Hold to your butts, like ole Samuel L. told us. We get up friggin’ early, go to the airport, and fly to Edinburgh on a plane smaller than Lisa would have liked. Bless her heart. We get there with no real troubles and hoof it to the rental car joint. Yes, Dear Reader, this is where John begins two+ nearly-uniterrupted weeks of driving in foreign lands, complete with mishapen vehicles with steering wheels on the wrong side like we’re on the Island of Misfit Toys… which may not be too far wrong, come to think of it. Anyway, none of this day is about Edinburgh; never fear, we shall return. Instead, we immediately haul ass for the highways and head south for England, just like King James. (HISTORY, BITCHES!!) The plan is to dip below the border, then turn west and cross basically the entire island, with a couple of historical pitstops along the way.
EXCEPT!! As we’re driving south, we see the well-preserved bones of a gigantic cathedral-like building. It was amazing. We stop. There’s a tourist center. We ask the lovely Scots behind the desk what happened here. “Henry VIII is what happened here!” says one cheerily; I’ve clearly walked into a well-honed quip, but I giggled nonetheless. Seems that as part of his… wooing?… of Mary (Queen of Scots, yes, her) he had this old church destroyed. I believe it was the opening line of his version of “lovely country you have here, shame if something happened to it”. Turns out this town (Jedburgh?) is where Mary lived out her exile, and so we stopped for a briefer time than the town deserved for some quick sightseeing. Fascinating history or not, we actually had a couple of deadlines looming that forced us onward. Onward, to sheep!!!
Seriously, I won’t say it as often as it deserves or this will become an all-sheep, all the time blog, but friggin sheep are everywhere starting today.
So we dip down into England, and head west, on our way to Housestead. This is the best example remaining of Roman forts along Hadrians Wall. Now, I cannot tell you why I am fascinated by the Wall in particular; it’s neat, but so are a thousand other things. Tough crap to the thousand other things, though, for Hadrians Wall has my heart. And so there we are, having followed, basically, the Wall itself across the north of England, arriving at Housestead. It lasted for more than a century, and the foundations of almost all the buildings are still there, including gate houses, barracks, the captain’s house/drill hall, temples, baths, etc… outside the walls of the fort they are still finding evidence of surrounding buildings that indicate the civilian infrastructure that grew up just like at modern U.S. military bases. Well, no pool halls, but basically. And then, of course, you can stand on the wall there, just like a centurion 2,000 YEARS AGO, plus or minus, and look out at the vast barbarian-filled wilds to the North… in other words, nothing has changed. /rimshot Seriously though, it was the same gray, green, untamed wilderness that the wall was set to guard against. Jeez… by the by, getting to the fortifications required walking through a gift shop/ticket booth thingy, and then through active sheep pasture. See what I mean?
So we get done with Housestead. We have another historical landmark on the itinerary we’ve built, “Vindolanda.” I hadn’t looked into it much, just saw that it was marked on the map as another Roman site and that it apparently had some surviving written pages from back in the day, so neat, right?
Hoooool-eeeeee crap. Lisa has heard me tell this story, TO HER, several times, but here we go. We pull up. Lisa is reeeeeaaaally tired and decides she’ll just hang out in the car because I won’t be all that long. All you see if el generico tourist office. I go in. It’s just the ticket place. Ok, I pays my money and takes my chances. Through another door, across a little courtyard with faux Roman statues splashing water, and into another little building. It has one of those diarama things showing what the site would have looked like millenia ago. Nice. You can even push buttons and spotlights shine down while a voiceover explains various structures. OK, nice value add for a few old ruins and a display room for the pages. I go out the door, onto a path. The path crests a hill. And there you have the ongoing excavation of an entire Roman town.
No, seriously. A town. They’re still digging it out, but it’s houses, and temples, and businesses, and fortifications, and and and… I mean, I get that places like Pompeii and Herculaneum still have intact buildings and such thanks to lava (thanks, lava!), but short of that I can’t imagine how this could be better. I mean, it is MASSIVE. I try to take it all in, but frankly a full day ought to be spent just here and Housestead, not a drive-by. I did my best (don’t even get me started on the breeze through the multi-thousand-year-old documents) and we moved on.
We ended the day back up in Scotland, where we stayed at a lovely, if not especially ancient or interesting, B&B, and ate at the Caven Arms, a recommended restaurant/pub jammed to the gills with locals (as everywhere else in the world, it’s a good sign if residents can’t get enough of a place). The food was “classic” fare; fish, mutton, veg etc… and it was quite nice. We were especially exhausted and hit the hay post-haste.
Tomorrow, I take up residence as Lord of the Manor. Seriously, my wife won the birthday throwing contest pretty much for all time.
* Aw man, I don’t know. The whole day was one awesome bit after another. I’ll tell you this much – driving in Scotland and England is a deceptive piece of cake. I was being suckered into false comfort before the terrors of Ireland.