Visiting the British Isles

In August 2009, David and I made a trip to the British Isles. We flew into London and took a bus to Birmingham for the Festival of Quilts. I taught three days of classes and gave a lecture on quilt care at this festival. The festival is one of the largest quilt shows in Europe and the quilts  and venders were amazing. The majority of quilts were art quilts however there were also traditional quilts and a large exhibit of miniature quilts. There were also special quilt exhibits by well-known quilt makers from the British Isles. I took lots of photos of the quilts at the festival but I’m not sure I can post them on my web site due to copyright issues. So, in respect of the quilt makers, I haven’t posted those photos.

After the festival, we joined a group of quiltmakers for a cruise around the British Isles. This quilting cruise was organized by Deb Roberts Tours & World of Quilts Travels. See my links page for her web site. We traveled from Birmingham to the ship in South Hampton. On the way, we stopped at Bath, England and Stonehenge. Both of those sites were amazing.

The city of Bath had ruins of Roman baths  that were built in the first century A.D. It also had a large Anglican church called Bath Abbey that was built in the early 16th century and restored in the 1860s. It is Gothic in style with flying buttresses, pinnacles, beautiful stained glass windows and an impressive ceiling with fan vaulting. The church tour guide told us that there are over 2,000 people buried in that church. Their names were carved in the stones that were on the floor and walls. There were also statues, poems and dedications to people buried there. Families paid the most money for stones closest to the main altar. Over 1,200 people still worship in the church today.

While in Bath, we drove past the Royal Crescent which has 30 tall houses laid out in the shape of a crescent. It is considered the best example of Georgian architecture in England. We ate Cornish pasties at a little shop around the corner from the cathedral. I have a gallery photo of that shop and a photo of their different baked goods in their counter. I have posted the recipe for cornish pasties on my blog, under Good Recipes.

Stonehenge … our photos captured every angle and rock. Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument or temple that was built in phases. The circular ditch and earth bank that surrounds large standing stones was constructed 5,000 years ago, before the Egyptian pyramids were constructed. It originally had a circular structure in the center that was constructed of wood. Based upon archeological evidence, this first phase of Stonehenge served as a cremation and burial site for at least 500 years and then was abandoned for 500 years.

The 30 large bluestones in the center of Stonehenge were transported 250 miles from the Preseli Hills in southwest Wales around 2,500 B.C. They were transported over land and sea. This was quite an engineering feat because they weighted up to 4 tons each and were up to 13 feet tall. The bluestones are warm to touch. These stones were arranged in a circular altar design and replaced the original wooden structure. The inner stones align almost perfectly with the sunrise on the midsummer solstice and the midwinter sunset.

The 80 sarsen stones around the perimeter of Stonehenge came from a quarry 25 miles north of Stonehenge. They weighted up to 50 tons each and are cold to touch. They vary in height with some being over 20 feet tall. One is 22 feet tall with an additional 7′ 10″ under the ground. They were arranged in a large outer circle in pairs with a horizontal stone on top of each pair to serve as a stone lintel. Moving and arranging these stones was another amazing engineering task. A dagger and 14 axeheads are carved on one of the stones. Over half of the original blue and sarsen stones are now missing, having been taken away over the centuries. They were probably used on farms and roads or broken into smaller stones and taken as souvenirs.

The builders of Stonehenge did not leave written records of how or why the monument was built. This has caused much speculation and unanswered questions about Stonehenge. Theories include that it was a place of pagan religious worship and sacrifice, a place to study the stars and planets, a place to celebrate agriculture and the changing of the seasons, a place to seek healing or a place to bury and worship the dead. The Druids have worshiped at Stonehenge but they did not build it because it was built before their time. It is the largest and is centrally located among the other stone monuments found in England.  We saw archeological digs going on in nearby fields. One can only wonder what will be uncovered in the future to tell us about Great Britain’s past.

I wanted more time to study those ancient stones and theories but we had to hop back on our bus to get to our cruise ship on time. I definitely want to go back to visit Stonehenge again. It is an intriguing place, in the middle of the farmlands of southwest England. You wouldn’t know it is even there except for the bumper to bumper traffic driving on narrow country roads to get to the site.

Our Princess Cruise ship traveled around the British Isles for 12 days. During our cruise, we celebrated my birthday and our 30th anniversary. There were over 40 quilt makers on the cruise and 4 teachers (Pam Holland from Australia, Sandie Lush from Wales, Yvonne Porcella from California and myself). We each taught two classes and gave a lecture during our days at sea. One night I won $300 playing bingo and another night I won $325 on a slot machine. From my perspective, it was a very good cruise. 

On my non-teaching days, we visited cities and took excursions to see area sites. We went to Cork, Ireland and visited Blarney Castle. There was a 4 hour wait to climb the steps to the top of the castle to kiss the Blarney stone. According to legend, if you kiss the stone, you will be given the gift of eloquence (aka the gift to gab). We decided we already had that gift and went shopping for Irish linen instead. 

We were in Liverpool on the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Beatles. That was a fun day. We saw the neighborhoods where the Beatles grew up, drove down Penny Lane and saw the church that was next to where Eleanor Rigby lived. The gift shop at the Beatle Museum was filled with neat things including socks with yellow submarines. We also saw the Cavern Pub where the Beatles first sang together. There is a photo in the web site gallery of me standing with a statue of John Lennon. We look like two old hippies!

The 300th anniversary of Guinness beer was being celebrated in Dublin while we were there. I tried a glass of Guinness and decided to leave the thick, dark brown beer with the Irish. We went to Trinity College and saw The Book of Kells and an amazing library on the campus that had tall cases of books and old manuscripts from the Middle Ages.

I did take many photos of the doors of Dublin. They were amazing and I know I will use them as inspirations for future quilts. I then found a poster and calendar called The Doors of Dublin so I of course had to buy those to add to my suiltcase full of extra “stuff.”

We saw old castle ruins, toured the Scottish Highlands and saw the areas where William Wallace and Rob Roy once lived and fought. The Scottish heather and lavender were in full bloom in the highlands so all of the hills and mountainsides were a rich lavender color. Our tour bus leader had the whole bus singing, “You take the high road and I’ll take the low road and I’ll get to Scotland before you. But me and my true love will never meet again on the bonnie bonnie banks of Lock Lomond.” We visited the little town on the shores of Lock Lomond and you will see photos of its small cottages. It was a very peaceful place.

We went on to Loch Ness to find the Loch Ness monster (called “Nessie” by the area people). We didn’t find the monster but I had a sample of haggis that was being served at the Urquhart Castle ruins. Haggis is a traditional Scottish recipe. It is a combination of dryed and toasted oatmeal, deer liver, mutton suet, sheep heart and tongue, onion and spices. They are cooked in a lamb’s stomach bag. I quickly found a sample of Scottish whiskey to drink so I could get the taste of the haggis out of my mouth.  I then wondered if I should eat more haggis to get the whiskey taste out of my mouth. I turned around and looked at David and he just shook his head and laughed. Needless to say, I didn’t ask for the haggis recipe.

After visiting Belfast, Ireland and the ruins of Gray Abbey (built in the 12th century), we went on to Edinburgh, Scotland. We were amazed at the old stone buildings that are still being used. While in Edinburgh, we visited Holyrood Palace and saw incredibly ornate ceilings in that castle. The royal family was “in residence” while we were there but we weren’t invited to have tea with the Queen. We did see the rooms where Mary, Queen of Scots was held for six years before she was executed. They had a glass case with her personal belongings including a sewing kit and small embroidery scissor.

I must say that Edinburgh was my favorite city of the whole trip because of its the rich history and historic buildings along what was called The Royal Mile. You will see many photos of Edinburgh in the gallery, including the inside of a shop that sold wool hats, scarves, ties, kilts and Walkers’ Shortbread Cookies.

The last city we were to visit was Paris. That trip was cancelled because of a hurricane that was heading toward our area. The ship was turned around and we traveled back to South Hampton by going around the northern part of the British Isles again. Paris will have to wait for another trip.

Before heading home, we spent an afternoon touring Windsor Castle which is just outside of London. It was as grand of a castle as Holyrood Palace in Scotland. Windsor was much larger with multiple buildings, a large cathedral and a shopping mall outside its walls.

I have posted a variety of photos from this trip. Each photo brings back special memories. Many of the photos, especially the flower gardens and architectural designs were taken so I could use them as inspirations for quilts. You can click on each individual photo to enlarge it or you can click on the green words that say “view in pic lens” and you will see all of the photos in a slide show. Enjoy!