In May 1995 we were very happy to make a short trip to southern England for the 70th birthday party of Robert’s cousin Ulrich (Ulrich and Robert’s father were first cousins) in Bournemouth on the south coast. Also were able to see a bit of Cornwall, avoided Lands’ End, and visited Dartmoor National Park. Robert’s mother Claire and aunt Alla were also on the trip, which we will forever remember as precipitating the Great Egg Argument. 🙂 The following narrative is Liza’s trip journal converted from an old pdf file. A few photos (which frankly are pretty poor quality – hopefully we can find some negatives and rescan) are included as well.
Friday/Saturday, May 19-20 – Los Angeles to London
After a full day at work and a Santa Monica “Tommy’s Run” with our RAND co-worker Edson Smith (double chili-cheeseburgers, yum!), we got ourselves to the airport and on our British Airways flight. Claire and Alla were on our flight, too; they arrived at the airport, a little later than advised, with Ken and Rod.
Claire and Alla did not get seats together, and wanted to try to fix that, so we left Ken and Rod at the security checkpoint pretty quickly and went to the departure gate. There Claire and Alla did manage to get their seats rearranged and wound up together just a few rows behind us. The flight left about 20 minutes late, at 9:30 PM, and I enjoyed six good hours of sleep (Liza’s time-shifting experiment wins again), missing the food service, but awaking to find the movie Immortal Beloved playing. How perfect it seemed; enjoying German music on a British flight. It really made me look forward to seeing Johannes Weissler and his very British brother Ulrich!
We arrived at Heathrow at 3:35 PM local time Saturday. We had a very speedy pass through customs; it was probably an advantage coming into British Airways dedicated international terminal (#4), with most passengers on the flight having European Community (EC) passports. After collecting our luggage we tried to figure out where Claire and Alla should go, and how; they were headed into London proper while we were destined the opposite direction, out to Ascot. Apart from buses destined for the other three terminals, there was a real lack of traffic and it was not terribly obvious what to do. Finally they decided to take a taxi to their hotel and we arranged to call them later in the evening to coordinate dinner on Sunday.
We went on to get our rental car, a very ugly mustard-colored Fiat Tipo, and drove out to Ascot via Windsor (mostly due to taking one wrong turn, but that wasn’t a problem). We passed large, open, grassy fields fringed with light forest – partly comprising Windsor Great Park, a former royal hunting ground – before reaching Ascot, home of the famous royal horse races. The drive followed the meandering Thames, past Runnymede, where King John signed the Magna Carta in 115. We soon found our bed and breakfast, Lyndrick House, on The Avenue in Ascot. Dropping off our stuff, we took a short drive to Virginia Water, a nearby lake, to scope out the birding spots, but the car park required change and we had none. It was getting toward dusk anyway, so we went back to the B&B and walked up Kennel Ride road to a pleasant local pub, the Olde Hatchet. Good bitters (Worthington’s and Robinson’s Bests) accompanied by a filling dinner (steak and kidney pie for me, breaded plaice for Robert, followed by a yummy sticky toffee pudding with cream). We returned to the B&B for the night and had a bit of a struggle with the telephone, eventually managing to leave a message for Claire at her hotel: “See you at Trafalgar Square at 6:00 PM tomorrow.” Robert also got a quick call in to Trevor, a birding contact he made on The Net.
Sunday, May 21 – Ascot
The Ascot area certainly was pretty; Ascot itself was full of red brick houses, some with bright red or blue doors and trim, and many trees. We had two great oak trees outside our window, and from our third floor vantage had great looks the birds, including cute blue tits and the clownish jackdaws.
We both managed to sleep well last night – I didn’t feel the least bit jet lagged, time shifting works again! – and in the morning I just lazed about while Robert went out for a short neighborhood walk before breakfast, binoculars in hand and his white Arizona cap firmly on his head.
Following our full English breakfast, we drove up to see Windsor Castle and walked through the state apartments. The castle is absolutely huge, very imposing but without the coldness and austerity of Caernarfon on the Welsh coast. It was a bit difficult to imagine anyone actually living there, though. The flag was up, which presumably meant Queen Elizabeth was in. We did get a glimpse of one of the rooms that burned in 1992. 100 rooms on five floors were damaged – and that in only one part of the castle. What rooms we did see were full of fine paintings, including a few Rubens, antiques, and history; it was a real treat.
After that, we drove to the Hatton Cross underground station (opposite our old friends, Kenning Car Rental) and took the Tube to Piccadilly Circus in central London. We walked up Regent St. past many shops (mostly closed) to the British Museum, where we viewed various manuscripts from the British Library and part of the Egyptian antiquities collection.
Late afternoon was spent at the National Gallery, and then we met Claire and Alla right outside in Trafalgar Square at 6:00 PM as planned. Alla was a little slow, but still walking; we were impressed at how well she was getting around. We found the Indian restaurant Robert and I had visited in 1992, and burned my senses to bits with a great lamb vindaloo. Heaven! We got Claire and Alla into a taxi and then tubed our way back to Hatton Cross. Unlike our 1992 park and ride experience, this time we could get the car out of the car park – thank goodness! We’re out tomorrow towards Somerset, while Claire and Alla have a few more days in London; we’ll connect up with them in Bournemouth.
Monday, May 22 – Ascot to Vellow, Somerset
We left Lyndrick House shortly after breakfast – me driving – and made a quick pit stop to try another ATM. Annoyingly enough our Versateller cards (Plus system) had not worked on Sunday, but Cirrus (Litton Credit Union) did; we thought we’d try one more time to see if the failure was a temporary thing or not. Thankfully, it worked this time; it would have been a drag to rely on just one card!
Leaving Ascot, we stopped at Virginia Water for an hour or so of “twitching”, as birding is called in the UK. Sounds to me more like a spastic fit than a hobby. We did see some nice birds including moorhen, mandarin, and grey wagtail, and many mistle thrush, crested grebes, chaffinches and robins.
From there it was on to Bristol, where under the pretense of stopping for a caffeine-laced drink (I was very tired by then), I got into a shopping mall – the Galleries next to Castle Park – and bought a dress at Laura Ashley. To be fair, I had seen the dress on Regent St. in London on Sunday; with the current exchange rate it was about $20-$25 cheaper than at home. We nibbled lunch at the mall’s food court, visited a book shop, and listened to see if anyone talked like Cary Grant; no go!
From Bristol we drove on to the Somerset region, first stopping at Chew Valley Lake. Another nice birding spot, despite little bug clouds in the meadows; we saw numerous ducks (mallards, shelduck), mute swans with cygnets, shags, common gull, and a lesser black-backed gull. Robert got a reed warbler, too.
We finally finished up the day getting to our B&B for the night, Curdon Mill Farm in Vellow, near Williton. What a charmer; the brick mill house had been converted into an ivy-covered hotel and restaurant, and the brook still babbled noisily outside our window. We had a beautiful view of the hills, with pastures delineated by hedgerows, and sheep frolicking about, from our Pruggeresque room on the top floor. (Pruggeresque: A room with a sloped ceiling. Hans and Lisa Prugger’s house in Pullach (outside Munich) has the guest room essentially in the attic, and the ceiling is so sloped that it’s a little hard to maneuver, and when you’re in the bathroom, your head is actually in the skylight above the roofline!) Well, the young ones frolicked; the adults mostly stood around morosely, while the little ones ran in circus baa-ing. Guess the youngsters hadn’t figured out that they’re sheep yet.
The garden at Curdon Mill was very pretty, too, having the added bonus of multiple, very friendly cats who, in return for much petting, allowed us to take their photographs.
Dinner was at the restaurant at the mill. Fixed price of £19.50 each, a little expensive, but marvelous; asparagus as a starter, steak for Robert, “nut case” (phyllo-wrapped ground hazelnuts, veggies, and eggs) for me, served with loads of fresh vegetables (potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, and zucchini). We both eyed the large stilton cheese for dessert, but instead opted for sweets – chocolate mousse for Robert and sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce and clotted cream for me. Yum! We resolved to look for local cheese factories as we drove into Cornwall. We did drive close by the Cheddar today, but didn’t have a chance to stop.
Tuesday, May 23 – Vellow to Cornwall
The sounds of the brook, the cries of peacocks and bleating sheep, and a nice full breakfast started our day. Gorgeous weather, too – we’ve been remarkably lucky thus far!
Following breakfast we said goodbye to the cats and headed out to Exmoor National Park. There wasn’t much in the way of places to pull out, but we did stop once and get some looks at buzzard and honey buzzard.
We continued on to Okehampton, looking to enter Dartmoor National Park, but only managed to find one small unpromising road that mostly led to some type of military camp and a firing range. So we came back down the hill and found the car park for the Okehampton Castle ruins. The 11th-14th century ruins were interesting, but the tape tour was mostly tedious, except when they talked about sanitary arrangements.
We left Okehampton, picked up a few goodies at a nearby Safeway market, and continued on to Cornwall. The village near where we were to stay, Maxworthy, was not on our maps, but Robert found it on an area map at an info stop along the A39 and figured out how to get there. We did not find Maxworthy itself but did find our destination, Wheatley Farm. It didn’t look too promising at first, the driveway was torn up and the farm aroma was quite ripe, to put it charitably. The proprietor was not about, but her son showed us to our room. It was very nice and should do nicely as our base for three days. There seems to be some possibility of having evening meals at the farm – hopefully that is the case, otherwise we’ll be wandering far afield in a quest for food!
As it turned out, dinner was available depending upon demand. Valerie, the proprietress, planned to have dinner Wednesday evening, so I arranged that we would be there. For the first evening we took her recommendation and went along to Crackington Haven on the North Coast (about six miles) and had dinner at the Coombe Barton Inn. The coast at Crackington Haven was stark and beautiful, and gave us a good indication of what we should experience the next few days – rocky cliffs, shingle beaches, and a windswept beauty. Dinner was excellent – grilled plaice for Robert, grilled trout for me, and good beers (Hicks Strong Cornish Bitter, yum)- and we watched the sun slowly sink toward the horizon as we enjoyed our meals.
The sun sets fairly late this time of year, so we did not wait until the sun really set, but instead hurtled back along the narrow hedgerow-lined road to Wheatley Farm. Robert went out for a short walk while I watched a television program about illegal immigration in the UK. The only thing different about the US-style hidden-camera-and-confrontation report was the very British civility of the lead reporter:
Reporter: “We’ve caught you dead to rights and your only response is abuse. How sadly typical.”
Scum: “Piss off! Arrest me then!”
Reporter: “I cannot arrest you, but the police will be round shortly, then. You see, you have it coming!”
Yep, pretty amusing, overall.
9:00 PM and the sun had yet to set. The sheep remained fuzzy dots on the pastures across the way outside the window. Hard to sleep when it is light outside so late.
Wednesday, May 24 – Cornwall
Another big breakfast – this might be getting out of hand.
Fortified, we returned to the North Coast and made our way to Lye Rock near Tintagel. A walk across the grassy moor led to a steep path down the cliff and up the other side to where we could get a reasonable look at the sea bird colonies on the rocks. We saw mostly fulmar, herring and black-backed gulls, and razorbills; no puffins to be found.
From there we continued southwest, eventually making it to St. Ives, where I recited the nursery rhyme to Robert:
As I was going to St Ives
I met a man with seven wives.
Each wife had seven sacks
Each sack had seven cats
Each cat had seven kits
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives
How many were going to St Ives?
Robert, though, kept asking where the six sacks of shit were (this in reference to the USC Marching Band’s version of the 12 Days of Christmas). Then we were on to Marazian and St. Michael’s Mount (the English version of Mont St. Michel). St. Michael’s Mount, a castle on an island just off the coast, was gorgeous in the intermittent sunlight. We bought some Cornish fudge nearby (made with local clotted cream, guaranteed to clog your arteries!) and some allergy medicine for Robert in the local chemist’s. There was a nice marsh and reserve near there, too, where we saw grey heron and peregrine falcon.
One of our British cycling friends, Brandon Ellis, had warned us that Land’s End, the farthest point west on the Cornwall peninsula, was a bit tacky, but seeing as we were within ten miles, I wanted to see it, and to say I’d been there. So off we went, Robert being very skeptical about the whole thing, and sure enough, at the end of the road was a very large Tacky Zone. The TZ itself might have been tolerable were it not for the £3.50/person charge; a small parking fee would have been ok, but not that. Instead, we turned around – lots of people must, there was a special turn-around area – and started the long drive back to the farm. On the way back we stopped in Truro to visit the cathedral; it was relatively new, completed 1910, but in a very nice gothic style.
Back at the farm…we were greeted by the raucous bleats of penned-up sheep. Closer inspection revealed half had been recently shorn, and the other half awaiting their turn. The lambs sounded forlorn, and the adults just plain pissed (or “cheesed off”, as a fellow guest remarked). One strange thing: when I went to see them, they all stopped and just stared at me. How disconcerting – a flock, all with their heads cocked at the same angle, staring. Guess they thought I might let them out! After a 30 seconds or so of this, I finally baa’d at them, and they all started up again, bleating angrily.
Dinner was at the farm that night, cooked by Valerie. A lovely light cheese and onion soup, rich pot roast with veggies, dessert (a chocolate-frosted cream puff with berries or a orange “jelly”), and cheeses (local cheddar, stilton, and Cornish “yar”(?)). Yum, again!
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom just finished on television, BBC1, and then there were 10 minutes of viewer letters. And I always thought Monty Python made that up!
Thursday, May 25 – Cornwall
We set out this morning, after yet another big breakfast, for Prawle Point on the south Devon coast. We stopped first at Burrator Reservoir in Dartmoor National Park, where we had a very nice walk in the woods and spied a dipper in the stream. Such a pleasant walk; sunshine streaming through the light greenery of the trees, rushing water, climbing turnstiles – heavenly.
From Burrator we continued through Plymouth to Prawle Point. The roads got a little tight the last few miles, single track mostly with occasional turnouts, but we were lucky and didn’t encounter any oncoming traffic on the tight parts. We parked at the absolute last car park on the point and took a nice walk along the coast, seeing cirl bunting (maybe; later we decided not), linnet, and dunnock. Also yellowhammer and goldfinches.
After Prawle Point, really quite a nice, isolated rocky bit of coast, we popped over to Slapton Ley, seeing another dunnock and some waterfowl. We then went straight back to Crackington Haven, arriving at 5:30 PM, too early for the inn to be open. So we killed 30 minutes in the car watching it rain, until it was obvious they had opened, then went in for a drink and eventually dinner. After a pint of Hick’s bitter and a half-pint of Scrumpy, I was pretty much done in, so Robert had to drive back to the farm.
By this point I think we were both pretty comfortable driving. The narrowness of the roads was no longer completely alarming. We got a few nasty looks this day, but as far as I could see we were no worse than anyone else. And we didn’t knock the sideview mirrors off the car like some people we know! (Bob Schwartzkopf in Ireland.)
Friday, May 26 – Cornwall to Bournemouth
We left the farm after breakfast – funny how it no longer smelled like pigs to us – and hit the road for Bournemouth. I drove nearly to Dorchester and Robert took over from there. We stopped first at Swanage, a pretty seaside town near Poole. We took a walk out along a grassy footpath to a little point, thinking it was Durlston Head, but it wasn’t; Durlston Head was up the road a bit. We drove around to there, but it required another parking fee which I was not inclined to pay, so Robert darted off into the bushes while I stayed near the car to fend off any wardens that might come along. We didn’t really have much time, though (hence our cheapness) and soon scooted off.
At this point I thought we would return to the center of Swanage to shop for a birthday gift for Ulrich, but no – Robert had to make one more birding stop at Studland Heath. I decided I’d had enough by then and went into the National Trust gift shop. Luckily I found a nice scarf and tie for Ulrich.
Finally we got into Bournemouth, taking the short ferry across from the Studland, and quickly found our hotel on Wimborne Road. Robert called Ulrich but he, Claire, and Alla had gone out, so we relaxed in the room until about 5:00 PM, when Ulrich called us back and said we were expected for tea and supper. Off we went straight away, meeting the three of them at Cumloden. Ulrich was as gracious and British as ever! His rooms at Cumloden were full of African artifacts, just as I remembered from our 1992 visit – interesting carved stools, horns, etc. – and one very lively mongrel named Jacko. We enjoyed tea and cake with them, and were soon joined by Hans and Ilse Lux and their son Christian. Ilse is Ulrich’s first cousin on his mother’s side, Ilse’s mother Hildegarde was Johanna Weissler’s sister. We spoke a muddle of English and German (Hans spoke good English, Ilse nearly none, and Claire/Alla no German…) but it all worked out well. After about 10:00 PM Johannes and Bärbel Weissler and Dorle Freudenberg arrived; we all had a lively couple of hours discussing family history. We gave Johannes the items we had brought and hoped to talk more the next day; he gave us an essay about his father and many photos, and loaned us another document to read overnight.
Saturday, May 27 – Bournemouth
Robert and I went on a mini-shopping expedition early (for wrapping paper and tape), and also (finally) mailed a couple more postcards. After a short walk to see the beach, we wandered a little more trying to find a real shopping area but mostly succeeded only in finding small multiethnic restaurants and pubs.
We picked Claire and Alla up at their hotel – Claire was late, of course, and typically nervous about being late – and went on to Cumloden at noon to meet the group. Ulrich had arranged a very elegant birthday lunch at the Hinton Firs Hotel, a short (but trafficky) drive from Cumloden, near East Cliff. There was quite a large group, about 20, primarily friends of Ulrich with whom he plays tennis. A full four-course meal – salad, soup, roast lamb with vegetables, mint sauce and cranberry jelly, apple pie with cream (or custard), coffee, and chocolate. All accompanied by prodigious amounts of wine!
When someone offered to pour water as well, Ulrich declined, saying “If Judy were here, she’d say ‘No thank you, I’ve already cleaned my teeth this morning.'” [I recalled him saying this when we visited in 1992, where he asserted tea is the only beverage that can truly quench one’s thirst. Considering he was worked in Africa, probably tea was the safest beverage to drink!]]
At lunch I was fortunate to sit next to both Johannes and Ulrich. We talked about family history and the genealogy research we had done thus far. I was able to recount for them some of Garry’s own history in the US, making contact with his aunt Lillie Wendt Bringman in San Francisco. We also talked about Dorothy Scott. Robert, in the meantime, was engaged in conversation with Bärbel.
Following lunch we took a walk along East Cliff, Robert at a brisk pace with Johannes and Bärbel, while I stayed back with Claire and Alla. I sensed a little frustration on Alla’s part, but it was hard to say exactly what the problem was. Probably a combination of things, it is difficult to travel with someone in close quarters very long. She didn’t seem to be enjoying the stay in Bournemouth much. I got the feeling she was annoyed at everyone’s not doing just what she wanted. Ulrich went out of his way to entertain and accommodate everyone, it was a shame she couldn’t appreciate it more. Oh well.
At any rate, we returned to Cumloden for tea (and more food!) and family talk, and then at 5:30 packed into cars and caravanned to Poole Harbor. Ulrich had booked one of the Brownsea Island harbor cruise boats (“party barges” in Arkansas) for just his birthday party group, and we set off to cruise about Poole Harbor. It was breezy and cool; Claire chattered nervously about capsizing and drowning. Soon the breeze picked up, and she and Alla gave up and went below to warm up. We hardy souls stayed topside, with our seemingly bottomless wine glasses, and enjoyed the glimpses of expensive houses along Millionaire’s Row, the views of Brownsea Island and the other small islands in the bay, and of course, the birds.
We had a light supper on the boat, and I did manage to eat lightly, but not as little as I’d hoped. (I asked for only quiche, no salads etc. – so they brought me several servings! No one can be faulted here for lacking generosity.) And more wine…and trifle for dessert.
Claire unfortunately felt ill, and did not much feel like eating.
The cruise ended at about 9:00 PM; we took Claire and Alla back to their hotel, and then zotted back to Cumloden to make sure Johannes retrieved his family papers from where we had left them that morning. We soon found ourselves holding glasses of cognac and talking more about the family. Johannes loaned us several more documents he had prepared, about his experiences during the war years and just after (1945-1949) in Salzwedel with his mother Hanna. We took them back to the hotel and stayed up well past midnight reading them, they were simply fascinating! We resolved to ask him for copies of everything. He spoke of family history as being a mosaic, and he was right, it is important to get as much info as one can on each person to fill out the larger picture.
Sunday, May 28 – Bournemouth to Ascot
Sunday morning we were fortunate enough to be invited to attend church services with Ulrich, and happily accepted. We walked to the church, St. Peter’s, from Cumloden, a short ten minute walk, and were seated in Ulrich’s reserved pew up front once we told the warden we were “Uli Weissler’s guests”. The service was a special civic service with the newly-elected mayor and an assortment of aldermen and other dignitaries in attendance. The mayor and the other officials were resplendent in crimson robes with velvet and fur trim. There were probably about 200 people in attendance. A fine boys choir sang, and the organist was superb. Claire arrived late and then loudly proclaimed she and Alla had a fight; we shhss’d her and told her to tell us about it later.
It was interesting throughout to note the similarities and dissimilarities of the Anglican service with the Catholic mass. The primary difference in services (in my opinion) was language; the flow and content were nearly identical but the phrasing differed (e.g., “And in thy praise” instead of “And also with you”). The Nicene creed differed a bit, too, although Robert thought the Anglican version was a more literal translation from the Latin (e.g., “all things visible and invisible” instead of “seen and unseen” follows the Latin “visibilium et invisibilium”, and so forth).
The sermon was given by a woman rector, a quite obvious difference from the Catholic church. Unfortunately she was rather dull.
Coffee followed the service, and we listened to Claire try to explain what had happened with Alla. All we really got was that they quarreled over the preparation of eggs at breakfast (we later referred to this as the Great Egg Argument) and that Alla had stormed off without eating and without any money. Claire worried about her but we told her not to, if she stomps off it is her problem to figure out what to do from there.
We returned to Cumloden about noon, and sure enough, Alla showed up a few minutes later. She and Claire did not speak, which had Claire somewhat agitated, but at least they did not argue in front of everyone. As it was we quashed the conversation when Claire brought it up before Alla’s arrival (she did so despite promising 30 seconds earlier that she would not). Hopefully Ulrich and the others did not catch on.
We lunched at Cumloden – beef stew and potatoes – and continued the family talk. Johannes was wonderful to talk to; his face was very expressive, and the mix of English and German seemed effortless to follow. Ulrich phased back and forth between the two languages as well, even speaking German to me once or twice. (They all knew I understood far better than I could speak, so it was fine.)
The time went too quickly, natürlich, and soon it was time to leave. We said our goodbyes; Ulrich instructed us to come again soon. “I shan’t have another 70th birthday,” he said, “and don’t wait for a family reunion!” Hans and Ilse Lux invited us to visit them in Mannheim and Christian Lux gave us his email address. Dorle Freudenberg similarly said we were more than welcome to stay with her in Strasbourg. And lastly, Johannes walked us to our car (where I commented again on the incredibly ugly color, and he laughed), and said we of course must visit him in Erlangen to review family papers and photographs. “But call first,” he said.
“We plan months in advance,” I replied, “so we’ll be certain to contact you early.”
“Good, good,” he answered, smiling broadly. “You know we are retired and have much to do, we are always busy and could be away!” We shook hands warmly and said we hoped to visit in autumn 1996. I hoped it would work out; we both felt very connected to Johannes and this visit and were very eager to see him again. Not to mention his model train!
We drove off, a little sad, and headed off for the New Forest for a last gasp of birdwatching. We saw a hawfinch in the car park; Robert walked a bit while I stayed out of the wind and in the car. We may have seen a meadow pipit as well.
We arrived back at Lyndrick House in Ascot at about 5:30 PM, and found a note on the door instructing us that we were in our “old” room, #4 at the top of the stairs. We popped out for a drink at 6:30 or so; several pubs were closed or required food purchase (which neither of us wanted), but eventually we found a pub on High Street near the famous race course, opening at 7:00 PM, and after being waved in by the barkeeper, we enjoyed a last ale and bitter in a very appropriate setting.
Returning to the B&B, we found our hosts about to bring us a bottle of sparkling wine and two glasses. The note attached was a fax from Luci, Steve, and the girls! asking us to enjoy our last night in England, and that they’d see us at the airport. How wonderful! I could not believe it, what a treat. The wine was Australian and very tasty; we watched it while watching Fawlty Towers on the telly and continued through the evening.
All in all, quite a pleasant way to end our stay, with fond memories of Weisslers, and looking forward to coming home.
Bits to remember:
- Ulrich and Judy were married in Nairobi, in the cathedral. The reception was given by Judy’s coworkers (“nursing sisters”).
- Hans’ “stealth” photography.
- If your wine glass was full when Ulrich came by to refill, he scold, “Come now, you are not doing your duty!”
- Food, food, and more food at Cumloden.