The first of my friends came to visit me in England this past week. I can’t explain how amazing it was to see her after nine months of being separated by the Atlantic. The most amazing thing is that we were able to pick up our friendship right where it had left off last September. Over the course of six days we explored the UK from London to Durham to Edinburgh. This is a brief retelling of our adventures.
25 May 2014 – Day One: London
I took an early train to London on Sunday. I packed lightly, carrying only my rucksack with enough clothes to last me the two days and two nights I would be in the city. The weather report had insisted it would be chilly and rainy; a report I desperately wanted to ignore because the past few days in Durham had been among the most beautiful so far. The train was delayed, as per usual for a bank holiday weekend and I arrived at King’s Cross Station a little after twelve.
Erika was running in the BUPA 10K that morning with a friend of hers who I only knew as Lee. I had received a mysterious text message from Lee stating that he had Erika and was willing to ransom her for a small fee. I laughed as I stepped onto the platform and headed toward the underground. I was to meet them on Dean Street. I took the Piccadilly Line to Covent Garden and walked along the surprisingly sunny London Streets. I should have packed my summer dress, I thought disappointingly. It was turning out to be a gorgeous day after all.
I made a right onto Dean Street and was greeted with a street fair. People were rummaging through stalls, lunching at outdoor tables, and milling about enjoying the weather. Then I spotted my friend sitting at a table with Lee and his girlfriend, Sarah.
“Hey there,” I said casually, belying the excitement and happiness I felt at seeing my old friend. We hugged and I had a seat. I was formally introduced to Lee and Sarah and had to disappoint them as I had no ransom money to hand over. We enjoyed a pleasant brunch with two bottles of white.
Erika is as organised as I am when it comes to travelling. She pulled out her itinerary for London, made hastily on the back of a napkin. We were to proceed to Westminster Abbey after lunch to hear evensong at 3:00 pm before potentially heading over to the Tate Britain to take in some art. We strolled through the London streets, stopping to snap pictures of Big Ben and Parliament before heading to the Abbey.
We were seated near Poet’s Corner and during the readings and sermon I allowed myself to look at the names on the stone floor and etched into the stained glass windows. C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Shelley, Oscar Wilde, Byron; not all are buried here but their names resound throughout the decades just as the pure tones of perfectly in tune English voices resounded in the cavernous space of the grand abbey. After the service, Lee and I hunted, as best we could while being quickly ushered out, for Charles Darwin. As we made a left into the nave and began heading toward the doors, I caught sight of Hershel. I was nerdily overjoyed and reasoned that Darwin must be around here as Newton’s name also appeared. Sure enough, we finally found dear old Chuck, his name hidden beneath on of the metal stands holding up the rope barriers which were lining our route.
Once outside, Lee and Sarah made their way back home while Erika and I decided to head to Green Park for ice cream and sun. We didn’t make it, however once she discovered she had left her running shoes in a locker back in Piccadilly. We took the tube back to where we started but were again thwarted when we reached the LA Fitness. It was closed. We turned to each other and decided to call it an evening and headed to our lodgings for the night.
We were staying with another friend of Erika’s, she is quite a connoisseur of friends and I have always enjoyed meeting the many people she has come to know. Ibrahim had been a running friend and was now living in London. We arrived at his apartment after a really lovely walk along Regents Canal. If you enjoy canal boats, I highly recommend the walk as you will see a wide variety of boats. The romantic in me once looked up the prices of canal boats in the hope of perhaps purchasing one and living a much more transient life motoring up and down the English canals from Oxford to London.
Though both of us were exhausted upon reaching the apartment, we soon found our second wind. We enjoyed a light supper of cheese, crackers, and olives while chatting with Ibrahim and his friend Georg. We ended up heading out to Hoxton Square for a few drinks before Erika and I finally began to feel the effects of the long day.
26 May 2014 – Day Two: London
We had decided to wake up early and get to the Tower of London before the crowds set in. I was excited. I had wanted to go to the heritage site for what felt like ages and I was finally going to get the chance. As we walked back along Regents Canal, we faced the grim possibility that we would have to deal with the stereotypical English weather. As promised by the forecast, it was overcast, chilly, and the clouds overhead were biding their time before they decided to soak the city.
We took the tube to Tower Hill and purchased our tickets at the tube station. Erika had brought along a handy guidebook which featured all sorts of brilliant hacks for negotiating the city and sites. It had recommended arriving early, buying tickets at the station, and leaving about two hours to tour the site. It was spot on in all regards save the last. As we walked over the medieval cobblestones and took in the sites which had changed dramatically over the centuries since the first fortification was built on the River Thames, we found that we would require much longer than two hours to see it all.
We did our best. We saw the White Tower, the torture chamber, the royal apartments, Traitor’s Gate, the armour, the Crown Jewels, and we walked the battlements. We read about the ravens, Mary Queen of Scots, the Princes in the Tower, and saw the amazingly well preserved examples of ancient graffiti found throughout the site. We were coming upon almost four hours when we decided that if we were to make it back to Piccadilly to retrieve the shoes, we would have to leave.
|Photograph by Erika Beth|
|Photograph by Erika Beth|
I cannot recommend going to the Tower of London enough. There is so much to see and do there that you will need a full day to really do it justice. I also recommend tea at the café there. It is pricey but well worth the short respite it provides.
We took the tube to Piccadilly and thankfully recovered Erika’s lost treasures. As we looked at the time, we realised that if we hurried we could just make it to St. Paul’s with time to climb the over 500 steps to the very top. We rushed back to the tube and headed over to London’s most impressive church. Of course that is merely my opinion, but compared with Westminster Abbey, it is truly a remarkably gorgeous place. The interior decoration is richly opulent the closer to the high altar you go. The choir stalls beautifully carved, and the dome, incredible.
|Photograph by Erika Beth|
We had only an hour and a half to make our ascent. We began with very gently sloping wooden spiral stairs. Then we reached the whispering gallery. We neglected to test the validity of its name but the very kind warden who greeted us at that stage invited us to have a rest and look around before heading up to the next stop. These stairs were stone and were much steeper. After another climb, we found ourselves outside in the gently misting London afternoon. We could see a great deal of the city stretching out from us way up there. The Tate Modern, the Millennium Bridge, the Globe Theatre, the Shard, the London Eye. Is was all covered in a grey haze but it was all there. We determined to reach the top. This last climb was the most difficult. The metal, grated spiral steps were dizzying and we were forced into a single file which stopped and started frequently. Along the way though, it was fascinating to see the dome from the other side. The head clearance was short and my tall companion had to duck to make it through the last portion of the climb. Then we emerged onto the tiny gallery and saw the whole of London. The climb was worth the views from the top.
We retraced our steps, spiraling downward at a dizzying pace before we left St. Paul’s and headed out into drizzly London. Erika wanted to see Fleet Street and we were both hungry so we walked a short distance to the Cock Tavern for some early dinner and a couple of well-earned ciders. After, we headed back to Ibrahim’s and packed our things before sleeping the sleep of the victorious and the completely tuckered out. The next morning we were catching an early train to Durham.