One of our boy’s teachers encouraged them to watch the Ted talk by Sir Ken Robinson.

The video was particularly interesting to me as I was one of those people who found University incredibly boring. I found learning how to sell and how business works at my part time job much more interesting. The only flashes of interest for me were the occasional challenging project where it would capture my attention and I would throw myself into it. The rest? Repetition and memorization.


Our education system needs an overhaul. Only 9M people have seen this, hundreds of millions need to see it.

PS: On the education side, a great video on how to understand the UK here.  🙂



I finally got around to reading Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island last weekend. It lived up to all of the reviews, and while I only spent two years there, his observations had me laughing out loud and missing the Old Blighty. Even the British like the book:

In an opinion poll organized for World Book Day in 2003, Notes from a Small Island was voted by BBC Radio 4 listeners as the book which best represented England.[1]

A few of his observations that I really enjoyed:

  • ‘It sometimes occurs to me that the British have more heritage than is good for them. In a country where there is so astonishingly much of everything, it is easy to look on it as a kind of inexhaustible resource. Consider the numbers: 445,000 listed buildings, 12,000 medieval churches, 1,500,000 acres of common land, 120,000 miles of footpaths and 600,000 known sites of archaeological interest (98 percent with no legal protection). Do you know that in my Yorkshire village alone there are more seventeenth century buildings than in the whole of North America? And that’s just one obscure hamlet with a population comfortably under 100.’
  • ‘There are certain things that you have to be British or at least older than me, or possibly both, to appreciate: …. Marmite (Note: The first time I tried it, I thought i was like jam – what a shock), really milky tea (MW: Or coffee with milk), allotments (MW: I remember a friend finally getting his allotment, when he explained what it was I was still only able to answer ‘You are going to do what?’), the belief that household wiring is an interesting topic of conversation … erecting windbreaks on a beach (why, pray, are you there if you need a windbreak!).’
  • ‘Call me a perennial Iowa farm boy, but I never fail to be impressed by how densely packed with worthies is this little island. How remarkable it is that in a single village churchyard you find the graves of two men of global stature (George Orwell, H.H. Asquith). We in Iowa would be proud of either of them – indeed we would be proud of Trigger the Wonder Horse of the guy who invented traffic cones.’
  • On titles … and the properties of the heirs of titles:  ‘More extraordinary still in my mind is the thought that nearly 300 years later the duke’s heirs can litter the grounds with miniature trains and bouncing castles, charge admission and enjoy unearned positions of rank and privilege simply because a distant grandsire happened to have a passing talent for winning battles.’ I wondered the same thing once.
  • ‘The Alhambra Theatre, built in 1914 in an excitingly effusive style with minarets and towers, has been sumptuously and skilfully renovated and remains the most wonderful place to see a pantomime. (Something I positively adore, by the way)’     MW: I cannot agree more. Pantomime is a Christmas habit that we have take with us from the UK. Our tickets are in hand for Beauty and the Beast in Toronto. I cannot wait, Scot Thompson is a great headliner.
  • On animals:  ‘There is nothing, apart perhaps from a touching faith in the reliability of weather forecasts and the universal fondness for jokes involving the word ‘bottom’, that makes me feel more like an outside in Britain than the nation’s attitude to animals. Did you know that the Royal Society for the Protection of Children was formed sixty years after the founding of the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, and as an offshoot of it? Did you know that in 1994 Britain voted for a European Union directive requiring statutory rest periods for transported animals and against a statutory rest period for factory workers?’
    • MW: On this one I must comment. I think it is an area where North American’s can definitely learn from the UK. Animals are an integral part of society and it is one of those things that I love about the UK. You walk into the Wentworth and they will tackle you to the ground if you are wearing running shoes (trainers) or jeans. Honestly, without a blazer they will also look at you as if you should not be there. But on the fairway, people are openly golfing with their dogs. My neighbour went out with his mates every Sunday morning, and his lab came. In Canada – oh no, the insurance would be too high (plus, no one wants to actually walk!). I also remember sitting in the dining room of a very posh hotel in Normandy, surrounded by people with their dogs in their laps. I thought it was just wonderful.
  • On the weather:  ‘I have a small, tattered clipping that I sometimes carry with me and pull out for purposes of private amusement. It’s a weather forecast from the Western Daily Mail and it says in total: “Outlook: Dry and warm, but cooler with some rain.” There you have in a single pithy sentence the English weather captured perfectly.’
  • On the lakes district and being crowded:  ‘To say that Windermere (MW: The largest natural mere in England. – leave it to the British to complicate the definition of a lake) is popular with boaters is to flirt recklessly with understatement. Some 14,000 powerboats are registered to use the lake…. Windermere may have pride of place among English lakes but for each 12 inches of Windermere’s surface, Lake Superior offers over three-quarters of a square mile of water. There is in Iowa a body of water called Dan Green Slough, which most Iowans have never heard of, and it is bigger than Windermere.’
  • On contrast:  ‘How is is possible, in this wondrous land where the relics of genius and enterprise confront you at every step, where every realm of human possibility has been probed and challenged and generally extended, where many of the very greatest accomplishments of industry,commerce and the arts find their seat, how is possible in such a place that when at length I returned to my hotel and switched on the television it was Cagney and Lacey again?’

I just ordered his travel books on Europe and Australia. Fantastic writer and a fantastic book – it truly does describe what makes the UK one of the most amazing places in the world.


While in the UK I blogged about our visit to Stonehenge but left out the rest of the trip, where we landed in city of Bath, Somerset..

Bath (pronounced /ˈbɑːθ/) is a city in the ceremonial county of Somerset in the south west of England. It is situated 97 miles (156 km) west of London and 13 miles (21 km) south-east of Bristol. The population of the city is 83,992.[1] It was granted city status by Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I in 1590,[2] and was made a county borough in 1889 which gave it administrative independence from its county, Somerset. The city became part of Avon when that county was created in 1974. Since 1996, when Avon was abolished, Bath has been the principal centre of the unitary authority of Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES).The city was first established as a spa resort with the Latin name, Aquae Sulis (“the waters of Sulis”) by the Romans in AD 43 although verbal tradition suggests that Bath was known before then.[3] They built baths and a temple on the surrounding hills of Bath in the valley of the River Avon around hot springs, which are the only ones naturally occurring in the United Kingdom.[4]. Edgar was crowned king of England at Bath Abbey in 973.[5] Much later, it became popular as a spa resort during the Georgian era, which led to a major expansion that left a heritage of exemplary Georgian architecture crafted from Bath Stone.

It was a wonderful stay with the highlight for me being the Bath Abbey, not because it is yet another magnificent church (It is), but because of what is inside.2008 June 15 Bath  _MG_93982008 June 15 Bath  _MG_94252008 June 16 Bath  2008 June 16  _MG_9622

The walls were adorned with flags of military companies that had served Britain in ancient wars, and marble slabs with inscriptions describing the past lives of those who have passed on. This may sound morbid but one of my favourite things to explore in England was the cemeteries. Seeing a monument to someone from the 1600 or 1700’s and a snippet of their life was fascinating for me.

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The one I remember the most, but did not photograph, was one written by a family as an ode to their loving mother. I do not remember the words, but I remember how it was an apt tribute to a great mom. Here are a few others that I found fascinating. The UK history is so rich and long.

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Imagine living in Bengal, serving the Empire in the 1700s.

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And last but not least,  this slab was underfoot.

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Lives lived. You can take a visual tour here.



5. One more on cars. Parking is very funny in the UK. In North America, when you park on the street you must park in the direction of traffic in the appropriate designated area. In the UK, people park on either side of the road (direction is irrelevant) and often anywhere and everywhere. After all, parking wasn’t an issue hundreds of years ago so they really didn’t plan for it.

4. British people LOVE their dogs. We loved that they loved their dogs. Parks are full of dogs running around. The elderly (who seem healthier than North Americans) are always seen walking around with their dogs. Everywhere you go – dogs. On Wentworth, one of the more prestigious courses in the world, dogs are welcome. Our neighbour would golf every weekend with his lab running behind him. Amazing. We North American’s could learn something from the European’s in this regard – seeing a family with their small dog in the restaurant in Normandy was incredibly refreshing. That is a true ‘family’ out for dinner.

3. Everything has a cost and a benefit. I just realized, after 24 amazing months that one of my costs was that I never got to say good-bye to my dog, Bram. Ciao Bram.

2. It is all about people. England is a diverse culture and I am thankful to have worked with and met many amazing people who have a huge impact on my outlook on life and my character. In two years, I owe many people an enormous debt of thanks.

1. Life is about experiences, not things.


Yesterday we had the good fortune to head out to one of the big UK cultural events, Ascot Ladies day at Royal Ascot raceway:

The centrepiece of Ascot’s year, Royal Ascot is the world’s most famous race meeting, steeped in history dating back to 1711. The royal family attend the meeting, arriving each day in a horse-drawn carriage. It is a major event in the British social calendar, and press coverage of the attendees and what they are wearing often exceeds coverage of the actual racing. The Royal Enclosure has a strict dress code—male attendees must wear full morning dress including a top hat, whilst ladies must not show bare midriffs or shoulders and must wear hats. Outside the Royal Enclosure the dress code is less severe, but many people choose to wear formal dress anyway. Traditionally to be admitted to the Royal Enclosure for the first time one must either be a guest of a member or be sponsored for membership by a member who has attended at least four times. However controversially in 2007 Royal Enclosure day passes were also issued with hospitality package.

The Ascot Gold Cup is on Ladies’ Day on the Thursday. There is over £3,000,000 of prize money on offer.

The biggest thing about this day is the ‘ladies’ aspect – specifically the fancy dresses and crazy hats. I had a friend tell me that his mom and friends book a seat at a restaurant every year just so they can spend the day people watching. Of course, the other aspect is that after a day of champagne and PIMMS, those same posh women can look quite funny.

The race day started with the Queen had family heading to the Royal Enclosure. This year the Queen backed a stricter dress code. You can read it here – quite funny.

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I have only been to a horse race a few times before and each time from the bleachers. Being close to the action was quite entertaining. The horses are beautiful, the day was gorgeous and I lost £40 betting because I had no idea what I was doing.

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Time for an upgrade.

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It is all about the hats.

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Good fun. Another UK adventure. Although I did not have as much fun as this lad …..

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If you look at this large pointy thing, sitting by a bridge in London, what would you think it is?

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Your choices:

a) Over priced art the the city of London commissioned to make the city look ‘deep’.

b) A monument to mothers everywhere who have spent centuries yelling out ‘Don’t run with pointy things in your hands!’

c) A monument to medieval England and some rather unpleasant goings-on.

d) A giant sun dial.

The answer is a AND c. It is a spike meant to commemorate the location where traitors heads would be left on a pike to rot. Charming.

Tower bridge, however, is charming. Everyone thinks this is London Bridge, it is not.

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One of the weirdest things about the UK is the lack of house numbers. Instead, the homes retain their old designations:  Perrys Cottage, Cottage on North Hill, Bronhaul (Welsh) .. Sorry, nope, No house number. Marly House and on and on. Last night we went to Chestnut house. The Tom Tom took us to the entry of the road then in the dark we were left looking for signs ….. We found Chestnut house 40 buildings down.

Good luck finding something! Thank goodness they have postal codes (which are ALMOST accurate). Can you imagine the cost to training the post office delivery guys? Where the heck is Perrys Cottage, Climping, UK? And believe you me, that is EXACTLY how they address them.

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A few weeks ago we held a management offsite in Chipping Campden in the Cotswold. It was a gorgeous town (which the locals tell me is visited heavily by Americans in the summer) and I found an hour to wander around:

Chipping Campden is a small market town within the Cotswold district of Gloucestershire, England. It is notable for its elegant terraced High Street, dating from the 14th – 17th centuries.

A rich wool trading centre in the Middle Ages, Chipping Campden enjoyed the patronage of wealthy wool merchants (see also wool church). Today it is a popular Cotswold tourist destination with old inns, hotels, specialist shops and restaurants. The High Street is lined with honey-coloured limestone buildings, built from the mellow locally quarried Cotswold stone, and boasts a wealth of fine vernacular architecture. At its centre stands the Market Hall with its splendid arches, built in 1627.

Other attractions include the grand early perpendicular wool church of St James – with its medieval altar frontals (c.1500), cope (c.1400) and vast and extravagant 17th century monuments to Sir Baptist Hicks and family – the Almshouses and Woolstaplers Hall.The Court Barn near the church of St James is now a museum celebrating the rich Arts and Crafts tradition of the area.(See below)

A few pictures from the local street. The fascinating thing, many British towns look like this … magnificent. You can read a more detailed history here.

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The pub across the street.

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A place to catch the bus … Random fact, many of the buildings had windows that had been filled in (with stone) as building taxation was in part influenced by the number of windows in your building. Look at the roof, amazing.

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I found myself standing and just looking down the street … even on a cloudy day, a marvelous view.

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Imagine living here in medieval times and seeing St. James chapel in the distance. What a magnificent site for the average farmer. I saw the top of the church and made that way with haste.

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Again, what an amazing roof.

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The road to the church.

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This is an Almshouse or a place where the poor (widows, elderly) could live, which were supported by the church. From what I can ascertain, these were built by the Earl of Gainsborough, Sir Baptist Hicks as he bestowed his wealth on the church. Interestingly enough, if you read the above entry you will see that the title is still held by a 57 year old man (Earl .. sorry). Imagine … being able to trace your history back that far and see what your family left behind.

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A view of the manor house that was built in the 1600s. The history:

Sir Baptist Hicks’ new manor house was built at a cost of £44.000 in the very latest style and with superb gardens. Towards the end of the Civil War, in 1645, it was burned to the ground by order of the Royalist commander, Prince Rupert, in order to prevent it falling into the hands of the Parliamentary forces.  The Gatehouse and two Banqueting Houses or pavilions remain together with some ruins of the house, beside the Church. It is said that Lady Juliana Noel, Sir Baptist’s heir and widow of Edward Noel, second Viscount Campden, lived afterwards in the converted stables, now called the Court House in Calf Lane.

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The manor gates.

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This car parked in front of the church made for quite the contrast. Sandstone and … pink?

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The tithe house is what the gate says (The front of the almshouse).

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St Jame’s is one of the finest wool churches in the area:

There was a Norman church on this site before 1180, though it was much smaller than the present one. It consisted of a squat tower, a nave about the same length as today, but without aisles, and a lower, shorter chancel with a pitched roof. About 1260 the Norman church began a slow transformation that was to last nearly 250 years         

The chancel was rebuilt, the North aisle constructed with arches to balance the the 13th century south aisle and the south porch was added together with the windows and battlements of both aisles.  About 1490 the nave was reconstructed with its magnificent arcading built on the foundations of the old Norman nave.  The great window over the chancel arch was added, a rare feature of church architecture, which provides wonderful light for the nave. About 1500, the noble West tower was built, adding grace and proportion to the whole. At 120 ft. in height it ensures that the Church is a landmark from whatever direction Campden is approached.

There is a peal of eight bells, whose dates vary from 1618 to 1737, they were recast and rehung in 1987.  The clock mechanism, dated 1695, is now stored under the arch of the tower, having been replaced in 1962.

It is thought that there were stained glass windows dating from the 15th century, but these have disappeared and only fragments remain.  The fine East Window by Henry Payne was completed in 1925 in memory of those who fell in the Great War.  The window over the chancel arch represents the last judgment.

Preserved behind glass are wonderful survivals from the days before the Reformation: the unique pair of Altar Frontals (c.1500) and the Cope (c.1400).  The Altar Frontals were copied by command of Queen Mary for the High Altar of Westminster Abbey for the coronation ceremony in 1912.There are fine 15th century brasses, now secured to the Chancel Floor, the largest of which commemorates William Grevel "…flower of the wool merchants of all England…" The finely carved canopied tomb of Sir Thomas Smythe is on the North wall in the sanctuary and is the most remarkable in the church. He was Lord of the Manor of Campden until his death in 1593.  He lived at the court of Henry VIII and was the first Governor of the East India Company.

The Jacobean pulpit and Flemish lectern are gifts from Sir Baptist Hicks, whose ornate tomb is in the Gainsborough Chapel.

I walked into the chapel and just did not feel right about photographing other than the below. Instead, I spent some time in silence. In the corner (cannot be seen) are the tombs of local wool merchants which are magnificent but seem rather odd in a church, rather presumptuous that they were so important that they need to be remembered within the church? There was a nice gentleman sitting at the entrance with his dog watching over the place as people walked in and out. I left just as 3 classes of 6 year old students entered ….

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Surrounding the church is the graveyard. Appears the locals have surveyed the site which you can view here. The oldest recorded is 1674 with many dates unknown.

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It was a busy hour.


While at Dover Castle I came across ‘A Last Appeal to Reason’ by Adolf Hitler in the secret war tunnel reception area. What stuck me was the the title – appeal to reason – Adolf Hitler? An oxymoron?


Of course, I had to read it and found part of it here. Which lead me on a bit of an interesting journey – seems this site is one of those ‘there was no holocaust’ sites with all the usual nonsense about how the pictures of concentration camps are fakes. As you can see here, they have many interesting posts on different historical events. The write up on the Battle of Britain is interesting as is the essay on the treatment of POWs by the Allies (Sadly – barbarism during war is never one sided – so this is not that much of a stretch to believe).

The write up ‘Something of an enigma’ is practically interesting as it claims that much of the WWII footage is a fraud:


One of the sad and sickest frauds of the wartime movie makers is the celebrated footage of the D-Day landings. This was doctored for US General Eisenhower. This footage was filmed during ‘training exercises’ at Slapton Sands in Devon when during the landings American troops opened fire on their own compatriots struggling ashore from landing craft. It is estimated that just fewer than one thousand GIs were killed during this exercise. The US infantrymen’s bodies seen by cinemagoers floating in the waves were killed by their own side, not by German troops.

Jerome Kuehl, the leading television producer and author, an associate producer on the Thames Television World at War series, has revealed many wartime film frauds. He admitted that even he has been taken in by film footage and believes that film from the Battle of Stalingrad was stage-managed after the Russian victory.

A quick search of the web found the following explanation:

The Memorial

Although peaceful today, the area around Slapton sands and the Ley (lake) behind were a battle training ground in preparation for the 1944 D-Day landings. Many of the farms and villages in the area were vacated by the inhabitants from 1943 to allow the US army to train.

On the beach at Slapton sands stands a granite memorial to men killed during a training session which went disastrously wrong when it was attacked by German boats. The inscription reads;

    Dedicated by the United States of America in honor of the 749 men of the 4th Infantry Division, the 279th Combat Engineers, and the 70th Tank Battalion, United States Army, who, along with crew members of the eight landing ships, U.S. Navy, perished off the coast of Slapton Sands, Torcross, while participating in Operation Tiger, April 26-28 1944. A training exercise in amphibious landings, Operation Tiger was a prelude to the invasion of Europe on June 6, 1944. This joint rehearsal by British and American forces resulted in a military tragedy in which the support convoy was attacked during the early morning hours by German schnellboots. The surprise attack resulted in the loss of several fully loaded and manned landing craft.

    May these men rest in the knowledge that the lessons of this tragedy added significantly to the ability of the Allies to carry out the successful invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. May these soldiers and sailors be remembered for their supreme sacrifice for the Allied cause in World War II.

    Interestingly enough, the village tourism site makes no reference to the tragedy.

    The web is one interesting place.


They don’t call it a picnic, they call it a ‘family fun day’ and they don’t have it at the local park, they have it AT WARWICK CASTLE! How cool is that?

The castle was founded in 1068 by William the Conqueror:

Legend has it that the first fortification of significance on the grounds of Warwick Castle was erected by Ethelfleda, the daughter of Alfred the Great, in the year 914. This almost certainly replaced older wooden fortifications which had proven ineffective against marauding Danes who sacked the town during the reign of her father. This fortification was part of a network built to protect the Kingdom of Wessex.

The remains of this ancient fortification can still be seen on Ethelfleda’s Mound, a mound of earth at the southern end of the castle’s courtyard. As intriguing as this legend is, the majority of the remains date from the period of Norman rule.

After the Norman Conquest of England in the 11th century, William the Conqueror appointed Henry de Newburgh as Earl of Warwick. During this time of change, a Norman motte-and-bailey fort was erected.

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The castle is amazing because it is owned by an event company who has converted the site into a tourist attraction. You can climb the walls and towers, visit the dungeon, go through the Ghosts Alive Exhibit (which scared the pants off me), explore the apartments and interior of the castle .. it is amazing. Then, you walk out to the company common area and enjoy food, drink, a hands on circus area, falconry demonstrations, train as a knight and try out armor and weapons of the era. Now .. that is a company picnic!

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A picture from the top of the mound.

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From the top of the highest tower – Guy’s Tower c. 1395:

Towers were the mainstay of a castle’s defensive system. Because they projected above and out from the wall, they gave archers a clear view downwards and sideways.

Guy’s Tower was built in the 14th century. It is twelve-sided, stands 39 metres high and has five storeys.

The first four storeys consist of a central stone-vaulted chamber with two small side rooms – one a gardrobe (toilet), the other probably a bedchamber.

The fifth storey is a hexagonal guardroom. During the Civil War the windows here were enlarged so that they could take small hand-held cannons.

To get to Guy’s tower you go on a 530 step journey that involves a crazy climb up the steepest steps I have ever climbed (Think of circular steps that wind around a very tight circumference for 39 metres .. tighter than this because the step goes from wide on the outside to tiny on the center).  They have this big warning sign (which I should have photographed about health – i.e. if not healthy, don’t do this. I am sure they lug 1 or 2 people down a month) …

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The jousting .. and I thought Medieval Times was cool ….

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Inside, lot of armor and bad pictures because I was using my uber compact and handy Xacti (which I love)

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Another from Guy’s tower. Imagine climbing up there in armor! As we were standing on the battlements I also commented to the family – imagine being up here, fighting a battle, with no railing behind you, blood and chaos around. We then looked over edge (i.e. if you were to fall backward into the center of the castle). It was 30 feet up .. a long, long, back breaking way.

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From the conservatory, a playful peacock.

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Breath taking stained glass is everywhere in the UK.

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I have the bridge covered.

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If you can read this, it is commenting on a display of Churchill who spent time in his youth at the castle.

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Explore the history here, and a ton of great photos of the castle here.



Everywhere you go in England you see something interesting, consider the Royal Holloway Sanatorium, which is viewable from my home (we actually live on these grounds):



Built in 1885 by Thomas Holloway for ‘mentally afflicted persons’ and designed by W.H. Crossland who also designed the Royal Holloway University of London, it was founded at his wife’s encouragement to do good works with his money.

It is now the center of a housing development with apartments and gym facilities – but remains well maintained, the benefit of a very strict heritage program in the UK. Of interest, Bill Bryson who’s humorous books on travel to the UK and Europe are famous met his wife while working at the sanitarium

How did Thomas make his money? He was a salesman ….

Holloway had made his fortune from the sale of his pills and ointment, both designed to cure all ills. Where Holloway differed from other ‘quack medicine’ vendors was that he was one of the earliest entrepreneurs to appreciate the value of advertising. He spent huge amounts of money promoting his cures throughout the world and, as a result, reaped huge rewards. Holloway was also a man with a conscience and he spent a considerable portion of his fortune on ‘good deeds’.

The inside of the building is breathtaking …. Amazing and now part of our daily life.