Tower of London

The day after History, Sight, Quiet Piers asked me to dinner.  We went to a lovely Italian restaurant in Tunbridge Wells and made plans for ‘take-away’ on Tuesday.  By some point we decided to go to the Tower of London the following Saturday (October 3rd).

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

We took the train from Tonbridge to London Bridge.  Tonbridge is a short train ride from central London and it solved the whole parking dilemma.  We walked along the Thames until we could see Tower Bridge.  One of the perks of having a boyfriend who is into photography is he’s very willing to take pictures of you!

We did the Tower Experience and climbed the numerous steps (my google skills are failing me – couldn’t find out how many, but it was LOTS!) to the walkways between the towers.  Apparently, the walkways were closed in 1910 because pickpockets and prostitutes plied their trade there.  There was a really interesting exhibit on the history of the bridge.  There were many designs preposed and the eventual winning design went through many changes before finally becoming the icon we know and love today.  40,000 people cross Tower Bridge every day.  There’s a 20 mph speed limit due to concerns about preservation of the bridge.

Tower of London

Tower of London

Just across the bridge is the famous Tower of London.  The first part, White Tower, was built in 1078 by William the Conquer (of 1066 fame).  Over the years it has been added to.  It has two concentric walls.  The moat between the two walls is lower than the river and did not flush out with the tides as was intended and became a cesspool.  The phrase ‘off to the tower’ meaning imprisonment came from the large number of important prisoners being housed here, including Elizabeth I (while she was a princess).  Most public executions took place just a short distance away on what is known as Tower Hill, however 6 people were executed within the walls of the Tower.  These include Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey.

Not a mannequin!

Not a mannequin!

The Crown Jewels have been housed here since 1303.  I have no proof that I saw them since you can’t take pictures inside the Jewel house.  I found this interesting tidbit on Wikipedia:

They were temporarily taken out of the Tower during World War II and reportedly were secretly kept in the basement vaults of the Sun Life Insurance company in Montreal, Canada, along with the gold bullion of the Bank of England.

They are well protected, no surprise there, and I saw my first sentry in the famous uniform.  At first I thought it was a mannequin  (as did Piers), but on closer inspection he turned out to be real.  We even watched him ‘strut his stuff.’  I do not have the concentration required for that job!

Yeoman Warder

Yeoman Warder

I think the highlight of the day (other than the company!) was the Yeoman Warder’s tour.  This was Piers’s non-negotiable of the day and he was so right!  We learned so much in a short hour about the history, the stories behind the names, and all the little tidbits that made walking around the tower so much more interesting.  So, if you should come to visit me, I may insist on taking you to the Tower of London and going on a tour with a ‘Beefeater.’  That’s a nickname for the Yoemans.  Back in the day, they were well fed due to the importance of their job, guarding royalty, and the common man was not, hence the name.

Sinister Skulls

Sinister Skulls

Diagon Alley

Diagon Alley

After spending 3 hours at the Tower and not seeing it all, we set off on one of the walks from my book ’24 Great Walks in London.’  We did the ‘Wanderings and Wizards’ one.  I had asked Piers if he was a Harry Potter fan which led him to believe I was going to take him on a wild goose chase looking for all the London spots that were used in the films.  Imagine his relief when I read him the following description from the book:

This eventful walk begins alongside the Tower of London and twists its way through a fascinating warren of streets steeped in history.  On this walk you’ll visit the principal site where public beheadings took place for more than 400 years and encounter a sinister-looking gate topped by stone skulls.  The walk takes in the church where, after the ravages of the Great Fire of London, Samuel Pepys gazed down from the tower and witnessed a scene of utter desolation.  It passes modern office blocks – behind which creepy passageways recall days gone by – and the gleaming modernity of the Lloyd’s Insurance building.  And, if that isn’t magical enough, you will also stroll through the beautiful Victorian market that is the location for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films.  The final section of the walk takes you into a labyrinth of old alleyways through which you literally walk back in time.  Here you will pass venerable old City eating houses, including the one where the infamous so-called Hellfire Club was founded, as you explore the alleyways where Charles Dickens began his most ghostly of tales A Christmas Carol.

Unfortunately, it seems that the events in Deathly Hallows were too much for Ollivander and I couldn’t find his shop to buy my wand (I’m still hoping for late admission in to Hogwarts).  Also, my camera battery gave up the ghost in the market.

To finish the day, we had a great meal in an Italian restaurant near Coventry Garden and Charing Cross station.  It was a wonderful date!

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History, Sight, Quiet

Piers asked me 3 questions while planning our first date.

Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle

History or Drink?

Sight or Sound?

Loud or Quiet?

All of you know me well enough to know my answers!

Inside the castle walls

Inside the castle walls

So the first stop was at Bodiam Castle.  It was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, a former knight, in order to defend the surrounding area from French invasion.  Most of the castle interior was destroyed by parliamentary  forces during the English Civil War and has been uninhabited since then.

I found the following online:

Sussex can boast of many a lordly castle, and in its day Bodiam must have been very magnificent. Even in its decay and ruin it is one of the most beautiful in England. It combined the palace of the feudal lord and the fortress of a knight.

The founder, Sir John Dalyngrudge, was a soldier in the wars of Edward III, and spent most of his best years in France, where he had learned the art of making his house comfortable as well as secure. He acquired licence to fortify his castle in 1385 “for resistance against our enemies.” There was need of strong walls, as the French often at that period ravaged the coast of Sussex, burning towns and manor-houses. Clark, the great authority on castles, says that “Bodiam is a complete and typical castle of the end of the fourteenth century, laid out entirely on a new site, and constructed after one design and at one period. It but seldom happens that a great fortress is wholly original, of one, and that a known, date, and so completely free from alterations or additions.”

It was a spectacular setting for a first date.

Turret Clock (1561)

Turret Clock (1561)

But Piers wasn’t done with the romantic settings!  We then went to Rye, a town so charming that my guide book devotes 2 pages to it!  Many of you (the ones that sent me their addresses!) got the history of Rye on the back of a postcard.  Basically, it was sacked by the French in the late 1300s and hasn’t changed much since it was rebuilt in the early 15th Century.  It was an important port until the harbour began to silt up and it is now 2 miles from the English Channel.   The church is 900 years old and claims to have the oldest working clock in the country.  I was perturbed by selling of postcards, rosaries, and other paraphernalia in the sanctuary.  I kept thinking of Jesus clearing the temple…

The quaint (but dangerous!) cobbled streets.

The quaint (but dangerous!) cobbled streets.

Mermaid Inn

Mermaid Inn

The streets are cobbled with large pebbles/small boulders.  It was a rather amazing feat, but I survived the day without damaging my pride with a spectacular fall.  I know you’re all amazed, but no one is more amazed than me!  The Mermaid Inn is Rye’s largest medieval building.  In the 150s it was teh headquarters of notorious and bloodthirsty smugglers called the Hawkhurst gang.  I had my first Fish & Chips meal in England at a pub in Rye.  It was amazing.  The fish was so fresh and the company was out of this world!

The first time I saw the English Channel

The first time I saw the English Channel

This abbey was built to commemorate the Battle of Hastings.  It's in Battle.

This abbey was built to commemorate the Battle of Hastings. It's in Battle.

Next on Piers’s tour was Hastings.  Yes, that Hastings.  The one where the famous battle happened.  Well, actually the battle was were a village named Battle is, but you all know what I mean!  We walked along the beach (which is not at all sandy, but made up of stones the size of the ones paving the streets in Rye) and talked.  Turns out, as different as we are, we have lots in common.

Piers set the romance bar pretty high on our first date.  Amazingly, the rest of the dates have been just as fantastic; even the past weekend that we spent blowing our noses and coughing!  Our next adventure is a week in Scotland.

If you want to see more pictures go to the album on Facebook.  Can’t figure out how to embed a link, but here’s it is

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=109501&id=510853518&l=bcea752dd1

Medieval Fair

It’s taken me a long time to write about what I did on the 12th of September.  My budding romance fizzled out during that weekend and it took me a bit to get over it.  Fast forward a month and not only am I over it, I’ve met a man that is all the things I knew I wanted and all the things I didn’t know I needed!  Life is good.

Back to the Medieval Fair…

Jane Austen's father attended.

Tonbridge School

I started the day off by going on a Jane Austen audio tour put on by Tonbridge Library.  Many generations of the Austen family lived here.  In fact, Jane’s father, William George Austen, was baptized and confirmed at St Peter’s and St Paul’s Church (my parish, but not the congregation that I attend).

He also attended the famous Tonbridge School which has a current tution of about £30,000.  His mother died when he was very young and his father died a few years later.  His stepmother didn’t like her husband’s children and sent them to live elsewhere.  George had an uncle that paid his tuition so that he could get an education. Perhaps it was this generosity that created the milieu that allowed Jane to flourish as a writer.

Wikipedia says that after nearly dying of typhus at one school and then being brought home due to the dear cost of tuition for Jane and her sister:

Austen acquired the remainder of her education by reading books, guided by her father and her brothers James and Henry. George Austen apparently gave his daughters unfettered access to his large and varied library, was tolerant of Austen’s sometimes risque experiments in writing, and provided both sisters with expensive paper and other materials for their writing and drawing. According to Park Honan, a biographer of Austen, life in the Austen home was lived in “an open, amused, easy intellectual atmosphere” where the ideas of those with whom the Austens might disagree politically or socially were considered and discussed.

After teaching at Tonbridge School, George Austen became a rector in an Anglican parish where Jane was born.

There is also some Austen connection to the castle.  Back in May, Auntie Wendy encouraged me to journal because “As much as you think you’ll remember; you’ll forget.”  She must be able to see the future because I’ve forgotten exactly how Jane Austen is related through marriage to the family that owned the castle at one time.  It’s something along the lines of a daughter marrying an Austen, but not a direct ancestor of Jane.

River Medway

River Medway

While walking along the path beside the river, the audio tour mentioned a Tonbridge ware box (a box with a design made with inlaid wood) that one of Austen’s heroines had.  Given the detail that she used to set the scene it seems reasonable to assume Austen had one herself.  The walk took me around the park which in the last century was the site of a racecourse.  During Austen’s time it would have been part of the castle’s estate.

I love this ceiling!

I love this ceiling!

The walk also took me to St Peter’s and St Paul’s.  Since I did the walk on Heritage Weekend (which seems to mean that every village, town, city, historical place showcased their history with events) the church was open.  It was my first (and so far only) time there.  What a stunning building!

Watch your step!

Watch your step!

It is the oldest building in Tonbridge (even older than the castle!) and contains some Saxon stones.  There was a very interesting exhibit listing all the men (hmph!) that have been the Vicar of the parish.  I had trouble with knowing where to walk since there are many, many people buried under the floor!  I’m looking forward to getting to know the building better.

Medieval Hand-to-Hand Combat

Medieval Hand-to-Hand Combat

So glad he didn't ask me!

So glad he didn't ask me!

After the walk and a brief stop at WHSmith that involved buying bulky storage containers for my room, I headed over to the castle for the Medieval Fair.  It was fascinating!  It was so neat to see things that I had only ever read about (mostly in historical romances, one of my past guilty pleasures!) come to life.  I took hundreds of photos of the medieval hand-to-hand combat, but the most intriguing thing was the falconry display.  Watching him work with his birds was unbelievable.  The best part was the fact I wasn’t scared of the birds!  That’s quite the testament to his skills.  They were incredibly graceful and fun to watch.

And then the real knights came out!

And then the real knights came out!

And what good would a day out on the town be without some shopping?

I still haven't learned to not buy bulky stuff when I've got a full day planned!

I still haven't learned to not buy bulky stuff when I've got a full day planned!

Not sure if you can make out the painting or not.  There was an exhibit called “Art on the Rails” near the castle and I bought my first souvenir of Tonbridge.  I don’t care if it’s a good painting or not, it reminds me of the area behind my place (where I run).  No matter where I live it will remind me of this wonderful time in my life!