At the beginning, we were amazed there weren't signs of accidents, but our amazement soon disappeared as they started to appear. We saw a van completely overturned on the road. Then we saw two cars which had obviously smashed into each other. They were followed by the shocking sight of a truck by the side of a highway with fire and smoke pouring out of it.
We arrived in Heathrow and headed south immediately after picking up the rental car, which turned out to be a Mercedes-Benz complete with some bells and whistles that took getting used to - like windshield wipers that turned on automatically when it rained and lights that went on and off on their own. Ricky never did figure out how to flash them, which is the way that drivers tell you to go ahead while they patiently wait for you to proceed.
Most disconcerting of these "extras" was the shrill beep that warned us if we were too close to anything or anything was coming too close to us. There were many times when it was overzealous and I nearly jumped into Ricky's lap trying to get away from the ubiquitous hedgerow which was always on my side of the car. Sometimes the car seemed to beep for nothing.
After visiting a Roman villa with the remains of a bath complete with mosaics, we headed towards Southampton where we spent the night. The next day we headed towards our next stop - Exeter and Dartmoor. On the way, we dropped in at Portsmouth and had some seafood from a stand and our first tastes of ice cream made with clotted cream (yummy!). We stumbled upon the birthplace of Charles Dickens and spent some time there before pushing on.
After I'd had a taste of the moor and Toshi had had his fill of the prehistoric stones circles found there, we continued to Penzance. We didn't get to see an outdoor play but we did get to walk over to St. Michael's Mount - a cousin of France's Mont St. Michel - having arrived when the tide was out. Once reached, we (I) had to struggle uphill on large, uneven cobblestones. Coming down was even worse. By the time we were ready to leave the tide had come in and we had to take a "boat" which was a sort of land and water vehicle - almost like an amphibious tank. It took us out to the "real" boat.
Oh, I forgot to mention a highlight. Down on the beach Ricky found a giant dead jellyfish. None of us knew there were any that large. If I ever get my photos together and can figure out how to incorporate them into this, I'll show you it with Ricky near it so you can get an idea of its true size.
We stayed what turned out to be a rare two nights in one place - Penzance - though we had to change hotels for the second night. From there we headed along the coast to Tintagel (whose proper pronunciation I learned, having thought it quite different when reading about King Arthur over the years). This was the birthplace of Arthur, if he really existed. It was a cold, rainy day and the three of us got separated. Toshi is the only one who actually was able to tour the vast castle remains. Ricky got as far as the entrance and I only looked at it from a distance.
I finally couldn't take waiting any more and returned to the main street of the town to have "cream tea" which I'd been looking forward to. The hot tea was welcome since I was like a wet cat but had to sit outside so that I wouldn't miss the guys if they passed by. The shop was across from the road leading to the castle so I figured they'd have to pass eventually. The tea was accompanied by two large scones, a container of thick, buttery clotted cream and strawberry preserves. I was determined to order this again one day but never got to. Probably just as well for my cholesterol, but oooooh how delicious it was.
Lucky Ricky showed up as I was beginning to tuck into my food. There was enough for both of us to enjoy. Poor Toshi missed out. Just down the street was a wonderful Cornish pasty bakery. Toshi did get to enjoy a pasty. For those of you who are unfamiliar with them - pasties are pockets of dough filled with steaming hot ingredients such as steak and potatoes (traditional). The dough is crimped together and the whole thing baked. Pasties used to be taken down into the mines by the miners for their lunches. On a cold day, they are especially delicious as they warm your hands and the hot steam is trapped inside until you take a bite. Days later, in Wales, we went down into a mine on another cold, wet day and I found myself wishing I had a pasty with me.
I will stop here other than to say that from Cornwall we went into southern Wales and worked our way up to Northern Wales after taking a boat over to Caldey Island (recommended by one of the tour guides in the mine). From Wales we went into Ireland, paying a fortune to take the car with us on the ferry, and then to Northern Ireland to perhaps the highlight of the trip - the Giant's Causeway. This marvel of nature is truly amazing. There are similar basalt columns in Japan, but we all agreed that the Irish ones were more spectacular.
From Belfast we took another ferry across to Cairnryan, Scotland, going as far north as we thought we could considering how quickly the days were passing - driving around Loch Lomond and Loch Ness (never really caught a glimpse of Nessie). Glencoe, a place of tragedy perpetrated by the English so long ago, had magnificent mountains.
Lodging in Scotland proved to be even more difficult to find than it had in Wales and England. The reason - the
British Commonwealth Games were being held in Glasgow. People were having to stay a couple of hours away. We ended up driving hours out of our way and in the direction we'd just come from to find anything. In Edinburgh, we paid premium price for a B & B listed in Ricky Steve's book. It turned out that a few blocks away was the pool where the swimming events were taking place. If we can ever afford to travel again, we will only do it in the spring when fewer people travel.
We worked our way from Edinburgh south towards the North Yorkshire Moors and York. I was in search of heather which usually doesn't bloom until September or October, but was beginning to bloom early. We detoured towards Hilltop, Beatrix Potter's home. It was a miserable rainy day and Ricky bravely plodded on behind the wheel over scary roads (What were all those idiots doing out on such a dreadful day?!). We arrived only to find out that the place was closed (Who closes on a Friday?). However, we weren't alone. We were not the only idiots to venture out without checking first. Apparently, Monday is their busiest day and they get about 700 visitors so they must "tidy up," a bit.
We double checked before heading for Haworth Parsonage, the former home of the amazing Bronte family. I knew that the brother Bramwell had been an artist, but hadn't realized that Emily and her sisters were also remarkably talented not only at writing but at painting. The children died quite young (Bramwell killed himself) but their father lived to the good old age of 86. Toshi didn't go into the museum since he said he had never heard of them and photography wasn't allowed. Ricky and I enjoyed our visit. We would have liked to have spent more time in the both the house and the charming village, but we had already reserved a room elsewhere for the night.
We did stop at the nearby moor. As I gazed around through the rain I didn't see the ghosts of Heathcliffe and Cathy, but I did see heather. I took photos while holding an umbrellas overhead. Soon Toshi and Ricky came out and joined me to film. I was feeling pretty well satisfied, and the guys also appreciated it. In the distance were rolling hills covered by farmland. I found myself wondering if the land had looked much the same when the Bronte's were alive.
We stopped at a marvelous Roman fort (the remains of course) near part of Hadrian's Wall. Toshi was delighted to later be able to walk on a portion of the wall. Over the centuries, sections have disappeared - taken to be used in "new" construction. York was our next two-day stop. Great weather, though a little hot for my taste. Ice cream from a cart - panacotta apricot - was the highlight. The Railway Museum with free entry was our first stop. The Yorkshire Museum was a good one. We only looked at the cathedral - The York Minster - from outside because it was so expensive to enter. It was impressive, but the photos I saw of the inside didn't make me feel like I had to see it. We had to be careful and choose which admissions to pay and which to skip. We saw Clifford's Tower when we first arrived but didn't visit it. It was where, in 1190, 150 Jews sought refuge when they were about to be massacred. Most chose to kill themselves rather than be killed.
As far as food is concerned - nearly all was overpriced by our standards and most not that great except for ethnic food (Indian and Chinese in particular). Ricky and I agreed that the best meal was a Greek one. We stayed at a B & B near Holyhead the night before going over to Ireland. The chef is Greek and one night a week he prepares a Greek menu as well as the regular one. We lucked out, arriving on Greek night.
I was determined to visit Hampton Court Palace and we finally made it on our next to the last day. We didn't have enough time to see everything.
We only spent a few hours in London - the day before our departure. We'd actually changed our minds having decided at the beginning to stay away completely (We have visited before and it's dreadfully expensive.) Most of our time was spent in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is wonderful. It was a Thursday and we were surprised that Trafalgar Square and the theatre district was teeming with people. We ended up eating in a pizza place which was tiny and overcrowded, and we were not feeling very happy our last night. It was a cool evening and I asked if the guys wanted to spend more time there, but Ricky had had it and said if we wanted to stay we could, but he was going back to the hotel (which was in the suburbs about 30 mins. away). I'm glad we didn't stay, since we'd have been in terrible shape for our flight the next day.
As it was, we went to the wrong Travelodge. It was on the opposite side of the highway from the one we'd reserved at. The guy gave us back alley directions to save us having to go on the highway to get there. There were terrible speed bumps and the area was warehouses. It was pitch black, and there were no signs and it was a miracle that Ricky could find the place finally. We checked in, exhausted, and found Ricky's bed hadn't been set up so we had to change rooms. The place was sleazy looking. In general, the few Travelodges we stayed in were fairly depressing, but this one was the pits. Not a great way to spend our last night. The beds were all right, which is important, and Toshi was happy with the water pressure in the shower. A lot of places had weak water pressure and many had erratic toilets.
On this note, I will stop and eat breakfast before it's lunchtime.I have a lot to do, but would actually prefer to get back to the book I'm reading. I'd started it before the trip. It's one in a series of books in which the heroine is a Mary Russell, "partner" and then wife to the much older Sherlock Holmes. This particular book takes place on Dartmoor, which I'd wanted to visit even before I began reading it.
Happy travels or happy reading or both.