Monday, September 9, 2019

British Invasion: Day 12 - Bletchley

Our final full day in the United Kingdom has arrived. We'll be back on a plane for the flight home tomorrow afternoon.

This final day required a two hour drive from Belton to Heathrow airport in London. Since we had all day and to break up the trip we planned to stop at Bletchley Park for a few hours. Bletchley Park was Britain's primary decryption establishment during the Second World War. It was here that various techniques for deciphering coded German messages were created. These techniques started by using mathematical statistical analysis, grew to include mechanical assistance with the invention of the Bombe machine and culminated with the creation of the world's first large-scale electronic computer. Arguably, the most notable individual at Bletchley was Alan Turing. While at Bletchley Turing was focused on breaking the German codes but he also developed proof that automatic computation cannot solve all mathematical problems. This concept became known as the Turing machine, which has become the foundation of the modern theory of computation and computability.

After getting our fill of history we were on the move again for the final hour drive to Heathrow. The hour drive quickly became an hour and a half since the road we wanted was closed due to an accident which forced us to cut through a small village along with every other vehicle causing quite a long line of congestion. Waze helped us get around the closure and once back on the M1 it was smooth sailing all the way to Heathrow.

We checked in to a brand new hotel that opened at Heathrow terminal 2 only a month ago. It is the only hotel that is at the airport which means we can walk to the terminal instead of relying on a shuttle bus. The hotel also had a great rooftop bar where you could get a view of all the airport traffic.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

British Invasion: Day 11 - Woodhouse Eaves

We have spent the past two days at an AirBnB in the village of Belton near Loughborough. Belton was chosen as a location for its proximity to Woodhouse Eaves, where my Dad's sister lives, as well as having a pub directly across the street.

Other than a little bit of shopping in nearby Loughborough the main reason for this leg of the trip was to visit with my Dad's family which included my aunt and uncle and three cousins. In order to accommodate everybody's schedule the plans were split into two days.

Belton is a village with a population of only 730 but it includes its own parish church, a very good pub and a shop. The church itself dates back to 1538. As mentioned previously the Queens Head is the village pub. Since it was across the street we made it our routine to visit each afternoon before dinner for a pint. On our final night we also decided to stay for dinner and we were all very happy with the restaurant which included nachos for £5 and 2 steak dinners plus a bottle of wine for £29.50!

Woodhouse Eaves lies beneath Beacon Hill and under the eaves of Charnwood Forest, hence the name. Charnwood Forest is England’s unexpected uplands. Having been created in a volcanic eruption 600 million years ago in the oceans near the South Pole. The village was formed in 1844 and its main industry was framework knitting as well as the Swithland slate pits half a mile away. Today the village mainly serves commuters to the larger nearby cities. The larger percentage of older homes however makes it one of the more expensive communities in the country to live. Our first visit to Woodhouse Eaves was yesterday and we met up with my cousin Paul and his family. Unfortunately, their daughter was already attending boarding school in Rugby and was not able to attend. On this day we visited the Curzon Arms for lunch. This was yet another excellent pub and it even still had spots for horses in its parking lot! It also happened to be the Horticultural and Craft show this day where locals submitted an assortment of flowers, vegetables, baked items and crafts for judging. Some categories seemed oddly specific but it was still interesting to get a glimpse into what village life at Woodhouse Eaves is like. We returned the following day for our second visit. This time around we spent the entire afternoon at my aunt and uncle's home and were joined by my remaining two cousins, Steven and Mark. It had been ten years since we last got together so this was a much appreciated reunion. Mark was also joined by his wife and two children. Since it had been ten years, their son and daughter had also clearly grown up a lot since we last met as well. I wished my family could have attended as well but maybe some time in the future we will be able to make that happen.

A few pics from Belton...

Moving on to Woodhouse Eaves...

My aunt Pam, uncle Don and cousin Paul and his family

My cousins Steven and Mark

Friday, September 6, 2019

British Invasion: Day 9 - Derbyshire Family

Today was another travel day as we headed a little further south towards Loughborough.

First let's wrap up our trip to Derbyshire.

We were visiting my uncle Kelvin, aunt Anne and cousin Linda's family who all live together in a beautiful farm in the Derbyshire countryside. All three of Linda's children were also home which made for a wonderful reunion that happens rarely. It was great being able to spend a couple days with everyone at their farm house. While here we stayed at a nearby AirBnb that was in a converted barn. Apart from the unique experience was its location. The collection of farm buildings were located in the middle of a golf course and the only way to access them was to drive along a narrow road through the middle of a fairway. I've never done that before!

Since we were changing AirBnbs today meant we had a few hours to waste between checking out and in. To pass the time we decided to drive to the Loughborough area via Nottingham. This would be the same Nottingham of Robin Hood fame. Nottingham got its name from the chief of an Anglo-Saxon tribe named Snot in 600AD. Its original name of "Snotengaham" can be translated to "the home of Snot's people". Inevitably, the "S" was dropped and the settlement became Nottingham. The reason for choosing Nottingham was in order to visit the City of Caves. There is a hidden maze of over 500 sandstone caves underneath the streets of Nottingham dating back to the dark ages. The location of the caves we had the opportunity to explore were once under the medieval Drury Road area. In the 1960's Drury Road was removed to make way for a large indoor shopping small. As the caves hindered the construction of the mall they were almost filled with concrete before being saved. Today the result is a unique attraction where you enter through the mall and then descend deep below to a completely different and hidden world beneath its floors. The caves had many uses including dwellings, cellars, WW2 air raid shelters and even a medieval tannery.

To wrap up the day we made the quick thirty minute drive to the quaint village of Belton near Loughborough to find our final AirBnb. The best part of this AirBnb? There is a pub right across the street!

My Derbyshire family

Derbyshire countryside

Our AirBnb

Driving through a golf course

Nottingham caves

View of pub from AirBnb

Thursday, September 5, 2019

British Invasion: Day 8 - Birthplace Tour

Today my Mom decided to hang out with her sister-in-law, niece (my cousin) and niece's daughter. That meant my Dad and I had the day to explore on our own. As I mentioned in the previous post my Dad planned out the entire day which included visiting my birthplace and the national tramway museum.

I was born at Derby City hospital in 1975 and at the time my parents lived 5 miles to the north in the village of Duffield. The Derby City hospital was built in 1927 and focused on maternity and children's care. By 2006 however the hospital had become quite dilapidated and was demolished. Needless to say I wasn't actually able to visit where I was born but I did get to explore where I lived for the first 16 months of my life.

There have been humans in Duffield since the stone age. In its early existence the growth of Duffield centred around agriculture. By the 20th century however the arrival of the railway and nearby Rolls-Royce fuelled the housing growth in the area. My first stop was St. Alkmund's church which is where I was baptized. The church is one of only six in England dedicated to Alkmund the 8th-century Northumbrian prince and Mercian martyr. The present church building was begun by the Normans and dates back to the 12th century. After exploring the nearby River Derwent we moved on to Tamworth Street. It was at 27 Tamworth Street that I spent the first few months of my life. Then we made a brief stop at Duffield Station which is where my Dad used to walk to every day in order to take the train to work at British Rail in Derby. Considering I only spent 16 months of my life in Duffield I actually lived in two homes. For the final 10 months of my time in England my family moved to 4 Chadfield Road. This was a much larger home and was going to the "forever" home for our family. That plan quickly changed once my Dad decided to try out a new position on an advanced transportation project at what was then Canadair in Canada to work. I emigrated to Canada in May 1977.

With our trip down memory lane over we left Duffield and headed further north towards Crich with a stop for lunch at the Devonshire pub in Belper.

Our journey to Crich was so we could visit The Crich Tramway Village. It was established in 1963 to preserve trams which, at the time, were being removed from cities in favour of trolley buses. The museum now has more than 60 trams in its collection, including models from New York, Berlin and South Africa. Every day there are several trams running through a recreated period village. On our visit Sheffield 74 built in 1900 and Leeds City Transport 345 built in 1921. It was quite amazing to see how expertly the trams have been preserved and it even better that they are still running and accepting passengers.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

British Invasion: Day 7 - Snowdonia

Have you been keeping count? Did you notice something out of the ordinary? Yes, I missed yesterday completely. I was too tired at the end of the day to write anything. I made this choice with good reason as you will soon find out.

Let's start with today.

Today was a travel day hence the reason I decided skipping a day would be OK since there wouldn't be much to talk about today. That's not to say we didn't do anything however. Our trip consisted of traveling from North Wales to Derbyshire. Along the way we also stopped at a friend of my Mom's who graciously offered us lunch as well. It also just so happened to be 60 years to the week that my Mom and her friend, Evelyn, met for the first time at school and they have been friends ever since! Included with lunch was plenty of reminiscing which was great to hear about. After an incredibly delicious and filling lunch we were back on the highway towards Derbyshire to meet up with my Mom's brother and her niece's family at their farm. We'll be back there tomorrow as well but had a brief gathering that included dinner. Eventually it was time to leave and we made the final twenty minute drive to Duffield where our AirBnb is located. The AirBnb is in an old farm house located right in the middle of a golf course!

Now, let's rewind to yesterday.

It was our last day in Wales and I came up with a plan that offered some exploring of Snowdonia national park, lunch at a pub and a little bit of shopping. From Bethel we set off towards the A5 which is the original route between London and Holyhead as it winds itself through the mountains. After the unification . of Great Britain in 1800 the A5 became the first major civilian state-funded road building project in Britain since Roman times. Soon we passed through Bethesda which is where my Mom went to high school and met her friend, Evelyn, who was mentioned earlier. Then as we continued our journey we made a quite stop to explore Swallow Falls before finally arriving in Betws-y-Coed. Swallow Falls is the tallest in Wales where the river Llugwy flows through a narrow chasm creating a spectacular waterfall amongst a background of beech, conifer and birch trees. As the "gateway to snowdonia", Betws-y-Coed was founded as a monastery in the 6th century. With the arrival of the A5 from London and the railway in 1868 helped to grow the town as a popular destination to visit. I also visited and crossed The Sappers Suspension Bridge which was built in 1930 and crosses the River Conwy.

With lunch time nearing and our hunger growing we moved on to Porthmadog and The Australia pub which acts as the tap room for the Purple Moose brewery. While I didn't partake in any beer they also offered a few ciders on tap from Rosie's Cider which is also from North Wales. Another perk of visiting this pub was their gluten-free menu. They are the first place I have ever been to that offered gluten-free battered fish and chips cooked in their own dedicated fryer. Two thumbs up!!

With our bellies all filled up we were ready to complete the return trip to Bethel with one quick side trip to James Pringle. James Pringle is a Scottish knitwear brand that has had a store in Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch in Anglesey for many years. As one of the longest place names in the world this location tends to attract a lot of tourists and tour buses but it still a decent place to get some shopping done. The name was most likely created as a publicity stunt in 1869 but is more commonly referred to as Llanfairpwllgwyngyll or simply Llanfair PG.

My Dad has a full day of surprises in store for me tomorrow so I'm sure there will be plenty more to write about soon enough.