Friday, September 21, 2012

From the white cliffs to the white rabbit

Next stop and another old friend of Elizabeth's in Folkestone. For the first time this year I hired a car and drove; I also bought my own GPS (we call her Emily) because at £11 per day it was cheaper than hiring one. Driving in the UK is a pain for several reasons (though they do drive on the 'right' side of the road). Firstly they have about 2 billion roundabouts, some of them huge with 3 or 4 lanes and 5 to 6 exits, so confusing. Secondly their roads are not big enough for two cars so you have to look ahead all the time and duck out of the way.

Elizabeth and Caroline
White cliffs of Dover
Anyway I successfully negotiated my way to Folkestone where we met up with Elizabeth's friend Caroline. We spent a relaxing few days here catching the sights and catching up with the old days. Folkestone is a charming little town on the south coast that is the quintessential British beach town. From here you can go to see the white cliffs of Dover, stroll along a charming little beach by taking one of the only water and gravity powered funicular railways in the world and visit the pier with its constant hive of activity. On the day we were there they were teaching some dogs to rescue in the water and speedboat races were occurring. A big thank you to Caroline for showing us the beauty of Folkestone and the surrounding Kent countryside.

Ye olde phone booth
Me, gardening and fire
- dangerous combination
Folkestone version
of the Little Mermaid

Harry Potter fans can drool :-)
Oxford town
From here we drove to Oxford, where we spent one night and went for a walk around the city the next morning. The architecture here was amazing, very old, very beautiful and everywhere you looked. We went to see Oxford Castle (built in 1071) and its accompanying St George's Tower, which was still a prison until 1996. The place holds a very torrid history of maltreatment of prisoners with many sadistic practices in the olden days and ghost tours are also conducted here, though we did not see any ghosts. Wandering the streets I could feel my brain cells growing as we came across many universities still in use today in buildings and grounds that look like they did several hundred years ago. One of my favourites was New College where Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was filmed.
Prison cell
Bound for prison cell

Great Orme ancient mine
Off we went again to visit the cute little town of Llandudno in Wales. Their main claim to fame is a small hill they call the Great Orme that's less than 400m high. In the style we have become used to we accepted the challenge and decided to do the walk around it as well as up it on the same day (we were only there for the one full day), so with the local in the hotel asking repeatedly why we don't take the tram we set off on our trek. On the way we came across an old copper mine that dates back to the Bronze Age and apparently rivals the pyramids of Egypt in its age and history. This archaeological site is still being excavated and explains how people would have mined and refined and worked the copper back then.

Off with her head!

On top of all that they have a tenuous connection to the book Alice in Wonderland because Alice Liddell, the girl the book is apparently based on, used to holiday here. Consequently they have many statues representing characters from the book. It was a big day but very satisfying and enjoyable. With a beach on two sides and the Great Orme on a third side and with views to Snowdonia, this is a town I would thoroughly recommend.

We left here to meander slowly through the Lakes District on our way to Scotland. This included a stop of several hours at Lake Windermere for a scenic cruise on this wonderful lake and a walk through the countryside. This year in Britain had been the wettest in 100 years but our luck in getting fine weather has been nearly flawless. I wonder what the weather in Scotland will be like...

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