Archive for July, 2017


*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

After the late night, we were grateful that Rose’s conference began a bit later on Thursday morning. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with some of the other conference goers and then returned to the room to get packed up. Rose went down for the final session of the conference and Philip got the fun task of finishing the packing and checking out of the hotel. We aren’t used to staying in one hotel for three nights in a row and it took a little longer to pack up after we had settled into our room more than usual.

Once the car was loaded and the room key returned, Philip hung out in the lobby to work on the blog and then to get caught up on work emails (ugh reality). He also used the lobby phone to call ahead to Salisbury Cathedral to get booked for the tower tour we hoped to do later in the day. We had tried booking online but missed the one day cutoff.

Rose was the final presenter at the conference and she emerged just after 1pm, glad to have it behind her. She changed into less formal attire, bid her new friends farewell, and we hopped in the car to continue our journey…after a quick stop at our kebab shop/convenience store in town, of course. We ordered some kebab wraps, thinking they would travel a bit better, and enjoyed talking with the guys again. Of all the people we have met thus far, the Turkish guy who works the counter at the convenience store might be our favorite. We bought a few snack items to bring back for people at home and were surprised when he gave us a discount (we also got a discount on the kebabs too…these guys rock!).

Okay, quick note about kebabs. Obviously, we like kebabs a lot and have for a long time. In Italy, they were a staple for us as we were traveling on a budget and offered the best grams of protein per euro ratio we could find…and they are delicious. We have also eaten kebabs from various places at home in America (both Arizona and Colorado). We ate kebabs in France and now also in England.

We were surprised that they are really quite different in each place. Yes, the meat is mostly the same everywhere (lamb/beef mix roasting on a vertical spit and shaved thin), though we do have a place in Colorado that does it differently. It’s the toppings that seem to vary widely, particularly the sauces. Some places have a more traditional tzatziki sauce, other have mayonnaise, and yet others have a very garlicy sauce. It has been fun experiencing the different kebabs around the world and we look forward to trying even more as we travel other places in the near future. Perhaps we will make it to Turkey sometime and can try a real Turkish kebab in the homeland rather than restaurants elsewhere run by Turkish expats.

Anyways, with our kebabs in hand, we said farewell to the guys and walked back to our car to head north to Salisbury. We made it to town without incident and drove into a parking lot. Unfortunately, we soon learned that not only did this lot only take cash, but they also did not accept the new 1 pound coin. We were low on coinage anyways and the small collection of 1 pound coins in our possession were of the new variety so we headed back out to find a different option.

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The spire of Salisbury Cathedral rising above. Pictures do not seem to capture just how large the cathedral is topped with its massive spire.

We ended up at a parking garage instead and walked the short distance up to Salisbury Cathedral. This cathedral is very, very large and is dominated by its ridiculously enormous central spire. Even on such a massive building, the spire is so tall that it still feels out of proportion. You can pretty much see the spire from anywhere in town as it soars above everything.

We had about 40 minutes until our tower tour, so we started our visit in the Chapter House to see what is claimed to be the best-preserved copy of the Magna Carta. There are only a handful of these 12th century documents remaining and Salisbury’s is in relatively pristine condition. We stepped into the small viewing hut (there to keep the document shielded from sunlight we presume) and spent a few seconds trying to read even a single word of the heavily scripted old English on the page. Unsuccessful, we moved back out into the larger chapter house to make room for others to have their turn. Even if it isn’t particularly legible to us, it’s really cool to see something as fragile as parchment that has survived for 800+ years. It’s even cooler when you think about the significance of this document in English and even world history.

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The Chapter House at Salisbury Cathedral. This is where we saw the best preserved remaining copy of the Magna Carta.

We left the Chapter House and went back into the large cloisters where two of the cathedral’s stone masons were set up at tables doing demonstrations. Salisbury is one of the few cathedrals that employs stone masons to actively maintain and replace decaying parts of the church. They also lend them out to other churches as needed. This may be part of the reason why we saw signs claiming it takes 14,000 pounds per day to keep the cathedral up and running!

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Two of the stone masons employed by Salisbury Cathedral. They actively carve and replace stones all over the enormous building.

Our first impression of the interior of the cathedral was its openness. Unlike most Gothic cathedrals which feature at least a choir screen and a screen behind the altar, Salisbury is open all the way from the entrance of the nave to back wall of the apse behind the altar. This gives the church a very unique and airy feel that is not matched by most of the Gothic cathedrals we have seen on our journey thus far.

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The long nave as seen from the gallery. The lack of choir screens makes the sight lines at Salisbury Cathedral unique. You can also see the very modern baptismal font down below.

The second thing that jumped out at us is the use of multiple colors of stone. While the walls and columns are relatively unadorned, the use of different bands of stone gives a nice effect that is a bit reminiscent of the cathedral in Orvieto, Italy, though in a much more subtle way. At the center of the church, you can see how the four main columns have started to bend slightly due to the incredible weight of the spire sitting above, which is both fascinating and a touch unnerving, though Rose was confident the structure is sound!

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Some odd (and creepy) art temporarily exhibited inside Salisbury Cathedral.

We made our way back to the front of the nave, passing by the very modern baptismal font (literally a fountain with water flowing off all four sides and disappearing into the floor).  Over the next few minutes, our tour group assembled and 13 of us got ready to go up into the towers. Technically, this was one more than the allowed maximum of 12 but we made it work. Alan, our tour guide, was soft spoken but very friendly and we spent the next hour and a half (or even a bit more) with him as he led us up into the upper reaches of the church.

Before we began the climb, he pointed out an old clock that was sitting on the floor of the nave. Once we climbed up the spiral stairs to the gallery of the nave, we could see the clock’s bell hanging there as well as the cathedral’s only medieval stained glass (the rest is mostly Victorian). Alan talked to us about the lightweight tufa rock that was used for forming the cathedral ceilings and the process of binding it together with molten mortar.

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The tower tour at Salisbury Cathedral was fascinating for two engineers. We learned a lot about the building materials and techniques used to keep the building and the massive spire standing. This is the wooden framework above the nave to support the heavy lead roof.

We continued up a bit higher into the space above the nave and spent a long while looking at and discussing the wooden structure in place to hold up the roof. It was cool to see the mirrored roof supports on either side of the center where the builder had cut a section of tree in half and used one for each side. Alan also pointed out the lathe roof backing to which the lead roofing was attached as well as some cross bracing running diagonally along each side. These had been added at the request of the great English architect Christopher Wren and were made of ship’s masts cut in half.

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The roof above the nave at Salisbury Cathedral is supported by paired natural beams like this one…it’s sibling is directly opposite on the other side.

Alan led us across the walkway above the nave (nicely illuminated by brand new lighting) and we climbed a beautiful wooden spiral staircase up into the base of the spire. Here, we saw the mechanism for chiming the cathedral’s main bells, though the bells were located much higher up in the spire.

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One of two wooden spiral staircases used on the ascent up the spire at Salisbury Cathedral.

We also talked at length about the iron support structure in this section, some of which was original from the 1300s and coated in lead to prevent rust. There were also additional metal support that had been added in subsequent centuries, the most dominant of which was another brainchild of Christopher Wren. One of the most interesting aspects was how the builder’s used wedge shaped pins to join sections of metal, just like they had done for joining timber. Alan pointed out that the builders joined metal the only way they knew how…the manufacture of threaded nuts and bolts did not come about until at least 50 years later!

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Some of the metal work in the spire. You can see metal from three different ages, some as old as the 13th century!

We climbed higher up another wooden spiral staircase, which took us to a walkway around the top of the room. This was a workaround because the stone spiral staircases in the corners had been filled in below long ago in an attempt to add more stability to the structure (questionable whether it made any difference). From this point, though, we were able to enter the single unblocked staircase in one of the corners and up to the base of the steep spire roof. Here we could see the bells, as well as the immense wooden scaffolding within the spire roof.

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The scaffolding inside the spire is quite elaborate and actually hangs from the top rather than supporting from the bottom.

This room had doors on each of the four walls leading out onto small viewing galleries. We were only able to go out onto three of them, because the fourth was currently being occupied by a peregrine falcon nest and a trove of BBC camera equipment to film said nest. Two of the galleries were so tight that we had to let half the group out, close the door so they could shift to the other side, and then let the remainder of the group out.

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Rose on a very narrow walkway atop the spire at Salisbury Cathedral.

The views from the top were spectacular and we felt no rush to move along quickly. It was nice to have a tour that could last almost two hours and not feel pressured to keep hurrying along so the next group could come up. Alan was more than happy to answer any questions and he gave us a lot of interesting information about the building, the surrounding area, and lots of other things.

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A view from the top of the spire of Salisbury Cathedral.

Eventually, we worked our way back down from the spire and emerged out into an almost deserted cathedral. We were on the tour so long that the tourists were long gone but for a few stragglers. We exited through the cloister and saw that the masons had called it a day as well.

We walked outside and took pictures of the cathedral from every angle and then set off on a short walk through some “water meadows” nearby to hopefully get more views of the cathedral (some famous painter also did a lot of paintings from the path). Most importantly, Philip saved the day for a puppy playing in a small stream that had lost its tennis ball on the opposite bank from its mommy. As we walked, we had a spirited discussion about whether or not pedestrian walking norms align with the driving norms (left side or right side) for a country. Rose seemed to have the winning theory based on our observations (as she usually does) with her view that pedestrians walk on the right despite driving on the left.

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A bridge on our walk to the water meadows in Salisbury.

After a relatively short walk (by our travel standards, at least), we turned around and back into town and towards our car. It was quite noticeable that tourist hours had passed as the city seemed to have shut down for the night already. Our best guess is that Salisbury is sustained in a significant way by tourists on day trips from London or other nearby major cities. Once the buses leave for the day, Salisbury turns into a sleepy little hamlet with a totally different feel than the hubbub we experienced when we arrived.

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Our walking path around Salisbury including our jaunt out through the water meadows.

Our hotel was actually located well outside of Salisbury in a small town called Bulford. We picked it because of its proximity to Stonehenge, which we would be visiting in the morning. As we drove down the road, we passed what appeared to be a small circle of stones off to the left, which Rose dubbed “little baby Stonehenge”. Philip quickly deduced and pointed out that it was in fact the real Stonehenge, which does indeed sit not far from a fairly major thoroughfare. All in all, our first view of the iconic site was very anticlimactic, though we were still excited to see it up close (and hopefully have it feel much, much bigger).

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Our first and very rapid view of Stonehenge as we drove by on the adjacent highway.

We pulled into the parking lot of the hotel, which is actually a bar/restaurant with a few rooms above. The parking lot is also shared with what appeared to be the headquarters of a group of motorcycle enthusiasts (the kind that wear matching leather jackets). We checked in without any paperwork and were led to our room. It was adequate, but certainly did not match what we had for three nights at a 4 star hotel.

We spent a bit of time going through pictures and proofreading some blog entries and then realized that it was time to figure out dinner. Philip went downstairs to check on a menu for food from the bar and the bartender informed him that food service had ended for the night (which is something we knew from our check-in but had promptly forgotten). So, we hopped in the car instead and drove a few minutes to a fish and chips shop where we shared an order for dinner.

After eating, we went next door to a grocery store (Tesco Express) and picked up a few necessities (a hard cider for Rose, an ice cream cone for Philip). A short drive later, we were back at the hotel and getting ready for bed when we realized that we had not been provided with any towels. Philip went downstairs where the manager and a lady who was likely his mother/business partner were hanging out with their three dogs! She apologized and went to fetch some towels while Philip took full advantage of the situation to make some new friends. The largest one, a Doberman of some sort, had a tennis ball that Philip threw a few times and the other two just wanted to be petted nonstop. In fact, the terrier growled at Philip when he dared stop for a moment to throw the ball.

Towels in hand and puppy quota satisfied, Philip returned to the room and we called it a night. We listened for a few minutes to our book, though Rose didn’t last very long before drifting off. Tomorrow, we get to finally visit Stonehenge for real, which is something we have been looking forward to. It’s nice to be on the move again after being in the same place for three whole days, though it’s settling in hard that our trip is coming to an end soon. But, we still have a few more days and we intend to make the most of them!

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Our path for the day. A->B: Quick stop in Brockenhurst for kebabs. B->C: Drive to Salisbury. C (green): Explore Salisbury Cathedral. C->D: Drive to hotel. D (red): Drive out for quick dinner.

Summary:

  • Conference over…Rose survived!
  • One last visit to our new friends at the kebab / convenience store
  • Salisbury Cathedral and a very in-depth tower tour
  • A very different hotel experience
  • Missing towels leads to puppies!

Stats:

  • Distance on Foot: 4.46 miles | 9,397 steps
  • Distance in Car: 38 miles

*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

Day 2 of the conference began with another enjoyable breakfast down in the restaurant, after which Rose set off for another morning of timber conferencing and Philip set off on his solo adventure of the area on bicycle.

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Looking cool while riding around New Forest.

He rented (hired is the correct British term) a bicycle from the hotel and was given a handful of maps highlighting suggested routes around the New Forest area. After handing him a drawstring bag with some bike repair equipment, a lady from the front desk took him around to a shed out back to grab a helmet and bicycle. This equipment collected, he set off down towards town to get on the trail system.

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Horses everywhere! The young ones are the most fun to watch as they venture away from mom but not too far.

Even at this early stage, things began to fall apart. The maps were not particularly helpful and Philip quickly realized he did not know how to get onto the trail system. He stopped at a bicycle shop near the train station for a bit of advice on where to go. Armed with that new information, but still without much of a true destination in mind, he set off again down a different road and eventually found an entrance to the trails.

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The entrance to just one of New Forest’s numerous bike paths.

New Forest is home to many, many miles of compacted gravel trails as well as numerous other on-road cycle routes. Numbered signposts indicate current location and there are several suggested routes that can be followed and which are called out with arrows on some of the sign posts. Unfortunately, the route Philp happened to find (number 2) did not correspond to one of the maps he had in hand (numbers 1 and 4). On the plus side, he did have a third map of the entire region showing the locations of many of the signposts, though the print was extremely small and it did not show all of the trails and junctions.

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A cool stockade built right along the train tracks but otherwise seemingly in the middle of nowhere in New Forest.

With a general understanding of the geography of the area and the assumption that he really couldn’t get too lost, he set off following route #2 and hoping for the best. It led for a while through the forest, though at one point it went along a country lane for a bit before diving again into the trees. Another rider passed along the way and Philip asked him for some navigation help to figure out where the path was headed. Eventually, the path went through a campground before exiting the forest and out onto a lonely moor. The contrast was quite striking of being in the trees one minute and then out on a barren landscape the next.

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Philip saw this traffic blockage scenario more than once while biking around New Forest.

The route wound along a lonely road with only occasional car traffic. More than once, cycles and cars had to stop for horses and cows crossing the road at their own leisurely pace, which was another somewhat surreal experience. After making a couple of turns at intersections to keep following the route, Philip found himself at a 4-way intersection without any markings for the cycle path. He was pretty sure of his location based on his tiny map, but fortunately the same cyclist from before came riding up behind and was able to confirm and suggest a good path for returning back to Brockenhurst.

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If the cows are allowed to cross the road at will, why not the horses too?

The ride back went through a small town named Beaulieu. After an unintentional detour up a hill to England’s National Motor Museum (and then right back down the hill), Philip finally made his way into the town and stopped at a small shop to enjoy a well-earned ice cream cone (salted caramel to be precise). He ate it out in front of the shop and then set off once again back towards home.

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Nothing like an ice cream stop near the end of a long bike ride!

After a mile or so on road, he turned back onto the gravel bike paths. A very happy dog came running up at one point and of course he stopped to say hello. After a few more turns, Philip came upon another older couple walking towards him with yet another happy (and very wet and dirty) dog. The dog had apparently just gone for a swim and was having the time of its life. The couple asked if Philip was headed to Beaulieu, to which he responded no because he had just come from there. At this point, they informed him that he was in fact riding the wrong direction on this path! Fortunately, they had a much larger map and were able to give him better directions to make it the rest of the way back to the hotel.

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Some of New Forest’s ponies that came within a few feet of Philip near the end of his bike ride.

The path exited onto a road less than half a mile from the hotel. Along the way was a small parking lot, which was currently playing host to about 8 New forest ponies. Philip stopped his bike and one of the ponies walked within a foot or so of him on its way to a new field!

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Not the finest bike in the world but it was sufficient for a 23 mile bike ride.

Just before noon, Philip made it back to the hotel and went to the front desk to return the bike. To his surprise, the lady at the desk (different lady than handled the bike checkout earlier) just handed him the key to the bike shed and did not show any interest in coming along to make sure everything was put away properly. A refreshing shower followed and then the wait began for Rose to get out of her conference.

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Philip’s bike ride. A->B: Ride into town to the Bike Shop for directions. B->C: Ride through the forest and exit out onto the moors (first time asking guy for directions). C->D: Ride along lonely road (meet guy again at D and he suggests return route). D->E Ride towards Beaulieu but errantly venture up hill to Motor Museum. E->F: Quick ride around Beaulieu capped off with an ice cream cone. F->G: Head back home (couple at G with happy but wet dog informed me I was heading wrong way). G->A: Made it back to hotel!

The afternoon was spent on a conference field trip to a wooded area called Hooke Park. Philip was able to tag along and we boarded a coach bus for what we thought was about a 60-90 minute drive to the west. It actually took us two and a quarter hours, partially due to some very narrow lanes and tight turns. At one point, the driver had to go fairly significantly out of his way to make a U-turn and come back from the opposite direction because the road just wouldn’t allow him to make the right turn he needed.

Hooke Park is a center of learning and of experiment in the field of timber structures. Specifically, they place great emphasis on using wood that is considered undesirable and not usable by others. The first three buildings on the site were constructed primarily of just this type of wood. In this case, the forest had been poorly managed for various reasons and never thinned properly. As a result, there were a lot of very tall and very spindly trees that were not useful for most applications. Through creative designs, the builders here were able to utilize this timber to create some very beautiful and unique structures.

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The workshop at Hooke Park, which is one of the three original structures built using only the slender trees usually considered to be waste timber.

The more recent structures are interesting as well, particularly two of the open-walled pavilions. One utilizes short board segments in a complex web to hold the roof. The other is a practical demonstration of the relatively new capability of laser 3D mapping of trees and custom designing around the available materials. This building uses two enormous arches running diagonally, comprised entirely of tree forks. The 3D mapping allowed the builders to plan out exactly where each one would go and to ensure that the two arches had the correct shape and joined successfully at the midpoint.

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A pavilion at Hooke Park built using only short pieces of wood bent into a beautiful structure…Apparently, the failure rate of bending the wood was extremely high at first, but they eventually learned how to select the correct wood grain pattern for success.

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A pavilion at Hooke Park built using 3D scanning technology to choose the correct placement for forked tree limbs.

After a little more than an hour (we could have definitely stayed longer to talk to the guys there and see the buildings in more detail), it was time to pile back onto the coach bus and head back east to Brockenhurst. The trip back went faster, despite the need for some near-miraculous driving from our driver. We were on a one lane road not much wider than our bus with tall hedges on each side when we saw a car coming at us. Fortunately, there was an indentation where the car could pull over so we could just barely squeeze by. Just as we cleared the car, we saw a large tractor lumbering towards us! We’re still not sure how, but the two drivers somehow negotiated the passing without as much as a scratch.

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Beautiful countryside in southwest England, as seen from the bus on the way home from our field trip to Hooke Park.

We also spent some time talking to one of the conference attendees, a mostly-retired man who now lives on the coast of Spain. When we pulled into the hotel, we had a few minutes to rest before Rose headed downstairs for the official conference dinner. This was an extravagant affair at a restaurant a few miles away called the Rhinefield House Hotel. Since we had no desire to pay the 70 pound cost for Philip to join, Rose was on her own for this one.

Once the group left, Philip settled in at a table on the hotel patio to do some writing and to eat one of the more amazing cheeseburgers of his life (most likely due to the “rarebit” topping, which is some sort of flavorful Welsh cheese). His tummy happy and the night air getting a bit chilly, he migrated inside the lobby to sit on a couch there.

At one point, a lady (turns out she was from New Zealand) came by and asked if he would be a signature witness for some legal documents for a power of attorney. He was happy to comply with the request and they joked about an American witnessing a signature in the south of England for legal business taking place half a world away in New Zealand. She was very grateful and even sent a waiter over a bit later in the evening offering to buy Philip a drink.

Rose returned from dinner at 10:30pm and, after chatting with her fellow conference mates for a few minutes outside the lobby, we soon headed to bed. Tomorrow is the final day of the conference and we will be moving on from New Forest in a roundabout route back to London over the next few days.

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Our path for the day. A->A (blue): Philip’s 23-mile bike ride. A->B (red): Conference field trip to Hooke Park. B: Walk around and see cool timber structures. B->A (magenta): Return trip back to hotel…didn’t realize the route was so different until we looked at the GPS track later.

Summary:

  • An enjoyable morning on a bike ride
  • Field trip to Hooke Park to see experimental timber structures
  • Fancy dinner for Rose, amazing cheeseburger for Philip

Stats

  • Distance on Foot: 2.5 miles | 5,000 steps
  • Distance on Bike: 23.4 miles
  • Distance in Bus: 148.5 miles

*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

Tuesday began with a lovely breakfast including everything from pastries, cheese, and prosciutto to grilled portabella mushrooms and poached eggs. After eating, we wandered along to the back of the hotel so Rose could do her conference check-in and get her bag of swag.

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Even the smokers get pampered at the 4-star Balmer Lawn Hotel. Philip particularly liked the wit expressed with this sign.

The morning was spent with Rose conferencing and Philip sitting in the hotel lobby catching up on a major backlog of blog writing. We have had more challenge keeping up with it on this trip than any of our others, most likely because we have had many more late evenings than usual. Philip also chatted with a Turkish guy for some time whose wife was also attending the conference and he was along for the ride.

Unexpectedly, Philip was able to join the group for a barbecue lunch at the nearby lodge of the company hosting the conference. We all piled onto a coach bus and traveled about 10 minutes to the headquarters of the Wessex Institute, which consists of a lovely collection of brick buildings set into a small clearing in the middle of the woods and goes by the name of Ashurst Lodge.

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One of the beautiful brick buildings at Ashurst Lodge.

A large tent was set upon the lawn and we entered there to get our food and drinks before finding a spot at a small table with another couple. They were from Oregon and she was tagging along just like Philip. After lunch (and dessert) was finished, we embarked on a brief walking tour around the grounds and then climbed back aboard the coach for the trip back to the hotel.

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The setup for our barbecue lunch at Ashurst Lodge, home of the Wessex Institute of Technology.

We spent the afternoon doing more conferencing and a lot more blog writing. The Turkish guy from earlier had asked to borrow our laptop and Philip lent Rose’s to him to use while sitting in the lobby. Apparently, he and his wife had a travel arrangement disaster going on and he was trying to figure out lodgings both here in New Forest as well as in London. Also of great importance is the awesome puppy Philip got to meet while sitting there. She was so full of energy and a love for life and even gave him a few unexpected kisses. The hotel seems to be very dog friendly and the added charge for having a pet is only a few pounds, which is far better than what we have typically seen in America. Most of the hotels in which we have stayed on this trip seem to have a similarly dog-friendly policy.

The conference ran about an hour later than expected, though several people seemed to wander out early near the end. Philip sat and chatted with the Turkish couple and a Slovak couple for a while but then decided that he needed to get up and do something other than sitting. He first checked out the hotel gym, though a lingering bruise on the palm made most upper body weight lifting untenable. The gym has a feeling of relatively low usage by the normal clientele of the hotel (this is a very, very wealthy area of the country and most patrons are elderly). While he did his 15 minutes of weight lifting, the only other visitors were one guy who came in solely to get a cup of water and a young girl who entered twice to work on her makeup using the big mirrors along the wall.

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Horses on the small cricket pitch in front of our hotel.

Since Rose was still not out of the conference, Philip went for a quick run around the cricket pitch on the front lawn and then stopped by the front desk to get recommendations on what to do with his time the next day. He eventually settled on renting a bicycle and exploring the region in that manner.

Once Rose emerged, we hopped in the car and drove a mile or so into the small village of Brockenhurst and quickly settled on a kebab/pizza shop for dinner. While we waited for Rose’s pizza to bake, we had a very amusing conversation with the Turkish guy behind the register at the adjoining convenience store that covered everything from politics to relationships to why we don’t yet have any children of our own (maybe he had been talking to Phil’s mom!).

We took our food back to the hotel and sat in a park next to the grounds to eat. Again, we had been given way more food than we could possibly consume, which seems to be the norm for southern England kebab stands. After finishing, we went back inside so Rose could prepare more for her presentation and so we could get some sleep. This was a much more relaxing and sedentary day than we have had since the trip began. To be honest, it was nice to not push too hard and have a chance to relax and let our bodies recover.

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Our very brief path for the day (we forgot to turn on the tracker at times so some of the paths are approximate). A->B->A: Riding the coach bus to lunch at Ashurst Lodge and then back to the hotel. A->C (including clockwise trip around the triangle): Searching for dinner and stopping at kebab shop. C->A: Driving back to hotel (you can see that Philip missed the turn at first).

Summary

  • Day 1 of the Timber Conference
  • BBQ lunch at the Wessex Institute
  • Hanging out with the Turks
  • Fun conversations at the kebab shop

Stats

  • Distance on Foot: 3.06 miles | 6,199 steps
  • Distance in Car and Bus: 9.98 miles

*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

NOTE: Diligent followers of our blog may have noticed a significant lag in our posting of these blog entries in the last few weeks and we apologize for the delay. Now that we are back home, life has resumed full force (particularly the unexpectedly time consuming task of rebuilding our deck) and we have struggled to find the time to get these online. We will definitely post the details of the rest of our trip…it just might take longer than usual.

The day began earlier than normal at 6:15am, since we had to be headed out of Amiens by 7 in order to get to Calais in time to check in for our ride through the Channel Tunnel. To our delight, the local pastry shop at the end of the block was already up and running by 7am so we were able to grab some pastries to take with us on the road.

The drive was mostly uneventful right up until the end. Had we just stayed on the highway, we would have been deposited right at the entrance to the Eurotunnel complex. Instead, we followed the directions Samantha (our GPS voice) gave us and embarked on a 15 minute journey around the outside of the fenced complex on dirt roads. It was only after Rose gave up on her and figured out the route on her own that we were able to get back on a major road and into the complex via the correct entrance.

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Our last bit of France before crossing through English border security prior to boarding a Channel Tunnel train.

Check in was very straight forward at the automated machine and we then passed through French outbound passport control with ease. British passport control was a bit more rigorous with the lady asking us several questions about our travel plans and arrival dates in order to verify our authenticity (we apparently got enough of them correct because she let us through!).

We were then routed into the parking lot of a food complex, so we hopped out to take a quick look. Finding nothing of interest to us (though there was a massive duty free store), we hopped back in the car and got into the correct line for boarding our train. After a few minutes, our line started moving forward and we were directed up a ramp and into the top deck of a train car. The drive through the cars to the front was pretty narrow, particularly where the wall juts out to contain the car’s bathroom. As we passed one of these jut outs at a speed of about 10 mph, we may have come an inch or so from losing our passenger side mirror…but since close only counts in horseshoes (and hand grenades), no damage was done.

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One of the rather ugly (but highly functional) trains used when crossing via the Channel Tunnel.

The crew for our journey was British (as evidenced by the accent of the people speaking over the intercom), though we only saw a single crew member during our journey. He hung out in our train car and was chatting with the driver behind us. We mostly stayed in our vehicle for the crossing and used the time to listen to our audio book. We would have reclined our seats to be more comfortable, but as we learned while waiting for the ferry a week ago, the pump mechanism to do so requires something like 100 pumps to recline an inch and we just didn’t have that workout in us.

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Our little car somewhere beneath the English Channel aboard a Channel Tunnel train!

We pulled into the terminal in Folkestone, England in just 35 minutes (way faster than the 1.5 hours for the ferry ride) and drove out of the train car just a minute or two later. The Channel Tunnel cost us about twice as much as the ferry (can be a bit better or much worse depending on when you book and when you travel). With the delay we experienced in our ferry ride, taking the train was ultimately about 3 or 4 times faster all together including the check in process. With the change in time zone, we actually arrived in England 25 minutes before we departed from France!

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The white cliffs of Dover with the port in the background.

We headed back east to Dover to go visit the White Cliffs, which we had deferred last week due to time concerns. Rose switched her mantra back to “drive on the left, drive on the left” and we made it there safely in about 25 minutes. The traffic going the other direction looked pretty slow due to construction and we hoped we would not need to travel through that later in the day.

When we got to the White Cliffs Park, we stopped at the guard booth to pay our 3 pounds for parking at the site. To our surprise, the man informed us that he could not accept our 5 pound note because it was the older variety that had been replaced as of mid-May. He reassured us that it was still legal tender, but we might have to take it to a bank to get it swapped for one of the newer plastic notes as most vendors likely would not accept it anymore. We used a different bill to pay for parking and then headed to the car park.

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The white cliffs tower over the sea.

We stopped by the visitor center to inquire about a tour of some WWII tunnels in the cliffs. We were instructed to walk about 30 minutes to the tunnel entrance and that we could buy tickets there. While tours were limited to only 12 people, she didn’t anticipate us having any issues getting on the first tour and explained that tours launched every half hour so we wouldn’t have to wait too long if we did miss it.

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This thing that looks like a weed is actually a rare type of cabbage that grows in the highly chalky soil of the white cliffs. The park staff have to watch out for “poachers” that will attempt to steal these plants from the park and sell them to high end restaurants in London!

Nevertheless, we power walked our way there and made it in about 20 minutes. This ensured we got on the first group, though it ultimately was not an issue since there were only 3 visitors on our tour. We were a bit early for the first tour at 11am and we spent a while just sitting in the shelter at the tunnel entrance talking to one of the tour guides (named Ken) about all manner of things. Ken used to work for IBM in Dallas and told us all about the world in his thick British accent. Of most amusement were a few statements he made about the French, oftentimes showing his disdain for them. At one point we chatted about the ferries and he explained that there is British ferry company (P&O, which is what we took) and there used to be a French company but they went out of business cause the workers went on strike too often and thus there boats were purchased and are now operated by the Danish.

Ken also explained that he goes to France fairly often, but typically just to buy cheap wine. Apparently, wine is about half price in France compared to England and the English customs allows one to bring in 363 bottles or fewer of wine without needing to declare and pay taxes. We asked him if he ever brought in that many and he assured us with, “no, only a few hundred”.

At about 10 ‘til, we were given hard hats and Ken began a safety briefing for our trip to the tunnels. The highlights were that the ceilings are low in places, the climate is extremely humid to the point of dripping and standing water, and please don’t touch the chalk walls. Those logistics complete, our ragtag group of 5 (1 guide, 3 visitors, and a fairly awkward teenage kid who may have been related to one of the guides and was “training as a guide”). Our guide was a man, probably in his 50’s, whose father had served in these tunnels during WWII. As such, he had not only a lot of information about the tunnels but also anecdotes and stories that he no doubt heard from his father. He also had a reverence and a passion for the history of the war and these tunnels in particular that was touching to see and ultimately made for a great experience.

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Inside the tunnels at the white cliffs.

We descended the concrete stairs carefully as they were very wet and slippery near the bottom. We then proceeded on our 45 minute or so tour of the tunnels, stopping frequently to look and listen. Like many places, the tunnels have a lot of graffiti carved into the soft chalk walls. While some is recent (last 20 years), a lot of it is from the time of the war and was carved by the soldiers. It is easy to imagine a solider standing in a long line for one of the few toilets, absentmindedly carving his name into the wall.

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After the war, a company attempted to salvage some of the steel ribs from the tunnels. They quickly decided it wasn’t worth the effort or danger once the ceiling started collapsing in on them.

Some of the graffiti was a bit more creative, including two poems in the hallway leading towards the outdoor toilets. One said, “I in such a caper having shit and got no paper. Parade is due, I dare not linger. Here goes, I’ll use my finger.” The other rhymed nicely with “When you come into this hall, use the paper not this wall. If no paper can be found, run your ass along the ground.” Apparently, young men have always had a sense of humor that finds poop jokes to be the height of wit.

At one point, we stepped out of the end of the tunnel onto the face of the cliff and saw two acoustic dishes made of concrete. These are parabolic dishes, hailing from WWI (some of the tunnels originated in WWI but were expanded greatly in WWII…all in less than 100 days from start to finish), which are were used as a means to detect incoming aircraft and ships. A soldier would stand at the focus point of the dish with a listening horn and sound the alarm if he heard the sound of the enemy. One of the dishes is tilted upward at a slight angle and was likely used for detecting aircraft; the other is angled a bit more towards the water below, and is thus presumed to have been used for detecting ships. The sensitivity is such that one could supposedly hear a mouse running through the weeds.

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One of the two audio reflecting dishes used for detecting approaching aircraft and boats.

On our way back towards the tunnel entrance, we stopped by the officer quarters. While the officers had a bit more space than enlisted soldiers (and a dedicated bathroom), their sleeping area did have the unfortunate characteristic of being the low point and thus flooding on an annual basis with several inches of chalky sludge.

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The WWII tunnels in the white cliffs had a major problem with humidity. However, this galvanized metal duct work is rust free despite being original from the 1940s.

We exited the tunnels, thanked our guide, and set off a bit further to see the light house at the end of the park. We decided not to spend the time to go up into it, so we stopped well short and headed back towards the visitor center after taking a few pictures. On the way back, we took a lower route at a fork in the trail, which we thought was the marked trail along the edge of the cliff. We became concerned as the trail continued to descend towards the port below rather than climbing back up towards our car.

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Our detour on the way back through White Cliffs Park took us through a horse pasture. In the background is the port of Dover, from which we departed on our ferry to France a week ago.

Eventually, though, we spotted a long ramping trail along the cliff edge and were able to walk up that and emerge into a horse pasture with several horses. Stepping carefully, we crossed the pasture and down a short trail through a tunnel of trees and emerged right next to the visitor center.

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This green tunnel fortunately led us back to the Visitor’s Center.

 

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Our walking path around the White Cliffs of Dover. A->B: Walk to the tunnel entrance. B: Explore the tunnels. B->C: Walk to the lighthouse (almost). D: The actual location of the lighthouse. C->E: Return trip taking the lower fork. E->A: Back to the visitor center via a horse pasture and a tunnel through the trees.

We elected to have a simple lunch at the visitor center and then walked to our car and began the trek west across southern England. Our drive to Bodiam took longer than expected, partially due to the construction traffic and partially due to the back roads we took for much of the trip. Nevertheless, we made it to our destination safely and parked in the car park to visit Bodiam Castle.

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Bodiam Castle sits in the middle of a very impressive moat.

After buying tickets in the visitor center and paying for parking at the automated machine, we set off up the small hill towards the beautiful castle. We started by doing a lap of the large moat (50+ feet wide), taking pictures from several different angles. We also admired a flock of geese in the grass next to us, which were far more attractive than the Canadian geese we typically see back at home.

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The main entrance of Bodiam Castle.

Exploring the inside of the castle was a fun experience and we explored it all, guided by our handy map. Bodiam has the oldest known portcullis (spikey gate that blocks entrance) in England. They are confident in the date of this one because its construction is such that it could not have been retrofitted. It had to have been built in at the same time as the castle wall around it. The map had useful information about each room, and this was often supplemented by signboards telling additional information (like one particularly interesting one about the horrible job of cleaning the toilet chutes…which usually went to children because they could more easily fit in the tight spaces!).

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The portcullis at Bodiam Castle is the oldest in England…they know the date because there is no possible way it could have been retrofitted once the walls were in place.

 

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The inner courtyard of Bodiam Castle as seen from atop a corner tower.

We also saw a small insignia attached to the walls in various places throughout, though it blended in well and took some effort to spot. We were confused by this at first until we came to the conclusion that it was an activity to keep kids engaged while they looked around.

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One of the hidden insignia in Bodiam Castle…it took some effort to spot them all and is a great idea for keeping kids engaged.

We exited back across the moat and returned down the hill towards the car. We decided to hold off on dinner until later and continued west on our journey. It took several hours to get to New Forest, due to the distance and several congested areas with very slow traffic. Perhaps we would have been better following Samantha’s recommendation, though that would have taken us all the way to the outskirts of London and we feared bad traffic around the city. Instead, we stayed further south along the coast, though with the high hedges and trees along the road, the water was only visible for a few minutes during the entire trip. As the evening was approaching quickly, we had to pass on our last planned stop in Brighton to see the royal Brighton Pavilion (next time, I guess).

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Our path strolling around and through Bodiam Castle.

We stopped just short of our final destination for some kebabs, which we took to a nearby park to eat. For 10 pounds or so, we were given an insane amount of food to consume and we did our absolute best but still came up short. While we ate, we saw some of the New Forest horses across a field, roaming around free. New Forest is known for its cows, horses, and ponies, all of which live a truly “free range” life and are not fenced in. As such, drivers must always be careful of any of these animals on the roadway. As a sign on the back of a bus we saw later reminded us, “ponies don’t dent, they die”.

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The view as we sat in a park eating our dinner of kebabs. New Forest has horses and ponies roaming everywhere!

We found our hotel easily and, after fitting the car into a rather tight space, we checked into the nicest hotel of our trip (by far). Thus far, we have focused on finding relatively inexpensive lodgings, which means we have stayed in hostels and one or maybe two star hotels. Our hotel in Brockenhurst (Balmer Lawn) is a four star establishment and is a very nice change for us.

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Wow, what a difference a 4-star hotel is compared to our normal range of hostel to 2-star.

When we walked into our room, we were blown away by its size. You could fit two and a half of our last room in this one. We even have a fireplace with a mantle! It’s amazing to have space to sleep, walk, sit, and store bags…all at the same time. After unpacking, Rose spent some time practicing her presentation for the Timber Conference (the actual reason we came to England in the first place and the reason for the nice hotel). Tomorrow begins our three day stay here in the New Forest for Rose’s conference before we finish out the last few days and head for home.

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Here we are back in England again.

Summary

  • Riding the Channel Tunnel…boring in practice but awesome when you think about the logistics
  • Walking along the White Cliffs of Dover
  • Amusing poetry inside the Dover WWII tunnels
  • The fairytale-like Bodiam Castle
  • A long drive across southern England
  • Kebabs and horses
  • A truly luxurious hotel experience

Stats

  • Distance on Foot: 7.54 miles | 16,080 steps
  • Distance in Car on Train: 31.4 miles
  • Distance in Car (not on train): 282.8 miles
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Our path for the day. A->B: Drive to Calais. B->C: Ride the Channel Tunnel to Folkestone, England. C->D: Drive to White Cliffs of Dover park. D: Explore White Cliffs. D->E: Drive to Bodiam. E: Explore Bodiam Castle. E->F: Drive to New Forest. F: Stop for quick dinner of kebabs in Lyndhurst. F->G: Drive to hotel in Brockenhurst.