Cathedral towns and rural countryside, grand manors and famous gardens: a ribbon of beauty and history, it unrolled ahead of the Austin Mini, Sherrill at the wheel, Simone in the pint-sized back seat. At Sissinghurst Castle, we climbed the medieval tower in which Vita Sackville-West wrote her books and strolled in the gardens she created among the castle's ruins, even in a moat. We admired the art collection that filled 17th-century Chatsworth House and were dazzled by the gardens surrounding it. We stayed in hotels and inns that were old when Shakespeare was writing, their floors as wavy as the sea.
At Warwick castle, a tall, cadaverous guide out of a 1930s black and white horror flick took us along corridors, up and down many flights of stairs, through vast chambers and medieval rooms, explaining the spectacular interiors we were seeing. At the end of the tour, he delivered us back to a host who said, "I'm sure you enjoyed George's tour. Nobody knows Warwick Castle as well as he does. Remarkable, isn't it, considering that he's blind?"
At Stonehenge, I photographed three year-old Simone next to a peace symbol someone had spray-painted on a fallen stone. We wandered through historic university buildings and grounds at both Oxford and Cambridge and at Stratford-on-Avon explored where Shakespeare romped as a kid, Simone running along the banks of the river to see the snowy, long-necked swans. Somehow, Sherrill coped with the challenge of driving on the narrow, twisting country roads and lanes, despite hedges that obscured the views ahead and the ditches that often lined what passed for a road. Twice the jolting, bumping, sudden bending of the roads made Simone sick to her stomach, once on my jacket shoulder, but she was a good sport and usually a good traveler.
The cliff-top cathedral at Lincoln with its three towers clawing at the sky above the bend in the river seemed magically unreal and the half-timbered buildings in the walled city of Chester could have been out of an old storybook. However, it was in Chester where we heard that Bobby Kennedy had been murdered after winning the California primary in the 1968 presidential campaign.
"What is it with you Americans?" people asked us. "Why do you shoot each other?"
The next evening at our hotel in York, we watched a British television special about the epidemic of violence in the United States. We were glad to be in northern England, but were embarrassed to be Americans.
Sherrill and I were ready for the tranquil beauty of the Lake District, especially the quiet charm of Hilltop, Beatrix Potter's seventeenth century home. Simone recognized the wisteria-draped stone house without being told as we walked up the path. The moment we passed through the front door, she rushed over to the wall near the bottom of the stairs.
"Here," she said, pointing at the wainscot and skirting board, "this where they hid, the rats, Samuel Whiskers and Anna Maria. Tom Kitten was here, too!"
Every place she looked as we walked through the old house brought new memories from Beatrix Potter's stories and drawings. When we finally left, one of the staff admired her pinafore.
"It's a pinny," Simone explained.
Sherrill and the Austin Mini eventually got us to the remains of Hadrian's Wall, where we stomped around in soggy turf, admiring the moss-covered Roman stones. Driving north into Scotland after a night in a medieval inn near the border, we encountered a more rugged land, a world so doggedly picturesque that it was tempting to linger, however, we made our way north to Edinburgh, the city of Robert Louis Stevenson and A Child's Garden of Verses, a beautiful city whose hills and sprawling bays reminded us of San Francisco. Then, in a day or two, it was west across Scotland to Glasgow, where both the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth were born. After overnight in Scotland's largest city, we rode a car ferry to Belfast in Northern Ireland, then enjoying a period of peace.
Dublin, the city on the Liffey, was the goal of this librarian and writer. Sometimes, in our travels Sherrill and I felt and acted like tourists, other times we wanted to downplay all that. We did see the Book of Kells at Trinity College, but otherwise allowed ourselves to mostly just wander in this city that Yeats, Shaw, Beckett, Synge, O'Casey, Wilde, and especially Joyce, knew so well. We strolled along the old streets, hesitating from time to time to read historical markers on pubs and other buildings. When Simone's legs wore out, I hoisted her up against my shoulder, where she could gaze at this strange old world or doze.
"Bruce," Sherrill told me the next morning, "one thing more you have to do before we leave here."
Back in the Austin Mini, we found our way to the old Martello Tower just outside the city, the tower described so precisely in the opening pages of Joyce's Ulysses. Then, we'd be able to say goodbye to Dublin without regrets later. There also was one more thing she wanted to do before we left Ireland. On our way south to Wexford, where we'd get the ferry to Wales, we stopped at the Waterford factory, so she could buy sherry glasses to match ours, without the retail prices and taxes. However, they told us that they didn't have any to sell because everything they made was exported, mostly to America.
Sherrill drove our little car onto the ferry and parked in the lower level with the other vehicles making what turned out to be a ten hour crossing to Swansea. We hadn't realized that the trip was this long or that we could've booked a room, so we had to sit up in a lounge the whole time. Eventually, I carried the exhausted little girl below to our car and sat with her while she slept. To keep out fumes and stink, I kept the windows closed, turning the mini into a steam bath, but Simone did get a good sleep.
The next day at our Swansea hotel, when we went downstairs to breakfast, Simone took the goblet with her orange juice and bit a chunk out of it. Sherrill snatched away the goblet, pulled the piece of glass from our daughter's mouth, and checked to make sure no pieces stayed behind and that Simone hadn't swallowed any.
"You don't give a three year-old juice in a goblet!" she told the waiter, displaying the hunk of glass.
"We've never had a three year-old before," he stammered.
To be continued....
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