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In 2000, my company acquired limited rights to software that had been written by another company in Manchester, England. Things were going well enough, until the other company was bought by one of our competitors. Suddenly, the transfer of information that usually goes along with an acquisition like this, took a major change in attitude. What had formerly been a lesson, now became more like a cross-examination at a very contentious trial.

As part of the proceedings, I was sent to England six times that year, about once a month beginning in July 2000. It was my job to learn as much as possible from people who didn't want me to learn anything at all, now that I represented a competitor.

Business travel isn't the dream trip that many people think it is. The traveller spends a lot of time away from home and family. If you need to be at the other end of a business trip from Monday through Friday, then your Sunday before and Saturday after are lost to travel. You get to spend a lot of time on airline cattle-cars, in business hotels that are convenient to work but not to tourism and entertainment, and in factories.

Where there's a will, there's a way. My colleagues and I still managed to see quite a few of the sights in and around Manchester.

Manchester and Birmingham compete for the title of the second largest city in the United Kingdom; after London, of course. Birmingham has more people within city limits, but Manchester is the center of a much larger metropolitan area.

So there's a lot to see, if one can arrange it outside of working hours. We did manage to arrange it.

After one trip, I also stayed an extra week while Barbara joined me for a whirlwind tour of England. We didn't have time to explore anything in depth, but we managed to see an impressive amount of this land that has such strong historical and cultural ties to the United States and Canada. There was an unusual turn of events in this part of the world. We had good luck with the weather, and got to see several interesting things in a very short time.

Between Barbara's visit and my solo excursions, we saw quite a few places:

Manchester
Powfoot, Scotland
Mold, Wales
Llanfair PG, Wales
Holyhead, Wales
Willowford — Hadrian's Wall
Castlerigg — Lake District
Blackpool
Lancaster
York
Chester
Bath
Stonehenge
London
Rochester
Canterbury
Dover

Airports are wonderful places, if you look at them in the right way. An airport is a magic portal to another world. You go in at one end and emerge somewhere completely different, limited only by your imagination and your budget. If you walk through this gate, your airplane deposits you in Pittsburgh. Walk through that gate thirty feet away, and you end up in Tokyo.

As you drive into Manchester's airport, they tell you this →

But if you fly into Manchester from anywhere else in the world, they let you know that the gateway also leads to all the North of England has to offer. Here's the other side of the same arch.

For Barbara and me, the airport was the gateway not only to the North, but to all of Great Britain.

These photos illustrate typical weather. England is not exactly famous for blue skies and sunshine. My colleague read a book during one of our trips that began with the phrase,

"It was a typical rainy Monday in Manchester…"

This is a data flow diagram for part of the software that our company had bought. We were supposed to get a thorough explanation of it.

It outlines the information flow in the product we had paid for, but even this was a lot more than the other company wanted us to know. They were not very happy that I wanted to photograph this diagram, but they knew it was our legal property so nobody tried to stop me. Getting the "footnotes," however, was a very different matter.

Polly was our official hostess. Personally, she was very likable and offered a wealth of advice for touring in Manchester, Cheshire, and the Lake District.

Professionally, she was the consummate example of an adversary in a court of law. It was her responsibility to transfer no more than the least amount of information that her company owed us, and she valiantly proved her worth in that endeavor.

She was much better made up one day after that picture was taken, but there were no photos taken that day.   heh heh

These guys worked for Polly. They tried not to tell us anything beyond the legal requirement, but you could tell their hearts weren't in it.

Transfer of intellectual property by traditional means wasn't going well at all. So we tried some less formal methods. That didn't work any better, but it was entertaining.

English food is bland, but Indian food most definitely is not. Not having a magic bus, we usually took a taxi to Manchester's Rusholme neighborhood. There, dozens of restaurants specialize in curried dishes from the Asian sub-continent.


Didsbury is another neighborhood in Manchester where we spent a few evenings. It was a little closer to the factory than Rusholme, and had better variety of restaurants.




The Saints and Scholars have wrens guarding their fence, at left in the first photo.



The Dog and Partridge.
The jug is just left of the front door.




We ate at Café Rouge a few times. They had excellent crème brûlée. Occasionally, they had street entertainment, too.

Pubs are for lunch, and for killing time while we waited for supper time. The English take their evening meal much later than we do.

This is the Hare and Hounds, not far from the factory we were visiting, in Hale Barns.


Inside the Dog and Partridge.

These ladies are having a chat at the Goose, in central Manchester. Like London, Manchester has a place called Piccadilly.



We often had lunch at the Romper, which was the closest pub to the factory we were visiting.


The Hogshead, Didsbury.

The United Kingdom includes four countries. From Manchester, we were in easy driving range of three: England (of course), Scotland, and Wales. So Barbara and I drove to Scotland and Wales, just so we could say we had visited. Even if it was only long enough for a snapshot.

Scotland

The bridge is in Powfoot. The garden is on the left side of the road.


The bridge isn't very wide. Apparently, not everybody clears it.




Mouswald, Scotland.

 

Wales


© Mark Ramsay

Their language sounds as odd as it looks.

A gold cape found at Mold is one of the most valued exhibits in the British Museum. Almost four thousand years old, it was beaten from a single gold ingot. It was used to dress a body for burial.

 


"St. Mary's Church in a Hollow of White Hazel Near the Rapid Whirlpool
of St. Tysilio's Church by the Red Cave."

The village got its unusual name sometime in the late 19th century. Residents, probably after a few pints, thought that if their town had the longest name in the world, it might entice folks to get off the train and see what's there. I didn't see a whirlpool, or a red cave.

There are at least two disputes to the "longest name" claim: one in New Zealand (85 letters) and one in Thailand (168 letters). But Llanfair PG is the one everyone remembers.



The clock tower is a memorial to the soldiers and sailors who didn't come home from World War I (Y Rhyfel Mawr, The Great War).

 

Holyhead

… is pronounced Holly Head.


The site is at land's end, where there are huts from about the same time as the Mold Cape. From a sign at the site,

 

This small settlement probably dates from the late Neolithic, or early Bronze Age (c. 2000 BC), though occupation on the site extends over a very long period, down to the Roman era and after. It comprises about 19 structures, and is spread over i5–20 acres of the mountainside. The site is in the care of Welsh Historic Monuments.

Excavation here from 1978–1982 showed that the buildings are not all of the same period, but range in date over more than 1000 years. They appear to have been about eight distinct homesteads, or farmsteads, consisting of round houses with stores and workshops adjoining, though only one or two of these were occupied at any one time. They were partly buried, with low stone walls and roofed with thatch.

The settlement was an agricultural one, and was associated with a system of ploughed fields. Finds of grinding stones point to the processing of grain, and dumps of sea shells, particularly limpets, indicate another important source of food for the inhabitants.

The Tŷ Mawr hut circles are also featured on the Anglesey Island information site.


England

Hadrian's Wall marks the end of the Roman Empire. Two centuries after Julius came and conquered what he saw (veni, vidi, vici), Hadrian realized that the Picts were no pushovers, and decided it was better to simply wall them out. Or wall the Romans in. Either way, he built a strong defensive barrier from today's Newcastle to Dumfries, roughly along the border between modern England and Scotland.

Most of the wall was built of stone, with milecastles (garrisons) at regular intervals. Turrets, or guardhouses, were built between the milecastles. The wall took six years to build. most of the labor being furnished by Roman legionnaires. These were not slaves; they were volunteers who joined the army because they were eligible for citizenship when their enlistment was done.

The engineers and guards were mostly local recruits called auxiliaries (helpers).

The military zone extended from a deep ditch on the north side of the wall to a ditch flanked by earth mounds, the Vallum, running along the south of the wall. In due course a road now known as the Military Way was built south of the wall to improve communications along its length.

We saw the Willowford wall, turrets, and bridge, part of Hadrian's Wall just west of Gilsland. Some economy is apparent here (photo above). The foundation is the standard 3-meter width, but the wall is the narrow variant, two meters wide.

As they built the wall, the soldiers left inscriptions to note their military division, home town, and such. Signs at the site interpret these mementoes, but I don't know how the anthropologists got anything intelligible out of these markings. As they say, that's why they get paid the big bucks.


This is the base of Turret 48B, which was excavated in 1923. The soldiers who worked here had a fairly ordinary existence. Like guards everywhere before the video age, they probably got to be pretty good at board games.


Today's guards are mostly sheep and cattle.





The golden fleece tells us these are not ordinary animals. They're Cotswold sheep, whose wool is prized almost as highly as the merino. There is some evidence that they were brought to this part of the world in Hadrian's time, but that evidence is thin. If you'd like to read the whole story, it's on the web site of the Cotswold Woollen Weavers.


On the way from Hadrian's Wall to our next stop, we found this bench on the Low Row near Greenhead (about seven miles east of Brampton).




Here is the view it commands, looking northwest.

Castlerigg


© Simon Ledingham

There are stone circles all over the British Isles and northwestern France. Some are more sophisticated than others, but all of them share a striking astronomical accuracy. We visited Castlerigg Stone Circle in the Lake District. It looks a lot more primitive than Stonehenge (we'll get to that!), but it's actually a bit newer. As usual, the signs on the site tell the story best. With some modification, …


The present approach to Castlerigg Stone Circle seems to follow the original entrance route. The circle has been owned since 1913 by the National Trust. It was one of the first dozen sites to be declared an ancient monument in 1883 and the stones are in the guardianship of English heritage.

It isn't known who built Castlerigg, but there are clues. The builders would have come from the early farming communities who probably lived on the fringes of the mountainous region, from which they obtained the raw material for their tools.

The Stone Circles in Britain seem to have been built between 2500–1300 BC during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. Two stone axes and a stone club found near the circle in the 18th century AD suggest a Neolithic (New Stone Age) construction.

The builders would have found the stones lying in the immediate area. All are of Borrowdale volcanic stone, brought by glaciers from rocky outcrops during the last Ice Age.

The Circle is not a true circle, but a flattened one, distorted on the eastern side. The stones would have been dragged to the site on log rollers and then levered into prepared holes, which were then packed with soil and stones. The unique rectangular "sanctuary" may be contemporary with the main circle.

The building of the Circle would have required similar planning and effort to the construction of a church in medieval times.

Castlerigg would have been important to every member of the local tribal community. Isolated groups would have been able to come here to barter livestock, exchange partners or celebrate tribal festivals. There is evidence that the Circle was also a means of calculating the cycle of the seasons, something that would have been crucial to early farmers to whom the sun would have been a vital factor for survival, especially in Cumbria.



A couple of miles south of Castlerigg, we spent some time at Lake Thirlmere.

Blackpool, a few minutes after a thunderstorm.



Lytham St. Anne's is not far away. Obviously, this picture was not taken on the same day as the one at Blackpool.


on to Lancaster

Manchester   Powfoot   Mold   Llanfair PG   Holyheaad   Willowford   Castlerigg   Blackpool   Lancaster   York   Chester   Bath   Woodhenge   Stonehenge   London   Rochester   Canterbury   Dover  
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