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The colors of the English countryside in the FallNov. 14-18, 1998  Bristol, Stratford, and York, England

England's Coutryside and Warwick Castle
The air is cool and crystal clear, with the exception of the little wisps of mist my breath creates as I huff and puff under the strain of BOTH backpacks (yes, I sometimes treat Laura to a walk here or there without the burdon of her 35 pound portable closet), as we begin this crisp Fall day by tossing our gear into our friend Gary’s car and heading north towards Stratford. We had spent the majority of the day before in transit from London to Bath, and then to Gary’s place in Bristol for the night.

The colors of the English countryside in the FallThe beauty of the day helps us decide to follow the scenic path of interconnecting country lanes rather than the faster, but less charming, highway route. As we weave our way ‘round graceful curves and over gentle hills, we pass families on horseback and groups of cyclists out for some fresh air during a day’s ride in the sun. The burning colors of the Autumn leaves flash rusty red, fiery orange, and glowing yellow in the gentle breeze as they slowly twist and turn upon, and occasionally break from, their branches and float to the ground. We pass an occasional farmhouse, carefully constructed of gray stone walls and slate shingle roofs, standing steady to its claim of the surrounding land and livestock. This is the English countryside in all its Autumn splendor.

Inside the wals of Warwick Castle"Don't hit the peacock!" Gary slows the car as the stately fowl struts by in front of us on his way across the parking lot. We've made it to the grounds of Warwick Castle, one of the best preserved in all of Britain, and for that matter, probably all of Europe.  It is from the banks of the River Avon (of Shakespeare and Stratford fame), that the castle majestically rises up to meet the sky. This exquisite example of Mediaeval Castles began life as a heavily fortified village in 1068 when William the Conqueror started things by building a few well placed walls.

One of Warwick Castle's two majestic towersAfter that, most of its life was spent serving the mighty Earls of Warwick as they helped forge England's history with their key roles in the War of the Roses and the Hundred Years War with France. The good condition of the castle is due in large part to its use as a residence (and backdrop for some VERY exclusive entertaining) up until just about 40 years ago.

We enjoy the same stunning sunsets as they did 100's of years beforeComplete with dark, dusky dungeon, well outfitted torture chamber, extravagant banquet rooms, large armory, and two towering turrets, our tour of the hallowed halls of this stately castle make it easy to imagine what daily life must have been like, for peasants and royalty alike, here in the middle ages.

 

Walkinging the city wallsYork
Laura and I decide that the best way to get an overall feel for the inviting and historic city of York is to walk around - literally. Walk around the city on the town walls that is. About 3/4 of the old city walls are still intact, providing an elevated, encircling path just perfect for surveying the olden city from its outskirts inward. A tangible record of York's history is displayed through the layers of different bricks in the once protective walls. Roman bricks on the bottom. Danish and Norman laying on top of them. And finally, the bricks of the wall's 14th century 'new' addition resting on top. The thick fog makes the cold, damp walk even more reminiscent of the days, hundreds of years before, when this town was a medieval center of culture and trade.

York MinsterHaving walked up a little appetite, we pop into a pub for a bit of - you guessed it - fish and chips. As we check out the hundred-year-old photos and warm our extremities by the fire, the bartender promptly points out one of the pictures. Off to the side a bit, it seems to be the only one of the group taken recently. He proudly tells us that this is one of a handful of snapshots showing the pub's resident ghost. The beauty of a spirit seems to be in the eyes of the beholder, or more accurately, the believer. In this case it is certainly up to each viewer to determine for themselves if the spooky, white, smoke-like shape of a man's shadow is the result of old, unbalanced film, or really the ghost of a pubsman past. Either way, it's a thought provoking photo.

Micklegate Bar - one of the many gates of the historic city wallsAnd provoke our thoughts it does. For it was on that very evening that we decide to answer the call of our curiosity and go on one of York's 'frightfully fiendish' ghost walks. As we join others patiently waiting for the tour's 'guide', both the chill and the fog settle in for the evening. A somewhat odd looking young man dressed in formal shirt and suit, and donning tattered cape and tophat, seems to come from nowhere to step into the middle of the scattered group. Then, without saying a word, motions us all to come in a little closer. He looks each of us directly into the eyes, one at a time, as he turns slowly around on his heels.

The thick and chilling fog of York"ARE you ready for our little adventure?" He suddenly screams, visibly startling at least half of the group. "Well then, come along!" He then leads us through some of the back lanes and alleyways of this historical English town, relating one tale, then another, of past citizens and their often ghastly means of demise.

York Minster at nightAbsolutely true, totally fiction, or more than likely, somewhere in between, hearing the chilling tales of this haunted city made it more than just a little difficult to walk, over the cobblestones and through the fog, back to the sanctity of our hotel. That night, it was the sights and sounds (both real and imagined) that made this town, with its rich history, really come alive for us.

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Last modified: June 01, 1999    Photographs and text 1998 Scott and Laura Kruglewicz. All Rights Reserved.

 

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