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This is a picture of Buckingham Palace like you have probably never seen it. Beyond the cobblestone streets outside Buckingham Palace is a garden that can be seen from the palace. As I waited for the changing of the guard I took this picture from the center of the garden looking beyond the statue of Queen Victoria just outside the front gates.

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A Brief History of Britain

I stood in front of the skeletal remains of St. Andrew’s Cathedral and wondered how this beautiful house of peace overlooking the North Sea could ever have been burned to the ground. I felt the same sense of loss as I walked through the ruins of the Abbeys in Leeds, Lindisfarne and other locations.

Beeston Castle in Cheshire County

Beeston Castle in Cheshire County

Huge rock castles made by forced labor to build fortresses for the rich and powerful lay in piles of stone. The ruins lay open like a mortal combat wound. Over the centuries, the smaller rocks were hauled off by local farmers for fences and used by engineers to build roads and homes. Today, the old ruins serve as picnic areas for families on the weekends and as tourist locations for those interested in history and architecture.

There are parts of Hadrian's Wall still available to explore.

There are parts of Hadrian’s Wall still available to explore.

Hadrian’s Wall was the northern most point of the Roman Empire, 2,000 years ago. The Emperor Hadrian had a fourteen foot high and eight feet wide stone wall built 73 miles from one sea to the other to keep out the hordes from the north that were a threat to Roman lands in the south of Britain. There were elaborate rock forts crafted along the wall to store supplies and house soldiers. Today, there are still places where the wall stands after 2,000 years, but it is less than half the original size. The rocks were used over the centuries after the Romans left to build roads, homes and fences.

Modern Britain has been built around many monuments important to Western Civilization. Some have been restored; others lie in ruins, but remain open to the public. A few are still in use today, mostly as residences or places of business.

I have been to England three dozen times on business and personal travel. It wasn’t until I lived there and learned the history of Britain that my eyes were open to the wonders of this great land. Understanding the complex history of Britain is the key to understanding every major tourist attraction in Great Britain. Almost as interesting as the buildings themselves are the reasons for why a structure was built at that location, the history of the structure and why it was eventually laid in ruin. Almost all major tourist attractions were either the object of ruin, were damaged in fire or by war or were neglected and restored over time.

First Inhabitants

As tribes began to move west and north from the Mediterranean Sea to populate Europe, they found the British Isles. No land truly has an original population. People have to come from somewhere else, but who were the first known natives of what is today Britain? More than likely it is the people known today as the Welsh, descendants of the Celts.

Migration of European tribes to Britain.

Migration of European tribes to Britain.

The ancestors of today’s man first inhabited Great Britain in 12,000 BC. After the last major ice age, the climate became warmer and more hospitable. The period between this time and that of the Romans entering Great Britain in 43 AD was known as the Stone Age. None of the pre-Roman inhabitants had any known surviving written languages. To understand life during this period, archaeologists have to rely upon archaeological finds.
The last centuries prior to the Romans arriving in Britain saw an influx of Germanic-Celtic speaking people from Gaul, modern day France and Belgium. They were being pushed further West by the expansion of the Roman Empire.

The Romans

Some historians believe that it was the influx of refugees from continental Europe that caused Rome’s interest in Britain while others believe it was large mineral reserves. Britain was not conquered easily by the Romans. Julius Caesar had already invaded Britain in 55 and 54 BC with the aim of conquest. Rebellion in Gaul, present day France, pulled him away from Britain before victory could be attained from the British guerilla resistance.
The Emperor Claudius led the Roman troops on an invasion of Britain in 43AD with 40,000 soldiers. He led the battle at the enemy capital himself at Camulodunum (today Colchester). It took another 100 years for the Romans to quiet the opposition and defeat the mysterious and ferocious blue-painted warriors.

Roman Baths still an incredible sight.

Roman Baths still an incredible sight.

Between 120 and 130 AD the Romans pulled back slightly from the north of Britain to provide more troops elsewhere on the continent as the empire was under attack. The Emperor Hadrian built a wall of stone, earth and timber that included forts, observation turrets and milecastles. It housed approximately 8,000 Romans.
For over 350 years the Romans remained dominant. Settlements of craftsman or traders grew up around the forts sustained by army contracts and soldiers’ pay. Local farmers supplied grain, meat, leather, wool, beer and other essentials. In the southeastern part of Britain, towns and villages began to take on a look that was distinctly Mediterranean. Iron Age tribal centers were redesigned as Roman towns. Celtic warriors and druids turned into Romanized gentlemen. A new upper class was born. The empire was ruled from the towns where councils were formed responsible for tax collection and keeping the peace.

The end of Roman expansion meant an end to an empire built on war treasure. Emperors increased taxes and encouraged the army to take what was needed from the land. The burden became a strain for the provinces and slowly ate away at the empire’s economic vitality. In the meantime, Rome’s enemies were gaining in strength, especially the Germans and Goths who ruled central Europe.

In the shadows of the medieval cathedral at St. Albans lies Roman ruins.

In the shadows of the medieval cathedral at St. Albans lies Roman ruins.

During this time, Britain was repeatedly raided by the Pics from the north, the Irish from the West and the Anglo-Saxons in the south. Roman troops were just too stretched to hold the lines. When Rome was attacked troops were taken from Britain to defend the homeland. By 425 AD Britain had ceased to be in any sense Roman. Britain was left to manage itself, creating a leadership and military void.

After the Romans

In response to a request for military support, Roman Emperor Honorious told the British people that they would have to defend themselves. The next 200 years are the least recorded in British history. Most inhabitants of Britain at this time were Romanized, especially in urban centers, but by blood they were Celtic. The local chieftains who played an active role in working with Rome in the government of their territory did their best to lead the country once the Romans were gone. Nevertheless, cities began to deteriorate and the population overall of the island may have declined. By this time, more Germanic people from the Saxon tribe in Europe were beginning to settle on the east coast of Britain.

The economy and political structure of Britain didn’t immediately collapse after the pull-out of the Romans. Although there was no more Roman coins minted in Britain, coins stayed in circulation for a least a century. Barter became more popular during post Roman Britain after the coinage became debased.

Old Roman fort along Hadrian's Wall.

Old Roman fort along Hadrian’s Wall.

All remnants of centralized governments ended when the Romans left Britain. The country rapidly dissolved into rival factions. Life certainly wasn’t easy, but life in British Romano society flourished.

Vortigen declared himself High King of Britain in 425 and invited Saxon warriors to fight against invasions from the Scots and the Pics. The Saxons were given land in exchange for their support giving them a foothold for the first time in England, much to the displeasure of some British. Eventually, the Saxons desired to expand and were at war with the British.

Anglo-Saxon capital of Mercia was built to defend against the Vikings.

Anglo-Saxon capital of Mercia was built to defend against the Vikings.

In a sense, the Anglo-Saxon conquest began when the Romans left Britain, but it was a slow process that lasted almost three hundred years. There was no single leader or groups spearheading the invasion. Rather it consisted of smaller war-bands and smaller family groups in search of farmland and hunting grounds and they were willing to fight for it.

Around 550 AD the wars began again with the Germanic tribes, with a stronghold in the east, moving the Celts to the west. What began these wars is not documented, but Britain came under the rule of the Anglo-Saxons by 600 AD. Many Brits pushed out of their homes moved to Brittany, France while others pushed into the mountains of the west into what is Wales and Cornwall today.

Although historians give these conquerors the name Anglo-Saxon, in truth they were from a variety of Germanic tribes including Jutes from Denmark, Franks from Gaul, Frisians from the Netherlands and Angles from Norway. The Angles gave their name to England, Angle-Land.

Viking Age of Invasion

Lindisfarne Abbey first destroyed by the Viking invasion.

Lindisfarne Abbey first destroyed by the Viking invasion.

The Vikings first invaded in the north at Lindisfarne. This period of time was later known as the Viking Age of Invasion. By the last decade of the 8th century, Viking attacks in small, but highly planned attacks were regular in northern England. In 865, the Vikings sailed into York and captured the strategically important northern city. Northumbria became a Danish (Viking) stronghold in the north dominated by “Danelaw” with a puppet British leader as King. The Danes had considerable rule over the north while the Anglo-Saxons controlled the south.

Anglo-Saxons, Danes and the Normans

The Viking presence in England dwindled in 1066 after losing their final battle against the army of King Harold at Stamford Bridge. Nineteen days later the Normans, themselves descended from the Vikings, invaded England and defeated the weakened English army at the Battle of Hastings. King Harold rushed from his victory over the Danes in York pushing his army to the limit as word reached of the invading Normans. The English King was killed during the battle and a Norman, William the Conqueror, became the King.

The Vikings captured York by sailing up the river from the sea.

The Vikings captured York by sailing up the river from the sea.

Normandy was a province in north-west France who was initially populated by Celts. It was Roman territory after 98 AD, until the Romans pulled out. Towards the end of the 8th century Viking raids devastated the region. In attempt to reach peace the Vikings were given a territory, called the Duchy of Norman, which was established in 911 AD. Over the next 150 years the Danes and the Celtic/Germanic tribes intermixed into what became the Normans.

The Normans

William the Conqueror had a claim to the throne of England and was also Norman. His grandfather’s sister was the mother of Edward the Confessor, the childless King of England. He had previously promised William succession to the English throne. However upon his death in 1066, his brother-in-law Harold Goodwin claimed the throne of England for himself, despite an oath he had made to support William as King. A council of English Lords supported Harold as the thought of a Norman who spoke French, and no English, becoming King of England was reprehensible. Outraged, William decided to invade England and claim his throne.

Just across the channel from England was Normandy.

Just across the channel from England was Normandy.

William was the illegitimate child of the Duke of Normandy, Robert I, who died in 1035 returning from a pilgrimage in Israel. At age 8, William became the Duke of Normandy. With the help of the King Henry I of France, William was able to survive rebellion by his barons and severe violence in the region before gaining control. By 1064 he had gained firm control of his Duchy and won two neighboring provinces – Brittany and Maine.

William gathered an army, but was delayed due to weather for almost two weeks. In a stroke of luck for him, the Vikings attacked England in the north. King Harold and his brothers were prepared for William’s landing but had to rush to the north to fight the Danes. After a huge victory at Battle of Stamford Bridge, the King rushed his men southward again to meet William’s army. Exhausted, William won the battle by killing King Harold and his two brothers. There was no one of any consequence to further raise an army against William the Conqueror.

William the Conquer

William the Conquer

Over the next five years, William declared more and more land as his personal property and gave it to his Norman followers who imposed their unique feudal system. Eventually, Normans replaced the entire Anglo-Saxon aristocracy. William retained most of the country’s institutions and ordered a detailed census to be made of England and his new wealth. The book, called the Domesday Book, still gives us one of the rare and interesting insights into life during this period of time. It is still in the public record office in London.

William died in France in 1087, having spent little time in England. He had four daughters and four sons and every monarch of England since has been a direct descendant. He never spoke English and was illiterate, yet he influenced the English language more than anyone before or since by adding French and Latin words to the English dictionary.

The people of Wales and Cornwall are most likely the descendants of the original Gaelic Celts who first settled in Britain. The Romans had influence on the blood lines of Brits as well as the Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans. Almost all of the historical sites you see will be from one of those periods and have something to do with key people from these different societies.

To this day there are differences in northern England and southern England largely due to the Viking influence on culture and language in the north and Anglo-Saxon/Norman influence on the south. Much like the Yankee and Rebel rivalries that can still exist in America, Londoner’s consider Mancunians (people from Manchester) as speaking guttural, or even in an uneducated manner. The southern part of England is typically seen as more “posh” or stylish than the north. Of course all this depends on which side you are on, but cultural and historical differences remain.

The Church

Although the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons were pagans, England was largely a Christian nation beginning with the conversion of the Romans to Christianity. Over time, even the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity. However, the church played a significant role, beginning in medieval times, with many of the monuments, castles, abbeys and other historical locations you will visit in England. It is impossible to leave this influence off of the history of Great Britain.

Picture of Henry VIII hanging in Hampton Court Palace.

Picture of Henry VIII hanging in Hampton Court Palace.

As a result of St. Augustine’s mission to England in 597, the church in England came under the authority of the Pope. Under King Henry VIII’s rule, the church separated from Rome and formed its own church leadership under the Bishop of Canterbury and the King of England. Henry was pursuing a divorce after marrying his dead brother’s wife, Catherine of Aragon, who was unable to provide him with a male heir. The Pope refused to grant an annulment and although it caused great distress in England, Henry was only happy to end the Pope’s power and influence and use the money from the church for his monarchy. The Archbishop of Canterbury was selected as the monastic head, or primate, of the Church and as Henry appointed the Archbishop to the post, he was granted a divorce.

Henry’s separation from the Church of Rome began what is called the English Reformation. However, in 1555 Henry’s daughter with Catherine of Aragon, Mary I, became Queen and the Church of Rome was fully restored. After Mary’s death, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, half-sister to Mary, rejected Rome once again and restored the Reformed Church of England. Catholic and “Reformed” factions continued to fight across England. It ended with the “Elizabethan settlement” which developed the understanding that the church was to be both Catholic and Reformed.

Religious history is long and complicated, but its impact on the history of England and its historical sites is significant. King Henry VIII was disgusted with some of the monasteries he uncovered and closed down many of them. He persecuted some monks and religious orders for not following proper Church teachings. Monks and heretics were imprisoned, burned at the stake or executed.

Listen To The Church Choir (Forbidden) at The Chapel at Windsor Castle Where King Henry VIII is buried.

His daughter from his marriage, Mary, was known as Bloody Mary to the English people. She was intent on bringing back the Church of Rome, for whom her mother devoutly followed, back to England by force if necessary. Famous protestant reformers such as John “Thomas Matthews” Rogers (printer of the Matthews-Tysdale Bible) and Thomas Cranmer (Archbishop of Canterbury) were both burned at the stake. Mary went on to burn reformers at the stake by the hundreds for the crime of being a Protestant. She destroyed Protestant abbeys and monasteries across England, such as St. Andrews and Leeds.

Wars and Civil Wars

One beautiful Sunday afternoon after first arriving in England to live, I went to the Internet to find the closest castle to my new home. I spent the day at Beeston Castle in the county of Cheshire, just south and west of Manchester. The castle was originally built in 1260 and once owned by royalty – King Henry III. However, it was “slighted” on Cromwell’s orders after the Civil War and remains in ruins today. “Slighted” means partially destroyed so it could not be used as a stronghold. Many castles were burned and large sections of stone walls were thrown down to keep militaries from using them.

The sword used by Oliver Cromwell and on display in the White Tower at the Tower of London.

The sword used by Oliver Cromwell and on display in the White Tower at the Tower of London.

The period of time between 1642-1651 saw a series of armed conflicts and political challenges between Parliament (Roundheads) and royalists (Cavaliers). The conflict was specifically between the monarchy (Charles I and Charles II) and the Parliament. The civil war ended with the Parliamentary victory at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. It was during this dark time in English history that many castles were damaged and destroyed. Some remain in ruins, others have been restored, but many were severely damaged.
Charles I was executed and his son, Charles II, exiled and replaced with Commonwealth of England and then a Protectorate, under Oliver Cromwell’s personal rule. The monarchy was later restored and Cromwell’s body was dug out of the ground and publicly hung. Constitutionally, the wars established the precedent that an English monarch cannot govern without Parliament’s consent.


History plays an important role in every historical attraction visited. Understanding the role a historical location played in history enables the visitor to get the full enjoyment from the site. British history is long and can be complex, but armed with a little knowledge will help the tourist get maximum understanding of the attraction they are visiting. It will give you greater insight into the meaning of events that occurred at the location.

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Warwick Castle

See The Castle From The Inside As If You Were There

Most castles are more story and stone than actual medieval fortress these days. They take an enormous amount of money to rebuild, maintain and to live in. Almost all castles used as residences have to cater to the public, either through events such as weddings/parties or tourism, to make enough money to use as a residence. The high property tax in England makes it almost impossible for people of wealth to live in the historic palaces and castles. More and more properties are becoming non-profits that lease the facility back to the former owners. The non-profit maintains the property through funds raised by tourists and the privacy of the inhabitants are protected.

Looking down at the courtyard from the front tower.

Looking down at the courtyard from the front tower.

It is a beautiful castle.

It is a beautiful castle.

There are castles, and there is Warwick Castle. It is the Disneyland of castles designed to entertain the family like no other castle I visited in England. The beautiful town of Warwick is 95 miles northwest of London, about an hour and forty minute drive on the smaller roads of England. It is well worth the trip!

If you are taking your family to England and have children, it is the best castle to visit. It is owned by Merlin Entertainment, the same company that owns the famous wax museum in London, Madam Tussauds. Merlin Entertainment is an organization that knows how to entertain and Warwick Castle is a great example of it.

Video 1 of the opening of Warwick Castle

Video 2 of the opening of the Castle of Warwick

The Castle Today

Plenty of original furnishings.

Plenty of original furnishings.

Lots of old weapons and armory.

Lots of old weapons and armory.

The castle has been restored to its magnificent glory. Management has spent more than $10 million over the last 10 years on restoration. Many of the historic furnishings are still available for viewing. The castle is impressive as you approach from a distance. I made it at the opening of the front gate and there was a great show put on by actors that was very entertaining for all members of the family. Once inside, there are free tours, bird and hawk shows. There is a modern restaurant with adequate restroom facilities and lots of re-enactments. It is a children friendly facility with all the pageantry and glory of Snow White. Court jesters walk the premises and the young girls love the princesses who stand about in flowing medieval gowns talking to the children as they walk by. For the boys, there are lots of armor, swords and other weapons for the boys.

The History of Warwick Castle

It is also a castle that is rich in the fabric of English history. It was first attacked in 1264, besieged in 1642 and damaged by fire in 1871. It was owned by the Earls of Warwick and the Greville family, as a private home, until 1978. The castle itself predates William the Conqueror, the Saxon who defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings and built the Tower of London. The daughter of the Saxon King Alfred the Great, Ethelfleda, built a walled building in Warwick that was used against the invading Danes in 914. The first castle to appear on the site was a wooden motte and bailey (wooden fort built on high ground with a moat) constructed in 1068. Over the middle ages, through successive Earls of Warwick, the wood was replaced with stone.

Main residences.

Main residences.

In 1068, while consolidating power, William the Conqueror built a series of fortresses from the south to the north of England to protect his allies and Saxon armies from the English. The motte and bailey was the most popular castle design during that time. The high ground allowed gave the defense the advantage.

Click to Listen to a Tour Guide Explain the Tour of Warwick Castle

In 1242, the last Beaumont, who is the Earl of Warwick, dies without an heir and it is passed to his sister Margaret and her husband John Du Plessis. In 1260 stone began to replace the wood at the castle.

A view of the castle and landscape from Guy's Tower, the tallest tower.

A view of the castle and landscape from Guy’s Tower, the tallest tower.

In 1263, Margaret passes away childless and the castle is passed to her cousin, William Maudit. Unfortunately for Maudit, he sided with the King during the Barons War and loses the castle. The leader of the barons, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, attacks the castle and Maudit and his wife are captive and held for ransom. In 1268 Maudit passes the castle to his nephew, William de Beauchamp, upon his death and so begins the dynasty that will last 148 years and bring Warwick Castle to the height of its fortunes.

A View Of The Castle From The Highest Point in Guy’s Tower

At a time of political tension, Guy de Beauchamp seizes Piers Gavestone, rumored to be the King’s lover and close ally, and brought him before a tribunal of barons. He is tried for treason and sentenced to death. He is killed by being run through by a sword and then behead on a road nearby.

The front entrance from inside the castle.

The front entrance from inside the castle.

Another inside view.

Another inside view.

Between 1350-1400, several large sections of the castle were completed including Guy’s Tower, Caesar’s Tower and the Dungeon. In 1397, Thomas de Beauchamp is exiled to the Isle of Man by Richard II for confessing to treachery. He is able to reclaim his inheritance when Henry IV defeats Richard II in battle. The Earl of Warwick supervisors the trail of Joan of Arc and is actually at her execution when she was burned at the stake in France.

In 1449 the last de Beauchamp dies and the castle is passed to a sister who is married to Richard Neville. During the War of the Roses, Richards helps to defeat both Henry VI and Edward IV earning him the title of “kingmaker”. In 1471, Richard dies in the battle of Barnet and his estates are awarded by Henry IV to his brother George, Duke of Clarence. George happens to be the brother of King Edward IV of England who he sought to overthrow. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London and he was executed, more than likely, by being drowned in the wine he loved so much.

Guy's Tower.

Guy’s Tower.

In another interesting twist, another Earl of Warwick is executed for conspiring with the second of two pretenders to the throne, which were common in those times, Perkin Warbeck. In 1572, Queen Elizabeth visits the Castle. In 1604, the castle is given to Sir Fulke Greville. Twenty-four years later he was killed by a disgruntled manservant and his ghost is said to haunt the tower in which he lived today.

Royalist soldiers were kept prisoner in the dungeon during the British Civil War and the Castle once again withstood a siege. In 1695, King William III visits the castle. The title of Earl of Warwick, given to another person when Greville took control of the castle is reunited with castle ownership in 1759. The castle continues to add to its glory by adding a state dining room, a conservatory and new landscaping during the next 100 years. Queen Victoria had lunch at the castle in 1858.

The front entrance.

The front entrance.

When the 1,000 year old fortress enters the industrial age, the mill nearby was converted to an electric generating plant providing electric lighting to the castle. In 1938, the 7th Greville Earl, Charles Guy, goes to Hollywood to become an actor. His career peaked with an supporting role in Dawn Patrol starring Errol Flynn and David Niven.

Lastly, in 1978 the castle was sold to The Tussaud’s Group, which later became Merlin Entertainment. In 1996, Her Majesty The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are given a tour of the castle. The Queen also gave a commemorative sword to the castle.

The Summary

There are always new events and shows at Warwick Castle. If you are headed to London, Warwick Castle is one of several major sites within 2 hours of London you must see: Leeds Castle, Stonehenge, Windsor Castle and Warwick Castle.

Here is a video from the bird show that was playing when I was there.

The Bird Show

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The Tower of London

The Tower of London attracts more than 2 million visitors a year. It has been a royal residence, a royal mint, a fortress, a prison and a home for the Crown Jewels. It is a palace, a fortress and a castle that rests upon the banks of the river Thames. It was first built by William the Conqueror, a Saxon, after defeating the English King Harold in the battle of Hastings.

The Tower of London is a palace, a fortress and a castle all in one that rests upon the banks of the River Thames. It is a magnificent building with endless defensive fortifications looking over its surroundings. There is a large moat that once circulated fresh water from the Thames protecting the occupants. It was also used to empty the trash from the fortress into the river and out to sea. It is dry today and the fertile land was used during WWII to grow crops for the people of London. Today, the moat has been preserved so the visitor can get an idea of what it might have looked like as water flowed around the impressive castle.

The Tower of London was built upon some of the foundation of the ruins of Roman “Londinium”, the old Roman fortress created in 43AD and abandoned almost a five hundred years before when the Roman Empire collapsed. When you are visiting the Tower you can see some excavation showing the old Roman foundations nearby.
In the center of the fortress sits the White Tower, one of the first buildings constructed by William the Conqueror. He imported stone from Caen, France and required the newly defeated British to build it in the 1070s. By 1350, the Tower had taken on the form we know today.

In 1483, the two sons and heirs to the throne, Princes Edward and Richard, went missing while being held by their Uncle, the future King Richard III after the death of his brother King Edward IV. Two sets of small bones were found in 1674 while some reconstruction was going on in the White Tower. The bones were interred at Westminster Abbey even though there have been recent requests to study the bones to determine if they were the bones of the two princes.

However it was during the Tudor period that the Tower entered its bloodiest period ever. The Tower entered a dark period during the reign of Henry VIII. After breaking with the Church of Rome, King Henry VIII decreed himself head of the Church of England. Thus began a period of persecution for those who didn’t agree with the change in church leadership. The Tower’s cells and torture chambers were rarely empty of political and religious prisoners during this time. Former associates of King Henry VIII, former aide Sir Thomas Moore and Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, were both beheaded at the Tower. The last execution at the Tower was Josef Jakobs, a German spy who was captured after parachuting into the UK. He was shot sitting in a chair because his injuries kept him from standing.

One of the most interesting notes about the Tower is that it served as a zoo. There are records dating back to the reign King John in 1210 of having exotic animals. For over 600 years exotic animals were kept the Tower for the entertainment purposes of the royalty and their guests. There were monkeys, lions, tigers, bears, zebras, elephants and many other animals found in other countries and brought to England. In 1832, after several attacks, the animals left the grounds for the London Zoo.

The Tower of London was long used as a prison and even torture. One of the more interesting places during a visit to the Tower is the carvings that have been uncovered in the stone by those imprisoned at the Tower. Many of these people were rich and famous and included political, military and scientific prisoners, even royals.

Here is a short list of just some of those well-known people imprisoned:
• Robert, Duke of Normandy. Eldest son of William the Conqueror in 1206
• Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr, a Welsh prince, the eldest but illegitimate son of Llywelyn the Great (“Llywelyn Fawr”) was imprisoned in 1241. He fell to his death in 1244 while trying to escape
• William Wallace was imprisoned for a short time before his execution in 1305.
• Richard II of England was imprisoned in 1399 before being taken to Pontefract Castle, where he was murdered.
• James I of Scotland, then heir to the Scottish throne, was kidnapped while travelling to France in 1406 and imprisoned in the Tower until 1408 before being transferred to Nottingham Castle.[2]
• Henry VI of England was imprisoned in the Tower after his capture at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 and was murdered there on 21 May 1471. Each year on the anniversary of Henry VI’s death, the Provosts of Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge, lay roses and lilies on the altar that stands where he died.
• George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, brother of King Edward IV of England, imprisoned in 1477 for treason and privately executed there in 1478.
• Edward V of England and his brother Richard of Shrewsbury, also known as the Princes in the Tower were sent to the tower by their uncle, Richard Duke of Gloucester in 1483 “for their own protection” after the death of their father and then, according to popular belief, ordered their deaths.
• Sir William de la Pole. A distant relative of King Henry VIII, he was incarcerated at the Tower for 37 years (1502–1539) for allegedly plotting against Henry VII, thus becoming the longest-held prisoner.
• Thomas More was imprisoned on 17 April 1534. He was executed on 6 July 1535 and his body was buried at the Tower of London.
• Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, was imprisoned on 2 May 1536 on charges of High Treason: adultery, incest, and witchcraft. She remained a prisoner until 19 May 1536 when she was beheaded by a French swordsman on Tower Green.
• Thomas Cromwell was imprisoned by Henry VIII in 1540 before his execution.
• Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, was imprisoned in 1542 before her execution.
• Anne Askew, Protestant reformer, was imprisoned and tortured for heresy in 1546 before being burnt at the stake.
• Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, was imprisoned in 1553 before being sent to Oxford in 1554 to be burnt at the stake for heresy.
• Lady Jane Grey, uncrowned Queen of England and her husband Guilford Dudley were imprisoned in the tower from 1553 until 12 February 1554, when they were beheaded by order of Queen Mary I.
• The future Queen Elizabeth I, imprisoned for two months in 1554 for her alleged involvement in Wyatt’s Rebellion.
• Sir Walter Raleigh spent thirteen years (1603–1616) imprisoned at the Tower but was able to live in relative comfort in the Bloody Tower with his wife and two children. For some of the time he even grew tobacco on Tower Green, just outside his apartment. While imprisoned, he wrote The History of the World.
• Guy Fawkes, famous for his part in the Gunpowder Plot, was brought to the Tower in 1605 to be interrogated by a council of the King’s Ministers. When he confessed to treason, he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered in the Old Palace Yard at Westminster; however, he escaped his fate by jumping off the scaffold at the gallows which in turn broke his neck and killed him.
• William Penn, Quaker and future founder of Pennsylvania, was imprisoned for seven months in 1668-69 for pamphleteering.
• Rudolf Hess, deputy leader of the Nazi Party, the last state prisoner to be held in the Tower, in May 1941.
Tower Green is a famous spot where two Queens, two lords and two ladies were beheaded as traitors. It was unusual to be executed within the Tower rather than on Tower Hill. The “privileged” executions of controversial people were easier to control within the fortress; away from the public. Scaffoldings were built for each execution, and not always in the same place. Tower Hill is an elevated spot northwest of the Tower of London within easy walking distance of the main gate.

Monarchs most closely associated associated with the Tower:

• William the Conqueror
• Henry III
• Edward I
• Edward III
• Richard II
• Henry VI
• Richard III
• Henry VIII
• Queen Mary I
• Queen Elizabeth I

The Tower of London is an all-day event. While it cost money to enter the grounds, the Beefeater tours are free. There are re-enactments, food and places to rest and many different sites to see. You can stand in line to see the crown jewels – old and new. You can see the old areas were people were imprisoned, even tortured. The old residential areas are open for review and there are lots of monuments erected where events happened inside the compound. The White Tower is now an armaments museum with lots of great weapons and war gear that was formerly used by England’s Kings. There are great views of the River Thames and The Tower Bridge. It is a great place to spend a day and a must see in London.

Posted in Can't Miss Sites, Castles, London | Comments Off

England – The London Top 11 and More!

London is the number one tourist destination in the world; the heart of western civilization. Some recognize it as the capital of the world. By 1922, “the empire on which the sun never sets” ruled over 22.63% of the globe, 450 million people or roughly 20% of the world’s population. India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Egypt, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Rhodesia, South Africa, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, part of Antarctica, Ireland, Scotland, Jamaica, The Bahamas, Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus and many more territories not to mention the thirteen colonies of the United States.

WWII sapped a lot of the economic, political and military life-blood of the British Empire. The long resistance by India to Commonwealth rule culminated in its independence in 1947. The British people and the British army seemed unwilling to back a policy of repression in India, as well as other parts of the Empire. as their own country lay in ruins. The empire began to unravel with many British colonies recognizing their own independence. Today there are 53 independent members of the Commonwealth, 16 of which recognize Queen Elizabeth as Sovereign.

The task of making a “top 10” sites in London, much less the UK, is challenging. I have decided to make a category called “Must See” for the city of London and one for outside London. Most people go to London when visiting the United Kingdom, at least initially. There is enough to visit in London and the surrounding area for a full week. However, some of the best sites for tourists and visitors are outside of the immediate sphere of London.

I lived in England for almost a year and a half and traveled north to south, east to west seeing the entire country plus Scotland. These lists are not all inclusive, and while everyone’s taste is different, I wanted to provide people going to the UK with information they might find helpful in planning a trip.
Must See – London (alphabetical order)

Big Ben is the bell tower, not the clock

Big Ben is the bell tower, not the clock

1. Big Ben/Thames River/The Eye/Parliament/Marriott (Westminster Bridge)

This isn’t a specific historic site, but a combination of several. If you stand on Westminster Bridge you are within walking distance to Westminster Abbey, Parliament, The London Eye, Big Ben, the Marriott Hotel at London County Hall and standing over the Thames River. No matter what time of the year, there will be people from all over the world walking across the bridge taking pictures and conversing in many languages. If you aren’t staying at the Marriott, at least eat lunch here as it was the former Town Hall of London and one of London’s 5 Star Hotels. You can find out here what Big Ben really is (hint: it isn’t the clock tower).

Link for more: http://myenglishjourney.com/hello-london/

Picture was taken from the park nearby

Picture was taken from the park nearby

2. Buckingham Palace

Everyone will want to go and see Queen Elizabeth II as this is one of her official residences (she rotates to different locations throughout the year). The changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace is a must see. All of its daily pageantry and history is on display every day, but get there early if you want a good location to see the guards change. Take a walk while you are waiting around the park in front of the Palace that so many never see. Occasionally, when the Queen is staying at another residence, some state rooms within the Palace are open for the public.

Link for more: http://myenglishjourney.com/hello-london/

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace

3. Hampton Court Palace

It is a train ride or a long (and expensive) taxi ride to Hampton Court Palace from central London. It is well worth it. The story of Cardinal Wolsey and King Henry VIII is a good one and it begins here. You can experience the lavishness with which Henry VIII lived. See and hear the sad story of his six wives. There is so much royal history at this site and the architecture is interesting. The private gardens are some of the best I have ever seen and there is a horse drawn carriage that will give you a tour. King William III died in the garden after a fall from his horse.

Link for more: http://myenglishjourney.com/hampton-court-…outside-london/

Queen Victoria in front of Kensington Palace where Princess Diana lived

Queen Victoria in front of Kensington Palace where Princess Diana lived

4. Kensington Palace

Princess Diana lived here. It was also the main residence of Queen Victoria. After restorations are complete, Prince William and Princess Kate will live where the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, once lived in the Palace. It is the centerpiece of Hyde Park that was once part of the royal woods that surrounded it. Princess Diana memorial is in Hyde Park as is the playground named for her. There are historical locations like Speaker’s Corner where people still go to publicly protest whatever is on their mind. The Prince Albert Memorial is nearby along with a variety of statues and monuments honoring famous Brits from throughout the centuries.

Link for more: (Coming Soon)

Leeds Castle

Leeds Castle

The oldest part of the castle

The oldest part of the castle

5. Leeds Castle

It is such a beautiful castle with a unique history that pre-dates the Norman Conquest, yet most of the castle is still furnished as it was in the 20th century when an American heiress entertained famous politicians, actors, authors and artists. This ancient castle and fortress became the place to be seen by the rich and famous in Europe and the U.S. prior to WWII. The surrounding country is beautiful and the castle is well run today. Don’t miss this day trip from London.

This Was Forbidden But I Got A Small Piece Of The Play On Video

Link for more: http://myenglishjourney.com/leeds-castle-outside-london/

6. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

You don’t have to appreciate Shakespeare to enjoy the Globe Theatre. It is an experience, not just a production. The theater has been reproduced as closely to the original as possible. It was made for audience participation; the interaction is intimate for a play. There is nothing formal or stuffy about seeing a play at the Globe Theater. Do not miss an opportunity to see a Shakespeare play at this location. The actors are terrific and talented. The production is of the highest quality and usually true to the earliest manuscript. Regardless of what is showing, go and see a play. They offer matinee and evening plays on most days, but you should call ahead to make reservations and get good seats.

Link for more: (Coming soon)

View from the top of St. Paul's Cathedral

View from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral

View from the ground of St. Paul's Cathedral

View from the ground of St. Paul’s Cathedral

7. St. Paul’s Cathedral

Known as the nation’s church, St. Paul’s is even more spectacular inside that it is incredible on the outside. It is a huge building with a lot of history, yet modern enough to appeal to the current population as an active cathedral. This location is where Britain’s gathered in mass the day after 911 when there was national mourning for those lost in the attack on New York City. King Hussein of Jordan, a Muslim, had a memorial service here where the Quran was spoken for the first time at a British cathedral. The Royal family uses the church today for important ceremonies and state events. Two important figures in non-Royal British history are buried here; Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. These are the two heroes of the Napoleonic Wars. This cathedral was work of the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren. It was his masterpiece. It is one of the most spectacular buildings ever designed and built, in my opinion.

Link for more: http://myenglishjourney.com/st-pauls-cathedral/



A view from the hilltop nearby

A view from the hilltop nearby

8. Stonehenge

There is something mystical about seeing Stonehenge. When you walk onto the side of the hill where Stonehenge is located, you are surprised how big the rocks are. As you look out over the plain it just begs the question – why? Someone went to a great deal of effort to put these rocks in a specific location, a certain way. The mobile guide is informative, which is not always the case at these historic locations. There is lots of information to absorb and some terrific trails to walk around to see burial mounds and old trails with historic information about how the stones might have arrived at Stonehenge.

Link for more: http://myenglishjourney.com/surprising-stonehenge

The Tower Bridge During the Olympics

The Tower Bridge During the Olympics

The famous White Tower inside the Tower of London

The famous White Tower inside the Tower of London

9. Tower of London

Only Westminster Abbey can rival the Tower of London with regards to British history. It has been a fortress, a castle, a royal residence, a palace, a jail and dungeon, a center of justice, a place of execution, a mint, the location of royal murder, an armory, storage for royal records and the location where the royal jewels are currently stored. It is on the Thames River near the Tower Bridge which provides a beautiful view. There is food and entertainment while the Beefeaters provide free tours and plenty of places to sit and rest while you explore. With the Thames River cruise boat docks right next door, take the tour and then take a cruise ride to Westminster for a relaxing and interesting ride while a guide tells you about the historical sites of London.

Link for more: The Tower of London

Main entrance to Westminster Abbey

Main entrance to Westminster Abbey

A side view of the Gothic architecture

A side view of the Gothic architecture

10. Westminster Abbey

Its Gothic architecture is glorious, but the tombs of royalty and the rich history inside the Abbey make the trip worthwhile. It is a solemn place, more tomb than Abbey to the observer. Yet this 1,000 year old building holds more history than any other British historical site. Study the histories and read the interesting stories prior to entering the Abbey for they are too many and too complex for a simple mobile guide tour. It has been the final resting place for royals for centuries. There are monuments and sculptures recognizing the rich and famous; authors, artists, poets, playwrights, musicians, military leaders, religious leaders and others who have played an important role in British history since William the Conqueror.

Link for more: http://myenglishjourney.com/westminster-abbey-london/

From inside the castle grounds

From inside the castle grounds

The Quadrangle where some of the residences are.

The Quadrangle where some of the residences are.

11. Windsor Castle

I tried to keep this a Top 10 list, but it is impossible. Windsor Castle is now only one of the homes of the current monarchy, but one of the most spectacular castles in England. It is both palace, castle, hallowed church grounds and the center of a community. The trip through Windsor Castle is well worth it. Many of the former kings of England that called it home re-decorated it and the tour will take you through different sections that have been re-decorated as it looked during a specific period of time. The castle and its grounds are enormous. I was lucky enough to be leaving when Sunday Evensong was beginning in St. George’s chapel where Henry VIII was buried. It was beautiful and memorable. It is a short train or car ride from London.

Listen To The Choir At St. George’s Inside Windsor Castle

Link for more: http://myenglishjourney.com/windsor-castle/

Top Ten 10 Must See – Outside London (alphabetical order and there, in fact, twelve)

Home of the greatest military leader in England

Home of the greatest military leader in England

1. Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace was an elaborate gift from the nation to John Churchill, distant relative of Winston Churchill. He became the first Duke of Marlborough following his famous victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. The Palace, whose architecture is English Baroque, is a living monument built out of the gratitude of a nation. Churchill’s leadership in the battle was the turning point of the war against the French. His grandson, Winston Churchill, was born in 1874 and raised at Blenheim Palace. Two of the greatest war heroes of Great Britain were related and lived in the same palace some 150 years apart. John Churchill’s wife Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough, never wanted such a large home and the original architect, Sir John Vanbrugh, eventually quit before it was finished. He saw the palace as a monument to Queen Anne more than a residence of the Duke of Marlborough. The famed British landscaper of the 18th century, Capability Brown, developed the property and gardens. The Duchess even had an argument with Queen Anne, who was previously a close personal friend, over the building of the palace. Funds to build the property ran out in 1712 and the palace was eventually finished by the Duke himself. It is considered one of the most beautiful properties in England. King George III once said, “We have nothing to equal this” referring to its magnificence. Today it is a world heritage site, recognized and protected as one of the world’s greatest cultural and historical sites.

Link for more: (coming soon)

A magical place - the home of the Bronte sisters

A magical place – the home of the Bronte sisters

2. Bronte Museum

The Bronte sisters’ made the moors of northern England a lonely and brooding place where the cold wind swept through the lives of their characters. The house they lived in and wrote their famous books (Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Agnes Gray) still stands much like it did when it was their home and a parish house for their father, a minister of the church next door. There are great stories here including the sad story of their brother, Branwell. To add to the mystery there is a graveyard in front of the house that remains as it was during their lifetime when so many people died from disease and despair. You are able to walk into the home of these women and actually see the room where they read their stories to one another for advice and support. Northeast of Manchester, it is well worth the trip to the Yorkshire Dales where the Bronte museum is located.

Link for more: http://myenglishjourney.com/bronte-museum-and-parsonage/

The view as you approach the famous Cathedral

The view as you approach the famous Cathedral

The view from inside Canterbury Cathedral

The view from inside Canterbury Cathedral

3. Canterbury Cathedral

One of my favorite classes in college was an entire course on Canterbury Tales written by the famous British author, Geoffrey Chaucer. It is the story of a medieval pilgrimage to the heart of British Christianity, the cathedral in Canterbury. The cathedral is spectacular in its rich history and amazing architecture. The story of the murder of Thomas Becket alone, who became a Catholic saint, is worth the trip. The town of Canterbury was just as entertaining with many homes, shops and sites that remain as they were hundreds of years ago. The town’s people are friendly and open and, combined with its rich history, make it an interesting and great place to visit.

Link for more: http://myenglishjourney.com/canterbury-cathedral-2/

The view driving up to the palace

The view driving up to the palace

The view from the top of the hill behind the palace

The view from the top of the hill behind the palace

4. Chatsworth

Chatsworth took me by surprise. Other than Windsor Castle, I never experienced a palace so lavishly furnished in such a beautiful setting. The fact that it was never a royal residence makes it even more impressive. Owned and operated today by a charity, the Duke of Devonshire still resides there and the Duke of Wales, Prince Charles, is a frequent visitor in his helicopter. The grounds and gardens alone make this trip worthwhile, but the interior of the palace is breathtaking. Never have I seen such a collection of paintings, sculptures, old furniture, books, tapestries and historical artifacts at any single location. It is located in the beautiful hillside in central England, about an hour and a half drive southeast from Manchester and about a 3 hour drive north from London.

Link for more: http://myenglishjourney.com/chatsworth/

The 1,000 year old castle was built upon a rock

The 1,000 year old castle was built upon a rock

The entrance to the former residence of the King and Queen of Scotland

The entrance to the former residence of the King and Queen of Scotland

5. Edinburgh Castle

The city of Edinburgh is built on an extinct volcano over 1,000 years ago with a spectacular view in all four directions. Walk the “royal mile” which is full of shops, medieval churches, ancient buildings and centuries old restaurants built on the road leading directly to Edinburgh Castle. The first reference to “Din Eidyn”, or fortress on the rock, was in 600 AD. The city of Edinburgh, the royal mile and the actual castle itself is easily a day’s worth of exploring. The castle itself was built in the 11th century was a royal residence from 1063 to 1603, the year King James VI of Scotland was crowned King James I of England uniting the two kingdoms for the first time. King James moved his residence to England ending the five plus centuries the castle served as a residence for Scottish royalty.


The northern most edge of the Roman empire

The northern most edge of the Roman empire

This is one of my favorite places.  It is very peaceful and historic.

This is one of my favorite places. It is very peaceful and historic.

6. Hadrian’s Wall

I couldn’t get enough of Hadrian’s Wall. It was the northern most frontier and a fading reminder of the glory of the Roman Empire, what is left of this wall today is fantastic. Once 13 feet high and 8 feet wide in some locations, it stretched from one side of the island to the other with forts along the winding wall. Unable or unwilling to fight the crazy nomads of the north (Scotland today), the Romans decided to build a wall to keep them out. Parts of the wall still stand and there are some good archaeological sites where you can walk through the baths and residences of Roman soldiers stationed at the wall. There is even a section where you can walk about a half mile on the wall. Built 2,000 years ago, the crumbling wall still appears as a desolate monument to future global conquerors that nothing earthly is immortal. Sadly, the stones from the wall provided England for centuries for stones to build roads, livestock pens, houses and streets.

Link to more: http://myenglishjourney.com/hadrians-wall-2/

The childhood home of John Lennon

The childhood home of John Lennon

The entrance to the Beatle Museum in Liverpool

The entrance to the Beatle Museum in Liverpool

7. Liverpool – The Beatles Pilgrimage

Artist Performing At The Cavern Club

West of Manchester on the west coast of England is the home of arguably the greatest band in the rock-n-roll era. Taking a day out of your trip is well worth it for a brief pilgrimage for baby boomers. The museum on the wharf has a great deal of old Beatles memorabilia and is developed in such a way that you progressively go through the life of the Beatles and end up reviewing their solo careers. It ends in a room with John Lennon’s white piano, on which John wrote “Imagine” and a pair of his sun glasses on it while the song plays in the background. You will never believe what Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane look like. Take a tour or drive yourself to see the suburbs where John and Paul lived their teenage years. End your trip in the Cavern – the basement bar where the Beatles became famous in Liverpool. It is a day you won’t forget if you are a Beatles fan.

Link to more: http://myenglishjourney.com/the-beatles-2/

The famous library known as Radcliffe Camera in Oxford

The famous library known as Radcliffe Camera in Oxford

This area was used as the infirmary in the Harry Potter movies

This area was used as the infirmary in the Harry Potter movies

8. Oxford University

There is always energy in college towns and Oxford is no different. Oxford University is the oldest university in the English speaking world. The buildings of Oxford show examples of every type of English architecture since the Saxons (1066). It is known as the “city of dreaming spires” in reference to the towers and steeples at Oxford University. There are 36 different colleges and six Permanent Private Halls at Oxford University, each controlling its own membership with its own internal structure and activities. Some of England’s greatest authors and poets attended or taught at Oxford University including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. The University has been home to some of the brightest and most influential religious, political and military leaders in English history.

Link to more: (coming soon)

The baths are simply amazing

The baths are simply amazing

9. Roman Baths

Another spectacular Roman site are the hot springs near “Bath” referred to as the Roman Baths. The Romans were known for their baths; heating water under rooms and allowing the steam to heat them. However, when the Romans discovered the hot springs in western England, they devoted an entire temple to Silus Minerva, a combination of the local deity prior to the Romans (Silus) and the Roman goddess Minerva. At Bath, you can see ancient Roman artifacts that have been uncovered by archeologists and wishes/curses written on tin and throw into the springs not recovered for 2,000 years. The hot springs have a long history after the Romans left in 410 AD, but to walk through and experience the Roman life and architecture is something you won’t forget. As you leave the Roman Baths visit the Bath Cathedral next door to counterbalance the pagan influence of the pre-Christian Romans.

Link to more:

18th hole at St. Andrews

18th hole at St. Andrews

The beach next to St. Andrews golf course where the movie Chariots of Fire was filmed

The beach next to St. Andrews golf course where the movie Chariots of Fire was filmed

10. St. Andrews

Perhaps it isn’t fair to put “St. Andrews” as a single site since, like Edinburgh, it is actually several spectacular sites. Built on a beautiful northern Scottish peninsula on the North Sea, St. Andrews is full of history. Within walking distance of each other are St. Andrews Golf Course, the Royal and Ancient Club (governing body of golf since 1754), St. Andrews University, St. Andrews Cathedral, St. Andrews Castle and the incredible beach that served as the backdrop for the movie “Chariots of Fire”. The cathedral and castle are both ruins that are open to the public. Both were destroyed during the Protestant and Catholic conflict of the 1500’s. A church had occupied the site of St. Andrews Cathedral since the 8th century when the relics of St. Andrews were supposedly brought here. The city of St. Andrews is full of old pubs full of history and ancient laughter overlooking the North Sea. Parts of the medieval walls can still be seen. There are plenty of wonderful hotels and bed and breakfasts available for visitors.


One of best preserved English medieval castles

One of best preserved English medieval castles

The view from the highest point at Warrick Castle

The view from the highest point at Warrick Castle

11. Warwick Castle

There is nothing unusual about historical castles in England, they are everywhere. However, Warwick Castle is a great site because of the experience. Few, if any, castles go to the lengths that Warwick Castle does in providing a medieval experience for the entire family. It is owned and operated by the Tussad’s Group which owns the famous Madame Tussad’s Wax Museum in London. Part of the castle itself dates back to Norman times when William the Conqueror appointed a fellow Norman as owner of the property. There are numerous actors and actresses dressed in medieval costume who are wonderfully prepared to tell you about the dungeons, the history, the Castle owner known as the “Kingmaker”, show you weapons that were used in battle and that provides falcon and bald eagle bird shows. The castle is wonderfully restored and its workers are enthusiastic to provide an entertaining and educational day. Warwick Castle is a great day trip north of London.

Link to more: (coming soon)

View from the wall of the York Minster

View from the wall of the York Minster

One of the only medieval cities in England whose original walls are still standing

One of the only medieval cities in England whose original walls are still standing

12. York

In reviewing this list, I realize in my desire to keep it as short as possible I left York off the list. Impossible. It has to be on this list. There are plenty of reasons why it needs to go on this list, but if nothing else it is the only city in England that has retained its medieval wall around the city intact. Want to know what a walled city might have looked like in 1400 AD? In addition, York was England’s northern capital, played an important role in the War of the Roses (battle for the throne) and was a key military outpost against the invaders from the north, including the Scots. It also retains one of the oldest markets in Europe and I was told that part of Harry Potter was filmed in this area. The Vikings first sailed up the river from the ocean and entered the UK through York. There are so many old buildings, churches, museums, street vendors, pubs and other great places to visit in York, but I am afraid it is often missed because of its northern location. It is truly one of the great places to visit, but you will need at least 2 full days to even glimpse all of its history.

Link to more: (coming soon)

Posted in Can't Miss Sites, London, Must Know Before You Go | Comments Off

Windsor Castle


Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. It was originally built by William the Conqueror over 1,000 years ago. It is the official residence of Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II. Not only a residence, it is still used for state visits and receptions. It is also home to St. George’s Chapel, home of a number of royal tombs and memorials including Henry VIII.

Click Here to see a 360 View of the Upper Ward of Windsor Castle


Windsor is due west of central London.

Windsor Castle is due west of London about 25 miles. It is an easy train ride, bus or car ride from central London. It lies between Oxford and London. Oxford is approximately 45 miles, northwest of Windsor.

My Experience

I arrived frantically at the castle after being abused by my SatNav (GPS) system. I enjoyed the Roman Baths in Bath in the morning and planned to make the 100 mile trip to Windsor in the same day. I was almost in Southampton on the southern coast before I realized my SatNav must be taking me to a pub in Southampton called Windsor Castle. I reset my SatNav and hoped I could still make it before closing.

My first view of Windsor Castle was the magnificent wall of the Lower Ward.

Windsor is a beautiful little village, but as always my heart missed a beat when I first saw the castle walls. The castle is much bigger than I imagined and larger than any castle I had seen. It was raining and cold. With less than 20 minutes until the entrance closed I knew I had to rush. I found the first parking lot I could find and dashed for the front entrance. Of course I parked below the Lower Ward and the entrance was up, near the Middle Ward. With camera bag bouncing around my neck, I ran past the large stone walls of the castle in my shorts and t-shirt, soaked from head to toe.

At the entrance into the castle is his map. You can see the three Wards of the castle.

Out of breath, I made it to the entrance with 10 minutes to spare! I bought my ticket, tourist guide and took off. I had plenty of time once inside the castle to see the sights. I was disappointed to learn that St. George’s Chapel, where King Henry VIII was buried, was closed due to time restrictions.

This is the oldest part of the castle, built during Norman times. It is the original hill, or the Motte.

The castle wasn’t like any castle that I had previously visited. Besides being enormous, the architecture was breath-taking. After getting through the entrance the first section you come upon is the Middle Ward. In the center of the ward is the oldest part of the castle, the Round Tower that crowns the motte, or hill, first built by William the Conqueror. The round tower is a century’s old stone tower that overlooks multiple gardens and the motte. Below the Middle Ward is the Lower Ward where St. Geogre’s Chapel is located and Henry VIII’s gate. Through the Norman gate on the far side of the motte is the entrance to the Upper Ward where the State Apartments and Residence Apartments are located.

This is the Round Tower that sits upon the Motte, which is the original mound the Norman built the first timber castle.

I took the wrong turn and went through the Norman gate. The guards were changing and I was able to get some pictures of a group of militia coming off the quadrangle, a grass location between the State Apartments and the Residence Apartments, used in the past as a parade ground. Mistakenly I walked into the exit of the State Apartments and was not so gently told I was going the wrong way.

The Norman Gate that separates the Upper and Middle Wards.

I walked through the Norman gate again and took a right through the west gate to reach the terrace. The view around the castle was beautiful. Once used for hunting, Henry VIII built the terrace to watch the hunt from the castle walls. I correctly entered the castle and found myself in the State Apartments. This is the location where official royal business and dignitaries are entertained. The only thing in England I have seen that rivals it is Chatsworth. The décor was rich in fabric, color, stone, light and architecture. In opulence, it exceeded even Chatsworth. Room after room boasted enormous historical paintings, bronze monuments, marble statues, painted ceilings, hand crafted ceramics, colorful textiles, centuries old furniture, precious metals, hand-made sculptures from famous artists, ancient books and more. There are guides who will answer questions in each room. Visitors can walk from room to room at their own pace.

The resident apartments were not open during my visit so I exited the State Apartments and headed to the Lower Ward where St. George’s Chapel is located. The Upper Ward sits on the highest point of the castle so it is a downhill walk to the Lower Ward. The walk allows the visitor to see the magnitude of the castle. I was able to stop and watch the “showing of the guard”. Having to stand long periods of time outside a small guard-house, it appears as some sort of formal exercise routine which allows the guard to walk back and forth in front of his guard-house several times.

King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour are buried here along with King Charles I who was executed.

I exited Windsor Castle impressed, but disappointed I didn’t get to see St. George’s Chapel. I was standing outside Henry VIII’s gate when I saw people walking in and heading to the chapel. I asked the guard if the service was open to anyone and he indicated it was. I walked back through the gate, across the Lower Ward and entered St. George’s Chapel. With a small group of people I was escorted to the Chapel choir. We walked past the Nave where I surmised Charles I, Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Henry V and Queen Mary were buried.

Like most cathedrals and churches, the intricate dark woodwork in the choir is stunning. To my right was the Nave, to my left the chapel, with the choir right in-between the two areas. I have been fortunate indeed to attend services in some of the great Cathedrals in England including Canterbury, Durham and St. Albans. This was no different. The boys’ choir, accompanied by several male adult singers, was heavenly. Towards the end of the service I looked down below my seat on the floor and saw the vault where Henry VIII was buried.

Click Here to hear the choir at St. George's Chapel During Evensong

Henry was buried next to Jane Seymour his favorite wife. Just over a century later, they were joined by Charles I, who had been deposited in the same vault after his execution at the hands of Oliver Cromwell. Neither Henry VIII or Charles I were given a memorial slab until the 19th century! Henry’s dreams of being buried in a colossal monument tomb were never realized. The monument he believed he was to be buried in was originally made for Cardinal Wolsey. Once an important advisor to Henry VIII, he was unable to convince the pope to allow Henry to divorce. He fell from the good graces of Henry who then took over Wolsey’s main residence, Hampton Court, which became a residence of Henry’s. The black granite tomb is now the final resting place for Britain’s most famous military figure, Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. The Duke’s tomb and granite resting place can be found in the Crypt at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. It seems that even his Protestant descendants may have been embarrassed by Henry VIII, their tyrannical ancestor.

After the service I was tired and looking forward to the ride home. Seeing the Roman Baths and Windsor Castle in the same day made for a great trip. I arrived at the parking lot to find a large note on my windshield telling me not to try and move my car. I remembered in my hurry I forgot to pay for parking before I left. My right front wheel had been clamped. I called the number to pay the fine and was told it was £120, or $180. In my haste to get to the castle, I forgot to pay a £5 fee which resulted in a £120 fine. I knew I had been taken by a shark. I could see the workers walking to other cars seeing if the people who did pay were a minute over their limit. If so, their car was clamped. No matter what country you are in there are always people willing to take advantage of you. I paid the fine and did my best to not let it ruin my day.

The Background and History

First built by William the Conqueror in the eleventh century, Windsor Castle has been the home of 39 monarchs. It is the oldest royal residence to be in continuous use on the British Isles. It remains one of Queen Elizabeth’s official residences. She resides there at Easter and when the annual Garter Service (highest order of Knights) is held in June at St. George’s Chapel. The castle is used as an alternative for Buckingham Palace for ceremonial visits from foreign heads of state. Royal weddings, baptisms and birthday celebrations have been held at Windsor Castle for centuries.

Behind me is the Round Tower and this picture is taken as I am walking towards the Lower Ward where St. George’s Chapel is located.

The castle is divided into three main areas known as wards: 1) the Lower Ward which is the most public, 2) the Middle Ward which is recognized by the Norman motte (mound or hill) on which the Round Tower sits and 3) the Upper Ward which is reached by the Norman Gate. The Upper Ward contains the state apartments and the royal apartments. The apartments are arranged around a large open area called the Quadrangle which is sometimes used as a parade ground.

Windsor Castle occupies 26 acres of land. It is an enormous castle. In the Upper Ward alone there are 925 rooms of which 225 are bedrooms. State banquets are held in St. George’s Hall which can accommodate up to 160 people! The state apartments have been open for public viewing since the 1840’s and, during winter months, some semi-private apartments are occasionally open for public viewing.

Admission fees to the cancel go to maintain the Royal Collection which includes royal palaces, royal residences and the royal art collection. The revenue generated by Windsor Castle goes into the Royal Collection Trust, a charity that exists to preserve the collection and make it as accessible as possible. A portion of the money collected at Windsor Castle each year goes to maintain the castle and to run the College of St. George.

More than 160 people actually live within the castle including the Constable and Governor, the Dean of Windsor, the Canons of the College of St. George and the military knights. There are 200 people who work at the castle. During the time when Windsor Castle becomes the official residence of the Queen, the number swells. People who work at the castle include a clockmaker, porter, housekeeper, maintenance staff, grooms and coachmen, furniture restorers, choristers, priests, police and military personnel, a flagman, a warden and other Windsor staff who serve the public, librarians, curators, bookbinders, conservators and archivists.

Unfortunately you are not able to take pictures inside the State Apartments. However, I took one picture up the staircase as I was leaving. They were not happy.

As it appears today, the castle is a result of almost 1,000 years of development but four monarchs have had the most influence:

1. William the Conqueror originally founded the castle
2. Edward III who rebuilt it in a magnificent Gothic style and built the royal apartments
3. Charles II who transformed the Upper Ward into a Baroque Palace
4. George IV who restored the exterior to conform to the romantic ideals of the castle architecture

Norman Fortress

Four years after defeating King Harold in the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror began building Windsor Castle. It took 16 years to build it. The castle was originally built as one of a chain of fortifications around London. It is built upon and occupies the only natural defense in this part of the Thames River Valley. The original castle architecture of the Norman was calaled “Bailey and Motte”. The motte was a mound or hill on which a Keep, or tower, was built and surrounded by a fenced area called the Bailey. The only castle that remains of the original fortifications around London built by William the Conqueror, Windsor contained two baileys; the Upper and Lower Wards.

When first built, the Castle was walled in timber. Henry II began to replace the outer fortifications in stone in the late twelfth century. The outer walls had a number of square towers. His grandson Henry III added D-shaped towers which are still in use.

Medieval Expansion

Edward III was known as the Warrior King for his lengthy wars in France during the 100 Years War. He spent a significant sum of money turning Windsor Castle from a fortress to a Gothic palace. The architecture reflects Edward III’s ideal of a Christian, chivalric monarchy.

The Terrace from which the State Apartments are entered built by King Henry VIII.

Work first began in the Lower Ward including new buildings for the College of St. George founded in 1348. The chapel was built 100 years earlier by Henry III and originally dedicated to Edward the Confessor. It was Edward III who first associated the Castle and the College with St. George, the patron saint of the new Order of the Garter.

Henry VIII built the Terrace so he could watch the hunt in the nearby forests. The area is longer a forest as you can see, but still beautiful.

Reconstruction of the Upper Ward began in 1537 under the direction of William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester. His new buildings for Edward III took the architecture of the Castle to a new level, beyond what was necessary for purely defensive purposes.

Tournaments were one aspect of the regular gatherings of Edward III’s court at Windsor. Wardrobe accounts testify to the creation of the most elaborate costumes and crests, including one worn by the King in 1339 containing 3,000 peacock feathers. The helms and banners of today’s Knights of the Garter descend from these origins.


At the time Henry VIII died in 1547, he owned 6 houses and palaces. Travelling between residences with his household, they were made ready in advance of his arrival, but stood empty the rest of the year. In 1522, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, was received at Windsor Castle in order to conclude the alliance against France.
Henry VIII built the gate that bears his name at the bottom of the Lower Ward, through which visitors leave the grounds. He also built the north terrace along the north side of the external walls of the Upper Ward. The terrace was built to allow the King to watch the hunt in the park below. Henry VIII was buried in St. George’s Chapel, alongside his third and favorite wife, Jane Seymour who died shortly after the birth of the future King Edward VI.

The Civil War

In 1642, conflict broke out between the monarchy and Parliament. Many of the palaces were under the control of the Parliament which often resulted in their destruction or sale. The Parliamentarian forces were told to take “special care” of Windsor Castle. Despite these instructions, the treasury of St. George’s Chapel was ransacked and some of its monuments desecrated. It was later used by Oliver Cromwell as his headquarters. It also served as a prison for captured Royalist officers. Charles I returned to Windsor but as a prisoner. After his execution, his body was buried in the Chapel of St. George in the vault occupied by Henry VIII.

The statue of Charles II who reinstated the monarchy in 1660.

When Charles II was reinstated as the monarch in 1660, the clergy returned to St. George’s and the houses in the Lower Ward were rid of squatters. He wanted to reinstate Windsor Castle as his principle non-metropolitan palace. He saw it as an important part of re-establishing the monarchy. Charles hired Hugh May, who had been exiled to Holland, to supervise the modernization of the castle. The transformation of Windsor was influenced by his cousin Louis XIV, as he was on an unprecedented building and artistic campaign at Versailles and the Louvre.

Future monarchs chose other royal palaces over Windsor as their main residence or places for royal activities. William III chose to expand Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace. However, under George III Windsor once again became the center of court life.


The castle and the empire enjoyed a golden age under Queen Victoria. It was used as a rural retreat, a place to entertain and a location that provided a setting for some of Prince Albert’s interests, including hunting. The Queen spent a large portion of her time here raising her family. Dignitaries and visitors from all over the world visited the castle including Buffalo Bill, King Louis-Philippe of France, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia as well as Emperor Napoleon III, the heir of the British greatest French rival, Napoleon Bonaparte.

The guards are coming out of the Quadrangle. There is statue of Charles II, who restored the monarchy in 1660.

Queen Victoria first opened the State Apartments to the public in 1840. An average of 60,000 people a year passed through the rooms each year. In 1842, the railway was built between London and Windsor. The Queen herself began to use the train for her journeys to and from the capital.

20th Century

At the height of German bombardments in 1940, while the King and Queen resolutely remained at Buckingham Palace, the princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, lived at Windsor where their parents joined them each weekend. The wartime bombing raids left Windsor remarkably unscathed. Fifty years later a far greater catastrophe occurred. A fire broke out in the Queen’s chapel from a spotlight. 200 firefighters fought for nearly 15 hours before gaining control but extensive damage was done to the northeast section of the castle. Restoration began immediately to protect the castle from the elements. Large sections of the area that were damaged most by the fire had been emptied of their contents due to electrical rewiring that was in process saving important relics, paintings and monuments from the Royal Collection.

Click Here for 360 View of the Lower Ward at Windsor Castle & St. George's Chapel

Ratings (Castle/Palace)

Category Rating: Must See

Overall Rating: #1

Comments: Windsor Castle is a beautiful castle and palace. It has more history and more historical artifacts than any other historical site I visited in the London area with the exception of the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. It is a Must See!

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St. Paul’s Cathedral


On September 5, 1666 a fire started at a bakery on Pudding Lane. It gutted the medieval city of London inside the old Roman city walls. It threatened, but never reached the aristocratic city of Westminster. 13,200 homes were lost along with 87 parish churches including St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is estimated that 70,000 of the nearly 80,000 inhabitants of London lost their homes. Famed architect Sir Christopher Wren designed and rebuilt St. Paul’s Cathedral with a new design that would become his masterpiece. Wren’s cathedral was the fourth built on the property dating back to the 7th century and it was much different than the previous three. St. Paul’s Cathedral sits on Ludgate Hill, the highest point in London.


St. Paul’s Cathedral was built in the original town of London which is located just east of Westminster. Both are north of the Thames River which flows mostly east and west through London.

Map from central London to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

My Experience

I made it to the Tube (London subway) after my last meeting of the day and wanted to get to St. Paul’s before they closed for visitors. On a previous day out to the Globe Theater, I had taken pictures of the outside of St. Paul’s. However, I knew it would be important to see the inside of the great cathedral. I wasn’t disappointed.

In the courtyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral, this marks the location of the “folkmoot” where people in London gathered to hear some of the greatest sermons, accusations and political statements announced to the people in England’s history.

St. Paul’s Cross was reconstructed in 1910 in the shadow of the Dome.

The other great cathedral in London is Westminster Abbey. Its gothic architecture and ancient royal tombs are impressive. However, St. Paul’s is impressive in a different, more modern way. To me, it is the working man’s Westminster Abbey. There are no tombs of monarchs, but there are important military leaders buried in the Crypt. The two most important British military leaders of all time other than Winston Churchill, Lord Nelson and Duke Wellington, are buried in the Crypt of the Cathedral.

The line to purchase tickets was slow and it took longer than expected to get my mobile tour guide once in the cathedral. The church is massive, appearing the size of an airport hangar for a 777. There are plenty of interesting memorials on both sides of the Nave, but it becomes more impressive as you work your way to the Dome. The Dome is the center of activity for the cathedral. With large crowds of people around me, I sat under the Dome and became absorbed in my surroundings. The Dome is tall and much broader than I expected from the outside. It sits above the intersection of the Nave, Choir and Transept. It is a large open space made to help the worshiper experience the sounds and sights of heaven.

Pictures are taboo, but this was taken from my iPhone. I was sitting just inside the entrance listening to my mobile tour guide.

Memorial to the Duke of Wellington, the hero of Waterloo,

Like many UK cathedrals, there is a great deal of history – political, military and religious. The chapels are beautiful, but not really functional. The choir’s woodwork is intricate and detailed. Yet it was the Dome that interested me the most. I could see a circular balcony above me and knew I would want to experience that view.

I found the stairs on the side of the Nave and headed up. There is a guide at the door warning old people like me that there are almost 200 steps to the balcony. Even though I was in my dress shoes there was no way I was going to miss this opportunity. It was a wide, circular staircase, for a change, and the steps were short making the trek up the stairs easier. I was winded by the top of the stairs, less from the walk and more from the spectacular view of the Nave below.

Great artistic beauty is all around. This is part of the Dome. I took this picture sitting in the Transept.

The balcony is narrow with a concrete seat that runs the circumference. This area was named the “Whispering Gallery” by Christopher Wren, the architect. Two people are supposed to be able to sit opposite each other and one person should be able to hear the whispers across the gallery of the other. It was crowded on this level with lots of people resting or perhaps taking in the amazing sight. Several people were trying to see if they could whisper and be heard by a friend or family member on the opposite side. Perhaps it was too crowded or noisy, the young girl and her mother next to me were unsuccessful in their attempt.

Picture taken from the lower external balcony atop of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The picture of the royal family was from the Diamond Jubilee ceremony in the summer.

To give some perspective on how high the lower balcony is, this is the clock tower of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

A view of the London skyline.

It was at the Whispering Gallery I discovered there is another 180 steps to a balcony which opens to the outside. It is a great view of London. My feet, back and legs hurt, but I knew I was going to the top. Taking a deep breath, I took off up the tight, winding staircase. Fortunately, there were “landing” or “resting” areas where there was room to sit and rest on the way up. I had company as I rested a couple of times, mostly by Baby Boomers. The pain was worth it as I stepped out onto the outside balcony. Unable to take pictures in the cathedral, I took out my camera and got some great photographs from the highest geographic point in London. The view was spectacular and the weather nice. I walked around the length of the balcony and took in the view while my legs rested. This is an excellent view of the Thames River and the historical buildings in Westminster.

This picture was taken from the upper balcony of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Thames River runs through London.

This might give the viewer some perspective of the height difference between the two balconies. This is a picture of the clock tower that was taken from the higher of the two balconies.

After walking down, I sat outside the Cathedral and had some soft ice-cream. This picture was taken from the ground looking up at the highest balcony with a higher powered lens. Look close and the see the line of people walking around the balcony.

I discovered there was a last set of stairs leading to another external balcony near the very top of the dome. No way was I going to stop this close to the top, but I found myself frustrated with the architect who somehow thought this was a good idea. The last stairs were the worst. Metal stairs had been installed and they were steep. There was a busload of 200 German students who were behind me, passing me by like I was standing there. As I reached the top, sweating and panting, the line out the door was backed up. The students, awe struck with the view, were standing on the small circular balcony. It took a while for the line to move, but I was thankful for the rest! The view was spectacular. Similar to the view from the balcony just below, yet I felt a sense of accomplishment in reaching the very top.

This was the only walkway where the original stone steps were not used. It was pretty steep. I was pretty tired by this time.

London has a large number of German visitors. These students were polite and spoke decent English. I wondered to myself what they think when they see the view of London from St. Paul’s Cathedral. Just a generation ago the Germans tried to destroy London. The destruction and death was incomprehensible. Do they feel guilt or dismay at their ancestors? I look out across the city and realize they probably felt neither. The day is beautiful, the view is spectacular and they are enjoying London. Sometimes it is good that we have short memories.

I expected the walk down the steps to be easy, but I guess the damage was done. The pain from my dress shoes worked its way up to my legs and into my lower back. The back pain would be severe enough that in two days I would have my first acupuncture treatment to relieve it. It was just another first in my trip to the UK.

On the subway ride back to my car my feet decided to relax on the subway. They were hurting.

The Background and History

The first St. Paul’s Cathedral was built in 604 AD. It was located in the heart of London which, at that time, was about one square mile. This was the first recorded St. Paul’s Cathedral, but as Sir Christopher Wren noted during the building of the current Cathedral, he found pottery, urns and vessels from “antiquity” indicating the site was used in pre-Roman times.

The first church burned down in 675 and was rebuilt 10 years later. The Vikings destroyed it in 962. A new church was then built in stone. Following another fire in 1087 the church was rebuilt again. The Normans, who had only recently conquered Britain, decided to make the longest and tallest Christian church in the world. Originally finished in 1240, the project was immediately expanded and the Cathedral was consecrated in 1300.

This is a picture of the original or “Old St. Paul’s that was burned in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Pretty cool digital reconstruction of Old St. Paul’s Cathedral

Old St. Paul’s, as this church became known, fell into disrepair over the centuries. In 1633, the church began a restoration project to restore it to its original beauty. In 1642, the English Civil War interrupted work on restoration of the most important classical building in the country. After the civil war and the execution of Charles I, the country became less respectful towards the established church. Churches throughout England fell into disrepair. Shockingly, St. Paul’s became a horse stable and its Nave became a marketplace. When the monarchy was restored in 1660, King Charles II threw out all of the traders and began to restore the church to its former state. By 1662, the choir was fitted for services while the remainder of the church was repaired. A royal commission was established to determine the state of the building. Christopher Wren was hired to complete the restoration. Before any work could begin, the Great Fire of 1666 swept through London and destroyed “Old St. Paul’s”. The fire burned for four days and nights. Miraculously only twenty people were killed.

King Charles I and the Lord Mayor formed a commission to rebuild London. Within 9 days of the fire, Christopher Wren had submitted a grand plan to rebuild the city. With thousands of people homeless, the masses were more concerned about building homes than a grand vision for a new city. Wren’s grand plan for the city never came to fruition.

Temporary repair was made to St. Paul’s Cathedral, but the structure was unsound. In 1668, Wren was asked to submit a new plan to rebuild St. Paul’s and it was accepted. Within a year, demolition the Old St. Paul’s began.

This is a view of the side entrance to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

In 1675, work began on rebuilding the Cathedral. In 1711, it was finished making it the first English Cathedral to be completed during the lifetime of the original architect. Wren took an active role in the construction of the Cathedral visiting the site weekly, managing the accounts and hiring supervisors. There was enormous pressure to finish the Church quickly and the commissioning committee put pressure on Parliament to cut Wren’s salary in half until the building was finished. The choir was finished in 1697 while construction went on around it. Until Wren’s death at 91 Wren regularly returned to St. Paul’s to sit under the dome and reflect on the masterpiece of faith and imagination.

This is the north side entrance to St. Paul’s Cathedral.


Most UK cathedrals have similar architectural elements: the Nave, the Crypt, the Transept and the Choir. Each of these elements has unique characteristics depending on the architect. Wren’s masterpiece included all four elements and presented them in a way more magnificent than any other I have seen.

Picture was taken from Millennium Bridge across the Thames River. On one side is Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and the other St. Paul’s Cathedral. The bridge was built in 2000.

The word Nave comes from the Latin word “ship”, an image often used to represent the Christian church and to suggest the idea of a spiritual journey. The Nave is the location where most of the members gather and is usually located inside the front entrance. Most Naves have memorials and monuments along their outer walls of important politicians, clergy and military leaders. While Westminster Abbey is virtually a tomb for UK royalty, St. Paul’s has memorials for key non-royal leaders including Duke Wellington, the hero of the battle of Waterloo where Napoleon was defeated. There is also a memorial to General Charles Gordon who, during the reign of Queen Victoria, played an important military leadership role in the UK’s great global empire of the 1800′s.

St. Paul’s is built in the shape of a cross, with a large dome crowning the intersection of its arms. The three-dome structure is unique among English cathedrals. It is 365 feet high (111.3 meters) which makes it one of the largest cathedral domes in the world. It weighs approximately 65,000 tons. The altar under the dome is the focus where the Eucharist is celebrated each Sunday.

This picture is slightly blurred because I didn’t want my phone confiscated. It is a picture below the Dome taken from the Whispering Gallery.

A transept is the east-to-west, or middle section, of a cross and includes the choir (spelled Quire in most UK cathedrals). The north end of the Transept is the Chapel of Saints. The south end is home to the effigy of the great English poet John Donne that miraculously survived the Great Fire that burned the Old Cathedral. There is also a memorial to Admiral Lord Nelson who defeated the French and Spanish navies during the Napoleonic Wars.

The choir was the first part of the cathedral to be finished. The organ is the centerpiece of the choir built my renowned German organ builder Bernard Schmidt. The composer George Frederick Handel loved the organ, more than likely, because it was the only organ in Britain with pedals. It has been rebuilt several times, most recently in 2008.

There have been other Duke of Wellington’s, but there is still only one real Duke of Wellington, the British hero at Waterloo.

Tomb of Admiral Nelson, the hero of the battle of Trafalgar in which he led the British navy to victory over the French and Spanish navies. He died during the battle.

There are two famous tombs in the Crypt. Lord Nelson was killed in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and buried in St. Paul’s after a state funeral. He was originally placed in a wooden coffin made from one of the ships he defeated in battle. Today his coffin is surrounded by a black marble sarcophagus originally made for Cardinal Wolsey. Lord Chancellor Wolsey was a favorite of Henry VIII who over time lost favor for his inability to get the Vatican to annul Henry’s marriage. The Crypt is also the home for the final resting place of Lord Wellington, known as the Iron Duke.

Ratings (Cathedral)

Category Rating: A

Overall Rating: #4

Comments: St. Paul’s is another “can’t miss” attraction in London. Although it lacks the history of Westminster Abbey, it is most spectacular. This Cathedral could never be fully appreciated without experiencing it firsthand.

A picture of what was the original Londonium, or London. You can find St. Paul’s Cathedral on the map.

This is the old gate entrance to the city of London just outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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Verulamium – A Roman Town Near London


Verulamium was one of the largest cities in Roman-Britain. Today it is known as St. Albans, after the martyred saint who was beheaded in 308 AD on order of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. This site was the center of one of two powerful British tribes, the Catuvellauni, encountered by the Romans in 43 AD. The Romans had two main priorities when conquering a new territory: 1) prevention of revolt and 2) tax collection. Communities who came in contact with Roman legions could either: 1) be under the direct influence of Roman “garrisons” who policed their community or 2) become a client kingdom. In a client kingdom an appointed local ruler would be responsible for maintaining law and order as well as the collection of taxes to Rome. It appears the area that became Verulamium chose the second and most peaceful option.


St. Albans, where the ruin of Verulamium is located, is 22 miles north of the center of London. It is accessible by car, train or bus.

St. Albans is just north of London

My Experience

St Albans Cathedral

I rushed out of my business meeting with the hope of making it to the two great sites in St. Albans before they closed. The first, St. Albans Cathedral, was built in honor of St. Albans and is one of the great cathedrals of the Church of England. St. Alban was one of the first Christian martyrs who was beheaded on orders by the Roman Emperor in 308 AD. The other site was Verulamium, a 2,000-year-old Roman fort and town.

The two locations are near each other, separated by a small stream. St. Albans Cathedral sits upon a large, sloping hill that overlooks the old Roman town. In fact, large parts of the Cathedral were originally built from the stone used to build the Roman town of Verulamium after the Norman invasion in 1077.

Like everywhere in Britain the parking lots always seem to be a long distance from your final destination. I had to park my car at the farthest point from the Cathedral and Verulamium. It is a nice walk, but I was in a hurry and in my dress shoes, which weren’t the most comfortable to do long distance walking.

Oliver Cromwell stayed here one night during the battle of St. Albans

I crossed the small creek towards the imposing hill to the Cathedral. Along the creek bank is an old pub with a historical marker. Oliver Cromwell, who led the Parliamentarians in defeat of the Royalists during the British Civil War, stayed in the pub and housed his horse in the stables during the battle at St. Albans. It is impossible to go anywhere in Britain and not run unexpectedly into history.

I stayed longer in the Cathedral than I expected. The Cathedral was grander and busier than I envisioned. The boys’ choir was practicing and it was enchanting. There was an Evensong service and I had to stay and enjoy the wonderful music. It put me way behind schedule, but while there was still sunlight I was going to see as much of Verulamium as I could.

Listen to Evensong at This Beautiful Cathedral – Enchanting

Crossing the creek I saw one of the few remaining sections of the old Roman wall that once surrounded the town. The old Roman town is now a giant park with multiple pitches for soccer fields, basketball courts, picnic areas, tennis courts and more. Regardless of the time of year Britain is green and lush, so as I stood in the center of the old town I paused to appreciate the beautiful and relaxing sight.

Verulamium Museum

Inside the Museum

I scurried to the museum hoping it was still open, since it was after 5:00 PM and few commercial properties in Britain, except pubs, are open after 5:00. It was a long walk across the park as the former Roman town was over 200 acres. Walking up the steps of the museum, the lights were on and I was hopeful they were open. The door was unlocked and two workers were standing inside the door. They informed me that it was indeed closed, but they were open for a special private event at the museum. They must have seen the disappointment in my eyes and they offered me a quick, private tour. The museum might take an hour or so in order to go through it properly, but I took a 20 minute privately guided tour. It was great! I gave them both a tip and they seemed as genuinely appreciative of my generosity as I was theirs.

This mural was found buried in the ground during excavation. The detail is amazing.

Another mural just found under the ground where it was left as the Romans left Britain in 410 AD.

With more information in my hands from the museum, I was able to walk the grounds on my own noting different ruins within the town. There is plumbing that was discovered under what was originally a large villa still on the property. The only Roman theater built in Rome was just outside the walls. The main gate is visible, but only from ground level. You can see the outline of where the stones were laid to build a high stone wall that served as a fortress for the Roman town, not so unlike a medieval castle.

Walking to the parking lot I accidently walked through a golf course and had difficulty getting back to my car. My feet were killing me. Yet as I drove off I kept thinking about the large open park that was one of the largest Roman towns 2,000 years ago. I love imagining what the original inhabitants would think if they could see how things are today versus how they were when built. A once walled, thriving, ornate city is now a lush park where lots of children enjoy playing. On the hill overlooking the old Roman town is a massive cathedral, built in part by the stones once part of the old Roman community. Britain is where the old and the new of western civilization meet.

The Background and History

The Roman town Verulamium was the center of the powerful pre-Roman tribe known as the Catuvellauni. After the Romans left Britain in 410 AD, the area took the name of St. Alban who was the first Christian saint killed in Britain. Alban was decapitated outside the gates of Verulamium in 268 AD for harboring a Christian who refused to worship the pagan gods of Rome. The Roman Emperor Diocletian published the “edicts against Christians” which required all Roman citizens to worship the Roman gods and not the Christian God. Alban harbored a fugitive Christian priest who had refused to comply. Upon being caught, the local Roman governor decided that Alban should die in his place. Alban would later become sainted by the Catholic Church and the town would take his name during Saxon times. The site was deserted by the late 5th century. The growth of a new settlement in nearby St. Albans left the Roman town open to excavation.

Remains of Roman wall

The view of St. Albans Cathedral from Verulamium. The stones to build the cathedral were taken from the Roman town.

Verulamium was granted the rank of a municipium in 50 AD which gave its inhabitants full Roman rights. The most likely reason for this was due to the early surrender by the Catuvellauni tribe following the death of Togodumnus, their warrior king. The town’s first defensive system was started in 55 AD. It was a large bank and ditch which enclosed an area of 119 acres.

The defense would prove inadequate. Upon the death of a local ally king to Rome, Prasutagus, the Romans annexed his territory against his will. A king of a client state, Prasutagus’ will was ignored. They flogged his daughter and raped his granddaughters. In 60/61 AD, the former king’s daughter, Boudicca, raised an army and attacked the Romans resulting in the loss of 80,000 people. The rebellion destroyed two Roman towns, including Verulamium. The defeat caused the Emperor Nero to consider withdrawing the Roman troops from Britain, but Suetonius, the general of the Roman-British army, defeated Boudicca and re-established Roman rule. By 79 AD the town was rebuilt.

Around 155 AD, a fired destroyed almost half of the town. Again, the town was rebuilt, but this time with more stone than timber. Old records show the new city had two monumental arches, a theatre, a basilica (building used for administration) and a small forum (public marketplace). Over the next two centuries the town established itself as a wealthy market center, perhaps the most important in Roman Britain, with comfortable houses, fine mosaics, Italian marble and a piped water supply. By the 4th century, Verulamium was the third largest city of Roman Britain after Londinium (London) and Corinium (Cirencester). Within 25 years of the Romans leaving Britain, the theatre had become a trash dump and by 430 AD, the town had fallen into decline.


The foundation of the original stone gates of Verulamium.

The city was quarried for building material when medieval St Albans was first found; indeed, much of the Norman Abbey was constructed from the remains of the Roman city, with Roman brick and stone still visible. Since much of the modern city is built over Roman remains, it is still not uncommon to unearth Roman artifacts several miles away. A complete tile kiln was found in Park Street some six miles (6 miles) from Verulamium in the 1970s, and there is a Roman mausoleum near Rothamsted Park five miles (5 miles) away.

Ratings (Roman Britain)

Category Rating: B

Overall Rating: #3

Comments: The Roman ruins of Verulamium are part of a bigger attraction, which is St. Albans. This area’s history pre-dates the Roman occupation and continues through Saxon and Norman times. St. Albans is a beautiful day trip just outside of London for the tourist who wants to see more than just the most common historical sites within the London city limits.

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Roman Baths


The Roman Baths in Bath are Britain’s only natural occurring hot springs. Roman baths were common, but most were heated by steam caused by heating the water and circulating it under rooms elevated by stacks of flat rock. Thermal springs were uncommon and so when naturally occurring hot springs were found, the pre-Christian Romans attached a deity to them. In this instance, Minerva was designated the goddess and an elaborate temple to honor her is the center of the Roman Baths.


Bath is 114 miles due west of London. It is about a 2 ½ hour drive by car or by tour bus. There are plenty of good accommodations in Bath if you choose to stay there overnight.

My Experience

The town of Bath is quite different than other British locations I visited. The common architecture of Bath is brown stone. That is not unusual as so many Victorian homes or villages are, but what stood out to me was the lack of contrast. There was no color! As I drove through Bath and around the center of town, I found it unusual that there were beautiful old village buildings nestled in a valley surrounded by hills, but there was no color. The town is nice and the river is a beautiful area to picnic or to walk near but, unlike most British towns, there was little of the color that makes British villages and towns so unique.

Surprisingly bland Bath. There is very little color in the Bath architecture which was unusual compared to other UK villages and towns.

Finding the historical attraction is never the issue, but finding parking is. On a recent visit to Windsor Castle I forgot to “pay and display” as I was in a hurry to make sure I got into the facility before it closed. When I returned it cost me $200 (£120) to get my car back. Do not make this mistake. Most parking lots are not this aggressive, but it does happen.

I have been fortunate in most of my travels to have beautiful sunshine; however my luck had run out. It is difficult to find stores open on Sunday so before I was able to buy a small umbrella I was soaked. This is another lesson for the tourist. Carry a small umbrella with you at all times. There is no reason to pack one unless you just want to. They are available at most convenient and clothes stores and are inexpensive.

What I didn’t realize was how close the Bath Cathedral was to the Roman Baths. After going through the baths I realized how important it must have been to put a Cathedral next to one of the biggest pagan monuments in Britain. The baths were continually in use since the Romans left after 400 AD but the temple was knocked down. The stones were used to build other sites and eventually political leaders and royalty claimed the baths as their own. Even the church used the hot baths as part of a healing program along with prayer.

The entrance to the Roman Baths is actually a building referred to as a museum. A building shell was placed over the site of the Minerva Temple and the hot baths. As you walk through the facility there are rooms full of video presentations, small models of the baths and archaeological finds from in and around the baths. One of the largest hordes of Roman coins found in Britain was found less than a decade ago about 150 yards from the facility.

Steps from the original Temple leading into the Roman Baths.

Pieces found that were part of the original temple to Minverva.

Walking through the temple area is unique as they have installed a floor above the ruins with graphics, stonework and video to make you feel as if you are walking through the temple during Roman-Britain times. One of the most unique finds is the gold plated mask of Minerva found in one of the springs. The statue of Minerva has been recreated in the temple area and the mask placed upon her head.

A very important archaeological find – the mask of Minerva that was an important statue in the Temple. It was found in the sacred spring.

It is interesting to see what they have on display at the museum that was discarded and found in the hot springs. Upon leaving the temple there is an area of the museum dedicated to the art of Roman engineering. It shows how the baths were made and developed.

As you get to the lower ground you can see the steaming baths, first through the windows and then as you walk outside. There is a large open area with steam coming off of the water-filled bathing area that is the size of a neighborhood swimming pool. You are able to walk around and take pictures as people are standing or sitting nearby taking in the sight. The greenness of the water surprised me until the guide in my hand told me that this is because of direct sunlight on the pool; however, certainly not on the day of my visit. The direct sunlight causes algae to grow in the pool, whereas, during Roman times there was a large arch that covered the baths keeping the sunlight out.

The Roman Baths in Bath

Everything above the water level has been reconstructed.

On either side of the center pool are smaller baths. One room has a cold bath filled with waters that are not thermal heated for the brave bathers who love the hot/cold bath. On the other side are small rooms where bathers rinsed off before going to the main bath and a smaller room where massages were given. There is even a small pool that was used for healing. There is a ledge and the pool is deep enough, for those who could stand, to come up to their neck. The church used these pools to help the infirm and sick to feel better. There is also a small pool next to the temple that was off limits to Roman bathers. It was the bath reserved for the goddess Minerva. Later this segregated bath was used by the church for healing as well as British royalty during medieval times.

The Romans built a waterway to bring the warm water from the Sacred Spring to the baths.

The water still runs hot. The small stream can still be seen as it runs under a stone stair case and into the largest bath. Men and women in Roman times bathed together. Slaves tended to the needs of the Romans and their families while at the bath. During Roman times it was an important place for social, political and religious purposes. The baths were used frequently by the Roman soldiers, politicians, businessman and their families.

Visitors get a chance to drink directly from the Sacred Spring.

Before leaving the museum and baths there is an opportunity to taste the thermal water with a small cup from a fountain. It was bottled for many years and sold through Britain as a cure all. The water does taste warm and has a mineral flavor to it, but was not as bad as I thought it would be.

As you leave the Museum and Baths you exit through a beautiful restaurant called the Pump Room.

As you leave the museum the stairs take you to the Pump Room which is a grand restaurant above the baths. It is an area built by royalty centuries after the Romans left that has been converted to a restaurant. I was too wet and dirty to try the food, but if you visit, take the time to enjoy the food and try a bottle of the thermal spring.

The Background and History

There is a story of one of the late Roman Emperors being asked by a barbarian chieftain why he bathed once a day. The Roman emperor told him it was because he was too busy to bathe twice a day. Bathing was an extremely important social, business and political activity in Roman society.

The Roman Baths are the best preserved ancient bath and temple complex in northern Europe. The site is listed as a World Heritage site and is the only site in Britain where thermal springs emerge from deep underground. At this location in the first century AD, the Romans built the most dramatic suite of public buildings in Roman Britain.

On display at the museum next to the springs are unique artifacts found over the last 300 years, along with coins and curses thrown into the springs as petitions to Minerva. There are many ornate architectural stone fragments that have been found of the magnificent Temple of Sulis Minerva.

Examples of curses written in Latin found at the bottom of the Sacred Spring and shown in the museum

Roman burial markers found near the Temple.

In 1979-80 major work was done in the Sacred Spring that lies beneath what is known as the King’s Bath. This work significantly contributed to the knowledge and understanding of the purposes, meaning and usage of the Roman Baths. They were built around the thermal spring and then used for comfort, cure and cleansing.
The Temple of Sulis Minerva, Sulis was the local diety and Minerva a Roman deity, was a masterpiece that rivaled temples found in Rome. The coins and curses thrown into the sacred spring and inscriptions of local people and traveling pilgrims illustrate the power of the hot springs to stir the superstitious and imagination of people in the ancient world. Curses were written in great detail on small, rectangular pieces of tin and thrown into the sacred spring in hopes of revenge by the goddess Minerva. Many of these curses are on display at the museum today.

In the 1st century BC, the area around Bath was inhabited by an Iron Age tribe called the Dobunni. They believed their hot spring was sacred to the Goddess Sulis who had healing powers. Their religious leaders, the Druids, were responsible for communication with the goddess. They believed she needed to be placated with offerings.

In 43 AD the Romans landed with the intent to conquer. Life for the Dobunni changed dramatically. The springs were in the military zone controlled by the Romans. The pre-Christian Romans were sensitive to the local gods and goddesses of those they conquered. They believed these local deities were powerful and to be respected. However, the Romans knew the Druids, who conducted human sacrifice and had the ability to create trouble among the locals, had to be annihilated.

In AD 60, a rebellion broke out led by the British Queen Boudica. Thousands were killed and the response of the Roman military was uncontrolled. The province lay in ruins. It took almost 10 years for the area to be rebuilt. It was probably during this period the Romans decided to take the native sanctuary of Sulis and turn it into a magnificent curative establishment that became the Temple of Sulis Minerva.

Roman engineering went to work. The construction of the baths could only commence after the area near the spring had been drained. The precision used by Roman engineers to drain the swamp and build the baths is a marvel. First, they surrounded the spring with large wooden poles driven deep into the soft earth. Next, they created a massive reservoir around the spring and lastly, enclosed the spring with sheets of metal to keep the reservoir sealed. The water to the baths was fed from the reservoir.

Today it is a pool for coins but during Roman times it was the cold spring that many Romans used after being in the hot spring.

By 75 AD the baths and temple complex were complete. The largest pool was 4 ½ feet deep with deep steps on all sides. The original lead sheets that keep the pool from leaking are still lining the largest pool.
Belief in the healing power of the springs was renewed in the Middle Ages with the spread of the legend of the prehistoric Prince Bladud, son of King Ludhudibras, who lived in 9th century BC. Bladud supposedly caught leprosy and was banished from the royal court. He took up work as a country swineherd. He noticed that when the hogs wallowed in a steaming swamp in a valley bottom they emerged cleansed of their warts and sores. He plunged into the thermal quagmire and scrambled out cured. The prince was accepted back into his father’s court and the city of Bath was founded around the spring in gratitude from his father.

You can see the old water lines during the medieval ages. It was about 4 feet higher in the Kings Bath than during Roman times.

The water which flows through the baths today fell as rain on nearby Mendip Hills many thousands of years ago. It permeates down through the limestone aquifers to a depth of between 8,000 feet to 13,000 feet (2,700 to 4,350 meters) where natural heat raises the temperature to between 147 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit (64-97 centigrade). Under the pressure, the heated water rises to the surface along fissures and faults through the limestone to the surface beneath Bath.

The hot springs flow at 3.5 gallons per second or 250,000 gallons a day. The temperature is a constant 115 degrees Fahrenheit with 43 minerals present in the water. Calcium and sulfate are the main dissolved minerals along with sodium and chloride. The bubbling in the baths is caused by escaping gases in the water.
The baths were used continually after Roman times. During medieval times, the thermal springs were knows as The King’s Bath. Between the 13th century and the 20th century there were modifications made to the original baths for personal and commercial purposes.

Ratings (Roman Britain)

Category Rating: A

Overall Rating: #1

Comments: The Romans were amazing and seeing the Roman Baths is worthwhile. The city of Bath was less appealing to me. I didn’t come to Britain expecting to see so much Roman influence, but they played such an important role in early British history and much of that early influence remains today.

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Roman Britain

The Romans named the part of Great Britain they controlled ”Britannia”. The inhabitants of Britain prior to the Romans had already established trade and cultural communications with continental Europe, but the Romans introduced new developments in commerce, industry, agriculture and architecture. The Roman invasion began in 43 AD and included the entire island south of what is today Scotland.

Most of the information known about Britannia is from archaeological explorations, as there is little passed down in writing. There is epigraphic evidence, inscriptions and writings on stones, along with the achievements noted by Roman Emperors, including Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, who built walls across the northern border of the region.

The original occupants of Britain were the Celts who descended from the Gauls. The Gauls were first acknowledged from what is now the area of the Middle East known as Turkey. Paul writes a letter found in the New Testament to the Church in Gaul known as Galatians. The Gauls migrated across central and western Europe. In the western regions they became known as the Celts. The Gauls were a warrior culture respected by the Greeks and Romans. Eventually the empire of the Gauls was incorporated into the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar first sent armies from Rome to Britain in 55 and 54 B.C. to determine if the Celts were aiding the Gallic resistance in what is now France.

Part of the original wall around the Roman city of Verulamium in what is now St. Albans.

The Romans landed in Kent but were limited in their military ability due to no cavalry and heavy storm damage to their ships. Although a military failure, it was a political success with the Roman Senate declaring a 20-day public holiday to honor the success of the trip. Following his second invasion, Caesar departed the country after bringing Britain into the sphere of Roman influence. Caesar left with his troops but established a client kingdom in Kent friendly to Rome.

Rome Conquers Britain

Caesar Augustus planned invasions after 30 AD, but it was determined that taxes brought in through trade were greater than through conquest. Rome supported two powerful Celtic kingdoms in southern Britain, the Catuvellauni and the Atrebates. When war broke out between the two kingdoms Claudius, Caesar at the time, invaded Britain in 43 AD in support of the Atrebates.

The Romans were amazing engineers. This is a map of the Roman roads built almost 2,000 years ago in the UK.

The invasion was led by Aulus Plautius. The size of the Roman force is not recorded, but there was at least one Roman legion (5,000 soldiers), maybe more. II Augusta was commanded by the future emperor Vespasian. Believe it or not, the invasion was delayed by fear. The troops were afraid of crossing the sea from France and fighting beyond the known world. An imperial freedman eventually persuaded the troops to cross the ocean. It took the Romans two battles to defeat the Catuvellauni and their allies. Resistance continued as Plautius stopped at the Thames and sent for Vespasian. Reinforcements arrived in the form of artillery and elephants for the final march on the Catuvellauni capital, known as Colchester today.

After capturing the south, Romans turned their attention to the west in what is now known as Wales. In 78 AD, Roman troops conquered more of the island increasing the size of Roman Britain. For most of Roman Britain history there were a large number of Roman troops on the island. For the next 200 years the Roman army fought the uncivilized tribes from the north, the Caledonians and Pics.

Northern Boundary of the Roman Empire

A unique Roman-Britain culture emerged for the 400 years after the initial invasion. The Romans were never able to extend their boundaries northward into Scotland, then Caledonia. In 128 AD the Emperor Hadrian built a massive stone wall, 8 feet wide and 13 feet wide, from the east coast of northern Britain to the west coast of Britain to keep out the raiding Caledonians. In 142, a parallel stone and earthen wall, the Antonine Wall, was built about 100 miles north of Hadrian’s Wall. For reasons unknown today, the Antonine Wall was abandoned by the Romans who retrenched south at Hadrian’s Wall.

Map of Roman walls to keep the Caledonians and Pics (now Scots) out of Roman territory.

Both of these structures were architectural masterpieces for their time. A series of large and small forts were built along the walls and manned by Roman troops to keep the raiding Caledonians out of Britannia. Parts of these enormous walls exist today, but over the centuries the materials used to build these massive structures were taken by builders and farmers to use for personal use. Roads, homes, churches and territorial stone walls for sheep ranches were built with the stones from Hadrian’s Wall. National historical societies operate some of the remaining sites where the grandeur and majesty of these walls can be viewed and appreciated, even today.

End of Roman Rule

Roman Rule didn’t end on a specific date, although the year 410 AD is often used. In 383, Roman troops were removed from north and west Britain. This is the date Emperor Honorius replied to a request for additional troops in Britannia. His response to Romano-Britain was to “see to their own defense”. The Roman Empire could no longer defend itself from internal rebellion or external threat posed by expanding Germanic tribes and could no longer afford to send troops to Britannia.

The next 200 years were the least documented in British history. The only way to determine the course of events during this time period is through the study of the archaeology at various sites in Great Britain. Although Romanized, most of the inhabitants were still Celtic. Urban areas began to deteriorate and the population of the entire island may have declined. Immigrants from Germanic tribes began to show up; the one most mentioned is Saxon.

After the Romans pulled out of England, the Germanic tribes didn’t overtake Britain immediately nor did culture collapse altogether. Roman coins stayed in circulation for decades, although barter became more common since no more coins were minted. Post Roman Britains built wooden structures which would not have withstood the centuries as well as the stone structures of the Roman period. The Roman villas, or houses, remained occupied largely by wealthy and powerful individuals. Over time the Saxon influence became greater, but the Roman influence on Britain was powerful and stayed long after the Romans were no longer in Britain.

Roman Influence on Great Britain

The Romans were builders and masterful engineers. After conquering, they brought peace and prosperity wherever they went. They brought Roman ingenuity, architecture and innovation to their conquered nations. Primitive cultures flourished along with Roman influence and the quality of life improved for most.

Evidence of Roman life in Britain can be seen everywhere, although most British today don’t seem to appreciate it as a tourist might. The stones from Hadrian’s Wall were used to build roads, churches, cathedrals, homes and fences. Many of these can be seen 2,000 years later. St. Albans Cathedral was built in the 11th century from the stones used to build the castle wall and Roman villas in Verulamium, a large Roman settlement nearby. Many of the “motorways” in Britain follow the original roads built by the Romans. To this day, cathedrals, churches and medieval castles are built on the stone foundation of Roman buildings.

The Dark Ages

The Dark Ages refers to the period of time ushered in by the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD. Originally the term “dark” referred to the slide in the standard of living in the western world. The lack of Latin literature, general demographic decline, limited building activity, lack of material cultural achievements in general contributed to the coining of the phrase “Dark Ages”. Technology, architecture, politics, art and innovation seemed to have reached a peak during the Roman Empire. Although the time frame differs for many, the Dark Ages lasted almost 1,000 years after the fall of the empire. Life seemed to be more difficult for most people than during the period of the Romans. The period is characterized by relative scarcity of historical or other written records.

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