British Invasion…Doug takes England

Dear Journal,

I realize it’s been awhile since I last wrote, I’ve been so busy! First I had to complete my tour of the United Kingdom.

I started in Cambridge. Which means I will be starting this entry with the most unbelievable story! Seriously, you will be tempted to think I am making it up…but even my imagination isn’t great enough for that! I spent my time in Cambridge doing a tour of the Universities, as most people would do. There are over 250 schools in the area, so naturally it took all day. Evening had fallen by the time I reached Sidney Sussex College. The plaque at the front gate stated that they had educated a male figure in English history: Oliver Cromwell. I knew the story of Cromwell (at least I thought I did) but in case you don’t here it is… Cromwell was the leader of the Revolution. He lead the charge that ended with King Charles I beheaded and the reign of the monarchy over. Cromwell ruled the country in a kings stead. When he passed away his body was preserved and buried in Westminster Abbey…but that’s is not where he remained. Without Cromwell as a leader the English people were lost. They turned ot the only person they could think of to take over: Charles II, son of the king they had dethroned. Charles took up the post as King, but did not forget what Cromwell had done. He had his body removed from the Abbey (a place of honor). But that wasn’t enough…no not nearly. He then had the body hung, beheaded and the head placed on a spike on the Westminster Bridge. It remained in that spot for 20 years. Quite the story, eh? I thought so…but little did I know, it was just the beginning…

After wandering the lawn & admiring the many fine structures at Sidney Sussex I decided to see the chapel. I was just going to stop for an exterior look but was surprised to find the door ajar. It seemed awfully late to still be open to visotors, but I thought I’d take advantage of my good fortune…my mistake to think I could actually have any good luck…

I mentioned that Cromwell’s head remained on display on the bridge for 20 years…well did you wonder why it finally stopped being up there? It turns out a storm blew it down. The wind was finally too much for the suprisingly well preserved head (remember Cromwells body had been preserved before it was buried) and it toppled onto the cobblestones below. The soldier on duty saw something fall and went to investigate. Can you imagine being this man and finding the object was a severed head? What would you do? I think I might scream, or run away as fast as my legs would take me. Whatever it is I would do it would not be the same as the soldier because he picked it up, wrapped it in a scarf and brought it home with him. The next morning though, when the head was missing, the man heard of the severe punishment they had planned for when they found the great head theif. Panicked, the man shoved the head up his chimney and never told anyone about it. That is until he recounted the whole crazy story to his grand-daughter on his deathbed. She, like any sane person, didn’t really want to have a disembodied head just laying around so she put it up for sale. A surprising number of people were interested in buying Oliver Cromwell’s head. This began a stretch of hundreds of years where the head was bought and sold.

If that were the story’s conclusion I still would have been in the clear, but there I was in the middle of a Cambridge University chapel watching 2 men dressed in black digging things up from below the floor! Well I am not too proud to say it almost scared the pants right off of me! I screamed and ran out of there so fast there was almost a Doug shaped hole in the chapel door. It seemed the commotion I made aroused suspicion and the authorities were called. Suddenly I was being credited for helping catch grave robbers searching for Cromwell’s head. It seems a buyer eventually donated the head back to Cromwell’s old school and they buried it in their chapel. The men would have already have found the head if it wasn’t for the fact that the school had placed a plaque that only mentioned the head was buried somewhere within the chapel, not it’s exact location. There had been enough issues with this head in the past, they didn’t want it to go missing again!

After that insanly frightening encounter I decided I should probably Lear to better defend myself scary people…like head grave robbers. And who better ot learn from than the man who battled the rich to save the poor for years…Robin Hood. I swung by Nottingham on the way to my next destination and got a few lessons. Here we are practicing our archery:

I thought I’d be safe in York. Their main attraction is a gorgeous cathedral called York Minster right in the center of town. I enjoyed the stained glass windows. That is always my favorite part of a church.

Feeling much more content I went to the Jorvik Viking Experience. It turns out the first inhabitants of York ha been the Vikings. There was an exhibit about their way of life, another about the artifacts that had been found from this time period and yet another about the archeological dig that had unearthed these treasures. I find archeology fascinating and read through this part thoroughly. I was immersed in the info board that I almost missed the shadow of a child run by. At first I thought it was a stray kid who had wandered away from it’s arena…but I was alone in the room. Then I saw it again and noticed it was wearing clothes that would not have fit in this millennia, let alone this decade. It was a Viking ghost! I am not proud of it, but for a moment I froze in terror. You don’t see ghost everyday! But then I realized it was not going to hurt me. I tried to converse with it but the few faint words I could hear were in a language I could not understand. It leaves me rather curious as to what the child wanted. I made sure to tell the staff about it on my way out. Hopefully they will call in a medium that can help the poor little boy out.

Heading south-east from York, I found myself in Chester. This is a city with a long, interesting history. It was first founded as the city fo Dewa by the Romans almost 2000 years ago as a military settlement. I repeat, 2000 years! Thats a crazy long time ago! Eventually the Romans Legionaries (which is what they called their soldiers) were told they could leave their station here, but many had married the womain the area and chose to stay. That’s when the military encampment became a town. Over time it grew, but also feel into a state of disrepair. Eventually Queen Victoria showed up and declared the place should be fixed up! She commissioned the building of countless Tudor style buildings’ those are the ones that are black & white (or two tones in neutral colors) with the exposed wood mounted right in the building walls. As I wandered about taking in the history I happened across an archealogical dig. Curious, I started talking the archeologists & volunteers’ ears off with all of my questions. Eventually, mainly because I think they wanted to quiet me down, they asked if I wanted to join them. I was thrilled and obviously jumped at the chance. I spent the rest of the afternoon digging through 3m of history, as that’s how far down the Roman ruins are located. On top of the Roman artifacts there are layers from the saxon, medieval and post-medieval eras. It was all very educational. But this was one educational experience I will never forget…definitely better than sitting in class trying not to fall asleep…

My next stop was Startford-Upon-Avon. My new interest in acting naturally drew me to the birthplace of the bard himself, William Shakespeare. After the experiences I’ve been having lately I wondered if perhaps I’d meet the man himself…if I was going to see a ghost I wanted it to be an interesting one! I decided I’d carry out my faux-ghost hunt at Shakespeare’s birthplace. This is a big Tudor style house. It was interesting to see how people lived back then. I can safely say I like being in this century, with electricity, running water & modern plumbing!
I didn’t run into any spirits but I did meet a nice troupe of actors. Their job is to perform scenes from Shakespearse’s vast collection of works (he wrote ????????? !) in the house’s garden by request. Kindly they let me try my hand at a few scenes. Shakespeare is not an easy thing to tackle and my memory is not as good as the professionals, but I muddled through. I even earned a few applause from the crowd, although they could have just been applauding the attempt and not the actual quality of the performance.

In the end this is as close as I got to meeting Mr. Shakespeare:
Oh and just for fun, here’s me and Hamlet:

Positioned coviently close ot Stratford is Warwicks Castle. It is a real medieval castle that has been converted into an almost theme park like attraction. There are exhibits and shows, and even a dragon encounter. I personally was interested in watching the castle knights at work. After a show of jousting the began to battle with swords, bows & axes. I cheered along enthusiastically with the rest of the crowd…maybe a little too enthusiastically… Before long they were asking for volunteers and I was being dragged up into the fray of the ancient style battle. My movie stunt training was not near enough to pull me through but my time training with Robin Hood helped a lot. In the end our side of the fight was victorious and I like to think that it was partially because of me. People tend to underestimate a man of my size!

Ater all that craziness I really just needed a break…a guy can only take so much! I found some peace & relaxation in Bath. This town was founded by the Romans over 2000 years ago…yes another ancient city. They built here because of the miraculous hot water that seemed to sprout from the earth. The hot springs they discovered have been used for thousands of year. Over a thousand years after the Romans left, the Kings & Queens of England decided they wanted to sit & splash in the natural hot water (and heal…they believed the water had healing powers). And if the royals were doing it, so was everyone else….and now so am I! Although you can’t still go in the original baths today, check out the green water…
…you can visit the Thermea Spa just down the road. After my visit I will be ready for any adventures life throws at me!

Keep Smilling,

Damn you Save to Draft!

Have you ever looked up at a tour bus and wondered who is on that thing? Have you ever gazed at it and though “what person wants to do that”? Well to answer your question, those people are…us. Today we tried out a whole new experience on a day long Stonehenge bus tour. It was really quite good…we enjoyed that we could turn off our brains for awhile and have someone just chauffeur us around, telling us where to get off and what to look at. Now don’t get us wrong, we’re not about to trade in our independent backpacking trip for a cushy bus tour, but we did enjoy ourselves doing it for the day.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves…back to the beginning of the day:

We started this morning off a little earlier so that we would be able to catch our bus. After stopping at Costa Coffee (the UK’s #1 coffee franchise) for a hot beverage & a muffin we were waiting with the masses for our coach’s arrival. Justine got a Gingerbread Latte & Kristin a Vanilla Steamer. They were so yummy we almost forgot about how cold it was this morning (and how it is 30 degrees at home). It may have been chilly, but it was not raining. In fact, the rain held out for the entire day…we even got a little sun in the afternoon!

While waiting for our bus we chatted with a nice man from Calgary. He and his wife always do bus tours (and not just the day ones but big long ones) and they apparently love it. It was interesting to hear that side of things, as we always just seemed to look at the negatives before. When our bus arrived it was not in fact a big, tackily decorated coach but a cute little white minibus. We were also pleasantly surprised by our fellow tourists. There were only 2 seniors, no over-weight people and a fair few people in our age range.

The first stop of the day was Stonehenge. Stonehenge need little introduction, it is one of the most recognizable sights in the world. Monuments have stood on this location for almost 5000 years. This was a time of no written record and as a result there are many questions regarding Stonehenge. It is known that Stonehenge has great religious importance to the people of that time. As well, it works as an astrological clock, keeping in time with the solstices.
This was the main attraction of the tour but we started there so we could beat the masses. It was still busy-ish while we were there, but noticeable busier by the time we left. Now Stonehenge is really just a bunch of big rocks with lots of people crowded around them…or at least that’s what a jaded person would say. Being our young optimistic selves we chose to see the wonder in the site…even if it was a bit smaller than we expected. You can’t help but be impressed and amazed at the skill, dedication and hard work that must have been needed to build this wonder.

Next we went to Avebury. Avebury is a much larger stone circle and henge. You might be asking yourself, what is a henge? A henge is composed of a ring bank and a ditch (like a castle moat) but with the ditch inside the bank (like a castle moat being inside the castle walls). For this reason it is believed henges served no defensive purpose, even though the original ditch was 9m deep with a 7m high bank!
Avebury is composed of a large stone circle and two smaller ones inside. Apparently Stonehenge would fit inside one of Avebury’s smaller circles; Avebury is that much larger! There are many differences between these two henges. First, unlike Stonehenge, Avebury serves no astrological purpose and it’s religious importance remains a mystery. Second, Avebury has fallen into a greater state of disrepair (somewhat on purpose as the church wasn’t big on keeping around such a large Pagan symbol). It also has much more of an up close and personal feel. You can just go right up and touch the rocks…heck you could climb them of you found the right footing!
The people aren’t the only ones who get up close to the stones…the sheep just graze around them. Kristin really likes taking pictures of sheep…she probably has as many of them as she has of the stone circles…but they’re just so gosh darn cute!

Along our route we had a lot of cool non-stops. And by that we mean things that didn’t need a stop so we did a slow drive-by of. Here’s a handy list:
Bronze Age Burial Mounds – These hills in the countryside are exactly what they sound like. Back thousands of years ago the important people in a tribe were buried with some of their prized belongings or important tribal objects in a large pit which they later covered with a large hill like mound. Often there was only one person in each of these mounds.

The Cherhill White Horse – This White Horse is from the 18th century and is based off the more famous Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire which dates back almost 3000 years. The giant horse was made by removing the top soil and exposing the naturally forming white chalk. It is a pretty impressive sights too see! The white chalk was so vibrantly bright that it didn’t seem naturally colored!
The Westbury White Horse was the original of the two White Horses in this area. We were able to get a closer view of this one. Its amazing that at it’s great size it still manages to look like a horse!

Cley Hill – This hill has had more UFO sightings than anywhere else in the UK. Spooky! However our guide said this might have something to do with the large military base next door. The military is often up to strange and mysterious things. As a side note, we saw lots of tank crossing signs today…and even one no tanks allowed sign…it was a serious sign, no joke.

Silbury Hill – This hill is actually a 6-tiered chalk pyramid. At 37m, it is the size of one of the smaller pyramids in Egypt. Now the pyramid is covered in dirt & grass to form a large and slightly odd shaped hill. Archeological expeditions have been able to uncover very little from this site. It was not used for burial purposes and it’s reason for existence remains a mystery. Odder still is why someone decided to cover it up?

Salisbury Hill – Yes, the one from the Peter Gabriel song. It was lovely and green and treed and rolling, but otherwise not too exciting. We did listen to the song on the bus though 🙂

Our lunch stop was the village of Lacock. It was originally owned by the Talbot family but when they could no longer afford it during WWII the village was donated to the National Trust. As a result, you cannot own your home in Lacock, you can only rent it from the National Trust. Because of this, if you wish to live here you must trace your ancestry back to a Lacock resident. This helps it keep its charm and from becoming too commercial. And it really isn’t! The village consists of one square of four quaint roads. There is a lovely mix of architecture stretching from the 1300’s to the 1600’s. It creates a very old worldly feeling. Parts of the Pride & Prejudice miniseries was filmed here. You could just picture Mr. Darcy & Mr. Bingley ridding down the streets or Elizabeth & her sisters going in and out of the shops.

(There would be a photo of the town here but Kristin left her camera on the bus and Justine’s camera memory card doesn’t work with the iPad jack for some reason. You’ll just have to wait till we are home to see the photos…but take our word for it: they are worth the wait!)

The village was very lovely but we were most interested in the old abbey…Harry Potter was filmed here!! The Lacock abbey was the original church in the village. When Henry VIII changed the religion if his entire country the abbey was permitted to remain standing as long as it did not remain a church. It was converted into a manor house and all religious objects were removed. This was done so effectively that when we entered we found it hard to believe it had once been a chuch. But back to the exciting bit: Harry Potter! We have visited a few sites where tv shows or movies we’ve seen were show and it has always been “that could have been shot there” or “I might recognize that” but it wasn’t like that here. We weren’t even in the door yet when we saw the first familiar sight. Then we squealed and ran inside. It was like stepping into Hogwarts! It was so amazing! For the HP nerds out there, they shot a lot from the first 2 movies here, including the courtyard where Harry walks through the snow with Hedwig, general school corridors and a lot of the class rooms, including McGonagalls. There was even a cauldron marking the potions room 🙂

The final stop of the day was Castle Combe. If we had thought the last stop was small & cute, then this place would have to be described as tiny & adorable! You seriously couldn’t take a bad photo here if you tried! In 1962 the press actually named it the prettiest town in Britain. It’s really just one street making it’s way down a hill for about 5 blocks. Both sides are lined with picturesque cottages with overflowing flowerpots and window boxes.
To top it all off there is an energetic little stream at the bottom of the hill with a cluster of benches. We sat here for some peaceful reflection on our awesome day.
At the top of the hill were the towns two biggest sights: the church & The Manor House Hotel. The church was really beautiful, especially for such a rural setting. There was bright stained-glass and a weird faceless clock. Kristin did enjoy how you could see the gears! The hotel used to be an actual manor until the wool industry collapsed and the town lost it’s main source of income. Now it’s a hotel that looks like rows of cottages we dream of having. However they don’t seem to be in our price range right now as a night at the hotel can run you a bill of up to £1000! It seems to fit though when you consider to buy a cottage on the main street will cost you £3 million.

It was a short bus ride back to town and then supper time! Being the crafty savers we are we returned to the Huntsman Inn (where we went last night) and used our wristbands to get 20% again 😉 Tonight we both rocked the Mushroom, Cheese & Pepper Pie:
We have to make sure we remember to take the photo right away when we get pies because this is what they look like 2 minutes after the picture is taken:
In our opinion this is the only way to eat a meat pie!
Alexa, are you having a heart attack about how we mixed everything on our plate together in there?

What We Learned Today:
– If a British village looks like it is stuck in a time warp and still looks like it did in the 18th or 19th century it is because it suffered an economic hardship (such as the stream drying up or the wool industry collapsing). As a result people would have left the town and economic development would have stopped. We’re definitely not complaining! The villages we visited today we gorgeously stuck in the past!

Random Observations:
– The roads are very skinny here! Today we drove down a road through the forest that barely seemed to fit our bus…then we found out it was a 2 way street! It would barely have passed for a shoulder at home! We understand that roads may have been built before cars existed, but it doesn’t make driving them any less nerve wracking.
– There are a lot of traffic circles in the UK. We drove through at least 20 today…Justine was counting (possibly as a way to stay awake while the van was driving?)

Love, Luck, Lambs & Large Rocks,

Oh we realize we never set a deadline for our last challenge. For those of you who haven’t submitted an answer you have until we post tomorrow! For those of you who have answered: How about another challenge!?
We went to Stonehenge today…you may remember reading about it…but just incase you forgot here’s a photo to jog your memory:
This place is one giant question mark! But that’s the fun…we want to hear your version of how to got there OR why it’s there OR what people used to do with it! You’ll get a point just for answering but get creative because you can earn up to 5 points if your answers really good! You’ve got until we post Sunday (so like 5pm Edmonton time)!

Worst Sheet Ever!!!!!

This morning began in the hostels superior bathrooms. That sounds a bit like an over-share, but we are just referring to the big room in the hostel basement with lots of showers and mirrors for getting ready. They get how girls get ready here…there’s even a blow-dryer!

Breakfast isn’t provided here, as we mentioned yesterday, but as our plans for this morning began much later we decided to go out. Justine had noticed a place that looked good our very first night here and after a little wandering about we managed to find it. The orders were:
Justine – French Toast with a compote of seasonal fruit (aka raspberries & blueberries) + a Latte
Kristin – Eggs Benny (because she is her mother’s daughter) + a Steamed Milk w/ Vanilla (no caffeine for this migraine girl!)
And here is an extra photo of Beany’s latte cause it was so pretty!

We started our sightseeing with a walking tour. Want to know the best thing about it? It was free! No cost, no tips, no nothing! Apparently they are just a group of volunteers who love the city so much that they do tours to show it off! And it deserves to be shown off. We learned some more history & a couple fun facts while hitting all of the best vantage points in town. Here are a couple of the awesome things we saw:
Queens Square – This was designed by a Bath native and one of their most influential architects James Wood. They are very elegant. You could just imagine being an aristocrat in the 1800’s and not having to do anything but live a life of leisure in these beautiful homes made to look like palaces.
The Circus – Again designed by James Wood who wanted to bring Rome to Bath. He designed the houses after the Colosseum, making the area a perfect circle! The houses have 3 levels with columns and intricate designs all the way around. Very unique & very beautiful.
The Crescent – This was actually designed by James Wood Jr, son of James Wood. It is a perfect semi-ellipse and the first of the kind in Britain. It was later copied everywhere because it looked so good!
And these are Kristin’s Toms on the lawn out front…

Now the tickets, bus & brochure for the Bath Bus Tour all say the ticket is 24hrs…however everyone tells you it is 48hrs when you’re on the tour. So we took advantage of that and went on the city loop again! We also ate a Krispy Kreme donut while riding cause we have squirreled away a few of our free treats! Last time we’d done the tour it was with the live guide so it was interesting to learn a few new facts from the recorded version of the tour loop.

Now break time. We stopped at the hostel to drop off a bag and ended up staying for awhile. We had a cup of tea and surfed the web/did word searches/did word ladders. It was nice to warm up as it had gotten a little chilly out!

There is only one part of town we hadn’t explored yet. That was by the Pulteney Bridge, completed in 1773. So being the great tourist we are, we headed in that direction. The bridge is quite beautiful when you view it from distance and fun to wander across as it is full of shops.

We then went to the Parade Gardens. They are in the middle of the area where the rich people who spent their summer at the baths (because that’s where the royals were) would walk up and down to see and be seen. It was really pretty with trees & topiary and a gazebo. There were explosions of color everywhere as the array of flowers was quite diverse. Inspired by all of the flower photos we’ve seen on Jocey’s tumblr lately we took a few of our own.
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This was our favorite thing though: Plant a Tree for the Future!

Just for funsies we had ourselves a little photo shoot! Here are a few of our favorites (they’ll also give you some idea of how lovely the park was!):
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Then as another break for our feeties we hopped o the Skyline Bus Tour, which you might remember from yesterday is the countryside tour. We were excited to see it without rain on the top deck…then it started to rain and we had to go below. Still the views were better than last time…at least Kristin thinks so. Justine was doing a bit of head bobbing during this ride…she really can’t stay awake in moving vehicles! But after our 2 walking tours and double ride of both tour loops we feel as if we are experts on this town…We could give tours of Bath!

We then decided since we were just wandering about that we should do something productive. We keep forgetting to book our next stretch of hostels, but no more! We went through and are set for another couple of weeks! Yay! We won’t have to sleep on the streets! This actually took a good chunk of time. If you’ve never booked a hostel there is a lot to consider: location based on sites & rail stations, cleanliness based on reviews, free stuff like wifi & breakfast, not to mention price & room size…lots of comparing and searching. This took us right up to supper time…

Supper was already decided for us tonight so there was none of our regular meandering. Last nights walking tour came with a wristband that gave us 20% off food at the pub we started the tour by. No brainer where we’d go tonight! We each enjoyed a pint in celebration of the savings!
Pictured here is Kristin’s Fish & Chips and Justine’s Steak & Ale Pie (with peas of course!). We’re trying to get in one more go on the traditional dishes before we leave the UK!

What We Learned Today:
– Have you ever wondered about the line “Stuck a feather in his hat & called him Macaroni” in Yankee Doodle? We definitely have…and now the riddle is solved! Someone was called a Macaroni in the 1800’s if they wore the large wigs & hats and other extravagant things of that sort. So when Yankee Doodle stuck that feather in his hat he just went too far & became over-the-top extravagant…becoming Macaroni!

Love, Luck & Leisurely Loops (on our bus!),