Historical York, England

York, situated in northeast England, can keep you delightfully occupied – a history buff needs more than a couple of days (which alas was all we had). It is home to the largest medieval church in northern Europe, the Minster, as well as the longest circuit of medieval city walls.
We’ve seen a lot of churches (really… another one?) but this may well be the most beautiful and certainly the grandest. We were able to attend an evening song and a kind resident invited us to sit in his box with him: “best seats in the house.” The gentleman said, “Just kneel when I kneel and stand when I do and you’ll be fine.” The Gothic cathedral was built in the 13th century and boosts impressive stained glass windows. An exquisite Rose Window commemorated the union of the royal houses of Lancaster and York, through the marriage (1486) of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, which ended the Wars of the Roses and began the Tudor dynasty.

The Wars of the Roses were a series of battles fought from 1455 to 1485 between the Lancasters and the Yorks…both belonged to the House of Plantagenets (albeit different branches) and both laid claim to the throne. The wars ended with the defeat of Richard III of York, by Henry Tudor (father of Henry VIII) who united the Yorks and Lancasters by marrying Elizabeth of York (who Phillipa Gregory made even more famous in her book “The White Princess”).

We stayed near Bootham Bar (gatehouses are called “bars” here – as in “bar the way”), one of 4 or 5 ancient bars one must pass through to enter the medieval web of narrow streets composing Old Town York.

Bootham Bar – an entrance to Old Town and stairs to the city walls.

York_at dusk pse0064

York is a warren of medieval streets like this with narrow alleys called “Snickelways” to explore.

You can climb up the stairs of a bar to get on the 13th-century city walls. …. A magnificent circuit  nearly three miles long with marvelous views of the city. York walls_pse5642

After walking the wall we descended at Micklegate Bar near the estate called Gray’s Court, built (on Roman ruins) by the first Norman Archbishop of York in 1060.  It has been continuously occupied and renovated in the centuries since. They were booked well in advance so we could not stay here, but we treated ourselves to afternoon tea.

Greys court Minster_pse5643

Grey’s Court as seen from the city walls with the Minster looming behind it.

Afternoon tea is served on three tiers of plates with small sandwiches, scones and sweets in this lovely setting. Enough for a light and lovely lunch (especially if you’ve had a British breakfast earlier!).  We did this in the Lake Country and will be having it again!

If we had more time we would have boated along the River Ouse. But it was a lovely few days as is. Have you been here? Next week: Bath and the charming Cotswolds – the train leaves for Bath in the morning! (And then maybe I’ll get back to the themes of “writing, expats, and nature” or even Colombia… I am a bit eclectic I guess.)



Hadrian’s Wall: Roman England

We drove from Keswick to York via Hadrian’s Wall. The wall delineated the northern frontier of the Roman Empire. Spanning a narrow part of the island from sea to sea, it is some 75 miles long.

Tom next to Hadrian’s Wall

The conquest of Britain began around 43AD. The Romans built forts and cities, including Londinium, but were harassed by the troublesome Scottish tribes. Emperor Hadrian ordered the wall to be built, circa 122 AD, by the tens of thousands of soldiers stationed in the north. They made good use of the rocky escarpments and had guard gates every mile and observation posts in between.

Originally the wall was up to 20 feet high, but the stones have been pilfered over the centuries to build other structures and now it stands about four feet in height. It was used for some 300 years before the Romans left the island for good….and now it keeps the livestock in place.

There is also an archeological dig of a rather large Roman fort and settlement. The number of artifacts on display astounded us – for example dozens of finely crafted leather shoes. Apparently, despite the wet climate, the conditions were anaerobic and thus preserved items that you would have expected to rot.

Housesteads: remains of Roman fort and settlement

Tom was mesmerized by a cache of coins some Roman soldier had buried for safe keeping, discovered almost 2000 years later. This was not so uncommon in a time without banks; thousands of purses or amphoras full of coins have been found in England alone. Did the person forget where s/he stashed it? Did they die without anyone else knowing where their money lay hidden away?

We hiked along the wall sometimes in heavy rain, but it was worth it. Perhaps weather and being a weekday kept away the crowds and we usually had it to ourselves.

Made it!…and appropriately dressed.

I have wanted to see this remarkable feature for years and believe me it is fascinating.


Art museum in the mid-background; you can just make out the castle in the far left background.

Edinburgh is a wonderful old city. The Old Town is so well-preserved you feel you are in another century. The main attraction is the Castle originally built in the 12 century on this volcanic hill high above the rest of the city

Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline


There is a great story about the magnificent Scottish crown jewels. After Charles I was executed in 1649, Cromwell ordered all such regalia destroyed. However the Scottish “Honours” were hidden in the Castle and almost forgotten (to make a long story short) until Sir Walter Scott set out to discover them in 1818. The scepter and the gold and red velvet, jewel encrusted crown have been on display for most of the years since in the Crown Room.


Adjacent to castle walls I was delighted to find a red telephone box still functioning!  The iconic kiosks have been around for almost 100 years, although harder to find in these days of mobile phones.   

Holyrood Palace is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland.  It includes the Historic Apartments of Mary Queen of Scots.  Holyrood is elegant and has beautiful grounds, but inside feels austere, especially inside.  I wouldn’t want to live there and perhaps that is why she prefers her country estate of Balmoral.

Holyrood Palace


We also visited the fabulous botanic gardens north of town and enjoyed walking around.  This hedge on the right is 20 to 30-feet thick and perhaps as much as 40 feet high.  The trunks have grown into trees.  We were so lucky with the weather, it hardly rained and was not very cold (this is September).

Red Admirals, familiar to us in California, live in Scotland too.


If you go to Edinburgh avail yourself of the hop-on hop-off bus.  It is a great way to familiarize yourself with the Old Town and goes to all the major sites. Dunedin, New Zealand, where we lived for over four years, is modeled after Edinburgh. So we recognized George, High St and Princes Streets and had no trouble finding our way around  – until we left town. We rented a car, but it took us 45 minutes to get to the motorway which is not well-marked.  We wandered around on narrow roads while the GPS mis-directed  us!   Another panorama (above) of the city.  We could hardly fit Edinburgh into our itinerary (with a name like MacKinnon we had to) but so glad we came.  Really enjoyed the Scots we met and listening to their brogue (they tend to be talkative story tellers I think.)


My husband and I are visiting northern Britain – we are in the Lake Country for the next few days. The countryside dotted with sheep so reminds us of New Zealand – with the addition of picturesque stone walls and barns.

“Dry” wall constructed without mortar by interlocking the stones.  Occasional,  larger “tie” rocks span both sides to give the wall strength,  as do the perpendicular capstones.

These guys (below) were so cute peering at us end-to end as we drove by that I had to stop and photograph them.  The one on the right however studiously ignored me until I crept closer and then they were both up and off.

We based our selves in the small town of Keswick – pronounced Kes-ik. You drop the “w” on all the towns that end in “wick.” Likewise Leicester is Lester,  Gloucester is Glouster i.e. drop the “Ces.” We stayed at a special B&B, Howe Keld, impeccably run by a gracious English-Swiss couple; it was comfortable and well appointed, right down to the selection of artwork.

Typical Victorian homes, often converted to B&Bs.

People come to walk the lovely countryside.  One popular outing is a launch that travels around Derwentwater Lake. You can hop off at any of many stops, hike to the next one and jump back on the next boat.


A not uncommon sight is where walkers push coins into cracks in logs; if it is over 50p they are well hammered in to foil the village boys.


Waterfalls and babbling brooks are everywhere.


One of the unexpected sights ( to us Outlanders) was Castlerigg Stone Circle erected almost 5000 years ago – as old as Stonehenge, but you’ll see more sheep than people. It is more in keeping with the mystical experience to have it (almost) to yourself. Samuel Coleridge, who visited with Wmm. Wordsworth, waxed poetic about the setting, itself encircled by mountains.

kswck stonecrcl_pse0025

I wandered lonely as a cloud… alas not the time of year to spot the daffodils.

There are more prehistoric circles in northern England than anywhere else; most date to the early Bronze Age (800-2000 ya). It is thought they were not only sacred sites, but also places where tribes gathered to swap goods and stories.

You will notice that it is cloudy in most of these pictures: I read somewhere that only 23%of the days are sunny so we were just happy that the rain was mild.

The Britons and other Europeans travel with their happy dogs and I couldn’t resist this bit of humor.

Wildlife at Horicon Marsh

I haven’t written a Nature post for awhile and couldn’t top Jet Eliot’s on the this marsh in Wisconsin, USA.

Jet Eliot

Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin

One of the largest freshwater marshes in the United States, Horicon Marsh offers a plethora of wildlife. Located in the southeastern quadrant of Wisconsin, U.S.A., and covering 32,000 acres (12,949 ha), the marsh is a critical rest stop for migrating birds.

Wikipedia Horicon Marsh. 

I love the solitude and beauty of this marsh, have written posts outlining how it was shaped: first by the glaciers, then by humans. But today I’m focusing just on the wildlife, because this is what I find so enchanting.

Previously written post: Horicon Marsh

Common Yellowthroat, Horicon Marsh

Painted Turtle, Horicon Marsh

Black Tern, Horicon Marsh

One of the most elegant terns on earth, the black tern migrates to North America from South America, and breeds at the Horicon Marsh, as well as other sites in northern U.S. and Canada.

Forster’s terns also breed at the Horicon Marsh.

Forster’s Tern, Horicon Marsh

View original post 391 more words

Un Poste Bilingue (A bilingual post)

My Francophile friend ‘Sue-Suzette’ spends time in France every year. She is  in St. Palais-sur-mer (located between Nantes and Bordeaux) and provided this bilingual description.

The sun doesn’t always shine along the coast of St. Palais-sur-mer. But rain and cloudy skies bring a different sort of charm. I woke up to big rain drops and a chilly wind. Nevertheless, I decided to take my umbrella and go for a walk.

Il ne fait pas toujours du soleil á St. Palais-sur-mer.  Mais la pluie et le ciel couvert ont un charme différente.  Je m’a réveillé et il y avait des grand gouttes de pluie et des coups du vent.  Néanmoins, j’ai décidé de faire un promenade,parapluie en main.

At the beach, the grey sky matched the color of the waves crashing on the rocks. Some hardy soul was swimming beyond the waves. As I watched, I saw that it was a woman, a modern day Diane de Poitiers, the celebrated mistress of King Henri II, who swam every day in the Loire river.

Á la plage, le ciel gris était le même couleur des vagues qui se brisaient violemment sur les roches.  Une âme intrépide nageait au-delà les vagues.  C’était une femme, une Diane de Poitiers contemporaine, la maîtresse du Roi Henri II qui nageait tous les jours dans la Loire.

Walking into the neighborhoods, I happened up the old clock tower.  This is all that remains of an 11th century church. It is surrounded by a graveyard with both old and more recent tombstones.  Today the door was open so I wandered in to find an exhibit of modern art.  Starting at the ground floor then climbing six flights of stairs, 170 steps in all.  It was interesting to see bright, vibrant modern paintings and sculptures against ancient stone walls. The artist Kael has a gallery in town.

Le vieux clocher

En marchant dans le quartier, je suis passé le clocher.  C’est la ruine d’une église du onzième siècle qui est entouré par un cimetière qui contiens des ancien et des tombes d’aujourd’hui.  La porte était ouverte donc je suis entrée.  Il y avait un exposition d’art moderne qui est monté de la rez-de-chaussée au cinquième étage, 170 pas en tout.  C’était intéressant à voir des tableau modernes pleins de couleurs vives contre les vieux murs.  L’artist Kael a une galerie en centre ville.

After a hot chocolate to warm my bones, my fellow travelers and I drove down the coast to St. Georges-de-didonne, stopping for lunch at a seaside restaurant.  The variety of shellfish here is amazing.  In addition to shrimps such as langoustines and crevettes, there are oysters, mussels, clams, whelks and snails.

Two more friends, Sharon and Jolie, enjoy large beautiful plates of fruit de mer.

Plus tarde, mes amies et moi sommes allés en voiture le long de côte á St. George-de-didonne ou on a déjeuné au restaurant balnéaire.  La grande variété des fruits de mer ici est stupéfiante.  En plus de crustacés comme les langoustines et les crevettes, il y a des huîtres, des moules, des palourdes, des bulots, et des escargots.

Continuing down the coast, we arrived at Talmont-sur-Gironde, a charming tourist village at the Gironde, an navigable estuary formed at the mouth of Dordogne and Garonne Rivers.  It has an 11th century romanesque church built high above the rocky coast, buffeted by the storms of the  Atlantic.  We wandered the cobbled streets and into the shops until it was time to drive home.

On a continué notre séjour à Talmont-sur-Gironde, un joli village sur la Gironde, un estuaire crée par les fleuves Dordogne et Garonne.  Il a une église Romanesque qui était construit dans un colline au-dessus le littoral rocailleux et qui sont battu par les orages d’Atlantique Océan.  On a flâné les rues pavés et dans les boutiques jusqu’à l’heure de rentrer.

Ah France – the most popular vacation spot in the world.  Merci Sue for providing us a glimpse of this corner of the country.

(Ah France – le lieu de vacances le plus populaire au monde. Merci Sue pour nous donner un aperçu de ce coin du pays.)


The Kindness of Strangers

I recently visited Damyanti Biswas’ post on We are the World Blogfest a blog devoted to “spread peace and humanity on social media.”

It reminded me of several incidents I will share with you regarding the kindness of strangers. The first occurred when we were living in Dunedin, New Zealand, poor as church mice and my husband lost his wallet.

Dunedin, NZ






To make matters worse, it was pay-day and he had just filled it with cash meant to last for at least two weeks. We never expected to see the wallet much less the cash, but later that day the police phoned with the news that a good Samaritan had turned it in. It was such a relief. Thank you kind lady, whoever you are, you saved a young couple in distress! You don’t know us, but I still think of you. Hard to imagine this happening in many cities of the world.

Some years later on our first trip to France we arrived in time  – we thought – to find our train to Charles De Gaulle.  While searching in the huge station however, we had apparently missed the one we intended to be on and now were in fear of missing our overseas flight.  In a state of agitation, I  approached a young Frenchman and asked if he knew which the track we should be on.  He cocked his head and listened intently to my inadequate French, looked around at the  signs, then held up one finger and took off at a run.  Several minutes went by and we thought he must have caught his own train and left by now.  But no, there he was running towards us, he grabbed my bag in his free hand (the other held a briefcase full of books) and off the three of us jogged to the far side of the gare.  “Voila!” he gestured with his chin, “La!”  I grabbed his hand and thanked him profusely as we got on the train.  “Oh, but I must,” he told me quite seriously. “Or you will miss your airplane!”  No, Monsieur you didn’t have to but, I will never forget how you took time to help a couple of hapless tourists.  I’ve tried to follow your act when people ask me for help.

Parisian train station


Wait it gets better. Last winter in our California town, a taxi cab driver picked up two teenage sisters going to a party on a Friday night. They were dropped off looking forward to their evening and asked the young cabbie to come back after midnight.

However a call came only an hour or so later and when the taxi arrived the girls were walking up the street with their arms around one another, one without her coat, the other virtually naked; they were both shivering and in tears. The driver jumped out, took off his jacket and wrapped it around the naked girl; he drove them home and walked them in to make sure an adult was there to deal with the situation. The parents went to the Taxi company the next day to express their gratitude for taking care of the girls – and to return the jacket. (The cabbie must have been cold the rest of the night.) I’m sure that family will never forget that sensitive young man either.

We all have stories like these that make us want to live up to their standards of kindness and regard for others. Note these stories and pictures are from around the world. They may seem like small acts, but they create a rippling effect and restore our faith in humanity.

A couple rescue a small dog from a culvert in Brazil.