Wednesday, July 02, 2014

from Pooley Bridge to Berwick-upon-Tweed

 Pooley Bridge

My last breakfast at the Ullswater House is again delightfully bright, with a hint of sunshine.


Looking at my plate of eggs and salmon, my yogurt with fruit, my toast, neatly positioned on one of those British toast racks which make no sense at all and do not work back home (I bought one thirty years ago and quickly put it away for good) -- I thought about how pleasantly predictable breakfast here has been. David cooks eggs to your liking, Angela brings out the food and chats with the guests.

Not surprisingly, most of the guests are my age. Sometimes, like this past weekend when Pooley Bridge hosted a triatholon, the demographic shifts, but it's back to grandmas and grandpas now.

This morning the other three couples are all Australian. Remarkable how far Australians travel for their vacation! It's a 23 hour trip and still these people come to Europe every year. They talk about otherwise feeling themselves to be too isolated. Somehow this fear isn't shared by my country men and women, many of whom tell me that an ocean is a great impediment to venturing out into the world. Is there such a thing as a cultural predisposition? No, more likely it's that our American vacations are so short and precious and there is family to visit and much to do in your own back yard. Giving up two vacation days just to fly would seem a waste if you only get ten such days per year.

The grandparents of Australia talk about involvement with their grandkids. They all help out to some extent, though their daughters -- mothers of these children -- all had 12 month maternity leaves after birth and guaranteed professional reinstatement. They were shocked, shocked that America does not offer the same. Sigh...

After breakfast I take a last walk down to the lake. It's windy today and there is a haze in the sky that was missing the entire time I was here.


Yes, it is time to move on. You can fault me for planning my stays and travels so far in advance, but you should know that unlike many who research places they will visit, I do none of it in advance. I pick a spot and then decide once there what degree of adventuring I am up for, or how slow my pace should be that day. It really doesn't matter what I do once I arrive. I take in whatever is offered.

I feel like I took in Pooley Bridge in a modest but satisfying way. I'm ready for the next place.

David (my host) drives me to Penrith and I ask him then about his and Angela's vacation. They're taking off for five or six weeks in October, driving their small caravan to Spain (the caravan is large enough to have all the conveniences, but small enough to fit in a parking space, so they don't need a campground). Now that is total flexibility! It takes them many weeks to reach Spain (they pass quite near to my beloved Sorede!) and many weeks to get back. They take bikes to move around, but, too, he tells me that they love to park their caravan and use public transportation whenever possible. You feel the place far better that way -- he tells me. How well I know this!

The Trains

And now come my train connections: from Penrith to Carlisle, from Carlisle to Newcastle, from Newcastle to Berwick-upon-Tweed. It seems far more complicated than it is. The connecting times are easy, though my last train is terribly late (worrisome for future time-sensitive travels) and so I switch to a different one, borrowing someone's mobile to notify my new hosts, also a David but this time with a Pam, of my new arrival. Still, the views are enjoyable, my stack of reading material even more so and I cannot come up with a single complaint about my travels thus far.


Perhaps I'll use this moment (I write this while on the train) to introduce you to Berwick-upon-Tweed. It's the northernmost English town (just two miles from the border with Scotland) and though you may not think of it as an important player on the global scoreboard of important players (population: 13,265), it was once a royal burgh of Scotland -- fought over violently between the two countries and changing identities from Scottish to English to Scottish, etc. thirteen times before things settled down a bit. It's no wonder that the people here can't quite grasp the concept of being English. I understand about confused national identities,  so I expect to fit right in.

My bed and breakfast (the Granary) is on the exceptionally nice end of the continuum of places I tend to stay in. The reason I can afford it is because way back when I made the reservation the owners must have been of a particularly mellow disposition because they offered me an absolutely superb room at a superb rate (specially priced for someone from cold Wisconsin! -- Pam wrote me), so much so that my Berwick-upon-Tweed stay grew from "just passing through" to four nights. And by the way, like in Keswick, you do not pronounce the "w," so it's Beh-rick, with the upon-Tweed added because it's sounds way more interesting that way but, too, this prevents confusion with that other Berwick in Sussex, England.

(I may never leave this window seat in my room...)

I'm greeted with tea and biscuits...


... and we talk about the various ways one can spend 3.5 days in this pretty town with the three bridges over a river where hundreds of swans hang out.

For additional information as to times and buses and such, I go to the Tourist Office in the center of town...


...and after, I stop at Boots Pharmacy to have a chat with the pharmacist on call. It's fascinating how this is done. You ring a bell and you're buzzed into a tiny room with an open window through which the pharmacist speaks to you. Much like a confessional. I tell her that my knee is bugging me and this is no good for a person who intends to hike to high heaven in the next ten days. She tells me about the various inflammatory triggers and suggests a topical cream which is perfect, as I think the issue isn't severe enough to warrant more draconian interventions. And I trust her completely. Why? Because I notice her name tag. It says : "Agnieszka."

Yes, she's Polish. Completed her pharmacy studies in Poland. In England for five years now. Terrified at first of practicing her skills abroad, but by now ,she's done the leap and she's coasting. And still, she asks about my own (forty years ago!) transition to life in the States. I leave her with only the best message: at some point, your new place does wedge itself into your heart and it becomes home.

I don't do much else today. There is a terrific walk along the ramparts of the city (all those wars called for strong fortifications), but I walk just a small bit of it. Enough to see some of the uniquely Berwick-upon-Tweed offerings:

Those mute swans (they come here by the hundreds; in the photo, their necks are submerged):


The three bridges. (The first, the Old Bridge from 1611; the second, the newest one from 1928; the third, the Royal Border Bridge opened by Queen Victoria in 1850, creating a rail link between London and Edinburgh.)


And a treat: an exhibition of Lowry's work depicting Berwick-upon-Tweed. Perhaps not a household name, still, Lowry was one interesting dude and his works these days can bring millions at auction. (He died in 1976 and I can't say the same appraisal would have been given to his work then). Just so you understand the genius of this man's art form, in 2013 (finally!), the Tate in London devoted a retrospective to Lowry. You know how these famous galleries take a while to let the worth of others sink in.


In the evening, I go to Audela's next door to my Bed and Breakfast. This small, informal place creates a masterful endive salad with stilton and walnuts and the salmon (did I mention that the Tweed is a salmon river?) is wonderful. I'll return to daily pub food next week, but for now, Berwick-upon-Tweed, small town that it is,  offers a delightful reprieve.


I'll sign off with this thought: it's odd how just a few train ridess over a distance of just a few miles gives you an entirely different perspective on the every day. Odd, but wonderful.