I have been meaning to write this for three weeks at least, but wow! did life get in the way of that! But I really did want to document (at least for myself) the last amazing weeks we spent in the UK.
In May the weather finally cooperated. Especially the last week where it was hot and sunny for more than a week… England was torturing me with gorgeousness just as I had to leave! Paul’s work schedule got easier and we went into Extreme Last-Minute-Tourist Mode. We went into London every weekend for the last 6 weeks to say goodbye to our favorite places. We also revisited some places we hadn’t been back to since our first trip to London back in 1998, or the other times we’d been to the UK together or singly. (Paul went over quite often on business; I went twice on my own primarily on “china horse business”). For example, we went back to the Tower of London. That place has changed a lot since our first visit; the interior of the White Tower itself had been mostly closed off back then. Now you can walk through its many floors while looking at a great exhibit about military history and the history of the castle itself. The free tour given by one of the Beefeaters was just as great as the first time. I was really impressed all over again with England’s most famous and historic castle. It sure has become an oasis of ancient-ness in busy modern London!
We revisited St. Paul’s Cathedral, this time going all the way up to the top of the dome for the great views of the city. Back in April I had gone into London twice with my brother and his family, and we took a ride on the London Eye wheel. Which was something I had been in no way interested in doing but since I was with them, I did. And I loved it!! It is so well engineered and the bird’s-eye views of the Westminster end of London with Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Whitehall, Buckingham Palace, were just super. So much for me poo-pooh-ing such a “tourist trap”! The day we rode it was raining, and that didn’t diminish the experience at all (except for the raindrops on the windows in my photos). There was practically no line which was a big plus. Back to St. Paul’s… the view from their dome is of the City of London, so it was fun to note the differences in what you could see from there as opposed to the Eye. Good views of the iconic buildings in the modern London skyline like the “Gherkin” and Canary Wharf, Millennium Dome (now called the O2 Arena), the Tate Modern art museum in the old power station, and many bridges including Tower Bridge.
On another day we went back to Westminster Abbey. I forgot how many significant people were buried there. (And how mobbed with tourists it can be!) Photos aren’t allowed in St. Paul’s or the Abbey, but I snuck a few anyway with my great palm-sized digital camera which takes excellent shots with no flash. I had to have a shot of the incredible fan vaulting in the Abbey and the majestic arches in St. Paul’s for my photo archives!
In early May I spent one day on a big drive across south Wales. I drove over to Donna Chaney’s home and ceramics studio to make a quick pickup of a china horse she fired for me, and a quick “goodbye”. I also left her with two buckets of earthenware casting slip I bought but never did use much of. I was so glad to get to see her farmland in the beautiful green springtime! Then I drove straight west from Hereford, over the border to Wales passing the Brecon Beacons to the south. I wanted to get a good look at south central Wales mountains and then their south coast. I stopped at one wonderful ruined castle high on a mountain with 360° views, Carreg Cennen. From there I drove straight south to near Swansea, onto the scenic Gower Peninsula. At the very tip of which you find the Worm’s Head at Rhossili, a couple of islands that look like a serpent. (Best seen from the sea I think; my photos don’t show that it is actually a humped dragon-shaped string of islets.) There’s a gorgeous beach complete with paragliders launching off the headland. I got home about 10pm that night but it was worth all that driving!
The last Friday before we left, I spent the day at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. This is a 5-day unbelievable display of horse events of all kinds. I went mainly to get a lot of photo references of the British Heavyweight Cob that I am sculpting, but there was so much more to see, including a traditional Coaching marathon. All the events took place on the grounds of Windsor Home Park, between the castle on its hill and the Thames. Perfect!
Speaking of Windsor Home Park, I had heard that there was a group of traditional grass tennis courts on the grounds (like they play on at Wimbledon). I found their website and emailed an inquiry, and it turns out they have a club there open to all local Borough residents. We were invited to come and play on one of the courts!! Another memorable experience we can’t believe we did. Grass courts available to the public are almost unheard of even in the UK; they are usually restricted to ultra-private clubs. So there we were one glorious sunny afternoon hitting tennis balls on green grass in the shadow of the castle. Windsor Castle sure became the icon for our experience this past year. It was the hardest place of all to say goodbye to.
On another day about a week before we left, I drove south to Portsmouth, and visited their historic Docks and Royal Navy yards. It was to be my last glimpse of the ocean in the UK. They had a wonderful harbor boat tour where we got to see a lot of new and old Navy ships, and the busy commercial port. The huge overnight ferry from France came motoring majestically in right past our boat. Also in the docks, they have the actual Admiral Nelson’s HMS Victory warship. Heavily restored after all these years of course, but they did an incredible job of bringing it to life again and you could walk around it top to bottom. (The lower decks and the hull are all the original wood.) It looked ready to hoist canvas and sail right out. That was a huge treat, especially after seeing Nelson’s tomb in St. Paul’s the week before, and his famous memorial column in Trafalgar Square every time we went through there in London. I got a nice shot of one of the superb lion sculptures guarding his statue in the Square the last time.
The day before the Boyz and I flew home, the moving company came to the house to pack up all our belongings. That included my precious plaster ceramics molds, finally after all these years to be sent home! I was very impressed with how prepared they were to deal with those. They brought custom-made wood crates padded with foam. I had 5 china horses to get home, too, and they went in the same crates. Our shipping container is on a boat as of June 12th, and is expected to arrive in Houston on June 29. Not sure how long it will take a truck to get to Boulder from there.
The packing was completed before noon, the weather was just perfect, so we decided to drive up to Cambridge for the afternoon. We had been there last June soon after I had arrived in the UK, but I lost all my photos of that visit when my hard disk crashed last September. This time we did more than just walk around. We attended an Evensong service at King’s College Chapel; practically the entire service was sung by their famous choir, with the evening sun streaming through the incredible stained glass windows. Another breathtaking fan-vaulted ceiling! Magical. We wandered all around the compact town and resisted renting a “punt” on the pretty river Cam. I added one more photo my McD World Tour, of the McDonalds in Cambridge!
I spent one sunny spring day during the last week taking many sentimental photos all around our immediate neighborhood, where I walked the Boyz, doing our daily run, riding bikes on the way to town, walking to the local pub, etc. I already miss seeing the 3 horses at the farm nearby where we had lovely walks nearly every day. And here is a shot of the incredible wild bluebells growing in the forest near our house!
OK, I am done documenting our very special year in the UK. And now back to my regularly-scheduled life!