OUR TRIP TO THE BRITISH ISLES (in case you remotely had any interest)
Me and the Squeeze Doing the Abbey Road Walk – outside of Abbey Studios.

…all the Royal BS doesn’t impress me that much, a rant for another day.

The wife and I went on a cruise of the British Isles recently after a long airplane ride “across the pond.” We celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary on this trip as well. Who thinks the wife will keep me around for the 45th ?

On our odyssey, we traveled through an area near Dorsett England where the Webber surname may have first been coined to an English immigrant from Flanders. The man who would be called John le Webber, was a weaver by trade.

Travelling to Cork Ireland next and then on up to Dublin Ireland was a treat. Just as everyone said, Ireland is beautiful with its rolling hills, abundance of trees and lush green grass everywhere. We went to Blarney Castle in the town of Blarney, in Cork county, a grandly beautiful old castle and gardens built by Cormack MacCarthy, the Lord of Muskerry over 600 years ago. Yes, this is the home of the famous Blarney stone, and no, I did not travel the 125 uneven steps to kiss the stone, which is on the top and is outdoors by the way. How old were you when you found out you had to get on your back to kiss the stone? The guide warned us about what possibly people had done to the stone, just in case you still wanted to land a smooch on it.

Glasgow Scotland came next on a rainy gray day. We visited the Glasgow cathedral, called St. Mungo’s Cathedral, but what caught my eye was the graveyard behind the cathedral that sat up on a small rocky mesa. Called the Glasgow Necropolis, it contains the bodies of 50,000 people, although there are only 3,500 named monuments, all of which seemed to be competing with each other for grandeur. It seemed the perfect site for a gray dreary day. I want to go back and visit that graveyard, which is accessible only by the Molendinar Burn, later known as the Bridge of Sighs due to being part of the funeral procession.

Later our ship trekked over the top of Scotland, stopping at the Orkney Islands, famous for housing the British Naval Fleet during both World Wars. I had no idea those islands were there. I met a Norse archeologist while there, a career I envy, and we exchanged email addresses. Hope to find out more about his findings of Norse artifacts as it is a subject that interests me. Dawn, not so much.

Next came Dunrobin Castle in the Highlands of Scotland, a beautiful castle that continues with much of the its glory from centuries past. The highlight of the tour might have been, in Clark Griswold fashion, when I entered a rather small set of steps, started to lose my balance in the doorway and about ripped an artifact off the wall in order not to fall. Looking around the room quickly, I saw nobody witnessed my gaffe and the artifact remained hanging on the wall – I was in the clear. I hurried down the stairs.

The county Sutherland, home of Dunrobin Castle was a product of Viking rule. To my surprise, much of Scotland and Ireland were under Viking rule at one time or another.

Interestingly, the residents of Ireland and Scotland seem to be still warring with England, bristling at any time something English is brought up. There is a note of resentment toward England thrown in with their guiding narrations. Both countries are fiercely independent of all who controlled them in the past.

Edinburg was next up on our itinerary.  In the morning, we toured the Royal Mile, which looks like a trip back in time with 400-500 year old buildings lining the street. There are loads of shops pubs, churches, and law offices running downhill until terminating at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, home of the Royal family when they happen to be in town. The wife was impressed so it was a win for me, I think. Me, all the Royal bull doesn’t much impress me much. In fact, I think it is all silly but that’s a rant for a different day.

After lunch we made our way around The Firth of Forth, or was the Fifth of Firth, a tributary from the North Sea, to visit Valhalla, known by most as St. Andrews, home of the venerable Old Course. Wow is the best this old scribe can think of to say. St. Andrews is a bustling city and not just a golf course – who would have known.

The bus tour took us to the ruined St. Andrews Cathedral on the coastline, said to have been the largest ever built in Scottland. Built in 1158 AD, it was completed in a quick 168 years – they must have used the same contractor as me. The cathedral was the center for a Medieval Catholic Church and the seat of the Archdiocese of St. Andrews, as well as for the Bishops and Archbishops. A fire partly destroyed it in 1378.

Then in the 16th century Catholicism was outlawed during the Scottish Reformation. This was the result of the Catholic church telling King Henry the 8th he couldn’t get a divorce. A group of Protestant nobles, known as the Lords of the Congregation, then seized control of the government and decided to outlaw a religion, evidently thinking theirs was the only right one. Can you imagine any one of them nobles arriving at the Pearly Gates and trying to explain themselves?

In 1559 a Protestant mob raided the church and destroyed the interior. After that, the town started to use the church for building materials, sitting completely abandoned for over 250 years. It must have been an incredible cathedral in its day.

Finally, we made our way over to Valhalla itself, the golf course named St. Andrews Links. It’s nickname among locals is the Old Lady. Consider, I took my old lady to the Old Lady. It’s one of the oldest golf courses in the world, going back to 1552. The Old Course record round is 61, shot by Ross Fisher in 2017.  I mention this as I recently shot a 56 at my club…on the front nine.

To my great surprise, St. Andrews is a public course, as are the six other courses owned in the same charitable trust as the original links course.  There is a private membership of golfers at the club, but they are not members of the course, they are members of an organization called the St. Andrews Golf Club, established in 1843.  There were 11 original members to this club but over 2,000 members now. I filled out an application to be a member, but they laughed at me when I asked if I could make payments for my membership. It costs $200,000 to join and then an annual fee of $28,100. Again, remember this is to belong to an organization, not the course. Get in line with the great unwashed to make a tee time.

As a side note, would you believe golf was banned in Scotland at one time. In 1457 James II outlawed the game because he felt too many young men were playing golf instead of working on their archery. The ban was held in place until 1502, 53 years until James IV lifted the ban after becoming a golfer himself. You know its one thing to ban a religion in that country, but damn, ban golf too.

Allan Robertson dominated The Old Lady during his life. When he died in 1859 at 43 years-old, the course had no way of telling who the best golfer in Scottland was. They decided to create a tournament called The Open Championship to know who the best player in Scotland was. Old Tom Morris, not to be mistaken with Young Tom Morris, won the Open 4 times, as did his son.

Thirty times the Open was held at the Old Course. Tom Kidd won the first Open, played in 1873. For his efforts, he won 11 lbs., about $14 in American currency or $366 today. Cameron Smith won the last Open in 2022, winning $2.1 million pounds, almost $2.7 million in American currency. Smith set the course record for 3 rounds at 268, or minus 20.

The Morris father-son duo are considered the best golfers out of Scotland and are an interesting study.  Golf magazine ranked Old Tom the 19th best player in history and a major force of the game and course design.  Young Tom was ranked the 14th best in history. Poor Young Tom died at the age of only 24, four months after his wife died in childbirth.

Television doesn’t capture the expansiveness of the course. From where the bus dropped us off, we could look over to the 17th tee box and the 18th green. Looking back down the 18t h hole, a 357-yard par 4 nicknamed the Valley of Sin, seemed a mile back to the tee box. It is called the Valley of Sin due to the series of undulations in front of the green. Besides that, the only impediment between the tee box and the green was the famous stone bridge and the ditch it spanned. There is nothing else on the course, no trees, bushes, desert, etc. Well, there was something on the course that seemed incredible…people, as in tourists, not golfing, were walking through the middle of the 17th fairway to see the bridge…while golfers were teeing off. 

Have I ever mentioned during my laments of my pursuance of a credible golf game. I wrote a poem called Tee Box Blues. If my game was dissected thoroughly, one might find a major issue is my bunker play, or lack thereof. In fact, when it comes to getting out of sand, I just plain suck. There are 112 bunkers at St. Andrews, a nightmare for sure.

From there we made our way down to Le Havre France, a port city on the Seine River and the English Channel. Le Harve, a major hub, was practically annihilated by the Germans in World War II, so many of the old buildings are gone, replaced by dull buildings from the 1940’s. Frankly, this part of France was rather dull, so we headed back to the boat to pack. Well, Dawn packed, and I generally wasted time, but I’d give her suggestions from time to time, such as “hey, you didn’t pack that shirt yet, did ya.”

It is at this point in the narrative that I must brag that I have now been in France twice and still have never made it over to Paris. Mostly because of my politics I guess, I have no desire to go to Paris.

The trouble with going to Paris is that from Le Havre, it is 2 hours to Paris, or two hours to Normandy. I’m sure the wife wanted to see Paris, but we were sick of riding in busses. I would have rather seen Normandy, but we didn’t go for the same reason we didn’t go to Paris. I have made myself promise myself that the next time I find myself in France, I’m taking myself to Normandy.

The following day we got off the boat, met our ride to head up to Windsor Castle, the preferred home of the Royal family. The castle grounds take up more space that the town I grew up in. It has its own chapel where many famous and infamous Englishmen and women are buried, inside the floors of the chapel.

The interior of the castle is stunning. If you were to look up all the synonyms for stunning, they would all apply. In fact, most of us have never seen anything like it before. But they don’t let anyone take pictures… unless you were Asian evidently. There are life-size paintings of Kings, Earls, Viscounts, etc., painted by master painters. I would venture to say there are billions of dollars of just art in that castle. The more I toured though, the more disillusioned I became with the whole thing. The interior is so grandiose, so luxurious, I began to think of the people that gave everything or were so over-taxed into poverty so the royal family, who controls nothing, and never bought the castles they live in, can live so lavishly. And that is just one castle of the many they live in – castles, not homes or mansions, but castles. King Charles does not deserve all that.

Yes, most of the royals have jobs, and yes, there is something to be said about the amount of tourism they create, but even with all that considered, there is still something way over the top about Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace that we also saw but could not get in. I would think those Royals, who pretend to be so religious, might have a hard time talking their way into heaven.

I am not now, nor have ever been a fan of “royal” people. Their only real claim to fame is their birthright that allows them to live above everyone else, and I’m about as impressed with them as I am with our Swamp creatures in Washington DC.

OK, enough about me lamenting about the royal family.

Our boat trip concluded, we went over to London for a couple days to visit the sights. London has 9 million citizens, larger than any US city and I think I stood in line behind all of them at various times. It reminds me of New York, with older buildings.

The 300-800 year old buildings in London, that stand one right after another, are amazing. The architecture is so grand, old, and is everywhere. Sadly, the fact that you might find a McDonald’s restaurant or a Nike store in the base of a 500-year old building is a downer, but I guess they had to be used for something. The exterior of these buildings, built so long ago, will be around for centuries to come, with their carved face statues or gargoyles on the corners of buildings or above doorways, is a testament to the craftmanship of those builders so many centuries ago. The small, crowded pubs with their colorful entrances are a treat.

We visited Westminster Abbey, an enormous cathedral with the Big Ben clock nearby. Did you know it was rimmed in gold? There are many great statues in the courtyard including one of Abraham Lincoln. But the grandest building of all was the Tower of London bridge. I have included a picture.

Crossing the Thames River, it is one of the five bridges owned by the City Bridge foundation, a charitable trust founded in…1282! The towers are 213 foot in the air, connected by a walkway with a partial glass floor. It cost about 170 million pounds to build it.

The Tower Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894, designed by Horace Jones. John Barry and Henry Brunel were the engineers for the project. Ten men lost their lives building the bridge, considered a low number. The Germans tried to take it out repeatedly in World War II but only managed to hit the high level span at the top.

Allan Pollock made an unauthorized flight at 300 MPH through the Tower Bridge in 1968, when he flew his jet fighter under the walkway and between the two main towers after buzzing the Houses of Parliament. The Air Force was not amused with the stunt as they arrested him when he landed and then discharged him on medical grounds. He was not even allowed to defend himself at his court martial.

While in London we went on a rock and roll tour in which we saw the homes of Paul McCartney and Jimmy Page, who both still live in the homes. We also visited the homes of the late Freddie Mercury (Queen), David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) and the first apartment for Brian Jones, Mick Jaggar, and Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. We also visited Abbey Road studios where the Beatles recorded their last two albums and the greatest album of all time, Dark Side of the Moon, was recorded.

Another highlight was visiting 221B Baker Street, the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes which has been made into a tourist-attracting museum. It was somewhat disappointing to find out that Holmes’ author, the late Author Conan Doyl did not actually live there, a fact that I guess I just assumed.

We visited pretty much everything a “commoner” is allowed to see, although I have just written about the highlights. The only lowlight was the Jack the Ripper tour, which I would not recommend. I probably liked Scotland best on our trip.

Then on Sunday, we got on our airplane for a mind-numbing 8-hour trip back home. I think I would visit Europe more often if not for those long flights. If you get the chance, it is a great place to visit.

Blarney Castle
Another English Pub