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Great Britain-- Castles, Countryside & Capitols



Five Grannies left Billings on April 20, flying through Minneapolis with a very short stop in Amsterdam airport.  We arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Friday April 21, and met with only 11 other fellow travelers and our wonderful Mayflower guide, Barnaby Davies.  Our hotel in Edinburgh was located in Old Town right on Grassmarket Square.  The Square served as a produce and livestock market, gathering place, and public execution arena for villagers, and is right below Edinburgh Castle.


On Saturday the 22nd, our City Tour Guide was Allen McDonald—and he wore a kilt.  However, we never did find out what Scotsmen wore under their kilts—no matter how much we offered him!!  Edinburgh has been dubbed a World City of Literature by UNESCO.  We learned that many famous people were born in Edinburgh—Alexander Graham Bell; Robert Lewis Stevenson, Robert Burns (who wrote Auld Lang Syne); and Sir Walter Scott (who wrote Rob Roy and Ivanhoe) just to name a few.  The Royal Mile lies on one side of Old Town—from Holyrood Palace (the Queen’s official residence in July) to Edinburgh Castle which dates back to the 12th century.


After a great pizza lunch and replenishing our fluid intake, we went on a Harry Potter guided walking tour and saw the cemetery where author JK Rowling came up with a couple names from the Series.  We also saw where her children went to school (the school which Hogwarts is loosely based upon) and shopped on Victoria Street (on which Diagon Alley is based).   We ate at a darling Irish Pub (yes, Irish—“…Biddy Mulligan's has become world renowned for its authentic Irish atmosphere, it's rip roaring live music).


Interesting Tidbits:  →On our city tour, we noticed that the windows in some homes had bricked-up window spaces.  Our Guide explained it came about as the result of a window tax (levied by England, Wales, France and Scotland and repealed in 1865), dubbed by residents as Daylight Robbery.  


Sunday April 23:  Today we drove to Manchester, England, and took the scenic route past Hadrian’s Wall and through Gretna Green, but not before we were treated to a farewell serenade by a kilted bagpiping Scotsman at the Scotland/England border.  


In 122 a.d., the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall.  The wall was initially built up to a height of 15 feet in places and interspersed with mile-castles (the one that we stopped at was Chester’s Roman Fort; 500 men were housed here).  The wall was made of stacked stones, and there is an 84-mile walking/biking path alongside the wall itself. 


Our next stop was Gretna Green—one of the most famous marriage sites in the world.  Its popularity came about from Lord Hardwicke signing the 1754 Marriage Act, requiring the legal age of marriage to be 21 (from the earlier 14 for boys and 12 for girls) in England and Wales.  Thus started the commercial enterprise of eloping across the border to Gretna Green, Scotland.


On our way to the scenic region in northwestern England (Cumbria County) known as the Lake District, we were shown where William Wordsworth was buried and enlightened on his literary life and also that of Beatrix Potter. 


Monday April 24:  Today we drove east to the walled city of York. This city has been inhabited by Romans, Danes, Vikings, and lastly British.  Most of the walls around the city are still standing and one can almost walk completely around York.  York streets are located upon what the Romans called The Shambles—very narrow alleyways, reminiscent of butcher shops and markets.  Clifford’s Tower is all that is left of York Castle, and in 1190 a.d. was used as refuge by hundreds of Jews escaping anti-Semitic riots in the city.


Tuesday April 25:  Today we left Manchester and drove south, arriving at Stratford-upon-Avon to tour the most famous house in town—the birthplace and childhood home of William Shakespeare.  Guides on this house tour were dressed in time-appropriate attire, and outside was a local Thespian waxing prolific some of the Bard’s more famous speeches. 


Leaving Stratford, we stopped for tea in a little village called Broadway in the Cotswolds.  Basically, Cotswolds refers to an area of limestone hills containing small villages, supposedly built by wealthy cloth merchants between the 14th and 16th centuries.  We arrived at Cardiff, capital of Wales. 


Wednesday April 26:  Today, before exploring Cardiff Castle, we took a city tour..  Deep coal mining peaked in 1913; the last of the deep pit coal mines closed in 2008. To the northwest of Cardiff, the city of Swansea was a large copper producer.  During World War II, 33,000 houses were bombed and 400 civilians killed in Cardiff and the docks were bombed.  The Royal Mint is also located in Cardiff; all British (pound) coins and paper money are made here. 


Cardiff Castle, the political, geographical and historical heart of the city, is another original fort built by the Romans. 


Interesting Tidbit →King Edward 1st, who won his war with Wales in the 1270’s, decreed forever that the Monarch’s 1st born son would be Prince of Wales.


Thursday April 27:  Today we set out toward London, via Stonehenge and Windsor Castle.  Archeologists still  argue over whether it was a place of sacrifice or a calendar, and who built it.  Science has proven:  The smaller 3-ton stones came from 150 miles away in the Welsh mountains; the pits believed to have held the largest stones (25 tons) were found 20 miles away; calculations are that it took 200 people 12 days to move one of these stones.


We picked up our Windsor Castle guide on the way from Stonehenge to the Castle (which is 21 miles west of London).  He was the second or third guide we picked up at a station—which I thought was so cool to be able to just jump on a train and be where you needed to be without hassling with traffic or parking!!  We were told to think of Buckingham Palace as the Queen’s office and Windsor Castle her home. 


Friday April 28:  We spent today in London—the most multicultural city in the world, with 300 nationalities and 175 languages.  We learned there are more American banks in London than in New York.  On our sightseeing tour, we saw the Tower of London, famous as a place of imprisonment, death and other gory events; and nearby the remains of a Roman wall—estimated to be built in the late 2nd or early 3rd century—around what was once called Londinium.  There is enough of the wall left in the city to see during what is called a London Wall city walk tour.  We drove past Westminster Abbey—home to royal weddings and funerals; there is also a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., above the west entrance.  The Abbey is also home to the Tomb of the Unknown, and holds the remains of a British soldier brought back from France and laid to rest on November 11, 1920 (Armistice Day).  No family in Britain was unaffected by World War I.  Think about that statement.  Across from Westminster is Parliament Square, which holds statues of Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, and Mahatma Gandhi—very impressive.   We had a photo stop at Buckingham Palace and saw the Queen Victoria Memorial and the 2nd floor window from which we’ve seen the Royal Family televised on various occasions.  The Grannies split up and some headed to Kensington Palace to see Lady Diana’s dresses on display while I challenged myself to navigate the Tube.  We ended our tour with a farewell dinner at an out-of-the-way place (literally…):  Kings Head - Fuller's Pub & Restaurant in Earl's Court.


Saturday April 29:  Good bye to Great Britain!


This tour was a wonderful introduction to Great Britain’s capitals and countrysides.  As those of you who have gone on “whirlwind” tours before, you know the feeling of “I wish we could have spent more time at the individual sites.     (Written by Theresa F. and condensed by Global Grannies office)