Saturday, July 05, 2014


I was set to go to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne today. It is, perhaps, the most renowned sight within a short distance of Berwick-upon-Tweed. You can only reach it at low tide. It's evocative, historically fascinating (described as the epicenter of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon times), with ruins of an abbey, of a castle and, too, since it juts out into the sea (not too far from the Farne Islands) it is a great place for bird watching.

After breakfast -- well, let's pause at the Granary breakfast, because it deserves a grateful nod of recognition. Today: a fruit plate with yogurt, though not just a fruit plate, this plate:


...followed by eggs benedict on smoked trout (I asked for just one, please):


...and because it's me, loving local honeys everywhere, ending with toast and a very local very wonderful honey on toast:


So, after this exceptional breakfast, I have an hour or so to kill before the one (and only one) bus per week takes off toward the Holy Island. I use that time to do more browsing and poking in my neighborhood. At the antique store across the street:


...and, too, I return to Jones and Jones, the store of fine English gifts and sundry items...


...this time meeting the delightful Mrs. Jones. I have one more gift purchase to make and as we chat, she looks at my attire (which happens to be composed of a gift from one daughter on the bottom and a gift from the other one on the top) and says -- you're a Tour de France fan? (Disclosure: the gifted shirt has bicycles on it. Coincidence!)

That, for me, is a complicated question. I love tuning into the race when chance permits, possibly for the scenery as much as for the race -- I don't really track who is who and I don't really care who wins. Ed and I used to watch it somewhat compulsively the one year I had cable TV. But, we don't have cable and typically I travel during some part of it and so I've lost my curiosity.

I answer truthfully that I love France, but I'm in the UK now so my attentions are elsewhere.

Oh, but it starts today and its start is in England this year! -- Mrs Jones tells me. Here, let's look...


...they're in Harrogate today and tomorrow they're starting in York. It's actually rather charming: the villagers have knitted yellow jerseys for the children and painted bicycles yellow -- there is a lot of excitement about it!
I tell her -- I'm rather set with a schedule and leaving tomorrow... Had I known... Though of course, York would be filled to capacity right now -- not a good time to stay overnight!
You know there are easy and fast train connections there from here...

And that is how I end up with an afternoon in York: a chance pulling out of a t-shirt to wear, and now here I am. It was a tough call, but I felt I had paid my respects to the islands, the birds, the coastal waters. And I had read so much about Holy Island that, as Dave, my Guest House host put it: you've been there and back through the literature.

I'd been to York too, in real time, a long, long while ago. Pregnant with one girl, traveling with the other who was then barely three and her dad, we had booked a dinner in town at a modest but recommended eating establishment. What stayed with me from York was not the beauty of the city but the fact that at dinner, upon seeing us with a three year old (regardless of how good the three year old was in her behavior), an older couple felt compelled to come over and tell us -- people should leave their children at home where they belong in the evenings. The restaurant proprietors were properly horrified and apologized to us profusely, showering my little girl with little treats and smiles so that we would forget the exchange. But I didn't forget. It is what I remember about York, even now, exactly 30 years later.

Time to give the city another chance. (And, too, a chance to point my camera during this trip away from landscape and more at people and their habits. Like this Berwickian teen, waiting for a train.)


So first, the journey. Though we're crossing a great chunk of the country, it's only a 1.75 hour ride. As the train heads south along the coast, I am able to see the Holy Island castle in the distance. Here it is -- shrouded in a misty rain which some would say only adds mystery to the setting, but I will tell you that after a half wet hike yesterday, I'm happy to leave the rains behind me. And Yorkshire is said to bask in warmth and partly cloudy skies today.


Alright,  I am in York. This is going to be the last city that I'll visit on this European trip (until my final night on the continent in mid July) and so I want to give it my full (if brief) attention.

For the visitor, there's much to admire. Medieval walls set on high ramparts enclosing the city center. York Minster -- the largest Gothic cathedral in all of northern Europe; Snickleways -- the narrow pedestrian routes, and the Shambles -- a medieval street that presents a lovely stroll today. In the recent past, York was known for chocolate manufacturing and it still is the headquarters for Nestles York (the Kit-Kat!) even as the much loved Terry's Chocolate Factory (makers of the Chocolate Orange) has moved production to... Poland!

But let's face it, today the draw is the Tour de France and York is ready, proclaiming itself to host, in anticipation, England's biggest urban festival of 2014.

I have some trepidation in choosing this day to visit, the day before the Tour de France zips through -- as Dave, my host said, the first time and the only time it will ever pass through York -- and placing myself in the thick of chaos. I like celebratory airs, though perhaps the celebratory enthusiasm here on the day before is more of an excuse to party rather than a true hoorah for the sport.

Here's one of a group of York bound women on the train ready to set the town (and themselves?) on fire.


I get off to a very carefully cordoned off train station. There are plenty of police, of course.  And in town, there is yellow. A lot of yellow (for you Tour novices -- it is the color of the winning jersey).


The city is packed with joviality and I can't really tell if it's because of the Tour, or the brilliant sunshine (sorry to have abandoned you today, Berwick-upon-Tweed, but the weather here really is better), or summer vacation, or the weekend, or all the above, but there are a lot of people pouring into town. And I'm one of them.

I'll post a few photos of street scenes. None of them will be good. I was unwilling to stand and wait until a decent moment came to pass, photographically speaking. But you'll get an idea of the city, the festivities and the chaos.






(With a few more touristy shots of the York Minster, though only partial ones as I did not want to pay the ten pounds to gain full access to it.)




And there were some really stellar moments for me. Walking on the elevated medieval wall. Special. And quiet.


Looking (down from the ramparts) into the gardens that I really hadn't seen yet in England this time around. The precursors to my own love of gardening.


Watching for a little bit the first day of the race on a big screen in the city's center and hearing the proud English commenter saying -- and now they are passing close to an abbey and isn't it magnificent -- you see, it's not only the French who have their great chateaus in the Loire valley that lend themselves to Tour de France filming! We have plenty to be proud of! The dear, dear English, forever defending their own.


And finally, choosing to celebrate the Tour by passing on the tea and scone ritual and instead, sitting in a quiet cafe which calls itself Patisserie Valerie (so French!) and ordering a solidly good cappuccino and raspberry tart. International of me, isn't it?


Yes, I'm glad I came. Sometimes you need a little crazy to set yourself up for a week of solitude. I have that ahead of me. Tomorrow I leave Berwick and head even more north.

Evening. On the train back to Berwick-upon-Tweed I read a magazine I picked up at the news agent's: there is a point/counterpoint on the possibility of Scotland voting to leave the UK -- one writer stating the position that it would be a disaster and the UK would lose international stature, to say nothing of a seat at the UN Security Council, the other side arguing that it would be good riddance to the welfare chislers who send too many Labour MPs to London anyway and it's high time the UK regrouped and moved on.

I put the magazine down for a while and listen to the exchanges between mother and daughters across the aisle -- hers are maybe fifteen years younger than mine and I smile at the recollection of the time when mine were of that yoke...


I take a commemorative selfie (you know, for the bicycles)...


...and I lean back and look out the window.

The train pulls in onto that bridge over the Tweed and maybe Dave and Pam are out on the ramparts now, as is their habit and maybe they pause to watch? From my vantage point, the view toward the mouth of the river is compelling. I notice the clouds here, up north, have thinned out a bit.


But as I get off the train, I feel it to be ten degrees cooler.

I go down toward the river. From here, the rail bridge is even more imposing. I smile as I watch another train shoot across, this one in the direction of London.


The walk back to my neighborhood is along the river and I listen to the screech of the gulls. I learned from my hosts that the gulls aren't here year round. A handful stay for a winter scavenger hunt, but most leave for better food sourcing. The residents have a welcome break from their noise and droppings! In the States, I assumed gulls never went away from the coastal towns. Am I wrong?

I stop for dinner at Audela's. Did you doubt it? I liked it the first day and, too, yesterday, and so it surely has to be my last dinner here. I break from the incessant seafood eating and order something I rarely pick -- braised lamb. Scottish Borders lamb, over cabbage and potatoes. Not attractive to photograph, but so delicious to eat!


Yes, for one last night, I'm in England. Or, as I indicated yesterday, suspended somewhere between England and Scotland, loving the uniqueness of this and of my Berwickian home base, one that I'll long remember for many reasons, not the least being the wonderful people who helped me along on each bit of my journey through here.