England & Scotland - July 4 - 31, 2005
Arrival England July 4
After 3 wonderful days of staying with friends near Grimsby England where we enjoyed the pleasures of living in a comfortable home, eating exceptionally well, and being treated with incredible hospitality, we are on our way north to Scotland. We will try to give an update when we get to Edinburgh. The weather is improving and is suppose to be good over the next few days so we are encouraged.
July 8: Just to let you know that all is well with us. We heard about the bombings from a guy on the street as we asked directions. Very devastating. Celebrating one day as London was awarded the olympics and then crying the next. We really havn't had any more information yet as we have yet to see newspapers but may get one today.
We are heading toward Scotland but won't get there for another week...well past the G8 summit. We appreciate all of the responses that many of you sent yesterday and today. It makes us feel connected with you.
We are having good weather and are presently in York. A truly beautiful city. We will be heading off to walk the Roman Wall in a few minutes. Hoping that the winds change a bit for us as we've had primarily headwinds for the past two days. Guess it is a bit of payback for the tailwinds we had in Ireland.
July 19: We have been touring in England and Scotland for the last thirteen days and this is the first day that we have ridden in rain. Hard to believe but we aren't complaining. Our travels so far have been fantastic and only seem to be getting better. People have been wonderful. We initially stayed with our friends Mick and Chris upon arriving in England . They set us up in Newcastle with friends of thei's for a night. Then we stayed with our first Warm Showers contact in Edinburgh . Janet and I couldn't have found nicer and more accommodating new friends.
We loved Edinburgh and after 3 days felt like we could have spent more time. The history is incredible. We visited the castle and walked the town extensively a very impressive city indeed. Sometimes we get into a city and because we are so used to quiet backcountry roads the first thing we want to do is leave. Edinburgh didn't make us feel that way.
Andy and Anne sent us off with a wonderful breakfast, a great hearty loaf of bread and sandwiches and then Andy escorted us to the edge of town on great bike paths. From there we crossed the Firth of Fourth Bridge and headed north. We past Gleneagles, where the G-8 summit was held the week before and then came to Pitlochren where we spend an extra day taking in a Scotch distillery tour from the smallest distillery in Scotland and getting to know the town. Last night we saw concert that included a local pipe band, dancers and singers. It was a great experience. It felt so good to see that part of traditional Scotland .
We plan to return to our friends in Grimsby England before the end of the month and are still on target to depart for Geneva on Aug 1st. We'll hope to send some pictures of our trip when we get back to Grimsby.
July 25: Leaving Edinburgh, Scotland and heading back to Grimsby, England. We will be departing England for Geneva, Switzerland on August 1. We had a wonderful couple of weeks in Scotland. We expect to send more news and photos this coming weekend.
August 2: It feels somewhat ironic that on the day I am writing this, I (Aaron) would normally be going back to work for the first day of the 2005/06 school year. I wish my psychologist and social worker colleagues who are starting back today and my teaching colleagues who start back in a week a wonderfully positive year.
We've included some historical details as part of Aaron's agreement with his school district to get the year's leave of absense was to work with his high school's world history and geography teachers and provide details of our trip along the way. Given the close proximity to the start of the school year (hard to believe) this felt like a good opportunity to write this type of letter.
While this is being written in Geneva, the intent of this letter is to provide reflections on our time in northern England and Scotland during our 4 weeks there in July. As seems to be the case everywhere we go, the people have made our trip to date the remarkable experience that it has been. We both had a sense that this would be the case prior to our departure, but our people connections have proved more powerful than we could have ever imagined. That said, we are already talking about coming back to England and Scotland because of the wonderful time we had, the areas that we learned about yet were not able to see, and even to come back to some areas we did see and explore them more thoroughly. Our sense is that we are likely to have those feelings throughout our journey.
Our friends Mick and Chris who we met in Yellowstone National Park while we were on summer vacation in 2002 and they were two and a half years into a three year around the world bike tour played the ultimate hosts to us. They picked us up at Heathrow Airport and drove us the four hours or so north to their village, Marshchapel, near Grimsby. This proved to be an ideal starting place for us. They couldn’t do enough for us and Chris’s exceptional cooking fattened us up for our upcoming adventure.
There is no way we can do justice to describing the history that is so prominent and so much a part of the culture in Great Britain. This was emphasized during our stop in York, where we did a guided walking tour of the city. The city was begun as a fortress, built in AD71 by the Roman 9th Legion. Excavations of the Roman and medieval walls show how the city was built up over time. One of the most fascinating pieces of architecture I’ve ever seen is the York Minster which is the largest medieval gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. Not all cathedrals are minsters, and not all minsters are cathedrals, but York Minster is both. A cathedral is the mother church of a diocese. A minster was the Anglo-Saxon name for a missionary church - a church built as a new center for Christian worship. The present structure was started in 1220 and completed in 1472. It’s hard to conceptualise in these days and times working on something throughout one’s life and only seeing a small portion of the finished or virtually unfinished product.
From York we stayed with friends of Mick and Chris in Newcastle. Pete and Vicky hosted us for a warm evening and lovely companionship and talk about travel. We wish them the best with their upcoming wedding.
Heading north we took the Coast and Castles route along the northeast coast of England to Berwick-Upon-Tweed. We saw more castles than we’d ever have imagined. The ruins stimulate the imagination to envision what life must have been like both building and living within such massive structures. We pictured this part of England and Scotland as a rocky coast, which is certainly true, but we were surprised by the number of sandy beaches that we found. This section was along one of the many national cycling routes. We learned to not always take the established cycle route at its’ primary focus is to take cyclists off the road used by automobiles. While the infrastructure for the cycle routes is magnificently laid in some areas, in others we were taken on ancient bridal paths, off-road dirt and rock sections, and steep hill climbs that made us wonder what kind of sick sense of humor those who laid the route have.
We didn’t get enough time in Berwick, but we did enjoy a nice bed and breakfast there. One of the few times we didn’t camp. Berwick too is steeped in incredible history. It experienced 300 years of warfare during the Middle Ages due to its’ strategic location and commercial importance. 13 times, from 1296 to 1482 the castle changed hands between the Scots and the English. From the 16th century until 1836 Berwick wan an independent borough, neither in Scotland nor in England.
Crossing into Scotland we climbed over the Lammermuir Hills and down, down, down into Edinburgh. There we stayed with our first Warm Showers contact. Actually it was Andy and Anne’s nephew Chris who forwarded our email on to them. We didn’t even know that Andy and Anne were cyclists until we arrived at their front door and saw several bikes in the entryway. Suffice to say that the next 3 days in Edinburgh made us both want to come back to this beautiful ancient city. Once again our connections with people endeared us to our experiences. Andy invited us to a staff BBQ at his work where adults with learning and cognitive challenges repair old tools that are then shipped to countries in Africa, and an on site bakery where the members bake for different businesses. Is that where Andy got his exceptional bread making skills? When he and Anne sent us on our way, with Andy escorting us to the Edinburgh border prior to crossing the Firth of Forth bridge, we were packed up with sandwiches a stout loaf of bread, and wondering when would be our next opportunity to be with these wonderful people.
Continuing north we cycled up to Pitlochry where we saw a traditional pipe band concert and toured the smallest whisky distillery in Scotland dating back to the middle 1800’s. It took us a couple of days to get from near the east coast of Scotland to the west, passing magnificent lochs (lakes), beautiful green hillsides, and scenery that one thinks of as typically Scottish.
Oban is the major ferry and commercial port in the west of Scotland. We stayed here two nights so that we could cycle the Isle of Mull without all of our gear. Good thing as the hills on the west side were incredibly steep. This was one of only 3 days during our more than 3 weeks of cycling in England and Scotland that we had rain. Fortunately for us it was generally light and off and on. This island, and our tour of the Isle of Arran, made us want to come back to this area to get to several other islands that we didn’t have time for.
Our remaining days in Great Britain took us south and east as we headed back to Marshchapel. We crossed the Peninnes, considered the backbone of England and similar in respects to the Continental Divide as the mountains separate the water distribution between the east and west. This was some of the most difficult climbing we have done to date, and that is saying a lot. We’d hoped that we had seen our steepest climbs in Ireland, but that was not to be the case. Thank goodness we put on a drum brake (slowing brake) for this trip as it has been needed a lot so far with the intensity of the descents.
We had written another warm showers contact, Alistair, whose mother Jenny responded to us. They live in a beautiful house built in the early 1800’s in Airton at the southern end of the Pennines. Alastair is on his own round the world bike tour and puts our journey into a different perspective as he has been touring for 4 years and has been from Africa to Siberia. We were Jenny and Dave’s first Warm Showers visitors, and it felt like they were giving us the level of hospitality in one night that Chris has received in 4 years! Our only lament was not being able to stay one more day to see more of Chris’s pictures that Jenny has organized into phenomenal albums. All of the people we have stayed with so far have such a zest for travel and it feels like this is a significant part of the European culture for those with the means to do so.
Once back with Mick and Chris we relished in the couple of days we had with them and the opportunity to relax and prepare for the next part of our journey. We packed up our bike, and once again exceptionally well fed, we took a bus into London. Our final powerful people connection was with David and Judy outside of London. We met David in Oban when he and 3 other friends were cycling Great Britain end to end. He not only agreed to host us for the night, but also took us to Heathrow airport the next morning. Once again, their hospitality left a lasting impression and closed out our time in these two wonderful countries with nothing but positive experiences.
During our time in England and Scotland we rode 1944 kilometers or 1205 miles. This puts our total with Ireland to date at 3369 kilometors or 2089 miles. It is hard to believe that our time in those three countries is already behind us. We relish the experiences and the memories, and look forward to the next phase of our adventure.
We think of our family and friends daily and have appreciated all of the support we’ve received.