Friday, December 30, 2005

The Witch Finder General

Mathew Hopkins was given the ominous title of Witch Finder General because of his ability to find witches and “persuading” them to confess. He was paid twenty shillings, a tidy sum in the mid 1600s, for each witch he brought to justice. The business became so lucrative that he formed his own close-knit crew to comb the countryside seeking out witches of both genders. At one time, he had 32 people under arrest of whom 19 were hanged in one day. Hundreds of people died, mostly women, many of whom died under torture or in prison.

At the end of his career, Hopkins’ techniques (and wealth) came to the attention of Parliament who demanded an explanation for his cruel antics. Hopkins submitted a pamphlet to Parliament in 1647 called The Discoverie of Witches defending his actions and techniques but he was nonetheless removed from his position. During Hopkins’ reign of terror, almost four hundred men and women from local villages and towns had been condemned to death, sometimes for merely owning a cat! Matthew Hopkins is buried in Mistley Towers, a little village east of Manningtree, Essex, England.

The county of Essex in England was evidently a favorite place to hunt witches. It is known that when Elizabeth I became Queen of England; she encouraged the seeking out of witches. She stayed at St. Osyth, Essex, in 1561 and again in 1579 in the company of Lord John D’Arcy who took it upon himself to rid the village of witches.

Lord D’Arcy lived in the village of St. Osyth at St. Clere’s Hall, St. Osyth, Essex, England. In 1582, Brian D’Arcy, Justice of the Peace in St. Osyth, conducted searches for witches in the village and neighboring areas. He used the same persuasive techniques as Matthew Hopkins and by all accounts he was a successful witch hunter. A book in the Bodleian library, Oxford, states that, “A true and just recorde of the enformation, examination and confession of all witches taken at St. Osees.” The evidence consisted of accusations by neighbors and even family members of supposed witchcraft. Two local women, Elizabeth Bennet and Ursula Kemp were branded as witches. Ursula’s own son, Thomas, gave evidence against his mother at the trial. The two women were found guilty and hanged for witchcraft in 1582.

In 1921, a man digging in his garden at 37 Mill Street came upon two skeletons. The main joints of the women were bound, elbow to elbow, wrist to wrist. The skeletons are believed to be the remains of Elizabeth and Ursula, and we can only assume that they were bound together to prevent them escaping their joint grave.

The above are excerpts from my book Extraordinary Places...Close to London (Page 24 & 26)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Tea Ceremony and Other Customs

As an ardent traveler, it has been a pleasure to observe the various customs and traditions of the countries I’ve visited. So many times, a traveler may inadvertently offend a person in a host country without ever realizing they have done so – a problem I intentionally tried to avoid on a recent trip to Japan.

Originally from England, I am a tea lover, and, as most people know, we Brits take our tea drinking seriously. On my first visit to Japan, I decided to attend a formal, tea ceremony having always wondered if there was a “proper” way to serve tea, and so set off to the nearest teahouse. I was part of a group of six people, who were led through a garden and into a teahouse. The host took considerable time in preparing the tea and handed it to us in tiny cups without handles. The host used both hands as she handed the cups to each of us. In each instance, she turned the cups so that the design on the front of the cup was facing the recipient. We were told it was customary to accept the cup in both hands, and then turn the cup around so the design now faced the host. This ritual had to be observed before drinking the tea; to not do so would have been unacceptable behavior.

A similarly important ritual exists for distribution of business cards in Japan. I have been at meetings in America and England where people have handed business cards around the table like a croupier at a Blackjack table. Not so in Japan where one offers a business card with two hands and a slight nod of the head. The card is accepted using both hands. After all, it is a precious item and not to be offered or accepted without ceremony.

I believe the best way to see a country and meet the people is to travel they way they do, so I took a trip on the Tokyo underground train system. Of course, all destinations were written in Japanese and since I do not speak Japanese, I had to enlist the help of fellow passengers. I was surprised and delighted to note that many people spoke English. Once asked, they took the time to find out where I was going and point that destination out on the map, help me purchase a ticket from the automated machines, and direct me to the trains. By the way, there is no mistaking the direction to the trains as there are literally official footprint markings leading to and from the platforms on the underground. I noticed that everyone, without exception, followed the footsteps in an orderly fashion. Needless to say, I followed suit, and was pleasantly surprised to see how clean the trains were and how everyone boarded and exited the trains. The whole process of traveling on the underground Tokyo transit system was a real experience and one that I recommend other visitors.

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Cayman Brac – A Jewel in the Sea.

Cayman Brac is the furthest of the three islands that make up the Cayman Islands. The islands are located at 480 miles due south of Miami. Grand Cayman is the largest with Little Cayman and Cayman Brac to the east.

The Brac is approximately 11 miles long and about 2 miles wide at the center, with roads around the coastline and linking roads through the middle. There is little nightlife on the island, so visitors should expect to keep themselves busy sightseeing, eating, drinking and diving. For birdwatchers, the island hosts more than 200 species of birds. The parrot sanctuary is well worth a visit. Although we were not able to actually set eyes on a parrot in its natural habitat, we certainly heard their screeching, so knew they were watching us.

Besides having some of the most beautiful reefs in the world, the island has several interesting caves. Islanders have taken refuge in these caves during hurricanes, especially Peter’s Cave which is located high on a cliff overlooking Spot Bay at the East End. Half Way Ground Cave and the Bat Cave are also worth a visit. As water drips through the limestone, holes appear in the rocks. At certain times during the day, the sun streams through the holes and provides enough light for small plants to grow.

The lush, green tropical forest of the interior of the island compliments the rugged coastline, but there are few places for the diver to access the water easily from the shoreline. On a scheduled dive, we were taken to the Cayman’s version of the Lost City of Atlantis. A local sculpture known as “Foots” is in the process of creating a likeness of the mythical city of Atlantis. To date, he has assembled several columns, a sundial and a statue. We were pleased to note the site can be approached by land from Stake Bay and then of course a short swim to the underwater site.

Stake Bay is also great for those visitors who merely like to snorkel and free dive. The reef has an abundance of fish and coral and it was literally like swimming in an aquarium. Every fish imaginable can be seen from the tiny, iridescent beauties to the quite large, barracuda and stingrays.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

The Green Man

In 1939, Lady Raglan wrote an article titled The Green Man in Church Architecture so first used the term for this little known mystical creature, thought to be a symbol of fertility. He comes to us in three basic forms: The Disgorging Head that displays vegetation from its mouth; the Bloodsucker Head that spews vegetation from mouth, nose, ears and eyes and finally the Foliate Head that is simply covered in leaves and other foliage. His grinning image often appears in English villages unexpectedly on a church ceiling, a pew, column or church door. He has been intricately carved, painted, worshipped and reviled but through the centuries, he has remained a favorite topic of stonemasons.

Many believe the origin of the Green Man began in Rome, as there is some evidence of similar figures that can be seen in early Roman culture. What we know is that some time later, Christians adopted the Green Man because we see his likeness in churches throughout the United Kingdom and Europe. In 1154, Augustinian Monks established a church in Yorkshire that was destroyed during the Reformation. Only the nave of the church remains but there is a splendid boss depicting a likeness of the Green Man sprouting a leafy tendril from his eye and yet another from his mouth. In St. Martin’s church, Norfolk, there are three images of the Green Man each showing a different type of foliage.

After the Reformation when so many churches were either badly damaged or in some instances completely razed, it is fortunate that many churches containing the carved imagine have remained. Perhaps it was easier to destroy a beautiful stained glass window than a roof boss, font or screen, which contained a depiction of our mystical creature. One can only imagine the orders to destroy, by cannon fire, anything of beauty in a church. In many instances, they were completely destroyed or left as mere shells of their former splendor. However, many churches were spared and in these we find evidence of the Green Man. No two images are exactly the same, as the stonemasons appear to play with us. In one they portray him laughing and then, in the next instant, depict him in an angry mood.

There is another instance where there is mention of Green Men. During the Stuart and Tudor times, there were certain men in the village whose job it was to keep the crowd back at a safe distance during a procession of royalty or local dignitaries. They wore their hair long and often covered themselves in leaves or vines. Whether this attire was an attempt to intimidate the crowd into compliance, we can only guess, but these men were also known as “whifflers” or “wild men” and also Green Men.

Nowadays, the image of the Green Man can be seen on pub signs throughout England, as he is a very popular character. But, if you plan on visiting England, be prepared to see his grinning face bearing down on you from a church beam, ceiling or corbel watching your every move.

Friday, October 7, 2005

Dedham, Essex, England

The Domesday Book reports that in 1086, Dedham had a population of over two hundred people and various livestock. The book was prepared by William the Conqueror after his invasion of England in 1066. His scribes were sent into the countryside to assess the population and livestock of each village so a tax could be levied against all the wealth in the land. So feared were the Britons of this inventory, they named the book after God’s final Day of Judgment.

Dedham and the surrounding towns are known as Constable Country after John Constable, the famous landscape painter. His beautiful paintings depicting the country scenes he loved so much adorn museums around the world.

John Constable so cherished this countryside that he wrote, “I love every stile and stump and lane…these scenes made me a painter and I am grateful…I had often thought of pictures of them before I ever touched a pencil.”

The son of a prosperous corn merchant, Constable was born in 1776 in East Bergholt, Suffolk, just across the border of Essex. His parents owned two mills; one at Flatford, the subject of one of his popular paintings and the other at Dedham. He attended the Grammar School in Dedham under the strict direction of Dr. Grimwood who was the Headmaster at the time. He was a good student by all accounts but prone to dreaming. His intellectual ability was expected to bring him a position in the church, but his love of sketching and painting everyday scenes took him in a different direction. Often he would take his father’s barge from the mill along the stream directly to school. We know from comments he made later that he noticed everything, “no two days are alike, not even two hours; neither were there ever two leaves of a tree alike since the creation of the world.”

In 1799, when he was twenty-three year old, Constable was accepted as a probationer in the Royal Academy Schools in London. His work was not considered particularly interesting but when he began his “six footers,” most notably The White Horse, a biographer remarked that Constable “was too large to remain unnoticed.”

The Sherman Home
Located across the road from St. Mary the Virgin church sits the Sherman home. It is good condition and still in use even today. At least six of the Sherman children emigrated to the United States of America between 1633 and 1640. They became the co-founders of Rhode Island, signatories of the Declaration of Independence, as well as becoming other notable dignitaries.

Monday, September 5, 2005

Origin: Fire Brigades

Benjamin Franklin, an advocate of fire safety in the home, wrote an article in his Gazette suggesting: “In the first Place, as an Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure, I would advise ‘em to take care how they suffer living Coals in a full Shovel, to be carried out of one Room into another, or up or down Stairs, unless in a Warmingpan shut; for Scraps of Fire may fall into Chinks and make no Appearance until Midnight; when your Stairs being in Flames, you may be forced, (as I once was) to leap out of your Windows, and hazard your Necks to avoid being oven-roasted.”

This was sound advice from Mr. Franklin who was one of the first to suggest the need for a body of men who would be available to fight a fire, perhaps a “Club or Society of active Men belonging to each Fire Engine; whose Business is to attend all Fires with it whenever they happen.”

On a recent trip to Philadelphia and a tour around the historic district, I was pleased to see that many old buildings have retained the original fire marks of their respective insurance companies, some of which began in England and then moved to America. These new businesses were both lucrative and competitive. On acceptance of a policy, the insurance company installed their fire mark on the insured building, usually on the first floor where it could easily be seen. Originally, the fire marks were made of lead and cast in a mold with the insurance company’s number under a unique emblem. They were decorated in bright colors and sometimes included a gold leaf accent. However, from 1780 to 1800, the high cost of lead made the fire marks too expensive, so copper, tin or a mixture of metals was used. Fire marks designs varied considerably with each insurance company. The Fire Association of Philadelphia (c. 1817) displayed a hose wrapped around a pump while the Insurance Company of North America depicted an eagle and a hose.

Insurance companies organized their own fire brigades to protect their clients’ properties. The men of these brigades were chosen for their strength and disposition. They wore magnificent, colorful uniforms that easily distinguished members of one brigade from another. The men of a brigade were proud and often gregarious by nature. When an alarm sounded, each brigade set off to discover the whereabouts of the fire. If the building displayed a rival’s fire mark, the brigade not only let the property burn, but actually impeded the legitimate brigade’s attempts to douse the fire by kicking over their competitors’ leather buckets, swearing or physically fighting while the building burned to the ground.

Anyone who saw the movie Gangs of New York might remember there was just such an incident where rival firefighters literally took to fisticuffs over a fire as the building was razed to the ground.

Thursday, September 1, 2005

The Mystery of Leylines

What are leylines? Are they merely ancient paths or do they hold some kind of mystical earth power? Is it true that UFOs have been seen in the sky following leylines?

Growing up as I did in the County of Essex, England, I had heard about leylines but it was not until I did research for my book Extraordinary Places…Close to London (see page 37) that I realized there are leylines in other parts of the world too. The Lines of Nazca, Peru (see photo), the Altiplano of Bolivia, and right here in the United States, we have the Great North Road on the Chaco in Arizona. These as well as other locations around the world all offer similar characteristics: long straight roads with monuments, churches, rings of stones, places of historic interest, etc. that mark the way. Often these leylines cannot be seen from ground level but can be clearly seen from the air. Why would that happen?

One of the first people to notice and document leylines in England was Alfred Watkins (1855-1935) who was an avid photographer. Watkins’ son, Allen, later wrote about his father’s discovery. “Then without any warning it all happened suddenly. His mind was flooded with a rush of images forming one coherent plan. The scales fell from his eyes and he saw that over many long years of prehistory, all trackways were in straight lines marked out by experts on a sighting system. The whole plan of The Old Straight Track stood suddenly revealed.”

Interestingly, the leylines in England do follow a straight path over terrain that could be more easily navigated by a circuitous route. This is true in other countries too where the tracks have taken a traveler up and over a mountain rather than an easier route around it. Is there some reason to keep a track straight?

Watkins never gave us an explanation for these ancient tracks that are now called leylines. Dowsing experts have followed the leylines and tell us there is subterranean water activity. To this day, pilots follow leylines as they navigate the skies, so is it so strange to think that if we have been ‘visited’ by UFOs, they would also follow the same lines? Many believe animals possess extra sensitivity to earth power and congregate at certain spots that have been deemed leylines. When something strange happens in a village, the incident is often expressed as, “…well, what do you expect, it’s on a leyline…”

Monday, August 29, 2005

An Extraordinary Cafe

There are not too many restaurants that can boast of having an authentic Roman column as part of the d├ęcor, but this is exactly what the cafe Ai Musei on Via G. Piamarta, 1 in Brescia has to offer.

At Ai Musei the column base is approximately 10 feet below ground level indicating how much the street has been elevated over the past two thousand years. The friendly staff has to maneuver their way around the column to serve customers. The cafe has a highly decorated wood paneled ceiling with beautiful hand painted rosettes in the center of each panel. There is also an elaborately hand carved wooden bar complete with the same rosette design. Besides offering the customer a variety of alcoholic drinks, there are light refreshments as well as the wonderful coffee that is usually drunk standing at the bar.

It is easy to see why the locals appear to take such unusual surroundings for granted as they stop for a coffee on their way to work, because just a short distance along Via dei Musei you’ll find the Tempio Capitolino with its four magnificent Roman columns with Ionic capitals consisting of scrolls above the shaft. A partial inscription can be seen on the top of the building.

Brescia is a beautiful and largely undiscovered city in Lombardy, northern Italy, only about 1 hour’s drive from Milan. Brescia, known as ”Lioness of Italy“, offers an interesting combination of modern urban development mixed with ancient monuments.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Origin: Ring a Ring of Roses

The seemingly innocent nursery rhyme, Ring a Ring of Roses portrays groups of children laughing and dancing as they hold hands and swirl around in circles. However, the nursery rhyme has a more sinister beginning.

In 1665, the Bubonic Plague so prevalent in Europe reached the shores of England, hitting the coastal areas first and then migrating into the English countryside. The transmission method was unknown but later was attributed to the fleas that used rats as their hosts. The rats arrived in the cargo ships from Europe and once the ships were docked, the rats were free to roam the City of London spreading the disease through the densely populated area.

It seemed that nobody escaped the disease noblemen fell victim to the plague along with the average man in the street. It was not until September of 1665 when the Great Fire of London destroyed the city. As the wooden houses burned to the ground, so did the rats and, for a while at least the plague was kept under control.

It was not until centuries later that the rhyme came into being. There are slight differences in the English and American versions – the American version is slightly softer in tone. Following is the English version.

Ring a Ring of Roses
The rash consisted of tiny blisters, which formed a ring similar to that of a rose
A pocket full of posies
People believed that if they held a bouquet of flowers or herbs to their nose or kept a nosegay in their pockets, it would help ward off the disease
Atishoo, atishoo
Final stages of the disease, sneezing, running eyes and nose and congestion in the lungs of victims.
All fall down
Victim has died.

In some villages, only one in four people survived the Great Plague of 1665-6. Some good came from this awful experience. London was rebuilt using brick and stone instead of wood; enterprising men came up with the idea of insurance companies and introduced a new phenomenon, their own firefighter teams. And of course we are left with our very special nursery rhyme that hopefully will continue to be sung by children for centuries to come.

Thursday, June 9, 2005

More on Moel-Ty-Uchaf

Thanks to Stuart at DHADM for this link to where you can look all around Moel-Ty-Uchaf using a QuickTime VR scene.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Old Mother Hubbard

With most nursery rhymes, the origin is often lost in obscurity but we know for sure the origin of Old Mother Hubbard. Sarah Catherine Martin wrote and illustrated the rhyme in 1805 after being told to by her brother-in-law, John Pollexfen Bastard to, “Go away and write one of your silly verses.”

Evidently, Sarah was a frequent visitor to Kitley Manor, the stately home of her brother-in-law Bastard who was a busy Member of Parliament. To keep her nieces and nephews occupied and out of their father’s way as he busied himself with matters of state, she amused them by writing verse. Perhaps the children were noisy or boisterous the particular day that evoked the terse response from her brother-in-law, but one thing is for sure, Old Mother Hubbard would become one of the better-known nursery rhymes in history.

The rhyme was inspired by the housekeeper at Kitley Manor who, when she retired went to live in the cottage on the estate. The cottage is now a restaurant close to Yealmpton in Devon.

Old Mother HubbardWent to the cupboard To fetch her old dog a boneBut when she got thereThe cupboard was bareAnd so the poor dog had none.

After Sarah wrote the rhyme, she took it to a friend, John Harris who typeset and printed the piece. Sarah presented it to her brother-in-law for his birthday on June 1, 1805.

Being an astute businessman and recognizing the value of the nursery rhyme, John Harris printed 10,000 first edition copies, all of which were sold.

Kitley House Hotel >>
Old Mother Hubbard Restaurant >>

Saturday, June 4, 2005

Mystical Circles

High above the idyllic village of Llandrillo, set in the fertile countryside of Clwyd, North-East Wales sits the exquisite stone circle of Moel-Ty-Uchaf - the ‘high, bare hill’. Archaeologists classify moel-Ty-Uchaf as a cairn-circle; its 41 low stones surrounding a cist (or simple grave, perhaps of some prehistoric chieftain) originally covered by a mound of stones.

Unlike the enigmatic stone circles of Stonehenge or Callanish, few people come here save the occasional passing hiker en route to the heather-clad Berwyn Mountains. This is a place to sit and feel the mists of time disperse around you, revealing an age where myth and legend was part of everyday life. Yet this is no isolated monument, since the countryside of the British Isles is graced by many more examples. In fact so widespread are they that one may ask who built them, and to what purpose?

Man is believed to have first reached what is now known as the British Isles some 500,000 years ago, a time when much of the northern landscape was glacial. These first humans were ‘hunter-gatherers’, following a nomadic way of life governed by the seasonal migrations of the animals they hunted and the periodic advance and retreat of the ice. By 6,000 BC climate change had caused the glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise, isolating Britain from mainland Europe. Gradually the island inhabitants began to adopt the concept of farming originated in the Middle East, constructing permanent settlements and adopting embryonic socio-political structures to adapt to the new stability inherent in such agrarian societies. Massive communal tombs were erected and later, the first stone circles. It is believed these fulfilled a religious function, possibly linked to lunar and solar cults and may have been so shaped in mimicry of natural crop circles formed by spiral vortexes – events sure to have a profound effect on a prehistoric farmer tilling his soil.

This then was the dawn of civilization. The rest, as they say, is history and Moel-Ty-Uchaf still stands overlooking its valley – a monument to Nature itself.

CONTRIBUTED BY Robert Gladstone

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Quiet Seclusion in the Caribbean

Puerto Rico and the surrounding islands Culebra and Vieques have been in our crosshairs for some time and a recent visit confirmed some of the advertised beauty of the area. Our trip needed to include free diving, snorkeling, lots quiet time on the beaches reading and of course sightseeing.

We arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico at around 8:00 PM and decided to stay at the Best Western, which is literally part of the airport, so it’s well positioned and convenient for travelers. The following morning we took a taxi for the 45-minute journey to Fajardo for the ferry to Culebra.

I was fascinated to watch the kinds of items the locals were taking on board that included everything imaginable from chairs and tables, food, clothes, etc. Since most items are brought in from the mainland, it was easy to see why the locals made the most of their visit to the "Big Island" (Puerto Rico). By the way, the cost for walk-on passengers was about $7.00 each for the one hour and twenty minutes ride to Dewey, the only town on Culebra.

When we docked at Culebra, our driver met us with our rental car-- a "Thing". For those who don’t know what this is, it’s a Jeep-like vehicle built on a VW bug chassis—in the ‘70s! We drove the driver back to his home and then took off for our rental cottage. A FWD is highly recommended on the island because of the potholes and terrain, and we should have rented a regular Jeep because the Thing was difficult to drive, had no shock absorbers, and a difficult clutch.

It is easy to see why Conde Nast rated Flamenco Beach one of the top ten beaches in the world. It’s truly a beautiful wide sandy beach that ranks up there with anything I’ve seen. It also has the advantage of being only beach on Culebra that has refreshments and toilets. We saw the island in its entirety but as it’s roughly seven by four miles, that didn’t take too long. We enjoyed several days visiting every beach and hiked to Resaca on the Atlantic side. We found the best snorkeling and shore diving at Carlos Rosario, which is a 35-minute hike from the parking lot at Flamenco beach.

Photo: L to R Flamenco Beach, San Cristobal Fort, & ferry arriving at Dewey

Heading back home, we caught the first ferry out in the morning so that we could spend the whole day in Puerto Rico. What a delight! The old town is full of cobbled streets with elegant buildings painted the most beautiful pastels. Row after row of spectacular shops and there, in full view was the magnificent San Cristobal Fort. We walked around the perimeter of the fort and noticed the abundance of cats in every color imaginable running in and around the fort. The old town of Puerto Rico reminded us of similar towns and villages in Spain and Italy. It is well worth a visit!

Altogether we had a fantastic week of relaxation on Culebra even if the cockerels woke us early every morning.

General Info Ferry Timetable Club Seabourne Hotel

Monday, May 16, 2005

Dancing the Maypole

Dancing the maypole has been a tradition in Europe for many centuries. Perhaps it originated from the Roman ritual of celebrating the beginning of Spring and “wearing of the green.” During this time, flowers of the season used with garlands of green were used to adorn the pagan festival that included dancing, drinking and much merry making.

The tradition of Spring festivals continued for centuries and took on many different forms. During the Middle Ages, the custom of recognizing the onset of Spring played an important part of village life in England. Men from the village cut down a young tree, usually a birch because of their tall, straight stature. The tree would be stripped of all limbs, placed in a hole on the village green, and painted green and white. Then young couples from the village decorated the pole using spring flowers and the Hawthorn bush (Crataegus oxacantha), which was believed to hold mystical powers. On May Day, the couples came together to kiss and dance around the maypole, which they believed to be a fertility symbol. After the dance, some couples went into the surrounding woods where a ‘minister’ performed a ‘marriage.’ The offspring of such a union were called Merry-begats and were not formally recognized by their natural fathers, but were instead considered gifts from God.

It was not until the early 1800s that the maypole as we know it today came into existence. The pole was still painted green and white, but now ribbons or streamers were anchored atop the pole. Special attention was given to the length of the ribbons used in the ceremony to ensure the dancers had enough to weave the intricate patterns created as the dancers performed the ritual dance. Music played as the gentlemen dropped to one knee as their partners skipped past, swooping in, under and around other dancers. As s result of the dance movements, the ribbons made a colorful, plaited design on the maypole. At the end of the celebrations a May Queen was appointed.

Perhaps the first evidence the tradition of dancing the may pole in America can be seen in May of 1622. William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony (1620-1647) writes that a settler called Thomas Morton erected a may pole “…they also set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing aboute it many days together, inviting the Indian women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking together, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practises.” Morton later returned to England and Mr. John Indecott, arrived who “…caused that Maypole to be cut downe, and rebuked them for their profannes, and admonished them…”

Seen in this photograph circa 1908, ladies only perform the ceremonial dance in their beautiful white or off white dresses. The photograph was kindly supplied by the Colorado College, Special Collections Dept.

Sunday, May 1, 2005

Extraordinary Places…Close to London

After living in the United States for over 20 years and following numerous requests from friends asking, “…I’ve done all the usual tourist spots in England and now I’m looking for something different…” I decided to write Extraordinary Places…Close to London.

The book includes 50 destinations chosen for their historical interest and natural beauty. Each chapter includes the usual travel information about where to stay, eat and how to get there, but what you’ll find different about this book is I introduce the traveler to the history of the village by telling a unique story about its past. These stories include tales of kings and queens, witches and ghosts and bring the village alive to all, whether you’re an armchair traveler or plan to actually visit.

Following is a summary of the chapter about Leeds Castle.

Leeds Castle is reputed to be the loveliest castle in the world. Surrounded by lakes and streams, it sits majestically in spectacular grounds.

The first castle on this spot was built by a Saxon lord called Ledian (Leed) during the reign of Ethelbert, King of Kent, in 857. The strategic location of the castle was not lost on the Norman conquerors who began building a stone structure in 1119. In 1287, the castle was given to King Edward 1st and Queen Eleanor of Castile.

King Henry VIII, perhaps England’s most famous king, loved the castle and spent time beautifying the grounds and building new additions such as the Maiden’s Tower. No doubt most if not all his six wives spent time at Leeds Castle but it is assumed that at least Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn enjoyed its comforts.

The six wives of Henry made a sorrowful chapter in the history of England. He was known to be a hard and ruthless man who treated people harshly, especially some of his wives. His first marriage to Catherine of Aragon lasted over 20 years and although she produced several children, most died prematurely or were stillborn. Only one child, Mary, survived. It appears from records that although Henry had been a relatively good husband, he had several mistresses during his marriage to Catherine. He became frustrated with the lack of a male heir to the throne of England and argued with the Pope for an annulment of the marriage. The rift between Rome and the king turned into the Reformation and the establishment of the Church of England. Henry turned his attention to a young woman called Anne Boleyn, who was lady in waiting to the queen.

Anne Boleyn was thrilled the king favored her above the other ladies in waiting. Her sister Mary had been the king’s mistress for some time and it was said that she had given him an illegitimate son. Now it was Anne who caught the king’s eye. She was very different from Catherine of Aragon and had a black hair, swarthy skin and eyes so dark people said she used them as a weapon.

Anne took full advantage of her new position and flaunted her family and friends at court, many of whom were given special privileges by the king. In an attempt to discredit Anne, some members at court said she had a sixth finger on her left hand, several ugly moles on her body and even a goiter in her neck. However, none of this appears to have bothered Anne as she dressed in an exquisite gown made of gold fabric and trimmed in fur as she traveled up the Thames to the waiting king. The procession began at Greenwich with hundreds of barges that were decorated with flowers and had banners streaming from the masts. On September 7, 1533 Anne gave birth to Elizabeth who would become a powerful and long-lived queen.

Place to stay: Ramada Hotel & Resort Maidstone, Hollingbourne, Kent, (0.9 miles)

Place to eat: The Fairfax Hall at the castle houses a self-serve restaurant and the adjacent Terrace Room with table service provides lunches and afternoon tea.

How to get there: Travel southeast out of London on the M20 to Maidstone and follow the brown and white tourist signs to the castle.

Read the whole chapter >>

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

New Book Release

My most recent project was to lead the Castle Rock Writers’ Group in writing a new book, "Douglas County, Colorado: A Photographic Journey." The group has been on the road visiting Douglas County residents in their homes, scanning photographs from family albums and listening to stories passed down from one generation to the next to gather material for the book. The book was produced with assistance from the Douglas County Libraries Foundation and Douglas County Libraries. The groundbreaking new book is a pictorial history filled with hundreds of photographs (some in print for the first time) was released April 22, 2005.

Financed by the Douglas County Libraries Foundation and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, the book features vintage Douglas County photographs, journals and documents dating from 1861 through the end of World War II. The scanned photographs are divided into chapters based on the cities and towns of Douglas County, including Castle Rock, Deckers, Franktown, Greenland, Highlands Ranch, Larkspur, Louviers, Parker, Roxborough and Sedalia. The writers donated their time and talents to the project and proceeds will go back to the Foundation for future community projects.

The book is available at Douglas County Libaries and Denver area book stores.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Purleigh, Essex, England

Purleigh is a small hamlet in the heart of Essex, located between the rivers Crouch and Blackwater. Purleigh has strong ties to the United States. The Reverend Lawrence Washington, who was forced to resign as rector of the church here because of his royalist sympathies, is the great, great grandfather of the first U.S. President, George Washington. The exquisite little parish church where Lawrence Washington served sits quietly at the top of a hill to this day.

Purleigh is a sleepy village clustered around All Saints’ church that dates from the 13th century. Lawrence Washington, was the minister of this small church from 1633 until 1643. The Parliamentarians, who wanted to oust him from his parish, knew him as the “malignant royalist.” By all accounts, Washington was a good minister, but he was also known to enjoy a drink or two at the local inn. His daily “tippling” was noticed by the Parliamentarians who accused him of “… encouraging others in the same beastly vice.” The Parliamentarians succeeded in removing Washington from his beloved church, never to return. He died penniless in a neighboring village. Soon after his death, two of his sons John and Lawrence Washington left England to seek a fresh start in the New World.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

First Post

I decided to start a blog so I could share not only my travel experiences, but also some of the interesting things I've learned along the way.

I've written four books about travel and travel/history related subjects and I've written about origins of words, phrases, customs, and superstitions -- all of which I intend to discuss in my blog. I'll also post information about travel destinations, issues, and maybe even some good deals!