An Anglophile’s First Trip to Great Britain
By Doug Lytton
Having retired a year and a half ago, I have a bucket list that needs to be filled. First on that list is trip to The British Isles. My father, Yankee through and through, was always called, "Limey Lytton" by his buddies. Our name (Lytton) is Anglo-Saxon in derivation. Although not an obscure, it is somewhat uncommon. As a kid I would look for the Lyttons listed in the phone book and ask my folks if we could go meet them - after all, they must be family, right?
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Filling the Bucket
Having retired a year and a half ago, I have a bucket list that needs to be filled.
First on that list is trip to The British Isles. My father, Yankee through and through, was always called, "Limey Lytton" by his buddies. Our name (Lytton) is Anglo-Saxon in derivation. Although not an obscure, it is somewhat uncommon.
As a kid I would look for the Lyttons listed in the phone book and ask my folks if we could go meet them - after all, they must be family, right?
One summer when I was eleven, I flew back to North Carolina to visit my family there.
The Lyttons settled in North Carolina in the early seventeen hundreds from England. I learned a lot about the family that summer and my curiosity has grown over time. Years later, 1993 to be exact, my wife and I visited Aunt Wilma in Fayetteville, NC. From there we drove to Winston-Salem for a Lytton Family Reunion. It was weird; everybody at the reunion had the same last name. The family home has stood since 1710, and Lyttons still live there.
So fast forward to 2015, and off we go to Great Britain. Terry (spouse of forty-two years fame) planned much of the itinerary with dear friends who grew up in England and who return every year to their flat in Sunderland. These friends were neighbors when we lived in California. For this article I will call them Evan and Karen.
Traveling with Natives
Evan was a university professor, while Karen was a public librarian before retiring.
Both took their undergraduate degrees in England and advanced degrees in Canada before immigrating to the U.S. Karen is a brilliant linguist who speaks French, Spanish, Italian and Latin fluently. The Latin came in handy when deciphering Roman inscriptions or ancient church writings. Evan is a respected scientist who has traveled the world on behalf of the University of California and the United States government.
For our first trip to Britain we wanted to coordinate it with Evan and Karen's annual visit to Sunderland—nothing like seeing a place for the first time with locals.
Evan had an unbelievable itinerary for us.
We spent ten days traveling throughout Northumberland, Hadrian's Wall, The Lakes District, Durham, York, Edinburgh, Scotland, and of course, his home, Sunderland. After our 10 days with the best travel guides on the planet, we took the train to London where we booked an AIRBNB flat in the Victoria Station area. Fabulous! But before we go there, let's go back to the north of England, a land of historical importance and incomparable beauty.
The Journey Begins
So we arrived in Newcastle from Dublin at 8:30 in the morning, which meant that we barely got three hours sleep.
Evan and Karen had rented a rather large car for our grand tour of Northern England and Scotland over the next ten days. Our travels would involve overnight stays in Bed & Breakfasts, as well as a swank town house located in North Berwick, Scotland. North Berwick is to Edinburgh as La Jolla is to San Diego.
Although our hosts offered a day's rest for us before our journey began, instead we opted to plunge forward, and that very morning began a journey more spectacular than anything we could have imagined.
Hadrian's Wall Sign
Heddon on the Wall was our first glimpse of Hadrian's Wall. As we drove through the picturesque English countryside, the Wall became visible in the distance. The small village of Heddon appears to be in the middle of nowhere, but Evan explained that day and night hikers and people like us in cars are constantly stopping to experience this amazing spot. Just a brief walk through the village and there we were—Heddon on the Wall.
The Emperor’s Wall
The scene as we approached the Wall was like something out of a movie.
Coming toward us was a local villager with his beautiful collie dog. The feeling was most auspicious—this is going to be a great trip, I thought. The Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the wall to be built in the year 122. It took three Roman legions as well as the navy and conscripts ten years to build it. It stood 12 feet high and three feet thick.
There was a deep ditch dug behind the wall called the vellum. Its purpose was to help hide marching units as well as creating a buffer to those who successfully scaled it. The wall is 73 miles long—coast-to-coast across the north of England. In the end, Hadrian's Wall acted more as a checkpoint crossing than keeping the Picts and Scots out. The Romans finally withdrew from Britannia in 409 forever.
Villager with Collie
The years from 83 when Emperor Claudius decided to invade England to 409 when the Romans threw in the towel and pulled out, have left an indelible mark on Britannia and has influenced a people in very unique ways through language, art and law.
(One wonders today the feasibility of building a wall on our own southern border as some have suggested? Stretching from Tijuana to Brownsville is 2,000 miles. Cost? End result?)
The Lake District
Among the forts along the Wall, Corbridge, Chester and Housesteads were most memorable.
The Romans were nothing if not ingenious engineers. Each fort was a city onto itself. They were laid out in such a way as to provide for grain storage, military garrison, officer's quarters, hospital, public baths, hot and cold running water, central heating, a temple for worship and a public meeting hall. Villages grew up around them and ultimately became towns and cities.
There were so many memorable things to do and see in the north, but two stand out: The Lake District, stunningly beautiful and York, a bustling city alive with ancient ghosts and cathedrals. (Many locals didn't know that the Emperor Constantine was installed as Emperor of Rome in the year 306 in York.)
Statue of Constantine
Constantine actually ruled the Roman Empire from York for several years. Constantine converted to Christianity and built a church on the very spot where his statue still stands.
Temple to Minerva
Possibly the most beautiful city in all of England, Bath is special on so many levels, not least among them the Temple to Minerva, Goddess of War and Water.
This Roman bath is virtually intact so one can actually visualize how the soldiers who came to receive the healing waters, or the leisure class luxuriated in the varying temperatures from one spa to the next—sauna, Turkish hot bath, Jacuzzi and then a plunge into pure, icing lipid pools—how they relaxed and lived. It's as if you're in a time machine.
Face of Goddess Minerva
Perhaps the best lunch we had throughout the entire trip was in a small, quaint bistro just near the bridge that leads to the main square and beyond to the Roman Temple.
Pool in the Temple
This is a place we would love to see again, just as so many others are as well. Britain is a spectacular place, filled with history, beauty, a prosperous society and best of all, a country that has overcome the ravages of war, economic strife and civil conflict to emerge as a wizened 'Old Lady', fully embracing green technology and fabulous farming success. Believe me: the fruits and vegetables are absolutely the best.
Our day at Stonehenge was fascinating but a bit rushed. All the theories and myths that persist about this place make for good science fiction or mysteries, but actual science has debunked most of them. There are stone relics all over England and Scotland but Stonehenge is the best known. Archeologists at the University of Birmingham have recently found even larger stones that predate the ones we now visit.
Stonehenge dates from approximately 5,000 years ago.
They know this because all around the stone edifices is a deep ditch. There are human remains and artifacts that have been carbon dated. The new discoveries of the even larger stones predate these but no exact dates are yet known. There have been people living in this locale for about 10,000 years.
What really gets you thinking is exactly how they were able to quarry the stone and transport them and then stack them on top. Some stones weigh over 40 tons. Curious. One thing most scholars agree on is that the Druids did not build Stonehenge as they came along much, much later.
The large, leaning stone sitting apart in the picture of Stonehenge actually identifies June 21st as the summer solstice and a similar stone at the opposite side of the standing giant stone does the same for the winter solstice.
This in itself indicates a very keen ability of observation. Having this knowledge most likely helped them know when to plant and harvest. The bones and artifacts also indicate that these stone sites, especially Stonehenge, were used as burial grounds. It appears that only a certain class of people are buried here - perhaps powerful leaders or priests?
This is a place that most visitors put on the bucket list. Now that I've done it, time to move on.
The Good Life
I'm struck by the superior rail system and the exceedingly high standard of living in the villages.
I believe the perfect life would be to live in a small village in the English countryside with rapid access to a metropolitan center within an hour by rail. The villages are prosperous. Many city folk purchase a country house for weekends and holidays. And don't forget the English pub - a truly special place. I say, do come visit...
Doug & Terry at Buckingham Palace
Obviously, we had to see Buckingham Palace and the Crown Jewels. Touristy, yes, but an absolute must!
The owner of the flat we rented asked us out for a pint our last night in London. If you really want to take a great vacation, I sincerely recommend Great Britain. In my case, it was on the Bucket List!