Inverness and Loch Ness, Scotland

September 15, 2019 – Scottish Highlands

Written by Jim

Whenever I hear the name Inverness, I think of the sleepy little town in Florida, not far from our friends Rod and Mary’s house. The name actually comes from the Scottish Gaelic name Inbhir Nis, which means “mouth of the River Ness”. That location is not in Florida, but rather in Scotland…at the northeast end of Loch Ness. After moving north from Pitlochry, we camped above Inverness to visit the Culloden Battlefield.

Culloden was the last battle of the Jacobite Rising. The rising…or what Americans would call an uprising or movement…started in 1745 when Bonnie Prince Charles tried to regain the British throne for his father. It ended in a bloody skirmish on April 16, 1746 at Culloden.

The modern museum at the battlefield is well done in that it looks at the uprising from both the British government’s side and the Jacobite’s position. Being students of American history, it was a bit over our heads. But it is a huge deal to those who are interested in British and Scottish history.

One thing we found fascinating was a demonstration on how to put on a kilt. Our first thought was ‘just how hard can it be to put on a skirt?’ It turns out that it is quite an involved process!

The gentleman in the black agreed to be the volunteer who would wear it. The man on the right was the instructor. They folded pleats along the tartans until…

…most of it was pleated. They slid a belt halfway under the fabric.

The volunteer then laid on the fabric. It was wrapped over him and the belt was tightened.

When he got up, he had a double layer of kilt!

They then pulled the outer layer up over his shoulder and pinned it, put a hat, sword and shield on him and he was ready for battle!

After we finished up at Culloden, we headed down along the northern side of Loch Ness to see if we could find Nessie….the elusive Loch Ness Monster.

This 1934 photograph seems to show the mythical creature in the loch. It was later proven to be a hoax. I was determined to find Nessie and prove that she really does exist.

We looked off to the southwest, looking for a sign of the legendary creature. Nothing.

Looking back towards Inverness, we continued our search….still nothing.

Turning back to the southwest…wait….what was that????

There she is! Wow. Finally proof that she really does exist.

With all that excitement, we were toast. We set up camp near the midpoint of Loch Ness and called it a day. 🙂

Next up, we head to the Isle of Skye to discover another branch of Diana’s family. She will detail that beautiful area of Scotland and her ancestor’s role in its past. You won’t want to miss that one. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

MacGregor Despite Them, Shall Flourish Forever!

September 13-19, 2019 – Scotland

Written by Diana

My maternal great-grandmother was born a McGregor. That meant little to me, until I started researching my genealogy a year ago. Her father, William McGregor, was born in Scotland and immigrated with his parents to New York, NY in 1829 at 3 years old. Later they immigrated to Canada, and eventually William immigrated to the U.S. with his wife. I have been able to trace this family line back to my 5th great-grand father who was born in Scotland about 1745. The reason I am not able to go beyond this may be that the MacGregor name was banned for almost 200 years! Yes, you heard right, outlawed.

Clan Gregor is one of the oldest clans in Scotland. They are descended from Kenneth MacAlpin, the king who united Scotland back in the 13th century. Thus their motto was: Royal is my race. The MacGregors lost much of their land through the years for various reasons. Eventually they were set up to lose a battle with another clan, but won even though they were very outnumbered. This upset folks as they said they didn’t fight fair, so they became victims of proscription. From 1603-1775 MacGregors could not use the MacGregor name, were legally hunted down, tortured and/or beheaded. They could not own land, weapons, or even a knife. They were referred to as “Children of the Mist” because they escaped to the highlands to avoid capture. Many changed their names. As you can imagine, learning this story was very upsetting to me.

The good news is that after the punishment of proscription was lifted in 1775, many families went back to using their MacGregor name and have been successful both in Scotland as well as numerous countries around the world. So the Clan MacGregor motto is now, “MacGregor despite them, shall flourish forever!” We visited several sites while exploring Scotland that relate to my proud MacGregor heritage.

September 13, 2019

While enjoying the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, we made it a point to find the Heart of Midlothian Mosaic. This is the site of the former jail where the MacGregor chief was quartered then hung, and 30 warriors were hung in the spring of 1604. This was all done as the public gathered to view the spectacle. Scots spit on it. As we were approaching a tour guide was explaining the tradition to his group. I spit on it with gusto and he commented, “And there you have it.” I felt it was the least I could do to express my disgust at the treatment my ancestors received.

September 14, 2019

We visited Castle Menzies because they have been gracious enough to provide a room for the Clan Gregor Museum. It was wonderful to see the displays and to learn more about the history of the clan. I really appreciated the staff answering my many questions and helping me to understand more about my family tree. My 5th great-grandfather was married to Janet Fleming. She said that the name Fleming was used for Flemish weavers that were brought to the area to weave the sheep wool.

I was very excited, as you can see! So much planning, and we were finally here.

After leaving the castle we headed to the Pitlochry Highland Games. This has been an annual event since 1852. It was great fun! Many events were taking place at the same time; including races, bag pipes, Scottish dancers, and other traditional Highland games. There were all levels of participants, from local school children to professionals. They even had a tent for international visitors were they treated us to a plate of goodies and a glass of wine. I enjoyed wearing my new hat and scarf, made with MacGregor tartan. Below a contestant is competing in the hammer throw.

September 19, 2019

We visited the Glenorchy Parish Church where there are historic MacGregor graves from 600 years ago. These stones of the leaders of Clan Gregor were once inside the church, but were long ago placed out in the weather. The Dalmally Stones Project is an effort to protect and restore these stones, but unfortunately it may soon be too late.

The Kilchurn Castle is castle ruins in MacGregor territory. MacGregors were caretakers here, and possibly built the castle. It later was given to another clan. We really enjoyed exploring the many levels of the castle and enjoying the view out to Loch Awe.

We made a somber visit to the Glen Fruin Memorial, site of the battle that led to the proscription of the MacGregor Clan. It serves as a modern memorial whose wording was agreed to by the families of both of the clans involved. Both sides suffered in this glen on Feb. 7, 1603.

Thank you to my third cousin Robert Fay, who I’ve gotten to know through ancestry.com, for providing this photo of our 2nd great grandfather William McGregor.

Note for my Halstead side: My father’s mother was Ethel Glass. Her mother was Ellen Swift, and her mother was Sarah Athere Narrin. The Narrin’s seem to go back to Scotland, but I haven’t nailed down the details yet. The original Glass family name also goes back to Scotland, but I haven’t been able to trace my Glass roots across the pond. I have Glass ancestors being born in the U.S. in 1755.

Next up, we continue our tour of the Scottish Highlands and its beautiful scenery. Be sure to stay tuned for that. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Edinburgh, Scotland

Friday, September 13, 2019 – Edinburgh, Scotland

After leaving the town of Bamburgh on Thursday, we pointed our Scout northward towards Scotland. Rolling across the Scottish border, we immediately noticed an improvement in the quality of the roads over those in England. Our destination for that night was Prestopans, just east of the City of Edinburgh. Our campground was conveniently located near the bus line into the city, which allowed us to leave the motorhome parked at our pitch on Friday.

The next morning, we made our way to the bus stop.

This is the two-way road we had to traverse to get to that point. When we planned the trip earlier this year, we were concerned about this narrow stretch after viewing it on Google Maps. It turned out to be a nice stroll, with only a few cars passing us while we made our way along. Like in York, they use immaculately clean double-decker buses.

Edinburgh (pronounced EDdin-buh-ruh) is Scotland’s second largest city and is its capital. It’s a combination of some very old buildings and plenty of new ones. Tower cranes dominate the skyline as the city continues to grow.

We disembarked the bus just below the Royal Mile at the Scott Monument. This is a memorial to the Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott. It was completed in 1844 and, despite needing a good cleaning, looks pretty good for its age!

Heading up towards Edinburgh Castle, we passed Princes Street Gardens.

Interestingly enough, this expanse of green lawn and trees was once a lake known as Nor Loch…or North Lake. It was a man-made medieval moat of sorts to act as a defense towards the north side of the old town. Problem was, sewage flowed downhill, so the lake became more of a stinking cesspool. It was eventually drained and cleaned up, making a lovely park that vegetation grows exceptionally well in. 😉

Once on the Royal Mile, we headed straight up the hill to the western end to see Edinburgh Castle.

This massive stone structure sits high on a hill that overlooks the entire city. It is a very defendable location, to say the least. There has been a castle on this perch since the 12th century, and it is where the Crown Jewels of Scotland are displayed. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed of them, or of the Stone of Scone. If you’ve never heard of the latter, it is what Scottish kings and queens used to be coronated upon. England’s King Edward I took it to Westminster Abbey after the 1296 Battle of Dunbar. Since then, the kings and queens of Great Britain have been coronated upon it. British Prime Minister John Major returned it to Scotland in 1996, with the agreement that it be returned to Westminster for use during future British coronations. It’s a big, rectangular slab of rock that fits in a compartment underneath the coronation chair. A very important piece of rock, indeed.

Not much else impressed us on the interior of the castle, as most of the displays were modern. The exterior had some excellent firepower displayed though.

This large cannon had the Scott Monument in its crosshairs. Some of the many tower cranes we spoke of earlier can be seen in the photo.

And check out this bemouth! This gun is known as Mons Meg, the world’s first weapon of mass destruction. The 20″ barrel can deliver a 386 pound cannonball a distance of over 2 miles. It was manufactured in the 1400’s.

From the castle, we headed down the Royal Mile towards St Giles Cathedral.

There were shops of all sorts lining the street. People from all over the world were out enjoying the nice weather.

St, Giles has a complicated history. It started out a Roman Catholic church, and was the center of the Scottish Reformation in the mid 1500’s. It was here that John Knox preached, and this became known as the birthplace of Presbyterianism. He was buried in the churchyard, which was destroyed in the mid 1600’s. The location of his grave is unknown.

The interior was surprisingly light and airy, unlike the dark exterior. There were times that this space was partitioned into four separate churches, but it was restored to one large cathedral in the mid 1800’s.

An interesting side chapel we entered is home to The Order of the Thistle.

The thistle is the national flower of Scotland. The order is a collection of knights and ladies, selected by the monarch. The stall plates on the back of each stall serve as a record of the knights and ladies who have resided there.

That person is currently Queen Elizabeth II, who presides over a meeting of the order each summer. Her seat is in the middle of this wall.

The top of each member’s stall is decorated with adornments of their choosing. When a knight or lady dies, the adornments are replaced with ones from the new member. We found the one on the left interesting, in that it was so modern looking. The rainbow and the anchor are meant to represent hope.

We really enjoyed our visit to Edinburgh. Next up, we move further north into the Scottish Highlands, into some of the most beautiful places we have ever seen. Diana has deep roots there, so you will definitely want to stay tuned for that. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

A Heroine For the Ages

Thursday, September 12, 2019 – Bamburgh, UK

As is probably evident by now, we are easy hooks for a great lifesaving story. When Mike from A Bit About Britain published a story in June about a heroine lifesaver along the Northumberland coast, we knew we had to squeeze the stop into our itinerary.

Bamburgh is a quaint little town in northeast England that lies adjacent to the North Sea. That body of water is legendary for it’s ferocious storms and it’s deep history. Vikings sailed here, the Dutch built dikes to keep it out, and Germany tried to conquer the world through it in World War II, as the North Sea is their only connection to the ocean.

Towering high over the hamlet of Bamburgh is the villages’ namesake castle. The Normans…who I am a descendent of through my French Canadian ancestry…built the core of this massive edifice a thousand years ago. I’ll let you know if I’m able to ever trace back to this lovely piece of real estate. 😉

What would seem long ago to those of us visiting from America, an event took place within the castle’s view in its relatively recent history. On September 7, 1838, a gale forced the steamer Forfarshire onto a rocky island a few miles offshore from Bamburgh, breaking it in two. A 23 year old woman by the name of Grace Darling, daughter to the lighthouse keeper on nearby Longstone Island, spotted the wreck and saw that there were survivors scrambling onto the rocks. She and her father rowed a mile out to the wreck in a 21 foot coble, as time was of the essence. While her dad disembarked to help the eight men and one woman, Grace kept the boat steady in the heavy seas using only the oars and her will. They brought five of them back on the first trip, then Grace stayed behind at the lighthouse during the second trip out.

Thus, another legendary figure took her place in the annals of the North Sea. Newspaper accounts made her famous, but time was not on her side. A mere three years later, she died of tuberculosis.

Grace is buried in the churchyard next to St. Aidan’s Church.

Her effigy above her tomb is fittingly holding an oar.

After a visit to her grave, we stepped inside the church.

The present building dates from the twelfth century, but St. Aidan built the original structure here in 635. He passed away leaning against a wooden beam that survived two subsequent fires.

That Y-shaped beam supports the ceiling high above the baptismal font.

After visiting the church and Grace Darling’s grave, we headed to the beach to dip our fingers into the North Sea.

The pathway through the dunes was thick with beach grass.

The shoreline was wide open and calm, far different than the night Grace and her father rowed out to save those nine souls. We walked a half mile up the beach to the other end of the castle and back to our waiting motorhome. A nice way to top off a worthwhile visit to an English heroine’s hometown.

Next up, the first of several posts from Scotland! Be sure to stay tuned for that. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

To read A Bit About Britain’s eloquent post on Grace Darling, click HERE.

Y is for York, D is for…

A long departed family friend used to love to visit the Cabela’s store in Dundee, Michigan, Art…a big kid at heart…would delight in telling us, “I always park in Lot D, as D is for Dummies!” How does that relate to the UK, you say?

Well here, D is for Diesel! No sooner did I pull up to the station and start pumping fuel from the green handled nozzle than I realized that I was putting petrol…gasoline…into the motorhome. Seven liters went in before I got it stopped. My heart sank. Pumps in the UK have black handles on the diesel and green on the unleaded…opposite of what is back in the States. I should have remembered that from visiting the BP stations in the US, which buck that trend. Yes, the B in BP stands for British. Second mistake was driving across the road to a large parking lot. Just turning the key enough to have the dashboard lights engaged the fuel pump and introduced the gas into the engine. If this ever happens to you, only turn the key far enough to unlock the wheel. At this point, I’m thinking that I ruined the engine. I called Just Go and they asked if I was in a safe place. I told them I was. They then proceeded to call a mobile fuel repair truck. Diana walked to the grocery store around the corner and grabbed all she could carry.

Evidently, this is a ‘thing’ over here, as people have businesses that take care of this sort of issue! The repairman says that 200,000 people a year put the wrong fuel in their vehicles in the UK. My guess is the lion’s share of them are American tourists grabbing the green pump handle. The repairman drained the tank and fuel filter, added new diesel fuel and a can of additive. About two hours and £272 later, we were on our way. No muss, no fuss, no damage, no problem…other than a lighter wallet. Just Go called us back about an hour later to make sure we were OK, which we were. Onward and upward to York!

Our campground in York was situated on a bus line, so getting downtown was very easy. That meant we got our first ride ever on a double-decker bus! They were spotless going in both directions. We had wanted to see the interior of the York Minster, but our earlier fuel issues got us there too late.

Another masterpiece of stonework. The first church built here was a wooden structure hurriedly put up in 627. This one was completed in 1472 after hundreds of years worth of work. That was 20 years before Columbus sailed for America!

This window is the largest medieval stained glass portal in the UK. We will have to see the light coming through it on a future trip.

The other thing we wanted to see in York was The Shambles.

This is a fourteenth century collection of buildings that used to be the meat market in York.

Many people believe this street was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter film series. It sure looks like it! It’s filled with tourist shops and…

…The Shop That Must Not Be Named. A perfect spot to pick up your wizard wear.

That wraps up our trip to York. Next up, we head north to a place that Mike from A Bit About Britain introduced us to earlier this year. It involves the North Sea, a castle, a maritime heroine, and a saint. Be sure to stay tuned for that. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Just Go Explore the UK

On Monday morning, we had set up a trip to pick up our motorhome with our first London Uber driver, Dhanashekar. He was so helpful to us the first trip, we knew he would be perfect for the trip up to Just Go motorhome hire on the north side of town. He even carted our luggage into the building for us upon arrival.

We were happy to find the people at Just Go to be wonderful and the facility to be spotless. Our motorhome appeared to be brand new, even though it had a full summer’s use and 16,000 miles on it. After a familiarization tour, we spent a half hour or so moving in. With that, I climbed into the drivers seat and we were off!

Driving on the opposite side of the vehicle was a bit strange at first, but a helpful post and video by the RV Geeks when planning the trip left us no surprises when we headed out. After a day or so, it became second nature. We stopped to get groceries and headed to our pitch, which is what they call a campsite over here.

Diana proceeded to make us a delicious spaghetti dinner. Pardon the pile of stuff on the bed, as we hadn’t totally settled in yet.

You can see the great layout we have: a full bed and bath in the back, huge fridge and freezer, kitchen with oven, sink and hob (range), a big table and front seats that swivel. Tons of storage too…all packed into 22 feet of length! Four huge skylights that open, plus one in the bathroom. It even has solar.

Our first full day on the road took us to Lincoln. Our goal there was to see the Lincoln Cathedral.

Our little Scout slid into this car park just fine. A word on the car parks: While researching for the trip, we found that most of these have a low clearance bar across their entrances. That most likely is to prevent people from using them as overnight facilities. We scoped out the ones that do allow motorhomes before we left the States (that’s what they call the U.S.) so we weren’t fighting that battle once we got here.

To get to the cathedral, we had to walk the northern perimeter of the Lincoln Castle, which was a nice stroll by some really quaint buildings.

It was on that stroll that we caught our first glimpse of our destination, Lincoln Cathedral. At that moment, to our delight, the bells started ringing. Construction on this beauty was begun in 1072. For 238 years, beginning in 1311, it was the tallest building in the world. Interestingly enough, the building it surpassed was the Great Pyramid of Giza.

At that time, it had a lead-clad wooden steeple nearly as tall as this central tower that gave it that title. That spire was lost to a windstorm in 1548.

The gargoyles are so amusing.

This one is leaning on a lead downspout. The building is covered with them, no two sculptures are the same. It is believed that they ward off evil spirits.

When we visited, Lincoln University was holding their commencement in the cathedral. Until that was over, we were only allowed to see the rear portion of the interior.

Believe it or not, this is the back….

…and this is the area where the choir sits. While we were in this area, we spied a woman dusting. When Diana mentioned to her how nice it was to see everything being so well cared for, she said “I just like to polish and shine.” Westminster Abbey could learn a thing or two from her. Lincoln Cathedral was spotless and smelled good too! Listening to the hoots and hollers from the graduation ceremony made it feel alive and current, not just a part of history.

While we were there, the pipe organ played at the end of the commencement. It reminded me so much of how my mom could lift the roof off a cathedral when she played the pipe organ. I think she was smiling down on us as we enjoyed the moment.

Once the organist was finished and applause faded, we were allowed into the front of the building.

The view looking straight up into the central tower.

Looking from the main entrance towards the center of the church. The organ sits directly under the central tower in the middle of the cathedral.

This baptismal font dates from the 12th century. It is one of seven surviving Tournai marble fonts in England. Can you even imagine the generations that shared the rite of baptism in this jewel? It is mind boggling.

Next up is a trip to York. Harry Potter fans might find that one interesting. We even had a slight hiccup on the way there, which you will definitely want to stay tuned for. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

London Wrap Up

Our four day stay in London gave us a nice flavor of what the city has to offer. In this post, we will detail our last couple of days in this worldly place, along with our observations of a few of the differences between the United States and the United Kingdom’s cultures and ways. We hope you enjoy the tour!

On Saturday morning, we had tickets to tour Westminster Abbey. This is the church where Princess Diana’s funeral was held. Having seen a fair share of cathedrals in our day, we expected this to be the spit and polished pinnacle of what had experienced in the past.

The building dates back to the 1060’s, so it’s age far surpasses anything we had ever been in. It is downright ancient. The first thing I noticed when walking through the doors was not the soaring ceiling, but the musty smell that can only come from a thousand years of existence. Spit and polished, it was not. But moving beyond that, it was spectacular. One thing that stood out to us was the sheer amount of people who have been buried or commemorated inside the edifice. The number is currently in the vicinity of 3300 souls. Almost every corner of the building is filled with memorials, statues, tombs and such.

Photos were not allowed inside, so we grabbed a few appropriate ones from Pinterest. As you can see, some of it felt a bit cluttered, taking away from the openness usually experienced in this type of building. The halls were loaded with famous Brits: names like George Handel (Hallelujah Chorus), Issac Newton, Mary-Queen of Scots, Edward the Confessor, Rudyard Kipling, C.S. Lewis, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin. The sheer volume of recognizable names was mind boggling. We paid extra for a tour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, which occupy the upper levels of the church.

That ticket afforded us a tremendous view from behind the high altar, back towards the front of the building. Somewhat of a narrow feeling, but spectacular in its own right.

The only grave that is not allowed to be walked on is the one for an unknown British soldier who was killed during World War I. The stone is surrounded by red poppies, reminiscent of the ones that the American Legion pass out on Veteran’s Day in the U.S.

We really enjoyed our visit to this amazing church.

Afterwards, we made our way around the corner towards Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, otherwise known as the Parliament building.

Unfortunately, this is the view we had of Big Ben. As a matter of fact, much of London is under scaffolding. The entire skyline is filled with tower cranes.

We did get a peek at one of the clock faces though!

We also had a front row seat for a Brexit demonstration in Parliament Square Green. We really didn’t want to stick around for that too long, as it seemed a bit raucous.

From there, we headed up to the British Museum.

This large facility houses a great many of the world’s treasures, clocking in at over eight million works. It was the first national public museum to ever be established, and has free admission (a £5 donation is suggested). Our goal here was to see both the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles.

The Rosetta Stone is the only remaining piece of a larger tablet that allowed the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was actually the same decree issued in three languages: hieroglyphics, Egyptian demonic, and Greek. Knowing the Greek allowed translation of the other two languages.

While there, we also saw the Elgin Marbles, which are the carved panels off of the gables and roof perimeter of the Parthenon in Greece. We were so fascinated (and tired) when we looked at them, we forgot to get photos.

Here is a photo from Guide London that shows the detail of these pieces. They date back to around 600 BC. There is quite a bit of controversy over Great Britain having them, and Greece is campaigning to get them back. We will leave the arguing to them, only to say that they seem a bit out of context in the middle of London. Quite a bit like the Wright Cycle Shop and Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory being located in Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. We did enjoy seeing them though.

Sunday found us heading to two places with possible connections to Diana, which she is still trying to piece together the details on. Diana’s grandmother’s maiden name was Shepherd. Back in the early 1700’s, Edward Shepherd developed a small square just north of Green Park called Shepherd’s Market.

Today it is a small collection of shops and cafes. It sits a few steps from the current Saudi Arabian embassy. It was nice to be able to walk through an area bearing a familiar family name.

We also went to see the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. The latter actually has a connection to her father’s side, a man by the name of Lawrence Halstead.

Lawrence was the Keeper of the Keys at the Tower of London in the 1600’s. He would’ve been involved in the nightly ceremony of locking the front gate by candlelight, a ceremony that still takes place today. We tried well in advance to get tickets to the event, but it was sold out. Seeing that this is where the Crown Jewels are stored, his job was quite important.

Next to the Tower of London sits the iconic Tower Bridge.

What a stunning piece of architecture! Seeing photos of it in the past, I imagined it to be bigger than it was. It was quite compact, and took just a few minutes to walk across. Still, what a treat to be able to do that. Interestingly enough, New York’s Brooklyn Bridge is actually older than this structure.

Our last stop was the Victoria and Albert Museum. Again, a free museum housing a huge amount of worldly treasures.

This is one of Leonardo da Vinci’s small notebooks, circa 1500 or so.

They had a special exhibit on photography, which included an impressive display of cameras from over the years.

Here’s a couple of blasts from our past. On the left is a Kodak Instamatic, complete with flash cube. I had a Kodak 104 version of this. My sister had the camera on the right, a Polaroid Swinger. Remember the TV ad? Meet the Swinger…Polaroid Swinger… Sorry if you remember it, as you won’t be able to get it out of your head for the rest of the day. :). We wrapped up our visit to the V&A with a snack in the courtyard.

What a great place to hang out for a bit and enjoy the day.

So, how did we get around London? Well, we started out on foot. During one of our first excursions, we looked for a public restroom and were told to use the one at the Green Park Tube (subway) station. Remember, we are veteran subway riders in NYC, so we thought nothing of it. Seeing the dirty conditions of the restrooms and station in London (worse than NYC, in our opinion), we decided to use Uber to travel longer distances. That service worked exceedingly well for us. It was entertaining to converse with the drivers, most of who were Middle Eastern or from India. One spoke very little English, but he had a great Motown playlist coming from his speakers. Nothing like navigating the streets of London to the Four Tops. :). A word on those restrooms: they charge 50p (equivalent to cents in the US) to use the dirtiest facilities we have ever seen. One would think that money could be used to clean and maintain them. Our recommendation is to make sure you use a restroom at any museum, restaurant or retailer before leaving.

Also, here are a few things that we found different than what we are used to in the US. Of course, driving on the opposite side of the road stands out. That doesn’t translate into walking, though. Where we tend to walk on the right side of the sidewalk (like we drive), the British left hand driving doesn’t carry over to their walkways. One of our Uber drivers likened the disorganized manners of those hoofing it as spaghetti. That pretty much sums that up! :). Furthermore, as a result of the ancient age of London, the roads don’t have a lot of order to them. No grid patterns here, folks. That actually is somewhat charming, and it all seems to work just fine. Yes, the roads do have lines painted on them, but they are hand painted and are all a tad confusing to us.

And one last word about our flat. As I said before, it is located in a row of 1920’s era buildings in Knightsbridge/Chelsea.

Our courtyard featured these large maple trees. Definitely a nice view to look out on. We were just a block from the V&A and were convenient to many of the sights in the city. Being able to eat all of our breakfasts and a couple of our dinners there worked well for us. Small grocery stores were located close by, so no worries on getting food. Our host provided us with several breakfast items, along with laundry detergent and soap. We were even able to do our laundry in the flat, giving us a fresh start for our trip. We were extremely happy with our accommodation choice.

And what is up with those doorknobs in the middle of the door?

It has to do with symmetry. With the jumbled state of the roadways in London, order and balance has to be established somewhere! On the practical side, it makes the door a lot harder to open and close.

And what on earth happened to my iPad plug? That is actually an adapter to fit the British 230 volt system. Apple iPads and iPhones are dual voltage, so no need to convert, other than the adapter. Exercise caution with your laptops, curling irons and such, as you may need a converter.

That wraps up the London portion of our journey. Monday afternoon, we Ubered up to get our motorhome north of town with our first driver. He was extremely helpful to us in arranging that. We will begin to detail that portion of our adventure in our next post. Be sure to stay tuned for that. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

First Tastes of London!

Well, the time has finally come to take the exploRVistas entourage overseas! On Wednesday, we made our way to Chicago O’Hare to catch our British Airways flight to London Heathrow.

We caught a red-eye out of the Windy City at 9 PM, arriving in London almost 8 hours later. That translated to after 10 AM in the UK. We would like to say we slept on the 747 on the way there, but the seats were as cramped as if we had been flying on a commuter jet. Oh well, at least my gluten free meal was good! Couple that with a bottle of wine and we made do.

We even were lucky enough to get to climb down a flight of stairs with our carryons when we arrived at Heathrow. Hmmmm….

Moving on, we grabbed our bags and headed to our Airbnb in a cute little black taxi.

This was our first taste of traveling on the opposite side of the road from what we’ve seen our entire lives. Our driver was excellent, the cab was spotless and the trip from the airport was quick! Our accommodations are located in a series of 1920’s era flats, close to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Everything was pretty much as we expected it would be, with our host stocking our refrigerator with plenty of goodies. 😊. We made our way to a local pub for dinner.

Diana had fish and chips…

…and I had a bunless burger with fries. Everything was delicious.

Friday found us heading towards Buckingham Palace, as we had 2:30 PM tickets to tour the state rooms. We decided to walk there, a distance of a few miles or so. First stop was to Harrod’s Department Store, as we had heard that their food hall was an outstanding place to grab lunch.

To say that Harrod’s is outstanding is really putting it mildly. The displays are the best we have ever seen in any large retailer.

And it really dazzles at night! But back to lunch. We purchased some take-away salads (to go) and headed to Hyde Park to find a place to eat them.

A park bench by the pond did just fine…especially once the pigeons figured out we were eating veggies and left us alone.

We then made our way to Buckingham Palace. The Queen is currently in Scotland for the summer, so the building is open for tours.

Photos were not allowed inside. We marveled at the extent of what we were allowed to see, from the ballrooms to the room where the Queen bestows knighthood on her subjects. Tours were pretty much self-guided (with the aid of headsets and a mobile audio tour device). Docents were stationed throughout to answer questions.

The gardens out in front of the palace were gorgeous. So colorful for so late in the summer.

This is what the rear of the palace looks like. The Queen holds her garden parties on this lawn each year. What really amazed us is the amount of infrastructure that is in place for the summer tours that all disappears before she gets home. Elaborate displays, gift shops, rest room buildings…all of it is taken down in two weeks time. Admission fees are used to help cover the cost of the palace maintenance.

And wait….did I say the Queen was in Scotland???

By golly, they all showed up to explore the vista with us! Diana is displaying her best Queen face, keeping with her British ancestry. 😐

That wraps up or first impressions of the UK! We have a few more days in London before we head out in our rented motorhome. Be sure to stay tuned for all of that and more. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

The Pull of Leelanau

There is definitely something magical about Leelanau.  Standing upon the hills that are the remains of long ago glaciers, we get a sense of calm that we have yet to find elsewhere.  Miles of orchards, vineyards, shorelines, trees, and meadows continue to pull us in.  In reading that, one would think that the question at the end of our last post would be answered…will we be back next year?  It turns out that we indeed will be, and it will definitely be different than it has been in years past.  More on that in a minute.

I’m happy to announce that the rope project is complete!

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This is the last piece they asked me to do; a rudimentary barrier across a set of concrete stairs outside the Cannery.  Out of 200 feet of rope, I ended the project with a foot to spare.

Also, we had a nice surprise when a couple walked into the Cannery and asked “Are you exploRVistas?”

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It was long time blog followers Kathy and John, who came all the way from Delaware to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes!  It was fun to visit with them for a bit and we wish them well in their travels.

So, back to the future.  Over the past several years, I’ve had a habit of browsing on Zillow, the real estate website.  Those sessions always ended with a ‘maybe someday’.  Well, someday has arrived.  We found some land with a view, a hill, a driveway, a building site, deer tracks, trillium, and bunch of maple trees.  Seeing that it is a glacial moraine composed of sand and gravel, it passed the perc test with flying colors.  We mulled it over, sorted out the initial details, and closed on it this past week.  Will this take us off the road as fulltime RVers?  Not for several years, as we are going to build in phases.  We intend this to be a summer home, as we plan to continue to winter in Florida, sprinkling spring and fall travel into the mix.  We will change our status at the national lakeshore to community volunteers, once we complete our upcoming project.

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Here is our building site, looking south.  We have room for a small home, a large garage, and an RV or two.  A few of the trees will come out to open up a long view of the surrounding area.

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This view is looking north.  There are lots of possibilities as to what we will do with the space.  We will be doing most of the work ourselves, so plan on us taking a few years until our heads hit the pillows in our new home.

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One of the first things we wanted was a shed to store a few things in.  We’ll attempt to get that built in the time we have before we head to the UK.

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If it doesn’t get totally done, we will finish it when we get back.

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Diana is making sure the site doesn’t get reclaimed by the forest.

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She is making quick work mowing the ground cover the previous owner put in. Our new to us string trimmer is perfect for the job.

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A few of the leaves have started to turn color, so we should be in for quite a show when we get back from our trip.  Our trees are about 90-plus percent maples.

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Be sure to stay tuned over the next several years as we turn our little slice of heaven into a place to call home.  This next week will be a busy one, so look for our next post to come from somewhere in London.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

A Very Different Year

When we chose to return to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore this summer, we were hoping to build upon what we learned in 2018.  That has indeed happened, making this a very different season than we experienced last year.  And even though the subject matter was pretty much the same at our venues, the constant flow of new visitors has made each day unique and special.

When we first arrived, Ranger Matt asked if we would learn a new skill and work it into our interpretation; rope splicing and binding.  Many of the ropes in our museums were becoming frayed and worn and needed replacing.  Also, since our structures were built at the beginning of the 20th century and are not entirely critter-proof, mice find their way in during the winter.  Evidently, Mickey and Minnie have a thing for hemp.  🙂  I was given 200 feet of synthetic rope to replace the old lines with.  Larry, a volunteer with Inland Seas Education Association in Suttons Bay, stopped by to teach me how to backsplice a rope into an eye splice, along with making a sailmakers whip to keep the rope ends from fraying.

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This is my first attempt at a sailmaker’s whip on a practice piece of hemp rope.

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The lines are intended to act as a non-intrusive barrier between the visitors and the artifacts.

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The new line is much thicker than the old.  I found it difficult to maintain the structure of each strand, due to the slippery nature of the synthetic line.  Still, I was pretty happy with the way it ended up.  Note the hooks, which are made in our blacksmith shop.

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I needed some additional hooks and spikes for the Cannery, so Linda and Liz made them for me.  They are two of our volunteer blacksmiths, and they did an outstanding job!

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While I worked on the rope, the view from our ‘office’ was amazing!  Off on the horizon, the 1,000 foot freighter Mesabi Miner steams empty from delivering a load of iron ore to the steel mills near Chicago.

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Some days reminded us of the reason the lifesaving station was located where it was.  Here is Old Glory flying straight south on our radio tower/flagpole, with gloomy skies looming overhead.  Could the gales of November be far away?

 

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That earlier peaceful view can change in an instant.  In this photo, the 767 foot long freighter Philip R. Clarke heads north along the horizon through heavy seas.  Seas like this brings a crystal clear reality to our interpretation of the U.S. Lifesaving Service, as the visitors get a glimpse of what the surfmen were up against.  Most shake their heads in disbelief that they would row out into those conditions.

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The park’s Heroes of the Storm program helps folks to visualize a beach rescue using a Lyle gun and a breeches buoy.  Here is Ranger Gayle explaining the role of the 7 surfmen who worked at the station.

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One of the surfmen acts as the black powder charge in the gun, as the crowd yells BANG.  Here he runs at full speed with the projectile, trailing the shot line.  Captain Diana waits with crew member Raggedy Ann aboard the ‘sinking ship’ (our flagpole) for the line to arrive.  Every program has a fresh set of characters, and is as entertaining for us as it is for them. 🙂  Sadly, this year’s high water levels brought about a temporary halt to our actual Lyle gun cannon firing each Thursday.

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The beach has all but disappeared.  The small cannon recoils backwards a few feet when fired, and the required distance for safe viewing would put our visitors in the fragile dune grass.  Lake Michigan has risen 9 inches in May alone and is 33 inches above average at near record levels.  To get Lake Michigan and Lake Huron (hydrologically one lake) to rise just one inch, an additional 390 billion gallons has to be added to it!

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Another foot and we might be mopping the floors in the Cannery!

It hasn’t been all work up here in Leelanau.  We did manage to get out for a ride on the Leelanau Trail, our favorite rail trail.

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It’s hard to see Diana’s TerraTrike grin from behind, but it is there.  🙂

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And the Music in the Park concert series continues for a few more weeks in Northport.  Plenty of dancing and wine make for a great evening each Friday.

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Indeed, Leelanau is a great place to be.  A few more weeks and this season will be a memory.  Soon we will be coming to you from new vistas in the United Kingdom and Ireland.  Will we be back to Leelanau next year?  If we do, we are sure it will yet again be different than years past. Be sure to stay tuned to our next Saturday morning post to see if 2020’s plans include this little slice of heaven.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

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