We had a glorious six weeks touring England, Scotland and Wales by British Rail, in the spring of 1998. At Kew Gardens, we stood enchanted, reluctant to leave our exquisite surroundings. We drank in the beauty of acres and acres of daffodils nodding their heads in greeting. Their fragrance wafted towards us.
We spent April fool’s Day visiting Penzance and St. Ives on the Cornish Coast but as the tide was up at Penzance, we were unable to visit St. Michael’s Mount. The stunning scenery of Cornwall was a hiker’s paradise with trails scaling rugged cliffs and descending to isolated sandy beaches. The silence only broken by the roar of waves or the shrill cries of the gulls.
At St. Ives we climbed up steep slopes, stopping to taste Cornwall’s famed clotted cream. The plaintive sounds of seagulls filled the air as we looked down at the colourful fishing boats sheltering within the harbour. Ghosts of coastguards still patrolled the area on dark stormy nights and smugglers’ caves beckoned us to explore their depths.
The following week, at the Salisbury Plains, Stonehenge with all its hidden history and mystery left us strangely silent and speculative.
At Exeter, we stayed in a delightful rose-coloured room at a Bed-and-Breakfast. Early the next day, we boarded the train to Ivybridge, a quaint little village not far from Dartmoor National Park. As we walked across the moors, the wind whistled through the hilly tussocks.
The bleak weather conjured up the deep baying of the Baskerville hound in the distance. Dartmoor looked forbidding even during the day. Hazel slipped her hand into mine. But the walks were well sign-posted.
The weather in Cornwall was not kind to us that spring in 1998, but it improved on our last day at Exeter. At Eggleston, we rambled in forests of beech and larch.
The next day we set out for Liverpool. The sheds on the dockside were now a market, filled with craft shops. We sheltered from the cold and wind and peered out at the Liver Building. The two birds perched on top of the twin clock towers like watchful guardians. They glinted in the sunlight—a beacon guiding ships into the harbour.
Legend says that if they flew off, the city would cease to exist. The Liver building still stood, though buildings just across the river were razed to the ground by the Luftwaffe during World War II.
After wandering around the craft markets, we went on a sightseeing cruise of the Albert, Victoria and Gladstone Docks. The swell of the water rocked the boat. Seaweed clung precariously at the side of the docks, dancing to the tune of the wind whistling past, sweeping away leaves and paper in fierce gusts. Barnacles shut their mouths against the air.
The rhythm of the rocking boat, and the sights and smells on the dockside, made me think of the war. The navy had stationed the Liverpool Escort Force at the Gladstone dock and destroyers, sloops and corvettes had docked there. Scarcely able to control my excitement, my contemplations turned to the Compass Rose, made alive by Nicholas Monsarrat in his book, The Cruel Sea. I visualised it steaming in, battle-scarred and belching smoke, still smarting from encounters with Nazi submarines and planes.
It was freezing even where we sat, protected from the winds. Fifty years ago without air-conditioned cabins, the cold would have been unbearable.
We disembarked, my head filled with thoughts of war. The winds drove us to the Merseyside Maritime Museum and the Beatles’ Museum—a magnet to all Beatles’ fans.
The next day we took the train via the Conway Valley to Snowden National Park and got off Holyhead. The hills and pine forests with snow-capped mountains in the distance enchanted us, but as it snowed heavily, the weather prevented a hike up the mountain. After taking a few photos, we returned, brushing off snowflakes from our clothes.
Before the week was out, we visited Conway Castle and the Peak’s National Park. The sun showed its face, smiling at us as we rambled among the castle ruins, climbed the parapets and looked down at the countryside.
At Edale, the start of the Pennine Way, we set out for a long hike. Chased by a snowstorm, we hurried back after a short walk by the canal. Before departing from the Peak district, we went to Bakewell, home of the famous Bakewell puddings. The aroma of freshly-baked cakes floated out even before we entered. The delicious cake melted in our mouths.
I promised Hazel to return to the Peaks on a Monday, when the markets were open, next time we returned to the UK.
We dropped in at Eyam where in 1665, the villagers chose to isolate themselves at home rather than travel and take the plague to surrounding villages.
Easter Monday, found us at Warwick Castle. Knights, knaves and kitchen maids went about their chores, seemingly oblivious of wide-eyed tourists. A sea of colourful tents lent an air of authenticity to the atmosphere. A procession of knights in armour filed past. A mock battle followed.
From Chester, the train passed through wild country. We disembarked at Carlisle where Royal Doulton plates decorated with fairies covered the walls of the Bed-and-Breakfast.
‘We’re in fairyland,’ I whispered, and Hazel smiled back, an enchanted look in her eyes.
The weather was sunny and mild. At Carlisle Castle, we visited the Military Museum where Hazel bought K.W.Cooper’s book about his experience in Burma during World War II as a Border Guard.
The following morning we boarded a train to Haltwhistle. Once there, we took a taxi to Hadrian’s Wall and had lunch at the ruins of a Roman garrison.
At the Lakes District, Peter Rabbit and other characters came to life at Beatrix Potter’s World in Bowness. After taking a tour in a double-decker bus, we alighted at Ambleside and had a pleasant walk in the village. Grassmere and Windermere were overflowing with tourists. We rambled in the same pristine places that inspired Wordsworth. The scenery was exquisite, leaving us longing for more. But time was running out.
We departed for Inverness the next morning, enjoying the scenic rail trip past snow-capped mountains. On arrival, we took a tour to Lockness, hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive monster. We wandered along the banks of the river as far as the Ness Islands.
Next day, we departed on the early train to Lochlalsh, passing snowy mountains dotted with pines and clear lakes. At Lochlalsh we boarded a bus to Skye, made famous by the Skye song which I’d learned as a child.
Our final day at Inverness was one of the finest days we had in Britain. We took the train to Golspie and hiked on the path by the sea to Dunrobin Castle, home of Lord and Lady Sutherland. Our childhood dreams of fairy tales and knights came alive at our first glimpse of the fairy-tale castle perched on the hills.
The furnishings were exquisite, the gardens charming. We wandered around, calling to mind another garden in Adelaide, where we had rambled together, lost to everything else.
After cake and coffee at the castle-restaurant, we returned to Golspie via the woods. We then embarked on the train back to Inverness, charmed by the hospitality of the Highlanders, the beauty of the land and the fine weather.
Nottingham welcomed us with a shower of rain. My cousin Paul was at the station to greet us. Uncle Clarence met us at Paul’s place. He was thin and tall with snowy, white hair and clear blue eyes suffused with kindness. My fondness for him grew each time we met. We had a family gathering, getting to know Paul, June and Geoffrey a bit more.
In our previous trip, Clarence had taken us to Orlando Drive where Mum was born. Now he drove us to Sherwood Forest. The great oak still stood, its large horizontal branches propped up by beams like the crutches of an old man. The tree is reputed to be over one thousand four hundred years in age.
We bid Clarence good-bye and headed for London and Dover. At Dover Castle we entered the secret wartime tunnels.
We spent our last days in London to the Portabella markets and Petticoat Lane. Here Hazel went insane buying souvenirs.
(Excerpt from ‘A Damn Good Life’ by Hazel Barker)
Link to www.bbw.org.au
Link to www.walkingenglishman.com