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In mid July 2016 Wendy and I took flight again to Europe. Those who follow these travel diaries will note that part of out trip last year was cut when Wendy's mum took ill. In particular we missed out on a planned trip to Romania and eastern Germany. This time our British sojourn would be interrupted for a few days by a side-trip to Copenhagen and Roskilde in Denmark.
Again we started in London spending a week doing the usual things: museums; shopping; Greenwich; Hampton Court; and a show (Matilda).
Westminster; the London Eye; Trafalgar Square; and gold Prince Albert the good (perpeptually gazing towards his hall)
For the first part of the trip I was suffering from a chest infection so perhaps it was less exciting than it could have been. I had some relaxing recovery time in nearby Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park beside the Serpentine, where the Serpentine Gallery had a sculpture exhibition, while Wendy shopped. The weather was warm and there's a pleasant tearoom by the lake. Tea and scones anyone?
Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park - fun beside the Serpentine
I was still dosed-up on antibiotics when we went to Greenwich. Greenwich involves a lot of walking and I was feverish so I forgot to photograph the interior except for the chronometers the azimuth telescopes, used to compile navigational star charts, avoided my lens.
The Cutty Sark - it was very tiring holding it up for all those people
The Prime Meridian of the World; Harrison's Chronometer
Almost everything at Greenwich is of interest to an Australian. In its day the Cutty Sark was the fastest wool clipper, and therefore boat, afloat. It's no longer supported by water but fortunately I was there to help hold it up.
The prime meridian is zero longitude and until Harrison's invention of the first accurate chronometer longitude was very difficult to measure requiring a clear night sky; accurate star charts and tables; and considerable technical skill and expertise. Without it, it is most unlikely that the East Coast of Australia would have been discovered or charted by Captain Cook. Indeed it's availability was also the reason the Beagle was re-charting Tierra del Fuego and that led Darwin to the Galapagos Islands and his confirming the theory of evolution. Thus we are all beneficiaries of this invention many times over.
Greenwich has been a place of navel learning and importance since Chaucer's time, arguably validating the claim that Britannia 'ruled the waves' (at least until 1915 or perhaps just until August 1812 - if you're an American).
The following day we went to Hampton Court by train.
Hampton Court Palace
The moat at the entrance a concession to security; food was important; as was religion; and sex
When you walk around Hampton Court you are aware that some of the stones beneath your feet have been trodden upon every day for 500 years and the walls echoed to the world-changing intrigues of the Court of Henry VIII. This building was central to the lives of the Tudors and several subsequent monarchs. Initially it belonged to Cardinal Wolsey, the Catholic Primate of England, but he 'gave it' to Henry VIII when he fell from favour over Henry's desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon, his first wife. Thenceforth Henry used it to entertain; and so lavish were the feasts that the entire region would be eaten bare, causing the Court to move on until the local farms recovered. In the kitchens we learnt that pies were very popular but only for the contents. The pastry was tough, like cardboard, and was thrown away - the first disposable wrappings. The lavishness of these feasts psychologically or actually indebted the guests to the host, as indeed it can today, and most could never hope to reciprocate.
As a young man Henry was impressive. He was tall (188cm = 6'2"), handsome, strong, daring, very bright and of course wealthy. He was equally capable in the jousts and the schoolroom. But injuries sustained jousting, including a wound that ulcerated and never healed, would plague him for the rest of his short life. He died at the age of 55, obese and probably diabetic. Contrary to some claims he was not syphilitic.
He was very knowledgeable about religion and resisted the extreme Protestants even when rejecting the authority of Rome and foreclosing on its monasteries. His essay refuting Luther (Assertio septem sacramentorum adversus Martinum Lutherum - Declaration of the Seven Sacraments Against Martin Luther) so pleased Pope Leo X that in 1521 Henry, then just 30 and married to very pious Catherine was given the title 'Defender of the Faith'. After the break with Rome the title was withdrawn but it was later restored by the Parliament and the British Monarchy maintains it until this day. It is said that Elizabeth II takes it extremely seriously. But Henry's familiarity with the Bible and the politics of the Reformation and Protestantism allowed his conscience to reject an obviously politicised Papacy and adopt Luther's assertion that everyone has direct access to God through the Bible (the Sufficiency of the holy Scriptures for salvation), making Papal Authority anathema. Thus he was able to consider himself a faithful Christian after the break with Rome and excommunication. So the World was changed forever.
Henry's picture depicting the Pope being stoned to death by the Gospels
Each rock is marked with the name of a Gospel in Latin
As Luther pointed out the Church teaching had drifted from the Biblical teaching in a number of areas
and Rome was not prepared to concede these, sometimes lucrative or power enhancing, errors
His daughters, brought up at Hampton Court, would also have difficulty with this break with the Roman branch of Christianity. Mary would attempt to rout the English Protestants and restore Rome's authority through burnings, murder and mayhem. Elizabeth would find a compromise with her protestant subjects that retained the link to ancient tradition and institutionalise the Church of England, claiming its Bishops to be the true inheritors of the primitive Catholic tradition, dating from the mission of St. Augustine in AD 597, that had founded the Church of England as a separate entity. In 1571 Elizabeth signed into law the Articles of Religion. These represent Rome as having deviated from the true, primitive, Christian faith in a number of areas. In return Rome would institute a Papal Bull, forgiving any one who killed her, of sin. It was what might be called today, in a different context, a fatwa against her. As a result several attempts were made on her life.
Since then Rome has reversed or softened a number of the objectionable matters listed, like holding services in one's own language rather than in Latin, but still insists on unmarried priests (except for those converting from Anglicanism who are allowed to keep their wives). Hasn't giving unmarried priests and nuns the care of children been a good idea?
After a long reign during which Elizabeth made additions to Hampton Court, including a private kitchen, now a café, as security against being poisoned, the crown passed to the Stuart monarchs and it was from here at Hampden Court that the King James version of the Bible was commissioned.
Needless to say attempts to have children, adultery and other liaisons were an ongoing source of intrigue. So the Hampton Court bed chambers saw a good deal of action. If only these beds could talk.
Since Elizabeth's day there have been numerous further additions and modifications to Hampden Court, including those by Christopher Wren for William and Mary. And the gardens contain the famous maze, for which we had no time.
Back in London the Serpentine is an easy stroll from the Natural History Museum; The Science Museum; and the V&A; not to mention shopping in Knightsbridge. When in London I like to drop in on the British Museum; the National Gallery; and the Portrait Gallery around the corner. We visited St Pauls and walked the Millennium Bridge but had no time for the Globe or the Tate Modern. Last year it was disappointing as it was under expansion and renovation.
Another day we spent a pleasant hour or so in the now gentrified Covent Garden and had lunch with the office workers at a disappointingly ordinary Granary Square.
Westminster Abby; Covent Garden
Trafalgar Square; National Gallery;
Natural History - stegosaurus and Darwin
Westminster Abbey occupied us for some hours. Here we could see the sarcophagi containing the mortal remains of Elizabeth and her bloody sister Mary, on one side of King Henry's Chapel, and their executed cousin: Mary Queen of Scots on the other. When Elizabeth died in 1603 there was "such a general sighing, groaning and weeping as the like hath not been seen or known in the memory of man". Her body was wrapped in lead and placed in a wooden coffin to be buried in the vault of her grandfather but three years later was moved over that of her sister Mary in Henry's Chapel.
The marble monument (photography prohibited) in the chapel, representing Elizabeth in effigy, was commissioned later by James I and sits over these remains. A Latin inscription below says: 'Partners in throne and grave, here we sleep Elizabeth and Mary, sisters in hope of the Resurrection.'
A longer Latin inscription on Elizabeth's monument has been translated as:
Sacred to memory:
The Cathedral is burial place or memorial to 1,341 of Britain's most famous sons and a few daughters in addition to some, mainly churchmen, famous in their day but now obscure to anyone but a specialist scholar. In addition to the two greatest Britains: Newton and Darwin, I noted: Admiral Arthur Phillip; James Prescott Joule; Michael Faraday; James Clerk Maxwell; Ernest Rutherford; Mathew Boulton; Charles Lyell; and Alfred Russel Wallace among those who gave us the modern world. Almost every British literary and musical figure of note is also commemorated. A list too long to record here; as are many soldiers and statesmen. Other famous Englishmen are buried at St Pauls - at the other end of town - mainly those naval and military figures who extended the or secured the British Empire, like Nelson and Wellington and Cook.
The fastest way to get from one end of London to the other with its now snail-like traffic, is the Tube. Like the New York subway system, and older parts of the Paris Metro, the London Underground suffers from being one of the first in the world. It was very advanced in its day but in comparison to modern systems could do with larger stations, lifts and escalators to each platform and air-conditioned trains, in which those six feet and over don't bump their heads - requiring bigger tunnels.
There is a steady upgrade underway. I really like the tube station at Westminster serving the Jubilee, Circle, and District lines. It's like a modernist cathedral that contrasts with many older stations that feature claustrophobic tubelike connecting tunnels with numerous brass-nosed-steps to drag bags up and down and some of these issues, like tunnel sizes, will be hard to fix.
In size the London and Paris systems are comparable with the Moscow system. Each have about a hundred more stations than Moscow but provide far fewer passenger trips per year, possibly because of Moscow's bigger wider gauge trains, much bigger and more accessible stations and lower fares. London fares must also be close to the highest in the world.
Strangely, in Parliament Square, near Westminster Abbey, there is a bronze statue of a man who was anything but a friend of Britain: Mahatma Gandhi who dedicated his life to ridding India of British influence. He shares the park with his one time admirer: Nelson Mandela. George Washington is also here, along with several grave-rolling Englishmen, including Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George and Benjamin Disraeli.
Obviously time heals old wounds, particularly in the case of the Mandela, who I remember being represented in the Australian press in the 1960's as a wife abusing Marxist terrorist who's second wife, Winnie Mandela, was even more notorious for her personal death-and-torture-squad that is said to have included African men women and children among its many victims.
As for Winston, in George Orwell's 1984, it's inconvenient to have too long a memory when history is being rewritten. Mandela was later more than forgiven by the British (and in Australia) for sponsoring the violence that finally rid South Africa of residual Boer/Afrikaans influence. This is still represented in the very same park by a statue of Jan Smuts, who fought against Britain and Australia in the the Boer War and opposed black African franchise. Mandela has since been raised to the status of a secular saint, particularly in the US, where his past Marxist-terrorist predilections and practice are overlooked. But I looked in vain for any statues of their other mates who also helped to bring down the British Empire and then the Commonwealth. Where was: Jomo Kenyatta; Kwame Nkrumah; or perhaps Gamal Abdel Nasser?
Parliament Square Ghandi and Mandela
From Westminster we strolled along the embankment looking for a nice pub to have lunch. There we came across Cleopatra's Needle knocked-off from the ancient Egyptians, well from the more-or-less modern Egyptians who lived there in the time of Napoleon, who had it care of the Romans, who knocked-it-off from the ancient Egyptians. Removing obelisks was a Roman tradition as far back as the Roman conquest and there are eight ancient Egyptian obelisks in Rome and several Roman copies. They even designed special ships to carry them and means of lifting them to the vertical state.
This one was made for Pharaoh Thotmes III in 1460 BCE, during the bronze age (Hittite Middle Kingdom). It's one part of a pair. The other stands in Central Parl in New York. It has a modern history, summarised on the bronze plaques. It was brought to London with great fanfare to celebrate the vanquishing of the French (in Egypt) under Napoleon. It's flanked by two modern bronze sphinxes that are Victorian, cast after an Egyptian stone model. The stone on which one of these sits is remarkable. A plaque informs us that its plinth was damaged in a German air-raid during the First World War, yet it was unscathed in the Blitz during the Second. I was not aware that London had been bombed in both wars.
The ancient Egyptians made many of these obelisks or 'needles'. A quarry we visited in Egypt still has one on it's side in a semi-manufactured state. Another of these, also known as Cleopatra's Needle, L'aiguille de Cléopâtre, is in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
The Embankment and Cleopatra's Needle
The damaged Sphinx plinth
One of eight Ancient Egyptian obelisks in Rome (very Christian)
As we got about the city we generally visited a different pub each day for lunch and/or dinner, including our favourite: The Victoria at Paddington. Pub meals are generally good value but on those occasions we ate in a restaurant the high cost of living in London became immediately apparent. It's easy to part with the cost of a flight to Denmark. So we did.
We were flying out and in to Luton, London's third airport that was surrounded by traffic jams on the major roads. Give yourself an extra hour to come or go if you ever have to use it.
West country and Cornwall
From Denmark we checked into the IBIS hotel at the airport and hired a car there and get out into the countryside. We would come back there before flying to Romania.
We planned to begin our ramblings with a stay at Wells, from where we could easily drive to Glastonbury and perhaps Bath the same day. Unfortunately the trip took nearly two hours longer than our TomTom GPS navigator forecast. At times we could have walked faster.
So by the time we got to the Beryl Country House at Wells all we wanted to do was avail ourselves of the free afternoon tea and relax. Bath would have to wait for another trip in future. We have both been there anyway so our motivation was diminished. The hotel itself was a draw-card. It has extensive grounds and an ancient orchard with unusual, pre-commercial, varieties of apple and pear. There's also a swimming pool. But the house itself attempts domesticity with framed images of members of the family; delicate floral bone china; and sterling-silver spoons and cutlery (not EPNS). There is an open bar on the honour system, with numerous types of spirits and fortified wines, including aged malt whiskies. No thieves expected or apparently suffered. Upstairs, very up, because of the high ceilings below, was equally pleasant. We had access to a small kitchen and a private bathroom (not en-suite but big, with separate shower and bath). Our bedroom was large and nicely furnished with a big, high bed; sitting chairs; tea making facilities; and a small flat screen TV to watch the news.
Beryl Country House; Wells Cathedral & High Street - Cathedral in background
Wells Cathedral, with its interesting history, is well worth a visit as was the town itself. It's the England of literature, on this sunny day pretty and busy with market tents, like a fete, and a bustling, flowery high street: the Cathedral in the background. Many peaches and cream complexions, mothers and children. There were lots of fluttering Union Jacks, perhaps post-Brexit? Yet there was more than one French, Dutch and German voice among the throng.
Nearby is Glastonbury.
At Glastonbury we were reminded yet again of Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries. As I have already mentioned Henry was not a traditional Protestant but had his own spin on religion. Eventually Henry reached a compromise with the English Protestants, agreeing with many of Luther's 95 theses. These were the Biblical scholar's objections to Rome's practices. Henry agreed to promulgating thirteen articles of religion that are said to be as close to Lutheran Protestantism as the English Church ever got.
For Henry the break with Rome had one great incentive: financial. England had long been in dispute with Rome alleging that Rome had improperly levied taxation on English lands. Initially Henry sought to recover the disputed funds by foreclosing on church property valued at under 200 pounds and selling it to local aristocrats and merchants. It was a popular move and had considerable local support. It soon became something of a goldmine.
Glastonbury was the second richest and most powerful monastery in England and worth a lot more that 200 pounds. So when the king's men arrived unexpectedly in 1539 to take possession and carry off its valuables the Abbot, Richard Whyting objected and resisted. Whyting had agreed to the separation of the Church and was hanged, drawn and quartered as a traitor on Glastonbury Tor.
The Abby and two of its manors were then sold by the crown to a wealthy, newly created knight, John Thynne, who had been a soldier and administrator in the service of the Seymours. Thereafter the Abbey building became a source of nicely cut stone for other building projects in the region and was reduced to a ruin. Since that time a number of legends have been revived or invented around it including that it is the site of the fabled Avalon of Arthurian fame and/or that it was founded by Joseph of Arimathea.
Glastonbury: Abbey and the Tor
In 1882 it became a protected monument and was purchased in 1908 by the local Trust, after which the ruins were cleaned of vegetation and stabilised. They have been a local amenity; a place of religious pilgrimage; and popular tourist attraction ever since, with over 100,000 visitors a year.
Glastonbury Tor, on which Abbot Whyting, met his demise, is a distinctive cone shaped hill that has archaeological evidence of Roman; Saxon and probably even stone age human activity. It looks man-made, like a very large pyramid or mound. It is however a natural geological feature that no doubt influenced the choice of location for the Abbey. It is presently toped by the tower of a ruined church. Climbing it is one of the things longer-stay holiday makers can do in the region. Another is to visit England's oldest Safari Park at Longleat, country seat of the Marquis of Bath. I have mentioned elsewhere a 10' LP record that I still have titled The Best of Sellers. On one of the tracks Peter Sellers sends-up the commercialisation of Stately Homes, so Longleat became a place of comic inappropriateness in my mind.
I also had a childhood recollection of a family being attacked there by the lions and remembering it as funny(?). On looking it up I discover that they were a family of dummies, set up by the BBC, in less correct times, to see what would happen. The dummies were torn asunder and the resulting hilarious news item, like those April Fools items about pasta trees and so on, must have been circulated to the ABC in Australia, probably in black-and-white to This Day Tonight. Apparently a man in a soft-toped car had almost met the same fate but was able to escape. Nowadays only lion-proof cars are admitted. So Longleat has become less amusing. Now it's just another private zoo.
Our next base for touring was in the village of Kennford (near Exeter), from which we travelled as far as Port Isaac in Cornwall, setting for the TV series Doc Martin. It's on that big toe on the foot of the map of England.
Port Isaac (above)
Plymouth and Rock? (kids were dangerously jumping from here)
After Cornish Pasties for lunch we headed down to Plymouth and back along the coast via Torquay (of Faulty Towers fame); stopping off in Sidmouth for a meal and to drop by the St John's International School, where Wendy's daughter Jordan worked in her gap year (on exchange) before returning to Kennford.
Once in the country driving became a pleasure with narrow country roads and archetypal English countryside, farms and dwellings. Here TomTom came into its own, obviating the need for a road atlas; complex navigation and domestic disharmony.
I've already summarised our rambles in the introduction so I'll just add a couple of highlights. The pubs are worth a mention. We enjoyed a number of very nice meals at quite reasonable prices in a goodly number of establishments. In several others we just popped in for a drink while walking around various towns. Thirsty work walking. Among these was one in Exeter at which Wendy was so taken with one of the unusually numerous 'Hens Parties' in town that she asked to take some photos. The girls were in a particularly excited state, perhaps on account of a giant inflated penis that one was carrying, or possibly because the entire town seemed to be overrun with excited girls at similar events. Exeter also has a large shopping precinct that attracted Wendy, so I spent some time in the Cathedral and a surprisingly good coffee shop, as the English weather had become inclement.
Fortunately we had planned to return to the IBIS Hotel at Luton Airport before our morning flight to Bucharest or given the almost stationary traffic on the so-called motorways it's doubtful if we would have made it. TomTom had chosen the shortest but possibly most congested route and it took the best part of a day to return there from Exeter, more than double the nominal journey time of three and a half hours. When we finally arrived it was dark cold and raining. It was grim.
Google Pictures Generated album - Southern England: Click here...