October 14, 2013

Historical British Finale

“England expects that every man will do his duty.”   Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, as the Battle of Trafalgar was about to begin

Carol writes: 
PORTSMOUTH HISTORIC DOCKYARDS:  Very near the top of Al’s wish list was a desire to visit the warship ‘HMS Victory’, Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson’s flagship during the historic Battle of Trafalgar.  Trafalgar was a pivotal victory for England in the Napoleonic War, as victory at Trafalgar assured England that Napoleon’s burning ambition to invade England would never be realized.  

The only way to visit the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, home of ‘HMS Victory’, was by means of a ferry ride from Gosport, a short distance from the dockyard across the harbor.


Our first view of the mighty ‘Victory’ was an impressive one!  She is the world’s oldest commissioned warship –and probably the most famous too. 

Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar exacted a very high cost that day in 1805 because Lord Nelson himself died a hero’s death a few hours after being shot in the chest by a French sniper during the heat of battle.  A simple metal plaque marked the spot on the wooden deck where Lord Nelson fell.

A wonderful haunting painting was displayed below decks in the dark and somber spot where Lord Nelson breathed his last breath just moments after being reassured that the British were victorious that day.

Internet photo--"The Death of Nelson" by Arthur Devis

Many areas of this famous warship were quite accessible during our walking tour.  Immense cannons projected through the gunports on several decks.

Lord Nelson’s bedroom was remarkable in its simplicity.  His bed was a modest cradle-like box that hung suspended from the ceiling.

Even the crew slept in hanging beds.

I found the experience of walking the decks of the famous ‘Victory’ to be a fascinating one.  As a retired naval officer and a lover of history, Al felt very satisfied and most impressed with our visit!

Our visit to the Portsmouth dockyard was really an all-day affair.  Also included in the admission was entrance to a state-of-the-art museum that housed the remains of the ‘Mary Rose’, flagship of King Henry VIII.

For an incredible 400 years the ‘Mary Rose’ lay half buried in the watery straits just north of the Isle of Wight where she sunk in 1545.  In 1982 millions of households watched television in fascination as the skeletal remains of the ‘Mary Rose’ were raised from the bottom of the sea.  In the last 3 decades this famous ship has undergone periods of keeping her wet, followed by lengthy periods of drying her out by means of large ventilation tubes in order to preserve what remains.

The ‘Mary Rose’ lay buried for over four centuries in an oxygen-starved muddy environment.  Thus, many of her fascinating artifacts remained remarkably preserved, including the skeleton of the ship’s dog.  In addition, several sets of human remains were also recovered, and by studying these bones much has been learned about the health, diet and lifestyle of the ship’s crew.

As we embarked on our last few days in England, we felt a visit to see the ‘Victory’ and the ‘Mary Rose’ was a fitting way to wind up what has been a wonderful trip through British history.

WINDSOR CASTLE:  If Napoleon had defeated Nelson at Trafalgar, our experience at our final stop in England at Windsor Castle, home of the Queen, would have been a much different one.  Little did we know when we formed our plan to visit Windsor Castle that it would serve as the perfect way to knit together so much of the British history and tradition we had absorbed during our travels over the past 3 months.  The first view of Windsor Castle was a stunner!

The Queen considers Windsor Castle her home, which it has been for over 60 years.  There are vast acres of grounds where she loves to walk her beloved dogs.   For defensive purposes, Windsor had the requisite moat, but this one has never held any water due to the chalky porous soil beneath.  Rosebushes looked prettier than water…

We lucked out just as we arrived and began our audioguided tour.  The changing of the palace guard was just getting underway and we could see that there were very few visitors lined up along the fenced-off courtyard where this ceremony would take place.

A sizeable band was part of the ceremony, but the music that they played puzzled most of the crowd, including us!  I swear one of the tunes sounded like it was from a James Bond movie.  The selection of “When the Saints Come Marching In” seemed oddly out of place but may have been chosen to please the Americans in the crowd.  I read later that the custom is for the band to play a selection of tunes from films and musicals during interludes in the historical ‘Changing of the Guard’ ceremony.

Pictures were prohibited anywhere inside the palace or inside St. George’s Chapel, so I have resorted to posting a few interior views of the palace and chapel that I found on the Internet.

The palace Crimson Room was stupendous!

One of the most prestigious honors that the Queen can bestow is the Order of the Garter.  In addition to the Queen and the Prince of Wales, only 24 living persons can hold this honor at one time.  The blue carpet scheme in the room where the Order of the Garter ceremony is conducted was brilliant.  The symbolism of the 24 blue-upholstered chairs, 12 on each side of the aisle in front of the Queen's throne, was powerful.

Windsor Castle's large and lavish state dinners are held in St. George’s Hall.  This section of the castle had to be restored after a horrendous fire in 1992 which destroyed a significant part of an historic wing of the castle.  A new wooden ceiling was designed for St. George’s Hall and was purposely made out of unseasoned oak beams so that they could be bent for curves in the design.  In addition, when the wood eventually dried out after construction, it had the expected authentic cracks that would have been present centuries ago.  The spaces between the oak ceiling members received a new look; this was a checker-boarded design made with the heraldic coats of arms of the 1000-plus knights who had ever received the Order of the Garter.  The shields of disgraced knights were whited out.

Masterpieces by Rubens, Holbein, and Van Dyke hung throughout the castle.  Many of these were portraits of past monarchs and their families.

The most impressive aspect of the history of Windsor Castle was the fact that it is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world.  It was conceived in the 11th century by William the Conqueror as a defensive fortification and has been home to 39 monarchs.  Over the centuries improvements and enlargements have taken place until the castle arrived at its present form under Queen Victoria, a little over 100 years ago.  Both Al and I agreed that for many reasons Windsor Castle was the most impressive palace/castle we have visited in the United Kingdom—and there have been quite a few.

Another part of the castle complex was equally elegant—St. George’s Chapel, easily one of the most beautiful and historically rewarding ecclesiastical buildings in all of the United Kingdom.

The magnificent fan vaulting was nothing short of miraculous in its day.  Today its intricate design continues to pull the visitor’s vision heavenward.

St. George’s Chapel houses the tombs of many monarchs and their spouses.  The biggest thrill for us was right in the middle aisle of the choir floor where we finally got to see the black marble slab of stone that covered the tomb of the infamous King Henry VIII, the one monarch above all who seemed to play such a big part in the British history we had come to know so well.

Henry was buried with Jane Seymour, his third and favorite wife…or perhaps the one who died before she could displease Henry in some way that would prove unfortunate for her.

As we rode our bus back to the campground, we marveled at how so many centuries of British history was summed up nicely at Windsor Castle.  It is no surprise that of all her royal residences Queen Elizabeth has chosen to call Windsor Castle her home.

RAF LAKENHEATH:  So…here we are at RAF Lakenheath, home of the United States Air Force 48th Fighter Wing.  We have checked ourselves into a room at the temporary lodging facility and plan to spend the next four days resting up, recharging our energy, refilling prescriptions, catching up on blogs, taking care of housekeeping chores in the RV, and setting out a strategy for the next three months on the Continent.  Our bonus today was watching an Armed Forces Network replay of the last Denver Broncos game in which they defeated the Dallas Cowboys 51-48 by kicking the winning field goal in the final minute of the game.  The few extra creature comforts we are enjoying here have made us feel like we are at a resort. 

In short, we have had a “brilliant” and “splendid” time in the United Kingdom.  In four days we will be off to points south headed toward Italy.  Cheerio!    
“England and America are two countries separated by the same language.”  George Bernard Shaw

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