Sunday, June 12, 2005

Lancaster - Carlisle - Gretna

I'm running rather behind in posting updates now, as Glasgow (very surprisingly) is almost devoid of internet cafes, and the few that are there have no facilities for uploading photos.

Packed up from Shevington to head to Gretna on the Scottish border, where I'd booked a night at the Days Inn. Most of this hotel chain's properties are pet-friendly, and we've previously made use of their services on Vancouver Island during a road-trip of the Pacific Northwest several years ago.

Our first stop for the day was Lancaster. The day had started with unpromising cloud and drizzle, but as soon as we parked at noon, the sun gave us a huge welcome. We circled (Her Majesty's Prison) Lancaster Castle but skipped the tour. I did note from a poster in the ticket/info/gift centre that the Castle courts had despatched over 160,000 thugs to Australia's shores and they'd *love* to hear from their family and friends.

We continued past the Lancaster Priory, an imposing edifice built in the Early-Late Mostlystone era, and on to the remains of an old Roman bath-house. The baths were overlooked by a Fairly Ugly Tenement, so I couldn't tell if the amyl bottles and moist towelettes were truly of historical significance. I'm sure a future BBC doco will clue us all in eventually, so we moved on pretty quickly. Usually such smaller Roman remains look like brick foundations for anything built between 100BC and 1900AD. We ended up down by the Lune River, narrower than a mile, and circled back to the city centre for lunch. Well I got lunch from Cafe Nero (so called because of the way the staff fiddle about with the espresso machine trying not to burn themselves), and Bondi got to suck water from the town fountain (unveiled by HRH Camilla's Husband) and to be the subject of loud discussion from an assortment of locals on a nearby bench. Nothing they said was worth reporting, especially in comparison to one Manchester youth's comment to his mate "He'll bite your nuts off".

I stopped at a small cafe for a departing coffee and chatted a while with the couple who ran it. They'd only recently come to the area, having lived and worked in North Wales and Germany. We talked a it about language and dialect issues, both of them having taught (kids or ESL). He said he knew of a man who had learnt Olde (Anglo-Saxon?) English and had visited Fresia, and found it possible to communicate with the locals. He also thought it highly amusing that he had passed his Lancastrian accent onto his German ESL students.

At 2pm we headed for the M6 to Carlisle, bypassing the Cumbrian Lakes District due to a sudden downpour of rain. I felt I would rather return to explore the Lakes more thoroughly at a future point. I had discovered last week that my great-great-grandmother Hannah Jones had been born in Coniston, next to that lake in that district.How she met a North Welshman (Ellis Williams) and married him in Shropshire in the 1860s before settling in Wales is uncertain, but I'd *love* to hear from their family and friends....especially the ones who hadn't been deported.

I say we headed for the M6, but somehow came a cropper and wound up on another road out of town, but as it looked interesting I followed it for a short while. My intuition was correct and we soon passed some picturesque little bridges over the Lune (at this point, narrower than 50 feet) and a group of Sunday anglers. I pulled over and we followed some paths along the river for about 45 minutes. A group of grazing cattle came down to the opposite shore of the river to have a look at Bondi. Unfortunately I can report nothing of their conversation either.

We got into Carlisle just before 4pm, and this time were greeted by icy rain. We ducked into an enclosed shopping centre for a while, and then walked to Carlisle Castle. We had to take a subway passage under a busy road to get to the castle, and I was very impressed that the city had not only built an elegant walkway but had also built a museum under the road as well to catch the eye of castle-bound tourists.

I was tying Bondi up outside the gift shop, when the guard yelled out "take him in! take him in!". I took him in and had a long chat with one of the information centre staff, who signed me up for membership of the English Heritage, entitling me to free or discounted entry to sites of monumental attractiveness. There's a groovy little book that's thrown in, listing all the places covered, including Stonehenge and a number of sites along Hadrian's Wall. Carlingford readers may be treated to a quarterly magazine from this society that they can peruse and cut up for school projects. I picked up some other books on local walks and a bottle of Fentiman's (Fermented) Botanically Brewed Dandelion & Burdock fizzy drink, which tastes *exactly* like you'd expect dandelion and burdock fizzy drink would.

Bondi was welcomed on the walk through the castle, which after 500yrs or so of activity - including the imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots - was not likely to be threatened by the delicate pads of his feet, unlike many other stone & brick surfaces he's been turned away from. The only other visitors at that time were a Japanese lady, who took more pictures of Bondi around the castle than of the building itself, and a young couple from Australia who had thoughtlessly left their malamute at home. The sun had come out again - so we got to see the castle in all its glory.

We walked back into town again, looking for afternoon tea or dinner. I stopped at the railway station to inquire about seating possibilities on trains given Bondi's dimensions (lots x lots x even more) and they suggested the bike area or perhaps the guard's van. When we left the station, the icy rain restarted and we headed off to find an Australian-looking pub I'd glimpsed while circling for a park earlier on. I tied him up outside the entrance of the Walkabout and went in to inspect. It had a very Aussie-seeming menu and I was excited at the prospect of being able to enjoy some traditional Aussie fare on turkish bread with rocket, aoli and lime. I went to the men's room first to get some water for Bondi and was amazed to see that their were little tellies built into the wall at the urinal so you need never miss any part of whatever game was playing. Just as I was about to leave the loo, a (Kiwi) member of staff came in to ask me to leave as they couldn't have a dog near where they served food - even though he was outside of the building, and in particular a very dirty entrance foyer. At least that confirmed the genuine Australian-ness of the pub, because English pubs are generally quite welcoming of patrons' dogs.

We headed around the corner to the Home and Away chippy. I tied Bondi up at the bus-shelter outside (after confirming that no one was serving food in it), and went inton the cafe to look at the very un-Australian fare on offer. Alongside chip butties, black pudding, haggis and the usual offerings of chips, gravy, fish and peas, was "superfish". I asked after these - the lady said they were just a bit bigger than the normal fish. I hopefully asked for confirmation of any special uniform or superpowers, and she said that they had green trousers and a purple top. "Are they cooking Aquaman?" was my unvoiced question. Unfortunately there were none left to sample, so I stayed with unsuperfish, chips, and mushy peas with salt and vinegar. Now while these are invidually fine, and there is probably some need for the average englishman to get their daily requirement of Vitamin Mush from the peas, they really are very bland without some stronger flavour to complement like pie'n'sauce.

While contemplating these dietary issues, a clutch of pre-teen girls came down the street towards Bondi, who was lying down in the bus shelter but staring balefully through the chippy window at my food. One of them screamed in fright but then almost immediately recovered, and Bondi was quickly swathed in pink-clad girls fussing over him, playing with his wet hair, and making a mini-mohawk.

Now with our respective dinner and make-over done, we headed for our sleep date at Gretna just over the Scottish border. Bondi really likes hotel rooms, and after a quick inspection, curled up in a corner for a while. A little later we headed to the local Welcome stop complex, a short walk away, where Bondi was suddenly inundated by a busload of London-based Indian tourists who all wanted photos of their dog-shy toddlers with him.

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