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Monday, May 30, 2011


Worcester Cathedral

My cousin Chris is chief gardener at the Worcester Cathedral.  I've visited there several times.  Chris is driving down to Caerphilly to pick me up and we'll go back to Worcester together.  He's a great guy to spend time with: a mountaineer, marathon biker and all-around good sport.  So we're looking forward to a few pints and lots of talk about our travel adventures.

Undoubtedly I'll visit the Cathedral again.  The Cathedral was actually founded in 680 but the original cathedral no longer exists, although the crypt dates from the 10th century. It was built between 1084 and 1504 and represents every style of English architecture from Norman to Perpendicular Gothic.  It's famous for its Norman crypt and unique chapter house.  One of the interesting things inside the Cathedral is the tomb of King John.  There's also a memorial to Prince Arthur Tudor whose younger brother was Henry VIII. 

Cathedral Interior

Chris is going to take me to Warwick Castle, a place I've never been to before.  This is a medieval castle on the River Avon, built by William the Conqueror in 1068.  It was used as a fortification until the early 17th century, then converted into a country house by Sir Fulke Greville, who became the earls of Warwick from 1759 to 1978. This castle has been used a s a prison and was used to imprison the English king, Edward IV.  In reading about the castle one thing intrigued me, and that was the involvement of the notorious Richard III who, in the early 1480's, had two gun towers, the Bear and Clarence Towers, constructed which were left unfinished on his death in 1485.  The towers had their own well and ovens and were an independent stronghold from the rest of the castle, possibly in case of mutiny. Queen Elizabeth I visited the castle on a couple of occasions.
Warwick Castle

The castle is protected as an ancient monument and is one of Britain's top 10 historic houses and monuments. These days there are lots of interesting things to see at the castle including archery and jousting displays, "The Castle Dungeon", a live actor experience and seasonal attractions including the "Flight of the Eagles", a bird show featuring bald eagles, vultures and sea eagles.  There are also gardens around the castle that are open to the public.

Warwick Castle has hauntings too.  There's a show called "Warwick Ghosts Alive" which portrays the murder of Sir Fulke Greville who had been given the castle by King James I.  There's also supposed be the ghost of a little girl.  Sounds like lots of spooky fun! 

photos courtesy Wikipedia.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Caerphilly Castle

This the castle that I grew up hearing stories about.  My dad was born in Caerphilly and I still have cousins living there, so I visit as often as I can.  This year it's a special visit, because my cousin Sheila had a stroke last November and I want to see her and spend time with her family and the other cousin, Janet, whose mother Joyce (another distant cousin of mine) passed away earlier this year.
The Filer Cousins
I love the little town of Caerphilly, nestled in the green hills north of Cardiff.  When he was young, my Dad worked in the Bedwas Navigational Collieries just outside of the town.
The collieries were in the hills just behind the town.
The collieries no longer exist and the slag heap is overgrown with some new houses being built in the area. From the time he was 14 years old, my dad trudged out there every morning before daylight and trudged home every night when it was dark, sometimes never seeing daylight for weeks. He lost his mining cards in the early 30's because he spoke for the men and immigrated to Canada as there was no more work for him.

Windsor Street, where my Dad lived.
On my first few visits to Caerphilly, starting in 1974, my two old uncles, Reg and George, still lived in the family home.  After they passed away it became occupied by others.  But each time I go to Caerphilly I still walk down Windsor Street and visit the old Filer homestead.
My sister Jean and I in front of Dad's home.
Caerphilly is famous for its cheese, and the castle which has a long, interesting history. You can read more about Caerphilly on this previous blog, written last July.

The last time I visited Caerphilly I also spent a day with my cousins at the St. Fagan's Heritage Park, which has examples of Welsh life going right back to the Iron Age.  I've also visited the fairy-tale Castel Coch which is nearby.

Not sure what I'll see this time but I'm looking forward to a few cold pints in the pub with the cousins, and some of those delicious fish and chips! And of course, my annual tour through Caerphilly Castle.  I'm still looking for the ghost of that green lady!  Maybe this time I'll see her?

Saturday, May 28, 2011


OLD SARUM Iron Age Hill Fort
On my second trip to England in the late '70's I visited an elderly friend who was the last remaining member of a coven in Bournemouth.  I said I was going to visit Stonehenge, and she suggested I go into the inner circle and see what the spirits brought to me.  On my way to Stonehenge I had a stop-over at Salisbury and while waiting at the bus depot, I noticed a sign pointing to an Iron Age Hill fort, Old Sarum, some 4 kilometers down the highway.  It happened that at that time I had been planning a novel with a Celtic theme.  I already have written some of it, a story told to me by a young girl named Olwen who was an acolyte of the Druids, but I wasn't exactly sure of where the story took place. I just knew it was set in the Iron Age somewhere in the south of Britain.

OLD SARUM ( Caer Gwyn, in Olwen's time)  (watercolor painting by me)
What happened next was one of those powerful deja vu moments that you remember forever.  As I walked down the road toward Old Sarum, it became more familiar to me and when I finally arrived at the earth mound and began exploring, I realized that this was exactly the place Olwen had 'told' me about.  This was the setting of my novel, "Dragons in the Sky".  Since then I have made two other trips back to the earth mound, one the following year and another two years ago.  And this year I am returning to revive my research because I have taken that old half-finished novel off the shelf and I'm starting to work on it again.

Here is a description (in Olwen's voice) from "Dragons in the Sky":
West of the muddy river, the downs unfolded into grassy slopes. The meadows were thick with goldenrod and clover. There were farmsteads scattered all along the boundaries of our tuath, fields tilled by the yeomen and seeded with barley and wheat and grazing lands for our herds. The pastures were fed by little springs and the streams flowed into a muddy brown river that separated the pastures from the enclosure of our village. At the edge of the downs were beachwood groves where men hunted deer and wild boars. Beyond this, the Plain stretched out on the horizon.  These were the tribal lands of the Atrebates. No raiders could steal our stock, nor cross our borders, without being sighted from the ramparts of Caer Gwyn’s hill fort.

I went to Stonehenge on that first trip and back then you could still stand in the inner circle. What a thrill to be there!  And yes, the 'spirits' did speak to me,  and most strongly, the voice of Olwen.  I've always wanted to make a return visit to Stonehenge, and two years ago I intended to, but a series of mishaps with travel plans caused me to miss going.  So this year I am going back again, to see if I can conjure the spirits of those olden times, and hear Olwen's voice speak to me.
One place I've never visited is Avebury, the largest stone circle in Britain.  So this year I have planned a visit there and fortunately I have been offered to be tour-guided around all these areas by a local man who often writes for my Travel Thru History ezine.  Keith Kellett lives in Avebury village, and has offered to drive down to Salisbury and escort me to these sites.  I'm just thrilled to be able to visit these amazing historical sites in the company of a local expert! And a big thanks to Keith for offering to chauffeur me around.

Photos of Old Sarum, Stonehenge and Avebury courtesy Wikipedia

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Friday, May 27, 2011


By the London Bridge

Two weeks from today (June 10) I'll be boarding a plane from YVR and heading for London Gatwick for the first part of my 4 week holiday.  I've been to London dozens of times in the past, beginning with my first trip in about 1975 and my stays there have extended from a month or more to just a day.  This time, I'm only spending a day and night there before proceeding on to Salisbury.  And I'll stay an extra night on my way back from Worcester before I leave for Athens on June 19.

I know my way around London on the tubes and for the past few years I always stay at the Indian "Y" which is located near the Warren Street Station on Fitzroy Street, an ideal location as it's walking distance to a lot of the sights.  It's a great place to stay, reasonably priced, clean, friendly and includes breakfast and dinner.  It's also situated in an area once frequented by writers: those of the Bloomsbury group and others such as Dylan Thomas.  Right across the little park from the hotel is the home of Virginia Woolf and G. Bernard Shaw and down Fitzroy Street is a pub were several well known writers including Dylan Thomas hung out.

Every time I go to London I try to find different things to do so I'm not always browsing around Green Park, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square etc, although I never get tired of walking by those popular tourist areas.  This time I imagine there'll be lots of Royal Wedding souvenirs in the shops and kiosks so I'll take a look at those. 

One thing I love to do in London is to go on the London Walks.  I've been on several, and there are quite a few to choose from. Because I'm arriving quite early in the morning on that Saturday, I plan to have a little rest at the Y first, then venture out to do my London sightseeing.  So I'll go on one of the evening walks. Just for fun I'm thinking about the "Blood-Curdling London" a spooky walk through heinous places or perhaps "Ghosts of the Old City" (I find hauntings fascinating!).  You meet at certain tube stations and walk from there.  This one's led by the "Duke of Darkness".  Sounds thrilling!

Early the next morning I catch a bus down to Salisbury where I'll be meeting up with a fellow travel writer who has offered to escort me to the stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury.  I'm making this stop in Salisbury partly to renew some research for a half-finished novel I want to resume working on. So it should prove to be a very worthwhile side-trip.


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Tuesday, May 24, 2011


On one of our rare sunny days this Spring, a friend and I went for a walk in the Sun Yat Sen Gardens.
This beautiful garden and park in the midst of Vancouver’ Chinatown is an authentic reproduction of an age-old Chinese tradition.  Classical gardens such as these were popular during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644).  Ming scholars had private gardens where they could live and work.  The gardens followed certain traditional designs to provide the scholar with tranquillity and spiritual energy.

This garden is dedicated to Sun Yat-Sen, the ‘father of modern China”. Like all Chinese gardens of that era, is based on the harmony of four main elements: rock, water, plants and architecture.  Blended together they create a perfect balance -- the yin and yang.

The rocks used in the garden and park were imported from Lake Tai near the Chinese city of Suzhou.  These limestone rocks, known for their rough beauty, are placed in various locations throughout the Garden, around a jade-green pond meant to inspire tranquillity.  (The softness of the water balances the hardness of the rock).

The Garden and Park are is planted with a variety of symbolic plants, mixing native Chinese and local plants including bamboo, cypress, pine, flowering plum and miniature rhododendron.
The traditional architecture, found in all classical Chinese gardens, blends with the natural elements.

Adjacent to the Garden is the Dr. SunYat- Sen park which compliments the Garden.  The entrance to the Park is free. There is a bust of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen , who visited Vancouver frequently, at the entrance gate.  Next to the Park and Garden is the Chinese Cultural Centre, on Chinatown’s main street.

There is an admission fee for entry into the Garden, but the Park is free, and it’s well worth a visit at any time of year, a place to get away from the busy city streets where you can meditate on the beauties of nature in a serene setting.

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Friday, May 20, 2011


As part of our Royal Wedding weekend, my friend and I went to historic Victoria B.C. to celebrate. One of the special things we did on our last day there was to visit the famous Butchart Gardens.
Victoria B.C.'s historic Butchart Gardens is one of the most popular floral show gardens on the West Coast. This magnificent landscaped area which covers 22 ha(55 acres) was conceived in 1904 and designed by Jennie Butchart after the limestone quarry that her husband Robert Pim Butchart had acquired for his burgeoning cement business was exhausted.  Under Jennie's supervision and artist eye, the abandoned quarry blossomed into a spectacular Sunken Garden.

The gardens grew into a beautiful early 20th century showpiece in the style of the grand estates of the period.  Besides grassy lawns, flower beds, ornamental trees and a unique collection of memorabilia brought by the Butcharts from their travels,  there are nurseries for plants, trees and shrubs.
Among the objects collected from their travels is the Fountain of the Three Sturgeons and the life-like bronze casting of a wild boar, both from Florence, Italy.
Fountain of the Three Sturgeons
The Butcharts also created a beautiful Italian garden beside their house.

The Italian garden
 By the 1920's more than fifty thousand people were coming each year to visit the Butchart's Gardens and today they are one of the most popular tourist destination for visitors to Vancouver Island and Victoria.

The Butchart's luxurious house which included a bowling alley, indoor salt-water swimming pool, billiard room and a self-playing Aeolianpipe organ, is now the Dining Room Restaurant and offices with some rooms still used for family entertaining.  The Garden is still operated by the family.  The Rose Carousel, the only carousel on Vancouver Island, is a fun diversion for youngsters and adults alike. The carousel is a menagerie of animals, birds and decorative mirrors. The designs were hand picked by the great grand daughter of Jennie Butchart and the carvings were done by some of the few remaining carvers of carousel art.  It's housed in the Children's Pavilion under a clear dome and a roof planted with native plant species.

A popular part of Butchart's is the Japanese garden area where you can walk quietly under the trees over small ornate bridges and cross the creeks on stepping stones. 

Everywhere you look,  the gardens are full of glorious blooms.  On this visit it was a brilliant array of tulips and blossoming trees.  It's easy to see how Butchart's Gardens has an international reputation for it's year round displays of flowering plants. 

This visit to Butchart's Gardens was a perfect way for my friend and I to end our special visit to Victoria to celebrate the Royal Wedding weekend.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011


Statue of Queen Victoria

What better a place to spend the Royal Wedding weekend that in historic Victoria BC? After the excitement of watching the wedding of Kate and Will on TV, my friend and I continued the celebration with a weekend at the Queen Victoria Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia's capital city named after the Queen. Our hotel was centrally located, with a view of the fabled Empress Hotel, the Inner Harbour and the Royal BC Museum.
View from the balcony

Our hotel was near Beacon Hill Park

Victoria has a definite British flavour.  The Hudson's Bay Company was established there when Fort Victoria was built in 1843. To ensure British sovereignty over the new colony, a naval base was established at Esquimalt and became the headquarters of the Royal Navy's Pacific squadron. It's still the base for Canada's East Coast naval fleet. Victoria is full of heritage buildings and sites including some of the city's most impressive structures: the Parliament Buildings, and the Fairmont Empress Hotel, designed by Rattenbury, and built by the Inner Harbour.
Parliament Buildings (rear view)

After arriving at our hotel, we started our day with a walk to the popular James Bay Tea Room where a special Royal Wedding Tea was being served.  This little heritage house, built in 1907 as a family home,  is chock full of royalty memorabilia, a museum of the royalty.  And that day it was full of folks celebrating the big event including two tables of sweet young 10 year old girls dressed in fascinaters and fancy bonnets celebrating a birthday party.  We enjoyed our royal tea with fresh scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam; cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, a plate of small pastries and of course a pot of fresh-brewed English tea.
The James Bay Tea Room
Interior of the tea room
The Royal Wedding Tea Party
The Royal Newly-weds

After our tea we walked around the Inner Harbour and looked at the handicraft booths, many of them First Nations artisans. Vancouver Island has an important aboriginal heritage and the First Nations culture is represented in Victoria with the cedar-plank Big Houses and towering totems poles that stand by the Royal BC Museum as a reminder of the region's original civilization.

Besides it British influence, when the gold rush began in 1858 Victoria grew into a frontier city with thousands of miners of European and Asian descent arriving to join the British, French-Canadians, Metis and Hawaiians who were already there working for the Hudson's Bay Company.  Victoria still has an impressive Chinatown area, once known as "Forbidden City" a place of mystery and intrigue where few Westerners once dared enter.

History blends with contemporary life in Victoria.  You'll see double-decker buses and horse-drawn carriages. There are beautiful gardens, pubs, tearooms, shops and restored heritage buildings in the downtown area as well as throughout the city.  It's an elegant city and always a great place to spend a weekend browsing the sights along the Inner Harbour, the many beautiful gardens, such as the Butchart Gardens, the art galleries and the wonderful Royal BC Museum.

We topped off our day with dinner at Vic's Steak House. After dinner we walked along by the Parliament Buildings which are always lit up at night. 
Steak, at Vic's Steak House. Yum!
Tally-ho in front of the Parliament Buildings

There are many excellent places to dine out in Victoria.  Our favorite is Spinnaker's Brew Pub and Restaurant just across the Johnson Street Bridge.  The weather was warm and sunny so the next morning we sat out on the deck enjoying the view of the harbour while we had a delicious Royal Wedding brunch: oysters baked in the shell, Bangers and Mash and a sparkling glass of mimosa.  Then we headed out to Butchart Gardens for the afternoon. A perfect way to celebrate this special Royal Wedding weekend.