Tuesday, September 6, 2016

50th Wedding Anniversary Tour of the British Isles

The Three Tuns, London, UK
 We decided a year ago to celebrate our 50th Wedding Anniversary by going on a tour of The British Isles which was run by Insight Vacations. We bought new wedding rings to celebrate our 50th as well. The second ring on my finger Ed gave me years ago. I still have my original wedding ring but it is getting thinner and thinner and no longer has the elaborate designs it once had! The 9th of August 2016 Edward and I headed for the Ottawa Airport about 18 50 hours for our 20 20 flight to London Heathrow. The temperature was 34 degrees celsius. However we did not let that fool us and packed for cold weather in the British Isles (with a couple of outfits that would be good if it did get warmer! Given that it was a Tuesday evening in Ottawa and after the rush hour we managed the 40 kilometre drive in the usual 25 minutes for that trip. We were checked in quickly as we were really early and then settled into the gate area for our flight. Internet is free in the Ottawa airport and we checked out a few items that we wanted to see in London the short time that we would be there. Ottawa terminal is small but we had good walks the length of the terminal. Boarding began just before 20 00 hours and we left on time headed for London. We understood that we would only receive breakfast on this flight but an hour out we were fed dinner! We ate it anyway but actually had wanted to try to go to sleep right away. I managed about three hours sleep and Ed got less than that. Saw the delimiter just south of Greenland but did not see any of the islands along our way nor did we see the British Isles until we came down through the clouds. Breakfast was about 09 30 hours so our sleep was somewhat curtailed. We arrived on time at 10 40 hours. Total travel distance was 3400 miles. Unfortunately we arrived with a number of other planes and the line through immigration/customs was very very long. Nearly an hour and a half later we emerged and found our Insight driver holding our name and we were off on the first day of our tour. Insight organizes pickups at the airport if you want to do that. This proved to be an interesting ride into London (we usually use the Underground but our suitcases were large this time) and was actually quite quickly accomplished delivering us to the Amba Marble Gate Hotel around 14 00 hours and the hotel quickly checked us in. Insight has a desk onsite at the hotel and we checked in there as well just to see if there was anything that we needed to know. Our usual habit on arrival in London is to have a couple of hours of rest and then go for a walk in London. This time was no exception and by 16 30 we were out on the streets of London having a pleasant walk. London is a really busy city, sidewalks are always busy and of course you must watch for the traffic being on the opposite side of the road to Canada. We decided to just look about the area that we were in which included Hyde Park, Kensington Park and we toured Kensington Palace. We also went into Selfridge's store made famous by the TV series but did not really have a long look there except in the food court. We decided to go to a pub recommended by the Insight representative - The Three Tuns. We had an excellent meal and this is an old pub dating back into the 1700s. Ed had fish and chips and he enjoyed his meal along with a Scottish pale ale, I had macaroni and cheese with cider beer which was excellent.

Meal at the Three Tuns, London, UK
The next morning our Insight tour began with a tour of the old City of London and Westminster. We have done this tour a couple of times but the repeat is actually always nice just to remind us of the layout of the old cities. Included in that was stopping at Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard. We have seen this a number of times but it is always exciting to view it one more time. We had decided to tour Buckingham Palace since it was available in this time frame and moved quickly to the ticket line to enable us doing that in a timely fashion. We only had to wait for two hours so we went and purchased our lunch at the Methodist Central Hall Westminster across from Westminster Abbey and then walked around St James Park and the Horseguards Parade Square and from there to Trafalgar Square to see Nelson's column up close one more time. Canada House is also on the square but we have visited there before and did not do so this time. We toured the Portrait Gallery which we have always meant to do and then returned in time for our tour of Buckingham Palace. This was an amazing event. There is just so much to see in the Palace area which is shown to visitors. Looking back I am trying to decide what I saw that was most exciting and I think it was the overall view; this Palace is as it was in many ways. There was some damage to the palace during World War II but for the most part this is the family home for the Royal Family of England for over two hundred years and as such the pieces that you see about you have been collected over hundreds of years by them and are shared with the public. This is not recreated like Versailles, it is the real item as it has endured through the centuries. Versailles is also beautiful but it is a rebuilt beauty as the original look of Versailles was lost during the French Revolution.

Edward in Hyde Park, London, UK
We then walked back to our hotel by Wellington's Arch and took a side trip to see the statue of Franklin Delano Roosevelt near the American Embassy. The gardens in front of the Embassy were absolutely beautiful.

Back at the hotel by 18 00 hours and then off to the same pub for dinner which we enjoyed just as much as the day before. I guess we could have found another pub as there are plenty in this area but we had enjoyed our first night there and decided to repeat it! I had macaroni and cheese and Ed had lamb shank.

The Three Tuns, London, UK
The next morning (Day One) we were up at 06 15 hours and our breakfasts at the Amba Marble Arch were quite perfect to be honest. They had oatmeal porridge in a large pot which we like to start the day with when we travel. There was also lots of fruit, cheese, nuts, dry cereal and breads as well as a standard English hot breakfast. This was the actual day 1 of our British Isles vacation; we had discovered earlier there would be 39 people on the coach. We were the only Canadians, there were four Americans and thirty three Australians. That meant the coach was (except for one empty seat) full to capacity. Our Tour Director was David Parry and he had sent us a note earlier welcoming us on the tour. Our driver was to be Adrian Norris but he was on a rest day and would join us soon. Our driver that day was a fill-in and I generally find that all of the drivers for Insight/Trafalgar are excellent. We had an absolutely perfect Tour Director (all of our Tour Directors have been quite good), he planned all the needed items for us on the trip and we did not have to think of anything other than enjoying the moment. He brought around candies several times a day which was enjoyed by everyone on the coach as well (being a rather picky person I did not generally take one and explained that to him the first day!). As it was I gained about eight pounds anyway from all the good food. I eat more I think on these trips and get considerably less exercise as I generally run 40 minutes a day. Could do that running on the trip but generally do not. Lose the weight after I get home and fairly quickly actually as I am back to my running! It is nice to enjoy all the different food specialties of these areas and I certainly do do that.

Insight Coach, London, UK

Day One (August 12) we were on the coach at 08 15 hours and on our way to our first stop which was Oxford. This first portion of the trip we did in 2008 but it is always nice to see Oxford and we were happy to do that. We parked once again by the Martyr's Memorial (this large stone monument remembers Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer (three Anglican bishops burned at the stake by Queen Mary). Our guided tour took us back into the colleges and the Sheldonian Theatre. We then looked around in a slightly different way this time walking up and down the various streets as the last time we had concentrated on the different colleges that comprise the University of Oxford. It was here that J K Rowlings developed and wrote her Harry Potter series and there were a number of shops devoted to Harry Potter in terms of items to purchase. We had lunch in the Market and that always gives opportunites to try something new and different.

Bridge on the campus of Oxford University, England
Back on the coach and we were headed for Stratford on Avon which again we had visited. We stopped first at Anne Hathaway's cottage in Shottery and this time the thatching was all done so we got to see the cottage without the necessary scaffolding for thatching. This is a beautiful area and the flower gardens were wonderful. We have never visited England in August (we favour the spring generally or the fall) and we really enjoyed all the beautiful gardens that we saw. Stratford always feels like festival time perhaps as it was very active again this time with long lineups to view the various buildings. Being on a tour has the extra that there is a fixed time for us to view buildings so we just go right in ahead of that long lineup of people - they must hate us! I had a lovely swim at our hotel in the pool; the hotel was located by the Avon River. All of our hotels were very nice - some more modern than others. The quaintness is also very nice.  Dinner was asparagus cheese pie for me amongst other items but the pie made it into my diary!

Anne Hathway's home, Shottery, England
Day Two (August 13) and we were up early in Stratford and went for a walk. Our coach wasn't leaving until 09 00 hours. Good breakfast again although had to ask for the porridge this time but it was quite prompt and good. Full breakfast again both hot and cold and some interesting cheeses. I like my porridge and then a little bit of fruit, cheese, breads, hard boiled egg and baked tomato. We were on our way to York via Warwick today and the traffic was heavy. The WiFi on the coach works and we got a password today; I actually didn't use it as much as I thought I might but it is so nice to be connected enroute! It was 13 30 hours by the time that we reached York. Off the coach with our tour director and we had a fourty minute walk with history heading from the Clinton Tower to the Yorkminster. It was interesting to be in York once again and the dissertation was slightly different, every tour director has their own interests. This time we walked back slowly to the coach and stopped for tea and scones at one of the tea houses (The Flax and Twine) along the way. It was a very pleasant shop and we were on the third floor with a good view over the Shambles. With us on the third floor were several other parties (both German) and we did find there were many many Europeans in the UK and Ireland during our trip. Back at the Clinton Tower, I climbed the steps to the top but decided not to do the tour as it was quite busy and we just had a short time before the coach would take us back to the hotel. I had a good swim (25 lengths) in their pool. Nice hotel and dinner was pollock for me and very well presented. All of our hotels were nice and the meals equally so. The Olympics was still on and the BBC was ecstatic for good reason. The GB team was really doing well. No mention of Canada unless we got a medal but could check online for how we were doing. We hoped to have 19 medals in total and be in the top ten. We were heading that way and actually surpassed our goal.

Clinton Tower (I am coming down the stairs with the white jacket on), York, England
Day Three (August 14) and we had an early leaving today so up at 06 15 hours and down to breakfast. We had to ask for porridge again but it was very quick coming. Nice breakfast again. At 08 00 hours we were headed for Grasmere in the Lake District. We were criscrossing England this time back and forth and now across the Pennines Mountain Range. Our trip in 2008 had not gone into the Yorkshire Dales but this time we headed straight across the Yorkshire Dales. Having read All Things Bright and Beautiful and having watched the series, I felt at home in the Yorkshire Dales. None of my people come from this part of Yorkshire - my 2x great grandfather Robert Gray and all of his ancestors as far back as I have traced came from the East Riding of Yorkshire - Etton, Cherry Burton, Holme on the Wolds, Hutton Cranswick, and Great Driffield. The Grays were farmers but the Sproxton and Harland families were drapers and tailors way back into the 1600s. But Robert wanted land that was his own and off he went to Canada in 1832 and he fulfilled his dream. One day I must get to the East Riding of Yorkshire to see where they all lived but not this trip. We had visited Grasmere on our last visit so our tour was a bit of a repeat but this time I looked around at all the buildings and the flowers were beautiful (last time we were in Grasmere in April). We both really enjoyed being in Grasmere once again. We found a cafe and had soup and a sandwich. It was cool in England. We had come prepared though for everything except winter! Back in the coach and on our way to Gretna Green. We wanted to find something interesting to take back as a momento of our trip and to have 50 years and our wedding date engraved on it. We did find a small pewter dish which suited us and will get that done one of these days. Why choose Gretna Green? This ancient marrying place in the British Isles just always appealed to us after we visited it the first time in 2008. Back in the coach and on the way to Edinburgh once again. At Edinburgh we would stop for two nights - always a welcomed event as I unpack my suitcase and repack it. My laundry bag gradually grows and fills the suitcase so I need to reorganize around it. I rolled up entire outfits this time so that I could just grab one first thing in the morning. That worked really well. I had clothes for warm, clothes for cool weather and clothes for wet weather. Our hotel was really very nice, right in downtown Edinburgh and tonight we were going to a special dinner and a cabaret show at Prestonfield - Taste of Scotland with a lot of Highland dancing of course.  The meal was very good as well - I ate a lot of fish as that is my favourite meat and nowhere in the British Isles is far from the sea so fish is always very plentiful I expect.

Edward at Grasmere, England
Day Four (August 15) and we did not have to have our suitcase outside the door. Two night stays are great on a coach trip. We were leaving our fellow travelers today because they were going to tour Edinburgh Castle and we were heading for Holyrood Palace. First though we had to go to Edinburgh Castle to have our group photograph taken with the Castle in the background. It turned out very well actually. Then we walked the Royal Mile up to Holyrood Palace. A very pleasant walk and the streets were packed with tourists. Very different from April actually but we especially wanted to see the Military Tattoo and that was this evening at Edinburgh Castle. We were soon at the Palace and had our tour. It is a very stately palace and we enjoyed our tour. The Queen has placed many beautiful pieces of artwork there. Then we toured the Abbey at Holyrood and the gardens. The gardens are spectacular and we enjoyed our time walking in them. There was ice cream at the exit and we each enjoyed that as well. From there we could easily walk back to our hotel and we stopped in a number of shops on the way. We always like to find something for our Christmas Tree when we travel and we did bring back a number of interesting items. We needed to have our dinner so stopped at one of the pubs on our way to the hotel and we both had fish and chips and a salad. Back to the hotel and I had a swim once again (35 lengths of the pool this time). Our ticket for the Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle was for 19 45 hours and we were there about an hour early. Good seats high up in the stands and the stands were absolutely packed with people. At the start they asked where we were from going through country after country, we did not actually meet anyone from Canada on our trip but there were more than just the two of us who answered the call from Canada with a good loud shout! There were people there from all over the world. The bands that contributed to the Military Tattoo were from the UK, Norway, United States of America, New Zealand and Jordan. We were late tonight, midnight, and had to be up early at 06 30 hours for our 08 00 hours leaving time. This was unusual as we were usually back by 22 00 hours.

Military Tattoo, Edinburgh, Scotland
Day Five (August 16) and we had a hearty breakfast. On the coach at 08 00 hours and on our way to St Andrews. We are starting to think about taking up golfing as a hobby and St Andrews always rekindles that thought but in eight years we have not yet done it. Perhaps we will get started this fall. We walked about as we had already seen the Museum of Golf. The last time the rain had been so heavy you could barely see the North Sea but this time it was bright and sunny and we enjoyed our walk along the North Sea and went to see the Martyr's Shrine there. We stopped at a pub and I had ginger beer, Ed had tea and a piece of apple pie. Then back on the coach at 11 30 hours on our way to Pitlochry. Most of our fellow travelers were going to Blair Castle but we had been to Blair Castle in 2008 and wanted more time in Pitlochry. We found the cafe where we had lunch the last time and enjoyed that remembrance. The coach came back for us and we were on our way to Culloden at 14 30 hours. We arrived at 16 00 hours and had a two hour stay to walk around Culloden. Last time it was overcast and the dreadful battle that took place here 16 April 1746 seemed to hold on to this piece of land. Today was a beautiful sunny day and we were able to walk through a great deal of the battle field. The last time I had been looking for my Routledge clan but now I knew why they did not fight at Culloden. By 1746 they were in the debateable lands (border lands between Scotland and England) and not part of this battle between the Highlanders supporting Bonnie Prince Charlie and Prince William Augusts, Duke of Cumberland, and third son of King George II of England whose throne Charlie claimed.  We were then off to our hotel in Inverness. Again another swim and no count on lengths as I didn't record it that time. Dinner for me was pork loin with vegetables - excellent meal.

St Andrews, Scotland

Day Six (August 17)  and we were up early and had a nice walk before breakfast. Inverness is a small city and fairly quiet. We were off for a boat trip the Jacobite Rebel on Loch Ness at 08 30 hours for about one hour. A rather pleasant trip and the views were rather interesting. We had had a boat trip on Loch Ness in 2008 but on another part. Back on the coach and we were headed to Wick and this would be a mostly driving day as the road is now just two lanes and fairly busy. We always stopped every two hours or less for a break and the rides were quite pleasant. This was also a part of Scotland that we had not yet seen. In 2008 there was still snow on the high mountains in Scotland and it was cold but this time the mountains were bathed in heather and it was taking on a reddish hue. It was quite beautiful. We stopped for lunch and then on to the Pulteney Wiskey company where we had a tour and whiskey tasting. Our tour was about one hour and was quite interesting. I, like Ed, had taken Chemistry in my undergraduate days (Ed did his PhD in Chemistry) so the whole process is well known to me. However, we have never tried to make whiskey in all of these years! The whiskey was strong for me but the whiskey liqueur was most pleasant. We then went on to Wick not far away and we had chosen to do the optional tour to Castle Mey which had belonged to Queen Elizabeth (wife of King George VI) and best known as the Queen Mother all of these years. The Castle is smaller than some of the others but has a beautiful spot overlooking the North Sea. Her touch is everywhere in the Castle and it is beautifully preserved to the mid 1950s. One can imagine Charles, Prince of Wales, enjoying his boyhood there. He still comes apparently for ten days in May in her memory. The gardens attached to this castle were beautiful. Amazing that so many plants can grow this far north. The Gulf Stream does give an interesting climate to the British Isles. Back to the hotel and dinner and I had salmon which was excellent. We had a pleasant walk and than off to bed as we needed to be up early for our trip to the Orkney Islands.

Castle Mey, Scotland
Day Seven (August 18) and we were up at 06 00 hours. Breakfast was early at 07 00 hours and we were on our way at 07 45 hours to catch our ferry at John O'Groats, We were now at 58 degrees 38 minutes north latitude (Ottawa is at 45 degrees north latitude). We have also been at Land's End in Cornwall which is the most westerly point and 838 miles from John O'Groats -  so have now been at these two well known points in the British Isles. We bought post cards to send home and had them stamped with John O'Groats - a great idea proposed by the Ferry Captain! Not a rainy day, but a fair amount of mist but we could clearly see the Orkney Islands. We were met by a local guide and bus to take us around Orkney Islands. He was a gifted speaker and told us a great deal about the islands. I could see myself spending a couple of weeks on these islands. One of the very interesting sites on the island was the Ring of Brodgar - a neolithic henge and stone circle. This site dates back to the 3rd millennium BC and is in excellent shape. It is a single ring composed of 27 of the original 60 stones. The slope on which they stand faces east.   I managed to circle it twice as I got ahead of Ed and then could not see him so caught up to him again. We stopped for lunch and had crab cakes, salad and french fries with hot chocolate. We were dressed for the cooler windier day but the hot chocolate was really good and warming. Our afternoon stop was the one that we had counted on from the first time that we saw this trip advertised - Skara Brae. The advertisements certainly depicted exactly what we saw and even more since we were actually there. How wonderful that the person who discovered this site had the knowledge and ability to recognize what the storms had revealed and immediately brought in experts who could best preserve the site. The laird of the land also has made his home available to view although we only just glanced at it as we had spent most of our time at Skara Brae. The gift shop was excellent. We were back on the ferry at 17 20 hours and saw some seals. No whales this time but it is a between season I expect as they are likely to the north of us here and do not move to the south until a little later. I had lamb stew for dinner and it was excellent.

Skara Brae, The Orkneys

Day Eight (August 19) and we left Wick (our second two night stop) at 08 15 hours but we had had a chance to have a walk first. We said goodbye to the North Sea. Perhaps one of these days we will do our cruise from Norway to Russia. It looked like rain and we had several storms between Wick and Skye where we were headed. The Highlands have a lot of variety we discovered as we moved along; the rounded hills give way to mountains that are high and craggy. There are huge vistas with deep valleys. There were a number of camera stops along the way. At Laing Ed and I had tea and scones around 10 30 hours. This is a pleasant small village and the rain lifted just at this time. The road was single lane in this section and there were laybys for passing. The traffic was surprisingly heavy. One thinks of this area as being rather isolated but then there aren't too many roads either. Back in the coach and on to our lunch stop at Ullapool. A sleepy fishing village that was again surprisingly large. There is a large summer population probably as there are a lot of shops. We spent a good two hours there which included our lunch stop where I had sweet potato soup and bread. I ate a lot of soup and bread on our trip. That is my favourite lunch on vacation. We arrived at the Isle of Skye at 15 15 hours and it was raining fairly heavily. The last time we had had a perfect sunny day on the tour of Skye and could see the Hebrides but this time everything was pretty shrouded in rain  and Ed could just barely get a good picture of the Old Man of Stor. Lucky that we had already been there but we often think it is nice to do these trips at two different seasons. The hotel was very neat and I enjoyed my dinner at 19 30 hours - a little later tonight.

Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Day Nine (August 20) and we had our breakfast at 06 30 hours - nice hot oatmeal porridge. Today my father would now be 112 years of age if he had lived so long. Funny to be in the British Isles on his birthday although he was born at Eastleigh, Hampshire I tend to think of all of this as one country but it is in reality a number of countries all bound together with legal as well as historical ties. We are in Scotland still. We were on the coach at 08 00 hours for a leisurely drive to Glasgow. Our first stop was along the coast for a photo shot of Eilean Donan Castle. The day was perfect for the shot of this world renowned castle often seen in different photo shots. We were soon back in the coach on our way towards Ben Nevis although we wondered if we would have a good view of it as the cloud layer was low around the tops of the mountains. We stopped once again at Loch Gary for pictures and then a stop at Fort William for our lunch. We went to Cafe Ecosse where we had soup and bread once again. Back on the coach headed for Glencoe and the Well of the Seven Heads at Invergary was seen as we passed by. We stopped at the Commando Monument and I recalled that the soldiers are looking directly at Ben Nevis but I was right we could not see the top of Ben Nevis. When we were here in April 2008 we could not see the top very well either although the outline was visible. When we went up on the cable car in 2008 there was snow on Ben Nevis. We walked a little way up past the cable car that time. More photo shots at Loch Lomond and this was our break stop and we had drambuie and shortbread from our tour director. It was a rather neat touch overlooking Loch Lomond with all its beautiful poetry. It was a spectacular spot which I greatly enjoyed. We followed Loch Lomond down to Dunbarton and then headed for Glasgow. We passed by the Cathedral where the Bishop of Glasgow had cursed my Routledge ancestors - last time in 2008 I did not know that. Did not feel quite so friendly towards that cathedral this time! The hotel in Glasgow was quite comfortable.

Edward and Elizabeth, Loch Lomond, Scotland
Day Ten (August 21) and our breakfasts were hearty meals most days. We left Glasgow at 08 30 hours and it was cool with some sun and some cloud. We are headed for the ferry at Cairnryan to go to Belfast, Northern Ireland. But for the moment we are traveling through Ayrshire. Again I feel at home in this part of the country as I did yesterday. Strange really but my brother said the same when he went to Scotland. Our mitochondrial DNA is found in this part of Scotland with its unusual set of snps. We are a small group H11a2a1 representing less than 1% of haplogroup H. But even given that small percentage there are likely 100,000 to 300,000 of us in the entire world! I manage the FT DNA H11a project and we now have 185 members. But to really study these haplogroups you need thousands. My subgroup is the only one in H11a that really appears to come from a smaller area. The land we are passing is mostly farmland with lots of cattle and sheep. We arrived at the ferry dock at 10 30 hours and we were on the ferry at 11 15 hours and departed at 11 30 hours. Lunch on the ferry was soup and bread. The ride itself was quite smooth and we spotted the Irish coast about 12 30 hours. We were moving quickly towards Belfast and this is a huge harbour. We were called to the coach at 14 05 hours and we were off the ferry in just ten minutes. We immediately headed for Derry (Londonderry). Belfast appears to be a very modern city although I did see some older buildings. It rained a little along the way but we had a stop at an overview for a picture. We were headed for the Giant's Causeway in County Antrim about three miles northeast of the town of Bushmills. A World Heritage Site under UNESCO and it is estimated that there are about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. An interesting walk out to the causeway from the visitor's centre (about 1 kilometre although a bus is also provided) and the walk back was an effort as mostly uphill. We enjoyed being out on this renowned causeway because of the stories we had heard as children about the Picts and the Scots moving back and forth from Ireland along this route. Our Tour Director would often tells us the folk lore stories about the different areas and that was most interesting. We were back on the coach at 18 00 hours and this would be a late arrival in Derry. The traffic was heavy and 61 kilometres took 1.5 hours. It poured with rain so we had been lucky to see the Causeway when it was dry. Dinner that evening was rather interesting I had cod in tomato and basil sauce, potatoes and vegetables. Our hotel was very nice once again. Derry was an interesting city which we explored in the morning.

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
Day Eleven (August 22) and up at 06 40 hours to a really nice breakfast at Derry. We were on the coach at 08 30 hours for our tour of Derry. Our local guide talked mostly about the "troubles" as he called them in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. We had a good walk around old Derry including on the city walls which are still extant for the most part. One of the members of our tour knew the deputy mayor of Derry and he had invited us to tour the Guild Hall and then a light snack followed. The Guild Hall is a magnificient building with a marble statue of Queen Victoria unfortunately damaged during the "troubles." I told the deputy mayor that I would mention Derry in my blog and that it is a beautiful city and we had a wonderful time there. We walked over the Peace Bridge across the River Foyle in Derry and it links the two neighbourhoods that were consumed at one time by the "troubles" and now united by this peace bridge. We were on the coach at 11 30 hours headed for Donegal where we would have lunch. Donegal is in the Irish Republic and so we had to bid farewell for the most part to Northern Ireland. My atDNA testing mentions Ireland but I have no known ancestor who was Irish but my maternal grandmother used to say that her mother sang Irish lullabies to her children (my grandmother was the eldest) and when I saw the colouring of some of the people in Northern Ireland they had the black hair and white skin which my grandmother mentioned for her mother. But she was born in Birmingham and likely her parents were as well. Their coming to Birmingham would have had to have been in the late 1700s or early 1800s. Still discovering that piece of my history. We had a nice walk about Donegal. Back on the coach as we were headed for Belleck and a tour of the china factory there. I mentioned that we were out of Northern Ireland for the most part but the factory of Belleck is in Northern Ireland so we were back for our last bit of time there. Did not mention yet but we rotate on the coach moving ahead two seats each time and I do not really have a preferred seat on the coach. The front seats are nice for scenery but picture taking can be somewhat problematic and being on the right hand side of the coach you can not see the road signs as easily but other than that we enjoy all the seats on the coach. You can have as few as 25 plus on the coach or as many as 40. The coach at 39 was busy this time but with the front door and the side door getting on and off was fairly quick. The Belleck china factory was very interesting and we bought a set of salt and pepper shakers to remember our tour. Then back on the coach as we were headed for Drumcliffe and the  parish church there where William Butler Yeats is buried in the churchyard. In 1923 he had received the Nobel Prize for Literature - one of Ireland's own as he was born in Dublin. Yeats had wanted to be buried within sight of Ben Bulbenn which is part of the Dartry Mountains which were shaped during the ice age (table top mountains). Our hotel this evening was in Sligo and the dinner was a Bon Voyage dinner celebrated because people on the trip have taken more than one tour with Insight. There were a number of us for whom this was the second trip and one person on their third trip. The dinner was buffet and quite interesting. I chose soup, fish, vegetables and a chocolate square. We usually left right after dinner and had a quiet time watching the news and talking to family.

Ben Bulbenn, Ireland
Day Twelve (August 23) and we were up at 06 30 hours for breakfast and on the coach for 08 15 hours leaving Sligo. The time here seemed short as I have heard of Sligo but in reality we saw a great deal here as everywhere. Sligo is not really old as the first reference to the area was in 537 AD and it appears to be a reference to the Sligeach (the river which flows into Sligo Bay). The town itself probably grew around the Castle of Sligo which was built in 1245. This region though is best known for the wrecking of three ships from the Spanish Armada at Streedagh Strand, County Sligo. This morning we were headed for Cong and the roads were again narrow and sometimes congested. When we arrived at Cong half of the village was dug up for road work but we managed to reach our destination there which included "The Quiet Man Cafe." There is a museum there but we did not go. The Quiet Man was filmed in this small village and having viewed this movie a number of times it was rather exciting to be here. We had good walks in several directions as well as stopping at the Quiet Man Gift shop where Ed enjoyed a cup of tea for our morning break. But the place that I most wanted to see was our luncheon stop in Galway. One of the twelve tribes of Galway is the Blake family and a few of my yDNA testers in the Blake study can trace back to Galway on paper. I tested my brothers and discovered that our Blake line was ancient to the British Isles (I-CTS4122+) and on paper our line is found at Knights Enham back into the 1430s. There was however a rather interesting entry in the Emigrants Database of England (1330 to 1550) which listed a Richard Blake as coming from Ireland to Salisbury in 1425. The son of Robert Blake (born circa 1430s) was Richard Blake; so was my line actually from Ireland? A mystery which Galway would not solve but I was curious about this area where the highest percentage of I-CTS4122+ is found. We approached Galway in a rather circuitous route which displayed a lot of this area for which I was thankful. We were encircling Louch Corrib and it is drained by the River Corrib also known as River Galway which connects this lake to the sea at Galway (this is the second largest lough (lake) in Ireland). I wanted to see if I could find the book "The Tribes of Galway" by Adrian Martyn but it has been out of print for a while and none could be found. We had lunch at a small cafe in Galway and then wandered about looking at all the shops and finally found a gelato ice cream shop and enjoyed that. Then back on the coach headed to Limerick our night destination. I had written to friends in Dublin to see if they would be home on Sunday. Received an email from them saying that it was a go. Nice hotel in Limerick and tonight was the mediaeval banquet at Knappogue. In old style we were given mead on our arrival and it was quite sweet and creamy to the taste. The evening was full of pantomine and song and we really enjoyed our time there. The tomato soup was a welcome starter as it was a little cool in the castle and it was good and hot. Chicken and vegetables with wine was the main course and dessert was apple compote. A very enjoyable meal and evening was certainly had by us. Back to the hotel by 21 40 hours.

Knappogue, Ireland
 Day Thirteen (August 24) and this was a later day as we were not to breakfast until 07 30 hours. However we were in the coach at 08 15 hours and headed for Killarney. It was a beautiful sunny day. Our first stop was King John's Castle and Church and closeby on the other side of the river was the Treaty Stone where we were located. This was to celebrate a failed treaty as the Irish were promised after the defeat of King James II (exiled king of England) at Limerick that they would be able to keep their Roman Catholic religion but parliament refused to accept the treaty. Then we were on our way to Adare where we stopped to view the thatched cottages and have our morning break. Here I was able to obtain the Blake crest of the Galway family and an interesting scroll that went with it. It will be part of my Blake one name study although I do not think that my Blake line is descendant of this particular Blake family. They are descendant of Richard Caddell (a welshman serving with Strongbow (Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke) in Ireland) who changed his name to Blake and all that was in the late 1100s. On our way again and we stopped at a scenic point to view the hills of Killarney just before we reached the city. We then went to our hotel in Killarney and it was right across the road from the Church of St Mary first built in 1300. Out for lunch and we went to Quinlan's Fish Shop (fish was caught in Dingle Bay daily, a Bay to the north of Killarney). I had fish chowder and Ed had fish cakes and salad. Both were really good. We then headed to Murphy's as recommended by our tour director and had ice cream and I had raspberry sorbert and chocolate and Ed had chocolate and vanilla. On the way back to our hotel we discovered St Mary's Well which has been a place of pilgrimage since 1302 reputed for baptisms and cures over long years. In the afternoon we had a special presentation by Mike and Mel of folksongs and stories and Mel had built her own harp which she played for us. It was an interesting hour and a half. We bought one of their CDs. We decided to have pizza for dinner as we had another event in the evening. The event was Celtic Steps and it was really well done. The presenters were four young ladies and three young men doing tap dancing, jazz and ballet in various combinations. There was also singing and the playing of irish tunes on various instruments. This was a longish evening ending at 22 30 hours.

St Mary's Well, Killarney, Ireland
Day Fourteen (August 25) and our second day in Killarney. It was to be a busy one as some of us elected to take the Jaunty Cart Rides through the Killarney National Park at 08 30 hours. We put our back packs on the coach, Ed and I, and went over to get on the Jaunty Carts just about half a block away. Our driver was particularly interesting telling us all sort of provocative tales about Killarney National Park. The drivers are called gurveys. The ride was about one hour and very interesting. It was such a nice way to see the fauna and flora or Ireland close up. We saw a number of deer on this trip. Then on the coach for our tour around the Ring of Kerry. This is about 120 kilometres but takes about five hours. The road is narrow and the traffic heavy resulting in a rather slow trip plus we were due to stop for lunch and several scenic picture breaks. We are traveling around the Iveragh Peninsula and the Macgillycuddy's Reeks (ridges). The Reeks are glacial and hence the ridges as the glaciers retreated. We stopped at Killorglin (the start of the Ring of Kerry) to have a break and this was our entry point into the Ring of Kerry. The views were amazing and the sun was shinning at this point. Our next stop was at Glenbeigh and the views of Dingle Bay. Followed by a stop at Cahersiveen with a terrific view of the Atlantic Ocean. The next stop was at Waterville with another scenic lookout. At Waterville Ed and I went down to the Atlantic Ocean and stuck our fingers in the water; it was somewhat ceremonial as we have done the same thing on the other side of the Atlantic at Cape Spear the furtherest point east in Canada. The country opposite us at this point was our home country of Canada. Another scenic point at Caherdaniel was enjoyed. Then a stop at Sneem and we ate at the Blue Bell. We both had chowder and bread. Then we finished up with Bailey Ice Cream. Lots of tourist shops and one of them had some nice plaster animals made locally. It did start to rain and it was time to get back on the coach and we moved on to Ladies View (a panoramic viewpoint). The drive from this point was very interesting with switchbacks and then we were back in Killarney. This was our Dine Around Evening and we had chosen Gabys. We started with scallops deep fried and then had a salad and scallops and followed with ice cream. Back to the hotel by 21 30 hours, our laundry had been put into our room all washed and neatly folded. We put our suitcases back together and we were all ready to go in the morning.

Edward at Waterville, Ireland

Day Fifteen (August 26) and we were at breakfast by 06 45 hours. This was our day to go to Blarney Castle and see/kiss the Blarney Stone.  When my father came to Canada with his mother in 1913 (his father was already in Canada having come earlier in the year to set up house) they stopped at Cork and probably because he had come second class he was taken to see and kiss the Blarney Stone. He always said that you had to hang upside down and it is a little like that but more like you are on your back and edge out to the Blarney Stone. But he was only nine years old and telling the story many many years later to his children! By my calculation he would have done this on the 26th of August 1913 and here I was 103 years later at Blarney Castle. There were cruise ships coming to Cork today we learned from our Tour Director so as soon as we were through the gate at the Castle we headed quickly towards Blarney Castle. Even at that we waited in the line for well over an hour before we were even on the Castle ramparts. There were 120 steps in the narrow turret tower to climb to get to the Blarney Stone. As soon as we were finished we headed back to the gift shop as we needed to be on the coach in time for us to get to our tour of Waterford Crystal at 14 00 hours. We were in time and looked around the show room. The tour was interesting and we bought a christmas decoration "A partridge in a pear tree" made of Waterford Crystal. We then went on to our hotel - Doolie and it was a nice hotel. We had a walking tour of Waterford by a local guide. He was interesting and very Irish. The Grey Friars Waterford was one of our stops and of course this is one of the oldest educational universities in Europe. The original monastery was partially demolished during the reign of Henry VIII of England. We ended at the Viking ship. Then on to a local pub for a drink - The Gingerman Bar. We stayed on and had lamb stew, salad and garlic toast. The hotel was closeby the pub and easily located by us on our return.

Edward and Elizabeth, The Gingerman Pub, Waterford, Ireland
 Day Sixteen (August 27)  and we were at breakfast at 07 30 hours and on our way to Dublin at 09 30 hours. This was meant to be a late start as we did not want to be in rush hour traffic. A late start is always very nice on occasion. We stopped at Kilkenny and this was to be a several hour break. At 11 00 hours we had a one hour talk on Hurling. Fascinating but I had never heard of Hurling before. It reminded us of lacrosse but the bat is quite solid rather than netting. Following the talk we had a couple of hours of free time to just wander about with a list of possible suggestions on how we might spend that time. We elected to just wander about and view the flowers. We stopped at Kilkenny Design Centre for our lunch and had leek and potato soup with Irish Soda Bread. The desserts were lovely and Ed had a piece of apple cake and I had a piece of chocolate cake. Back on the coach at 13 00 hours headed for Dublin. We were staying at the Clayton Hotel Cardiff Street. Nice room and we headed off for a short walk about 16 30 hours around the area. Tonight was a special outing to an Irish Cabaret which included dinner and the show at Taylors Three Rock which is the largest thatched building in Europe (we were in the Wicklow Hills). My dinner was seafood chowder, then Irish lamb stew and the dessert looked like it had strawberries so passed on that. The entertainment followed and it was very good. This was another two day stay and we were going to spend tomorrow afternoon with friends.

Taylors Three Rock, Dublin, Ireland
Day Seventeen (August 28) and we were off to a tour of Dublin and the Guinness Brewery. Both were quite interesting and I did taste the brew. It was an interesting flavour and apparently I am lucky as I could pick up the flavour of dark chocolate. The tour of Dublin was also interesting. I find Ireland to be a bit of a sad place in some ways. Both Canada and Ireland are somewhat similar. We both have two distinct populations within our borders (in our case three with the First Peoples); we were both colonies of Great Britain; but there we differ as we became a Dominion in 1867 and gradually became independent of the British government over a period of time. That Ireland had so much struggle to independence is such a sad story that I think I have always avoided coming to Ireland because of that. However, now that I have been there I do see that somewhat differently. I felt quite accepted in Ireland by all the peoples there as I wondered being "English" would I sense a reluctance to have me there but indeed that was not the case. Whether or not we would ever actually go to Ireland again is hard to say. There is not really anything to draw us there. Neither of us has a close Irish ancestor which is perhaps the greatest inducement for us. But back to the tour and we greatly enjoyed seeing everything in Dublin. We spent an enjoyable afternoon and early evening visiting and that included a tour of Trinity College Dublin and a road tour along the south shore. It was great fun renewing memories of fourty five years ago. We were back early as we needed to be up early for the ferry in the morning.

Edward and Elizabeth, Geography Building Trinity College Dublin
Day Eighteen (August 29) and we were up at 05 30 hours and on the ferry at 07 30 hours. The Ferry departed at 08 05 hours heading to Holyhead Island (Holy Island) which is attached by causeway to the Isle of Anglesey (Wales). We found a nice seat which was in the lounge area (quiet area) and it really suited us as we just wanted to be quiet. We wandered about and I found three pairs of socks made in Ireland with nice Irish patterns. I love socks and often wear really quite different ones! We could not see Wales when we departed Dublin but by the time we could see Holyhead we could also still see Dublin and we first noticed that around 10 00 hours. The crossing was very calm and we had lots of sun but it was cool in the wind. This ferry was probably twice as big as the ferry we had taken to Ireland. The port at Holyhead is very large and is the main port for Irish goods entering into Britain (i.e. England, Scotland and Wales) although the port at Belfast was also very very large and must serve as a port of entry for northern England and Scotland as well. We were quite quickly off the ferry and crossing the causeway and bridge to the Isle of Anglesey. The Isle of Anglesey was quickly passed and we crossed by causeway and bridge to mainland Wales. We have passed this way before as we visited the village with the longest name on our 2008 trip and we stopped there once again before crossing to the mainland - Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch which means Llanfair (Parish Church of St Mary) pwll (in Hollow) gwynngyll (of the White Hazel township) goger (near) ychwyrndrobwll (the rapid whirlpool) llantysilio (and the parish church of St Tysilio) gogogoch (with a red cave). Last time we were there on a Sunday and everything was mostly closed but this time the shops were all open and Ed regrettfully left behind a shirt that he was thinking about but needed a few more minutes to commit to. On our way once again on mainland Wales and we have passed this way before. There was one new addition though with thousands of windmills in the Irish Sea producing electricity. I did not see them as ugly actually - bonus points for utilizing natural energy. We stopped at Conwy for our lunch stop and we had turkey and cranberry pies and then ice cream for dessert. By now it is obvious that Ed and I both like ice cream although I do not actually eat a lot of that at home but the extra eight pounds are probably partly ice cream! We wandered about looking at the old shops and the castle ruins. Back on the coach and we were headed to our final destination of Chester. From now on for the most part we have seen everything that we are going to see but we took advantage of our time and saw things we did not have time to see last time and to rest - we are eight years older and this rest time at the end of our time was quite enjoyed. We arrived in Chester around 15 00 hours and our tour director gave us a nice walking tour and then we wandered about the walls which we did not have time for the last time. Dinner was at the hotel and our hotel was nicely placed in downtown Chester. It was interesting being in this older hotel although right up to the minute inside and most comfortable.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales
Day Nineteen (August 30) a late start this morning as we departed Chester at 09 00 hours. We had visited the Roman amphitheatre and other ruins in 2008 so did not repeat that this time. Instead we opted for a nice walk around a few blocks first thing in the morning. We skirted along the English/Welsh border as we headed for Ludlow. Our first stop was an interesting one at Craven Arms (our morning break) and Ed had spotted a "lamb tree" so we rushed back to get a picture of that as it was just a couple of blocks away. Back again and Ed had a lemon cheesecake (I ate a few morsels trying to stave off any more pounds). Back on the coach and we reached Ludow around lunch time. The last time we were in Ludlow it was market day and we spent most of our time in that area but this time we decided to explore the Castle at Ludlow which is quite extensive. We climbed three of the four turrets and missed the one with the excellent view but we were satisfied with the ones that we did see. Then we headed off for lunch buying a Cornish Pasty. Back on the coach and we were now headed for Cardiff Wales arriving there around 15 30 hours. We had already toured Cardiff Castle and had decided to not repeat that tour. Instead we went to the hotel and had a nice walk before our Welsh dinner that evening. We enjoyed our Welsh dinner and we had music accompaniment on a Welsh Harp and also singing intermittently. We had walked around the dock area before dinner and then repeated the walk back to the coach and then to the hotel at 22 30 hours. We have been really pleased with all of the themed dinners on this tour which has included music and singing in the particular flavour of each of the countries that we have visited.

Lamb Tree, Craven Arms, England
Day Twenty (August 31) and was the only day that our breakfast was a bit slow and no porridge but we were on our way on the coach at 08 00 hours. We were headed for Bath and again we have passed through on this route but this time we took a different bridge across the Severen. Always some different detail noticed by us or a slightly different route. We felt that this trip would be exactly what we wanted and it certainly has been. We arrived at Bath around 10 00 hours and were quickly into the Roman Baths. We had seen these in 2008 but a great deal of time and effort has been put into the presentation and we visited the entire site again with our headsets. There was so much to see and although the basic layout was the same the additions were excellent. Our tour director, haven't mentioned this enough, took excellent care of us providing alternatives for eating and viewing at every stop. Along with his regular candy distributions and having stamps for each country always available, he excelled as our fearless leader. He just simply always had an answer for every query or need. He had suggested that we needed to be quick at this stop in terms of viewing everything and having our lunch and to make that possible suggested a number of places to buy sandwiches, etc to take on the bus to eat our lunch. We followed his advice to pick up our lunch which was excellent. Then we still had time to visit Bath Abbey where I wanted a couple of pictures particularly for the memorial stone of Thomas Blake (not related to me but part of my one name Blake study). Eating our lunch on the coach we headed for Glastonbury and our stop there. It was raining fairly heavily at Glastonbury but I had a complete rainsuit and donned it for the occasion. We were not going to tour Glastonbury Abbey unless the entire coach was doing that as we had seen it in 2008 (spent over three hours there with a guided tour). Instead we had a really nice walk through the village which we had not done before. Back on the coach and we were headed for St Mellion in Cornwall. We arrived at this excellent golf and spa resort around 16 30 hours. Our room was large and really nice. We had a balcony that looked out over the golfcourse. It was really a great room and we were there for two days. We had decided not to do the Plymouth boat tour as we had done that in 2008 so made our decision on the spot to just stay at the hotel the entire next day and enjoy a spa day! That night for dinner I had plaice, fries and peas as we had a special dinner which involved a long trip into the moors and then trasferral to taxis to take us to the small village on the Tamar River upstream from the Tamar River Bridge which links Devon to Cornwall. We had dinner at The Tamar Inn in Calstock. It was a very pleasant evening.

Tamar Bridge, Calstock, England
Day Twenty one (September 1) and we went down to an excellent breakfast which included porridge. Then we loafed a bit and as the day warmed up we went for a walk on the golf course. This course is huge and the first one we walked on was designed by Jack Nicklaus. There was so much to see with all the different flowers along the way. The links were very much worked into the landscape. We were probably out about 1.5 hours walking. By then it was lunchtime and we had lunch in the restaurant. I had onion soup and cibatta. Another restful hour watching television and the news about the latest hurricane and wondered if that would affect our homeward flight (it did not!). Then another walk on the other golf course (2 full 18 hole golf courses) and there were a number of people out golfing. This one was often at 45 degree angles on the walkways and anyone doing that course certainly had a challenge ahead of them. It was soon dinner time and this was our Closing Dinner. I had tomato soup, followed by salmon, asparagus and then lemon tart. It was nice to see so many congratulating David and Adrian on a job well done.

St Mellion, England
Day Twenty two (September 2) and breakfast again was excellent with porridge. On the coach at 08 15 hours headed to Stonehenge. We were soon on M5 which was the quickest way from Exeter to the turnoff for Stonehenge and our morning break was at the M5 Service Station. I must admit I wondered what these stations would be like as we have the same in Canada on our major highway. The stop was excellent and we wandered about looking at everything that they had to offer but our time was short and we were back on the coach quickly headed once again for Stonehenge. When we visited in 2008 the entrance to Stonehenge was pretty much right next to Stonehenge but since then a huge visitor area has been built and a bus takes you from the visitor centre to Stonehenge. You could walk as well but our time was limited and we took the bus both ways. The path around Stonehenge is much improved as well. At one point you are much closer to the stones than in 2008 although for the most part you are further away although I liked the tradeoff as being so close at one point is really a nice feel. The headset is excellent. This time we did not travel over to the various barrows as we had seen all of that the last time. Instead we visited the small village which had been constructed to show the type of housing that may have been in place when Stonehenge was built as well as an excellent Museum. The Gift Shop was also very nice although we were rather rushed as we needed to get our lunch. The lunch room we were told was expensive and indeed it was a little but the food was good value for your money and we enjoyed our soup and sandwich there. I have to say people in the British Isles make great soup - I enjoyed every bowl I had and I mostly had one every day and sometimes two. Back on the coach and we were headed for London along the Andover Road I was thrilled to discover. This was my paternal line's place of habitation back to the early 1400s. I have already traveled through many of their villages so it was nice to see it all once again from the Andover Road (not literally of course but in the roadsigns). I watched carefully for Kimpton where my grandmother was born and my father baptized as I had missed that sign last time. Then we passed Andover to the left and Abbotts Ann, Anna Valley and finally Upper Clatford to the right where my grandfather was born and lived to adulthood until he moved to Eastleigh where my father was born. We reached London just after 16 00 hours and we would now say goodbye to about two thirds of the people with whom we had shared this tour. However fourteen of us were at the Amba Marble Arch and we met in the bar that evening and chatted about all the fun that we had had on our trip (we had a light supper). We had a great room at the hotel once again. We packed our bags ready to go to the airport in the morning. Because I selectively throw out old clothes as we travel my suitcase was actually lighter. The items that we purchased were in our carry on bags and we purchased a new bag as well which we generally do as I do not bring a purse and the new bag is my purse! Backpacks were full of purchased items as well along with anything we needed to tide us through our trip home.

Stonehenge, England
Day Twenty three (September 3) and we were married 50 years although not until 12 30 hours (EDT) and we were at 08 00 hours (BST). But it was a nice feeling anyway to be celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary in a city we have come to love (London, UK) and also we would be celebrating it in Ottawa, Canada where we live and have also come to love as home since we were both born and raised in southwestern Ontario. Breakfast was once again great and porridge ready and waiting for us. We went out for a nice walk after breakfast since we had a couple of hours before we would be picked up by our transfer agent and taken to Heathrow for our flight home. We were at Heathrow by 12 15 hours and quickly through checkin and security. We found all the nice lunch spots and picked one that suited us very well. Then we headed for our gate but were surprised to find only one person there. This is our first trip out of Heathrow since 2013 and we were in Terminal 2 instead of Terminal 3. In this Terminal it would appear people tend to stay in the eating/shopping area until the sign appears telling people who are Ottawa bound to go to their gate. We enjoyed the quiet though and we were soon on our airplane headed for Canada. I watched three movies as did Ed and the time passed quickly. We mostly had cloud beneath us until about the middle of the province of Quebec where we could see the St Lawrence River far below us. Although we had been fourty minutes late leaving Heathrow we arrived on time at Ottawa airport. What a great trip and already thinking about our next one overseas in 2017. We have always had really great Tour Directors and Drivers but our Tour Director this time was exceptionally good.


Philip Moggridge said...

I take my hat off to you! Not only have you seen more of our Isles than myself, I am in awe of your stamina, to accomplish so much. Good on ya both and many happy returns on your 50th Anniversary.

Elizabeth Kipp said...

Thank you. We had fun. Elizabeth