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Trip to Northern England - November 12-19, 2015

Manchester, Selby, Saltaire, York, Hadrian's wall, Lake Country, Liverpool

by Jenny and Charlie Plesums


In 1966 Jenny went to England to be in a pen-pal's wedding, and spent the summer working there (and visiting Northern England). We have been to Southern England countless times, and to Scotland numerous times, but never in between - Jenny wanted to see it again, and show Charlie where she had lived and worked.

Getting There

We chose to fly into Manchester for two reasons... cheaper tickets, and a more convenient location for starting this trip. Routine flight leaving mid-day Thursday from Austin to Dallas to Chicago then on to Manchester arriving Friday morning. We picked up our rental car and headed east to Selby, driving on the left side of the road, and clockwise through round-abouts. We had upgraded to a Mercedes, but I would never do that again in England.

In the many times we have been to England and Scotland, the weather has generally been great - not the rainy weather attributed to England. On this trip it often rained, even poured, sometimes with gale force winds. The amount of rain we have seen in England has quickly come up to the reputed average. A local told us, "It certainly won't rain tomorrow - there couldn't be any left." They were wrong. But with a car, occasional breaks in the storms, and alternate activities, we had a great time.

Friday November 13 - Selby

The Selby Abbey was founded as a monastic church in 1069. It was closed in 1539 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, and the majority of the buildings have since been demolished. The central nave of the abbey church survived and in 1618 it became the parish church of Selby.

Selby Abbey is one of the largest parish churches in Britain and is larger than several cathedrals, even though the town only has about 15,000 people, and there are other churches in town. Fortunately the rain stopped long enough for me to get these outside pictures, and discard the picture I took of the model on display inside the abbey.

The altar seems quite ample for a small parish church!

There were many beautiful windows, but with the gloomy day outside, the pictures were not very vibrant.

A feature of the abbey, among it's stained glass windows, is the Washington family coat of arms from the 15th century. They were the ancestors of USA President George Washington, and the window has stars and red and white stipes, that perhaps led to that part of the American flag. Yes that is an American flag displayed in the Church of England ("God Save the Queen").

Saturday November 14 - Saltaire

Quite by coincidence Jenny's friend for 50 years was visiting her cousin near Saltaire, very close to where we were. It was great fun to see Andrea Pool again and spend the day with her.

Richard Freeman (Andrea's cousin) is an active volunteer supporting and operating the Shipley Glen Cable Tramway built in 1895. He and his wife Christine took us on a ride on the Tram (up and back down). Richard retired as a wool and alpaca buyer and manager for the Salts Mill, built in 1851 by Sir Titus Salt.

Saltaire is the mill town build by Sir Titus Salt on the Aire river (hence the name) and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The canal is in the front of this picture, and the river runs parallel, barely visible in the background. At the time the mill was built it was the largest industrial facility in the world.

Sir Salt built the entire town to support the mill, but instead of shabby "company town" housing he built neat stone houses that are still in use.

This is one of the schools Salt built for the children of his workers. The town included a hospital, a library with reading room, a concert hall, a billiard room, a science laboratory, a gymnasium, garden plots, a park, and a boathouse. Sir Salt wanted happy workers.

Salts Mill closed in 1986, but the primary mill building has since been converted to a craft shop (covering multiple large factory floors), art gallery, and restaurant.

Sunday November 15 - York

The diocese of York was established in 314, with some evidence of Christianity in the area as early as AD 180. Needless to say, there were smaller predecessors to the current York Minster largely built from 1220 to 1472.

The octagonal chapter house was built between 1280 and 1296. Then it was, of course, Roman Catholic, but now is Anglican, in the high church "Anglo-Catholic" tradition.

This is the second largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe, 173 yards long. Behind the high altar you can see the entrance to the choir, where smaller services are held.

In the choir everyone sits sideways, like the monastic choirs. We attended sung matins with organ and choir. The highly trained choir sat in the seats with candles; we sat behind a very loud tenor.

When the rain slowed a bit, we started our hike back to the car, at a grocery store with paid parking.

It was cold and wet enough that we did not spend a lot of time wandering York, but passed this interesting architecture.

The minster was inside the city wall; the grocery store where we parked was outside. Only one lane of cars can go through the wall at a time, so the cars wanting to leave wait at the red light until the direction of the road through the large opening in the wall on the right changes.

Monday November 16 - Hadrian's Wall

The Roman Emperor Hadrian visited Britain in AD 122 and directed that a 75 mile long wall be built across the island as the northern limit of the Roman Empire. There would be various forts along the wall for protection against the barbarians in the North. (As I recall, Scotland is what is North of the wall.)

This is the one lane bridge over the North Tyne river near our hotel. Finally I remembered that most rivers run North and South (now that global warming ended the ice age), and Hadrian's wall goes East and West. Therefore there needs to be bridges in Hadrian's wall to cross these rivers.

Chester Bridge in the wall was a 5-10 minute walk from our hotel. The fort on one side of the river was closed on weekdays for the winter, but there was a walking path (popular throughout England) to the bridge on the other side of the river

The wall leading to Chester's bridge, and the footings of the bridge, are readily accessible. Jenny can say she stood on Hadrian's wall!

and I can make the same claim.

It was easy to see the remains of the fort on the other side of the river.

A short drive west, following the wall, we came to Housesteads Roman Fort. The rain had let up some, so we explored a bit.

The site was well labeled. Although it was cold and muddy, and there was no admission charge today (beyond the parking fee) clearly they were set up to charge admission during the peak season.

The rain came back while we were there. For people who want to draw rainbows, note the red is ALWAYS on the outside, the blue is on the inside. (If there is a double rainbow, the smaller one is inside the primary rainbow, and the colors are reversed since it is a reflection of the main rainbow.) Trivia - in an airplane in the sun and rain, the rainbow is sometimes a full circle, not just an arc.

Yes the fort is actually in a sheep pasture.

A little further down the road was another fort, with way too much advertising. The parking lot was arranged to try to keep you from seeing the fort without paying. It was in way too good shape for anything that was supposed to be many hundreds of years old. I kept expecting to see Mickey Mouse jump from behind a bush singing "It's a small world." We didn't stay.

Next we headed southwest through the lake district. Remember it had been raining so much that we considered getting an ark.

This is the passenger window. We were really at the edge of the lake and the edge of the road. (In a few places the divider between the lake and road was under water). Note in the mirror that a car was following us, unaware of the danger he was in, with us in front of him. Jenny rarely screamed.

We just slowed down (no car behind us here). This is not a walk next to the lake, this is from the car on the road.

Finally we got some pretty scenery. Looks like Scotland. Oops, we are pretty close to Scotland.

Tuesday November 17 - Blackwell House

On Tuesday we visited "Blackwell, The Arts & Crafts House" built in 1898-1900 as a vacation home for Sir Edward Holt, a wealthy Manchester brewer. It is in the Cumbria area, overlooking Lake Windermere

The columns were very thin, with highly decorative capitals. The house was interesting but with less furniture than I had expected.

You enter down a dark wood hall but at the end reach the "White Drawing Room" with a great view of the lake.

This barrel chair was on display.

Over the main hall was an elevated minstrel gallery with elegantly carved valance facing the hall.

The inside of the valance, facing the musicians, was rather crude.

The secretary was quite attracive

and when open seemed quite functional

These side chairs were not part of the dining room set (which we were not allowed to photograph).

One of the upstairs bedrooms had this wall lamp which everyone else seemed to like.

Standard bedroom furniture of the day

As was this wardrobe, since closets were not yet common.

Tuesday Afternoon, Peter Hall & Son

It was a cold and rainy day, so we needed to find something to do indoors. Boy did that work out well! Peter Hall & Son Limited is a custom (bespoke) furniture maker in the area, who has a shop with picture windows into the furniture and restoration areas. The furniture in their showroom was probably the finest workmanship I have ever seen.

I had the privilege of chatting (at length) with Jeremy, the "and Son" part of the company and current "boss." I also watched one of their apprentices working on dovetails, and got some ideas about improving my technique.

Click on this link to see more of their designs.

Wednesday November 18 - Liverpool

We went to the fairly new Museum of Liverpool on the waterfront. It was enjoyable, including a Beetles show (they were from Liverpool) but apparently I forgot to use my camera.

I know how a dry dock works, but this is the first time I have seen one in actual use.

The waterfront has some grand old buildings

And the requisite jumbo ferris wheel or "eye" that every city seems to need.

Half way between Liverpool and Manchester (where we would be leaving in the morning) we arranged to finally meet and go to dinner with my college roommate's daughter and her family, who only recently moved to England. Abbey Janis-Dillon, her husband Bob, and their kids Abe and Stella (who moved at the wrong time) are absolutely the nicest people, and were one of the highlights of our trip.


Normally we look for real hotels rather than a guest house or B&B but that turned out to be impractical on this trip.

The Owl Pub was our first stop, for two days. It is literally a pub, with a few rooms and an annex building with 20-30 rooms. When we asked some locals where to eat, the Owl Pub was their strongest recommendation. We really enjoyed our stay and their food.

The George Hotel is a fairly large, historical facility near Hadrian's Wall. The food and rooms were fine, and the internet worked well but the arrangements to use WiFi were not nice. Boy Scouts (past or present) should admire the guest book entry of June 26, 1896, of Lord Baden Powell (founder of Scouting), is on display in the lobby.

We spent two nights at the Meadowcroft Guest House. The current owner is retiring at the end of the year, so I cannot predict how the new owners will do with this fine facility.

Meadowcroft served breakfast but did not have dinner service. She recommended a pub just down the street (as she joked, "close enough that you can easily stagger back.") We enjoyed the food there both nights. There were two bars in the pub - one for those with dogs, and the smaller for those without dogs.

Getting Home

We booked the Etrop Grange Hotel near the Manchester Airport, so we could casually catch our Noon flight. We arrived mid-morning, expecting to enjoy some club privileges before our flight. As we checked in, the agent said "your flight was cancelled, and you missed the earlier flight on which you were rebooked through Heathrow."

We thought she was joking, but no - the flight from Chicago that should have landed this morning had to turn back - there was so much turbulence that two flight attendants were injured, so they did not have a legal crew. No flight over, no airplane to take home. And no message from American Airlines (we found a computerized message on our home recorder later).

Since we apparently had missed our flight, rebooking us on a flight through JFK in New York took special effort, then we had to rush to the gate... but of course got triple checked through security. We were being paged throughout the terminal to please hurry to the gate. Yes we made our flight, and the connecting flight from JFK to Austin. Bad news is that the trip was about 268 miles shorter than scheduled. Good news is that our next trip would have taken us about 400 miles over our goal of reaching 100,000 miles this year, so we are still okay to make the goal.

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