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U.K. Travel Diary – Day 5

May 8, 2011

under Victoria's Clock Tower in Chester, England

Stopped by to have a look around the walled town of Chester, England, which is where we stayed the night after hopping back across the border.  It was originally a Norman city built on top of an earlier Roman settlement. 

City center in Chester

The remains of a Roman garde and a small ampitheatre have been excavated inside the city, and amidst the timbered black and white buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries you can see relics of this lost settlement.  The cathedral the town is known for is Norman, dating from earlier times than Salisbury, with a square bell tower instead of a spire. 

You can climb on top of the old city walls and walk over the bustling streets below.  We stopped under the famous clock tower, which was built and dedicated to Queen Victoria in 1897 to celebrate her Jubilee.  On the whole, Chester is a pretty and charming town with kind and generous locals.

We next traveled the motorway up the western coast to the Lake District, which is simply breathtaking.  It is no wonder so many great authors and poets called this area home.  There are hills with wooly sheep and plenty of adorable lambs.

Grasmere, outside the churchyard where Wordsworth is buried

  The hedgerows and stone walls amble impossibly up the highest hills I’ve ever seen.  I can’t imagine why they were built as they wouldn’t keep in livestock and serve no real purpose. 

As you wind your way through stone-walled roadways and narrow bridges, you reach the town of Grasmere, which the great Romantic-era poet William Wordsworth called home.  We ate lunch at the Cumbria Cafe, then wandered (not lonely as a cloud, but happy as clams) to Wordsworth’s grave in the local parish church.  The Lake District was also home to Beatrix Potter, who retired to neighboring Hill Top Farm with her husband.

The Olde Blacksmith's Shop - Gretna Green, Scotland

Next, off to the border and to Gretna Green, where in the late 18th and very early 19th centuries, young couples would come to elope (until Scottish laws changed this practice).  They would be married by the local blacksmith on the town green.  Gretna Green today is a bustling tourist trap complete with overpriced shops, coffee, and your choice of tacky regalia including a Princess Di inspired pink tartan). 

Close your eyes, though, and you can imagine it as the long-ago setting of a cheesy romance novel where the dastardly Lord Smelly Stilton of Whinington abducted the poor Lady Matilda of Milksop for her family’s fortune.

It is still a popular site for weddings.  On our short stop, a couple was renewing their vows in front of the Olde Blacksmith’s Shoppe, which has stood on the same site since the 1700s.

We next traveled across the gorgeous Scottish hills of the Lowlands up to Edinburgh.  I don’t

view of Edinburgh from our hotel window

think I spoke a word the entire time because the scenery was so entrancing.  I wish we had been there later in the spring, when purple heather covers everything in sight. 

When we pulled into Edinburgh just before nightfall, the city was enveloped in a fog so thick you couldn’t see the car in front of you.  Because of its proximity to the North Sea, Edinburgh has many such nights and mornings. 

Our hotel was right off Prince’s Street, the gateway into the “New Town”, which was built to ease the pollution and population woes of the “Old Town”.  We had the most incredible view from our room of Edinburgh Castle, all lit up on top of the volcanic rock.  The city itself is just gorgeous.  It by far trumps London as far as aesthetic beauty is concerned.  It is a city devoted to language, art and literature, which made me feel right at home.  Directly below our window was the Sir Walter Scott monument, the panoramic spire dedicated to Scotland’s greatest writer of historical fiction.

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