Since the early 1990’s, my sister has been involved with a soil reclamation study near Blaenavon, Wales.  The study has been organized through the University of Oxford, with volunteers, like Susan, organized by Earthwatch.  After more than 25 years, the coal mine spoils have been successfully rejuvenated into a diverse and sustainable bio-climate that now supports over 40,000 trees. Consequently, the measurement phase of the study has come to an end and we had to travel to the UK to see for ourselves what my sister has been up to all of these years.

London, England – Any trip to the UK will likely include a trip to London.  We took a ride on the London Eye to get the full picture of the city.  From the Eye, you are directly across the Thames from famed tourist attractions such as Big Ben, Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey, Scotland Yard, 10 Downing Street and Westminster Pier, but the Eye takes you to over 400 feet in height, so views of modern buildings such as the Skygarden (Walkie Talkie), 30 St. Mary Axe (Gerkin) and the Shard are available.  Due to the rotation of the Eye, the views change as you revolve, providing new views of the city throughout the 30 minute duration of the ride.  This was a great way to better understand the scale of London.

Both of my daughters know that if they want help on their math homework, I am there for them.  If they want help on anything else, they need to ask their mom, particularly if it has to do with the identification of animals.  It would be something of an understatement to say that Kimberly likes animals.  Kimberly regularly rescues animals in the neighborhood and has organized her Girl Scout Troop to start a Monarch Butterfly Waystation on the Santa Fe Trail.  On our train ride out of London, she met this sweet dog who was traveling with its owners.  She, of course, convinced the dogs owners that Kimberly should hold the dog for them while they organized their gear.

Sheffield, England – I convinced my family to go to Sheffield, England for a lunch stop on our way from London to Edinburgh, Scotland.  They asked what was in Sheffield, but once I explained that Daniela and Fabio were in Sheffield, the questions ceased.  While studying in Florence, Italy, a classmate and I were taking a week vacation.  Our plan was to talk to the people we met on the train to decide where to go and what to do.  In doing so, we met Daniela Petrelli, who was studying Computer Science at the University of Milan.  She and her roommate invited us over to cook us authentic Italian cuisine.  It was quite the treat.  At our Christmas break, I was invited to join Daniela and her friends to celebrate Daniela’s birthday.  During that evening, unbeknownst to us, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Scotland, killing many Syracuse students, including a friend and classmate of mine.  Not knowing of this tragedy, I flew Pan Am Flight 103 the next night, arriving safely home.  Ever since, I have made it a practice to spend a meal with Daniela and her husband Fabio whenever traveling.  Now a research professor at the University of Sheffield, Daniela, husband Fabio and daughter Martina hosted us on our way to Scotland.

Edinburgh, Scotland – Sometimes when walking through Edinburgh, one is reminded that this is where the Harry Potter stories originated.  The town is built along the ridge of the high ground between the Castle and the Royal Mile, with such a differential in ground levels that roads that appear to intersect on a map, actually bridge over one another.  Here, the girls are practicing Charlie’s Angels poses on the way to the Edinburgh Castle.

Beddgelert, Wales – From Scotland, we decided to rent a car to drive through the scenic parts of Scotland, Wales, Ireland and England.  Beddgelert, in Northern Wales, is a popular destination for hiking, biking and mountain climbing enthusiasts.  Mount Snowden is used for training amongst mountain climbers to prepare for their assault on Mount Everest.  The town consists of a small number of buildings along the river with this bridge as the center of town.  Thanks to our good friends the Lynch’s, we stayed in the historic Plas Colwyn in the center of Beddgelert on the river Colwyn.  From Beddgelert, Kimberly, Susan and the girls were able to take a steam engine train to Caernarfon Castle, where we met them with the car to tour through the area afterwards.  Plas Colwyn was plenty large enough for both families to stay together and Dr. Lynch spear-headed cooking assignments for every meal.

Betys y Coed, Wales – Having a car enabled us to find places off of the beaten path.  This town that we sometimes referred to as “Betsy’s a coed” had a nice park in the center of town. We were able to have lunch and take a walk along the river walk that encircles the golf course.  We visited a couple of historic churches, walked across a suspension footbridge to talk to the sheep and skipped rocks across the river.

Killarney, Ireland – This is Kevin.  He leads kayak tours to Inisfallen Island in Killarney Ireland.  Best 3 hour kayaking tour ever.  We took the sunset tour, which is pretty late in the summer in Ireland.  We were actually out of the water at 9:00pm with plenty of time to put our gear away and watch the sunset at the Ross Castle.  Kevin took 8 of us to the Inisfallen Abbey on Inisfallen Island, where he shared the history of the monks who started there in the 600’s and lived there until the 1500’s.  To evade the Vikings, the monks would put their valuables into a small boat and one monk would row out onto the lake to hide.  The other monks would also row in different directions and hide from the Vikings.  When the Vikings found no one at home, they would eventually leave and the monks would return.

Killarney, Ireland – Each summer, we try to take the girls horseback riding.  We have ridden in Palo Duro Canyon, the hill country near San Antonio and near Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. This was the first time for English style riding.  Our trail guide got the horses to trot on several occasions.  They made it look easy as they timed their rise and fall with the horse.  For the rest of us, it involved a lot of bouncing.  It causes one to have a whole new respect for those who ride horses on a regular basis.  Maybe that was their goal.

Abergavenny, Wales – Behind us is the 56’ long canal boat that we piloted for 3 days near the Blorenge Mountain.  (we finally found a rhyming word for orange)  The canals were originally used to move coal from the mines.  We were on the Monmouthshire – Brecon canal that runs 35 miles through southern Wales.  Horses would walk along the tow-path pulling the barges behind them.  Coal is no longer mined in Britain, but there is an extensive system of trails and canals that are favored by tourists and locals alike. We moored the first night near a field of sheep that had plenty to say about the day’s events.  In the morning, we met Clarence and his dog Smudge who were out for a morning walk.  The scenery was fantastic.  Since the canal is halfway up the mountain, the views are of the mountains on the other side of the valley and the valley below.  We stopped and walked into a few villages to stretch our legs and visit the local pub.

Salisbury, England; Salisbury Cathedral – In England, a city is one that has a proper cathedral, so this is the Cathedral that makes Salisbury a proper City.  The scale of the Cathedral is striking to view, both inside and out.  Built in the 13th century, the spire is the tallest in the United Kingdom.  Adjacent to the Cathedral is the largest Cloister in Britain.  The detail inside is extraordinary, with an unusually tall and narrow nave that accentuates the great length of the church.  The world’s oldest clock from 1386 is on display inside the church and one of the four original Magna Carta documents on display in the adjacent Chapter House.  The Magna Carta was signed in nearby Runnymede in 1215 and the church construction was started 5 years later.  This accounts for the Magna Carta document at the Salisbury Cathedral being in the best condition of the four remaining originals.