In The Land of Pooh, The Badger, King Arthur and Beyond: The Excursionist XIII Finale

magic (n) A mysterious quality of enchantment.

 

England is a land of mystery, magic and myth.  It is a land of legends of kings and villains of all sorts.

Consider this quote:

As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, and can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty of it, the beauty!

This line is from The Wind in the Willows by A.A. Milne.  It’s from the chapter titled “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”.  To me, that chapter is one of the most beautifully written prose I’ve ever read.

[A country church in South Dorset]

Over the years I’ve walked dozens of footpaths.  At first in Thomas Hardy country in south Dorset, a place he called Wessex.  I’ve sneezed and sweated through fields of ragweed, cleaned my boots of the mud and manure, and sat in a remote hay shed to keep dry in the driving rain.  I feel as though I’ve been through the 100 Acre Wood of Pooh.  I believe I’ve seen Badger and Mole alongside a river.  I stood over the cliffs of Tintagel, Cornwall and gazed down at the cave where Merlin was born.  Watching the moonlight from the Glastonbury Tor, I sipped a bit of wine and listened for Arthur’s faint heartbeat.  I walked naked into the English Channel and nearly froze.

[St. Michael’s Tower atop the Glastonbury Tor]

I loved every moment when I was able to do these things.  Now, my back and feet are making walking painful, but the most pain is that I am unable to do what I most love about this country…walking.

And that makes me sad.  To be prevented from doing what you most love is an exquisite torture.

It’s time to begin sorting our belongings and start packing.

While we were here, since mid-February, I sat in pubs and listened to folk songs. One local pub, The Buffalo welcomed us with such warmth.  Thank you Kate, Amy, Massimo and Jenny. Whenever I would bring home a copy of The Guardian, there were bold headlines about the chaos and confusion over Brexit.  It fills the evening news on ITV.  So there was the experience of the old and traditional pub society and the quiet of the countryside contrasted with marches in London to demand another vote and to remain in the EU.

[A pub in St. Ives]

It’s a time of turmoil here…and we are leaving in the middle of it all.

We are truly are thankful for the hospitality of our hosts, Tim and Jo Ovenden.  We have shared their lives for three months and have grown even more fond of them than we were before.  Their son, Thomas is a quiet and thoughtful young man, always ready for a conversation.  Daughter Anna and her often-present friend Felicity are talented dancers (ballet).  They are bouncing on a trampoline in the backyard as I type this.  Their giggles brighten our days.

[Jo, Thomas and Tim with Anna in their arms]

[Anna, left, and Felicity]

Regrets?  Always.  I’ll never get over my deflated mood every time we drove past a Public Footpath.  So many missed opportunities.  I’ve walked many paths over the many visits to England but the sheer number of those untrodden by me would fill a lifetime of roaming pleasures.

[My own personalized OS Map]

Who has that long a lifetime?  I certainly wish I did.

But one cannot sail forever on an endless sea because no sea is really endless.  There must be a port somewhere.  Our time in this country can now be counted in days (I’m writing this on Wednesday and we leave for Southampton on Saturday).  Soon it will be a matter of mere hours.

In the end, I guess it’s time to go home.

When they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn.

–Kenneth Grahame The Wind in the Willows

[All photos are mine]

 

 

 

 

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Barcelona To Bristol: The Excursionist IX

[On the approach to Bristol Airport]

The rain wasn’t falling anywhere near us on the morning we boarded the EasyJet plane in Barcelona.  I was stuck with a window seat (ok, I had a chance to move to the aisle but I chose to have a view).  We soared out over the Mediterranean before making a turn to the northeast.  Not fifteen minutes passed before I could see the Pyrenees, snow-capped and dazzling in the Spanish sun.  However, the moment we crossed into French airspace, there was nothing but clouds, white and endless like an enormous bowl of milk.  It was like that until we were making our approach to Bristol Airport (see above photo).

We checked into the Marriott on Lower Castle Street.  Our plan was simple: we (I) wanted to visit the Cathedral [one list on my Bucket List is to visit all the English Cathedrals…I’m a frustrated architect] but the walk was a good fifteen minutes and I was having a serious problem.

The aforementioned “problem” is that my eye fell on a pair of handsome leather boot/shoes on a visit to the Bass outlet in Lake Placid.  This was about three weeks before we were to leave on our three-month trip to England.  To be honest, I haven’t wore leather shoes in a very long time.  I remembered there was a process called “breaking the shoe in”…I did this by walking from our living room to the dining room about twenty times.  This is not the way to break a shoe in!  And, for what its worth, I have a slight deformity in my right foot.  What does this all mean?

It means I had very sore feet only five minutes into the walk.  I needed a rest.  I needed a sit-down.  I needed a beer.

And, there it was, on Corn Street.  It didn’t look like a typical British Pub.  It wasn’t the Queen’s Arms, The White Hart, The Fox and Hounds or the King’s Arms.  It was called The Commercial Rooms.

[The Commercial Rooms]

We went in and found it was a fair-sized pub and restaurant.  We ordered and sat.  I whined about my shoes.  I told Mariam I was willing to find a Nike store and buy a pair of proper walkers.  It was then that I noticed a fine-looking clock on the wall behind the bar.  Wait.  It wasn’t a clock.  There were no numbers.  Instead there were cardinal compass points.  It was a four-foot diameter compass on the wall.  I was more than curious.

[The Compass]

[A closer look]

I had to find out what this was doing on the wall so I approached the bartender.  He told me that the building was once a club of traders and merchants.  There was once a weather vane on the roof (it no longer works) that would relate the wind direction to the traders…informing them when it was the right conditions to launch their ships.

There were several plaques on the wall that listed the names of past presidents of the Commercial Rooms.  There were names like G. Marsden-Smedley and Richard A. Flowerdew.  Good and proper English names.

Pretty cool.

Then it was onto the Cathedral.  I didn’t find it as beautiful as Salisbury (and it certainly wasn’t anything like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona), but it was worth the visit.

[Mariam stands in distance…near the Altar of the Bristol Cathedral]

Before leaving, I removed the inserts from my shoes.  It made things much better.  We walked home and made plans to have dinner.

I had Hake and Mariam had Scallops.

A beautiful end to an uneven day.

 

The Enigma of Knowlton Church: The Excursionist VII

[Knowlton Church…front facade]

In the middle of Cranborne Chase, a hilly and breezy open region in north Dorset,  is the shell of a Norman church.  Nothing special really.  These churches are found in many villages and hamlets of Dorset.  What is unusual is that it is built-in the middle of a Neolithic ritual henge (a ring of ridges dating from ancient days).

The church sits alone…surrounded by earthen works built by Pagans.  The building is a shell, built with stone and flint.  It looks lonely.  There is an aura of melancholy that pervades the site.  If one sat on the henge, took the time to contemplate the view…I believe a sadness would fall upon you.

According to my google search, the Knowlton Church is one of the ten most haunted places in Dorset.  The visions that have been reported include a rider on a horse that charges through the grounds and vanishes as it enters the church.  A weeping woman, sometimes described as a nun, has been seen.  A face has been observed looking out of the upper window of the tower.  A hooded man, tall and quiet has crossed the path of a visitor in recent years.

The enigma?  Why is there a Christian church built within the walls of a pagan ritual henge?  Why is the church only an empty shell now?  And, most interesting, is why is the village of Knowlton no longer in existence?  History tells us that the town was hit hard by the Black Death…those who survived drifted to other regions.  Remains of the homes are visible on the grounds to the west of the ruins.

When Mariam and I stood on the ring earthen works, the wind blew with a force that nearly blew her glasses off.  I was wearing my L.L.Bean coat and a chill cut through me like a razor.  I wanted to stay and absorb the atmosphere , the solitude, the isolation and the loneliness, but Mariam and I could hardly stand upright in the wind.

Was the wind telling us something?

Were we on sacred ground?  Haunted ground?  Unforgiving ground?  The melancholy began to take hold of me.

But, as we drove away, I sensed something.  I need to return to this place, this lonely place and spend some time…thinking, dreaming and imagining.

[Another view of the church]

[Photos are mine]

[Historical information: Google search]

The First Real Ramble: The Excursionist IV

[I’ll sneak this post in while many of you will still be reeling from Michael Cohen’s testimony in Congress.]

Well, we took our first real walk through the fields of Dorset today.  It was time.  It was overdue.  And it was one of the main reasons we’re here…to walk and to avoid the snow.

I’ve worn the same pair of flannel-lined jeans since we left New York (yes, they’ve been washed several times). And I was unsure of which socks to wear with my hiking boots.  I’ve developed a few foot issues (along with the usual back things) so this was a chance to see how I would hold up…doing what I love…walking the footpaths of England.  If you’re a long-time follower of my blogs, you will know what I’m talking about.

[The RR tunnel had that Jack the Ripper feel when you pass through.]

We chose to do the Stour River Way.  Mariam had done the entire walk with our friends, Tim and Jo, about five days ago.  We went without a map.  At one point we passed through a short tunnel under the railway.  It had the look of something out of Dickens.  When we passed an old mill (that was painted by Constable in the 19th Century) she was unsure of the way to proceed.  So, we turned back and returned to our home in Gillingham.  It was a good thing.  My back was slowly going south (I’ll need a patch of that icy heat thing tonight).  My boots held up and my feet only began to bother me as we got back to the starting point.

[My usual photo of a tree in a meadow.  I love naked trees in the late winter.]

The moral?  Stay in shape.  Wear the right inserts.  And, enjoy…

[All photos are mine.]

North Dorset Once Again-The Excurinist III

[A London Pub. Nothing to do with this post.]

We’re with our friends in North Dorset…once again.  I met Tim when he was a rookie teacher when I was an exchange teacher in the mid-1980’s.  Now he’s nearing retiring.  His wife, Jo, is a major player in the local school, psychologist, and tutor.

We love these folks.  They have provided us with a free loft bedroom for two months!  That will allow us to travel to Spain or perhaps Norway.  We have two months.  We’re free and unencourmbed.

Mariam drove on the left for the second time today…to the local grocery market.  I was a nervous passenger, but she did so well.  It’s not easy when all we could book was a standard shift. So many things to thing about whether as a driver or a passenger.  Full disclosure : I have driven on the left since the 1980’s.

Anyway, we are fine and the lack of blogs has to do with the difficulty of getting photos from my camera.

WiFi is difficult in England and in Europe in general.  Most hotels say “free wifi” but the reality is quite different.

Hopefully, I can get inside the wi-fi issue and post more amazing and incredulous posts.

One note: We saw a magic show in London. In the hotel pub.  The woman was a world-class card trick player. I am humbled by what she did since I have two card tricks I can do.

Cheers!

 

Sick In London: The Excursionist II

[The Sherlock Holmes Pub. The only real outing we’ve had.]

When your forty feet from the ‘largest bookstore’ in Europe, it’s hard to get bored.  But alas, the usual ‘bug’ has hit us.  We took the Red Eye from JFK to London on Sunday afternoon.  Thinking we were going to get some stuff done…we both crashed in our hotel…for most of the day.  On Monday, we toured the National Gallery, maybe ten minutes walk.  But we both began to feel that our systems weren’t quite right.

I mean how many Botticelli’s and Caravaggio’s can a guy take in?  And the Ruben gallery?  Not my body type.

Our hotel is a 4* on Piccadilly Street.  What was it we picked up?  A cold from the week in NYC?  I doubt it, because there’s the incubation period to think about.  Was it the ‘airplane air’?  Maybe…I’ve had some bad luck recently.

[Center entrance to the National Gallery.}

So, it’s Monday night and we both pretty much stayed put, sleeping and feeling congested and feverish.

I never got out doors today.  But I feel a lot better, in case anyone is wondering.  Mariam is running a low-grade fever.  It’s chilly and rainy out.

How are we going to complete our plans?  The Ripper Tour?  Saint Paul’s Cathedral?  Highgate Cemetery? The Royal Greenwich observatory ?

Some things will just have to wait.

[All photos are mine.]

The Ring

My left hand is ringless. The wedding band lies on a tray on the dresser in our bedroom, along with assorted jewelry.  Is this the sign of a marriage gone south?  Hardly.  The only thing that would be going south right now is my wife and I.  Because outside the wind howls and the temperature is dropping like the broken seeds of the sunflower mixture in our bird feeder.  Mariam reports from the kitchen that it is currently 14.2℉.  By 2:00 am, when I make my first trip to the bathroom (it’s a prostate thing), it’ll be -6℉.  It’ll bottom out at -12℉ in the wee hours.

So, what’s the deal with the ring?  In truth, I’m losing weight and a few weeks ago I tested the ring by lightly shaking my hand on the bed cover.  It slipped off.  I had a little clamp thing on it to keep is snug and safe on my ring finger but it broke.  For now it will rest, in security, on our dresser.

I have rarely taken it off in our 25+ years of marriage.  Why should I?  If I were out to ‘get lucky’ at the local pub…and I slid it off my finger, it would leave a white, unweathered ‘ring’ on the finger in question.  That would a dead give away for any twenty-something who had mistaken me for George Clooney (refer to my Facebook profile photo).

And I would never do such a thing anyway.  I can barely comprehend life without her.  She gets frustrated on her computer, but she’ll sit in my office for hours and we will read aloud the drafts of a novel I would be working on.  (A novel that will sell approximately 43 copies.)  Mariam will drop anything to help me with something that is beyond my ability.  She saved my life by locating the best hematologist in New York City, in 2003 when I was diagnosed with a rare leukemia.  She slept on a cot while I went through ten days of chemo.  She stayed on the phone (while she was working at Mount Sinai) for hours until we secured tickets to see the Rolling Stones.  She never denies my need to see Bob Dylan whenever he plays near us.  She lets me roam at will in a Barnes & Nobel…and even tells me which credit card to use.

[Mariam in 2017]

Twenty-two years ago, when I turned fifty, she asked me what I wanted.  I humbly suggested a 28″ sailboat or a 1952 MG TD (with wire wheels).  That’s when I think she started secretly stashing away money for one or the other.

We’ve traveled a great deal, especially since she finally retired after over fifty years in health care.  We’ve been to Paris, London, Belgium, Alaska, Istanbul, Ireland, Germany and countless other places.  And, we’re about to spend the winter in England and returning home aboard the Queen Mary 2., for the second time.

She is my wife and my best (and sometimes I feel my only) friend.

So, why this post?  Why now?  It’s not her birthday nor our anniversary.  It’s not Mother’s Day.  It’s just another day I wake next to my wife and feel that I could write a simple blog to brighten her day.  In the middle of a snowy and cold winter, she needs a lift.

After she reads this (which she will proof) I’m counting on her being a tiny bit happier.  So, now is the time to quietly mention the sailboat and the MG.

[In Istanbul. Circa: late 1990’s]