Going back to England!

For years I’ve had requests from my pattern customers to lead a historical costuming tour to England. As a busy homeschooling mom, I just didn’t see that on the near horizon. But last year, my husband brought it up and said there’d probably never be a better time to go — one silver lining in the black cloud of a failing economy is the falling of travel costs and a better exchange rate for the American dollar. We also now have lots of older children who help run the household and need little help with their schooling, so my husband urged me to consider going in the fall of 2009.

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Rochester: Part II

After the wonderful tour of the castle (and a quick stop in the gift shop for treats for my children!), we headed back down the hill toward the Cathedral. Through a side door, you enter the ruins of the old abbey, seen in the photo at left. There is a beautiful garden through the lower archway, complete with splendid English roses. Somehow we didn’t manage photos of those, but we were in a hurry for tea and a little rest, so we continued across the broad, green lawn into the cozy little tea room.

The tea room is an unpretentious, easygoing place built into a house that has served the church for over 200 years. They offer the usual scones and clotted cream with preserves and had a variety of teas available. We sat down to enjoy our little repast and chat about what we wanted to do next.

Yes, they do serve tea on plastic trays in England… 😉

We knew we wanted to see the two big used bookshops in Rochester before heading back to London, but we weren’t sure where to start. The main street isn’t very long, so we wandered back down it until we stumbled across the first place, a little hole in the wall absolutely crammed to the ceiling with books. The proprietor let us browse, and we found many bargains (100-year-old Dickens’ editions for a pound!). Purchases in hand, we moved on down the street to an OxFam shop–akin to an American Goodwill. There were a few books, but nothing really tempted us there. We were beginning to wonder if we’d find the big store our hostess had told us about when we bumped into it at the end of the street. We entered two stories of antique book bliss! I found several volumes of 19th-century adventure stories for my son and regretfully walked away from expensive, leather-bound editions of favorite classics. It was dreamy just to browse!

But time marched on, and we knew we had to catch the bus back to our train to make it to London before it was too late. We bade a fond farewell to lovely Rochester and enjoyed a drowsy journey back to London, looking over our literary treasures and storing up memories.

Next morning we attended church with my friends in Dulwich, then joined them for lunch in their home and a restful afternoon of visiting and (of course!) tea:

Sitting with our wonderful hostess, Sarah J.

Lindsay and Sarah sip and rest.

Enjoying a marvelous afternoon.

Here are Sarah and Lindsay with our friends Carol and Dawn. The lovely young lady between Sarah and Lindsay was staying with our host family as a helper after the birth of their baby. A native of Australia, she was a delight to get to know!

All in all, we had a wonderful time. We headed back to Southwark for a late afternoon meal with Suzi, then began packing up for the trip home next day. Before turning in that night, though, we had a wild hair to go see Piccadilly Circus at night. I admit the idea was mostly fueled by fun images from yesteryear when the circus was akin to Times Square with all its lights and shops. So Carol, Dawn, Sarah, Lindsay, and I hopped a night bus and took off. Piccadilly didn’t quite live up to that vintage mental image, but we still had fun, doing some last-minute shopping for family and friends at the tourist traps all around us.

Next morning the girls and I said our good-byes and headed to Heathrow, and I posed for a last-minute picture with Dawn, Carol and Suzi:

The only other funny incident I must record is that Lindsay decided to wear flip-flops to the airport and ended up losing one between the tube and the station platform — it does say, “Mind the Gap” everywhere you look, and Lindsay’s flip-flop went straight down, never to be seen again. She spent the rest of the ride going through her suitcase for another pair of shoes! It really does pay to wear a good, comfy, sturdy pair of shoes for all journeys through London’s transport system. 😉

At any rate, we did make it to our gate at Heathrow (after one wrong tube choice and long check-in lines) and flew back safe and sound to the US. And all of us look forward to future adventures in Great Britain!

Rochester at LAST!

Well, I can’t even comment on how overdue this is. It’s just way past the embarrassing stage at this point! Here, at last, are photos of what we did on our Saturday in England in 2007! At left is what remains of the original Roman wall in the earliest part of Rochester. It’s really amazing to see something this old.

We were out so late the night before after the performance at the Globe Theater that we nixed the idea of going to Dover and slept in. Our hostess told us that Rochester was a beautiful, charming place to visit, especially if we liked old castle ruins, vintage book shops, and a little Charles Dickens thrown in for good measure! So we ate a leisurely breakfast, then boarded the train for Rochester.

I hadn’t thought to check the railway updates that morning on the ‘net, or I would have seen that part of the line was down. We got about six miles from Rochester and then had to take a bus the rest of the way. That was fine — all we cared about was getting there! The ride there was beautiful almost the entire way. Some of east London isn’t very pretty to look at, but the fields and hills beyond were wonderful. The sky was a postcard blue — just brilliant. We knew something good was in store for our day!

The day was gloriously sunny and mild, and we walked up the hill from the bus station with great anticipation. Rochester is laid out with the main street running up the hill toward the beautiful Cathedral and the ca. 1067 castle (built by William the Conquerer) just beyond. We walked up the main street toward the castle, Lindsay taking pictures as we went. We spied a couple of the antique book shops our hostess had mentioned and mentally filed those away for later. Then we walked past a house that we’d marked down as a “gotta see it” on our list. This house was built in 1590 and features in two of Charles Dickens’s books: The Pickwick Papers and Edwin Drood:

Here’s the plaque from the house:

And here’s the house from another angle — it just screams “English!”

We continued on up the hill, stopping in at the cathedral on our left. This is a magnificent structure–breathtaking from every side. The interior contains some very old carvings and mosaics, and the front door is one massive piece of beauty. Here I am, standing in front of the door:

Here’s the view down the nave as you walk in:

And here are the famous stained-glass windows (which are some of the oldest stained glass windows in Britain, if I remember correctly):

We heard from a docent inside the cathedral that afternoon tea was served in the adjoining tea room past the ruins of the original abbey, so we decided to come back for that after exploring the castle up the hill. Onwards and upwards!

Here Sarah and I stand before the castle.

Looking down from the fourth “story” of the castle interior. You can just see the indentation
around the walls where the floors used to be. This was a huge castle with room for many people. My, it would have been cold in the winter, though! Robert the Bruce’s wife was actually kept prisoner here for a time.

Here I am, peeking through one of the arched openings across the huge interior.

It’s a little dizzying to look down!

There are several crumbling, winding staircases in this castle. In America, they’d be roped off with all kinds of cautionary signs and legal disclaimers. In England, you are free to walk up them at your own risk. Who could resist? Here’s Miss Sarah, coming down one of the windest, slipperiest passages:

Whew! And here I am at the very top of the castle, walking around the railing:

Here’s a view from farther away so you can see how high up we were:

And here’s the wonderful view of the river from the castle:

This is Rochester Cathedral seen from the castle:

Lindsay got a neat shot of Sarah silhouetted in a stairwell on our way back down from the top:

And Sarah managed to snap a fun shot of Lindsay, too:

I’ll come back later to share part two of what we did in Rochester — tea at the cathedral and book shopping in the adorable town!

And, since I forgot my camera Saturday, all photo credit goes to Deep South Images. Thanks, ladies!

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