In 2012 I retired again and we are traveling in Europe. In 2009 Ron and I retired and we volunteered at Quaker Meeting House in Wellington, New Zealand for a year.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

North Berwick

North Berwick
The street where we live

Bass Rock
We spent three days in North Berwick and the East Lothian area.  Our apartment was just around the corner from one of the two beaches.  North Berwick is right on the mouth of the Firth of Forth and the North Sea.  Most days you can see across to the other side of the Firth.  There are also several islands off the coast; the most prominent is Bass Rock because it rises very high out of the water and is very white.  It is a major gannet nesting site.  It and the other islands also provide nesting places for seals and many other seabirds, including puffins, but those had mostly gone by the time we were there.  NB’s main tourist site therefore is the Scottish Seabird Center, about 3 blocks away. Besides lots of information about the birds, they have interactive cameras stationed on 4 islands.  You can move the camera view around 360 degrees and zoom in and out, so you can get a really close up look at some of the birds, or zoom out for a broad view.  This is how we discovered that Bass Rock is not white from all the bird guano, but because it is packed with white gannets.  You can go for your own look-see at

North Berwick Law

The town itself is a good looking prosperous community.  The High Street with most of the businesses stretches for 4 -5 blocks parallel to the beach.  It had a good variety of restaurants and pubs.  The harbor itself is very old, from the 13th century, when it was a pilgrimage stop for people wanting to cross the Firth on their way to St. Andrew’s.  They were going to pray to the saint, but nowadays the pilgrimage is for golf.  There are many courses in the area and in 2014 the British Open will be nearby.  Walking around the town, we came across a half a dozen historic plaques to locals who became famous golfers.  The promontory that the harbor is on sets off the sweep of the two beaches on either side.  The other main feature of the town is a tall basalt hill just on the outskirts, called the Law.  This part of Scotland is full of these volcanic remnants, and these tall isolated hills are all called laws.  We did not climb it.

North Berwick in the 1300s
Tantallon Castle
To the south of NB, there were two places we went to: Tantallon Castle and the town of Dunbar.  Tantallon is a ruined castle on the coast just across from Bass Rock.  It is hard for the pictures to
Courtyard of Tantallon Castle
give you a real sense of the scale of the place.  Two walls rose 5 stories and had halls and rooms and battlements.  The inside courtyard was mostly open to the sea because they didn’t need battlements on that side.  It was built around 1350, and survived various sieges brought about by the lord’s shifting intrigues with
the royalty.  It was finally rendered uninhabitable by Cromwell’s army.  I knew Cromwell had invaded and devastated Ireland.  I didn’t realize he had done the same to Scotland.  We really enjoyed wandering around.
View from the heights

Tantallon Castle about 1500
John Muir birthpalce
John Muir statue
The town of Dunbar is a little further along the coast.  It also has an intriguing harbor and was once a very busy fishing port.  Its new claim to fame is as the birthplace of John Muir, one of the founders of the environmental movement.  He lived there until he was 11 when the family moved to Wisconsin.  Now the small building has been turned into a good exhibit on his life and work.  I was very impressed with his writing:  “Around my native town of Dunbar, I loved to wander … along the seashore … and best of all to watch the waves in awful storms thundering on the black headlands and craggy ruins of the old Dunbar Castle, when the sea and the sky, the waves and the clouds, were mingled together as one.”  It is especially helpful to imagine this said in Muir’s Scottish accent.

Entrance to Dirleton Castle
To the west of NB we visited another ruined castle in Dirleton.  The oldest parts date to the 13th century, but it went through two other building phases when different families inherited it through marriage.  It has very good signage with pictures of what it looked like before it was a ruin.  The most impressive parts here, and distinct from the other castle, were the huge kitchen and bakery with gigantic fireplaces and ovens.  Also there is a very nice chapel off the hall.  The dungeon is right under it.  It is smaller than Tantallon, but seemed like a much more pleasant place to live.  It was also destroyed by Cromwell.

Saturday September 22, we had an uneventful drive back to Glasgow, about an hour and a half, turned in our car, and flew off to Vienna via Heathrow airport.  We thoroughly enjoyed our two weeks in Great Britain.
Kitchen fireplace

Dirleton Castle in the 1500s

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Edinburgh skyline and train station
We spent three of our days in Edinburgh.  There is a very nice fast train that runs From North Berwick into the city centre.  The city is quite compact and easy to walk around.  The weather has continued to be cool, mostly in the 50s, with occasional drizzle.  Our first day, we started off walking up to the Castle, which is located on a basalt promontory called Castle Rock.  They recently had a big celebration in honor of the Queen’s Jubilee in the Esplanade in front of the Castle, and were in the process of removing the bleachers and stands, so some of the view was blocked. 
Edinburgh Castle

Oddly enough, we had just watched a rerun of the celebration on TV the night before.

The castle is huge and imposing, of course. The oldest portion dates to the 12th century, but many portions are much newer.  We decided to just visit the forecourt and not pay to go inside as a lot of the exhibits seemed to focus on military history.
St. Giles High Kirk
We elected to spend our first day just walking around the city.  From the Castle, the main street of the Old Town proceeds for what is known as the Royal Mile to the Queen’s Palace of Holyrood.  It is full of lots of shops, tourist attractions, statues, old houses and narrow alleys.  The most magnificent building is the High Kirk of St. Giles, which we did go into.  Its central tower is very distinctive and different, like an open work crown.  There are many memorials to Scotland’s famous thinkers and writers.  We also asked them for directions to the Quaker Center, or at least the street it is on!
Arthur's Seat

The Royal Mile turns out to be, in fact, about a mile long, and mostly downhill the way we were going, so we did a lot of walking.  It ends at the Palace that the Queen uses when she comes to the capital.  The new Parliament buildings are right down there too.  It is a pretty good example of modern architecture.  Since Parliament was in session, they were not doing tours, and we also elected not to go into the Palace.  That end of town is dominated by another basalt cliff called Arthur’s Seat, and some other hills, all of which have stayed open land. 

Greyfriar's Bobby
We walked back up a street parallel to the Royal Mile, a much more normal business street, bordering on the University district.  We sought out a statue commemorating Greyfriar’s Bobby, a Skye Terrier who stayed by his master’s graveside for 14 years.  It reminded us of a similar dog statue in Wellington.  Wikipedia tells me that this is probably an urban myth.  Probably stray dogs found that graveyards were good places to hang out because people would feed and fuss over them.  People liked making up a story about a loyal dog, and the caretaker often found it to his advantage to play up the myth.

Quaker Center on Victoria Terrace
 We found the Quaker Centre on Victoria Terrace, which is a pedestrian balcony that runs above and alongside Victoria Street, which plunges downhill.  By the end of the terrace, you are two stories above the road.  We returned to Edinburgh on Wednesday to attend the midweek Meeting for Worship.  We first went up all the way to the third floor where the main Meeting Room is.  It is a magnificent setting high above the city, but it was also clear that it was not where the people were.  So we went down a floor to the library and found the group.  There were about 14 of us, and it was a very nice silent meeting.  We visited with a number of people afterwards, including a young man from Guilford College starting a year at Edinburgh University.  Just down at the end of the Terrace was the Scottish Genealogical Society.  We went in to see if I could find anything more about the first Bell that I know of, who is reputed to have been born in Scotland.  Unfortunately, no real luck, but the volunteer helping me was very nice.
Theseus Temple Vienna version

Wednesday before Meeting for Worship, we also went to find the Edinburgh version of the Temple of Hephaestus.  Part of the façade of the Old Royal Grammar School is based on this Temple, and we are collecting photos (see Penshaw monument recorded on the drive to Scotland).  We walked a bit around the New Town, which was built up as a new business district in the 19th century.  Then we visited the Writer’s Museum, which is a small house off the Royal Mile dedicated to Robert Burns, Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.  I learned a lot.  Burns grew up in a farming family and was known as the plowman poet.  He was part of a revival of the Scottish language and culture.  Sir Walter Scott came about 12 years later and was the only one of the 3 to live a long life.  He is so revered by the Scots that there is a huge memorial to him in Edinburgh – a statue under a gothic spire as tall as most church spires.  He was the first English language novelist to receive great international recognition during his lifetime.  The train station in Edinburgh is named after his novel Waverley, supposedly the only station named after a novel.  It is nice that the city has at least as many statues of writers and philosophers as it does kings and generals.

The rest of our time in Edinburgh we spent in the National Museum - Wednesday afternoon and most of Thursday - looking at their exhibits on Scottish history and prehistory.  I also viewed their exhibit on Scottish geology.  I learned that Scotland and England mostly have been on different tectonic plates.  Until recently, Scotland was part of the North American plate, but when the Atlantic Ocean opened up, fairly recently geologically speaking, Scotland separated.  Then England banged into it and they have been uncomfortably  merged ever since.  Otherwise, Scotland’s geological history seemed pretty similar to the English history I had seen in Kendal, but these exhibits were much better done – really good clear fossils and dioramas in particular.  There was also lots of interesting information about the medieval and renaissance period and the nobility and the church.  We enjoyed it, but museums are also exhausting too.  It was always pleasant to come back to our small town and take a walk on the beach.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The drive to Scotland

Saturday September 15, a bright, clear, windy, and cool morning, we left our little cottage to drive to Scotland.  We chose to drive east through the Dales, which is also hilly country, but more rolling and less craggy than the Lakes.

Durham Catherdral

It is very much sheep country, with fewer trees as we headed east.  We were on a reasonably major road, so it felt wide enough not to panic every time a car or truck approached.  Our first goal was the town of Durham, which used to be a major power center in the north of England, but now is mostly a university town.  It was reasonably easy to drive into the town center and park.  The dominating feature is the Cathedral, which is huge and magnificent.  From early on, the bishops were the actual rulers of the area, not any earl or duke, and the bishop was known as the Prince Bishop. 

Durham Castle Tower

It was only a couple of hundred years ago that the crown officially regained administration over Durham.  St. Cuthbert is the patron saint buried in the Cathedral.  He brought Christianity to the North.  He is often pictured holding a king’s head because King Oswald’s head is also buried in the tomb.  I don’t know why.  The Venerable Bede, the 8th Century chronicler of the early English church, is also buried there. 

Durham market square

The town also has a castle but there was a special event happening and we weren’t allowed in.  We were amazed to discover a La Tasca tapas restaurant to eat lunch in.  La Tasca is one of our favorite Rockville eateries.  We learned that La Tasca is a UK chain with over 50 locations here and fewer than 10 is the US.  We also were amused to come upon the market square which was quite busy on a Saturday with stalls and amusements.  A modern adaptation of a medieval activity.

Penshaw Monument 1

Our next stop was about 20 miles away to the Earl of Durham Memorial, more commonly known as the Penshaw monument.  High on a hill is a reproduction of the Temple of Hephaestus from Athens.  (It has sometimes been called the Theseus Temple, but that was an erroneous attribution.)  The temple in Athens is one of the best preserved, so it has been copied in many places.  We have a print at home of the reproduced Temple in Vienna, a lithograph created by August Julius Wetteroth in the 1850s. 

Penshaw Monument 2

He is a distant cousin of Ron.  We will also see a version of the temple in Edinburgh.  There is one in Dayton OH and Montpelier VT.

Now we continued up the A1 along the coast to our destination in North Berwick.  Along the way we could see the ruined monastery at Lindisfarne, where St. Cuthbert was prior and bishop.  It is a dramatic setting, but it was too late to drive over to see it.  Besides it is one of those places with a causeway to the island which is covered at high tide.

View from monument

We arrived at North Berwick (pronounced, we finally discovered, as berrick) about 5 o’clock, collected our key, found our apartment, and moved in, only to discover that the smoke detector was beeping every 30 seconds.  We walked back to the shop where we had collected the key and called the emergency number.  A human being answered and said they would fix the problem.  Then we walked on to the train station to check the schedule for Sunday because we wanted to go into Edinburgh for Meeting for Worship.  We found that the first train was at 12:30 while meeting was at 10:30.  Not auspicious beginnings!  However, when we got back to the apartment, the maintenance man was there and he replaced the alarm battery and turned on the heat and hot water.  So things began to look up.  We also figured this gave us an excuse to go out to dinner at the Indian restaurant we had passed on the High Street.

Earl of Durham plaque

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Swarthmoor Hall and last day in Cumbria

Thursday September 13 we drove to Ulverston, about 20 miles south west of our cottage near the coast, to go to Swarthmoor Hall for a Meeting for Worship at 12:30, and to visit the Hall itself.  We
drove through Ulverston and through the village of Swarthmoor without seeing any signs, so we circled back on a back road and finally found a sign near the train station that directed us to a half mile footpath to the Hall.  The walk took us between a school and a wall separating us from the back yards of a row of houses, then down a hill, over a stream, through two fields and finally to a lane that led to the house. 

Swarthmoor Hal
There is an office/visitor center there which was staffed, so she was able to give us a map so we could drive back.  The Hall is not normally open for visitors until the afternoon, we found out, and there was a retreat going on, so we did walk back and get the car.  It turned out that there was adequate signage going back, just not the way we came.  We had time to stop at the Meeting House, which is just a couple of blocks from the Hall.  It is still used regularly, but midweek it was locked up, and also surrounded by a high stone wall which made it seem very defensive.  I don’t know if they felt the need for defense, or if it is just that walls were normal back then.

Swarthmoor is not a pretty building to look at from the outside, just grey stucco or concrete, but it is very pleasant inside.  It is famous among Quakers as the home of Margaret Fell, the founding mother of Quakerism, and as a refuge for Quakers during the early years of persecution.  It eventually left the family and fell into disrepair.  In 1914, a descendant, Ms. Abraham, repurchased the house and started to restore it.  In the ‘50s it was donated to the Society of Friends (Quakers).
Meeting for Worship was held in the Great Hall, which is lined with wood paneling installed (and carved!) by Ms. Abraham.  There were about 24 people there because of the retreat.  Afterwards, we had the traditional tea and biscuits and chatted with some of the participants.  Then we were able to take the tour with audio phones that did a good, and lengthy, job of explaining the history of both the house and the Quakers.  

Swarthmoor bay window
George Fox visited the area early in his ministry and convinced Margaret Fell when she heard him preaching at the church.  Apparently the churches in those days often had lecture days when it was acceptable for members of the audience to stand and speak or dispute with the minister.  Margaret was gentry, and married to Judge Fell, an important magistrate in the district.  Margaret invited Fox to stay at the Hall.  She worried about whether she would end up with a conflict between pleasing God and pleasing her husband.  When the Judge returned, he was warned on the way that his wife had been bewitched.  However, he came with an open mind and respected Margaret’s convincement and allowed the house to be used by the Quakers.  Although he never formally joined, and indeed did not participate in Quaker Meeting, he would sit in his study next door with the door open and listen.  His patronage protected Quakers in the area until his death.  Eventually Margaret and George married, although they didn’t actually live together very often, since they both traveled a lot or were in jail.

Kendal riverside cafe
The rooms in the Hall are large and well lighted, which is the main reason they felt so pleasant.  They are filled with an eclectic array of furniture from the time period, but not original to the house, except perhaps for one bed.  The first floor has the great hall and the judge’s study, an entrance hall and staircase.  The second floor had three spacious bedrooms.  The third story was one large room, originally probably both the servants quarters and a workroom.  It had a large exhibit about the history of the house, the various stages of building, remodeling, decay, and restoration. 

Kendal Parish Church
About a third of the house has been converted into modern suites used for visitors like the people participating in the retreat.  Where a barn had been there is now additional meeting space and an apartment for the caretaker, and also the building for the offices and volunteers.  There are quite a few gardens around the house also.  By the way, the history said that the footpath we originally followed was probably the main access route until the 19th century when the roadways were built.
Kendal street view

After we were done with Swarthmoor, we drove back to Kendal for lunch at a vegetarian café there next to the river, and walked around for a while taking photos of various places we liked, but it was too late to do anything.
St. Mary's church Crosthwaite

Friday was our day of rest.  About ten o’clock we heard the changes being rung in the church across the road, so we walked over there and were finally able to get inside for a look.  It is a nice country church – I am glad it was finally open.  Then we took a walk along a footpath past the cemetery, up a lane and then back home.  After doing laundry and eating lunch, we went back into Kendal to go to the local museum.  It had a very eclectic range of exhibits from prehistoric stone tools through Roman occupation and medieval life to the 20th century. 
Inside St. Mary's
There was a nice little exhibit about Arthur Eddington, a Quaker and famous physicist who was born and raised in Kendal.  The second floor had a great geology display about the different rock strata that can be found throughout the Lakes District going back 450 million years ago.  I love reading this stuff even though I don’t necessarily absorb it all – I love the sweep of geological eons.  This exhibit was clearer than most about continental drift.  Apparently 450 million years ago England was down around the equator.  It has been underwater 2 or 3 times and experienced various episodes of mountain building, either volcanic or uplift.  Sometimes it has been dry as the Sahara.   I had been interested in a limestone ridge that we drive over to get to Kendal – it is a very dramatic escarpment, and apparently it is one of the well-known features and the second oldest rock in the area.  This floor also had stuffed animals, so we could look at little hedgehogs and eagles, etc.  A thoroughly worthwhile museum.  This was our last day in Cumbria and we greatly enjoyed our visit.

View from our cottage

English oak