Merlin Mcb

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Merlin Mcb

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HOYT EASTON Aus Open 2010

Travelling Great Britain

Who isn't tempted by the mystique of Great Britain?
The castles, the museums, the historical sites, the tame green countryside – the country is much like the people, with a deepness and complex history beneath a deceptively restrained surface.


The rough beauty of Welsh landscape, with its high mountains, deep valleys, rivers, and marshes, is as well-known as the Welsh language's lack of vowels. Wales is completely unique, with its own deep, rich history and heritage. Wales is the homeland of Arthurian legend, and any visitors interested in Camelot should visit the many landmarks in Wales associated with Arthur, including the tree where Merlin is supposed to lie sleeping. Wales is often called the land of song, and if you visit, you should not miss attending a cymanfa ganu ("singing festival"). And you should visit Tintern Abbey, made famous by William Wordsworth's poem; Tintern is one of many (mostly ruined) abbeys, priories, and castles scattered across the Welsh countryside.


Where does one start? Scotland is lowlands and highlands and islands, a land of rugged rustic beauty and the intellectually-renowned colleges of Edinburgh. If it's monsters you like, you can look for Nessie in the Loch Ness; if you prefer more down-to-earth pursuits, Scottish men and women are friendly, hospitable, and kind. Scottish cuisine is unique, to say the least, but much better than the descriptions of things like haggis (sheep's stomach filled with a meat and oatmeal mixture and boiled) would lead you to think! Bagpipes and kilts, Highland games and Scottish single-malt whiskey (the name comes from the Gaelic uisge-beatha, meaning "water of life") are only part of the culture you can experience in Scotland.

The large cities in Scotland have marvelous art and culture museums, and there are dozens of excellent historical museums and sites. In Edinburgh Castle, don't miss the famous Stone of Scone, over which all the Scottish kings were crowned, or the ancient Scottish crown jewels. And in the countryside, some of the historic castles are available as lodging; speak to your travel agent for information.


Cornwall is the historic birthplace of King Arthur, and it's easy to believe in Arthurian legends when you stand on its high cliffs. It's mostly rural now, but has a unique culture and a strong seafaring tradition. Many British emigrants to the Americas set sail from its port Falmouth.


Northern England is the home of the famous Lake District of Cumbria, from where the English Romantic poets Byron, Wordsworth, and Shelley often drew their inspiration. Much of Northern England is historically heavily industrialized, but you shouldn't let that deter you from visiting; the countrysite is beautiful, and the coast nearby. You'll also find dozens of sites in the countryside where standing stones were erected in the past, as well as museums filled with archaeological treasures from Britain's past.

When you move southward, you can find the remnants of Sherwood Forest, only a pale shadow of the immense old-growth forest of Robin Hood tales. You'll also find dozens of castles and castle remains from a millennium of history, ranging from the concentric rings of earthwork foundations left over from the wooden fortresses of Saxons, to the relatively new castles of the Normans. Many castles are still lived in, and there are castles in England you can spend the night in, others that you can tour during the day.

Southward still is Salisbury Plain, the austere green meadowland on which stands Stonehenge. Visitors are not allowed to get close enough to touch the ancient standing stones, but you can still feel the history that permeates the countryside around them.

And on the south coast of England, Bath has an amazing variety of architectural treasures, ranging from the still-usable Roman baths to the proud Georgian townhouses that line its streets. Bath has more protected historical buildings per capita than any city in England. If you visit, you should not miss the Roman baths; the Pump Room, center of Georgian society; and the Royal Crescent, lined with elegant Georgian homes from the 19th century heyday of Bath. And from Bath, you can take the 2 ½ hour bus trip to London, surely the crowning glory of any tour of England.


London is one of the premier cities of the world, populated by more than seven million people. And it is filled with history, with art, with culture. It is not to be missed, no matter what your interests. If you like nightlife, London has some of the best nightclubs in the world, ranging from tough punk bars to celebrity-haunted clubs. In the day, you can get free admission to the British Museum, the British Library, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, and Tate Gallery; admission to many, many other cultural attractions is inexpensive.

There are dozens of walking tours of London, both self-guided and using a guide; if you look online, you can find many of the self-guided ones for free. Almost every guidebook to London also has its own self-guided tours listed.

If you want to visit some of the admission-charging attractions (for which students and seniors may be able to get "concessions," or discounts), consider Westminster Abbey, the Cabinet War Room, and St. Paul's Cathedral. Covent Garden, once a pleasure-garden for the rich and not-so-rich, has evolved into a boutique filled shopping district. And if you hang out around Buckingham Palace, you can see the Changing of the Guard, and maybe even a member of the Royal Family or two.

Travelers to London, in short, may wish they had a month or three to just tour London; two millennia of history is a lot of layers to dig through. One word of warning: London does have problems with pickpockets, especially in the more tourist-haunted sections of town. Avoid showing money around, and keep your pockets guarded.

P. Edward is a writer and manager of theThe UK Web Index DirectoryandUK Package Holidays

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