by Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno)
Orignally published in the September 1983, A.S. XVIII issue of the Dragonflyre, a publication of the Barony of Vatavia.
This month Iím going to do something different. As most of you know this past month I, as most friars are wont to do, wandered off to lands afar; namely England. So instead of another pedantic tome about some obscure subject, this essay will be about the trials and tribulations, the exhilaration and exasperation of the trip.
Getting to England isnít very hard; large metal birds fly daily. Nor is jet lag a debilitating phenomenon if you take it easy at first. As I was attempting to see as much as possible, I collapsed on the afternoon of the third day.
London proper is rather small, about a square mile in area. Greater London is many times bigger, a conglomeration of cities and towns, many larger than London itself. This jumbled collection of municipalities had led to a jumble of streets, making a map indispensable. One wrong turn and five minutes of walking can leave one totally lost. Not that London is hard to get around--the underground can get you close to most of the major sights and buses are everywhere.
The first impression of London is that of an old, grimy industrial city. I suspect that wonít be the case in a few more years as restoration efforts can be seen everywhere, removing the grime of the Industrial Revolution. Adding relief to this dismal setting are the many parks and squares scattered throughout the city, of which Hyde Park is the most famous.
Among the sights were the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paulís Cathedral and numerous museums. As Westminster was undergoing a major restoration and Parliament was in session, the long waiting lines discouraged me from looking inside. Madame Tussardís was a madhouse comparable to any American tourist trap. One day was spent taking a boat down the Thames to the Greenwich Observatory and the maritime Museum. London does not seem to be much of a port as I saw few ships. More striking is the tidal variations in the river.
Driving in England was an experience; driving out of London was a nightmare. Learning to stay on the left side of the road wasnít too hard. Teaching my left hand to shift took some practice. Finding my way out of London was nerve-racking. I drove for nearly an hour before leaving the Greater London area. Once outside of London things were easier as the traffic density was lower, but navigation was a problem throughout the trip. English road signs tend to be non-existent, uninformative or just plain confusing. More than once I had to back track to find someplace, and I sometimes made it on dumb luck. Highways, for the most part, are two-lane roads, which twist and turn across the countryside. They also go through every town between two points, giving a grand tour of each. As a result, average speed can be slow. My worst case was between Oxford and Cambridge, a trip of ninety miles, done in three hours.
Upon leaving London I head for Dover, stopping at Rochester Castle and Canterbury Cathedral. Bodian Castle followed Dover, followed by Battle Abbey, the site of the Battle of Hastings. The Abbey itself no longer exists and the battlefield is pasture, but one can still walk around it. The slopes are not gentle, and any fighter who wants to charge up and down that slope in armor for a day, the length of the battle, better be in very good shape.
Continuing down the channel coast I stopped at Portsmouth to see the HMS Victory and Portcester Castle, then went inland to Oxford. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge are very different from their American counterparts. There is no campus as each is broken up into separate, semi-independent colleges that are scattered throughout the town. Each college has its own chapel, dining hall, library and rooms for both the faculty and students. The nature and location of the classrooms remained undiscovered.
As I wandered my way north I went through Nottingham, then went off in search of Sherwood Forest. As the original forest is now down to only a few hundred acres in size, it is easy to miss, particularly as there are no signs to point the way. After wasting most of an afternoon in the search, I did find it. Since I got there long after any of the crowds that were there had gone, the stroll through the forest was relaxing.
After surging as far North as York, I swung back down to North Wales, land of the incomprehensible names and having some of the most beautiful scenery. In quick succession I hit the Edwardian castles of Flint, Conway, Beaumaris, Caernorfvon and Harlech. At Conway I saw the amazing sight of a river flowing backwards as the tide came in. After working my way around the coast I struck inland into the mountains of Snowdonia. I can see why the English kings had problems subduing the Welsh, for the land is very rugged.
The English countryside is composed of mostly rolling hills, much like Ohio or Pennsylvania. The roads are lined with trees and shrubbery, and groves of trees dot the landscape, cultivated fields are everywhere, forming the predominant element of the scenery. There are exceptions: East Anglia is flat, and Kent sports a fair amount of heath. England is also much more urbanized than America, and one seldom goes more than ten or fifteen miles before encountering a town or village.
My trip ended at Hampton court, Windsor and Warwick Castles; the last two more palaces than castles. Warwick is the only castle that can be categorized as a tourist trap. Not that it doesnít have some interesting things to see, but it was the most expensive stop. Much of Windsor is closed off, and the lines to see what isnít closed off, assuming the Queen is not in residence, are long. Hampton Court, on the other hand, is open and relatively crowd-free. Its famous hedge maze, while easy while looking down on it, can be quite a challenge once inside.
The trip was interesting and enlightening. It does indeed take a visit to be able to comprehend a place. To see not only the interesting parts, but also the not-so-interesting parts gives a better understanding of the whole. But you can never seem to see it all either, for once over there I found many other things I wish to have seen but had not the time. Perhaps the next trip, a few years from now.
Copyright © 1997 - present His Lordship Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno). All rights reserved.