Day 29 26-05-2014 Mon Chester

Today in the Wirral should have been a lighter day, but it turned out to be a packed affair after all. We started by retracing yesterday’s route to Birkenhead. We only looked at what we thought was the centre – Hamilton Square. While it was an attractive place it was totally devoid of human life – you could have shot a cannon ball down the streets surrounding the square.

IMG_4675 IMG_4678 IMG_4680 IMG_4683 IMG_4686 IMG_4687 IMG_4690We passed through Wallasey on the way to New Brighton, both of which we had seen from yesterday’s ferry cruise. NB was built as, and still is, a tourist destination with plenty of entertainment options along the riverfront.

IMG_4693 IMG_4697 IMG_4698 IMG_4699 IMG_4700After a walk around the harbour, we soon moved on because it was not that appealing to us. We followed the coast in a westerly direction, through Hoylake and West Kirby. WK was a very attractive place with a “lake”. When we reached it we could see what appeared to be people walking on water. The “lake” is formed by a long low seawall that people can stroll along when the tide is favourable. This is in the River Dee estuary. We learned yesterday that Liverpool can experience 30 ft tides in spring.

IMG_4704_crNext stop was at Thurstaston Common, a hill with a sweeping view over the Dee.

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We stopped in Heswall to get a feel for Andy’s home town – it seemed very pleasant. We enjoyed our favourite Costa flat white coffee sitting under a large beech tree outside.

IMG_4714 IMG_4715 IMG_4716 IMG_4717What Joan had been most keen to see however, was Port Sunlight, a model village created by William Hesketh Lever, later first Viscount Leverhulme, in 1889 for his workers at the nearby Sunlight Soap factory. He and his wife spent much of their fortune acquiring art works which they displayed for the benefit of the workers in a purpose-built museum in the village. We spent a most enjoyable time perusing some of the 20,000 pieces they collected. The village featured attractive houses along wide streets.

IMG_4719 IMG_4722 IMG_4723 IMG_4724 IMG_4860IMG_0619 IMG_0620_cr IMG_0621 IMG_0622 IMG_0623_cr IMG_0627IMG_4725 IMG_4726 IMG_4729 IMG_4730_cr IMG_4732_cr IMG_4734_cr IMG_4744IMG_4746 IMG_4747 IMG_4751 IMG_4753 IMG_4755 IMG_4759 IMG_4760IMG_4762 IMG_4764 IMG_4768 IMG_4770 IMG_4771 IMG_4774 IMG_4776IMG_4779 IMG_4781 IMG_4786 IMG_4787 IMG_4794 IMG_4795 IMG_4799IMG_4808 IMG_4809 IMG_4810 IMG_4811 IMG_4830 IMG_4832 IMG_4838Back in Chester, we mounted an assault on the city wall dating from the Roman era, walking along about a quarter of it. The bridge with the clock we had seen yesterday actually sits atop the wall and this location affords a splendid view of the main street with its beautiful houses.

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We visited the cathedral, which like its Liverpool cousin was built of the local reddish stone, probably a form of sandstone. While it had many colourful Victorian windows, they were a little too religiously-themed for my taste.

IMG_0636 IMG_0642 IMG_0652 IMG_4878 IMG_4883 IMG_4884IMG_4886 IMG_4887 IMG_4890 IMG_4891 IMG_4892 IMG_4898 IMG_4904IMG_4905 IMG_4909 IMG_4915 IMG_4924 IMG_4926 IMG_4932 IMG_4933 IMG_4935 IMG_4944At the southern end of town was the actual River Dee, whereas what passes by our Mill Hotel is but a small canal. We watched the seagulls drifting onto the weir and then flying off, and rowers placing their shells in the water and stroking off upstream.

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Here we had to repair to a local pub adjacent to the wall in a building dating from medieval times for a refreshing ale – the Bear and Billet. I was tempted by the special offer of 3 x 1/3 (pint) tasting palette of real ales. I found that I enjoyed the bitter the most. The attire of the male patrons in the pub confirmed our previous observation that every male between 8 and 80 almost exclusively favours blue jeans. We also observed that these do not look good on most blokes over the age of 40.

IMG_4980  On the way back we passed through the delightful Grosvenor Park with profuse rhododendron blooms.

IMG_4999 IMG_5002 IMG_5011 IMG_5016Near the hotel we were lucky to discover a Thai restaurant, where we had an enjoyable meal over a nice bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. We were somewhat perturbed by one of its ingredients though.

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A weather observation: it had been mostly sunny all day, but after our visit to Chester cathedral, the sun disappeared. However, after our visit to the pub the sun re-appeared. Is there a message there?

Day 28 25-05-2014 Sun Chester

Another great day. Contrary to weather expectations, it was fine for our drive up the Wirral Peninsula to Birkenhead and Liverpool. We had intended to take the “Ferry cross the Mersey”, as per the well-known 1965 hit song by Gerry and the Pacemakers. Bit of trivia: in 1976 I worked at NCR with a chap from Liverpool – Les Chadwick. He had been a member of the band. Watch a video of it: http://youtu.be/-GWoV4r67h0. More trivia: The song is often misspelled as “Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey”, but according to the song’s lyrics, the track is correctly titled “Ferry Cross the Mersey”. “Cross” is not a contraction of “Across” but an imperative – “Ferry, cross The Mersey.”

The drive from Chester was quick and easy along a flat meandering motorway. We had a good feeling entering Birkenhead on the main road into town – wide and with nice houses along the way. On arriving at the intended ferry dock we learned that it only ran Mon-Fri – bad luck. However it did allow us to get our first good glimpse across the River Mersey (actually more of an inlet) to the main harbour/docks area on the Liverpool side. We were astounded to hear very loud music reaching us over the water from that general area, a distance of about a mile.

No ferry, so plan B was to take the Queensway/Birkenhead Tunnel under the Mersey over to Liverpool. We were thinking of you all the way, Andy. For non-Sydneysiders, our good friend Andy helped to build a tunnel here, but we think it was the Kingsway Tunnel.

After dropping the car and armed with directions from the super-helpful car park attendants we set off for the Albert Dock. After only a few minutes we could already hear the same loud music as from the other side. Next we saw runners coursing through the streets. We later learned that this was the inaugural Rock & Roll Liverpool Marathon. That probably accounts for the music emanating from the Arena adjacent to the Albert Dock.

What struck us immediately about Liverpool was how wide the streets were, and how many attractive buildings it had. It must have been a very prosperous city at one time.

IMG_4435IMG_4443IMG_4444IMG_4450IMG_4475IMG_4429IMG_4476 IMG_4487 IMG_4490 IMG_4498 IMG_4519 IMG_4566 IMG_4604IMG_4636 IMG_4638 IMG_4639 IMG_4643 IMG_4657 IMG_4658 IMG_4668The most famous and impressive buildings are adjacent to each other just off the waterfront. These are: the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building, and the Liverpool Ports Building, collectively known as the Three Graces. The Liver building looks like it has a castle built on top of it, with a huge bird atop each of its towers. There is a story about these birds which we didn’t quite catch, but they were originally intended to be eagles. The Ports building has what looks like a lighthouse in each corner and a huge copper done in the middle. In the bouts of bright sunlight these buildings make a fantastic impression – I was enchanted.

IMG_4436IMG_0605 IMG_0606 IMG_4580IMG_4502 IMG_4505IMG_4507 IMG_4508 IMG_4576 IMG_4583 IMG_4586To our relief, there was a one hour ferry cruise, which we took and really enjoyed because of the mainly sunny conditions. The tourist commentary was most informative. We had lunch on the terrace of the ferry terminal building, with just the best view of the Three Graces.

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IMG_4522 IMG_4528 IMG_4559The harbour area impressively has a number of free museums in the Albert Dock area. We visited the International Slavery Museum – an eye-opening experience, but also quite depressing. To Canada’s credit it was the first country (well, colony) in the British Empire to outlaw slavery – in 1793.

Albert docks city view IMG_4449 IMG_4451 IMG_4454 IMG_4461 IMG_4601 IMG_4634IMG_4613 IMG_4614 IMG_4615 IMG_4616 IMG_4617 IMG_4618 IMG_4619 IMG_4622 IMG_4624 IMG_4629We next had a longish walk to the Anglican Cathedral; a very large building constructed using a reddish stone quarried right next door. It’s not old, but we couldn’t find a definitive date – possibly 20th century. When we arrived at 3pm an evensong session had just started so we sat down on chairs to the rear of the church and listened to the service. Although it was big, we didn’t find the cathedral that interesting. On exiting we found that it was raining.

IMG_4642 IMG_4649 IMG_4650 IMG_4654 IMG_4656Our next destination was the Philharmonic Pub, a fine listed building opposite the Philharmonia concert hall. This is an elegant pub and it is known for its fine gentlemen’s loo. We learned all this from the Lonely Planet. We did have a beer here and I did visit the loo. We also chatted to a local couple, who, while living in the city had only ever been to this pub once, several months earlier. They were there today as part of their 30th wedding anniversary and they were staying at a nearby hotel. Their daughter is currently travelling in Australia. It’s a small world. After exiting the cathedral we had also chatted to a local man whose daughter lived in Sydney. On the ferry cruise we had learned that between 1830 and 1930 nine million people departed British shores for the new world from Liverpool.

IMG_4667 20140525_170100 IMG_4664 IMG_4666On the way back to the car we walked down Hardman St which consisted of a continuous string of fast food outlets. A little further on we encountered a hen party dressed in tight pink and black with the name of the bride emblazoned on their T-shirts. Their leader carried a large pink inflatable male member – hilarious. This reinforced our experience in Chester of numerous women in groups out on the town. Perhaps this also goes on in Sydney but we have never seen it.

We had a long walk back to the car park. Along the way we passed by the cultural district which included quite a number of impressive buildings. We were sorry that we did not have more time and better conditions to appreciate them.

Despite the late rain, Liverpool exceeded our expectations and we fully enjoyed our day here. Recommended.

Day 27 24-05-2014 Sat Chester

Today we left the beautiful rolling dales of the Cotswolds behind, heading through much flatter terrain northwest to the Roman/medieval walled city of Chester. We had driven through it in haste 28 years ago but were intrigued by the black and white half-timbered medieval houses.

We were underway most of the day, mainly on slower secondary roads but also a good stint on the motorway. The latter was particularly unpleasant because of the fine spray swirled up by the vehicles ahead. I should mention that it rained all day. It seemed to me the motorway road surface (a type of blue metal, common here) was a major contributor to this hazard.

We had wanted to have a brief stop in Stratford-upon-Avon, but this being a(nother!) bank holiday weekend, traffic was extremely heavy and parking a challenge. What we did see while crawling through seemed quite attractive, so we’ve filed that away for a possible future visit.

We thus had only one tourist stop, at Ironbridge in the heart of the area in which the industrial revolution began. Ironbridge is famous for its iron bridge – the first one ever built – in 1779. It spans a gorge on the Severn River.

We had parked the car near the river and crossed the bridge on foot. As we were descending some steps on the other side, disaster! I heard a scream and turned around to see Joan flat on her backside. She was in some pain, having twisted her ankle on the uneven brick steps, causing her to fall. A passing gentleman helped me bring her back to her feet. It seemed as though she could no longer walk, the discomfort was so great. We hobbled into a nearby café to rest the foot and have lunch. Fortunately nothing seems to have been broken, as she was able to walk slowly back to the car.

IMG_4341 IMG_4348 IMG_4353 IMG_4357 IMG_4358On arrival in Chester, we were in need of a rest break. When we awoke over two hours later, the rain had stopped, and Joan’s ankle, once wrapped in an elastic bandage, seemed capable of a stroll around town. Our hotel is several hundred metres outside the walled centre, but it went well at a slow pace. The walls incidentally are Roman and some sections are in pretty good nick. The legionnaires did a good job back then (1st century AD).

We saw many of the black and white buildings that had so caught our fancy last time. I took some photos, but most are in shadow, so not up to our usual standards for inclusion in the blog. We have to hope that we get some sun on the day we have actually allocated for sightseeing here.

IMG_4374 IMG_4376 IMG_4379 IMG_4387 IMG_4389 IMG_4396 IMG_4400 IMG_4407 IMG_4416 IMG_4418As we walked around town, we were struck by the large number of dolled-up women out on the town. Every fourth building in the centre appeared to be a nightclub, complete with bouncer(s) outside. The Mill Hotel, where we are staying, was constructed as a corn mill in 1830. Maybe because of the bank holiday, the hotel is full of people having a good time. This is the liveliest place we have been to in England so far, and the vibe here is completely different from the more sedate south.

Day 26 23-05-2014 Fri Shipton-under-Wychwood

What an interesting day spent at Blenheim Palace, Queen Anne’s reward to the (1st) Duke of Marlborough for defeating the French in the war of the Spanish succession in the very early 18th century. It consisted of much land plus the cash to begin building an imposing palace. Later dukes employed Capability Brown to create a magnificently-landscaped parkland. A thousand workers were employed for a number of years in this endeavour.

After grumbling about the £34 admission fee for two, we were gobsmacked by the initial view of the palace, bridge and lake, but we couldn’t stop because we had to proceed to the (muddy) parking lot.

Blenheim grounds pano Blenheim grounds LAKE panoIMG_4327 IMG_4218 IMG_4258 IMG_4276 IMG_4277 IMG_4285 IMG_4297 IMG_4304Palace is very imposing. You are first lead through a huge gate to a courtyard which you think is the palace, but it is only after passing through a second huge archway that you see the even bigger main palace – cleverly done to impress. The palace is set in vast grounds of beautiful lawn.

Blenheim Palace panoIMG_4086 IMG_4091 Unfortunately there are also huge droppings – 4” x ¾” littered everywhere on the grass in the areas adjacent to the lakes – geese or swans we think.

IMG_4252 IMG_4293The admission entitled us to a guided tour of part of the lower floor. This was mostly an account of the glorious military successes of the first duke. He commissioned ten huge tapestries to commemorate these victories. The greatest battle took place at Blindheim (literally, blind home) in Bavaria. Blenheim is derived from this name.

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Queen Anne
Queen Anne
Diana look-alike
Diana look-alike

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Joan and the organist sharing a laugh
Joan and the organist sharing a laugh

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The family

Henrietta IMG_4120 IMG_4127 IMG_4140_cr IMG_4279 IMG_4280During the tour we also learned about the derivation of honi soit qui mal y pense. Apparently a lady at the court of King Charles (not sure if I or II) had her garter drop to the ground. The king gallantly scooped it up, and to save the lady embarrassment at this clothing malfunction, he wore the garter himself. Lest anyone attribute a base motive to this act (perish the thought), he coined the famous phrase which is now one of the royal mottos. In addition he founded the Order of the Garter. Not everything I have written here may be accurate – it’s what I can remember while preoccupied with photography.

The most interesting and impressive room was the library. It was most surprising to see an organ at one end of this long room. There was even a man playing there for each successive wave of guided tour groups. He gave a detailed account of how the organ worked, demonstrating each aspect as he went. Even a musical ignoramus like me couldn’t help but be impressed. And most importantly, Joan was chosen to play this palace organ, albeit only one note.

On the upper floor was the Untold Story, a display through a sequence of rooms featuring animatronic models, videos and moving holograms(!) telling the family story. It was very well done.

In a separate building was a display about Winston Churchill’s life.

IMG_4111 IMG_4105 IMG_4106 IMG_4107 IMG_4108 IMG_4109 IMG_4110IMG_4112 IMG_4113 IMG_4114 IMG_4116 IMG_4117 IMG_4219 IMG_4220IMG_4221 IMG_4222 IMG_4226Subsequently we viewed the beautiful terrace garden and then went back to the gatehouse to get some photos of the initial impressive vista, but by this time it was drizzling so we had to repair back to the palace for a rejuvenating coffee.

As I mentioned, the grounds are vast and at some distance from the palace is a memorial column dedicated to the first duke. We wanted to go there to see it, by passing over the large bridge. The road then forked with branches going on either side of the rise on which stood the monument. We assumed that either would take us to the monument. We took the left branch, but when this didn’t seem to work out we were forced to cross the wet grass of the meadow on which it stood. There were no other people about to give us confidence or guidance, only copious sheep poo. The monument has the most extensive inscription detailing the land grant we have ever seen, giving the impression that they were keen to justify their acquisition.

It was a long walk back to the car park, accompanied by light rain, but we didn’t mind.

Weather: 9℃ to 10℃ all day, with intermittent rain periods.

Day 25 22-05-2014 Thu Shipton-under-Wychwood

Today we explored the Cotswolds, an area designated as of “outstanding natural beauty”. We couldn’t disagree. Our tour consisted of a loop through Bourton-on-the-Water, Upper- and Lower-Slaughter, Lower Swell, Snowhill, Broadway, Broadway Tower, Moreton-in-the-Marsh, and Stow-on-the-Wold. It was mostly overcast and we had short light rain periods during the day, and even hail but we weren’t impeded that much.

Bourton-on-the-Water

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Lower Swell

IMG_4038 IMG_4034Broadway Tower is situated on the edge of a plateau at about 300m elevation (high for these parts), featuring sweeping views of the valley below. We didn’t go in the tower (no point) but did venture into the adjacent NT-listed Clump Farm which featured a buttercup-littered grass path through a sinuous depression in the hillside – just magic!

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All these places are picturesque villages of mostly honey-coloured Cotswold stone. We enjoyed our leisurely strolls around them. We walked a loop trail from Upper Slaughter to Lower Slaughter and back – just superb.

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IMG_3978IMG_4013 IMG_3986 IMG_3995 IMG_3996 IMG_4002 IMG_4004 IMG_4007IMG_4026 IMG_4014 IMG_4016_cr IMG_4025Our last stop was in Stow, where we wanted to see if our memory of our stay 28 years ago would allow us to identify the hotel we had stayed in. We think so, but had to ask the host at our cream tea parlour.

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