A Change in Plans.

Written May 3, 2023, at Nantwich, England.

We are only two short cruising days from our final destination of Middlewitch. We were scheduled to return Fjord Empress this coming Monday, five cruising days from now. Taking that into consideration, along with the predicted deterioration of the weather this coming weekend, we have decided to return the boat Friday morning. We have booked four nights of accommodations in Manchester where we will treat ourselves to some final sightseeing and urban nightlife. We fly out of Manchester for Kansas City on Tuesday. We are seriously warming to the idea of being home!

Nantwich has been (again) a delightful experience. Not much has changed since our visit in 2019, which is to be expected in a city that measures its life in centuries rather than years. Instead of writing a new post on our current visit, I have chosen to re-post from our visit in 2019. As you will see, that post digs deep into the city’s history and includes some personal reflections on faith and religion. Pete

(The Following is From April 23, 2019)

We arrived in Nantwich today on the Shropshire Union Canal. The plan is to remain in this port until Thursday, and then return to Middlewich Friday where we will be joined by our Canadian friends, Tom and Nanci. The weather is predicted to take an unfortunate turn for the week that they will spend with us, colder temps and rain. It is what it is. A bad day on the canal is still glorious.

The “wich” in Nantwich and Middlewich harkens from the time of the Roman occupation and signifies a place of salt production. Salt had been produced here over the millennia not only as a condiment, but for the tanning of leather, as a food preservative, and for the production of world renowned Cheshire cheeses. At one time there were over 400 salt houses (16th Century), the last one closing in the mid-1800’s.

Nantwich is a large community with a population of over 17,000. It is believed to have once been the location of a sacred pre-Roman forest grove worshiped by the Celts. It was listed as an urban area in the Domesday Book at the time of the Norman Conquest (AD 1066), though the Normans burned and sacked the town leaving only one building standing.

Disaster again visited Nantwich’s resurrected community in 1583. A massive conflagration again leveled the town, sparing only a few buildings. Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) personally contributed to the restoration of the community. From the ashes of that disaster arose a beautiful market center that, second only to Chester, boasts the highest concentrations of historically listed buildings in England. The town center is littered with buildings dating to the late 1500’s.

As we wandered the serpentine streets we beheld a beautiful church and green space. The green displayed a stone announcing that it was a sacred burial ground that had been “closed to new burials” for the last 200 years. Anglican St. Mary’s Church is the oldest listed building in Nantwich, and is stunning!

Construction began in 1286, was suspended from 1349 to 1369 by the Black Death, and then completed in 1390. The church twice served as a prison, once in 1644 following the Battle of Nantwich and again in 1648 during the 1st Jacobite uprising.

The church features scores of remarkable gargoyles, and a beautiful red sandstone exterior.

The interior is breathtaking, with colorful stained glass windows, and a choir comprised of 20 “misericords” which are 600 year old intricately carved wood choirstalls.

The St. Nicholas side-chapel features funerary effigies of a church founder, Sir David Cradock (d. 1390), and Sir Thomas Smith and his wife Dame Anne (dedicated 1614).

Another intriguing feature are the scores of hand needlepoint kneeling cushions, they are in daily use and courtesy of the local guild.

This is a fitting place for a linger day on the canal. We look forward to visiting the many shops, taking a coffee and later a pint, and perhaps returning to the church for a moment of contemplation and gratitude.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. Lest I have given conflicted messages regarding the current state of my spirituality, I offer the following: I believe in the philosophy and teachings of Jesus Christ, but not to the exclusion or rejection of all other faith traditions. I have long had difficulty with the “rules of religion”, but at two important times in my life I encountered priests who admonished me not to concern myself with the rules, but to listen to my conscience. The first of those meetings occurred when I was 20, the second when I was 60. Each priest was German and each “meeting” occurred in Europe during a rare visit by me to a Confessional. Each priest asked if I considered myself a “good person”, and then expressed confirmation that they believed that I was. As an act of penance, the second priest commissioned me to always listen to my conscience and be so guided the remainder of my life.

My difficulties with the state of many religions today are manifold: Many (not all) create god in man’s image and likeness. Many (not all) mispronounce “dogma” as “faith”. Many (not all) mispronounce “exclusion” as “inclusion”. And many (not all) adherents profess to follow the teachings of Christ but never stop to ask, “What would he have done”…

Again, Peace Everyone. Pete

Written May 1, 2023, at Nantwich on the Shropshire Union Canal.

Our 6 mile and 6 lock passage to Nantwich today took more than six hours instead of the anticipated three or four.

The delay was not occasioned by difficulties with the locks, difficulties with navigation, or foul weather. Instead, it was a self-imposed delay brought about by the opportunity to tour an unusual remnant from the Cold War.

A sign under a canal bridges in the rural countryside announced that 200 yards from the canal was the once top secret Hack Green Nuclear Bunker, now open to the public. We immediately tied up to shore and set off on foot to explore.

Declassified in 1993 this 35,000 square-foot underground complex was one of 17 such hardened nuclear bunkers in the UK which would serve the needs of continuing government and military operations in the event of nuclear war.

This facility was provisioned with food, water, fuel, and life-support necessities to supply the needs of 160 essential personnel for over three months.

Now a museum, the bunker offers the public a glimpse into Great Britain’s preparations for nuclear Armageddon.

This is the heart of the life support system which includes 15,000 gallons of drinking water.
The infirmary.
This is a small BBC broadcast center in the Bunker.

Within the underground complex are actual radar and communications equipment from that era. There are even decommissioned nuclear weapons.

A decommissioned 400 kt nuclear bomb.

Most chilling was the 45 minute long 1966 BBC docudrama, “The War Game”. Post-production it was deemed too graphic to be broadcast to the general public.

It received a limited screening at the National Film Theater in London, and went on to receive the 1967 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

I sat through the entire movie which drew from the experiences of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Dresden in depicting the physical and psychological consequences of nuclear attack. The black and white movie was brutally stark and unsanitized.

One take from the movie: Great Britain has the largest concentration of nuclear targets in the world. Between 1/3 and 1/2 of its population would be dead within the first few days of attack.

(Pray for) Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. On the heels of yesterday’s report on Christine’s “lock marathon” I thought I would share a couple of images to illustrate what she chooses to struggle with instead of piloting the canal boat.

Written April 11, 2023, in transit aboard an express train from Newcastle to Liverpool, England.

Yesterday was more practical than tourist. We needed to get laundry done and to do so through the hotel’s service would have been insanely expensive. One pair of socks, £2. One pair of underwear, £2. A pair of pants, £7. Our combined cleaning would have easily exceeded £100, that is more than $125!

Instead, Mr. Google directed us to a small community laundrette a little more than a mile from the hotel. Laden with our dirty clothes it made better sense to catch an Uber. At £6 it was a bargain compared to the fare for laundry at the hotel.

The Caring Hands Community Laundrette appeared on the internet to be self-service and coin operated.

However, when we arrived we were greeted by Brian. Brian takes the laundry, washes it, dries it, folds it, and sends you a text message when it’s ready. Ours totaled £9, and Brian provided the labor and soap. A bargain!

Brian also provided a bit of entertainment. The neighborhood where the Laundrette is located appears working class, with some student housing associated with two nearby universities. He has an affection for travelers and maintains a large wall-mounted map of the world. Brian takes pictures of foreign travelers who visit him, posts them on the periphery of the board and then extends a colored string from each picture to a pin on the map indicating the visitor’s hometown. We happily posed for Brian and will be only the second visitors posted from our state, the other is a young man from Columbia Missouri.

Rain threatened but we had a pleasant walk back to the river where we met Kate and her husband Simon for coffee.

I had encountered Kate and her dog on the eighth day of my Hadrian’s Wall walk. We had a delightful 10 minute conversation (with Kate, her dog only wagged its tail), and exchanged contact information. Kate knew that we would be staying a few days in Newcastle. On Sunday I received a text message suggesting that she and her husband meet us for coffee on Monday.

We had a wonderful visit with Kate and Simon.

They are professors, each at one of the two nearby universities. Kate is a psychologist and Simon works with individuals who have learning disabilities. They look forward to sharing 5 days on the Camino this summer after which Simon will return to work but Kate who has secured a sabbatical will continue on to finish her Camino.

Simon and Kate have previously been visitors to Kansas City. It is our hope that they will return someday and allow us to share the hospitality of our home and city.

It continues to be a wonder how travel creates opportunities for fast and sometime enduring friendships. Just on this trip so far that has included Susan at the Manchester train station,

Susan and Christine at the Oxford Road Train Station

Garry and Kathleen of Glasgow,

John and Michelle (also from Glasgow),

Malgorzata and Tadeusz of Poland,

and Joe and Julie of Oregon.

Of course, there have also been special connections made with our various hosts such as Charlotte here in Newcastle.

How is it that there are families in our Kansas City neighborhood that we have never met and yet thousands of miles away from home everyone seems a friend?

Peace Everyone. Pete

P.S. We will be in Liverpool the next three days continuing the pursuit of our “magical mystery tour“ (pun intended). Then it will be on to Middlewich for three days before connecting with Kansas City friends and beginning our 3 week narrowboat journey.

Written April 8, 2023, at Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

“It Is Finished”. These are words of gravitas spoken 2000 years ago. It seems appropriate to recall them on Easter weekend. They are also an expression that captured my heart upon reaching Wallsend.

My planning for the hike along Hadrian’s Wall began last summer. Unlike the Camino, lodgings along the route are few and often far between. Reservations were a necessity. Unlike the Camino, there is not an elaborate infrastructure for the “pilgrim” nor is there an overt spiritual component. I enjoyed meeting wonderful people but few were embracing the same experience. I usually walked in solitude. The weather was a daily roll of the dice.

Walking Hadrian’s Wall was a satisfying accomplishment. It was physical, putting me in touch with my aging body . It was historical, putting me in touch with a once great empire. It also reinforced my affection for the United Kingdom and its people.

Today I was rewarded with more of those connections.

John and Michelle from Glasgow have been walking “The Wall“ in sections, a few days each time. This was their final day.

We shared the path for a few miles and found that we had much in common. I expressed my regret that Christine was not present to make it a foursome. A few minutes later and there she was!

Christine had transported ahead to our hotel, but as the room was not ready she decided to walk back to meet me. It was perfect!

John and Michelle continued on as I stopped for lunch with Christine. After lunch I walked the additional 4 miles to Wallsend. An Uber returned me to the hotel.

Hotel management upgraded our room at no additional charge.

In our hotel room was a small gift and a personal card of congratulations.

There was another card that set out an Easter Egg “treasure hunt“. The answer to each riddle led to a plastic Easter Egg, each containing a small gift.

We were so touched by these gestures that we sought out the thoughtful architect. Her name is Charlotte.

She does not do this for every room or customer, just those who she senses would be appreciative; families with small children, foreign guests, and those who otherwise qualify as non-typical travelers.

Christine and I enjoyed evening drinks in the spacious hotel lounge. This evening it was haven for a younger “trendy” crowd. Techno music with a heavy beat played courtesy of an attractive young lady who expertly manipulated the soundboard. I watched customers and staff stride back and forth across the room. Unconsciously, they kept step with the beat. It was fun to watch. As we left I decided to bring this to the attention of the DJ. “Do you know how much power you hold over these people?” She laughed as I explained, but there was something in her eye that hinted she would soon begin experimenting. This was Annabelle. She is a lawyer and she finds joy in her evening alter ego.

We will be in Newcastle, a city of 320,000, for the next three days. Along with resting my legs, I intend to rest my “pen“. We will then spend three days in Liverpool before taking charge of our narrowboat in Middlewich.

Thank you for being a part of this journey. Stay tuned.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Written April 7, 2023, at the Keelman’s Lodge, Newcastle upon Tyne.

This was a Good Friday morning, both literally and figuratively. Partly sunny. Cold, but not too cold.

The path was straight, but still required attention. Damp, but not too damp. The walk followed the Old Military Road which was busy, but not too busy.

My knee had some residual tenderness, but it was tolerable. My destination lay eight miles distant, far but not too far. Everything seemed defined by moderation. No stress…

…until an hour down the path I received a text message from Christine, NO TAXI! I paused on the trail and began remote problem-solving with her. A flurry of texts and a few calls to the taxi company revealed that they had dispatched to the wrong location and since she was “not there” they determined it was a “no-show“. They dispatched a second time, again to the wrong location! Finally, on the third attempt they got it right. I continued on the walk… stressed, but not too stressed.

I now appreciate why Hadrian’s Wall tour companies focus their itineraries on the center of The Walk. That’s where the “meat” is. As I have found, the beginning and end days offer less in the way of a unique experience other than putting one foot in front of the other thousands of times.

Christine is listening as I pen this and has cautioned me not to be negative. Negative is is not my intention, I’m just becoming more reflective of my experience in light of the imminent conclusion.

There were a only a few signs of “The Wall“ today.

Barely discernible portions of The Wall beneath the Old Military Road.
Beneath this meadow are the remains of a large Roman fortification.

More prominent were the signs of encroaching urban civilization.

For the first time there were the sights and sounds of air traffic as planes passed overhead and entered landing patterns into Newcastle.

The trail approached and then crossed over a busy expressway.

I entered the city limits, sadly leaving pasture trails behind in favor of suburban tarmac.

Tomorrow could be the last day if I choose to walk all 12 miles to Wallsend. Instead, I may stop at our hotel which is located near the trail on the banks of the River Tyne. Christine has indicated a willingness to walk the final 4 miles with me during our stay in Newcastle. That would be a nice finale to this extraordinary experience.

Peace Everyone. Pete

P.S. We are staying the night at the Keelman’s Lodge.

It is a charming bed and breakfast that shares a park-like setting with the Big Lamp Brewery.

Over the last 2 weeks this is the 10th mattress that I have slept on. Some are firm, and some are soft. Some, as Goldilocks once said, are “just right”.