Southern England

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 - En Route to London Gatwick

Having been to London (for business) on three other occasions, when pondering doing a "big" trip somewhere England certainly wasn't on my planning-radar.  However, money talks: in May, I stumbled-upon a deal (from US-Scare) that was simply too good to pass-up - so I bought the tix, then set-about planning a two week holiday (with a goal, at the outset, of steering-clear of London - deciding to spend all of my time in the southern third of the country... and doing a LOT of driving!).  I also wanted to play some really premiere golf - without letting it get out-of-hand (similar to my all-golf, all-the-time trip to Scotland back in the mid-90s).

So, with plans set, the GPS fully-programmed, and both dogs kenneled (because I wasn't about to go halfway across the globe, at the height of hurricane season, leaving them to their own devices in the house) - I had a friend drive me to the airport for a noontime flight to Charlotte on US1972... then, after a few-hours layover, continued across-the-pond on US732 - arriving London Gatwick a little before 7 o'clock the next morning.

 

Thursday, August 27, 2009 - Gatwick to Weybridge to Epsom

Prior experience with the five-hour time difference has taught me the best way to adjust is to sleep on the flight-over, then keep yourself busy (preferably moving-around busy) on the first day.  So, my plans had me hitting the ground running on this day! 

After a scare (thinking the airline had lost my golf bag - in fact, it had appeared on a conveyor on the opposite side of the baggage area), I made-way to Budget Car Rental for my teeny Ford Fiesta ("teeny" being desirable in the UK, given so many very narrow streets!) - then popped-onto the highway for a 30-35min trip to Windsor... and a three-hour tour of Windsor Castle:

Having just parked nearby, I begin my tour of Windsor... with the Castle looming just to the left Across the street from Windsor Castle, with Queen Victoria's statue beckoning you to come hither (yes, that's a tiny historical pun Meandering towards the Castle entrance, looking back towards my eventual exit (the King Henry VIII gate - center right) The exterior of the Windsor Castle "Middle Ward" Ever nearer the entrance to Windsor Castle Okay, we're in (and looking back from wence we came)
Looks just like the front door to your home - right? I quickly discovered that these mega-Castles are actually small villages in-and-of themselves... ...with arches like this providing for wonderful photo opportunities! Cool, huh? The grounds near the Windsor Castle "Upper Ward" Does it get much more British than this?  :)
As I say, it's actually a small village - and villages need their roadways The grounds inside the Windsor Castle "Upper Ward" Another view of the grounds inside the Windsor Castle "Upper Ward" St. George's Chapel @ Windsor Castle The Castle Guard, keeping watch in the "Lower Ward" Time to leave Windsor Castle - through the King Henry VIII Gate

I left Windsor a little before 1 o'clock - so there'd be no problem making my 2pm tee-time at the St Georges Hill Golf Club, in nearby Weybridge:

The first tee on my first round of golf - at St. George's Hill Golf Club, Weybridge (btw, for you golfers, I did par the hole) The first par 3 @ St. George's Hill - #3, 197 yards from my tees Interestingly, the view of the St. George's Hill Clubhouse was better from the 9th tee than when approaching the 18th green

St Georges Hill has three-nines - I played Red-to-Blue, carding an 11-over-par 81 from the White (back) 6,526 yard tees.  This wasn't an overly difficult golf course - but you need to have played it at least once so as to not make stupid mistakes (e.g. on the second hole, I didn't realize a burn ran across the fairway - proceeding to hit a long-and-perfect tee-shot right down the middle... into the water... for a penalty stroke).  From there, I drove to the Holiday Inn Express, in Epsom - literally across the road from Epsom Downs:

After dinner @ Jimmy Spice's, I wandered the streets of Epsom just a bit - not only for the ambiance, but to also work-off the meal My home for the first night in England: the Holiday Inn Express, Epsom Downs... ...which, as the name implies, is directly across the street from Epsom Downs My daughter, long-time equestrian, would've killed me if I hadn't included one pic of a horse being warmed-up

Feeling a little ragged - but not downright exhausted - I decided that a relatively early dinner would be a good idea... so I drove the mile-or-so, into town, to dine at Jimmy Spices (with buffet Indian, Thai, Chinese, and Italian - how's THAT for an interesting combination?!).  After dinner, I wandered the streets for a bit - then went back to the hotel where a solid internet connection let me pass the time until I finally ran-out of steam a bit after 11pm that night.

 

Friday, August 28, 2009 - Epsom to Dorking to Walton On The Hill to Portsmouth

After sleeping later than I could've possibly hoped-for, I checked-out and drove to nearby Dorking - not only for some light sightseeing, but to pay a visit to Weller's Tobacconist (the nearest spot for some Cuban cigars).  Besides being a quaint little town (as evidenced by the pics below), I also availed myself of the town Subway for an early lunch.

Every municipality seems to have its own amazing cathedral - the town of Dorking was no exception Beautiful downtown Dorking (made all-the-more beautiful because I'd just purchased nine Cuban cigars to enjoy throughout my holiday) Perhaps a little contrived, but I still liked this pic

Despite the photos you'll see from this day, weather was actually quite spotty.  I arrived at the Walton Heath Golf Club, in Walton On The Hill, well in advance of my 1:36pm tee-time... but it was raining quite miserably as I practiced putting.  Thankfully, showers were hit 'n miss - simply torrential when they came, but then lovely a few minutes later.

My second round of golf was at the Walton Heath Golf Club, Walton-On-The-Hill. This is the clubhouse, seen from the (HUGE) practice green! Very scenic - but VERY tough golf course... ...evidenced by the 1961 Ryder Cup markets on the tees I'd chosen to play. Golf courses in the U.K. frequently double as dog walking parks - these folks were following me up the 16th fairway Since I was alone on this holiday, these kinds of self portraits are all you'll see of me. On this round, I shot a 9-over-par 81.

Walton Heath was the site of the 1961 Ryder Cup competition, and deservedly so: THIS was a very heady golf course!  I played pretty well, shooting a nine-over-par 81 from the 6,836 yard medal tees (about half of which were the Ryder Cup tees)  - having squandered at least three strokes on otherwise good shots (had I known the layout of the holes in question).  C'est la vie... I'm really happy to have had the opportunity to play it!

Finishing-up about 5pm, I got stuck in some pretty good traffic as I drove south to Portsmouth - and my accommodations for the evening at the Westfield Hall Hotel.  After settling-into my room and changing clothes, I drove a mile-or-so to Gunwharf Quays where I enjoyed the maritime sunset and then a wonderful French meal at Brasserie Blanc.

After golf, I drove southerly to the town of Portsmouth; just after checking-in to my hotel, I really wanted to see a seaside sunset. The signature feature in Portsmouth is the Spinnaker Tower. Dinner on my second evening was French - at the (deservedly) lauded Brasserie Blanc, Gunwharf Quays. And here's The Spinnaker Tower at night (can't believe the little Lumix point-n-shoot did such a good job with this!).
 

Saturday, August 29, 2009 - Portsmouth to Hailsham to Chiddingly

I arrived at 10am-sharp for the opening of the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard - and proceeded to be blown-away by tours of the HMS WarriorHMS Victory, the Mary Rose, the Harbour Tour, and the various museums (in fact, my original plan had me only spending about four hours, then moving-on for a couple of hours at the D-Day Museum... in fact, I spent six, and could've stayed longer):

Saturday morning, 29-August... a beautiful day to photograph the beautiful Spinnaker Tower.
A stern view of HMS Warrior. A starboard view of the HMS Warrior... nicknamed "The Black Snake" - the world's first iron-hulled armored warship. Sometimes, weather + light + technology all collide for a really wonderful photo :) Wandering around a bit - since the Historic Dockyard had not yet opened - this pic really caught the flavor of this seaside town. Making-way for a tour aboard the HMS Warrior.
A really beautiful ship.  For sure. While the Warrior was a sailing warship, it also incorporated state-of-the-art boilers to drive the steam engines. The exhaust stacks give clue that this is more than just a sailing vessel. On the HMS Warrior's starboard side, looking forward. Ready for your grog?
The Captain's Dining Room... very elegant! The stove, located amidships on the Main/Gun Deck. The ship's Galley - located amidships on the Main/Gun Deck. The Captain's Private Dining area. Is that a cannon in the Captain's Cabin?  Yes, it is...
The Captain's Cabin - located aft, Main/Gun Deck. In the bowels of the HMS Warrior - the Boiler & Engine Rooms. Engine Rooms really haven't changed that much in the past 150 years, have they? A selection of handguns in the armory - in case of emergency! The HMS Warrior's bow includes the figurehead of a Greek warrior, carved on the nearby Isle of Wight.

Trust me when I tell you that these pics don't even begin to convey the magnificence of these tours!  If you're anywhere near Portsmouth, and enjoy all things maritime, you won't go wrong spending the day here!

Moving along, we next tour the HMS Victory. HMS Victory is the oldest commissioned warship in the world. Just after ingressing Victory's Upper Gun Deck, you realize how big this warship actually is! And, make no mistake - this is a warship. The HMS Victory is most definitely a sailing vessel.
"The Great Cabin" is where the Admiral lived and would have conducted his day-to-day work. Admiral Lord Nelson did NOT have to rough-it on the Victory! The Captain's Cabin, located aft on the Upper Deck. The Captain's Dining Room. The Admiral slept like a baby... although you quickly realize how small adults were (in stature) compared to today.
The Galley Oven, located amidships on the Middle Gun Deck. The Galley, located amidships on the Middle Gun Deck. HMS Victory's Crew Quarters. Armament on the HMS Victory's Lower Gun Deck. One of the most amazing things to see at the Historic Dockyard is the remains of the Mary Rose - King Henry VIII's flagship.
The Mary Rose Museum, with various small artifacts from the ship. View on the second floor of the Royal Naval Museum. Do keep in mind that this is England's active military seaport. Mike Pelham, age 17, arrived on this morning - making him the youngest ever to sail solo around the world (it took him 9 months).

BTW, that last picture (in case you're wondering)?  On this day, Mike Perham (age 17) returned from a solo eight-month voyage around the world... making him the youngest person to ever do so.  There was a GAGGLE of news crews and well-wishers to greet him!

I finally had to tear-myself-away from this area - as there was a 90min drive ahead of me to get to the Boship Farm Hotel in Hailsham.  After a quick check-in, I drove the scant few miles to meet and visit with Graham, Tom, and Steve - also known as Noddy's Puncture.  Their first of two shows that weekend took place at Keith Emerson's old pub: The Six Bells, in Chiddingly.  Yours truly even sat-in on a number with the band! :)

 

Sunday, August 30, 2009 - Brighton/Hove & Chiddingly

While it was tempting to sleep-in, instead - after a hearty full-English breakfast at the hotel - I drove down to Brighton, and spent a few hours touring The Royal Pavilion and the beach/pier area.

It's now Sunday, 30-Aug, and I'm now about to tour the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Built by George IV, the palace - with obvious Indian influences - was designed to host magnificent parties (the inside was AMAZING!). Another view of The Royal Pavilion. The Royal Pavilion... as the overcast and drizzle of the morning were finally burning-off! One more peek at The Royal Pavilion.
A scenic little spot just across-the-way from The Royal Pavilion. Brighton Beach... looking toward the Pier... ...which immediately brought-to-mind the Santa Monica Pier (in southern California)... ...although I'm thinking I prefer sand to pebbles! Love the pic, but can't for the life of me remember what this is! :p

I truly wish I could share some interior photos, but - sadly - they're prohibited throughout the UK (where historical buildings are concerned).  After walking 'round town for a bit, I drove northly to meet-up with my online (and now real life!) recording buddy Graham and his wife Sandra (who graciously photodocumented this epic meeting):

One of the BIG highlights of this trip was getting to hang with my musical buddy Graham Seaman - bassist / guitarist / vocalist for...

After returning to the hotel for a bit of tidying-up, I was back over at The Six Bells - not only for a bite of dinner but for the second show:

...Noddy's Puncture (The UK's foremost Emerson Lake & Palmer Tribute Band)!
Graham, in concert :) Noddy's Puncture keyboardist extraordinaire - Tom Szakaly. The Six Bells, Chiddingly, is Keith Emerson's local pub... but, MAN is it ever tiny!
Here's percussionist par-excellance Steve Roberts! Playing this particular music is really tough - and the three members of Noddy's Puncture definitely do it justice. Tom seeks some reaction from the SRO crowd... ...and is happy that he gets what he asked for! Tom, engrossed in a tough passage
The music isn't always frenetic... but does require tight cueing! Steve channels Carl Palmer better than anybody else I've ever heard!! Can't tell you how many times I've seen Carl Palmer do this very lick... Steve, in the midst of his drum solo. Couldn't resist - this just seemed a kewel photo :)
And what would an ELP tribute be without Emo's flaming ribbon controller?!! :D Noddy's Puncture also covers pre-ELP classics... in this case, "Hang On To A Dream" by The Nice. Tough to show all three members playing at the same time - but I did really like this one. Graham covers Greg Lake's acoustic ballads with a quiet dignity that would (no doubt) please the composer :) Near the end of the show, Tom is wailing on that poor Hammond!
Noddy's Puncture is Tom Szakaly, Graham Seaman, and Steve Roberts. One highlight of this Sunday night was getting to know and hang-out with Aaron Emerson (Keith's son) and his lovely wife Jo. And, on these two nights, the band was gracious-enough to allow me to sit-in on "Fanfare For The Common Man" :)

It was particularly fun meeting and getting-to-know Jo and Aaron Emerson (Keith's son)... with special thanks to Jo for carting-me in near darkness so I could have a quick look at "The Barn" (fabled in the lore that is ELP-fandom :).  Hope I can return the hospitality if you guys are ever in my part of the states!

 

Monday, August 31, 2009 - Hailsham to Bath

After one more full-breakfast, I hit the road early for one of my longer drives of this trip - some 3-1/2 hours due west to Bath - where I spent the lion's share of the afternoon touring The Roman Baths & Pump Room:

It's now noontime on Monday, 31-Aug - and we're about to tour Bath. Of course, the signature attraction - at town center - are the famed Roman Baths and Pump Room. I looked-up while standing in the ticketing-line... where in the U.S. would you see something like this whilst standing in line?!?? The Terrace overlooks the Great Bath... ...which dates back hundreds of years.
The obligatory Cathedral view - very prominent from The Terrace. The Baths extend under the modern ground level, beneath adjacent streets and squares... and it's really very big! Another view of The Great Bath, as seen from The Terrace. The Terrace is lined with statues of Roman Governors, Emperors, and other military leaders. We're now on the ground-level of The Great Bath.
One last look before heading inside to the Temple Courtyard... ...which is the sacred area surrounding the Temple.  Computer-generated images help visitors visualize how it looked back-in-the-day. We've just entered the East Baths... ...and here's a look at the Changing Rooms and Saunas. The age of this place is always omnipresent...
...and you can, literally, feel the history as you wander around well below-ground! The King's Bath - the site of the ancient Sacred Spring (which is VERY hot, at 46C). What can this be? (gotta have my obligatory death-grip on the obvious! ;-) The Plunge Pool in the West Bath heated room. The circular bath in the West Bath area.

It was still a very lovely day when I emerged from The Baths, so I decided to do some extensive walk-touring of Bath... including the downtown area, Jane Austen's home, and some of the residential areas alongside the Avon:

Wandering the streets of Bath, I couldn't resist photographing this very friendly little guy... who REALLY wanted his master to return! Either that, or he was also enjoying the view! It was a spectacular afternoon in Bath... temps around 70F, mostly sunny... made me long for Christmastime in southwest Florida! lol The entrance to famed Brit authoress Jane Austen's home... ...pictured here in its entirety.
Lovin' all of the Cathedral photo-ops... ...including the following triptych :) As I say, the weather became nothing short of perfect... ...making really beautiful photography a breeze! I can't imagine working in places like this (yes, I know it's a Yank point-of-view... but it still takes me aback).
Old-school transportation, along the river, continues in full-force. Yes, the area is hilly - so they get around using dozens of manually-operated locks. You begin by pulling-into the lock, closing the gate behind you... ...followed by opening the valves to raise the water level to that of the next section... ...upon which you can continue on your way until you reach the next lock.
Along the Avon is an amazingly scenic area! Bath has its fair share of hills... ...especially this one, which got my flat-lander's heart pumping pretty fast! A view of Bath from atop that hill. Love this pic - and I'm guessing you photographers can tell I'm using a pretty wide-angle lens.
Of course, a wonderful aspect of digital photography is being able to do credible handheld night photography... ...which includes great resolution AND color saturation... ...that film has trouble duplicating.

Late-afternoon, I checked-into the Travelodge Waterside (GREAT location, btw!) - then met-up with my friend and colleague Philip Vaughan-Fowler and his lovely wife Emma.  The three of us decided to experiment a bit, opting to dine at Yak Yeti Yak... food from Nepal.  It was spectacular!  Afterwards, Philip & Emma gave me a quick nighttime driving-tour of the town; when they dropped-me back at my hotel I grabbed my DSLR and headed-back-out for some night photography - eventually calling it a night about 11:30pm. 

As with Portsmouth, I would LOVE to return to Bath with the luxury of a bit more time!

 

Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - Bath to Wadebridge to St. Ives to Penzance
(and Happy Birthday to me!)

With another lengthy drive ahead, I departed the hotel about 7:15 for the drive south - at times along the coastline - for my 11:44am birthday tee-time at the St Enodoc (Church) Golf Course, in Wadebridge.  As you're about to see, this was in the top two-or-three most picturesque courses I've ever played!

It's now my birthday, 1-Sep, and I left Bath very early morning for a 3-1/2 hour drive south to Wadebridge... ...to play the St. Enodoc Church Course.  Here, I'm about to strike my tee shot on the Par 5 first hole. Having hit a great tee-ball (downwind) I'm definitely going for this green in two). This is definitely one of the top three-or-four most scenic golf courses I've ever played... ...as will be evidenced by the number of photos you're about to see!
Golf is VERY different in the UK than in the US - here, on the par 4 seventh hole, the green is hidden behind the big mound. Here's what the mound looks like from behind the green.  Tough hole!! Very hilly... yet seaside.  Again, quite a change-of-pace from somebody who plays year-round on flatlands. I probably didn't play my best round because I couldn't get photography off the brain long enough to focus on golf! The beautiful, par 3 eighth hole.
St. Enodoc requires you to show proof that you have at least an 18-handicap - one reason is lengthy carries off of some of the tees. As I said, I couldn't really get photography off the brain - even non-golfers will have to approve of this photo :) Moving to the back nine brings you closer to the inlet. It's called the Church course... ...because there really is an old Church on the grounds.
Here's the view from the 14th tee... remarkable, huh? One more view, before we leave the area of the Church. Proof that we're still on a golf course - despite the incredible scenery. More proof.  Loved this course - although it would've been better if it hadn't been quite so windy! The right side of the 16th fairway (par 5) - I came perilously close to hitting into trouble.
Took me one shot too many to get to the 16th green - I ended-up making a bogey. Standing on the 18th tee - and when I say it was windy, consider that my ball blew off the tee three times on this day! It's a really elevated tee, making it a natural for one more (very windy) photo-op! Took a couple of tries to shoot down the 18th: despite bright light = fast shutter speeds, the wind was blowing the camera quite a bit. At least for this view of the par 4 finishing hole I could brace myself. Ended-up shooting a 19-over-par 88 (and I wasn't playing badly)

You are required to have at least an 18-handicap to play the Church course... and now I know why.  It's tough.  And, as if that wasn't enough, the wind was gusting so hard that - for the first time in my life - my ball blew-off the tee three separate times.  To illustrate it another way, consider this: on the 172 yard fifth hole, I took a sand-wedge (which I normally hit right at 100 yards) and flew the green; a couple of holes later, I took a three-iron (that I normally hit about 220) yet could barely make it go 170 yards!  Can you say challenging?!?? lol   For the record, I carded a nineteen-over-par 88 from the 6,547 blue/white tees... and really wasn't playing all that badly!!

About the time I was leaving the course the weather was really going downhill... and by the time I arrived in St Ives it was pouring!  Thankfully, as with much of this trip, the rain came in squalls - miserable, then not bad a few minutes later...

It's now very late afternoon and we're on the far southwest part of the country - St Ives, in Cornwall. The remains of Hurricane Edward were beginning to come ashore - you'd have a beautiful patch, followed 15min later with rain squalls. Yes, it was raining... then, a few minutes later, the sun would reappear. I didn't gain any weight this trip - I did a lot of walking! Shooting somewhat into the sun, hence the odd lighting.
Looking-up towards St. Nicholas' Chapel atop the hill. St. Nicholas?  As in Santa Claus? Yes, one in the same... the Patron Saint of Children. Couldn't help wondering if the legends all began on this hilltop?!! I swear, the bird is not photoshopped... I just happened to snap this pic at exactly the right instant!
Another photo of which I'm really proud.  Thank you for making another brief appearance, sun! Even though it's a chapel atop the hill, this image brought to mind the Genesis song "Home By The Sea". Maybe the framing is a little contrived, but I still like this photo. The crashing waves with the watch station atop the mount. A closer look at those aforementioned waves...

Near sundown, I did the windy (as in narrow, twisty roads - not howling wind) 20min trek to Penzance - checking into the Union Hotel before heading-out for a dusk walk along the bay - then enjoying the UK-version of fast food at the 13th century Turks Head Pub:

From St. Ives, I drove 20min to my resting place for the night: Penzance. I dined at the Turks Head, a pub that dates back to 1233. No joke! After dinner, I walked the Quay until dark. A beautiful nightfall in Penzance, Cornwall. Gotta have an obligatory church pic in every town (mainly because I love the architecture). Finishing-out this album is a couple strolling the streets of Penzance with the last light of the day - all-in-all a memorable birthday!
 

Wednesday, September 2, 2009 - Penzance to Marazion to Salisbury

Weatherwise, this was to go-down as the worst day of my holiday - as the coast (and, soon, the interior sections) of the country were to be pounded by the remains of Hurricane Edward.  Seems I can't escape hurricanes even when I travel almost 5,000 miles!

In any event, after my (now) traditional (and complimentary) full-English breakfast, I loaded-up the rent car and drove a few miles north to Marazion - to tour St Michael's Mount:

Welcome to the second-half of my holiday - it's early morning on Wed, 2-Sep, and I'm looking out my window atop the Union Hotel in Penzance My destination, on this rainy / squally morning is St. Michael's Mount, a few miles to the north in Marazion. Walking ever closer. Think Mt. San Michel in France - this Castle is situated just offshore; you can walk to it at low tide, but must take boats at high tide. So, is it low tide or high tide? lol
I was told that by the afternoon there would be several feet of water in this area - I'm not used to that much tidal flow in southwest FL! Climbing the mount, with fairly regular wind-blown rain. Again, a Castle is also a self-contained village - this is the Dairy. And, a Castle must be able to defend itself (as well as the mother country)... ...so here's a look at the cannons.
It's still a bit of a climb, from the gun battery, up to the Castle entrance. As with all historical sites, I couldn't photograph inside... and outside was particularly challenging on this day! St. Michael's Mount takes great pride in their (steep) hillside gardens. Every good Castle must also have its own Chapel... St. Michael's Mount is no exception. I'm betting the view towards Marazion is really spectacular on a pretty day.  Shame I couldn't experience that!

On any other day I likely would've stayed for at least another hour-or-two; but, on this day - where it was frequently difficult to see the town from atop the mount (because of the driving rain), I opted to continue my lengthy drive up to Salisbury - where I first checked-into the Cricketfield House Hotel (perhaps my favorite hotel of the entire trip), then drove into town to tour the Salisbury Cathedral (and see the Magna Carta!):

It's now mid-afternoon, still experiencing crappy weather despite being four hours up the road, about to tour Salisbury Cathedral. No, I'm not at all religious - but this was one of my top things to see on this trip.  It did NOT disappoint! The new Font made its first appearance in 2008. Again, no photoshop trickery - this is how it really looks.  Words fail. As I type this caption, I'm having a brain fart - maybe somebody can help me remember what this is?
You have no idea how badly I would like to get my hands on this pipe organ.  Perhaps in another life!  ;-) Can't get my mind off that pipe organ, tho... lol Visually, Salisbury Cathedral is one of the most stunning pieces of architecture I've ever seen! The Tomb of William Longespee - first person buried here, and one of the advisers in the formulation of the Magna Carta. More photos of this beauty...
...heck, even the aisles along the sides are magnificent! Still raining - but I'm still gonna take some exterior pics... ...although the rain has me favoring enclosed areas :) Again, a little contrived - but I liked it! Wandering the rainy streets of Salisbury.
Yup.  Still raining.  And still touring. Had to pay a quick visit to The Church of St. Thomas Becket... ...which, although simple, had a really incredible interior. Last pic before enjoying a magnificent evening meal at Thai Sarocha (if you're in town, definitely give it a try - you'll be glad you did!

I had planned on having dinner this evening at Thai Sarocha - interestingly, it came highly recommended when I checked-into my hotel... and, having been there, I agree (of course, I won't subtract brownie points because they didn't make the food spicy-enough for yours truly... NOBODY makes food spicy-enough for me! :p).  Upon returning to the hotel, I crashed fairly early - both from the day's long drive - but also because tomorrow had a very early wake-up-call!

 

Thursday, September 3, 2009 - Salisbury to Amesbury to Winchester to Sandwich

The internet is a wondrous thing: after doing a little research, I uncovered a private tour that lets twenty visitors onto the grounds ofStonehenge from 630a-730a.  And, as fantastic as that sounds, still better was that the weather turned spectacular!  Enjoy:

The sign says it all... it's the crack 'o dawn on Thursday, 3-Sep... and I've managed to get myself on a 20-person private tour! Nothing I can say will do these photos justice... so let me just say "Stonehenge". Stonehenge... pre-dawn Stonehenge... pre-dawn Stonehenge... pre-dawn
Stonehenge... pre-dawn Stonehenge... pre-dawn Stonehenge... day is dawning Stonehenge... day is dawning Stonehenge... day is dawning
Stonehenge... day is dawning Stonehenge... day is dawning Stonehenge... day is dawning Stonehenge Stonehenge
Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge
Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge
Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge
Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge
Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge Buh-Bye, Stonehenge!

BTW - in case you're curious: the private tour is called "Stone Circle Access"... and I HIGHLY recommend it!

After returning to the hotel - to change-out my wet socks (they get that way trapsing-around pre-dawn grasslands) - I enjoyed another full English breakfast (mind you, I gained no weight on this trip... probably because I was walking so much), checked-out, then drove the 45min east to Winchester... so I could tour both the town and the famed Cathedral.

About 45min east of Salisbury is Winchester... and this would be their famed Cathedral. Yes, I was hearing Rudy Vallee singing in my head all during this visit! At least the weather is improving! Winchester Cathedral is very understated compared to the Cathedral of Salisbury... Winchester Cathedral is very understated compared to the Cathedral of Salisbury...
I'm always amazed by the incredibly ornate stonework. This 12-century Tournai marble Font depicts scenes from the life of St. Nicholas (yes, the Patron Saint of Children - aka Santa Claus). Earlier we saw the home of Jane Austen (in Bath)... ...it is here, in Winchester Cathedral, that we see her final resting place. The beautiful Crypt, with the contemplative statue, is flooded in Winter because of the high water table.
As I say, simple - yet strikingly beautiful. Icons and the Holy Hole. The Tomb of William Walker. Icons and the Holy Hole. The High Altar.
I don't ever recall, in any other Cathedral... ...seeing such a remarkable shade of blue! A really special place... I'm glad I made time for a visit! Yes, it's leaning... it's old! :D Exiting the Entrance to Winchester Cathedral.

A bit after noon, I departed Winchester for the two hour drive to Petworth - where the plan was to tour the House and Park.  Alas, here lies my one planning snafu of the trip: somehow, I overlooked that it was closed on Thursdays... so the drive was for naught.  Realizing my mistake, I made-way to Sandwich (in the space of a day-and-a-half going from the west coast to the east coast) - and would've checked-into the Kings Arms Hotel... except they weren't yet open (it's more of a restaurant/bar with some rooms for let above - an nobody arrived until sometime after 6pm).  In any event, I was able to do some exploring of the entire town - both by day and by night:

We're now several more hours to the east, in Sandwich. ...wandering the streets of this lovely little east coast town. Driving (and touring) from the far west coast to the far east coast ate-up a big chunk of the day. My hotel for the evening was the Kings' Arm... about to head-out for dinner and more night photography. The last gasp of sunlight (it actually didn't seem that brightly lit when I snapped this photo).
During my visit it was full moon... so I HAD to try including it in some of my nighttime photos! Me thinks it worked best in this pic - thanks to the technology known as VR lensing! So, is that a cloud - or a jet contrail - in front of the moon? The only wireless internet signal to be glommed-onto in Sandwich belonged to the Fleur de Lis Pub. No, this is September - although Halloween springs quickly to mind in this photo (I'm betting trick-or-treating would be a BLAST over here)
Sandwich is, at least arguably, best known for the proximity of Royal St Georges Golf Club - site of the 2010 Open Championship. The "other pub" in Sandwich... although on this evening I enjoyed a spicy meal at a little place called Dee's Bistro. Tiny streets are the norm throughout England... while they're picturesque, they are definitely no fun to drive! Need directions?  They've gotcha covered!

Whilst wandering, I opted for dinner at a little place called Dee's Bistro - a quaint little father/daughter establishment with a melange of culinary choices (mine was a beef dish spiced rather forcefully with both fresh chopped and dried red peppers... tasty!).  A bit more night photography, then I returned to the motel to watch a little TV (this hotel - and much of the town - had no internet) then sleep.

 

Friday, September 4, 2009 - Sandwich to Dover to Canterbury

The golfing crown-jewel of my trip was my 9:20am tee-time at the Royal St Georges Golf Club - site of the 2011 Open Championship:

My final round of golf for this trip - Friday, 4-Sep, at Royal St Georges in Sandwich... here we are, standing on the 2nd tee. I was joined by a lovely couple from Los Angeles - and, wouldn't you know, he's also in the insurance business?!! :p The Par 3 16th... easiest hole on this very windy, championship tract... ...and site of my only birdie for this round (I sank the put - and was grateful I didn't hit into the bunker as my playing partner did!) The finishing hole at Royal St Georges... which I managed to bogey.  Oh well... in retrospect, I should've paid for a caddy - tough course!! I did have good rub of the green on this day - would've played this hole VERY differently had my ball been in that bunker!

In retrospect, I'm kicking myself for not reserving a caddy - because (like so many links courses) you stand on the tee and have no clear idea where you're supposed to hit the ball... or, if you have an idea, you don't know how far.  I ended-up shooting a seventeen-over-par 87, playing from the 6,630 yard medal tees - in moderate wind conditions - but probably squandered five, perhaps six strokes from simply misplaying the shots.  Oh well... it's not the most scenic course you'll ever play, but if you go into one of the bunkers then God help you! =:-o  The slogan for the PGA is "these guys are good" - but, until you play the same courses they do, you really don't realize just how good they are!

Once I was packed-up, I drove about twenty minutes so I could spend a couple of hours looking-at / photographing the famed White Cliffs of Dover:

From Sandwich, I headed south about 20min to the White Cliffs of Dover. Looking across the famed English Channel, with France on the other side. To help orient you (and me) - the previous pic is looking right, while the next pic looks left. BTW, it wasn't this clear - I'm using photoshop to burn-through the haze. Dover is ferry-central for commuting to/from France as well as other European ports.
Yes, the cliffs really are white... that's Dover Castle in the background. A little closer look at Dover Castle; I found myself pressed-for-time (as I was on much of this trip) - otherwise, I would've toured it The White Cliffs of Dover - what more needs be said? I enjoyed the lack of fencing and other types of protection that you would normally find in the United States... thank you, England! Helluva view for a picnic, isn't it?

In retrospect - the White Cliffs (along with Dover Castle, seen in the background above) - were not properly researched.  I would've liked to have spent more time walking the Cliffs... and made time to tour the Castle.  Oh well, I now have a reason to return!

From Dover, it was about a 30min drive north to Canterbury... once parked, I opted to take the Canterbury Historic River Tour - after which I visited the Cathedral:

We're now about 30min up the road from Dover, doing the Canterbury River Tour... ...a really tranquil way to see the history of Canterbury. A lovely little Church along the banks of the river. The history!  This portion of the bridge dates-back several hundred years!! While the name connotes "hospital", in fact the full word was "hospitality" - hundreds of years ago this was a hotel :)
The entrance into the sanctum of the Canterbury Cathedral. So nice of the sun to reappear at such an opportune time! This place just exudes history... ...and sports an incredibly imposing - and impressive - entrance. Do these views ever get old?
No, I didn't think so. I'm running out of descriptions - thankfully, pictures ARE worth a thousand words! Spectacular beauty! Gotta go reach for the Thesaurus - "spectacular" is getting a little stale... Did Chaucer actually walk these halls?
We do know that Thomas of Canterbury certainly did! Speaking of whom... ...as I'm typing I can't find my brochure to trip my memory of who this is - apologies! Another amazing Font The beauty continues to thrill - and, yes, this is how it appears to the naked eye.
I was astonished at how much window space is allocated for future use (this was common to all of the major Cathedrals I visited). Can you say "pipe organ"?  Yes, if nothing else, I'm predictable! ;-) More Thomas Becket... ...honored here... ...and now you can see the entire thing.
Outside of the Cathedral (remarkable, isn't it?) The lighting continues to cooperate :) It's really easy to make beautiful photos when given these kinds of surroundings. I am always fascinated by shooting upwards alongside of very tall structures... ...so how could I resist the temptation to do so here?
Done touring, but can't help turning-back for a couple more pics. Buh-bye, Canterbury Cathedral! It's very easy to see how famous still life paintings came into being, with scenery such as this around every corner. I may have said buh-bye, but from most any point in the town you can see the Cathedral... here, as the sun sets. You can tell it's end-of-the-day, because there's not a mass of humanity in-and-around the entrance.

By about 5pm I decided it would be best to check-into my accommodations for the evening (another Holiday Inn Express) - after checking email and making a couple of phone calls I returned to town for some dusk photography... followed by a 90min Canterbury  Ghost Tour.

One more look back before nightfall. Near where I'll be dining later that evening - at Cafe Mauresque (North African cuisine). But, first, let's go on a Ghost Tour! You just wouldn't see this kind of thing incorporated into American architecture! :p Canterbury Town Square... with that full moon making yet another appearance.
Remember this photo from earlier?  It's now time to go have a late night dinner @ Cafe Mauresque... ...the lateness of the hour meaning not many customers were left in the place. I included this pic because it's where Dickens penned "A Christmas Carol" (my brother's latest movie, due out 6-Nov-09). One last night shot from Canterbury... my England holiday is fast coming to a close.

While I'm not sure how much of what I heard was fact - and how much was embellishment - it was still an enjoyable hour-and-a-half.  I concluded my evening with a wonder North African meal at Café Mauresque (where I live is terribly boring, from a dining standpoint - so one of the highlights of this trip was getting to enjoy some really world class cuisine!).

 

Saturday, September 5, 2009 - Canterbury to Sandwich to Edenbridge to London

This last full day of my England holiday did not begin very well.  As I was now finished golfing, I decided to repack my bag for travel - only to discover that NOWHERE in my possession is my Callaway uPro GPS.  I said a quiet prayer, then phoned Royal St Georges and spoke with the Caddie Master.  Thankfully (see, prayers are sometimes answered!), some kind soul had found it in the car park and turned-it-in... so I backtracked about 35min to the south to retrive it.  Stupid, stupid on my part... but disaster averted!

Since my schedule was now completely out-of-whack, I scrubbed my visit to Leeds Castle - instead, driving directly to Hever Castle & Gardens (Anne Boleyn's family home) in Edenbridge.  Of all the Castles I saw during this trip, this one was my favorite - simply because it was liveable.  I loved this place!

My last full day - it's late morning Saturday, 5-Sep, and I've begun touring Hever Castle... family home to Anne Boleyn. The grounds of Hever Castle include a 26-acre lake. The Gardens are the very definition of "pastoral" The serene park-like setting makes a Castle in the distance seem quite natural.  Well, almost ;-)
Of course, all good Castles are protected by a moat - you gain access via a drawbridge. About to enter Hever Castle for a tour of the interior. Really wish they'd let you shoot the inside - I LOVED this place!  While opulent, it was understated enough to be like a real home!! Wandering off to have a look at the village (I've commented enough on this topic - I'm sure you've got it by now). Really wonderful topiaries, btw...
...including The Tudor Chess Set.

Having come full-circle, I returned my rented car a bit after 3:30pm, then checked-into the Hilton London Gatwick.  Grabbing a quick shower, I actually donned a jacket for the evening - then hopped the Gatwick Express into London Victoria... from where I took a leisurely walk to Her Majesty's Theatre in Haymarket to see 'Phantom Of The Opera(at the place where it all began):

At this point, my rent car has been turned-in, I've checked-into the Gatwick Hilton, and taken the train into London for the night. On my way to Her Majesty's Theatre, I pass Buckingham Palace. When I made the decision to do this trip, one of my priorities was to see 'Phantom of the Opera' in the place where it originated...
...which is right here - the entry into Her Majesty's Theatre, Haymarket. ...stopping by the bar to order an intermission drink before taking my seat (sorry it's blurry)! Just before opening the floodgates down to the Stalls... Speaking of blurry... I had to try to get a quick snap from my seat. It actually looked closer than this pic... I was 13th row, left center. Greeting your arrival is a plaque commerating Michael Crawford - the original Phantom.
A self-portrait a couple of minutes before the show begins. Post-show, wandering back to the train station.  Next time I visit I think I'll do this... ...or, perhaps I'll take-in 'Wicked' to see how it compares to the Broadway production.
Time to head into London Victoria Station, to catch the Gatwick Express back to my hotel. In case you've never been, here's what the inside of Victoria Station looks-like... ...and here's where you go to catch the Gatwick Express.

LOVED the stage production, and found the theatre more intimate than I was expecting.  Highly recommended!

I meandered-back to London Victoria, enjoying my last Cuban along the way (I'm no longer nervy-enough to try sneaking-them-back into the U.S.) - taking-in the ambiance that is my favorite world big-city (yes, I could live in London if you told me that I had-to).  And my last meal of this trip was surprisingly mundane: I had a Thai-chicken sandwich from Burger King (I had to give it a try, since it's not something we have on the menu stateside).  It was then time to hop the train for the 30min ride back to my hotel... I stayed-up a bit surfing the net, then called it a night a little before 2 o'clock

 

Sunday, September 6, 2009 - En Route home to Southwest Florida

Nice thing about staying on-site at Gatwick is that it's very easy (logistically) to check-out of your hotel, and check-in for your flight.  I wandered the duty-free area for awhile, but just couldn't find any deals sufficiently appealing (once you factored-in the exchange rate).  Soon thereafter it was time to board: US Air flight 773 departed for Charlotte just after 10; I then connected to US1697, which found me back home in Florida right at 6:30pm.  All-in-all, a truly memorable experience - I'm so very glad I did this!!!

   
 

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