Nov. 14-18, 1998 Bristol, Stratford, and
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 Garys car and
heading north towards Stratford. We had spent the majority of the day before in transit
from London to Bath, and then to Garys place in Bristol for the night.
The 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 days 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
"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.
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
Complete 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.
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.
Having 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.
And 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.
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.