Hook & Bullet Club - England

MINE WALK - On the trail to the mine (l-r) were Ingrid, Megan, Mary and Andrew. Photo by Nick Wognum

When you go to London be sure to see the sights in the city. Then be sure to leave the city to see what else the United Kingdom has to offer. But if you go to London to see Phil Collins in concert, be prepared to make alternate plans.
Mary, Megan and I were on the subway also known as the underground when I saw a tweet from Phil Collins that he was making an announcement. First thought: that’s not good.
There is no cell service underground of course so we had to wait until the next station where there was wifi to find out what was going on.
Sure enough, the concert was postponed. Phil had gotten up in the middle of the night to go to the loo, slipped and cracked his head open. He was taken to hospital.
We went to the Royal Albert Hall anyway and took a behind the scenes tour. Add that to your London list.
The Winston Churchill War Rooms were an unexpected pleasure as well. The combination of retaining the feel of where England coordinated its World War II efforts with modern storytelling is worth the trip underground.
We left the city three times, twice by rail and once by car. Our rail trips brought us to Ely, England and to Windsor Castle.
While Ely isn’t at the end of the rail, Windsor is the final stop. The castle is full of history and a nice self-paced walking tour is worth the time. Be sure to take a walk through the cathedral as well. We skipped seeing the Crown Jewels after finding a line that stretched forever. Next time.
Windsor itself is a nice small town with a variety of shops including to my surprise an Apple Store. In need of an adaptor, my prayers were answered.
I also picked up a Vodaphone SIM card for 25 pounds that gave me minutes, messages and four gigs of data for a month. Best deal in town. The only thing that changed on my phone was my number, everything else worked. Much cheaper than the international plan from Verizon.
Ely is a smaller town filled with history dating back to 673 AD. The cathedral is the top draw with a tour of the west tower that will knock your shoes off. Built in 1083 with an octagon section added in the 1300s, the cathedral is an architectural marvel.
If you decide to take the west tower tour, it includes climbing 288 steps up a spiral staircase. But unlike the monks who used to climb up to ring the bells, you don’t have to do it in the dark by candlelight. From the top of the bell tower you can see 34 miles on a clear day. And then you get to walk down 288 steps.
We stopped at an Ely pub after our tour. If you’re looking for a taste of Ely, Minnesota, be sure to order the Cornish pasty. It’s delicious.
For our last three days my cousin Ingrid and her husband Andrew took us by car to Wales. We stayed in a 16th century former blacksmith shop in Llanfachreth. The hearth was still there but the living quarters have been updated.
From there we travelled throughout sheep country up in the hills and down to the Irish Sea. Small towns with narrow roads inbetween and some spectacular views.
My saying when we were there was the weather in the UK is either sunny, windy, rainy or a combination of all three. On a rainy day in Wales we decided to tour a former copper mine. The man at the visitor center explained there had been some minor flooding at the entrance due to the rain. But it was still open.
We weighed our options and decided to roll up our pants and give it a whirl. This is when I realized it would’ve been smart to bring along more than one pair of shoes on the trip.
I decided to sacrifice my socks, Megan and Mary wore their shoes while Andrew and Ingrid showed us the British have more than a stiff upper lip. They went barefoot.
The walking tour of the Sygun Copper Mine starts on a small narrow gauge railway tunnel. That day there was about six inches of very cold water for the first 20 yards. Two people went in ahead of us, we never saw them again. We headed in, walking deeper into the hillside and climbed stairs until we were three levels up from where we started.
The displays were interesting with audio recordings (thankfully in English instead of Welsh). Made me think there has to be a way to have a similar tour at Ely’s Pioneer Mine someday. At least we have the Soudan Underground Mine State Park so people can learn about iron mining on the Vermilion Range.
One of our favorite foods came from south Wales. We actually timed our London departure to make it to a butcher shop in Dolgellau to pick up (no offense) some faggots. Faggots are a traditional dish in the UK and most resemble the taste of we think of as meatloaf. They are made in a ball shape and can be eaten cold. They make great sandwich meat.
As an aside, the one thing to get used to in the UK is how food is sold. We’re used to everything being wrapped in plastic. Not there. Sandwiches are sold with no wrapping - you just grab one. The meat at the butcher shop for the most part was unwrapped as well.
There were plenty of other differences. Chips are crisps and fries are chips. Pants are trousers. Biscuits are cookies. Speed bumps are sleeping policemen. To let is to rent. People go on holiday instead of on vacation. My favorite was what my cousin said when I offered her a gin and tonic.
“Why, it would be churlish not to!”
Of course it would. My thoughts exactly.