September 23, 2013

Back in England

"My life was not useless; I gave important truths to the world, and it was only for want of understanding that they were disregarded. I have been ahead of my time."  Deathbed quote of Robert Owen 

Carol writes:
NEW LANARK:  Our visit to Scotland had just about come to an end when we left Edinburgh.  We had one more planned stop before we headed back into England and that was at the historic textile town and World Heritage Site called New Lanark.  It was in the textile mills where the Industrial Revolution really took off as more and more of the textile manufacturing process became mechanized, and so it was at New Lanark.  The historic mill town buildings have been wonderfully restored to the point where they once again serve as homes for a small community.


New Lanark was the brainchild of Robert Owen, the manager of the mill and the man behind a great social experiment that was conducted in the early 1800s at the New Lanark textile mills.  Owen was very progressive in his thinking and believed that society could be free of crime, poverty, and misery; the key, he believed, was education.  For the workers at New Lanark, he provided decent homes, fair wages, free health care, the first workplace nursery school in the world, and a new education system.  The restored schoolhouse was especially cheerful.


We were fascinated when we saw the operation of some of the large old machinery for winding New Lanark yarn onto spools.

As we walked through the house that Robert Owen lived in, it was interesting to discover that he had transported his progressive social ideas to the United States and had tried to set up a town similar to New Lanark in a place called New Harmony, Indiana.  However, due to insufficient financial backing, his ideas just never quite caught on in New Harmony.

THE LAKE DISTRICT:  During many of our conversations with fellow travelers, the one comment that has been repeated most often is, “You must not miss the Lake District.”  As soon as we entered the Lake District, it wasn’t hard to appreciate what all the talk had been about.  The lakes with their surrounding idyllic scenery formed the most spectacular English scenery we had seen to date.  We were determined that as long as we were in the Lake District we would take a hike around one of the lakes, no matter what the weather.   With its bucolic lake beauty and charm, the 4-mile loop around Lake Buttermere seemed a perfect idea…that is until we were 2 miles into the hike--past the point of no return--and it started to pour.  Gradually, what we have come to call “soft weather” had become a soaker.

However, there was a section of our lake hike through a field of sheep that was so bizarre that we almost didn’t mind getting drenched.  Hundreds of sheep in the field around us were standing still as if frozen in place.  None of them were eating, none of them were lying down, and none of them were moving!  Some of them seemed halted in mid-stride!  Perhaps that is typical sheep behavior when it is raining, but it looked very weird.  Other hikers from the UK remarked to us that they had never seen such sheep behavior before.  Obviously, this snapshot with a camera couldn’t quite capture how frozen in time this entire herd of sheep appeared to us.

We felt relieved when we got back to the RV where we could get out of our wet clothing.  Eventually, it took 3 days to dry out everything that had gotten soaked.  However, as one of our campground wardens told us, “If it wasn’t for the rain, we wouldn’t have the lakes.”  I suppose that’s the practical Lake District way to look at rainy days. 

We rounded out our time in the Lake District with a tour of Honister Slate Mine,


a visit to Dove Cottage, where England’s Poet Laureate William Wordsworth lived for nine years,

and a stop at 5000-year-old Castlerigg Stone Circle.


As at other standing stone sites, several meaningful alignments in the placement of the stones at Castlerigg have been discovered.

YORK:  The city of York has played such a pivotal role in British history.  The ancient walls of York lay claim to Roman history, Viking history, medieval history and Industrial Age history, so it is no wonder that today its chief industry is tourism.  Its visitors want to experience some of that history!

The jewel of York is the largest Gothic cathedral north of the Alps—the grand York Minster.  Since it was not part of an abbey, the Minster was spared destruction during the reign of Henry VIII.  During WW II, its priceless stained glass windows were hidden in private homes to protect them from German bombs.

When we inquired about attending evensong on Sunday afternoon, we were told that a new pastor was being installed that day and that evensong service would last a little longer than usual.  Our timing was fortuitous…  There is no better way to appreciate the musical and spiritual essence of a grand cathedral in Europe than to attend one of its services.  The acoustics and ambience of a wonderful cathedral like York Minster certainly enhanced our choral evensong experience.  The choir sounded heavenly.  There was quite a festive atmosphere at the conclusion of evensong when everyone wanted to greet the new pastor and welcome him to the ‘Minster.’

Our last day in York was a rainy one, so we decided to take in two of York’s best museums.  The York Castle Museum has been dubbed “possibly the closest thing to a time-tunnel experience” with its incredibly detailed life-size reproductions of rooms from the 17th through the 20th centuries,


along with a re-created life-size Victorian street called Kirkgate that was lined with shops and businesses.  As we wandered through the shops of Kirkgate, background sound effects typical of a Victorian-era street contributed to the time-travel experience.

The other museum we visited in York was the National Railway Museum.  Typically, at the mention of a train museum, my eyes start to glaze over—not my favorite topic of interest.  However, throw in several tracks of beautifully restored royal trains and my interest increases dramatically.  The museum had wonderfully restored royal train cars that were used by Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, and Queen Elizabeth II.  It was difficult to get good photos through the windows of the royal cars.  The best of the pics included this one of King Edward’s smoking room lounge car with its oversize green leather armchairs,

and the pic of the bathtub in King Edward’s private bath car. 

Brontë Parsonage:  The Brontë family is perhaps the world’s most famous literary family.  In preparation for our visit to Brontë country, I had recently read both Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and Wuthering Heights by her sister Emily Brontë.  Both of these literary masterpieces were written at the Brontë Parsonage family home in Haworth where Patrick Brontë, the father of the six Brontë children, was pastor of the church.  The furnished rooms in the parsonage captured an authentic atmosphere from the days when the Brontë family lived there.  Display cases were filled with a fascinating wealth of clothing, personal possessions, paintings, letters and notebooks from various members of the family. 

The next-door church graveyard seemed awfully spooky on the cold, windy, rainy day of our visit.

It was especially interesting to see the actual moors in the distance that inspired Emily when she wrote Wuthering Heights.

In the early years, life in the Brontë household was a happy time around the dining room fireplace where the three sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) supported, inspired and critiqued one another in their individual literary pursuits.  However, as the rest of the family story unfolded, it became clear that it was a tale with few happy endings.  The mother of the Brontë children died of cancer at age 38 and left her young children to be raised by her sister at the parsonage.  Charlotte lived longest of the six children and also died at age 38, in the early stages of pregnancy only 9 months after her wedding day.  The father of the Brontës died in his 80s, having outlived his wife and all six of his children.  What a burden to bear!  It is remarkable how in such a relatively brief number of years this talented literary family caught the attention of the world.  The fascination has never lagged to this day.

“Any relic of the dead is precious, if they were valued living.”        Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights


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