Each year we go back home I try to eliminate all that went wrong on previous visits and so create the perfect trip. But that never seems to come about. For one thing I always take too much luggage and it allows no room for bringing back all the delightful goodies I have missed for so long.

To fly from Toronto to Glasgow our allowance was 23kg. yet on our connecting flight from Glasgow to Barra we were only allowed 20kg. so this time I had to be very creative with my packing. My kilt in particular was quite heavy so that had to be included in my carry on to start with. The problem with going to England & Scotland, no matter what time of year, the weather can go from hot to wet & cold before you know it. I replaced shorts and pants with thin & thick leggings. Short sleeved tops remained the same but for warmth I took with me a soft quilted hooded jacket that was light and easy to pack yet kept out the cold winds and even withstood the fine mists of the Scottish Highlands.

Even taking with me a Canadian T. Towel, as a small gift, for every cousin I visited I was so pleased when my cases, for Andy & myself, both came in under the 20kg. Now on my return journey, from England, when my limit would be once more 23kg I had lots of room for everything I wanted to bring back.

Because of bad weather on Barra our flight was delayed nearly two hours, but at last we found ourselves in Glasgow airport once more. The next step of our journey was to take a train to Newcastle. Train fares in Britain are quite expensive but there are many ways to ease this burden. One of course is to advance book online before you leave Canada. There is however, a major problem with this. You are then limited to a certain train and if, as what happened to us on this trip and my last one, there are any delays to your flight and you miss your train then it’s bad news, you have to re book – losing all the money you have prepaid.

If you are seniors then you can purchase “Senior Railcards”. They cost thirty pounds per. person and they do give substantial savings. However, you would need to take more than a couple of train journeys to make back your sixty pounds initial outlay.

If there are two of you traveling together a “Two Together Railcard” is the answer. This costs just thirty pounds (fifteen pounds each) and allows savings on all your train tickets. There is one drawback which you must first overcome. You cannot purchase this ticket while at home in Canada unless you have an address in Britain they can send it too and you ARE NOT traveling on a train before you have access to this card. We intended starting our train journey right from Glasgow airport so had no way of receiving this card. So we needed to buy this card on arrival in Britain. Unfortunately, our train journey from Glasgow Airport to Newcastle started with a bus ride to Paisley Gilmour train station and had only a five minute connection onto Glasgow Central. So we couldn’t buy this card until we reached Glasgow Train Station. Something British Rail should perhaps look into. There was only one thing we could do. We first had to board the train shuttle in the airport to Glasgow Central Station. For one way, for the two of us, it cost thirteen pounds and do not be fooled – as we were. The train shuttle may start just outside the airport doors, but it does not take you to the train station. It dropped us in Bothwell Street amongst the shops and we were told the station was just down the street. It was pouring with rain, a grey cold miserable afternoon.  We are both seniors, and thank goodness we had cases with wheels on.

After asking directions, and with our cabin bags slung over our shoulders we trundled our cases down Bothwell Street. We were soaking wet in no time. The passing traffic sent waves of dirty water high over our legs as we waited to cross the road. Trying hard to avoid the massive puddles we turned the corner into Hope Street. Again dodging small lakes forming along the curb and the never ceasing streams of cars & lorries we got across another road and rounded the corner into Gordon Street and at last saw the train station emerge on our right. We had not packed a thick raincoat nor could we have maneuvered an umbrella which would have helped us on this hike.

Now to buy our railcard. The on-line purchasing instructions had told me I needed to bring with me a passport photo of each person to be named on the card and that it would only take a few moments to get one. Passport photos taken in Canada are too large and WILL NOT be accepted. You must get more like a citizenship photo measuring only 3.5cm x 4.5cm. Luckily, on production of a pair of scissors we were able to cut our photos down & still have our head & face showing – but it was touch & go. It did take only a little while once the photos were the right size. Did we save anything ? Our trip from Glasgow to Newcastle would have cost us one hundred & twenty four pounds. It cost us eighty two pounds + thirty pounds for the railcard totaling one hundred & twelve pounds. Even with buying the card we were still saving money and we had another train journey to make later on in our holiday. So we had managed to get over the first bump. We grabbed a quick snack on the platform and settled down on a direct trip to Newcastle. My cousin met us at our destination, took us to dinner and then transported us back to his house for 4 lovely days in the north of England.

In St. Thomas’ graveyard, Harelaw, we visited my family plot where lies my great grandmother Eleanor & great grandfather George, my grandmother Louisa & grandfather William, and my dad George William. While there, many of my cousins gathered together to add my auntie Eleanor’s ashes to the plot as well. They had waited until I could be present as my Auntie Eleanor was more like a second mam to me and her sons George & John are as close as brothers. It was a lovely gesture of which I was so pleased to be part of. The cemetery is well kept and free from vandals and a beautiful place to wander and recollect all the good old days. My cousin Angela had made us a delightful lunch of ham & pease pudding batches, which I hadn’t tasted in years. A “Mc Neal” tradition at all our family gatherings.

Later I visited some old friends and then took in a show at Bishop Auckland. “Kynren” is an open-air spectacular performed at night, in the Vale of Durham, known as the Gateway to Weardale. It takes place against the backdrop of park and Castle of Bishop Auckland, which has been the principle residence of the Bishops of Durham since the twelfth Century. It is an epic tale of England from William the Conqueror through Queen Elizabeth 1, to Queen Victoria, and bringing in local history of Bishop Auckland’s big pit explosion. Cast in eerie beams of floodlights the procession of coffins brought back the stark remembrance of what living in the North had been really like. Most of my male family had been miners and I was lucky to have lost only one uncle in a pit disaster, although my grandfather had been buried for four days after one seam collapse and only escaped by hanging onto his pony’s tail who dragged him to safety. The show ended with all countries from the British Commonwealth taking the stage and hills around to a rendition of “All Glory Laud and Honour”. This show is hoping to be extended at least through next year so if you get the chance to see it – it’s good and the forty pound tickets as near to the middle as you can get are perfect seats. It lasts for nearly two hours so the more elderly should take a little cushion with them, it will make the experience so much nicer.

Even though I had been brought up in the North I had never been to Bamborough Castle and I had just read nine books by Bernard Cromwell on the castle’s early beginnings. So, the next day, when George & John and their wives picked us up and took us for a surprise visit there, I was ecstatic. The castle was once the royal seat of the Kings of Northumbria. It has stood guard over the beautiful north east coastline for over 1,400 years. It’s formidable walls have witnessed many bloody battles and it is a place steeped in legends. Situated on the Boarder between Scotland & England it changed hands many times. Bought by the 1st Lord Armstrong in 1894 his family has transformed this North East icon from a decaying ruin to the glorious castle it is today. It fascinates and captivates all who take a trip into it’s history.

A thing to remember if you would like to visit. No dogs are allowed even in the grounds, and it’s entry fee is eleven pounds each, but besides the magnificent castle there is a dazzling display of armour, weapons, artifacts, priceless sculptures, china and paintings. We all had a picnic lunch overlooking the north sea with it’s long stretch of white sandy beach and deserted sand dunes. It has been said Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor used these very sand dunes for their romantic interludes.

The next best thing ever, to being with family & friends, is to sit at a boardwalk cafe, on the north east coast, and eat fish and chips, especially near to where the boats bring in their ‘catch of the day’. So off to Sea Houses we went. Nothing smells nor tastes better than that and then to finish it all off with an ice-cream sitting on the harbour wall at Amble. It brought back all those wonderful memories when we were kids having a day at the coast at Whitley Bay & Cullercoats.

The weather was exceptionally nice for the north east so I had another great day visiting more relatives & friends & then packed our cases again ready for the train to Coventry. Here we came across another bump in the road. I tried to advance book the tickets on-line with my new railcard – so to get double the savings. The whole transaction went through, no problem, until I came to pay at the end. Payment details asked for our home address, but it would not accept a Canadian postal code. So we decided to use my cousin’s Newcastle address – but then the name on my credit card did not agree with my cousin’s home address. I was left in a complete daze not really knowing if we had tickets – or not. When we got to the train station, the next day, the ticket officer felt sure we did not & proceeded to issue us new tickets, convinced the transaction had not gone through. In actual fact we never had any proof of this until we received our visa statements weeks after getting home. So we blindly paid for another set of tickets & hoped he was right. Thankfully he was.

So we could not get the advance ticket savings but our railcard helped enormously again. The tickets cost us one hundred & forty three pounds a savings of sixty pounds. So with only two rail trips the “Two Together Railcard” was a boon. If we had been going back to Glasgow airport to fly home we would have saved even more on our return trip also. As it was we were flying out of Birmingham so our train journeys were done – but it is certainly something you should think about before attempting to catch the train in Britain.

My God-daughter picked us up off the train and she had four days holiday to be at our beck and call. So once in Coventry she took us shopping to buy bars & bars of Cadbury’s chocolate, Thornton’s toffee, malt loaves, Battenburgh cake, Hartley’s jellies, Jelly Button sweets, Horlick’s malt drink and boxes of Quality Street for presents – which are a third of our price here.

The highlight of our visit in Coventry was Jayne taking us to see my mam’s sisters. One is 88 the other will be 97 this October. They both looked good, jovial and enjoying every day as it came. So I promised them I would be home again in October 2019 for my Auntie Peggy’s 100 hundredth birthday. My goal and there’s is to all meet again once more, and knowing what I know now, maybe I will have the perfect trip.

Louise (Mc Neal) Fielder

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