Monday, October 22, 2018

. . . And Hadrian's Wall

[Programming note: At the beginning of this month (September 2018), I took a six-day trip to the U.K. I was on a mission. Yes, I was going for pleasure, but I was going to see specific things for specific reasons: places that I didn't get to see on my previous stays in the UK, places that have a particular connection to my own writing or things I'm particularly interested in (mostly, this is encompassed by four works: Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Harry Potter). I started in London, then went north, to Edinburgh and made my way back to London via Haltwhistle (to see Hadrian's Wall), Haworth (to see the Bronte parsonage), and Oxford. I'll be writing a blog post for each day.]

This is a continuation of what'll be a series of blog posts about my trip to the UK this September. Part 1 of Day 1 is here. Part 2 of Day 1 is here. Here is Day 2. This is Day 3.

My third full day in the U.K. started on a cool, bright morning in the small town of Haltwhistle, just south of Hadrian's Wall. I woke up fairly early, had some breakfast (I'd bought myself some oatmeal the night before), packed a lunch for myself, and headed out to the street in plenty of time for the 9:00 bus that would take me to Hadrian's Wall. It was a good thing I left myself some extra time; I had some difficulty finding the actual stop. I'd expected a pole with a sign on it, but the bus stop was actually marked by a sign flat against a building's wall. That threw me, but I still caught the first AD122 bus of the day (the AD 122 is a local bus that goes east-west along a large portion of Hadrian's Wall and hits a lot of main attractions).

The bus went through Haltwhistle (adorable little town, made up mostly, as are the majority of British towns, of old stone houses) and then headed north, past sheep pastures. The land was rocky and craggy and dramatic, and the sun shone magnificently. As we turned eastwards onto the road paralleling Hadrian's Wall, we caught sight of a mile castle upon the side of the hill in front of us, tilted at a madhouse angle to match the pitch of the hill. I snapped the best picture I could out the window:

Mile Castle 42, there on the hill at the center
of the picture on the horizon (click the picture and zoom in a bit).

As we careened along a two-lane road that seemed too narrow to be two-laned, I hurriedly whipped out bus schedules and brochures and maps, because I realized that I hadn't actually decided where I was going to get off the bus and what I was going to do. My initial thought was to go to Housesteads, because previous research had led me to mark it as the "best bet". But then I saw that the first stop was Vindolanda, and it was only 2 miles from there to Housesteads (a long-ish walk, but only a fraction of the 12 miles I'd walked the other day), and later buses didn't stop at Vindolanda, and I probably had time for both, and . . .

Well, I ignored the advice of Past Me and hopped off the bus once it reached Vindolanda, having rumbled down a narrow country lane flanked by cows and sheep and banks of heather. The place wouldn't open for another twenty minutes, but it was a lovely morning, if chilly, so I was perfectly happy to sit there on a stone wall and wait. I'd broken out some of my literature to refine my plans for the day when I noticed that the door was actually open, so I went in. The very kind lady on the other side said she'd opened a bit early because she'd seen me there. I was so pleased! I wouldn't have minded sitting there and enjoying the quiet scenery, but it was wonderful to get a start. I paid for my ticket and a guidebook, and headed onward.

The first stop is a room with a large scale model at its center of the Roman fort.

Should I back up a bit? Let me back up a bit. Vindolanda is an ancient Roman fort. Wooden versions of the fort predate Hadrian's Wall, built in the 2nd century AD. The Romans had invaded Britannia twice--under Julius Caesar and then, in the 1st century AD, under Claudius. Despite the uprising of the warrior queen Boudicca, this second invasion stuck and Britannia became a Roman province from the English Channel to about Hadrian's Wall. (By the way, aside from my being interested in Roman Britain as a time period generally, I did, in fact, write a novel about Boudicca's daughters which is now sitting in a digital "trunk" where it will never again see the light of day. That was my reason for visiting Hadrian's Wall.) Hadrian's Wall was, of course, defensive in a sense, but it was mainly used to regulate the flow of people and goods. It's about 80 miles long, stretching east-west across the breadth of England, with mile castles and forts all along the way. The wall has survived for 2,000 years (and running), with different sections in varying degrees of preservation. Later generations happily reused the stones from the forts and the wall to build their own homes/barns/walls/whatever. What survives at the Vindolanda site is the first many courses of stones that went into building the fort (again, as mentioned, there were wooden forts predating this). Basically, it's the foundations/outlines.

Forts, of course, did not exist in isolation, and upon emerging from the visitor's center into the dewy morning, the first thing I came upon was the vicus, the civilian settlement surrounding the fort. There were workshops and wells and temples--and a lot of wet grass!

Modern coins, ancient well.

Romano-British temple.

I was more or less alone since it was still early. I had a good time wandering about from place to place, reading all the plaques. I eventually got to the fort proper and wandered around, trying to read everything and absorb it and take lots of pictures.

Panorama of the site--gives some idea of the dramatic landscape.

After spending a bunch of time walking amongst the ruins of the old fort, I headed down the (steep) hill to the museum and cafe in the valley below (the hill beyond apparently was forested during the Roman period and had a look-out tower of some sort, which would make sense--you can see in the panorama picture what high ground it was).

The museum is fantastic. It's a real treasure trove of archaeological finds, from everyday things like shoes to tons of military detritus like swords and horse gear and severed heads. You know, the usual. Yes, I just said severed head:

And some more military stuff:

A selection of javelins and spears for
your discerning Roman soldier.

Horse's chamfron.
And lots of civilian/everyday stuff:


These shoes were mostly found in ditches...

...where anaerobic conditions preserved them.

Belt buckle.

The Gladiator Glass.
Cleaned-up picture of the gladiator glass.

The museum also has an extremely rare and important set of finds: an abundance of writing tablets that, millennia ago, were lost in the build-up of moss and hay and rushes on the floors. The tablets were very thin pieces of wood that people wrote on in ink. They wrote all kinds of things, from begging for clemency from the Emperor to passing along some oysters to letting friends and family know of the writer's safety and welfare. One of the tablets is an invitation to a birthday party written by a woman, perhaps the earliest surviving example of female handwriting in Latin.

One of the Vindolanda tablets.
There is also an outdoor museum, with some reproduction buildings, like a kiln and a temple. I didn't spend much time there, because I decided it was time to get a move on. I had looked again at my info and decided to walk to The Sills, back along the main road paralleling Hadrian's Wall. This meant a 20-minute walk along a country road, which was fine by me.

The clouds had piled in as the morning progressed, carried on a sharp wind, and the temperature didn't seem to have budged upwards at all since sunup. So while it was a lovely walk, past those cows and sheep and the heather, it was a long and rather chilly one, too. A few stray raindrops plopped on my head from time to time. It looked a bit like this:

But at last I got to The Sills, where I waited a few minutes for the bus and had a little more to eat (I'd downed my packed lunch back at the museum). I got on the bus and took it to Housesteads, the next major site along the Wall.

By this time, rain was beginning to splatter the landscape intermittently, with flashes of sunlight between. Getting off the bus, I decided to spend a few minutes in the visitor's center, where you buy tickets, to wait out the rain. But I got impatient and went outside to get started in spite of the rain.

Housesteads is situated directly along the Wall--it's a wall fort. To get to the archaeological site, you go down a hill and back up--and through a sheep pasture, because this is England, I guess! It was pretty amusing. The sheep didn't even seem to notice the people walking through their pasture. The dogs that people brought with them seemed not to care about the sheep, either, which I considered a minor miracle. I grew up with a Shelty; I know she would have lost her mind trying to herd those sheep if she were there.

Having spent several hours roaming an ancient Roman fort earlier that morning, I was somewhat halfhearted in my resolve to see everything there was to see at Housesteads. I was mainly interested at this point in THE WALL. I took a cursory look at the fort itself (and managed to miss the "famous" toilets in the corner!) and went to its northern edge, which was built into Hadrian's Wall. It was a heck of a view out across rolling pasture land, with the stone wall rising and falling on its journey eastwards. But I wasn't quite satisfied. I wanted a more dramatic view.

I started poking around, trying to get towards the Wall where it wasn't part of the fort, and eventually, after dodging much sheep poop, I found a path paralleling the Wall, passing through a shady corridor of old trees. On the south side, a tranquil path; on the north, the ancient wall, mossy, broad, about three feet high, and then, beyond that, a sharp drop with pastures upon pastures in the distance.

The path beside Hadrian's Wall and the Wall itself on the right.

It's a little hard to tell, but that is a precipitous
drop from the foreground to the pastureland beyond.

I walked along until I found a spot where you could climb directly onto the wall itself. It's plenty broad enough to accommodate a path across its breadth. For about a quarter mile, I walked along a 2000-year-old wall, and that was pretty damn cool. At last, I came to a gate and a sign telling me I could go no further along the wall itself. Beyond that point, the landscape also opened up, because the trees disappeared. I got a few lovely pictures from this spot. The sun had, by the way, come back out.

By this time, I was pretty exhausted. I'd had a long day, starting at like 7:00, and it was now, oh, 1:00 or 2:00; all this, of course, was after two very long, very full days. I did stop briefly at the Housesteads museum, but it was much smaller than the Vindolanda museum, so I just cruised through on my way back out of the archaeological site.

I had some time before the next bus back to Haltwhistle, so I bought a snack at the visitor's center and sat at a picnic table as rain (again) threatened. I fiddled around on my phone and chilled for a bit. I still had to get back to my hotel, pick up my bags, get my tickets for the next train journey, and then make 2 train connections and take one bus to get to my next destination. So I needed a bit of a respite.

I got on the bus and actually had a lovely time on the ride back because it took a slightly different route going to Haltwhistle. We passed one of the most famous sites along the Wall, Sycamore Gap:

Sycamore Gap.

I got off at the train station because, as mentioned, I still needed to collect my train tickets for that day's journey. I wandered around that train station (which was abandoned, with no ticket office or anyone nearby) for about fifteen minutes, wondering where in the heck I was supposed to get my tickets. Was there a kiosk somewhere? I didn't see one. I noticed that it looked like it was going to rain any minute, so I hurried off towards the hotel, thinking that the lovely people who ran the place could help me. But along the way, I noticed an "Information" sign. The information point was actually within the library. So, gathering my courage, I just went right in and asked the guy at the library circulation desk if he was the one giving "information" and if he knew where I could get my tickets. He didn't know, unfortunately, and suggested that the ticket-taker on the train could use my confirmation code to print them off for me, so no need to worry. I was still a bit uneasy, but luckily a young lady who was sitting at a table nearby with a book spoke up and told me there's a kiosk on platform 1. I hadn't seen one there, but I thanked her and went off to collect my bags and hurry down to the train station, because it was definitely about to rain now.

I bustled up and down platform 1, looking for the alleged kiosk, and for the love of God I could not find it. Then, at last! There it was, in plain sight. I have no explanation for why I didn't find it earlier, except that it wasn't actually well-marked. Sure, it was there in plain sight, but it looked like any other rectangular sign (for time-tables or an ad for candy bars or whatever). It didn't say TICKETS in big, bold letters or anything like that. Anyway, as I pulled my folder-full of info out of my bag to get the necessary confirmation code, it began to rain. Big drops dropped onto my head, onto my paperwork (nooooooooo) and onto my bag. My glasses were covered in raindrops, but I was juggling ten different things and couldn't do anything about that. I went as fast as I possibly could, but still I and my stuff got pretty wet as I brought up my tickets and printed them. Stashing everything hurriedly away into my bag, I rushed towards the stairs. Remember me mentioning in a previous post how I would be leaving from platform 2 and would have to go UP a huge set of stairs, across a bridge over the tracks, and back DOWN another set of stairs? Yeah, well, I was now faced with doing that as it poured down rain. Keep in mind I could barely see anything because of my glasses, and I was wet, and my bag was wet and heavy, and it was just not fun. I did have an umbrella, of course, but I couldn't use that AND lug my bag up and down the stairs, which required both hands.

But I got to the other side of the tracks and SPRINTED for the waiting room.Once inside, I tried to dry things off a bit, starting with my glasses. I still had some details to figure out, and I had time to have a bite to eat and look at my paperwork before packing it back up (still damp) into my bag and getting onto the train.

This journey required a transfer at Carlisle again and then at Lancaster. I got off at Keighley, where I walked to the bus station (about a ten-minute walk) and hopped on the B3 bus that took me to Haworth, about a fifteen-minute ride. Luckily for me, my hotel in Haworth was just across the street from that bus stop, so I mercifully didn't have far to go.

It was full dark by this point, so I didn't get much of a chance to see Haworth. But the hotel was delightful. It was built into two or three old stone rowhouses and had charm in abundance. I was in the cherub room on the top floor, with a ceiling of many angles and a bathroom built into the eaves with an old-timey toilet. I headed right back down for dinner because I was very hungry (it was 8:00 and I hadn't had much to eat since 11:00 that morning). I could've gotten something like Yorkshire rarebit, and I'm sure it would've been wonderful, but I would not have been able to stomach anything very rich. Instead, I got myself some delicious asparagus soup.

Beautiful tile-work on the fireplace near my
table at dinner (these look Edwardian to me). 
My room.

The bathroom.

As I sat there in the dining room, I got talking to a wonderful older Yorkshire man who was sitting nearby by himself. He was something of a regular there, and he'd obviously noticed I was American. He told me he'd been to quite a few places in the U.S., and we had a great conversation. What stands out to me was his surprise and confusion over the fact that there are multiple places in the U.S. with the same name, like Portland, Oregon, and Portland, Maine. I said it wasn't likely that people would attempt to go to Portland, OR and end up in Maine. And besides, if it becomes necessary, you just specify which state you mean. And in addresses, you always include the state anyway, of course! He also mentioned driving across the Dakotas and being amazed at how much nothing there was out there. I just kind of nodded. Yep. Whole lot of nothing on the high plains. Imagine crossing that in a covered wagon.

In any case, after my delightful dinner, I went up to my room, showered, and went to bed, a very tired but very happy girl.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

...And Edinburgh and a touch of Haltwhistle

[Programming note: At the beginning of last month (September 2018), I took a six-day trip to the U.K. I was on a mission. Yes, I was going for pleasure, but I was going to see specific things for specific reasons: places that I didn't get to see on my previous stays in the UK, places that have a particular connection to my own writing or things I'm particularly interested in (mostly, this is encompassed by four works: Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Harry Potter). I started in London, then went north to Edinburgh and made my way back to London via Haltwhistle (to see Hadrian's Wall), Haworth (to see the Bronte parsonage), and Oxford. I'll be writing a blog post for each day.]

This is a continuation of what'll be a series of blog posts about my trip to the UK this September. Part 1 of Day 1 is here. Part 2 of Day 1 is here. Here is day 2. This is Day 3.

This post will probably be a bit shorter than other posts, but then again, those sound like famous last words, don't they?

I woke on the third day of my trip in my room in Edinburgh. I was well-rested and had slept in until almost 8, which is unusual for me. First stop was breakfast in the dining room upstairs. It was a nice continental breakfast, so I had a mishmash of eggs, cereal, toast, and fruit. During this trip, I often didn't have much of an appetite even though I knew I needed to eat for the energy. For breakfast, mostly what I want is a nice bowl of cereal, full stop. But that wouldn't cut it when I was going to be hiking all over the place and might not get lunch until a bit later than usual. So I forced down more than I would normally eat.

In any case, it was another gorgeous day in the UK, with cool, clear blue skies and a promise of warmer temperatures as the day went on. I weighed my options as to where to go and what to do--Edinburgh Castle? Holyrood Palace? Both? St. Giles Cathedral? The cafe where JK Rowling wrote some of Harry Potter? Holyrood Palace was at the top of my list, and the cafe (Spoon, previously Nicholsons) was just behind. I figured I would have time to tour Holyrood, then go over to Spoon for lunch before picking up my bag and making my way back to the train station.

So I set off to Holyrood on foot, figuring it was a beautiful morning and it was much simpler to just walk. It was well worth it to walk around Edinburgh, enjoying its medieval heart. I found this a lovely sight (obvs its not a medieval sight, but that isn't what I mean):


I also stumbled across a little graveyard perched on the side of the hill. Just a centuries-old graveyard tucked in a corner. No big:

Cemetery just hanging out along the side of the street (New Calton Burial Ground).
The reason I put Holyrood Palace at the top of my list is its association with Mary, Queen of Scots. Since I was young, I've been interested in the Tudors and the Tudor era, and she was a Tudor (as granddaughter of Margaret, sister of Henry VIII and daughter of Henry VII). She was also a bit of a thorn in the side of Elizabeth I down in England. See, Mary had a nasty habit of considering herself the rightful Queen of England, to which the *actual* queen had some serious objections. Mary was actually raised largely in France to be the bride of the dauphin. She was briefly queen of France, but then her young husband died and she was sent back to Scotland, where she made a series of poor choices in husband, including Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. After Mary was implicated in the death of Darnley, her nobles got so fed up with her that she had to flee, and she went . . . to England, to Elizabeth. Which was . . . probably not the smartest decision. She was imprisoned for a very long time by Elizabeth, who was hesitant to do away with her because it would set a bad precedent for killing queens. But eventually Mary foolishly involved herself in a plot to murder Elizabeth, and there was really little choice at that point but to have her executed, and thus her head was whacked off.

Holyrood was one of Mary's main residences while she was in Scotland. There is a suite of rooms that she lived in, and in fact you can see the room where Mary and her attendants were having supper when Lord Darnley burst in with some of his men, dragged Mary's secretary (David Rizzio) into the next room, and stabbed him to death. Good times.

So, in any case, that was my reason for going to Holyrood. It is currently the Queen's royal residence in Scotland, and lots of fancy and important events happen here. But it's also been an important palace and residence for centuries. The James V Tower is the oldest part of the building. That's where
Holyrood Palace.
Mary, Queen of Scots's room are. The rest was, for the most part, built by Charles II when he came to Scotland as rightful king (he was descended from Mary via James VI of Scotland/I of England). Bonnie Prince Charlie held a ball here during the rebellion he led against the English (he was descended from Charles II's brother, James II). It was graced by George IV and was the residence-in-exile of the future King Charles X of France (brother of Louis XVI, formerly the Comte D'Artois). Queen Victoria opened the palace to public in 1854.

Like with many palaces, upon entering, you go up a fine grand staircase and begin on the processional route of state rooms. The further you go through the rooms, the closer you are to the presence of the sovereign. These rooms are largely furnished in a mix of 17th century and Victorian styles, with a lot of dark wood and red velvet. It's certainly cozy, if a bit cloying.

At the end of the state rooms is a long gallery hung with portraits of all the kings of Scotland, real and legendary, as painted by Jacob de Wet in the 1680s. Some of them sustained damage shortly after Bonnie Prince Charlie fled the palace and British troops moved into it. The soldiers slashed some of the portraits.

Just beyond the gallery are the queen's room, and the Mary, Queen of Scots rooms. To get to Mary's rooms, the ones where Rizzio was murdered, you take a narrow spiral stone staircase up. The dining room where they were all supping when Darnley burst in is absolutely tiny. I'm amazed it could fit more than three or four people, but apparently it did. It's just off the bedchamber, and beyond that is the larger Outer Chamber, which today has displays of artifacts like the Darnley Jewel.

Going down another, less narrow set of spiral steps, the visitor is led out a door to the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, which is attached to the palace. The palace actually began life as an abbey, and it was because of that that so many people sought refuge at the palace through the years. The Abbey is currently, alas, a ruin, like so many in the U.K. Yet, to quote Jane Eyre, it was "a ruin but an entire ruin". That is to say, it was awfully lovely:
Me at Holyrood Abbey.

Holyrood Abbey.

Within the ruins of Holyrood Abbey.

Holyrood Abbey from the gardens.

Holyrood Abbey

On a side note, I do not have any pictures from inside Holyrood Palace because photography isn't allowed. For some rad pics, try this.

After trundling about the gardens and looking up at the crag of Arthur's Seat, high above the palace (and thinking, hell no, I'm not climbing that), I spent some time at the gift shop. I had to take care to buy things that were small and unbreakable. Tea cups wouldn't do at all. They were going to have to sit in my soft-sided bag for several days as I traveled by train and plane, and they wouldn't survive. I went with a lovely tartan-patterned (soft) Christmas ornament, some orange-flavored chocolate, and postcards. Yeah, I'm not extravagant.

But I was feeling rather flush, so instead of either walking or taking the plebeian public transportation
Spoon, formerly Nicholsons, Cafe, where JK Rowling wrote some of
the first Harry Potter book.
options, I took an Uber to my next stop: Spoons. This is the JK Rowling cafe, or it was. I was going to get lunch there, but when the Uber driver let me off and I stepped up to the door, I saw there was a sign on the door saying that there'd been some kind of event over the weekend and they (the owners) were still recovering, so the cafe was closed. Which . . . okay. Fine, I guess. But, like, don't you want to make money and stay in business, or . . . ?

My plans tanked, I had to find somewhere else for lunch. I spotted a place nearby that advertised itself as a grill with a selection of stuff. I thought a burger might do, so I went in and ordered a burger, but when it came, it just wasn't quite right. My appetite was off, and the burger wasn't the thing to tempt me. Still, I most definitely needed food, because I was currently hungry and still had quite a bit of a day left before me.

As an aside, it's interesting that when you ask for a soda in the U.K. you don't get a fountain drink. They give you a glass and a (rather small) bottle or can of soda. Which seems wasteful in many ways. You're using a can/bottle unnecessarily, and that's gotta be more expensive for the restaurants than fountain drinks, which are dirt cheap. But I digress . . .

I still had a few hours before my train left, so while I was waiting for my meal/forcing it down my throat, I pulled out my phone and looked at my options. I noticed that the National Museum of Scotland was just around the corner, so that's where I went.

National Museum of Scotland.
A headache was beginning to come on at this point, so by the time I arrived at the museum, I was feeling more than a little hazy. It's a very impressive museum, and I enjoyed what I saw, but, yeah, it was a bit of a blur. I wandered around for some time looking for the Lewis chessmen, knowing that they were there but not finding them, I'd actually seen a collection of them at the British Museum (the group of 93 is split between the two museums). I eventually did find them:

Lewis Chessman, National Museum of Scotland.

A few other items at the museum:

Monymusk Reliquary, National Museum of Scotland.

Argyll Flying Fifteen motorcar, National Museum of Scotland.

Along the way, I saw an early British-made car (see above) and a lot of cool artifacts from Scottish history. But again, I felt a bit off and wandered listlessly most of the time, until I decided it was time to get going back to the hotel to pick up my bag and get to the train station.

So that's what I did, taking the tram back, then walking from the hotel back to the train station. I paused to get a sample of Coke Zero Sugar that was being handed out and sat in the sun in a little seating area of AstroTurf above the station, right across from the Scott Memorial, listening to live music. It was really quite nice to relax, enjoying the sun, sipping some Coke, and listening to the music.
Enjoying sun, music, and a sample of Coke Zero Sugar
outside Waverley Station.

A busy, sunny Scott Memorial.

Then it was down to the train station, where I had to wait a bit for the platform to be announced. Then onto the train I got.

A parting view--from the top of the hill where my hotel stood, down
to the firth below.
This was going to be my first journey on this trip with a transfer. I had ten minutes between trains, which left little time for error. I'm a pretty experienced traveler, so I wasn't too worried, but I had to be on high-alert, you know, on peak performance. I'd downloaded the National Rail app with all my travels in mind, and it was a lifesaver. I was able to look up what platform I'd be arriving at and which one I'd be leaving from before I arrived at the next station. That way, I wouldn't have to look for an information board after I got off the train--I could just start off towards the right platform.

This journey required a transfer at Carlisle. It went smoothly. I had to go up and over the tracks, and there wasn't a heck of a lot of time to spare as my train had gotten in a few minutes late. But I got on the train, and off I went. I got off at Haltwhistle:

Isn't it a cute little station? I was charmed, while being painfully aware that I would need to get to the opposite side of the tracks the next day and that that would require going up the stairs, over that bridge, and back down again with my bag. No ramps, of course, and no lifts--only stairs--because this is the UK.

But anyway. Haltwhistle is a small village just south of Hadrian's Wall. I walked along, happily taking in the little town with its lovely stone buildings. There was a cross to WW1 dead at the center of a town, and a little square with a pub. I checked into my guest house, which was adorable and comfy and, of course, had no lift. The people who own and operate it also operated the post office and candy shop on the ground floor, and they were extremely kind and helpful.

By this point, I had a pretty raging headache. I knew I wasn't up for a pub or pub food, but luckily there is a Sainsbury's nearby, so I walked over there, got myself some odds and ends (enough for dinner, breakfast, and lunch) and went back to the guest house, where I spent the rest of the evening on the bed, watching TV. Not an exciting end to the day, but I'd had quite a day already . . .

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

...And Barts and Trains and Edinburgh

[Programming note: At the beginning of this month (September 2018), I took a six-day trip to the U.K. I was on a mission. Yes, I was going for pleasure, but I was going to see specific things for specific reasons: places that I didn't get to see on my previous stays in the UK, places that have a particular connection to my own writing or things I'm particularly interested in (mostly, this is encompassed by four works: Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Harry Potter). I started in London, then went north, to Edinburgh and made my way back to London via Haltwhistle (to see Hadrian's Wall), Haworth (to see the Bronte parsonage), and Oxford. I'll be writing a blog post for each day.]

This is a continuation of what'll be a series of blog posts about my trip to the UK this September. Part 1 of Day 1 is here. Part 2 of Day 1 is here. This is Day 2.

Day 2 of my trip (that is, September 4) dawned bright and cool, but with the definite promise of another mild, sunny day. I had a lot to accomplish that day: I had to visit Barts (that is, St. Bartholomew's Hospital) to see their museum, then take the 1:00 train to Edinburgh, where I would arrive around 5:00 and had several sites to see.

Henry VIII gate at St.
Bartholomew's Hospital.
So, task one was checking out of my AirBNB, which really just consisted of leaving my keys and going. Then I had to leave my bag at a left-luggage place across from King's Cross (not at the station, since that would've been significantly more expensive). From there, I hopped a bus (sadly, not a double-decker) to Barts.

A little bit about Barts: It's the oldest hospital in Great Britain (founded by Rahere in 1123) and one of the best-known (it is, for instance, where Sherlock Holmes does some of his work). It began as the old sort of "hospital", that is a place that was, generally, charitable and that took in people who were ill and was attached to a church. There was treatment, but it was more of a place to either die or recuperate as God ordains.

(People these days wax lyrical about separation of church and state--and they should be separate entities, obviously--but for centuries, it was the Church that provided the crucial social services that the lay government provides now, and it was the center of most communities, offering education and structure and charity.)

Of course, Henry VIII and his Reformation intervened, and the hospital was given over to the city of London. The hospital and one of its churches survived (St. Bartholomew's the Lesser), but it became secularized. Over the years, it gained a reputation as a prestigious place to study medicine, and it opened as a medical school in 1843.

Elizabeth Blackwell and Florence Nightingale's signatures.
One of the most striking stories I came away with as I puttered through the museum was that of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman get a medical degree in the United States. After getting her medical degree from Geneva Medical College, she studied at Barts, and apparently encountered overall positive attitudes from fellow students and teachers. However, the next woman to attempt to study at Barts, Ellen Colborne, encountered such hostility that she withdrew, and women were not admitted to study at Barts again until 1947.

Other highlights: the grand staircase, which you can see as you go through the museum, has murals by Hogarth, and is an impressive room architecturally.

The Hogarth Stair.
Ceiling detail, Hogarth Stair.

Rahere's Charter, c. 1137 (!).

William Harvey, who discovered the circulation of blood.

Glass drug bottles, 16th-18th centuries.

Medical Instruments.

Nurse's uniform, early 20th c.

Detail of the cuff of the nurse's uniform, early 20th c. 

But let me back up a little bit. The museum there at the hospital is fairly small, but has a high concentration of great objects from the 12th century onward. To an American, it's kind of amazing for a place to just casually have documents dating back nearly a thousand years. There were four or five rooms, but it took a lot of time to go through it all. I definitely recommend a visit if you're interested in medical history in any way.

And I am interested in medical history. I've done some research on Civil War medicine, which shouldn't be any surprise to anyone who reads this blog or knows me, but I've also done quite a bit of research on early 20th-century medical history. It's fascinating because it's the beginning of modern medicine. Germ theory was fully accepted by this time (though there were no antibiotics), and there was a range of anesthesia options available. There were x-rays and sophisticated surgeries and, in the middle of the Great War, reliably successful blood transfusions. It was a time of massive growth in the medical field. It also is the time period of one of my manuscripts, which includes a young doctor. A young doctor who attends Oxford and does a stint at Barts. So . . . that was my main reason for going to Barts.

I kind of wish I'd poked around a bit, just to see what's what. But it is a working hospital, of course, and there's only so much poking one can do in that scenario.

St. Bartholomew's the Lesser, right beside the museum.


I won't bore you too much with the details of my lunch and of getting back to King's Cross. Suffice it to say that I was on the train at 1:00, on my way to Edinburgh. I was not, unfortunately, in a window seat. I wanted to watch the English countryside go by--wanted to see as we crossed into Scotland. I craned my neck as much as I could without encroaching on the space of the person beside me. There were cozy cottages amongst fields; many, many sheep; a rocky seashore that seemed to sweep towards the train, though of course it was the train that was nearing the coast; sheep upon cliffs overlooking the sea; a great castle rising on a crag out of a mist that was in danger of being burned away by the sun. I gaped and goggled and knew that I would never get a good picture of this castle, so I watched, etching the image on my mind. And as soon as I could, I whipped out my trusty smartphone, that noble little answer-er of my idle curiosity. According to the wisdom of Google Maps, I had just seen Lindisfarne pass by. THE Lindisfarne, as in the Lindisfarne Gospel. I suppose not everyone would get such a kick out of that, but then not everyone is as big a nerd as I am. I'm constantly thinking or saying don't you know who/what that is? Usually, the answer is no.


By the time we reached Scotland (the border marked by a blue sign with a thistle), the sun had come out in earnest. It was a beautiful afternoon. I got off the train and exited the train station via the Waverley Steps (a reference, by the way to a Sir Walter Scott novel--there is a memorial to Scott just beside the station, which is also named Waverley Station). I walked over to the tram and took it a few stops, past a triumphal column with a statue at its top, and past a vista that stretched down to a firth. The tram then hung a right, down York Place. I got off and checked into my hotel.
Waverely Station, the Scott Memorial.

I was given my key and went on the minor adventure that was the journey to my room. British hotels can be strange places, jerryrigged as they often are out of other buildings. In this case, to get to my room, I passed through the hotel dining room, went through a door, hung a right, turned and went down a long flight of stairs that stretched back the way I'd come and down--down--down into the bowels of the earth. Or down the side of the hill, because it did seem the hotel was perched on the top of a ridge. Through a fire door I went, down more stairs, though another door, down more stairs, through another door, and there on the left was my room. I felt like I'd been relegated to a dungeon and was a bit trepidatious about what was on the other side of the door--Snape's dungeon?--but when I went in, it was a lovely little room with a skylight (huh--not so far underground as I'd thought). Not to jump ahead, but it was probably my favorite room of all the ones I stayed in in the UK because it was dark and quiet, and hallelujah for dark and quiet. I should mention that, of course, there was no lift. There were no lifts pretty much anywhere in Great Britain. Very aggravating when you're lugging around a bag, but not unexpected (hence I took a lightweight, easy-to-lug bag).

But I didn't stay in the room long. I headed right back out, taking the tram back towards the train station but continuing on to the Princes Street stop. The sun was beginning to set in a clear blue sky, and the colors were tremendous. It made everything very dramatic and fairy-tail-like. Turning up The Mound, you cross above a great ravine, with railroad tracks and parkland below and statues lining the edges. To the west, perched on a high crag, is Edinburgh Castle. It was a heck of a sight set against the oranges and pinks of the setting sun. I took pictures, enjoyed the sight, and kept moving.

Edinburgh Castle.

I paused a moment as I crossed the Royal Mile, and listened to a bagpiper. My next stop was dinner, because it was getting quite late and I was hungry. I got pizza because, dammit, sometimes you just want pizza. It was delicious, and I had some leftovers so--none too wisely, really--I took a box of pizza with me on my adventures.

And what were those adventures? They were once again Harry Potter-related. The first was directly around the corner from the pizza place: The Grassmarket. It was the inspiration for Diagon Alley (J.K. Rowling was living in Edinburgh when she started writing Harry Potter). It's a cobbled street that curves and slopes downwards, with a range of shops above and a range below. Most of them are brightly-painted and quaint. Most were closed, so I just strolled though at a leisurely pace, taking in the charm of the old city. I was surprised by the crags of the city, by it's literal ups and downs, and by the little touches of medieval this-and-that everywhere. Here an old stone bridge where one street passes over another. There an ancient street of old stone buildings.


My second destination was the Grayfriars Kirkyard. It was the source of several names in Harry Potter. That was actually all I knew when I found the place (after having some difficulty locating the entrance). I stood there a moment in the gathering gloom of the graveyard, a bit nonplussed. I decided to poke around a bit, looking for "Thomas Riddell's" grave. I poked and poked, but dark was falling pretty fast now, and I didn't want to be out too late in the dark by myself. I whipped out my trusty phone and googled it. I still had a bit of trouble following the directions that I found. I crossed the path of a father and daughter who were looking for the same thing as me. They asked if I knew where Tom Riddell (aka Tom Riddle, aka Voldemort) was, and I said I was looking for it, too.

[Keep in mind, I had a camera, my phone, my big old purse, and a box of leftover pizza with me, so picture me doing all this while almost literally juggling all this stuff.]

I finally did find it (behind the back of the church, through an archway, off to the right, near the bottom of the hill, against a wall):

Thomas Riddell, aka Tom Riddle, aka Lord Voldemort.

Here is a link to some directions.

I knew there was at least one other name in that graveyard, but I was contented with finding Tom Riddle, and it really was getting late (by my lights). I wanted to go to Spoons, previously Nicholson Cafe, where JK Rowling wrote some of Harry Potter. But, again, it was time to get back to the hotel and call it a day. So I walked back the way I came. The light was, if anything, even more dramatic behind Edinburgh Castle. The pictures simply don't do it justice, but I did try to capture it.

I took the tram back to York Place, walked back to my room, and turned in.

P.S. I crammed the rest of that pizza into my face after I got back to the hotel because all that walking had made me very hungry.