Stirling Castle & Mary, Queen of Scots

We took the train to Stirling to see Stirling Castle.  The train station was small and nicely designed. The train was very economical; it was only $16 for both of to go and return. The trip took about 50 minutes.Stirling Castel train small We walked up the hill (which we regretted as it was straight up) to the church of the Holy Rude  (means  Holy Cross).  We decided to look inside and catch our breath. church of the holy rood small  As with most old ( it dates from the  15th century) churches in Scotland, this one was a Roman Catholic church until the reformation.  Now it is part of the church of Scotland.  It is a place where  in 1567 the infant King James VI was crowned.   After exploring this church and graveyard, we walked up to the castle.  Here is a map of the castle; map of stirling castle smallThe castle sits on the top of Castle Hill with 3 steep sides for protection. Most of the principal buildings of the castle date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In 1542 Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned in the castle.

What you see now when you visit the castle is  buildings that were constructed between 1490 and 1600, when Stirling was developed as a principal royal center by the Stewart Kings James IV, James V and James VI. The great hall was painted gold which was a surprise as we are used to the gray stone look of most old castles.  Stirling Castle great hall small We were told by the tour guide that all of the buildings would have been painted gold to show people the power of the Steward kings. Inside the castle (restored to the time of 1540s) you can see many examples of King James V’s desire to show visitors that he was the glorious king of Scotland.  Almost every room has a large and colorful coat of arms over the fireplaces.Stirling Castle james mary arms small  Here is a photo of the throne room of James’ queen, Mary of Guise ; Stirling Castle Mary guise throne 5x7They were the parents of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary’s father James V died when she was only six days old, leaving an infant queen on the throne. Her coronation was held nine months later at Stirling, one of the most secure places in the kingdom.She would spend most of her childhood here and return frequently during her adult reign.

Here are two views from the castle. You can see why it was such a secure place to keep the infant queen.Stirling Castle view smallstirling castle view 1  small I have always been intrigued by the sad story of Mary, Queen of Scots and it was moving to be in the same castle and rooms that she lived in during part of her life.  This is one of the reasons that travel is so valuable.  Now when I read the history or see a film about Mary, I can put her life in the place where she lived.


Money saving tips using the Trains in Britain

The railway system in Britain was nationalized in 1948 and re-privatized in 1997. Now there are four main companies and several smaller ones; the infrastructure is maintained by a public entity called Network Rail. Somehow, privatization has not delivered significant competition because the four large companies serve mostly non-overlapping areas, and British rail travel is the most expensive in Europe. However, if there are rails where you’re going, travel is frequent, reliable, and fairly comfortable.

Visitors to Europe often consider buying a Railpass, which is available only outside the area for which it is valid. The UK railpass comes in two varieties: one for a certain number of days in a month, and the other for a certain number of consecutive days. They do offer flexibility, but they’re not cheap and not refundable if you don’t use all the days you planned. We did buy a London Plus pass on our last visit. Shop for the best price; these are sold by vendors and the price does vary somewhat.

Once our schedule firmed up, I considered buying a Railpass and having someone at home send it on to us here in Britain (mail takes about a week). But our frequent movement made having a reliable UK address impossible.

budget travel tip:  A better solution is railcards. There are two of interest: the Two Together, which lets two people over age 16 travel together at 30 to 50% discount; and if you’re over 60, a Senior card, which does the same thing for an individual, but doesn’t require a photo. For couples, I recommend the Two Together as you only have to pay one £30 railcard fee per year. You will need passport sized photos; it’s a good idea to bring a few extra on a long trip.  $10 at Costco for four, I think. Or get them here; UK “passport size” are smaller than US size, and the nice clerk at Bridgwater station trimmed ours down for us. Larger train stations have automated photo kiosks that will make them. If you have a UK address you can order railcards online, although you’ll need digital files of your photos for the Two Together; otherwise just visit a train station during non-busy time and they’ll make it for you.York RR museum wheel small

(Linda inserted a couple of vintage railroad train photographs that she took at the York railroad Museum to brighten up this post)

Secondly, on long distance trains, you can book and buy online in advance. These non-refundable tickets can save you an additional 50% depending on how early you buy, and for what time of day. Using both discounts, Linda and I traveled from Somerset to York (5 hours of train ride, leaving Saturday morning) for a total of £72 each. And that was First Class from Bristol to York; I found a train where the upgrade from Standard was only £9; usually it’s about 50%. We used this to go from York to Edinburgh, and will definitely do it again from Cambridge to Truro on August 6.British railroad Gladstone engine small

You can still buy tickets on the day of travel. They’re more expensive of course, but then you have no risk of having to change your plans and buy new tickets. Don’t buy these full-fare tickets in advance; they’re only valid on day of purchase. You still get the railcard discount. And on at least Cross-Country trains, you can buy Advance Purchase tickets up to 15 minutes before departure, but I’ll bet the savings isn’t much.

First Class, by the way, mostly gets you more room. There are three seats across instead of four, and there is more space between rows of seats. There are power outlets, and Wifi is free, whereas there is a charge in Standard. There are free beverages and snacks, and on weekdays there is some free food. There is an attendant who will fetch food and alcoholic drinks from the vendor somewhere else on the train.

On weekends, but not with advance purchase tickets, you can upgrade to First Class on the train if there’s room. I don’t think anyone did this on our trip.British railroad seal small

Ticket prices vary, just like airline prices. Each of the biggies promises lowest price on their website, but you can book any train in the UK on the website of any railway, and there are 28 of them. When you do this, you’ll be presented with the available trains around your requested time. The prices will vary by as much as 3-to-1, depending on how booked it already is, or is expected to be. And the premium for First Class will vary too, from almost nothing to over 100%. Have fun choosing! Mid-day travel seems to be the cheapest.

Having now experienced both First (Bristol to York) and Standard (York to Edinburgh) classes, I have to admit that when you’re traveling with three big bags and two backpacks, First Class is more likely to have room for all of that in the car.  In Standard, the backpacks fit in the overhead rack, the small suitcase can go under you feet for a couple of hours, but there won’t be room for the big bags unless you get on at the origination point.  Our train came from London and it was packed; the bags stood in the vestibule (no one complained) until the last hour, because the tiny luggage storage area was full. A First-class car is likely to have at least a couple of empty seats, and fewer people competing for slightly more bag storage.

Free things to do in London Pet sitting in Somerset

###Budget travel tip:  London has some terrific museums that are free to the public.  The British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum do not charge an entry fee. Without spending any money you can see the Rosetta Stone, Medieval stained glass and gigantic dinosaur bones.  It might take you three full days to get through these incredible collections.  I could spend days in each museum. Here are some photographs to enjoy from each of them;British museum front smallThe front of the British Museum and the interior ceiling; British Museum ceiling small Two of the historical treasures from the Victoria and Albert Museum ( the V & A); a medieval golden tabernacle that held the communion bread on the altar V and A golden tabernacle smalland just one of many pieces of medieval stained glass that is at eye level ( not up in the top of a church) medieval stained glass small  Here is the main entrance to the Natural History Museum which is a great place to take a child or a curious adult.  The displays are user friendly and teach about everything from prehistoric history to how our bodies work.London Natural History Museum small

We are now in Somerset doing our 3rd dog sitting assignment (#pet sitting)  We get to take care of two wonderful labs in a lovely home.  Here is a photo of David and the labs Lucy and Ruby on a walk Street David & dogs small and here is a view of the beautiful green landscape of Somerset from the house window.Street view from house small  More will be coming this week as we spend a lot of time at home with the doggies and I can work on photographs and more blog information.


A typical day when #pet sitting

Most of the #petsitting  and #housesitting assignments are about a week or two long.   On the days between them we rent an apartment and do tourist trips.  So when we are staying in someone’s house and taking care of their pets we tend to spend more time at home.  The dog or cat seems to do better if we spend the first day at home with them.  We tend to be around most of the day because the dogs need company and I love cuddling dogs and cats when they let me. ( If you want to learn more about pet sitting just search this blog with the words pet sitting or house sitting and those information blog entries will show up)   Here is Tommy in his bed.tommy in bed small So we go to the grocery store, do some laundry, and cook. During the week there is always vacuuming , the house keeping is pretty much the same as at home.  Of course, since this is not our home we try harder to take the best care of everything.  This helps all of us get used to each other and learn the pets routine.  There are plenty of things to do at home.  I catch up on my travel journaltonbridge journal making small and David works on the computer.  The long and varied dog walk is very important.  Tommy needs to run and play  and there is an excellent country park here that we can take him too.  Today he met several different dogs to run with.  Here is a whippet that ran faster than Tommy. Whippet flying smallThen we met this noble older gent, Monty who just sat and watch the young ones run in the meadow.old guy dog small No doubt thinking of the time when he could show these dogs a few tricks. We also met this lovely dog called Angus.  I think he is quite handsome. Angus small Finally, we met a dalmatian/sheepdog mix Ava who was ready to run and play.  Tommy and she were exactly the same age and they had fun. tommy ava smallTommy flying small By the time we got home Tommy was ready for a lot of water and a big nap.   It is such a joy to take care of him and the other dogs we have been privileged to take care of.








See the real Downton Abbey at Dunster Castle

We used our National Trust membership to pay for parking and entrance into Dunster Castle (saved about £25 by using our membership).  This is a real castle that has survived since 1066 when William the Conqueror gave William de Mohun the area of Somerset to defend.  De Mohun built a timber keep that was soon replaced by a stone keep.  But by the end of the 14th century the de Mohun family had to sell the house to the Luttrell family.  This clever and resourceful family managed to keep the castle until  1976, when they gave it to the National Trust and the people of England.Dunster castle small The castle was kept in the same family for over 600 years.  They continued to add on and improve the inside of the castle over time.

They only damage from war was incurred in 1650 during the English Civil War. The defensive walls of the castle were torn down by 300 men so that the castle could not be a problem again to Cromwell. This is what happens when you chose to support  the wrong side of  a civil war. Luckily, the Luttrells convinced the new government to leave the great gatehouse ( medieval construction ) and a couple of  wall towers. From the size of the gatehouse you can guess how big the walls were.Dunster guard house  small Here is all that is left on one of the tower walls.Dunster guard tower smallThe inside of the castle was turned into a Victorian manor house in the 1860s.  You can tour the inside of the house and see how upstairs compared to downstairs life.  Upstairs, the rooms are large and well furnished.  Here is the drawing room where the family would read and talk.Dunster drawingroom small There are bell ringers around the room to call the servants upstairs to wait upon them.  Here is what that system looked like downstairs in the mud room.Dunster castle  call board smallYou will recognize this bell board from Downton Abbey on TV.  Each bell had a slightly different tone and the poor hall boy (who worked cleaning everything in the mud room) would have to run to get the person who needed to respond to the bell.  If you look, you will see that there is a pendulum that is attached to the bell.  It would swing for about a minute in case the boy did not recognize the tone, or was out of the room for a moment!

Upstairs when there was a dinner party the butler and footmen would set the table.  Here is the crystal , china and the silverware at each place setting.  Dunster castle place setting smallThere must have been a lot of cleaning up for the scullery maid that night.  Here is her sink.Dunster castle downstairs sink small If she broke any of that expensive dinnerware it came out of her tiny wages.  But she only had 1/2 day off every month, so she did not have much time to spend it anyway.  They did eventually install a dumb waiter so the footmen did not have to climb so many stairs.  It had to have a steel door because of a fire that happened in another great home.Dunster castle dumb waiter small  But even if they were rich upstairs, they only had one toilet and one bathtub for the entire castle.  It was the first flushing toilet in Somerset.Dunster castle toilet small  It was an eyeopener to compare how each half lived in the castle/manor home.  It was great fun to see it all in person.    It was a time of graceful living if you were in the upper class.Dunster castle fountain 5x7 small We were off the next day to Tonbridge for our next pet sitting assignment.

Arlington Court & saving money by joining the National Trust

We decided to go to Arlington Court today. Arlington Court map small It is a home that was built around 1820 to be the family home of the Chichester Family, and is located on their large estate in Devon. Arlington House small The last owner, Rosalie Chichester, gave the house and grounds to the National Trust when she died in 1949. The National Trust is a organization that protects and conserves important historical places in Britain.

Travel advice:  When you join the National Trust (currently it costs £105 a year for a couple, but if you join in the US, through the Royal Oak Foundation, it is only $95), you get free admission to 300 historic buildings, castles and stately homes.  Plus free access to over 600,000 acres of historical lands, and some other benefits.  If you are staying in Britain for any length of time you will make back this amount in admission fees.  Elizabeth and Matt helped us join, they were very kind and helpful.National trust Matt Elizabeth small

The house is a grand building that shows how the upper class lived in the 1860s when great houses were the homes of the wealthy families.  Here is the grand staircase:arlington house staircase small  There are extensive gardens to admire; Arlington court gardens small There is a beautiful peacock that runs the garden.peacock small  And you can go out into the fields and see the sheep and the lambs.Arlington Court black white lamb small  We had an afternoon cream tea before we left, yum   cream tea small It was sunny and a lovely day in the country.



Swans, Saxons and Soup in Bradford

It is so nice to be able to walk the dogs in the fields of the English countryside.  We walk in green pastures with cows (watching out for cow pies) and wild flowers everywhere.  Here is David and the dogs on one of our 2 daily  walks. david walking dogs small 1  And here are some cow friends wondering what we are doing in their pasture.cows in pasture small After the morning dog walk and after we try to coax Max to eat (he is 17 and does not find eating too necessary), we try to go off to a local town for a look / see.  Two days ago when it was still sunny we drove to Bradford on Avon, about five miles north, for a couple of hours of sightseeing.

Bradford (from “broad ford”) is a town in west Wiltshire, England, with a population of about  9,402 .  The town has roots in the Roman era and has historical buildings that make it popular with tourists.  Bradford was a town built upon the woolen weaving industry, and oddly enough also used to process rubber into tires — well, tyres– and other items. We walked over the 13th-century stone bridge with a small building on it.  Turns out that this was the local jail — right over the river. bradford bridge lock up small We walked up to the Saxon church and took some photos to share.  According to Wikipedia, “The Saxon church dedicated to St. Laurence may have been founded by St. Aldhelm around 705, and could have been a temporary burial site for King Edward the Martyr. It was re-discovered by Canon William Frampton in 1856, having been used for secular purposes (apparently becoming a house, a school and part of a factory). In his research, Canon Frampton, who had an interest in archaeology, found reference to the church in the writings of the 11th century historian William of Malmesbury.”  It is amazing to sit in a plain small stone church (the size of a small chapel) and realize how many people have prayed, married and been buried from here since the 8th century.  They have cleaned it up and returned it to its simple form.  Here is a photo of the outside.bradford saxon church small  You can see from the angle over the door that an adjacent building has been removed. The two buttresses are of more modern stone; they were probably necessary to support the wall when the building was removed. The inside has an arch leading to what was the altarbradford saxon church inside small

After exploring this unique example of an ancient British church  we crossed over the Avonbradford avon river smallbradford swan small to go back to town to get lunch. We shared a lunch of fish and chips and pea soup at a lovely restaurant on the river that used to be a weaving mill.  With two sodas, lunch came to  £22 – about $31.  It is very  expensive to eat out in England.  ###Budget travel tip;  try to eat at home or bring your lunch.