Becca Jane St Clair

Personal Blog

Castles in the North

[This entry refers to a trip taken in March 2009. As requested, I will be going back and blogging the trips I only posted vlogs about January – April.]

Tim and I picked up the AA Leisure Guide Northumbria & Coast and in the book were some suggestions for “driving tours”. We knew we wanted to see some of the castles in Northern England, and the route in the book took us neatly around to several castles we really wanted to see!

(photo by Tim)

Our first stop was Alnwick. I wanted to go to Alnwick Castle, as it was one of the filming locations for the Harry Potter movies, and Hogwart’s was partially modeled after it. Unfortunately, the castle was closed for the Winter months, but we took some photos up by the gate, and then Tim walked down the icy hill to see if there was access at another gate and to take more photos. Unfortunately, the gates were all closed, so we headed back to the car and continued on our route.


The next place to stop on the route was called Preston Tower. We actually nearly drove right past the place because we thought we were driving past private property! Preston Tower is located on a private farm, but the owners allow access to the tower. Admission is on your honour with a little wooden box, and they also had postcards and brochures. We were able to climb up to the clock itself and even go outside to check out the view. The clock at Preston Tower is designed after the clock at Westminster (Big Ben). While we were there, the clock struck the hour and it was super loud! I climbed all the way up to the top (even higher than the clock) and was treated to a 360 degree view of the English and Scottish countryside.



Our next stop should have been Holy Island. Holy Island is connected to the mainland by a causeway and you can only cross at certain times of the day or risk getting stuck in the water (or on the island!). We looked at the schedule,and had just missed going over. Paired with seeing that we’d have a short amount of time over on the Island before needing to leave, we decided to skip Holy Island, and continued on to Bamburgh Castle

While we were in Bamburgh, we stopped at the Grace Darling Museum, a museum dedicated to the life of Grace Darling, daughter of the lighthouse keeper who assisted in a rescue at sea in 1838.

The sun was starting to set, but we weren’t finished yet! We kept on heading North and got to Norham Castle, the last stronghold before the Scottish border. The site itself was closed, but we were able to take photos of the castle.


Tim then decided that we were going to drive as far North as the border with Scotland, just so I could say I was officially in Scotland!


We ended our day there and headed back towards Newcastle-upon-Tyne and in search of dinner.

For more photos please see:

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Royal Observatory at Greenwich

[This entry refers to a day trip taken in January 2009. As requested, I will be going back and blogging the trips I only posted vlogs about January – April.]

Back when Tim and I started planning my trip, he asked me to make a list of places I’d like to see. The list was in no way a guarantee that we’d go, but it was a good jumping off point for making plans. I can also proudly say that after 6 months, we did nearly everything on the list!

One of the places on my list, was the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. The map geek in me was overjoyed that I was going to be traveling from 100 degrees (when I was in Manitoba last summer) to 0 within a matter of weeks (and, at the beginning of 2008 I was almost at the Equator, too!). When I was doing some research for my UK trip, I discovered that you could go to Greenwich and stand on the Prime Meridian…thus being in both the West and the East at the same time!

When Tim and I planned our weekend to London this past January, we included a trip to Greenwich. We started our trek by taking the Docklands Light Railway, which is a light railway that does not have any drivers on it! (You might remember my vlog I made that day, viewable here.). The DLR doesn’t drop you off right at the observatory, of course, so we had a bit of a walk through Greenwich (though we could have taken the bus, we opted to walk). Once we got there, I also discovered you need to walk uphill to get to the observatory. By this point in our weekend, my legs were really hurting from the prior days, so we took it slow, stopping to sit on benches along the way. Our goal was to get to the Prime Meridian before 1300 GMT, as we wanted to watch the red ball drop at 1300, but we had plenty of time.

Believe it or not, I was actually pretty awe-struck finally getting to see the world clock and getting to stand right on the Prime Meridan. There are few things that can excite a map geek as much as being able to be both East and West at the same time!

We went into the observatory and got to see a huge display about clocks, and learned about the first clocks ever built. After we watched the red ball drop, we decided to head to the Maritime Museum. Tim wound up going through this museum mostly on his own. My legs were just too tired to take it all in, but the museum had a small cafe, so I was able to sit at a table with a drink and I read and listened to music (and I think I might have even fallen asleep at one point!). I felt bad leaving Tim to look at the museum on his own, but I was glad he was able to get the chance to do it.

After closing time, we decided to take a bus back over to the DLR (yay!), and then the Tube back to Victoria Station for the short walk back to the hotel.

The Royal Observatory

I’m standing in the East and the West!

More Photos

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UK Road Trip Part V: The North

On the suggestion of Tim’s Mum and my request to see the North Sea, we headed for the Eastern coast of Britain on Friday.

We headed towards “The North” and made the jaunt across the Humber Bridge to our first stop, Bridlington. We arrived in time to watch a rescue helicopter drill including sending the rescuer down in the cage and releasing flares! It was freezing standing out there by the sea, so we went across the street to a pub for some Lunch, where I discovered “pickle” doesn’t mean the same thing in the UK that it does in the US. I ordered a cheese and pickle toastie (US: grilled cheese sandwich) and got brown relish type stuff on it.

We also overheard a very amusing conversation between two older ladies and Obama became “Alabama”. Oh, and women aren’t voting for “Alabama” because he’s Muslim. *rolls eyes*.

After lunch and being sufficiently warmed up from the hot chocolate and the sun coming in through the pub window, we decided to walk down along the shore. We managed to get as far out as a few yards away from the cliffs, but the tide started to come in and we didn’t want to get stuck somewhere! The shore is beautiful, the chalk from the cliffs really stand out, and while I haven’t seen the White Cliffs of Dover, I can’t see what would make those “better” than the ones we saw! The chalk that falls off the cliffs into the water gets rubbed smooth by the sea and is washed up onto the shore, so the shore is littered with white smooth stones and pebbles. We wandered back to the car and decided to continue North towards Flamborough Head, one of the places Tim’s mum suggested.

Flamborough is beautiful. A pristine white lighthouse dots the coastline, and if you walk out far enough on the cliffs, you can even catch a glimpse of the original lighthouse tower from 1647! We drove past the original tower, but there wasn’t any place to pull over to get closer photos of it, sadly.

We spent some time wandering the cliffs behind the lighthouse and being careful of the edges – if you get too close to the edge, the cliffs can crumble right under you!

We soon left, and decided to check out Scarborough. I spotted a castle in the distance, so we headed towards it. As it turns out, that was Scarborough Castle, built in the 1160s by Henry II! I touched a wall that is almost 850 years old! We also discovered Anne Bronte’s grave was located in Scarborough…and not only that, but the graveyard we parked in (sponsored by the Church!) was the same graveyard she was buried in!

We managed the hike up the hill to see the castle ruins after paying a small, nominal fee and I was just awestruck by the ruins. It’s absolutely amazing to see these places in person and to know just how old they are!

The sun was starting to get lower in the sky, and we had one more place on recommendation from Tim’s mum – Robin Hood’s Bay.

As we walked uphill (again!) towards the shore, we passed several Bed & Breakfasts and restaurants. We had originally planned on continuing onto Whitby before finding lodging, but after passing a Bed & Breakfast that had a sign claiming to have a Vegetarian English Breakfast in the AM, we decided to see if they had a room available for the evening. The B&B was beautiful, and the owners were really nice. We also had our pick of three places that served dinner along the block. We looked at the menu at the two places farther away from where we were staying, and in the end picked the Victoria, the bed and breakfast next door to the one we were staying at! We both agreed we made a good choice, as the food was excellent. True to the owner’s words, the following morning I had a Full English Vegetarian Breakfast with veggie sausage instead of the traditional bacon and pork sausage.

More photos:

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Made it to the UK!

For those of you wondering, I made it to the UK! 😀 I even managed to get the last seat in Business Class for the flight instead of having to fly in Economy Plus. Woot. United has incredible service (at least in Business Class). I don’t think my water glass was ever empty, and they were constantly trying to push glasses of wine!

The food was alright, but I wound up having to have the steak wrapped in bacon, which as a vegetarian was a no-no. So I ate the salad, the veggies, and potatoes. Fortunately, I had planned ahead for this and packed a bento so I had plenty of food.

We actually got to London around 5:30, but because planes aren’t allowed to land until 6, we had to circle around. 6 was still early for our flight, and we were the only international flight heading to immigrations/customs.

Going through Immigration/Customs was a breeze! Tim wrote a letter stating he had invited me for the length of time I was staying, and that *really* helped.

Of course, this meant I was ready to go by 6:30, and Tim wasn’t coming to get me until 7:30!

Tim and I decided we would make afew stops on the way back, and after trying to stop at two different manor houses that were both closed for the season, and being unable to locate the castle he wanted to take me to, we headed to Stamford for a few hours. We walked the town and the shops – a lady in a store selling hair clips convinced Tim to buy my clips (75p), and we went in a few used bookstores.

I loved Stamford. Such a lovely old beautiful town with even prettier buildings.

A sneak peek of some photos:

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Farmer’s Market? Sure, if you’re rich

This afternoon, C and I went to the “Farmer’s Market”. The first weird thing about this market is that it’s only open from 5PM to 8PM on Friday’s, and it’s in the Rotary Club building. But…okay. I figured it was later in the evening so more people could get to it. This is a small town, and probably most people work 9-5, so having market in the evening made sense.

Market, if you could call it that, was a joke. I think there were maybe 8 stands total, and at least three of those had or were baked goods stands, one was crafts, and one was used books (where, ironically, I spotted two Karen Kingsbury books!). The first stand had “Peaches and Cream” (white and yellow kernel) corn…$6/dozen. At home? I think the last time we were at market it was 12/$2.25. So right away, I knew this wasn’t going to be the type of market where I go with $10 and bring back a week’s worth of veggies. C and I did manage to get a bag of tomatoes for $5 that had about 20 small-to-medium tomatoes in it, and I bought some raisin bread and some cheese buns.

The best buy, though, was a Saskatoon Berry pie. C insisted that I had to try saskatoon berries since they are a local berry, so she bought a pie for us to have for dessert tonight. So good! Saskatoon berries sort of taste like a cross between a blueberry and a cranberry…actually, it reminded me a lot of the lingonberry. Apparently there’s a saskatoon berry farm near Dauphin, so C is going to check and see if it’s still saskatoon season and if we can go to get some fresh saskatoons. I’m just sad I won’t be able to bring any home to share with mom, but fruit can’t be taken into the Us :(.

I’m glad the raisin bread was only $2. There’s hardly *any* raisins in the bread at all, so really I might as well have purchased a loaf of white bread. The cheese buns are good though. I had to sample one tonight when I got home along with a slice of tomato on it. The tomatoes are alright, but not as tomatoey as local tomatoes. Being away for the summer, I missed out on my aunt’s “tomato man” (her neighbour) giving her tomatoes that she always passed on to us.

C had never been to market before, either, so we both came away disappointed, but glad we had checked it out.

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Mosquitos that Eat You Alive!

I joined Facebook yesterday morning, because a lot of people I knew were posting their photos on it and I couldn’t see them since I wasn’t a facebook user. Facebook can take your gmail address book and find your friends, so I had it do that, and it added J, Sarah and Joe’s friend who I met the other day. About 15 minutes later, I got a friend request from C, J’s wife. She suggested we get together, and I agreed. She asked me if I brought my bathing suit with me, which I hadn’t, but we decided to go to Wal-Mart to get one for me and then head to the lake with her son, who’s name also starts with a C, so I’ll call him Baby C.

Shopping for a bathing suit in the clearance section was fun. Loads of suits that were 2XL and 3XL and then suits that were size small. Yeah. Not too good for either of us, but in the end after many suits being tried on, we both wound up with the same top! One of the tops I tried on was so low cut, the center of it was below my chest!

By the time we picked out our suits, Baby C was ready for a nap, so we went back to their house to get ready to go out to Dauphin Lake. It was beautiful. C tells me the lake isn’t the cleanest, but compared to some bodies of water I’ve seen, this seemed tame. The lake also had sandbars in the middle of it and so we were able to walk out really far with the water only ever getting up to my hips, then lowering down to my lower legs. After we got out of the lake, Baby C attracted the attention of two ladies who were also at the lake, so we hung around for a little while while they fawned over Baby C (and he really is that cute!).

We returned to their house for dinner, and then some Olympic watching with J, and wine drinking outside.

While we were at the lake, C advised me to coat myself in bug spray. While she was telling me this, a mosquito around an eighth of an inch long landed on her leg and started biting! Those things are vicious! I didn’t spray the back fo my neck, so of course I have a bite where I can’t reach it to scratch. I also got bit right below the edge of my bathing suit. Other than that, no other bites.

C invited me to go camping next weekend. I haven’t been camping in years, and that’s only if sleeping in my friend’s aunt’s pop up tent trailer counts, but I might do it anyway. We had a lot of fun, and I’d really like to experience more of the things to do around here.

The sky is streaking pink with the sunrise. I was going to go outside and take photos of it, but it’s chilly out there, and I discovered how far I’d need to walk to get photos and decided it wasn’t worth it. Maybe if I go camping, I’ll get some pretty photos. I’m not sure why I couldn’t sleep tonight…I was tired enough from being out in the sun, but for some reason I started tossing and turning around 4am and finally gave up around 530. Maybe now that I’ve done something I’ll be able to go back to sleep. I also forgot to shower last night to wash off the bug spray and sunblock, so I feel a little itchy from that, too.

For a few more photos of yesterday, check my gallery:

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Welcome to Our Nation’s Capitol

I visited the nation’s Capitol this weekend with my friend L and her husband. We learned several important things we didn’t know before and hadn’t discovered on the school trips we used to take to DC.

  • Things aren’t as close as they look on the map. Sure, it may look like you’d be able to go between ALL the Smithsonian museums AND see all the major monuments, but the National Mall area is nearly two miles long from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol building. Even if you’re a fast walker and can walk across the length of the mall in a half hour, you still will have to contend with other tourists that may be blocking your way and construction. And that’s not the only walking you’ll do! Don’t forget you first have to get to the mall, plus walk around inside all the buildings. And if you’re planning on seeing anything that’s not actually part of the mall, factor in more walking.
  • since 11 September, security has been stepped up at ALL attractions. Each building has it’s own security checkpoint now, complete with metal detector and someone to check your bag(s). It’s not too bad when you’re going into something like the Freer Gallery of Art, but if you’re waiting in line at the Archives to see the US Constitution, prepare to wait. They even have signs snaking around the side of the building to tell you how long the wait is to get in from certain points.
  • The Metro is nice, but there can be delays, and stops might not be convenient. L picked a hotel near a Metro stop that had a shuttle, so we wouldn’t need to drive into the city. From where we were in Alexandria, it was a 40 minute Metro ride to the Smithsonian stop. Not a bad ride, but it depends on how late you’ve started your day. Currently, there’s also construction along the Orange line, so be prepared for delays.
  • Pack a water bottle, and make sure you have an insulated case for it. DC tap water isn’t the best thing to drink, and bottled water can cost an arm and a leg ($2 for a small bottle of Dasani). Make sure you have a way to keep it cool, too, especially if you’re visiting in the Summer. If you have room in your bag, pack a few snacks too. Remember that sugary drinks like soda will not quench your thirst and may actually make you hotter.
  • Do not trust your GPS within the city. L’s GPS got confused, and we wound our way through downtown into bad parts of town and through circles…Logan at least once, and Thomas twice. While we’re on the subject of GPS, don’t tell it to avoid stop-and-go traffic on the highway. It will take you through the city instead and make you contest with traffic lights.
  • Washington DC rolls up the sidewalks early! Many buildings and monuments close between 5:30 and 7:30PM, some even earlier. A late start to your day means you might miss out on some of the places you wanted to go.
  • If you have dietary needs, plan ahead. I’m a vegetarian with food allergies, and we had problems finding places I could eat at.
  • Wear comfortable shoes! Make sure you wear comfortable shoes. Don’t even attempt to wear new shoes, or shoes that might not be sturdy. A good pair of sneakers is your best friend. Wear socks, not only for extra cushioning, but to keep your feet from sliding around in the shoes if you sweat.
  • Don’t carry a large bag. Large bags mean more weight to carry around, and more time waiting for it to be searched. However, if you need to carry around a lot of things or plan on picking up souvenirs, then pack along something like a backpack which will distribute the weight evenly.
  • keep an eye on your belongings. Never leave a bag unattended, even if you’re sitting down to eat a meal. Hold your purse in your lap or put it on the floor with the strap looped though your leg. Don’t sling it on the back of a chair. Be mindful when you’re in a crowd too. Periodically check to make sure you still have all your essentials (wallet, phone, camera, etc.) and empty your bag of anything you won’t need. Avoid carrying all your cash at once or in the same location. If you are an international traveler, keep your passport in a safe place.
  • Make sure you get off the right side of the Metro. Most stops have two exits. Look at the signs and follow them to the side you want, or you not only may wind up doing lots of extra walking, but you could wind up on the “wrong side” of the tracks.

Washington DC can be a very fun place to visit. There’s a variety of museums for everyone in your family to find something they’ll like. Currently, the Museum of Natural History has a butterfly conservatory right inside the museum where you get up close to the butterflies by walking through their habitat. The National Gallery currently has a Jim Henson exhibit where you can see some of the original muppets running until October, and the National Archives has a display of political cartoons.

If you’re planning on eating while downtown and you’ve got a variety of tastes in your family, head to the Old Post Office. The bottom floor of this building has been converted into a food court with food ranging from pizza to Mediterranean to subs, hot dogs, and ice cream.

You can completely avoid driving by taking the Metro everywhere, and you can even fly or take a train into DC and then get on the Metro. I took the train from Lancaster to Hamilton, NJ where I was picked up by L and then we drove to our hotel in Alexandria where we left her car and used the Metro to get into DC. Fares vary depending on how far you need to travel, but a daypass is only $7 and you can purchase day passes at all Metro stops using an automated machine that takes both charge and cash.

To see photos from our trip to DC, including a free Carbon Leaf show in Baltimore, you can view them here:

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