I’ve visited Westminster Abbey a half-dozen times since I first went to London in the 1980s. I’ve been inside 2 or 3 times, and found myself inadvertently standing on a grave-slab in the floor over someone famous: Sir Isaac Newton on one occasion, and Aphra Behn at a later date.
I don’t intend to give a general overview of the Abbey inside or out, nor of its long history. For the purposes of this blog, I’m concerned only with my most recent visit, which was a very brief drop-by while I was in London one spring afternoon. As long as I was nearby, I had to take a few minutes to see the site of Time Team’s 17th-series opening episode, Corridors of Power.
In this episode, Time Team was looking for the location of the sacristy of Henry III, the 13th-century king who began building the current abbey to replace the older abbey of Edward the Confessor on this same site (although it wasn’t finished until more than a century later; in the nave you can see the point where the original, elaborate stonework was left off and resumed in a more simply carved fashion).
This impressive castle which dominates the village of Gorey on the eastern coast of Jersey was the main reason I chose to take a Channel Island tour last spring. I had watched Time Team’s episode, “Castles and Cannons” multiple times, and it was a place I longed to visit one day.
When my tour group left Portsmouth by ferry, it took us 7 hours to reach the island of Guernsey; I had started reading a brick-sized biography of Queen Victoria the night before, and got as far the Crimean War during our voyage before we spotted land. We spent several days on Guernsey and visited nearby Sark before we took a second, much short ferry ride to St. Helier on Jersey. We didn’t get to the castle until our last day in the Channel Islands before we went on to France.
Mont Orgueil Castle was built around 1200 by King John as an English stronghold after he had lost most of his land in France and the island became an outpost on the edge of his kingdom. The castle is set on a high, rocky outcrop facing the coast of Normandy, little more than 10 miles away. On a clear day, you can see France from the castle’s battlements.
I’ve been a fan of the British archeology show Time Team for years. I used to catch random episodes on hotel televisions during my trips to the UK. Since then, I’ve collected all available DVDs from the UK and, strangely enough, Australia to view at home on my region-free player.
Watching some of these shows again recently, I realized how often I was saying “I’ve been there” to Time Team dig locations. Some were places I’d visited on my usual travels; others, I’ve gone to specifically because I saw the archeological site on the show and was interested in what was there.
I’ve decided to start a new feature based on the places that I’ve visited, starting with the Royal Garrison Church in Portsmouth.
A couple of weeks ago, I was staying in Providence, Rhode Island. Fall River, Massachusetts, is only about 10 miles away. Since I’d written a review of The Legend of Lizzie Borden this past spring and felt I was pretty well read up on the case, I had to go and see the site of the murders for myself. So on that Saturday morning, I took the short drive over to Fall River and located the Borden house on Second St.
The house is about the only thing in the neighborhood that remains the same as it was in 1892. The neighboring homes of the Churchills, the Kellys, and the Bowens are long gone, replaced by new and larger buildings.
I knew that the present owners ran the house as a bed and breakfast and also held tours on an hourly basis.
I arrived too late for the first tour of the day and had to wait for next one. Tickets can be purchased inside the barn at the back–the barn where Lizzie Borden claimed she was eating pears and looking for lead for sinkers during the time her father was murdered. It’s now the gift shop.
The photograph for the cover of Who Killed Toby Glovins? was taken at a place called Layer Marney, which is about 1/2 an hour’s drive outside Colchester in the UK. I went there at the end of the same day I wandered around the lanes of the Suffolk countryside in search of Abbotshill; after I visited Lavenham, I drove south again down around the other side of the city. This was my last stop of the day.
Let’s call this part of the journey “Looking for Foxgrove.”
Abbotshill had never been Frederick Babington’s home, but he was as fond of it as he was the environs of Marsh Hall. This tiny village ten miles from Ipswich had once been the site of a medieval abbey, now in ruins. In these modern times, a collection of quaint cottages, a post office, and a brown-timbered tavern sat at the convergence of five country lanes on one side of a mill pond. On the other side of the pond was the old mill with its enormous wheel, more cottages, and shops around a green. The Mill Wheel Inn sat adjacent to an on-request railway platform.
Abbotshill doesn’t really exist, nor is it based on any particular village between Ipswich and Colchester. I scouted the general vicinity via Googlemaps before I wrote The Abrupt Disappearance of Cousin Wilfrid, but this was a part of England I’d never actually visited–until a few weeks ago.
On May 25, I rented a car in Colchester and drove east on the A12 out into the Suffolk countryside. I knew I wouldn’t find any place that exactly corresponded to my idea of the village where Freddie visits his aunt, but I thought I’d see what was really there. Continue reading “In Search of Abbotshill”
The morning after my tour of Scotland and the border counties was over, I didn’t fly home directly. Instead, I took the short flight from Edinburgh to Heathrow. I wanted to spend an afternoon in London–in particular, I wanted to go to Kew and finally visit the palace there.
I’d been to Kew Gardens before, most recently with my mother when we went to the UK together about 7 years ago. That was on the day we arrived in London after the sleepless overnight flight and we never got as far as the palace; the hike to Queen Charlotte’s cottage completely did us in and I remember having to lie down for awhile in one of the vast Victorian greenhouses.
Whenever I’ve been back in London since then, it was always too early or too late in the year and Kew Palace was closed for the season. But on this day I was out of the airport early enough in the afternoon that I was determined to go while I had the chance. Continue reading “After the Scotland Tour”
When we left Abbotsford, we drove for about half an hour along the River Tweed to reach the final house on our tour of the border counties, Traquair House.
Ages ago, perhaps even as far back as high school, I heard a story about a Scottish lord who locked the gates to his home and vowed they would never be opened again until a Stuart returned to the throne of Great Britain. I didn’t realize until we were actually here that this is the place. The gates are still locked, but there is another entrance off to one side and a new drive that takes you to the house; people want to be able to get in and out, after all. Continue reading “Scotland Travel Journal, Part 8”
Abbotsford was the home of Sir Walter Scott, the famous early 19th-century author. He’s never been one of my favorite writers, but I gained a new appreciation for him as a person once I visited his house.
The house is less than 200 years old, but Scott had it built to look deliberately medieval and the place has something of fairy-tale air about it as you approach through the walled garden. This is entirely his own creation; there was nothing but a farm house on the site when he bought the land. The great views of the house from the garden as well as from the lawn below along the River Tweed are planned to be impressive. Continue reading “Scotland Travel Journal, Part 7”
After our foggy morning at Hadrian’s Wall and a brief stop for lunch, we spent the rest of that afternoon at Cragside.
Cragside was the home of Victorian inventor, Lord Armstrong. It was the first house in the UK to use hydroelectric power and also features other technologically advanced late 1800s equipment. For example, an hydraulic lift goes from the basement kitchen and storage rooms up four floors; I couldn’t help thinking of the poor servants back at Newhailes who had to carry everything up two flights just to serve dinner. In the basement are not only bathrooms with running water, but a small sauna. Continue reading “Scotland Travel Journal, Part 6”