Thursday, May 31, 2012

Last Day on the Wall

I have concluded, on this evidence--that bathroom light switches are always outside the bathroom--that the British are not a nation of practical jokers.  And I have finally stopped groping bathroom walls in vain.

So, the following day mom was back to walking for the 1.5 miles to Birdoswald.  Dad has a theory that English place names are formed by throwing a bunch of words into a hat and pulling out two at random: Haltwhistle, Cottagebank.  Birdoswald, which you might be tempted to pronounce birdos wald is actually bird and Oswald stuck together.

Evelyn was ever on a hunt for carnivorous plants.  She found them in Wales, where she went hunting when she saw that the conditions were right, and she found them here, on a sunny hillside, with daisies growing next to them, a place where, she thought, the conditions were all wrong.  Here she is photographing butterworts.

Isn't this a nice stile?  I'd like to do a post titled Stiles We've Seen.  There is quite a variety.  And we lost count.  It was on the order of 20/day.

A post called Sheep I Have Seen would soon get boring for all of us.  We saw thousands.

We read somewhere that Aneurin Bevan, the Welsh politician, said of Britain::
This island is made mainly of coal and surrounded by fish.
After a few days Clem said, "This island is surrounded by sheep and covered in..."
But aren't they cute?

Clem kept chasing them to touch them.  It had been my goal 30 years ago--and my eventual success had been a great triumph.  I think Clem managed on the first try.  And many times after.  She chased some by a road and someone in a car screeched to a halt on the road and bellowed out the window, "Use yer common sense!"  Which has become a catchphrase on the trip.

Greta has been dying to touch a sheep and not succeeding.  She finally found her chance on our second to last day on the wall.  There was a sheep, right next to the path, and seemingly unperturbed by us--normally they all scatter and we often would inadvertently separate lambs and mothers and a clamorous baa-ing would ensue until we had passed and they were reunited.  So Greta, seeing an unafraid sheep, pivoted, put her hand out as if saluting and marched forward.  The sheep turned its head toward her and lowered it and suddenly took on a menacing aura.  Instead of running away, it came forward, deliberately, unhurriedly and butted her in the chest.  Rather gently, but it kept at it.  I picked her up and ran.  A few seconds later everyone was laughing except for Greta, who was crying.  "Why are you so sad," I said, "you are not hurt and you finally touched a sheep."

"I didn't touch a sheep--it touched me!"

"Well," I said, after a while. "We learned something important."
"What?" She was scowling through her tears.
"Sheep that are not afraid are rams."

 After visiting Birdoswald, where I discovered that the bird in Birdoswald comes from the Scottish buarth meaning enclosure, we consulted.  We could knock off and continue to Lanercost Priory by bus.  It was hot. We'd seen a lot.  Evelyn and Dad said they could go either way.  Spox's only comment was, "Walk!  Walk! Walk!"  Mom and Greta took the bus to Lanercost Priory, where ice cream awaited them.  And we walked.  We walked fast.  We walked sweaty.  We put on sunscreen.

The land was flattening out and we could no longer she the line of ridges we had crossed marching away into the distance behind us.  The scrubby moors where only sheep graze had given way to farmland again.

As we walked I mentioned to Dad that one of the reasons Mike didn't join us for this part was that he is not a fan of English countryside.  Evelyn said that she'd had no opinion, but had decided she didn't like it.  There was no time, except when you were in a gully or wood, when you could not see farmland.  She likes her hikes wild.  Dad said that he hadn't been a fan, but had become one over the course of the trip. The path had been amazing in its variety, taking us past, in addition to the many Roman ruins, a ruined medieval castle made of stones purloined from the wall, across creeks, bridges and railroads, through managed forests, farmland, gated woods and even right through a few people's front yards.

The guidebook says that this piece of stone across a creek is called a "clapper bridge".  It seems too simple to have a name.  We crossed several. 

There was something about walking the whole way from one place to another, not jumping from spot to spot by car or train, where you miss so much, but taking it slow and seeing everything in between--the petrol stations and roundabouts, the barns and farm equipment, as well as the wall--that I really liked.  Walking became a way of life, and I liked that, too.

At Haytongate where our path turned from the wall towards Lanercost Priory.  Our walk along the wall was over.  Clem celebrated by catching a chicken.  No one told her to use her common sense.

We all took the bus from Lanercost Priory to Brampton where we gratefully topped up our cell phone accounts and our wallets.

Then we had to walk to the Oakwood Park Hotel.

I made the kids walk off to the side through some long weeds and we all got stung by nettles.
But at last we arrived.

This last piece of walking was not our favorite, but the Oakwood Park Hotel was a welcome sight.

It hosts an animal rescue (and was a WWI hospital) and there were chickens, ponies, canaries, and a mean turkey who would chase you.  Clem was in heaven.  The kind keeper gave her mints to feed the sheep(!)

For me there was an internet connection and a cold pint.

For Greta a bath.

Ev also enjoyed the internet.  I can't believe she still has her socks on.  I couldn't wait to kick mine off.

Dinner was excellent.  Well, I had to send Greta's back.  On the menu it had said, "Fruit and cheese."  But when it came it was fruit and cheese cubes tossed with salad dressing on lettuce.  Looked great to me, but Greta looked up at me with big eyes filled with horror.

In a few moments our hostess was back with a plate of fruit slices and cheese pieces and a bowl of bread.  Perfect.

The next day we'd be on the train to London.  We'd arrive at our apartment, where litter blows by, a homeless man sleeps out front and trains rattle by all night, and Clem would say, "I wish we could have stayed another day at the Oakwood Park Hotel."

It was nice, but London, too, has many charms.  In fact, among the most charming for the girls, would be the litter of bygone days.  But more about that later.

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