Incredible as it may seem today, I once drove a car in London, England, blithely undaunted by busy traffic and the challenge of working my way into the very heart of the city. I was alone and braving my first experience driving on the left side of the road. But that was in 1975, over 40 years ago, so maybe it wasn’t such a big deal, though it felt like it at the time. I did breathe a big sigh of relief when I pulled into the car rental parking lot to hand over the keys. It had been an eventful journey.
My journey had begun in Edinburgh, pausing at first for a brief look around Gretna Green, that romantic haven above the Scottish border where lovers thronged to be wed when forbidden to do so by English law.
The village blacksmith was its most respected craftsman so the Blacksmith’s Forge became a favourite place for weddings. The tradition of the blacksmith sealing the marriage by striking his anvil led to the blacksmith and his anvil becoming symbols of Gretna Green weddings. The Old Smithy where lovers have come to marry since 1754, is still in the village and still a wedding venue.
I told in a recent blog about my overnight stop at the fascinating Bleaze Hall bed and breakfast in Old Hutton near Kendall. I have learned since that this more than four centuries old heritage dwelling still stands today, thanks to substantial upkeep by its private owners.
The property was advertized for sale in recent years for 570,000 pounds after it had been extensively renovated and modernized by a couple who had occupied it since the early 1980s. Its many features detailed on the sales notice included “the magnificent plasterwork ceiling and frieze in the drawing room, substantial fireplaces, oak staircase, floors, doors, beams and oak uprights, stone mullion windows (some of which had been walled up in 1692 to avoid window tax) and flagged floors. The history has been documented and includes details of previous owners, dates of extensions and the fascinating ‘dobbie’ stone which was brought to the house in 1636 and hangs from the ancient rafters for good luck.”
It was reputed to be haunted by the ghost of a maiden, “old, fleeting shadows”, and a phantom funeral which relates to the maiden who died brokenhearted when her lover failed to return from a Crusade. I’m glad I didn’t know that when I slept there in my canopy bed.
Being close to the fabled Lake District, I took a brief detour into Lake Windermere, a favourite holiday destination reputed to be England’s largest lake. Scores of sail boats, and plenty of sun worshippers, were enjoying the beautiful weather.
My only other stop along that southbound route was at the city of Manchester where I discovered a beautiful sunken garden built probably on a site devastated by wartime bombing. An imposing monument also caught my eye.
While there I witnessed a political gathering in which a Liberal party candidate was campaigning for re-election. Interestingly enough, he was distributing a flier advocating proportional representation, a cause which crops up frequently on both sides of the Atlantic, but usually in vain. Don’t know if he made it but his party came third after Labour, led by Prime Minister Roy Jenkins, went down to defeat at the hands of the Conservatives under William Whitelaw who won a modest majority. Labour had been in power for 16 years.
When nervously wending my way along London streets, I couldn’t help noticing there were still some bombed out buildings, stark reminders of the Second World War which had ended just 30 years before. The task of rebuilding this great city had yet to be completed.