All posts by exploRVistas

We are full time RVers on a mission to find America's story. We feel that by moving our house to a location and living among the locals for a bit, we allow ourselves the opportunity to understand that area's people. Our motto is "Don't just see it...BE it"©

Following the Autumn Leaves

October 6 – November 1, 2019 – Michigan to Florida

Written by Jim

In our last post, I mentioned relearning how to drive in the U.S. after spending a month in the U.K. and Ireland. Our delayed flight got us back after dark, so we had to navigate the aggressive freeways of Chicago in an unfamiliar rental car. Talk about wanting to get back on the plane! Once past Gary and into Michigan, the traffic eased and we were able to relax. Jet lag caught up to us soon after, so we grabbed a comfy room at the Hampton Inn in South Haven. After a delicious breakfast at the Phoenix Street Cafe the next morning, we headed back to Grand Rapids to get our vehicles. A huge thank you to Terry and Diane for allowing us to store them at their home!

We moved to our base for the next week, Woodchip Campground. Our spot was just a few sites east of where we spent the winter of 2014-15. This go around, we spent the week taking care of annual physicals, dentist appointments, haircuts and such. We even bopped over to Detroit for one appointment at Henry Ford Hospital. That gave us the opportunity to drop in on Diana’s cousin Debbie on our way home. It was great to see her again. We finished up the week with our annual trip to Kalamazoo for WMU homecoming.

It’s always good to to be with our crew! After watching the Broncos beat Miami of Ohio, we headed back to our old dorm, French Hall, to check it out.

Here’s Diana knocking on the door of her old room. No one was there, unfortunately.

From Kalamazoo, we headed back up to our property in Leelanau County. We wanted to get some measurements and talk to the county building personnel while we were there. Knowing our land is loaded with maples, we were hoping our trees were colorful.

Needless to say, we were not disappointed!

It was very exciting to be able to experience our first autumn on our little slice of heaven! A note of interest: one month after this photo was taken, three feet of snow fell here. The scene is far different, indeed. With the temperatures plummeting, we made the decision to head south.

After stopping to see Diana’s sister and family in New Baltimore, Michigan, we headed towards Wapakoneta, Ohio. This tiny town is home to Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon.

It is also home to the Armstrong Air and Space Museum, which is situated just a few yards from Interstate 75. We’ve driven by this unusually-shaped building many times since it opened in 1972 but have never stopped in. Fifty years and three months to the day of Neil taking that otherworldly step, we finally walked through these doors.

We were amazed at the amount of artifacts in this small museum, which included this space-flown shuttle tire that you could touch. It was far thicker than any tire I had ever handled. The exhibits also detailed the 25 astronauts that are native to Ohio. Some of the most famous are John Glenn (first American to orbit Earth) and Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13.

Ohio is also the birthplace of Judith Resnik, a member of the crew of the ill-fated shuttle, Challenger. The small U.S. and Ohio flags to the right were in her personal bag that was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean floor. She was America’s second woman in space, having flown on the space shuttle Discovery in 1984. Not only was she an astronaut, she had a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, was a biomedical engineer, and an accomplished concert pianist.

And does anyone remember these? I drank many a glass of milk out of one of these as a kid. Libby Glass and Marathon Oil, both Ohio companies, manufactured and distributed these glasses during the Apollo missions. They have them for sale at the museum.

As we made our way through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, we were surprised that we hadn’t gotten ahead of the autumn leaves changing color. The drive south was much prettier than we anticipated. Our goal was to stop and see Diana’s brother who recently moved to Franklin, NC.

After setting up camp, we took a drive to see Dry Falls. This beautiful set of falls is located along US-62, one of the most twisty and narrow U.S. highways we had ever been on.

They were named for the fact that a person can remain relatively dry when walking behind them.

The next day, we spent the day with Dan, driving into Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Our destination that day was Clingman’s Dome, one of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River.

Dan had been here in the past, having hiked this portion of the Appalachian Trail with a friend of his.

The colors from the top were outstanding. These mountains were where we drove out of the autumn display, as green leaves and palm trees soon took over as we headed further south.

Before too long, we made our way to Melbourne Beach and our little slice of Florida paradise.

We look forward to a winter filled with friends and rocket launches, so stay tuned for that. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Aimless Felines and Fitted Sheets – UK and Irish Travel

September 4 through October 6, 2019 – United Kingdom and Ireland

Written by Jim

Our choosing the U.K. and Ireland as our first destination outside of North America was, first and foremost, a journey to explore Diana’s ancestral roots. With that being said, there also was a certain comfort in knowing the people of these lands spoke the same language as us. That fact allowed us to acquaint ourselves to European culture with relative ease. In wrapping up our trip, I felt it would be fun to highlight some of the unique differences we encountered. If you ever find yourselves making a similar trip, perhaps this post will help in some small way.

Roadways and driving

In speaking with people about our trip, the first thing that usually comes up is the fact we drove a motorhome on the opposite side of the road. While I knew that travelers make that switch every day, there was a bit of fear involved before we got there. We learned early on that we were wise to refer to their style of driving as the ‘opposite’ and not the ‘wrong’ side. Why do they drive that way? Traveling on the left dates back to jousting days, when right-handed swordsmen preferred to keep their opponents on their right. It was the teamsters of the U.S. and France who changed our way of travel in the 1700’s. Using their right hand to whip the teams of horses meant they had to sit on the left. Defense of the wagon fell to the person in the right hand seat, hence the term ‘riding shotgun’. Anyway, the opposite side driving turned out to be a non-issue for me. Perhaps it was the physical act of climbing behind the wheel on the right side of the vehicle that caused me to think ‘this is different’. After a month of driving that way, I was so at ease that I began to fear I’d screw up when I got back home to the States!

So what about driving on the British Isles proved challenging? The biggest issue had to be the varying width of the roads. To be specific, the narrow side roads in England and Ireland which had tall hedges and walls within a foot of the edge of the pavement were the toughest. In a lot of situations, our mirrors were hanging over the lines on each side. I quickly learned to visualize my right front tire (which was under my right foot) tracking just to the left of the center line. Looking in the mirrors on an uncrowded straightaway, I was able to verify that we were centered in the lane. It worked, as we finished the trip with both mirrors intact.

Scottish roads were easier, as roads like this were wide open. If someone had crested the hill in the above photo, I would’ve waited just this side of the pullout to the right up ahead and given a quick two-flash of my lights. They would pull in, I would pass and we’d both give a wave and a smile. And before you think a motorhome doesn’t belong on a road such as this, semi-trucks (known as lorries), tour buses, and farm tractors all use these. Oddly enough, it works well. The main reason it does can be summed up with two words: patience and courtesy. I won’t say road rage is non-existent on the British Isles, but it is extremely rare. Grid lock ends up being a chance to say hi to your neighbors and share a laugh.

Freeways (known as motorways) also present their own challenges. Reverse everything you know, as the left lane is the slow lane. Entrance and exit ramps are also on the left. What is really odd is to look in your mirror as you are entering the motorway and see everyone moving to the center lane. That sort of courtesy is rare in the States. If you ever have the opportunity to drive in the UK and Ireland, its best to leave any aggressive tendencies you may have at home.

Signs take a bit of getting used to. Speed limit signs are round with a red circle around them. I like the red, as it is easy to spot. The UK…including Northern Ireland…are in miles per hour. The Republic of Ireland is in kilometers per hour. That took some getting used to during our five days in Ireland. One note on that: Our rented Tom-Tom GPS only worked in the UK. Once we left Northern Ireland and entered the Republic of Ireland, we totally relied on Google Maps.

Speaking of Google Maps; Diana used it extensively. We had rented a wireless hotspot from Tep Wireless that worked pretty well while on the road. In hindsight, we might have been better to get a SIM card at the airport. There are people in both camps on that subject. When traveling in the States in the same vehicle, Diana would often navigate for me. On this trip, she was more of a co-pilot than navigator, in that I relied heavily on the information she was sending me. She was constantly monitoring the route as if she was driving herself. Roundabouts are plentiful over there, and she developed a great way to get through them.

In this instance, If we entered below and exited at the right, she would say “Roundabout in a half mile. Enter at 6, leave at 3. It’s the 3rd exit, East on A-162”. It was very easy for me to visualize, allowing me to keep my eyes on the road.

A few more things: Signs saying “Slow Down” are there for a reason. The speeds posted going into corners are very accurate. We would go as slow as we needed to. Out of courtesy, we would pull over to let others pass when the opportunity presented itself. With that being said, rest areas are few and far between. In place of that, we found plenty of well marked ‘parking areas’…which are usually a paved pull off on the left. We found those a great spot to not only let people pass, but to also use the motorhome’s bathroom.

On the subject of signs: a few signs had us scratching our heads…especially “Cats Eyes Removed”. Our thoughts immediately went to some poor kitty who had to have it’s eyeballs taken out, and was wandering aimlessly along the roadside. Silly Americans….

These are ‘cats eyes’, the little reflectors in the middle of the road. Where we have a single reflector in the U.S., they have two…giving the appearance of a pair of cat’s eyes reflecting back at you. The U.K. puts up those warning signs during road resurfacing. 🐱

Groceries and Big-box Stores

If you are an American and you shop at Aldi, the experience of grocery shopping in the UK and Ireland will be nearly the same for you. They also have a chain called Lidl (pronounced like Little) that operates on the same concept. As far as traditional groceries go, Morrisons, CoOp, Tesco, Waitrose, and Sainsbury are similar to the U.S.

Asda stores are the most like a Walmart. They should be, as Walmart actually owns them. In general, not one of the grocery stores has the vast selection we have in the U.S. However, we found prices to be much cheaper than back at home. The greatest grocery success story for me personally was the gluten free selection and pricing.

Especially in the UK (not so much in Ireland), the stores had large ‘Free From’ sections. Bread was fresh (not frozen), tasty and cheap. A normal sized loaf of gluten free bread in the UK could be had for just over £2…around $3 US. That would cost me $10 at Publix in Florida. Downside to that is that I would be much heavier if I lived there. 😉

Check this out. All four wheels swivel on their shopping carts. When I first looked at them, I thought ‘how the heck am I going to control that???’ Oddly enough, I left thinking they were the greatest thing ever.

At the checkout, all of the cashiers are seated in desk chairs. Most foreign credit cards require a signature, unless your card has a ‘tap’ feature. Bring your own bags. This store was on the Isle of Skye, where Gaelic is first and English is second on all of the signage. This woman had met U.S. citizens from 48 of the 50 states, needing only Idaho and South Dakota. I told her we would send our friends Jim and Barb her way from the latter state.

Old Buildings

One thing the UK and Ireland do exceedingly well is to reuse older buildings. It is common to walk into a 200-plus year old structure and find it bustling with activity. Nothing nicer than to see modern wares displayed in a building with character. The downside to that is that they are, for the most part, not wheelchair friendly. Having dealt with Diana’s mom’s wheelchair, I thought ‘this isn’t ADA compliant!’ I then chuckled to myself when I remembered ADA’ stands for American Disability Act. The other safety concern I repeatedly encountered was outside doors that opened inward. In a fire situation, that could be deadly. It’s rare to find doors on businesses that are like that in the U.S.

Discounts

In the U.S., most senior discounts start at either age 62 or 65. A bonus for those of us just below that threshold: concession admissions (senior discounts) begin at age 60 in the British Isles, for the most part.

Campgrounds

Almost every part of RVing in Europe is different than in the U.S. We stayed in campgrounds wherever we went, as we liked having services available to us. Where our fifth wheel in the U.S. has four 40 gallon tanks on it (fresh, galley, grey and black), our Scout’s tanks were much smaller. With a little effort, we could’ve gone two days without dumping or refilling. We chose to do that daily, so as to not run into any issues. Dumping the black tank is not as simple as attaching a hose and pulling a lever. Instead, we (Jim 🙂 ) had to physically remove the tank (called a cassette) and take it to a central dump (called a chemical waste point). Not fun, but not terrible either. Grey water was dumped by driving over a drain and pulling the lever. Fresh water required us to fill our tank; there was no way to directly connect a hose. Electricity was 10 amp, 230 volts…so we didn’t have a microwave or air conditioning. Nina at Wheelingit can speak to that better than I can, as I believe they just put A/C in their rig in Europe. We also had only a tea kettle, as drip coffee isn’t a thing over there. Neither are fitted sheets. You get one flat sheet and a blanket…which you sleep between.

Restrooms and showers all featured no-peek partitions. Europeans all think we are nuts for having gaps in our stalls. I agree. Who on earth came up with peek-a-boo stalls?

We also were asked when making reservations if we had an awning. There is an extra charge, if you do. We thought to ourselves ‘why would that matter???’ Well…

…this is what they consider to be an awning. We refer to these as add-a-rooms. Most vehicles are too small to haul trailers (called caravans), so people set them up seasonally in these parks, along with an ‘awning’.

And one of the few campground dryers that’s actually dried our clothes was made in the U.S.A. This unit had a traditional vent on the back that allowed the moisture to be released outside. Most dryers were condenser dryers, meaning the water would condense and fall into a tank in the bottom of the unit. They basically get your clothes hot and humid, but nowhere close to being dry. Our purchase of twenty cheap hangers at Tesco the first night proved to be invaluable. There were times our Scout looked like a rolling walk-in closet, with clothes hung from every cabinet handle. 😊

Most parks had well manicured sites that were gigantic. We rarely felt like our neighbors were on top of us. All in all, we really enjoyed the experience of RVing in the British Isles.

Well that wraps up our posts about the UK and Ireland. Next up, we detail our return to Michigan for a bit along with our trip to Florida for the winter. For now, we leave you with a traditional Celtic prayer:

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Especially that “May the wind always be at your back” part. 😊

Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Buttoning Down Oxford and the UK

October 3-6, 2019 – South-central England

Written by Jim

We are back home from our UK adventure, catching up on our blog.

When we first planned this trip, Diana had expressed interest in going to Oxford. The town is famous for its university and some of the world’s greatest scholars. I had a preconceived notion that it was loaded with scholars walking around in tweed jackets and button-down collars. That is, after all, where they got the name for the Oxford shirt, correct? That was my dress shirt of choice during my career, so maybe I could pick up a few deals on some snazzy threads while we were there. Boy, my assumptions were way off. Oxford was anything but a stuffed shirt. We discovered a city that was cosmopolitan, vibrant, and an all-out fun place to be.

As had become our mode of navigating a city with a motorhome, we researched ahead of time to find which park-and-ride lots allowed large vehicles. In the case of Oxford, we used the Redbridge lot on the south end of town. Hopping on the double-decker bus, we quickly scrambled up the stairs in hopes of securing a front seat. Bagsy! We plopped down behind the windshield and enjoyed the ride from the outskirts of town. Hang on!

What a ride! We were downtown in a flash.

Oxford University is not one centralized campus, but rather more than thirty independent colleges throughout the city. Our choice for a visit that day was Christ Church College, a rather famous place in its own right.

Upon entering the gates, we realized we were in a very special place. Was this a church or a college? That building towering in the background looked a lot like a cathedral to me. It actually wasn’t…but more on that in a minute. 🙂

For a split second, I thought we were at an agricultural school in Iowa. This was actually just the grounds department doing a little maintenance. John Deere has a huge presence in the UK, as it seemed that we saw their familiar green tractors wherever we went.

Check out that courtyard! This was actually supposed to be a cloister…or covered walkway…when it was started by Thomas Wolsey in 1525. You can see the beginnings of the arches on the walls and the pedestal bases that were meant to support the columns. At the opposite side of the courtyard sits Tom Tower, which houses the largest bell in Oxford…Great Tom. Weighing in at an impressive 12,500 pounds, it is also the loudest bell in town. The college rings it 101 times at 9:05 PM every single night…a 20 minute process… so no sense in hitting the pillow early. The 101 is for the original 100 students plus an extra one that was added for a bequest made in 1663. The five minutes past the hour signifies the fact that high noon occurs five minutes later than it does in Greenwich…the measuring point for time on Earth. Whew…I knew I would get a higher education by coming here!

And that cathedral-looking structure I referred to earlier? Well, the interior might look familiar, if you’ve ever seen a Harry Potter film…

The infamous dining hall! We weren’t able to get in, as it was being used by the students while we were there.

We also visited the chapel while we were on the campus.

This gorgeous building has seen its share of influential people over the years. Countless leaders, writers, academics, theologians have been here.

It was within these walls that John and Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodist Church, were ordained in the 18th century.

The stonework on the ceiling was outstanding….

…as were the carvings throughout the chapel.

From Christ Church, we went in search of lunch. One of our favorite grab and go items on our trip has been Pieminister meat pies, as they come in a gluten free version for yours truly. They are available in Tesco grocery stores.

Luckily, Oxford happens to have a Pieminister Pie Shop in their Covered Market.

Their gravy was even gluten free…a rarity! 😋 Downright delicious.

Once we were done in Oxford, we found our way back to our first campsite of the trip, Town Farm in Ivinghoe. It was there that we managed to shoehorn all of our belongings back into our suitcases for our trip back to the States. Once that was done, we put on our Oboz hikers and took one last foray through the sheep meadow to grab some dinner.

We answered the locals question as to why their sleepy pub saw so many foreigners. They are within walking distance to the closest campground to one of the UK’s largest RV rental companies! Worked for us!

One last stroll back home through the sheep poop and we were ready to roll.

The next morning, we bid farewell to our trusty Scout. We were thrilled to have made it back to Just Go without clipping a mirror on the narrow roads along our month-long journey. One of the other returning couples wasn’t so lucky, as their mirror was held together with duct tape. The first words out of the rental agent’s mouth was “is everyone ok?” We found Just Go to be a first class company and we highly recommend them.

And, right on cue, our favorite Uber driver Dhana pulled up to haul us back to our hotel near Heathrow! We prearranged our trip with him when he dropped us off at Just Go in early September.

Diana, Dhana and Jim. 🙂 Thank you so much for the excellent rides, advice and friendship, Dhana!

And our nice little surprise we spoke about in our last post? Well, what started out as a sour note ended up being an exclamation point. After arriving for our flight early the next morning, we were scheduled to fly out at 10:20. As first class lined up to board, an issue with the plane came up, causing a 3-1/2 hour flight delay while British Airways found us another 747. As we were sitting around in Starbucks, we overheard one of the other passengers mention an EU law that stated we would get a considerable sum of money back for our troubles “if the delay was longer than four hours.” She lamented ours was shorter, so we were out of luck. With my curiosity piqued, I went on a web search. There actually are different amounts of money for different lengths of delay, and the time is calculated in how late you arrive at your destination…not how late you depart. Being pushed into the afternoon allowed the prevailing winds to pick up over the Atlantic, causing us to arrive 4-1/2 hours late in Chicago. Long story short, we were each awarded €600, which covered most of our round trip fare. If you’ve ever been delayed on a flight originating in the EU, look into it…as there is no statute of limitation. In our case, Brexit hadn’t happened yet, so the UK was still in the EU. You have to request the compensation from the airline, as they aren’t required to automatically hand it out. The delay has to be caused by something within their control, such as a mechanical issue. We had the money within a few days of our return.

While that wraps up our trip to the UK and Ireland, we are going to do one more post on some of the unique differences we encountered on our trip, as opposed to our daily lives in the United States. We hope you will enjoy that one. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Finding Shephards Among the Sheep

September 30, October. 1 & 2, 2019 – Ironbridge, Corsham, & Avebury, England.

When this posts we will headed to Florida, but still catching up on the UK & Ireland trip.

Written by Diana

September 30, 2019

We visited Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. This is a group of ten sites within a six square mile area. These museums focus on the Industrial Revolution in England. Turns out this was the first phase of the Industrial Revolution. The one I’m most familiar with growing up in Michigan was actually the second phase. Boy do I have a lot to learn! We had time to see the Bridge and Blisshill Victorian Town. The bridge was built over the River Severn at Coalbrookdale in 1779 when advances in iron smelting allowed for such a feat.

I loved the sign with the rates for crossing the bridge. Even the Royal Family had to pay to pass over it.

We enjoyed talking with the young man who is college educated as a blacksmith, and has recently taken over the shop at the Blisshill Victorian Town.

October 1, 2019

My maternal grandmother was born Jessie Shephard. Although she proudly took the name O’Morrow when she married my grandfather, I believe she always remained a Shephard in her heart. She lived close to us after my grandfather’s death, and I was lucky to spend a lot of time with her. She loved to tell stories of her father and Grandfather Shephard. Our family is fortunate in that she also wrote down many of her memories of growing up on a dairy farm in the thumb area of Michigan. The farm is still in the family and the road in front of it is named Shephard Road, as they were one of the first settlers in the county. My grandmother wrote about her grandfather being born in Wiltshire, England in 1821. Her grandmother was actually born at sea in August of 1831, while her family was immigrating from England to Canada. My Grandma O’Morrow would be amazed and pleased to know that Jim and I visited her ancestral home. This is a photo of my mother and grandmother that was taken at our wedding. I love how their strength and confidence shows in this picture.

In addition to the information my grandmother provided, I learned from ancestry.com that my ancestors were from the Parish of Corsham, Wiltshire County, England. Jim looked at an aerial view of Corsham on Google Maps and found an old church with a graveyard. This is how we decided to head to St. Bartholomew’s. We have seen lots of sheep on this trip, today is the day we find some Shephards!

St. Bartholomew’s was locked, but we wandered around looking for Shephard graves. Part of the cemetery was mowed and kept up pretty well.

Keeping with our Halloween theme, further away from the church the graveyard was very overgrown. This time complete with a black cat! Maybe he is trying to point out a Shephard grave, but time has erased any engravings.

This is one of my favorite stones that I found. Not a relative, but great genes and teeth!

As we walked through the cute town, we stopped at Corsham Area Historical Heritage & Information Center. There a nice lady suggested that we should also try the gravestones outside of the old Methodist Abby, which is now a restaurant called Grounded. She told us that Aust is still a well known and respected name in the area. My 3rd Great Grandfather married Sarah Aust on June 6, 1821 in the Parish of Corsham. We also saw Aust graves at St Bartholomew’s.

We decided to treat ourselves to dinner at a pub called, “The Salutation Inn”, in Castle Combe, Chippenham. It was a bit of a trick to park the motorhome, but Jim did a great job. An authentic pub that has been there since the 17th century, and a gluten free bun for Jim. What’s not to love!

October 2, 2019

We went to St. Bartholomew’s Church first thing in the morning because it wasn’t open yesterday, and they had a service today.

It’s amazing what a difference sunshine and blue sky make. This is the same building we visited yesterday, just viewed from the other side.

We got there a half hour early, so we could talk to the clergy. He made us feel welcome to look around. It was beautiful and very moving. The font is from the 15th century, so it would have been the same baptismal font that was there when several generations of my ancestors were baptized in this church.

Next we went to the Wiltshire and Swindon History Center, in the town of Chipppenham. They were very nice and very helpful. Since we knew the parish, they were able to bring us three books that had been transcribed from the Parish of Corsham. One book had the births and baptisms, the second book was marriage records, and the third book contained death records.

Jim and I traded off books and had fun, as for the first time we were able to get lots of information. We were indeed finding some Shephards! He even had to go and put more money in the meter as we ended up staying longer than we planned. Each time we had a question, I would ask the genealogist and she would answer my question and add something else to consider. This made me feel comfortable to ask the next question that arose. They get great reviews for being the friendliest and most helpful of these centers. I certainly agree.

The genealogist told us to ignore differences in spelling. Since many people did not read or write, the person recording the information just spelled names the way they thought was correct.

This is the marriage record for my 4th Great Grandfather Matthew Shepherd and his first wife Sarah (Greenland) Shepherd. They were married April 9, 1792. I learned “tp” after Sarah’s name means “of this parish”, which in this case was Westbury, Wiltshire, England (found in an additional book). “Ban” after their information means rather than getting a marriage license, they announced their intention to be married in church three weeks in a row. The “banns of marriage” gave notice to anyone who might wish to object. And I thought the slight pause for an objection in our wedding service was nerve wracking enough!

Before we arrived I had gotten back as far as my 5th Great Grandfather, William Shephard. There was some confusion, as the year of his birth was listed as 42/43. I learned that at that time in history, the new year did not start until March 25th. At the time of his birth William was born in 1742, but according to today’s calendar he was born in 1743.

Notice that John and Betty Shepherd also had a son John that was born on the 9th and baptized on the 10th. The genealogist confirmed that this would have been William’s twin, and suggested that I look to see if the mother or John died at or near the birth date. Luckily that was not the case. My grandmother was proud to have twin brothers that married sisters. She took full credit when one of my cousins had twins. She would have been thrilled to know how far back twins occur in her family tree.

Next we looked for a marriage record for John and Betty, as their name on William’s birth and baptism record advanced my knowledge by another generation. This is the first I had seen the names of my 6th Great Grandparents. Betty (Holberah) and John Shepherd were married July 2, 1741 in the Parish of Corsham. Thrilling! I did double check with the genealogist that St. Bartholomew’s, which we had visited that morning, was indeed the Parish of Corsham at the time. She assured us that it was.

We searched, but were unable to find further information on Betty and John. We did confirm several other birth, baptism, and marriage records for several of my ancestors. We also found possible leads for other family members that I need to further research.

We decided to complete this awesome day with a visit to Avebury Henge. This is the largest stone circle in the world. It was a wonderful place to get out and walk after being inside for much of the day. The stones were buried at one point and millionaire Alexander Keillor, excavated them in the 1930’s.

Of course we walked among the grazing sheep, as we have done on much of our trip. I loved looking out at the countryside and knowing that it still looks much the same as when my Shephard relatives were in this area.

So glad we found some Shepards among the sheep!

Next up, we head to Oxford to educate ourselves on that beautiful city. We also button down our trip to the UK with a nice surprise. Be sure to stay tuned for that. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Halstead History

September 28 & 29, 2019 – Burnley & Halifax, England

Written by Diana

September 28, 2019

We drove through the beautiful Lake District National Park in northwestern England while traveling to Burnley to explore my Halstead roots. We stopped to see the Ribblehead Viaduct. It was built in 1875 and has 24 massive stone arches.

We looked around and took photos from many angles, then decided to walk up a hill a ways to see if there was another view. As we were approaching the top, we noticed a group of people and were curious as to what they were looking at. Then we heard the sound of a steam whistle. It was the Tornado, which is similar to the Hogwarts Express. Passengers may book this train for a scenic ride on a steam locomotive.

It turns out that the train was late that day and people had been waiting two hours to see it cross over the viaduct. We were very lucky to happen along at just the right time! It was really a fun experience!

September 29, 2019

Growing up I always heard the term, “Halstead name bearer”. My brother was the last in line for our branch of the family tree, as was our father and grandfather before him. I was always proud to be a Halstead, but at the time I knew very little of the history of my maiden name.

Over the past year of research, I learned that the Halstead surname traces back to Burnley, England. According to Long Island Surnames, ancestry.com, and Find a Grave; I am able to go all the way back to my 22nd great grandfather who was born in about 1280. I have been in contact with the Halstead Trust in England (an organization dedicated to researching Halstead genealogy) several times, and they are not able to confirm all of these links. So the verdict is still out, as it is very hard to be sure of information from so long ago. I am confident back to my 10th great grandfather, Jonas Halstead, who was born about 20 miles east of Burnley in 1611. More about him in just a bit.

We visited the Halstead Centre Swimming Pool, in Burnley, England, as my research showed they sold something that might be the perfect souvenir.

It turns out their beach towel was a hit with my brother Dan, when we stopped to see him on our way to Florida.

Next we visited Halifax Minster, which used to be named St. John the Baptist, in Halifax, County of Yorkshire, England. Remember my 10th great grandfather, Jonas? This is where he was baptized in February of 1611. I was able to see a copy of the church records on ancestry.com. It is a beautiful cathedral, with an intricate and historic baptismal font.

They were having a fundraiser to help maintain the church, so we enjoyed strawberries & tea. It was fun to soak up the atmosphere, as I sat in view of the font where more than one of my ancestors were likely baptized so many generations ago.

Jonah Halstead married Sarah Susan Butterfield in England in 1632. They immigrated to Long Island, New York in 1644. He died in 1683 in what was then considered Colonial America. Future generations moved east to upstate New York, and eventually on to Michigan. They owned hundreds of acres near Newburgh, New York, where we love to stay when we visit New York City. Of course we never knew this until recently.

We then returned to Burnley as we wanted to see this plaque on Halstead history that is found inside of St. Peter’s.

This photo is from the Halstead Trust website, as we found the church closed. There was a service held there that morning, so it is still in use.

We were able to find some Halstead’s…

…in the very overgrown graveyard.

But these dates were after my ancestors had already been in the States for 200 years. We decided to leave, as a man who appeared to be homeless seemed uncomfortable with our presence. Such a different experience than we had in Halifax. This cemetery was so creepy! Happy Halloween to all!

In our next post, we explore one last branch of my family in a charming little southern English village. You’ll want to be sure to check that one out. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

A Little Rain, Good Friends and Irish Whiskey

September 24-25, 2019 – Southern and Western Ireland

Written by Jim

We are back from our U.K. & Ireland adventure, but still catching up the blog.

On the morning of September 24, we awoke to a fairly steady rain in Killarney, Ireland. This was more like the weather we were expecting when planning our trip, but it landed on a day where we were hoping to see some amazing scenery along the coast. We made the decision to forego our drive around the Ring of Kerry that day, and chose instead to visit the coastal town of Dingle.

We parked our little Scout near the marina. Donning our rain gear, we headed out to see what gems the little town might hold. As we weaved our way through the shops and narrow streets, we spotted a church up on a hill.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church was built between 1862 and 1865. By Irish standards, it’s a fairly new building. What was interesting to note was the new roof that was installed in 1963. A mixture of old and new…something that seemed unique to what we had seen thus far.

After exiting the church, we spotted a convent turned art gallery next door that we toured. As we were leaving, Diana asked if there was a pub in town that the locals frequented. Being married to a Catholic, she knew who to ask. :). The lady there said “either Dick Mack’s or Foxy John’s.” We chose the latter.

Talk about a place with character! Diana remarked how much the bartender looked like her Grandpa O’Morrow. She had a pint of ale and I chose a dram of Slane Irish whiskey. There were mostly locals in the place, besides us and a couple of girls from Ohio. That brought up a mention of the University of Michigan/Ohio State University rivalry. When another couple walked in sporting U of M clothing, I told the girls “Hey Ohio…you’re outnumbered.” 🙂 The other unique thing about Foxy John’s was that it was not only a pub….

…but it was also a hardware store! So THIS must be the place they came up with the drink called a screwdriver!

The next day, we pointed our motorhome towards the Blarney Caravan and Camping Park to meet up with some good friends, Linda and Steven from The Chouters. We first met them in Kentucky when the four of us were working for Amazon. Since then, these fellow full time RVers sold their beloved Travel Supreme motorhome named Scoopy, moved to France and bought a Hymer motorhome they have named Bijou. We caught up with them at the tail end of their two month-plus long adventure through Steven’s homeland of Ireland. After a quick tour of their rolling home, we piled into their rented car and headed off for the town of Cobh. How on earth do you pronounce that one? Steven informed us that the Irish language sounds out a ‘bh’ as a ‘v’, making this tiny port the town of Cove. That’s what it originally was called until it was changed to Queenstown in honor of a visit by Queen Victoria. It was changed to a Gaelic spelling of Cove after Ireland became independent of Great Britain.

Our destination was the White Star Line ticket office. Cobh (Queenstown at the time) was the last port that Titanic stopped at before sailing towards New York. The building is now used to house The Titanic Experience…a simulation of what it was like to board the great ship from there. Before the harbor was dredged, vessels as large as the Titanic had to anchor out in the harbor. Tenders would ferry passengers from this office to the waiting ships. It is interesting to note that the ship in this photo, the average sized Norwegian Spirit, is only four feet shorter in length than the Titanic.

Our tour guide Lynn did an excellent job of explaining the different classes of passengers and what their experiences would’ve been.

We were all issued a ticket from an actual passenger who boarded at Queenstown, which we used at the end of the tour to see if we survived. Most people on the tour didn’t make it.

These are the remains of the dock where the passengers boarded the tenders. Known locally as Heartbreak Pier, over one million Irish emigrated from this spot. Plans are in the works to restore it.

The last photo taken of the Titanic sailing was taken from the mouth of the harbor at Queenstown.

From Cobh, we headed to Midleton to tour the Jameson Distillery. If any of you know Linda and Steven, you are aware that Jameson Irish Whiskey is a favorite of theirs. It was pretty special to accompany them on this tour!

The buildings were quaint, the grounds were beautiful and the entire experience had a magical feel to it.

This huge water wheel, built in 1852, used to power the milling process in the plant. While it doesn’t perform that duty anymore, it does still turn.

This is the largest pot still in the world. At 31,618 gallons, it is too big to get a complete photo of!

And here is a link to my hometown…a Fordson tractor. Manufactured by Henry Ford and Son (that son would be Edsel), these tractors were made both in Michigan and in the U.K. Many people don’t realize that Henry Ford was a farmer before he was an automobile manufacturer. His disdain of manual farm work drove him to look for ways to make agricultural life easier. He was also of Irish descent.

The tour ended with a comparison tasting of Jameson against a Scottish whiskey (Johnnie Walker) and an American whiskey (Jack Daniels). The peat-smokiness of the Johnnie Walker was harsh as compared to the Jameson, but the Jack was pleasurable in it’s uniqueness. The Jameson was my favorite of the three though…I’m sure by their design. 🙂

Cheers to Linda and Steven and their travels throughout Europe! We had a marvelous day with this adventurous pair. 🙂

Next up, we head back through Scotland and into England in search of Diana’s Halstead roots. Along the way, we are treated to a very unique and fun connection to England’s recent past. Be sure to stay tuned for that post. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

A Warm Irish Welcome

September 22, 23, & 26, 2019 – Ireland

Written by Diana

We are back from our U.K. & Ireland adventure, but still catching up the blog.

Please note the dates.

September 22, 2019

My maternal grandfather was Howard O’Morrow. I have been able to trace this branch of my family tree to my 2nd Great Grandfather, Edward M. O’Morrow, who was born in Ireland in 1808. I’m not sure what town he was born in or what year he immigrated, but he died in Canada in 1880. Based on family stories and the fact that the years match up, I’m confident that he left Ireland due to the Potato Famine. Blight devastated the potato crop and during the seven years between September 1845 – 1852, one million people died, and one million people were forced to leave. 100,000 tenant farmers were exiled to Canada in 1847 alone. When we left Northern Ireland and drove to the Republic of Ireland, our first stop was Strokestown Park & The National Famine Museum.

This was the home of Denis Mahon, the first landlord to be assassinated during the height of the Great Famine of Ireland in 1840’s. The tenants and their families were starving and delivered this letter to him, but resorted to violence when their letter received no results.

The landowners were responsible for taking care of the starving tenants. They determined it was cheaper to assist in their emigration, rather than pay for their upkeep in the workhouse. The ships they provided were so crowded with already weak passengers, that the mortality rate was often as high as 40%. There is a memorial on Grosse Ile in Quebec, Canada to the 5,000 Irish who did not survive the voyage and are interred in mass graves on the island. The home of Denis Mahon, called Strokestown Park was musty and not well preserved. The National Famine Museum, on the same property, was well done. It took a sad, complicated tragedy, and presented it in a balanced and understandable way.

Edward M.’s son, Edward Dean O’Morrow (my Great Grandfather), was born in Canada in 1862, immigrated to the thumb area of Michigan as a young man in 1881, was a dairy farmer, and died there in 1944. The fact they were able to own their own land through homesteading and their own hard work, certainly shows they were successful in their new country. What pride they must have had in owning their own land and farm, when generations before them were at the mercy of the landowners as tenant farmers in Ireland.

September 23, 2019

Our second day in Ireland was an exciting one. It seemed like we fit three days worth of fun into one. The first thing we did was visit the Barack Obama Plaza. (If this makes you groan, just chalk it up to us needing diesel.😀) When Barack was President, researchers from Ireland determined that he had Irish heritage on his mom’s side. They decided to name a service plaza near his ancestral home after him. Michelle and Barack came in 2011 to the tiny village of Moneygall, where they met his closest living Irish relative. On the second floor of the plaza, there is a very nice museum that celebrates the many U.S. Presidents that have Irish roots.

Imagine how thrilled we were that Michelle and Barack O’Bama were back for a visit!

Next we visited the nearby town of Toomevara. Before computers and ancestry.com, one of my distant relatives researched the O’Morrow family. He put in a lot of effort, traveling, and even taking classes in Irish history. He still was unable to find much information. He determined that our Irish ancestors were not landowners. He also shared that his research showed that the O’Morrow name went back to either O’Mara, Mara, O’Meara, or Meara. Since Toomevara means “Tomb of the O’Mearas” we felt that this was a good place to start. Jim had a feeling that we should go to St. Joseph’s Parish and check out the cemetery. We were able to find O’Meara and Ryan (Edward M.’s wife’s maiden name), but they were too recent as we were looking for graves of their possible parents which would have been from the early to mid 1800’s.

We decided to go inside and check out the church, hoping the rain would let up some. A couple came in the vestibule and were putting out new bulletins, so I figured they were local. I asked if they knew how old the graves were in the cemetery and the man became very excited when he heard we were from America. He has a sister in California and he insisted that he help us. He wanted us to get in his car, so he could take us to the people in town that know about its history. We thanked him, but declined his offer. He said we could walk then and insisted we come with him. He was so determined to help us, that we took off for what we thought was to be a short walk with him. First we went to the post office, because the postmaster knows a lot of the area history. The post office was closed for lunch. So we continued on in the rain and wind several more blocks to the priest’s house who also knows the history of the parish. Unfortunately, the priest was not at home. Neither did he answer when our new friend called him on the phone. Next stop, back across the road, and down a ways to the gas station. Our friend William was greeted by the locals as we walked up in the rain and wind. While Jim and I were wearing our raincoats, he led this whole adventure in his sweater! Yes, we looked out of place.

William asked the young woman behind the counter if her parents were there. She called her father on the phone, and he came to the store to help us. We were overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity. Her father Richie suggested we needed to go to Nenagh Heritage Centre and see Nora who is the genealogist. Richie said once I got the details from Nora, to come back to him and he would find the graves for me! Unfortunately, the museum was closed that day. When we got back in the motor home I broke down and cried. I couldn’t believe how these people had gone out of their way to make us crazy Americans feel so welcome.

We topped off the day with a visit to the Cliffs of Moher. The weather cooperated so we could get in a short hike. Beautiful!

September 26, 2019

On our last day in Ireland we went to the Nenagh Heritage Centre to speak with Nora. After some initial confusion, Nora was able to explain that (O)Morrow and O’Meara/Mara are two different surnames. Morrow is Protestant (which fits with my heritage) and O’Meara/Mara is Catholic. Morrow is now more common in Ulster than in England where it originated. This is important information and will help my further research.

Next up, we meet up with some good friends who are off on an adventure of their own! We spent a fabulous day with them exploring a distillery and a ticket office. That will round out our time in Ireland before we return to England. Be sure to tune in for that post. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Northern Ireland’s Titans and Giants

September 20 & 21, 2019 – Northern Ireland

Written by Jim

When planning this trip, one place was a bit of a question mark in our minds: Northern Ireland. There were a couple of positives to crossing from Scotland to Belfast. One was the 2 hour ferry ride being a LOT cheaper than the 8 hour ride from Liverpool to Dublin. The other was that Northern Ireland is part of the UK, so there would not be an international border crossing at the port. The downside (in our minds) is the stigma that Northern Ireland carries from its past troubles. Just hearing the name Belfast conjured up past images of a war-torn country we had so often heard about on the evening news back home. Truth be told, there is still an underlying uneasiness in that part of the UK. But we also found the place filled with helpful and generous people, along with some beautiful landscapes. And the roads were some of the best we encountered our entire trip.

Our ferry service across from Cairnryan, Scotland to Belfast was Stena Lines. Once we drove our Scout onboard, we climbed the stairs to the Hygee recliner lounge we had booked ahead of time. At £6 a seat, it was a tremendous bargain.

That became even more evident when we left the lounges quiet surroundings for the main passenger area to use the restroom. The place was a zoo!

Upon our arrival in Belfast, we looped around the harbor to a place that has intrigued me since I was a kid: the Harland & Wolfe Shipyard, which is the birthplace of the Titanic.

Yes, they still are in business after all these years.

In the early 1900’s, a trio of large luxury liners were built by them for the White Star Line; the Olympic, Titanic and Britannic. Just ahead of where those ships were assembled. , a large, glistening museum now welcomes visitors. Having seen the artifact exhibit a number of years ago in Florida, my interest wasn’t in the museum…

…but rather to be able to stand within the great footprint of the ship. They have it laid out in the plaza from bow…

…to stern. They have the layouts for both the Titanic and the Olympic, which were built right next to each other.

They even detail where the ship’s funnels were. The museum sits in the background in this photo. What an amazing experience to be able to stand where the legendary liner was constructed.

The next day, we headed north to the town of Bushmills. Our first stop was Bushmills Distillery to sample their products.

The pours were huge! Unfortunately, we didn’t care for their whiskey, so we ended up not finishing the flights. I guess if we liked them all, it would be hard to pick a favorite! We may have liked their offerings better, if we would have chosen a more expensive tasting. We will remember this in the future.

We then parked the motorhome in a Park and Ride lot and took a bus to Giant’s Causeway.

This geological feature along the coast is reminiscent of the columns of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. With it being a weekend and a beautiful day, it was packed with tourists. There is a mythological legend about how it was created, which details that it was created by a giant and that it once led to Scotland. The feature does indeed follow a fault under the sea all the way to the Scottish Isle of Staffa.

The columns rose up quite a ways along the shore, mostly in a hexagonal pattern.

It was a gorgeous day to spend along the Irish coast!

Next up, we cross the border and head to the Republic of Ireland in search of Diana’s maternal grandfather’s roots. That was quite a journey with some very helpful people joining in along the way. We even met up with another American with Irish roots who all of you will recognize. Be sure to check that one out in our next post. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Last Days in Scotland

September 18-20, 2019 – Southwest Scotland

Written by Jim

After leaving the Isle of Skye, we had a few other places we wanted to see before catching our ferry to Ireland. Our route had us going through some beautiful territory to the west of Fort William, our stop the first night. After fueling up and getting groceries, we went to check out Neptune’s Staircase.

That is a series of locks along the Caledonian Canal; a cross-country system of lakes and rivers that connects both coasts.

While we were there, we watched a boat head through. The captain piloted it through while his first mate walked the bow line along. It’s a time-lapse video, so the older gentleman with the cane moves like a teenager. 🙂

After that, we set up camp and went to dinner at a local pub.

The path from the campground to the eating establishment bordered the land where the movie Braveheart was filmed. To the left, shrouded in the clouds, is Ben Nevis…the highest peak in the United Kingdom.

The next morning, we pointed our Scout on a circuitous southward course towards Stirling.

The scenery only got better as we rolled along.

Every corner brought another “Wow!”

After visiting several of Diana’s genealogy sites detailed in her post MacGregor Despite Them, Shall Flourish Forever!, we found ourselves in Stirling. Our destination here was The Kelpies, the largest equestrian sculpture in the world.

What is a kelpie? It is a mythical Scottish water creature that can take on many forms, but is usually a horse. In a sense, the Loch Ness monster could be considered a kelpie. Legend has it that they possess great power and can lure a person to their death. These were very cool stainless steel renderings of those fabled beasts.

On our last stop of the day, we found a very different sort of canal lock system.

This is called the Falkirk Wheel. See the long canal boat at the top? It inches its way to the end of the elevated waterway where a partition rises up at each end. At the same time, a canal boat does the same thing at the bottom of the wheel. Once they are both in…

…they switch positions! Once they are flipped around…

…the gates are opened and away they go.

Looks like a fun way to go back and forth across Scotland! We really enjoyed seeing this beautiful land of many of Diana’s ancestors. Next up, we head across the Irish Sea to Belfast, Northern Ireland to explore the footprints of giants and titans. You won’t want to miss that one! Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Isle of Skye, Scotland

September 16 – 18, 2019

Written by Diana

My maternal grandfather’s mother was born Hughena McLeod. I have been able to trace this branch of my family tree back to my 5th great-grandfather, Alexander II MacLeod, who was born in 1689 on the Isle of Skye.

We visited the Dunvegan Castle and Gardens, which is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. It is the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod (pronounced McCloud) for 800 years. We had heard how beautiful the Isle of Skye was, but it was a bonus when we learned that we could visit the MacLeod Castle. This was one of the highlights of our trip.

Inside there are lots of artifacts and displays to explain the history of Clan MacLeod. We enjoyed touring the castle, including this beautiful dining room.

The gardens were beautiful as well and even included this waterfall.

This was the sunset out the front window of our motorhome that evening.

The next morning we went to the Skye and Lochlash Archive Centre to learn more about my family history.

Two genealogists researched my ancestors, but weren’t able to find additional information. They thought it was good that I had already gotten so far back. They were able to fill in more about how my ancestors may have lived, and what may have led them to immigrate to Canada.

Of course my ancestors didn’t live in the castle. This is an example of the homes that were common over 100 years ago. They would gather drift wood to use for the roof. The agricultural system of Skye is crofting. Tenet farmers work land that is owned by other landlords, including the government. After the Highland Clans were defeated at Culloden in 1746, the government of Great Britain saw to it that all who fought for the Jacobite cause were punished. One result was that the rents were drastically raised for the crofters, which led to them being evicted. Many landowners began renting to sheep farmers instead. This led many crofters to emmigrate looking for a better life. Others stayed and have continued this life style. Laws have changed to protect the crofters and assure they are given fair treatment.

In the afternoon we drove the beautiful Trotternish Peninsula Loop.

We got out and enjoyed several walks just taking in this scenery.

It was truly breathtaking, and we were sad when we had to leave this beautiful island.

Next up, we head through some spectacular scenery to see some very unique Scottish sites. You will want to be sure to check that out. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!