I got back yesterday from a four-day trip to northern England and Scotland. I loved it. We traveled by coach (chartered bus). Here are the places I visited (click links for pictures):
- King's College, Cambridge, including its beautiful chapel
- York, including York Minster, which is the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe
- Fountains Abbey, a rare well-preserved 11th-century Cistercian monastary
- Hadrian's Wall, a barrier erected across Great Britain by the Romans to keep northern tribes out of their empire
- Edinburgh, Scotland, including a hike to Arthur's Seat, a visit to the Scottish Parliament, and a tour of Edinburgh Castle
- Castle Howard, a misnamed (but impressive) 300-year-old estate in England
Our first stop on Wednesday was King's College, which is part of Cambridge University. We toured their chapel, which has an amazing stone and wood fan-vaulted ceiling. We also wandered around the town for a while, and I got a sweatshirt and some raspberries at the market there. I liked the atmosphere. There were people all over the place riding bikes, walking, and talking. There are tons of little shops right next to expansive, painstakingly manicured lawns and imposing, centuries-old stone buildings.
Next stop: York. York is much smaller than London. This became apparent when wandering its streets and noticing that the buildings were only two or three stories tall instead of six or seven. It was also apparent in the more laid back feeling. The streets weren't so crowded (and people didn't push), the city wasn't as noisy, and most of the businesses closed before 7pm. I really liked the city.
While we were there we visited York Minster, which is an amazingly huge Gothic cathedral. I was impressed by Westminster Abbey in London, but York Minster was even more impressive. Its stained glass windows are enormous?some bigger than a tennis court! The ceilings seem to reach the sky. I climbed 273 (if I remember right) stairs up a seemly-endless winding staircase to the top of the highest tower in the minster to enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the city. I also attended the Evensong service, which is a mass sung by the choir. I really enjoyed it.
We stayed that night at a Travelodge hotel in Tadcaster, about five miles west of York. I went running the next morning along the motorway, which made me miss Hyde Park. The motorway's sidewalk and thick diesel fumes weren't quite as nice as the grassy trails in Hyde Park. I'm pretty fortunate to live so close to the park in London.
We visited Fountains Abbey on Thursday morning. It's a beautiful ancient religious complex that was established by Cistercian monks. The Cistercians were an especially strict group of monks. They had meetings every?every?three hours (eight times a day) and ate gruel. They devoted their lives to work and study. They rarely spoke. The life sounds miserable, but I think I might have signed up anyway if I had seen the abbey. It's amazing.
What's more amazing is that the abbey is still around. Henry VIII decided that the monasteries were growing too powerful, so he had most of them destroyed. Fountains Abbey survived the period surprisingly unscathed. The buildings are enormous, and their architecture is inspiring. I walked through the buildings, found a hidden tunnel, and walked along the serpentine (a waterway).
After a while longer on the coach, we arrived at Housesteads, an ancient Roman fort along Hadrian's Wall. The Roman emperor Hadrian built the stone wall across the width of Great Britain about 2000 years ago to keep the northern tribes out of Roman territory. Housesteads was a fort along the wall that housed Roman soldiers. The fort was in ruins, but the outlines of the outer perimeter, barracks, a kitchen, officers' quarters, and other areas were clearly visible.
I hiked west along the wall with my group from the fort for 2-3 miles that afternoon. We walked on top of or beside the wall all of the way and enjoyed great views since it is built along the top of a hill. We passed a search and rescue team that was training at a crag near the wall, and we passed some cliffs and a lough (small lake).
We drove from Hadrian's Wall north to Edinburgh, which is Scotland's capital. Edinburgh (pronounced ed-in-BUR-uh) is located on the Firth of Forth, a huge estuary that cuts into the eastern side of the isle of Great Britain. It has lots of beautiful old buildings, shops, and restaurants.
We stayed in a hostel (Smart City Hostel) for two nights in Edinburgh. I liked it much better than our hotel stay Tadcaster. The hostel is new, and the lower price there was accompanied by much better accommodations, such as free internet access and breakfast. It also doesn't hurt that the hostel is located right in the middle of the city. I'd definitely recommend it.
We arrived on Thursday night and just wandered around for a while. I ate with a few people at Garfunkel's, which was pretty much like Chili's in the U.S. Keith got a cheeseburger, I got pasta, and Amber got lasagna. I guess you can't always be cultured. :) I did have haggis for breakfast the next morning, though...
I made an amazing discovery on Thursday night: Sainsbury's grocery store in Edinburgh sells a pack of chocolate digestives (thin cookies coated with chocolate on one side) for 27p. 27p! That's amazing! You can buy pretty much nothing in London for under a pound, so 27p is a steal. I thought about buying 27 packs, but I settled for just one.
On Friday morning I got up a little early to hike to the top of Arthur's Seat with a some of our group. Arthur's Seat is an 823-foot-tall "mountain" in Holyrood Park, which is an amazingly wild area in the middle of Edinburgh. I almost felt like I was back in Utah for a little while, except that everything was green, of course. I really liked the hike. The view from the top was great.
We hiked back down to the city and met some BYU interns who are working at the Scottish Parliament this summer. They gave us a tour of the new parliament building. The building was recently finished at a cost of over £400 million, which is almost a billion dollars, and about seven times the projected cost. All of that money bought an amazing building, though. It looks a little weird from the outside, but the inside is incredible. An interesting mix of wood, concrete, and metal is shaped into an aesthetic pleasure that is flooded with natural light.
As we toured the building we got to go into the debating chamber, and I got to sit in the seat of an SMP (Scottish Member of Parliament). I also got a crash course in Scottish politics, which was spiced up by the fact that the Scottish National Party just gained control of the government for the first time in decades. They want to withdraw from the United Kingdom in 2010, like the Republic of Ireland. It's an interesting situation.
In the afternoon we visited Edinburgh Castle. It's built on a high point formed from volcanic rock. It was pretty interesting (and looks just like you'd expect a castle to), but castles are getting a little old. They all seem a lot the same: lots of old stones and history. This one was slightly more exciting than average because they shot off a cannon at 1pm. I was about 40 feet away, and my ears rang for a few minutes afterward. They apparently started shooting the cannon as an audible clock for sailors in the Firth of Forth, but now I think it's mostly just a tourist attraction.
I had dinner on Friday night at The Advocate, which is a pub about a block from our hostel in Edinburgh. Pubs have some of the best food at great prices, and The Advocate lived up to the trend. I had a really yummy chicken pot pie with mashed potatoes, gravy, and vegetables for about £6.
Saturday was a day of sitting on the coach. We made a couple of rest stops, but the day still felt really long. The only thing that really broke it up was a tour of the Castle Howard in England. The Castle Howard isn't really a castle. It doesn't have lots of defenses, and a king didn't build it. Rather, it's the 300-year-old home of the aristocratic Howard family. Don't get me wrong: it's beautiful, and huge, and the gardens are quite nice, but it's not a castle or a royal palace.
The interior was pretty impressive, although we didn't get to see all of it since the staff were setting up for a birthday party that evening. The exterior had lots of gardens and ponds and the usual trappings of rich people's estates.
It's back to business as usual for a few days until we head to Stratford (you know, the Shakespeare place) for a couple of days this coming week.