Now back in Teignmouth after a two-week trip around parts of fascinating England with my wonderful Tatiana :). We started in gritty Birmingham and stayed in the friendly Saltley Inn, a pub with fun-loving staff and a lively atmosphere. Birmingham has changed significantly since I lived there and now half of the city seems and feels padestrianised, especially when the trams aren’t running, which they weren’t during our visit. The highlight of the Brum trip; visiting Soho House, home of industrial revolutionary, Matthew Boulton who, along side James Watt and William Murdoch, turned Birmingham from a large unimportant town into the centre of industry and business in the mid-late 18th century. A delightful Georgian house in one of Birmingham’s suburbs; well worth a visit if you’re interested in the history of Britain’s industrial heritage. Our guide was fantastic and described the architecture, furniture and the house’s setting in fine details for two blind people. One of the more interesting objects we handled was the replica of a sugar cone that the family used in their food. This replica was a cone-shaped block of stone and was very heavy. It gave a good example how sugar would have looked like when in a typical Georgian kitchen. We also held and felt the implement used for slicing off sugar to use in food/drinks by the houses’ servants. The sugar cutting implement resembled a set of pliers. After 3 days in Birmingham we pressed onto Manchester, Tatiana’s choice, as she’d not visited the city properly before. We stayed in a nice small hotel in the area of Fallow Fields, a little far from the city centre, but on a bus route, which was useful. One afternoon was spent at the Imperial War Museum North. We were able to touch and explore several WWII weapons and vehicles, plus also a piece of burnt metal from the New York Twin Towers, damaged in the 2001 attacks. An unusual object to find in any museum. I found it all fascinating! On our final day in Manchester, we visited Manchester Cathedral, which has a very large Nave. We were given a quick tour of the large church. The third Bishop of Manchester Cathedral, lived in Melbourne, Australia, where he helped build Melbourne’s cathedral. Upon becoming bishop of Manchester, two kangaroos were carved into the large chare where the bishop sits in front of the choir. Tatiana and I were able to touch them; two wooden kangaroos facing each other – a nice touch by the cathedral’s carpenters! The trip continued with 4 nights in Leeds, well, kind of! We actually stayed in a nice but basic ‘bungalow’ almost in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, not only was there a national rail strike during our time in the Leeds area, but also, the local bus company, Arriva, was also on strike! This meant taking taxis everywhere, an expensive business. The area where we resided was nice, mainly comprised of residential dwellings and lots of over-growing foliage. The only shop I could find was an off-licence, nearly a mile’s walk. I also found one pub; the Brewery Fayer, with friendly staff and a menu containing real English food! We mainly relaxed, but spent one day travelling to Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast, a journey by bus that took over 3 hours! Our reason for going; to visit Scarborough Castle, with its 3,000 years of history. The castle, atop high cliffs, is mainly in ruins, with only the walls and foundations remaining. Built in the 12th century, it was badly damaged during the English Civil War (1642-1651). The Keep is the only main structure to survive. It was windy up on the top, looking over to the North Sea. A friendly gentleman gave us a tour around mostly a thickly grassy area and we had an audio guide that spoke automatically when pointed at various electronic information boards dotted around the main upper area of the castle. A fascinating history into one of England’s most fortified castles, especially in the 12th and 13th centuries. Our final day in Leeds was spent in its delightful and large City Museum, where a lovely lady, Kate gave us a brief tour and overview of the history of Leeds and its surrounding area. We touched several axe-heads found around the area dating from the Bronze age and also some stone artifacts also found in the area, including one stone containing a cross found in someone’s garden. We handled a couple of stones that were over 100,000 years old and several types of rock from various places in Yorkshire. Finally, we got to hear several birdsongs and touched a couple of animals, including the shell of a tortoise someone had donated to the collection. Our final stop on this epic trip was Newcastle up in the northeast of England – an often cold and wet city, with friendly citizens. We stayed in inexpensive student accommodation that turned out to be in quite a good location, what with a nice cafe and a lively pub only a ten-minute walk away and a Tescos on the nearby corner. Although we didn’t really explore Newcastle itself, having visited previously, our time was spent travelling about to other attractions. Our first outing took us to the Head of Steam Railway Museum in Darlington, a town some 30 minutes train journey south of Newcastle. This museum has the original station platform on the Darlington and Stockton Railway where the first passenger train departed from in September 1825. A lovely lady, Sarah, showed us around and told us the history of why the railway began in Darlington. It was largely to do with the nearby coalmines to begin with and later the idea of running passenger trains, mainly because the demand was there, but also to make money. I tried on an engine driver’s cloth hat and Tatiana waved a guard’s flag, used to get a train to start or stop. We touched two old steam locomotives with our canes and was able to run our hands over a waggon and cart carrying late 19th or early 20th century luggage. Old cases made of leather. We also went in the original ticket office where tickets were bought and parcels were stored. A fascinating museum of historical importance. The museum plans to expand for 2025, the bicentenary of the beginning of the passenger railway in Great Britain. The following day we headed to Segedunum Roman fort in Wallsend, a suburb of Newcastle. The area can be reached by local buses of the Metrolink, we took a taxi for £10 to save time. A lovely guy, named Daniel took us around for a fascinating couple of hours as we learnt a little about Roman military life on the Roman frontier in Britain in AD122 onwards. The museum has an observation tower where visitors can look out on the fort ruins and countryside and gain an idea of the forts size and layout. Tatiana and I were able to run our hands over a tactile floor plan of the fort and get an idea of the shapes of the various buildings within Segedunum Fort and its size. The fort was begun alongside the building of Hadrian’s Wall, a defensive wall against tribal people in the land that today is Scotland. I was able to touch a very small portion of Hadrian’s wall outside, just one large stone/brick on the ground, across the road from the museum. I touched real Roman history! The fort itself is just remains with lots of rough stones underfoot. The museum is worth a visit if in Newcastle and interested in Roman-British history, like me! On our final day in the northeast, we visited the Roman fort of Vindolanda, 1 mile (1.6 kilometres) south of Hadrian’s Wall and roughly 2 miles (3 km) from the small town of Barton Mill and the larger town of Hexham, some 12 miles (20 km) distance. On another windy day in northeast England, Tatiana and I were given a fantastic one-to-one guided tour around the ancient and historical Roman site, a live archaeological dig, which has been undertaken since 1975. Vindolanda is under a separate charity and is not own by either English Heritage or the National Trust. The fort was constructed in the second-third century AD to provide further protection and support for the wall and surrounding area. A village grew up around the fort and by the end of the Roman occupation in England, around 400 or so AD, the villagers had moved into the fort and remained a surviving independent settlement for several centuries after. We met one of the archaeologists who gave us a couple of shards of pottery that had just been uncovered for us to touch. Very dirty, but fascinating. The museum is most famous for its find of 2nd century AD wooden tablets containing actual Roman hand writing. These thin pieces of wood with their delicate inscriptions, give archaeologists and historical an written insight of life in a Roman fort in Britain in Roman times and describe everyday life; officers orders to soldiers, demands for water by soldiers on patrol, an invitation to a birthday party by a woman, etc. The tablets are a real treasure trove of historical evidence. Visiting Vindolanda and getting a sense of its size and scale and learning a little about its fascinating history was wonderful for both Tatiana and I, and we couldn’t have had better guides. Mike even went so far as to drop us back at Newcastle station to catch our train south the London and onto Brighton, where we spent our final night together of this fun and educational wander around some of England’s more lively and colourful cities. Til next time, Tony :).