Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Travel journal -- Sept. 26-27, 2006

Tuesday-Wednesday, September 26-27, 2006
This was an interesting day that lasted about 50 hours. On Monday night, I only slept about 5 hours, because we were up late, and then up early.
I set out for Merevale Abbey in Warwickshire, not knowing if I’d find anything. Merevale does not appear on an atlas. I went to the nearest town, Atherstone, and stopped in at the post office for directions. The post office window is inside an appliance store, so I was a bit confused about where to ask for help. Had to wait in line for it, too.
Anyway, Merevale Church, as they call it, was back through a couple roundabouts and up a short hill. I drove past the Merevale Abbey Farm, and up to the ancient stone gatehouse, where I parked. I walked in and found the ancient gate chapel in the middle of its graveyard. The doors were locked at back and side. I walked across the gravel to a beautiful stone house, hoping it was the vicarage. A woman answered the bell, and said no, it was a private home, and she didn’t have a key or a phone number to get me some help. I went out to the church sign, wrote down the vicar’s number, and after about 10 minutes had the courage to ring the doorbell again. I explained that I didn’t have a British mobile phone, and may I use her phone?
She apologized for having sent me away without help the first time. She asked me in, and then dialed the vicar, whose line was busy. Then she called a local historian, who was just leaving town. After about five calls, she tried her husband, who is the farm manager for the whole manor farm! He didn’t have a key, either, but one further call (perhaps to the manor-farm owner?) produced a skeleton key.
So the nice lady got in her Range Rover and drove across the stream and up a steep hill to the manor house, and came back with the key. We got into the church, and immediately found three effigies of de Ferrers.
The couple lying together were Margaret Peverel and Robert de Ferrers, 2nd earl of Derby. Across the little narthex was a broken, headless effigy of William de Ferrers, 5th earl of Derby. They had probably been buried in the chapter house originally, but at the Dissolution their tombs or effigies were moved (or rescued from the rubble) to the gatehouse chapel.
While I was taking pictures of them, the lady was walking around finding other things. She found the brass in-floor memorial of a Robert Ferrers in the 1400s, so he wouldn’t have been my ancestor, but a brother or cousin to my last Ferrers, Mary Ferrers who married Ralph Neville (II), earl of Westmoreland. Later in the day, I learned that Robert Ferrers was the most likely candidate for Robin Hood. Huh! So I got inside the church, which was a victory for persistence.

Now I headed back to Tutbury, where I’d tried on Friday to get into the church and castle. The castle was closed (still), and the church was locked, but there was a little old lady tending her husband’s grave, so I talked to her a bit, about finding someone with a key. She knew another old lady who might have a key, but they had a mutual friend who was having a 94th birthday celebration in a town about 20 miles away, and we wouldn’t get the key if her friend wasn’t home. Mrs. Joyce Slaney, the lady I met, finished dressing the grave, which took about 30 minutes, and then we walked to her friend’s house, who was luckily home and gave us the key. We walked back up to the church, which is on the same hill as the castle, and got in. You can tell the church is Norman because of the barrel vaulting and massive round pillars. And it’s been restored many times, because it’s still a working church.
There is no marker or tomb for Henry de Ferrers, who granted the land for Tutbury castle and church, although Henry is buried under there somewhere, and it would have been in the chancel or the north transept. There was a brass plaque on the back wall, however, that was placed by Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, in 1988, on the 900th anniversary of the founding of the church, and it mentions Henry de Ferrers.
Then Mrs. Slaney insisted that I come to her house in Fishpond Lane for tea. She did the whole teapot/plate of cookies routine, bless her soul, and showed me her home and pictures of her grown children and college-age grandchildren, as well as a videotape of the chef of her son’s pub restaurant in Dorset or somewhere. She allowed me to use her phone to call the castle secretary, but the hard-hearted lady wouldn’t let me in, even to the grounds.

It was a long drive back to Gloucester, but this time I went miles out of my way to find the motorways instead of the A-roads, so I wouldn’t get turned around in the dark. It worked.
There was more socializing to do with Audrey and friends, and I had to repack both my overnight bag and my big suitcase in the car. Earlier, in Tutbury, I’d packaged and mailed many of my book purchases to my home in California, so I wouldn’t have to haul them around. I stuffed my walking boots with the antique cream pitcher and the bottle of mead I’d bought at Cardiff. Other things got pushed and shoved or folded so everything fit between the two bags. The few things I was allowed to carry on the plane were in the computer bag. That all took until 12:30. I went to bed and coughed for at least three hours, because Audrey’s son Joel had been smoking in the house, and that’s deadly to me. (My bronchitis makes my lungs like raw hamburger.)
I think I got about an hour of sleep before the alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. I had to be on the road by 4:45 to return the gassed-up car at Heathrow, get the Hertz shuttle to the terminal, deal with my bags, go through security, and wait in the departure lounge for my flight. I have to say that America’s Transportation Safety Administration procedures suck mightily, plus they lost my bag and the tip off my cane. But at Heathrow, no problem. Hand over the bags immediately, keep the cane (they were shocked that TSA had checked it from Los Angeles), and have a nice flight.
Then there’s two hours to kill in the terminal, but they had free wireless Internet stations, plenty of shopping and restaurants, etc. So not too bad. Then there’s 13 hours on the plane, and a breeze through Customs, and my ride came for me at 3 pm as I’d asked, but it was afternoon rush hour in Los Angeles, so we didn’t get home ‘til 5:30 or 6:00. I immediately went to pick up my dog Evie from Bob’s house, because he and Lillian are leaving for Britain and Ireland the next day.
I barely sleep on planes, so I was really wiped out after getting about seven hours of sleep in three days.
But I’m home with 700 or more pictures. It’ll take me weeks to get them printed and stuck in a scrapbook! Maybe by the time my snail-mail box of books arrives from England?

The End

PS: It took about 10 days to stop dreaming about England. It took 3 weeks to get my photo albums done (photoshopping, printing, gluing), and about 4 weeks before my box was delivered.

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