There come a time, or many times in a man’s life where he must go in search of the history that most fascinates him, and pay homage to those that broke the ground before, from which he can draw all knowledge and wisdom. For me this was UK trip 2.0 because my interests are rather particular and I had two weeks. I spent three days covering London by foot in improper footwear (I’m still suffering the damage) and then eight days driving 2700kms before heading for France and this is how it unfolded:
After landing at Gatwick and walking the Roman road of distances, I eventually found the exit and met my sister who had sourced and brought along with her some warm clothing for me from the OP shop, bless her. We made our way into the city to marvel at Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, St Pauls Cathedral. The foundations were laid following the great fire in 1666 and the behemoth still occupies one dramatic footprint in London, and I love it.
We caught up with our cousin and his fiancée who live just outside the capital and I convinced them all to come with me to the ‘Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese’. This pub was rebuilt in 1666 following the great fire, with a pub on this site since 1538. We enjoyed a cider or two in the vaulted cellars which may date back to a 13th century Monastery. On exit we admired all the English Monarchs that reigned while this pub was serving Ale (A list is by the door).
Shortly afterward the Sis’ and I went on a walk to find the plaque commemorating the spot William Wallace was hung drawn and quartered. We eventually did and around the corner was 41 Cloth Fair, the oldest house in London and the only one to have survived the great fire within the ‘square mile’.
As I have spent time in London before, I focused on some history I hadn’t seen and some that I had. The next day I went to the Museum of London – you have it do it, it is just brilliant. It Chronicles London from pre history through Londinium to Modern times and is a testament to the city, that through political upheavals, plagues, epidemics and conflict that it still thrived through the past two thousand years. Over the next two days I paid my respects (fanboy’ed) to Admiral Lord Nelson in St Pauls; admired Nelson’s spire (top of his hat to the base of the pillar is the length of the main mast of HMS Victory); climbed the monument; navigated to Crossbones Graveyard – a site for porper and prostitute burials for hundreds of years that has now been preserved into a commemorative garden; Town of Ramsgate where pirates were hung; dumplings in China town because, well, dumplings; The Shard with the Sis’; a Jack the Ripper tour; and found myself bombarded by pigeon shit trying to locate “Tyburn Tree”, the site of the gallows for one of London’s busiest public execution places (a very different time). Lots more of course but then this blog becomes too long & I’ve been given strict instructions by the blog’s owner to keep it interesting… but brief..ish.
I picked up my hire car on day four and trekked out to Oxford for a walking tour where I saw unbelievably well maintained gardens, colleges, long hair indiscriminate of gender and of course, hear of Protestant Clergy being burned during the reign of Queen “Bloody” Mary. Neither Catholic nor Protestant escaped during the Tudor Dynasty. Oxford is absolutely worth a visit. I then travelled to Acton to stay in a B&B built in the 1520s with all its marvellously old warped wood. Acton is close to Lavenham, a wool town that fell from riches in the 1500s when the Dutch immigrants started producing clothing lighter and cheaper than from Lavenham. This left the descendents no money to rebuild over the centuries, and the town a large medieval ‘peep hole’. Well worth your time. Off to Burnham-Thorpe next, a tiny town and birthplace of Admiral Lord Nelson. You can go to the pub where he drank, whilst in town visiting his father. It was renamed “The Lord Nelson” from the “Plough Inn” following his funeral in 1806. I had some ‘Nelson’s Blood’ Rum and looked around as it remains largely unchanged (because why would you update it?)
After a few other stop-offs I stayed in Leicester, geared up for my Richard III immersion the next day. The discovery centre is brilliant and you can see where he was uncovered via a Perspex floor. 527 years he was in that spot, lost to record before being discovered through pain staking work. It is a big deal to Leicester because he rode from the town, army in toe and was brought back into the city naked and beaten for public display by Henry Tudor (then King Henry VII…well he proclaimed himself king and backdated it to before the battle so technically Richard III was a traitor, those cheeky Tudors). Nearby is Bosworth Field, the battle site and site of the last English Monarch to die in battle (Richard III), also found through painstaking archaeological investigation and record trawling.This day was a highlight, and was reminisced over a pie and stout at one of England’s oldest Inns “Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem” carved into the bedrock of the castle above. Dating back to the 1100s, the monks would brew the beer and haul it up via rope to the castle. Shame I don’t like beer. I stomached the stout because I figured it was time to man up for the monks. That night was spent in York at the birthplace of Guy Fawkes. I’m glad he couldn’t pull off his plot in the end.
I then went my furtherest North to Hartlepool to look at the historic dockyard and HMS Trincomalee, they have done a good job at the dock yard. Afterward it was time to head into Wales and off to Conwy to walk the castle walls and watch Deadpool at the local cinema. Pizza hut was had for dinner because you can still eat in!!! I then drove through the Welsh country side with old Willows and gobsmacking scenery to Statford-upon-Avon. Beautiful Tudor style buildings, nice town and that Shakespeare fella to be found there. Off then to Portsmouth to stay over night and admire HMS Victory again, because England must never forget! I had a brilliant tour by a flamboyant Petty Officer who knew his info and I then lamented missing the Mary Rose for a second time, yep more restoration work.
The last portion was spent with a mate in Plymouth, who besides getting me royally drunk and then royally hungover as a result, managed to organise a tour for me into the Royal Citadel and Stonehouse Barracks which I would love to cover in more detail but am running out of words. That was a great couple of days and soon found myself driving back to London to find a park, catch up with some friends, find the car again, drop it off and locate my sister once more to get ready for the Alps.
It was a fantastic tour, reminding me you just can’t beat England for a mix of historical exploration and scenery, nor can you beat Google maps for directions.