Edinburgh Castle

Dateline: 28 October 2009

Edinburgh Castle

The first official stop on the tour of Scotland was the ancient city of Edinburgh.  Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline.  We were amazed at just how dominating that is.  Castle Rock, an extinct volcano, has been the site of human settlement since pre-history and provides the most amazing natural defenses.  However, during Robert the Bruce’s time, a group of Scots scaled Castle rock and took the fort by force from the English.  The Castle was been a pawn (or a Rook, I guess) in the ongoing power struggles between the English and Scots until the Union of the Crowns in 1603.  I took tons of pictures (shocking, I know!), but don’t think I captured the sheer magnitude of height and forbidding nature of Castle Rock.

Walking through the Castle gates was overwhelming.  I’ve always loved history (thanks Dad!), but visiting the places where events that changed the course of history is indescribable.  A couple of years ago I read English History for Dummies, and, to be honest, I can’t really remember much from it.  I thought it was just my memory, but having been to the places and read the signs/listened to the audio tour (Erin Travel Tip:  totally worth the small extra cost!) it has come alive in my mind!  I could tell you all about who sat on the throne of England from Henry VII to James I and then all about the Jacobite revolts and Bonnie Prince Charlie.  And wouldn’t that just be fascinating – listening to a Canadian maths teacher waffle on about British history!  Currently there’s a show on BBC on Scottish history.  It’s so much fun to watch (beyond the eye candy of an attractive, intelligent man with a Scottish burr) because I’ve been to many of the places that are shown.  One of Piers’s favourite hobbies is to say “you’ve been there” while watching British TV.  And it’s a totally cool feeling.  Perhaps, even indescribable!

Portcullis Gate 1574-77 Built after the Long Siege of 1571-3 as the main gateway into the castle.

Yup, that’s Piers with the backpack.  He’s so sweet; he won’t let me carry anything unless there is absolutely no possible way for him to carry one more thing!  He lugged that backpack, filled with my large bottle of water, heavy guide books, camera gear, and any other ‘essential items’ all day with nary a complaint.

Just a little bit further ...

The castle courtyard is really uneven as it follows the shape

The tippy-top of Castle Rock

of the volcanic rock.  You keep spiraling upward, closer and closer to the center of the castle.  Again Piers was kept busy on ‘clumsy Erin watch’ and didn’t let me trip over my own feet or any other unexpected obstacle!

I'm the Queen of the castle and you're the dirty rascal

Once inside the gates, you have an inspiring view of the city.  Hard to believe, but the area between the castle and the Firth of Forth was once dotted with villages.  Oh, how I’d like to be able to step back in time to see that!  For those of you who, like me, have no idea what a firth is:

Firth is the word in the Lowland Scots language used to denote various coastal waters in Scotland. In mainland Scotland it is used to describe a large sea bay, or even a strait

courtesy of wikipedia.

Looking down at where we came up from

I suppose one of the most interesting aspects for me of traveling in Great Britain, is the juxtaposition of old and new.  Perhaps I should say the juxtaposition of old, older, and even older beside new.  I find it jarring.  I haven’t become accustom to it (and hope I never do, sightseeing would lose some of it’s magic) and marvel at it every time I see it.  I keep wondering how impressive Edinburgh Castle must have been to early medieval envoys and I suppose the medieval population in general.

St Margaret's Chapel

This is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh.  It was thought that it was were St. Margaret, who was considered a “just ruler” and influenced her husband and children to be just and holy rulers,  worshipped.  Turns out it was likely built by her son, King David (not that one!) sometime in the early 12th century.   It’s an example of Romanesque architecture (which came just before Gothic) and is only 3m wide inside.  Cool, eh?

The most moving part of the whole experience was the War Memorial.  The building was fashioned out of what was once an army barracks (until 1914 the castle had been the main barracks for the Infantry garrison of Edinburgh and soldiers had lived there and guarded its walls for many centuries).  The official Edinburgh Castle website says:

The exterior emphasises the nobility of those who fell, with statues representing Courage, Peace, Justice and Mercy. At the centre, a figure rising from a phoenix symbolises the survival of the Spirit.

Inside, the atmosphere invokes a deadly quietness and you move around as silently as possible, overcome with the magnitude of loss.  Loss of life, limbs, dreams, hopes, innocence.  There are numerous large volumes, The Rolls, that contain the names of every Scottish man and woman who has died in service to their country since 1914.  There are over 100,000 names from WWI, another 50,000 from WWII, and sadly more are being added still due to the war in Afghanistan (the Brits have pulled out of Iraq).

National War Memorial


And we’re off…

I have wanted to see the heather in Scotland since I was old enough to read romance novels.  I swear every one, especially historical romances, have a simile comparing the heroine and heather covered highlands.  While I was dreaming about living here I thought “And I could see the heather!”  One Google search later, I found out that the heather blooms in late August and early September.  Doh!  However, I did find out that the autumn colours in Scotland are amazing.  Thanks to the amazing British educational system and soul-reviving term breaks, a plan to see Scotland was put into motion … details to be announced.

While I was changing planes in Reykjavik, I overheard a couple reminiscing about a train trip they had taken from London to Edinburgh.  Erin version 3.0 talks to strangers.  I took a deep breath and asked them to tell me about it.  They had gone in the fall and loved the ever-changing scenery.  Aha!  I thought, I can do a train trip.

Of course, meeting Piers changed this plan.  Together, we decided we would drive up to Scotland, spend a couple of days in Edinburgh, move on to Inverness, and then see what happens.  I’m used to having a rather fixed-in-stone itinerary and found this fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants (trousers) plan to be mildly terrifying.  Piers did calm my fears by booking a couple of hotels before we left.

Josiah Wedgwood

We spent Saturday driving to York via Stoke-on-Trent, which really isn’t en-route from Tonbridge to York.  Stoke-on-Trent is the home to many famous china and pottery manufactures, but we were there to see the Wedgwood Museum.  I’ve been fascinated by Wedgwood ever since Uncle Fawcett moved back to Kelwood all those years ago and I learned about it from him.  Piers patiently went through the museum.  Even more remarkably, he judicially said nothing during my buying spree at the shop (a number of Christmas presents were shipped to Canada).  We both experience a lot of sticker shock.  There was a £3000 vase.  It was stunning, but a plumber and a teacher do not spend that kind of money on a vase.  I had hoped to find a nice teapot, meaning the stereotypical jasper with white relief, and was willing to spend around £80.  Turns out a cup & saucer were that much!!  I’d love to have one, but at that price and my clumsy nature, I’d never, ever use it!  I’m glad I went to the museum, but don’t think I’d ever go again.

Constantine the Great

The next day found us in York.  What a beautiful city!  We both want to go back and give it a real going over.  There are so many nooks and crannies to explore.  My guide book says “The appeal of York is its many layers of history.”  It started off as the capital of a Roman province in 71 AD.  In 306 York was the site where Constantine the Great was made emperor.  After the Romans left, the Saxons made it a Christian stronghold.  The Danish street names are a reminder that it was a Viking centre from 867 and an important European trading base.  It was England’s second city between 1100 and 1500.

The city of York has retained so much of its medieval structure that walking into its centre is like entering a living museum.

Medieval streets

Medieval street

Piers and I found the above guide book quote spot on.  York was fascinating.  One of our favourite spots were the narrow, winding streets with crooked, ancient, timber buildings perched over top.  One street is actually named ‘The Shambles.’  I’m so disappointed that the meaning of shambles isn’t derived from this street.  Oh well, my Google search brought up the following which is almost as good.

The way that fifteenth century buildings lean into the middle of the cobbled street means that the roofs almost touch in the middle. Mentioned in the Domesday book (making it date over 900 years), we know Shambles to be York ‘s oldest street, and Europe’s best preserved Medieval street. It really is a very special place.

The word Shambles originates from the Medieval word Shamel, which meant booth or bench. It was once also referred to as Flesshammel, a word with meaning around flesh; this is because Shambles was historically a street of butchers shops and houses. Records state that in 1872 there were 26 butchers on the street. The last butcher to trade on Shambles was at number 27 of the name Dewhurst.

Livestock was slaughtered on Shambles also, the meat was served over what are now the shop window bottoms, and these were originally the Shamels.

It is also interesting to notice the way the pavements on either side of the street are raised up, this was done to create a channel which the butchers would wash away their waste through; offal and blood would gush down Shambles twice weekly.

York Minster

Perhaps the most famous landmark of York is it’s cathedral, York Minster.  This is the largest Gothic cathedral north of the Alps.  That means it’s even bigger than Notre Dame in Paris!  Before walking through the doors, I didn’t comprehend just how big it truly was.  The outside is huge, but inside it’s massive.  It’s 519′ long and 249′ wide.  This is the 7th minster in York.  It was started in 1220 and finished 250 years later.  York Minster interior

I kept thinking of Ken Follet’s Pillar’s of the Earth and wondering what Tom Builder would think of this architectural masterpiece.  My guide book encouraged me to check out what became my favourite cranny in the minster – the Chapter House (where cathedral meetings are held).  According to Wikipedia:

The windows cover almost all of the upper wall space, filling the chapter house with light. The chapter house is octagonal, as is the case in many cathedrals, but is notable in that it has no central column supporting the roof. The wooden roof, which was of an innovative design, is light enough to be able to be supported by the buttressed  walls. The chapter house has many sculptured heads above the canopies, representing some of the finest Gothic sculpture in the country. There are human heads, no two alike, and some pulling faces; angels; animals and grotesques. Unique to the transepts and chapter house is the use of Purbeck marble to adorn the piers, adding to the richness of decoration.

I lit a candle for all my family and friends back in Canada

York also boasts a 3 mile long city wall.  Piers and I didn’t walk the whole length, but we did get a real sense of the what the medieval city must have been like.

York Minister from the city walls.

The views were amazing.  The people must have been daft to volunteer to patrol the walls!  So narrow and windy (even to this prairie girl!).  I also wonder about the awe that this view must have given a medieval citizen.  It sparked a great deal of awe in this 21st century citizen!

What might have been?

King Henry VIII forever changed the history of Christianity in England when he forced the English church to separate from Rome.  Part of the fall-out of that was the dissolution of the abbeys.  We came across the ruins of one such abbey.  I can’t begin to describe the sense of loss I felt while I gazed on what once must have been a utterly beautiful building built to glorify God.  We saw many such ruins (one of which was absolutely spectacular, all lit up at night) and I felt less and less uneasy, but the feelings never totally left me.

And for those of you who aren’t on Facebook yet:


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!

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


Penshurst Place

One of my motivations for moving to England was all the history to explore. Coming from a province that will be 140 years old next year and a country that has written history only from the late 15th century, it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around just how old some of the buildings are around here. Saturday I went to one such place.

A friend picked me up and we went the 8ish miles to Penshurst Place, a beautiful country manor house.

The backside of Penshurst Place with the gardens in the foreground.

The backside of Penshurst Place with the gardens in the foreground.

I’ve looked Penshurst Place on Wikipedia and here are some fascinating tidbits:
-The present mansion was built in 1341 for Sir John de Pulteney at the time when such properties ceased to be castles: they were more dwellings that could be defended in an emergency.
-It was enlarged after 1552 when King Edward VI granted the house to Sir William Sidney (1482–1554), who had been a courtier to the King’s father, Henry VIII. Sir William’s son Henry (1529–1586) married Lady Mary Dudley, whose family became implicated in the Lady Jane Grey affair, although Henry himself escaped any such implications. During his lifetime he added apartments and the “King’s Tower” to Penshurst. He also created what is now one of England’s oldest private gardens.
-The Baron’s Hall was used as a set for the Hollywood film The Other Boleyn Girl based on the novel by Philippa Gregory.
-The Baron’s Hall was used as a set for the film The Princess Bride.

The famous poet Ben Jonson, not to be confused with the infamous Ben Jonhson, wrote a poem called To Penhurst.

T H E F O R E S T .


Thou art not, PENSHURST, built to envious show
Of touch, or marble ; nor canst boast a row
Of polish’d pillars, or a roof of gold :
Thou hast no lantern whereof tales are told ;
Or stair, or courts ; but stand’st an ancient pile,
And these grudg’d at, art reverenced the while.
Thou joy’st in better marks, of soil, of air,
Of wood, of water ; therein thou art fair.
Thou hast thy walks for health, as well as sport :
Thy mount, to which thy Dryads do resort, 10
Where Pan and Bacchus their high feasts have made,
Beneath the broad beech, and the chestnut shade ;
That taller tree, which of a nut was set,
At his great birth, where all the Muses met.
There, in the writhed bark, are cut the names
Of many a sylvan, taken with his flames ;
And thence the ruddy satyrs oft provoke
The lighter fauns, to reach thy lady’s oak.
Thy copse too, named of Gamage, thou hast there,
That never fails to serve thee season’d deer, 20
When thou wouldst feast or exercise thy friends.
The lower land, that to the river bends,
Thy sheep, thy bullocks, kine, and calves do feed ;
The middle grounds thy mares and horses breed.
Each bank doth yield thee conies ; and the tops
Fertile of wood, Ashore and Sydneys copp’s,
To crown thy open table, doth provide
The purpled pheasant, with the speckled side :
The painted partridge lies in ev’ry field,
And for thy mess is willing to be kill’d. 30
And if the high-swoln Medway fail thy dish,
Thou hast thy ponds, that pay thee tribute fish,
Fat aged carps that run into thy net,
And pikes, now weary their own kind to eat,
As loth the second draught or cast to stay,
Officiously at first themselves betray.
Bright eels that emulate them, and leap on land,
Before the fisher, or into his hand,
Then hath thy orchard fruit, thy garden flowers,
Fresh as the air, and new as are the hours. 40
The early cherry, with the later plum,
Fig, grape, and quince, each in his time doth come :
The blushing apricot, and woolly peach
Hang on thy walls, that every child may reach.
And though thy walls be of the country stone,
They’re rear’d with no man’s ruin, no man’s groan ;
There’s none, that dwell about them, wish them down ;
But all come in, the farmer and the clown ;
And no one empty-handed, to salute
Thy lord and lady, though they have no suit. 50
Some bring a capon, some a rural cake,
Some nuts, some apples ; some that think they make
The better cheeses, bring them ; or else send
By their ripe daughters, whom they would commend
This way to husbands ; and whose baskets bear
An emblem of themselves in plum, or pear.
But what can this (more than express their love)
Add to thy free provisions, far above
The need of such ? whose liberal board doth flow
With all that hospitality doth know ! 60
Where comes no guest, but is allow’d to eat,
Without his fear, and of thy lord’s own meat :
Where the same beer and bread, and self-same wine,
That is his lordship’s, shall be also mine.
And I not fain to sit (as some this day,
At great men’s tables) and yet dine away.
Here no man tells my cups ; nor standing by,
A waiter, doth my gluttony envý :
But gives me what I call, and lets me eat,
He knows, below, he shall find plenty of meat ; 70
Thy tables hoard not up for the next day,
Nor, when I take my lodging, need I pray
For fire, or lights, or livery ; all is there ;
As if thou then wert mine, or I reign’d here :
There’s nothing I can wish, for which I stay.
That found King JAMES, when hunting late, this way,
With his brave son, the prince ; they saw thy fires
Shine bright on every hearth, as the desires
Of thy Penates had been set on flame,
To entertain them ; or the country came, 80
With all their zeal, to warm their welcome here.
What (great, I will not say, but) sudden chear
Didst thou then make ’em ! and what praise was heap’d
On thy good lady, then ! who therein reap’d
The just reward of her high huswifry ;
To have her linen, plate, and all things nigh,
When she was far ; and not a room, but drest,
As if it had expected such a guest !
These, Penshurst, are thy praise, and yet not all.
Thy lady’s noble, fruitful, chaste withal. 90
His children thy great lord may call his own ;
A fortune, in this age, but rarely known.
They are, and have been taught religion ; thence
Their gentler spirits have suck’d innocence.
Each morn, and even, they are taught to pray,
With the whole household, and may, every day,
Read in their virtuous parents’ noble parts,
The mysteries of manners, arms, and arts.
Now, Penshurst, they that will proportion thee
With other edifices, when they see 100
Those proud ambitious heaps, and nothing else,
May say, their lords have built, but thy lord dwells.

Perhaps the other thing of note, was this was my first ever first date. And he wants to see me again.