Friday, August 31, 2018

Changing Circumstances

For 5 weeks we stayed in National Trust cottages where I could prepare our meals, we had couches and comfortable chairs, private entrances (usually), and we could live on our own schedule.  That has changed since Thursday when we drove from Cornwall to Plymouth, England.  You know about Plymouth—it is where the Mayflower sailed from in 1620 to bring the Pilgrims to America.  We are staying in the Duke of Cornwall Best Western Hotel.

It is very nice.  I was glad to get some respite from cooking in a different kitchen every few days without recipes, any spices but salt and pepper and a jar of fines herbs I bought.  Each day we had to buy just enough food to feed us for a few days.  We had to eat it up or carry it in our car to the next destination.  I enjoyed the freedom to eat when we wanted and what we wanted.  But it was very limited.

But hotel living has its limitations, too.  First discovery:  in Plymouth we couldn’t find a restaurant open for dinner before 5 pm.  They closed at 3 then opened again at 5.  It was easy to find burgers and fish and chips.  Salads and vegetables were either limited or non-existent.  Today we enjoyed fish and chips and mushy peas for lunch—something we had fond memories of from our 2 earlier trips to England.  They were very good.

We do have 2 chairs in our room.  We have learned from earlier travels in the US that many hotel/motel rooms have only 1 chair and we have to ask for a second one.  Obviously, they don’t expect you to spend much time in your room.  But we do.  We can only walk, sight-see, explore museums, and shop for so many hours a day.  We find we need down time and I need to blog.

Most of our National Trust cottages were in rural areas where there were walking trails through stunning landscapes.  We took picture after picture of rolling green fields with stone or hedgerow fences and sheep and cattle.  Often we saw streams and waterfalls.  Now we are in a city, not in the country.  I miss seeing sheep in the fields and green everywhere.  In Plymouth we can do plenty of walking.  But we see city streets, busy shopping lanes, cobblestone streets and sidewalks.  Since Plymouth faced devastating bombing during World War II, most of the old buildings are gone but we do see some.  Our hotel was built in 1863.

We hadn’t done our laundry for over a week, hoping the hotel would have a laundry room.  It doesn’t.  We considered giving them the laundry to do—that is until we filled out the laundry sheet and found it would cost 58 pounds or more to wash and dry what we needed done.  Today we went searching for a laundromat and found one only about a 10 minute walk away.  Tomorrow we will take the clothes there and pick them up 2 hours later—for maybe 10 pounds.  It isn’t a do-it-yourself laundry but they will wash, dry and fold it for us.

National Trust

In England the National Trust, organized over 100 years ago,  owns and protects historic buildings such as castles and homes and cottages and an old post office and old forge.  It also protects gardens, sea shores and scenic areas.  In fact the Trust manages 775 miles of coast around the country.

I don’t remember how we learned about the rental self-catering cottages managed by the National Trust, but in 2000 we stayed in 3 of their cottages:  the coast guard cottage on the Isle of Wight, the lighthouse keepers’ cottage at Dover and  the Morris Apartment in Standen, an arts and craft house in West Sussex.  We loved those accommodations so for this trip we decided to stay in 6 more Trust apartments in places we planned to visit.

Organized in 1895 to preserve “lands and tenements (including buildings) of beauty or historic interest and preserve the natural aspect, features and animal and plant life,” it owns 200 historic houses that are open to the public and gardens.  It also owns mills, workhouses and the childhood homes of Paul McCartney and John Lennon.  It is the largest private landowner in the United Kingdom including 610,000 acres (985 square miles) of land, 300 houses and gardens, 41 castles, 39 pubs, 25 medieval barns and 9 lighthouses.

During the 2 trips to England where we used the National Trust holdings, we have stayed in 1 lighthouse, 1 barn, and 7 houses of varying sizes. Each one is so interesting.  The rent we pay for our stays in these holiday cottages is one way the Trust  supports it’s programs and maintains the buildings.  Not only do we get insight into some British history, at each cottage  where we stay, there is a pint of local milk in the fridge and fresh flowers.  We have been given crumpets, Welsh cakes, cookies and jam on the welcome tea tray.  Often we can also visit a nearby National Trust facility, tour the building we are staying in, or enjoy a free cream tea in the tea room at the property.

We didn’t realize it before, but there is a National Trust in the US which protects and promotes historic places, including 27 sites open to the public.  We will have to explore that when we return home.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018


I have no idea how we ended up in Boscastle, Cornwall. In January, when I was making these reservations, I knew I wanted to see Cornwall and visit the town of Mevagissey where a friend of my grandparents had lived before fighting in World War I and then moving to America where he was a gold miner in Victor, Colorado. I searched for National Trust holiday cottages online and selected one that slept 2 people in Cornwall and made a reservation for The Gaffer here in Boscastle.

This village developed around the medieval harbour.

 In the 12th century the Botterell family built Bottreaux Castle and a settlement developed alongside. The name of Boscastle is derived from a corruption of Bo' Castle. According to our welcome folder, Bronze Age barrows and an Iron Age promontory fort nearby provide evidence of man's activities in earlier times.

Much of the land and many of the buildings around Boscastle are owned or managed by the National Trust. Some were purchased by the Trust, other donated by their owners—often as part of someone's will. The Gaffer and 2 other cottages, the Clinker and the Lugger, are located in a building that was once the Harbor Restaurant.

The building now includes the 3 holiday cottages and the National Trust Bookstore and area visitor center. We are within just a short walk of the natural harbor that provided the only refuge along this section of the Cornish coast from a boisterous sea. Fishing boats are anchored there today.

The National Trust pathways around the harbor and down the Valency Valley have provided great places for us to walk each day, even when it was rainy and windy. The Brits are tough people who expect the weather we are seeing here. Last weekend was the August Bank Holiday, a 3-day weekend on the 4th Monday of August (close to the Labor Day Weekend in the States—a last holiday weekend to end the summer tourist season) just before local schools resume classes for the winter.

This is the harbor lookout, still staffed today.  Here a boat in distress can be spotted and rescue vessels sent out to help.

So far, we have enjoyed such spectacular views of the coast and the green hills and ancient villages on this trip. Tuesday we drove 4 miles to the next seaside village, Tintagel, to explore the Tintagel Post Office, a 6th century building that has been used in many different ways over the centuries, from great hall to family home to post office.

The garden behind the old post office is very nice.

Today it is one of the historical properties cared for by the National Trust. We also walked around the ruins of a 13th century castle built by a prominent nobleman on the reported place where King Arthur once lived. We had been seeing references to Arthur throughout the area and his memory is memorialized everywhere in Tintagel. We never saw any evidence of his knights or the round table, but children can buy knight's helmets and Excalibur swords. There is evidence of occupation of the headland, where the castle ruins are found, since the 600s.

Getting to the castle involves going up and down a whole lot of steps.  I guess it would have given the early castle-dwellers time to prepare their defenses.

Both Tintagel and Boscastle are impressively full of tourists. If you know Colorado, think of the summer crowds in Estes Park or Grand Lake. Parking is difficult to find and you have to use the sidewalks with care because of the crowds.

At Boscastle we have walked all over the area, including to 2 small churches hidden in the woods but still with small congregations.

First we hiked to the Minster church.

Another day we checked out the Forrabury Church.

You can see how moss has grown on these old gravestones.

While hiking we also saw stunning harbor views, woodland trails and views of the Forrabury Stitches. The what? You read it correctly. They are strip fields, a rare survivor of the stitchmeal system once widespread in the county. The open fields of the stitches were farmed under common ownership until at least the 17th century. By 1844 they were held by 14 separate owners. Over the last few centuries there was a flurry of enclosing agricultural land with hedges and walls, as we have seen during our travels in England. The open field farming of the stitches is quite different. Between 1955 and 2000 the National Trust received ownership of the stitches. Wednesday we walked across one of them.

We found some interesting stiles to get from one field to another.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018


When I saw that there was a National Trust cottage in Wales that was kind of/sort of on our way from our cottage apartment in the Temple Sowerby Manor to the north and the southern part of England, I quickly decided a 3-night stop in Snowdonia National Park in Wales would be a good idea. We had never been in Wales. I knew virtually nothing about it except people there speak another language and have a different kind of English accent.

Wales is stunningly beautiful! There is water everywhere, flowing in rivers, cascading down hillsides, falling from the sky and filling the air in the form of high humidity. In fact, it misted and rained the whole first day we were here. The second day had some decided sunny breaks (a weather term we learned while volunteering near Astoria, Oregon, near the Pacific Coast).

This was our misty view the first morning.

There were Highland cattle outside the cottage one day.

During our hike that Thursday, we saw an incredibly green landscape: shamrocks, ivy, moss-covered ground, trees and stone walls. It is so different from the saguaro desert landscape of southern Arizona, and even from the plains and mountains of Colorado.

I hadn't realized that the Welsh language is Celtic, like the Scots or Irish Gaelic. Everything is so green we had a feeling a leprechaun might peek out from behind a tree. We were only 10 miles from the coast of the Irish Sea at Barmouth where Ireland isn't far away on the other side of the Irish Sea.

Friday, we drove to the nearby town of Dolgellau, an old market town with more than 200 buildings on the list of historic structures, the largest concentration of such buildings in Wales. The town center is full of narrow and twisting lanes, lined with very old buildings. We loved it! The town was a regional center for the Wales wool industry. Later, it became a tourist center when the Wales wild landscape became a favorite for genteel travelers. And the Eurospar grocery store was the best we have seen so far in the United Kingdom.

I had to take a picture of the Robinsons pup in town since that was my maiden name.

This is St. Mary's Church in Dolgellau.

Nant Las, our small cottage was built in the 1800s as an observatory on the Dolmelyllyn Estate along the River Gamlan. The beautiful Black Falls are one of the most scenic spots in the estate and an easy walk from the quirky little cabin. Containing only 4 steps inside—nothing compared to the Back to Back cottage or Widdop Gate Barn—Nant Las has 4 rooms, built in a straight line: sitting and dining room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom.

This is a view of the estate home.

And the exterior of our little cottage.

There is so much to see in Snowdonia National Park, enough to keep up busy for at least 2 weeks. But we are ready to move on to a new cottage. With each move we have to learn how new kitchen equipment, heating systems and plumbing work. We are shopping in new grocery stores and I am cooking without recipes or any spices or herbs except salt and pepper and fines herbs. Especially at our age, this is draining—really hard work.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Romans in the Cotswolds

Like me, I'm sure you learned in grade school about long ago events:

"Columbus sailed the ocean blue
In fourteen hundred ninety-two;"

the Pilgrims sailed on the Mayflower to America in 1620 and celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621.

The Cotswolds history makes all that look like recent events. Not only were the first colleges at Oxford, University, Balliol and Merton, built in the 1200s, the Romans had a fort in Cirencester from about 41 BC to 400 AD. Monday we spent time in Oxford, appreciating the medieval buildings, narrow streets and nice shops.

Tuesday we explored Cirencester and the Corinium Museum, dedicated to the Roman past there—amazing. Several years ago, we spent three years volunteering at Casa Grande Ruins in Coolidge, Arizona. That structure, as well as Mesa Verde outside Cortez, Colorado, illustrate our American ancient history—occupied between about 700 and 1300 AD. Like I said, recent events compared to the Roman fort.

We spent quite a bit of time in the Corinium—our ticket was good for the entire day and it would have taken many more hours to see all there was to see and read than we had to spend there. We learned about the Roman soldier's life. Members of the Roman Legion were well paid and their term of service was 25 years. They were housed in barracks of 3 men to a room. If a member was injured during that term of service and could no longer serve, there was some financial provision for his family.

The Romans had established life around towns and cities and they brought that lifestyle to Britain (and possibly Gaul) during their occupation here. Their architecture was advanced—they even had heated floors in their homes. A fire was built in a fireplace on the lower level. Columns were built to support the upper floor and ducts installed in the walls to carry heat to the upper floor. The fine homes had intricate mosaics on the floors. Several of those were found in Cirencester and were reassembled in the museum.

The built enclosed garden areas in their homes.

This is a section of ancient mosaic floor.

This model shows how the floors were heated in the houses.

Jewelry, tools, locks, items of board games all have been discovered. The Romans were skilled goldsmiths and metal workers.

We saw gravestones for the graves of some Roman officers and learned that first the used cremation after death and later changed to earth burial. The cemeteries were outside the walls of the fort.
Cirencester has a very large cemetery in use today at the location of the Roman burial grounds.

There was information about the religious practice of the Romans and of the Celts, one of the local populations conquered by the legions. We saw images from the Celtic temples as well as the Roman religious places. There was also a coliseum there, also. It could hold the entire population of Corinium—Romans, locals and slaves—for events such as gladiator battles.

On an earlier trip to England I was impressed when we saw a Roman lighthouse near Dover and The floor of St. Augustine's chapel next to Westminster Abbey. It is exciting to find evidence of the lives of these long ago people..

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