Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Great Hall, Hadrian's Wall and Arrival in Edinburgh

Sunday morning we had breakfast in the Great Hall at Durham Castle. I've heard that parts of Durham castle served at inspiration for portions of the Harry Potter books. I haven't been able to verify that but it isn't hard to imagine that maybe JK Rowling visited here at one time. The portraits of former headmasters on the walls (like in Dumbledore's office), the wood paneling and the enormous fireplace in Durham's Great Hall all seem very Hogwartsian.

Mom is probably not going to love this picture since she had just had a bite of her breakfast,
but it's the best photo I have that shows the fireplace off to the right.
After breakfast we set off for church. We followed our sat nav's directions precisely but ended up in what was obviously the wrong location. We drove around the area for several minutes without success. Finally we found a police station where we thought we could ask directions. Anne got out to go ask and found the station closed but there was a phone where one could call to ask for information or help. She gave it a shot and the woman and the other end of the line tried to be helpful but really wasn't. She told us that the nearest meeting house for us was 45 minutes away (it wasn't. Anne checked when we got back to the US and we were within a few blocks of the church all along) so we made the decision to skip church since it would almost be over by the time we drove 45 minutes out of our way and arrived there.

Instead, we went to see Hadrian's Wall and the Roman Army Museum. 

The first point of interest for Hadrian's Wall that we saw was a turret ruin (I think--can't remember for sure). To reach it we had to climb a stile and walk through the middle of a sheep pasture. We were still wearing our church clothes and weren't really dressed for hiking. We had to watch our step and I kept thinking about a conversation my family had several months ago about when sheep attack--my husband has survived two close encounters of the sheep kind.

First Hadrian's Wall Site we visited.

As we were walking we heard a loud, deep bleating: Baaaaa Baaaa. We looked up the hill and saw a sheep running down towards us. Then we heard two more sheep bleating--higher pitched this time: Maaaaa Maaaaa. They started up running up the hill. We were kind of in the middle and these three sheep were running and we were getting nervous as they got nearer to us. Then they ran to each other and we realized the the sheep that had been at the top of the hill was the mama sheep and the sheep from the bottom of the hill were her lambs. The two lambs ate their lunch in about a minute flat with their little tales wagging furiously behind them the whole time.

After that we drove on our way looking for more places to stop and see the wall. We went to the Roman army museum and checked out the displays. We watched a 3D movie about the Wall. At one point I dozed off and when I opened my eyes I jumped a foot because it looked like there was a tree right in front of me. We had lunch at the museum's cafe--leek soup and a thick slab of tomato bread with butter and got a couple more souvenirs (a set of little Roman soliders for one of my boys that matched the knights I bought at the Tower of London a couple days earlier and some replica Roman coins).

We drove out to a nice spot to see the wall, climbed the hill and took some pictures and then decided it was probably time to be on our way.

It was a good thing we left when we did because returning our rental car proved to be a huge challenge. We had pretty much established that the sat nav that Tom in Durham gave us was junk. We entered our destination as the Newcastle train station and the stupid thing kept telling us that we would have to take a ferry. We knew that couldn't be right. 
Sat nav: This route involves a ferry. Do you want to avoid ferries?
Anne: Yes. Avoid ferries.
Sat nav: There is no other route available.


We hadn't realized that Newcastle would be such a large city either. Up until that point we had done our best to avoid driving in large cities so the pressure was on. We weren't sure what to do with the sat nav not working we decided to pull into a mall parking lot. There was an IKEA and a Staples and a Toys 'R Us. It seemed like we'd be able to find someone who could help us. The mall parking lot ended up being the most complicated parking lot in all of space and time. Our first attempt to navigate the parking lot failed and we ended up back out on the main road. We found a round about, turned around and headed back to the mall parking lot. This time we managed to stay IN the parking lot. 

We saw an older gentleman walking and pulled up beside him to ask directions. 
He said something like "I'm lost myself. Can't find where I parked." He ended up getting in the car with us so we could drop him off closer to where he was parked. We had probably only drive 50 yards when we stopped to ask someone else how to get to the train station. The old guy said, "Oh, there's my car." And hopped out and went on his way. 

The lady we stopped to ask the second time gave really good directions but we still ended up having to make a u-turn once since there was "major road works" on the motorway and our exit didn't have a sign. We managed to get through downtown Newcastle's intimidating traffic and to the railway station. I pulled into a temporary spot because we had no idea where to return the car and Anne went in to find someone. There was no one. 

Anne came back to the car. She called the Enterprise office in Durham and told then that there was a sign on the door that said closed on Sundays (Anne remembered that this was the reason she had arranged for us to return the car to Byker in the first place. Remember how Tom told us the train station would be more convenient? You failed, Tom). They told us to look for Rachel with blonde hair and dark glasses--she should be working after hours. Anne went to look. There was no Rachel. There was no one. Anne called Durham again. The guy on the phone remembered, oh yeah. Rachel was working at a different office and they were having the calls from the train station routed there. We needed to go there to turn the car in.

Anne tried to convince them that we had already been through an awful time just trying to find the train station and they just needed to come pick up the car. Not possible, they said. It was nearly 4:00 and all the rental car offices would be closing soon. Rachel would wait for us at the other place. Durham guy gave us the postal code to put into the sat nav; we took a deep breath and headed back out into the Newcastle traffic. 

We followed the sat nav exactly step by step. Things seemed to be going okay until we realized it was directing us back onto the motorway. As we were on the on-ramp (slip lane) the sat nav announced, "Arriving at destination now".  LIES!

We had no idea what to do. We didn't know where we were going and now the rental places were closed and there was no one to call. We didn't have a number for Rachel with blonde hair and dark glasses. We just started driving.

Mom saw a sign for the airport and we felt like that would be a good idea. There was sure to be a place to return the car at the airport. We followed the signs to the airport but had no idea where the rental car return would be. I pulled into a short term parking lot and Anne went inside again to try to find where to return the cursed car. She said there were counters for every conceivable rental car agency except for Enterprise. She managed to get the phone number for the airport Enterprise counter from one of the other agencies. She called and explained the situation. She told the guy where we were and asked him to come get the car. 

Nope. He was the only one working and couldn't leave his desk. It wasn't far, he said. We'd just have to drive it to him. Anne came back and told us all of this. We weren't happy about the situation. We really felt like they should have come to us after everything that had happened (much of which was their fault for telling us to turn the car in at the train station and giving us the faulty sat nav). We went to leave the short term parking lot and by this time we had been there so long we owed £3. We didn't have £3. We had a £20 note and it was one of those automated gate that you just throw your money in.

The rain had started up again. Cars were queued up behind us and we had no way to get out of the parking lot. At one point someone behind us came up to the car, knocked on the window and gave us a  £1 coin and told us he really needed to go and to get out of the way. Sorry dude. It was nice that you gave us £1 and everything but we still owed money and the gate was not going up without its £2. I pressed the help button. We couldn't understand the guy on the other end at all. So, I just put on my emergency flashers and we sat there for a minute while I tried to hold it together. We finally figured out that there was a change machine that we could use, so Anne got out of the car and went and changed the £20. She came back and I hurled the £2 pounds at the machine.

Once we were out of the parking lot we weren't even entirely sure which way to get to Enterprise. I think we may have gone around the round about more than once while we tried to figure it out. We got there, pulled up to the door and I turned off the car. Anne walked in and the first thing she said to the guy at the counter, as she handed him the sat nav was, "This needs to go in the garbage." Then she said, "My sister is sitting out in that car and she is about to cry." 

Right on cue I came in with some of trash from the car and said, "Do you have a rubbish bin?" Then I burst into tears. We couldn't have timed it more perfectly if we'd planned it. I think he was feeling pretty repentant for not just coming and getting the car (it was a lot shorter to walk from the parking lot where we had been than it was to drive). He pulled out some umbrellas, got a luggage cart, put all our stuff on and then pushed it up to the taxi queue for us--which was a lot father than the parking lot had been. He told us to save the receipt for the taxi to the train station and Enterprise would reimburse us.

Our taxi driver listened kindly as we recounted our frustrating day to him. He didn't say much but his eyes twinkled the whole time and we were sure he was going to have a great time amusing his family by telling them all about the crazy American ladies. He wrote us a receipt at the station and once we were inside we were able to relax for the first time in hours. The whole saga had taken over two hours to get resolved and we were very grateful that we had allowed so much time before our train so that we hadn't missed it. We even had a little time to go shopping at the train station. We bought some more much-needed ibuprofen from a pharmacy and picked up some sandwiches, crisps, fruit salad and profiteroles at Marks and Spencer for dinner and some chocolate bars and rice cakes at Sainsbury's for snacks.

Our journey from Newcastle to Edinburgh has been named as one of "Britain's 10 Most Scenic Rail Journeys" by The Guardian. The views from the train were spectacular despite the rain (and also really difficult to capture because of the rain and the speed of the train). We traveled up the east coast of England and were rewarded with gorgeous views of the seaside, cliffs, Lindisfarne, villages and bridges along the way.
During WWII people cut down their iron fences to donate the scrap metal to the allied cause.
You can see these nubs of fence posts throughout England and Scotland.
Our accommodations in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh neighborhood.
We didn't have to stand in the rain too long before we caught a taxi from the Edinburgh station and arrived at Kenvie Guest House before dark. We were so relieved to be at our bed and breakfast after the exhausting events of the day. Our hostess, Dorothy, had us fill out a little menu with our selections for breakfast the next morning. We briefly considered venturing out to do a little sightseeing that evening, but exhaustion won. We washed some more clothes out in the sink, did a little planning for the next day, watched a little TV and went to bed early.

To Be Continued. . .

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