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Spring Break Diaries: Days 12-14, the Borders and the Lake District

[Warning: this post is filled with stories of Scottish and English History]

[Warning: it is SUUUUUPPPPER long]

                -feel free to skip through and read what interests you

My next stop on my tour of Britain was the Borders and the Lake District. This tour would take me to places of great inspiration where some of the greatest writers, poets, and artist have come and lived, and I would follow their footsteps to see what they saw and feel what they might have felt.

I once again booked this tour through Rabbie’s, but this time it departed out of Edinburgh. The tour included: Steve the funny Scottish tour guide, Neal the English guide (there to help and keep Steve from picking on the English), a sweet retired couple from Texas, and a woman on tour from Switzerland. The cast was set and we were off.

Day 1

Our guide loved to tell stories and as we left Edinburgh he told us the abridged but more accurate version of William Wallace, Freedom Fighter, not the one Mel Gibson told in Braveheart. Little is known about the beginnings of William Wallace’s life so I don’t know how accurate this story is until the Battle of Sterling Bridge.

The Story of William Wallace

William Wallace was born into a wealthy family by 13th century standards. That pretty much meant that his family owned land and animals. He never knew his mother for she died in child birth, so he grew up with his brothers and fathers. The English were invading and wrestling for control of Scotland, and William’s brothers and father left to fight and defend. Sadly they never return and young William is left alone, orphaned and a seed of hatred for the English begins to take root in his heart.

William’s uncle then comes but he already has an heir, so as the spare William is sent to Dundee to take the cloth and become a priest.  William already belonged to the top 1% of his time, and in his studies through the church he learned to read, write, and speak four languages. He not only was one of the most privileged but also one of the most learned men of his time. For the majority of his adult life William Wallace is a priest. He stood above most men figuratively and literally. Legend holds that Wallace was 7ft tall, and most men of the time were 4ft 11in (they figured this based on his sword which was measured at 6ft 6in). Soon he was approached to join the Knights Templar and this is where William learns to fight.IMG_0827

One day when he is sparring William lands a punch on his opponent, but the strength of this giant is too great and the man is killed. William, a priest and man of God, had just committed murder. He is forced to leave and give up his profession; he is set adrift.  Then he meets Mary. Mary is a beautiful girl and love springs between the two. They wed and soon she is pregnant. Life is now good for William. He has a home and wife and a child on the way. So when the weather is ideal he leaves his home to go to a nearby loch to fish. On one such occasion he is coming home with his catch when two English soldiers appear on the road. The English had instilled a strong military presence in Scotland. The two soldiers ask about the fish and William points them in the direction of the loch, but the soldiers want William’s already caught fish. William had a choice to make to give up his dinner or fight. Well he wasn’t about to give anything of his to the English and so they fought.  During this fight William kills one of the Englishmen but the other gets away, and William is full of dread because killing an English solider is an act of treason; it is like an act against the King himself. To protect his family and life William heads north to hide. The sheriff and soldiers are unable to find him, so the sheriff resorts to the next best thing. Instead of finding William Wallace he will force William to return. The sheriff then captures the pregnant Mary and proceeds to torture, defile, and humiliate her until her spirit is completely broken and she is just an empty shell. He then drags Mary by the hair to the front of the village and gathers all of the people, finally he proceeds to speak loudly and tell graphically of all the atrocities he had performed and had others perform to her. Once this is done and the villagers look on, horrified, as the sheriff takes a knife and slits Mary’s throat.

Once Wallace hears of this his anger erupts. His hatred for the English reaches new heights, his vision turns red, and he vows to slay all of the English. His friends try to hold him back from his rampaging but Wallace is too strong; finally they resort to tying him to a tree for two days. Once Wallace’s anger is no longer blindly controlling him they release him from the tree. Wallace then gathers fifty men and trains them to fight. Wallace leadsIMG_1359 his band and massacres the English soldiers in the village. The sheriff sees the river of red English blood and throws himself at Wallace’s feet to beg for his life, but Wallace will show no mercy to the villain who slew his wife and unborn child. William Wallace gives the sheriff a painful death by slowly lowering him into a vat of boiling oil.

Once word of this reaches the English king, Edward I, he sends a cavalry of 300 strong and 10,000 foot soldiers to exterminate this nuisance of a rebellion. While the Scots had gathered 36 horsemen and 8000 foot soldiers. They would meet for battle at dawn; this is the first battle in the War of Independence, the Battle of Sterling Bridge. Wallace watches from the top of a hill as the English army slowly and carefully cross the wooden bridge to only to find themselves trapped on marshy ground. The Scots surrounded and cut off the bridge as an escape route and attacked the trapped Englishmen. Edward’s army was forced into the deep waters of the river and in one hour the Scots had cut down the English. The commander of the English army set the wooden bridge on fire to keep the Scots from following as they made their retreat. This great victory led to the outlaw, William Wallace, to becoming ‘Commander of the Army of the Kingdom of Scotland’, Wallace was now knighted and the Guardian of Scotland. The Scots are victorious and more men pick up arms to join the revolution, but Edward is furious and begins to lay waste to Scottish towns and villages. The nobility are united behind Edward and in the summer of 1298, King IMG_1387Edward marches his massive army counting well over 13,000 toward Wallace and the Scots at Falkirk. The Scots were grossly outnumbered, out classed, and under armed compared to the Edward’s army but they held their ground. (This is the famous battle scene from Braveheart.) The Scots formed schiltrons to stop the cavalry and the Welsh refused to attack. But when the Scottish nobles should have joined the fight, they turned on rode away, abandoning the battlefield. The English had a powerful new weapon, the longbow, and it was deadly. The iron-tipped arrows rained down and pierced through chainmail and armor. The Scots were falling and Edward sent in his knights to finish them off. Wallace managed to escape the carnage but the uprising was hacked into pieces.

Edward hated Wallace, whom had managed to defy him at every turn. A large price was put on Wallace’s head and an order was sent to the Scottish nobles to deliver Wallace to him. And on August 3, 1305 Wallace was captured and paraded, bound hand and foot, to London. Wallace was tried for murder and treason (which he denied for he never swore allegiance to Edward) and was to be given a traitor’s death- hung, drawn, and quartered. A huge jeering crowd surrounded Wallace as he was dragged through the muddy streets. He was hung four times, but still lived. He was then strapped down and disemboweled, but he still lived (barely). Wallace died by suffocation before his head was cut off. His arms and legs were sent to Scotland as a demonstration to the price of treason and his head was impaled on a pike above London Bridge. Wallace’s death sent a different message than what Edward intended. Instead of fear the Scots felt defiance and anger, and the story of William Wallace would move them to further their campaign for independence.

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We arrived at our first stop, Sir Walter Scott’s favorite view and the first William Wallace monument. Scott is one of the most celebrated Scottish writers and in Edinburgh has the largest monument for an author dedicated to him. Everyday Scott would ride his horse to IMG_0823this view and sit there for twenty minutes and take it in. Famously, during his funeral procession, his horse led a thousand people and stopped at this view for twenty minutes where no one could budge him and all of these people were forced to wait. Then a little further down the road is a pathway. If you take this pathway and hike for a few minutes you will come across a large statue. The statue is of Wallace and is hidden and disguised (a bit like a Roman solider) so as not to cause trouble from the English. There you can sign a book, like a geocache, or write a note. I just signed my name and dated it but there were some funny messages, phrases, and thoughtful notes.

Our next destination for day one was Jedburgh for a coffee and restroom stop, but mostly to see Queen Mary of Scots’ home.  It is free to walk inside and see the gardens. They have on view Mary’s death mask, her letters, and many important documents that influenced the course of her life and death. Like much of Scottish and English history the story of Queen Mary puts to shame the drama filled soap operas on day television.

A Bit of Mary’s Story

Almost from the day she is born Mary is the Queen. Her father, James V, died when she was just six days old. King Henry VIII wanted to engage Mary to his son Edward, but this was denied and for most of her life Mary is prosecuted by the English for they fear her claim to their throne. Mary was raised in the French court and married the heir to the throne. She became the queen of two nations, and became an even larger threat to the Tudors. When her husband died Mary returned to Scotland, but the Protestant influence had grown and the Calvinist preacher, John Knox, despised the beautiful, Catholic queen. To help keep the peace within her country Mary decides that her next husband will be Protestant, and marries her first cousin, Lord Henry Stewart. He is an English noble and also shares Tudor blood, so that if Mary decided to go after the English throne she would have a strong claim. The current queen, Elizabeth I, was seen by many (especially Catholics) as illegitimate and they wished to see Mary crowned both Queen of Scots and England. With this marriage Mary would find her doom.IMG_0850

There are many speculations on the events that next occurred but popular opinion is that Mary was involved in the murder of her second husband. This is what I was told on how events unfolded.

Mary is pregnant with the future king and her husband sees his power slipping away. He is jealous and angry when Mary won’t give him the right to succeed if she died without issue, and when Mary is entertaining her Italian secretary, David Rizzo, (who was also Catholic and disliked by the Protestants for they suspected him of being a papal agent) her husband storms in. He accuses Mary of adultery and famously drags Rizzo through Holyrood Palace and proceeds to have his cohorts stab Rizzo 56 times in front of Mary’s eyes while he holds her down.  Not yet done he beats Mary and almost kills her and their child all in the hope that she will miscarry so he can be king. But Mary survives. She realizes that to protect the life of her child that she must stop her husband, so she turns to the Scottish lords and James Hepburn, a Scotsman. Mary agreed to the plan to assassinate Henry as long as it couldn’t be traced back to her. Her husband though fell ill and Mary went to him. She wouldn’t let him near their newborn son but restated her commitment to him and left for a friend’s wedding. In the early hours of morning, a huge explosion brought down the lodgings Henry was staying in. Henry’s body was found dead in an adjacent orchard, unmarked by the explosion with only a clock, dagger, rope, and chair at the scene. Who really planned the murder and took part is unsolved, but popular opinion of the day laid blame on James as the chief murderer and Mary as his accomplice. Scandalously, three months after the death of husband number two, Mary married James Hepburn, her last husband. In one version James was already her lover and Mary was fulfilling her promise by marrying him and in another James abducts Mary without her consent and rapes her to rob her any alternative but marriage. An infuriated coalition of Protestant and Catholic nobles confronts the new couple and Mary is forced to abdicate her throne to her infant son and James flees the country (he later dies insane in a Danish debtor’s prison). Mary tries to seek sanctuary but none is found and she is imprisoned for 19 years by the English before the order is given to behead her for treason. Mary was an unwilling bystander that became trapped in a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, which led to her execution (Queen Elizabeth was reluctant to give the execution order for her cousin). Mary was never allowed to see her son again, and he was raised to show little care towards his mother. On his mother’s death he wrote Elizabeth I but raised no complaints. He was aware that Elizabeth had no heirs and that with her death he would gain the English throne. Mary’s death at the executioner’s block is a grisly tale, and is something fit for Game of Thrones. Mary asked for a French executioner and priest, but was denied both. Instead a nervous gardener with an axe stepped to the block. He missed Mary’s neck multiple times hitting IMG_0848her shoulders and back, causing her great pain and massive amounts of spraying blood. It was not a clean death. When he finally hit her neck the axe got stuck half way and he has to sawed it the rest of the way through. When the deed was done they picked up her head by her mass of red hair for it only to fall to the ground and roll surprising everyone and making the gardener faint. This happened because Mary suffered from baldness and had been wearing a wig. But as Mary said her death was her beginning because in 1603 James VI was crowned James I of England, uniting two nations. He later had his mother moved to be buried in Westminster Abbey among other monarchs and she rests besides Elizabeth I.

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By now we were at the border. I had my feet in two places, one in England and the other in Scotland. This border stop was interesting; for one, it had great views but there was no welcome to England sign and the English flag had been taken down. On the other hand, IMG_0862the Scotland welcome sign was huge. The background was an image of their flag and colorful stickers covered it. Also on the Scottish side was the Scotland flag waving in the wind, a bright yellow ice cream truck, and a piper playing away. There was on the English side a sign welcoming visitors to Northumberland though.

The Story of the Scottish Flag

In AD 832 (before England and Scotland become a countries), Pictish King Angus II was going into battle to defend the small nation of Alba (Scotland) against one of the largest and mightiest Anglo-Saxon territories, Northumberland. The army of Angles and Saxons are led by King Aethelstans and they are hungry for Alba’s land. The Picts are largely outnumbered and they stare across the field they know that they face certain defeat. The IMG_0861night before the battle King Angus has a vision. The patron saint of Scotland, Saint Andrew, appears before him and Angus is promised triumph in the upcoming battle. The next morning Angus tells his troops of this vision, but it is almost impossible to believe with the terrible odds that are stacked against them. Then a sign sent from Heaven comes. In the clearest, bright blue sky you can imagine two white clouds come together to form a Saltire cross. With the blessing of Saint Andrew, Angus’ army is invigorated and become an unstoppable force with an iron will. They win the battle and defend their land. And a flag is born.

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We are now past the border and on to Hadrian’s Wall and Vindolanda. When the Romans set up camp in Britain they like many others in history tried to conquer Scotland or as it IMG_0898was called at the time, Caledonia, but they couldn’t break past. When Hadrian became emperor he ordered a wall to be built to mark the line where civilization ends and separate them from these savages. The wall was five meters tall and ran coast to coast (80 imperial miles). It matches almost perfectly to the current border line and there are sections that you can still see, touch, and walk along. Not too far from one part of Hadrian’s Wall is an excavation site, Vindolanda.  The site is currently being excavated (the largest excavation site in Great Britain) and you can volunteer and take part in the new discoveries they find (this only happens April-September) or watch the archeologists work. It is the most extensive Roman fort and settlement along Hadrian’s Wall. You can see and walk through the ruins of the military buildings, stores, shops, houses, and two bath houses. They also have a museum on site that showcases many artifacts that they have found including a treasure trove of writing tablets.

We had a few more stops, like Hartside Pass (the Rooftop of England) in Cumbria that reaches a height of 1904ft and offers views across Solway Firth to Scotland. At the top of this hill, where there is nothing around but a nice little café you can stop, rest, and grab a piece of cake at. We then arrived in the Lake District and stopped in Keswick where we would be staying for the next two nights. IMG_0942

Day 2

I stayed at the Yew Tree Inn, a pretty B&B that is run by the sweetest couple and is known IMG_0954for its legendary (so large you can’t possibly finish it) English breakfast. Instead of black pudding they offer mushrooms and it comes with local bacon, sausage, eggs, toast, tomatoes, and beans in an incredibly large serving. I couldn’t even finish half and the next morning I just opted for poached eggs on toast.

Just a very short drive away was our first stop, a stone circle called Castlerigg. It is one of the earliest (3000 BC in the Neolithic period) stone circles in Britain well predating Stonehenge and Avebury. When I imagine a stone circle and what it was used for, I imagine a place that is filled with mystery and casts a magical atmosphere. Castlerigg sits high on a hill surrounded by dramatic panoramic views that have the mountains of Helvellyn and High Seat creating a backdrop. Then the mists roll in making the site a perfect setting for something you would IMG_0957see out of the movies, after many special effects. You don’t see this at Stonehenge. The site is free and hardly anyone visits, so you get an unobstructed view. You are also allowed to walk up and touch the stones, and on some you can even find old Viking runes carved in it. What is also really cool is that if you pull out a compass it will be perfectly aligned because the circle is located on a magnetic line.

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What is funny about the Lake District is that like Scotland there in only one lake. In Scotland they are lochs, but because the Vikings were the ones to name them they all are meres or waters. One such place is Ullswater, our next stop.  Here we did a bit of hiking to see a 60 foot waterfall and along the way there were Monkey Puzzle trees (where the leaves look like bananas), money trees (where since Victorian times people hammered in coins into the bark of trees for luck and as an offering to the Fae), and Faery chairs (these were surprisingly comfortable and our guide called them the Circle for the Council of Elva).IMG_0971

As you drive through the Lake District or really anywhere in Great Britain you see dry stone walls everywhere. There is about 250,000 miles it covering the country side, the distance we are from the moon. They are built in a pyramid style A frame and use no binding agent. The material used is the rocks farmers found in fields and nearby, and the reason why they are everywhere is because of a land act in 1860 that made farmers mark off their property. A building race began in order to claim as much land as possible and it is said that a good man could build six feet of wall in a day. The walls last about 100 years and don’t disturb the environment.

As we drove we went through Kirkstone Pass on our way to Grasmere an area made for tourism and home to the Beatrix Potter museum.

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Ghost Story of Kirkstone Pass

It is 1850. A young and happy couple lives a peaceful life with their little baby boy when one winter morning news arrives. The wife receives word that her father is gravely ill and fearing for his life she takes her son to see him one last time before he passes to the next world. The husband is concerned because of the snow, but he cannot travel with them because he has work in the mines.

While the husband is busily working deep underground the weather worsens and a massive snowstorm brews. He doesn’t realize just how bad the weather had turned and by the time he heads for home it has cleared. A week passes when he hears a knock at the front door. He hurriedly goes to answer it thinking it is his wife when to his surprise he finds his father-in-law hale and hearty. His father-in-law asks to see his daughter and grandson, but the husband says that he thought they were with him. Horror dawns and a search party is quickly sent out. The party shouts and digs through the snow but nothing, not a sight or trace is found. The husband and father-in-law break down in despair and cry with anguish when then in the distance they hear a baby’s cry. They follow the sound to a small cave blocked in by snow, and drop to their knees to start clearing the entrance. There on the floor they find a healthy baby swaddled in layers of clothes and next to him IMG_0980lies his mother, stark naked and blue with cold and death. The mother knew that there was no escape from the storm and to give her child his best chance she wrapped him in all of her clothes and used her body heat so that he might survive. When winter comes the next year the villagers claim to see a naked woman out in the cold warning those outside that a storm is coming. Today she is known in the area as the White Witch of the Pass who will come to protect and guide those lost in storms.

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In Grasmere there are a lot of cute little shops, as there are in any lakeside tourist town. I grabbed lunch and enjoyed the nice weather and view of the lake.  Then I wandered around the town, looking in on the Beatrix Potter attractions and buying a delicious cone of cinder toffee ice cream. It was a relaxing stop that allowed us to just enjoy our surroundings.

The Tale of Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter is best known for her children’s books like Peter Rabbit, but she is more than a beloved author.  Growing up she was incredibly introverted, she was so shy that her father took out of school and gave her a governess. And in this secluded environment she blossomed. Beatrix developed a love for nature and her governess encouraged her to get her stories published.

Beatrix stays hidden away from society, but she finds love in the letters written to her editor. They marry and she finds happiness, but then WWI comes and his life is snatched IMG_1369away. Beatrix joins the Red Cross and keeps supporting troops through the war. Then she returns home to the Lake District. There she finds that the Hardwick Sheep is becoming a dying breed and she becomes their champion, saving them from extinction, and they now roam all over the hills of the Lake District. She also works to preserve the landscape by working to set up the first national park in the United Kingdom (the Lake District is the first of 10). She finds love again later in life and marries, but WWII comes and she contracts TB. In her will she asked for her ashes to be scattered out into nature, in the places she loved most. She was a great woman, scientist, conservationist, and beloved author.  She is an fascinating woman to read about and there is a film based on her life that is good too.

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We drove around Grasmere and made two other stops, both of them at homes of William Wordsworth. I was able to walk around his home and garden overlooking the lake and IMG_1101mountains. His home at Rydal Park was a bit different from others of his time because the ground floor had an open floor plan that allowed for a lot of natural light to stream in from the windows overlooking the garden. My favorite part of the inside was being able to go into his attic study where he spent much time writing. The garden was also wonderful and was the epitome of an English garden in spring. At the top of the garden is a little hut where he would sit and pace and gain inspiration. It is also believed that this is the spot that he wrote I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. Right below the hut is a field and it is named after his daughter Dora. Dora was always sickly and after her death he and his Wife Mary (they were well into their 80s) planted 77 daffodils on the hill for her remembrance.

The next Wordsworth cottage we stopped at was called Dove Cottage. This felt older, IMG_1094darker, and more cramped than the other one. In fact, the small first home of William and Mary and housed: Wordsworth’s family, his sister’s family, Coleridge’s family, and guests. In a little room above the buttery was where all of the children stayed. The space was small, so small that I don’t know how a twin bed could fit, let alone five children. Dorothy, the sister, found the small room cold, so in order to insulate it she glued newspapers all over the walls and the originals lasted until 1975. Along with going in Dove Cottage there is Wordsworth museum. I found myself at the arts and craft table spending too much time making water color paintings and writing a letter with a quill. When I left my fingertips were no longer recognizable they were so stained. Also in the town of this village is a gingerbread store that comes highly recommended and we were told that it is just fabulous. I didn’t personally have time to wander over but one of the passengers was kind and bought some for everyone to try. The gingerbread was very spicy but it got sweeter with each bite. Also since we entered the Lake District we had made a bet with our Scottish tour guide, if he called one of the lakes a loch we would get free ice cream. Now he was doing a really good job. The English guide lasted about 30 seconds on day one before he said loch, but the Scotsman was on top of it. Then when the day was almost over he said the magic word and we all got ice cream. Yay!

Day 3

Today was the last day in the Lake District and we were saying goodbye to Keswick. Before we left we went down to Windermere and took photos. The weather had been sunny up until now, but today was the day it would rain most of the way back to Edinburgh.

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Our first stop was at Boulder Stone. It was a small pebble when compared to the mountain that it used to be part of in the Ice Age. But from where I stood it looked bigger than the IMG_1238house that landed on the Wicked Witch of the East. It stands alone with no trees or anything all that close to it and you can see the chalk marks that are left from rock climbers who free climb it. I did the sensible thing and took a steady ladder to the top. I have no idea how people could climb it because it is almost polished completely smooth from years of people rubbing it and sliding off it. At the bottom, if you wish, you and a friend can lie on the ground and actually reach under theIMG_1243 rock and touch each other’s hands. Once again I did the sensible thing and didn’t try this. Mostly because there was a little lake of mud and I was not inclined to spend my day wet and dirty. Also by the boulder is an upright with a perfect hole straight through it. The hole lets in the ray of the sun and is aligns itself between two mountain peaks.

The next stopping point was at Honister Slate Mine. This is the wettest spot in England and if the mist isn’t too thick you can see the tallest mountain in England, Scafell Pike. Many ambitious climbers will partake in the three day challenge where in three days they climb Bin Ness (Scotland’s tallest mountain), Scafell Pike (England’s tallest mountain), IMG_1278and Snowdon (Wales’ tallest mountain). I have now seen all three but I don’t think that I will ever do the three day challenge. I found the four park challenge at Disney World tiring enough.

We then headed down to Buttermere where we stopped for pictures of the crystal like lake that gave an almost perfect reflection of the sky and mountains. We made a lot of scenic stops like this along the way for photo ops. Such stops were at Crummock Water where we walked into a sheep’s pasture and came back on the bus smelling a bit like a barn, Loweswater, and Bassenthwaite Lake.

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Our stop for lunch was at the English border town of Penrith where I grabbed fish &chips. And then our guide began to play some bagpipes over the speaker system in bus as we made our entrance back into Scotland.

History of the Bagpipes

Two thousand years ago, back to the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome an instrument much like the bagpipe was used in battle, much like drums are. The bagpipe found its way North and became firmly established in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. In Italy there are players who play the Zampogna, which is like Northumbrian small pipes. IMG_0989As their popularity spread for war marches and folk music they found their way to the British Isles. Where the Great Highland Bagpipe developed in Scotland and became what we all think of today when we hear the word. Some believe that the bagpipes found their way here as early as the settling of the Romans in the British Isles. The first mention of a bagpipe in Scotland is in 1314 from the Battle at Bannockburn where the Menzies claim to hold the remnants, but the instrument does not appear in written lore until 100 years later. Bagpipes found strong footing in Scotland in the 1700s when varying types began to appear.

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Our last stop before we reached Edinburgh was Moffat. Here you can find the shortest IMG_1407street in Scotland (shorter than a van) and the narrowest hotel in Scotland. We pretty much used it for a rest stop. We were only an hour or so away and had time for one more story and it is one of Scotland’s most important ones, that of Robert the Bruce and James the Black Douglas. This version may not be entirely accurate but it was the way we were told and it made a good story. (I also did a lot of fact checking for all of the stories so they run more towards how events actually transpired.)

The True Braveheart, Robert the Bruce, and his Loyal Friend, James the Black Douglas

The gruesome death of William Wallace was supposed to stop the uprising Scots, but it had the opposite effect. The banner for Scotland’s freedom was picked up and the fight continued. There was a problem within Scotland though; there was no king to unite the clans. Two men were crowned as the guardians of Scotland, Robert the Bruce and John ‘Red’ Comyn. They were just one step from kingship and both had equal claim to the IMG_1195throne.  And they both wanted the title. Infighting began among the clans and the English took advantage. As these two men plotted, Bruce intercepts a letter meant for John Comyn and he demands a meeting on the borders. They meet in a church and bring their best knights, one being the Black Douglas, the greatest warrior in Scotland. Bruce lays out a deal to Comyn; he will offer Comyn his lands and titles if John Comyn kneels before him and claims Bruce his king.  There is not much for Comyn to ponder over for his pride is too great for him to ever bend on knee before a lowlander like the Bruce. Comyn pulls out a knife and attempts to kill Bruce in the House of God. A fight to the death and for the kingship ensues. The racket they cause sends the priest rushing out to see what the commotion is, and he is infuriated with the sight before him and damns the fighting lords. Comyn is distracted by this announcement and with an opening Bruce’s dagger finds its mark and Comyn is dead. The priest is shocked and stares at Bruce with condemning eyes and tells him that for murdering a man in the House of God he will receive a fate worse than death; he will be banned from the gates of Heaven, excommunication.  The severity of his deeds weigh mightily on the Bruce, with this he cannot be king. The Bruce exits alone and is attacked by Comyn’s men. Another battle commences and only two still stand, the Black Douglas and Bruce. The Black Douglas realizes that there is no other candidate for the throne and before word can spread of IMG_1321Bruce’s excommunication he rushes Bruce to be crowned. So at the Stone of Destiny, John the Black Douglas, crowns his king; but he is only a knight and the crowning was not official. The Black Douglas then escorts Isabel of Fife, married to John Comyn, Earl of Bunchan, to crown the Bruce again (Isobel’s family line had the right to inaugurate the kings of Scots). For six weeks the Bruce is king, then a letter from the Pope is spread and nailed in every town and parish, condemning the Bruce and all who follow him. A civil war begins. Through this civil war the Black Douglas teaches Bruce how to be a warrior, leader, and great king. When the civil war ends, the Bruce has united the Scots behind him to exterminate the English from their land. He has become a king of legend and his knight, the Black Douglas stands loyally behind him. For years they fight, taking back their homeland when all that is left is Sterling. For six months neither side is able to advance, they are in stalemate. Bruce and Edward II (by this time his father King Edward I has died) parlay. The battle will be decided by who holds Sterling, and the victor takes all. This meant that if the Scots won the English would all be sent back across the border, every soldier all over the country would have to leave; but if the English won they would have control of Scotland and the rebellion would be at an end. Edward’s army greatly outnumbers that of Bruce’s, but the Bruce has a strategy. He will torch the land the English march on so that the army will have no food, and he will poison all the wells so IMG_1399that they will have no water, and he will raise fortresses to the ground so they will have no place for defense. An English military war machine of 2,000 horses and 25,000 infantry, the largest force to ever invade Scotland, had arrived at Bannockburn; while the Scots numbered 6,000. The English might have been tired and haggard, but their forces were overwhelming. The Bruce had another plan. He had chosen Bannockburn for the natural obstacles surrounding it. He planned for a defensive encounter, the ground was soft and boggy and hidden pits were dug to break up cavalry charges.

The battle opened with an individual contest. Sighting a group of Scots in the wood, the English charged. An English Knight, Sir Henry de Bohun, caught sight of Robert Bruce. If Bohun killed or captured Bruce he would be a celebrated hero, songs would be sung of him and his chivalry, he would have glory. Spurring his warhorse he charged for the King of Scots. He lowered his lance as he bore down, but Bruce saw him. The king was now an experienced warrior and met the charge. The Bruce dodged the lance and raised his battle axe high, and with one powerful swing, he brought the axe down on de Bohun’s helmet splitting it open and striking him dead. The with the strength of the Scots’ king laid bare before their eyes, the Scots rose up with a battle cry and their strength increased tenfold as they met the English in battle. The Scots won the day and their morale was at its peak while the English’s was low. The next morning, at dawn, the Bruce made a speech invoking the power of Saint Andrew, John the Baptist and Thomas Beckett.

“At these words, the hammered horns resounded, and the standards of war were spread out in the golden dawn.” –Walter Bower

An abbot walked among the mass of Scots and blessed them as they knelt in prayer. The Scots would either win or die, they asked mercy only from God, for they would not flee nor fear death. The battle began again with a hail of arrows. The English found themselves hemmed in, and in the center of the filed a ferocious hand to hand combat between knights and spearmen hung in the balance. The Bruce joined the melee with his own warriors and the English were driven back. Edward II fled the battle field and was pursued by the Black Douglas, until he made it safely to his ship. The Scots had won! This battle was a turning point in the Wars of Independence that would last another 14 years.

Captured English lords were exchanged for the Bruce’s imprisoned wife and daughter, but a long fight still lay ahead for Scotland. Robert the Bruce and King Edward II both vied for the support of the Pope, but with the death of Comyn the Pope had turned his back on Bruce, his lieutenants, bishops, and all who followed him. Two years after the Battle of Bannockburn on April 6, 1320 Robert Bruce sent the Pope one of the most important letters in history, the Declaration of Arbroath. The excommunications were suspended but later confirmed, but this letter would shape nations, even the Declaration of Independence.

“We have been set free… by our most tireless prince, King and lord, the lord Robert… Yet if he should give up what he has begun, seeking to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy… and make some other man who was well able to defend us our king… as long as a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be subjected to the lordship of the English. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honors that we are fighting, but for freedom alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

In 1327 Edward II was murdered in captivity. The English made peace with the Scottish and renounced their claim, Bruce had won. In old age, the Bruce had fulfilled his mission, and he was dying. He called on his most loyal knight, James the Black Douglas, and made one last request. Robert tasked the Black Douglas with cutting out his heart and leading troops along with his heart into the Holy Wars, so that all of his sins would be forgiven. Two days later Robert the Bruce died and the Black Douglas does as was asked of him. The Black Douglas was older than Bruce, but he is like Achilles, the mightiest of all warriors, IMG_1201stronger than twenty men, a man who even death feared.  With a handful of troops he set off to Spain to fight the Moors with the heart of Robert the Bruce in a silver casket around his neck.

They joined King Alfonso XI of Castile in battle against the Sultan of Granada, Muhammed IV.  The knights they were with marveled at the famous Black Douglas for his face was unscarred from battle unlike theirs. At Teba they fought. The Moors feigned retreat pulling the Scots away from the Castilians, but when Douglas looked back he saw that his friend Sir William St Clair was surrounded. The Black Douglas turned and charged to St Clair’s aid, but found himself in the middle of a circle of Moors. He took the silver casket containing the heart of his friend and king and threw it into the thick of battle shouting, “Now pass thou onward before us, as thou wast wont, and I will follow thee or die.” All but two Scotsmen died on the battle field, the lone survivors allowed to live to tell those at home of the horrible loss that occurred. James the Black Douglas’ body was found in the middle of a large group of slain Moors and in his hand was the heart of Robert the Bruce. Muhammed IV and the Moors were so moved with the incredible determination and bravery of the Scots and Black Douglas when faced certain defeat that they sent their bodies and bones back to King Alfonso with a guard of honor. The remaining two Scots cut out their friend’s hearts and boiled down their bodies to take the knights’ bones and hearts back to Scotland.

The struggle for freedom that William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and James the Black Douglas fought shaped Scotland into a proud nation that would not allow itself to be repressed. And they were free.

-End-

This marks the end of the Spring Break Diaries, but not the end of my travels for April.

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Helpful Hint: One of the greatest parts of studying abroad is that you learn so many new things about the culture, history, and people of the country you are visiting. I found it helpful to keep a journal to record notes and impressions I had on my adventures abroad. This is the best souvenir that I will bring home.

McDonalds Couture

The past week has been great but speedy. I’ve already been back from my spring break trip for a week, and it feels like just yesterday I was planning it.

My spring break trip really opened my eyes up to how little I have learned about Malta. When I went to Rome, I didnt really enjoy it. I think it’s because I was slightly obsessed with the idea of “Romantic Rome,” but wasn’t able to connect any knowledge about the city to the places I visited. So my final months in Malta will be dedicated to me learning more about it, or at least getting a general overview of the history.

In addition to educating myself, I also want to spend my last few months doing some adventure activities like kayaking, snorkeling, going to the island of Comino, having a bonfire, and other various outdoor activities. When I first got here I felt like I had SO much time to do these activities but now my time feels so, so limited. It’s time to get bust.

 

Now, let’s give a recap of last week. Monday was rest day. Class was cancelled so I recuperated from my two-week-long spring break adventure.

On Tuesday, I went to Valletta to participate in the International Student Network scavenger hunt. It was a night time scavenger hunt and it was good to see busy Valletta calm and quiet. Ultimately, we did terrible at the hunt– but I got some delicious gelato and a funny picture of my teammates out of it– so I think it may have been worth the loss!

I have two observations– one about myself and the other about McDonalds. Yes, McDonalds.

Observation #1: Food has taught me so much about myself and life while I’ve been in Malta. I learned that a lot of foods I always automatically, without thinking, say I don’t like them….even if I’ve never tried them. Here’s an example: My flat mate announced awhile ago that he was making curry and asked if I wanted some. I immediately gave him a disgusted look and told him I didn’t like curry. When I went back to think about it though, I had honestly just never tried it before. After I had this revelation I decided to try it and ended up LOVING it. I say all of this to say give an example of how many of us (including myself) are about life. We put things off as disgusting or bad or unattractive, but have never actually tried of experienced it. Shame on us.

Observation #2: Almost every McDonalds I’ve been to here in Europe are extra fancy, like 5-star restaurants. Some of them only sell drinks, smoothies, coffee, etc,. and majority of them are more than one level tall. You order food on the main floor, then walk or take the elevator up to the second floor where there are sofas, couches and, sometimes decks for lounging and eating. If there’s a basement then there will definitely be sofas and a lounge area. There’s one in Malta that has a deck that faces the beautiful Maltese waters. So luxurious! I love the McDonalds’ here, but this is false advertisement for tourists who come to the states, where McDonalds originated.

The last thing I’ll mention is about a hike I went on. The University Residence where I stay has hikes every few weeks. Yesterday was the hike to Gozo, a small(er than Malta) island near Malta. It is only a 20-25 minute ferry ride away. It was so, so beautiful. Pictures are below.

To conclude, I’m learning SO much by being here and I am forever grateful.

 

Spring Break Diaries: Days 10 &11, Lincoln to Cambridge and Home Again

This was my last day of my guided tour with Rabbie’s before heading back to Edinburgh. We spent the entire morning in Lincoln and left at noon for Cambridge. Today was less exciting than the previous days with fewer stops and longer road time, but the places were no less interesting.

The two main points of interest in Lincoln are the cathedral and castle. They sit opposite IMG_0669each other and are only a couple minutes walk apart. Like many castles which are made as defense points, the Lincoln castle is on top of a large hill (Castle Hill) and it is a steep walk from High Street to the gates.

Visitors can go in the castle promptly at 10, not a second earlier. You will know when its time by the ringing of the bells in the cathedral.

Lincoln has over 2000 years of history and has its origins as Roman town. Before the castle was a Roman fortress built in AD 43. When the army moved on in AD 78 the fortress officially got the status as a Roman town and was named Lindum Colonia.

Lincoln gets its name from the Romans and on top of the fortress a medieval castle was IMG_0673built by William the Conqueror. The castle was the residence of the constable who was responsible for the defense and maintenance of the castle. The sheriff stayed within the walls when collecting taxes and when presiding over shire court, and a small force of soldiers and servants were permanently in residence. The castle at Lincoln has some brutal history. It was a site of uprisings, battles, hangings, persecutions, and in Victorian times a prison.

Stories and sites at Lincoln Castle:

  • William Pickett and Henry Carey, 1859
    • These two were convicted murders and the last prisoners to be publicly hanged at the castle. The hangings occurred at Cobb Hall gallows, and a laughing and jeering crowd of 15000 came to watch. This is one of the largest crowds to gather for a public hanging in Lincoln.
  • The Lincolnshire Rising, 1536
    • The heavy taxation and closures of monasteries by Henry VIII led to a uprising in Lincolnshire. 10000 protesters stood outside the gates. In a letter Henry called the county, ‘the most brute and beastly of the whole realm’. Forces were sent to the city and the crowd dispersed, but over 100 rebels were later imprisoned and several were hung, drawn and quartered.
  • Visit from King Henry VIII, 1541
    • King Henry and his wife of the time, Catherine Howard walked the walls of the castle and viewed the populace below them. Henry by this time was extremely overweight and the walk was painful for his legs, while in contrast his wife was young and beautiful. The queen was rumored to have been having an illicit affair with Thomas Culpepper and seven months later she was executed for adultery and treason.
  • Housing of the Manga Carta
    • 800 years ago King John and the barons met and agreed to a charter that would change history and become the most important document in England and one of the most important documents in the world. The Manga Carta enshrined the principle that the king had to act within the rule of law. In 1217, the Manga Carta was re-issued with some original clauses incorporated into the second charter, Charter of the Forest. Lincoln Castle is the only place in the world where an original 1215 Manga Carta and 1217 Charter of the Forest can be seen in the same room.
  • A battle within and outside the castle walls, 1141
    • King Stephen was at war with his cousin Matilda over the English crown, and within the castle he fought to regain control of the castle after it had been stolen by Ranulf, Earl of Chester. This battle became known as the Joust of Lincoln. During this King Stephan was captured and imprisoned by Matilda but was later released seven months later and restored to the throne with the capture of Matilda’s half-brother.
  • Civil War, 1217
    • Lady Nicola de la Haye had just withstood a 40-day siege on the castle by Richards I’s chancellor, Longchamps, who was demanding the loyalty of supporters of Prince John. Then in 1215, King John’s refusal to honor the Manga Carta led to a civil war and brought another battle to Lincoln Castle. The rebel barons allied themselves with Prince Louis of France and seized control of parts of England, including Lincoln. But the castle, a royalist stronghold, held out against the French forces and rebel barons.

Outside the castle you can still see the outer gate and wall. The space between the outer

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The Outer Wall

gates and the inner walls was known as the ‘killing space’. This area would force the invaders into a close and tight space making it harder for them to attack and ram their way through the doors. It also made it easier for the soldiers defending to take down their forces from the high walls above. Only a small section still stands and walking through one of the three arches leads you to the front entrance of the cathedral.

In 1072 William the Conqueror ordered the first cathedral to be built in Lincoln. William wanted the cathedral and his castle close to one another ‘so that in glorifying God he could make clear who was in charge on earth!’ The cathedral was mostly destroyed by a fire in 1141  and was rebuilt and expanded, only to be destroyed by an earthquake in 1185. King Henry II approved of St. Hugh of

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View from Lincoln Castle

Avalon as Bishop of Lincoln in 1186, and St. Hugh began a major rebuilding project of the cathedral in a gothic style. The cathedral we see today was finished in 1280. The central tower rises to 271 feet and is the tallest cathedral tower in Europe without a spire. The tower originally had a wooden spire that rose 525 feet, but collapsed in 1549 in bad weather. The cathedral was the first building to ever reach a height greater than the Great Pyramid of Giza and was once the tallest structure in the world (before skyscrapers) and held the title for two centuries (then the spire collapsed). The inside is just as magnificent as the exterior and with your ticket you can join a free tour of the cathedral. Some areas though don’t open until later in the day at 1pm. This includes the library and chapter house. The workers at both the castle and cathedral are incredibly helpful and nice. They will answer any questions you have and make sure you have an enjoyable experience.

The last stop of the tour was at one of the oldest universities in the world, Cambridge. My two hours at Cambridge were spent walking the streets and pretty much fitting in with the other college students walking about (unlike many I wasn’t approached to pay for a tour).IMG_0752 At a local ice cream shop I got a scope of sweet lemon curd in a cone and sat in front of King’s College. I then walked through the market, around the main buildings, and along the Backs. Many people were out and enjoying gondola rides on the River Cam. The weather was warm and sunny and people were out in troves. I ended up on a bench outside St. Johns College and was able to enjoy a picturesque view.

That was it. The tour through the heart of England was over and I was back in London for the night. April 9, my 11th day of Spring Break would be spent on a train going back to Edinburgh where my adventures would carry on from there.

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Oh, I also saw Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross.

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Helpful Hint: Besides essentials like ID, money, and my phone probably the most important item I carry with me when traveling is my water bottle. You can easily get dehydrated when traveling so drinking water is important and you can save a lot by not buying bottled drinks everywhere you go.

Spring Break Diaries: Day 9, The Peaks of Derbyshire

National Park. It was a long drive so our tour guide made it abundantly clear, “If. You. Need. To. Stop. Speak Up.” Every word was a sentence, but we didn’t have to make any unplanned stops thankfully. Our first stop of the day was at Buxton. Buxton is known as

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The Crescent in Buxton

the capital of the Peak District. The town had its beginnings with a spring. The natural spring attracted settlers and one group was the Romans. The Romans founded copper mines in the Peaks and out of those mines came a precious stone, Blue John. Today Blue John is extremely hard to get a hold of because there is only one strain left.  At Buxton, the Duke of Devonshire in the 18th century, decided to make the town into THE spa town, and modeled it after Bath. There are replicas of the Royal Crescent, Victoria Park, and the Roman Baths within the town. But what many tourists and locals like to do when visiting is to fill up water bottles at the St. Ann’s Well.

Ann was a sickly girl who had an incurable disease. On the day that she was sure to die she

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St Ann’s Well

dragged herself out of her bed and to the spring. There she drank the water and had a vision of the Virgin Mary, and boom! She was cured. She became a saint and the spring became famous and people traveled from all over to taste its waters. The water is refreshing and has a clear, fresh taste with little minerals. It was also free, so much better than buying the same Buxton water in a prepacked bottle for a few quid.

We then headed further into the Peaks. The Peak District was once a hunting ground in the times of the Saxons, but when the Normans took over they made the Forest Laws. Hunting was now only for the aristocracy and not the common man. If caught poaching you would lose a hand, or if they were in a bad mood and found your hunting as an act of treason your head would roll. Of course this didn’t stop the people from hunting. They created the Greenman. The Greenman belongs to the realm of feary; he is constructed out of leaves and has a long beard. The people spread the story of the Greenman who would protect the land and would grow angry at any who trespassed. They then hung wood chimes on branches and when Norman soldiers heard them they would start to panic because that Greenman had come. This is the Forest of the Peaks. In 1227 the Forest Acts were revised, and they helped to inspire tales of Robin Hood. In fact Sherwood Forest is located in the Peak District.

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Trail to Dale Cave

We then stopped in the small village of Castleton. Castleton maybe small but it is filled with history and natural beauty. There in the Forest of the Peaks lays the ruins of Peveril IMG_9988Castle, the Castle of the High Peaks, which rises high above the village on a steep ridge. The castle was first constructed in the 11th century and the thick curtain walls made an effective defense. However later generations mainly used the castle for ceremonies, residence, meetings for local government and later it used as a favorite hunting lodge for kings. The backside of the castle is a ravine. A small line of water trickles through it and leads to Dale Cave. It also is a grazing area for sheep so I was able to get up close and personal. To the right of the castle is Peak Cavern. Peak Cavern was once a reef millions of years ago, and the entrance to the cavern is truly impressive. When you think of a large cave the first image to come to mind is probably a large hole on the side of a rock wall, and that is exactly what the entrance is. A underground river runs through the cave and down to the village. Today the cave is used as a concert and party venue and filming location.

The next location we visited was the Plague Village, Eyam. The Bubonic Plague is one of the most devastating epidemics in history. It was spread from animals to humans, humans to humans, humans to animals and all by a tiny flea. The outbreak in London resulted in over a hundred thousand deaths. The people living in the countryside believed that they were safe. They kept to themselves and chased strangers out.  But at Eyam the plague still found a way in. It started off in what is now known as plague cottage. In the cottage lived Widow

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The Plague Window in the Parish

Cooper, her two sons, and George Viccars a tailor who was lodging with them. Not knowing what the implications of his actions would bring, George ordered cloth from London where the plague was raging out of control.  The cloth was damp on arrival so he put in front of a warm fire to dry and the dormant germs came alive. A few days later George came down with a strange fever and soon passed on. No suspicions were aroused until fifteen days later when Widow Cooper’s son died followed by near neighbors. Opposite the Cooper cottage was the Sydall family who lost seven members. The village was terrified. Some families fled and took refuge outside the area of contamination. But a hero would arise from Eyam. William Mopesson, the local Rector, decided to quarantine the village so that the plague would not spread elsewhere. The boundaries were declared: to the north a natural spring now known as Mompesson’s Well and to the south a large boulder on a hilltop. William wrote to the Early of Derbyshire for help. The Earl himself arranged for food and medication to be left at boundary points. With goods that villagers had to pay for, they would disinfect their money with vinegar and leave it at the appointed spot. To help stop the spread of the deadly plague William and his wife helped to treat victims and closed the church and held services outdoors.

William begged for his family to leave and seek sanctuary in a nearby town, but his wife IMG_0062refused to go. They sent their children off to safety and his wife, Catherine, continued to work by his side. Tragically one day she contracted the symptoms and died two days later. William bravely continued on and worked tirelessly to save the village. Many tragic tales like this abounded in the village. The churchyard ran out of room to bury the dead so that villagers had to result to burying family members in their gardens or even within their homes. After many casualties the village was free of the plague and today it is one of the most visited parishes in England and every year on the last Sunday of August a service is held to remember all those who lost their lives to the plague.

The last and main stop of the day before we reached Lincoln was Chatsworth Estate. Chatsworth is owned by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and has seen 16 generations,IMG_0471 a history expanding over 500 years. The estate was acquired by the Cavendish family in 1549. Sir William Cavendish, was one of Henry VIII’s commissioners during the Reformation, along with his young wife Bess of Hardwick sold the estates given to him by the Crown and bought land in Derbyshire near Bess’s childhood home. Thus they began the project of building an ambitious new house. Around the Elizabethan house was a central courtyard with a great tower, great hall, and chapel. Later William and Bess added a hunting tower to their grounds and a fishing platform known as Queen Mary’s Bower for when Mary, Queen of Scots, was sent to Chatsworth. Bess was married four times and her last husband, George Talbot, was appointed Shrewsbury custodian of Mary, Queen of Scots, when she was held at Chatsworth.

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The later generations at Chatsworth continued to expand and build on the home. Royal State Apartments were created for King William III and Queen Mary II and the young men

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The Grand Entrance

of the family who came back from their Grand Tours brought home many furnishings, books, artwork, and artifacts that still fill the home. The gardens also had many expansions and changes throughout its life. Walking through today you can view the rockeries, a maze, through waterfall, a grotto, a fountain shooting water up 200 feet in the air and so much more. I had two hours to explore so I spent my first thirty minutes rushing through the network of rooms in the estate, taking pictures of everything, and spent the rest of my time in the gardens. To really see Chatsworth you need an entire day but this gorgeous site is a must see stop in the heart of England.

In recent history Chatsworth has been a popular filming location. You might recognize:

  • The Duchess (a drama about Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire)IMG_0500
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • The Wolfman
  • Jane Eyre
  • A Royal Night Out
  • Barry Lyndon
  • Death comes to Pemberley
  • And many TV series and a BBC documentary

We finished off the day by arriving in Lincoln and I was able to see a little of the city, but I would do most of my exploring the next day.

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Best part of spring are these cuties

Helpful Hint: Many public restrooms in Europe have a fee to be able to use them, so when you have the chance use them when they are free and clean.

Spring Break Diaries: Day 7, Shakespeare’s Country

Bullied Way Stance 3 is the spot from which I left London this morning. The next phase of spring break is a tour with Rabbie’s that will take me to the heart of England: Stratford Upon Avon, Chester, North Wales, Lincoln, and Cambridge. Day 1 (or 7 when including all of spring break) is Stratford Upon Avon aka Shakespeare’s Country.

Like any good tour we had multiple stops along the way (like the oh so fascinating rest stop at the side of the highway) and we learned interesting stories from the tour guide while on the road. We left London at 9:00 and took the A40 and headed into the

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Shakespeare’s Birth Place and Family Home

Cotswolds.

Some interesting tidbits learned while leaving London:

  • Key gardens are gated square gardens that were made so that the women, children, and pets of the nice homes had a place where they could take the air without being bothered or molested by poor villagers. Only the residents had keys to access the gardens hence the name key garden. Today still only residents have access into the gardens.
  • The square where all of the embassies are located in London are owned by the Duke of Westminster. They can’t be leased for more than 99 years and the properties are so expensive no one but the embassies can afford it. Once leased they have to maintain the inside and outside of the property to the owners standards. That means they all have to be painted the same certain color; which just happens to be a unique paint color that can only be gotten in one place in the world, and is also owned by the Duke of Westminster.
  • You can tell the difference between homes built for the upper class vs middleclass based on number of floors. The upper had 4 while the lower had 3.
  • Shepard’s Bush, outside the London city center, got its name because that is where the sheep farmers from Wales would stay when in London. The other and more fascinating story on how the name came about is the story of Jack Shepard. He was a notoriously infamous highwayman who would hide out in this area. He is infamous because he is the only criminal to have escaped Newgate Prison. And he did this 3 times.
  • In Hyde Park there is an area called speaker’s corner. Before condemned criminals were to be hanged they were given two minutes to speak their minds and say what they wanted, expect if it was blasphemous or treasonous.
  • Just past this area is an intersection which used to have a hanging tree where criminals (highway men) would be hanged as a warning. Today the street is called Hanger’s Lane.

We were then outside London and on our way. We stopped at a nice rest stop and then left the highway (or as the guide said ‘carriage way’) for good and headed onto side and backroads. We passed Oxford, but didn’t stop to see it, and told how this great university came about.

Danish settlers came to the area and set up a village at the narrowest and shallowest point of the river. They made a ford here for the ox to cross and it was called Oxenford or as we know it, Oxford. The children here were taught by an abbess who had once been a Saxon princess, but to avoid marriage became a nun. After she passed she became the patron saint of Oxford. Pilgrims came to visit her resting place, and some decided to stay and started various colleges that now make up Oxford University.

After Oxford we went past some quaint Cotswolds villages and Woodstock Hunting Lodge (which came long before the 1960s). Woodstock was a royal residence built by Henry I in 1129. A many royal dramas played out within its walls, but it ceased to be a royal residence when Queen Anne, in 1704, gifted it to John Chruchill.

Some of the dramas that occurred:

  • King Henry II kept his lover, ‘the fair Rosamund’ here. There are stories that the queen had Rosamund murdered when she discovered her hideaway following a silk thread.
  • Here was where King Henry II had his first clash with Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury who was later murdered in his cathedral by men loyal to the king.
  • Richard the Lion Heart and his brother King John I stayed here too. King John I was a very regular visitor (coming at one point 6 times in a year) and is well known for being the villain in the Robin Hood legends.
  • Henry III was devoted to Woodstock. He built a chapel and made the buildings more secure after surviving an assassination attempt there in 1238.
  • A plot to try to prevent Queen Mary I from marrying Philip of Spain (which Elizabeth knew nothing about) led to the imprisonment of her sister Elizabeth, first at the Tower of London then Woodstock.

We then stopped at Longcompton to see the litching gate or lion gate. It is a wooden gate

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Lion Gate

that leads to the church but is has a room and roof over it. This is where the dead would be laid for seven days to make sure that they were actually dead. The ‘corpse’ would hold a string in both hands and if pulled would ring a bell. If the bell was rung someone would come rushing up to let them out. We were told this is how the term saved by the bell came about.

The main stop of the day though was Stratford Upon Avon, the birth and resting place of the great playwright, William Shakespeare. We were driven around the city and shown the main points before we were left to explore for two hours.

What I saw was the church where Shakespeare was baptized and holds the graves of him and his family, his statue by the Avon in front of the theater, the home of his daughter Suzanne, the home of his daughter Judith, his family home, home of his granddaughter, Harvard House (which was the home of the family who founded Harvard University), and Anne Hathaway’s (Shakespeare’s wife) cottage. The town is beautiful and is worth more time than I spent there.

We drove on and made one last stop at the first cast iron bridge in Ironbridge Village. It is a world heritage site and was a feat of engineering at the time of its construction. The purpose of the bridge was to cross the Severn River, a long and treacherous river in Britain. To go around was a 60 mile long trip and ferries couldn’t take a large amount of supplies across and were dangerous to use. So three men came together and invested in this project. The bridge would late be part of the inspiration for the design of the Crystal Palace for the World Fair.IMG_9266

Finally we were done and arrived in Chester where we would be staying for 2 days as a home base as we travel the midlands.

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Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

Helpful Hint: The weather in the UK is unpredictable so be prepared for rain, shine, wind, cold, warm, sun, or dark clouds. The temperature and conditions will change and fluctuate throughout the day.

Spring Break Diaries: Day 2 Bath

I began my second day with the free breakfast at that the youth hostel offers and over breakfast I had a nice conversation about a baby ape with an engineering professor from Chester; which goes to show that hostels are great places to meet and talk with fellow travelers.

Once done with breakfast I set out. I set out before anything would be open (which wasn’t until 10), so with over an hour wait I decided to do my own self-guided walking tour of historical Bath. The walk, without stopping, takes about an hour. Of course I got off track and took longer.

The tour began with the Abbey Churchyard, located at the heart of historical Bath. This medieval Abbey, built by King Alfred and the Saxons, has been a place of worship for over a thousand years. And right next (or left next) to it is the world famous Roman Baths. Not much is left from the Roman times in Bath because when King Alfred and the Saxons took over they ended up building over the Roman foundations.

As a fun side note: many think that the Romans founded Bath, but there is an ancient British myth about King Bladud as the founder.

Bladud was the legendary founder of Bath and the sacred temple of Aqua Sullis. He is mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain and The Life of Merlin, written in the twelfth century. The source of the original legend is obscure.

Lud Hubibras (Bladud), was a British Prince in Celtic times. While at court the Prince contracted the dreaded Leprosy, and was banished and disowned by his father. Before he made his way out of the kingdom his mother took him aside and gave him a golden ring. This was to be the key to his return if he could ever cure himself of the disease.

Everywhere the Prince went he was shunned, he meeked a living as a swineherd until some of the herd also caught the disease. To hide this from his employer, he fled across the river Avon (at a place now called Swineford), and into the land where the city of Bath now stands.

He wandered the area until one day one of the pigs seemed to go crazy and rushed headlong into a black bog in the marshy ground. Bladud struggled to pull the pig from the bog and became covered in the foul smelling mud. When he had finally freed himself and the pig, he found that the pigs skin lesions had disappeared, and where the mud had touched his bare skin he was also cured. He immersed himself fully in the warm mud and became fully cured of the disease.

Finally Bladud returned to Court, where he was welcomed with open arms by his mother, who recognized the ring she had given him so many years before. Bladud ruled wisely as King for twenty years. He founded the city of Bath, and created the temple of Aqua Sullis dedicated to Minerva.

He was said to have been a man of great learning, he studied in Athens and brought much Greek wisdom into Britain. He was killed when a magical experiment went wrong; he built himself some wings, and was flying over New Troy when they gave way and he crashed to the ground.

This story was brought to readers like you by Mysterious Britain.

The next stop was only a few steps away at Bath Street, which put you in front of the Roman Baths and Pump Rooms, which was once the center of Bath society. Walking down Bath Street you reach the next stop, the Thermae Bath Spa and Cross Bath.  These were key venues for taking the waters in 18th century. Today there is a beautiful and new working bath house that visitors can enjoy. Behind the Cross Bath is St John Hospital which was the first building in Bath built by John Wood the Elder, who would be the main architect in building the Georgian city that we see today.

Turning left and moving up Saw Close and Barton Street you reach the fourth stop, Queen’s Square. Queen’s Spare is famous for its obelisk and was also built and planned by John Wood, and demonstrates the Palladian style architecture which Wood is known for.

And then the guided tour takes you to the most recognized Georgian area, King’s Circus and the Royal Crescent. These are two different stops on the tour but their designs work off one another. The Circus is made to represent the sun and the crescent the moon; they were also the homes of the wealthiest of Georgian Bath society and where they would gather to promenade.

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The King’s Circus is made up of three buildings and if you stand in the center you almost get the feeling of being in a Roman Colosseum. On the other hand, the Royal Crescent overlooks the Royal Victoria Park and has a sprawling front lawn, which gives the idea of a green city.

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Once I reached this point I ended up moseying on down to Royal Victoria Park to take a lovely walk among the flowers in the botanical gardens.IMG_7959

But all too quickly I moved onto Bennet Street and the Assembly Rooms, which brought to mind images of Pride and Prejudice. The Assembly rooms are now home to a fantastic fashion museum, but once they were one of the key venues for social entertainment for polite society in the 1800s, like the Pump Rooms.

The next stop on the tour was Paragon Row. Paragon Row is a line of 21 Georgian town houses, and the main entrance and exit for the London Road. In the past if you were incredibly wealthy you would send a servant to pay the Abbey to ring the bells as you made your grand entrance into the city. Next was Milsom Street, where you would do your shopping, and where General Tilney lived in Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.

One of the main architectural spots in Bath is Pulteney Bridge and Great Pulteney Street; which were designed by Robert Adam. The bridge was built for William Pulteney by Robert Adam, the bridge was an attempt to connect central Bath to the land on the other bank of the River Avon and make Pulteney’s fortune. Pulteney Bridge, together with the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, is thought of as one of the world’s most beautiful bridges. Like the Ponte Vecchio it is one of a handful of historic bridges in the world that has shops built into it. Pulteney Bridge and Great Pulteney Street show the rise of neoclassicism in Bath. At the end of Great Pulteney Street lies Sydney House which was famous for its pleasure gardens, promenading guests, and evening entertainments. After this I went off route and took steps down from Pulteney Bridge to the river walk. This gave great views of the bridge, River Avon, and Grand Parade Park. I also saw what I think is a duck egg.

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The last stop on the self-guided walking tour, which can be found on the Bath visitor’s website along with audio guides and maps, was Grand Parade. There is also a tour for Jane Austen’s Bath. Most of the route is the same, but the information has a different focus and there are a few stops added in.

Once I was done with my tour it was well past 10am, and it was time to go back and do the museums.

The first one I went in was the Roman Bath House. The Roman Baths were an incredibly important prat of Roman society. Houses were taxed according to the size of pipes that provided water supply, so for personal hygiene people went to the local bath houses. However, the bathing complex was more than a place to clean yourself; it was a place to gather, meet others out in society, and hear the latest news. There were also multiple baths. A visitor could use a cold bath (frigidarium), a warm bath (tepidarium), and a hot bath (caldarium). People would go to all three before leaving making it a luxurious experience for guests and a trying one for the slaves. There was also an exercise area (palaestra), swimming pool, gymnasium, sauna, scared pool, rooms with heated floors and massages.  IMG_8044

The Romans viewed these baths as sacred and would throw in valuable items to please the gods and send “prayers” (curses) to catch thieves. An alter was also built so that priests could sacrifice animals to the gods. Because the waters in Bath were considered sacred and healing many pilgrims throughout the Roman Empire would travel to the city to take the healing waters and give their respects to Minerva, the goddess of Bath (aka Athena to the Ancient Greeks).

At the Baths I also was given the opportunity to drink some of the scared water. It was the most disgusting water I have ever drunk. It tasted like I was swallowing hot pennies. It was comparable to the time I drank fruit punch Gatorade that was left in the car for hours on black leather seats when it was over 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

Next up was the Jane Austen Center. I am a huge Austen fan, I read my first Austen book in sixth grade and I have been in love with her work ever since. At the Center you get to learn a bit about Jane’s life, her family, and how Bath influenced her novels such as Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. The tour was enjoyable; I had a nice chat with the tour guide about the books and I got free biscuits.

I then went to No. 1 Royal Crescent, one of if not only places you can see what a real IMG_7943Georgian townhome looked like. The inside was just as grand as the outside and I learned some interesting and some slightly disturbing facts that make me very glad to live in the 21st century.

The Things I learned:

  • Dinner began at four so that that the kitchen had enough daylight to prepare and serve the meal. Fashionably late was not expectable for dinner.
  • When dessert came out it was usually dark so the desserts were made to look beautiful by candlelight.
  • When it became dark the table cloths would be taken away and mirrors would be put down in order to reflect the candlelight.
  • Women did not drink wine unless a guest offers it to them, which the woman would then be extremely grateful and savor their one glass of wine
  • Men drank as much as they wanted. It was okay to drink throughout the day, at dinner it was okay to have a couple pints, and once the women withdrew the men would pull out the fine liquor and drink some more. There was a good reason why the dining rooms had no carpets.
  • The most important lady would enter first on the arm of the host.
  • The most important gentleman would sit to the left of the head of the table and there was a pineapple in front of him.
  • Pineapples were expensive, so many would rent them from a grocer for the night.
  • Pineapples are a sign of welcome.
  • Sugar was incredibly expensive, so it was the main ingredient in all the desserts of the wealthy.
  • Rotten teeth became fashionable because the wealthy had rotten teeth from eating too many overly sugary sweets.
  • The poor would blacken their teeth with black led paint (a poison) to make themselves look fashionable.
  • After a while people found the fad of rotten teeth silly and dentistry became a practice. And the only solution for rotten teeth was pulling them out or getting a new pair. New teeth (ranked from cheapest to most expensive) were made out of wood, ivory, or taken from hung criminals and dead soldiers (because they were not wealthy enough to buy sugar and have rotten teeth).
  • The most ornate room in the house was the withdrawing room where the ladies would gather after dinner.

I have seen castles, palaces, manors, mansions, and grand plantations but this was different because it was so dedicated to this one time period, and only this period, I felt like I got a true view of what life in a well-off home would have been like in the Georgian era.

The last museum I went to was the Fashion Museum at the Assembly Rooms. This offered IMG_8104a look at men and women’s fashion in Britain from the late 1700s to the present, and I even got to try on some gowns, bonnets, and fake wigs.

My day was filled to the brim and I finished all before 5 o’clock in the afternoon; which allowed me time to look in shops (one of the main reasons people come to Bath). The weather during my stay was beautiful, and I have no complaints on my time here because it was simply a wonderful second day of spring break.

Helpful hint: You can see the main points in Bath with just a full day, so if you have extra time in the area I recommend going to Bristol or Stonehenge which are close by.

Elláda (Greece)

PSA: I’m skipping over Naples to tell you about Greece, because that was my favorite part of the trip.

“Where’re we going today?” Athens!

Our last stop on our crazy adventure had finally come! We would be staying in Athens with Dafni and her family for four days and Holden would be meeting us there. Personally, I looked forward to this part of the trip most. Not only would we be in Athens freaking Greece, but we would be with our friend, who lived there!

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Until this semester, I hadn’t been too knowledgeable about Greek mythology, but thanks to my Greek Lit class I came prepared. Our first day there Dafni picked us up from the tube station and we went back to her house where they fed us a delicious array of breads, cookies and coffee. Then she gave us a tour of her house and we all got caught up while we waited for Holden. When it was time to get Holden we picked him up from the station and brought him back to the house where he received the same tour.

The first day was chill and we all learned a new Chinese card game that is common with Greek students called Tzu. After playing several rounds we had dinner. They ordered take out and got us all gyros, which is now literally my favorite meal in the world. Honestly, I don’t know how I’m going to go back home and survive without them. After a late dinner we all watched Hercules. By this point Jessica and I had almost been up for 24 hours and were beyond exhausted. Once the movie was over we all went to bed and passed out.

The next day started at 10am, which isn’t too early, except that we had been up until two and had received only four hours of sleep the night before. Nonetheless, we were ready to take on Greece. Unfortunately, Dafni couldn’t accompany us on all our adventures, but we went to the Acropolis anyways where we had a mini photo shoot. It was so cool to see Dionysus’ theatre, Athena’s temple and the Parthenon. I completely geeked out and took tons of photos. After the Acropolis we trekked down to Zeus’ temple to take photos, before heading a museum. By the time we were done at the museum we were practically walking in our sleep. When we got back to Dafni’s we were invited to a Russian play in Greek with Dafni and her friends. We all decided it was best to take a nap before we went to the play, seeing as how it started at nine.

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To sum up the play in one word I would say it was interesting. Because none of us spoke Greek we didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. We had a brief summary: there’s three sisters and an affair. The rest was “Greek to us”. One moment the actors would be laughing and the next they would be on the floor hysterically crying. Holden made a joke that even the people in Les Mis weren’t even that unhappy and their show is called Missery.

When the play was over we got home about one and crashed. The next day we didn’t have a lot planned just to go to the market. The market was really cool and there is where I got a lot of my friends’ souvenirs. However, we didn’t spend much time at the market because Dafni’s friend had booked an event for us. The event was an escape room and we had an hour to get out. Once the hour was up we lost. Jessica and I had never done an escape room, so naturally our imaginations made us think of Saw (it wasn’t like Saw).

The escape room was challenging for many reasons: one, I had never done one before. Two, I don’t work well under pressure, especially when you’re trying to find clues to get out of the room, but you don’t know which door to use. And three, it was all in Greek, so of course there was a language barrier. It took us about fifteen minutes to get out of the first room and after that we crawled through a wardrobe and into the second room. The second room was more challenging and if we only had thirty more seconds we would’ve made it. As interesting as the escape room was I would totally be fine if I never did one again.

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After the escape room we got dinner at a restaurant and played Tzu while we waited for Dafni’s friends. Once her friends came we went to a rooftop restaurant and ordered drinks. It wasn’t until after one that we headed back home and went to bed. Finally, we had come to our last full day in Greece. It was a chill day and we spent it playing Tzu on the terrace and getting a tan. Later that night we had my favorite meal again, gyros. We all didn’t want to leave Greece, but at the same time we were ready. Our flight was another early one, but before we knew it we were back in London; our home away from home. As sad as I was that our journey had come to an end I was ready for it. Nineteen days is just too long to be away from home.

With that being said I am back in my dorm in London and just enjoying the simple things that life has to offer, liking laying in bed all day. Traveling around in Europe for 19 days was amazing, exhausting, hilarious and just one of the best times of my life. I wouldn’t change any of the things that happened, good or bad, because it was an experience itself.

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For those of you who are planning to travel in Europe I highly recommend doing hostels, Airbnb (make sure to do your research) and using Skyscanner to help you find cheap flights. I hope that when you do travel you find all that you were looking for and so much more. It’s such a cultural experience that makes you realize a lot about yourself and even your own country. Just be smart, be safe and have fun. Until next time though.

<3

Spring Break Diaries: Day 1

Just two days ago I had my last class at Uni in Edinburgh; it was anti-climactic to say the least. My class was filled with mostly 4th years that had just finished their dissertations IMG_7905and were ready to be DONE; you could say they were a wee bit antsy. The lecture was like any other lecture, normal-where you learn stuff, nothing exciting like free doughnuts. So when I walked out of the lecture hall it felt odd to think that I would have no more classes. But I started to get excited quickly because with classes finished and projects turned in, it meant it was time for spring break to begin.

Final exams do not begin until April 25 and they last for a month. My exams are not until early May, so I have all of April to travel and prepare (but mostly travel).IMG_7895

My spring break travels began this morning at 9:30 out of Waverley station. It would be a five hour train ride to London where I took the Underground to transfer from King’s Cross to Paddington station. From there I had the an hour and half ride to Bath Spa station. Once I arrived, I checked into the hostel and then left to explore Bath. One of my favorite things to do in a new city is to just wander around paying no attention to maps and just letting my feet guide me. This led me to the main shopping district, clusters of restaurants and interestingly named pubs (like the Pig and Fiddle), the thermal baths, where my tour for Stonehenge will meet, chapels, parks, and beautiful curiosities.

Helpful Hint: The trains in the UK are easy and quick to use with little hassle, you only need to show up 10-15 minutes before your departure time to not feel rushed.