Archive | May 2017

A Visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum

One of the best benefits of visiting museums like the British Museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum is that they don’t charge admission. That means you can simply pop in for a quick look around or spend an entire day lost in the collections. We wish we’d had more time for this one, and that our battery hadn’t died on the good phone (the one we used for all the photos we took on tour—we even used up our portable battery power).

Victoria and Albert Museum

We had just over an hour in the V&A, as some call it. This massive set of interconnected buildings houses a vast array of art, sculptures, silver, gold, stained glass, ceramics, fashions—the list goes on. We were there for the sculptures, for the V&A has not just one large gallery, but two (one of which is made up of the court casts—copies of the originals). There are also smaller sculptures up on the third floor.






Since we had some time, we checked out the gallery featuring silver and gold, and came across some snuff boxes from the 1700s.



The mosaic and inlay furniture was on our way to the silver, so we stopped to admire the craftmanship.



We were rather impressed by the largest silver wine cooler we’ve ever seen! It’s hard to tell from the photo, but this is over three feet wide.


We’ve promised ourselves we’ll return to this venue and give it the time it deserves. At closing, we made our way back to the hotel. Tomorrow will be a travel day, as our stay in England comes to an end. <sniffle> Thanks for following us on this journey. Ta-ta for now.

A Tour of Georgian and Regency-era Neighborhoods in London

Besides touring Regents Park with a Blue Badge Guide earlier this morning (a real treat set up by our tour operator, Across the Pond Vacations), we were taken on a tour of some neighborhoods made up of homes built during the Georgian and Regency eras. We were also provided with a history of London and why it is there are “rings” of neighborhoods surrounding the original city colliding with what used to be royal properties far outside of the city. It seems urban sprawl met itself in the middle when it came to London.

During the Regency era, the toniest address in London was Park Lane. Nowadays, Cumberland Place holds that honor. Situated adjacent to Regents Park, it’s a collection of buildings that house embassies as well as offices of royalty. And some people even live there!


George architecture is fairly easy to spot. The buildings are usually red brick or covered in “London stucco”, that cream color so prevalent in the buildings in the posh areas. Trimmed in white, they look especially smart. Some look almost Italianate, since it’s hard to tell whether or not their roofs are flat (they’re not).  Most feature columns with either Doric or Corinthian tops, and sometimes the columns are merely suggested in the reliefs found on the fronts.

Notice how the windows tend to get smaller the higher they are on the building. From the street level, it makes the building appear taller than it really is—and the taller the townhouse, the better back in the day. In addition, the servants quarters were on those top floors, so it was thought those windows didn’t need to be that large.

London professionals tend to occupy the Georgians found on Cowley and Barton Streets and Queen Anne  Place.

And of course, there are Victorians, although these aren’t the “painted ladies” you find in the United States.


Now check out these doors and their surrounding decor. Traditionally, all that carving would be painted white. But what about the double-wide door? It started out as a single-door but was modified to a double-door to accommodate a sedan chair.

As you walk the tiny streets that make up these neighborhoods, you’ll occasionally notice round blue signs mounted on them. They indicate that someone of note, dead for at least twenty years, lived in that house. Below are examples, including Sir Winston Churchill, Sir John Gielgud, TE Lawrence, and Charles Townley (antiquary and collector, best known for the Townley Collection at the British Museum).

And finally, when you happen upon the black posts in front of some pubs or other buildings, take a closer look. Chances are they used to be canons.


We said our “good-byes” to our guide and took the Underground back to a stop near our hotel. Given it was our last full day in London, we still had one more stop to make before calling it a day. Ta-ta for now!


A Visit to Regents Park


On our last full day in London, we had a Blue Badge Guide give us a half-day tour of the city with the Georgian and Regency eras in mind. Besides the many streets filled with Georgian homes and Regency townhouses, we paid a visit to Regents Park. Surrounded by the “outer circle”, the park includes an “inner circle” in which we spent most of our visit.


Commissioned by the Prince Regent as a means to generate some income to pay his massive debts, Regent Street and its green space, Regents Park, weren’t finished until well after he became King George IV. This gem in the middle of London offers a large grass area for sports and includes the London Zoo and Queen Mary’s Gardens, as well as a secret garden.


To get a sense of just how long this park is, check out the view of the walkway from about one-third into the park.


The gardens include roses of every color and a colorful assortment of flowers we’ve seen in other gardens around England.

The real surprise in this park is a little-known “secret garden”. Just pass under the arbors and you’ll emerge into a spectacular example of what used to be a mansion’s backyard garden.

Even when you emerge from this garden, ther are more surprises around the corner.

And more roses!

Although we could have spent all day in this park, we had places to be and other things to see, so we were off. Ta-ta for now!

An Afternoon Walk in Hyde Park

After a four-and-a-half-hour train ride (during which we managed over 2000 words on our next novel) and an hour in a taxi, a long walk in Hyde Park was a great way to stretch the legs and see some sites. We started at the Palace Gate and worked our way north to Kensington Palace.


In the Regency era, this palace was known for its gardens, so we wondered at how few florals we saw in front. Once we took the serpentine path through some tall hedgerows we found the White Garden. Wow! Because it’s completely surrounded by plants and hedges and trees, this is a secluded treasure.


Next, we headed through the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, where there is plenty of equipment for children and even an “elfin oak tree”. We were just interested in the flowers and unusual plants.


Then it was off to the Italian Gardens. Located at one end of the Serpentine, it’s a perfectly placed respite for those looking to get off the busy Bayswater Road.


In the Serpentine, what should we find but a swan with her goslings? When another bird attempted to get too close, mom went into fierce mother mode. If looks could kill…


We headed south and found the “Physical Energy” statue.


The Prince Albert Memorial is so large, we could see it from the middle of the park. The statues at the outside four corners represent Asia, Europe, America and Africa. The inner four statues are for commerce, agriculture, manufacture, and engineering. The memorial faces the Royal Albert Hall, which has been undergoing some renovation. Progress has certainly been made since our April 26th tour of London!





Since we’ll be taking a “Regency” walking tour with a Blue Badge guide in the morning, we resisted the urge to explore the area further. For now, we’re going to enjoy the first Long Island Iced Tea we’ve had since arriving in England (none of the bars or pubs we’ve been to have Sweet and Sour) and continue working on our next novel. Ta-ta for now!

A Céilidh and Edinburgh’s Old Town

From the time we stepped off the train at Ediburgh Waverly, we knew we were in for a treat. Edinburgh is a vibrant city, full of happy people, helpful taxi drivers, and lively entertainment. Our hotel, the Radisson Blu, is conveniently in the middle of it all, along the Royal Mile and a quick walk to anywhere, including the Scottish parliament buildings, St. Giles Church and several monuments. That’s Devil’s Advocate peeking through the close in one of the photos below.

Besides visiting the castle, we attended a traditional Scottish song and dance and dinner show. The Stables at Prestonfield have been putting on “The Taste of Scotland” for 44 years, so they’ve got this down to an art. With several choices for starters and main dishes, diners enjoy an excellent meal (including haggis and wine) along with the entertainment. That dancer in the middle? We’re pretty sure he would make an excellent book cover model.


We’re back on a Virgin train, this time heading to London. The Scottish countryside is beautiful, and we’re thinking the Yorkshire countryside will be, too. Ta-ta for now!

A Castle Built into a Rock

On a soggy morn, we made the trek up the Royal Mile from our hotel for a tour of Edinburgh Castle. Rich in history and centuries of remodeling and rebuilding makes this accessible and interesting. Besides the shops and tearoom, there are people who work here in the government offices and museums.


We opted to purchase the audio guide, and we’re glad we did (although if we hadn’t, we would have taken advantage of the free tours that are offered). Once you’re through the main gate and have your ticket, it’s up and up and up.

Besides the main attractions here—David’s Tower, St. Margaret’s Chapel, the Great Hall, the Royal Palace, the Prisons of War, the Mone Meg, Half-Moon Battery, and the scepter, sword, and crown, and the Stone of Destiny—there are museums for the Royal Dragoons and the Regimentals, the National War Museum, a pet cementary, and the Scottish National War Memorial. And although there isn’t much in the way of gardens, there are some scattered amongst the grounds.

The most impressive and best explained are those for the scepter, sword and crown, and, of course, the Stone of Destiny. They’ve had a storied past as important relics tend to have, and have gone missing and been rediscovered. We weren’t allowed to photograph them, but they are brilliant under a glass display case.


In the palace, you can go into the small room in which Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI (later King James I in England), see her bedchamber, and visit the hall James used for official visits.

We spent more than three hours on site—there is that much to do and see.

After a quick trip to the Apple Store to get a new iPad keyboard (we’ve worn out the last one), we visited some of the cashmere and lambs wool shops and paid a visit to a pub for a quick lunch.

Tonight we’ll be attending a dinner and show at The Stables at Presonfield. Ta-ta for now.

A Sunday Drive Along the Wall in North Cumbria and Northumberland

Since it’s a travel day for us, we thought we’d make the most of it by making as many stops as we could on our way to dropping off the hired car and taking the train to Edinburgh. Little did we know just how many stops you can make!

IMG_4649We headed north from our bed and breakfast in Windermere-on-Bowness and had some spectacular scenery before stopping at Aira Force, a waterfall managed by the National Trust. It’s a bit of a hike to get there from the car park, but well worth it, if you don’t mind stairs. Lots of them.


Then it was off to Carlisle and the beginning of Hadrian’s Wall. (Editor’s note: we really wanted to see Carlisle Castle, but our time was limited.) There are the ruins of  several Roman outposts and forts along the border of Northumberland and Cumbria, four of which are managed by the English Heritage.

Birdswaldo Roman Fort

At the Birdoswald Roman fort, the wall has its longest continuous stretch, so it’s where we started. The complex is in a rather remote setting given its historical importance, and we were a bit underwhelmed when we had our first site of the wall. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site, after all. Since we were taller than the wall, it just didn’t seem very defensible!


Housesteads Roman Fort

About fifteen miles east, Housesteads is set high on a hill and is the most complete Roman fort in all of Britain. The hike to get up there is about a half-mile (see the people on the footpath?), so we cheated a bit.


Chesters Roman Fort and Museum

The best preserved of all the forts, Chesters was impressive. It’s also just a few miles down the road, a scenic drive in Northumberland. Good signage documents every building foundation, and there are quite a number of them.



Corbridge Roman Town

We saved the best for last, for Corbridge is located near Hexham (where the Duke of  Westhaven’s brother from The Epiphany of an Explorer is an archaeologist) and it has some of the best artifacts and even the remnants of columns.



On to Newcastle

Our next stop was the Newcastle Airport, where we turned in the hired car (rental) and took the Metro to the train station. The Virgin train left for Edinburgh at 14:49 and we were there by 18:15 and at the Radisson Blu by 18:30!

We’ll be sleeping well (and sleeping in). Ta-ta for now!

A Cottage Fit for a Poet

At the edge of Grasmere in the Lake District sits a tiny white cottage. For eight years, William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, lived in Dove Cottage. We had a guided tour of the house as well as visited the museum dedicated to the poet.

It’s hard to believe as many as nine people called this home at one point during the Wordworths’ stay. He got married to his sister’s best friend, Mary, three of his five children were born here, and then his fellow “Lake poets” Thomas de Quincey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge moved in at various times with some of their kin. The cottage is much the same as the way it was when he moved out in 1808 to larger lodgings in Rydal (just down the road).


Despite being appointed poet laureate, Wordsworth didn’t write a single poem during his tenure.


The museum features exhibits not only about Wordsworth but also on the other Lake poets. Paintings, papers, poems, and more are on display.


And finally, there is a garden behind the modest cottage. We took a tour through it before making our way back to the bed and breakfast for our last night in Windermere.

Next up: We’ll be heading up to Hadrian’s Wall on the morrow. Ta-ta for now!

A Bronze Age Stone Circle

One of about 1300 stone circles in the United Kingdom, Castlerigg doesn’t have anything special going for it other than spectacular views.

None of the stones are particularly large, although they might have at one time stood much higher than they do now. We walked the perimeter and took photos of three or four at a time.

On a clear day, these would probably be more impressive, but the view was still stunning. We’re heading south next, to pay a visit to the home of a poet laureate.


A Lady’s Castles

On what started as a drizzly morning here in Cumbria, we headed north to visit two of the four castles once owned by Lady Anne Clifford, Dowager Countess of Dorset, Pembroke, and Montgomery and 14th Baroness de Clifford. Having inherited her father’s barony, she spent a good deal of her life in legal wranglings to get what she was owed, but in the end, she prevailed. Although mostly in ruins, her castles (English Heritage sites) are a testament to her determination.

Brough Castle

There is no shop or ticket booth for Brough Castle, but you’ll find a delightful ice cream shop next to the gate (they make their own from cow’s milk, so it’s fresh and wonderful on a warm spring day) as well as playground equipment for the kiddies. You’ll have to go through several gates on your way up to the ruins, as they’re meant to keep the sheep in the meadow and not in the car park or on the castle grounds.


There is far more here than you see in the photo above. Once you’re through the gate, other towers are evident, and there are plenty of helpful signs with the history of the place.


With sweeping views of the Lake District (the national park is nearby), this is a castle with a view, and given it’s a ruin, probaby too many.


Brougham Castle

Located a few miles north of Brough, Brougham was originally founded by Robert de Vieuxpont in the early 1200s. The two rivers near here, Eamont and Lowther, had the Romans building their fort, Brocavum, here first, though, so the entire site has been designated as an Ancient Monument.  With the outbreak of the Wars of Scottish Independence in 1296, this castle as well as Brough and others in Cumbria became important to the English. Edward I even visited Brougham in 1300 after Robert Clifford, 1st Baron de Clifford had fortified it for defense.


Once, again, there’s more than meets the eye when you get through the intact gates and into the castle proper, including graffiti, stairways, and even an intact spiral staircase you can climb to get to the third story!  Because the roof of the gate is solid, the first story floor is still there (rare in ruins this old).

And despite the lack of formal gardens, there are still flowers to be found growing in the crevices and corners.

We took our leave of Brougham intending to visit Penrith Castle, but there was no place to park! Turns out, the castle is right across from the train station. We did a “drive by” visit, but it hardly counts (see below). Next up: We’re off to see some stone circles and visit a poet’s home. Ta-ta for now.