Britain in June

Seagulls were circling overhead and cawing loudly as I drove across the River Ness, heading north. I had arrived in Inverness, Scotland’ s highland capital, by plane (Midland, Houston and Newark) to Glasgow, then by bus to Inverness, where I picked up a rental car.

My destination was Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point on the British mainland. First, I had to get to the crofting village of Durness, 120 miles from Inverness, right on the northern coast, hoping to hike up a mountain en route.

"Fields of barley"

“Fields of barley”

 

Flowers in full bloom

Flowers in bloom

To each side of the highway were fields of barley, ripening in the warm, dry weather, destined for Scotland’s burgeoning whisky distilleries. Flowers were in full bloom in the gardens of local houses and cottages. Periodic signs read “Beware of Otters” and “Wild Goats.” I was in the county of Sutherland.

Turning inland on a single-track road, I saw changes in the landscape. The well-tended farms along the coast gave way to unfenced moorland, broken up by lochs and dominated by occasional monolithic mountains. Sheep farming had largely died out; tourism was now an important industry. A pub in the principal town, Lairg, was advertising a Tribute to Roy Orbison evening with local musicians.

Ben Hope

Ben Hope

On an empty road, I arrived at the mountain I had read about, Ben Hope, but abandoned plans to climb it due to cloud on the summit. I camped alone in the parking lot. It scarcely got dark during the night, just a graying of the light. The latitude here is 58.6 degrees N.

I arrived in good time the next morning to take the small ferry to Cape Wrath. Our group of 17 required two trips across the narrow kyle (a coastal inlet).  An 8-foot tide demanded the attention of John Morrison, the boatman, who had 31 years experience. “Don’t be feared,” he said in his lilting brogue.

On the other side of the inlet, our driver waited with his van. A cheerful man from Glasgow, he warned us that the van would not get out of 3rd gear getting to the cape, due to the rough road. “Don’t worry about those flags,” he said, referring to some red flags variously planted on the moorland. “We’re passing through a Ministry of Defense firing rage, but there is no shooting today!”

Getting ready to board.

Getting ready to board.

John Morrison at the helm

John Morrison at the helm

After an hour (11 miles), we arrived at the cape. Cape Wrath means  “Turning Point.” It is where Viking sailors changed course from Norway to enter the Atlantic. The lighthouse, now defunct, was built in 1864. Our group dispersed to bird watch, peer over the cliffs at some seals basking below, or head for the 9-seater Ozone Cafe (featuring smoked salmon sandwiches). 90 minutes later, the cheerful driver started shouting for us to get back into the van “before the shooting starts.”

Megabus Gold sleeper service

Megabus Gold sleeper service

Two days later, after a Megabus Gold bus ride (bunk included) of 559 miles from Inverness to London (fare- $60), I arrived in Britain’s capital on a hot morning.

There were lines outside of Westminster Abbey, but since it was Sunday, no admission charge. Each year, over 2 million visitors pay up to $30 for entrance during non-service hours.

After a cursory bag inspection, we were admitted to the abbey by ushers wearing morning coats or in red robes. About 300 worshipers filled part of the nave and both transepts. I was handed an Order of Service sheet. To my left, was a woman in running shorts; to my right, an American couple. We followed the order of service pulled strongly through the hymns by a first-class choir.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

The service was Sung Eucharist, meaning that communion was offered. Most people stood up, moved forward and took communion from one of three clergymen. During the service, 12 teenagers being confirmed stepped up to be blessed by the bishop.

The bearded Bishop of Chichester presided. With a deft movement he removed his miter, and delivered a sermon about Edward the Confessor. He was soft-spoken and given to lighthearted remarks during his brief address. Later, the congregation, standing, was encouraged to get acquainted with their neighbors. Hands were stretched out, and grasped. “Peace,” said someone. “Lovely service,” said someone else.

Much of British history is recognized in this abbey. Blake seemed to be frowning; Dryden was posing elegantly; Sir Robert Peel (founder of the police) looked forbidding. As we filed out into bright sunshine, shaking hands with the presiding clergy, I stepped on Churchill’s memorial plaque.

Sunny London

Sunny London

Luxuriant growth in an English garden

Luxuriant growth in an English garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lastly, I visited family in the English countryside near Oxford. In the picturesque village of Goring-on-Thames, near Oxford, I saw and smelled the luxuriant growth of hedgerows and gardens in June, with rich colors and pungent aromas round every corner. At Goring’s  oddly-named Pierrepoint Cafe (Pierrepoint was Britain’s last public executioner) I ate a meringue. Yum yum! On a day- trip to Dublin, I tried the traditional Irish breakfast (8 items on this plate). Well-fed, trip over, I headed for the airport.

Meringue (whipped egg white, clotted cream, strawberries)

Meringue (whipped egg white, clotted cream, strawberries)

 

Irish breakfast, 8 different items

Irish breakfast, 8 different items

Jim Glendinning About Jim Glendinning

I am a Footloose Scot who has traveled to 136 countries. "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." Robert Louis Stevenson
Read about Jim Glendinning and his book Footloose Scot: Travels In A Time Of Change

Comments

  1. Mary Anne Helms says:

    I know that garden well! I have even dead-headed the roses many times and I was there a year ago today!! And it was 92F on the 22 nd of July!!!

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