England adventure, March-September 2009

England adventure, March-September 2009

...under construction still, with lots of pictures and commentary yet to come.....

My job carried me to the small town of Andover in southern England for seven months, mostly three weeks there and a week back home. Given the length of the visit, I "let a flat" in an old manorhouse out in the Hampshire countryside near St. Mary Bourne. Hampshire is a "shire", an English term for "county". Andover is about 30 miles south of Oxford, 40 miles north of South Hampton, and 70 miles southwest of London.

I must say that I completely fell in love with the area, and was very impressed with the people I got to know, and the attitudes in general of the people that I came in contact with. Even the weather was quite agreeable, but then I was only there from February to the end of September.

I took this picture in the Lake District area of Northwest England near Scotland. There are a lot more like this near the end, taken while on vacation with the family. I fretted over how to do this web page in an effective manner that got the point across, but the task of organizing it all into something coherent was so daunting I kept putting off dealing with it. I finally decided to simiply put most of the pictures in chronological order, and just add commentary as I went along. Some of the comments were written in an earlier page and are in present tense, and others are past. Sorry about the confusion. So here we go...

What impressed me most about southeast England was the beautiful scenery. This is a trail through the "Hoghead Copse" along my bike trail. The flowers are Bluebells, which commonly bloom in shady wooded areas in the Spring.

The countryside is crisscrossed with loads of footpaths, cycleways, bridlepaths (for horses and bikes), and "byways", which are semi-public trails on private land. The footpath system has a history that goes back to the feudal times, when serfs were assured passage across land owned by land barons. This picture was taken in April, so the hedgerows are still a little bare.

Typical footpath signs blend in nicely with the surroundings, and are in the shape of a finger pointing the way down the trail.

This is a typical way of helping a hiker over a fence, but not allowing wheeled vehicles passage, or the farm animals to escape.

Here's a nice meandering footpath where I ride my bike. The ground cover on this trail consists mostly of nettles, which get quite painful as they get taller!

Here's the old manor house I lived in. I "let" (rented) the upper right part, where you see the four dormer windows.

This was the view in front of the house, looking toward the "viaduct", an elevated railroad track. You can also see how the moles have had their way with the this field over the winter. The viaduct was built in the 1800's, and is about 2000' from the house. The locals call it "Elizabethan era", and the story is that Queen Elizabeth went out of her way to travel this way because the views were so nice. Several trains a day go doing at least 80 miles per hour, and they sound like a car going by some distance away, but the sound lasts longer because the trains are so long. It's barely enough to notice, and they don't run late at night so it's not a problem at all. Although you can't tell from this photo, the scale of this viaduct is immense. There's a sign on one of the vertical supports to this viaduct that gives an emergency phone number to call in case the bridge is hit, because it may "endanger train passengers". My guess is the Queen Mary would have to get up a pretty good head of steam to knock a brick loose in it!

These are fields of "rape", which we'd call canola in the US. Probably half the countryside was planted in this stuff, and later in the summer it the rapeseed was harvested and probably used for ethanol production, among other things.

This is my morning commute from the manor house toward town. This road is really tight even for two small narrow cars, which is what everybody drives here. Fortunately the road builders provided an occasional slightly wide place in the road for those times when you meet a wide truck. Otherwise, there would be a lot of mirrors ripped off of cars. At the top of the hill on the far right is the Wick Down Pub. More on that later, but I get the impression that a "down" is a field or a place of some sort.

More bluebells along the bike path.

I knew I'd be in England for a few months, so I bought a used mountain bike from the local bike shop so I could continue my 40 year bike riding habit, while getting a much better look at the countryside. I'm very glad I did. This bike fit me perfectly and only cost me 90 BP, about $150. It's an old bombproof Raliegh with a 4340 steel frame. I almost took the fenders off when I first bought it because I thought they looked too frumpy, but I learned to love them shortly thereafter, and am now looking for fenders that'll fit my Stumpjumper back in the states. There's a lot to be said for keeping water and mud off your back! Another oddity was the twist-grip shifting, which I also learned to appreciate. A lot of the scenery pictures were taken on my many bike rides.

Like this one, for example. This is a new house under construction, which has a distinctly rustic look to it already. The roof is the typical tile, and the sides are large bricks.

The trim on the house and this wall out front is an inset of flint, which is found everywhere in the soil.

Here's a little hint of spring.

This is a much older wall with exactly the same flint detail built in. Notice the perfect strip of turf between the wall and the road. These guys are meticulous gardeners.

This is a typical thatched roof house. It's something like 18" thick. The roofs are a certain variety of tubular hay that's grown just for the purpose, laid over widely spaced wooden slats over the attic. The grass really is all that's between the outside world and the attic floor. I'm told that when one of these things catches on fire, it has to be brought under control within a few minutes or the house is gone. Note the new Mini in the driveway. New Minis are considerably larger than the original Mini. Farther back, I have a picture of the two side-by-side.

I couldn't get enough of the canola fields.

I suspect this three-foot diameter log is the owner's subtle way of saying "this gate closed".

Most of the roads out in the country around the manor were about as wide as this one, which is clearly a one lane "single-track" road. If this road were in the US, it'd be a 25 mph road with yellow warning signs all over the place, but here in England if it's not marked otherwise it's a 60 mph road if it's two lane (or even one lane) and 70 mph if it's a "dual carriageway", or four-lane So this little road is a 60 mph road! Of course you'd be nuts to barrel through here at 60 mph, especially around the turns buried down in the hedgerows, where you can only see maybe 20 feet in front of you. So what they do here is use common sense to drive...which is not something we'd be trusted with here in the US!

At least here you have some room to get out in the nettles and dodge an oncoming car, but that's a fairly rare luxury. Most often somebody has to duck into a wide space and wait for oncoming traffic to negotiate a similar path around to meet oncoming traffic.

The only other standard "national" speed limit is 30 mph. These two round circles with the black bar mean "return to the national speed limit", which is 60 mph from here on out, until further notice, which will probably be the next town. The other side of the signs say something like "Welcome to St. Mary Bourne", or something similar.

I just loved riding around the country side soaking this stuff in.

This church was built mostly of flint, or at least trimmed with it. This place was several hundred years old, so the white is tinged with age, but you can see why they call it "Whitchurch".

There were lots of sheep!

A pheasant herds her young along out of danger. Pheasants were everywhere, and you had to be careful not to flatten them when driving. They were sort of like turkeys and vultures...they would almost rather be hit by a car then expend the effort to get out of the way. Flying is not something they accel at. I rented a car once and during the "driveoff inspection" I noticed the entire lower grill was missing. Upon further examination, there were a bunch of pheasant feathers plastered over the radiator. I wasn't kiddin' about flattening 'em!

I took this from the the highest place in Hampshire, Combe Gibbet. It's also called the "hanging gibbet" because two lovers were hung here a few hundred year ago. That's because they were both married to other people, and when suprised by one of the spouses, committed a double murder.

One modern convenience that makes the thatched roofs last longer is a layer of what we'd call chicken wire here.

So we're climbing the hill out of Hurstbourne Priors and about to go around this sharp curve on a single lane road, and the speed limit is about to turn into 60 mph again! Obviously you're going to go only as fast as you can see far around the curve, and the oncoming car is going to be doing the same, so it works out perfectly, and things still move along quickly whenever there's a straight stretch. I sure wish we'd go to the system in the US. As much as Americans whine about government interference, you'd think this one would pass unanimously, but my guess is we'll never get the chance to vote on it.

This is along my bike path, just up the hill from Egbury. I love the way this looks like a tunnel made of trees.

This is the road under the railroad track going into Whitchurch, and is an admission that there's just no way two cars can fit in here at the same time.

Here's the viaduct again. I kept trying to get a picture of the train crossing it, but since it was practically silent, and doing about 75 mph, it was going to have to be a matter of luck to catch it.

This was one of my favorite places. I stumbled across this early on, and wondered for months how to find it again, and then discovered it was just around the curve off of my foot path bike trail.

There was a little river between the house and the viaduct, and on the other side of the viaduct was a large watercress farm. This swan lived out in front of the house.

And while I was checking out the swan, the train came by! The base of the viaduct may not look like much from this distance, but it was incredibly massive. There was a sign on it that said something like "report any damage to this bridge, as life may be endangered", but I don't think the Queen Mary could hurt this bridge!

Here's the view of the back of the house where I lived. The glassed in part was the kitchen, and the roof to the left was the bedroom. Note that the glassed part also has a glass roof, which led to some toasty summer days. Nothing opening the windows couldn't take care of though. I never really missed air conditioning, which is something few English homes have. The iron stairway is how you get in and out.

I think I took this in Willie and Margaret Wilson's back yard garden. Just about everybody has a garden. We plant grass on it and call it a yard, but the English go wild and plant a wide variety of flowering and fruiting plants that blume thoughout the year.

Here's one I'd never seen.

I happened across a caravan of several "caravans", probably on their way back from a VW camper get-together somewhere. VWs and other german cars (Audis and VWs) are very big here.

This one's from the garden out back of the manor house. The lady of the house kept it interesting back there.

Here's a neat idea that europeans have been doing for years, but us Americans would rather pay somebody to do the job. The light has a motion sensor on it that detects when a car is waiting, and it's all taken care of, 24 hours a day. The system has solar cells that charge batteries and make it all quite painless.

This is the road from Andover out to Picket Piece, and I took this to show the little 40 mph sign. That's because it's just a short stretch before Picket Piece, so they hold you down to 40 mph through Picket Piece, and then let you go back to 60 mph. The point is if the speed limit is other than the usual 60, they'll post one of these little signs about every quarter mile so you'll know for sure what the limit is.

Eight rabbits in one picture isn't hard to come by here. This was in the back yard.

I snapped this one on a roundabout in Andover. I think this is the back quarter of a Sunbeam Tiger fastened to the front of a motorcycle, to yield a sort of three wheeler with copious trunk (boot) space. One thing I realized after visiting here for a while is that the British are inveterate tinkers, and just love to hand-craft things that nobody else has.

Another nice garden, and more thatched roofs.

This is off the footpath behind the Bourne Valley Inn in Hurtbourne Priors.

How many rabbits can you count in this one?

You can see why hedgerows turn everything from sheep to horses. You can't even see daylight through this thing anywhere.

These grapes are growing inside the "conservatory" at Mac and Judy Wood's house.

Mac lives just south of Salisbury, and I spent many entertaining hours with him and Judy.

This is up the hill from the manor house...an old railroad viaduct. Back in the 60's the British Rail system underwent a kind of radical surgery by which many of the rail lines were eliminated, and this is one of them. Those right of ways became many different things...this one is on private land and is used to raise pheasants.

I was exploring new territory on my bike and found these signs on a gate in front of a giant generator. It sounded like a big tractor, so I went down this road to get a glimpse of it. "Flytipping" is what we'd call illegal dumping in the US. If we had fines like these (and enforced them), we wouldn't have people throwing stuff out along the roadside, and they don't have that problem in England now, from what I could see.

So I sized this place up and couldn't quite figure out what it was all about, until I saw the pipe running into it from behind me.

This generator sucks methane out of the landfill and burns it, turning it into electricity. It's called Apsely landfill, and there's an online accounting of how much electricity this facility provides each year. It's not much, but it's free energy after a point.

I'd never seen barley growing before, but now I ride thorough it every day or so on the bike, so I get a really good view of how it grows.

Here's my rental Toyota Avenzis on a single track road. This gives you a good idea of how much room there is for another car, and the visibility amonst the hedgerows.

The first time I met up with Mac and Judy Wood we hiked around one of the old Roman Fort sites, Winchester Hill.

Here you can barely see the embankment on top of the far hill where the old Roman fort was. I was thinking an airplane would be the best way to see this landmark, as well as the surrounding countryside.

This wasn't in a garden, just a "volunteer" on the hillside.

The English are very big on preserving their rich history and cultural sites like this one

This path we'd been walking on was open to the public, and as you can see, the views were outstanding.

Here's a family on an outing with the same idea. You see a lot more people out enjoying nature on a nice day than I do back home.

Three bikers buzz by on what appears to be a very long distance ride.

More of those wildflowers.

This bird joined us for lunch back at the pub.

The original Minis are alive and well in England! Note the name of the business...Minis-R-Us.

Fuel was about a pound per liter. The British gallon is about 4.45 liters (they're bigger than our puny 3.8 liter gallon), but that makes a gallon about $7.40 at the 1.65:1 exchange rate in effect while I was there, or $6.40 for a US gallon. I'll bet those prices would make a difference in US fuel consumption! Note that diesel is about the same as premium here. They apparently have a tax structure that encourages the use of the more efficient diesel fuel, which is why probably half the cars burn diesel, thereby saving a tremendouse amount of fuel (they are about 50% more efficient than gasoline vehicles. All but one of the rental cars a drove were diesels, and I was very impressed with the low end torque and overall power and quietness. The one gas car I rented was a real dog, and I was shocked at how quickly it burned through a tank of gas after having lived with the diesels for the previous months.

Another magic forest tunnel.

By "restricted", they mean no motor vehicles.

This is a cricket game I stumbled across in Hurstbourne Priors. I got an idea of what was going on by watching it for a while, but I'm not sure I ever found an Englishman who knew all the details, much less could explain them! Basically though, the batter is trying to keep the pitcher from hitting those three sticks behind him. No need for an umpire here...either the pitcher hits them or he doesn't. If the pitcher hits it back, he gets to run, but not around the bases, just to the other end of that light green stripe he's on, which is another batting station with three stumps. Depending on where he hits the ball, he can make it more than once back and forth, I think, and gets points each time.

The pitcher always does this fancy windup and runs towards the batter to get a little more speed on the ball, and to unnerve the batter, I suspect. At this point the teams have swapped sides, so the batter is out of the picture to the far right, and the guys in this picture are the "outfielders".

These signs are near and dear to me. I stopped many times on my bike ride to realign them because they had a habit of spinning around the post. I never had the tools to tighten them up, and trucks passing nearby would spin them so that they pointed in the wrong direction, or right between two choices at the intersection. "New Barn" was literally a new barn at the bottom of the hill. Normally they'd take an old barn with a few hundred years of weather behind it, and restore it to like new quality, but looking like it did 800 years prior when it was first built. Very cool. In the case of "New Barn", it was actually a rare new barn, and therefore a good enough reason to name the little crossroad "New Barn".

It took me a long time to catch a pheasant in flight! Usually they'd just run through a hole in a hedgerow, or they'd be sitting in tall grass and errupt into a flury of attempted flight and disappear pretty quickly, flying maybe 100' to put some distance between you and it. Pheasants were everywhere, kind of like chickens in a barnyard. This field was once yellow rape, and now is headed toward the seed phase. Almost all of the fields had a few of these red flowers in there. I figured they were some kind of seed manufacturer marker, but I still don't know for sure.

I got a good shot of the train after I'd been there a few months, and lay in wait on a bridge up behind the manor house. They were so quiet I'd decided they were turbine powered, but I eventually met a railroad guy who explained they were diesel/electric, and built by General Motors!

This was one of my favorite rental cars, a diesel Passat. We took this on vacation when the family came over. This was early one Saturday morning, embarking on a trip to visit a spitfire flyin. This thing would get 42 mpg around town, had gobs of low-end torque...and it was quiet too. I want one! On another subject entirely, that space between the car and the hedgerow is a place I spent a lot of time on the bike. Drivers were incredibily considerate of bike riders, and seemed to always be on the lookout for us. They would immediately slow way down or stop to make sure they weren't endangering the rider. As tight as this place was, I'd pull off and get off right into the hedgerow and let them pass, and they'd always give me too slight toots of the horn to say "thank you". What a great bunch of drivers! I trusted them way more than I do US drivers, who are likely to flatten a bicyclist while their brain is thousand miles away on a cell phone, and never even notice the thud!

Here's the first picture I took at the Biggin Hill "Air Fair", which was billed as a reunion of Spitfires. Biggin Hill was a Spitfire base during WWII, and from the event website, it appeared to be a quaint little airport. This was the sum total of the spitfires there, two of them, and this is as close as spectators could get to them. There was also a P-51 Mustang and a Corsair.

This row of jets is the "Red Arrows", an RAF aerobatic team that performs airshows all over the world (the British call them "aerial displays").

I think this is a Bleriot replica, one of the first flying aircraft from something like 1907. I've seen the original at the Shuttleworth collection also, but that was another trip several years ago.

Aircraft engines haven't changed much since then, oddly enough.

By far the most interesting thing to me about the "Flyin" was the car show. This car is an old Austin, and is quite small, as you can see. It makes a Nash Metropolitan look like a luxury car by comparison.

Ever see a 1901 Panhard-Levassor in person?

1953 Ech 505, which I'd have called a Jaguar 120 if I couldn't read the sign. That's an Austin Healey 3000 to the right, and a Mercedes next to that. I took several hundred other photos at Biggin Hill, which I'll give you a link to at the bottom if you want to see more.

This is Mac's backyard bird feeder. Like most of the English, they have a "garden" behind the house, not just a "backyard". And the flowers, plants, birds, and that sort of thing justify the name. I watched a special on English gardening on BBC TV, and their passion for gardening goes back to WW2 when they were compelled to grow all their own food. It has flourished ever since!

I was playing batchelor while in England, but I think I did a pretty outstanding job of eating "right", as well as cheap! The "chicken and mash" was 99 pence at Tesco, and the frozen "mixed deluxe vegetables" were a fraction of that. The pint of Carlsberg beer was reserved for dinner, but later it was always time for some nice dark ale of some kind. Tesco had an entire wall devoted to ale, and I tried several of each before my visit was over. One of my favorites was "Lancaster Bomber", as well as "Spitfire". If you ever have occasion to drink real English ale like this, be advised your pee may smell funny the next day. At first I thought it was my kidneys failing, but a little web research proved its just the way ale is! The stuff you learn traveling on business...

This one lane bridge was directly in front of the manner house. This yield sign is all you get at the intersection ahead, other than some more faded paint on the pavement that says YIELD. Theoretically you don't have to stop ahead, just slow down, but the hedgerows mean you'd be crazy to just plow through there without almost stopping.

This deer was up on the hill behind the house. Notice he's standing in one side of a tractor rut, and is maybe 30" tall. I don't know that I ever saw one any more than 36" tall. American deer hunters would be terribly disappoint at the pickin's here, but I enjoyed seeing them just about every day on my bike rides.

Some of my nemesis nettles.

Here's the train up on the hill. These things would go by at something like 75 mph and you could barely hear them. I thought maybe they were turbine powered, but they are diesel electrics.

Notice the two bridges crossing the tracks? Trains are practically kept hidden in the UK. I don't remember ever crossing a train track...the trains are kept separated from auto traffic, which means no delays waiting for trains to go by, and very few car/train collisions. And they don't have to blow their horns all the time like they do in the US. I don't remember ever hearing a British rail train ever blow the horn. That's one of the little subtle differences in English culture that makes a difference in quality of life.

I pulled this thorn out of my bike tire. A 10p piece is about as big as a quarter, so this thing's about an inch long! The little cones are a mini version of the pine cones that I'm familiar with in the southern US.

Maybe Mac can tell me what these purple flowers are, just north of St. Mary Bourne.

The church at Woodcott. If I remember correctly, it was built around 1500.

This is where our vacation starts. Jeanie and the kids came over for about 10 days, and Jeanie pretty much planned to see what she wanted to see. This is something-or-other Garden south of London.

Claire's found a soulmate!

Claire and Jordan.

This tree looks like something out of Sherwood Forest.

The "rose garden".

I don't care who you are, this is a BIG tree!

"Mind your head" is just one of those British expressions that crack me up, but makes perfect sense to them. More on that later.

I'm a sucker for algae and moss.

But this is kind of stuff I like, the countryside!

So while I'm out taking pictures of the fields, the "kids" get out and stretch a little too.

There was a lot of wind power evident in the UK, even a lot of personal size generators out int he country.

I'm sure there's a story behind the town name of "Unthank".

These old Roman fort ruins were our first stop on the way to Scotland.

Northern England and Scotland are famous for the stone walls, rather than wire fences.

Hadrian's wall runs right by the old fort.

This kind of stuff makes great backgrounds for your desktop. This is my version of "abstract art".

This pathway is how you get from the road to the fort. If this place were in the US, there'd be a parking lot right next to the fort. In the UK they relish the opportunity to get some exercise on the walk up to the fort.

This is the "latrine" at the Roman fort. I was complete with running water at the time. Here kids are doing what kids do...

This is Scotland from the English border.

Here's a speed camera. There's no effort to hide them...they're there to slow you down, and this is how they do it. This side gets your speed...

..and the backside takes your picture with a flash. This way you're not blinded at night. If you're so stupid you miss the brightly painted box, you deserve to get a ticket!

Next stop was Edinburgh castle.

I think the Scottish crown jewels are up in this tower, under constant guard.

The "sword room".

An interesting piece of equipment here. I'm guessing it's Russion Roulette done the hard way!

The kids have a very low tolerance for castles, and especially the walking that goes with them.

Edinburgh from the castle.

Do I need to point out that this is one big honkin' cannon?

With the advent of cell phones, the familiar phone boxes are going away. I heard on BBC that they were being sold off for one Pound each. I'd love to have one, but I'm guessing the shipping would be several thousand dollars (the cheapest way to ship my bike was about $300).

This hill overlooks Edinburgh. There's a steady stream of hikers walking up the side, just to take a good look and get some exercise.

The backside of the castle. This is one reason why the castle had never been breeched.

Ahh...back to the good stuff.

This stand of trees had been clearcut. These trees had been planted with the intention of harvesting, but the conifers looked out of place with the other forests. We were later told that new regulations required more native trees.

We were told the sheep up north had horns, and here's the proof. Apparently this guy had been shorn very recently.

Another great 60 mph road!

This stone circle was out in the middle of nowhere (but great countryside). The place was gorgeous, and every bit as cool as Stonehenge, but without the crowd. This is why I let Jeanie do the planning.

A taste of the Scottish Highlands.

The stone equivalent of the hiker's pass through the wall.

At this point I was getting out of the car and taking several pictures every few minutes. When I got out to take this one Clare, who apparently was timing my stops, said "he could only go for 15 seconds this time!". She wasn't kiddin' either. I couldn't get enough pictures, and I'm glad I got what I did.

This footpath is stabilized by shoring up the edges with posts dug into the ground.

A lot of effort goes into maintaining these paths.

Although most of these pictures were taken in the "Lake District", this is probably the only closeup of one of the lakes that I got. The hills are the real story here...

I'll bet this road would be a blast in my 16 valve Scirocco.

I don't see this kind of stuff in Alabama...

This construction zone speed sign is wind powered. See the little motion detector on top? It doesn't bother to light up unless there's a car there, so energy is conserved, but the point is made rather effectively when you get there because it flashes at you, saving even more energy.

As a mechanical engineer, I had to wonder what the guy was thinking that designed this bridge. It seems inefficient to me, but then I was doing 80 at the time and didn't get to study the details. I wish I had a picture of the "pedestrian" bridge I went under on the way to Willie Wilson's house...there was a cow crossing it. Apparently the bridge joined two pastures!

Speaking of Willie's, we caught this train to Chester from his place. Note all train bridges behind it. I'm not kidding...you'd never know the place had trains if you didn't go to the train station or deliberately hike up to the train tracks. They do trains right.

Chester is a Roman era "walled city", and this clock is a central attraction downtown. There's a walkway up at the clock all the way around the wall.

The walkway goes through here as well.

I'm guessing this guy's a college student earning some extra bucks working for the city as a Roman Centurion tour guide for the school kids. He was excellent, and kep them quite entertained.

More of the "wall walk".

There was also a walk through the businesses, but it's not in this picture. Chester has a sort of mall system dating back hundreds of years, whereby there's a sort of second story sidewalk that hits all of the stores on the second floor as well as the ground floor.

KR builder and pilot Willie Wilson, even more famous as a long-time British Airways 747-400 longhaul pilot. I know him as just a fabulous bike riding buddy with a never ending repertoire of excellent flying stories.

Willie reclaimed this 6 horsepower diesel tractor that he grew up on the farm with. It's a kind of mule replacement thing. He rebuilt it from rubble to this like-new condition. There's something in the water on this island that makes people crazy enough to go to incredible lengths to bring mechanical equipment back from the edge of rusting to oblivion, all the way to perfection...and I love it!

Willie and his equally fun wife Margaret. What a fantastic pair of hosts. Note RX-8 license plate, "WW Oh to Fly".

Back on the road again, you see this kind of stuff going down the road all the time.

We saw this castle on the north coast of Wales, but never could quite get to it or hang a name on it.

These smoothly rounded pebbled are typical of UK beaches, churned by centuries of tidal action. Another great computer background.

Next stop was Conwy Castle in Wales. This ain't English anymore!

A one-picture study on arrow defense strategy for castles.

Here's the view from the outside.

This wood pigeon was very common throughout the UK. I had several scare the hell out of me as I'd ride my bike through the hedgerows in the countryside. These guys would wait until I got about a foot away and make a break for it just as I passed, and it was always good for a hefty shot of adrenaline.

Another wall walk. Europeans in general get out and see the sights during the spring and summer. They're all about doing something every weekend. It was amazing how crowded the motorways got starting Saturday morning and last through Sunday night.

We got very lucky to catch this tour guide for the castle. He gave us a fantastic lesson on castle design, medieval warfare techniques, and all kinds of history regarding Conwy and the castle. Here he was pointing out the ports where they dump boiling oil on invaders, after the bars have been dropped to prevent entry. I'm guessing he was a retired history professor, and our few pounds entry fee was worth every pence!

This is a sort of sitting room with a view in one of the castle towers. The floor was in the slot below, beams and planks for the floor, which are long gone now.

The roof is gone now, but you get the idea. This was the great dining room.

Here's the view of Conwy harbor from the castle.

A model of the castle "back in the day".

The chapel.

This is a "mini roundabout", consisting of nothing more than a painted circle. I thank the UK for thoughtfully painting arrows everywhere for us hapless right-hand drivers!

Headed south through Wales, we drove by a huge slate mine.

This is in the Brecon Beacon area, which is practically identical to the Lake District and parts of Scotland.

I kept looking for the Mumbles, which we visited in 1998, and this is as close as we got. They're easy to find in a plane, but a lot tougher in a car.

Here's the "flat" again, the part upstairs behind the dormers, with the bedroom on the far right, behind the two windows on the end. The place was roughly ten times the size of the hotel room I stayed in, about half the price, and a whole lot more ambience.

The living room is a post and beam knockout. The kitchen is to the right.

The kitchen was pretty simple, but it worked great. The sinks were stainless steel buckets with a drain in the middle. Hot water was provided by an oil-burning furnace downstairs, and heat for the rooms was via radiators heated by the same furnace.

Here's the view out the back window.

And this also is the back yard. This place was a working farm in previous times, so there are stables and barns around the periphery.

This guy is the "ferreter". I thought he was kiddin' at first, because he drove up in what looked like a plumber's truck, complete with ladder on top. Maybe that was his day job, and this was a Saturday. He also had a dog. I joked "is that a ferret dog?", and he said "yup". It was an Airedale, I think. That's probably British for Ferret Dog :). The wooden boxes on his back have ferrets inside, which are used to "ferret out" rabbits, which he then disposes of "in the bin". I can ride through the fields on a bike and see ten at a time, so rabbits are a real problem here, as are moles. Moles are apparently easily trapped by putting a trap over their holes, but that's just something else to have to stay on top of, literally

I've already seen my share of pheasants...they're everywhere. Apparently these guys would rather be hit by a car than have to fly over the hedges, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to make this picture. They remind me of Turkeys, as far as reluctant aviators go. I got the scare of my life the other day while bike riding. I was riding along minding my own business, and a pheasant flew up from abut two feet in front of my tire. Since I was going about 10 mph, by the time I got to him, he was flapping around like crazy, basically beating me about the head and shoulders. This is my new definition of instant heart attack, and now I'm real careful about looking for that pheasant along the the uphill path that's adjacent to the horse pasture, about 10.5 miles into the ride...

The limestone here is really soft... they call it chalk, sort of like the cliffs of Dover, which aren't that far away. The fields have a white tint to them after being plowed, almost like the cotton fields back home. Some of it is chalk and some of it is flint. There's plenty of both to go around. Lime in the water is a real problem here.

While in England I've visit Willie and Margaret Wilson several times, and thoroughly enjoyed each time. This is Willie's KR2.

Willie is a retired British Airways pilot, and has a lot of time in 747-400s flying long-haul flights between England and various other parts of the world. He has a million great stories...

An elderly friend of Willie's is building the cherry Falco.

Willie's father bought this 8 hp "tractor" new in 1956 to help out on the farm. Now that Willie's retired, he found time to completely restore it to like-new condition.

One saturday I visited Popham Field, which is only about 20 miles from the farm. It's very similar to Huntsville's Moontown airport, a sort of hotbed of experimental and ultralight aviation. This plane is an "Auster".

A two-seater gyrocopter of some sort. They were certainly having a lot of fun doing touch and goes. Matching "His and Hers" cold-weather outfits tell you she's not just a fair weather friend.

A very nice Beech Staggerwing, arriving from from northern England.

Lots of spam-cans too. The crosswinds were pretty high, and this airport has some "interesting" approaches that require a creative approach strategy as well.

This is what I mean by a "creative approach". You have to fly in at a 30 degree angle to the end of the runway to dodge the gas station (not the BP in the picture, the one at the end of the runway) and the trees, in a nice sideways slip (I think that's called a "skid"), and then take off and turn to avoid more trees at the other end, as well as "noise sensitive housing".

This is an Avion Pierre Robin. Visibility appears to be unsurpassed, and it looks like a six-seater from here.

Here's another example of slipping it in. Note the nice dip in the runway too, and the petrol station at the aforementioned approach end.

G-GRIN is a nice tail number for an RV. This may even rival Richard Mole's G-TREK.

I saw at least 30-40 experimentals there. They were relegated to a "back field" around the corner on a parallel taxiway from the main runway. There were lots of creative hangar techniques demontrated there, from a row of conex boxes to stuff like this "flexible hangar" that allowed owner/pilots to slide by on a shoe-string, rather than renting or building expensive hangar space. Another alternative was a design similar to this one, but the two halves slid together to cover front and rear of the fuselage while leaving the wings attached and exposed, but they were covered with their own envelopes of canvas. I'm guessing it took the guy 10 minutes at the most to roll the front off, remove and fold the wing covers, and go flying. This is about as fast and cheap as you could ask for in the general aviation world!

I found this Neuport 17 replica stashed in the back of the Staggerwing's hangar...

...and here's his flying buddy's Fokker triplane replica, I'd bet.

This is the Rearwind, built in Kansas in something like 1929. Not bad for 80 years old, huh? The owner was waiting for the Staggerwing guy to move so he could go fly it. It has a radial engine up front.

The Staggerwing owner was doing a little re-rigging of his landing gear close-out doors. Is this plane not drop-dead gorgeous?

May 5th was a "bank holiday" in the UK, so I went back to Popham for another visit. On the way I passed a lot of old MGs, Jaguars, Austin Healeys, on the highway. When I got off at the Popham, I joined a long line of to-die-for cars like the picture above. To see more like this one, visit the Popham antique British car and motorcycle page.

And then there's the more of the Biggin Hill car show for another dose of the same, but different...

And after that, see the trip to Durdle Door photos..


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