Friday, December 21, 2007

Thaxted Guild Hall, Essex


The ancient town of Thaxted in Essex, England, boasts one of the best preserved guild halls in the country. It sits in the middle of a busy thoroughfare as cars and trucks maneuver around the extraordinary building.
During the 14th century, Thaxted was known as a community with a high level of cutlers and those associated with the trade such as armorers, smithies and goldsmiths. Poll Tax records of 1381 show there were approximately 249 male tradesmen, seventy-eight of whom were cutlers.
There is no record of the guild hall in the survey of 1393, so we can safely assume the site became available to the cutlers around the turn of the century (c.1400). They built the magnificent guildhall as a meeting place and center where their goods could be displayed for purchase. The square design of the building has three timber framed upper floors and a basement. Each floor is jettisoned over the floor below, and is typical of homes built in the medieval period. The guildhall is located in a key position at the junction of four streets and still dominates the village of Thaxted to this day.
Following is an excerpt from Extraordinary Places...Close to London

The Church of St. John the Baptist, St. Mary and St. Lawrence

The church is quite exquisite and still dominates the town. It has been described as one of the most beautiful and architecturally pleasing in the country. The foundations were laid and work began on the church in 1340 and it was completed in 1510. No one knows for sure who the original benefactors of the church were but the Cutlers, townspeople and the House of Clare who owned the Manor were all thought to be instrumental in its construction. The influential family of the House of Clare had connections to the Crown, so it is assumed that royalty also contributed to the initial funds.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Waterstone's Book Shop, Brentwood, Essex.

Waterstone's Book shops hosted three events for the launch of Christmas Past in Essex. Along with other venues such as BBC Essex, Phoenix Radio, Barleylands, and several newspaper feature pieces, the word is out and the books are selling fast. Tempus Publishing are keeping up with demand by issuing a second print immediately and are hopeful the books will be available by December 1st.

James Shrubb, Billericay's Town Crier appeared to announce the event dressed in his magnificent garb, and Barbara, the manager of Waterstone's in Brentwood, presented a beautiful bouquet of white roses.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Waterways of Norfolk, England


Photograph: Small riverside shop in Acle, Norfolk.

The Norfolk Broads is one of the best kept secrets in England. The Broads offer 125 miles of free waterways with gentle, navigable rivers, dykes and locks. Along the extensive waterways are restaurants and pubs, shops and lodging. It seems that at every turn, there is a new place to be discovered as ducks and geese swim freely and completely undisturbed. The Norfolk Broads is the largest protected wetland and wildlife haven in England, and surely must be a bird watchers paradise.

For more information go to: Norfolk Boards Boat Hire at: WaterwaysHolidays.com or Canal Boating Holidays www.UKboathire.com

Friday, November 9, 2007

Book Review


Photograph is one of more than 60 images and sketches included in Christmas Past in Essex.
Photo courtesy: Sylvia Kent. The Motley Crew: Tony Motley (left) Jim Shrubb (center) Town Crier, and David Smith (right) as Father Christmas.

Book Review by Frances Clamp

Why is Elizabeth Wallace, one of our overseas members living in Denver, Colorado, writing a book about Essex? Well Elizabeth was born and grew in the county and still holds it in great affection.

Christmas Past in Essex is a real gem of a book containing all sorts of well illustrated information about Christmas customs from bygone years. It really stirs up memories of the excitement felt by children as 25th December approached.

Elizabeth records the memories of many who worked in hospitals, entertained with singing, musical instruments and even an actor who took part in one of the many pantomimes enjoyed during the festive season. There is the account of a doctor and his family, all of whom helped to make the patients’ lives better at this time, A Christmas Wedding from 1930 and there is even an interview with Father Christmas himself!

Traditional Christmas recipes are also included and there is even one for own Sylvia Kent’s prize winning mead. And whilst mentioning food and drink, I wonder how many of us still recall the joys of preparing the pudding on Stir-up Sunday or enjoying a slice of Twelfth Night Cake.

This is a small book jammed packed with information and memories. You don’t need to come from Essex to enjoy the many Christmas customs recorded in these pages. It would be a perfect stocking filler for anyone who loves this very special season and all the ancient customs that have become so much a part of the celebrations.

Christmas Past in Essex by Elizabeth Wallace, Published By Tempus Publishing Ltd at £9.99 ISBN: 970-7524-4463

Frances Clamp, Society of Women Writers and Journalists.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Camping at Grand Lake, Colorado

There is nothing like waking up in the morning under canvas in the Rocky Mountains. There is also nothing better than being able to walk to breakfast rather than have to cook it ourselves. The staff at Winding River Resort offer pancakes, sausage, juice and coffee served from their chuck wagons on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The staff wear western style outfits, country western music is played and the tables are decked out in checkered cloths. They also offer an ice cream social on Saturday nights too. One is expected to take their own bowl and spoon and then a large dollop of ice cream is served for $1.00. The children love it!

Winding River Resort has a stable of about 20 horses that take visitors on an excellent ride through the forest and a petting enclosure that contains baby pigs, goats and a small calf.

This is a family camp site, clean and well maintained. They welcome campers but they also have log cabins for rent. For more information go to: Winding River Resort 970-627-3215 or 303-623-1121 fax your request to 970-627-5003 email:
Trailboss@rkymtnhi.com

Chuck Wagon Breakfast

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Remember, Remember the 5th of November

An excerpt from Extraodinary Places...Close to London
Photo: The Leather Bottle Inn, Cobham, Kent.

“Remember, remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot.” This ancient rhyme is one that was sung by English children as they prepared an effigy of Guy Fawkes and place him atop a bonfire before setting the fire ablaze. An heir of the de Cobham family was tried for treason because of his supposed involvement in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 - an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament and destroy the monarchy.

The village and much of the surrounding countryside were home to the de Cobham family who dominated the village for nearly 400 years. The name of Cobham is considered to be of Anglo-Saxon origin and possibly derived from a personal name such as Cobba. During the period from 1360-70, the village grew in size under the direction of Sir John de Cobham, who rebuilt the parish church of St. Mary and built the College that stands in the rear of the church in the village.

The Gunpowder Plot of November 5, 1605 to blow up the Houses of Parliament and destroy King James I was thought by some to be a wicked scheme organized by Jesuit priests in retaliation for the government’s anti-Catholic ruling. To this day, there are suspicions about Robert Cecil’s part in the plan. Some believe it was a plot instigated by Cecil himself to gain appreciation from the king and further secure his political ambitions. In all, thirteen men were accused of treason after torture and a written confession by Guy Fawkes, who was caught red-handed in the cellars of Westminster trying to ignite barrels of gunpowder. The close relationship with William Parker, Lord Monteagle, who was later identified as a prime conspirator in the plot, did not help the clouds of suspicion hanging over Cecil. Cecil’s brother-in-law, Lord Cobham, as well as Cobham’s younger brother George Brooke was implicated in the conspiracy. Cecil and Lord Cobham escaped execution but George did not.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Barney L. Ford Museum - Breckenridge


Barney Ford was born into slavery on January 22, 1822, but he died at the ripe old age of 80 years, a prosperous man.

Ford was the son of a slave and wealthy plantation owner. As a young man, he was moved to South Carolina where he was taught to read and write by a neighboring servant. His mother, in an attempt to save her son from slavery, tried to contact a representative of the Underground Railway, but it is said she drowned in the process.

After being sold to a slaveholder in Georgia, Barney was given the duty of driving hogs and mules, laboring in the fields and working the barges. He continued to educate himself in all aspects of the arts, mathematics, and business matters. When he met his future wife, Julia and proposed marriage, he realized he did not have a last name to use on the marriage certificate. He particularly liked the name Lancelot Ford, the name given to the pioneer railroad engine, and decided to take that name as his own. He was known thereafter as Barney L. Ford. The Ford's were blessed with two children, Lewis Napoleon and Sadie.

The life of the Ford family was complex and challenging as Barney saved money, opened businesses, lost some to fire, borrowed more money and opened more businesses in Denver, Chicago and Breckenridge. The family eventually made Breckenridge their permanent home and built the house that is now the museum seen in the photograph. The Victorian home was built by Elias Nashold and was once considered one of the finest homes in Breckenridge. The wood framed home has rectangular bay windows with hand-jigsawed, diamond shaped inserts. These features became so popular that Nashold incorporated them in several other buildings in town.

Throughout his life, Barney fought against racial discrimination and rallied for equal rights. As he did so, he used his influential contacts, persuasive personality and wonderful smile to accomplish those needs. He was the first black man in the State of Colorado to serve on a U.S. Grand Jury, he was inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame and listed as one of the 100 Greatest Coloradans in 1992. He was truly an astonishing man.

The museum is located on 111 East Washington Avenue, Breckenridge and well worth a visit. There is no charge for admittance but a donation is greatfully received. Call for museum hours at 970.453.5761.


A Day in Breckenridge



Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Christmas Past in Essex

I am pleased to say that my latest book Christmas Past in Essex has just been launched in England and that I will be in the U.K. next month for book signings, radio and other events.
As I collected the wonderful stories, traditions and customs of the people of Essex, I began to feel as excited as the interviewees who shared their most personal recollections. I was pleased to discover that families still sing songs on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that I sang as a child. It was comforting to know the songs and traditions that came with Londoners and others who migrated to Essex are still observed and flourishing. Londoners brought their own special blend of customs that merged nicely with the centuries’ old traditions of Essex. Traditions such as stirring the Christmas pudding three times in a clockwise direction, breaking the wishbone for luck, and wishing a family good health and wealth with the first footing ceremony (Scottish tradition) on New Year’s Eve.

Within the covers of Christmas Past in Essex, a reader will not only discover personal glimpses into the hearts and minds of the people of Essex, but will also find many stories, sketches and photographs that have not previously been published. There are heartwarming stories of a little girl placed in an orphanage, a family who took in prisoners-of-war, policemen, firemen, nurses and physicians all of whom offer an intriguing and unusual insight into their lives at Christmastime.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Ghostly Apparition at Book Signing Event

I must admit to being a little apprehensive about having a book signing event in a shop known for its resident ghost. Stories of assistants having their braids pulled from behind, feelings of “being watched” and experiences such as “I felt a sharp pain on my forearm and then saw bite marks” all seemed quite extraordinary and far fetched. Needless to say, I was a little nervous but intrigued.

On the day of the book signing, the store owner sat me in a prominent part of the shop and served me a wonderful pot of English tea. As people walked into the store, purchased my books and brought them to me for signature, I noticed a young man taking lots of photographs. He was a military man, home on leave from the service due to a leg injury and was enjoying himself taking photographs.

At the end of the event, having drunk a whole pot of tea, I needed to use the rest room before my long journey home. I asked where the rest room was located and the owner said, “Well, if you’re ever going to see the ghost, that’s where it hangs out – down by the store room, next to the restroom.” Great! This was just what I needed to know. Nevertheless, not being a timid person by nature, I decided to be very brave (or very stupid) by challenging the ghost and said, “If you’re here – show yourself!” Nothing happened. Absolutely nothing! Confident of no ghostly apparitions, I strode confidently back to the table, collected my books and belongings and drove home.

Two weeks later, I was back at the store and asked the owner why the young man had taken so many photographs. “Oh, he was hoping your presence would stimulate some activity with the ghost,” she replied. I chuckled at the thought, but then she showed me the photographs taken at the book signing event. I couldn’t believe my eyes; one photograph clearly showed the image of a man standing in the aisle close to the table where I was signing books! Although I could see the man’s image, I could also plainly see the product on the shelves! Another photograph showed the Scottish flag that was pinned to the top of a wall. On the bottom left hand side, the flag was inexplicably curling up from the corner – very strange indeed!

In an attempt to identify the ghost, the owners brought in the ‘Ghost Busters’ with their sophisticated electronic devices, and set up for the night in the 100+ year shop. Evidently they were able to pick up voices and noises that the average individual could not detect – that of a man, woman and I believe a child’s voice. It’s the owner’s understanding that the shop was once a mortuary in the late 1890s and a fire at the mortuary had taken the life of a young child. The ghost busters also said the resident ghost was an “angry man” who liked cheap perfume and that his favorite color was red. Believe it or not!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bicycle Trails in Colorado


With literally hundreds of miles of bicycle trails, Colorado must be one of the finest places in the world to enjoy a ride, especially at this time of the year.

The Rockies have so much to offer a cyclist. Spectacular views from the relatively low foothills to the impressive 14,000 feet summits. Whether you’re visiting Colorado on vacation or are a resident, you’ll find plenty of support from books to bike rental companies.

I personally love the ride along the South Platte River heading north to Denver. The approximately 6 feet wide trail is carefully marked similar to a road, e.g. dashed lines to indicate caution, double yellow lines to let a rider know there should be no passing, etc. The well maintained trail has regular mile markers so riders can easily map their course and there are places to sit quietly and have something to eat and drink. Since the trail follows the South Platte, there is plenty of wildlife. I have seen coyotes, snakes and of course a multitude of birds. I usually drive to Mineral and Santa Fe (85) and park in the ample parking lot. From this location, the trip by bicycle to Denver is about 17 miles, providing a round trip ride of approximately 34 miles. Along the way, you pass the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. Once again, it’s a great place to take a break, eat, drink or even visit the R.E.I store.

For more information on cycling in Colorado go to:

Monday, September 17, 2007

Alcatraz Island


In 1859, Alcatraz Island or The Rock as it is still affectionately known by some people began life as a military fortress and prison. From 1934-1963, it was a federal penitentiary and in 1969-1971 the site was occupied by Native American Indians who staged a protest. Today, Alcatraz Island is a State Park that includes historic gardens, bird colonies and of course an excellent tour of the prison.

It is not hard to imagine what the prisoners must have felt as they crossed from the mainland to Alcatraz Island. They knew that once on the island, escape was almost impossible because of the frigid water and the tides and currents in the San Francisco Bay. Nearing their destination, they would have seen the armed guards waiting on the dock, the imposing cell block atop the rock, and armed guards watching from the towers. Only the worse kinds of men were brought to Alcatraz. Men such as Al Capone “Scarface”, Robert Stroud “Birdman of Alcatraz” and George “Machine Gun” Kelley were just a few of the notorious inmates. The men had to abide by 53 strict rules of conduct while incarcerated, but I found rule #5 particularly interesting. "You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention. Anything else you get is a privilege.”

I highly recommend the ferry trip to Alcatraz Island, the tour around the prison grounds, the film show and a visit to the museum. Discount tickets can be purchased to include a variety of activities and events including the whole San Francisco Bay area, trolley cars, etc. I chose an individual ticket but I think I could have saved money by purchasing ahead of time and getting multiple activities. My ferry ticket and tour of the prison was just under $35.00 but once again, it was well worth the money.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Bodiam Castle


An excerpt from Extraordinary Places…Close to London.

Castle Bodiam in East Sussex, England rises majestically out of the moat like the legendary sword Excalibur. It is a romantic, magical castle that inspires fairy tale images of knights, princesses and sorcerers. In 1086, the Domesday Book notes a Saxon hall on the site, but it was Sir Edward Dalyngrigge who built the present structure 500 years ago. Construction started in 1385 and was completed in 1390. King Richard II granted Dalyngrigge a license to improve his manor house to “strengthen and crenellate…and make thereof a castle in defense of the adjacent countryside and for resistance against our enemies.” Instead of fortifying his current manor house against a possible invasion by the French, Dalyngrigge decided to build a castle suitable for a man of his station in life.

Dalyngrigge was a military man who had fought in the Hundred Years’ War that began in the 1300s and continued until 1451. The French had suffered disastrous defeats at the Battle of Crècy in 1346 and then again in Pointiers in 1356 when Prince Edward, otherwise known as the Black Prince, captured Prince John of France and asked for a ransom of 3 million crowns. The ransom was paid and Prince John was returned unharmed to his people.

Dalyngrigge returned to England in approximately 1380 with his new wife, intent on providing a loving and safe environment for his family. There were constant threats from the French in retaliation for the defeats they had suffered, so Dalyngrigge decided to improve his manor house and fortify it in readiness for an attack. He was already a wealthy man from an influential family in Sussex, but now his coffers were overflowing from the fortune he had brought back from France. He reconsidered the plan to reinforce his present manor house and decided to build a castle instead.

The overall design of the castle is unusual in that it is set in a rectangular, lake-like moat that is fed by the river Rother. Previously, there had been a bridge that turned at right angles to the octagonal stone-case island. The purpose of the right angle turn was to expose the right, unshielded, flank of any besieging force to the castle’s defenders. It would have been a formidable castle to capture because when a castle was under siege, one of the most common means of entry was tunneling. An invading army would travel underground until they reached an outer wall and cause it to collapse. Sometimes they would set a fire at the end of the tunnel to cause even more damage.

The owners of Bodiam castle were only called upon to defend themselves twice in 600 years and then from their own countrymen. On both occasions it was surrendered relatively easily. In 1483, it was briefly captured by the errant Sir Thomas Lewknor and taken from him by the Earl of Surrey for his king, Richard III. The second occasion was during the English Civil war when Roundhead soldiers (parliamentary) under the guidance of Oliver Cromwell directed that all the kingdom’s castles should be “slighted”. The soldiers almost completely gutted the internal structure but the exterior was not as easy to destroy and they had to leave the walls virtually intact.

Although the French did attack the towns of Rye and Winchelsea along the south coast of England, they never made an assault on Bodiam Castle.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Review of Extraordinary Places…Close to London by Patricia Pound


Elizabeth Wallace has produced a very informative, valuable and comprehensive book, a guide to some interest and historical places to visit all within easy distance from London. The book covers the Southeast of England and includes travels to the Counties of Essex, Kent and East Sussex all steeped in history with many a tale to tell. Elizabeth has relayed much information of the places not to be missed, their fascinating, historical past and the transport systems available to reach these destinations. Included are tips and information on where to eat and where to stay and what to see and look out for as you discover all that this region has to offer.

The author in this case has a particular qualification, enabling her to share her knowledge with the first time visitor to this area of England, for the information she offers is well known to her, as she was born and lived here before making her home in America. Taking with her a love of the history and the familiar countryside and expressing that love in sharing her knowledge with others that they too might enjoy to the full all that these places offer. A tourist with limited time to investigate the possibilities will come prepared having read this guide which will be a useful and valuable companion throughout your planned journeys. The book will make the difference from negotiating a complicated maze into a gentle and confident stroll around already familiar places. The book is a handy size to maintain a functional reference whether kept in a sensible travelling bag or stuffed into a copious coat pocket. There is an easy to find and follow index of particular subject matter which includes, Castles, Churches, Gardens, Historic Homes, Hotels, Inns, Museums, Pubs, Restaurants, Tea Rooms and much more.

The tourist from whatever part of the world who wants to visit little known villages and towns within easy distance from London and get to know a great deal about the history and present day facilities will be well served by this book. The English natives too, who wish to discover more about this part of the country could not have a better start than to read what this book has to offer and then to adventure out and find out a great deal more about what lies on their doorstep in the home counties. The information offered here will intrigue and surprise all who read the content and in the process learn much more about themselves and the beautiful English countryside within close proximity to London, which some of us are fortunate enough to call home. The reader is led on a journey by an author with a sure hand as it is clear she knows and loves her subject and the places she helps you discover will remain with you both before and after a visit. The visitor makes a journey which is both satisfying and an educational experience as the hidden history is revealed and explanations offered for the basis of country law and custom, tradition and folklore. Well worth a read even if your planned journey remains a pipe dream for the time being, it certainly will inspire many to turn those day dreams into reality and to start packing for a voyage of discovery and a real adventure in the English countryside.

Patricia Pound 2007
Author: Romford Pubs ISBN 9780752438412
Tempus Publishing

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Famous Cookies and Candies


There is perhaps not one home in America that has not at one time had Tollhouse cookies or M&M candies in the cupboard for a snack or treat. These products came from entrepreneurial people who saw the need for a different kind of treat, but one came from a culinary mistake.

Take for example the Tollhouse cookie. In 1933, Ruth Graves Wakefield, who owned an inn in Whitman, Massachusetts, decided to make a different version of her butter cookies for her residents by adding some chopped chocolate. She believed the chocolate pieces would melt during cooking but unfortunately, the chocolate stayed intact. Not wanting to waste the batch of cookies, she served them to her patrons who were delighted with this new version to the old recipe. Whitman was pleased that by accident she had discovered a new type of cookie to add to her repertoire. Being a good business woman, Whitman knew a name was needed for her new creation, and she decided on Tollhouse Cookies since her inn was originally located on the tollgate road to Boston. In 1939, the Nestle Company packaged the chocolate chips and introduced them to consumers.

The candy famously represented by the slogan “The candy that melts in your mouth, not in your hand” was developed in 1941, and was sold mostly to the armed forces during WWII. The concept for this candy originated (although it cannot be confirmed) by Mr. Forrest E. Mars who said he saw soldiers during the Spanish Civil War eating a kind of chocolate capsule or tablet that had been encased in a sugary substance.

Once back home, Mars went to work in his kitchen and soon invented the recipe we know today as M&M plain chocolate candies. The candy was originally targeted towards military personnel overseas because it did not melt regardless of high temperature environments, and therefore made a convenient snack for soldiers. By the late 1940s, the packaging changed and so did the recipients. The original container had been a colorful tube, but now changed to a brown pouch, much as we see it today. The product was offered to the general public who were delighted with the crunchy candy. The initials M&M stand for Forrest Mars and Bruce E. Murrie who helped develop the delicious treat.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Siena and the Palio Horse Race


By coincidence, we found ourselves in Siena, Italy on the very day of the Palio race, an annual horse riding event in the Piazza del Campo. At first, we wondered what on earth was happening as one group of people appeared to challenge another with loud music and boisterous behavior. They each held a colorful flag from their particular district draped over their shoulders as they cheered and jeered other groups. There is obviously stiff competition as the 17 districts in and around Siena compete in this bareback horse race.

The buzz and excitement grew as large trucks appeared dropping their loads of sand that would become the track around the Piazza. Then the horses arrived, beautiful creatures groomed and ready for action. Each district is represented by a horse and jockey wearing the colors of their particular area as they careen around the Piazza at breakneck speeds, and one wonders how the riders avoid serious injury. However, everyone present, from the spectators to the riders, appear to enjoy the fun and healthy competition.

This perhaps is a little different from centuries past as depicted in a painting by G. Zocchi (1710-1767). The Piazza looks much the same as residents hang from their balconies as they watch the riders speed past. The riders wear the distinctive colors of their district and elaborate plumed hats. Zocchi has captured the whole event as the riders use their whips not only on their horses’ flanks, but also on their opponents as they complete the circuit. Some riders have fallen while others hang on precariously and look about to fall. Numerous dogs follow the horses, and some men appear to be fighting in the arena. The whole scene is so very different from Siena and the Palio Horse Race of today.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Tokyo Gardens and Subway


The old ways balance beautifully with the new in Tokyo. The peace and quiet of this garden is in direct contrast to the busy streets, skyscrapers and underground railway of this wonderful city. Taking courage in both hands, I decided to use the subway to explore Tokyo. Foolishly, I thought the destinations would in English (albeit small print) under the Japanese symbols, but they were not. Just as I decided to abandon my trip, I noticed a group of young girls making their way towards the ticket machines and asked if they could help me. They were more than helpful and seemed to enjoy practicing their schoolgirl English on this inexperienced traveler. Before long, I had my ticket in hand and followed the masses towards the trains.

The subways are clean and fellow travelers are courteous and polite. Etched in the footway leading towards the trains are red footprints. On the left side, the footprints were in green leading in the opposite direction towards the exit. I noticed that travellers did not overtake each other in their haste to get to the trains, but simply walked in an orderly fashion – I’ve never seen such control! In the London, Paris and New York undergrounds, it’s every man for himself as each person jockey’s for position and a seat. I thoroughly enjoyed my day out in Tokyo and highly recommend the subway to other travellers who want to explore the city at their leisure.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Hiking the Colorado 14'ers


My dad and I got up early, a long day filled with excitement ahead of us. Having to wake up at 5 in the morning surprisingly didn’t hamper our spirits one bit, and we quickly got our stuff together to head out. After filling up the camelbacks and getting all of our gear in the car, we set off. The only stop would be to grab some Starbucks on the way to our destination. I felt anxious and nervous at the same time. I was ready to get up there and hike, but at the same time I am afraid of heights, so I was nervous as to what I should expect on the trail. After an hour and a half on the highway and some four-wheeling, we finally made it to the trailhead to find a grand view in front of us.

This was only the beginning of a beautiful day. As we continued up the trail Grays and Torreys weren’t revealing themselves to us easily, it would take a hike to do that!

And as we climbed we couldn’t help but take a look back down into Stevens Gulch. The view ahead was what really got me going though. I had never really seen these mountains up close; only ever in pictures. But what I saw in front of me gave me a daunting view of the route ahead.

It wouldn’t be all that long before could finally look down on all that we had come through - I must say that the view down into Stevens Gulch only got better and better as we continued to climb.

Near 12,600 feet we looked up the trail to see a guy yelling his head off. We could see him standing on top of a rock tower on one of the switchbacks farther up the trail. It wasn’t until we got up to that switchback that we realized what he had been doing. The tower he’d been standing on drops several hundred if not a thousand feet down from that edge! We couldn’t believe what we’d seen, but we pressed onward, the summit now within our reach. When we were nearly at the top, we became enveloped in the clouds that were overhead. Luckily for us they weren’t storm clouds, or I think we would’ve turned back!

We reached the summit at 10:30 AM, having set out from the trailhead at 7:30 AM. As you can see we were completely covered by clouds! After a break at the summit we began our hike over to Torreys. This meant we would have to descend onto the saddle connecting both peaks and work our way up to Torreys. The first time I was afraid was coming off the summit because we were close to a steep edge and the trail was narrow. We almost didn’t go for it, but we hadn’t already come this far to back out now! Once we made it onto the saddle we got a good look at the steep route up to Torreys’ summit.

It is much steeper than it looks, and a lot of it is on the edge, so we were both uncomfortable. The trail to the top is all class 2 hiking, but it is steep and some of the rock was loose, so it was slow going to the summit. After another hour of hiking, we finally hit the summit and got a brief glimpse of the view from the peak.

It wasn’t long until we started getting hit with rain, so we signed the summit registry and booked it down to the saddle. Two and a half hours later we finally made it back to the car exhausted and ready for a sandwich. But the trip was worth it, and I now have 2 more summits done, adding to my first summit of Mount Bierstadt.
Submitted by Ian Wallace

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

King John's Hunting Lodge


The medieval house commonly known as “King John’s Hunting Lodge” sits on the corner of the High Street and The Square in Axbridge, Somerset, England. Other than in name, there is no connection to King John since it was built fully 300 years after his death. The building dates to approximately 1500 and looks as though it should be protected by a stout wall instead of sitting precariously on a relatively busy thoroughfare. On the corner of the building, located on the first storey, is an effigy of a king’s head, complete with crown. The effigy dates to the 16th or 17th century, and was thought to have been used as a sign for an inn or tavern before it was placed on the lodge building.

The elevation and layout of the King John’s Hunting Lodge looks remarkably like the guild halls of the 14th and 15th centuries in medieval England. The guilds sprang up to promote camaraderie in a particular group of people such as stonemasons, carpenters and silversmiths. They also trained young men in a particular craft who had to attain a certain level of achievement before being admitted to the guild. Guild members sold their wares on the ground level, had workshops on the first level and sleeping accommodation on the second storey, all of which is similar to the Thaxted Guild Hall in Essex. (See Extraordinary Places…Close to London, page 72).

King John’s Hunting Lodge is now owned by the National Trust and is an excellent museum to visit. The museum is closed from October to March each year. Contact museum staff for more details at: 01934 732012. There are some great pubs and dining facilities nearby for lunch or dinner.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Lace Making in Burano, Italy

It is a craft that is said to have decorated the robes of Pharaohs, the ancient Greeks and the Romans who edged their togas with lace made of gold thread. Later the kings and queens of Europe wore exquisite, delicately crafted collars and cuffs of lace as they sat for their portraits. How many visitors to the Louvre or the Royal Academy of Arts have stood before a painting by one of the Masters and not marveled at his skill in capturing the intricate lace designs at the subject’s throat or wrist?

The art of lace making is alive and well in Burano, Italy. Mature women (and some young ladies) still practice this delicate and complex work. They sit outside their homes (making good use of the sunlight), demonstrating their techniques with their magnificent work displayed for sale.

In 1651, Jacob Van Eyck described the art of lace making…

"Of many Arts, one surpasses all. For the maiden seated at her work flashes the smooth balls and thousand threads into the circle... and from this, her amusement, makes as much profit as a man earns by the sweat of his brow, and no maiden ever complains, at even, of the length of the day. The issue is a fine web, which feeds the pride of the whole globe; which surrounds with its fine border cloaks and tuckers, and shows grandly round the throats and hands of Kings."

Monday, July 30, 2007

Ghostly Ruins


Excerpt from Extraordinary Places…Close to London.

The Guinness Book of World Records (1998) has Pluckley in Kent as being “the most haunted village in the country.” There are perhaps 12-16 ghosts that are said to appear in and around the village depending on who is telling the tale, but the village has a rich history beyond the ghosts.

At least 50 men from the village participated in the Jack Cade Rebellion of 1450 when the rebels, unhappy with the taxes imposed upon them, met with King Henry VI and their leader, Jack Cade. The meeting did not go well and it is reported that Cade's men killed at least 100 of the King’s men. Later, when the rebels were rounded up, most were pardoned for their involvement and returned to the village unharmed, but others were hung, drawn and quartered.
In 1610, two local men, Martin Davye and Thomas Fell had an argument that spilled into the churchyard. Davye struck Fell who later died of his injuries. Davye was charged with murder but claimed “benefit of clergy” which meant that he could read and write Latin and was therefore considered an educated man. He escaped the hangman’s noose because of his status in the community, the sentence being reduced to manslaughter.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Biddenden Twins


An Excerpt from Extraordinary Places…Close to London.
(Photo: Biddenden Village and church in Kent).

The surviving twin said, “As we came together, we will also go together.” Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst were conjoined twins born in the village of Biddenden in 1100 and there they died 34 years later. On their death, they bequeathed 20 acres of land to the poor of the village and began an unusual custom that is still recognized today.

There is no grave for the Biddenden Maids in All Saints’ churchyard and little is known about the twins except their legacy. They were joined at the shoulder and hips, a rare occurrence in conjoined twins. It would have been a difficult existence for both the girls and their parents, dealing with the everyday duties and responsibilities of life. However, the family must have been financially secure because on the death of the girls, they allowed their daughters to donate 20 acres of land to the churchwardens and their successors. The acreage was used to graze cattle and raise crops, the money from which would be distributed at the discretion of the churchwardens to the poor in the village. When one of the maids died, the surviving twin appeared resolute in that her time had come as well; she lived only six hours without her beloved sister.

The ancient custom of baking “Biddenden Maids” cakes began after their death but the actual date is unknown. In 1646 and again in 1747, molds for the cakes were found in the village. These molds show the twins’ shoulders linked almost as though they are embracing each other. They are dressed in the fashion of the day with wasp waist lines and crinoline skirts, obviously with many petticoats. On the front of one of the twins’ skirts is their birth date of 1100; the other skirt has the date of their death, 1134. The depiction from the mold became the symbol that is on the village sign today.

By all accounts, the churchwardens managed the bequeathed land well and provided enough money for the ingredients necessary to bake the cakes. The original cakes were made from a simple recipe of flour and water, which must have yielded a bread-like product. They were approximately four inches long and two inches wide with an effigy of the girls imprinted on the top. The cakes and a serving of cheese were given away after the church service on Easter Monday at the discretion of the churchwardens. As word spread about the curious custom, hundreds of people visited the village at Easter time causing such a disruption in the church that “…the conduct in the church was so reprehensible that the church wardens had to use their wands for other purposes than symbols of office…”

Monday, July 23, 2007

An Unwritten Understanding

Over the past 40 years, I have camped in various campsites in Spain, Italy, France, Austria, Germany, and in the U.S.

Years ago, camping provided an inexpensive holiday where my children could run freely and enjoy the surroundings which sometimes included a park or pool. At the end of the day, a quick shower, supper round the fire, a card game and put the kids to bed was my idea of a good day.

Nowadays, camping has taken on a whole new dimension for me. I love to wake in the morning to the birds, the mountains and the sound of a river flowing nearby. I love to have my first cup of coffee and literally “drink in” the beautiful surroundings of Colorado. It’s not about the financial rewards anymore but the pure pleasure of enjoying nature.

However, I have noticed a few changes in the camping public. Families still arrive late in the day, Mom and Dad looking tired and ready to crash for the night. The children are still the same and leap out the car or campers as soon as the vehicle has come to a standstill. I’ve noticed an increase in dogs on the sites (something different from years ago) sometimes as many as two or three to a family! Needless to say, the children soon make friends with other kids on the site, and run off to play in the park or ride their bikes exploring the campground.

There is one thing about camping people that hasn’t changed: the respect campers have for privacy and belongings of others. Campers will nod as they walk around the campsite, but otherwise keep to themselves. When leaving the campsite for any length of time, chairs, coolers, bikes, clothes, etc. are all left behind in the certain knowledge that they’ll still be waiting for them on their return.

At the Sugar Loafin’ campground in Leadville, Colorado, I was recently reminded of this honesty. I lost my gold and silver necklace, and after searching in vain, I decided to ask at the campground office to see if anyone had handed it in. To my delight, a fellow camper had done just that.

Friday, July 20, 2007

True Grit Cafe


One of the first scenes in the movie True Grit starring the legendary star John Wayne was filmed using this natural brick wall as a backdrop. On the wall is written: Chambers Staple & Fancy Groceries Fruit & Vegetables.
The proprietor of the True Grit Cafe in Ridgway, Colorado, has cleverly incorporated the wall into the restuarant. I was told by the staff that the "hanging" in the movie took place in the park across the street. For John Wayne movie buffs, one of the last scenes in the movie is John jumping on his horse with some spectacular rock formations. That location is ten miles west on Last Dollar Road at a place called "Mattie's Ranch."
The small town of Ridgway began during the railroad expansion during the late 1890s. There are a few shops worth visiting and of course visitors can expect a great meal in the True Grit Cafe. The menu is varied with country style food and served with all the trimmings. John Wayne memorabilia covers the walls. The park across the road has plenty of trees and is a good place for a picnic.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Terracotta Artist in Orvieto, Italy


Every time I walk into my kitchen, I see my terracotta souvenir from the workshop of Alberto Bellini. I chose a piece that suited my needs, but there were so many beautiful pieces on display in his shop that it was a hard choice for me to make.

Alberto Bellini is a young artist crafting unusual works of terracotta art that appear almost magical or mystical in nature. His studio and shop in Orvieto, Italy, is full of his terracotta sculptures, plaques and figurines. Some appear to be romatic in nature (man and woman embrasing) while others seem to have a medieval theme with hooded indivuals hunched over books and other items.

It is fascinating to watch Alberto at work in his studio at: Terracotte Artistic, Piazza De Ranieri, Orvieto. Tel: 349 3156502.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Gunsmoke

The early trappers and frontier men devised a unique way to advertise the location of the rendezvous point when selling and trading their animal pelts and other goods. The men would shoot their guns (sometimes a hundred in number) simultaneously into the air. This caused a cloud of smoke “gun smoke” that could be seen for miles and would indicate the location of the meeting place.

The trading of animal pelts, whiskey, tobacco and the companionship of ladies led to several days of merrymaking. At this time (circa 1850) it was said the buffalo was so plentiful in Colorado that a herd would take three full days to pass through the rendezvous point, but that gunfire usually encouraged them to move on.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Death by Chocolate

One of my favorite places to visit in Colonial Williamsburg is the Trellis Restaurant. It was here that I celebrated my recent birthday. I had a wonderful dinner and then ordered the famous dessert -- it was a special treat and one I highly recommend.

Following is an excerpt from the Trellis Restaurant web site.

"Marcel Desaulniers, executive chef and co-owner of the Trellis Restaurant in Colonial Williamsburg, has been named in Food and Wine's Honor Roll of Chefs and Cook's magazine's Who's Who of Cooking. In 1988, he became the first chef from the South to be honored by the James Beard Foundation as a Great American Chef. He has been inducted into the American Academy of Chefs and the Honor Society of the American Culinary Federation, and he is on the Board of Trustees of the Culinary Institute of America. In addition, the Trellis Restaurant has won Restaurant & Institutions magazine's prestigious Ivy Award."

Monday, June 25, 2007

400 Year Anniversary

Many people consider the Pilgrims’ landing at Massachusetts as the most important event in our history, but thirteen years earlier, a group of 104 men and boys left Blackwell docks in London and made the torturous four and a half month journey to the New World. They sailed up a river they would later call The James after James I of England, their monarch.

I have had the privilege of standing in the docks of London near where the three small ships, the Susan Constant, Discovery and the Godspeed departed on that December day in 1607, and also visiting the Jamestown Settlement where those ships landed. There was something special about standing on the actual place where those doomed men landed and built their fort. Most were ill equipped to cope with the environment, Native Indians and mosquitoes. A few returned to their homeland but most perished. It is here that Pocahontas visited the settlers and later married John Rolfe. Ironic to think that after being presented to King James in London, she succumbed to smallpox and is buried at Gravesend, Kent, England.

Excavations of the site at Jamestown have produced wonderful artifacts that are displayed in the museum. Whole skeletal remains (replicas) show how an individual died because of a musket ball embedded in the lower leg. A deeply dug well on the site was excavated and produced a whole suit of armor, shoes, tankards, and other domestic objects. The site, museum and grounds are well worth a visit as are the towns of Williamsburg, Yorktown and Norfolk. I highly recommend visitors stay in the Colonial Williamsburg area rather than Norfolk because although the journey from Norfolk to Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg looks relatively short, the traffic on Interstate 64 over the Hampton Roads Bridge - Tunnel can be horrendous at times.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

W.I.S.E. Event


The WISE Family History Society (Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England) meet on the 4th Saturdays of January through June, September, October and the 1st Saturday of December at the Gates Conference Room at the Denver Public Library.

I was invited to speak at one of the meetings about my book Extraordinary Places…Close to London. The presentation included excerpts from the book including information on Reverend Lawrence Washington, great, great grandfather to our first president. Washington was ousted from the church in 1643 because of his royalist leanings. His sons, John and Lawrence left England after their father’s harsh treatment and began their lives in the New World.

Also presented and discussed was the home of the Sherman family, six members of whom helped with the building of America and Christopher Martin from Billericay who sailed on the Mayflower.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

An Ancient Custom


(An excerpt from Extraordinary Places…Close to London)

Little Dunmow lies about eight miles south of Thaxted. It is an ancient village rich in history. Domesday Book records of 1086 show Ralph Baynard as Lord of Little Dunmow. In 1104, either Baynard’s wife or sister built a priory and started a custom that is still in effect today: giving a flitch (side) of bacon to any couple who can swear to marital harmony for twelve months and a day.

The custom began with the idea of promoting marital harmony to a couple by offering them a prize and jubilant praise from the village folk. To qualify for the prize, the couple had to swear by means of reciting a rhyme while kneeling on two pointed stones in the churchyard. If the couple could convince the congregation of their commitment to each other, they were awarded the flitch of bacon and carried through the village seated on a chair. The custom has been revived and one can still witness this event.

The following Ancient Rhyme describes the ceremony:

You shall swear by custom and confession,
That you ne'er made nuptial transgression,
Nor since you were married man and wife,
By household brawls, or contentious strife
Or otherwise, at bed or board,
Offend each other in deed or word:
Or, since the Parish Clerk said, Amen,
Wished yourselves unmarried again;
Or in a twelvemonth and a day,
Repented, even in thought, any way;
But continued true, in thought and desire,
As when you joined hands in holy quire.
If to these conditions, without any fear,
Of your own accord, you freely swear,
A whole flitch of bacon you shall receive,
And bear it hence with love and good leave:
For this is our custom at Dunmow well known,
Tho' the pleasure be ours, the bacon's your own.

The church in Little Dunmow is quite small and narrow. It was formed from the south aisle and several arches from the nave of the original priory church. There is a chair in the church, which is said to have carried the winners of the Flitch of Bacon, although this has yet to be validated.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

An Ancient Craft

Where else would one find an authentic mask maker but Venice? Brothers Sergio and Massimo Boldrin continue this ancient and creative art at one of their shops La Bottega dei Mascareri located at the foot of the Rialto Bridge. The brothers have been at this location for over 20 years. Here one can find a fantastic assortment of authentic Venetian papier mache masks, such as the “Bauta” the classic mask worn by Ventian nobility, or the “Moretta” a small oval mask worn by women of all social classes. Unable to contain myself as I entered their shop on the Rialto, I purchased four masks and carefully transported them back home.

The brothers opened a second shop located at S. Polo 2720 that has an even larger selection of masks, costumes and capes. At both locations one can see the masters continuing a profession that originated in 1268. I highly recommend a visit to either location
.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Memorial Weekend Book Signing Event


Barnes and Noble hosted a successful book signing event for me on Saturday, May 26th. The weather cooperated with a beautiful blue sky and temperatures about 70 F – perfect for a Saturday afternoon stroll. Many people appeared to be purchasing a book or two in anticipation of Father’s Day on June 17th.

It is always a pleasant surprise for me to see so many people in a store milling about, enjoying the books, stopping for a cup of coffee and listening to the live music – not a bad way to spend an afternoon!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Eternal Love or Eternal Misery


The locals tell of a legend that if a couple kiss as they float under The Bridge of Sighs, or Ponte dei Sospiri to give it its proper name, on a gondola at sunset – they will experience eternal love.

The other, less romantic legend associated with the 16th century bridge is that of misery and unhappiness. The bridge passes over the Rio di Palazzo and connects the old prisons to the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace from whence the guilty walked across the bridge to their ultimate fate.

In the 19th century, Lord Byron gave the bridge the ominous title of The Bridge of Sighs because he believed many prisoners sighed as they crossed the bridge assuming this would be their last view of their beautiful Venice before they were taken to the dungeons below.

The bridge was designed by a famous family member Antoni Contina. It was Antoni’s uncle Antonio da Ponte who designed the Rialto Bridge.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Transatlantic Brides and Parents Association (TBPA)


Seen here Louise Moore (left) Chairman and Theresa Pearston (center) Secretary. Two members from the Denver South Transatlantic Brides and Parents Association.

The Association was founded in 1946 in Great Britain by the parents of British girls who, during World War II, married American and Canadian servicemen. In March 1947 the exodus of approximately 70,000 British war brides began and the first ships arrived in New York carrying the brides to meet their GI’s. Some already had children and all had left their homeland and loving families behind. Over several months, 20 converted warships and cruise ships, including the Queen Mary, carried the brides to their new lives.

Many of these women were very homesick and the USA and Canada Division of TBPA, provided the opportunity for them to meet other British women all of whom shared a common heritage. Today the Association functions as a British Heritage Association with membership open to anyone of British birth and their descendants to future generations. There are branches throughout the United States and members meet as a group monthly, and every two years a National Convention is held, hosted by one of the many Areas or Branches throughout the US.

Jean McKinney
National President
www.members.cox.net/brit-place

Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Village of Dedham


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 is a delightful village. The name probably originated from the Saxon, Dydda’s Ham or possibly the name of an original family called Dydda. Dedham lay on a main road later to be known as The King’s Highway that linked Colchester and Ipswich. There are three ancient tracks in the village: Pound Lane, Manningtree Path and Pig Lane. Later, Pig Lane would become East Lane during the reign of Queen Victoria.

The Sherman family of Dedham, Essex, is located across the road from St. Mary the Virgin church. The Sherman’s were an influential family in the area and when at least six members of the family immigrated to America (1633-1640) they became the co-founders of Rhode Island, signatories of the Declaration of Independence, as well as becoming other notable dignitaries. Note the Freemasonry sign in the apex of the roof. (Extraordinary Places…Close to London. Page 22.)

Evidence of the importance of the Sherman family can be seen in St. Mary the Virgin church. There are pews in their name and also a tiny section of stained glass bearing the initials E.S. (Edmund Sherman). This is the last remnant of what must have been a beautiful stained glass window before Cromwell’s men let loose their cannons. They destroyed all that was beautiful in the churches of England preferring a more somber place of worship rather than the extravagant royalist’s way of life.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Denver Victorian Playhouse


During the 1880s, many people migrated from Europe and the East Coast seeking a cure for tuberculosis. At first, they came in search of riches from the gold and silver mines of Colorado, but some noticed an added benefit, a change in their health. The curative air of the Rockies proved beneficial for those suffering from tuberculosis; asthma and other breathing ailments. As letters were sent home singing the praises of the clean, mountain air, people migrated by the thousands to Colorado.

George Swartz arrived in Colorado in the late 1880s seeking relief from his tubercular lungs. He was a lover of the arts particularly Shakespeare’s works which he read aloud in the evenings as part of his treatment plan. Swartz, his family and friends loved these evenings together so much that when he built his house on Hooker Street in Denver, he designed a theatre in the basement complete with orchestra pit (now covered) and a miniature proscenium. Along the top of the stage is a decorated frieze that is particularly attractive and I wondered if it was original.

It is rumored that during his lifetime, Swartz was able to present all of Shakespeare’s works at his personal theatre – an accomplishment that no other theatre west of the Mississippi has been able to claim.

Today, the theatre and the actors still have that “up close and personal” relationship with the audience. This week’s presentation of “No Sex Please (We’re British)" was carefully performed on the small stage much to the delight of the enthusiastic audience. Refreshments were served during the intermission and many people took their drinks to the verandah, mingled with other members of the audience and discussed the actors’ performances.

From April 20th to June 3rd the playhouse will be featuring Dead Man Walking.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Charles 1 - King of England

Royal Tunbridge Wells

Henrietta Maria was only 15 years old when she arrived from France to marry Charles I, King of England. As she kneeled before him, it was said she uttered the words,”Sir, I have come to this country for your Majesty to use and command.” A cold and distant relationship followed for several years but they eventually learned to love each other and produced 9 children. Their love endured, despite opposition in court, until Charles was tried for treason and lost his head at the Tower of London.

As Charles and Henrietta’s love grew an understanding and respect for each other developed outside of the obligations to their respective countries. Their happiness was sealed when Henrietta knew she was expecting her first baby. Unfortunately, the baby was born prematurely and did not survive. She was devastated at the loss of her baby and decided to recuperate in the beautiful countryside of Kent, taking solace at the spa that had been discovered 20 years earlier by Lord North.

After the loss of her first baby in 1629, Henrietta and her entourage decided to visit the spring in an attempt to help restore the Queen’s health and spirits. It had been over 20 years since the discovery by North, but there were no buildings or any permanent structures on the site. Henrietta’s group erected tents and planned to camp there for six weeks to take solace in the waters, but her health improved so quickly that she felt the need to see her beloved king. She cut her convalescence short and left “suddenly by great journeys” to Oatlands where King Charles was waiting. Their reunion was rewarded with Charles II who was often reminded when he was older, “Remember you are the fruit of our love.”

As Henrietta and Charles’ love grew, so did her influence over him. She wielded it often for her benefit and that of her consorts, but she also began advising the king on matters of state. Many in court felt that she flaunted her Catholic teachings and insisted on having huge numbers of courtiers being favored by the king and members of parliament.

After many turbulent years, the religious and economic situation worsened in England, providing a fertile ground for civil war. Charles believed in the ultimate rule of the monarch and often clashed with Parliament by taking advice from Henrietta that was ill advised. The climax came in 1648 when Charles tried to have five members of Parliament arrested because they opposed his rule. He was put on trial for treason, found guilty and sentenced to death. Henrietta fought desperately to save his life but it was in vain. He was beheaded on January 30, 1649, and it is said he wore two shirts on that faithful day so the people who witnessed his execution would not see his body tremble. It is also reputed that the last thing he said was “remember.”

An extract from Extraordinary Places…Close to London

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Wilberforce Oak Tree (or Slave Tree)


The movie Amazing Grace is an excellent production and well worth an afternoon or evening at the movies. It reminded me of a chapter in my book Extraordinary Places…Close to London where I describe how William Wilberforce and William Pitt the Younger decided on a course of action to rid the world of slavery.

In 1788, an unusual and important meeting took place under an ancient oak tree in Westerham. William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister of England, and William Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament, sat and discussed the awful practice of slave trading. Unsure of the opposition in Parliament, the two decided on a plan and Wilberforce made a pledge when he “vowed to rid the world of this hideous trade of slavery.”

A Bill was drawn up abolishing the slave trade and immediately presented to the House of Commons. The slave trade provided an abundance of wealth to many influential families and Wilberforce suspected the bill to be challenged in parliament. To his surprise, the act was passed in 1789 but the terrible slave trade continued for another 20 years with terrible atrocities at sea. Navel patrols guarded the Ivory Coast
in an attempt to control the situation and it is known that the captains of vessels tossed their human cargoes overboard in an attempt to avoid inspection and arrest.

Wilberforce gained many enemies because of his stand against slavery. He felt as though his life was in danger and reverted to having an armed guard accompany him for the rest of his days.

The fine oak tree that Wilberforce and Pitt sat beneath when they discussed the slave trade lasted for centuries but perished during WWII. However, another was planted in the hollow remains to honor the two men and their courageous stand.

A memorial bench with its inscription is located about 4 miles from north of Westerham. It is not easy to find but the monument is important.

The inscription reads:

Mr. Wilberforce’s diary, 1787
At length I remember after a conversation with Mr. Pitt in the open air at the root of an old tree at Holwood just above the steep descent into the vale of Keston we resolved to give notice on a first occasion in the House of Commons of my intention to bring forward the abolition of the slave trade. Erected by Earl Stanhope, 1862

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Italy by Train


I’ve added a new link to the blog today. Gabriele D’Errico operates a web-based travel agency specializing in vacations in Italy by train. However, his web site www.italybytrain.net provides a wealth of information about Italy including: hotels, country inns, cruises, flights, airport transfers, guide services, excursions, car rental, museums, photo album, restaurants, things to know, trains, currency converter, weather, Italian terms, books, DVDs, and food.

From Gabriele’s web site:
“Do you know that the train is the easiest and most convenient means of transportation in Italy? I am an Italian native with more than 10 years experience in tourism across Italy. I am now married to an American, living in the US, and am a travel consultant for people wishing to explore my lovely native country. On this web site, I offer any travel product available on the market and also provide LOTS of FREE advice.”

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Green Room


I remember vividly when I was first asked to appear on television. A producer with one of our local television stations had heard about my books through my publisher, who had really done an excellent job of marketing, and called me on the telephone to set up the interview. She wanted to “do a segment” on my books, have some visuals to put on the screen and a list of upcoming events. Needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled but also very nervous as I had never appeared on television. I imagined the segment would be taped as the anchor person and I sat comfortably on a sofa as I answered her questions – but it didn’t happen that way.

When told I should wait in the "Green Room" I was surprised to find it wasn't painted green and realized this is just a term they used. The origin is lost in obscurity but I thought it may have originated in Shakespeare’s time when the actors and the audience sat in the grass and the stages were called “the green”. Or perhaps once the majority of rooms that held guests were really painted green, a color known to be used in asylums to calm the inmates – regardless, the room I was placed in was neither a proper room nor painted green.

Clutching my notes in my hand, I quietly flipped through some magazines as I idly watched the anchor person on television and thought to myself, "Just imagine, in a little while when she is off the set, we’ll sit quietly and tape the interview." Imagine my horror when the last thing she said before going to a break was, “... and, when we come back, we will have Elizabeth Wallace, a local author to speak to us about her books.” I remember involuntarily standing just as the producer’s assistant ushered me down the hall at a very quick pace and asked me to stand behind a screen. When the anchor person saw me, she said, “Come on Elizabeth – your time!”

I thought I was going to faint right there on the spot! Live television! I hadn’t asked the question, just assumed it would be taped! Oh my! I just stood there for a moment but quickly gained composure and walked towards the anchor desk where the assistant undid my jacket and clipped the microphone onto my lapel. The anchor said, “Don’t worry about the cameras, just follow my lead.” I looked at the teleprompter and the man behind that particular camera who was looking directly at me (perhaps he could see that I was nervous?) but he was holding his hand in a fist, then he opened his hand and then ran through the seconds on his fingers to live television, five, four, two, one – we’re on!!


To be honest, I don’t remember much of the interview and was glad that the producer had suggested that I bring a blank video tape so that it could be recorded and shown to the family. My husband said that he couldn’t see any nervousness at all until the anchor asked a question about something in one of the books – it was an off-the-cuff question and one that I was not prepared, but fortunately I knew my facts well and was able to answer the question.

As we walked off the set, I told the anchor that had been my first television appearance and she said, “Oh, so it was your stomach I heard…” and we had a good laugh. I have since appeared again and even offered suggestions for other segments. All in all, that first time was a great learning experience and one that I will never forget.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Alfriston


An Excerpt from Extraordinary Places…Close to London

The legend of St. Lewinna, a young Saxon virgin, began in the 7th century. She was just a girl, bordering on womanhood when pagan Saxons took her body and life. Her broken body was taken to a nearby church where her remains were kept for centuries. It was rumored that those who made pilgrimage to the site of her remains were miraculously cured of their afflictions and their prayers answered. Testimonials of the miracles performed adorned the walls of the little wooden church. A Flemish monk called Balgerus who visited the church by accident on Easter Monday stole the bones of St. Lewinna and took them back to Flanders because she appeared before him and said, “Rise, take me to yourself. Have me, I say, for the companion of your journey.”

Drogo, a 12th century monk, told the story from Flanders, who documented the events of the young girl’s life, death and how she became a saint. In 1058, Balgerus left his monastery in Dunkirk, France and traveled across the sea to England to help convert the pagans to Christianity. He arrived on the mainland at an unknown location on Easter Monday. Aware he needed to observe the day with a special service, he traveled inland looking for a church. He came upon the small wooden church of St. Lewinna and spoke with the custodian who gave a full account of the virgin Lewinna, the miracles and the answered prayers. The priest was intrigued by the stories of hundreds of pilgrims who traveled for days to obtain a cure. He was ashamed to admit that he secretly desired to possess them.

The custodian left the church briefly, believing he could safely leave the priest alone with the remains of St. Lewinna. Balgerus prayed for guidance; should he leave the relics that had remained in the church for over 400 years or transport them to his home in Flanders? It was a difficult decision and the priest struggled with the sense of right and wrong but then, according to Balgerus, the saint appeared to him and suggested he take the bones to his town across the sea. He hurriedly collected the bones together in a sack but as he did so, the bones from St. Lewinna’s fingers fell to the ground. Three times he tried to collect the bones together and each time he dropped them to the church floor. Taking this as an omen that the saint wanted some remains left at the church, he left the finger bones behind.

Balgerus clutched the bones of St. Lewinna to his chest and hurried back to his boat, afraid the villagers would discover the theft and pursue him. The captain and crew were waiting to depart but a storm had begun and the group was not anxious to take to sea. Once again it is said St. Lewinna appeared and indicated the journey would be safe and without incident and the sailing party departed the shores of England. During the following weeks, Balgerus paraded the relics around the towns of Flanders holding them aloft for all to see. It is believed that pilgrimages began immediately and those who traveled to visit the remains had the same miraculous cures bestowed upon them as those in the little town in England.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sir Loin


When I arrived in America in 1978, I learned very quickly that everyday terms I used in England did not necessarily mean the same thing in the U.S. I recall that when I asked the butcher in the meat department of my local grocery store for “nice joint” for Sunday’s dinner, I realized I had asked for something unusual. It was obvious that although we spoke the same language, there were many things I needed to learn so that I could better convey my true wishes.

In actual fact, the term ‘joint’ or ‘roast’ has been used for centuries to describe a particular cut of meat, notably a sirloin. There are two variations as to which King of England gave the name of sirloin to a piece of beef but both King James I (1603-1625) or King Charles II (1660-1685) have been credited for the incident of ‘knighting’ the meat.

My favorite theory is set in a manor house called Friday Hill, in Essex, located close to Epping Forest a favorite place for kings (and queens) to hunt the royal deer. The king and his entourage had spent the day hunting and returned to his host tired and hungry. He was pleased to see that his host had ordered a magnificent meal be prepared in his honor. A huge loin of beef, roasted to perfection was placed on the table. Being of high spirits after a day of hunting, the king was delighted with the sight before him and suggested it should have a title. He immediately drew his sword in mock solemnity and knighted the meat ‘Sir Loin of Beef’ – hence the term “sirloin” of beef.

Evidently, the long table on which the meal was supposedly served was kept at the manor house for many years. A brass plaque with the inscription: “All lovers of roast beef will like to be informed that on this table a loin was knighted by King James I on his return from hunting in Epping Forest’.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Cozumel Trip Planning Advice


My husband and I spent most of a recent Saturday morning using Orbitz, Trip Advisor, and general Google searches to help decide/plan a first-ever Cozumel trip, with only limited success. We selected a package deal and then checked it out on Trip Advisor only to find conflicting reports on the hotel and the area.

After a lot of effort we decided the comments were very subjective and therfore not much help, but without previous personal experience or input from friends and family we were struggling to make our planning decisions--that is until my husband found the Cozumel My Cozumel web site.

This site is packed full of incredibly useful information from two Americans who live on the island year-round. The site offers information and advice in six main categories:
  • Travel Basics

  • Lodging Related

  • Eating Related

  • Things to Do

  • Cozumel for Cruisers

  • Diving Cozumel

  • Living on Cozumel
Each category has as many as 12 to14 subcategories that include "Money Matters", "Health and Safety Issues", "The Art of Bargaining", and so on.

I particulary appreciated the recommendations on lodging and diving. And once the trip was booked, we're now spending time planning the stay with advice on restaurents, trips, and shopping.

In short, if you're planing a trip to Cozumel this is a must-see web site!