England Landmarks United Kingdom

Walltown Crags

Our favourite stretch of the Wall was at the Walltown Crags. Some sections of the Wall were 7 feet tall!

Walltown Crags sits between the Birdoswald and Housesteads Roman forts.

The Wall was so cool here, and the view spectacular, I could not stop taking pictures. Please bear with me.

Looking North towards Scotland, leaving one adventure behind and embarking on the next.


England Landmarks United Kingdom

Steel Rigg

Neil and I had seen enough forts and heard enough about the Wall. Now we wanted to actually see it!

Steel Rigg is the name of a crag (steep rocky cliff) that has a stretch of Hadrian’s Wall atop it. It is located just three miles West of Housesteads Roman fort.

If you have the time (which we, unfortunately, did not) the walk East from Steel Rigg to the fort is supposed to be incredible (and a little strenuous). You’ll walk through Sycamore Gap (where you’ll find “the Robin Hood tree”), another highlight of the Wall.

Neil and I walked a short distance West instead, following the wall up Steel Rigg.

Below, Neil stands by the Wall which, here, is covered in turf.

Steel Rigg.

Getting closer…

Glimpses of the wall peeking out at the top of the cliff.

The walk up the hill was a little steep! Here’s a view down behind us. I’m not sure what that stone enclosure is, if it was even a part of the Wall or a later addition.

Just a little ways further…

At the top! At last!

Some stretches of the Wall on the top of the cliff.

Some local sheep for good measure.

If I find myself returning to the area in the future, I would definitely like to go on that walk from Steel Rigg to Housesteads (or vice versa).


England Landmarks United Kingdom


Vindolanda—meaning (probably) white lawn or field—is a Roman fort and civilian settlement that predates Hadrian’s Wall. Vindolanda was first a conquest fort and then a frontier fort, settled between 74 and 85 C.E. The garrisons would have been tasked with keeping a Roman presence and sphere of influence in the middle of the country. Vindolanda became a major construction base for Hadrian’s Wall in the early 120s. Vindolanda then formed a part of the Wall garrison, even though the Wall itself was located nearly a mile north.

There have been a number of different civilian settlements and forts built and rebuilt over the Vindolanda site. There have been 9 different forts in the area. The early forts were mostly made of wood and the majority of them were at least twice the size of the stone fort (the 9th fort) whose ruins can be seen today on the site.

At its height, Vindolanda numbered 3,000-4,000 people. Only 1,000 of that number would have been soldiers. The community contained the soldiers’ families (wives, children, other relatives), their servants or slaves, freedmen, veterans, and traders and merchants. The community would have been made up of people from all parts of the Roman empire (soldiers and civilians alike) in addition to native Britons. People from as far away as North Africa, Syria, Germany and France would have made for a diverse, multicultural community.

Roman officers were often transferred every few years between different postings. The villagers would have followed them. At times, Vindolanda would have periods where there was no one living on the site. Between 280-304 C.E. Vindolanda was abandoned and grew derelict. However, the arrival of new occupants in 305 saw the site rebuilt.

This constant renewal of the site to meet the varying needs of its different occupants allowed for special preservation conditions. Vindolanda is rich in archeological discoveries from all the different phases of fort and town settlement. In some places, archaeologists have had to dig up to 7 metres beneath the present ground level to find the field that existed here in pre-Roman times, carefully digging through each layer of buildings and occupation as they do. Waterlogged and anaerobic conditions (with little to no oxygen) means that everyday items dropped by their owners more than 2,000 years ago have been found in more or less the same condition today as they were when they were lost.

Vindolanda is a site of ongoing archeological excavation. It is estimated that it will take 200 years or more to excavate the site. Conditions are fair enough between April and August to continue digging, and the dig is supported by a field school from a University in Western Ontario!

Below is a reconstruction of the civilian settlement (the vicus) and the fort as it would have looked in 213-280. Notice that the town itself does not have a wall. In times of danger or attack, the villagers would have sought protection inside the walls of the fort.

Another view with another model.

A diagram.

Below is one of the current investigation sites, at rest because it runs Monday-Friday.

The dig is taking place below the water table so it is a wet endeavour, but they don’t mind because it helps with the preservation process. I think the little tags indicate where something was found, so it’s a busy site! Apparently it can also be a little stinky because the oxygen-free environment traps the smell of Roman Vindolanda within the soil as well!

A series of aqueducts took fresh water from the wells and water tanks outside the town down to the village and towards the fort. Some of them were lined with stone, others were made from timber pipes.

A typical village house.

Standing in the ruins of the civilian settlement, looking toward the ruins of the fort.

Inside the Headquarters building.

Just South of the settlement are replicas of Hadrian’s Wall. A length of stone wall with a turret, and another section of turf wall with a timber milecastle were built in 1972/4 as part of a research project to determine what it took to build these structures. They also give a scale to the size of Hadrian’s Wall. The turf wall has sunk considerably since it was first put together.

Below is the timber milecastle and a section of turf/timber wall.

Below is the stone turret.

It was fun to walk up here and explore!

The reconstruction of the stone wall.

More stone wall, as well as what I believe is another part of the research project where they recreated the deep ditch that would have been put North of the wall and South of the military zone (the Vallum).

The outer wall of the fort.

The Tavern. Buildings were taxed on the amount of frontage they had on the main street, so a lot of them were built long instead of wide to save on their taxes. Here, the occupants and soldiers would have enjoyed locally brewed Celtic beer, wines, and spirits from across the Roman empire as well as food. The front of the building would have been the bar, a small kitchen would have been just behind, and in the back of the building there would have been accommodation and living space. It’s possible the back of the building had a second floor with more bedrooms upstairs.

Standing in the fort, looking across the ruins of the village, toward the replica fort and wall.

The Severan circular huts. Built sometime between 208-211. Around 250 of these stone huts, domestic dwellings, may have been built here outside of the North gate. No other military site in the Empire has yet to find anything like these circular huts, suggesting that this may have been special to Vindolanda and may have been a unique community. These buildings were standard native dwellings for the more rural farming communities in the North of Britian at this time. They may have been a work camp, built by the Roman army for a largely native workforce made up of pro-Roman natives.

I think this was a latrine.

Looking into the Headquarters building.

The Commanding Officer’s house, with his raised floor.

A number of military workshops were found on the site with large furnaces. The workshops made brooches, tools, weapons and armour, as well as coins. It was illegal to produce copies of Roman coins, but evidence from the site suggests that some people were “minting” them from time to time. Little piece of metal would be “clipped” from authentic coins, melted down, and then used to make the new coins.

The bathhouse.

Chesterholm was the name given to the cottage below built by Vindolanda’s first excavator, Anthony Hedley, in 1832. In 1974 it was converted into a museum to display Vindolanda’s many finds.

6,000 Roman shoes have been discovered on the site so far, with an estimated 1,000 more expected.

Studded shoes and boots were worn outside while thick skinned slippers, made from a single piece of cow hide, were worn inside. Wooden bath clogs were worn on the hot brick floors of the bathhouse. Soldiers wore studded army boots.

Below are some more artefacts from the museum.

Roman coins.

The jet bethrothal medallion is a highlight. A kissing couple is on one side and clasped hands on the other. The pendant dates to the late 3rd century when jet was in fashion and would have been given as a betrothal/marriage gift. Jet was mined and worked on the North Yorkshire coast during the Roman occupation of Britain. This jet was mined in Whitby and probably carved in York.

The Vindolanda Writing tablets are one of the most exceptional discoveries made on the site. The quantity and quality of the surviving written artefacts (about 2,000!) sets Vindolanda apart from many other Roman sites. The tablets consist of personal accounts, lists, and letters, most of them written before the construction of Hadrian’s Wall in the 120s. The people in Vindolanda loved to write, and they wrote on anything they could find: pots, planks, beer barrels, everyday artefacts. There were letters from senior officers and their wives, reports of military activities, lists, communications concerning food, clothing and other supplies, building and transport. The first tablets were discovered in 1973 and more are still being found today.

Stylus pens were used for letters made from pine, with a recessed area filled with a coloured wax. The sharp end of the pen would impress the message into the wax, and a flat edge on the other side of the pen would be used to rub out mistakes. Ink pens were rare, but several of them have been found made of nibs and wooden shafts. The ink pens were used to write on tablets made of birch and alder.

One of the highlights of the writing tablets is a letter written on 11 September, in about the year 100. Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of the commanding officer at Vindolanda, received the invitation to celebrate the birthday of Claudia Severa. This letter is almost certainly the earliest known example of a woman’s handwriting in Latin.

A tablet vault at the museum contains nine of the tablets in a room so dark you can barely see them (and you are definitely not allowed to use flash photography!)

Some of the floor tiles used in the bathhouse contained animal (and the occasional human) prints. The tiles were laid on pallets to dry before being fired in the kilns. Deer, dogs, pigs, cats and birds all ran across them before they had dried, leaving their prints behind.

After the end of Roman occupation in Britain in 410, families and communities continued to live for the next 300-400 years in Vindolanda. The last occupants seem to have left Vindolanda some time in the 9th century. It remained empty until the 17th century when farmers began to clear the scrub bush and forest from the land, till the fields, and to rob stones to make their small croft farm houses (which were actually much more basic than the Roman houses that were here over 1,000 years before!). In 1832 the land first came into the ownership of three successive families (including John Clayton, of Chesters Roman Fort!) that worked to preserve and protect the site.

The information and illustrations I have used in this post comes from The Vindolanda Guide by Andrew Birley.

England Landmarks United Kingdom

Chesters Roman Fort

We began a day of Hadrian’s Wall sightseeing by going to Chesters Roman Fort. A highlight of this site is the Roman bathhouse—one of the best preserved Roman buildings in Britain.

Chesters overlooks the North Tyne river, which is located immediately East of the fort. The fort faces North with a main gate in each side. Hadrian’s Wall was carried across the North Tyne river by an impressive bridge. Originally, the Wall ran all the way through the fort because the fort was added a couple of years after the Wall had already been built.

Below is an overhead view of Chesters Roman fort looking South-East towards the curving North Tyne River. The North gate is at the foreground, the barrack blocks are to the left, the Commanding Officer’s house is directly behind the barrack blocks, and the Headquarters building is to the right of the Commanding Officer’s house. On the left side of the photo, down towards the river bank, are the ruins of the Roman bathhouse, located outside the fort.

Reverse the view of the aerial shot above to understand the layout of the fort in the illustration below. (North is the top of the page).

The antiquary John Clayton inherited the Chesters estate in 1843. Clayton played a pivotol role in saving the central section of Hadrian’s Wall. He steadily expanded his holding so that by his death in 1890 he owned five forts. Clayton and his two workmen excavated almost everything that can be seen at the fort between 1843 and 1890. Only a section of the buildings have been uncovered; more are still buried. There has been hardly any digging since the death of Clayton’s nephew in 1895. Only the lowest parts of the fort walls have survived stone-robbing and ploughing in the 1,600 years since the Romans occupied it.

Standing in the main entrance, the North gate. These would be the remains of two flanking towers on either side of the gate.

Below is a reconstruction of what the East gate would have looked like. The North gate would have probably been very similar.

Here is a section of Hadrian’s Wall excavated between the fort and the river. In the aerial photo above, find the East gate. The East gate is located just South of the barrack blocks. Notice the raised mound of earth outside of the East gate, leading down to the riverbank? That’s the Wall. There is a small portion that has been dug up. The image below is that section of the excavated Wall.

Below you can see the remains of the military barracks. A street is laid out between the two barrack blocks.

A closer look at the excavated street & drain below.

Here is a reconstruction of what the barrack blocks would have looked like. Archeological evidence has suggested that the soldiers kept their horses in the front part of their block. The soldiers would have had slaves who tended to their horses. The slaves would have slept in the rafters, the top storey in the illustration below.

Another angle of the barrack blocks.

Layout of the barracks below. (S = stable area, L= living area).

Side note, I found flowers!

Roman baths were essentially steam baths, similar to modern Turkish baths (a direct descendant from the eastern Roman empire). The floors were raised, and heat was directed into the space beneath the floors via a furnace. The heat ran under the floor and was conducted up the walls through hollow bricks and overhead vaults, giving off heat from every surface.

A bather would begin in a changing area where they would disrobe. They would then enter the dry heat of a sweating room, and then, via a tepid room, to a steam room where hot water was sprinkled on the body and the dirt removed from the skin with a metal scraper. Here there was also a heated pool. Finally, the bather returned to an unheated room and took a plunge in a cold pool.

Below is a reconstruction of what the bathhouse at Chesters would have looked like. Bathers would have used the rooms of the facility in a counter-clockwise direction, starting with A.

A = Changing room with niches for clothes
B = Lobby
C= Cold room and cold plunge
D = warm rooms
E= steam room
F= hot water fountain (hard to see because that’s the centre line of the book)
G= hot pool

The furnace (H) is where the heat comes from.

Below are the remains of the bathhouse. The North Tyne river is in the background.

The layout of the bathhouse below.

Below is the stoke hole and furnace. The room above it is the sweating room, and there is a passageway into the ante/waiting room.

Niches in the changing room, possibly for clothes.

Another view of the changing room.

Bathing was a social activity. Bathers gathered to gossip, gamble, and socialize.

And also use the latrine.

Neil in the hot steam room.

More information on the hot steam room below.

An apse contained a hot water fountain.

Cold room.

The last step – the cold bath! Just like being at the Scandinave Spa in Whistler.

Warm rooms.

Looking across the River Tyne to where the bridge would have been. The river has moved westwards, closer to the fort, over the years. The remains of the bridge on the fort side of the river are submerged. The bridge dated from the 160s C.E.

Below, a reconstruction of the bridge, as well as the bathhouse and the fort in the background.

The Commanding Officer’s house.

It also had a raised floor.

The Commanding Officer’s house continued.

The Commanding Officer’s house in the foreground. In the background, a man is standing in the Headquarters Building.

This is the underground strongroom, or treasury, located in the Headquarters building. The soldiers’ pay was kept here and was heavily guarded.

A phallus, allegedly a symbol of good luck, carved on a flagstone near the ceremonial well in the headquarters. (Good luck? I think it’s more like men have always been obsessed with dick pics).

Remains of an aqueduct which fed a tank in the north tower.

The interval tower near the south gate.

The south east angle corner tower.

In the parkland South of the fort remains the buried remains of a large civilian settlement. There has never been any excavation here but, in drought conditions, the grass immediately above buried stone walls is starved of moisture, creating a pattern of “parch marks” that are not visible from ground level, but show up in aerial photographs. These marks reveal the hidden layout of the civilian settlement that flourished in the second and third centuries outside of the fort. The settlement covered an area much more extensive than the fort itself. The grass still contains a rich depth of archaeological discovery, awaiting future researchers. The grey lines in the illustration below indicate the buried ruins.

Looking East towards the river. The underground civilian settlement is to the right of this fenced-in area.

The Chesters Museum exhibits John Clayton’s collection of Roman antiquities. It contains many finds from Chesters and the other four forts on the Wall once owned by the Clayton family. The Museum was opened in 1903.

Below is a view of some of the Roman antiquities on display at the Chesters Museum.

This is a copy of a Roman military diploma discovered by John Clayton at Chesters. He donated the original to the British Museum. Military diplomas are certificates of discharge inscribed on bronze tablets. They were issued to all auxiliary soldiers after 25 years of service. The diplomas granted citizenship to soldiers and their children, and legalized their marriages. Roman soldiers were forbidden to marry in the 1st and 2nd centuries but there was a loophole, so many of them did anyway. More information about the diploma can be found here.

A sign for this little figurine read: “The precise function of this exquisite little figurine is unknown. It could be a religious offering or simply decorative. Its resemblance to a Scottish Terrier makes it seem surprisingly modern but it is possible that similar dogs were kept in the fort as lap dogs or to keep rats away.”

A sign for this read: “Maenads were followers of Bacchus – the god of vines and wine. His devotees wore wreaths of vine leaves and this maenad appears to wear grapes in her hair. The piece shows the intricate detail that a skilled craftsman could achieve.”

All of the information and illustrations used in this post come from the English Heritage guidebook Chesters Roman Fort.

England Landmarks United Kingdom

Hadrian’s Wall & Housesteads Roman Fort

On our way out of York, I thought it might be fun to stop in Whitby for lunch. I really wanted to see the beach and the cliffs.

It was beautiful but we didn’t stay long because it was really windy and cold. I’m sure Whitby is charming on a beautiful, sunny day, but we just weren’t feeling it.

We did park by some really cool brick homes! Check out those chimney pots!

After checking into our hotel following our drive from York and feeling way too comfortable to go outside and look at something else in the rain, we convinced ourselves to make our way to the first set of ruins at Hadrian’s Wall that I wanted to see: Housesteads Roman Fort.

Hadrian’s Wall was the North-West frontier of the Roman empire. It was built on the order of emperor Hadrian, after his visit to Britain in C.E. 122. His purpose for the Wall was “to keep the barbarians out.” It took the Roman army over 10 years to build the Wall. When it was done it was 73 miles (80 Roman miles) long, crossing the breadth of Northern England not too far from where the Scottish border is today (70 miles South on the Western end). But Hadrian’s Wall existed before the nation states known as “England” and “Scotland” existed. Hadrian’s Wall was occupied for almost 300 years.

I first heard about Hadrian’s Wall when looking up some information about Game of Thrones. The North Wall manned by the Night’s Watch is based on Hadrian’s Wall. Instead of ice and magic, the Romans used turf, stone, and timber to build their Wall. The Wall was made of turf to the West of the river Irthing and measured 20 feet wide by 11.5 feet high. The Wall East of the river was made of stone and measured 10 feet wide by 16-20 feet high. North of the Wall a broad and deep ditch was excavated, except where the landscape made that additional defence unnecessary.

It was originally planned that there would be a protected gate (milecastle) located along the Wall at intervals of every one mile. Two observation towers (turrets) would be placed between the milecastles. Before the Wall was completed, however, it was decided that 15 forts would be added to the Wall line—possibly because of security issues.

A deep ditch was also excavated behind the Wall and its forts and towers. This was known as the Vallum, and it effectively protected the military zone from intruders coming up on the Roman troops from behind. The Vallum also made it so that it was only possible to cross Hadrian’s Wall at a fort where a causeway was provided over the deep excavation. The number of crossing points was thus reduced from an original 80 or so to about 16.

Outside most of the forts, civil settlements sprang up where the soldiers’ families lived. Shops, inns and taverns also looked to profit from the Roman soldiers who were relatively well paid, at least in comparison to the farmers of the frontier area.

Below is a reconstruction of what the Wall would have looked like. Note the ditch in front of it.

Below is a reconstruction of a milecastle.

Below is a reconstruction of a tower turret.

Below is a reconstruction of an observation tower.

Below is a reconstruction of what the Housesteads Roman Fort would have looked like. The fort included a Headquarters building, a Commanding Officer’s house,  a hospital, granaries, and barrack blocks for the soldiers.

The layout of the fort is shown below.

Below is the view of the ruins of the fort, as seen from above, looking West. You can see a branch of the Wall at the bottom right of the picture. The Wall also continues into the trees at the top right of the picture. The fort is located South of the Wall.

Below is a glimpse of the ruins as you are walking in from the South.

Below are the remains of the Headquarters building.

Below are the remains of the granary.

The stones sticking up out of the ground would have been covered by stone tiles to create a raised floor. The raised floor helped keep the food dry and safe from rodents. Vents in the exterior walls allowed for a circulation of air.

Below is a reconstruction of what the granary would have looked like.

Looking across the barracks to the East. You can see the Wall stretch out toward the trees.

Below are the remains of the store house (the wider enclosure) and the bathhouse (the smaller enclosure). You can see the East gate just beyond the ruins (there’s a small wooden gate peeking out at the top right of the bathhouse.)

Some interesting information about the bathhouse. Interestingly, this one was located inside the fort, which was unusual because of the fire risk.

The bathhouse. Like the granary, the stones would have supported a raised floor. Fires would have been used to channel heat underneath the floor, making it as hot as a sauna.

The East gate. Housesteads actually faced East towards the rising sun, a preferred direction. This would have been its main gate.

The North gate. This was the only one of the four gates that opened into enemy territory. However, the approach from the North had that steep ditch to bypass. Like the other three gates, the North gate had two arched passages flanked by towers with guard rooms.

Neil standing in the North gate.

I can’t remember what this is.

The Wall.

Below are the remains of the soldiers’ barracks. A unit of Roman soldiers was a centurion, which consisted of 80 soldiers. There would have been 10 barracks, with 8 soldiers in each. There were two areas in each of the barracks—the front would be where they kept their armour and personal items, the back area would be where they slept.

More information on the barracks.

Below is a closer image of the illustrated reconstruction of the barracks.

Looking North, into the land of the so-called “barbarians.”

Looking North-East.

A wild barbarian appears.

Furthest North-West point of the fort. The Wall continues West on the left side of the picture.

West gate.

Looking South-West in the direction of the museum.

Looking South back into the land of the so-called “civilized world.”

Look, I found flowers!

Below are the remains of the hospital.

Some more information below.

Another view of the hospital.

A far-back view of the ruins looking South. Neil is in the hospital on the right. The Headquarters building is on the left.

Looking South-East.

The ruins of the Commanding Officer’s house.

Below is a reconstruction of what the Commanding Officer’s house would have looked like.

Like the granaries and the bathhouse, these stones in the Commanding Officer’s house supported a raised floor.

Commanding Officer’s house continued.

You can see some of the remaining floor slabs in this image.

Rome was in decline in the late 4th century. Gradually, Roman influence withdrew from Britain. By 410 A.D., the Roman legions and their administration were gone. The Wall fell into disuse, but continued to be useful to locals, as is the case below. Many of the stones from Hadrian’s Wall and its forts were also reused in the construction of farm houses, castles, fences, and other buildings.

The ruins of the castle house.

The sheep don’t seem to mind the ruins either.

All of the information and illustrations used in this post come from the English Heritage Guidebook of Hadrian’s Wall.

England United Kingdom York


Welcome to Old York! (It’s been waiting for you!)

After checking out Chatsworth House, Neil and I drove North to the city of York. I wanted to see York for a few reasons: first, I really wanted to see the medieval wall that encircles it; second, I heard they had a great Viking museum; three, a couple of friends of ours had gone there and highly recommended it. Unfortunately, heavy flooding in 2015 meant that the Jorvik Viking Museum was closed. But there were still plenty of other attractions for us to see!

Part of the old wall below.

A tower gate.

There were some really narrow—and short!— streets. I think this is an example of one of the infamous York snickelways (a small street or footpath). According to Wikipedia, the term was coined in 1983 by local author Mark W. Jones and combines the words snicket (passageway between walls or fences), ginnel (a narrow passageway between buildings), and alleyway. York has many of these paths, most of them medieval in origin. They have quirky names such as Mad Alice Lane, Hornpot Lane, and Mucky Peg Lane.

Below is York Minster. “Minster” is a term applied to churches established in the Anglo-Saxon period as missionary teaching churches. More on York Minster will follow later in the post.

Below is The Shambles, an old street in York with timber-framed buildings that date as far back as the 14th century. The street was once known as “The Great Flesh Shambles” for all of the butcher shops and their shelved displays of fresh meat. I like how the buildings jut out into the street, obviously made before building codes.

“Shambles” is an obsolete term for an open-air slaughterhouse and meat market. There were 25 butcher shops on this street in the late 1800s, but none remain today.

There were no sanitary or hygiene standards at the time so blood, guts, and organs would be tossed into the gutter in the middle of the street. Things are a little prettier these days.

We went to The House of the Trembling Madness for dinner and a pint. The Trembling Madness refers to a state of withdrawal from alcohol in which the person becomes confused, shakes or shivers, and has a rapid heart rate. The pub was inspired by Belgian beer halls and has a medieval theme. The building it is housed in dates back to 1180. As a friend pointed out, it is interesting to notice that all of the weight-bearing beams in the roof are different sizes.

We then went to The Golden Fleece, York’s oldest (and its most haunted!) pub.

More information below.

I didn’t see any spectral figures but, more importantly, I met this delicious Swedish cider that I enjoyed everywhere I could find it for the rest of the trip. It tasted like strawberry campinos!

We continued onto a third pub where we ran into a group of locals who were out on a company pub crawl. Neil and I were waiting in line at the bar when a man cheerily asked us what we were drinking and ordered us two pints. We had just received them and were beginning to chat with his friends when he informed everyone that we were all moving onto the next establishment. We had been adopted!

After a couple of more pubs and a pleasant talk with the locals, people were beginning to pack it in. The man who had initially invited us gave us a walking tour of the brickwork in some of the local buildings. I wish I could remember what he said—it was all very interesting. We then ended up in a loud dance club (apparently York is a happening place for clubs and hen parties!) before the three of us called it a night.

Thursday, June 16: For a full day of York sightseeing, we began with a walk on the city walls. York was founded by the Romans in 71 A.D. as Eboracum. The Romans built a fortress and put up walls around the city. The site of the Headquarters of this fortress now lies under the foundations of York Minster. York has more miles of intact wall left than any other city in England.

After the Romans left Britain, York was taken and settled by Angles in the 5th century. King Edwin of Northumbria would later make York his capital. The first wooden minster church was made for his baptism in 627. Edwin later ordered the minster to be rebuilt in stone. In 866, the Vikings captured the city and called it “Jorvik” (the “j” is pronounced as a “y”—sound familiar?). The Danes restored the neglected city walls and destroyed all of the Roman towers but one (the Multangular Tower). The last Viking ruler, Eric Bloodaxe, was driven from the city in 954 by King Eadred in his successful attempt to complete the unification of England.

In 1068, two years after William the Conqueror took over England, York rebelled against Norman rule. William arrived in York soon after and put an end to that. The stone minster had been badly damaged in the uprising. Around 1080, Archbishop Thomas started building the cathedral that would become the current Minster. York became a major manufacturing and trading centre, and began to prosper. More work on the walls was undertaken in the 12th-14th centuries, and then some further reconstruction in the 19th century and later.

What a pretty, decorative turret!

A good place to hide and shoot arrows from! Sneaky!

A view of the Minster.

Spying on people’s gardens is WHAT I DO, OKAY?

Approaching Monk Bar. Monk Bar is a four-storey gatehouse that was built in the early 14th century. It was intended as a self-contained fort, and each floor is capable of being defended separately. Today, the Monk Bar houses a museum called the Richard III Experience at Monk Bar.

On our way up to York, I did my best to explain to Neil all of the personalities of the main players in the English War of the Roses (the Lancaster family vs. the York family, cousins in the royal House of Plantagenet). It was fun trying to tell him about something he didn’t know a lot about (this doesn’t happen very often).

Richard III was the last of three York brothers who, it could be argued, usurped the crown from Henry VI. Henry VI was a weak ruler with some mental health issues and the eldest York brother, Edward IV, seized the crown in 1461 with the support of military commander Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. (Warwick was also known as “the Kingmaker”—does that sound familiar?). Henry VI would later die of mysterious, but convenient, circumstances in the Tower of London.

Warwick and Edward IV fell out due to issues of foreign policy but also because Edward married an ordinary English woman, Elizabeth Woodville, who was poor, widowed with two children, and not even a noble. Warwick would have preferred if Edward had made a more politically savvy alliance.

Warwick then tried to oust Edward by having the second York brother, George, put on the throne instead. Edward killed Warwick in battle but this seed of dissent Warwick planted would plague the brothers for many years to come. After years of George being a threat to his rule, Edward imprisoned George in the Tower of London. Faced with the impossible decision of having to execute his own brother, Edward asked George how he would like to die. George, still thinking this was all a joke (surely, his brother wouldn’t actually execute him) said he would like to be drowned in a barrel of wine. Well, joke was on him because that is exactly what happened.

King Edward IV’s two sons were too young, at 12 (Edward) and 9 (Richard) years old, to become King in their own right when their father died in 1483. In contrast to the treasonous George, the youngest York brother, Richard, had consistently proven himself faithful to Edward. It made sense, then, for Richard to assign himself as Lord Protector of the Realm until young Edward was of age to succeed his father…right? Richard was going to crown his nephew, he just needed the boy to stay at the Tower of London while they prepared for the coronation. It would also make sense, then, if the younger brother Richard joined him there soon after. It was for their safety, of course. Their mother, Queen Elizabeth, was suspicious of her brother-in-law and had gone into sanctuary at Westminster Abbey with her daughters. She had tried to instate her own brother, Anthony Woodville, as Lord Protector, but that didn’t work out as well as she had probably hoped because Anthony was arrested and also taken to the Tower. Even more disconcerting, Richard sought an act of Parliament that declared Edward’s marriage with Elizabeth, and their children, as illegitimate.


In short, Anthony Woodville lost his head and the two boys disappeared while staying at the Tower of London, never to be seen again, leading to the grim legend of “the Princes in the Tower.” In 1674, workmen at the Tower of London dug up a wooden box containing two small human skeletons. It was accepted at the time that these were the bones of the young boys, but it has never been proven. The bones are now interred at Westminster Abbey. Did Richard kill them? It hasn’t been conclusively decided but, again, this seems to be a case of convenient circumstances…

Richard III maintained close connections with the city of York and visited the city several times. Shortly after his coronation in 1483, he stayed in York for three weeks. While in York his son, also Edward, was made Prince of Wales at the Archbishop’s Palace.

Below is the Richard III exhibit.

If it’s any consolation, Richard didn’t rule long. He was defeated in the Battle of Hastings by supporters of the man who would become the first Tudor king, Henry VII. Henry would marry one of Elizabeth Woodville’s daughters, also named Elizabeth, and so the House of York through Elizabeth (the white rose) and the House of Lancaster through Henry (red rose) were united. The Tudor rose reflects this alliance: a red rose within a white. Elizabeth and Henry VII would have a son who would also leave his mark on English history: Henry VIII.

In 2012, Richard III’s body was discovered buried underneath a car park.

If this sounds like the stuff of novels, well, it is. I’ve read a few books of historical fiction by Philippa Gregory that recap these events.

Below: entry into a tiny corner prison cell.

Replicas of helmets that would have been worn in battle during the 15th century.

Narrow, tight staircases.

Barley Hall is a reconstructed medieval townhouse. It was originally built around 1360. The building has been set up to look the way it would have in 1483.

Below is the Grand Hall. Note the Tudor roses on the wall.

Below is the main table set up for a feast, with the addition of a chamber pot. It was considered rude to get up and leave during a meal so people would remain seated throughout the whole occasion, even if they had to use the washroom…

It was customary to cook decorative birds for dinner and then dress the cooked meat with the skinned remains of the animal in order to impress the diners. It’s really a wonder anyone survived the middle ages without dying of plague, war, water contamination, and food poisoning.

Below are examples of a couple other rooms in Barley Hall.

Back to the wall!

Next stop: York Minster. York Minster is the second largest Gothic cathedral of Northern Europe. The present building began construction in 1230 and finished in 1472.

A view from the top tower of York Minster.

A great view of the city.

Flying buttresses.

It’s 275 very steep, narrow steps up to the top.

A lower level of the Minster had an exhibit on the building’s history, and included Roman and Viking artefacts, like this Roman wall plaster below.

Below the foundations of the Minster are the ruins of the Roman fort that occupied the same site.

Below is the Horn of Ulf, dating from the beginning of the 11th century. The horn belonged to a Viking nobleman (called a “thane”) named Ulf. Ulf owned large estates around York and throughout Yorkshire. The Horn acted as a land deed and Ulf presented this horn as a symbol or record of his gift of lands to the Minster.

These medieval hand-glazed floor tiles date from the 1200s are are from the original floor of Saint Nicholas’ Chapel in the Minster. On the bottom row are the crossed keys of Saint Peter—the symbol of the Minster, which is dedicated to this saint.

The exhibits downstairs were so fascinating that we totally lost track of time. We had seen the top of the Minster and the bottom, but we ran out of time to explore the main level (and the main features) before it closed for the night!

York was a lot of fun and the locals were really friendly. Later that night we ended up sitting at a table beside a couple who were there celebrating their anniversary. We had a great conversation with them. They were interested in knowing why I had always wanted to come to England—they thought it was surprising that I had always wanted to visit there! They recommended that we go out to Brontë country in West Yorkshire the next time we came to England. They were very concerned that if they came to visit Canada that they would be attacked by bears.

England Landmarks United Kingdom

Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House is the inspiration behind Jane Austen’s fictional country house Pemberley, owned by Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.  Jane visited Chatsworth House in 1811 with some relatives. Her protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, takes a similar trip in the novel and happens upon Pemberley while Mr. Darcy is away from his estate. Elizabeth is charmed by the house and the grounds, and is also pleased by a visit with Mr. Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana. At this point Elizabeth begins to rethink her initial unfavourable impression of Mr. Darcy.

Additionally, in the not so fictional world, Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner at Chatsworth at various times between 1569 and 1584 . Not bad digs – definitely preferable to the Tower of London.

Obviously, Chatsworth House was a must-see for me.

Below is a view of the front of Chatsworth House. There is a long, winding road that leads up to the house but it is too narrow (and too busy with other interested visitors) to stop and take a picture. The House does make quite the grand impression as you are driving up to it. The House has been open for public visitation since the mid-1650s!

Chatsworth House was acquired in 1549 by the Cavendish family. Sir William Cavendish was one of Henry VIII’s commissioners during the Reformation. William’s wife Elizabeth, known as Bess of Hardwick, sold some of the estates given to William by the Crown and used it to buy this land that was close to her own childhood home. There was likely a smaller manor house present or nearby the site of the present house. In 1552 William and Bess built a grand Elizabethan estate. Unfortunately, little of this original manor house remains as the house was altered and enlarged over the years.

After William died in 1557, Bess remarried, but was then widowed again in 1565. She married George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury in 1567. George and Bess then hosted Mary, Queen of Scots, during her imprisonment at Chatsworth. I read about this time from Bess’ perspective in Philippa Gregory’s novel The Other Queen. (In case you’re wondering why I found this bit of history so interesting.)

It’s fair to say that I was unprepared for what I was about to see. I’ve seen beautiful houses before. Beautiful Canadian houses. Nothing like Chatsworth. We didn’t take the time to see inside any of the Palaces in London, so this was my first experience with the kind of art collecting and furnishing that takes place in grand European homes.

Below are a couple of images from the Painted Hall. The paintings were painted in 1687 and depict scenes from the life of Julius Caesar. The 4th Earl of Devonshire commissioned the paintings to flatter the new Protestant monarch, Wiiliam III, with his wife Mary II, on their royal visit. For his aide in helping them to the throne, the Earl was granted the title of Duke of Devonshire in 1694. (What passes for a promotion in the late 17th century.) (Flattery never hurts.)

Since I decided to look this up, here is the ranking of the nobles of England (also known as “the Peerage”) from lowest to highest: Baron/Baronness → Viscount/Viscountess → Earl/Countess → Marquess/Marchioness → Duke/Duchess. There are currently 54 Barons/Baronness titles in England, 3 viscounts, 26 Earls, 1 Marquess, and 11 Dukes.

The 12th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire currently live at Chatsworth House and are dedicated to its ongoing upkeep and improvement. 16 generations of Cavendishes have lived at the Estate.

Every inch of the home was covered with beautiful oil paintings, silk tapestries, ornate banisters and delicate carvings on the wall. It was hard to know what to pay attention to because there were so many different things on display!

Below is the Chapel Corridor.

Below is the Chapel, which was built between 1688 and 1693, a year before the 4th Earl of Devonshire was created the 1st Duke of Devonshire. The room remains almost completely unaltered from that time. The room was inspired by the now lost Chapel at Windsor Castle.

On the second floor are a grouping of rooms that were meant for the reigning King and Queen to stay in on the occasion of their visit. The resident family never stayed in these rooms themselves.

After the State Apartment (which I didn’t take a picture of) the visitor enters the the Great Chamber, which served as a lobby in which members of the Court would have gathered to await the King and Queen. It was also occasionally used for dining. Below is a display of silver-gilt plate and oriental porcelain to illustrate this use.

The painting on the ceiling depicts the Triumph of the Virtues over the Vices.

View from the window of the Great Chamber of the Emperor Fountain and the Canal Pond.

The State Drawing Room is the 1st room in which select members of the Court could retire from the Great Chamber to meet with the royals.

Below are the Coronation Chairs of King George III and Queen Charlotte in 1761. They are unusual because they were carved by a woman, Catherine Naish. They were given to the 4th Duke as a reward for his role at the coronation.

The Mortlake Acts of the Apostle tapestries date to the mid 1630s. They were woven from designs by Raphael that were originally made for tapestries that decorate the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. In 2014 a major conservation project on the tapestries began as they had deteriorated from exposure to light and atmospheric pollution. (This helps to explain why a lot of the houses and palaces are dimly lit.)

Below is a display of Chinese porcelain, highly prized in Europe because the secret for creating true porcelain had not been yet discovered in the West. I love the beautiful chest it is sitting on!

Below is the State Music Room, which was also known as the Second Withdrawing Room or the Green Velvet Room. Stamped and gilded leather now cover the walls, replacing the green velvet of the 18th century.

I’m sorry some of these pictures are blurry. The rooms, as I’ve said, are dimly lit and it’s hard to get a crisp, sharp image. The image below was taken in the State Bedchamber. The bed below was made for Kensington Palace, and is the bed in which George II died (1760).

Below, the silver-gilt toilet service on the dressing table is the most complete example of Parisian silver from this period of time (1694). It was used by a lady when getting ready in the morning.

Now to view some paintings in the South Sketch Gallery.

Below is a portrait of the 5th Duchess Georgiana. Georgiana was a bibliophile, arts patron, and referred to as “the Empress of fashion” by her contemporaries. She was also a little bit scandalous, as the sign below the picture states. Her best friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster, lived in a ménage-à-trois with the Duke and the Duchess. After Georgiana passed away, the Duke married Lady Elizabeth.

The below painting of Georgiana was created in 1785-1787. In 1876 it was stolen from an auction house in London and taken to America by “the Napoleon of the criminal world”, Adam Worth. The theft was widely publicized and It was eventually retrieved and purchased by the 11th Duke of Devonshire and brought to Chatsworth in 1994. The story of the theft inspired a Moriarty caper in the Sherlock Holmes mystery The Valley of Fear.

Viewing some of the many paintings in the Oak Stairwell.

Below is the Queen of Scots Dressing Room, a guest bedroom. The room only takes its name from Mary as she didn’t actually stay in this part of the house (although this was long believed to be the case). Today the rooms are presented as they would have looked in the 19th century.

A ladies’ vanity.

Close-up of some curling irons.

Hand-painted Chinese wallpaper that I absolutely loved, although it didn’t photograph that well.

I also loved this beautiful dressing screen.

Below is the Wellington Bedroom, another guest bedroom.

An imposing wardrobe.

A painting miniature of Marie Antoinette.

The Library! There are over 17,000 books covering six centuries contained here including the scientific manuscripts of Henry Cavendish (1731-1810),who calculated how to weigh the Earth.

Here is a close-up of the beautiful detailed work on the ceiling. The plaster work was done in the late 17th century and the paintings are by Antonio Verrio from that same time period (his work is also in the Painted Hall.)

Below is the Veiled Vestal Virgin, created in 1847 by Raffaelle Monti. It is so beautiful – the marble veil looks so soft and delicate.

The Great Dining Room. The first dinner held here was for the Princess Victoria and her mother the Duchess of Kent in 1832. Victoria was 13 years old and it was the first time she had dined formally in adult company.

The walls are covered in red silk tapestries.

The fixtures on the table are pure silver. I now understand for the first time what it is to “hide the family silver” and why Jean Valjean got in trouble for stealing a candlestick from a church. Because they were real silver. I had never seen real silver dining ware until Chatsworth House. This silverware was created by the leading silversmiths of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

A beautiful chandelier.

The ceiling of the dining room was covered with these beautiful gold roses.

The sculpture gallery was created by the 6th Duke between 1818 and 1834. It is one of the most important collections of early 19th-century European marble sculpture.

This was my favourite sculpture.

I also really liked the pair of cranky lions.

The Cascade was designed by Grillet, a French hydraulics engineer with experience working for Louis XIV, King of France, in 1696.

Great view of the surrounding countryside. There’s a story behind this unobstructed view. There used to be a small village, Edensor, located immediately below Chatsworth but it was moved between 1838 and 1842 by the 6th Duke of Devonshire out of sight over a hill. 145 people still live in the village. There’s rich, and then there’s moving an entire village because you don’t want it to impede the view of your estate rich.

The grounds are massive, with lots of different gardens. There’s also a maze that we had fun exploring.

Beautiful flowers.

View of the southern end of Chatsworth House as we were walking along the Canal Pond.

All of the information that I have used in this post I got from Your Guide to Chatsworth. See Neil, there was a reason I made us drag this increasingly heavy load of guidebooks all over the U.K.!

England United Kingdom

A Tour of the Cotswolds

Oh, the Cotswolds! How I love thee! Homes of honey-toned brick, rolling hills and farmland, abundant gardens, medieval stone-built towns, a place that is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Also, this is an area where I was able to trace my paternal grandmother’s family to in the 1500s. The villages have changed little since that time.

After finishing at Bletchley Park, Neil and I drove out to Bourton-on-the-Hill to our Air BnB for the night. It was in this cute garden cottage.

Mere steps away from the cottage was the charming Horse & Groom pub.

We popped in for a lovely dinner. It came with a side bowl of peas!


We went for a short walk before the sun went down. I thought it was clever that they are re-using these iconic red telephone booths as defibrillator stations.

I’ll take it!

A golden oolitic limestone specific to this area is what was used to build these lovely homes. The Cotswolds became prosperous in the Middle Ages thanks to the wool trade. It is thought that Cotswold translates to “sheep enclosure in rolling hillsides.”

Yes, I even found their fences ridiculously cute.

Wednesday, June 15:

I had a busy day planned for us! (What else is new?) In the morning, I wanted to take a quick tour of some areas where my ancestors had lived. First up, a grouping of houses (not even a hamlet) known as Lower and Upper Swell.

I had been carrying a Father’s day card for my Dad since we were in Vancouver. I had meant to pop it into a mailbox en route to the airport but that didn’t happen. So I threw a few English stamps on it and put it in this mailbox in Lower Swell, where his ancestor once lived. I thought that was a neat thing to do and it actually made it to him!

People here take their gardens seriously. (AS THEY SHOULD!)

One of my ongoing jokes was how, with place names, we were seeing the originals. For example, Old York, or York 1.0. On the sign below is a town named Naunton which is similar to the name of a town I grew up in. Did the name come from here? Interestingly, that is where my grandmother now lives. Coming full circle, in a sense?

Our next stop included Lower and Upper Slaughter. Slaughter is an Old English word for slough, which makes sense. Although we did see a mystery book in a gift shop titled “Slaughter in Slaughter” (someone had to do it, right?)

I couldn’t stop taking pictures of these beautiful houses. Bear with me.

A former corn mill from the 19th century.

A lovely church.

The road goes through a shallow creek, no big deal.

We grabbed brunch in Bourton-on-the-Water.

Which was 110% cute. It was all decorated for the Queen’s birthday. (“Happy 90th Ma’am”? I can’t. It’s too much).

These buildings below are not quite as polished as the other ones, and I can totally imagine it is only a few steps until I am back in history hundreds of years ago.

Not that I would mind living in one of the more polished homes, of course!

Here, we have an inescapable attraction. Flowers and Cotswold brick.

Better get another angle.


Remember how I said that it is thought that Cotswold translates to “sheep enclosure in rolling hillsides”? Case in point. These are the first of many sheep we would see throughout the rest of our trip.

The curbside garden: a story in three pictures.




I would go back there today if I could. We didn’t make it to Bibury, which is considered the “loveliest town in England”, but I would love to see it next time. Broadway, Stow-on-the-Wold and Chipping Norton are also supposed to be super charming. For family history reasons, I would like to see Wyck Rissington in the future and Minchinhampton. Wyck Rissington is actually one of four Rissington villages: the others are Great, Little, and Upper.

If I had so many places to see in the Cotswolds, why was I forced to leave? Well, I had a really good reason. It’s coming up in the next post!

England Landmarks United Kingdom

Bletchley Park

On Tuesday morning, Neil and I checked out of our hotel and went to pick up our rental car. Then Neil had the adrenaline-filled experience of driving on the left hand side of the road in city traffic as we made our way out of London. Have I mentioned that there are no stop signs and next-to-no traffic lights in England? Thankfully he was more than up for the challenge (and did a remarkable job of it) because otherwise we would still be there, stuck on a street, me still shaking in the driver’s seat. Maybe next time we’ll pick up the car outside London.

Happily, we made it to Bletchley Park in one piece!

Bletchley Park was one of the best kept secrets of WWII. It was where the brilliant minds of men and women alike worked to break the codes that the Axis powers were using for their war-time communications. I first learned about Bletchley Park from a television show on Netflix called The Bletchley Circle in which three women who worked at the park together team up after the war to solve murders. The story of Bletchley Park was most recently featured in a movie called The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiera Knightley.

The information used in this post was obtained from two Bletchley Park guidebooks: Home of the Codebreakers and Demystifying the Bombe (by Dermot Turing).

It is estimated that the work done at Bletchley Park shortened the war by 2 years and saved 14 million lives.

I have read a lot of novels set in WWII, so it was really fun for me to see these exhibits. The Churchill War Rooms were one of the many places in London that I wanted to check out, but didn’t have time. Hopefully on a return trip!

Below is a reference book that contained detailed information about all the world’s warships used by staff at Bletchley Park. Each time a German ship was sunk, they crossed out its name and wrote a note at the top of the page describing how it had been destroyed.

Below is a replica of a Marconi Universal Crystal Receiver set. The sign accompanying it reads: “This is a replica of a crystal receiver, cutting-edge technology in 1914. Sets like this were used to listen to enemy communication, picking up radio waves through their long wire antenna.”  Guglielmo Marconi, for whom this device is named after, is credited as being the inventor of the radio. I read about him in Erik Larsen’s book, Thunderstruck.

WWII ration books! I’ve read about them so many times, but this was my first time actually seeing them. I geeked out a little.

Enigma machines, such as the one below, were used by the Axis powers to code their messages. The Enigma used rotors to scramble messages into unintelligible cipher text. A standard three rotor Enigma (such as the one below) used by the German army and air force was capable of being set to approximately 159,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s 159 million million million!) different settings. At midnight, the Enigma machines would be reset. Finding the right setting for the right day and then using it to decipher the message was the challenge faced by the Codebreakers. Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman developed the Bombe machine (detailed later in the post) to speed up the breaking of Enigma, so that messages could be deciphered in time for them to remain operationally relevant. The lid and the front flap of the Enigma machine below are open so you can see all the components: the rotors, lampboard, keyboard and plugboard.

A crossword puzzle? No. The sign accompanying it reads: “This is a stencil hand cipher page found abandoned as German troops were retreating. Thin paper was placed over a daily changing grid of black and white squares. The message was written on the clear spaces, starting in a random square.”

Radio set and headset. The sign reads: “Equipment of the type used by Intercept Operators at Y Stations.”

Card catalogue.

Below is a Phoenix bombe reconstruct. Remember the 159 million million million different settings a German army and air force Enigma machine could have? The German navy’s Enigma machine could have 889 million million million settings. A successful run of the Bombe could reduce that to a million possible settings in about 20 minutes.

The Bombe’s job was to find a possible start-up configuration for the rotors in an Enigma machine. The spinning drums mimicked the rotors in the Enigma’s scrambling unit. They rotated through each of the possible configurations until a contender for the right one was found. If the Bombe stopped in the middle of its run, it meant that the Bombe had found that configuration along with a single possible plugboard connection.

A smaller machine, a checking machine (such as the rebuild of one shown below) would then be used to see if the result produced by the Bombe was correct or just a chance stop, and also to find out the remaining plugboard settings.

Another Enigma machine. This one was once owned by Italian dictator Mussolini! It also features 4 rotors, adding another layer of complexity. Adding a fourth rotor locked the code breakers out for tenth months until they got new Bombes up and running.

Below is a display of equipment that was used for wireless interception.

Cool trench coat.

Dispatch riders (including many women!) used a motorcycle to get between stations.

More information below.

Alan Turing worked for Bletchley Park. Turing was crucial to the mission of deciphering the codes the Axis powers were using. He devised a number of techniques for speeding the breaking of German ciphers, and his work on the electromechanical bombe machine helped crack the settings that were used on the German Enigma machines. He is considered the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. Unfortunately, Turing was prosecuted after the war in 1952 for homosexual acts. It is a sad, horrific story that ends with his death in 1954. A war hero condemned by his own country, to which he had contributed so much. An essential genius at the forefront of a new scientific field who had so much more to give. All because of prejudice.

The display case shown below has several items that belonged to Turing including his teddy bear, Porgy.

A transceiver (transmitter/receiver) in a suitcase, used by German spies who parachuted into the U.K.

More information below.

The fight was not just with the Germans at sea, but with the Japanese as well.

Below is a flag that possibly belonged to a Japanese Kamikaze soldier.

More information below. (Along with the reflection of my shoe, sorry.)

The huts are where the men and women of Bletchley Park did their work. Some of them have been set up to recreate the working environment. They were really cool to see and I definitely recommend a visit if you are interested in this period of history.

The brick walls located around some of the huts (such as below) were there to help protect from bomb blasts. The new brick is a rebuild, the lower discoloured brick wall is from wartime.

A recreation of Alan Turing’s office.

Apparently he chained his tea mug to his radiator so it wouldn’t be taken. Coffee/tea mug politics are the same in any era it seems…

The hallway outside of his office.

Blackout curtains were drawn in each of the rooms, so it was hard to get a non-blurry picture of the exhibits.

Hut 11 & 11a were built to house the Bombe machines developed by Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman.  The Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNs) operated the machines.

Below is the exhibit in Hut 11 that describes the Bombe machines and the workers of Hut 11 in more detail.

Heroes of a different feather.

Thank you for your service!

The work of Bletchley Park began in the mansion. Then the huts were quickly built to accommodate the project’s expansion.

Below the library is set up to look as it did during World War II.

Inside the mansion, there were some props and sets from the filming of The Imitation Game.

The bar and dance hall is a lot smaller than I thought it was… but I guess that’s Hollywood.

The reconstructed Bombe machine that was used in the movie.

A little pond and green space that the staff were welcome to use. They went skating in the winter time when the pond froze over.

Amusing real estate ad. How is a house “bomb resisting”?

A German radio receiver.

At first, I didn’t want to take any pictures of the Nazi flags, arm bands, or pennants. I didn’t want to glorify it or show any appreciation for it. But it’s history and, whether we like it or not, show it or not, it happened.

I had never actually seen any real Nazi items before my visit at Bletchley Park.

Those who don’t know (or most importantly, understand) their history are doomed to repeat it.

At the time I took these pictures, in June, I thought history would remain history. I didn’t realize. I didn’t know.

To end the post on a lighter note… Here are some treats spotted in the gift shop.

The work at Bletchley Park was part of the Official Secrets Act. For decades, little was known about the work that took place here. A friend of mine discovered that his grandmother had worked there during the war. She took her secrets to the grave, not sharing any of it with even her closest family members.

The National Museum of Computing is on the same site as Bletchley Park. We didn’t have time that day to visit, but would definitely like to do so in the future.

England London United Kingdom

The Sky Garden & The British Museum

On Monday morning, Neil and I went up to the Sky Garden for a (free!) view over London.

The view below overlooks the Thames, St. Paul’s Cathedral to the right, and the London Eye to the distant left.

Below is a closer view of the London Eye.

Closer look at St. Paul’s and some of the many construction cranes in the city. (There was construction everywhere!)

Overlooking Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.

A closer look at the Tower of London. A raven’s eye view, one might say.

A glimpse at the viewing floor in the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch. Also known as the “Walkie Talkie” building.

Afterwards, Neil and I walked to the AutoDesk office in Soho and Neil got to meet some of his U.K. coworkers.

It was a grey, drizzly day so it was a good time to explore the British Museum! We didn’t have time to see everything, so we went on a 3 hour highlight tour.

Below are some ancient Egyptian columns and a sarcophagus. The items in this room range from 2600 B.C.E. to 2nd century C.E. More information here.

A close-up of the Egyptian hieroglyphs on the above sarcophagus.

A close-up of one of the Ancient Egyptian columns.

This had me feeling homesick for my cat.

A few more hieroglyphs.

The Assyrian Lion Hunt Reliefs were one of my favourite exhibits. Created in 645-635 B.C.E, these sculpted scenes graced the walls of a palace belonging to an Assyrian King in what is now northern Iraq. More information here.

Parthenon sculptures. The Parthenon was built in 447-432 B.C.E. as a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. These sculptures, depicting figures from Greek mythology, once decorated the outside of the building. More information here.

There were two of these winged human-headed lions, dated from the 11th-8th century B.C.E. Together, they  flanked the entrance to an Assyrian palace. More information here.

Easter Island statue. Created around 1200 C.E. More information here.

Carved jade turtle from 1600 C.E. More information here.

These chess pieces were discovered on the Scottish Isle of Lewis. They were carved between 1150 and 1200 C.E. out of walrus ivory and whale tooth. More information here.

You’ll notice that the pawns lack any human features. Social commentary?

More chessman and some other Scandinavian gaming tokens, as well as a belt buckle.

Below: A helmet from the Sutton Hoo ship burial. 18 burial mounds were discovered in 1939 at Sutton Hoo, in Eastern England. The artefacts date from 610-635 C.E and were so extraordinary that it is believed the burial commemorated the death of a very high-ranking Anglo-Saxon man, even a King. The items serve as a time capsule into the Anglo-Saxon world. An impression of a 27-foot long ship was discovered in the ground. For more information, check out the British Museum’s page here. The helmet itself had been crushed into 500 pieces, and was painstakingly pieced back together.To the left, you can see a glimpse of a re-creation that shows what the helmet would have originally looked like.

An automated, mechanical galleon from 1580. The ship is a clock, the cannons fire, the figures move, and the ship propels forward. More information here.

Egyptian scroll.

We barely even scratched the surface of all the amazing exhibits that are in the Museum. A return trip is definitely necessary.

We also paid a visit to the Museum of London on Sunday, after we went to the Tower of London. Below are some of the exhibits that we saw there.

Below, a printed text of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales from 1542.

I wish I could remember what this was. Tiles? It was made of stone. I thought the faded roses were interesting.

Below is part of a painting of London as seen from Southwark, c. 1630. This is the earliest known painted view of London. St. Paul’s Cathedral is shown below as it was hundreds of years before Christopher Wren rebuilt it with its distinctive dome. It was still an impressive and imposing building.

Below is the other half of the painting. London Bridge is shown below. If you look closely to the end of the bridge closest to the viewer, you can see heads on pikes. Notice how London Bridge used to be covered with buildings! To the right you can see the Tower of London.

This was the first time I’ve seen one of these Victorian bikes in real life. They were actually real, and not just cartoons?

Anne Fanshawe’s dress, c. 1751. Made from brocaded silk. This would be a good way of making sure nobody sits on the bus beside you.

After the British Museum, Neil and I went to the British Library. The Treasures of the British Library collection was a real highlight. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take photos inside. We browsed: Jane Austen’s writing desk and her handwriting; a journal belonging to Leonardo da Vinci; one of only four copies of the Magna Carta; a Gutenburg Bible; an incredible exhibit on the art of book making throughout history; letters from Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Winston Churchill (authorizing the Monuments Men); prints and texts from all major world religions; handwritten lyrics from the Beatles on a birthday card; original scores by Mozart, Beethoven. Handel and others; Thomas Moore’s Utopia; Beowulf; and all other kinds of historical documents. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside. But the free exhibit was definitely a favourite part of the trip, and it’s a must if you’ve ever studied or been entertained by literature.

That night, Neil and I also attended Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. It was my first musical, and I really enjoyed it! Again, no pictures, but sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and experience an outing and not worry about documenting it.