The first few days of our trip in England and Scotland turned out fairly much as expected. Most people know the places from the television or books or playing monopoly.
We started with four days in London. This was never going to be enough time to do everything in London but we saw the popular sights and had a great time particularly our day at Wimbledon. We started with a bus tour of the main sights and a boat trip along the Thames. These took in Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Parliament, the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Greenwich, etc, etc. All very nice but not really new to us.
We came back and had longer visits to St Paul’s, the Tower of London, London Eye and Kew Gardens.
St Paul’s was interesting in comparison with the churches and mosques that we have seen so far - very grand architecturally and huge in size but far more austere and conservative in decoration. Perhaps this is just the British attitude or a more puritanical Church of England compared to the eastern religions.
We went to the Tower to see the Crown Jewels and aside from the Cullinan diamond we came away a little disappointed. There is a lot of history associated with the Crown Jewels but in terms of sheer opulence they are not a patch on the Jewellery Museum in Tehran. In some ways, the undecorated crowns worn by kings and queens using borrowed jewels were as interesting - we always thought that the royals could afford them. However the tower did have an extensive and interesting display of Henry VIII’s armour - it is a wonder that they could do anything in those suits.
We were a little disappointed with the London Eye. We couldn’t go at 10.00am because of maintenance and so went at 3.00pm with the crowd and the sun coming in from the west over the Houses of Parliament (yes - it was sunny every day in London). As a result the viewing and the pictures were not the best. It is a magnificent structure and a great concept but it didn’t really work for us on the day.
We also had a pleasant visit to Kew Gardens although they are probably better described as a park rather than gardens. There are lots of magnificent trees and a large variety of plant species but they are not presented with the same dramatic effect as somewhere like Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna (perhaps we have seen too many places or our memories are playing tricks.)
Without doubt our best day in London was spent at Wimbledon. Even four hours queuing was great from an event management perspective. We arrived about 8.45 am and were told at the start that we would get in to the grounds at about 12.30 and that is what happened. We saw three Australians win - Sam Stosur (even though she played horribly), Lleyton Hewett (albeit on the big screen from Henman Hill) and Chris Guiccione (in the doubles at 8.00pm in the evening). In addition, we were lucky to be given Centre Court tickets by a young guy who was leaving and saw the last few games on Andy Murray’s match - we will probably never get in there again. For about 30 pounds each, we had a fantastic day’s entertainment which finished about 8.00pm. And we were back at our hotel near Kings Cross by 9.00pm - the more we see of underground rail systems the better - Adelaide needs one!
After London, we hired a car and headed off to regional England, Scotland and ultimately we will get to Wales. Our first stop was Oldham near Manchester to meet our clients, Irene & Brian who were holding our tickets for the cricket in Cardiff. It was lovely to catch up with Irene and Brian and they had the tickets. As a small bonus we headed on from Oldham to York across the West Yorkshire moors so reminiscent of the country in the James Heriot TV program - open, wind swept hillsides, black faced sheep, stone farmhouses nestled in among the trees.
We arrived in York about 7.00pm so the tourist places were closed but we did an involuntary tour of many of the spots as we tried to find somewhere suitable to park the car. We didn’t get into the cathedral but liked its location next to the river and the narrow cobbled streets. One feature of York was the dinner that we had at an Italian restaurant - Ann said that it was the best pasta that she had ever had. (In general the food in the UK has been better than expected although fairly expensive. On expensive, don’t complain about petrol prices - here they were 1.05 pounds ($A2.15) a litre)
From York we headed onto Edinburgh with a brief stop in Durham where we managed to get into the Durham Cathedral - another huge church again in a beautiful location next to the castle and overlooking the river. They do have many grand and picturesque locations over here.
We had a few problems finding our way into Edinburgh as our directions were not the best but we got there after about an hour's driving around. In the morning for almost the first time, the weather was against us as the city was covered in fog. As a result we felt like we were visiting the highlands without going there while we walked along the base of the Salisbury Crags overlooking the city which we could not see.
We struck out on visiting Holyrood House because the queen was in residence but we had a long tour of Edinburgh Castle. It was perhaps the best citadel that we saw but not the best palace. The Crown Jewels of Scotland were interesting for their history such as being hidden from Oliver Cromwell and lost or locked away in the Castle. The history was probably more interesting than the Jewels themselves.
Our next steps will be taken literally in the Lake District but that will be in the next bulletin.