Highclere Castle

Sam and Candy on the side of Highclere Castle

After our visit with Chris Abbey in Rippon, we headed back to Reading to turn in our rental car and head to Heathrow airport.  On the way, we stopped at Highclere Castle, the site of the BBC series Downton Abbey.  Tom and I were just along for the ride, since neither of us have seen the show.  You are not allowed to take photographs inside the castle, but according to Sam and Candy, they recognized a lot of the rooms from the series.

Sam and Candy in the car park with Highclere in the background
Sam's first comment upon entering the car park was that it is much smaller than she imagined

Below are some views of the grounds around Highclere.

As we walked the grounds, Tom was wishing he had brought a frisbee.  This was one of our few sunny days in England.  For most of the trip it was dreary and rainy.

Sam enjoyed our trip to England.  She said she liked the fact that “people don’t talk,” that it is cold, and that it is “old.”  Sam is not too chatty in most cases, and she liked the fact that most folks we met were friendly enough but weren’t too chatty themselves.  Candy, who likes to tell everyone she meets her whole life history and full vacation itinerary in the first five minutes she meets them, prefers chatty people.  Sam said that she would like to live in England for a couple of years (not forever) and do more sight seeing.  Tom seemed to enjoy aspects of the trip, but he didn’t like being outside the US.  He was happy to visit, but by the end of the trip, he was ready to go home.


The Peak District, Day 2

Another walk through an area of the Peak District

As we set out from the Peak District toward Yorkshire, we stopped at an area that had been an old railroad right of way for a short hike.  The viaduct in the left of the picture above and an old railway tunnel were the attractions here.

Sheep grazing on a distant hillside

We began by walking down a path through the woods that took us to a waterfall.  We didn’t know about the waterfall when we started our walk, so this was a nice surprise.

A closer view of the viaduct
The waterfall, which seems to have been augmented with some man-made features
Walking back from the waterfall

After returning to our starting point, we walked in the opposite direction to get down to the viaduct and also walk through the old railway tunnel.

The old Headstone railway tunnel
The other side of the tunnel
Sam and a view of the river from the viaduct
A view from the viaduct

About noon we got on the road for Rippon in Yorkshire to spend the afternoon and evening with Chris and Ann Abbey.

Many of the trucks on the motorways were these extra tall ones. They are a meter taller than trucks we are accustomed to in the US.

The Peak District, Day 1

Our next day in England was spent in The Peak District, an area of high hills and picturesque vistas.  We stayed in a nice bed and breakfast in Castleton and then headed out on a hike across nearby ridges to Mam Tor and around the area.

Starting our morning hike along a small country lane that began in front of our bed and breakfast
It was a rather dreary day
The walk began on level ground but very quickly became steep
About halfway to the top
Despite the dreary weather, the views remained impressive

Mam Tor, the site of an ancient hill fort that dominated the area until the construction of the nearby castle in approximately 1070
Candy finds a friend during our walk back down from Mam Tor
Our bed and breakfast, the Rambler's Rest
After the long walk through the damp and drizzle, we dried off and relaxed over a game of dominoes

A visit to Bovington Tank Museum

The entrance to the main hall of the Bovington Tank Museum

For me, a highlight of our family vacation in England was a visit to the tank museum in Bovington.  Somewhat off the beaten path Bovington is the armor (armour) school for the British Army and the site of the largest collection of tanks I’ve ever seen — and most of them have been repaired to working order.  We modified our agenda to make sure we were in Bovington on a weekday when they perform a tanks-in-action demonstration.

A model of DaVinci's tank in the queue to get into the exhibits

The museum is actually a series of buildings, but we only had time for the main building.  We did not go over to the conservation building where they repair tanks to working order.

The displays begin with a depiction of life in the trenches in WWI.  This helps motivate the need for the tank to help break the stalemate in the trenches.  This section of the museum then depicts the development and evolution of early tanks into the early 1930s.  There were several WWI tanks that you could walk into or where sections of armor were replaced by plexiglass windows to enable you to look inside.

Sam and Tom coming out of a trench
A British Mark IV or Mark V tank

This hall was very dark, so many of the pictures are a bit blurry.

An early tank with a cutout to allow people to look inside. They said that this tank is in running order. Many of the tanks had oil drip pans under them -- an indication of which were still able to run.
Tom and me in the Royal Tank Corps -- and my patient wife wondering how long she was going to have to pretend she was interested in tanks before we could leave

After viewing the WWI section, we went outside for the Tanks-in-Action demonstration.  They drove four armored vehicles around a track, which included a hill.  Each stopped in front of the audience so that the narrator could provide interesting information about each vehicle.  The Tanks-in-Action demonstration naturally focused on British vehicles.  The same type of demonstration in the US that focused on US vehicles would likely be criticized as jingoistic, because only in the US is it insensitive to highlight our accomplishments.

A Cold War era Ferret armored car. This was very fast and incredibly quiet. I had seen Scorpions and Scimitars before and even had a chance to climb around inside one with the crew, but I had never seen a Ferret before.
An FV-234 armored personnel carrier. This vehicle is strikingly similar in design to the US M-113. The FV-234 is still in service.
The Chieftain main battle tank. This Cold War era vehicle never fired a shot in anger and is no longer in active service.

After showing these three vehicles, they set up a mock battle involving these three fighting insurgents from Ruritania equipped with a Saladin reconnaissance vehicle.  The Ferret conducted reconnaissance to find the Ruritanaians and called in artillery, complete with pyrotechnic devices that were a crowd pleaser.  Then the Chieftain and FV-234 advanced.  Volunteers from the audience de-bussed the FV-234 and assaulted the Saladin, winning the day.  It is not considered insensitive in England for the British to root for themselves and to defeat the enemy.

The "Ruritanian" Saladin reconnaissance vehicle

After the tanks-in-action demonstration (and some pasties and cider) we went back into the main building to look at the displays.  The hall depicting the evolution of the tank is breathtaking and includes a number of displays I have never seen in person, like the D-Day wading device on a Sherman tank.

A panoramic shot of the hall showing the evolution of tanks from WWI to nearly the present day
Another view of the history of the tank hall
A French Char B tank

Each vehicle on display has a nice plaque next to it that describes the tank and also where this particular example of the tank came from.  Some of the vehicles had a very interesting story behind how they came to Bovigton.

German Pz II tank

There are over 300 tanks at Bovington.  It is mind boggling.  I couldn’t see everything and read everything if I had two full days there.  I MUST go back when I am not pulling the family along.

German Panther tank
British Crusader tank

The US Army made many bad choices over the years regarding the extensive collection of armored vehicles on display at Aberdeen Proving Ground.  The collection is now scattered and no longer available to the public.  Even in its heyday the APG collection was open to the elements and deteriorating.  It was amazing to see such beautiful specimens at Bovington.  Some are claimed to be the only known example in the world.


Tom in front of a Pz III
A Sherman Firefly along with obligatory derogatory comments about US tank design in WWII
German Tiger I in the "Tiger Hall," where they have one example of each Tiger variant except the Sturmtiger.
A US M-46 Patton tank. The M-46, 47, and 48 were all called "Patton"
Sam in front of a cutaway view showing the interior of a tank

This was a particularly interesting exhibit showing the interior of a tank.  The kids were very surprised at how cramped it is inside a tank.

The other half of the tank
Another view of the history-of-the-tank hall

There were a number of simulators set up around the exhibit hall.  There were ones for rifles, a Bren gun, and even a PIAT.  Sadly the PIAT simulator was out of order, but in these next two pictures you see Sam and Tom firing a simulated Bren.  Neither of them “qualified.”  Both commented on how hard it is to aim the Bren with the site offset to the side because of the top-mounted magazine.

Sam firing a simulated Bren. If you look in the background of this picture you can begin to get a sense of scale for just how big the exhibit hall is.
Tom firing the Bren simulator

There are over 300 vehicles at Bovington.  This does not include all there other items on display like anti-tank weapons, comparisons of barrel lengths, tank crew equipment, etc.  While the story of the tank hall tells a story of the evolution of the tank, the largest hall is just filled with row after row of vehicles and other displays.  It is amazing!

A view of the largest exhibit hall that I hope provides a sense of the sheer size of the collection.

Bovington was the only item on my must-see list for this trip to England.  I am very glad we went.  All the items on display are extremely well maintained.  Every vehicle has informative plaques.  Many still run.  Everything is under cover.  It is tremendous museum.  I need to try to talk a couple of my gaming buddies into coming here in June next year for Tank Days, when many of the vehicles are driven around and members of the public get a chance to get into some of the vehicles and drive them.  I have driven modern US armored vehicles, like the M-1 Abrams and M-2 Bradley, but I would love to drive one or two of the historic tanks.

A final view of the large exhibit hall

Despite starting the day at a QuikFit to replace the tire on our rental car, a harrowing drive through goat paths led by our GPS and dodging a farm tractor, and a need to depart Bovington early enough to arrive in the Peak District before dark, I had a great time at Bovington and NEED to return for another visit.

Warwick Castle

We were sort of warned NOT to go to Warwick castle.  It sounded like it had a Renaissance fair vibe to it, with activities for small kids, etc.  Since we have often enjoyed Renaissance fairs, we decided to give it a go.

Aa view of Warwick castle from the grounds

Docents provided interesting historical tours within the castle itself, which has been restored.  The Duke of Warwick during the Wars of the Roses changed sides, making him the “kingmaker.”  The castle tour, another multi-media presentation in one of the castles’ towers, and the narration and storyline for the jousting show all provided a brief history of the the Wars of the Roses.

Some of the armor and weapons on display within the castle
The banquet hall in Warwick castle
Posing in front of a huge mirror
A stained-glass window in Warwick castle
The jousting show at Warwick castle, called the Wars of the Roses Re-enactment

The jousting show was quite good.  It involved knights on horseback, dismounted combat, and even longbowmen.  The show followed a narrative that provided a thumbnail history of the Wars of the Roses.  Both at our Mediaeval feast in London and at Warwick castle seemed much more intense and realistic than similar shows we’ve seen at places like the Renaissance fair and Mediaeval Times.  They were quite good.

A vie of Warwick castle from the bridge to the island area where we saw the jousting and the trebuchet demonstration

The castle is pretty much intact.  We were able to wander the battlements.  Many of the towers included displays and shows.  This was not a plaster and chicken wire imitation!

Entering one of the "rear' entrances to Warwick castle
Sam and Tom goofing on the battlements. Tom bought a foam mace as a souvenir.
A view from the top of the battlements
We witnessed a very interesting trebuchet demonstration. This one had the large wheels that men would run within to crank the trebuchet. I've never seen one like this before.

After several hours at Warwick castle we bid farewell to the town of Warwick and headed for the South of England to be in position to see Bovington Tank Museum the next day.

The Cotswolds

We took a guided tour of the Cotswolds, a picturesque area of England that is one of the top Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the world.  The tour met us at the Morten-in-Marsh train station and took us to morning coffee at Secret Cottage, then around parts of the northeastern Cotswolds, back to Secret Cottage for lunch, more touring, and finally tea at Secret Cottage.

A view of Morten-in-Marsh

After another harrowing drive from Swindon, we arrived at Morten-in-Marsh with almost an hour to spare.  While Tom and Sam slept in our car, Candy and took a short walk around the town.

Along high street (main street) in Morten-in-Marsh

The English seem to be able to have a manicured garden (yard) that also looks natural.  It’s an art.

Church in downtown M0rten-in-Marsh along the high street.

Below are some views of byways and towns within the Cotswolds.  The Secret Cottage tour took us to places where the large motor coaches do not go.

An example of a dry-laid wall made of Cotswolds stone
A manor home once occupied by the principle black powder plot conspirator (another conspirator was Guy Fawlkes) just around the corner from Secret Cottage

Claire, our tour guide, had lived in the US for five years with her husband, who was in the Royal Navy. She is also the etiquette lady in a talking portrait in the Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios.

The Secret Cottage
Polly in front of the breakfast spread she laid out for us

It was interesting to see how the owners of this house had trained their pair trees to grow along the walls.

...And a partridge near a pear tree
The Malt House

In this town, there were no pubs allowed by the lord of the manor, so this enterprising person brewed beer that the farm workers would buy on their way home from work.

Nick, the other tour guide, provided a great deal of interesting information about various areas of the Cotswolds.
A view of the Cotswolds
A portion of a picturesque town along the Eye river
Sam has decided she would love to live in an area like the Cotswolds. Tom is not convinced.
An old mill

The charity allotment behind an old church. Food grown here is brought to the church for the poor.
Candy would like to make this our Summer home. For a mere 4 million pounds it can be yours.
The lunch buffet at Secret Cottage. While all the food was terrific, the pasties and Scotch egg were especially good.

We finished the day by driving to the town of Hasely, near Warwick castle and walked around to see a church and manor house.  The nearby pub was booked for the night, so we drove into the town of Warwick to have fish and chips at the Chip Shed.  They were very, very good.

The church in the town of Hasely

Our rooms were the old coach house and stables.  The proprietor was very nice.  We recommend this bed and breakfast establishment.

We let two rooms at the Hasely Coach House Motel

Old Time Photos

Candy and her trophy husband

For me, it’s not a family vacation without some old-time photos to commemorate the occasion.  These were taken in a small studio across the street from Harrods in Knightsbridge, London.

Grenadier Tom
Lady Sam her Earl Gray
What a hunky dude!
A typical evening at home for the Surdus.

Surdus Visit England

Arriving in Paddington Station

For our family vacation this year, we chose to visit England.  As many of you know, we first made sure that we got the kids to all 50 states.  Then we visited Costa Rica last Summer.  This Summer we visited England, beginning our journey with three days in London.

London City Hotel

After arriving in Heathrow, we took the express shuttle and two tube lines to our hotel.  We rented a “flat” or apartment from the London City Hotel, the entrance of which was right next to the Borough underground stop.

A view from London Bridge

Despite feeling quite jet lagged, we determined to “power through” our first day.  We began by walking past Borough Market and over London Bridge to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral.

At St. Paul’s we visited the crypts, the main floor, and climbed to the top of the dome.

A view of London from the top of St. Paul's

From St. Paul’s we went back to our hotel to check in and drop our bags in the room.  Along the way we stopped in Borough Market for a snack.  Tom and I split an excellent corned beef (salt beef) sandwich (on which cheese was melted with a blow torch) and some sort of mediterranean pasty thing with potato and onion while Sam and Candy split some kind of 22,000 calorie dessert.

An entrance to Borough Market

After dropping our bags in our hotel, we walked to the London Eye.  Some think the Eye is a tourist attraction, but we all know it was an antenna used to attack the Earth by aliens whose plot was thwarted by Dr. Who.

The London Eye
A view of London from the Eye
Another view of London from the Eye, including Big Ben, Parliament, and Whitehall.

After visiting the Eye, we stopped for dinner at the Sherlock Holmes pub.  This pub features a room made to look like Holme’s study as described in the various stories.  We ate traditional pub fare.  The kids had their first (to my knowledge) hard cider.

We economized a bit at breakfast.  Since our flat had a full kitchen, we purchased some muffins, Scotch egg, and falafel at a local Sainsbury’s store to heat up in the mornings.

Sam, Tom, and Candy in front of the Tower of London

We began the next day in London with a visit to the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels.  I had seen the Crown Jewels over 30 years ago.  The exhibit is MUCH more interesting and well displayed now.  There is a bit of multimedia, but mostly the jewels and regalia are displayed nicely spaced, and they control access, so you can really see everything.

A handsome dude in front of the building housing the crown jewels.

We took in the crown jewels first thing, before the crowds formed.  Then we latched onto a guided tour by one of the yeoman warders.

Our "Beefeater"

The Beefeater was very entertaining, and did a nice job of explaining elements of the Tower’s storied past.

My little Barbie at Harrods

After leaving the Tower we met my friend Simon and headed off to Knightsbridge.  Candy, Sam, and Tom needed to see a “shopping palace,” like Harrods, which is in Knightsbridge.  Before going into Harrods we stopped to have an old time photo taken.  We spent about 45 minutes walking around Harrods.  Then Simon took us to a pub, called the Grenadier, which we never would have found on our own.  It was at one time the Mess of the Duke of Wellington.  We then walked around Hyde Park for an hour or so and took a double-decker bus to Covent Garden.

Inside the Covent Garden market

There we met Simon’s football buddy for a light snack.  We parted ways, so that Simon and his buddy could get to the ballet, and we walked around Covent Garden.  While doing so, we ran into Julie Horton, who is Tommy’s unofficial sponsor at West Point.  What a coincidence that we should run into her in a city of 5 million people 3000 miles from home.

Sam, Tom, Julie, and Candy in the Covent Garden market

After a short time shopping, we went to see showing number 26978 of The Mousetrap, the longest running play in history.  This is an Agatha Christie story.  I have seen it any times, but I wanted the family to see it.  The kids, whose only theater experience is in high school productions, only went to humor me and thought they would be bored, but everyone enjoyed the play — and no one guessed whodunnit.

The Mousetrap

The next morning began with a tour of Buckingham Palace.  The tour was quite good, and we all learned a great deal.  It is self guided, but the audio guide is very easy to use and is informative.

The rear of Buckingham Palace

The tour exits into the palace garden — and a gift shop.

The "garden" at Buckingham Palace

Our next stop was to Baker Street to see the Sherlock Holmes museum.  I have read all the Conan Doyle stories and enjoyed them.  The “museum” is essentially a building made to look like Holmes’ and Watson’s quarters as described in the stories.  It also has a nice gift shop.

Holme's study
Samlock Holmes -- elementary!
Dr. Tom Watson stupefied by Holme's deductions...
... while Candy consorts with Dr. Moriarty

At this point we split up.  Everyone wanted to see the Cabinet War Rooms, but I had just seen them a year ago.  I wanted to see the National Army Museum, which was under renovation last time I was in London, and I hadn’t seen in 30 years.  The family enjoyed the War Rooms; however, I was strongly disappointed in the National Army Museum.

Weapons displayed at the National Army Museum

Last time I was there, I found this museum to have more history and artifacts than the Imperial War Museum.  I learned a great deal about the evolution of the British Army.  After the renovation, much of the history has been replaced by political correctness.  Displays ask questions like “should Britain have an Army,” “how should POWs be treated,” “should snipers be considered war criminals?”  There were displays that emphasized the “diversity” of the soldiers  in the British Army, talked about how the British Army has been an instrument of subjugating foreign populaces, etc.  I don’t need more PC BS.  I went there to learn history, and I was sorely disappointed.  It is even worse than the military section of Smithsonian!  If you have a chance, give this one a pass.

Churchill tank in the National Army Museum

Even this cool WWII tank simulator was broken.  It was a very disappointing visit.

I linked back up with the family at Picadilly Circus for a leisurely walk up Regent Street and back to look at overpriced clothing.  The high point along Regent Street for me is Hamley’s toy store, which makes FAO Schwartz look like a dimestore.

We were able to meet the queen at Hamley's

From Regent Street we took a combination of tube and walking to get to Ivory House at St. Catherine’s Docks for a mediaeval feast.

Awaiting dinner...
Candy makes friends with horse-head woman

Between courses, we were entertained by singing, juggling, acrobatics, and swordplay.

A balancing act during our feast

Everyone felt that the feast was a little underwhelming.  I enjoyed the food quite a bit.  The food here is mostly familiar, but often has an interesting twist that I quite like.  The food was served family style at ten-person tables.  We had an interesting charcuterie tray, broccoli soup, and roasted check.

A short but very intense sword battle...

On the walk back to the hotel we passed the Tower lit up at night.

The Tower of London at night

Our final morning in London we checked out of our hotel and got on the water bus to Greenwich.

Sam and Candy on the water bus
The Greenwich Observatory
Sam, some handsome guy, and Tom standing in two time zones with both feet on either side of the prime meridian

On our return from Greenwich we walked across Tower Bridge and back to our hotel.

We grabbed our bags from the hotel, tubed it to Paddington Station, took a train to Reading, and hired a car.  My adventure driving on the wrong side of road began in stressful way with navigatrix Candy sending me the wrong way down a one-way street during rush hour.  The car we hired form Enterprise was a Ford Kuga.  At the rental office we thought they were saying “cougar” with a British accent.

Half way to Swindon for the night we had a puncture (flat tire) along the motorway (interstate) and had to have the automobile club tow us off the highway and replace the tire.  We eventually made it to our hotel in Swindon, ate dinner in a nice pub, and got to bed about 2330.