spectacular inside, with painted ceilings, elaborate plaster work and the gardens are extensive, with fountains and outbuildings. The stables and greenhouses can be visited (I believe the cafe and gift shop are now in the stables as well as some little shops).

I fancy another visit to see it again and update my photos and it isn’t that far to drive across the beautiful Peak District from the Manchester area so, weather permitting, I think that’s on the cards. We can go in the morning and find a nice country pub on the way back for lunch. In fact, I did some judicious Googling, as you do, and found one called the Royal Oak near Buxton that will suit requirements perfectly.

Not sure yet on other day trips though we’ve discussed taking the train over to Liverpool perhaps. I thought about Ripon and Fountains Abbey in the Yorkshire region or maybe just another visit to one of our favourite cities, York. We’d like to find somewhere where we could meet up with friends that might come from the Sunderland/Newcastle area.

We have pretty much everything booked for the France/London trip. The rental car is reserved, the theatre tickets for The Mousetrap are bought, the tickets/voucher for the Tower of London also bought and printed. We thought we’d stay at an airport hotel the night before we have that really early flight to Paris so that’s booked, too. Maybe we won’t have to get up *quite* so early though it still won’t be much more of a lie in. Every little bit helps and we can drop off the car at the airport the night before as well, after we check in with the luggage.

Traveling through books: London and the UK

You’ve probably noted my series of posts about movies shot in locations that are great for armchair traveling. I’ve read a couple of non-fiction travel books lately and it put me in mind of several others I’ve read on the same subject, my favourite city, London and of the UK in general. A couple of them are true “travel” type books, and a couple more are more historical facts but equally interesting and one is fiction that describes the  history of the city through the eyes of several families and their descendants. I like that because it describes how various familiar sites and areas of London developed and changed over the centuries. Makes me want to visit those sites on my next visit!

The city of London has changed and grown considerably around St. Paul's Cathedral, and there's no end in sight.

The city of London has changed and grown considerably around St. Paul’s Cathedral, and there’s no end in sight.

Move Along, Please – Mark Mason

This man has undertaken the journey between Land’s End and John O’Groats, the southern and northernmost points of the main island of the U.K. He’s doing it by local busses, not long distance “coach” and thus meanders along the countryside meeting local people who take the bus for work or shopping or school. By avoiding the main motorways where long distance coaches travel, he’s seen more of the “real” everyday Britian. He’s armed with several books written by people who have done this journey in the past by various means and meets up with others along the way who have local knowledge in various stopping points.

Bizarre London – David Long

This is a book of facts about London, the weird, wonderful and little known facts and events. Read about a cross dressing highwayman, a licensed brothel on Whitehall, read about architectural features that tell stores of the past, odd museums, murders, and all sorts of things.

Tales from the Tower of London – Daniel Diehl

A series of stories about the goings on in the Tower of London over the centuries from it’s establishment by William the Conqueror to the 20th century. Mainly it’s about various people that were incarcerated there and includes historical events such as the Gunpowder Plot and the Peasants’ Revolt. Not bad and if you’re interested in the history of London you will probably find it worth a quick read. Not really in depth but easy to read.

London: The Biography – Peter Ackroyd

It did take me quite awhile to read this book but it’s easy to pick up and put down. Each chapter tells about an aspect of the social history of London and it all comes together over centuries to become the city it is today. Crime, poverty, theatre, economics, architecture, neighbourhoods, strengths and weaknesses. It doesn’t read like a textbook, it’s quite interesting.

London – Edward Rutherfurd

Rutherfurd writes long involved fictional histories of an area or city starting, usually, with very early civilization up to the present day. The story he’s written about London starts just before the Roman invasion and ends after World War II. He introduces a handful of familys and traces the stories through them and their ancestors over the centuries. It’s life from the every day people’s point of view. The stories get briefer in the more recent century and a half, with the updates from the 20th century past WWI being just touched on. The best bits are the early to medieval and Tudor/Stuart eras. There’s a family tree at the start to keep them all straight though you can’t see it very well if using an ereader.

UK: Icons of England – Bill Bryson

Bryson edits a collection of contributions from other people who write about their favourite bits of England. They aren’t exactly icons in the traditional definition of the word but they do give a broad feeling of different aspects, such as weather, various nature, seaside, and a lot of them are recollections from the writer’s past. The book was originally a coffee table type with photographs and was a fund raiser. I read it as an ebook and it was not bad. Not always interesting but everyone’s taste is different. You would probably get more out of it if you’d lived there.

Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is a very good travel writer, lots of dry humour in his observations which has reduced me to weeping giggles often.This was the first of his books I had read and I reread it last year and giggled just as much. He travels around Britain, mainly by public transportation on busses and trains, to towns, villages and cities as well. He’s an American but has lived in the U.K. for quite a number of years. He has the point of view of a non-native and yet is spot on in many of his observations. Thoroughly enjoyable.

These are the books that I’ve read that can give a reader a great look at London and some of the UK. They give more than just dry historical facts or a generic travel guide “things to do and see”, they show you the past and the present in ways you might not think to look for.  Most of them are available as ebooks from your favourite site (Kobo, Kindle etc.) and you library or a second hand bookstore will have many of them as well. Feel free to comment and suggest others I or other readers might enjoy about London and the U.K.

Travel Theme: Winter

I don’t do a lot of traveling in winter. It’s too easy to get delayed or cancelled flights due to the Canadian winters. The few times I have ventured out in mid-winter were not to destinations away from the cold but to England where it wasn’t always a lot warmer. Still, over there, the grass is still green in January even if covered in a dusting of snow now and then.

Feeding the pigeons in January in London’s Green Park.

Manchester Christmas markets.

Manchester Christmas Markets which I wrote about here are a sure sign of winter. European style Christmas markets are increasingly popular all over. I’d love to go to the ones in places like Vienna, Prague or Munich.

Slightly wintery looking Coronation Street set, ITV studios (now moving to a new location in Media City, Salford

There’s more winter over at Ailsa’s challenge post here.

Memories – Exploring Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle

I’m a big history fan and love to visit castles, cathedrals and old abbeys, whether ruins or fully restored. Back in 2001, during my visit to England, including stays in London and Manchester, I stopped overnight in Redditch where a good friend of mine lived. I’d spent a week in Essex with some other friends, going into London every day while my friend worked. On the weekend, they drove me up to Redditch for the next leg of my journey.

It was really raining when we got up and loaded the car this morning. The drive to Redditch took about 2 and a half hours plus a bit of time to find CJ’s place. Time to say goodbye! I really enjoyed my week I London and my visit with Dave and Nikki a lot!

I got checked into the B&B where the room turned out to be quite pleasant overall. A large room with a double bed and a single bed, en suite for £50 including breakfast. We dropped the luggage and headed off down the road to Warwick which, surprisingly we found without any trouble. Yes he’s been there before but that really means nothing. CJ’s sense of direction didn’t come out of the box in one piece I don’t think!

A brief history of Warwick Castle: William the Conqueror built a motte and bailey fort in 1068 overlooking the Avon River with a timber stockade. The castellan family became the Earls of Warwick and the castle passed through many generations of the family. The towers began to be built in the 14th C during the dynasty of the Beauchamp family and held fast until the middle of the 15th C when the Neville Family married into the title. Richard Neville was better known as Warwick the Kingmaker for his ability to back the right monarchs during the Wars of the Roses. The Castle was expanded and improved as the centuries went on with the grounds being landscaped in the 18th C. by Capability Brown. Most of the current State Rooms are 18th C. with restoration after a fire in the Victorian years. The Taussaud’s Group bought the Castle in 1978 and several impressive exhibitions featuring their famous wax figures have opened since then. The website is very good and contains a lot of history both of the Castle and of the inhabitants.

We didn’t have too much trouble finding the Castle, there are clear signs leading through the streets and we found a space in the car park guided by one of the attendants.  We bought our tickets but the first order of business was a film for Chris and lunch for the pair of us in order to be property fortified to scale the… er… fortifications! The tickets are bought at the old stables buildings which also house the toilets, a cafe and a shop. On the way from the entrance, we saw a notice on the green just outside the castle gates promising an exhibit at 1:30 on “Deadly  Skills’! You just can’t argue with Deadly Skills!

That means we have an hour. We bought a pre-made sandwich in the cafeteria which is in a vaulted 14th C undercroft, nothing special there. The cooked food might have been better, I don’t know. Chris wanted to start with the Ghost Tower which was the next tower along and is one of the oldest still standing parts of the Castle. Unfortunately it was pretty naff. It was all recorded “spooky” music and the lighting was bad. There was a bedroom filled with antiques but you couldn’t see them and the audio over top of the music told the story of  Sir Fulke Greville who was murdered in the tower by a servant. Upstairs (downstairs? I forget) there was another dark room with a gauzy curtain. High above you was a glowing face of Sir Fulke, in reality a spotlight on a painting behind the gauzy curtain. I kept expecting Dorothy to appear and click the heels on her ruby slippers!

I wanted to go up on the castle walls so we headed across the esplanade to Guy’s Tower, the tallest of the towers along the wall. I started up and Chris brought up the rear, warning me about the sign at the entrance, advising folk that 500-odd steps could be tiring. Gulp. But it was a one-way system so you couldn’t turn around and go back out once you were in. The staircase up into the first tower was a narrow stone spiral and there were others coming up behind. It wasn’t 500 steps though, but by the time you finished the trail and landed back on the ground I suppose it would have been that in total. I took my time and a few brief rest stops and made it to the top of the tower.

It’s now a lovely sunny day with a bit of a nice breeze, blowing a bit stronger atop the castle walls. You can see over the town of Warwick and the Avon Valley. Following a few flights of stairs down you walk along the curtain walls to the Gatehouse and Barbican guarding the castle’s main entrance. Up a few flights of stairs to the top of that. There is actually a drawbridge over a dry ditch and a huge portcullis. We made our way up and down the next set of steps and walls leading into Caesar’s Tower where the guard house was located, and down to the grounds again just in time to go over to a roped off area on the green to see the Deadly Skills!

Archery. The man that did the demonstration was dressed as a yeoman soldier from the medieval era complete with longbow, sword and “bollocks’ knife. He was probably a better comedian than he was marksman but he put on a good show all the same. He had three sticks with little heads on them and placed them on a platform as a target by only hit one of them by the end of it all. He was pretty funny though as he explained what it was like to go to war in the 1400’s and how you would train all your life from childhood on with the longbow. It looked like quite a skill to master. He asked for a volunteer from the audience and proceeded to demonstrate the various methods of hand to hand combat with his sword and knife on the hapless fellow who just stood there looking a bit white around the gills with the blades thrusting about his body.  Deadly, indeed! We were satisfied with the show and ambled back to the castle grounds to check out the dungeons next.

That *was* creepy. They only let a few down into the dungeon area at a time as there wasn’t a lot of room and the passage was low and narrow. The walls are stone, the floor is dirt. There is graffiti scratched into the walls that must be 500 years old though I don’t know what they would have used to do it with as I’m sure the prisoners wouldn’t have been given sharp implements. There was a suit of chains hanging from the ceiling which purported to send shivers down the spines of the prisoners threatened with it’s cutting edges. We saw a little hole in the ground where you might be dumped if you were in particular disfavour, the “oubliette’ where you would be forgotten and left to die.

Back above ground, we proceeded to the rooms that had the torture instruments. They even had a full sized rack and a lot of medieval contraptions that, when explained were even more chilling than the dungeon. We’re talking things like leg clamps with spikes on the inside into which, once on your leg, would be poured boiling oil! There are an awful lot of devious ways to extract information by causing grievous bodily harm to another human being!

The armory exhibit is titled Death or Glory and traces the history of body armour through the centuries. We examined the many suits of armour, from various eras and countries, along with loads of armaments, swords, early guns, axes, right up to things used in the Napoleonic Wars. Ooh the creepiest thing on display here was a plaster death mask of Oliver Cromwell!

I think it’s time for a little “sweetness and light’ after all that gruesome cutlery. We headed to the main palace part where the Chapel, Great Hall and State rooms were. The Great Hall as it stands today was built in the 17th C and restored in the 19th C after a fire. There is a marvelous hammer beam ceiling, portraits of Earls of Warwick and their families line the wall along with dozens of stag horns and a few impressive suits of armour including two full set of horse armour, one 16th C Italian armour and one 16th C German. There is a huge 500 year old cauldron and a miniature suit of armour made for a small boy. The state bedrooms and reception rooms are decorated very much over the top, having been embellished over the years by the inhabitants. No photos allowed in this section.

We continued on to the display called the Weekend Party which features the Taussaud’s figures set up as if it were a late Victorian weekend function. The guests are in the dining room, salon and various bedrooms. Photos are allowed here and the figures were very realistic. We followed the queues through the exhibit and examined the old photos along the walls. The rooms have been able to be set up exactly as they were 100 years ago because there are existing photographs taken at the time. Two of the more famous houseguests portrayed are the Prince of Wales, soon to be Edward VII and a very young Winston Churchill.

I’m going to fudge a little here. We somehow missed the Kingmaker exhibit which shows how a medieval household would prepare for war during the 15th C. There are apparently a few wax figures in this too. We were in and out of buildings and towers and missed the entrance to this which is near the dungeons. Once we emerged from the castle buildings, Chris wanted to climb up the mound at the end of the grounds, where the original motte fort would have been built 900 years ago. Dear God there are a lot of stairs in this country! Chris goaded me good naturedly into trekking up the (ahem) “gentle incline’ and indeed it wasn’t so bad walking up the sloping ramps. Again a lovely view over the valley and river from this vantage point. I took lots of photos today, as expected and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this Castle. There’s a lot to see and do even if it’s somewhat commercialized. In the summer there are jousting events on the tiltyards and they have events all year round including themed banquets. Check the website for events and updates. It’s well worth it!

We had a little look in the peacock garden by the conservatory and left the castle around 4:30 I think and had a look through the town of  Warwick. We found an old old building called Lord Leycester’s Hospital, a leaning half timbered structure with a chapel that was very old and in Elizabethan times owned by one of her favourites, Lord Leycester and turned into a hospital for old soldiers. There’s a little museum in here but we were a bit tired of walking so we just went to the lovely tea room for a hot drink and tea cake to tide us over.  The town of Warwick is very pretty and very old. There’s a market there but it was packing up by the time we arrived. There are lots of B&B’s within spitting distance of the castle so if you’re thinking of visiting, you should be able to find a room as a base.

Travel Theme: Connections

Where’s My Backpack’s travel theme this week is “Connections”.  Anyone that travels makes connections, whether it be for transportation, or for the people you meet. You might make a spiritual connection to a location as well, a place in which you really feel at home. Connections can be made on an emotional level as well.

Piccadilly Station concourse (via the Manchester Evening News)

Piccadilly Station concourse (via the Manchester Evening News)

I met the man I’m currently engaged to in an online chat room for fans of Coronation Street, a British serial, the longest running on television today. He lives in Salford, UK which is in the Greater Manchester Area. We really made a connection over the airwaves and when we met up face to face, on July 12, 2004, it took a plane and a train connection to get there. I flew to London and a few days later, took a train (though I missed the first one because the signs at the platforms weren’t obvious as to which was the arrival from Manchester and which was the departure) to Piccadilly station. We met in the concourse. It really felt like time stood still. A cliche, yes, but that’s what it seemed like.

He still lives there and we travel back and forth, trading visits alternately. For me to fly to Manchester, I have to make a connection in London Heathrow most of the time though have had to route through Toronto once in awhile. That’s frustrating when you have to fly 2 hours backwards to go forwards, whether I fly past Halifax to come back or fly west to Toronto to fly east to London. It’s a connection we gladly do without if we can help it. We then usually travel somewhere onward, by car, train or plane.

Speaking of Coronation Street, in addition to a fiance,  I’ve made many, many wonderful connections with new friends who are fans of the show. We have fan gatherings, called “pings”, and if someone travels to your home town, often there is a ping organized so you can meet and chat with the local fans, many of whom you may know from the various boards and forums.  There have been international gatherings organized in Manchester, the home of Coronation Street, where fans/friends who connected via the internet have met up and enjoyed hanging out together and even been lucky enough to visit the television studio where the show is filmed. Good times!

Corrie fans at the Cafe (Roys Rolls, Coronation Street set, 2010)

Corrie fans at the Cafe (Roys Rolls, Coronation Street set, 2010)

A Word a Week Challenge – Mistake

This week’s challenge from A Word in Your Ear is all about mistakes, photos that don’t come out quite the way you expect them to. It’s not easy for me to dig up too many, not that I don’t make mistakes because I do, but because I either photoshop them away or delete the photo altogether. I did find a couple.

This is in the Lake District in the UK, Bassenthwaite is the name of the lake, I think. We came across it by accident, having taken the wrong road out of Keswick and ended up on the Whinlatter Pass. It’s a really beautiful vista, Lake. Mountains. Framed by an old stone fence. That had a big rusty steel bar sticking right up into the middle of it. Didn’t notice it until I’d looked at the photo later! For public consumption I removed it but I discovered that I still had the original.

BassenthwaiteVista