TEN-DAY APRIL 2001 LUTMAN-BURLINGAME LONDON TRIP

Saturday, April 7, 2001. Day 9 of 12. WAKING IN A CASTLE, ARUNDEL ANTIQUES, ENGLISH CHANNEL, STONEHENGE

WAKING IN A CASTLE

6:00 AM. The alarm goes off. We want to be up for the sunrise, then watch the portcullis (castle's entrance door) rise, as it does every morning about 7:00 AM. So as you guessed if you had your detective hat on, we were locked inside the castle all night, safe from the marauding highwaymen, thieves and blaggards. And door-to-door salesmen.

A look outside reveals partly overcast skies. We dress for the cool morning and meet Nancy about 6:30. Now the sky is pink and blue, with white clouds. It looks like it will be a nice morning -- our good luck.

At 6:43, we are standing behind the castle on an overlook, surveying the watered plains left over from the record November floods. Sharon says this flooded area is a marsh, even when not flooded, and was part of the reason the castle was built here to begin with -- to serve as a natural defense from that direction.

I walk back into the castle grounds, but Nancy comes running and says, "Sharon says to come back, there's an LBG!" I know what she means and scoot on out. Sharon's binoculars are fixed on a bird perched on an old castle wall. At first glance it appears to be a sparrow or finch, but the front is grey and I know immediately what it is. The little *DUNNOCK is singing to greet the morning. An LBB, by the way, stands for little brown bird, of which there are many, many in the UK. We learned this term from an English birder when we were at Chan Chich in Belize last spring.

I go upstairs, in the portcullis mechanism room, and see only the upper tip of the portcullis, confirming that it is down. A white dove lies dead beside a window, feet up, and beautiful even in this state.

Back down now, we three walk around the inner courtyard, waiting for the opening. Sharon gets on the video camera, and I on the digital. A few minutes after 7, a fellow comes out to set the opening in motion. And then up it goes.

It's 7:15 AM and we have just climbed up to the top of the left rear corner of the castle. If you look over the side of the wall, you see a farmer (probably the castle owner, Martin, but it's too far away for me to tell for sure), and jackdaws and doves, carrying nesting material into small rectangular holes in the outside castle wall. It's also about sixty feet down to the ground, by my questionable estimation skills.

I watch the farmer's wife (that would be Joy, also the castle proprietess) toss a 5-gallon bucket of chemicals onto the road, just inside the gate leading to a cattle pen. We are quite sure it's disinfectant for foot and mouth disease. So far, there are no cases in this area.

We watch the continuing sunrise over the marsh, as a train zips by, about a quarter- to a half-mile away.

I turn and look down at the impressive inner courtyard, then at the rear of the courtyard from the front left battlement corner.

At 7:49 AM, we are now down off the castle walls. I like the view of the rear inner wall through an arch. I walk to the center of the inner courtyard, and face the front, seeing the front view, through the entrance.

Sharon and I walk through to the front of the castle, turn around and there is Nancy, on the battlements. We walk down the entry lane, turn around again, and now Nancy is exactly over the portcullis.

As we walk down the road leading from the castle, and look to the right, we see a neat little house, decked out with flowers on the front. This house is called The Vicarage, and it is in response to people who want to stay here, but want to go out and come back later in the evening that the portcullis stays up.

Now Nancy has joined us and we walk down to the small lakes below the green expanse of lawn. On the far side of the lakes, looking back toward the castle is a small, picturesque waterfall. And down by the entry, we see a sign indicating the level of the water, during the November 2000 record flood.

We turn and walk back up toward the castle as Nancy indicates where she think the flood water level was. There is a nice view of the front of the castle, with the sun angle just right. That's right, the SUN. It doesn't shine all the time, but it has shown a little every day we've been in England, as I recall. I have marked windows in our room and Nancy's, on this last picture.

Further up the entry road, I turn around and see the neatly groomed field in the distance, one of my favorite sights here.

In the bird world, in front here we have seen another Dunnock, Jackdaws in large numbers circling above, white Doves and singing Robins.

Sharon calls my attention to a thrush of some kind, which has run from its hiding place out onto the lawn. It is similar to the Mistle Thrush, but is smaller, darker red on the upper back, and the upper breast has some orangish color to it. It is a *SONG THRUSH, and is another lifer for us.

I get one last shot of Nancy and Sharon walking up the entry road towards Amberley Castle.

It is only 8:21 and we are back in the room getting ready to go to breakfast. Sharon has read that some people feel that nearby Arundel Castle, popular for tourists to visit, has been over-restored. It's too perfect, or so they say. We won't be able to judge for ourselves because we don't have plans to visit Arundel Castle. Anyway, Amberley feels fully authentic to me.

We go upstairs in the main building, but I see a great triple-arched-window view down to the garden first. I catch up and then we are seated next to the great fireplace, which has a nice bit of flame going. Our greeter and seater is Anne, who is very friendly and helpful. She gets a nice view of the three of us, seated at our table by the fireplace.

I have fruit and cereal, Sharon has what she claims to be the best oatmeal porridge she's ever had, and we all have tea. I notice an interesting display in a glassed-in picture frame, where the servers enter and exit the dining room. I walk over and it's an old board connected to those pull cords you see in old movies. You know the ones, Laurel and Hardy would go into a strange room in a mansion, see the cord, pull on it, but nothing would happen right away. But soon, a butler would enter and say, "You rang?"

Each room of the castle occupies a spot in approximately an 8x6 element array of circles, with a room name above each circle. If someone rings a bell, a black slider rotates out of the way, revealing the red color behind. The pre-electronic version of a light coming on. Sort of like the board in a 747 where the flight attendant looks when a passenger rings for a stewardess. It tells her which seat is being a pain in the butt.

Later, Sharon goes over to inspect the indicator board, and Anne sneaks over to her and asks if we'd like to come up to the private King Charles the Second room. Sharon says no thanks. Just kidding.

We follow Anne up to this little room, where King Charles the Second stayed when he was here during Oliver Cromwell's attempt to tear the castle down. Unsuccessful, Cromwell moved on to Arundel.

I get a nice view through the window, of the inside castle back wall, beyond some nice red berries.

Exiting the main building, I look for some last photos to get and come up with a nice one. There are signs on the doors that say, "Please close doors to keep the peacocks out of the rooms." And these peacocks are completely white, something I've never seen before.

As I round the edge of the entry, I see a male and female peacock perched on the small wall on one side of the road. I click one shot of them perched, and then just as I take another, the female peacock jumps from her perch.

We check out and load up the car for our next leg. It's 10:54 PM and my GPS is up and operating. Sharon is in the left hand, front passenger seat and is manning the Michelin map. Nancy is in the back seat with her guide book. OK, what's next?

ARUNDEL ANTIQUES

Our plan is to drive into Arundel, which is famous for having lots of antique stores, and we are looking forward to buying something old here. It is raining gently but steadily as we drive the short distance, and I perform the mirror-image feat of parallel parking from the wrong side of the car and on the wrong side of the road. All correct in England, though.

We exit the car with our umbrellas and visit the nearest antique store. We don't find anything that strikes us, but someone at Amberley told us about a walking stick shop in the village. I ask about its location, and the manager of this store tells me where it is.

We exit this store, walk down the hill a few feet and turn right into a small alley, I guess I'd call it in the U.S. Up the hill a little, and we find the entrance to a small antique arcade, but also a couple of other antique stores before the entrance.

Sharon finds a several-hundred year old tankard and a few old solid, tarnished door keys. I find a collectibles store and enter the expansive world of tobacco picture cards. The manager of the card section of the store, John Daniel, says that there were about 14,000 different types of sets. Do I remember right? Maybe it was 1400. There are almost always exactly 50 cards in a set, and I like one that has pictures of 50 British soldiers of various kinds.

He asks what my interests are, and I say, "I'm a multiple choice kind of person. I need to see an array of choices, then pick the --," but suddenly I realize that I DO have an interest, and I say, "Birds. Wild Birds," expecting him to say, oh, sorry, there aren't any with that theme.

Instead, he shows me five or six different sets. Wild birds, Wildfowl, Birds and their Nests, and several others. The costs run from 12 pounds per set to 50 pounds per set.About $1.40 per pound, to refresh your conversion memory. I choose three different sets, including the most valuable Wildfowl set, and I am pleased as punch. The Wildfowl set is mounted in a frame, but he says give him twenty minutes and he'll have them out and in protective plastic sleeve pages. He says he sells lots of these sets to tourists from overseas who can't take the big glassed frames, so he takes them out of the frames, and sells them for less, as you would expect. Here's the card of a European Dipper.

We go upstairs and visit the walking stick shop. It is too elegant for me. My intent was to confirm that Sharon's stick was better than any in the shop, and I believe that it is. Different style of course. We exit the shop and I notice a sign which says "Walking sticks tailored to your specifications while you wait." I laugh and say, he probably just saws the tip off, and we all got a good chuckle at the imaginary sight of that happening.

The next scene is the fellow from the store, outside in front of his store, with a cane lying on a stool. He is firmly holding down the came with one hand, while he saws the silver tip plus another inch or so off the downhill end of the stick.

"Perfect," I think, and it's 12:10 PM, time for lunch. It continues to rain. The tobacco card seller needs till about 12:45 to have them ready, so we decide on a little lunch.

There is a sandwich shop nearby, so we decide to order sandwiches to go ("take away food" here) and eat them in the car, since there are no tables in the shop, and it's raining heavily. We take our food to the car, and as we cross the road to the car, I suddenly get this feeling of rainy England, to go along with the actual scene before me of Nance crossing the street. Nancy decides to leave her red umbrella on top of the car, since it's going to get wet again when we get back out to go back to the tobacco card store.

About a minute later, a lady knocks on the window and yells through the fogged-up glass, "Don't forget your brelly!" Nancy opens the door slightly, "Thank you. It's there on purpose," or something like that. Five minutes later a fellow does the same. We laugh and it seems like something that might be a Candid Camera trick.

We finish the sandwiches, get our brellies and head for the public restroom, while we wait for my cards to be ready. These cards touch that wonderful old spot in me that loved to collect baseball cards as a kid.

It's 12:43 and I see a black bird fly over, with what seems like a grackle's keel-angled tail, but there aren't any over here, so I don't know what that bird is. Earlier Sharon saw one too. At the time, I poo-pooed her (excuse the expression as we stand next to the loo -- the water loo in this case, in the rain), so to speak.

She had pointed the bird out to me at the time, and I dismissed it as a Blackbird, whose tail seems extra long when they fly. Now I'm not sure what it was.

We have been having lots of fun with Nancy, as one, then the other, pays for something. "OK, you owed us 12 pounds, and we paid for the sandwiches. Yours was three pounds, so now you owe us 15." "I paid for the ride, so you all owe me 18 for that. That's a net of you now owing me 6 pounds." That's not counting Nancy's share of the rental car yet. And that's not counting the $51 that Sharon owes Nancy for a skirt she got for Sharon back in California.

At about 1:15, we make it up to the tobacco card store, and my new bird cards are ready to go. We head out, as we have lots more to do today.

Back on the road again, we pass through the town of Ford, where there are signs beside the road that say, "SOFT VERGE." We decide this means the same as soft shoulder in the U.S. You know, as in "I'm on the verge of leaving." We continue on, toward Climping Beach. We are within a couple of miles of our next destination, and I see a sign on a small road that says "ROAD NOT SUITABLE FOR HEAVY GOODS VEHICLES." We assume this is like saying, "No trucks over 15,000 pounds (the weight, not the British cost)," in the U.S.

ENGLISH CHANNEL

We make it to the beach, park and it's raining, the beach is all rocks, the wind is blowing, huge waves are crashing and this is it. The English Channel. Nancy runs down, takes her shoes off, and walks barefoot into the water before I can get any camera out.

But she gets a shot of us by a huge rock, and we get a great one of her standing on a long timber that runs from the beach down into the surf. This is a dog-walking center, apparently, as we see perhaps eight dogs, each being walked by its respective owner. One little terrier has a Scottish, plaid coat belted onto him, and his lady owner says, "He just don't like his coat." The dog looks pretty happy to me.

We still have miles to go today, and we load up again, and head out for a spot near Salisbury that was "created" about 5000 years ago, if I recall Sharon's reading correctly.

Suddenly, near the town of Ford, a big bird flies right across the road just in front of the car and perches on the grass beside the road. I get a perfect one-fifth of a second look -- long enough. But did Sharon? I look at her and say, "Did you see it?" She says it was a big green bird, a woodpecker, but wonders what it's doing on the ground. Woodpeckers don't normally land on the ground.

"A *GREEN WOODPECKER, I say, and she looks it up in her bird ID book. "Yes, that's it! Green back with black on the face and red on the head. And it feeds on the ground!"

A little further on, and we slow, then stop by a male RING-NECKED PHEASANT, beside the road, very cautious, but not running or flying away. We soon make it back onto Road A27.

I have inadvertently slid the "pause" switch of my cassette recorder, but luckily, I did it very recently, and I only blew about three or four sentences (spoke into the paused recorder, without noticing its condition). So I re-record those thoughts as we continue on our way.

2:35 PM and we are passing another kind of black bird. I notice them first, and Sharon doesn't get these, but does get them a little further on. They are ROOKS, a crow-like bird, but with a silvery-gray beak. If you took a cross-section of the beak near its base, it would be square, I think. Or maybe it just looks like that.

A little before 3:00 and a sign on the motorway says "FREE RECOVERY THROUGH ROAD WORKS STARTS HERE." We decide that means if your car breaks down, pull over and a special tow vehicle will move you for free. But, as Jerry Seinfield says, "I'm just saying." I don't know. Another then says, "IN CASE OF BREAKDOWN, STAY WITH VEHICLE FOR FREE RECOVER." And finally, "FREE RECOVERY ENDS HERE."

We are now about five miles short of Southampton, and on a Divided Carriageway, what we would call Freeway. The exit numbers here are called Junction numbers.

It's about 3:45 and we know we're getting close. Sharon, the ever-alert one notices a number of grassy mounds in the area, and says, "These are definitely not natural." Meaning she bets we're getting close, and who made these?

We go over a small crest, and see lots of cars parked on a raised, grassy shoulder. We slow down and see people walking beside the road. We know we're close, and then Sharon spots it first, of course.

STONEHENGE

"It's tiny," the Texas tourist told us while we were in line at the Royal Mews in London. "Frankly, it's not worth it, but then I'VE seen it," said Anne, our breakfast waitress at Amberley Castle. "It'd fit in this room," she continued.

But of course, we just giggle amongst ourselves when we are alone again after such statements. After all, we flew all the way from America... Reminds me of a senior at Missouri University, in my dormitory. He'd study all night, cramming for an exam. But at 7 AM, if he felt like he didn't know it well enough, he'd just go to bed, go to sleep, and skip the test. I mean can you imagine?

It is raining like crazy. There are intense foot-and-mouth precautions here. The regular parking lot is closed, and the entrance to Stonehenge itself is blocked off. All you can do is park, illegally but allowed by the site personnel apparently, walk about a quarter mile to where the stones are about 50 feet from the road, in a grassy field.

A wire fence prevents you from taking clear photos, and I am trying to figure out how to defeat that. Nancy spots a concrete post, rising about 18 inches above the ground, and suggests that I stand on it while she helps me balance, to get a shot of Stonehenge over the fence. And that's what I do.

It is raining very hard and incredibly windy. It keeps blowing my brelly inside out. I run ahead of Sharon and Nancy and get a view of them fighting the elements, with Stonehenge in between.

Two different people told me about a "hill" nearby. The Texan says yes, there's a hill, but his busdriver never stopped there. I also read about it as being possibly a better photograph than one from up close. We make our way in the general direction of out of there, and pass by the "hill." It's actually just a rise in elevation in the road as you leave, but the good news is that there is a little "lay by" or pullout just at the top.

I stop, get out and compose the shot. The wind and rain are blowing horizontally at me from the direction of the stones. I try to maneuver the umbrella to protect what I can and get off three shots. None are great, but one is a little better than the others. Stonehenge from the hill.

We are headed for Windsor but don't have a great idea of where we will sleep tonight. My "Britain on $70 a day" book has only small B&Bs to recommend, but we (I, I guess) want something better. After driving around Windsor a little, including a run through Legoland, to see if they have a Disneyland-type hotel there (we're glad they didn't), I make a phone call to the best-sounding B&B. "We have one single left," the lady says, and to my question, she give me the number of another hotel. I call them, and they have only two singles. But they do us a great favor and suggest calling the Castle Hotel.

Success there, 110 pounds for a double and 55 for a single, including breakfast, and they have rooms available. "Where are you?" I ask. "100 yards from the castle," is the response.

And at 6:48 PM, we are parked in a covered space at the Castle Hotel, right across from...

WINDSOR CASTLE

AT 7:30 PM, we are in room 417, Nancy in 412. We bring up all our stuff, and as I'm hauling stuff up, I think, "110 pounds? Wait a minute, that's $160, and I'm totally grateful. Boy, have they got me." A little quirk of this hotel is that to get from the lobby to our room, you walk towards the back, up a set of stairs by the bar, across a "bridge" over the driveway, through a hall, then back down a flight of stairs to get to our four hundred-somethings room numbers.

We have dinner in the non-formal dining room, and it's very good. Fresh. Then we walk around the town, where people are partying in the pubs. It's extremely cold and windy, and my parka feels great. I take a few photos, one of a castle tower and another of the town. On the way back, a colorful woolens store display catches my eye. Maybe my brain is starting to freeze.

We head back towards the cozy Castle Hotel.

A boy runs out of a pub, where all the guys are wearing goofy hats that look like horses ears. "Where are you going?" he yells at the girl he's chasing. "I'm the horse. You're supposed to ride ME." Horses and Jockeys, or some such game, they're playing.

Back in our room, we review the day's photos. It's been a big day --our biggest I think. And finally it's off to sleep.


Bird Summary:
Life Birds: Today, 3. Dunnock, Song Thrush, Green Woodpecker. For the Trip, 9.
Trip Birds: Today, 5. The three lifers plus Ring-Necked Pheasant, Rook. For the Trip: 32.

Previous Report (No. 6)
Next Report (No. 8)

Back to London Trip Reports
Back to Birding Trips
Home