June 4, 2008 Edition

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Shane Moore (from left), Rachel Shackelford, Karen Shackelford, Heather Roach and Nathan Moore pose for a photo on the roof of Ely Cathedral.

England at a Glance

Rachel Shackelford
Guest Writer

England ~ When my parents sat me down that February night to tell me that my mom and I were to journey to that jolly old country, I was almost overwhelmed by the excitement. This trip was a gift from my parents, Dr. Bobby and Karen Shackelford, to me in honor of my high school graduation. Traveling to the United Kingdom had always been a dream of mine and now I was to see that dream turned into a reality.

My mom and I arrived on May 9 in London. The first thing I noticed, as we drove from Gatwick Airport to our hotel, was how green all the fields were and how hot it was. The weather continued to be sunny and about 80�F our entire trip, a record for England in May.

Once we reached our hotel, the lovely Grosvenor, we headed straight out into the bustling metropolis. It was exhilarating to be walking along the street surrounded by people of every nationality, speaking in every language one could hope to hear.

Our first stop was Buckingham Palace, only a block away from our hotel. The Queen was at home, so we were content to stand by the glistening gates and watch the famed guards march stiffly to and fro in front. We did tour The Queen's Gallery, a pleasant collection of some the Her Majesty's favorite artifacts. These included original Da Vinci sketches, the mogul rubies and a large assortment of priceless china, jewel encrusted armor, rare paintings and ornate furniture.

Not even four hours in London and already my eyes were full of its treasures.

We then made our way down Birdcage Road toward the River Thames. Everywhere were beautiful buildings rich in detail and full of history.

All of a sudden as we were we were swept up into a group of London pedestrians. While with them we rounded a corner and just as quickly as they had come they were gone. Mom and I were left standing, staring up at Big Ben. There at this corner sat Westminster Abbey, The Houses of Parliament and the famed clock, all grand and massive before us. I, Rachel Shackelford, a small girl from a small town was in England.

From there we made our way to the London Eye across the river. We were to meet some friends in front of the largest Ferris wheel in the world.

We had become acquainted with the Jones family while vacationing at Disney World four years earlier. Our friendship had continued as we e-mailed and exchanged parcels.

Mr. Barry and Mrs. Julie are employed at the Parker Pen factory near Brighton on the south coast of England, while their sons Tom, 16, and Ian, 13, are still at school.

It was exciting to have the chance to see them again and this time in their native land. As we rode up in the Eye they pointed out all of the famous landmarks, the Tower Bridge, St. Paul's Cathedral and the houses of Parliament. The view was extraordinary as we gazed down into the swirling muddy river that kings and warriors had sailed upon for hundreds of years.

The rest of our afternoon was spent exploring that section of London, which includes Leicester Square and Covent Gardens.

My favorite was Trafalgar Square, home to the infamous brass lions. As soon as we could, we clamored atop one of the legendary statues for a picture. They were much larger than I had imagined and rather high up, but it was marvelous!

We had e-mailed Mrs. Julie before we left and asked if there was anything the boys would like us to bring from America. She replied that they loved Nike. We took two fleece jackets, a couple of T-shirts and a baseball cap for them. They were very excited to get them, and Tom, even though it was hot, put on his jacket.

They had purchased me a lovely leather address book from Smithson's on Bond Street and a beautiful new pen ~ Parker, of course.

It was sad to say good-bye but we are hoping they will visit us in Arkansas, where we have promised them a good fishing trip.

Our next day brought the beginning of our private two-day tour, which would take us to several castles and sights in the northern Peak District. The memories I made there are some I will always cherish.

Our guide's name was Ulla. Born in Germany, she had moved to England for school and had remained ever since. She was very pleasant and had a wealth of information. As we drove into tiny villages with thatched roofs and past yellow fields of raipe (a flower used to make canola oil) she told us the history of England starting with William the Conqueror and ending with the young Prince William.

I love history and British literature! I was fascinated with her ability to easily recall every important date in a monarch's reign, their birth and death, their wives and children ~ it was fantastic all the facts and rumors she knew of those ancient rulers. She was able to tell us all this and still rapidly drive our small van on the "wrong side" of the road avoiding bicyclists and oncoming drivers in the narrow streets.

Our first stop was Burley House in Rutland County, an enormous castle with a sprawling rich green lawn. Inside were entire rooms where the walls and ceilings were larger than life murals of Biblical and mythological scenes, each ornately painted. I couldn't imagine being able to live in such splendor every day.

After driving through Nottingham, we made an unexpected detour to a magnificent place. Belvoir (pronounced Beaver) Castle was not of high interest to foreign tourists, but it was one of the most beautiful castles imaginable. It's built defensively on top of a hill and overlooks a vast green valley. Filled with armor and hand-painted silk wallpaper, it is actually home to four children and their parents, the Duke and Duchess of Rutland.

We traveled that night to the town of Hathersage in the county of Derbyshire. Nestled in between the thick green mountains and the lonely moors, the village is a favorite for ramblers. In England, hikers are called ramblers and have the right to go wherever they please. Farmers who build fences or hedges around their fields must provide gateways or even paths through their lands or the ramblers will make their own.

That following day we woke early and explored the town in the cool of the morning. The streets were very narrow and rather uneven from the stone, but as we hiked up a lane it afforded us the loveliest view of the thatched village and rolling lush green pastures with bleating sheep.

The village church of St. Michael's prides itself with having within its graveyard the resting place of Robin Hood's deputy Little John. Hathersage also boasts having been host to the authoress Charlotte Bronte when she was writing her novel, "Jane Eyre."

After Ulla collected us, we went hiking in Yorkshire at a place called Standage Edge. These rugged sheer cliffs look as if some giant had hewn a hill in half with a knife. We had to climb up a steep hill mostly made of marshy thick weeds and sheep droppings till we came to the cliffs. When you stood there at the edge you felt as if the rest of the world didn't exist, that you and God were the only ones to see the vast country before your eyes. It was beautiful.

Our journey continued west now to the stately Chatsworth Manor belonging to the Duke of Devonshire. While we were there the manor was hosting the Nissan International Horse Trials. It was by far the most elaborate estate we visited. The family had a vast collection of art ranging from Rembrandt, to ancient Egyptian sculptures. The house is also famous for its vast and lush gardens.

Our next stop was Haddon Hall in the town of Bakewell, my favorite of all the places we toured. Built in the late 17th century it is said to be the finest preserved house in all of England. It reminded me of a castle in a fairy tale. Inside it is very rustic, with the simple ornament of tapestries and windows that open onto its lovely garden. It was very peaceful and pleasant.

We then ventured to Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birth and resting place of William Shakespeare. Though his wife's and his sister's homes still remain, his actual house was demolished when the man who owned it became tired of so many people rambling on his land to see the house of the Bard.

Next, on to Oxford. The University was incredibly beautiful. This city was special to me as it is where my favorite author, C.S. Lewis, once lived and taught.

After saying good-bye to Ulla that night, we celebrated Mother's Day at a pub called The King's Arms. I bought my best friend, wonderful teacher and most incredible mother a dinner of traditional fish and chips.

Monday morning I had my first train ride as we traveled east into Cambridgeshire to the town of Ely. We had arranged to meet an old friend of mine there.

Heather Roach of Tuscaloosa, Ala., was living in England as a missionary at that time. We had not seen each other in several years and who would have thought that two southern girls would reunite in of all places, England?

Heather had become friends with a local family who lived in the town of Littleport. The Moores, Mrs. Kari, Nathan, 15, Shane, 11, and Joshua, 5, were bringing Heather to meet us in Ely.

Mom had talked to Heather before we left and just as with the Jones family had asked if there was anything we could bring from the USA. She replied, "yes!"

When we met them at the station that day I could tell everyone was a little shy, but when Mom pulled out the first bag of candy, the boys really warmed up to us. We had brought them each a bag of "rare treats" including Butterfingers, Hot Tamales, Milk Duds and for Mrs. Kari, liquid band aids, which aren't available in the UK.

Ely is the home of a beautiful ancient cathedral. Immediately, when you enter, you are struck by how still it is in there. As you gaze up at intricate stonework and glimmering stained glass windows, you are hushed into reverence and awe for the Mighty God who is worshiped there, the creator of heaven and earth.

The next part of the day was very special for my mom and me. My mom had lived in England while her father was stationed there with The United States Air Force. We were able to return to her home in the village of Mildenhall in East Sussex County.

This small part of our journey had so much meaning. It was a special time for us, as Mom returned to a place that held so many fond memories and I was able to see the place of which I had heard so much. We saw the graveyard she had played in as a child and the village square where she remembered going to market with her mom. I hope I can someday take my children back to Mildenhall.

Upon our return to London we had a unique chance to see the musical "Les Miserables" at The Queen's Theatre in SoHo. It was an astounding production. Never had I seen such quality in set, acting or music. The story itself is wondrous, but the actors' and actresses' conviction as they performed was unparalleled.

Our last day was filled with touring London. We boarded a double-decker bus and went first to tour Westminster Abbey and then down to St. Paul's Cathedral. From there we walked across the Millennium Bridge and stood in the shadow of Tate Modern while looking out at the famous Tower Bridge. Our map led us to the Globe Theatre, which was filled with school children, all in smart matching uniforms.

Our final tour sight was the Tower of London. It was a beautiful old castle, carefully guarded with the honorable Yeoman Warders also known as Beefeaters.

Mom and I took our first tube (subway) across town from the Tower of London to Harrods Department Store where we had tea. From there we went again by tube to Leicester Square where we purchased tickets for the new musical "The Lord of the Rings" at Her Majesty's Royal Theatre Drury Lane. It was a spectacular event, being more of an acrobatics and light show than any musical I had ever seen.

It was bittersweet that next day, May 14, as we left England, watching it fade away from the plane window. You come back changed from visiting a different country. You become more aware of other people, other lifestyles and other ideas of life.

God blessed my mom and me with an incredible adventure, one that I will always treasure. We have been asked several times if we ever plan to go back and every time we answer with an emphatic, "Yes! Lord willing."

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