Dreary olde Englande...
We went to the U.K. this August, where the weather is truly depressing. England’s a maritime land, of course, so, as sailors, we at least were somewhat prepared for a marine layer. The problem was that it rarely seemed to burn off.
In Leicester, up in the midlands where tourists rarely go but where we attended a history of technology symposium, we mentioned t0 a college student working the symposium that everyone had such down-in-the-mouth expression about them. She said she’d never noticed, that is until she spent a year abroad in Texas and then returned home. Then she was stunned that everyone seemed so depressed. Yep, the weather can get you down.
We arrived and by happenstance hooked up with Deb’s son Brett, who was in London for the week. He came out and spent a couple of nights with us in Windsor, and we went into London with him for a day. Great fun! … Then he went off to join friends in Vienna and we went joined our VBT bicycling tour group.
Fortunately, this part of our trip, which lasted a week, gave us mostly nice days of sunshine broken only by occasional clouds.
We bicycled in the area of Bradford on Avon and the village of Lacock for two days, and then road into Bath along the towpath of the Kennet and Avon Canal. We especially enjoyed the canal barges (both owned and rented) that plied the canal.
England has hundreds of miles of working canals, and you can take these well-appointed barges literally from one end of the country to the other. With a 7 foot beam, the barges range from 35 to 80+ feet in length, and put along on diesel engines at a grand speed of about 2-3 knots. It actually looks like great fun, and what a way to see the country.
We spent an afternoon in Bath, visiting the famous Roman Baths and lunching, and then we transferred by bus up to Broadway, in the Cotswolds. Out of Broadway we cycled through some of the most beautiful countryside in the U.K. This is a land of thatched roof cottages, lovely gardens, small country roads, and quaint villages. Really a treat!
We ate an Indian Restaurant in Broadway that proved to be the best of three that we tried (the other two were in Leicester), cycled into Stratford-upon-Avon, and stayed in Billesley Manor, a manor house cum hotel that was built around 750 A.D. (well part of it) and appears in the Domesday Book. Another highlight of the bicycling trip was lunch at the home of Sarah Hobbs, a local woman in Luddington. She served an incredible meal, topped off with the best and richest “pudding” dessert ever.
The day we rode into Stratford-upon-Avon, it was not too crowded, but Deborah and I returned for a second day of wandering at the conclusion of the bicycling tour and it was mobbed with tourists and as well as thousands of bikers on a motorcycle rendezvous (hosted by the Hells Angels). As the locals put it: “they’re well behaved and raise a lot of money for charity.”
Following our bicycle trip, we went off to Leicester to the 33rd Symposium of the International Committee on the History of Technology, an organization which I’ve been involved with since 1984. I gave a paper in a session on technology and the environment and heard lots of other good papers on a variety of topics, we saw friends we’ve know for years and years, and went on a couple of excursions to local technological history sites – a coal mine, and iron furnace, and such.
The highlight of the symposium for me is always the annual gig of The Email Special, the jazz group some of us formed back in 1996 at our symposium in Budapest. We’ve played eleven gigs in ten years in ten countries now, and we have a wonderful time! Moreover, everybody at the symposium loves it as well. This year it was in the Cow and Plough pub, which although a bit hard to organize, turned out to be a great location. Sadly, we missed our vibes player, but who promises to join us next year in Copenhagen.
So, now that we’re back, we can hardly wait for next year’s adventure in Copenhagen, and I’m hard a work getting the call for papers out for the symposium.