<I could not keep away long from the land of my birth. I thought of the beauty of England, of the winding roads and hedgerows with its lovely green fields and returned two years later in 2000. We combined a visit to England with a tour of Italy and Ireland, visiting Dublin and the shrine at Knock.
Hazel was enchanted with the green planes, green buses and green letter boxes. She kept looking around in the hope of seeing a leprechaun but it evaded her. It was the day after the feast of St. Patrick, and we were amazed to witness the aftermath of the celebrations.
On the way to our hotel, we sidestepped signs of the previous day’s drinking revelry. Hazel had attended a school run by Irish nuns, and loved their sense of humour. She always associated St. Pat’s day with the colour green—green clothing, leprechauns and shamrocks. Now she threaded her way nauseated by the sour smell of vomit.
When she met the friendly people of Ireland, however, it reminded her of her days in Burma with the missionary nuns.
We had sufficient time for a half-day tour of Dublin and viewed the Book of Knells at Trinity College. After visiting the crystal factory at Waterford and Kilkenny Castle, the bus stopped for the night at Killarney. The following day we passed through Cork and visited the famous Blarney Castle, kissing the Blarney Stone and buying souvenirs from the Woollen Mills.
‘Famine walls’ and ‘famine houses’, relics of the Potato Famine, were dotted all over Ireland.
The coach drove through the Ring of Kerry, which reminded us of the Snowy Mountains in Australia. Then we went on to Limerick, home of Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis.
We arrived at Galway Bay in time for lunch.
At Knock, we stopped at the Basilica of Our Lady of Knock. Our only regret was that we could not stay longer.
We returned to Dublin after a week. After two more days at Dublin visiting a Whisky distillery and having dinner at Temple Bar, we flew back to England. From Stansted airport, we caught the train to Nottingham and booked in at the Gresham Hotel where Saturday night brought couples for naughty weekends.
Uncle Clarence, looked slightly thinner, but still held himself tall and straight. He picked us up to meet my youngest cousin, Matthew, born since our last visit.
Using Nottingham as our base, we embarked on the train to Matlock and walked along the Limestone Trail to Abraham’s Heights. Returning via the Derwent Valley Walk on the Derbyshire Downs, we listened to the chatter of chaffinch. Bluetit and blackbirds regaled us.
The next morning we had dinner at the Magna Carta Hotel. Uncle Clarence, who was usually reserved about his past, spoke to Hazel of his work in China during World War II. When war broke out in 1939, he had registered as a conscientious objector and joined the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, a Quaker organisation, and was based in the city of Kunming, in Yunnan province, near the Burmese border. He was still a pacifist and, although over eighty years old, he and his son, Paul, worked as ministers in the Church of Christ.
The epitome of kindness, Clarence was always ready to do good for others. It was a pleasure to meet him each time we returned to England.
With regret, we said goodbye, little knowing he’d pass away in less than a year.
We left Nottingham for Shrewsbury, a typical Tudor town, stopping at the loveliest B & B on the banks of the River Severn. Our host, David Tudor, a retired school principal, treated us to a lavish breakfast in an exquisite setting, replete with silverware.
Taking a train to Great Malvern the following morning, we climbed North Hill through pockets of snow still left from the last snowfall. We had an equally delightful time at Knighton, in Wales, hiking along the Offa’s Dyke Pass.
On the way back, we stopped, mystified by an unusual sound in the woods. To our delight, a woodpecker was hard at work, tapping at a hollow in a tree. Songsters sang for us. Thrilled, we took another walk along a nature trail in the Rea Valley.
Next day we had a glass of the healing waters in the Pump Room at Bath and did a genteel ‘turn’ around the Assembly Rooms. After buying souvenirs at the Jane Austen shop, we returned to London via Bournemouth and the New Forest.
Before commencing the Italian tour, we visited the Barbican and the Hoe where Francis Drake played bowls at Plymouth.
Then we proceeded on to Penzance. At Westbury, to our surprise and delight, the famous White Horse carved into the hills stood out clearly, as the train passed.
The next day we flew from Heathrow to Rome, where we commenced our wonderful week’s tour of Italy. On our return to London, we visited Churchill’s War Cabinet Room, the Grenadier Guards’ Museum and the National War. Finally, we went to the home of Charles Dickens.
I felt a tug at my heartstrings when we boarded the plane for Australia.
Excerpt from A Damn Good Life by Hazel Barker
p>Colin and Hazel