London Wednesday

 After the almost 30km of foot slogging yesterday, I had a more relaxing day – 12.3km. As I saw all the sights of central London on Tuesday so today I spent time in the gardens. I did end up at Buckingham Palace again. As the flag was flying I assumed Her Majesty was at home. There were at least two Land Rovers parked in the main quadrangle so suspect the children were doing their filial duty and visiting mummy. 

Any plans to upgrade my cycle were seriously set back today as well : at least two years if I stick with carbon and three if moving across to the dark stiff side – titanium. I came across Burlington Arcade and was drawn to the Penhaligon shop. Perfumes by appointment to royalty and then there was the man from Australia…… 
Secondly I booked a ticket to the opening night of the Rossini opera “Il turco in Italia” on my last night in London.  As my financial planner has an alleged heart condition (my diagnosis -he lacks one) I will not be so lacking in Hippocratic qualities to mention money in specific terms lest I make things worse.
I also spent a few minutes in what is the third most popular tourist attraction in London: Harrods. The very first thing Mr Harrod sold was tea! The store is not too far away from its 200 th birthday. Again words cannot describe the excesses of this iconic store . Those of you who have been, know what I mean, the rest of you just need to see it -as simple as that. I have a sneaking suspicion that many years ago David Jones tried to emulate Harrods but failed dismally.
The cost of living in Britain and especially London, as my financial planner would no doubt say, is “heart stopping”! This revelation, added to streets clogged with vehicles and people, again irritates and unsettles me. I don’t think it is that I am tired of London. It was Samual Johnson who said 

Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’
I think rather than tired I am restless, although the bit about all that life can afford is a moot point.
Wandering through the parks  I came across a garden bench seat with a delightful brass plaque screwed  on the top rung. I was instantly reminded of the sad demise of language education in our schools, specifically punctuation. It read without a much needed comma, 
“WITH FOND MEMORIES OF OUR FORTIETH ROGER LOVE AMANDA”
The hotel has a reasonable gym so I have been working the upper body and core . I am sure the legs are more than adequately worked  out. I also have practiced a few times in the bathroom… My Recorder.!
 
  

the seafood section of Harrods

London Tuesday.

It is a fabulous day. The first day which I would describe as Spring, weather wise . I am booked into the Kensington hotel in Queen’s Gate . It is 5 minutes from the Imperial College,the venue for my conference on Epilepsy. More importantly it is 10 minutes to Harrods. Today is Tuesday after the Easter break and the city is in gridlock. I walk through Hyde Park via Knightsbridge now a rather forlorn shopping precinct with many vacant buildings. As I meander I have a constant feeling that I am trudging on a giant Monopoly board! Prices here are exorbitant so it’s case of “do not pass go, do not collect 2000 pounds.”

At 8am traffic is at a standstill which intensifies the allusion of speed and number of cyclists who weave helmet-less across red lights and between red London double decker buses. Despite the hype I did not at any time have the sense that London is cycle friendly. Moreover there are hundreds of thousands of people which provokes a constant degree of anxiety in me. There are obviously groups of school students not only from the UK but I surmise from the continent. The South Bank called the ‘Queen’s Walk’ is seathing with people of all ages. They are especially plentiful around a giant ferris wheel that takes almost an hour to travel one revolution. The queues to ride on this eye sore on the banks of the Thames snaked for miles. I undertand it is called the “Millenium Wheel”. The name is derived from the 1000 minutes that the rider must wait from time of ticket purchase to time of entering the cabin. So as the time for one turn of the ‘screw’ is about 50 minutes, that equates to waiting in a queue for 20 times the duration of the ride itself.
A smiling and ernest group of obviously British adults attempted to offer me a free pamphlet  with the title : “What is wrong with a liitle discipline?” Quite I muttered to myself, noting that they unintentionally or possible even intentionally, were assembled outside London’s Number 1 tourist drawcard: the “London Tower Dungeon and Torture Chamber”.  Special School Holiday Family Ticket 50 quid! ( 2 adults and 2 children). I eventually decided that the take home message was that if Jesus coped with a little discipline, then it must ipso facto, be quite acceptable indeed mandated, for mere mortals.
I walked some distance today and with my newly discovered iPhone app, here is proof  positive. In summary almost 29 km!  The other confession is that I did not take that many photographs as one has seen postcards of all the cathedrals, monuments and ancient relics that I walked to and around, without me needing to take a picture. However the one museum that I did decide to pay good money to visit was the Churchill Museum and Cabinet  War Rooms. These were the underground bunkers near the Palace and 10 Downing street. Fascinating recreation of the bunker as it was in 1940. 
  
 

Prince Albert Memorial

  

The Royal Albert Hall

  

My attempt at an arty night shot

  

Self explanatory

  

Westminster cathedral and part of parliament

 

Two days in Cambridge 

High Noon Farm Cambridge

I had made contact with Richard Fenner, who had lived in my home and rented the front bedroom 20 years ago! He met Mark, his eventual partner from Melbourne, a lawyer. Quite soon Mark accepted a job in London, so they migrated and have lived as landed gentry for 20 years with several vintage ( or classic) cars and a VERY large Belgian Sheepdog. The sort that is as huge as a horse, with a bass baritone bark and an endearing tendency to place its salivating mouth, circumferentially around one’s forearm. 
Richard graciously invited me to spend a few days with them and so I accepted the offer as it was in the general direction of London, my final destination before heading home to Adelaide.
I flew with EasyJet from Edinburgh to Stanstedt Airport, near Cambridge and also part of the several airports that serve Greater London. It is about 35 or 40 km from London and is the base for the “cheap” airlines such as EasyJet and Ryan Air. It was much cheaper to fly than take the train!  The Thomas Cook agent who made the booking earnestly recommended that I be at Edinburgh Airport 2 hours before the flight! I expressed my disbelieve as a seasoned traveller. So I was awake and on the first tram to the airport from Edinburgh to the Airport leaving the city at 5:35 am.     The airport was a seething mass! Checking in was a breeze and as efficient and as quick as in Australia with the self service options and I printed out a luggage ticket, having paid and extra 12 pounds …. But what did appear to be a potential hiccup and slow the process down, was “security clearance”. The queue stretched for miles, however we moved rather rapidly! The gate closed 30 minutes before the flight and this is not negotiable. Indeed despite the pandemonium, we departed 10 minutes ahead of schedule! Unheard of in Australia. The flight was FULL as well. The Scottish lass turned to her laddie on the stairs ( no flight bridge) and commented on how mild the weather was! I attempted to turn around and make a sarcastic comment but the saliva had frozen my lips together.
Richard collected me from the airport around 9am the we drove to their delightful country home outside the village of Withersfield. Mark had gone for a cycle ride, he is a keen triathlon competitor. After lunch, Richard drove me at breakneck speed in a beautiful BENTLEY all leather and walnut veener around several historial villages in the region, including the spectacular historial town of Lavenham.
On Monday 2 couples joined them for lunch, Easter Monday. They are all members of the Vintage Car Club and we gathered aound the Phantom Rolls Royce. Richard created the archetypal  British “Sunday Roast”  with Yorkshire Pudding and the a very rich Bread and Butter Pudding for dessert.
Pictures of the various villages that we visited are below.
 

The Guildhall at Lavenham with Richard

 

The Real Estate Agent office at Lavenham

  

The village square Lavenham

      

The Village of Finchingham through which the Tour de Framce rode in 2014

    

The church in the village of Withersfield

    

The church at Clare

  

 

A day in the Highlands

Just down from the Castle was the pick up point for my Highlands Tour specifically Day Tour number 4, which promised “lochs, mountains and castles”. The snow on the mountains was a bonus, if snow in Spring is your thing. 

At  8:30 am a never ending line of white Timberbush coaches, more than 25, waited for passengers. I would hate to be going on a busy day I said tongue in cheek. It’s our busiest weekend boasted the driver, being Easter. And so it was. 
In a grey depressing housing estate on the outskirts of Edinburgh the driver explained that Sean Connery grew up. It was proposed that a museum be established with memorabilia of his James Bond roles. It lasted less than a week as the supposedly secure display case of all Connery’s toppees was smashed and torched whilst a statue of a semi naked Pussy Galore, was defaced beyond recognition; at least the coach driver thought that was the case. Bover Boys he sighed, are always beavering away.
We passed Stirling Castle besieged by Braveheart, in real life of course Mel Gibson as pointed out again by our knowledgeable driver and as we all know our Mel is no Bruce!
Our first stop was the Doune Castle, used in the filming of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail “. The souvenir shop sells pairs of half coconut shells and as well beautifully dressed dolls of the Knights of the Round Table. The included pamphlet actively encourages children to rip the limbs off one at a time.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a tourist bus of considerable load must be in need of a whiff of commercialism. (Apologies to Jane Austin).
Lunch time. We are channelled through cashmere at  the village of Tyndrum along it seems with the whole population of Edinburgh and what must surely have been the annual pilgrimage of the Glasgow Bikies. If only they made leather in a tarton check. 
Cars snaked bumper to bumper on narrow, shoulder-less roads for miles. Again I enquired of the driver, surrounded by a sea of cars,buses and motor bikes at the “Macintosh Tarton & Take Away” car park, why and where all these Scotsmen were headed. Well he explained it is Saturday, sunny and so they are “going for a drive”! 
The experience did two things: it reminded me of the congestion returning home from the  Fleureau Peninsula Monday afternoon on a long weekend, magnified twice over and secondly that I would never mount a bicycle in the Highlands of Scotland.
The highlight for me was the village of Inverarery on the shores of Loch Fyne. The first option was the visit to Inverarery Castle:  entry 10 quid. I chose option 2,  exploring the village for nothing. By now the sun was shining and the drive through the snow capped mountains and Lochs, was memorable. Our final stop was on the shores of Loch Lomond which caused me to hum the eponymous tune all the way home. I shall do a search for sheet music there may well be a version for Recorder and Bagpipes.
 

Doune Castle as appears in Monty Python

 
 

you did not believe me. it is snow !

 
  
 

now I know what Wordsworth meant

 

Loch Fyne

 

  

  

  

several pictures of the village of Inverarery on Loch Fyne

 

The pass on the Arrochar Alps

  

Loch Lomond

 

we return to Edinburgh at dusk

     

Edinburgh

The day I left Quent and Jan was the best day weather wise. The sun shone and the wind was but a light breeze, with bite! The train system is privatised and the North East Service that I boarded was run by Virgin Rail. The train, which had commenced its’ journey in London, arrived about 10 minutes late. It appeared to be disconcertingly full as it pulled into the station. Thankfully the majority alighted, so that for the final leg to Edinburgh there were quite a few empty seats. I sat on the right as it was on this side that the ocean was visible and the train followed the coast for a while, although not exactly hugging it. 

The usual refreshment trolley appeared with woeful black coffee and those packets of ‘coffee whitener’. The label boasts that they contain NO milk products and the resultant outcome of combining coffee and whitener, is the dramatic  appearance on the surface of the drink of undissolved white blobs. These bear a remarkable similarity to the consequences of adding out-of-date milk to one’s coffee, nausea inducing congealed milk protein floats on the surface. Both taste the same!
Through “Bookings.com” I made a reservation at The George Hotel, situated in the centre of the city and close to all the tourist venues. It is rather upmarket. The staff are all dressed in kilts! The men at least. However to a man, not one of them appeared to be Scottish. After several encounters and polite questioning, I discovered, that the vast majority were from Portugal, Italy or Spain! By now I was expecting to be accosted by Basil Fawlty. In Australia such overseas workers are invariably students or on a working hoilday. In the UK I rather think it reflects the poor economic environment in Europe, which entices them to of all places, cold and bleak Scotland, where they are prepared to wear a kilt for cash! 
There is additional indirect evidence that Britain appears to be in a reasonable state of recovery as in Edinburgh at least, many shops have signs advertising vacancies for waiters and shop assistants.
Today is Good Friday and to my surprise the shops are all trading. It is not good weather wise, Marcus the kilted concierge from Cordoba, infoms me that there will be rain till 12 noon then it will be sunny. This is the outlook for each of the next 4 days. So I retire to my room, to blog and practice the Recorder, drinking cups of congealed coffee until the afternoon.
I am walking the Royal Mile it is now 12 noon and Marcus’ predicted sun is nowhere to be seen. Should I confront him on my return I am sure he will respond: “I know nuthing”! It is dismal so I head to a local Cafe for an acceptable coffee.
One would not have the remotest idea that today is Good Friday, the Royal Mile as I write makes Rundle Mall on a Friday night look deserted. My God… The Postman has just delivered the mail! Remember it’s Good Friday! 
I decided that the best option faced with cold pelting rain was to head to the Scottish National Museum, along with 99 thousand others. It is worth the visit and free. For the first time I am aware of presumabley overseas tourists, not so much as from Japan, but rather from the Indian Subcontinent. Now whilst an Indian man looks quite fetching in a dohti, try as I might I can’t visualise him in a kilt. I walked the Royal Mile, climbed all over the Castle then headed back to the hotel. 
There was no rain but it was nevertless still bracing and most people were sensibly rugged up in heavy overcoats, scarves and gloves. To my amazement a considerable number of young Scotsmen, paraded around in shirts and not much else. Short sleeved whats more.
My iPhone has a recently discovered app that tells me how far I have walked and how high I have climbed each day! Well today the stats were as follows:
25736 steps
29 floors (stairs) for a total of
16.66 km on the day.
I had a glass of wine at dinner as I felt rather smug. Tomorrow I am signed up for a bus trip to the Highlands visiting several castles. I skipped the optional Whisky Distillery tour.
 

The main hall of the National Museum

 
   

  

Three photographs of the Castle.

St Gilles cathedral

  

Corbridge

I have stayed for the last 4 days with my cousin, Quentin and his wife Janet. They live in a stone semidetached cottage in the village of Corbridge about 18 miles from Newcastle. Torn between their old Imperial heritage and the modern metric system, the British have been half hearted in their conversions. There are Pounds sterling with 100 pence to the new Pound yet it is bloody cold at 2 degrees centrigrade as we speed along at 60 miles an hour to the petrol station to buy a few gallons of petrol. I live in fear that Tony Abbott might hear about this confusing mishmash of measurments.

I am staying at Peartree House B&B and for at least 2 nights I have been the only guest. On the other ocasions two younger men stayed here to play golf at a famous local course. The fact that the weather changed dramtically and rapidly from sun to snow, several times in a day, all the time with fierce biting winds, more then enough to freeze one’s balls, appeared to them to be an adventure.
Being the sole guest means that I can blow my Recorder with gay abandon.
My shorts remain at the bottom of my backpack! Quentin has lent me a very thick coat for the duration. I have not even contemplated mounting the hybrid bike that a local retired policeman had lent to Quentin, assuming that I was going to meander around the English countryside and traverse Hadrians wall. Not bloody likely. We did walks to some impressive Roman ruins near to Corbridge.
We explored the Villages of Hexham and its’ Abbey and Durham and its’ cathedral. Durham is a university town as is Cambridge and Oxford. The scene of the Cathedral bulit on the heights above the River is the subject of a famous painting by Turner.
Janet is a great cook and we have had some wonderful  home cooking as well as one night out at the local pub with a retired couple, who are good friends. Bob, in retirement has taken up cycling. They are planning to tour Australia  and spend a month in Adelaide in January. I have promised them a bike and rides.
Today I leave for Edinburgh, not without a degree  of apprehension as it 100 miles closer to the Artic Circle.
 

Part of the Durham Cathedral and square

  

another shot of the Cathedral

  

the Cathedral and the scene painted by Turner

No derogatory remarks about food pictures and the iPhone! Its breakfast at The PearTree. Eggs from the owners chooks!