Travel Tuesday: Mark Mason’s Walk the Lines

aka walking around London.

England book acquisitions

The rule for buying any books in England was as follows: not available for Kindle and/or some specific or unique tie. I think I did pretty well bringing back only 4* (one on the way from Amazon because I was still regretting not buying it at Stonehenge despite the font). The top two were charity shop purchases in Stratford-upon-Avon: love Marian Keyes and she’s not easy to find here, and Liz thrust the second at me as it was set partially on a bus we’d taken. The bottom two were London finds.

Other London Write-Ups:

  • Travel Tuesday: Pre-Roman Britain
  • London’s Churches: St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey
  • London’s Castles and Palaces: Buckingham, Kensington and the Tower of London
  • Walking London
#TravelTuesday Review: @WalkTheLinesLDN walks the entirety of the London Underground, 269 stations Click To Tweet

Only in America is the BBC Correspondent on life in America in the early 2000s, which I found at the South Bank book stalls. I found Mark Mason’s Walk the Lines: The London Underground, Overground while waiting for my train at London Euston to meet Liz. After finding WiFi to ascertain it wasn’t available for the Kindle and was well priced, I bought it. What caught my attention? Walking. Of course. Fittingly, it’s the 80th book I finished in 2018 and I often lament that reading is a casualty of my love of walking. If I took the train more, I’d definitely read more.

I loved this book from its premise but rather than reading it on the train to & from Birmingham, I was staring out the window at the sheep. Yes, sheep. I got the bulk of it read on my flight home last weekend but didn’t want to carry it in my purse, so it took me until Sunday at the beach to finish it. Had Friday turned into beach weather it would have happened then.

Although it felt like I walked all over London, I didn’t hit even a fraction of his 269 Tube stations. As I read about places I was/had been, especially Pimlico early in his walk, I loved those moments of I know that place! That happens often for me in New York, but I think London is the first place it happened for me because of all the walking. I only took the Tube six times in London: to and from Heathrow, to Kings Cross (to do Platform 9 3/4 on the way to Euston), from Marylebone to hotel to drop off my bag and make a mad dash to St. Paul’s for sunset, to the hotel after a late-ish dinner/long day in South Kensington after Stonehenge and home from dinner on the South Bank in the rain. Taking the Tube would have been more time efficient (especially when going from South Bank Festival to the British Museum and/or Buckingham to Kensington Palace) but I really think walking nearly everywhere helped me better get the lay of London and incorporate sightseeing with “commuting”. I did some of this in Amsterdam too, although the weather wasn’t anywhere near as conducive to it.

The days I was fully in the city I averaged about 12 miles. Even the ones with transit were in the 8-10 mile range with the exception of Stonehenge which was full day driving. London is just perfect for a wander or focused walk. What helps is that the stations are so close together – it often didn’t pay to spend ~$3 to get between places A and B when it was just as easy or easier to walk. In doing so I managed to see things I wouldn’t have otherwise including: the book shops on Charing Cross Road, the theaters of Drury Lane, the Cleopatra’s Needle along the Thames, Churchill War Rooms and Downing Street and more. None of those were on my itinerary, but I was so pleased to stumble on them. While most of my walks were in daylight because I was otherwise too tired, the dusk walk from St. Paul’s back to my Tower Hill hotel was great in seeing how the city switched off.

Would I recommend my walk sightseeing of London to another visitor? It depends. There’s a lot of “lost” time so if you only have a short time, I might say hop the Tube. But if it’s someone like me who enjoys the journey and the unexpected finds along the way? Absolutely. I’d love to do a walk like Mason’s in New York, although I can’t imagine it would be anywhere near as feasible, especially in the boroughs. Manhattan though might be a bucket list when/if I ever finish the bridges.

Some moments that lined up well with my London sightseeing:

  • the “government buildings” on the south side of Vauxhall Bridge. I had a feeling when I ran that way on Tuesday that it was either MI6 or some other not so secret entity based on the number of armed men and CCTV. Haven’t seen much James Bond, but I do read Daniel Silva and Gabriel Allon frequents Vauxhall.
  • “one almighty temple to Travel known as VIctoria” yep. Aside from my last day when I got super turned around near Borough Market, the only time I came even close to that was walking back to the hotel from the V&A via Harrods. All the roads seemed to go kablooey around Victoria, which is a behemoth.
  • I loved his walk down Piccadilly from Green Park toward Hyde Park Corner and beyond. This was my first real exploration of London on Sunday morning (more, TK, when I post the London Palaces writeup) when I walked from Horseguards to Kensington Palace along Piccadilly because I wanted to find the Hard Rock Cafe. I don’t eat or shop there, but this tradition with a friend goes back to when we lived in Osaka and would use it for American food. Also, I started “collecting” Hard Rocks as a kid after my first in Toronto in 1993, and sometimes you have to. Besides, why not take the longer and more scenic route between two places when possible. You see so much. I saw the Ritz, which he mentioned but did not know about Burlington’s prohibition against whistling. It was also fascinating to learn why the line went so far south of Harrod’s — plague pits! Part of what made this book even more interesting is the people he interviewed: the city planner, the voice of Mind the Gap on the Piccadilly line. It added so much more to an already interesting book.
  • “The tourists at Tower Hill stand on the same ground where huge crowds used to gather for executions…” creepy! OK, maybe I’m glad I didn’t read this part as I stood there.
  • The Waterloo and City Line was super confusing. How is that even a line?  That said, I was glad to have it when I needed to get home from Waterloo in the rain. Although the connection from Bank to Monument is long, it was great to do it below ground so as not to get more wet.

Other moments I enjoyed:

  • I loved his idea of a personal Tube  line for the places and moments that are significant. For me in NY, it’s the Upper East Side and on  a running note, Central Park.

“Preferring Dickens to Disney is all very well, until you come face to face with Bill Sykes. Besides, to wish that London was immune from boom-and-bust economics is to wish away the city’s entire history. A few miles south of here they’ve turned boom and bust into an art form”

Part of what I loved the most about London – especially in The City where this description is from – is the layers upon layers of history. Discoveries like The Great Conduit when building One Poultry, and items extant from before The Great Fire are all over and it’s really only possible to find them when wandering. Or even walking with purpose like Mason did.

  • It’s sad, but also perfect, to realize that there was one part he couldn’t walk, the tunnel at Heathrow which has been closed to pedestrians. If there’s any place more non-pedestrian friendly than airports, I’m not sure what it is. Like earlier when he wrote of Wembley and other city icons not actually being in the city due to space constraints, airports are meant to be traveled to, before serving as the start or end of another trip. It’s eerie, and kind of interesting
  • One of the places on my ginormous google map that I didn’t get to was Olympic Park – it was just too far out. While I rarely watch the Olympics, I love visiting their “remains”. Mason’s walk was in the lead up to the Olympics where many sights were still being constructed and I enjoyed how he imagined their use. I did visit a couple spots where Olympic events took place, including Greenwich and part of the route of the marathon, which made me think of Becky Wade’s book as she was there for the games.
  • Loved his realization that the issue with the view from Tower 42 and Barnet church was that it was still man’s eye view. I never thought of maps that way and while I’m not a maps person, I liked how he used them throughout. Not just the literal journey planning, but to explain the city. To truly know the lines.
  • I agree with him that it is people, and stories that bring the cities, buildings and lines to life. London has a history, but we tell its story

The book? It’s traveling again now, back to Liz who mentioned she had it on her wishlist.

Travel Tuesday: Pre-Roman Britain

Unlike previous trip recaps, my 2018 England trip is not going to be chronological but rather thematic. My trip was rather hap hazard and doing a day by day travelog just won’t work.  I’d like to think they’ll take up the next Tuesdays and Thursday as Travel Tuesday or Throwback Thursday, but I know my own blogging habits to know that probably isn’t realistic. Also, this stupid Flickr plugin is still misbehaving.

Other Write-Ups To Come:

  • London’s Churches: St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey
  • London’s Castles and Palaces: Buckingham, Kensington and the Tower of London
  • Walking London
fun with filters

“Two legends are wound about Avalon, the legend of the Cup and the legend of the Sword – the cup from which Our Lord drank at the Last Supper, and in which the drops of His Blood were caught; and Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, engraved with ancient pagan runes. Two traditions meet in Avalon – the ancient faith of the Britons, and the creed of Christ.” ~ Dion Fortune

I knew when this trip came together that I really wanted to do Stonehenge. Like Rushmore last year, I accepted that it would probably be a let down, but it fascinated me. After some research I booked a tour with International Friends that took in both Stonehenge and Glastonbury. The original plan included Winchester but they had to adjust that due to access issues, and Avebury ended up being way more interesting than Winchester would have been.

Why did I go for one that included Glastonbury vs. say, Bath, Windsor, Oxford or the Cotswolds? In short: I have a soft spot for the legends and tales around King Arthur and while I know that Glastonbury’s ties are considered iffy with recent research-not to mention that it’s hard to visit the site of a legend-I still wanted to see it since it was reasonably accessible.

The night before this trip left, I realized I probably should do some reading on Stonehenge and a perusal of NYPL’s Kindle offerings introduced me to Francis Pryor’s Stonehenge: the Story of a Sacred Landscape. I was subsequently pleased to see that and one of his other titles for sale in the English Heritage gift shop at Stonehenge, therefore lending some legitimacy to a book I was enjoying. I didn’t finish it on time, but learned a lot: my review. Speaking of books at Stonehenge’s gift shop, I didn’t buy this Oxford Guide to Arthurian Legends because the font was way too small, and now I find it’s not available for Kindle. Or Nook. First world bookworm problems!

Monday morning started early and I met the bus at Marble Arch. We made two other stops to pick up others on the tour and I was thrilled we were not only a small vehicle, but that we were only seven people. It made everything a lot more efficient time wise, and more accessible. It also felt like a private tour in some ways because the guide got to know each of us, and what we were interested in learning more about. He’s lived & guided in a number of locations worldwide so it helped him contextualize some of the sights we were visiting.

The first stop just minutes away from Stonehenge was Woodhenge, with which I was completely unfamiliar. It was helpful though in teaching us about the Stonehenge Avenue, Cursus and other key features of the landscape that explain how Stonehenge isn’t “just” a circle of rocks. I think that’s what leaves people walking away unimpressed. Key to understanding Stonehenge is understanding why it was constructed and what role it was meant to play for those who lived and made pilgrimages to it. As a circle of stones, it may not mean enough for people considering the travel time from London, but as a place of cultural significance? Absolutely.  Beware of some serious woo out there when researching Stonehenge.

first sighting
Heel stone with winter solstice arrow

As a tourism professional, I love how they’ve set up the Stonehenge experience. They closed one of the major roads and run access to the Stones via shuttle buses (or a walking path) from the Visitor Center. I think it makes the first viewing even more awe-inspiring. It’s also much more pleasant to walk around the circle without high traffic, although there’s still a road that goes fairly close. I’m glad we were there early in the morning as there was no wait for the shuttles, which wasn’t the case when it was time to leave. Although I think the Stones might have been more striking against a blue sky, the overcast seemed to lend an aura of mystique to them and allowed the different textures, heights and scale to show more. While it’s true that Stonehenge imagery is saturated, it was still great to see them live. Other companies run tours where you can go in early or stay late, and I’m not sure that’s of interest to me – it would be a very long drive only to do Stonehenge. That said, sunrise or sunset at the right time of year could be pure magic.

National Trust sign near lot adjacent to the Tor
Glastonbury Tor, remains of St. Michael’s Church

From Stonehenge it was a long-ish drive to Glastonbury, reported to be a very hippie town. I actually didn’t find it overwhelmingly so. Our first stop was Glastonbury Tor, just outside town. It’s run by the National Trust who share some of the legends about the Tor. On some level, the ties between Arthur make historical sense, especially the Tor and the adjacent Somerset Levels’ flooding throughout history. Do I believe King Arthur was literally a man who walked the soil of early Britain? No. Do I understand where the legend/fairy tale could come from and survive? Yes. The setting is perfect for these stories. And who doesn’t love a good fairy tale?

Chalice Well Gardens

Arthur isn’t the only story with ties to the region. Chalice Well is claimed to be the place where Joseph of Arimathea brought the chalice from the Last Supper. I’m not a Christian, so it isn’t my place to judge a religion that isn’t mine’s history – but I’m more than a little confused how this man would have ended up in the English countryside. Northern Spain along the Camino de Santiago, or somewhere in the Mediterranean? Sure. I’m a little iffy on England.  And yes, I drank the kool aid err… iron water. A week later, I’m still breathing. It tasted better than Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth which was more sulphury. Still, it was an interesting piece of history to learn about and pilgrims continue to come to Glastonbury for both of these as well as for the stunning remains of the Abbey in town.

Great Hall, Glastonbury Abbey
Glastonbury Abbey ruins

Like the rest of Glastonbury, the ruins of the Abbey are tied up in a mix of history and legend. Do I believe Edward I oversaw the reburial of Arthur and Lady Guinevere? No. But tourism was understood to bring money throughout history so I can see why that story was promoted. As someone familiar with and interested in the legends around Arthur, I’m confused how they were ever buried since it’s alleged that the Lady of the Lake took him… But I digress. What stunned me about the Abbey was its construction. It’s not like the contemporary churches where we understood how they were built. This, the Great Pyramids, Stonehenge… just how did they construct these? How did they reach such great heights? It must have been stunning prior to the fire. And the recent research around the glass found at the Abbey site is phenomenal. Whatever the myths and legends around Glastonbury, it was active and thriving until the Dissolution. Impossible not to think of what could have been.

While I’m not Christian (or Pagan), I’m fascinated by myths, legends and religious histories so I was happy to find Glastonbury: Avalon of the Heart available in Kindle edition through NYPL. Unfortunately it was a little too heavy on the woo for me, presenting some of these stories as literal fact. I’m not sure if that was the author’s bent or just a factor of it having been published in 1934, but it didn’t complement my experience the way Pryor’s Stonehenge book did. To be fair, a number of the reviews clearly said this wasn’t the book for skeptics. We didn’t have time to climb the Tor, but this is an interesting look at it and I found it more accessible as it was steeped somewhat in facts and history to go with the myths.

Although I’m a non believer, I found Glastonbury fascinating. In many ways, it’s how I felt about Israel when I went. Was there a King Herod?  Maybe. Masada is a stunning fortress regardless. The other tie between the two that fascinated me was linguistically: Tor was a hill and when we were in northern Israel we learned that “Armageddon” comes from Har/Tel Meggido an archaeological mound. I’m not at all familiar with Celtic or Hebrew, but that caught my attention immediately.

Avebury: for scale
Avebury perimeter

The tour originally called for Winchester, but when the guide explained the access challenges and the fact that the round table has been proven to be an reconstruction, we were all sold on Avebury as a replacement. It is no loss, it’s the largest Stone Circle in Britain and surreally empty, save for sheep. I’d heard of Silbury Hill, which we saw on the drive in, but the only stone circle I was familiar with prior was Stonehenge. It was amazing to see the scale of Avebury’s, and to be able to walk among them. While the perimeter was a clearly delineated line, the other stones appear haphazard but it may have originally been a square formation. While current research leads to the belief that Stonehenge was associated with death rituals, it is believed that Avebury was associated with fertility. Both of those make sense within Pryor’s point that religion played a larger role in the prehistoric people’s lives, and the artifacts that seem to show that no one lived permanently at either location but traveled to them.

If this were my tour to design, I’d flip Avebury and Stonehenge. I understand why that isn’t done — the crowds at Stonehenge would be insane on a nice summer afternoon — I think there’s a lot to absorb at Avebury that would be easier to take in on a fresher brain. Maybe that’s just me. We didn’t visit the museum or any of the other National Trust facilities, and I’m not sure I’d go back in order to do so-but I’d love to learn more about the site since it’s so complex.

Overall, a great intro to/refresher on pre-Roman Britain. Pre historic as a term drives me nuts. You can’t be pre history!