London Revisited

So, what can you really achieve in a few days in this great city? By way of a disclaimer, firstly we had already been here several times, we were suffering from a little bit of travel fatigue after more than six weeks away from home and lastly with one very sore foot our normal enthusiasm for sightseeing (requiring walking) was somewhat diminished.

London celebrates
London celebrates the Queen’s 90th birthday
Tower Bridge from the Greenwich ferry
Tower Bridge from the Greenwich ferry

 

 

 

 

 

Our hotel, not far from Paddington station, was well situated for both our arrival from Oxford and our intended departure to Heathrow. Armed with 48-hour hop on – hop off bus passes and an Oyster cards for the tube we were ready see a few sights but at a slower relaxed pace.

Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace

london kensington palace2

 

As we all know timing is often very important in life. We managed to time our visit to arrive in London on the Friday of a long weekend along with the thousands of other visitors. There were people everywhere and I couldn’t remember such crowds but, London is geared to cope with tourists and it is amazing how everything functions so well. Did I mention timing? This particular weekend also saw the London 10k fun run on the Sunday with many inner city roads closed resulting in diversions to the ho-ho bus routes.

So in a way the crowds and the road diversions contributed to our being able to sit back on the bus and relax while taking in the sights. Taking full advantage of our 48-hour tickets, on the Sunday we spent a couple of very pleasant hours travelling up and down the Thames to visit Greenwich. All in all, we certainly got full value from the ho-ho bus passes.

At the National Gallery
At the National Gallery
A Streeton
A Streeton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But what else did we do? We spent a couple of hours relaxing among masterpieces in the National Gallery, including one Streeton. We had a ride on the London Eye enjoying the view, which when we last took the ride was limited to about 50 metres. We spent some time savouring the historic journey that Westminster Abbey provides, topped off by a visit to Kensington Palace and an exterior inspection of Buckingham Palace.

Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station
Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station

 

There was a little shopping, a very little, and a visit to Kings Cross station and Platform 9¾ on behalf of grandchildren. Evenings saw us retiring early mostly but we did see a couple of shows in the West End, namely The Book of Mormon and the Carole King story of Beautiful, both extremely professional and enjoyable experiences.

These few days were punctuated by light lunches and dinners mostly at local pubs where we love the wholesome meals (and for me, the local ales). For our last night we were tossing up between a nearby Greek taverna or an Italian restaurant, either of which would remind us of our recent enjoyable cruise.

We probably have not done London justice on this occasion, if that is ever possible, but we have reacquainted ourselves with the wonderful variety that this great city has to offer.

PS      The Greeks won last night, taking us back a month or so to our visit to that favourite part of the world with a quite memorable meal.

 

 

Lacock, Wiltshire

I can’t remember where the recommendation to stay at Lacock in Wiltshire came from but we certainly owe that person a vote of thanks.

Travelling can be quite tiring so having an opportunity to slow down for a time is greatly appreciated, and Lacock provided that opportunity.

The Old Rectory B&B
The Old Rectory B&B

What does one want from a B&B? Friendly hosts, a comfortable bed, a good shower, a simple continental breakfast (so one is not tempted to over-eat), ample parking and pleasant surroundings. The Old Rectory at Lacock has those. Location is also important and this B&B is only a five minutes’ walk from the centre of the delightful historic village with its pubs and restaurants.

Arriving on Sunday was not the best timing as the day was fine and the crowds were out in force. Luckily we were staying for two days and these were much more relaxing. Although the temperatures are not always as high as we would like them in the UK in May, holidaying at this time of year is a little less congested.

Lacock Abbey
Lacock Abbey

Apart from the houses in the village that apparently have not changed much in the last two hundred years, the 13th century Lacock Abbey was a really pleasant surprise. It survived Henry VIII’s Dissolution and the English Civil War, and became a family home for many years before being given to the National Trust and becoming a film set for Harry Potter. Another discovery was that the last private owner, William Henry Fox Talbot, was an important pioneer in photography.

Castle Combe village
Castle Combe village

Finally, Lacock is a convenient base for taking day trips to any of the numerous nearby sights, and sites, such as Castle Combe, Bath, Bradford-on-Avon, Avebury and Stonehenge to name just a few. It is well worth a visit.

Orkney

Did I say the Orkney weather forecast was for fine weather – wrong! For our two days stay it was windy with rain squalls and cold (although there was brilliant sunshine the morning we flew back to Edinburgh). Having said that this did not deter us from having an enjoyable stay.

Skara Brae
Skara Brae

Let me start from a roads engineering perspective. The roads on Orkney were overall the best we’ve experienced so far anywhere on our trip. This is probably because of the smooth driving surface and also for not being subjected to heavy traffic volumes. It certainly made for pleasant driving on almost deserted roads which we did from one end of the mainland to the other. We also liked the stone pavements in the centres of the towns of Kirkwall and Stromness. These were narrow single lane thoroughfares used as much by pedestrians as vehicles. Our little hired Ford Focus was a pleasure to drive (a smooth manual gearbox) through the completely treeless countryside where there is water everywhere, either lochs, the coasts of the North Sea and the North Atlantic, or the vast maritime sanctuary of Scarpa Flow. To the south, a number of causeways link the Mainland with smaller islands and eventually South Ronaldsay. Some of these causeways are known as Churchill barriers intended to prevent the entry of German shipping, particularly U-boats, into Scarpa Flow. Nearby is the Italian Chapel, constructed by prisoners of war and another reminder, together with the remains of numerous ship wrecks, of other aspects of that period of Orkney history.

Stones of Stenness
Stones of Stenness

But what else did we experience in Orkney? The two basic aims were to see some of the world’s most ancient historic sites and, on Jenny’s bucket list, to see some puffins. We succeeded nicely in the first but failed to catch a glimpse of those cute little birds. It was probably a little early in the season.

On Orkney some wonderful history has been revealed not only in standing stones and circles but also at the village of Skara Brae and at Maeshowe where neolithic civilisations left their marks from some 5000 years ago. The chambered cairn at Maeshowe under its large earth mound was particularly impressive. This site like many others across the Orkneys also have Norse (Viking) connections. At this site there was Viking runic “graffiti”. The tidal island of the Brough of Birsay has Pictish as well as Viking ruins, but unfortunately we missed another major site at the Broch of Gurness because of the bad weather.

More recent history is on display in St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall – it is only 850 years old. This is a church on a grand scale which was quite surprising in this remote part of the world. Nearby are the ruins of the Earl’s and Bishop’s Palaces.

St Magnus Cathedral
St Magnus Cathedral

st magnus 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

The weather was not our friend during our stay and “forced” us the take refuge for a couple of delightful and refreshing interludes at lunchtimes with delicious bowls of soup. Firstly, at the Brough of Birsay and then a most memorable break at the southern end of South Ronaldsay where we were able to look across the water to John O’Groats on the Scottish mainland.

Next it is back to the Scottish mainland and then south.