A Path Down the Middle: C&O Canal

C&O Mile 0

Under the shadow of the Watergate and hidden behind a boat rental store you can find “Mile 0” of the C&O Canal. Here it drops into the Potomac which opens onto the Chesapeake and into the Atlantic Ocean.

Canal barges were pulled at four miles per hour but there was a time when people were betting they were the best option for moving goods, certainly better than those new-fangled trains. Hard to believe but in their infancy trains were slow and dangerous and didn’t have much of a hauling capacity. For a small window in history, the riverboat canal system and the railroad competed for supremacy. Seems hard to believe today.

America’s manifest destiny was to grow, to expand west. In post-colonial times this meant expand into the Ohio valley where fertile land and natural resources were bountiful. Critical to this expansion were communication and transportation and this meant connecting the east coast with the Ohio River. In the late 1700s this stirred the development of the C&O Canal along the Potomac River to link the Chesapeake Bay with the Ohio River. America was moving west.  Continue reading

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Wales Across England to Scotland

Wales England Scotland

Three ambitions, three countries, and six weeks to do it all. Another great U.K. trip. (But see that green island to the left...it’s next on my list!)

This trip started with three ambitions: ride the Snowdon Mountain Railway, walk the length of Hadrian’s Wall across England and again climb Ben Nevis. These ambitions happen to be achievable in three different parts of the U.K.: Wales, England and Scotland respectively. These geographies became the rough outline of my trip which was conducted in phases as outlined below.

The list below is in chronological order. If you’re curious to learn about any segment of my trip then just click on any title below. If you want to see the trip in its entirety then click the first title and subsequently click “Next” at the bottom of each page to progress to the next page. If you’re interested in the three ambitions listed above then click here. If you’re not interested in any of this then be off with you(!) and thanks for your time. Continue reading

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My Trip to Outdoors U.K.

National Trail

This acorn didn’t start out meaning very much to me but as I learned it stands for the National Trails of the U.K. I came to appreciate it. Have acorn, will travel. It’s a symbol of the potential for a lovely outdoor adventure.

This trip was planned for August for a reason. I expected it to rain less. All my previous trips had been off-season, any months but summer months. This usually affected outdoor activity moistly. While I did still have rain this trip I was largely able to plan around it. Bottom line: mission accomplished.

What inspired me to care to do things outdoors?

Three grand features of the U.K. –

  • Snowdon Mountain:
    site of a climbing steam train and highest peak in England/Wales.
  • Hadrians Wall:
    an Roman wall built across northern England to ward off Scots.
  • Ben Nevis:
    the tallest mountain in all the U.K. in the Scottish Highlands.

My goals were to hike down #1, walk the length of #2 and climb #3.

That’s what I set out to do and that’s what I did.
Again, mission accomplished!

It was a great trip.

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My Classic Farewell Embrace of London

London

The Themes runs through London where traffic runs along and across the great river. From this vantage point you really can get a feel for the character of the city and a sense that it plays a prominent role.

Tomorrow I fly home. So how do I typically spend the day before leaving London? Walking my feet off, of course! Today I covered the core of London from the Tower of London and London Bridge on the east to Buckingham Palace and Covent Gardens in the west. In addition I spent two hours in to the excellent London Transportation Museum. After 10 hours on my feet, walking and listening to audio tours, I was quite happy to collapse into a chair at a coffee shop. Ahhhhhhh …

Ever looking for interesting pictures to take I decided to take advantage of a special perspective: elevation. The Monument is a memorial of the 1666 fire that destroyed London and a celebration of London’s reconstruction. It stands 202 feet tall, the distance from it’s base to where the fire began on Pudding Street. I climbed the 311 stairs to a viewing gallery hoping that I could get some good shots and I think I did. While the subject matter isn’t novel I’m hoping you agree that the lighting, context and angles are special.

Another excellent trip to the U.K. complete!

How long till I return? 🙂 Continue reading

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Now THAT’s a castle! Windsor

Windsor

If it were a head of hair I’d say it hadn’t a strand out of place. Windsor is a manicured spectacular! Half available for touring and half reserved for the Royals as their residence. Its scale is immense. Huge!

I’ve probably visited between 40 and 50 castles in the past five years. Often they’re an exercise in using your imagination. You know there will be a defensive outer wall, a mote, a keep, a place to live and usually you have only a vague outline of stones and a structure or two to guide you. If you’re lucky you’ll have a fairly-well restored castle where a reconstructed version of all the pieces are there to be seen. Certainly Sterling, Edinburgh, and Cardiff were excellent structures to visit but every castle I visited prior to Windsor Castle lacked heart.

Windsor Castle is the U.K.’s largest castle. It’s not only the weekend residence of the royal family but also a place where official U.K. state business is conducted. However, most important to my sentiment of it having heart is that it’s a home, it feels lived in and has been for 900 years. Windsor Castle’s scale, importance, use and lived-in status help set it apart from all other castles I’ve visited. Today I was impressed anew with castles.

From one amazing place to another. Continue reading

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Run Away from Tube Strike

Dover

The White Cliffs are famously called “of Dover” probably because of the busy port the town has. However, the cliffs extend far beyond as evidenced here in this picture of the town of St. Margaret.

If the Underground’s transportation workers were going to strike for 24-hours then I was going to spend that time out of town. The weather looked good so my plans were to visit Dover and Canterbury. Both these places were rained out when last I visited and again my BritRail pass was burning a hole in my pocket.

As good planning would have it, my high speed train out of town left from the St. Pancras station just across the street from my hostel. I was on the 8:11 and in just over an hour I was in Dover having raced along at speeds up to 140 MPH. While there are many things to do in this town located only 21 miles across the English Channel from France, there was only one thing I really wanted to do. I wanted to walk the White Cliffs of Dover and I did. Continue reading

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Churchill is my Hero

Churchill

Severe? Dogmatic? Impatient? Sure, and worse! But eloquent and charismatic and brilliant. He seems to have been just the right man to lead the U.K. during World War II ... and I’m proud to note he was half American by his mother!

Getting reoriented was the basic plan for today so, as millions of others do, I started a walking tour at Big Ben. Rick Steves narrated my stroll which included Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, and so forth. I then consulted his list of most recommended sites and found the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms highly rated. “Why not?” I thought.

What a fabulous museum! Actually it’s two-in-one museums. Continue reading

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A Wonderful Family Interlude

Leeds

I was shown several examples of outstanding architecture in Leeds. Perhaps my favorite was the Corn Exchange which was ovular and domed. Something remarkable today, let alone long ago.

My sprints around the U.K. greatly benefit from visiting family. Going north I spent two days with Twila and Tracy and going south I visited another day. Given how intensely Tracy is working the final stages of his PHd program it was generous of them to take me in, especially the way they did. They’re going on four years in Leeds and their proud and knowledgable of their adopted English home. This came through when they gave me an intense and thorough tour of the city center where we walked everywhere, snuck into places, and visited museums. It was great and I really appreciated the personal touch.

From Leeds I headed to London for the last transition of this trip. My plan was to take in bits of London which I didn’t know already while mixing in a few day trips to places I’d previously visited but in awful weather. Dover and Canterbury in particular were high on my list. This was a wind down phase to another awesome U.K. trip.

Leeds

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Around and Around Glasgow

Glasgow

Seems everywhere I went there were lions, unicorns, dragons, and various other mythical creatures. In a land as ancient as the U.K. more lore has survived into modern culture and resulted in exotic symbols.

Amazingly after climbing Ben Nevis I wasn’t sore but my legs certainly were tired. So walk around Glasgow for the day? I thought not! Instead I chose an option for site seeing that I’ve come to trust and enjoy: the hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city.

Not only did it choose the City Tour bus, I chose to ride it twice. Continue reading

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Ben Nevis Pulled Me In

Hogwarts Express

“Serendipity” is a word I think of often. Many of my happiest moments in travel happen by chance because I notice things. Here in Fort William I came across a train of interest ... turns out it was the Hogwarts Express. For real! This is the train they use to portray it in the movies.

First, at 4,409 feet Ben Nevis is the U.K.’s highest mountain. Second, I’ve climbed it before. So as I hauled myself out of bed  to catch the train to the north of Scotland I found myself asking, “Why was I doing this hike again?” Fair question! I didn’t know the answer myself until today.

While planning this trip to the U.K. I know the hike was a high priority for me. When deciding the day to hike I know the weather was a crucial factor. Only after discussing the hike with staff at the Visitors Center did I figure it out. I had hiked Ben Nevis before but on a day when the top third of the mountain was enshrouded in clouds. I hiked to the top but was never rewarded with the breathtaking views. I wanted that closure so the hike was a priority. Continue reading

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