I left Denver, Colorado for Manchester, England on Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015. Lela, Brian and Bryla got me to Denver International Airport in plenty of time to make a 10:30am flight to Chicago. It’s only a 2 hour flight from Denver to Chicago where there was to be a short layover and then a 7 hour flight to Manchester. First flight was uneventful, arriving in Chicago a few minutes early, giving me plenty of time to find the gate for my next flight. O’Hare is laid out in such a fashion that finding gates is easy so I was where I needed to be in plenty of time.
And I mean plenty of time. The layover was scheduled to be a little over 2 hours. We were to board at 4:15pm. Tom Eckler, on his way to his parent’s home in upstate NY also had a layover at the same time and he looked me up. It was nice to see him; a friendly face in a strange town is always welcome. However, I kept looking at the time, noticing that it was 4:30 and we hadn’t been called for boarding yet. Thinking I’d be boarding soon, Tom left. Thinking I’d be boarding soon, I ran to grab a new pair of reading glasses, mine having broken when going through TSA in Denver. Not their fault, just happenstance. And thinking I’d be boarding soon I hurried back.
I returned just in time to hear that there was a delay due to a mechanical issue with the plane. It turned out to be a lengthy delay. We finally boarded at around 7:00pm. The delay had been caused by a fault in the air conditioning. They must have fixed it really well; the temperature in the plane couldn’t have been higher than 60 degrees for the entire trip to England. One more issue before we left: the tug pushed the plane away from the gate and then couldn’t be detached from the plane. It was 40 minutes before we were set free. But set free we were, to head toward the green isle of England.
Set free in the flying iceberg. It was danged cold in the plane; I mean danged cold. I offered the lady next to me $35 for her blanket. After about an hour she gave me back the money and demanded her blanket. It took both economy class and one first class stewardess to separate us as we brawled for the somewhat dubious warmth of the paper thin blanket. But at least I was warm from the heat of battle for awhile. That is until the sweat began to freeze onto my body. Under the armpits was particularly uncomfortable. I huddled under the remaining blanket, reading, attempting to ignore the ice that wouldn’t melt from my body. First time on a plane that I’ve not asked for more ice for a drink. When I needed more ice I just chipped it from my forehead.
Despite the physically uncomfortable circumstances it wasn’t hard to find pleasant things on the journey. For example, as we approached the coast of Ireland we flew through cloud formations that were incredible. I couldn’t help but compare them to the slot canyons of Northern Arizona, in fact they looked just like them with the exception that it was shades of white instead of shades of red. The light playing off of the edges of the clouds made some look almost golden while other areas were gray. There were layers very much like the layers of sandstone of the slot canyons. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful.
The clouds broke a little as we approached England and I was able to see the landscape of the country. Rolling hills covered in green. There is no way to describe the shades of green. As far as the eye could see was green of every shade imaginable. Sparsely dotted among the green were dots of brown, black and white. Those were the cattle and sheep. Again, beautiful. I have a feeling that word will come up a lot in this narrative.
Landing was uneventful, it was the part where we had to stand up to get off the plane that was eventful. Groans of pain were heard throughout the aircraft. Part of the pain was having to take the blanket off in order to gather the things around us. When the captain had come on to tell us the temperature in Manchester there were cheers and huzzahas. (We’re in England, there has to be huzzahas.) The temperature was 59 which had to be at least 27 degrees higher than the temperature in the plane. Did I mention that the plane was cold, danged cold?
I needed to get off the plane in Manchester and get on the train to Carlisle. The train station is just a third of a mile or so from the terminal but of course I needed to check through Customs first. My concern was walking from the landing gate to the back of the line. It seems that a combination of old, cold and sitting for a long time had taken away my ability to walk a straight line. I’m sure the people behind me walking to customs thought I’d imbibed too many bottles of Scotch whisky on the airplane; weaving from side to side seemed to make the most sense. And walking straight was out of the question. In the several hundred yard journey I had to stop three times to get my bearings. I didn’t need the rest; I needed to figure out the best path around obstacles. Obstacles that weren’t there for people who could walk a straight line.
But I made it to customs where a particularly cheerless man quizzed me mercilessly about my reasons for being in his country. Where I intended to stay, who I would be with, what color of hair I had, what toothpaste I used and was I wearing one blue and one black sock. I tried to be pleasant with my answers but decided that he didn’t care for pleasant. I ended up using one word answers which seemed to please him and the questions got shorter. Evidently I passed the audition because he reluctantly stamped my passport and let me pass. More walking ensued. I was only slightly better at walking but I managed to get out of the terminal and find my way to the ticket booth for buying a train ticket.
It was about 7 minutes to 10, the train left at 10 and I had an 8 minute walk to the train. It would have been a 4 minute walk for most folk but with my then current instability it was looking like an 8 minute walk. I hustled to the train, jumped on the first car I came to, asked a young lady sitting there if it was the train to Carlisle, (See the entry about me going to Turin via Milan) and after an affirmative answer plopped into the first seat available. 40 seconds later the door closed and the train left the station.
It was several minutes before I noticed that the seat had a “Reserved” sticker nailed to the back of it. I pressed the afore mentioned young lady into service again by asking about the reserved part. She was so polite when she answered, I’m sure she told me that I’d need to move, but I have no idea what she said. Lovely voice, almost lilting. And she was probably speaking English, but I couldn’t translate in my head what my ears were hearing. In any event, at the first stop some folk came and told me I was in their seat. Or at least I think that’s what they said. Regardless, I got up, they sat where I had been and I found another seat. Of course it was also reserved. A nice young lady came by to check tickets and I told her I had no idea where I should be sitting. Again, I’m sure she told me where to sit but since I don’t understand the language I don’t really know what she said. I sat where I was until the next stop when some folk got on and indicated that I was in their seat. I moved again. This time however, seats had opened up in the place where there were no reserved stickers on them so I made my way up there. That meant that at that point I only needed to worry about making sure I was actually on the right train and getting off in Carlisle. I was and I did.
When I got off in Carlisle I was looking for two lovely ladies, Linda and Juli. I saw Juli first so she got a hug, wanting one or not. Then Linda turned to see us and like in the commercials we ran and jumped into each other’s arms. Well, I guess not really, I haven’t run in years and my arms were full of baggage. But when Linda ran to me I dropped the bags and gave her a kiss to go along with the hug. It really was good to see her. They had parked several miles from the station thinking that I’d want some exercise after sitting for so long. I may have needed it but I didn’t want it. I got it regardless. But there I was, walking along an English street, dodging Japanese cars driving on the wrong side of the road. How great is that?! We found the rental car and set out toward the living quarters, but first…
We wandered through Carlisle for a bit, seeing old churches, homes and stores that have been open since the ‘70s; the 1870s. As we arrived in Brampton, the town in which our cottage is located, Linda pulled over so that we could go into the supermarket. I guess she and Juli looked at my size and said, “We’d better stock up.” So I wandered the supermarket. The supermarket has 5 aisles and the back where the meat counter is. About the size of a 3 bay garage. Well stocked with stuff I don’t know what is, but lots of it. I figured out that a crisp is a chip. I figured it out because there are pictures of potato chips on the bag. And Doritos are called Doritos, meaning I could figure that one out pretty easily. Coca Cola is the same in any language and I found Snickers bars so I’ve got all I need. Linda and Juli bought some stuff that I still haven’t figured out but it tastes pretty good so I don’t care what it is.
After a few more minutes of driving we came to our abode. Great place. The cottages are converted barns, long and narrow. Constructed of rock squared up and made flat. The walls are 3 feet thick. They’ve added sheetrock to the inside, attached a living room and a solarium on the outside and made them very nice. Modern appliances and fixtures to go along with the rustic atmosphere. We are very comfortable.
We went for a walk around the property where the cottages are located. It is a working sheep ranch with a few cattle included. We found raspberries and currants growing wild along the path so Juli and Linda picked some. We brought them home and after washing, they tasted quite good.
Friday was a sleep-until-nine day; probably in sympathy for my recent 36 hour marathon of no sleep. The day’s plans were to go to Hadrian’s Wall and we figured the wall had been there for nigh on 2000 years, it wasn’t going to go away if we showed up a little later in the morning. Sure enough, when we got to a portion of the wall that Linda wanted to show me it was still there. And it was spectacular. To think that the Roman Emperor Hadrian, had this wall constructed beginning in the year 122 A.D. and it is still visible is quite amazing. The wall is about 75 miles long, stretching between two narrow points of the island. At its zenith it was about 8 feet high and as much as 8 feet wide. There were forts and watchtowers placed along the way, usually ¼ mile apart, about a mile between forts. Many of the foundations of the forts are still visible. We stopped at one of the most well preserved in the area where I was able to get an idea of what went on there.
There is a museum of the Roman history in England and specifically Hadrian’s Wall not far from where we are, so Linda took us there. Again, I learned a lot and enjoyed the visit very much. I can’t help but think of my brother who has always had an interest in the Roman Empire as well as medieval English history. It all comes to life here. My sister lives not far from where the annual Renaissance Festival is held in Arizona and loves the history she finds there; she would like it here too.
We came back in the early evening to relax and play cards. Cribbage is our game of choice, each of us won a game but we spent hours talking, getting to know and understand each other better. Juli in particular is going through a rough spot in life so Linda and I spent time listening to her so that we can relate to what she says more thoroughly. It was a few hours well spent. In fact the entire day was well spent.
Saturday we started at the Farmer’s Market in Brampton. Local merchants selling different types of farm goods. Cheeses, vegetables, fruits, honey, styles of mustard and jams and jellies. Lots of fun. Linda and I tried lots of different cheeses and bought a semi-soft cheese with a mild smoky flavor. I like it more than Lin so I’ll end up eating most of it. Somebody’s gotta do the hard part. I’ve been looking for some lemon curd spread and hoped I’d run across some at the market but didn’t. I’ll keep looking and be glad if I find some.
We saw a sign for a motorcycle museum so we wandered about until we found it. As we drove by there was a guy in coveralls in front of the place but the sign said it was closed. We turned around and as we drove by again Linda stopped and the guy in coveralls said something to her. She said we were a little disappointed about the museum being closed and he said, “Well, come on in, I’ll open it for you.” Turns out that he’s the proprietor and the museum is housed in one of his garage workshops. He is quite a character. The bikes were great to look at but listening to him was even more of a treat. He’s Scottish, with the great accent and the phrases to go along.
He told us stories about racing on the Isle of Mann; the TT races, the hack races and the short track races. He’s won quite a few and without boasting told us about them. He has also raced all over England and has the hardware to prove it. Mostly on Triumphs and BSAs, but also on a Ducati and even an older Honda 250. The highlight for me is that there are two automobiles in the place, one an Austin A40, the other a Jaguar Mk IX, Mike let me sit in the Jag; what a treat. Try that at any other museum. I loved the car; the smell of the old leather was enough to send me into ecstasy. I’ll admit that it was a bit of a challenge getting in with that giant steering wheel being so close to the seat, but after I got in I fit just fine. Yes kids, you can buy me a Jag. One of those days that will stay with me for a long time and the adventure wasn’t really the things we saw it was, as usual, the people we came in contact with.
After our adventure with Mike Barry, we decided to wander up to Scotland so the ladies could take me to lunch at a cute little place they found last week. The scenery on the trip was fantastic. The usual green hills filled with sheep but also some forests so dense I’m sure a mouse would get lost. If Robin Hood was riding through this forest he had to have the Merry Men in front of him chopping a path. Lunch was nice, I had fish and chips. Haddock this time and I’ll try some cod for the authentic English Fish and Chips experience when I can find some. Juli ordered a Panini with cheddar and haggis so of course I had to try haggis. Not bad. Has a taste and texture similar to a breakfast sausage. But then again, also the texture of firm rice. I don’t know; hard to describe. I’ll try it again just to see if it’s good or bad.
Sunday was a trip south to the Lake District. We went all the way to the far end of the district to Windemere. Lo and behold there’s a car museum near Windemere. I don’t know how that happened. I mean, it’s not like I planned it or anything…. Fortunately there is a great tea room overlooking a nice river that the ladies could enjoy while I enjoyed the cars and motorcycles. Great cars and bikes. Quite a few in the place and I took lots of pictures. I couldn’t help but think of my brother when looking at the bikes. Like at Mike Barry’s place the day before, there were lots of BSAs, Triumphs and other British bikes similar to what Jeff and his friends drove when I was younger. Even some Vincents, including a Black Shadow. Loved the place and loved reminiscing in my head about Jeff, Fred and Vic in the old days. Life is good now but it was good then too.
After the museum we went around the bottom of the lake and turned north. Great scenery all the way up. We stopped in this little town called Keswick where there was a festival of some sort going on. A pedestrian street with lots of shops and fun things to see. Fun was had by all.
Monday we got up early for our drive to Edinburgh. The “burgh” part is pronounced bur-ah, not burg as in Pittsburgh. And if you pronounce it wrong someone will tell you about it. From where we are in Brampton, near Carlisle, it’s about a 2.5 hour drive to Edinburgh. We parked the car just outside of the main city and grabbed a bus to the city center. The day was rainy and misty and quite cold. So what? We were dressed for it and it didn’t really bother us. As we approached the city center we were awed by the majesty of the sights. And then we caught sight of Edinburgh Castle and were blown away. It is set on a rather high hill and I assumed the bus would take us up to the top of the hill. Oh no, it didn’t; it let us off at the bottom. We had to climb the mountain in order to see the castle. But that’s one of the reasons we came: to see the castle. (And to shop along the Royal Mile; there are shops selling fudge along the Royal Mile.) So we climbed a rather steep walkway and then came to the steps leading through a close to the castle. I forgot to count the steps but I’ve determined a mathematical formula to figure out how many steps there are: Determine the actual difference in height between the top of where you want to go, and the bottom of where you are going, in this case about a thousand feet. Look straight ahead with your right hand under your nostrils, parallel to the ground. Then look up to the top of the steps. Take note of the angle created by your right hand and your nostrils in the upturned position. Then multiply that number by your age, and add seventeen for each time you stop to catch your breath on the way up, then multiply that by the number of rude danged teenagers who have no sympathy for the old man and push past him on the way up. So in my case there are 93,234 steps up to the street level. Obviously it took awhile, but I made it.
And I’m glad I did. The last 10,000 steps were made easier because I was drawn by the sound of pipes wafting down the close. As I crested the last of the steps I looked to my right to see the piper in full kilt regalia playing a beautiful set of pipes. I had to listen for awhile and of course I put a few pounds in the piper’s box. I found the ladies heading to the castle entrance and hustled a little catch up. Turns out I needed have hurried; we waited in several ques before we could enter the castle proper. It was fun watching and listening to the folk in line. There were folk of every ilk. I think the two young couples directly in front of us were from a Baltic country. There were Asians, Indians, Scandinavians, other Europeans, Americans and others whose origin I couldn’t determine. All going to see the sights at the castle. Which indeed, we did. Great fun and swell stuff to see. I especially enjoyed the Scottish Military Museum and the history of the Scots in WWI and WWII.
Upon leaving the castle we strolled the Royal Mile. I had been commissioned to buy a scarf for a friend so we went into the largest place selling Scottish regalia. Found some great stuff, some of which we bought. Loved the place and would have loved to buy more; cashmere is really soft. And expensive. We stopped in a couple of more shops including a fudge shop before heading toward the bus stop. We did end up going by a store with a nice shirt displayed in the window. My dear wife saw the shirt and decided I needed one. I ended up with one. While we were looking at shirts, Juli found the type of wallet I use. I’ve been looking for a replacement for the one I got in Florence several years ago. The one Juli found is leather and tightly woven wool, very nice. Lin bought me that along with the shirt. I’m being spoiled. But I could get used to it.
Our return from Edinburgh included a stop at Rosslyn Chapel, late of fame in the Dan Brown book, The Da Vinci Code. Even after seeing all the great stuff in Edinburgh, this was the highlight of my day. Great history and an interesting building. I liked hearing about the construction, the decline and the refurbishment of the building.
Our final stop of the day was to grab me some fish and chips. Finally got some authentic take-away style fish and chips. I thought the fish was better than anything I’ve ever gotten in the States and the chips were really good. If I have the chance I’ll grab more chips. They weren’t crispy like I prefer them but the flavor was really good. Juli wasn’t as impressed but she likes dark chocolate so you know her palate isn’t as sophisticated as mine; you can’t judge anything by her tastes.
Tuesday was a lay-back day. A quick trip to grab me some Coke and once over to a gift shop along Hadrian’s wall where I picked up a puzzle that I saw on our first visit but didn’t grab. Cribbage, naps, reading and talking were the course of the day. For dinner we went into Brampton to a nice luxury pub. The ladies had some vegetable soup that didn’t look like vegetable soup. It was a thick, almost paste like substance that they both said tasted very good. Not what they were expecting but good. I had some “triple cooked chips,” meaning that they were actually crisp on the outside. The flavor wasn’t as good as Monday night’s but they were crisp. If we could get the flavor of Monday night’s in the crisp chips from this night it would be fantastic. Interesting how texture has so much to do with the perception of food. Finished the night by continuing my John Grisham novel.
Wednesday included more touring. We went to a cheese maker where Juli bought some truly awful cheese. She tasted it, had me taste it, and then she bought some. I bought a Coke to try and rinse the awful taste from my mouth. See, I told you Juli has no sophistication in her palate. She bought an entire round of the stuff, probably 6 pounds of it. I suppose she can use it for catching mice or something, humans wouldn’t eat the stuff. Especially when there were so many good choices. There are small cheese makers in lots of places, each one seemingly specializing in a particular style of cheese. Some do hard rind cheeses, some the softer white cheeses and some goat cheeses. Others of course as well. But the place where Juli bought her round had several nice cheeses that didn’t taste awful. I’ll have to help her understand that cheese is supposed to taste good, not awful. It may be a challenge; she’s a stubborn woman.
The ladies had scheduled a proper English High Tea for Wednesday afternoon. They politely asked if I would like to accompany them but I could tell it was an invitation made out of obligation. I realized that they would be dressing up and they didn’t really want me to go, knowing that I’d wear the hat from Edinburgh with the horns and the red hair sticking out from underneath. Hey, where you gonna wear that kind of hat if not at High Tea? They would have wanted me to take off my shirt that says “I wish the English would speak English” and I wasn’t prepared to do that. So for my dinner, I went back to the fish and chips place and grabbed another authentic order, after which we went back to the cottage where I enjoyed the evening relaxing while they had to sit and be proper in a formal room and be served little sandwiches from a tiered platter. And then little desserts on a different tiered platter. They had to be stuffy while I got to be relaxed. In reality, I have experienced High Tea and really enjoyed it. But I just don’t eat much and I thought the ladies might enjoy a final evening to themselves before we left the country.
Speaking of which, Thursday morning we packed the rental car with the luggage and Linda drove us back to Carlisle. After turning in the car, we went to the train station to catch a train to Manchester. Linda had properly surmised that in would be less stressful to spend a night in Manchester, catching our flight the next morning. It would have been difficult had we tried to do it all in one day. Besides, we got to see a little of Manchester that we wouldn’t have otherwise. Linda had found us a hotel just .03 miles from the train station and since the train station is in the same complex as the airport we figured it would work well. Turns out that there is more than one train station in Manchester and although we were only .03 miles from one, it was the wrong one. We grabbed a cab and headed to the hotel. The hotel was situated in a neat area where there are some fun shops and nice restaurants. We walked the area a bit and then had lunch at a very nice Italian themed place. I hit a grocery store to grab a soft drink to sip as I read in bed, waiting to go to sleep.
Friday morning was the rush to get to the airport. Why is it that people rush to the airport and then practically run to get their bags checked and go through TSA? We were two hours early and I didn’t see the need to run. I lagged far behind Juli but ended up in the same place at about the same time. And after my last experience in an airliner I wasn’t sure I wanted to rush to get on one anyway. This time I dressed the part though; sweater over a shirt and jacket in my carry on. Hat too; don’t want the heat escaping through an uncovered head. (You can read “bald” into that last sentence.) And plenty of cash to offer people on the airplane for their blankets. And brass knuckles just in case. This time I wasn’t going to suffer the indignity of being beaten up by a 60 year old rather stout British lady.
We flew from Manchester to Philthydelphia. The plane wasn’t quite a cold as the last one and I was able to keep all my cash. Pretty much uneventful flight. I started The Inferno by Dan Brown Thursday night so I kept busy reading all the way. Had to go through customs in Philthydelphia. Is it just me or do the personnel at customs, regardless of country, all seem to be grouchy? Not quite true; there was one fun lady trying to keep all of us in the proper line when we had to go through security check again. We didn’t understand the need to do it again because we’d gone through it a few hours earlier in Manchester. But we did it all again and no one had any nefarious items that we saw. Doesn’t mean they didn’t have any, just that we didn’t see it. One minor glitch was that I had to do the body X-ray thing three times. I guess they just couldn’t believe that a man of my age and in my state of body degradation would have the nerve to fly. After the third time of being X-rayed a supervisor ran over, looked at me and said, “Now we’ll have to recalibrate the machine.” I’m not sure exactly what that meant or what my role in it was, but I did eventually get to pass beyond the veil into the area with the elite who had gone through with no hassles.
Neither flight of the day was nearly as cold as the previous “Flight of the frozen”. In fact, as the first officer told us of the weather conditions in Phoenix, where we were about to land, I realized that maybe I was a little overdressed for 105 degrees. I peeled off the sweater and stuffed it in my bag.
Aaron Brewster kindly picked us up at Sky Harbor. We dropped Juli at her mother’s and we found our way to Mesa to spend a couple of nights with the kids.
It was a wonderful trip, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Or maybe several months. It’ll take me several years to pay off just my part of the trip but it was well worth it. We made home base by 9pm Sunday night, tired but glad for the adventure. Of course, for me the best part, aside from being with Linda, was Hadrian’s Wall, with Rosslyn Chapel and Edinburgh coming close second. Anyone who enjoys travel would have fun and learn some history if they made the same journey.