Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Archive for the ‘Britain’ Category

Independent Identity Cornwall’s Charm

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Counties Bordering Plymouth Sound is the port’s promenade called The Hoe that includes a bowling green like that used by Sir Francis Drake before sailing against the Spanish Armada in 1588.

 Story & Photo

 By Pat Neisser

 Mature Life Features

PENZANCE, Cornwall — England’s southwestern tip is the magical territory where Gilbert and Sullivan set their classic fun-poking operetta, The Pirates of Penzance, and the village of Mousehole is celebrated in the tale of Tom Bawcock and his cat, Mowzer. It’s a scene fostered by a citizenry battling and beating the elements that prides itself with its own identity and keeps a wary lookout for doubters. The fishermen are serious about their livelihood and don’t brook interference. But once they’ve finished their tough day, they’re ready to befriend the visitor. The Cornish peninsula is less crowded than better-known areas of the country and its towns hug the sea with an age-old love-hate relationship. I took the train from Southampton to Exeter in County Devon and drove to Penzance after an overnight stay. Cornwall’s and Devon’s history goes back more than 4,000 years but written records reach back to 30 B.C. when seafaring visitors came looking for tin. The Spanish invaded in 1595 but were driven back into the sea, marking the last landing on English soil by invaders. Cornish miners emigrated to California and Colorado to teach silver miners a thing or two and took with them the famous Cornish pasty meat pies. Penzance and its sister villages along the coast are loaded with things to do. Even if you aren’t fond of pilchards (large sardines) don’t miss a visit to the Pilchard Factory and Museum in next-door Newlyn where we were shown how the fish are salt-cured and packed for shipping all over the world. In Newlyn, one of the largest fishing harbors in England with eateries scattered along the beaches, we visited Trinity House National Lighthouse Centre to learn how the famed lighthouse saved so many sailors. A highlight of our visit was the Eden Project, which is housed in acres of environmental domes, each offering a different climate. Actors and scientists interact to explain the place of man and nature in the environmental universe. Next we visited the tiny coastal communities of Fowey, home to Daphne Du Maurier and her famous acting and writing family, and St. Ives, which romance novelist Rosamunde Pilcher calls home and where Barbara Hepworth created many of her magnificent sculptures. St. Ives is a fairy-tale seaport town with lanes that wind up and up. One of its most famous creations is the Tate Gallery St. Ives that  shows modern art from local as well as international artists. Tropical  plants, such as palm trees and cacti, cover this part of England thanks to the nearby Gulf Stream, bringing a California look to the terrain. Finally, it was back to neighboring County Devon and the south-coast seaport of Plymouth. This was Sir Francis Drake’s place of business and the site of the Mayflower’s departure. We stood on the famous steps where the pilgrims boarded their ship. The old town near the water is filled with 17th century memorabilia.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2004

Written by Cecil Scaglione

September 28, 2014 at 9:36 pm

Spoons Dish Out Welsh Soul

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By Sandy Katz

Mature Life Features

Cardiff Castle (British Travel Authority)

 

To be born Welsh is to be born privileged.

 Not with a silver spoon in your mouth,

But music in your blood,

And poetry in your soul.

–Wilfred Wilson

 

 

 

 

 

CARDIFF, Wales — In the heart of this Welsh capital, I dropped into the Castle Welsh Crafts shop to learn more about Wales’ soul by poring over spoons made out of wood rather than silver. These utensils with variously designed handles are known as love spoons and date back to the 17th century, when a young man would carve one to present to the young lady he wished to woo.

The symbols carved on the spoon have particular meaning. For example, a heart signifies love; a wheel, work, and a shield, protection. They’re still given out as a lasting token of affection.

Most of the Welsh are descended from people who began settling in these western reaches of Great Britain thousands of years ago. The earliest were the Iberians followed by invasions of Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, and English. Struggles against these marauders and efforts to earn a living from the harsh, rugged land helped shape the strong, independent Welsh character. Their eloquence, warmth, and imagination have been attributed to their Celtic forebears.

Wherever you roam in Wales, you’ll encounter the Red Dragon. This symbol of bravery and victory over countless invaders has been emblazoned on shields and standards since the Middle Ages as the emblem of the Welsh people.

Pubs play an important role in social life here, but Welshmen proudly maintain close family ties and are deeply religious. They love to sing and are famous for their excellent choirs and glee clubs. It’s not surprising that they turned out to be quite a theatrical and poetic bunch. Consider such well-known actors as Sir Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton, singer Tom Jones, and, of course, poet Dylan Thomas.

Cardiff sprang from the wealth fueled by the region’s thriving 19th-century coal empire. In the city’s center stands the 1,900-year-old Cardiff Castle. Restored in the 1800s by Victorian architect William Burges, the citadel is an extravaganza of color and exquisitely detailed craftsmanship. East of the castle stands the aristocratic structure called the National Museum of Wales. Amidst its art, natural history, and science displays is a spectacular exhibition on the evolution of Wales, complete with animated Ice Age creatures and a simulated Big Bang. The fourth-floor gallery houses paintings by such Impressionist masters as Degas, Manet, and Pissaro.

To learn more about the Celts, we headed for Celtica, a recently restored mansion in the village of Machynlleth just south of the mountainous Snowdonia National Park. Exhibits illustrate Celtic beliefs and culture, as well as their poetic, inventive, and heroic nature.

Anyone who dotes on browsing in musty bookshops will find nirvana in Hay-On-Wye on the Welsh-English. The tiny settlement proclaims itself as the second-hand-book capital of the world. Virtually all the shops, including the town’s former theater, offer books on every conceivable subject. The village’s reputation for beguiling bibliophiles owes a fair amount to the somewhat eccentric bookseller Richard Booth who, among other things, once declared himself the King of Hay and that his minute realm was to be independent from England.

To the west, beyond Camarthen in the village of Laugharne, Dylan Thomas devotees will find his Boathouse where he wrote his most famous work, “Under Milk Wood.” Built into the hillside a 15-minute walk from the town, “The Shack,” as he called it, is a shrine to the poet that houses photos, manuscripts, and recordings.

Local legend says Merlin the Magician was born in Carmarthen and raised by his mother and nuns in the Church of St. Peter. His mother was said to be the daughter of the King of South Wales and his father was described as a spirit who lived between the moon and earth. Merlin was thought to have spent most of his adult life in the area of Caerleon advising King Arthur.

Copyright 2003

 

 

Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 25, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Sojourn in Southampton

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By Cecil Scaglione 996ce3c14235a270494190f6e455
Mature Life Features
   In a quiet stand of trees outside Old Town Southampton’s western wall is a testimonial to the heart and hardiness of those who sailed the Mayflower to North America. The monument overlooks the site where last-minute repairs were made to the creaking wine ship before its two-month voyage from England to New England in the fall of 1620.
     Since then, this waterfront community has been the port of departure for millions of emigres to Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other parts of the world.
     The Mayflower saga is memorialized by a limestone tower topped by a copper replica of the ship that sailed with 104 Pilgrims and 30 crewmen to plant a colony. Anybody who can trace their ancestry to those original dissidents can have their name added to the plaque on the tower.
     This bustling port of a quarter of a million people that has played a major role in much of British history doesn’t appear on many travelers’ radar despite being less than an hour from the much-visited Stonehenge and its 5,000-year-old monoliths perched on the Salisbury Plain.
     It’s a leisurely train ride from Gatwick Airport midway between London and Brighton. The tracks trundle through suburbanized southern England sprinkled with glimpses of cattle and castles, horses and hothouses, and sheep, small towns and school soccer practices.
     Students from the research-driven University of Southampton and other local campuses give the city an up-to-the-minute air as you wander through and around its historic sights. Occupying a prominent position in downtown’s East Park is a tribute to those Southampton men who helped build the Titanic, which set sail from here on its disastrous 1912 maiden voyage, and stayed with her to the bottom. Among the many memorials to this legendary liner is a large stone pedestal crowned by a bronze angel with wings outstretched as it stands on the prow of a ship, a scene similar to that depicted by actress Kate Winslet in the 1997 Hollywood epic centred on the celebrated ship.
     The new city has been built around Old Town, which stretches south from the main business and shopping district. Entry is through Bargate, Southampton’s most recognizable landmark and the city’s main entrance for much of its history. The town began to bustle shortly after the Norman victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The gate was begun in the 12th century and completed in the 15th. The entrance was built just wide enough for a horse-drawn coach to squeeze through, and was a symbol of political power as well as a means of defense.
     Flanked by two lead lions said to protect the city, the gate was once the site of town council meetings, the local court, and road-toll collections. Shields mounted over the entrance represent prominent families that governed Southampton. There’s a life-sized statue of George III, the “Mad George” who “lost” the American colonies, standing in a niche over the entry.  A stone memorial just inside the gate bears a plaque recalling the havoc hurled here by German aircraft during World War Two.
     Guide Jean Watts explained that Southampton was blitzed badly because it housed a Spitfire factory as well as being a major seaport that eventually was the debarkation point for more than 3 million Allied troops for the invasion of Hitler-controlled Europe. Another reminder of how military and maritime matters mingle is the skeletal remains of Holyrood Church, where Crusaders worshiped on their way to the Holy Land. It was almost destroyed by enemy bombers in 1940 and serves as a reminder of Southampton sailors who lost there lives at sea.
     There’s a Walk the Walls tour that’s free and takes you over the roofs of sturdy merchants’ homes that formed the defensive barricade after a 14th-century French raid. It not only pulls visitors through history, it also offers them alluring panoramic views of the waterfront and draws them to the weekly market erected around the Bargate.
     Before leaving Old Town, we stopped at the Duke of Wellington, an Elizabethan-looking pub just inside the Westgate on the old walls, to sample fish and chips. Several years earlier, a guide at the Buckingham Palace stables advised us to avoid this British staple in London and go for it in seaside towns because the fish is fresher. The dish served here proved her advice was sound.
     For more details, visit southampton, gov.uk on the internet.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 2, 2011 at 3:25 pm

A Day for Delays

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With the worst winter weather in years trampling all over England, we flew right into its maw, and paid the price. After getting from Bologna to Gatwick without incident – not even a 10-minute delay – on Tuesday, we stayed overnight in nearby Crawley and Bev got her pub-meal fix. Out taxi arrived about 7:30 a.m., a couple of hours after the snow began falling, and got us to Gatwick without delay. We noted how pretty southern England looks draped in white.

Pretty thoughts ended at the airport. The Virgin holding pen was crammed and jammed and under-manned. We were told the world’s largest/busiest single-runway airport had been closed for hours. Then it was announced that passengers on our 11:20 a.m. Las Vegas flight would be bused to Heathrow and the plane would take off at 1:30. Having given ourselves a four+-hour window when we booked USAir to San Diego, things still looked workable.  After milling and telling and listening to strained jokes for 2 1/2 hours, we were shredded into groups of 40 and marshaled down to minibuses, after we poured our luggage into vans that were supposed to follow us.

Now, mind you, it was snowing, but lightly, and it wasn’t cold. I grew up in northern Canada and my memory still works. The only reason we could surmise for closing down Gatwick was that no one ever ordered snowplows for the complex.

AT 1:30, we were told our 747 had not yet arrived from Las Vegas. So they gave each of us 5-pound vouchers “for the inconvenience” and suggested we all go grab some coffee somewhere. We’d all be checked in but no one was certain what gate would be used. We managed to get double vouchers because Bev and I went separate ways to find the source and each came back with our share. And we sat down with a healer from Australia who was heading to Barbados as the guest of a cancer patient she’s working with.

An airport announcement notified us of what gate to report to, where chunks of the group were picked at random to go through security again. And then they herded us onto buses to head to our airplane, which, we learned when we reached it, had just been emptied and the sanitation crew and security folks still had to sweep it clean. We sat in the buses for an hour.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a full plane so we passengers scrambled aboard in rather short order and, after de-icing the wings, unglitching a minor engine glitch, and standing in line for takeoff, we slid off the snow almost six hours late. Which slammed shut our window to our Las Vegas-San Diego flight. And there were no more USAir flights later in the day. ,

The10-hour flight was actually quite pleasant but our concern about getting home lowered our level of appreciation. After clearing customs and immigration at McCarran, we trolleyed our luggage to Terminal 1 and barreled into a Southwest counter. Explaining our position, the ticket agent said we were too late for the 7:35 flight, which was leaving in 20 minutes, but there was another at 8:55. Magnifico? So we called home and arranged for our pickup. Then we were told that a Reno flight had to use our gate first and our San Diego flight was delayed until 9:50. I fell asleep as soon as I sat down on it and didn’t awaken until the wheels bumped the tarmac at Lindbergh.

We got home at 11:20, about 26 hours after we awakened to head to Gatwick.

It was a grand trip but the return journey made us feel like we’d been riding planes and hanging around airports for the past two months.

San Diego smells fresh and oceany. And I’d forgotten how quiet it is here at home.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

January 14, 2010 at 3:23 am

Posted in Britain, Europe, Travel

Tagged with , , , ,