"You hold an event and we turn up"
"You hold an event and we turn up"

ADVENTURE 16 THE BRITISH ISLES

Article by Klaus and Gale Waibel  Photos by Matt Pernick

DAY 1 ­ Flight to Iceland

We are running around frantically trying to get ready for The Bad Pennies Adventure #16 to Iceland and the British Isles.  The storm that passed through the Washington area last week blew down part of our bradford pear so we spend an entire weekend cutting down the remainder.  No sense going away and worrying if the rest of it will come crashing down.  Then Gale¹s van is stolen while she is attending a teacher workshop. Fortunately, it¹s recovered the next day but we must run around getting a release from the police, then recover it from the towing yard, and then take it to the dealer for repairs. Again, we¹re thankful we won¹t be worrying on the trip as to the whereabouts of our car.

With all this we wonder what we have forgotten to pack.  Since the departure is not until 8:45 pm and we don¹t have to be at BWI until 6:45 pm, Klaus goes to work. Its cutting it a bit close, but he manages to leave a little bit early, get home at 5:15, and shed the corporate work suit for more casual travel clothes. A friend of ours is taking us to the airport (better than paying for 15 days in the long term parking lot!) and she also arrives promptly at 5:15. We take a farewell picture at the front door and then its off to fight commuter traffic to the airport. Fortunately there are no accidents this evening and the traffic is relatively light so we arrive easily by 6:00 pm at BWI. The international area is spacious and almost empty.

Matt Pernick, President of The Bad Pennies, is there to greet us, orient us, and give us our packet which includes a travel alarm clock.  We guess he must be worried the volksmarchers aren¹t going to get up on time each morning.  As he will discover in the next 15 days, we are a very punctual group.  Check in at Icelandair goes very smoothly and now we easily have 1-1/2 hours to kill before returning for boarding. We decide to stroll through the airport and settle in at the new observation deck.

We promptly board at 8:00 pm but then there¹s some sort of delay with storing luggage and we depart about 20 minutes late.  The flight is 5hr and 25 min long. The in-flight meal is Chicken Cordon Bleu and better than the typical airline meal, but we pass on the complimentary wine and liqueur. There¹s also the in-flight movie Primary Colors but we opt for some sleep instead.


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DAY 2 ­ Reykjavik, Iceland

This really feels like the same day. We may have arrived at 6:15 am local time, but our Eastern Standard time bodies insist it¹s only 2:15 am. It¹s a good thing we¹re doing our first walk today, because exposure to sunlight is one of the recommendations for time zone adjustments. The airport is actually in Keflavik, and its a 30 mile bus ride to our hotel in Reykjavik.  A limited number of rooms are ready for check-in and we feel fortunate to get one. That way we can take a shower and freshen up before our walk at 9:00 am.  The room is small but spotless.  Matt valiantly tries to talk the hotel into giving our group breakfast, but they don¹t budge from their policy.  So tomorrow its going to be 2 breakfasts ­ one in the hotel and one on the plane.

At 9:00 am we assemble down in the lobby. Out of the 50 walkers, 43 have opted for a day in Iceland. The remainder of our group will meet up with us at the airport tomorrow morning.  The Iceland IVV club is apparently run solely by one young woman. This is to be the very first official IVV sanctioned walk in Iceland. We are issued our trail map which luckily is fairly straightforward since there are no walk directions and the trail is not marked. Are we spoiled by our US walks or what? The route (rated 1) follows existing hike/bike paths in a 3/4 circuit of Reykjavik.  Paths are fairly new in Iceland as it is trying to capitalize on its attraction for outdoor activities.  The finish will be the downtown information center and we are told there will be bus tokens to get us back to the hotel.

The Iceland club representative drives ahead and is there for us at the checkpoint and also shows up at other places on the trail to offer us encouragement.

The day is overcast but dry.  Occasionally some sunshine peeks through.  Everything is clean and well maintained.  There are very few trees dotting the landscape.  Nearer downtown we can look out onto the Atlantic Ocean. The walk takes much longer than expected. The consensus is that it is perhaps more like 15K. Nevertheless, we receive credit for 10K, along with a medal, a change purse, a bottle of soap, and our token.

 

After the walk we explore Reykjavik on our own.  In the town square we discover a benefit event where a large salad has been created to try and get in the Guinness Book of World Records. It turns out to be a good meal deal (judging by the other posted menu prices we see, Iceland is an expensive place) and we enjoy unlimited salad, bread, and lemon-flavored soda for only $3 each.

 

The day concludes with an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet at the hotel restaurant.  Featured are smoked salmon, fish paté, fish balls, fish stew, haddock, and a variety of other baked, smoked, and pickled fish delicacies. There are potatoes but no other vegetables except for a tiny salad bowl.  Iceland probably imports all its vegetables.  It¹s all extremely good and we are not at all bashful about going back for seconds.


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DAY 3 ­ Flight to England and Windsor Castle

Since our flight is to depart at 7:50 am, we must board our bus at 5:30 am, so breakfast is served at 4:30 am and most of us then set our alarm for 3:30 am.  Those of us still trying to adjust to the 4-hour time difference sleep-walk through most of this.

 

The breakfast is also buffet style with "yogurt" (its different!), muesli, melon and orange slices, prunes, bread, cold cuts, almond pastries, orange juice, and coffee.  This type of breakfast format speeds things up and we¹re all dutifully assembled in front of the hotel at 5:30 waiting for the bus.  We take another 30-mile ride back to the airport and then check-in.  Wouldn¹t you know it?  We¹re in the slow line. By the time we¹re checked in everyone is long gone to the lounge.

 

As promised we also get breakfast on the plane.  We¹ll just pretend its lunch.

We leave 50O Iceland and arrive in 80O London at Heathrow Airport.  A heat wave has engulfed England!  Going through customs and picking up our bags from the carousel goes smoothly.  At the exit gate our tour guides Ken and Dolores Wilson from Walking Adventures are there to meet us and escort us to the double-decker bus we will be traveling on the rest of this adventure.  Originally there were only going to be 40 walkers, but the Bad Pennies asked that the limit be raised to 50 and we indeed have 50 eager volksmarchers.

A short 30-minute ride brings us to the town of Windsor and Windsor Castle by 2:00 pm.  Since we have to be back on the bus by 5:00 pm we are offered the choice of walking a shorter distance and taking in the castle or just walking the entire 11K.  The 11K (rated 1+) starts at a pub near the castle wall, follows the perimeter of the castle for a short while and then takes us out of town past the Victoria Barracks (ominously guarded by troops with automatic weapons) on Kings Road.  On the outskirts we enter the Great Park where the Queen sometimes goes out riding.  From the Great Park we enter Deer Park (where we actually see some herds of deer) and then return via the famous Long Walk which is a 3-mile avenue of trees back to Windsor Castle.  It is a long hot stretch out and an

equally long hot stretch back so we are only too glad to stop at the pubserving as the 2nd checkpoint and try the sparkling lemonade recommended to us.  Intrigued by what one of the customers is drinking we ask and are introduced to the Shandy ­ half beer and half lemonade.  Suitably refreshed we finish the walk back in town, go shopping for postcards, and then take a leisurely stroll along the Thames River back to the coach park and our bus.

The drive back to London takes about 90 minutes and soon we are at the Poste Fortehouse Hotel in the Bloomsbury section of town.  It looks to be an older hotel but the rooms are still very nice.  They are also very warm since air conditioning is not a feature of English hotels.  Management has been nice enough to install small portable cooling units in the rooms, but some in the group report that their rooms are still hot.  Dinner is buffet style with a choice of salmon or chicken and pasta, potatoes, and vegetables as accompaniment.  The food is surprisingly good. So much for the stereotype of poor English cooking.

After dinner we take a brief stroll around the neighborhood.  Bloomsbury is in the west end of London and mostly a quiet residential area.

 

DAY 4 (Sun, 9 Aug) – London

We start off the day with a great breakfast buffet consisting of melon and watermelon slices, yogurt, cereal, croissants, ham, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, juice, and coffee and tea.  Suitably fortified the bus then takes the walkers to the Westminster Tube (translation: subway)
station and turns us loose at 8:30 am on the 10K which are to finish no later than 4:30 pm ending up at the Tower Bridge some distance
downstream on the Thames.  A few of the walkers opt to do an additional 18K walk to fill in the 8 allotted hours.  Most just take their time on
the 10K walk, stopping to watch the grenadiers practice at Waterloo Barracks, to see Buckingham Palace, to watch the ceremony of the
changing of the Horse Guards outside the Admiralty Building, and to catch the sights and sounds of Soho, Picadilly Circus, and other
neighborhoods.  We fill some of the time by lunching with old military friends in Leicester Square. He’s on special assignment in London with
the British Surgeon General’s Office while she is a contract nurse at Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany. Hence, there is a lot of
cross-channel commuting.

After lunch we continue on our walk route.  The directions for the walk indicate some toilets near the St. Clement Danes church.  We can see
they are underground and guess if they are typical they can not be very nice.  We are very much mistaken as we check them out.  They are
decorated with floral tiles, the lighting is bright, there is hot and cold running water, a scale for weighing yourself is available for 20p,
and music is being piped in.  The place is immaculate.  On one of the pillars is a framed certificate stating that this was the Loo of the
Year 96/97!

During the walk we take a slight detour to cross the Thames and take a closer look a the restored Shakespearean Globe Theater.  Catching a play there will have to wait for another day.  One of the checkpoints is St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Bells are pealing loudly.  We go inside and notice a
service in progress.  Reluctantly we leave the cool interior and continue on the final stretch past the Tower of London and across the Tower Bridge.  We have not allocated enough time for the tour, and content ourselves with walking the outer perimeter of the Tower of

London.


The Tower Bridge is granite and steel and the bright blue paint on the steel appears very fresh.  The bridge looks like a castle with a drawbridge and the mobs of tourists crossing it are a testament to its popularity.  From the end of the Tower Bridge our tour bus negotiates the heavy traffic of London until we get out on the motorway and the it is smooth driving to our evening’s destination – Marlborough – 1-1/2 hours west of London.

In Marlborough we unload our bags, receive our room assignments at the Ivy House Hotel, and in the short span of 10 minutes are seated in their restaurant eagerly awaiting dinner.  It is obvious that everyone has worked up an appetite from the day’s walking.  We have also worked up quite a thirst since it was in the 80’s today.  The water pitcher is in constant need of refilling by the waiter.  This is a sit-down meal with full service and we have our choice of Pork Loin, Seafood au Gratin or Mediterranean Vegetarian Lasagna.  Judging from the emptied plates, the selections were well received.  At the conclusion of the meal, a nice touch is coffee and tea service in the courtyard.

DAY 5 (Mon, 10 Aug) – Stonehenge, Bath, and Hereford

Again we start off with a breakfast buffet which we are given to understand is a full English breakfast.  In addition to the cereal, juice, fruit and toast there are hard-boiled eggs and cold cuts. The restaurant must think that we really like bread because there are three baskets of toast, croissants and rolls brought to our table.

Everyone is again punctual so that breakfast promptly starts at 7:00 am, the bus is loaded at 7:45 am and we are underway at 8:00 am. A short  45-minute ride later, we are at the Sports Center in Amesbury.  There our group splits up into 3 groups – those wanting to walk the entire 17K around Stonehenge, those wanting the “regular” 10K, and those opting for a shorter distance.  Since we all need to meet at the coach park, those doing the 17K are taken by the bus to Stonehenge.  We can see that

pictures enhance the height of the 22 foot stones.  Nevertheless, it still represents an amazing construction achievement.  Accompanying us on the walk are two members of the Amesbury Walkers Club.  This makes the walk much more enjoyable since we do not have to pay attention to maps or markings and Derek and Keith give us a running narrative on local sights and customs.

 

England has a system of public footpaths, national trust lands, and access on some privately held lands.  Most of the land is fenced in but there are styles (ladders) and gates for negotiating the fences.  In one instance we cut diagonally across a sheep pasture, scattering the sheep in front of us and of course watching where we place our feet.  Since we start at Stonehenge, our rest stop is back in town.  Public toilets are ubiquitous in Great Britain and Amesbury is no exception.  Out of town the footpath parallels the Avon River which Derek explains is the Celtic
word for river.  There are three Avons and this one is not the same one in Stratford-on-Avon.  We sorely miss carrying a bottle of water since
most of the route is in open fields under blue skies and 80 degreev weather again.  Many of the houses we pass have thatched roofs.  The thatch is tightly packed, covered with wire to discourage birds and squirrels, and “signed” with a 3-D wire sculpture such as a bird, squirrel, pheasant, or rabbit.  This dying art is enjoying a renaissanceand we actually witness one roof being thatched.

Near the end we duck into a wonderfully shaded hidden path in the trees that parallels the road for about a mile.  It is doubtful that we would have spotted it on our own, so well hidden it is, but Keith and Derek know where it is.  Then it is uphill through a long paddock and when we crest the hill, Stonehenge is clearly visible in the distance.  As we come closer we see how many more buses, cars, and tourists there are since we started our 17K some 3 hours ago.  Rather than pay an entrance fee, we view Stonehenge from outside the fence, although it makes picture taking more difficult.  After collecting our stamped record books and purchasing some club patches, we get back on the bus and set off for Bath.

As a bonus, our tour guides Ken and Dolores have arranged with the Amesbury Walkers the opportunity for us to d a 2nd walk today in Bath. We are again given several options – walk the entire 13K route, walk 10K, or walk a shorter distance.  We again opt for the full route.  This time, however, we stop at a local supermarket and buy a 2 liter bottle of lemonade.

The singular feature of Bath are the Georgian row houses, arranged in circles or semi-circles.  Viewers of PBS shows like Masterpiece Theatre will immediately recognize them.  Bath is at the bottom of a large valley, so the walk includes some hill work.  The other main attraction is the Roman baths.  An example of a hot springs bath is in the town square.  The King and Queen baths are by admission only, so we pass

those up.  The River Avon winds through town and a portion of the walk is along the towpath.  Several canal barges are moored along the bank. Flower pots and bicycles are on the roofs of the barges.  We cross the scenic Pultney Bridge which as stores on it.  When you walk across it you can not tell you are on a bridge since there are shops on both sides of the bridge.  Another short stretch along the rive brings us back to the start/finish at the coach park.

 

Everyone finishes on time and the coach is soon underway to our evening’s lodgings in Hereford.  We guess that the size of the group (there are 50 of us) dictates where we stay and dine.  Otherwise why drive north of Cardiff (our next day’s walk) and then double back the next day?

 

The setting for our stay is a golf resort.  The rooms are very nice and overlook the course.  It is also very quiet – we are far from any roads and traffic.  After a brief check-in we head over to the country club for dinner.  Since we are such a large group we are divided into two separate dining rooms.  In between is the ubiquitous pub.  A pint of Murphy’s Ale to enjoy with dinner is in order.  The meal selections are roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, chicken fricassee, and mushroom stroganoff (the vegetarian selection).  Nobody at our table orders beef,
one orders vegetarian, two order the chicken, and one because of dietary restrictions orders nothing.  Fortunately, the family style vegetable
plate is heaped with broccoli, cauliflower, and two kinds of potatoes, so no one goes hungry.  The stroganoff is a small clump of mushrooms
covered in sauce and no noodles.  We have been getting such great dinners up to now that this one is a disappointment.  After dinner there
is really no place to sightsee so we return to our room and retire early.

 

DAY 6 (Tue, 11 Aug) – Cardiff and Caernafon

For breakfast we are split into two groups again, not so that we can be in two rooms, but so we can go at two different serving times.  The
reason for this is that we get a sit-down English breakfast – egg, sausage, ham, blood sausage, and hash browns (just like McDonald’s).  We
mostly pass up this fat and cholesterol laden selection and concentrate on the cereal and toast.

 

Breakfast accomplished, we quickly load our bags on the bus and are on the road to Cardiff.  It is too bad we are doubling back because we
could use the extra hour.  Trying to do one of the British Walking Federation’s 13K permanent trails and having time for sightseeing all in
3-1/2 hours is proving impossible.  Again we split up into 3 groups – those opting for the full 13K, those using a modified 10K route, and

those doing the shorter 5K.

The 13K route takes us past Cardiff Castle, the adjacent Alexandra gardens, the white stone neoclassical civic center buildings, the Queen’s Arcade pedestrian shopping mall, and the inner harbor.  Cardiff is the capital of Wales and approximately 80% of the population of Wales lives in or near here.  This is evidenced by the hustle and bustle and the number of people in the streets.  Of course many of these could be tourists like us drawn not only by the sights but the shopping bargains to be found here.  Again it is all we can do to finish and visit the local market to purchase postcards, film, and a couple of snacks for the long ride to Caernafon.

We have been told it is going to be a 5-hour ride but the bus overheats several times so we stop for a unscheduled 15-minute stretches and with the bathroom stops we don’t arrive until 7:30 pm. Once again we pass where we are going to be the next day so it looks like we’ll spend time doubling back.  Quickly we check into the hotel and utilize the little daylight that is left to view and take pictures of Caernafon Castle. This is a delightful little walled town.  It would have been a good place for a 10K walk.

Dinner turns out to be excellent with a choice of mackerel, roast beef, or vegetarian lasagna.  For dessert the coffee and mandarin gateau (French for cake) is a big hit.  Several members of the group stop by the kitchen after the meal to express their thanks to the chef, who
looks to be no more than in his early twenties.

 

DAY 7 (Wed, 12 Aug) ­ Slate Mine and Ferry to Ireland

We need to get an early start today so we load our suitcases on the bus before breakfast and we get only 30 min instead of the usual 45.  The members of the group are OK about this and punctual. As we pull out of the parking lot, however, the underside of the bus apparently strikes the curb and damages a fan and destroys the belt. A substitute coach is arranged for and we are allowed an extra 30 min to roam around Caernafon. Since the center of the town and the walled castle are only a quarter mile away, it gives those a chance who did not visit the town the previous night.

The delay is not too long and 30 min later we are on the road in a substitute coach doubling back to Portmandog to catch the narrow gauge
railway. Since extra time had been scheduled we make the 9:30 am departure with 5 minutes to spare. The ride takes us on a causeway crossing the estuary and then slowly begins the climb into the mountains to the slate mines. Actually we disembark at a nearby town and our substitute coach meets us there to drive us the final mile to the mine.

Since our group is so large, we split into two to ride the trains into the mine. There is about a 10-min wait between trains so we think we won¹t have

to wait too long for the second train until we are told that it is the policy to alternate trains for groups so that regular visitors standing in line won¹t have too long a wait. That means a 20-min wait on top of the initial 10-min wait.  The slate mine tour itself is very interesting. Working conditions back at the turn of the century were primitive. Life expectancy of a miner was 37 years. At the end of the tour we are pressed for time.  No time to buy postcards, no time to buy lunch.  Just barely

enough time for a photograph. We seem to depart on time according to the master schedule.  However, we are also doubling back again. We also have to switch buses back to our repaired coach.  We are scheduled to sail on the ferry to Ireland at 3:15 and it looks like the bus is aiming to arrive at 2:45. Nothing like cutting it close. After the switching of buses, the driver takes the scenic route, but we figure he knows the time constraints. Wrong! We do not get to the outskirts of Holyhead (the ferry terminal) until 2:45 and immediately encounter a massive traffic jam. Are all these cars really going to Ireland? We crawl and crawl and crawl. From our seats up front on top we can overhear snatches of phone calls from our tour leaders to the ferry and it does not

sound good.


We finally reach the ferry queue only to find that the 3:15 ferry has sailed without us. It turns out that one of the earlier ferries that day had developed problems and all the ferries are running about 5 hours behind. Thus the ferry we can take is scheduled to leave at 8:00 pm. That is not as bad as the 6:00 pm travelers who are told their ferry will not leave until 11:00 pm. To compensate us for our troubles the ferry company gives each of us two 5-pound coupons good at the duty free shop or on the ferry.

The ferry is built like a catamaran and reaches a speed of 40 knots so the crossing time is only 1 hr 40 min. There is no outside deck but we secure some seats at the front to enjoy the setting sun. The interior of the ferry reminds us a little of a cruise ship. There are lounges, a McDonald¹s, a

restaurant, and a game room.


Debarkation takes about 30 min and finally we are on the road to Dublin and our hotel.  Unfortunately, the bus driver gets lost and it takes and entire hour instead of 30 min to reach our hotel. We are in a golf resort on a spit of land northeast of Dublin. The lights of the city are spread out below us in the distance.  Fatigued, we return to our room and fall into bed.  Thank goodness we can get up an hour later the next morning
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DAY 8 (Thu, 13 Aug) ­ Dublin

Fully refreshed we charge down to breakfast at 8:00 am. This one is a sit-down affair and while we can start on our juice and cereal it takes a while for the tea and coffee to be served. It would be nice if all the breakfasts were of the buffet variety. Everyone can pick and choose what they want. Moreover, the buffet takes less time. We¹re told we¹re being served an Irish breakfast, which from what we can see is just about identical to the English one. Reginald Norton of the Emerald Isle Wanderers joins the group at breakfast. He is to be our guide for Dublin today and the Giant¹s Causeway tomorrow.

In the morning light we can see how the Deer Park Hotel is located on a hill on a peninsula overlooking Dublin and its harbor.  It is drizzling but we are optimistic about it clearing later. The ride downtown passes quickly and we assemble at the start/finish for today¹s Volksmarch behind Trinity College. Most of us opt to follow Reggie so that we can have the benefit of his local color commentary.  For the faster walkers in the group this will be a much slower pace.

We start out going through St. Stephen¹s Green (the obligatory WC stop) and then through the shopping district to the famous Molly Malone sculpture (she of mussels, cockles, etc. fame) irreverently renamed "The Tart With the

Cart." From there we continue crossing the River Liffey and then into Henry St with all its outdoor markets. There we view another sculpture of a  woman with long hair reclining in what looks like a waterfall. Locals have also

renamed this work of art as "The floozy in the jacuzzi." 

 

The last bit of irreverent naming is another sculpture of three ladies sitting down with shopping backs retitled "The hag with the bag."  Recrossing the pedestrian only Ha¹ Penny Bridge we continue on to the grounds of Dublin Castle. From here the guided portion of the walk ends. Reginald excuses himself from our group and we split up in different directions. Rather than tackle a "rougher" section of Dublin, we decide to cover our required distance by retracing the route and looking into shops at a more leisurely pace. We have bought ourselves some extra time by not going back to the hotel in the afternoon and then having to return for the evening¹s entertainment at an authentic Irish pub (where Reginald will meet the group again).

For lunch we return to the St. Stephen¹s Green mall overlooking the green. It is like a greenhouse on the top floor and we get a great window seat. The food is really excellent ‹ soup, bread, smoked mackerel, several salads, and  plum cake for dessert. It is a leisurely lunch and we spend part of the -1/2 hours here writing postcards. A jazz trio provides musical entertainment while we write. After lunch we resume our stroll through Dublin finally ending up at Mother Redcaps ‹ our Irish pub. The pub dates from 1760 and Mother Redcaps was apparently the Irish "Fagan" (similar to Oliver Twist¹s Fagan) and eventually hung for her crimes.

The entertainment that Reginald has laid on for us is excellent. There¹s a quartet consisting of guitar violin, accordion, and flute (sometimes
doubling as a 2nd accordion), four young girls and a young boy performing traditional Irish dancing like that seen on Riverdance, and woman singer. We are also served a meal of traditional Irish stew.  The entertainment is excellent, the food at the other end of the scale.  We are  happy we had such a great lunch earlier. Finally, at 10:00 pm we pile back on the bus for the trip back to the hotel.
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DAY 9 (Fri, 14 Aug) ­ Giant¹s Causeway

This morning our routine is a little different ‹ load the luggage on the bus and then eat breakfast. Again it is a sit-down affair so it takes longer. If they could just bring out the coffee and tea first, we could be enjoying a hot beverage during our wait. It¹s the Irish breakfast.

The drive out of town should be easy but in taking the back way we come to a train underpass which has a posted clearance of 13.6 meters. That¹s the exact height of our bus so we are forced to back up and use another route out of town.

The transition from Ireland to Northern Ireland is imperceptible. There is no border crossing; the houses, roads and countryside look the  same. We make a grocery stop in Newry. Inside the supermarket are many familiar American products. In fact if you were to wakeup in on of these supermarkets you would be hard pressed to figure out you were not in the U.S. The purchases are conveniently paid for with a Visa card. Nice to know it is accepted worldwide.

At noon we arrive at Northern Ireland¹s #1 tourist attraction ‹ The Giant¹s Causeway ‹ which consist of some 37,000 basalt, mostly  hexagonal columns up to 400 feet high.  It reminds us of Devil¹s Tower, Wyoming and Devil¹s Postpile National Monument, California.  A steep 1/2 km road leads from the visitor¹s center down to the base of the cliffs. A shuttle bus runs continuously for those wanting to avoid the hike. It is very interesting scrambling over the geometrically shaped blocks. Erosion has created varying heights. In the distance we can see a footpath that takes you back up the cliffs. This would be a great place to hold the entire 10K walk.

Back at the visitor center we regroup with Reginald and set out on the walk to Portrush. The first couple of miles are a bit hazardous since we have to walk on the road facing traffic and there is no berm. When we get to the first town of Bushmills we have sidewalk which lasts the remainder of the walk. In town we see a directional sign which says "Portrush 7m" so we already know that it is going to be much more than 10K. The wind is very brisk but the sun is shining and we enjoy magnificent views of the North Antrim coast. In the distance we can see the visitor center where we started. In the other direction we can see our approximate halfway point ‹ Dunluce Castle. We eventually pass the castle and being pressed for time we do not detour to view it. Now in the distance we see Portrush and the wide sandy beach. Again there is no spare time to find the path down to the beach and stroll in the sand. We eventually reach the finish at the Portrush Visitor¹s Center.  Conservatively we estimated having walked 15K.  Later it  is stated that we did 14K. Apparently Reginald missed the very first turn. Most of us don¹t really care just as long as we get credit for the distance. The sunshine, the blue water, the white clouds, the gray cliffs, the shrieking gulls have made this a wonderful walk.

We hop on the bus for the 1 hour ride back to Belfast and our overnight stay at another Forte Posthouse hotel.

DAY 10 (Sat, 15 Aug) ­ Edinburgh

This morning¹s first leg is a very short one to the ferry dock.  The second leg is also short since the crossing into Scotland is quick.  Breakfast is a 7-item affair at Rudi¹s dinner on the ferry.  We can choose from tomatoes, mushrooms, sausage, bacon, ham, beans, toast and cereal.  So you can have 7 tomatoes or 1 of each just so long they add up to 7.

In Scotland the leg to Edinburgh is much longer.  The weather is great and the scenery wonderful so that the hours pass relatively quickly.  This evening¹s stay is at the Hilton in Livingston, a suburb of Edinburgh.  We arrive at the early hour of 3:30.  This gives everyone some time to unwind, shop, do laundry, etc.  At 5:00 we reboard our bus for the ride into Edinburgh and dinner at a floating restaurant (i.e. a boat docked at the harbor).  The atmosphere is unique and the food delicious but we¹re a bit rushed since need to be off to Edinburgh castle and the Tattoo which starts promptly at 7:30.

With all the traffic in town and the close-in bus parking now filled, we end up a bit further out.  Walking uphill to the castle we have to negotiate the swarm of pedestrians out on the

At noon we arrive at Northern Ireland¹s #1 tourist attraction ‹ The Giant¹s Causeway ‹ which consist of some 37,000 basalt, mostly  hexagonal columns up to 400 feet high.  It reminds us of Devil¹s Tower, Wyoming and Devil¹s Postpile National Monument, California.  A steep 1/2 km road leads from the visitor¹s center down to the base of the cliffs. A shuttle bus runs continuously for those wanting to avoid the hike. It is very interesting scrambling over the geometrically shaped blocks. Erosion has created varying heights. In the distance we can see a footpath that takes you back up the cliffs. This would be a great place to hold the entire 10K walk.

Back at the visitor center we regroup with Reginald and set out on the walk to Portrush. The first couple of miles are a bit hazardous since we have to walk on the road facing traffic and there is no berm. When we get to the first town of Bushmills we have sidewalk which lasts the remainder of the walk. In town we see a directional sign which says "Portrush 7m" so we already know that it is going to be much more than 10K. The wind is very brisk but the sun is shining and we enjoy magnificent views of the North Antrim coast. In the distance we can see the visitor center where we started. In the other direction we can see our approximate halfway point ‹ Dunluce Castle. We eventually pass the castle and being pressed for time we do not detour to view it. Now in the distance we see Portrush and the wide sandy beach. Again there is no spare time to find the path down to the beach and stroll in the sand. We eventually reach the finish at the Portrush Visitor¹s Center.  Conservatively we estimated having walked 15K.  Later it  is stated that we did 14K. Apparently Reginald missed the very first turn. Most of us don¹t really care just as long as we get credit for the distance. The sunshine, the blue water, the white clouds, the gray cliffs, the shrieking gulls have made this a wonderful walk.

We hop on the bus for the 1 hour ride back to Belfast and our overnight stay at another Forte Posthouse hotel.

DAY 10 (Sat, 15 Aug) ­ Edinburgh

This morning¹s first leg is a very short one to the ferry dock.  The second leg is also short since the crossing into Scotland is quick.  Breakfast is a 7-item affair at Rudi¹s dinner on the ferry.  We can choose from tomatoes, mushrooms, sausage, bacon, ham, beans, toast and cereal.  So you can have 7 tomatoes or 1 of each just so long they add up to 7.

In Scotland the leg to Edinburgh is much longer.  The weather is great and the scenery wonderful so that the hours pass relatively quickly.  This evening¹s stay is at the Hilton in Livingston, a suburb of Edinburgh.  We arrive at the early hour of 3:30.  This gives everyone some time to unwind, shop, do laundry, etc.  At 5:00 we reboard our bus for the ride into Edinburgh and dinner at a floating restaurant (i.e. a boat docked at the harbor).  The atmosphere is unique and the food delicious but we¹re a bit rushed since need to be off to Edinburgh castle and the Tattoo which starts promptly at 7:30.

With all the traffic in town and the close-in bus parking now filled, we end up a bit further out.  Walking uphill to the castle we have to negotiate the swarm of pedestrians out on the

town.  We miss the opening 10-minute sequence but what will follow is another hour and forty minutes of pageantry.


There are the massed bagpipers, the Coldstream Guards Band, the Irish Lancers Band, the Russian Navy Band and dancers, the Fiji Military Band, Scottish dancers, and Irish dancers.  Each perform singly, then in various combinations, and finally all massed together for the finale.  9,000 spectators enthusiastically clap their approval.


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DAY 11 (Sun, 16 Aug) ­ Edinburgh to Harrogate

The Hilton breakfast is buffet style ­ our favorite.  Everyone is able to choose what they want and it is much quicker.  We are prompt and the bus leaves on time at 8:00 am for the walk in Edinburgh.  We all pose for a group picture in front of the information center and then we¹re on the trail at 9:15.

There are those who charge ahead, those who "turtle" along, and those like us who alternate speeding up with stops in between to take pictures.  Walking in European cities always exposes you to history and culture.  One of the checkpoints is a house where Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson once resided.

Another checkpoint is the Lord Admiral Nelson monument atop a steep hill.  The route passes Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the Queen when she stays in Edinburgh.

 

The last stretch is The Royal Mile.  This street changes names several times and links Holyrood Palace with Edinburgh Castle.  In Wheaton, Maryland we have eaten at The Royal Mile Pub without realizing the significance of this name.  The castle courtyard where last night¹s tattoo took place is now crawling with tourists.  Towards the end of the walk we stop at a food court of a modern underground shopping mall and lunch on turkey sandwiches.

 

Again there hasn¹t been that much time to do the complete walk and browse.  The bus pulls up promptly at 1:00 PM and we¹re on our way again.  This has been our northernmost point.  The rest of the trip will basically be south back towards London.

 

Ken and Dolores, our tour leaders, have again arranged for a second walk on the same day.  This again gets the average up to a walk per day since a couple of days are travel only.  For the second walk we are doing Hadrian¹s Wall ­ built by the Romans in 120 AD to keep the "barbarians" out of England.  Originally it was 75 miles long running east to west.  Our approach takes us through some pretty hilly countryside which will be obvious when we do the walk.

The skies are overcast as we start and pretty soon we are in some showers with a fierce blowing wind.  This is more of how we imagined the atmosphere of the walks would be.  We do a steep uphill climb passing one of the old forts (extra charge to get in here!) and then we are literally on the wall.  For a fairly long stretch it is possible to walk directly on the wall.  Later on there are signs advising us not climb the walls so they will not deteriorate.  There are some significant hill climbs on the walk and the views are worth it.

We are running a bit behind schedule so Ken allows us only an hour and fifteen minutes of walking.  At our pace we figure that allows us about 6K of walking.  So we really don¹t go out too far before turning around and retracing our steps.  But even that abbreviated distance has been worth the extra stop.

Continuing our day¹s journey for another two hours we arrive in Harrogate around 7:00 PM.  Our stay is at an old regal hotel with lots of atmosphere.  We quickly check in and spend a few moments before dinner walking around town.  Flower-filled parks and street baskets are everywhere.  Many signs proclaim where we are walking is part of the Flower Trail.  There¹s an elegant bathhouse fed by mineral springs.  There are in fact some 38 different springs each with a different composition of minerals so that this area is actually unique in the world.

Dinner is in a very formal dining room with high sculpted ceilings.  The quality of the dinners is commensurate with this ambience.  We can always claim that walking off so many calories entitles us to those large and rich portions.

DAY 12 (Mon, 17 Aug) ­ York

While the sky is overcast the early morning clouds should burn off.  We arrive in York in high spirits.  This walled city has an inner wall, in
ruins, that dates from Roman times and an outer wall that dates from Medieval Times.  The outer wall is in three sections with no wall where
swampland existed.  At one time it had a castle, but all that is left is Clifford tower with its 55 steps to the top.  Of course we climb up.  After
walking by the government buildings the trail takes us down to the River Ouse which flows through town.  There are lots of flowers everywhere - in baskets, in parks, in yards.

Soon we are on the wall that meanders around the city.  It is a great walk and not too crowded since we are early.  An elderly gentleman stops to give us an impromptu history lesson and points out a Roman ice house that we would surely have missed.

We leave the wall and walk into town.  Soon we are in the Shambles which is famous for its shopping boutiques.  The stores have a variety of items, from

very expensive china to affordable souvenirs.  We catch up with several walkers in this area, obviously slowed down by the effective window displays

and shop names.

 

The street leads us to the York Minster.  This was built between 1220 and 1470 and is the largest Catholic cathedral in Britain.  The Gothic architecture is breathtaking.  The round widow catches the light through a floret of glass that lightens the heaviness of the stone architecture.  By now the crowds have increased and the weather has improved.  Sunshine makes the city sparkle and the shopkeepers tell us that it has been a terrible season revenue wise because of rainy and cold weather.  This is the best

weather they have had all summer.


Our next stop is St. Williams College.  Here the architecture looks like Shakespeare¹s England with brown and white board houses and flower baskets.  We stop in the tavern and step into the shade of the enclosed courtyard. Here the noise of the street is muted and people are enjoying a relaxing lunch.  We end up having lunch several blocks away at a cafeteria and then continue along the river to finish the walk.

The bus takes the group to the small and quiet town of Leamington Spa where we are spending two nights at the Regent Hotel < another "grande dame" of English hotels.  It seems that every town boasts parks and gardens so we take a leisurely stroll through one of the parks before dinner.


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DAY 13 (Mon, 17 Aug) ­ Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick

Breakfast is a much more relaxed meal this morning because we do not have to load our bags on the bus.  This is one of two times when we stay at the same hotel two nights in a row.  It also presents a good opportunity to do some laundry since the clothes will have time to properly dry.  This is another buffet style breakfast which also makes it more relaxing.  Instead of having all-or-nothing in terms of an English breakfast, we find out it is possible to order just scrambled eggs.  The coffee and tea service is also excellent.  Toast is brought out in racks holding six slices at a time.  The slices are really huge.  The final touch of elegance is that honey and jam come in individual serving size jars.  None of those plastic peel away containers found in Denny¹s.

This morning¹s walk is in Stratford-upon-Avon ­ Shakespeare country.  The first part of the walk parallels one of the canals.  We watch the operation of one of the locks as a barge is lifted to a higher level.  It¹s essentially a do-it-yourself operation.  From one of the passengers we learn that the barge is taking two weeks to complete a 190-mile loop through the rivers and canals.  We follow the canal to where it joins the River Avon.  The name is a bit redundant since Avon means river.  Adjacent to the Avon is a big municipal park at the edge of which stands The Royal Shakespeare Playhouse.  Several members of our group are intending to catch a play either in the afternoon or this evening.

After winding our way through the quaint streets and lanes we pass through Trinity Church where Shakespeare¹s tomb is located.  Admission to the church is free but there is a fee to enter that part of the church where the tomb is located so we pass.  We then pick up a series of footpaths which eventually lead us to Ann Hathaway¹s cottage.

Again there is an admission fee so we just look at it and the garden from the street.  Another series of footpaths takes us back into town and the walk winds through several of the streets which are now packed with people in contrast to when we started.

 

The afternoon walk is at Warwick which is famous for its castle.  Since admission is provided by Walking Adventures we spend the first hour exploring the castle.  Narrow spiral staircases lead up the turret to the ramparts.  We also tour some of the rooms inside the castle though not all since the lines are pretty long.  Within the keep is also an older fortification dating back to 1040 AD.

Then we start the walk.  Since we¹re at the castle instead of the normal start/finish we need to start in the middle of the instructions.  This proves to be confusing and at least 5 minutes are spent trying to figure out where to go.  Later on we are again stymied by the instructions.  There seem to be too many right turns and we¹re not sure about the definition of gate and patch.  As a result we walk some extra Ks.  Instead of walking in town we have a long trek into the countryside and back.  At least one segment which parallels a canal is interesting.  The town itself is not much to look at.  When we finish there is general consensus that the walk directions need some work.  Many of the walkers found one or more of the directions confusing.

The return to the hotel is a short drive although there is a lot of rush hour traffic.  Another great evening meal awaits us complete with desserts from the dessert trolley.

DAY 14 (Wed, 19 Aug) ­ The Cotswolds and Oxford

Can this already be the last walking day of our trip?  It seems like only yesterday that we started our walk at Windsor Castle.

On our way to Oxford we make a short stop at Bourton-on-the-Water ("Venice of the Cotswolds").  This town is in the geographical area known as the

Cotswolds.  The Cotswolds are part of a rolling upland in the southwestern part of England, mainly in Gloucestershire.  The area is famous for its small villages, rolling hills, and relative isolation, and Cotswold stone (made of microscopic sea creatures) used to construct the stone houses. Many of the villages and homes date from Saxon times.


The bus parks in a bus lot and we walk into town on a shaded lane.  Since we are here so early, we have the town to ourselves and walk along the river.

There is great anticipation about arriving in Oxford.  From another bus lot on the outskirts of the city we walk a very short distance along the road

and then down to the Thames River and along a bike path that follows the river into the city.  This part of Oxford is bucolic with pastures and

meadows, along with a series of boat houses where Oxford students practice

their punting or people can rent a boat for the day. We come up from the river to a busy city street.  The statues added to the facade of the brick building across the road interest us since we had never seen anything quite like this before.  The closer we get to the downtown area, the more congested things get.  The sheer volume of traffic make crossing the street a challenge, even when you have the light. Oxford is a conglomeration of 40 different colleges and halls, each with an admission charge.  Many of the buildings were constructed using the warm

honey colored Cotswold stone.


Klaus stops to talk with one guide and learns that some of the scenes from the Inspector Morse series on Masterpiece Theater were filmed at Queen¹s College.  We walk through the gardens of Queen¹s College and look out on the buildings and the adjacent fields where crops are grown.

We continue to follow the route past numerous colleges and government buildings with elaborate architectural details.  For example, the bridge over New Castle Lane replicates the Bridge of Sighs in Venice.  Further down the street the finials for pillars are the busts of famous people.

The day is so beautiful that we decide to pay the entrance fee and climb the narrow stairs to the top of the Christ Church.  This proves to be quite challenging, especially for Gale who does not like heights.  There is exactly one spiraling staircase both up and down.   Whenever you meet someone going the other way, which is several times, someone has to squeeze along the edge.  There are ropes to hold on to which provide a sense of security.  Once we get to the top, there is not much more room, but the view is worth it.  The gargoyles are filled with money that people have tossed trying to get the coins in the depression.  With our "birds-eye" view we can identify where we have walked and see more of the universities we did not tour.  We also have close-up views of the architectural details of the Christ Church facade.

We are back at the Ivy House bed and breakfast in Marlborough where we stayed earlier in the trip.  This time our room is on the second floor and faces the back of the building which is insulated from the traffic on the main street.  Dinner is great.  Matt Pernick, president of the Bad Pennies, Dan and Emily Siwula who live in Michigan and Canada, Jane and John Miles from Charlotte, North Carolina, and Fay Foote and Marshall Hansen from Maryland keep the conversation flowing.


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DAY 15 (Thu, 20 Aug) ­ Flight to Baltimore

After breakfast a relatively short bus ride brought us back to Heathrow Airport for our departing flight.  Naturally we were in the check-in line that moved the slowest but there was more than adequate time to make the flight.

 

Our return also made stop/change of planes in Iceland.  The terminal in Keflavik has no passenger lounges so everyone is reduced to standing or sitting on the floor in the hallway leading to the gates.  The flight back was uneventful and with the time zone changes we arrived early evening in Baltimore.

 

Would we take another trip with The Bad Pennies and Walking Adventures International?  You bet!  It really was a tremendous trip in all aspects. Sure there were one or two glitches like the bus breaking down.  But there was a pretty quick and dramatic response < we got an almost brand new replacement bus.  The weather was sunny and downright balmy, very little of that famous drizzle you hear about.  We regretted not having packed shorts. The accommodations were first class and many of the places possessed a real "atmosphere" in contrast to the sameness of many motel chains.  The food (with one glaring exception) was outstanding and dispelled any misperceptions we may have had about English meals.  The dessert trolleys were to die for! The walks were varied, interesting, and historic and kept us busy walking off all the calories.  And finally, we got to know some really nice volksmarchers.

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