I’ve been away from home for almost a month now. In late July I went to Switzerland/southern Germany for Insa’s sister’s wedding. I got back just in time to do laundry and repack to fly to the UK for 3 weeks. My company is building a warehouse and I was sent with some other engineers to go setup the network and computer infrastructure for the new site. This entailed 1 week of staying in London to do some staging, then 2 weeks at the location a few hours north of London.
London is ok. It has a very different feel than Berlin, not just in the looks or the sounds, or the people, but the soul of the city is different. Not saying that’s a good or bad thing, but I just got a different vibe from the city compared to Berlin. It feels a lot more stuffy, a lot more stressed and busy. It’s fun to visit because, like Berlin, there is a ton of stuff to do, but I’m really happy I picked Berlin to live in.
The hotel room was the smallest I’ve ever been in. Just slightly wider than the bed was long:
The first week was fairly uneventful. Between work and feeling a little under the weather, I only had Saturday to do stuff around the city. We ended up going to the imperial war museum and then the British museum.
Sunday we rented a car. This was the scariest part for me. I have never driven on the left side of the road before, so I spent some time watching youtube videos on going around roundabouts. (Sounds silly, but it helped me mentally prepare) I’ve actually gotten used to it pretty quickly. Most of the time there’s other traffic and it’s easy to just follow the flow of traffic. When you’re on the highway, all the cars are going in the same direction anyways. I just stay in the left most lane and let the other pass me. The one thing I’ve noticed though is that they don’t really have a good sense for speed and distances. For example, I’ll be driving on a road that has a 60 mph speed limit and will come to a roundabout. I’ll slow down, go through the roundabout, and then will see that the speed limit is again 60mph. The ridiculous thing is that there will be another roundabout a quarter of a mile away. How are you supposed to speed up to 60mph and then slow down again within the space of a quarter mile? Unless you’re in some race car and crazy, what’s the point? Just drop the speed between the roundabouts to something more reasonable like 40…
We made it to the warehouse without issue and unloaded our gear before going to the hotel rooms. (Which were thankfully bigger than they were in London)
I had never been in a warehouse before, it was quite large and quite cool. (Though I’ve been told this is a “small” warehouse)
The next initially scariest thing after driving on the left was the scissor lifts. As part of the build we have to put some of the networking equipment up high in special cabinets suspended on support beams. To do this, we have to be taken up 10 meters in a scissor lift by someone who’s licensed to operate them.
The scissor lift sways when you move around on it, but it’s not *too* bad and I got over my fear of it quick enough.
I had one good weekend worth of free time to go explore around England during this business trip, so I decided to make the best of it.
Just up the road from where I’m working is the Bosworth battlefield. The Battle of Bosworth was one of the final battles in the Wars of the Roses and took place in 1485 between Richard III and Henry VII (Henry VIII’s dad and Elizabeth II’s grandfather). Shakespeare later wrote a propaganda hit piece on Richard III because his audience was Queen Elizabeth, who’s granddad had defeated Richard III at Bosworth. Richard III was one of my favorite kings while growing up, ever since I read The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman. It’s a historical fiction novel centered around the Wars of the Roses and the various characters involved. This conflict between warring families with huge private armies and plenty of political intrigue provides an inspiration and backdrop for the popular book series A song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin and the Game of Thrones TV show.
Toward the end of the battle Richard III saw a chance to make a final strike against Henry Tudor and charged straight at him. Richard got within inches of killing Henry, but was unhorsed and eventually hacked to death.
I had a painting of this final charge hanging on my wall for years:
I wanted to go see the battlefield and the tomb of the dead king, whose body was just discovered last year, and is now buried in a cathedral in Leicester.
After visiting the field at Bosworth, I drove over to Leicester to see the museum and the king’s tomb.
The museum was one of the best I’ve been in. They had this hall where you walk through and there’s a giant projected image of the soldiers getting ready to attack on either side of you and it’s really intense. They also have a recreated skeleton of the king in front of an MRI machine. He had a very violent end, and by examining his skeleton like crime scene investigators would examine a body, they were able to piece together how he died. The MRI machine exhibit lets you select a part of his body to examine and it displays a rendering of the bones and where the cuts, gashes, and holes are, along with what weapons caused those wounds and how fatal they were. His body was quickly buried in an abbey in the near by town. It wasn’t until 2015 that archaeologists were able to confirm that they found him and moved his body in a more fitting tomb.
It was really cool to get so close to him after having been fascinated with him as a kid. It makes me wonder though. There are a few people with tombs like this. Westminster Abbey in London is full of famous dead people. It just makes me think about what these dead people would have thought if you told them that centuries after they died, thousands of people would come and stand a few feet from their corpses, and what they would think if you were able to show them just how radically different the world of these visitors is compared to the world they knew.
So that was one day. I had one more to go, so I also wanted to make that count. I spent hours Saturday night trying to figure out where to go. I stared a couple of things on my map, but the problem always was that these things would be 2-3 hours in one direction, with not much else I wanted to see. Often there wouldn’t really BE anything to see. I had stared several old battlefields, but often there was nothing there, or the land had been developed on top of the old battlefield.
I had to pick up my coworker at the airport in London on Sunday night since he went home to see his family, so I figured I’d travel in that direction anyways.
One of my favorite castles as a kid was Bodiam castle. It’s one of the most beautiful castles in the UK that’s still intact. It was just 3 hours drive south of me, and I don’t know when I’ll be back in the UK with access to a car, so I decided to do it. As a side benefit, since moving to Europe and not owning a car, I really missed being able to take road trips and listen to music while driving down the highway. This trip filled both of those desires.
You can see in a few of the pictures above that there is really old graffiti on the castle in places. People carved their initials and what not or wrote with ink on the walls. The oldest I found was from the 1700’s. A lot were from the 1800’s or the start of the 1900’s. I couldn’t help but imagine who these people were. Were they teenagers or young adults when they did that? They’re all dead now. All their immediate children and possibly grand children are dead by now. How did they die? Did the guy who wrote his and his gf’s name in the 1830’s go off and die in the Crimean War? What about the person who dated theirs 1905? What did they experience?
Outside of the castle there were a few medieval living history volunteers. That was a bit of a sentimental trip for me as doing medieval living history was my passion for over a decade while growing up. It’s not something I do anymore, but the smell of the camp fire, the linen, the straw, the wood, and the metal of the armor all brought back memories for me. I stayed and chatted up the reenactors for a bit before leaving.
By the time I was finished with the castle, I had a few hours left before I had to start back towards London to pick up my colleague. The drive back would take an hour and a half by itself.
Despite the short amount of time left, I decided I’d drive for another hour east so I could see a museum to the Battle of Britain, the air war between the British RAF and the German Luftwaffe in WWII. There’s a museum with original planes and wreckage from the conflict. There aren’t many other places in the world with these originals, so I didn’t want to pass up the chance to see it.
After checking out the museum, and again wondering about the lives of the people connected with each object, relic, or ruin housed in that place, I decided I had to make one final stop.
From the location where the old Spitfire warplanes now rest, you can hear the seagulls. The coastline is nearby. I wanted to see the famous cliffs of Dover while I was down here, so I hopped back in the car and went further east still.
As I approached the cliffs, google maps started taking me down increasingly narrow and unpaved roads through the wilderness. Sometimes the roads were so bad, I half expected the pot-holes to be left over craters from WWII. I met an Italian family on vacation with their two small kids and they asked me in broken English if I knew where the cliffs were. I showed them on my map and said I was going their too, so they followed me in their car through the winding paths.
We were about to park and walk as we couldn’t take our cars and further when we were approached by a young couple who were having trouble starting their car. They asked for me to help them jump their car, but the way the battery was situated in my car wouldn’t let us attach the cables, so they asked the Italian family following me. Next we were all standing around their car trying to get it started. Jumping it didn’t work, so we decided to try and get it started by pushing it. The guy still couldn’t get the car started after the first attempt, so the Italian dad offered to do it. He got in the car and we pushed it down the hill and it worked! He managed to get the engine going and the couple gratefully got in their car and went on their way.
I continued on my own after they were off and just happened to stumble across what looked like an old WWII fortification of some sort. It was a tunnel that lead down into some darkness with different rooms. I usually always carry a flashlight with me, so I decided to go exploring.
I didn’t know how far this went, or how many rooms there were, let alone if there was anyone inside, so I walked slowly, often pausing to listen for other sounds. I didn’t hear anything, so I continued and discovered 2 rooms, both empty. It looks like they might have housed something at some point, but now it was just trash and graffiti. I eventually walked backwards out of the place, with my flashlight trained on the dark rooms just in case. Once back in the light, I made my way to the cliffs.
At this location you can actually see France faintly across the water!
Here’s what the cliffs look like from the water:
After checking off the cliffs from my list of places to see, I made my way back to the car and back to London to pick up my coworker. I think I ended up driving for 8 hours that day. I was completely exhausted when we both finally got back to our hotel 2 hours north of London. I only had 1 weekend, but I think I made good use of it.