Monday, October 20, 2019
It’s raining in London as our train pulls out of Euston station at the start of a five-hour journey to Glasgow, Scotland. Happily ensconced in the quiet car, watching the suburbs of London sail past.
Our flight to London was uneventful. We do love the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Smooth even when it hits bumps along the way. Our arrival in London was a little more exciting. Our usual routine is to take the London Express from Heathrow to Paddington Station where we enjoy an English bitter at the Mad Bishop and Bear. We knew the Express wasn’t running, but planned to take the TFL (Transport for London) instead only to be told that it wasn’t running either and that the only option was to take the Underground. The Piccadilly Line would take us to Piccadilly Circus where we could switch to the Bakerloo line to Paddington. Our mistake became clear within minutes. The train was excessively overcrowded and within a few stops we couldn’t even see each other! We each had visions of one of us getting off and the other getting stuck on the train. By the time we got to Piccadilly and saw that the connecting trains were just as crowded we decided to bail and grab a taxi or an Uber. We exited the station right into…… the massive anti Brexit demonstrations being held in downtown London! Even as we were stood there, Boris Johnson was holding forth in a special session of Parliament while what was later reported to be a million people strong protested in favor of a new referendum. EU flags and “Bollocks to Brexit” stickers were everywhere. If we hadn’t just come from an all-night flight, carrying all of our luggage with us, we might have been tempted to join in.
As it was, we walked away from the crowds and found a quiet street. Tried hailing an Uber but with the crowds, none could make it to where we were. Finally, we just decided to walk to our hotel about 2 miles away. We rolled our suitcases through the crowds and along busy streets until, after a mile, we found the Museum Tavern (across from the British Museum) where we found the lovely Bitter ale we’d been anticipating as well as a meal in the form of a wild mushroom and ale pie (Carol) and a chicken and mushroom pie (Mike.) It was good to be back in London! Reinforced and reinvigorated, we made it the rest of the way to our hotel, the Premier St. Pancras, just across from the British Library.
We spent the rest of the weekend catching up from jet lag and exploring the immediate area. The St. Pancras district of London is named for a Roman era Christian martyr to whom two local churches are dedicated. The Old Church and the New Church. Carol being unable to pass up a Saxon era Church, we spent part of the morning exploring the grounds of the old church. It’s not clear just how old the church is, but it is considered to be one of the oldest centers of Christian worship in England, with some saying that a church has existed on the spot since the 4th Century. We explored the churchyard which remains a serene and quiet spot in the middle of busy London. Imagining how it must have been when this was still the site of a little country church. An interesting sight in the yard is the “Thomas Hardy Tree.” In the early 1860s, as London expanded, the need for an expanded rail system came with it. The new rail line (which still exists) cut right through the old churchyard. The writer Thomas Hardy, a young man at the time, was given the job of helping to relocate grave sites that were in the way of the rail expansion. Left with numerous gravestones, he laid them around an ash tree that still stands.
We followed our visit to the church with a stroll along the Regent’s Canal. Built in the early 19th century to link up the Grand Junction Canal with the Thames, it is now used mostly for pleasure cruising. Another peaceful and quiet escape in the middle of the city, it took us to the Coal Drops Yard, one of two London coal drops built in the early 19th century to drop coal brought down from Yorkshire. Now converted to retail we enjoyed a quiet lunch before heading back to our hotel.
The weekend in London allowed us to recover from the flight, get somewhat adjusted to the local time, and to begin the rest of our adventure. The train is now speeding through northern England on its way to Scotland. The countryside is beyond picture-book beautiful. And we can’t wait to see what happens next!