Passing through Peterborough, a Nice Day Out

Popping in to Peterborough

Driving down the open road after spending the May bank holiday weekend in Leicester I have something similar to the feeling of deja-vu. It’s not the feeling of having been here before or of having had this experience as a distant memory. It’s more like the feeling of living a destiny. I always knew I would someday wander through the English countryside, free to explore, free to stop and go and to take my time. Traveling solo with a car and a bicycle and a decent pair of feet. I pass by some villages that would be gorgeous were my views not muddled by the rain and dark skies. But I feel peaceful and content. Today, my life feels right.

I’m getting better at navigating the endless traffic circles that join roads to other roads throughout the UK. I now have learned that, “enter the traffic circle and turn right,” means to go into the lane furthest to the right when going left on the traffic circle because I will be going most of the way around the circle before exiting. No only learning to negotiate British roads and traffic, also learning how to interpret Audi’s Sat Nav. I will do a posting on British road signs in the future too as some of them were surprising to me.

My final destination today is Norwich, near England’s East coast, but en route I have entered the postal code for a car park near Peterborough’s famous cathedral. I pull into a multi-level parking garage and drive around and around and around until I find a tight little spot on the 8th floor. I am not driving a large car, to me it feels small but I guess it’s classed as mid-size (It’s an A5, which is also a paper size here in the UK.). Going up the ramps feels very precarious though, very little clearance. I find a space and manoeuvre into it. Nicely done, perfectly straight. Except I cannot squeeze out with the 6 inches allotted between me and the next vehicle. I pull-out and continue upwards, finding another tight space but this one alongside a pillar. As long as I can squeeze myself between the car and the pillar, the door opens into the little space created behind it.

I exit the car park through a pedestrian bridge that crosses over a thoroughfare and find myself inside a very large modern shopping centre where I decide to pause for lunch at John Lewis. Using my phone map, I figure out how to get to the cathedral, most of the way indoors thorough the surprisingly large centre.

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The enormous Shopping Centre in the centre of Peterborough.

Exiting the other end of the very modern centre, I am shocked by the contrast of the pedestrian street with it’s traditional architectures. Even the edge of this major shopping centre is lined with period buildings, camouflaging it.

I was not prepared to happen upon the magnificent Peterborough Cathedral (Church of St Peter, St Paul, and St Andrew). This grand cathedral was rebuilt in it’s present form between 1118 and 1238. The West Front is very imposing in Gothic style.

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As soon as you step outside the modern shopping complex you are greeted with traditional architecture and pedestrianised streets.

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Look at the truck to grasp the vastness of this structure.

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The incredible nave ceiling was likely completed around 1250 and was repainted in the 18th and 19th centuries. The first wife of Henry VIII was buried here after she died in 1536. She had long lost the luxuries of royalty after their divorce and the King did not attend her funeral.

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I thought this radiator was interesting.

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This “New Building” was added to the original just over 500 years ago. I suppose it will always be called the New Building unless the cathedral is added to further, which is unlikely.

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Mary Queen of Scots was originally buried here in 1587 but was later removed to Westminster Abbey in 1612 by order of her son, James I.

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I leave the the enormous edifice and wander about the central district briefly before resuming my journey to Norwich. Peterborough made for a nice day visit.

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The drive continuing to Norwich.

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Finally I visit Sleaford after all this time!

Sleaford, it sounds like a sleepy name but it’s not a sleepy town.

I happened upon the lovely market town of Sleaford 19 miles South of Lincoln coming from Norwich. Distances can be very small in Great Britain, and when having to check-out by 10AM and check-in after 2PM, I often find myself needing to delay my arrival by a few hours. I could arrive to my city of destination early and park somewhere to wander about for a while before checking-in, but I always try to find an in-between town to visit enroute. I enjoyed visiting Peterborough enroute from Leicester to Norwich. Coventry between Birmingham and Warwick. Today I had not researched the possibilities but I just got lucky. Nice.

I somehow made my way to the very centre where I found pay and display parking. The first thing I notice wandering around this little town is the endless stream of cars in every direction. Very polite drivers though, they did stop to give way several times when I needed to cross without the aid of a zebra crossing. On this Saturday around noon, there was no break to be had in the streams of traffic.

I seem to be having a day of finesse as I happen into Navigation House, a handsome little structure that is also a visitors centre. It’s not exactly on the beaten path so I am rather surprised by the fortuitousness of my random happing upon it. A very friendly host welcomes me and shares some information about the town.

Navigation House was build in the 1830’s for the navigation offices the River Slea and demonstrates the prosperity it brought to Sleaford as a goods transportation hub since 1794. As you may have supposed, yes, it was named long ago from the fact that at this location there was a ford crossing over the river Slea. Sadly, when the railway came to town in the 1850s the end of this local industry became soon imminent.

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Some photos from the lovely drive from Norwich to Sleaford, on my way to Lincoln which is just a bit further.

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This very fancy camera trick was accomplished by holding the camera on an angle. I know. Brilliant.

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It was noon on Saturday, but I think that if I lived in Sleaford I would consider the amount of traffic congestion in the town centre to be of crisis level. I’m not kidding, it was truly endless.

“Where can I see the river?” “Oh, just go around that building,” she points, and then shows me on a map how it meanders the town. On viewing, I realise I had already taken photos of the waterway, I had not recognised it as a river.

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I grew-up alongside the Kennebecasis River in New Brunswick, Canada. I guess it’s probably about 500 m wide, possibly more. So I didn’t recognise the River Slea as being a river, which is quite narrow in places. Very lovely though. And lots of ducks and such.

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Wandering about the town, I happen by a handsome pub and inn that has food advertised outside that sounds appealing. I step in of the street and it is the strangest experience, there are about 20 people standing about the bar and they all look. And stare. The volume of their loud bantering lowers. I feel like an unwanted visitor at a private party, not like a stranger, more like someone loathed. It’s like how Rob Ford, current mayor of Toronto, should feel were he to happen into the home or party of anyone I know, except he has earned our contempt. I stand there for a moment feeling awkward, do I want to stand by this bar and wait to order lunch when it seems like the crowd is waiting for me to leave? Not really, event he bar keep is looking over and does not call a greeting, he just looks. Perhaps it’s the hat, I have not seen anyone in this town wearing a hat. Perhaps I look like Gatsby to them. Whatever the case, I turn on my heals and sadly I have lunch at tried and proven Costa Coffee, where I now write this blog entry. I like Costa, but it carries nothing of local flavour apart from the patrons.

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The Marquis of Granby looked more inviting from the outside than it was on the inside. I stayed for perhaps a minute.

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Not an interesting choice, but I knew I’d feel comfortable having lunch at a local Costa Coffee.

Otherwise, the people in this town seem extra friendly. At the Saturday Market I am warmly greeted by vendors as I pass by, a woman showing three model cars nearby gives a friendly hello. The drivers are certainly nice and I’ve had some friendly banter with other pedestrians. Perhaps it was actually a private party at the pub, but I don’t think so because it would have been easy enough to put-out a sign.

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I would assume that the church has long been holding this fair since it is using the original Olde English spelling.

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The Saturday Market with craft works as well as lovely breads, cheeses, meats, preserves, fancy oils, and more.

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When I told two locals I was really surprised that the traffic here is much worse than in Birmingham (England’s 2nd largest city), they laughed. But I wasn’t kidding. Not at all. I never saw a street in Birmingham that had this steady stream of traffic. Of course there is more traffic in Birmingham, but there is more capacity for the traffic. Sleaford cannot build more roads, but there must be something that could be done to encourage people not to drive through the centre if going from side to side.

Some more random facts about Sleaford:

Long a market town, in it’s early days, markets were often held on Sundays to take full advantage of the crowds of churchgoers.

Sleaford Castle was built in the 12th Century by the Bishop of Lincoln.

The tower of St.Deny’s Church was built around 1180.

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How cute is this tiny riverside buidling!

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I forgot to ask about this central windmill that has no sails. I parked near it in the “hub”.

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More countryside photos, these ones from between Sleaford and nearly Lincoln, my next destination.

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I would definitely recommend a visit to the town of Sleaford. Perhaps during the weekdays it could be described as peaceful when traffic is not at it’s peak. It was a nice little surprise finding another lovely English town, a bonus on my drive to Lincoln.

The Regency Spa Town of Cheltenham

Cheltenham

Cheltenham is another town that came into it’s own with the prosperity of having natural mineral waters. “Taking the waters” was highly fashionable by England’s elite and where mineral waters sprung high society soon followed. I heard on television that this asset was noticed by the pigeons before the humans. In 1716, pigeons were seen flocking to a water flow, drinking the salty liquid when someone thought to check-it-out. The rest is history.

Cheltenham’s spa success was dramatically moved forward when King George III visited with the Queen and Princesses in 1788, giving the spa town his very fashionable stamp of approval. If it’s good enough for the King. . . .

At the edge of the Cotswolds in the county of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham has a population of around 115 thousand. Today it is perhaps England’s most complete Recency town, and that is probably the main reason to visit as a tourist unless one is specifically attending one of the many festivals or events that are held here.

I set-off to this city from my stay in Warwick with a friend who joined me from Birmingham. I collected Barbara at Warwick Rail Station before driving us Southwest for about an hour through lovely countryside made slightly less friendly by the overcast skies and rain showers.

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Rain, rain go away.

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Cheltenham was home to the brilliant composer Gustav Holst. If you think you don’t know his music, you are probably mistaken. I do think most people would recognise at least part of his most famous works named after the planets. My favourite is Jupiter because I once played a trumpet part in it when attending music camp at R C S Netherwood, in Rothesay, New Brunswick.

These are photos inside his family home, now recreated as a museum.

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This was a maids room. Located either in the basement or the attic, they were the most sparse rooms of a home.

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This is a fantastic doll house.

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Flowers and fountain in downtown Cheltenham.

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This and the following photos show Recency Architecture.

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This style definitely reminds me of the housing surrounding Regent’s Park in London. I used to cycle past these homes that curved around the park on my way to work everyday in Mayfair.

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There is more definition going on at the backs of these structures.

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Cheltenham’s Town Hall. It also had a spa within at one time.

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“Look what you’re sitting on,” Barbara points out without even a touch of irony after I have joined her sitting on the side of a fountain honouring Holst.

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Like most lovely English towns and cities, I love the downtown pedestrianised zones.

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The Lovely English Countryside, Warwick to Royal Leamington Spa

Royal Leamington Spa

At Warwick’s Tourist Information centre I was very happy to come across pamphlets describing suggested walks from Warwick. Some suggest that walkers walk one direction and catch public transport to return. But with a bicycle, I can easily cover much more ground with time to spare for explorations at the other end.

“Do you know if I will be able to cycle the paths that are marked for walking?” I ask at the desk behind which three cheerful ladies are having playful banter with one another and with a visitor who was there before me. “As long as you can carry your bicycle up and down a few steps, I think you can.” “Fantastic. I’ll also take these please,” handing her some postcards to purchase.

The next morning I make my way to the River Avon, which runs through Warwick directly past Warwick Castle. I’m not sure why this isn’t Warwick Upon Avon instead of just Warwick. Downriver, the town of Stratford is Stratford Upon Avon. What decides whether a town becomes partially known by the river that runs through it, I wonder. Stoke Upon Trent.

After taking some lovely photos of Warwick Castle from a bridge over the Avon, I descend to the riverside path that at this point is within the lovely St. Nicholas Park. There is a boat hire shop nearly under the bridge where one can rent various types of paddle boats. This seems to be a dog park, lots of dogs are off-leash socializing with each other while little huddles of dog owners do the same. There is a group of ducks and swans that draw much interest from the water dogs in particular. I stop to watch for a moment and take some photos. “Are you waiting to see if he goes in?” a friendly dog owner calls over. She is trying to get her dog to come away from the birds, he’s darting about the water’s edge while the swans honk warnings at him.

I continue on. The path eventually makes way to grass, it seems a bit odd to cycle on grassy fields, but it is a public space alongside the river and people do. Stopped again to take another photo I encounter a woman coming from the other direction on her bicycle. She pauses. “It is so beautiful here!” I comment. “Isn’t it wonderful! I discovered these trails two years ago and I keep telling my friends that I cycle to work through beautiful country and they keep assuming I mean along the canal. No! I tell them, along the river!” It’s so true, using this route I feel completely in the country, there are even pastures where sheep graze along the river here. But in very near proximity, the streets are lined with homes and businesses. It’s like hidden countryside.

“I found this from these pamphlets from the Tourist Office on Jury Street,” I tell her, “you should pick-them-up because there are other trails as well. There’s one all the way from Warwick Castle to Kenilworth Castle. I might try that another day.” “Do you live here?” she asks. “No, this is just my second day here, I’m visiting from Canada.” “Well welcome to Warwick! I’ve got to continue to work, but it was lovely to meet you!”

A few more photo stops and detours later and I find myself cycling through a park, now in Royal Leamington Spa. I stop and take a photo of lawn bowlers, remembering fondly how my late Grandmother used to enjoy that sport near her home in Fredericton, New Brunswick. I never saw her play, but she’d tell me about her games. I went to university in Fredericton and usually spent Sundays visiting my Grandmother, who was my Mother’s Mother. She was a very strong woman, spent the last several decades of her life as a widow after Grandad died soon after his early retirement from a heart attack. He had a weakened heart from having suffered rheumatic fever as a young man.

Grandmother was one of the very early women to graduate university in the 1930’s with a Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics. My Mother followed in her footsteps taking the same degree from the same university.

I continue on and cycle about the city centre after leaving the park.

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Gorgeous views of Warwick Castle on the River Avon.

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More lovely views along the River Avon.

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Part of the riverside trail was on grassy fields.

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My folding bicycle stops to enjoy a quiet moment in nature.

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If it was any prettier I probably would have started crying.

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Lawn Bowling in Royal Leamington Spa. I suppose life could be worse.

Royal Leamington Spa was a small town called Lamintone of about 50 cottages in 1783. A salt-water spring was notes as early as 1480 and was found useful for curing meat and making bread.

Towards the end of the 18th Century, “taking the waters” became very fashionable as high society flocked to Bath and then to Leamington as well. Queen Victoria gave the town a charter, changing the name to Royal Leamington Spa.

By 1841, the town had grown from about 200 residents to over 12,000 in just over 50 years. The rapid growth and prosperity meant that much of the city is comprised of lovely Georgian style architecture which was fashionable at the time as the town did it’s best to emulate the glorious spa town of Bath.

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Queen Victoria stands in front of town hall carved in Italian marble, but it was King George who really put this town on it’s feet.

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I just thought the mail cart was cute. Non-Brits may agree?

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As one would imagine, spa towns do not tend to be ugly.

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After cycling and walking about the downtown and enjoying the lovely Jephson Gardens, I started my way back to Warrick, this time via the towpaths of the Grand Union Canal which extends all the way from Birmingham to London. Originally a series of differently-owned canals, it became the 137 mile long Grand Union in 1925.

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I went to Royal Leamington Spa mostly by the River Avon and returned by the Grand Union Canal.

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Photographing while cycling. Wow, I didn’t fall into the canal!

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