"O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!
For whom my warmest wish to heaven is sent;
Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content"
Robbie Burns

Friday, December 21, 2007

Road Trip North

We woke early Monday morning, checked the weather report, avoided eye contact with our hosts, ate quickly and headed to the ferry terminal. We had scheduled our crossing for the 11:00 trip from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead, Wales. This is the route I took with a friend the first time I visited  Ireland, and it was quite enjoyable. Unfortunately I can't say the same this time. 

This was the fast ferry on the Stena Lines which gets one across the Irish Sea in about an hour and a half. The ferry is a wonderful way to travel with many amenities and this trip we upgraded our ticket and got in the special seating area which had comfy cushioned seats that reclined, free newspapers and snacks. 

My husband ever the restless sailor wanted to check out the ship so we took a walk to the duty free shop and apparently I don't have sea legs. Yep, as I weaved and dodged my way along the  passage way I got queasy with every step. Of course my husband thought it was funny, he who could eat a full course meal aboard a ship in a full blown Arctic squall.  Thinking I just needed some fresh air, I walked on the outlook deck the fact I was looking back at from where we came didn't help one bit and made it worse. With the help of my snickering husband, we worked our way back to our seats as people moved quickly out of  our way. Nice of them really, but it may have had more to do with my green tinge and my hand over my mouth that motivated them to give way. We spent the rest of the trip talking with a young English/Irish couple who were traveling with their pre-schoolers.  When we finally docked I was never so happy to get back inside our little car.  

We anticpated having to go thru some sort of Customs as we entered Wales, but only those with UK plates were directed to a  special customs lane. We followed the line of cars us out of Holyhead, not stopping as this was one of our long driving days. Our goal was to head east toward Liverpool, where we would turn left and head north to Scotland.  What I enjoy about Wales (as well as Scotland and Ireland) is that all the road signs are in both Welsh and English.  In Wales we decided to look for the word with the fewest vowels. What we found in the drive thru Northern Wales was magnificent scenery: rolling hills of green pastures full with sheep and horses.  I wish I could have captured the scenery on film but unfortunately it was raining heavily with few safe turnouts. 

My first trip thru this part of Wales while on the train, I  had a weird experience: images of Welsh village on the water, with a castle and I could see people walking streets that were somehow familiar.  Not really odd I suppose given all the castles and small villages I had scene in England and Scotland on this trip, but the images and the people in period clothing of the 1800's kept drawing me back. When we planned this trip I knew I wanted to find this place. We only had this day in northern Wales planning to make Durham by early evening, I  convinced my husband to have lunch in the village of Conwy . Sure enough the castle here - Conwy Castle - was the same one in my minds eye. We had a snack while watching  the water activity near the castle and then headed off to Liverpool to miss the afternoon rush hour.  More information this castle below. 

We continued on toward Liverpool and the drive was right along the coast with wonderful views of the Irish Sea and the Bay of Liverpool. I was glad I wasn't driving so I could see it all. As we approached Liverpool I was quite amazed by its size and massive urban sprawl. I later learned when I got home my ancestor and her siblings had lived in the area around Liverpool (Birkenhead) before coming to the US and their cousin is buried in Liverpool having died of TB while serving in WWI. Had I know any of this we would have have explored their haunts. 

 The Welsh Gods added their special magic to the day as  from this point on all the way to the Scottish/English border the sun stayed with us.  Once beyond Liverpool the traffic on the M6 seemed to thin out just beyond the exit toward Manchester. This part of England (Lancaster)  is very flat with calming pastoral scenes of farms dotted with cattle and sheep. Many freeways in the US have pedestrian bridges across the freeway and they do have them in this  part of England but... they aren't for people. As we drove along, I was too dumbfounded to take a pictures of it, but there  crossing the bridge, not once but numerous times, were herds of cattle trudging from the green grass fields on to the concrete bridges above us as they returned to their barns on the other side of the freeway at the end of the day.  

The land became more rugged in appearance and I  knew were in the Lakes District. Once we reached the mountains (hills?) that are part of the Cumbria National park in the distance, we knew we weren't far from Scotland. Though this area is called the Lakes district, from our view from M6 we sure didn't see any Lakes. Though having read a biography of Beatrix Potter I knew her  family, like so many of that era, spent their summer holidays in the district, there had to be lakes in the growingly more rustic setting.  Early in the day we decided to change our plans and  stay the next two nights in Gretna Green in Dumfriesshire Scotland, our finally destination that day. Gretna was just as easy a place to call home for the next two days while we explore Durham, the Scottish Borders and the battlefield at Flodden.  

After the tame pastoral scenes of Lancaster and northern Wales, Cumbria with its brown hills  lonely moors and growing number of sheep  was a welcome site. But seeing the sign that read WELCOME TO SCOTLAND" just beyond Carlisle was the most beautiful sight of all. Locating our small local motel, l was surprised to find the parking lot was full of decorated cars. I soon learned when we went in to greater  metropolis of Gretna Green (vbg); Gretna Green, is Scotland's version of Las Vegas- a wedding chapel on every corner. Ok at best there may be only a few corners in the tiny burgh, but weddings is the business here.  With this all this crass commercialism  for wedding, it did seem kind of anticlimactic especially after reading so many regency romances where true love was allowed to flourish.  But in all fairness to Scotland one can't solely rely golf, tartans, whisky and shortbread to bring in the tourist.  After a pleasant dinner (more fish) in a local pub we headed back to our room to crash as the day was long and the plans for the next day included Durham, Berwick and  Flodden. 

Have you ever gone to a place on a holiday and found it was a disappointment? or exceeded your expectation? 

PS. I wish everyone a happy holiday season and a joyous Hogmanay!! (new year) See you all after Christmas.