I write sitting in my hotel in London, a few days from coming home from what has been a really great trip — as well as a trip that reminds me how well we do some things in the U.S., such as making life easier for the disabled. The English haven’t actually declared war on the disabled, but do rather seem to expect the disabled to somehow “muddle along” in true British fashion. (Bad manners to begin with a quibble, but I had to get it off my chest!)
Getting from Southampton after the Queen Mary 2 docks is easy: Cunard provides buses to Central London, as well as to Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Southampton to London is about two hours, and those of us who live near Seattle will feel at home when the bus ride from outer London to central London is almost another hour!
By the way, I’ve booked my QM2 passage for next year!
London was hot, muggy, sunny and breezy — and wonderful, as always. I took a taxi to Berry Brothers & Rudd, London’s oldest wine shop. Berry Bros. has been in business since 1698, with two royal warrants, and is still very much a going concern. The old shop in St. James with its rough old floorboards and coke-bottle glass windows is still open, though the shop where you actually buy a bottle is now around the corner, in Pall Mall. They claim to have several million bottles in storage, and that the caves extend for hundreds of feet in all directions. With storage space in London at a premium, many people buy their wine and then store it with the merchant. In some case, customers have died, leaving their wine stocks with Berry Bros — or so the story goes — so that there are bottles of really ancient provenance still in storage.
Be that as it may (and as it ought to be!) I bought a half bottle of Chateau d’Yquem 2003 for a dinner party in Newcastle, and then walked to the British Museum — the longest walk I’ve managed yet on my post-operation foot! At the museum, or rather across from it, I was sitting on the sidewalk of the aptly named the Museum Pub (a favorite) when I looked up, and there was one of my oldest friends, Karl Watkins, from Shoreline! Drinks out on the sidewalk, then dinner with Karl and Ann and Karl’s parents, followed at a lovely Italian place in Sicilian Avenue, off Holborn, and to bed perhaps a bit later than I had planned before catching an early train to York.
(Note: Being disabled, I am sensitive to the supports one needs. My hotel near the British Museum — the Bloomsbury Thistle — put me in a very well-equipped disabled room. Much appreciated! More on this as we go… )
I joined Nancy Dapper, whom you may remember from last year’s trip to the Faroes, Shetland and Iona. Nancy had booked us a lovely two-bedroom apartment with a stunning view of the cathedral. And here the Great British Adventure for the Disabled began: A lift (elevator) to the courtyard, then a ramp down into the courtyard with a high sill at the top, which can only be described as a cunning wheelchair trap, then another ramp/trap into our vestibule, where 16 steps led up to our door (railings provided, thank heaven!). Happily, I no longer need a wheelchair — and the owner did provide a shower stool! We had daily games trying to get the card-operated lock to open; the solution seemed to be that if you waved the card at the detector gizmo long enough, the door eventually would relent, and open.
York Cathedral is properly called the York Minster, a “minster” being a missionary church, which the original York Minster was, built hurriedly 627 of wood, to provide a place to baptize Edwin, King of Northumbria. This burned down in 741, and the entire area passed through the hands of the usual invaders — Vikings, Scots, various barons — and its history is foggy until the Danes destroyed it again in 1075, and the present building was begun in 1080. The are Roman bits to be seen in the crypt (worn stairs, no railings).
The Minster is enormous. Too big, really, to have much of a “feel” other than vastness. I was reminded of Mark Twain’s description of the Heidelberg Tun in A Tramp Abroad: “Everybody has heard of the great Heidelberg Tun, and most people have seen it, no doubt. It is a wine-cask as big as a cottage, and some traditions say it holds eighteen hundred thousand bottles, and other traditions say it holds eighteen hundred million barrels… However, the mere matter of capacity is a thing of no sort of consequence… I do not see any wisdom in building a monster cask to hoard up emptiness in, when you can get a better quality, outside, any day, free of expense.”
But York is a very important see (the area under a given bishop or archbishop). In the middle ages, York wanted to be the leading bishop of England, and lay claim to the title “Primate of England.” Canterbury wasn’t having any of that, and so the Archbishop of Canterbury rejoices in the title and style “Archbishop of All England.” You have to remember that this in England, and that the Mayor of London is not the same person as the Lord Mayor of London. Don’t ask.
At any rate, York not only has a monster building to hoard up emptiness in, but also a LOT of history. Located on the river Ouse (pronounced “ooze” – remember, this is England, where towns are named Ugthorpe and Nether Wallop, and a pub may be called The Slug and Lettuce). York was founded by the Romans as Eboracum in 71 AD, and Hadrian, Septimius Severus and Constantius I all spent time in Eboracum, and in 306, Constantine was proclaimed Roman Emperor in here..
We loved York. The railroad museum was enormous fun, containing among other things, Queen Victoria’s carriage, complete with a bathtub; the Mallard, the first steam engine to break 100 mph.; and a painstaking replica of Telford’s Rocket, the first steam engine of them all; what is left of the original is in the Science and Industry Museum in London. I bought an 1862 Bradshaw, the famous all-Britain railroad reference book – now a mine of period enthusiasm and prejudices: each town has listed “Churches” (ie: Church of England) and “Chapels” (everyone else).
The cobbled streets of the Old Town, that part within the Roman and Medieval walls, are lined with wonderful shops and pubs, especially along Stonegate (“gate” doesn’t mean gate, and derives, as so many words in the North, from the Scandinavian and the Vikings: “gate” is the Norse “gata,” meaning “street”). Betty’s Tea Shop provides some of the best meals we had. Betty’s started in Harrogate a century ago and is now an institution, and is much more than a tea shop: it is a weird and wonderful amalgam of English and Swiss cooking. Who saw that coming? The Star in the City restaurant was also well worth a visit, and perhaps repeated visits! The visitor center has worn stone stairs and no rails. The British do not like rails, and forget functioning ramps; I have no idea how the disabled get around! Perhaps they stay at Betty’s and let others deal with stairs?
We had booked two days of auto tours of Yorkshire through the Yorkshire Chauffeur Company and Howard, our ex-police diver, showed us a magnificent time, and was a fount of knowledge. Very highly recommended!
You see so much more when you’re not driving, and both Nancy and I are terrified of driving on the left side of the street. Howard’s Range Rover was comfortable, and high enough to see over hedges and glimpse more than one does from a lower car. We visited the moors with pheasants and grouse everywhere; the former are fed, and very tame. Howard told us that they are fed and interpret the approach of a car as the approach of their dinner. We toured the downs (which are actually hills — so not “down” at all; this is England…), visited Rievaulx Abbey, sheep, Castle Howard, saw more sheep, Fountains Abbey, still more sheep, and Ripon Cathedral.
The old Abbeys were Cistercian, and as the Cistercians were austere and silent, their abbeys tended to be remote, which they still are. They were pulled down under Henry VIII, and are beautiful and somehow haunted, silent and magnificent, those “bare, ruined choirs” of Shakespeare where still the sweet birds sing.
Clambering around Rievaulx was fascinating: some maintained paths and some rough ones (no rails!), but endless room for musing in the well-documented ruins, where you can think yourself into the refectory with its pulpit where the monks had scripture or sermons read to them at meals, or you can trace out the drains and the dormitories, the infirmary, the church itself…
— By Nathaniel Brown
Edmonds resident Nathaniel Brown taught and coached cross-country running and skiing for 16 years before joining the US Biathlon Team as wax technician, switching to the U.S. Cross-Country team in 1989. He coached at three Olympics and 14 World Championships, edited Nordic Update for nine years and Cross-Country Skier for two. He has written three books on skiing and training. He owned and operated Nordic UltraTune, an international freelance ski tuning service, until retirement seven years ago.