Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday, August 31st, London


No, you didn't miss a day.  We did.  Our traveling is a dance between the more exciting parts of the real world, and some pretty exciting parts of the virtual world.  We try to create a blend here, so you can experience the performance.  But sometimes we just have to have a break.   Yesterday was one of those days.

Today, Friday, we got back out there.  Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Cathedral, and Churchill's War Rooms.  We were going to include Buckingham Palace, but ran out of steam.

The only place they allowed cameras was Churchill's War Rooms, and it was dark enough to slow the camera speed.  And to top it off, I didn't check the lens, and there's a big fingerprint on the lower left of the shots.  Other than that....

We're still having fun.  Pat's knee is acting up, and I seem to be running out of breath more often.  But we've come home each day pretty overwhelmed by what we've seen.  It's so much history, and for me it's very personal.  It's like my very own time warp, where a family soap opera is playing out.

Westminster was the epitome of it.  I stood in a church, owing most of its design and existence to the last of my ancestors to be King, Henry III, in which one son was the first of the royal family to be married (Edmund and Aveline), and another the first to be buried (Edward).   All of them are buried there, amidst 39 other monarchs of England and Scotland.

Lots of other noted writers, poets, and politicians are buried there.  There's a whole corner occupied by Chaucer, Noel Coward, Irving, Wordsworth, Browning, Dickens, Kipling, Olivier, and Tennyson. Many others had memorials placed there.

In some dark and cramped rooms underneath a building near Westminster are maps and desks, and phones which organized the English war effort in WWII.  It's strange to be looking at the same pin pricks which identified battles and armies and wins/losses.  Stranger still is to see beds and chairs and tables in which key members of the government slept and sat and plotted such a critical conflict for the earth.  Pat recently finished a good book on Churchill she picked up at his birthplace in Blenheim Castle, and I'm carrying it home to add to my "hope I find time to read this" library.

Here's a link to the few photos (and fuzzy thumbprints) taken today: Friday, August 31st, London.

And if you aren't as bored as Pat is with how my family history relates to this entire trip, click on over to the Fearon Family History Blog's latest post.

Tomorrow, it's supposed to be a sunny day here, and we're going to the Kew Gardens.  Stay tuned for flowers!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wednesday, August 29th, London


When we left the hotel this morning, we were going to take the tube downtown (it takes about an hour to get there), meander on one of Rick Steeves' walking tours, have lunch somewhere, and then plan something for the afternoon.  We had ruled out the British Museum and the Kew Gardens, because we knew we probably would need a full ay or two at the first, and a full day to get to and enjoy the Kew Gardens.

The morning went perfectly, and our walk took us passed the theater district.  At lunch, we decided to get tickets for tonight's Julius Caesar at the Noel Coward Theater.  Since we didn't really want to go back to the hotel before the show, we had committed to the afternoon and early evening in town.  So we thought thought that we'd do maybe a wing at the British Museum.

Realize that Pat had been to the Museum 39 years ago, on her way back from New Zealand.  She remembered it as huge.  I've never been there, but have heard it brought up every time we go anywhere.  It's a sort of similar refrain to when we used to show up at a surf spot, and the waves weren't great (You should have been here yesterday!).  The locals at great ruins always would say "It's okay, but the really great stuff was taken back to the British Museum".  So I figured I'd better allow plenty of time to get really dazzled.

Not so.  Oh there's some great stuff in there.  The Rosetta Stone, some stella from the Mayan site Yachitlan showing blood letting by the wife of Bird Jaguar, and some winged lions from Assyria.  But we've been to most of the places displayed, and each place has much less stuff displayed than can be seen on site.   A lot less stuff.  We were done in about three hours.

I guess I can let the British off the hook for stealing as much as I imagined.  Now, the Germans on the other hand.  I'm still itching to get to the Berlin Museum.  What we did see, however, was plenty of materials from site in Iraq and Iran.  Boy, do I hope that travel to those sites becomes easier soon.

So at 4:30pm, we started looking for ways to kill about three hours.  We were near some movie theaters, and we checked out if any of them were showing movies we could see.  All of them were very long movies, and wouldn't have allowed much dinner.  So we walked to the National Gallery, and used their computer monitors to learn about quite a few pieces of their art.  I wish the database they have in their computer center were online, I'd spend even more time on it.  The center closed at 6pm, so we found a small restaurant (Kosovoan) near the stage door, and had gnocchi and salmon.

The play was excellent (more cool lines than I remembered), though the seats need some new pads.   we got home at midnight, and I'm finishing this shortly before 1pm.  We still have the Kew Gardens, and are now thinking of going to Cambridge and some other outlying areas by the underground.  There's still a couple of collections at the British Museum to see, but this opens up our options to look for other attractions.

Here is a link to the photos taken today: Wednesday, August 29th, London


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday, August 28th, London


Driving down from York to London today, it seemed the perfect time to share some comments about English radio.  First, the talk shows seem vastly superior to those I hear in the U.S.  In particular, One to One, Soul Music, and You and Yours are excellent.  The integration of guests and callers is much better handled, and the hosts seem better at keeping the conversation on target.  Second, the news is slow to move into new stories, endlessly repeating old headlines and providing no new insights.  Third, the traffic reporting is much more local, with quarter hour announcements about the highways you are driving on.  I'm very impressed with the technology employed to broadcast to micro-areas in almost real-time.

What you don't see on the English roads are trucks.  I noticed it first when I kept creeping up alongside trailers (they're called caravans here), and wanted to see what was pulling them.  Lo and behold, it was always passenger cars, looking a little like our Touareg.  Then I started looking for the classic Ford or Dodge 1500 trucks.  Nada.  And on these narrow roads in towns, I wouldn't want to drive one.

We're turning the car in today, and I fear we might have gotten a few tickets.  In town after town, out in the boonies, there are these traffic cameras that are strategically located where I was driving just a bt over the speed limit.  The light (flash) up when the catch you, indicating the proper speed limit, and it is said they are linked to a system fast enough to tag you, and send the ticket to your rental car company in time for your departure.  We'll see what the real cost of this manual, diesel, economy car is.

Well, we turned in the car, and were dinged for a scraped tire and back bumper.  We've a $500 deductible, and the car will be assessed and our bill sent to us.  No word on tickets, so we'll just await that bill too.

We bought 7-day passes on the underground, and rode it to Trafalgar square for a dinner at Cafe Rouge, and a walk through the area that will show the Opening Night of the Paralympics tomorrow on a big screen.  We'll probably head to the British Museum during the day tomorrow, and then stop by the square on the way home.

Here is a link to the photos taken today:  Tuesday, August 28th, London


Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday, August 27th, York, England


York has been Tribal, Roman, Saxon, Viking, and Norman.  William the Conqueror was the last to invade, unless you count the tourists.  But it's a peace-loving city, and just keeps building on top of the previous owners.  So tribal wooden houses become roman precise stone walls and cobblestones which become Saxon irregular rock walls and pebblestones which the Vikings leave alone until Normans arrive and quarry limestone to build churches and houses from the stones in the walls.  

The Lady Anne Middleton is located only a few blocks from town, so we walked through only slight drizzle to take a walking tour this morning, visit a couple of castle and period-display museums, and end the day with a evening choir and service at one of the largest churches in Europe.  The stained glass windows in it rival any we've ever seen, and one that being repaired (taking off all that lead which was used to repair cracks in the glass) has been replaced with a digital copy the same size (two tennis courts sideways).

Tomorrow, we drive to the hotel we'll stay in for the next week in London.  After dropping off the bags, we'll drive to Heathrow to drop off the rental car and then take the bus to London.  If we're early, we'll find something to do before dinner.  In our remaining days in England, we'll spend plenty of time in the British Museum, and the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew Park.  We might take the bus out to Cambridge, or wherever else we can get to for day-tripping.

Here is a link to the photos taken today:  Monday, August 27th, York.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday, August 26th, York, England


Emperor Hadrian had to have sounded like a madman when he ordered his army to construct a wall the width of Britain in 122 AD.  Finished in six years, Hadrian's Wall provided the Roman Empire with a controlled political boundary, and to check smuggling and other illicit activities.  That is, until Emperor Antonius Pius decided 14 years later to build a shorter wall across a stretch 100 miles north of it.  In between were the Pics, and Pius wanted to gain some territory and show them who was in charge.  Taking 12 years to build, the Antonine Wall lasted only 20 years, with its forces finally retreating back to Hadrian's Wall.  For a full description, see Hadrian's Wall.

The fort below (Vindolanda) is a great example of the periodic outposts and administrative headquarters that Hadrian also constructed.  Recently, fragments of writing materials were found in the layers of flooring which provide a rich insight into life at the fort during the 300 years of occupation.

Remember in a previous post that I reported that Emperor Constantine was in York when he learned that his father had died, and that he was now Emperor?  Well, during the six years that he took to get back to Rome, he rebuilt Vindolanda after finding it abandoned on a journey to the northern lands.

Here is a link to the photo taken today: Sunday, August 26th, York


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saturday, August 25th, Edinburgh


Walking down the Royal Mile during the Edinburgh Festival makes you want to start swinging a sword.  Are there any more uncompromising tourists anywhere?  With Pat on my arm, I felt like a slalom skier bending around the oncoming pedestrians.  After a while, you feel like asserting your right to passage.

No pictures today.  It looked like rain all day, and we scheduled indoor venues where they don’t allow them.  Then it cleared up, but I had left it home.  It was just as well.  I would have swung it.

We visited the Writer’s Museum, a tribute to Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.  All have statues in the city, with Scott’s being a huge tower featuring him and his dog at the base.  Stevenson and Burns get a great relief and a stained glass window in St Giles Church.  But you could not find a Scotsman who wouldn’t be able to tell you what they wrote, and perhaps quote a few lines.  Can you?

We walked around in the Georgian House.  Think Dowton Abbey comes to town to hold parties to demonstrate their status, and strategically recruit husbands for their daughters.  Wait, wasn’t that what they were doing also out in their country estate? 

We listened to the Scottish Young Peoples Choir practicing in St. Giles Church for a concert tonight.  One of the largest organs in Europe being overwhelmed by sixty of the loudest youngsters on the planet. 

And in the back of the church was the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle.  Member names from 1604 are carved on the entry room wall, and family crests occupy seats inside the Chapel.  This is the only heraldric order in Great Britain, and nomination is by King and Queen only.  If you believe that Charles W. Marr, of Limerick, York, Maine is the son of Denis Marr, of Scarborough, Cumberland, Maine, two members of my family made it in 1706 and 1814. John, Earl of Marr, and Thomas Erskine, of Marr both were honored for their work developing the Scottish judicial system.

Tomorrow, we head south back into England (after seeing Hadrian's Wall) to York.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday, August 24th, Edinburgh


Edinburgh has a very advanced public bus system.  Smart phone aps allow you to track their buses, pay the fares, and indicate which stop you want to get off at.  The average passenger looks very much like the average citizen, though Pat says that’s more to do with the restricted parking than the comfort of the busses.  We’re using the bus to go from our hotel downtown and back each day, and it stops right out front of us.

Today, we walked for about four hours, had lunch, and then another four hours.  We began the day with Fiona, a city tour guide, who navigated our way through the streets and alleyways (closes) from the Castle to the Queen’s residence.  From the mid-1400s to the 1960s, on both sides of the Flodden Wall along the Royal Mile (a means of controlling trade, and protecting against a British invasion).  

We saw more poets, theorists, educators, scientists, murderers, witches, and politicians than I thought one city could call home.  But with 500 years of history, you collect a lot of characters.  After the tour, we had lunch at the official residence of the Queen in Scotland, checked out the new Parliament building ($400 million for one structure), and then took the bus back up High Street to the top again and visited the Edinburgh Castle.  More a military garrison than a residence, it was the scene of royal births (James I, son of Mary, Queen of Scots) and is where the Royal Jewels, Scepter, and Sword are currently stored.  Also has some seriously powerful cannons.

Tomorrow, we head for some stops along our tour path which we want to spend some more time at.  

Here is a link to the photos taken today: Friday, August 24th, Edinburgh


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thursday, August 23rd, Edinburgh


Drove from the Irish Sea to the North Sea today, and visited St Andrews Old Course.  Across the street from the Clubhouse is the British Golf Museum.  What a collection of clubs, balls, and memorabilia!!
I bought a cap and ball marker, so I'm sure to play better now.

When we arrived later that day in Edinburgh, we still had time to take the local bus (a double decker) downtown to the festivals.  The Fringe is just closing, and the street performers are out in full force.  We tried to get tickets to the Tattoo, but it's sold out.  We'll try tomorrow to get tickets for the main festival.

Here is a link to the few photos from St Andrews and downtown Edinburgh:  Thursday, August 23rd, Edinburgh

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wednesday, August 22nd, Inverness, Scotland


The Glencove Valley, Culloden Battlefield, and Claver Cairns were our destinations today, after a long and beautiful drive along the northern coast of Scotland from Oban. The massacre in Glencove in 1692, and the defeat of Bonny Prince Charles at Cullodon in 1745,  were not among the finest hours for the British government.  And both have been portrayed in excellent techno/on-the-ground interpretive museums.   I was particularly impressed by the Culloden Battlefield use of GPS devices to present audio, photos, diagrams, and maps.  They need to better calibrate their devices, however, as they put Pat and I at two different places on the battlefield at one point.   Their auditorium 360 degree presentation reminded me of the one at Normandy depicting the Invasion on D-Day.

I learned something new about Stone Circles, and their use and placement of stones at Claver Cairns.  Did you know that the kind of stone used varied within the circles by design?  That the content of the stone materials mattered in their placement positions?  That the size of the stone mattered directionally?
I don't recall that being brought up at other stone circles, but it's now worth checking into to see if it was implemented widely in particular patterns beyond geometric and solar/lunar alignment designs.

Here is a link to the photos we took today: Wednesday, August 22nd, Inverness

Tomorrow, we head to Edinburgh by way of St. Andrews Golf Museum (I couldn't come all this way and not stop by at least).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tuesday, August 21st, Oban, Scotland


The weather reports, and the signs along the highway into Scotland, said to expect lots of rain.  The windshield wipers have not been above one click, the level where they wipe when the windshield detects some rain on it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love sunshine.  Not like the lady on our Oban Distillery whiskey tour who said she didn’t like California because it had too much sun.  But I’m prepared for stormy weather, and I’ve been practicing my ability to drive between a row of parked cars and a big truck coming at me without seeing anything ahead of me.  Bring on the serious rain, for just a little bit.

We just finished a great seafood dinner, complete with mussels from this area, at a restaurant above a marina looking out across some stunning boats and islands.  This afternoon, we toured a single malt whiskey distillery (Oban) that's been around since 1794.  

Tomorrow, we head to Inverness on the top of Scotland.  It's another day of driving, but the countryside is so beautiful it's well worth it.  And maybe it'll bring us so stormy Scottish rain.

Today was mostly a driving day, so here is a link to the very few photos we took in the town before the tour: Tuesday, August 21st, Odan, Scotland.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday, August 20, Keswick


Pat stayed home today.  Somehow the idea of accompanying me to the Whitehaven Records Office to  read microfiche records of baptisms, burials, and marriages was not appealing.  She'd rather read the rest of her book on Sir Winston Churchill, walk downtown to the shops, and spend the day leisurely.

By 3pm, I had squinted at the scribblings of 400 years of Ennerdale Valley history for long enough.  At this point, I think I must be approaching my brain's capacity for knowing my family's history in the Lake District over the past 200 years.  But I decided that there's one more thing I needed to do.  We had reserved a dinner at the Hotel for tonight, so I had about three hours to spare.

I drove down into the stretch of the valley where my calculations, a detailed hiker's map, 40 years of census information, several conversations with pub managers and research librarians - led me to believe that I knew where my great grandparents and their children had lived in the latter half of the 19th century.

It took about an hour and a half to find it, and involved some of the narrowest roads I've ever been on (and negotiating many cars passing on them), but here's the photos of the houses I think they livd in.

Where the Fearon family lived their lives in England


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday. August 19th, Keswick


We had lunch at a pub in Borrowdale today which has been the starting point for a kind of local footrace which has been going on since the 1850's.  It's called "Fell Racing", and you race from a spot in the valley to the top of a mountain and back, with checkpoints along the way.  This particular one has been going on for 40 years, is 17 miles in length, rises to an elevation of 7, 000 feet, and the winning time is usually about two hours, 45 minutes. This is race month, and there were plenty of diners who looked like they were here for outdoor hiking, running, and biking.

We began the day driving out to Workington and Cockermouth to continue our search for Fearon ancestors.  Both villages were the site of either births or deaths of great and great great grandparents, and we were looking for church graveyards.

Looking through graveyards for ancestors is not an exact science.  Just because a relative's entry on a census lists the town name doesn't mean they were buried there.  Sometimes the family takes them back to the birthplace, or the the burial is in the town closest to the children.  And since I really only have a narrow tree of Fearons with the 1800's in Cumbria, there could be cousins buried many decades later in the same cemeteries.  I've found that the oldest graves are usually closest to the church, but that they are also the most weathered and hard to read.

With no luck in the morning, we had begun to consider alternative destinations (ruins).  But then, we stumbled upon the Cockermouth Museum Group, just outside the All-Saints Church.   The Museum staff member, Eric Kass, gave me some helpful information and advice, including that the museum's website had many of the names of graves in several of the area's graveyards.  Also, he advised that a trip to Whitehaven on Monday would yield both the official records of births, deaths, and marriages, but also a collection of old maps which might clarify the census place locations.

With that great guidance, we decided to put off further family research today, and head for the Castlerigg Stone Circle on Rick Steeves' suggested 100-mile driving route southeast of Keswick.  It would take us to the ruin, a surprise view, the only remaining slate mine, and a gorgeous glacier-carved valley.   And I'm proud to say, we did it all on extremely narrow mountain roads without hitting anything.

Here is a link to the photos taken today: Sunday, August 19th, Keswick 

ps.  There was very ironic sighting.  In a small parking pull-off about half-way around the scenic drive, we saw a public notice on a tree.  It indicated that the National Trust (who run the parks) were applying for a permit to convert the "honor boxes" into pay and display machines.

Saturday, August 18th, Keswick


This is hard work, but it sure is fun.  Today, we trooped around some graveyards, and tried to correlate the information which I had gathered from years of research online with the facts on the ground.  It included talking with the local Vicar of the churches in the Ennerdale Valley, to the pub owner in Ennerdale Bridge, and an email correspondence in the last two days with the leader of the movement to create a community center in my grandfather's hometown.

I think that what I've concluded is that, while I'm pretty sure that the homestead is somewhere near Ennerdale Bridge, it might not be on this trip that I can locate it.  The problem is that the place terms used in the 1841-1891 census forms were not clear addresses.  The census takers referred to the locations where families lived by the names that were used locally then, names which had originated in the 1700's, and which referred to homesteaders, founders, or geographical features (proximity to mills, mines, or mountains).  Current residents of the valley don't recognize the names, and aren't of much help.  Neither are current hiking maps.

We did find a couple of Fearons in graveyards, notably in the village of Dean.  While I don't have anyone in my current tree born or died in Dean, it may only be that my tree doesn't go back far enough.  When I first began my research, in the 1990's, I was able to find, from early LDS records, quite a few Fearons living in Dean in the 1600-1750 period.  Those initial clues, as well as the fact that many Fearons were living in the same period in Armagh County, Ireland, led me to believe my grandfather's assertion that we was born in Belfast.  My theory was that the family moved through time from the Lake District to Northern Ireland to America, following the search for new lives and fertile farmland and opportunities.  

I still believe that the Fearons in all these areas are all related, and that more research will show the patterns I suggest.  But since Census records began only in the early 1800's here, it will take a comprehensive compilation and correlation of death and burial records to do so.  That's a challenge for more than this trip.

We finished the day with a great performance of "Roma and the Flannelettes" at the Theatre by the Lake.  They need a bit more ventilation in the Studio venue, but the acting was excellent.  And the accents made the script difficult to follow when the arguments were came hot and heavy.  But a play about domestic violence, focusing on the lives of residents and staff of a women's refuge, is well worth those inconveniences.

Here is a link to the photos taken today:  Saturday, August 18th, Keswick