24 October 2005

Greetings from England!

John and I have been in this country for almost a month now, and are having a really great time. It's not the first time doing this kind of travel for John - he's been here visiting and working many times, but for me, it's all new and exciting. It doesn't feel like we've stopped since we got here.

We landed in Glasgow at the end of September (after spending a glorious weekend at the Queen's University reunion in Kingston Ontario with John's old [or should I say "former"?] mates there). We recovered from our jetlag with John's cousin Fedor and his family in their very charming cottage in Fasnacloich, Argyll, Scotland. It was raining as we drove up by Loch Lomond, and over the green hills. (why do I find myself humming "ye'll tak the high road, and I'll tak the low road...."?) We met another mate of John's for lunch in Oban, in sight of the distillery, but we did not imbibe. That's for later.

Our first performance in Selkirk was lovely. Except for me fluffing the words to the Scrap Bag Polka, on the verse about the plaid patch and Grandma' (because I realized where I was...), all went well. Our hosts there were Harry and Marjorie, and we spent a lovely international evening with them and their American friends with whom they had  worked in Copenhagen.

We spent a day sightseeing in Edinburgh: walking up the Royal Mile, visiting tartan shops, taking in our first castle of the trip. We have a new digital camera, and I've been photographing stone walls and cobblestone streets, looking for images for a quilt, of course. There is lots of history in the castle and we saw the Honours: Scotland's crown jewels, the sceptre, sword and crown, which were returned recently by Queen Elizabeth II and are displayed with pride. One unusual area in the castle was the dog cemetery, where the regimental pooches have been lovingly buried under a particularly green bit of grass, with their names on the stones.

Dog Cemetery at Edinburgh Castle

In Scotland they call a passing lane on the highways a "crawler lane". Also, if you want to have a chat, they call it a "blether". Love this language!

Our next performance was in Cumbria, northern England, in a beautiful area of hills (called "fells" there). We stayed in a very popular tourist area, which was hopping despite the rainy day, on Windermere (lake). The group met in a small village with stone walls and an ancient look to it. The room was very comfortable inside, and very full.

The next morning, before we left, our hosts Janet and Iain took us on a "fell walk" (read: climb), which they do regularly, and is the reason why they live in the area. It was a challenging walk, with a bit of scrambling on a well-worn and ancient trail to the top. There was a great 360 degree view at the summit, and a few sheep. Just before we reached the top, when we were puffing and our legs were complaining, an 80-something woman was descending, looking quite fresh. They make 'em hardy - and healthy - up there in the Lake District!

Janet and Cathy and Iain on top of Loughrigg Fell

We arrived at our next performance in Burgh-by-Sands a couple of days early in time to see their quilt show. They were honouring a member of their group who had died this year: Margaret Bilton. Margaret was a wonderful quilter (almost exclusively by hand) with exquisite stitches and taste. There were many of her quilts on the walls, and it was a treat to see them.

Margaret Hodgson, our host in Burgh-by-Sands (pronounced "Bruff-by-Sands" - believe it or not) was kind enough to take us out to see Hadrian's Wall, the Roman-built protection of their territory in England against the "wild" Scots. At one time it stretched unbroken from coast to coast near the border, and about 15 feet high, with towers and forts along it for the troops. There is so much Roman history here, and they certainly knew how to build things. If stones are missing from the walls, it's because people since then have borrowed them for their own building purposes!!

John at Hadrian's Wall


Before we left the north country, we stopped in to see the Quaker Tapestry in Kendal - a number of embroidered panels tracing Quaker history through the centuries. Elizabeth Fry (whose work in the Newgate Prison in London resulted in the Rajah quilt being made) is featured in two of the panels, and it was interesting to find out more about her. She's honoured here by gracing the back of the 5 pound note. We then visited Levens Hall, one of the old great houses in England. We were told that the oldest patchwork quilt in England is there, and I took a look at it. Very interesting design, based on a ceiling pattern in St James Palace. The quilting was 1/4" apart, with about 17 stitches to the inch, done in red thread. The quilt was in excellent condition, despite being made in 1708. Not sure if it really is the oldest patchwork in England, but it must be close.

We had a couple of days visiting family and friends after that: Mungo is another of John's cousins here, and we caught up with his family near Tewksbury. Our friend Ruth Paterson had also invited us to stay  in her new house on the farm near Sutton Scotney. From there we went to our next gig in nearby Andover to help them celebrate their 25th birthday. Great cake! And a very fun show.

On the 8th October, we drove up to sing for the Quilter's Guild of the British Isles meeting in Bletchley. It was a full-day affair, with us in the afternoon and a fellow Canadian: Sandra Meech, who has been living in England for many years. It was a great day, especially with all the Canadian accents on stage!

Chihuly Boat at Kew Gardens

The next day, we met my brother Doug and wife Margot at Kew Gardens. If the Gardens itself wasn't enough to entice us there, an amazing display of blown glass by American artist Dale Chihuly was set up around the gardens as well. We have seen his work before in Tacoma WA, and were prepared to be delighted, but the way they displayed the work -- slipped in among the greenery and the cacti -- was brilliant. He also had one of his signature glass-filled boats bobbing in the fountain pool amid the Canada geese and ducks. That night we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving together at a restaurant in London. Alas, no turkey!


Our next gig was for the London Mennonite Centre. The organizer of the concert was very interested in having us do a show, and although it was a small turnout, we had a lovely time.

On to more of John's relatives! To Dartington next, where John's 90 year old Aunt Charlo lives in the house next to his cousin Nan's. We got caught up on how things are with them, and they took us out to a fabulous seafood lunch the next day, after showing us some of the charms of the Devon area.

Devon and Cornwall really are very lovely, and we drove west the next day, stopping at the Eden Project (great way to use an old quarry - it's an incredible garden now with huge geodesic dome greenhouses), heading toward St. Ives in Cornwall. St. Ives boasts the Tate Gallery and many, many artists live there on the seashore. We ate the obligatory Cornish pastie for lunch on the harbour and headed to Tintagel to take in the legend of King Arthur. The ruins on Tintagel are awesome - perched as they are on the very edge of the sea on high cliffs. A much newer large hotel is visible from the headlands across the inlet (where Merlin's Cave is), and the hotel is called "Camelot Hotel".....

Tintagel, on the Cornwall coast


Roman Baths in Bath - sorry, not swimmable, but still warm!

We arrived in Ash, Somerset to visit another of John's cousins, Hilary and her husband Malcolm in their new home. They loaned us some maps and pointed us in the direction of Bath the next day, so we could explore some more Roman history. It's amazing that the Roman baths are still full of water after all these centuries and still useable (although swimming is not allowed). The Romans had a very clever way of heating their buildings underneath the floors, and there are remnants of their engineering everywhere in this building. We found out that what is now known as "Turkish baths" were originally Roman. Very civilized.

We also visited the American History Museum in Bath, since we had been told about their large quilt collection. They had only a portion of it on display, but it was a very good cross-section of every style of American quilt -- unusual examples, in some cases, too.

We did sample the local wares again that evening: Somerset cider. Yum!

We've been able to get quite a bit of walking in on this tour, and we should arrive home in better shape than when we left. We did a walk to the cliffs overlooking Lulworth on the south coast, which afforded us a spectacular view of the coast and surrounding hills. The next day we walked up Old Winchester Hill to some Druidic ruins, around cow paddocks and walking quickly before the rain started to fall.

Are you tired of reading about this yet? We're not quite finished! Then we went east toward Canterbury: the cathedral and museum. Beautiful. Our ancient English history was brought to mind when we saw the site of  Thomas a Beckett's murder in his own cathedral. The entire area is infused with many layers of history.

The next day we visited Bodiam Castle - the first moated castle we've seen, and storybook-like. We imagined the knights jousting and the ladies in their finery filling this castle in its day. On to the site of the Battle of Hastings in 1066 (the only date I remember from grade 9 history class). Although the site itself was not impressive, the audio tour was, and we felt we were a part of the action that day so many years ago.

Bodiam Castle


Herstmonceux is another much more modern castle that was purchased by Queen's University in Kingston a number of years ago for its international program school. There are extensive gardens and even a row of 300-year old chestnut trees that were most impressive.

We continued along the south coast to visit a quilting friend Patricia McLaughlin, whom we met at Jinny Beyer's seminar last year. We had a grand time with her and her husband Michael, and took advantage of our proximity to Brighton to visit the Royal Pavilion. I'm glad we didn't miss it!

Built by George IV for his "get-away" in Brighton, the Royal Pavilion has to be seen to be believed. From the outside it looks like a huge Indian building: white, with bulbous roofs and spires everywhere. Inside, it is 100% Chinese. We have never seen so many winged dragons: covered in gold, painted on the walls, and even holding a 1-ton chandelier from the ceiling. This building is over the top in terms of design. It is ornate in every one of the public rooms (his own bedroom was much more restrained). There was gold and velvet and brass and bamboo and Chinese treasures that one would never expect to see within one building. It was a real experience.


Royal Pavilion, Brighton, England

After another quick visit with Doug and Margot in London, we headed north to Lincolnshire for our gig for the regional meeting of the Quilters Guild of the British Isles in Heckington. Our billet there was with Liz Alexander, who, with her husband, has just moved into his family home: Pinchbeck Hall. All 30 rooms of it! It is a marvellous house, with lots of secret spots for stash hiding (and I'm talking fabric here!) and an entrance hall floor that screams to be made into a quilt. The gardens are extensive and too much for someone like me, but Liz loves it. They have a full-time gardener helping her.

Floor at Pinchbeck Hall

We sang for the guild in Heckington on Saturday morning, 22 Oct, and had a lovely time. Then we "hit the road" to head north again toward Scotland. Tonight we are in Barnard Castle, and tomorrow we'll meet Doug and Margot again in Galston, Ayrshire, to begin our research into the Miller family tree. We hope to find the location of where our ancestors lived, maybe some gravestones, and to walk the land that they left behind. It's very exciting.

Are you tired yet? We've been cramming a LOT of things into this visit, and we're having great fun. There's another week and a half to go in Britain before we hop on the Eurostar for the Continent. We have one more gig here in Staffordshire next week, then we'll be singing in Heidelberg, Germany for one performance. More adventures to come.

Thanks for staying with this long missive.
hugs from England

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