Exploring Wales

After the excitement of the last couple of days, we decided to take it easy, catch up on the blog and some laundry and enjoy the quiet, country life. After our laundry was hung up to dry and the blog was complete, we headed out for a walk around the farm. The cottage that we are staying in is dated around 1700 while the main house next door is dated around 1400. How cool is that?!?!? We wandered around the yard and the hills, petted some of the baby sheep, and basked in the sunshine and the amazing beauty of the area.

We needed to go to town to get some groceries so thought that while we were out and about with the car, we would do some exploring. We didn’t have to drive far to arrive at Lake Vyrnwy. This reservoir in the county of Powys, Wales, was built in the 1880s for Liverpool Corporation Waterworks to supply Liverpool with fresh water. It flooded the head of the Vyrnwy valley and submerged the village of Llanwddyn. (much like the Shellmouth Dam and Lake of the Prairies). There is a little convenience store and gas station that is still called Llanwddyn but I’m not sure if this would be on the original site. The dam itself is quite impressive. It was the first large stone-built dam in the United Kingdom, and is built partly out of great blocks of Welsh slate. It is 355 metres (1,165 ft) long and has a road bridge running along the top. It is decorated with over 25 arches and two small towers (each with four corner turrets). We drove across the dam, parked the car and walked along the lake, back across the dam and down into the sculpture park in the valley below the dam. The park is quite beautiful and there are several totems carved into standing trees and re-erected fallen trunks. At the little restaurant near the car park, we had a cream tea (finally!!) and a cider. As we headed out we stopped the car at the straining tower which looks like a miniature castle.  Its purpose is to filter out material in the water with a fine metal mesh, before the water flows along the aqueduct to Liverpool. This whole area is absolutely beautiful and so very peaceful. It is a bird watchers paradise and we enjoyed our walk, listening to the different bird calls and the gentle waterfalls coming through the dam. The peace was only disturbed by six fighter jets zooming through the valley on what I can only assume (and hope) was a training exercise. A pretty awesome first day in Wales!

Tomorrow we are off to meet relatives on my Gran’s side and hopefully track down her childhood home. Can’t wait!!

Our Airbnb…

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We even have a wood stove…img_5385img_5342

 

 

Lake Vyrnwy.

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The Straining Tower

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Wood carvings out of trees…

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This one is called the Pecking Order…img_5349

Tried some traditional Welsh Cider…

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Here is some Welsh for you to learn – all the signs here are in both languages

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Farewell to Family, Hello Wales

We packed up our bags in Cheltenham, said goodbye to our BNB hosts and headed back up to Tamworth. We arrived at Ron and Glenys’ at about 10:30 and we headed out to explore the town. For us history buffs, Tamworth is a wealth of interesting facts. It has roots back to the Middle Ages and was made into an important place by King Offa of Mercia (a Saxon kingdom that roughly corresponded to the Midlands of England). Offa reigned from 755 to 796. He built a palace at Tamworth and it could be said that Tamworth was the capital of Mercia. However it was burned by the Danes in 874. Tamworth was rebuilt in 913 by the Ethelflaeda,  King Alfred’s sister. She was called the Lady of the Mercians. Anyone who has watched “The Last Kingdom” will know these names well. Tamworth was destroyed again but a fortified castle was built by the Normans and this castle is still standing today. We wandered through the rooms and up the staircases of the castle and were able to get a very good glimpse of how life was during the ages. The town was destroyed by fire in 1345, visited by the plague in the 16th and 17th centuries and was home to Sir Robert Peel, who was the Prime Minister during Queen Victoria’s reign. Because of Peel’s Manifesto which laid down the principles upon which the modern British Conservative Party is based, there has been some talk of moving Parliament to Tamworth and declaring it the capital city.  Based on the restoration project that is taking place on the Parliament buildings in London, my opinion would be that it will not be happening anytime soon.

We stopped for a Sunday carvery lunch at the local pub – roast pork and roast turkey with yorkshire pudding and all the fixings before heading off to meet Glenys’ sister Elayne in Polesworth. On the way we stopped at the house where Glenys and her sister grew up and where their father lived until his death. Another 10 minute drive brought us to Elayne’s. We had a wonderful visit and the five of us chatted like old friends. Before we knew it, it was time to leave. We had a two hour drive to our BNB in Wales and thought that we should get on the road. We said our final goodbyes and I believe that we will definitely see each other again – either back here or maybe even in Canada. So wonderful connecting with family!!

Though most of the drive to Wales was uneventful, we did run into a little bit of a problem navigating some of the narrow, winding roads that Wales is famous for.  However, we arrived at our BNB about a half hour west of Welshpool at about 8 PM. We are staying on a working farm with cattle and sheep. It is so peaceful and so very beautiful. The weather promises to be very nice for the next few days so we are very excited about wandering through the Welsh countryside. I hope that the pictures will do it justice.

The Enigma..

In Tamworth you will find a monument to the Enigma Code and to Colin Grazier who was from Tamworth.  Colin helped capture enigma code books from a German U-boat.  Before drowning he and his companion from Scotland were able to hand the code books to a young seaman who was able to deliver them to naval intelligence.

The day before we took this picture we were at the cemetery where Colleen’s great great grandfather is buried and Gleny had noticed a headstone with another connection to the enigma code.  How interesting that two people who lived so close played such a vital role in the cracking this code.  If anyone is interested there is a great movie that came out in 2014 called The Imitation Game which chronicles the group lead by Alan Turing and how they broke the code.

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Tamworth Castle..

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Col sitting in a seat carved out of rock – The Wishing Stone. What do you suppose she wished for?img_5308

Queen Ethelflaeda..img_5323img_5294img_5295

Col meeting her cousin Elayne for the first time.

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From left to right.  Richard, Glenys, Col, Elayne and Ron….

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Tamworth and the Lost Family

Today was the day that I had been anticipating for a very long time. Today I was going to meet my second cousin that I did not even know existed until just a few years ago. The story goes that my great grandfather Wilmot I (on my Dad’s side) moved to London and married Charlotte Edmonds and they had four children. Tragically they both died when the children were still quite young and the children were taken in by some relatives which did not treat them very nice. When my grandfather (Wilmot II) was old enough, he emigrated to Canada and started a family there with my Gran (who had emigrated from Wales with her parents). My dad (Wilmot III) is the result of that union. The rest of the children scattered and we have been able to track down some of the family (remember way back when we met Norman in Australia?). However, we have since found out that our cheeky great grandfather had originally married a young lady from Liverpool and they had a daughter Louise.  Louise consequently had a son Joe who married and had two daughters Glenys and Elayne. Once they started digging into their family history, they connected all the dots that lead to us.  My mom and Glenys have been corresponding for some time and I could hardly wait to meet her.

We drove the hour and a half up to Tamworth from our BNB in Cheltenham and were greeted at the door by Ron and Glenys Bagley. They were as excited to see us as we were them. We swapped some stories, watched a short video that Glenys and Ron had made documenting some family history, had a little lunch and then they took us around the Tamworth area. Our first stop was the little house where Glenys’ dad grew up. She remembers playing there as a child and thinks that she was allowed to run quite wild while she was there. We then stopped at No Man’s Heath, which is where Wilmot I’s parents lived and farmed and where he was born. There is a town there now but none of the original buildings from the 1850’s still exist. We continued on to the small village of Chilcote and stopped at St. Matthews Church. Wilmot’s parents are buried here and it was very emotional for me to see the headstone of William Wileman (died January 23, 1884 aged 71) and Mary Ann Wileman (died March 4, 1895 aged 79) – my great-great grandparents. How absolutely amazing!!

Next to Chilcote is the village of Netherseal. It was here while working as a governess at Netherseal Hall, Louise, Glenys’ grandmother met her husband, a coachman. Life was not kind to Louise and she lost her husband while her children were very young. Poor Louise succumbed to TB only a couple of years later leaving her children orphaned.  The children were placed with an elderly aunt until they were able to make their way in the world. Joe, Glenys’ dad, joined the Navy at the start of WWII while her Auntie Mary married. Both lived long lives, with Joe dying just a couple of years ago at the age of 102.

We headed back to the house and after having some tea, we decided that we will go back tomorrow to meet Elayne and spend a few more hours with our “new” family. How wonderful!!

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The area near where William and Mary Wileman farmedimg_5271

Netherseal Hall

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Glenys and Col in front of the school attended by Wilmot I and his brothers. It is still in use as a nursery school.

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St. Matthews Church

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William and Mary’s Headstone

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The Cotswolds

I have always heard that the Cotswolds were beautiful and today we were going to find out for ourselves. Our BNB hosts suggested that we stop at Bourton-on-the-Water to get the essence of the area. This cute little village is known for its picturesque High Street, flanked by long wide greens and the River Windrush that runs through them. The river is crossed by five low, arched stone bridges. They were built between 1654 and 1953, leading to the nickname “Venice of the Cotswolds”. Talk about stepping back in time!! We walked along the quaint little streets, admiring the stone buildings and eating Cotswold ice cream. It was a great start to this day!

We headed off to Stow on the Wold, another sweet little village. We only drove through this one as we could not find a place to park. Again, it was so very cute.

The next stop on our list was Stratford-on-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare. We had some lunch and wandered the streets, checking out the shops, taking pictures and enjoying the history in a touristy setting. No regrets stopping here!!

A few miles down the road was Warwick Castle. Unfortunately by the time we arrived here, the castle was about to close. We wandered the gardens and were able to take some pictures of the exterior. This medieval castle was built by William the Conqueror during the 12th century. We were sorry that we were unable to tour the interior but I am sure that we will be able to see another castle or two before we leave the UK.

Our last stop of the day was Worcester Beacon in the Malvern Hills. We drove the winding narrow road as high up the hill as we could and then hoofed it from there. Rain was threatening but we decided to hike it to the top. It was a tough climb but the views were well worth it!! We spent a few minutes admiring the panorama before we decided to head back down. Unfortunately, we spent a few minutes too long because it started to pour. By the time we reached the car, we were soaked. It was a pretty wet ride home!!

It was a long day but the proof is in – the Cotswolds are beautiful!! Well worth a visit!!

Bourton on the water.

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Stratford…

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Shakespeare’s birthplace.img_5233

Warwick Castle and Gardens.

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Beacon Hill

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Too-da-loo Salisbury!

We packed up the car this morning and because the rain had stopped we decided to walk downtown and see a few of the sights. Our first stop was at St. Thomas Becket church. This church was built for the people that were building the big cathedral in the 13th century . Apparently they were much too common to attend mass at the cathedral! Anyways, this church is very old, fairly plain and is the first church that we have seen in a while that actually had pews. Most of Europe had chairs within the nave. This now Anglican church had a very nice feel to it and I am glad that we stumbled upon it.

We wandered around the downtown for a while, had fish and chips for lunch and then headed back to get our car. Today was my turn to drive and we headed towards Cheltenham in the Cotswolds, our next BNB stop. Yesterday we were hoping to stop at Avebury but with the rain, we were unable to take it in. However, today, it was just a little detour from where we were headed so we decided to make the stop. Again, I had been there in 2007 and I remember that it was a very cute little village. My memory did serve correctly and Richard now understands why I really wanted to come back here. This is also the site of the largest standing stone circle in the world. In fact it consists of an outer and inner ring, so really two sets of stones. The coolest part of this is that you are able to walk freely among them. In fact, most of the area is grazing land so you are walking among the stones and the sheep. As we were walking around the meadow, it began to rain. We had rain jackets and umbrellas so stayed relatively dry. However, we were a bit chilled after our walk and stopped in at the thatched roof pub The Red Lion and had a cuppa tea. Once the rain slowed down, we went for a walk around the village, stopping at the ancient church, the old barn, and the manor house. It was like stepping back in time. Very neat!

Back on the road, we headed up to Cheltenham. It was supposed to be about an hour drive but in the end took us almost two hours. I have read that the traffic in England is crazy and it is absolutely true!! We went through the city of Swindon and the roundabouts are mind boggling. In fact there is even a “Magic Roundabout” which is a series of five roundabouts within one roundabout. Amazingly enough, I got through that one but took the wrong exit on the next one and got stuck in traffic for about 20 minutes. However, we made it out of the city and finally reached our BNB. We got ourselves, checked in, headed out for supper and a drink and back to the house to finish up today’s blog. Tomorrow we will explore the Cotswolds which we understand are very beautiful. Hopefully, the sun will shine!!

St. Thomas Becket Church.

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Avebury and the Avebury Stones.

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Sassenach was not able to use the stones to go back in time to meet her love – Jamie Fraser. img_5205img_5210

The cool thing about these stones is that the town is built all around them.

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We stopped for a cup of hot tea at the Red Lion in Avebury.  Notice the thatched roof.

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St. James Church

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From the men’s room in the Red Lion.

The Magic Roundabout in Swindon that Col navigated through today.  England is by the far the worst country we have found to drive in.

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Stonehenge and the White Horse

It was pouring rain when we woke up this morning so we thought we might as well have a bit of a lie in and head out a little later. We were on the road by 10:30 heading towards Stonehenge. The sky was overcast and it was windy.  I had told Richard that we would get out at the carpark and head through a tunnel under the roadway to get to the stones. When we arrived at our destination, it was totally different. We had to board a bus  and ride about five minutes to the stones. Did I remember this wrong from my trip with Mom and my sister Val there in 2007?  I had to check this out and I asked a guide what the scoop was. He confirmed my memory by saying that this new arrangement had only taken effect within the last six years. Phew!! I thought that I was really losing it!! Anyways, I am sure that you are more interested in the actual stones than my memories of them so here it goes….

Amazingly enough, they look like every picture that you have ever seen – large, monolithic standing stones in a circle surrounded by a moat-like depression around the exterior. I believe that it is the mystery of how the stones got there and what they mean that keep people coming back year after year. Archaeologists are still studying Stonehenge and are making new discoveries. It is believed that the stones are 5000 years old and may be part of an ancient burial ground. They also still believe that the alignment of the stones definitely have something to do with the movement of the sun. We walked around the stones with our audio guide, took a few pictures and though it did not rain, it was very windy. Again, you can see these pictures and read about it on the Internet but it is really something to see in person.

From Stonehenge we headed to Westbury to see the White Horse and walk the Wiltshire White Horse trail. We stopped at the Railway Inn at Westbury for a bite to eat and while there it absolutely poured and hailed. We were pretty thankful that we hadn’t decided to do the walk first. After lunch we drove to the hill under the White Horse. This white chalk horse is one of 11 horses that were carved into the hills of Wiltshire during the 18th century. There are only eight that still remain. They have had restoration through the years and finally in the 1950’s, the horses were actually covered in cement in order to preserve them for all time. As we were leaving the car, the rain began again and after looking at the very muddy, sloppy trail, we decided that we would not be doing the walk today.

Saddened by this turn of events we turned the car around and headed back to Salisbury. It rained most of the way back and though I wish that we had been able to walk the trail, I know that I would not have enjoyed doing it in this kind of weather. Back at our BNB we are hunkering in for the night to watch a movie and eat the sandwiches that I forgot to take for our lunch today. I guess everything happens for a reason, don’t you think?

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Mr. White Horse….

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First Stop – Salisbury

Today we rented a car and left London. We so enjoyed London and it will definitely be on the list of places to which we will return. The drive out of London wasn’t nearly as crazy as we had anticipated – busy yes, but GPS and Richard’s excellent driving skills  got us out to the country. A drive of about 3 hours found us in the quaint, medieval town of Salisbury. We stopped at the ruins of Old Sarum, a Roman Fortress built over an Iron Age hillfort in 43 AD. Once the Romans left, it fell to ruins but William the Conqueror saw its potential and rebuilt the fort and later a Cathedral on the site during the 11th century. However, the bishop had a falling out with the commander of the fortress and ordered a new Cathedral to be built about two miles from the fort during the early 12th century. The city of Salisbury rose around this Cathedral and the Fortress was eventually abandoned completely. There is very little left of the fortress or the Cathedral but the views from the hills are stunning. It is easy to see why this spot was chosen as the perfect defensive position.

From Old Sarum we drove down to our BNB and because we were a little early, decided to take a drive downtown. We found a parking spot and walked over to the Salisbury Cathedral. This Anglican cathedral is regarded as one of the leading examples of Early English architecture: its main body was completed in 38 years, from 1220 to 1258. We stopped at the cloisters first and were amazed to see a room displaying one of the original Magna Cartas. There are only four left in existence today and we saw one of them!! WOW!! The entire display is very well done. There are simple explanations of the history behind the Magna Carta and how it affected the generations that followed. This is one of those great surprises that are once in a lifetime discoveries.

After viewing the Magna Carta, we entered the cathedral itself. It is very impressive – definitely as impressive as any of the churches that we saw in Europe. Unfortunately, the massive pipe organ is currently under restoration but again, there were explanations as to how the organ works and how they will be restoring it to its former glory. We did get lucky however and were able to participate in the daily Evening Song of Choral Music. We both agreed that this was the best choir that we have heard on entire trip. Absolutely amazing!!

We got to our BNB at about 6:30, checked into our room and headed back downtown for supper. We walked this time because some of the roundabouts in this little town are very difficult to navigate and we decided that we had had enough for one day. A couple of drinks, a little bit of supper and we are ready for another adventure. Tomorrow we travel to Stonehenge, Avebury and Westbury to see the Chalk Horse. It should be great!!

Old Sarum.  Not much left from the original castle and church.

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Salisbury Cathedral

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I was unable to take a picture of the original Magna Carta so had to settle for these

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Cute little street in Salisbury.img_5175

Last Day in London

We spent the last day in London touring the Tower of London, checking out St. Paul’s Cathedral and taking in the entertainment at Piccadilly Circus.

The Tower of London is officially Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress. The White Tower was built in 1078. The Inner Ward was constructed during the 1190’s and then re-built in 1285. The Wharf and moats were expanded in 1377–1399. The official guards of this fortress are the Yeomen Warders aka Beefeaters. This fortress has housed kings, queens, prisoners and has been the execution site of many influential persons, most notably Anne Boleyn. We toured the building that houses the Crown Jewels. We saw the crown that Queen Elizabeth wore at her coronation and wears at every opening of Parliament. We explored the White Tower which is now an Armaments museum. Though I am sure that this had potential it wasn’t really the history that we were interested in. We did however spend about 3 hours on the grounds and along the ramparts taking in the history of the buildings and the people that occupied them.

From there we walked over to St. Paul’s Cathedral. We took some pictures of the exterior but did not enter the church. We walked along the Millenium Bridge that spans the Thames. We wanted to walk this bridge as it shows up in a couple of scenes in one of our favorite movies – Love Actually. We hopped a bus to Piccadilly Circus which of course is not a circus but actually a traffic circle. However, what differentiates this circus from the others is that there are large advertising screens overhead and entertainment in the centre of the circle. We wandered around there and then headed back home via the tube and then train. We stopped for supper at the local pub The Oval which is close to our BNB. Another great day in the heart of London. We are sure going to miss this city!!

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The Tower of London.img_5124img_5122img_5118

The Private Execution center.img_5114

The Chapel of St. Peter AD Vincula.  Anne Boleyn is buried beneath the Easter candle to the left of the Altar.

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St. Paul’s Cathedralimg_5138img_5140img_5126img_5131

Monument to the firefighters who worked through the London bombings of WWIIimg_5137

Piccadilly Circusimg_5142img_5132

The Cat in the Pub.  Maybe one day we can bring our pets to the bar.img_5145img_5133

 

A Typical Sunday in London?

We walked about a half mile this morning to attend mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. This lovely Neo Gothic Church was built in 1863 and though it is smaller than many of the churches that we viewed in Europe, it was still very beautiful. The mass was lively, the priest dynamic and the fact that it was our first English mass in months inspired us for the rest of the day.

We went home for a breakfast of fried egg sandwiches with ham and cheese and after Richard almost set the apartment on fire by leaving the egg carton on the stove, we headed out to the pub. The Oval, the local pub, has jazz at  1PM on Sundays. The place was packed with jazz lovers and beer lovers and we sat at the bar and took in the atmosphere. Richard has a few pictures and videos that will tell a much better story than I ever could.

We spent a couple of hours at the pub and then decided that we should probably get some laundry done. This is the first time that we have ever had to use a laundromat during our entire trip. Most of the BNB’s have had some sort of laundry facility. It was a great experience though because we had a nice chat with the woman that manages the place. Again, we received some great tips of places to see and best of all, places to eat – as if we need help in that department!!

Summing up the day – Church, eat, pub, drink, laundry, eat. Sounds like a perfect Sunday to me. And what did you do today?

First things first.  Col forgot to mention that Sunday in England is “Sunday Roast” at the pubs and restaurants.  We were hoping reserve a table at the Oval for tonight, but the bartender said that they only have a limited amount of roasts for the day and they would be sold out by then.  Oh well, will sample some up North or in Wales.  Apparently Roast Sunday is better up North anyway as that it where the tradition started. Below is a picture of what the Roast Sunday dinner looked like at the Oval.

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Like Col said, Sunday afternoon means Jazz at the Oval Pub.

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I have never seen beer dispensed like this, so I took a video and of course I had to try one.

 

The Olympic Stadium and the Football Match

Today was the big day – Richard was off to see a football match (his first game ever) at the Olympic Stadium. I decided to tag along just to see what I could see. We hopped on the train at 11:51 with plans to be at the Stadium for 1 PM. We were going to have a bite for lunch and Richard hoped to buy a hat or a T-shirt at the West Ham merchandise store before the game at 3:00. However, that plan didn’t quite work out. Unfortunately, someone fell onto the tracks a little further down the line and the train was stopped for about an hour and a half . Emergency and investigative crews shut down the tracks leading north into the city so we were finally diverted to a little station on the west side of London.  From there we transferred onto another train to take us back downtown. Because it did not stop at our original connection point to the Stadium, I had to come up with another plan. Thankfully the train had Wifi so I was able to figure out a new route but as a result of all the delays and detours, we did not get to the park until 2:30. Richard and I agreed on a place to meet and he rushed off to the gate. He will have to tell you the story from here….

As Col mentioned above we arrived quite a bit later than scheduled so things did not go according to the way I had it planned out.  By the time I went to the washroom, stood in line for a giant grill dog and coke I had missed the warm up and the opening ceremonies.  The game basically started a couple of minutes after I arrived at my seat which happened to be great.  I was only ten rows up from the football field.  Great vantage point.  The former Olympic stadium holds 60,000 people. It was full to capacity and it was loud, especially when they broke into song which was quite often.  The English people are very passionate for their football. Overall it was a great experience and I am very glad Col let me go.

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Opening Kick Off…

A couple of corner kicks….

In the video below you can see a section of the stadium below the giant scoreboard.  You can also see that there is a buffer zone on either side of it and there is also another section like this further up in the stands  behind it.  Those two sections are for the visiting teams fans.  They keep them separated to avoid brawls and hooliganism.  Even most of the local pubs will not admit visiting fans to avoid problems.  Yep, very passionate fans and perhaps a bit radical.

 

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