Visit to England and Wales, 2004

Photos © R.Leeuw

White Cliffs of Dover The Cliffs of Dover !

The ferry of SeaFrance "Rodin" brought us swiftly from Calais to Dover

Winchester Cathedral In Winchester we stayed with friends. The center of the city is fairly small and pleasant for walking.

Winchester Cathedral is, of course, very famous and attracts the crowds.
Begun in 1079 in the Romanesque style, this Cathedral is at the heart of King Alfred's Wessex and a diocese which once stretched from London's Thames to the Channel Islands. Its bishops were men of enormous wealth and power.

The history of this old city goes back a long time: during Roman times it was known as Venta Belgarum. It has been the most important town in Britain for centuries.
In Saxon days it was the capital of the Wessex Kingdom and King Alfred the Great (848-899) reigned from here. William the Conqueror chose Winchester as its capital too and he started the groundworks for the Cathedral.

Like I said, it is a nice walk from the City Center and there are plenty of photo opportunities.
This holiday was the first during which all my photos were taken with a digital camera, a Canon 300D. The only drawback I could find was that the battery needed recharging after 10 days of use.

The advantage of walking the streets in the UK is: there are so many pubs !

Wolvesey Castle Near the City Center is Wolvesey Castle (Old Bishop's Palace), a Norman stone keep and bailey fortress. It used to be the chief residence of the Bishops of Winchester. One needs much imagination to recognise a castle here. The entrance was free.
In 1680 the castle was demolished in order to build a new palace in the then-popular Baroque style, directly beside the ruins. The window detail shows maintenance must be difficult...
click here

These cottages are really amazing !

One thing that make historic houses unique, different from place to place, are the building materials; the houses and cottages were often made from local stones and in Winchester that means flint. These natural materials (squared, broken or round flints) provide a distinctly decorative appearance.

lovely cottage!

A wasted day... We drove for 2 hours up north to visit a museum near Swindon. It rained most of the time. The museum was open (it is only open for 2 days every month), but the hangar I intended to visit was unaccessable due to a privat function by the.... police.
We drove south to visit Castle Beaulieu. More rain.
We saw this "White Horse" and made a detour... and it stopped raining for a while.
Nice !
Castle Beaulieu seemed to have turned into a car museum: The National Motor Museum. Not what we came for ! And they asked a whopping entrance fee plus it was overrun by people with small children.... We turned around.
National Motor Museum

The next day brought us bright sunshine and we enjoyed our daytrip to the Isle of Wight.

First stop was Osborne House. It provides a stunning insight into the life of Britain's longest-reigning monarch: Queen Victoria.

Osborne House
After her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840, Queen Victoria felt the need for a family residence in the country, quiet and retired. Osborne House was bought for this purpose in 1845. The Queen had fond memories of this place, having visited the Isle of Wight as a child with her widowed mother.
The purchase comprised an estate of 342 acres plus the adjacent Barton Manor to house personal attendants and grooms. The architect Thomas Cubitt had been requested to build a new wing and then to demolish the old house and add further wings. Looking north one has a fantastic view over a landscape of terrace fountains, rolling parklands and at the passing ships in the nearby Solent.
More on Osborne House

Carisbrook Castle Carisbrook Castle is the island's only remaining medieval castle. Built on a Roman site the castle earthworks were begun in 1070.
The shell keep was built on the site some 70 years later. None of the Norman domestic buildings remain.
The castle has an impressive gatehouse with large circular towers, it dates from the 14th and 15th centuries.
The castle is most famous for acting as a prison to King Charles I, before his execution in January 1649.
King Charles' children, Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Gloucester, were banned to Carisbrook. Elizabeth died after 18 months here, on 08Sep1650.
In more recent times the castle was the occasional residence of the governor of the Isle of Wight and it became home to Princess Beatrice, youngest daughter of Queen Victoria, when she was governor.
map of the castle
medieval gate

During Elizabethan times the castle was considerably altered for fear of the Spanish Armada and possible invasion. It was modernized to resist the new artillery and outer lines of defence were built to enclose the old castle.

The curtain walls, bastions and bulwarks remain in good condition to this day.

We walked the high walls and had magnificent views over rolling countryside, the little town located below the castle and this church with its impressive cemetery.

The Needles is the name for a series of rock formations off the western point of the Isle of Wight. On the outermost rock is the Needles Lighthouse which was manned until 1997.
The light was filtered through moving clouds and varied per second... This "contra-jour" light provided for the best photo, all colours seem removed.
There is a trail to a better viewpoint and there is a chairlift, but we had to turn back for the ferry to Southampton.

Chepstow Castle
We left the South of England and headed for Wales.
We crossed the Severn and arrived at Chepstow Castle.
It is a Norman castle and sits perched high above the banks of the river Wye, in southeast Wales.
Construction began at Chepstow in 1067, less than a year after William the Conqueror was crowned King of England. William the Conqueror had his loyal Norman lord William FitzOsbern building a series of castles in this area to subdue the Welsh.
From here FitzOsbern consolidated control of the newly conquered lands for his King. Chepstow Castle became the key launching point for expeditions into Wales, expeditions that eventually subdued the rebellious population.

To me the finest thing about this castle are its gates: they permeate a distinct medieval atmosphere. If you look at them and close your eyes for a moment you can imagine farmers, travellers and pedllers finding their way through these gates...

Actors started to arrive; I was told Channel 4 was going to shoot for a documentary, but there was little action and since it had started to rain again I thought a retreat to the nearest pub was in order....
Better luck next time!

Rolling landscape
We drove a lovely road up north, along the river Wye, changing to a westerly course passing Abergavenny.
Our next destination was "Booktown" Haye-on-Wye.
The rolling hills and a break of sunshine every now and then provided some lovely scenery.

Haye-on-Wye is situated at the foot of the Black Mountains in the Brecon Beacons National Park; it offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor sports such as hiking, fishing, climbing or mountainbiking but I think most people visit this town for the almost 40 bookshops which have accumulated here.
What Mecca is for the Muslims, is Haye-on-Wye for people who love books...
While we already had been buying books in Winchester, we rummaged through the many secondhand bookshops and found many interesting titles. By the end of these holidays (we had a third major buying spree at Scrathin Books in Compton) we counted almost 40 books among the three of us...
Now we have to find the time to read them all !

Many, many bookshops
Books are everywhere: outdoors, indoors, in large shops, in small shops, very cheap ones, but also expensive first-print collection items.

The village in itself is attractive too and this troubadour livened things up a bit.


West, go west.... We drove through some lovely scenery. But that August month was declared in the UK to have been the wettest in centuries and we kept the tent in the boot of the car for the remainder of these holidays, sleeping at B&B's and hotels.

Owen Glendower
We passed through Machynlleth. For many people famous for the fact that Led Zeppelin recorded their 3rd album here, in the secluded Bron-yr-Aur Cottage. Hardcore fans undertake the Pilgrimage to Machynlleth to this day.
the Best of Led Zeppelin

In ancient times Machynlleth was at one time the Capital of Wales. Owen Glendower ("Owain Glendwr") managed to unite many Welsh Kingdoms and fought the English King Henry IV. In 1404 Owen was crowned King of Wales and the photos show his Parliament, suriving to this day.
In 1408 Owen was fighting a losing battle and was offered a pardon by the new English King, Henry V. But Owen did not react and nobody knows where and when he died.
More on Owen Glendower

Beaumaris Castle Driving further up north, we arrived at Beaumaris Castle on the island of Anglesey.
It is an impressive castle, one of a series built by King Edward I in Wales, to subdue the Welsh. Anglesey was important for the Welsh in terms of agricultural products. Cutting this off was a terrible blow to the rebellious Welsh. The other Edwardian castles were positioned in a circle around Wales and the strategy proved to be a success.
click here Building of Beaumaris Castle was begun in 1295, but never quite completed. The Welsh signed a treaty, in 1298 the money had dried up and Edward I was involved in other wars by then. impressive fortress!
Extensive history and more photos of Beaumaris Castle

Menia Straight The bridge of the "Menai Straight" provided a very scenery while we had ate our packed sandwiches.
Growing tired of the pub lunches (most of the time resulting in pies or something with fries), we found a good alternative in the packed sandwiches we bought at gasstations.

Rhuddlan Castle
Rhuddlan Castle is another Edwardian Castle but proved to be a disappointment: the stairs to the ramparts were blocked and there was little else to see.
Welsh Castles of Edward I

We drove towards the center of the UK and arrived in the Peak District, a rugged National Park (Britain's first !) situated between Manchester and Sheffield. It is amazing that such a beautiful, rugged, sparsely populated area exists so close to 2 large industrial cities !
A pity that the weather made the thought of long hikes unappealing to us, but we drove the most scenic routes. A place to return to, definitely !
Peak District

Woodcarving One of those en route surprises: a large tree had been turned into a woodcarving !

When you have figured out when they are open, the pubs are a fine retreat. I don't think there are 2 pubs alike, which is a nice change from the uniformity one sees in roadstops in the USA. Each his own.

Pub signs

trainbridge Midland Railway Centre near Ripley runs a steamtrain on weekends and wednesdays, we went for a look. Trainspotting..

Lonely figure on the track...
Walking the tracks

It is always an impressive sight to see these old steam locomotives; besides being (working) exhibits of our industrial heritage they provide excellent toys for grown ups...

Peak District The Peak District has no towering mountain peaks.... Instead, the name derives from an ancient tribe, "the Peacts", which roamed these parts.
People have described this area as a microcosm of the English landscape: peaks and dales, rivers, woodland, moors and meadows all have their place in this wild Utopia. One can imagine that it looks much the same today as it must have done a century or more ago.

Snake Pass Inn Snake Pass Inn is located in a particular rugged area, it is often closed in winters due to snow.
The painting on the wall has the year 1821 written on it. The Inn used to be a "half-way point" for carriages to change horses, travelling from Sheffield and Manchester and vice versa. The Inn also used to be a turnpike, a toll was levied here. During the 19th Century boxing prize-fights were held here, on the same spot where people now park their cars.

What an amazing churchtower !!
Crooked church towerSt Mary and All Saints Church, in Chesterfield, is so often overshadowed by its spire that many people don't notice that its the largest church in Derbyshire.
How did it happen? Legend tells of a powerful magician who persuaded a Bolsover blacksmith to shoe the Devil. The blacksmith, however drove a nail into the Devil's foot. Howling with rage, the Devil took flight towards Chesterfield. Skimming over the Church, he lashed out in agony, caught the spire and twisted it out of shape.
There are, of course, more mundane explanations.
Historians tell us of the dark year 1349 and the outbreak of the Black Death in Chesterfield - around the time that the spire was being built. Did too many skilled craftsmen fall to the Plague? Did the survivors use too much green timber in the spire?
Architects note the lack of cross-bracing in the 8 sides of the structure, and remind us of the weight of those lead tiles which cover the wooden spire - all 32 tons of them!
The rest of the damage is blamed on sun, rain, wind and, according to one expert, bell-ringing !
Information courtesy:

Bolsover Castle
Over the past 25 years we have visited many, many castles, manors and impressive houses in the UK. But we found one in the area we had not yet visited... Bolsover Castle.
Raised by William of Peverel (he was a bastard son of William the Conqueror) in the 12th century, very little is known of the original castle at Bolsover. A stone Keep was built c1173, surrounded by a curtain wall with an outer bailey, but the wall was breached in 1216 during the reign of King John.

The castle became Crown property in 1155 when the third William Peverel fled into exile, but by 1400 it had lost its strategic importance. Years of occupation by tenants had left Bolsover Castle ruinous by the time it was purchased by Sir George Talbot in 1553.

InteriorSir Charles Cavendish became the new owner in 1608 (first on a lease, in 1613 as the acutal owner). He set about re-building the castle. The tower, known today as the little castle, was completed c1621. King Charles I and his Queen arrived for a visit in 1634.

The castle overlooks the surrounding countryside.

How it must have looked During the Civil War, Sir William Cavendish took command of the Royalist troops. He was forced to flee into exile and his castle was surrendered to Parliamentarian troops in August 1644.
After the reformation of the Monarchy in 1660, Sir William Cavendish was able to return to England and his now ruinous castle. Despite great financial problems, he added a new hall and staterooms to the Terrace Range and, by the time of his death in 1676, the castle had been restored to good order. His successors, however, chose to live at Welbeck Abbey and in 1752 they stripped the lead from the roof of the Terrace Range at Bolsover Castle to effect the necessary repairs to their preferred residence.Magnificent door
The castle remained uninhabited since 1834 and was eventually given to the nation by the 7th Duke of Portland in 1945.
It is now in the care of English Heritage.

History of Bolsover Castle

Classic transport
More history just around the corner....

The Stena Line brought us home, from Harwich to Hook of Holland
Stena Line ferry
Despite all the rain we had enjoyed an excellent trip: friends, pubs, books, castles.... great !

More photos of this trip on