Wednesday, May 4, 2022—Edinburgh, Scotland

First, Edinburgh is pronounced (Edin burr a). Our morning began with a driving tour of New and Old Towns. New Town, complete with planned streets and elegant Georgian houses, is some 200 years old. Old Town is the name popularly given to the oldest part of Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh. The area has preserved much of its medieval street plan and many Reformation-era buildings forming part of a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A walking tour of Edinburgh Castle followed. Edinburgh Castle is a historic castle standing on Castle Rock, a volcanic plug which has been occupied by humans since at least the Iron Age.

There has been a royal castle on the rock since the reign of David I in the 12th century or even before, and the site continued to be a royal residence until 1633. From the 15th century, the castle’s residential role declined, and by the 17th century it was principally used as military barracks with a large garrison. Its importance as a part of Scotland’s national heritage was recognized increasingly from the early 19th century onwards, and various restoration programs have been carried out over the past century and a half. Few of the present buildings pre-date the Lang Siege of the 16th century when the medieval defenses were largely destroyed by artillery bombardment. The most notable exceptions are St. Margaret’s Chapel from the early 12th century, which is regarded as the oldest building in Edinburgh, the Royal Palace, and the early 16th-century Great Hall, although the interiors have been much altered from the mid-Victorian period onwards. The castle also houses the Scottish regalia, known as the Honors of Scotla, and is the site of the Scottish National War Memorial and the National War Museum of Scotland. The British Army is still responsible for some parts of the castle, although its presence is now largely ceremonial and administrative. Some of the castle buildings house regimental museums which contribute to its presentation as a tourist attraction. The castle is Scotland’s most and the United Kingdom’s second most-visited paid tourist attraction, with over 2.2 million visitors in 2019.

We spent the afternoon independently wandering the “Royal Mile” The Royal Mile is a name coined in the early 20th century for the main street of the Old Town which runs on a downwards slope from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace and the ruined Holyrood Abbey.

Narrow alleyways (known as closes in Scotland), often no more than a few feet wide, lead steeply downhill to both north and south of the main spine which runs west to east.

After spending the day in Edinburgh, we enjoyed a group dinner (Kay and I had fresh salmon) followed by Scottish entertainment of bagpipe music and a short ceilidh (pronounced kay lee). We enjoyed several of those in the Maritimes a few years ago.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022–York and York Minster

After another English buffet breakfast at the hotel, we were led on a walking tour of York. (Kay has several ancestors buried in York).

York is a cathedral city with Roman origins at the confluence of the rivers Ouse and Ross in North Yorkshire, England. It is the historic county town of Yorkshire, and one of 15 in England to have a Lord mayor, and one of two, with London’s, to have the added “The Right Honorable” title. A walled city in northeast England that founded by the ancient Romans, York is a walled city. The City Walls form a walkway on both sides of the River Ouse. Evidence of the ancient wall may be seen in the photos below.

The tour took us on York’s medieval streets, including the Shambles, one of the city’s narrowest alleyways.

Next, we toured gothic York Minster, York’s huge 13th-century Gothic cathedral, York Minster, has medieval stained glass and 2 functioning bell towers. The original church was damaged in 1069 during William the Conqueror’s siege of the north, but the first Norman archbishop, Thomas of Bayeux, arriving in 1070, organized repairs. The Danes destroyed the church in 1075, but it was again rebuilt from 1080. The new structure was damaged by fire in 1137 but was soon repaired. The choir and crypt were remodeled in 1154, and a new chapel was built, all in the Norman style. Walter de Gray was made archbishop in 1215 and ordered the construction of a Gothic structure to rival Cantebury; building began in 1220. The north and south transepts were the first new structures; completed in the 1250s, both were built in the Early English Gothic style but had markedly different wall elevations. A substantial central tower was also completed, with a wooden spire. Building continued into the 15th century and declared complete and consecrated in 1472. Over the course of the next several hundred years until present, many preservation and restoration efforts were and continue to be undertaken. 

York Minster has medieval stained glass and 2 functioning bell towers. Among its many priceless artifacts, York Minster has the largest collection of medieval stained glass in the United Kingdom, with the earliest pieces dating from the late 12th century.

York Minster’s Great East Window, created in 1405-08, is the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in Britain with over 300 glazed panels, and is one of the most ambitious windows ever to have been made in the Middle Ages.

Next, a brief stop was made in Heddon-on-the-Wall, a village in Northumberland, England, located on Hadrian’s Wall. Hadrian’s Wall is a former Roman defensive fortification begun in AD 122 in the reign of the emperor Hadrian. Built to guard the wild northern frontier (now Scotland) of the Roman Empire, Hadrian’s Wall was more than just a barricade; it was an occupied military zone of mile-castles, barracks, ramparts, forts and settlements sprawling almost 80 miles in length from the North Sea to the Irish Sea. Hadrian’s Wall is a World Heritage Site, one of 28 places in the United Kingdon granted this status by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) for its outstanding, universal significance. 

From there, we stopped at nearby Three Tunnes Pub for a simple sandwich before proceeding to Bamburgh Castle.  

Bamburgh Castle is on the northeast coast of England, by the village of Banburgh in Northumberland. It is an imposing medieval fortress that is one of the largest inhabited castles in Britain.

The original fortress was destroyed by Vikings in 993, and the Normans later built a new castle on the site, which forms the core of the present one. After a revolt in 1095 supported by the castle’s owner, it became the property of the monarchs of England. Evidence of the ancient fortress can be seen in the walls and parts of the buildings shown below.

In the 17th century, financial difficulties led to the castle deteriorating, but it was partially restored by various owners during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was finally bought by the Victorian era industrialist William Armstrong, who completed its restoration. The rocky plateau upon which the castle sits affords great ocean views. The castle still belongs to the Armstrong family and is open to the public.

We crossed into Scotland late in the afternoon, and overnighted at the Norton House on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

Monday, May 2, 2022—Blenheim Castle and Stratford-upon-Avon

We were up early to repack and place luggage outside the room, eat an early breakfast, and load on the bus for the short drive to Woodstock, Oxfordshire, and tour of Blenheim Palace and its grounds.

A bit to small for our tour

On the way, the scenic drive took us through the picturesque Cotswolds, passing through quaint towns and villages nestled among the rolling hills and valleys.

We arrived at Blenheim Palace, unknowing that this bank holiday, combined with jousting contests, would generate gigantic crowds. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the palace. A country house, Blenheim Palace is the seat of the Dukes of Marlborough and the only non-royal, non-episcopal country house in England to hold the title of palace. The palace, one of England’s largest houses, was built between 1705 and 1722, and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The palace was originally intended to be a reward to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marborough for his military triumphs against the French and Bavarians in the War of Spanish Succession, culminating in the Battle of Blenheim. The land was given as a gift, and construction began in 1705, with some financial support from Queen Anne. The palace was designed in the rare, and short-lived, English Baroque style, The project soon became the subject of political infighting, with the Crown cancelling further financial support in 1712. After some three years, construction was resumed. Following the palace’s completion, it became the home of the Churchill (later Spencer-Churchill) family for the next 300 years, and various members of the family have wrought changes to the interiors, park and gardens. At the end of the 19th century, the palace was saved from ruin by funds gained from the 9th Duke of Marborough’s marriage to American railroad heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt. It is unique in its combined use as a family home, mausoleum and national monument. The palace is notable as the birthplace and ancestral home of ir William Churchill.

From Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, the tour took us to Stratford-upon-Avon. Stratford is situated on the River Avon, 91 miles north-west of London; the town is the southernmost point of the Arden area on the edge of the Cotswolds. The town is a popular tourist destination owing to its status as the birthplace and gravesite of playwright and poet William Shakespeare. The Royal Shakespeare Company resides in Stratford’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

We continued northward, overnighting in York.

Windsor to York

Sunday, May 1, 2022—Windsor Castle

After an English breakfast of soft boiled eggs, a couple “rashers” of bacon (tasting similar to our salt-cured pork without the salt), baked beans (tasting like our pork and beans), dark (wheat), and sugared cream tea (tea with milk/cream) provided energy for a stroll up and down ”the Long Walk.” Afterwards, we returned to the room to catch up on news, mail, and messages.

At 2 o’clock, we met our CIE tour director, Harry Gray and fellow tourists; there are 27 of us, plus Harry and our driver, Dennis. We did an afternoon tour of Windsor Castle and some of its courtyards.

Windsor Castle was founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. It is the largest inhabited castle in the world, has been the home of 39 monarchs, and is the primary residence of Queen Elizabeth as she prefers the country rather than Buckingham Palace in London. Windsor Castle as it appears today is the result of almost a thousand years of development, but four monarchs in particular have left their mark: William the Conqueror, who founded the castle and established its outline plan and extent; Edward III, reigning from 1327-77, who rebuilt it in a magnificent Gothic style and established the royal apartments in the Upper Ward; Charles II reigning from 1660-85, who transformed the Upper Ward of the medieval castle into a baroque palace; and George IV, reigning from 1820-30, who restored the exterior to conform with romantic ideals of castle architecture and created sumptuous and richly furnished palace interiors within the ancient fabric of the building. Oru tour of Windsor Castle focused on the State Apartments. These are where official royal ceremonies occur, and are furnished with some of the finest works of art from the Royal Collection, including paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto.

Following the tour, we gathered for drinks and discussion of tomorrow’s itinerary before being excused for dinner.