Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Castles *3


After our scenic drive through the Lakes District we arrived in sunny... err wet and cold Scotland to visit Elizabeth's friends Gwen and Ronnie in Ardrossan near Glasgow. Scotland was not all cold and wet; we did have significant dry periods and actually spent most of the following day walking around the surrounding area. Gwen and Ronnie, with obvious pride and enthusiasm, showed us the sights of this charming area while displaying typically generous Scottish hospitality, feeding us large slatherings of gluten free food, including crumpets (GF is well catered for in the supermarkets), and even some salads (even though the Scots consider 'salad' a dirty word).



Portencross Castle
Portencross inside
Ardrossan is right on the beach and was a relaxing and beautiful area to walk around in its own right but we also visited Portencross Castle, a small but superbly renovated castle sitting like a lighthouse on the coast. This was followed by the huge and extravagant Culzean Castle, completely decked out with authentic furniture and fixtures. I particularly liked the working music box that one of the staff opened and played for me and the certificate (called an indulgence) from the pope that pardoned a person's sins and granted fast track access to heaven. The gardens were also huge and magnificent, so extensive that we weren't able to cover the whole grounds in one go. Our time in Scotland was very enjoyable and it's very beautiful, green and crisp this time time of year. Thank you Ronnie and Gwen for showing us around.

Culzean Castle
Ardrossan











Where Shakespeare was born
When we left Scotland it was still raining but that just added to its atmosphere as we began our journey back down through the middle of Britain to the eventual destination of Southampton. But we had a few stops, the first one being Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birthplace of the most famous of bards, Shakespeare.








Performances outside
the family home
'Alas poor Yorick, I knew
him, Horatio'
The town's whole existence seems to be geared to the life of Shakespeare. There is his family home and birthplace, and I remember after being told that the floor was still the original stone bending down and touching it with a resulting shiver of knowing that Shakespeare himself probably touched this floor as well. The feeling was quite surprising. Outside in the garden professional actors continuously recite famous parts of Shakespeare's plays on demand. Throw them the name of a play and they are able to instantly act out a passage for you.



The little lady's family home
We also visited the cottage Anne Hathaway grew up in (Shakespeare's wife, not the actress) where we were told fascinating stories of life back then and a few too many examples of English sayings and where they come from. The large garden had bushes on which hung laminated Shakespeare sonnets as well as a secluded seat under a small tree where from an audio panel you could choose from a selection of sonnets read by a famous actor. Definitely a romantic getaway that will make any girl swoon. There were many more buildings and references of significance throughout the town but we only had the one full day and just up the road was the famous Warwick Castle.




Shouldn't eavesdrop,
Elizabeth
Falconry at Warwick
Castle
Now that place is a day out. Currently owned by the Merlin entertainment group (also owns Madame Tussaud's) this place is a continuous medieval festival with shows and activities all year round. The castle contains wax models of previous castle inhabitants and tells a consistent story throughout with taped voices, supposedly from the models, of its glory days. There was a falconry display, a huge catapult firing a flaming ball, horror dungeon displays etc. I also like the fact that you could take as many photos as you liked, anywhere.
Warwick Castle from one of its ramparts













Just a small gripe: I hate it when they don't allow photographs inside buildings, it really takes away a lot of the future enjoyment. I can't browse back through the photographs and flood my mind with the memories of the experience. This occurs all too frequently; if it is a question of the flash affecting artefacts then they should just say so and warn that you will be asked to leave if you use flash. If for other reasons then it is just wrong.


Our last stop on our long journey was Stonehenge. Elizabeth had done a good job of lowering my expectations by saying how small and unimpressive it was when she first saw it, so when it came into view I was both surprised and impressed by its size and atmospheric presence in the English countryside. It was larger than I expected, was as old as the pyramids and would have required similar engineering skill to get the stone down from Wales and bury the pillars a third deep in the ground while interlocking them with the huge stone beams along the top like a jigsaw puzzle. They apparently used tools meant for wood to initially shape the pillars. It just shows what can be done with enough will and enough hard working human beings.