Yes, this is authentic England. Rainy, cold but sooooo very green!
We went to the village of Pangbourne near Reading to visit family, but we ended up seeing a lot of “genteel” England where neither Al nor I had been before.
We started off with a visit to the Henley Royal Regatta, where participants come from all over to compete in the world-renowned rowing competition. We were lucky to see a team from Victoria race against the Netherlands. While Canada lost, it was exciting to cheer as they raced by on Canada Day no less!
The regatta was first held in 1869 and predates many national and international rowing federations. Consequently the competition is governed by its own set of rules, which apparently extends to attendees’ clothes. We figure somewhere in the rule book it must stipulate that the gaudier the jacket and pants, the better. There were more than a few rowing clubs wearing garish blazers with oddly matched pants.
We found a small patch of weeds next to the river to eat lunch and watch the rowing (along with the rest of the riff raff). Al thought he would push some of the greenery back to get a better view of the water. That’s how we found out what stinging nettle looks like.
After our misadventures in the countryside, we decided to try the more urban areas and took the train to Oxford. Oxford University is considered the oldest university in the English-speaking world. It’s been around since 1096 and is actually made of 38 different colleges.
We arrived during an open house, so we were able to go inside one of the colleges to see what campus life is like. Students not only take courses in the colleges but also live in residence, and the dining hall we saw in Balliol College was very Harry Potter-like. In fact, many scenes from the Harry Potter series were filmed in and around Oxford, including Oxford’s famous Bodleian library.
We took a walking tour and learned that Oxford has been home to several famous authors over the years including J. R. R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Lewis Carroll. We walked past the field that inspired Alice in Wonderland, and also saw a door carving that looked distinctly like Aslan from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
The rain stopped pelting down for a couple of days, and we had a walk through the grounds of Windsor Palace. The palace is not only the largest inhabited palace in the world, is also serves as the primary residence for Queen Elizabeth II. The queen wasn’t home when we visited, so we didn’t get a chance to give her our regards.
We also went to Bath to see the hot springs that were first used by the Celts, and later became the site of a large Roman Bath. Despite the size of the ruins, the baths had fallen into disuse and the ruins were largely forgotten until the 19th century when houses were built in the area. Apparently building your house on top of a hot spring tends to fill your basement continuously with water. When the landowner investigated the source, the baths were discovered.
The baths were restored and used up until the 1970s when it was determined that they were not exactly healthy. The water is transported in lead pipes which makes it slightly radioactive, and the temperature causes all manner of infectious diseases to percolate. The water was closed permanently to the public after a child developed meningitis from swimming in the water and later died.
Despite the blue-green hue of the water and the many signs telling people not to touch it, we saw several people who couldn’t resist the urge. Yuck!!!
Our cover photo is from Stonehenge, which we visited on our way to Pangbourne. The strange configuration of stones is thought to be an ancient burial ground dating back to 3,100 BC. The site was constructed over several centuries in three different phases. It is estimated more than 30 million hours of labour were required to create the site that exists today.
Visitors can no longer walk in and around the ruins due to their sensitivity, but you get a good view from the path that circles them. Just remember to bring your umbrella, as this is England!
Thanks, Fiona and James for a fun few days!