Tom and Linda’s 2008 Europe Trip

London to Edinburgh


Flying In

After some 13 hours traveling, we landed at Heathrow just after 6AM. We had actually had to circle for 10 minutes or so – the airport has a curfew that prevented us landing before 6. In fact, our flight from Washington Dulles was delayed because of the curfew and a tailwind. They called it a weather delay – favorable weather, that is.

We had decided to rent a car for the UK part of our journey because it was significantly cheaper than train travel there – not a good thing. Car rental for 9 days cost about the same as 2 one-way train tickets from London to Edinburgh! Are they trying to discourage mass transit? The car rental was a bit of a hassle, and the specific car that Tom had picked out and reserved online turned out not to be available from that company. We ended up with something bigger and clunkier.

We picked up the car and headed north, out of London and rush-hour traffic as fast as we could. Neither of us had slept much on the plane. No space, too much adrenalin, probably other things as well. As a result, we traded driving quite frequently. It was mostly on the A1 and not exciting – at least not after we’d both gotten used to the car and the left side of the road and shifting backwards with the wrong hand.

We stopped for breakfast and a bit of a walk-around in Letchworth. Neat little coffee café in a close. Good English breakfast for Tom and a latte for me. Got us going for a while.


And we stopped, as planned, in York to take a look.

Walked around an old castle tower and through a museum, then followed the river Ouse for a while.
Arms display in a stairwell in the castle museum covering quite a long timespan.
Carousel set up in the square outside the castle museum. It was a nice day, with lots of families about.

Tom spotted a sign pointing to The Shambles and remembered Rick Steves mentioning it.

We followed the signs through much of the town center and I found myself wishing I’d changed from my good sandals into my good walking shoes. Cobbles are hard on the soles and ankles.

Bits of American culture mixed in with old world. This half-timber clearly has a foundation problem, but it's probably been standing there for centuries, and no one seems particularly bothered by it.

Diagon Alley?

The Shambles is a street that was originally occupied by butchers, and was named after the "Shamels" - tables they used to display their wares. It was mentioned in the Doomsday Book of William the Conqueror.

It was destroyed by fire at some point, but rebuilt in 1400 to its current configuration, a narrow winding street full of interesting little shops. This is the origin of the phrase “in shambles.”

What struck me was that it looks exactly like Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter movies. Even the insides of the shops with their convoluted aisles, narrow staircases and back rooms. It probably wasn’t filmed there (not enough space) but could easily have been conceived there!

First Night - Durham

After a couple hours in York we headed north again – once we finally found the right road. We had planned to stop for the night in Newcastle, on the North Sea coast, but decided to check out Durham on the way.

We found we were feeling the jetlag, and were ready to stop. We stayed in the first place we tried – a B&B/Pub a little ways off the highway. They had a room, were great people, and we were tired – just trying to stay awake until a reasonable bed time.

At the urging of the John and his pub customers we decided to walk down to the town and its castle before dinner. Just a 15-minute walk, he said.

When we got settled in the room and changed and ready to go, it was raining. (It was England, after all.) They loaned us a pair of huge umbrellas and we went anyway.

It was a good walk and an interesting town, even as the sidewalks were being rolled up. We didn’t make it into the castle, but had some good views of it from across the river.

We watched the night fall and the lights come on, then headed back.

Back at the pub, We shared a fish & chips for dinner, and an Apple Brown Betty for desert. Tom sampled a couple local brews and I had my first English cuppa for the trip.

Piled up in bed, Tom read about 2 words and was snoring with his head lamp on, book in hand.

We were aiming for a 7AM breakfast here and an early start, on up the coast to Scotland.

In the morning we met a small family in the pub breakfast room, and found they were on the same road we were - headed for Edinburgh. We saw them again a few times in the next few days.

North Sea Coast

Back on the road to Newcastle and on up the coast, following a route John had recommended at breakfast. We passed lots of sheep and cows and clear evidence of a fishing industry. Tide seems to be out at the moment.

Views along the coast were often quite beautiful, out across the ever-restless North Sea. The coastal villages were interesting to drive through, with tight and twining roads, and sometimes a castle on the hill above.
And so we entered Scotland on the motorway.
  Next stop: The Fringe festival in Edinburgh.


1 Beginning 5 Paris 9 Frankfurt and the Night Train 13 Bavaria and Tirol
2 London to Edinburgh 6 Bruges 10 Vienna 14 Motorcycles in the Alps
3 The Fringe 7 Amsterdam 11 Hallstatt and the Salzkammergut 15 Switzerland near Interlaken
4 Scotland and Wales 8 Bacharach in the Rhine Valley 12 Salzburg 16 Home again

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