Cows look a lot larger when you are standing in their field – and they are inches away. Good thing I had the Intrepid Traveler along – she’s just tall enough to hide behind! But I’m getting way way ahead of myself – so lets backtrack a bit!
We left Birmingham by train – which meant a trip to their absolutely outstanding new train station. It looks a lot like a giant foil covered Jelly Bean – with wavey bits, and entrances on the underside. But inside, it just looks like a train station – and from that perspective, it’s a bit disappointing. I mean it’s modern and everything – just not up to the foil covered jelly bean look in terms of fancy. Signs everywhere explain that the building has won awards for being eco-friendly – and apparently somewhere there is a green space that is reducing the carbon foot print. But mostly – it looks large and foil covered – and maybe a bit out of place.
But it works great. We take a lift down to the tracks – and board our train for Lancaster. Despite the modern trappings – they still haven’t figured out how to label doors by seat number – so once inside we have to struggle the length of the carridge to get to our reserved seats – which are facing the wrong way. I know I reserved seats in the direction of travel, but apparently the trains flip around so much that it’s impossible to be sure which way the train will be heading when you eventually get on board. Oh well – at least the ride is so smooth that the reverse orientation doesn’t really bother me.
The countryside between Birmingham and Lancaster is lovely – green fields with dry stone fences carving up spaces. Like the earlier ride to Birmingham from Oxford – the sheep dotting the slopes resemble musical notes an a giant scale. Up close they look a bit shaggy – but from a distance – with their black faces and white coats they look like a child’s version of sheep. They look like every stuffed animal you’ve ever seen – warm and fuzzy and soft.
The trip goes by fairly painlessly. We are seated across from an older woman who is headed up north to see the puffins. She’s a serious bird watcher (her description), and this is her last chance to see the birds with some very famous birder. We wish her luck, and go back to reading our books – or in my case – staring at the passing scenery.
Getting off the train in Lancaster turns out to be a treat. Not only are Rose and Andy (Jill’s son-in-law’s parents) there to greet us with hugs and kisses – but there’s a group of men walking down the platform in front of us wearing suit jackets, short shorts and red high heels. I’m impressed. I can’t walk in those things – and these guys are doing great! And they have great looking legs.
Turns out it’s Lancaster’s Gay Pride Parade today – but Rose and Andy are worried that the traffic will be tied in huge knots – so they insist on going the back ways to their house. No Gay Pride Parade for us. We rest up, and when they deem it safe, we take a car tour of the seaside of Morecambe (beautiful), and then end up at the Castle of Lancaster.What a treat that is! We opt for the optional tour – based on the guality of the guide we run into – and it’s a brilliant decision. He gives us a ‘family’ rate – and takes us into the inner workings of the Castle. He’s a wonderful story teller – and there are lots of stories to tell.
We walk into one section and the alarm is ringing. I say “What’s that noise?” He says “The Castle is backing up”.
We tour the Royal courts (used only for Civil cases – and not much for those these days), and the Criminal Court – which is still very much in use. I peek into the ‘dock’ – reached by the accused from underground in a holding cell – and seriously scary – and admire the elaborate Gothic Design. The Civil Court was designed 2 years before the Houses of Parliment – by the same architect. I think he was practicing.
We visit the ‘hangman’s’ cell – conveniently weather protected, so all the hangman had to do was push the accused out of a window – wait an hour while he/she slowly died, then haul them back in. No getting wet in the horrid weather on this side of England. And plenty of time for a good lunch since hangings were always at noon.
Our guide tells us that a ‘slow drop’ death is long and drawn out because your neck doesn’t break – so sometimes friends of the accused would try to help him out by grabbing his legs. Hence the term ‘Hanger’s On’.
Told you – wonderful story teller.
We end our tour in the ‘modern’ prision which dates back 200 years, and was last used in the 70’s. Rose and Andy remember being unable to tour this part of the castle because it was still a prision.
I am reminded, not for the first time, that this is a seriously old country with a history that overwhelms our poor excuse for a history in North America. Written records date back to the Romans for goodness sake! So a castle that dates from Norman times (1066 onward) is considered young indeed.
Home we go – to a very traditional British Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding dinner. Rose pulls out all the stops – and makes carrots, broccoli, and sugar snap peas for veggies. For dessert – it’s rubarb fresh from her garden in a sponge cake crust. Bed time for us comes soon enough. Tomorrow will be a big big day!
Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler