August 5, 2013

Slow Trek to Scotland

“I know the British people and they are not passengers—they are drivers.”  David Cameron

Carol writes:  Since we arrived in England in mid-July, we have been heading north to Scotland, but more slowly than we had anticipated because there have been so many interesting sites to visit along the way.  Most of our campgrounds have been “Caravan Club” sites, an organization we joined before we had even left home.  It’s sort of like the Good Sam Club for camping in our country.  We have a large book of Caravan Club campgrounds, and members get discounted rates.  In addition, the campgrounds are first rate and you can always expect high-quality facilities and lovely grounds.  So, for the most part, here in England we have camped mostly among British campers.  Many of our fellow campers have also pointed out their favorite attractions that just “cannot be missed,” and in almost every case their advice has turned out to be quite true.

CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY:  Our next stop was in Cambridge, home of the world famous university that has produced 83 Nobel Prize winners and many world-renowned scientists.  Today, Cambridge has 31 individual colleges, but we decided to limit our visit to two of the most famous—King’s College and Trinity College.

King’s College dates back to the 15th century. 

It is best known for the incredible King’s College Chapel with its marvelous wide fan-vaulted ceiling by Christopher Wren.
Ever since we watched the TV miniseries “The Tudors” last summer, which was all about Henry VIII and his seven wives, both Al and I have been fascinated by all things Tudor and so we were thrilled to see numerous Tudor references (the Tudor rose) in many of the heraldic carvings.

I was particularly interested in the wooden choir screen that had been commissioned by Henry VIII to celebrate his marriage to Anne Boleyn.  If you looked hard enough, you could see an “R.A.” for Regina Anna (Queen Anne) that had been incorporated into the wooden carving.

As we left King’s College, we passed by the River Cam where we saw lots of visitors enjoying the age-old tradition of “punting on the Cam”, which is a playful way of describing a ride in a flat-bottomed boat that is propelled by a Cambridge student using a long pole.

The entrance to Trinity College was marked by a statue of its founder, Henry VIII, which was the centerpiece in the design of its impressive entrance gate.

In a grassy area just to the right of the gate stood a solitary apple tree that no longer bears fruit but is supposedly a descendent of the one that inspired Sir Isaac Newton to investigate gravity when an apple fell from the tree onto his head.
I had one destination in mind at Trinity College, and that was the 1695 Christopher Wren Library.  The library has limited access for tourists of only 2 hours a day. Only a few dozen visitors are allowed inside at one time, during which absolute silence must be maintained out of respect for the researchers in the alcoves.  However, there was no temptation to speak at all in such an august setting among some of the most notable manuscripts known to history that were displayed in a dozen display cases along the center aisle.
Slowly, as each of us took turns, we were able to lift the red fabric covering over each display case and take our few minutes to marvel at some of the most fascinating documents we will ever see, such as letters discussing gravity written by Sir Isaac Newton, an 8th century copy of the epistles of St. Paul, and the original manuscript of Winnie-the-Pooh.

 The wait in line to see the Wren Library certainly was worth every minute.

BLICKLING ESTATE:  Our National Trust guidebook stated that “nobody ever forgets their first sight of Blickling,” so we were curious and decided that would be our next National Trust site destination. Blickling Estate was indeed a stunner!

Once again, we were fascinated by a Tudor connection when we learned that this 400-year-old stately mansion was once home to Anne Boleyn’s family.  During the Second World War many of Britain’s large country estates were used to support the war effort as hospitals, schools, headquarters, etc.  Blickling was no exception and was used by the British RAF.  Our guided tour started in the impressive entry hall with its wonderfully designed wooden double staircase.

We visited a sitting room with a spotless Jacobean plaster ceiling,

and walked through a giant cozy library with an equally wonderful plaster ceiling.
We finished up the day with a stroll through some wonderfully restored English gardens.

SANDRINGHAM:  Just a short ride from Blinkling was an estate called Sandringham, the Norfolk retreat of her reigning majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  I was shocked that we would not only be able to visit Sandringham’s grounds but also to stroll through the ground floor rooms that are very much used by the royal family today.  I guess they consider the Queen’s various residences as equivalent to our White House and so visitors are permitted.  In any case, Sandringham was lovely and cozy, very much a sumptous residence but one in which the royal family and their visitors could relax.  Traditionally, the Queen and her family celebrate Christmas at Sandringham.

Al and I were some of the first arrivals just as the entrance gate was opened to visitors. 

We strolled in the direction of the house through a lovely garden area where the Queen still takes walks with her dogs.

We waited a few minutes for the house to open.  That’s me, the lone sentry in turquoise.

Naturally, for security reasons, we weren’t permitted to take any pictures inside the residence, only in the spacious garage area where there was a rather large collection of historic royal cars and coaches.

I felt we had been given a “royal treat” for the privilege of visiting the Queen’s Norfolk retreat at Sandringham.  By the coming weekend the house would be closed to visitors, as the Queen was scheduled to arrive for her traditional summer week at Sandringham.  Hopefully, by that time Kate and William’s baby would have made its arrival and Her Majesty would be free to enjoy her down-time in her country home at Sandringham.

 “We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.”    Hilaire Belloc

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