United Kingdom Part I


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Europe » United Kingdom » Wales » Merthyr Tydfil
June 19th 2014
Published: June 19th 2014
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Our Trip to the UK

(June 5) When we arrived at Heathrow International, Auntie Jennifer and Uncle Jeff picked us up in their new (used) camper, named the Spirit of Adventure. The continental (driver on left) RV would be our home on our camping adventure to Wales.

But first, we spent a few days in Gosport and Portsmouth, where the Morgans live. After a lunch along the shoreline, where Brandon and I explored the rocky coast, we were greeted by a surprise flyover by the Red Arrows, the RAF's flyboys, who were practicing for the D-day festivities. They flew right overhead as we parked to watch them, and made several passes over the city, flying in daring formation over the city that would be our home over the next few days.

(June 6) The first day of our stay, we visited Fort Nelson, an old fort that used to defend the harbor, but now functions as an artillery museum. We even saw a howitzer being fired while we were there, though it was shooting blanks. The scale of the fortress was stunning, and we were impressed with the subterranean tunnels in which the ammunition was housed. The whole of Portsmouth harbor is heavily fortified, with rows of forts on the hillsides, banks of forts along the coast, and three anchored fortresses out at sea. I have the keen impression that this port would have been very hard to enter unwelcomed in the age of naval warfare.

(June 7) The next day, Brandon and I helped Uncle Jeff prep the Spirit of Adventure, and then we spent the morning touring the high street of Gosport. Brandon and I bought hats from a street vendor, so you'll probably see those in the pictures. We visited the HMS Alliance, a WWII and Cold War era submarine, and got to walk around the interior as well as the associated museum. We had dinner at a local pub and, of course, I had some of the local beers. Abbey Ale is pretty good. In the evening, Uncle Jeff and I took Brandon out to teach him how to ride a bike, and I am happy to report that it was successful. By the end of the day, we got him riding for prolonged periods of time, though we would have to save turning for another time.

(June 8) The next morning, Uncle Jeff had Brandon and I out before everyone was up, and he took us down to a ship graveyard, and we climbed about one of the ships that he took an iconic picture of. It was a fun morning out, and when we got back, people were just getting ready for breakfast. That day, we toured Portsmouth, visiting the HMS Victory, the HMS Warrior, and the Mary Rose museum. The HMS Victory was Lord Nelson's flagship during the Battle of Trafalgar, and it is actually still in commission, staffed by members of the Royal Navy. They were very helpful and informative, telling us about the different parts of the ship as we walked around. The ship was very impressive, and we were surprised to learn that it had a crew compliment of over 800 people, who would sometimes not disembark for periods up to 3 years. It wasn't a fresh-smelling place, we all imagine. The HMS Warrior was the first of its kind to use a steam engine, although it primarily used its masts to sail. Likewise, we were able to tour the full ship. Brandon and I started to learn naval flagging code there. Finally, the Mary Rose
Ferry from Gosport to PortsmouthFerry from Gosport to PortsmouthFerry from Gosport to Portsmouth

Portsmouth is actually an island at high tide and it's a five minute ferry across from Gosport. To drive around the bay would be at least a forty minute drive.
museum was quite the treat, featuring a sunken ship commissioned by Henry VIII that had been risen from the waters, where it sank in the wars following Henry VIII's succession from the Catholic Church. The museum was full of artifacts from the ship, and the half-rotten whale of a hull was on display through glass in a huge, climate-controlled room. Seeing the vast number of artifacts and human remains from the time period was well worth it. We learned that an act by the king required all men to practice archery weekly or face a fine, and so people learned archery from a young age. We got to try to pull back reconstruction longbows of 40 and 90 pounds. The weakest bow on the Mary Rose was 110 pounds, with many going well beyond, into the 200s. I couldn't pull the 90-pound bow back completely, though! Bones recovered from the sunken ship showed men with incomplete fusion of the scapula, the result of high amounts of muscular stress. Before the age of the gym, people from that time period were strong!

(June 9) The next day we started off on our camping trip. On the way, we stopped at
Dad on the HMS WarriorDad on the HMS WarriorDad on the HMS Warrior

Top deck of the HMS Warrior.
Salisbury Cathedral, built some 700 years ago, but so massively huge that it looks unreal as it rises from the small down below. Even from a distance, it is impressive, as it stands shadowed against the sky like a painted backdrop. Inside, there were ornate decorations with many stone statues, stained glass, and domed ceilings. In a side house, we viewed one of the original copies of the Magna Carta. After that stop, we made one more detour to see Stonehenge. While it costs a bit of money to go right up to it, we got advice from an elderly man to just go through the field next door to have a good look at it, as there was a public path. Actually, in England, historically you could travel through someone's open land so long as you didn't damage it, rights referred to as rambling. Even from the free-view, it was a very impressive structure. It's mind-boggling to realize how old it is and how ancient people were laying the foundations of astronomy. That night we camped in Bath, and Brandon and I took a nice walk along a river in the gathering dusk. We passed a crew team and
Flags of HMS WarriorFlags of HMS WarriorFlags of HMS Warrior

Flags read Happy Birthday Warrior.
several longboats, which some people live in. We also played some badminton and got a birdie stuck in a tree, a birdie that we did not see again. One last note, I was reacquainted with stinging nettle. I met a cousin, called Chimbre, in Nicaragua, but wasn't expecting it in Britain, where it grows like a young sunflower instead of a vine. The pain is fast, though, and I'd take nettle over poison oak any day. Ugh, poison oak.

(June 10) The next day, we toured the city of Bath, named so because of its hot springs that inspired the Romans to build a bath house there during the Roman occupation of Britain. The local goddess Sulis was likened to the Roman goddess Minerva (Greek's Athena), so in the pluralistic fashion of the time, they fused them and the spring became that of Sulis-Minerva. Our first stop, though, was the very singular-thinking Christian abbey, built many years later, but still old by our standards. The abbey was finely decorated and we ended up talking to the friendly chaplain, who said they were outfitting the abbey to run on geothermal power. He joked that they were just catching up to
Nautical FlagsNautical FlagsNautical Flags

Used to communicate between ships at sea prior to flash-signals and radio.
the Roman technology some 2000 years later. However, 2000 years later, and I'm sure the Romans would have been shocked. The town is actually very posh, and has the second highest cost of living, second only to London. There was a cool downtown square, though, with a metal table tennis setup, which Brandon and I used. The baths were perhaps the most impressive, though, and we spent a good part of the day there. It was the first time I used an audio tour guide, but it was really good. They even had historian and author Bill Bryson do some of the audio segments. The Roman archetecture and artifacts ring a chord even today. Many people would throw in offerings to the goddess at the springs, so we have lots of artifacts preserved. One of the funniest parts of the exhibits, I found, were curses that people would write and throw into the springs asking the goddess to extract vengence on those who wronged them, which was usually stealing from them. There are all these angry letters from Roman times imporing Minerva to punish agressors on the victims behalf. Often they included a list of suspects to help the goddess
Cannon in HMS VictoryCannon in HMS VictoryCannon in HMS Victory

HMS Victory was a gunship with a crew of over 800.
out! There was something very human about their letters, and it made me feel close to people living so long ago.

(June 11) We spent the next day touring Wales and seeing the places where he grew up, including the site where his mum's ashes are scattered. We climbed up the steep slopes of the Brecon Beacons in the Spirit of Adventure, somtimes going up at a 1 to 3 inclination! Somehow, despite the struggle, we made it. The countryside is full of the bleating of sheep and is very green. Large resevoirs sit behind the green hillsides, deep blue under the clear skies. The towns have housing very close together and in rows, mostly former mining towns. We went by a railway where Uncle Jeff told us that his uncle had crashed his car and it went onto the tracks. With a broken arm and leg he crawled to saftey before the next train obliterated his car. This was around the time when seatbelts were just being introduced and Jeff's uncle swore to the end of his days that if he had been wearing a seatbelt, he would have surely perished. This is the kind of story that
Passed OutPassed OutPassed Out

Brandon and Dad crash at Auntie Jennifer and Uncle Jeff's apartment after a long day.
you hear in Wales.

(June 12) The next day, we visited Caerphilly Castle, one of the largest and most impressive castles in Wales, built in the 13th century. One of the towers is leaning at a precipitous angle from when the castle was bombed from the inside during the English Civil War to prevent it from being used as a stronghold. We spent the entire morning exploring the nooks and crannies of the castle, which was crawling with what we came to know affectionately as dungeon spiders. They had catapults, trebuchets, and ballistas set up with descriptions of how the operate. Sadly, we did not operate any of them. We got a good feel for what a castle was like, how hard it would be to take one by force, and how rustic it would be to poop out the side of one. We ate in a Caerphilly pub for lunch and then began the drive back home, stopping the night in Longleat to camp. Longleat is an (June 13) English manor transformed to a bit of a zoo and amusement park, and originally mom was worried about us camping there because of the tigers. However, the tigers were
Road to SalisburyRoad to SalisburyRoad to Salisbury

From the window of the Sprit of Adventure.
far away in a drive-though safari park, only able to cause damage to peoples’ cars. By the way, this might be a good time to mention that mom and dad slept in a bed near the front of the camper, auntie and uncle slept in a bed to the rear of the camper, and Brandon and I camped outside for all of our nights camping.

(June 14) The next day we looked around the Longleat manor, which had the most fragrant roses and a beautiful manor garden, as well as the zoo, which had some cool animals, including anteaters, maras, porcupines, and more. We didn’t stick around too long, as we had to begin the drive back to Gosport. We ate at a Cosco that day and unpacked when we got home. In the evening, I took Brandon out biking. He daringly agreed to bike across a narrow sidewalk going through a recreational pond, where older men sail remote control sailboats. He did not fall in, and is getting much better at biking.

(June 15) The next day we walked along the south shore of Portsmouth and made of day of it. We toured the harbor fortifications, walked along the rocky seashore, visited a fish market, and had a Fathers Day dinner in a pub. At one point, we passed a festival going on where a big band was playing in the park, too, which might have been for the holiday. It was a relaxing day, though we covered a good amount of ground for this trip’s standards. In the evening we watched Dr. Who with Uncle Jeff and listened to The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy on audio book while we packed. Tomorrow we would head to London.


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