Glad you're here!

Welcome to my personal blog. Squirrel(!) is such an appropriate title for this spot on the Internet. This began as a way to share the journal from my walk across England with hubby Jan. That trip is archived here for you to enjoy (June of 2012), but now when you visit you'll read my crazy musings on everything from horses, to cars, to grammar, to books, baseball, or weasels. Don't get whiplash trying to figure out a theme; just watch out for the squirrels!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Penny Lane to Strawberry Fields

Liverpool - Designated Beatles Day

All of you who know me can just roll your eyes and get it over with because there isn't much to report today except everything John, Paul, George, and Ringo. 

Paul, George, John and Ringo -- very early days
Our cab's name was "Penny Lane"
Here we are with Alan.
We started with a private Fab Four Taxi tour of every Beatles sight in the city. Even more so than last night, we experienced how intimate Liverpool is – the areas where everything happened in Beatles history are not far apart, and the coincidences that brought all four young men together are not so far-fetched when you can see how closely connected everything is. Our cab driver’s name was Alan, and he brought an unbelievable amount of knowledge to the tour. Many things I knew, but there was a lot of detailed information he had to offer even an old superfan.
The most emotional places for me were John Lennon’s house, St. Peter’s church where Paul first heard John play, and the church hall where they met for the first time. These, according to Alan, are the true Shrines of Mecca for fans. It’s completely corny, but it really was a surreal feeling--like visiting friendly, welcoming ghosts. 

This could be Eleanor Rigby's grave - nobody knows for sure.
St. Peter's Church - site  of the fete where John & Paul met.
John and The Quarrymen playing at St. Peter's - Paul was in the audience.

St. Peter's church hall, where John and Paul actually met.
This plaque commemorates the first meeting of Lennon and McCartney
This neighborhood is The Dingle - where Ringo was born.
This is the actual "shelter in the middle of the roundabout"

George's home in Arnold Grove
The fire station in Penny Lane
We caught all the highlights: Jan really liked Penny Lane and the stories about how everything in the area was part of the Beatles’ youths. Visiting all four childhood homes was interesting. Hearing how each man grew up gave depth to his personality. One interesting fact is that many Liverpudlians harbor a lot of resentment toward Ringo. He was the poorest of the four and doesn’t have good memories of growing up in the city. He’s made a few dismissive remarks about it and, since Liverpudlians are very proud of their city and very clannish (but friendly), they hold his derision against him and not everyone calls him a favored son. Paul on the other hand is beloved. He’s done a lot for the city (like help start the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts - LIPA) and still has family here that he visits regularly. 

Sculpture in front of the old Liverpool Institute-now part of LIPA

Obvious where we are :-)
The gates to Strawberry Field - a former home and school for orphaned children
After our taxi tour, we returned to the waterfront and visited the first part of The Beatles Story, the official museum of the Beatles. We saw a great gallery of photos by a man, Paul Beriff, who took many pictures of the group when he was just 16. The pics have been forgotten in his attic for 40 years and were just released. They were candid and really interesting.

I like this last pic of Paul & George with Liverpool reflected in the glass.

We took a short break from the Beatles and boarded a Ferry ‘cross the Mersey. The weather was gray and a little rainy, but the chance to see Liverpool’s waterfront and skyline from the river was super impressive. Plus we got to hear Gerry and the Pacemakers sing their famous song!

The Mersey ferry - The Royal Iris
The Three Graces on Liverpool's waterfront
We spent the next three hours in the main Beatles Story exhibit. Every detail of the group’s rise to fame is portrayed with recreations of scenes and displays of memorabilia. It was astounding and even overwhelming. By the time we got through and into the gift shop, I couldn’t even choose t-shirts or trinkets—it was like having eaten the sweetest, richest candy all day long and being saturated.  I had to promise myself to return before we left the city so I could process all the images and information!

A few of the hundreds of displays in The Beatles Story
 We walked back past The Cavern, thinking to eat at The Grapes, a famous old Beatles haunt, but it appeared to be just a drinking pub so we went a few steps further to a great Irish pub called Flanagan’s Apple. They had the best burgers we ate during our whole trip.

It was a great first full day in the city, and even though it seems logical I’d fall in love with Liverpool because of the Beatles, it really was the sheer charm of the place that was getting to both Jan and me.

Traveling to Macca Mecca

Robin Hood's Bay- Departure

Liverpool – Arrival

It was so strange awakening to a different routine the day after our walk was finished. No hiking pants (at least not for me—they’re the only pants Jan brought), no moleskin, Elastoplast or Phineas and Ferb Band-aids (yes, Dr. Doofenschmirtz decorates our wound protection, so?) on the spots that need protecting beneath our hiking boots. No hiking boots! We ate breakfast and headed for a couple of shops in (the very small and downhill-located) downtown Robin Hood’s Bay. We needed t-shirts to commemorate our accomplishment, after all. (“Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.”) 

At 11:40 we caught a bus with Andy and Joy to Scarborough—where there used to be a fair, and still might be but, no, we weren't going--and there we all caught a train bound for Liverpool. We had the chance for a lovely long chat on the train. A&J gave us some great tips for sightseeing and restaurants (Joy was born and raised in Liverpool and they live in Warrington, a neighboring city). They got off two stops before we did and it was an emotional good-bye. Strange how you bond with people who've suffered the same adventures you have! We hugged and waved good-bye and promised to keep in touch. It was like the end of a chapter of a book you can’t put down.
On the train to Liverpool
Bye to Joy and Andy :-(
Our train from Scarborough to Liverpool
Lime Street Station
We made it to Lime Street Station in central Liverpool and it struck me that I’ve been thinking about this city since I was eleven years old. I’ve always had a series of pictures in my mind of the city, but reality never matches imagination. We pulled our suitcases through streets filled with busy people, beautiful old architecture, a shopping mall crowned with gaudy-but-cheerful 70’s-neon, buses, fast food restaurants (Chukky Chicken), construction, two homeless men sleeping in doorways, and a plethora of interesting pubs. In other words, a normal, bustling city.
The old . . .
. . . and the new.
Hatter's Hostel - midtown Liverpool

We stayed in Hatter’s Hostel just blocks from the station. It was a typical hostel with young people hanging around and a super-helpful staff. On the spot we booked a Beatles taxi tour for nine the next morning and dropped our bags and back packs in our room. It was quite a different experience to walk out without toting our rain gear and lunches. Our only goal was to try and find a few of the iconic sights I’ve read about forever: the Mersey River, the Liver Building and its famous Liver birds, the Albert Docks, and the city’s two huge cathedrals.  What we didn’t realize was how compact and easy-to-navigate Liverpool is. As soon as I let my preconceived ideas fade away, I fell in love with the city as it really is.

We headed first for the Liverpool Cathedral-the Anglican church. On the way we stopped in front of the modern Catholic Cathedral both loved and derided by Liverpudlians. They’ve nicknamed it Paddy’s Wigwam—but it has beautiful stained glass, an incredible top crown (The Crown of Christ) and is striking on the cityscape.

The Metropolitan Cathedral - "Paddy's Wigwam"-unique and beautiful.

The Liverpool Cathedral - a much more traditional church building
A couple of miles down the same street  (Hope Street) is the Anglican Cathedral. This is truly a proper cathedral that took 78 years to build. It’s made of red sandstone quarried in the city, and the interior is truly spectacular. We missed being able to climb the tower for views of the city by about fifteen minutes, but the visit to the church itself was worth the walk.

The high altar in the Anglican Cathedral.
Looking toward the rear and the choir loft.

The Royal Liver Building--stately & impressive
After that we wandered to the River Mersey and strolled along the waterfront. The iconic buildings of Liverpool are called the Three Graces: the Royal Liver Building, the Port of Liverpool and The Cunard Building.  Since I put these buildings into a story set in Liverpool and have been staring at pictures of them for so long this, for me, was a moment akin to seeing The Eifel Tower or The Sydney Opera House. We watched the Mersey flow along, wide and gray and powerful. I’m sure Jan thought I was nuts, staring at buildings and water like they were special or something!
After we left the waterfront, we headed back into the city center and followed our map and the city signs to Mathew Street, which calls itself The Birthplace of the Beatles. The Cavern Club is located there, as are a couple of old pubs the Beatles used to frequent. The original Cavern is gone, but the club’s been reconstructed just yards away using most of the original bricks, the exact dimensions and identical decorating. We ended the night by having pints of beer and cider in The Cavern and listening to a solo singer performing Beatle songs. Awesome!

Statue of John Lennon outside the Cavern Pub (sister to the Cavern Club)

Inside the Cavern

Mathew Street is proud of its Beatle heritage

Statue of the Fab Four above one of the original Beatles' shops.
It was a grand introduction to Liverpool, and considering we didn’t arrive in town until 4:00 p.m., we got the lay of the land pretty well, I’d say!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Day 16 - Rainbow's End

To Robin Hood’s Bay (16 miles)

There are some experiences that simply require superlatives to describe – our last day of walking on the Coast to Coast path was one of those experiences. 

Astounding, amazing, hard, fun, bittersweet. Perfect.

The day held a little bit of everything. We had sun, rain, bogs, pavement, grass, cliffs, trains, sheep, and mud. Lots and lots and lots of mud. And rainbows.

The wet road to Grosmont
Jan and I started our walk in Egton Bridge, about a mile from where Andy, Joy and Jeri Ann were staying. It was rainy but not windy and we made good time to Grosmont (Gro-mont), a lovely little village famous as a stop for the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

The bridge to Grosmont

We reached our hiking mates just in time to watch a coal-fired steam engine pull into the station and hook up with waiting passenger cars. It was just plain fun to watch the beautiful engine arrive. Fun to watch the engineers and fun to sneak peeks into the posh cars.
The steam locomotive  we got to see before heading out.
Eventually, though, we had to set off again and we had a rude awakening leaving Grosmont. The next mile was a 33% grade uphill climb. It was actually fairly brutal even though we were on paved streets. Pretty much everyone (except Andy, who rarely gets tired) decided we’d done enough for the day and we needed to hitch a helicopter ride to the end of the walk. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. We reached the top of the huge hill and found the fortitude to face the next 14 miles. The good thing was, the rain had stopped and we had sun in the sky.
The hill out of Grosmont was diabolical. Joy and I wanted a helicopter.

Our route took us through the beautiful Littlebeck Woods where we got to enjoy sunshine glistening off the leaves. We also came to our oddity of the day – The Hermitage. In 1790+ a school teacher carved the tiny cave into a rock for what purpose is unknown. We made many jokes about how this teacher’s neighbors and wife must have felt about his project, but we also used it for a photo op—so maybe the joke was on us!
Joy and Liz in The Hermitage
Andy and Jan - because we made them sit for a picture.
A bit further on we came to a truly beautiful, 30-meter (95 feet) waterfall, Falling Foss. Right beside the falls was Midge Hall, a formerly abandoned Victorian home that’s now the focal point of an outdoor tea shop. We all ordered scones with cream and jam and I ordered ginger beer—a British fizzy drink I’ve always wanted to try. 

Gorgeous Falling Foss
The scones were indescribably delightful and I really liked the ginger beer too. We had a wonderful break, but to our surprise the sky opened up on the canopy over our table just as we were ready to leave.  We waited for the rain to let up a little, then left the lovely tea “room” and trudged into the mud.
Check out the rain pouring off our "tea room" canopy.
After making it through the woods we had dry pavement for a little while. Then we hit The Moop (see Day 15’s blog post) – definitely the right word for a water-logged, boggy moor. Three out of five of us slogged through pretty well. Jeri Ann and I, moving a little more slowly, lost the path (if you can call it that) and got stranded on various grass islands several times before giving up and letting the bog water slosh into our boots so we could reach the others.  
After that, it was time to be done with bogs. We found a road that would skirt the next moop and headed that way – and into more rain. 

Yeah. Rain.
After another hour or so we were in high spirits when we finally saw the North Sea. The sun chased off the rain and the sky turned beautiful blue.  Andy pointed out the seaside town of Whitby in the distance where the Abbey ruins still stand – the Abbey where Dracula came ashore in England and the church where the tradition of setting Easter by astronomical means was set.  Super interesting.
We saw signs for Robin Hood’s Bay – our destination—that heartened us: 2 ½ miles.  Little did we know how MUCH the difference was between getting there on the road in a car and getting there via the seaside cliff walk. Hours later when we’d gone about five miles to get to the village, we remembered that sign and cursed it.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair? No. To RHB - 21/2 miles by car - 6 by foot.

Our first real look at the sea.
The final push to the end was a cliff walk that was spectacularly beautiful, but horribly muddy. If I haven’t said so yet, Yorkshire mud is made half of dirt and half of killer slime. I think they maybe distill the dirt from it to make Crisco oil. And, once it dries, it could repel nuclear weapons. There weren’t many sheer drop offs (that I noticed), but Jan felt the pressure of high-walking for about an hour while we slogged our way to town.
The North Sea coast
Jan on the last bit of trail.
More cliffs
We were somewhat disappointed when the sun once again disappeared. Too quickly for our pace, the rain caught us and just as we came upon the first views of Robin Hood’s Bay, the beautiful blue skies had turned completely gray. We couldn’t do anything but laugh as we slipped and slid our way into town. Sixteen weary, wearing, amazing days were coming to an end, exactly the opposite of how they’d started, rainy rather than dry and in great company rather than alone.  And we were determined not to be gloomy or disappointed.
Robin Hood's Bay - just as the storm was passing.
Still, as we walked with very, very tired feet through the town toward the water where we had to drop the pebbles we’d all brought from St. Bees, it was hard not to wish the sun had stayed out just a little longer.
The very, very last downhill street to the sea
And then the amazing, glorious thing happened.  As we cheered our success, a huge, bright rainbow arched across the sky. Gobsmacked, we could only stare, and as if that weren’t enough, the huge, yellow ball of the sun broke completely free of clouds right behind us. It was as if the Lord was looking down on our small company and saying, “See? See what I had planned for you children all along?”
A full rainbow!
Happy Finishers - insufferably proud!
I didn’t just get misty-eyed, I balled and sobbed. Joy and I were jumping and dancing. Jan and Andy were shaking hands and slapping backs. And Jan was kissing my slobbery cheeks saying, “See, I told you we’d do it!” 
It wouldn’t have been nearly as good had there been blue skies and bright sun. The rainbow’s promise was, as Joy put it, “completely biblical.”
We finished the day by sloshing to the Wainwright Bar (named after Alfred Wainwright, who created this walk) and signing a log book for those who’ve completed the Coast to Coast. We picked up official, numbered certificates and we ordered drinks all around. It was one of the most worthwhile toasts we’ve ever made!
Signing the Coast to Coast finishers' logbook.

The Wainwright Bar on the bottom of the Bay Hotel
And so the long, long, slog came to an end. Are we different for having completed it? I actually think so. Who knew we could do this thing—a tougher, longer, more mentally challenging undertaking than we’d ever imagined? Who knew it would take 5-8 hours of walking a day for 16 days to get me to relax enough to stop caring about Facebook, e-mail, and the telephone? Who knew Jan could climb mountains and conquer his fear of ledges and heights? 

Who knew what an unbelievably wonderful, wonderful trip it would actually be?