Monday, 7 November 2011

England and Scotland

There I was in Newfoundland with three weeks of vacation time. From the West Coast, Great Britain seemed to be so far away. From Newfoundland, though, it was only 3000-odd miles translating to a 4 hour jet flight across the Atlantic Ocean. I booked a ticket and left on August 31, 1972.

At that time the famed Canada/Soviet hockey series was about to begin and the Munich Olympics were underway. I flew from St John's to Gander to connect with the Trans-Atlantic flight. Another passenger on that flight to Gander was Howie Meeker, the CBC Hockey Night in Canada color commentator. He was on his way to Montreal for the first game of that series. While jet planes were already flying non-stop across Canada, he was on a 'milk run' flying from St John's to Gander to Deer Lake to Sydney to Halifax and, finally, to Montreal. I didn't wish myself in his shoes!

I had a four hour lay over in Gander and then four hours on a bigger jet across the Atlantic to Heathrow. For most of the flight the going was smooth but with two bumpy sections - over Iceland where the American, Bobby Fischer, was playing the Russian, Boris Spassky for the Chess Championship; and over Northern Ireland where 'The Troubles' were a few years from being settled. I thought that the turbulence experienced in those air spaces were generated from the 'hot air' generated on the ground beneath!

Customs and Immigration at Heathrow were a breeze. A double deck bus was waiting right outside and soon I was standing on the pavement at Victoria Station - London!!!! The next task was to navigate the tube system to Stockwell and the 'Y'
on the south side of the Thames. After booking in and changing my clothes I took the tube back north to Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street, Carnaby Street and Oxford Street hardly believing that I was actually there. Being on a tight budget I had to watch my pennies but I forgot to check on the frequency of the transit and ended up having to ride one of those iconic London cabs back to the YMCA.

London!!! So much to see in and near that city and limited time. For the first few days I remained in Central London visiting many of the well known attractions (Kensington Gardens, High Park, St James Park, Buckingham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral). At the latter I climbed the stairs up into the great dome and experienced vertigo from the great height and, seemingly to me, danger of slipping and falling an awful long way to the floor of the nave.

I had planned to spend about ten days in Yorkshire and in Scotland so I decided to sandwich the London sites around the out-of-town excursion.

I went to Hampton Court and to Windsor touring both the buildings and the wonderful artwork and artifacts on display. While in Windsor I tried to find my buddy from Alice Springs and Goodnight, Barry Reynolds, but the Reynolds family I found in the telephone directory was not his.

On another day I took a train to Oxford and wondered at that historic place and all the famous 'colleges' which I visited. I went to the chapel/church of St Mary Magdalen and again I made the mistake of climbing the staircase to the belfry - more vertigo.

Back in London, I saw the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and heard some of the speakers at their corner in High Park.

Going to the Visitors' Bureau garnered me a free ticket on a London tour bus (double deck of course!). I availed myself of that and was seated beside an Israeli soldier who was visiting London. This was a few days after the massacre at the Jewish village in Munich so I commiserated with him.

Also, I toured Westminster Abbey which is so big that I had the feeling that I was all alone. When the voice of the Dean came over the loudspeaker suggesting that, in memory of those who had lost their lives in Munich, we all pause and recite together the words of the Lord's Prayer. I was by myself at that moment but I heard the voices of hundreds of others reciting the same words that I was.

Who could visit London and not purchase a ticket to a West End show? I did - and saw a production of "Jesus Christ Superstar". That was the second time that I had seen a production of that musical but the one in London was far better than the one that I had seen in St. John's.

During my final year at Union College I met a young Englishman who was doing a Post Graduate year at UBC. Peter Shaw - no relation to the Shaws whom I knew in B.C. - was from Bridlington in Yorkshire. We had remained in touch with each other and I had an invitation to spend a weekend with him and his widowed mother.

I should mention that, before leaving St John's, I had purchased a British Railway Pass so I was free to travel on those trains whenever I wanted to during that month. On the Friday after arriving in London I rode a train to Yorkshire - which was an interesting experience. The train from London to Hull was modern and fast but, in Hull, I had to change to a local which stopped at every town, village and hamlet along the way.

Peter met me at the railway station in Bridlingon and took me to the bungalow that he shared with his mother. The next day - Saturday - Peter drove me to York but, instead of taking a direct route, he drove to some of the other historic places in that area. One was to the town of Beverley which has a 'Minster' meaning that it, long ago, was the 'See' of a bishopric. We walked through the old church and, immediately, I noticed the name plaques in the floor - we were walking over/on a series of graves. Being raised with the understanding that one does not walk on a grave, this gave me pause - until I realized that, if I wanted to see everything, there was no choice. Not far from Beverley was Ely which has yet another Minster. On the surface one could assume that there was uniformity in the churches during the Middle Ages but such was not the case. Those three bishoprics cheek by jowl with each other were not cooperating but were rivals.

We drove on to York. It took Peter a little while to find a safe place in which to park the car from where we set out towards the Cathedral (the towers towered over the city so it could not be missed). Along the way we passed a man's clothing shop and Peter was quite attracted to an outfit displayed in one of the windows. He suggested that I carry on to the Cathedral while he shopped - he would catch up to me later.

What neither Peter nor I realized was that this was the Saturday when Yorkminster Cathedral was to be re-commissioned after renovations had been completed. I entered through one of the side doors into what seemed to be a relatively empty building - until I reached the nave where there were hundreds of people. There was a group of pilgrims there from the northwest city of Carlisle who had come to join the locals in celebrating the reopening of their magnificent building.

The Service of Dedication was underway and, very shortly, a hymn of praise was to be sung. There were no 'programs' handy (on which the words of the hymns were printed) so a nun who was near me offered to share hers with me.

Hundreds of voices raised in song in that magnificent building was almost ethereal! Also, in my line of vision, was the Rose Window - possibly the most glorious piece of glass art that I have seen. As the service ended Peter found me again so after a few minutes spent looking around we left. Peter is/was like me in one way - why use the Motorway when there are country roads going in the same direction and closer to the beautiful scenery? It was on that drive back to Bridlingon that I saw a British 'round about' for the first time - Peter had to navigate a few.

The next day being Sunday, Peter, his Mom and I went to the Methodist Chapel for the morning service. At the end of the service, his Mom went on home to attend to the roast beef dinner while Peter and I went for a stroll along the beach (Bridlington is a 'seaside resort' a few miles south of the better known Scarborough). As we strolled we passed many people most of whom were walking and talking in groups. Peter was listening to the accents and would comment to me as to which community and/or area each passersby came from. I found that to be quite entertaining!

As I mentioned above, Mrs. Shaw was cooking a roast for Tea - and I was shown how roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and gravy are supposed to be eaten.

First we were served the Yorkshire pudding with the gravy - I love beef gravy that is well made - and then the meat, potatoes and vegetables. That was followed by dessert - but I cannot now remember what that was.

Monday had been set aside as the day to tour Yorkshire - and it was wonderful. First we drove back into York so Peter could complete the business of buying the new clothes and then we headed west to the market town of Thornton-le-Dale where we went into a bakery and bought ourselves some meat pies. With these and beverages in the car we drove along a country road to a hamlet. Every so often along that road - and other like roads - 'park benches' are placed just up from the road in the shade of trees. We sat on one of these to eat our pies and, as we were across a lane from a farm, chickens from there recognized an opportunity and came begging.

After eating Peter drove along a circular route to where there was a road up onto the moors. For me, the story of Jane Eyre came to mind. We drove for a few miles over those barren hills and then down to a hamlet nestled beside a stream in a valley and then back up to go over another ridge and down to a new hamlet.

Eventually we reached the coastal highway facing the North Sea along which we turned south. We dipped down into a town which I had never heard of - Robin Hood's Bay - a smugglers' haven in days of yore. Also, we stopped at the ruins of Whitby Abbey where a conference was held in the early centuries of the Christian Era. That conference determined that England would follow the Christian faith as espoused by Rome and not the indigenous Celtic order. I had learned that fact in Church History!

As time was passing Peter drove on to the town of Scarborough where we went to a pub and then, after a 'couple', on to his home in Bridlington.

On the following Morning Peter drove me to the railway station where I caught the local into York in order to transfer to the train to Edinburgh. I was in York in plenty of time so I thought that I would walk to the Cathedral again. However, I had forgotten something - the streets are narrow and they meander all over the place. While walking back to the station I became turned around and, by the time that I had become reoriented, I had missed the train. Luckily for me, a second train that was coming up from Plymouth and was bound for Edinburgh had been held up due to an accident on the line. I was in time to catch it.

In correspondence between Peter and I before I left for England he had told me about the 'Countrywide Hiking Association' and the group hikes that they organize all over Great Britain. As it was the middle of September, their hostels in north Scotland had closed for the season but there was still one in operation - Kinfauns Castle - near the town of Perth, I reserved a space there.

As I was not expected at Kinfauns Castle until the following Saturday, I opted for some touring in Scotland on my own and Edinburgh was the first stop.

Upon arriving in that city I found the local Visitors' Bureau where I was given the address of the YMCA.

At times it can truly be a 'Small World'. In Edinburgh I met Chris Jack's married daughter (Chris was my supervisor during the "In Parish" training during the second year at Union College) who took me out and about and then to dinner. On my own I toured Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace. John Knox's house and St Giles Cathedral. The tour of Holyrood Palace was a guided one and it was very interesting - especially the history of Mary Queen of Scots and her gentlemen friends. John Knox's house was dreary but the walls of St Giles Cathedral were lined with plaques commemorating the Reformation and the subsequent Counter Reformation.

This was Wednesday and I was not due at Kinfauns Castle until Saturday so I decided to take the train to Inverness, down to Aberdeen and then to Perth. The weather was sunny when we left Edinburgh but clouded over as we entered the Highlands. Still, as I was sitting on that side of the train, I did get some good views of Loch Ness - but not a sign of the Loch Ness Monster!

In Inverness I found a pleasant B&B and then went out to explore. Lucky for me, it was the weekend of a Piper's Conference and, everywhere I wandered that evening, I could hear the sound of the pipes. Dad would not have enjoyed that but I did!

The next morning I caught an early train to Aberdeen and my most vivid memory of that ride was the site of all those distilleries that we passed. The Scots do like their whiskey! Aberdeen is a clean city but more or less all of a monochrome color
- grey - the whole city seemed to be built of granite. After an hour or so there I caught another train for Perth. Fortunately, Kinfauns Castle is to the east of the town so I could see it as I passed on the train and, therefore, knew in which direction to head after alighting at the railway station.

Kinfauns is a castle - although not an overly large one. There were two other men in the room with me - Peter from Southport, Yorkshire (his parents were there as well) and Charles from Paris, France. We got along with each other very well. Our initial hike was next afternoon up to the top of nearby Kinouls Hill where we had an impressive view of the surrounding countryside including Dunsinane Hill and Birnam Woods. Yes - those two places mentioned by Shakespeare in 'Macbeth' do really exist!

The first major hike was on Monday - the following day. Buses were waiting for us and we were taken to the hamlet of Auchterhouse (I find it amusing to try to pronounce the names of these places as the Scots do - however, I wont try phonetic spelling here). As we were a large group we were split into two parties. Before we started out, though, a member of the hiking club in nearby Dundee spoke to us about the terrain we would be hiking over and what we should look out for. We went up a high hill walking through heather and bracken and then down to a hamlet situated beside a road. A rule that we followed was that the last hiker in the group was responsible for closing any gates that we may have opened to pass through. I and my roommates - Peter and Charles - were the last and Peter had closed the gate.

The hamlet was like many others over there - a neat row of houses along the road and no sprawl. The lane we were following came down beside the last house in the row and we turned left to descend the rest of the way to Glamis.

An elderly Scottish gentleman was waiting for us and he asked, "Be ye Sassenachs?" I answered by pointing to Peter and saying, "Aye, he is - but Charles is French and I am a Canadian". The old gentleman came back with, "Och! Canada is a bonny land!" to which I replied, "And Scotland is a bonny land too!"

Queen Mother Elizabeth's nephew, the Earl of Strathmore, had died and his funeral was that afternoon. As she was his cousin, the Queen attended as well. We were not allowed through the gate into the grounds of Glamis Castle so waited outside. The castle cemetery was situated just inside the walls of the estate and, when the Queen 'Mum' and Queen Elizabeth exited we had a good view of them and the former waved to us. Except for when I was three years old and too young to remember, that was the only time that I saw the Queen Mother in the flesh.

On our way back to Kinfauns Castle the bus stopped for a tea break in Kirriemuir. I knew that that was the home village of the playwright, James Barrie, so - while the others sipped their tea - I went to look for his house, found it and took a photo.

The hike on the following day was up one of the higher peaks - Ben Vrackie. The hiking was strenuous but I was thrilled to be walking through heather and seeing Scottish wildlife (hares galore and, in a wooded area, deer). Two of those hares scared the daylights out of one of the women and myself - they exploded from right under our feet.

Wednesday was an idle day so I accepted the invitation from one of the other men to go with him and a few others in his car over to Fort William on the West Coast of Scotland. Our route took us across country through the beautiful Glencoe and along the shore of Loch Laven. As we descended Glencoe there was a piper standing in a lay-by playing his pipes. Ah Scotland!

We stopped briefly in Fort William and then drove eastward to the site of the Battle of Culloden and then south back to Perth.

On Thursday we climbed the other higher peak - Ben Lawers. One of our group had learned that there would be a 'Ceilidh' at a pub in Perth that evening so, much to the dismay of the castle managers who had planned an evening of entertainment, Charles and I and one or two others went into town.

The ceilidh was a hoot. During the entertainment we were invited to introduce ourselves and, for the rest of the evening, Charles and I were not allowed to sit down but were asked to dance by many of the lassies in the pub. Also - that was the one and only time that I have been where haggis was being served. It was delicious!

Our final day in the Scottish countryside was a pleasant one. We rode in the bus to north of Dunkeld and walked over the lower hills and through the dales. More wildlife to see!

Our Scottish holiday ended Friday evening so, on Saturday morning, I joined Peter and his parents (Mr and Mrs Rawlings) for the drive down to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. After lunch we went to the Newcastle soccer pitch for the game against Leeds (which is where the Rawlings live). I was warned that, if I should decide to barrack for Leeds, to keep that quiet as it could be unsafe to do otherwise! The soccer pitch was not really that big but over 40,000 people crammed in there for the game which Newcastle won 3-2. The entry and exit to the grounds was by outside staircases along the sides of the stadium. This, for me, was somewhat nerve racking even though we waited until most of the crowd had dispersed.

After the game, Mr Rawlings drove me to the railway station where I caught a train to Durham. The ride was not that long and, once there, I found a bed in a B&B and then walked to the campus of the University of Durham, the Alma Mater of Peter Shaw.

I had time before the London train left to visit the University of Durham one more time - but in the daylight. Back in London I returned to the 'Y' in Stockwell and was surprised to find Peter Shaw there as well.

Back home Lowell Shaw played ice hockey for a team in Whalley (North Surrey) and I was startled to see a young man wearing a sweatshirt with that team's logo, riding on the tube going to the Tower of London. Yes - he knew Lowell and was over in Europe on his own vacation.

The tour of the Tower of London was fascinating.

Having a Brit-Rail Pass made decisions as to where to go a lot easier. I thought that, since I had seen Oxford, I should go to Cambridge. However, the rail service there was not as frequent as to the former. Instead I took a train to Brighton to see the seaside resort of which my Grandmother spoke of so fondly. There was an awful lot of 'kitsch' along the beachfront but the view out over the English Channel was pretty.

On Thursday, September 28 I flew back to Gander, Newfoundland and the reality of my job. I was amused by the woman who was sitting beside me on the bus from Victoria Station out to Heathrow. She was an American and needed to get to Dallas, Texas as quickly as possible. The only seat available was on an Air India flight to New York City. She said that she exclaimed in horror, "Air India?" only to have the clerk say to her, "Madam, not one of our aircraft has ever crashed!"

When we landed in Gander the baggage room personnel were talking about the final hockey game of the Canada/Russia series. At that time it was tied so, when I returned to the manse on Bell Island, I was able to watch the end of the game which Canada won.

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