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I recently returned to the USA from a sudden but exciting adventure across the pond to the United Kingdom. The goal of the trip was three-fold: to study some unpublished manuscripts of J.R.R. Tolkien (for an article or two in progress), to tour sites related to Owain Glyndwr (for an upcoming book), and to visit the site recently identified as the location of the Battle of Brunanburh.
As a result, the trip was pretty well packed with things to do, so I’ll be breaking up my trip report here into smallish doses. Enjoy!
. . .
Saturday, 16 July 2011
Things did not start off well today, as it was raining a good English rain for the mile I marched through Oxford to get to the car rental place.
Then the car rental place would not accept my forms of insurance, forcing me to pay extra for their coverage.
Then the car rental place did not have the navigation unit I prepaid to have.
And then the car rental place ::coughTHRIFTYcough:: said they could do nothing to refund my money since I paid through the US website and not the UK website so I’ll have to take it up with them if I want my fifty pounds back.
So I set off on this next leg of my adventure driving through the rain, on the wrong side of the road, on a trip that is a winding, wandering route through one-lane backwoods and backroads this-way-and-that…
- All alone,
- with no navigation unit,
- and no map other than a half-UK map on half a page printed from Google, and an accompanying go-so-many-miles-and-turn-left-on-an-unnamed-road directions that do not show my most updated route.
Predictably, things didn’t go beautifully at first. I almost immediately took a wrong turn and ended up miles off-target on a motorway.
I eventually got back on track, and before I got into the really confusing bits of the trip I bought a small UK atlas. It doesn’t have quite everything I need — like, say, help for finding anything in a town — but it has so far gotten me into the vicinity of wherever I need to be. From there on out I’ve usually been able to remember the aerial shots from my time looking at Google Earth back in Charleston.
First stop was Kentchurch Court, which is in the middle of nowhere in Herefordshire. Amazingly, no wrong turns were taken, and I arrived right about when I’d planned to do.
This is a huge private estate that belongs to the Scudamore family; Owain Glyndwr — the Welsh rebel leader I’m investigating as part of this trip — had a daughter who married the head of the Scudamores. The house wasn’t open for the public, but I’d pre-arranged to have it open for me. One part of the house dates back to the 14th century, and family legend says that Owain Glyndwr stayed there in his daughter’s care in the last years of his life, hiding out where the English wouldn’t find him. I was taken through the house (far too quickly; it was incredible!) and then into Glyndwr’s tower.
Then I was left, by myself, amid the priceless antiques and the incredible ambiance of the place. I took photos as best I could, but not for the first (or last) time I wished my brother was along with his great equipment and greater eye (and driving abilities, and excellent company, and …). I was then shown a small portrait held by the family that some claim is a portrait of Owain in his last years. I snapped away with my camera.
From Kentchurch I ventured north and west toward Pilleth, the site of what was probably Owain’s biggest victory over the English. Along the way, I managed to find Arthur’s Tomb, a Neolithic tomb site that’s out in the middle of some fields. Pretty neat.
At last I got to Pilleth, which was thrilling. Made me feel like I’m really getting somewhere. The sun was shining off and on, and I had the presumed battlefield all to myself for a couple of hours. I took pictures, walked around, thought, took more pictures, walked some more, talked to myself, etc.
It was great.
Dinner that evening was in the nearby town of Presteigne, at a place called the Hat Shop, I think. Organic local stuff cooked with a kind of Indian flair by an Englishwoman. Pretty tasty. I had a lamb kebab with spicy local veg and a local beer (Ludlow’s Gold?). The best part, though, was the dessert that I splurged to get: locally made (in Hay-on-Wye, I think) sheep’s milk ice cream. It came in three flavors, and just to pile up the oddness I tried the most peculiar one: Ginger. And it was great!
Slept in the Pilleth Oaks, a bed and breakfast which sits either right below the battlesite (by tradition) or right on it (by the UK’s equivalent to the USGS maps). It turns out that the man in charge of the place is also warden for the tiny church that sits on the battlefield. He and his wife were great to talk to.