Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Brief Return to England: Hadrian's Wall and York

On October 7th, we left our campground and headed south to England. Sarah was my co-pilot and we enjoyed listening to CBC Radio's The Comedy Factory along the way.
The labeled rock told us we were entering England. The reverse side said Scotland. I was sorry to leave Scotland; there was still so much yet to discover. Maybe a year on the road wouldn't be long enough?
Once we crossed the border, we were in Northumberland National Park. Being the least populated of England's national parks (only 2 people per square kilometer), it provided for a very serene and picturesque drive. Later in the day, we arrived at the Herding Hill Farm (£32/nt) in Haltwhistle which is very close to a well-preserved section of Hadrian's Wall. It had nice facilities including bath tubs which are pure luxury in the camping world.
A photo of LandShark at the Herding Hill Farm. There was a children's play area right behind the RV and there were two donkeys and a number of rabbits, alpacas and guinea pigs to amuse Sarah.
On October 8th, we headed out to explore parts of Hadrian's Wall (a World Heritage site); it was built by Emporer Hadrian, between 110 and 122 AD by the Roman Army. It stretches across the narrowest part of England (about 73 miles). The wall's purpose was to fortify and keep intact the boundaries of the Roman Empire; the Romans wanted to keep the barbarians in the north from invading (such as those Picts who we learned about back in the Tarbat Discovery Center in Portmahomack, Scotland). There's some debate as to how threatening the people from the north would have been; some historians speculate that building the wall was more to keep the Roman Army from getting too idle and bored.

The wall stretches across the north of England from Ravenglass in the west, through Whitehaven, Workington and Maryport to Bowness-on-Solway, Carlisle, Hexham and through Newcastle upon Tyne, Wallsend and South Shields in the east. The plan was to have one milecastle (small fort to hold about a dozen men) every Roman mile (a little less than our "mile") so that there would be about 80 milecastles coast to coast.

One of the better places to see the wall is at Housesteads Roman Fort, which is an English Heritage site (got to use that membership again). Much of the foundation of the Housesteads Fort (built around the same time as Hadrian's Wall) remains and so it is quite fascinating to wander about to the different sections.

Once we sorted out our admission to the site, we started walking up the footpath to the Housesteads Museum and Fort. We brought Molly with us, since this would largely be an outdoor excursion. While walking up the hill, I stayed back trying to get a good shot of everyone with the Museum, Hadrian's Wall and the sheep dotting the hills in the background. I observed, with amusement, that Molly realized there was no barrier between her and the grazing sheep and she was tugging at the leash to go after them. The next thing I knew, Molly tugged the leash right out of Paul's hand and took off like a shot. She looked like a hare leaping through the grass, with the pink leash handle bouncing on the ground behind her. Paul ran after Molly calling Molly's name but the wind was blowing hard towards us so Molly probably heard nothing, or her instincts to herd sheep had overwhelmed her. Either way, she wasn't showing any sign of stopping. I half doubled over in laughter and half worried, "How will this end?"
This was the "before herding" photo as I walked behind Paul, James, Sarah, Vince and Molly, trying to get a good shot of them and the landscape.
This is the tail end of the sheep stampede. Once this group bounded over the crest of the hill, Molly turned around and started running back towards Paul. After a few paces however, she caught more scattered sheep in the corner of her eye and took a sharp right towards them. Paul was pretty much helpless out there in the middle of the moors. Fortunately, something inside Molly's little brain triggered and she either realized there were more sheep about than she could handle or she decided she missed her family because she did an about turn and ran back to Paul. With the knowledge that no harm was done, I could relax and really laugh.
When we arrived to the fort, the first thing we did was look at the Housesteads Museum. It is tiny, so requires only a quick visit; and explores life on the edge of the Roman Empire. The museum includes a short film which recreates what life was like at the fort back around 122 AD.
The kids could dress up as Roman soldiers in the Museum. Paul and James haven't outgrown their interest in pursuing that opportunity. Paul also tried to show Sarah how to fight with swords, at which time I had to intervene.
After leaving the museum, we explored parts of Hadrians Wall and the Housesteads Fort.
A well-preserved section of Hadrian's Wall.
A view of barrack walls. Eight soldiers lived in each barrack room. If you were lucky enough to live in the Commandant's House, you would have had heated floors.
The kids hanging out at the granary: The stone posts held up a wooden floor which had air holes; the walls also had air holes which, together with the holes in the floor boards, encouraged air circulation and reduced spoilage.
Sarah and James walking along the exterior wall of the fort towards the west gate, overlooking beautiful countryside.
A view looking at the pretty pastures from where the ovens used to be located near the east gate.
This was the communal toilet; it had a deep sewer underneath covered by wooden floor boards and wooden benches along the sides with seat holes. The latrine was located at the lowest point of the fort and relied on rain water, and gravity, to flush waste outside of the fort. Pretty clever engineering at the time. Why did plumbing technology just freeze at that point and it wasn't until the late 1800s (1600 years later) when indoor plumbing began to be adopted?
When we left the Housesteads Fort location, we went to the Roman Army Museum which tells about the history leading up to building Hadrian's Wall, the expansion and contraction of the Roman empire across Europe plus many details about the Roman army itself. It's a small museum but has a number of entertaining displays and films and so makes for a good stop if you have kids. One of the offerings is a 3D movie called The Eagle's Eye; it provides wall "highlights" as you go coast to coast plus re-enacts vignettes of what life might have been like for a soldier in the army.
The Roman Army Museum provides lots of details about daily life of a Roman soldier out at the Wall.
Roman army organization is explained. The smallest unit was the contubernium consisting of 8 men. Ten contuberniums would then be organized into a disciplinary unit called a century (totaling 80 men).
The basic fighting unit was a cohort, composed of six centuries. And 10 cohorts made up a legion. What I just described is how the Roman citizens were organized. If a man wasn't a Roman citizen, he'd be assigned to an auxiliary unit which had a different structure. If a non-citizen survived in the army for 25 years, he would then be granted Roman citizenship.
The museum includes a classroom taught by a hologram teacher, Velius Longus. Velius gives a 20 minute lesson to help students prepare for life in the Roman Empire covering language (Latin), math and morals. Let's hope the hologram teacher isn't a new trend aimed at cutting the costs of today's mainstream education.
On October 9th, we decided to skip forward 1500 or so years and visit Beamish, a 300 acre living museum in county Durham that covers life in England from 1850 to 1913. We couldn't talk Paul into coming with us so Vince, Sarah, James and I went on our own.

At Beamish, there are four areas to explore: Colliery Village, the Town, Pockerley Manor/Waggonway and the Home Farm. Visitors are shuttled around on a variety of vintage trams and buses. Our first stop was the Town which dates around 1913.
A view of the Town streetscape.
A few items on the shelves in the town hardware store; I think one can still buy Sunlight soap in Canada. Of course back then, most things were displayed behind counters and glass cases.
We went into Jubilee Confectioners and in the back room we watched a demonstration showing how hard candies were made.
First water, sugar and syrup are heated to a hot temperature. Then the mixture is poured onto a metal work surface to cool; colouring and flavouring is added during this initial cooling stage.

Once the mixture has cooled (to a still very warm temperature), corn starch is added so that the candy maker can knead the candy (without it sticking to him) and to remove large air bubbles.
The mixture is cut in half and half the candy is pulled on a hook. Pulling the candy put strands of air back into it, changing the colour from a dark green to a glowing, luminescent green.
The luminescent half is placed on the dark green half and then is cut into about 8 smaller sections. Each section is rolled through the candy press which gives the individual candies their shape.
Once the eighth section has gone through the press, the candy maker takes the first section, which would be at room temperature and brittle, and knocks it against the table. The candies break off into their individual pieces.
This photo shows the different shapes into which candies can be made.
Walking further down the street, we walked into the Mason building and Barclays. In 1913, one did banking at a single branch.
I remember getting 4.5% interest on my savings account, and it wasn't as far back as 1913.
Leaving the Town, we caught a tram to Colliery Village, a company town built in the early 1900s era around a coal mine. It has a school, a church, miners' homes, a community hall and the opportunity for a short tour into the Mohogany drift mine.
A view of Colliery Village from the tram.
We visited some row houses and the school board building.
Beamish is a popular destination for school field trips. Here a class, which got to wear traditional clothing of the day, is boarding a ca 1910 double-decker bus, heading for another destination.

This classroom, heated by a fireplace (upper right), would accommodate students from 7 to 11 or 12 years of age. Boys typically went to school until they were 12 or 13, at which time they'd be old enough to work. Apparently the desks were used in an English school until 1985!
The school had an entrance for girls and a separate entrance for boys. It really makes you start to feel old when you see this and think, "So what?" My elementary school had the same boys/girls separation. Yup, a number of things were looking familiar...

After visiting the school, chapel and community hall, we stopped for an order of Davy's Coal Fired Fish & Chips. We bought an order for the four of us and that was about right. It was delicious but one needs to be restrained if one is to get through England still fitting into the same clothes. Sarah asked for ketchup with the fries but they told her it was banned in England. It was banned from England for several years because it contained sodium benzoate (as a preservative), which was thought to be  poisonous. (It's still banned in the EU but not in the US, interestingly enough).

The US South doesn't own the market to a fast track to a coronary attack. One has to watch it with all this English deep fried goodness.
We then visited the mine and had a brief tour.
Touring the mine was the first time I had to wear a hard hat where I was really glad I did.
It was not unusual for entire families to work together down in the mine. The machine pictured here was used to drill holes in the mine wall, where dynamite would be placed.
After leaving the mine we took a tram back to the town. Sarah and James wanted to see another demonstration of candy making and wanted to go to the fair which we saw running just on the edge of town.
There were many modes of transportation at Beamish.
We enjoyed the double-decker tram.
There were only two rides at the fair, a carousel and this manually operated swing ride. Each rider would pull their rope in turn and the swing would rock back and forth. It was a great ride; am not sure why it disappeared over time.
Before reaching the candy shop, Vince and I stopped off at the Solicitor's house and the Dentist's house.
The Dentist's office ca 1913: The dental drill was powered by a foot pedal. It would only go as fast as the assistant could pump the pedal; it could take 20 minutes to drill a hole for a filling. They used laughing gas to try to make patients more comfortable.
Many of the same dental tools are used today. False teeth were made of porcelain. If you needed a set of teeth, you tried on different sets to find one that fit the best. When someone died, who wore false teeth, their teeth wouldn't be buried with them; the teeth would be saved for someone else in the family (or otherwise) who might need them.
After seeing the candy making demonstration again, including another free sample (the Dentist's office didn't seem to put us off), we walked to the bakery where I bought a loaf of whole grain bread and a few cookies (aka biscuits). We then took a look at the local grocery store.
You couldn't buy tomatoe ketchup here but you could by mushroom ketchup which was England's attempt at a substitute; it didn't take off. HP Sauce was also available.
After finishing with the town, we went to Pockerley Manor and the Waggonway.
Pockerley Manor is an 1820s house.
Adjacent to Pockerley Manor is a re-created first-ever passenger train from 1825.
This photo shows the engineer standing beside the very small engine.
The ride is brief (about 200 yards up the tracks and back) but enough to get a feel for early (uncomfortable) train travel.
A view of the countryside from the train.
When we returned to Paul and Molly back at LandShark, we learned Paul got spooked from people at the campground. Paul had turned on the generator so that he could turn on the heat. It seemed that either the owners/caretakers of the campground or maybe our neighbors (Paul's not very detail oriented in this regard), didn't like the generator noise. Instead of knocking on the door and asking Paul to turn off the generator, they took matters into their own hands and disabled it themselves, from the outside. What kind of person meddles with someone else's vehicle? The incident was just a good reminder that the US doesn't corner the market on crazies. Every country has its share of odd ducks (yet somewhat comforting to know that EU crazies are less likely to be armed). Anyway, we were quite happy to be leaving the Herding Hill Farm the next day.

On October 10th, we headed out for our next destination, the Sheriff Hutton Camping and Caravanning Club Site, a few miles outside of York. The kids all drove with Vincent and I was solo in the Prius. Time went by quickly listening to Bill Maher, the CBC Comedy Factory and BBC Radio (talk about contrasts). I arrived before Vince and settled the £47.85 bill for 3 nights. Once Vince and the kids arrived, no one had any motivation to leave the campground, so kids did homework and rotated the computer for games, while I worked on the blog and Vince did some on-line research.
Our pitch at Sheriff Hutton.
On October 11th, we made our way into York. Being a walled city (and therefore no room to expand), traffic is congested and parking is tight, so we parked outside of the city and took a shuttle bus to the center. Our first stop was the Castle Museum, which covers various aspects of society from the 17th to 20th century. There are furbished rooms representing each century, toy exhibits from the 1900s, an expansive recreation of a Victorian street, a depressing prison experience and a fun 1960s exhibit.
We went through a section showing toys from the 1900s. Sarah checked out the dress up clothes...
...while Paul and James monopolized the Atari Pong game from 1974.
We walked through kitchens of various eras. This was a 1980s kitchen. There's something a bit disturbing when one is viewing historical displays that contain items that are newer than what you have in your own kitchen...
We went down to an extensive recreation of a Victorian street with a wide range of shops. One was the undertaker's shop which actually was underneath the drop, a door in the floor above which is how bodies were disposed of after hangings. The last execution here occurred in 1896. Ah, what a clever way to tie together the related themes.
The drop door can be seen at the top of this photo. Unfortunately, people who were hanged didn't get to be buried in a coffin; I won't elaborate on their disposal.
A view of the recreated Victorian street. The lighting changes from day to night. Adding to the details, are background sounds associated with the different times of day. Parts of the streets and offshoot alleys smelled better than others. There were costumed actors working in some of the shops who would talk to you about life back then.
After visiting the Victorian streets, one next visits a number of prison cells each with a prisoner, from the 17th or 18th century, projected on the cell wall talking about why he or she was in jail (or gaol). It provides a good reminder for being grateful to be living now rather than a few hundred years ago.

Immediately following the dark and depressing prison section, one enters into a 1960s street. (Talk about a jarring contrast!) It covers the Beatles, 60's fashion, the women's equality movement, evolving tv culture and so on. 
I think Sarah would have fit in well with the '60s.
Just leaving the 60s section, the kids got to try the hula hoop. None of them got it, but I still could show them how it's done. Vince got the shot on his camera of me mastering the hula hoop, so you'll have to take my word for it.
Silly picture of the kids but it kind of works.
When we left the Castle Museum, we then crossed the street and visited Clifford's Tower which is all that remains of York Castle. Clifford's Tower was originally built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century.
There isn't much to see inside Clifford's Tower and, unless you have an English Heritage membership, it's not really worth the expense of going in. It does provide great views of York however.
This photo was taken on top of Clifford's Tower. There are many historic churches in the city.  I'm not sure what the tower in the foreground belongs to but the beautiful squared tower behind it belongs to the All Saints Church. The impressive York Minster (the largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe), can be seen far off in the background.
When we left Clifford's Tower, we walked towards Betty's for afternoon tea; Betty's is the place most often recommended for afternoon tea in York.
We walked by PoundWorld, the UK's answer to North America's Dollar Store.
And we walked by St Martin le Grand, a church dating back to at least the 11th century.
We had a perfect window table at Betty's, right at the corner of the building with a nice view of the pedestrian zone.
I tried to get a photo of our crowded and heavy-laden table before food disappeared.
On October 12th, our tourism drive was losing steam. We woke to cold, gray, misty weather which certainly was not inviting us to explore the streets of York. We eventually forced ourselves out of LandShark around 14:00 and went to York's Cold War Bunker. It was built in the early 1960s in response to the 13 days in October 1962 when the US and Soviets appeared to circle on the brink of nuclear conflict; it was operated by the ROC (Royal Observer Corps); it was designed as a nerve-centre to monitor fall-out in the event of a nuclear attack.
The York Cold War Bunker is now surrounded by a modern housing complex.
If a nuclear explosion did occur, 60 volunteers with the ROC would be locked in the Cold War Bunker for 30 days. One thing the bunker planners forgot to account for is that the monitoring camera was on the outside of the bunker and the camera's film needed to be changed every 12 hours. So someone would have to go outside and be exposed to the nuclear fallout every 12 hours. When that person returned s/he'd need to go to this decontamination room and take three showers by three different sinks. This picture shows the first sink. Since water would have been scarce and no one allowed to take a shower for 30 days, except the person changing the film, the tour guide speculated that over time, more people would volunteer to go outside just to be able to take a shower afterwards.
The Bunker's Operations Room: It, and other parts of the bunker, was painted certain colours to help people avoid depression and panic attacks while being locked up for so long.
"Audrey", the 1974 computer that could detect where a nuclear bomb exploded: It was so sensitive, that it also would report the targets of lightning storms.
The women's dormitory: The plan was that people would have 3 eight hour shifts a day, one being sleeping. The beds would be used on a rotational basis. The upside was that you would always crawl into a warm bed. The downside would be that the sheets would never be washed or changed for 30 days.
This protest poster featured Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The Cold War escalated during Reagan's presidency because of his introduction of the Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as Star Wars.
On Sunday, October 13th, we rallied and went to the 10am service at York Minster Cathedral. The congregation sat up in the choral stands together with the choir and we got a perfect spot to see all aspects of the service. The 25 or so person choir was outstanding; it was the best singing we'd heard yet at a church in the UK. At the end of the service, the choir sang Psalm 150 during their recession. It was exquisite. I'm so glad we found the motivation to attend a service at York Minster. For me, it was the highlight.
We highly recommend attending a service at York Minster.
After church, we walked to the Golden Fleece for a carvery lunch. It was Sunday and we were in Yorkshire so wanted to treat ourselves to a roast and, naturally, Yorkshire pudding. We arrived at 11:20 and the tavern was closed. The weather was miserable: that perpetual cold damp mist. So we walked down the street to Russell's, which was open, and got a table there. They didn't serve until noon but that was okay; we were inside. While everyone was waiting, I ducked back outside to look at cashmeres and coats; I had to grab these brief moments when they occurred. (No luck however.) I didn't have a lot of faith that lunch would be very good at Russell's but it was quite okay and the Yorkshire pudding, the reason for this lunch, was just perfect.
The historic center of York is charming. I really wish we had more time to spend here or had more motivation to make better use of our time. Need to bookmark York for a return visit.
After lunch, it was time to return to the Sheriff Hutton campground, pack up, dump tanks and head out to the West Midlands and Signature Motor Homes. Signature is one of the few RV repair service businesses in the UK that is familiar with American RVs and was recommended by the founders of The Big Pitch Guide (our primary reference for identifying campgrounds that will take RVs as large as LandShark).

James was my co-pilot and we arrived at Signature Motor Homes just in advance of Vince. We found out that Vince had another stressful moment with LandShark en route. He took a wrong road, which turned out to be a service road to the M1 toll road, and had to turn around. For any car, it would be a 3 point turn effort but with LandShark, it was a 7 point turn (at least). At mid point, and exactly perpendicular to the service road, the rear wheels got stuck in the shoulder gravel. LandShark was blocking all traffic and no vehicle would be able to pass. It was Paul who came up with the suggestion to lower the RV's levelers (jacks) which would raise the RV up; then Paul and Vince could put rocks and other materials under the rear wheels so that the RV could get some traction. The idea worked and they got out of that fine mess rather quickly. Just another problem solving opportunity that we've provided the kids...

That evening, we were allowed to park and stay over within Signature's locked gates so that they could start the repair work first thing in the morning.
Molly and Sarah looking out the window of LandShark at Signature Motor Homes.
On October 14th, we woke up early because we needed to be out of LandShark for the folks at Signature Motor Homes to start work. Vince had ordered new brake pads and he wanted to see if they could figure out why we couldn't successfully draw electricity. Vince planned to stay and shadow the service man while I had to find something for the kids and me to do.
By 9:00am, Signature Motor Homes was already trouble shooting the electrical problem.
The Bantock House Museum in Wolverhampton looked like a great destination, but unfortunately it was closed on Mondays. So I decided to opt for some present day culture and suggested we all go see a movie. I didn't have to make that suggestion twice. We headed off to a multi-theater cinema so the kids could watch what they wanted and I wouldn't have to sit through an animated film. The four of us watched three different films. After the movies, we went to an outlet mall (very small scale by North American standards) which was comprised of one large building. I tried to find a new rain jacket or all-weather coat.
While I (unsuccessfully) tried on jackets, the kids found refuge in the book section.
When we returned, Signature Motor Homes was already locked up, with Vince and LandShark behind the gates.
Paul didn't want to wait for Vince to unlock the gate. He thought he could break in. Turns out he's not much of a cat burglar as he got stuck. Nothing like having your little sister watch over and comment, "That's a fine mess you're in Paul."
On October 15th, Signature just had to replace one set of brake pads and was finished about 10:30am. It was time to move on. Our next stop would be northern Wales.

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