Old Thing, I think I love you

Exactly a month from now, I will be wandering around London with my husband looking altogether too touristy. Hey now, those sneakers are comfy, don’t judge.

We will both likely be very jet-lagged and doing our damnedest to stay awake. My husband will be trying his hardest not to either beat me over the head or tease me as I stare and exclaim every time I see a building/monument/old thing that further cements the fact that I am, indeed, in Great Britain for the first time in my life and OMGlookit!!!! A stone wall that is really old!

People are going to think I’ve lost my nutter when I take pictures of ordinary, every day things. Why is that woman taking a picture of cobblestones? Or that wall? Or that tree? Or that random doorway? Is she insane? She doesn’t even have a fancy pro camera!

Because those things, if they could tell a story, would have so much to say. By taking that picture, I can revisit and wonder at just what it has seen in the centuries gone by. I can imagine the people, their history. I can wonder at the changes. It can fuel my belief that in noticing these small, seemingly mundane objects, we are truly appreciating the past. The culture, the people, the lives lived. Think about it…  I will be standing in a city that was a city before people even knew the continent I live on existed! A city with untold treasures under centuries of buildings, roads, and progress. I feel as if I could stretch my senses and listen to the peoples of 1500 years ago, who lived at the banks of the Thames. That I can look down at my feet and connect with the person who laid the tile on the floor of the cathedral. It is heady, exciting… And hard to explain exactly why I feel like this.

I know… I can hear the collective twirling of fingers around ears. Crazy woman, dramatizing and romanticizing old places. They’re just buildings and walls. Its just a tree. That’s just a Roman road.

Truthfully, I think about our history when I am downtown Ottawa too, sitting under the massive old trees in Major’s Hill Park. I wonder what they were witness to in the past 200 years; the secret conversations, the changing faces. I daydream standing behind the library at Parliament Hill, looking out over the river and imagining the logjams, or the workers building the Rideau Canal locks.

Perhaps I should have been an archaeologist or a historian, if my path had been different. *adds to list of Sliding Door plot ideas*. I tend to get a little exuberant about really old things. I think I might just be that kind of person on a dig who would get excited every time they unearthed a pottery shard, or old button. Right…

Being as this is our first time to visit the UK, I am absolutely beside myself. We are going to a wedding (of good friends we are so excited to see!) at a Norman keep. I get to go riding. In England (bucket list item)! We get to walk onto London Bridge, take a picture or a video, and send it to our kids. All because London Bridge is their favorite song, and they know all the verses. Yes, there are multiple verses. Do you know them? I didn’t, until my son educated me. Its a LONG freakin’ song when you add in all the verses, you know.

And yes, my son knows that the Tower Bridge is not London Bridge. He is quite adamant when you try to trick him. Although he thinks the Tower Bridge is pretty neat , and makes up songs about it, too.

We are planning, in our short visit, to try and take in some of the must-see places in London before we jet out to where our friends live, to explore Essex in all its early Spring wonder. We don’t have time to do a trip out to somewhere outside of London before the wedding weekend, so we compromised. The next time we go, we’ll be able to say we’ve “done London” and can visit further afield, like Stonehenge, or visit the 432 castles I have on my Castle Bucket List. Tintagel, here I come!

And let’s not get into the trip I want to take solely to hike the length of Hadrian’s Wall. This will happen, people. Who wants to do it with me?

So i am asking you, friends, what should we see? We’ve got the usual suspects, such as Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Westminster, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, Kew Gardens…Fleet St., Picadilly Circus… It is a little silly all the places, right?  I could go on. So, let’s get down to brass tacks. What truly awesome bit of London should we explore? What old things should we love?

Help me find the stories.


Bucket List – Hike Hadrian’s Wall

This is the third in a series of “bucket list” posts. I want to share some of the goals I have for my life, a lot of which involve travel. Some are for just me, some are meant to be shared with my family, and some are meant to be crazy endeavours with the right friends.

I want to hear your stories and dreams too, so share them! And if you have done any of the things I talk about, tell me what it was like! ♥

Bucket List item – Hike the Length of Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall first came into my knowledge when I was in grade 10. I was researching castles in Britain for an Ancient History class presentation. Passing mention of the wall caught my eye, but having no time to really look into it, I let it slide for further information on keeps, abbeys, and crumbling caers.

That was the start of it all, though. Since the day my history teacher, Mr. Canuel, gave me a tiny, red, dog-eared book on English and Welsh castles, I have had a pull towards touching the ruins, feeling the weathered, worn stones beneath my hands, wondering about what they had seen, feeling the whispers of ghosts showing me the mysteries and stories held within.

I know, I’m a soft-heided romantic fool. But it is who I am.

I have never travelled across the Atlantic at all. The closest to International travel I have ever gotten was Cuba, for my honeymoon. I know… crazy that someone who is so in love with a place has never just… Gone. Long story, that, I’ll tell you over many beer someday.

So the ridiculous, triple-columned list of castles, Abbeys, ruins, and historical sites I want to someday see in such a small space of land is rather daunting. I’m trying to pare it down, but each one is so unique, and exciting… It is hard. All of them have a story, all of those stories are important. Sometimes I feel that because someone cared enough to write it down, prepare it for us to see and understand, I should honour that by going, touching, admiring and learning.

Sometimes I get envious of folks who were able to follow their passion of history through post-secondary school, and get a chance to honour our past by examining and discovering through it. Right. Moving on.

20130710-122806.jpgTo add to the swanning over mouldering castles is an interest in the legend of King Arthur. I’ve always had this fascination with the story, in its traditional telling, and around the theory of the true story, or ideas about when and who he really was. One such theory that more recently grabbed my imagination was the idea that Arthur was a commander during Rome’s occupation of Britain, and his men were indentured from conquered nations. One particular theory is commonly called the Sarmation Hypothesis (which is highly disregarded, but I find it exciting nonetheless). I was introduced to it after watching the (poorly reviewed, but delightfully scenic *ahem*) 2004 movie with Clive Owen and Ioan Gruffudd. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur_%28film%29)

Part of the idea of Arthur being born out of Roman-Britain is the influence played by Hadrian’s Wall. The northernmost frontier of Rome (bar the older Antonine Wall). The engineering marvel that was a wall to protect and keep out the “barbarians” (meaning the native populations, the Saxons, other such invaders). I personally think it may have also been a way to keep a large number of somewhat bored Roman legions busy in a quiet area, and provide a far-flung legacy for Hadrian himself, as well as reinforce an area he may have believed more tactical than his predecessors. Also, thar be tin in those hills, no? And what do you need tin for? Bronze. Uh huh…

From that connection to my interest in Arthurian legend came a new-found interest in the history of Romans in Britain (which kinda ties into a lot of the castle histories, really) and the influence they had there while they occupied the islands.

I digress.

So why do I want to hike the length of it? Well, because it is there, really… And because I want to see it, all of it, not just the touristy spots or the designated interest points. I want to walk the parts that not a lot of folks see. I also want to visit the grounds of Housesteads (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Housesteads_Roman_Fort) and Vindolanda (http://www.vindolanda.com/), massive wall forts that give us a glimpse into the every day life of the Roman military and people.

Moreso than that, I want to see the beautiful country that the wall arcs across. I want to imagine what it would have looked like when it was built, how it was patrolled, how it affected life on either side of the stout, wide berth. The idea that a wall, such as this, was begun there less than 100 years after the death of Jesus, an20130710-122822.jpgd I can go see it, touch it, feel the presence of it forever changing the landscape…

Wow. That kinda makes me all goosepimply.

I have been told it is underwhelming when you first clap eyes on the low, stone fence. That it could keep out a herd of sheep, let alone a horde of Saxons is questionable. Time, erosion, re-purposed materials in centuries past… All make for a very different relic than what was built. I get that. More than the physical site of the wall, I want to stand on one side, look North, and attempt to reach back with my consciousness to pull forward what man would have seen, felt, and known looking at the same vista.

As I said, I’m a romantic fool, and these old things make me giddy. Likely this will have to be a multi-day trip, but I have heard the hiking is fairly easy, and the landscape breathtaking. It is 83 miles, I think, to walk the whole length from Ravenglass in the south to South Shields on the West side. A good achievement, even without a UNESCO World Heritage site thrown in, right?

Visit http://www.visithadrianswall.co.uk/ for more information on the wall and visiting it. Also visit http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/scotlandshistory/caledonianspictsromans/hadrianswall/index.asp for some extra information on the history of the wall.

Bucket List – Hike the Chilkoot

This is the second in a series of “bucket list” posts. I want to share some of the goals I have for my life, a lot of which involve travel. Some are for just me, some are meant to be shared with my family, and some are meant to be crazy endeavours with the right friends.

I want to hear your stories and dreams too, so share them! And if you have done any of the things I talk about, tell me what it was like! ♥

Bucket List Item – Hike the Chilkoot Trail

One of the eras in Canadian history that has grabbed my heart is the Klondike Gold Rush. I have always been a sucker for the parts of history where people overcame such astounding odds to do something incredible, like populate wilderness and scrape out a living in forbidding conditions. Something about human triumph over nature awes and interests me.

Men (and women!) came from all over the world to try their luck in the Klondike, strike it rich with GOLD roughly from the years 1896 to 1899. A good summary of the Klondike Gold Rush can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klondike_Gold_Rush.

When I travelled to the Yukon, I got to follow a bit of the history when we visited Dawson City. As we drove in, we passed tailing piles, which are gravel mounds, equally spaced, spread from the back of dredges, the leftovers from the dig to find gold in the permafrost (did you know they unearthed fossils and Mammoth tusks from the depths as they dug? Crazy!). We visited one of those huge gold dredges, we panned for gold at a tourist site on Bonanza Creek, learning about Discovery Claim. I was completely geeking out, trying to see and soak in as much as possible in such a short time.

Dawson City was the end goal for stampeders and fortune seekers. The town, preserved as best as it can be, was full of history about the rush and the influx of 30,000 people in such a very short time (Diamond Tooth Gertie’s is a must visit, if you ever go – http://www.dawsoncity.ca/klondikeattractions/diamondtoothgerties/). The highlight, for me, was visiting the Boneyard, where paddle steamers, such as the Seattle No. 3 (among others) is laid to rest. That these boats were just shoved up onto shore and left to rot is astounding to me. Such a waste. It was spooky visiting this place, knowing these majestic vessels once navigated the rivers, bringing hopeful and determined people back and forth to a wilderness city, to a reality most were not ready for. But… The Gold Rush can be an example of fervor and excess, with no regard to economy or ability. When the rush was over, all the remnants had to go somewhere, right? I am still struck dumb at the sheer amount of supplies that was bought, ferried, and carried by Stampeders up through the Chilkoot into Canada, then along the unforgiving Yukon river to Dawson.

The massive amount of money that was thrown towards such a daunting, often impossible journey seems, today, like foolishness. Then, it was considered noble, exciting, and romantic, in a way. People with nothing to lose left their circumstances behind and travelled North, sometimes to their doom, others to a new life, some few to riches.

I love that. But… To witness the heartache, misery, and tragedy would have been overwhelming. Watching a show on the Stampeders, one of the cast members swore that she was not alone on the trail, that ghosts followed her. Indeed, many people died on the trek up to the Yukon. They say of the 100,000 that started out, only 30,000 or so made it to Dawson City, and of those who made it, very few found gold.

The Golden Stairs, during the Gold Rush. I’m going to climb that exact spot someday!

One part of this rich history I wanted to visit, but never got the chance, was the Chilkoot trail. The Chilkoot was part of the trail the Stampeders used to get to the gold fields, and was treacherous, oftentimes deadly. I know many of you have seen pictures of the ant-like trail up the steep, snowy Golden Stairs, the last ascent. Spooky photos of ghost-like men, weather-beaten and thin from the effort, humping boxes and tools up through the dirty, well-worn snow, then sliding down to do it over, and over, and over are legendary for the rawness and danger they expressed (at least, they are for me).

There are stories of an entire Paddle Wheeler boat that was dragged over the summit, then assembled at Bennett Lake. Scows, sewing machines, implements to make a living got humped up on the backs of men. Other things, such as pianos, bicycles, and gramophone players made the trek. Why? Genteel folks, not knowing any better, stubbornly refusing to let go of modern society, I suppose. What good would a bicycle do in the dense bush of the Yukon?

Literally tonnes and tonnes of foodstuffs and supplies was carried, by man, up that 1,500 stair, 45 degree slope.

But the Pass itself is only part of the journey. The trail traditionally starts in Skagway, (I want to go from Skagway to the abandoned townsite of Dyea, then up the trail itself) and the turnaround is at Bennett Lake, on the Canada side. Then, I want to head back along the White Pass side, if possible, to follow (backwards) the longer, easier, less popular route folks used to get to the start of the Yukon river. This trail was also called Dead Horse Trail, which, yes, is named for the sheer number of horses who died as folks pushed their emaciated, horribly abused horses through impossible terrain all in the name of making their fortune. There were so many, that the bones and carcasses of the horses became part of the path, stepped on by folks as they made their way.

Guh, I can’t even imagine.

More likely we will take the train back to Skagway, once at Bennett Lake, it will take several days to get to just there, and you have to book well in advance. To ensure campsites, and so that not too many folks are on the trail at one time, only 50 hikers/campers are allowed on the route each day, depending on their itinerary and routes planned. The combined efforts of the US and Canadian Governments have helped to preserve the area’s history and both sides are considered National Parks and monuments. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilkoot_Trail – Wikipedia on Chilkoot is a great summary of the area. Good job! You can see many artifacts and info panels along the route.

A detailed map of the trail can be found here: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/yt/chilkoot/activ/activ1/activ1a1.aspx

The idea of tracing the footsteps of the Stampeders, understanding just what they did to get up the mountain into Canada, sounds like an incredible experience. I want to share it with my kids, but the hike is not for beginners, especially the hike through the pass. If I go, it will be to rough it for a few days, hike some challenging terrain, and come out the other side. I don’t plan on going in and being not ready for the hike, so training for it will be a must (and saving, to travel there and back).

Map of the Chilkoot Trail

Info on hiking the Chilkoot: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/yt/chilkoot/activ/activ1/a_1.aspx

Some further info can be found here:

http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/yt/chilkoot/index.aspx – Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site of Canada

http://www.nps.gov/klgo/index.htm – US National Park Service – Klondike Gold Rush information

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0398501/ – The IMDB Listing for a most wonderful miniseries on the trek of the Stampeders – Klondike: The Quest for Gold, that aired on History TV. (The full series can be found on YouTube too)

I don’t know when or with who I’ll do this with, hopefully my husband, maybe a group of friends who want the challenge will come with me. Maybe my kids, when they are grown enough to handle the hike, if I am still able.

I will get there though, and when I stand at the top of the Golden Stairs to catch my breath and look back down towards the Scales and the trek through the rainforest to that point… I will remember the thousands of skookum  men and women who scrabbled their way to that point, and waited in the snow and cold for their turn to climb to their fortunes.

* Pictures courtesy http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/chilkoot-trail, Parks Canada (http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/yt/chilkoot/index.aspx), and the Public Archives of Canada

Bucket List – Travel the Dempster Highway

This will be the first in a series of “bucket list” posts. I want to share some of the goals I have for my life, a lot of which involve travel. Some are for just me, some are meant to be shared with my family, and some are meant to be crazy endeavours with the right friends.

I want to hear your stories and dreams too, so share them! And if you have done any of the things I talk about, tell me what it was like! ♥

Me, in a Gold Dredge bucket, near Dawson City, YT

Bucket List Item – Travel the Dempster Highway

Way back in the mid 2000’s, I travelled to Whitehorse with my (then) boyfriend, to go to his best friend’s wedding. We made plans for a stay of two weeks, starting with the wedding, exploring Whitehorse and the area, plus a trip to Dawson City. It was, by far, the most unforgettable trip of my life. I gazed down at the famous Lake Laberge, remembering the ghostly tale “The Cremation of Sam McGee”. I shot Miles Canyon on a boat, during a wedding. I sat in a dredge bucket, panned for gold, and ran my hand along the weathered boards of an abandoned, heaped up paddlewheeler. I tasted the best moose roast I have ever had, roasted slowly over an open fire. We hiked, walked, and soaked in the uniqueness of Whitehorse. I stood on a mountaintop, eyes drinking in as much as I could.

It was incredible.

The rugged, untamed beauty of the Yukon, the romance of the territory’s history, and the sheer vast expanse being part of MY country was overwhelming. I found myself falling in love with the mountains, the seas of fireweed, the wildness of the rivers, and the legends of the Gold Rush. Yes, we went in August, when the sun sets only briefly, the bugs are tolerable, and the days are warm

Dempster Highway, showing winter roads to Tuktoyaytuk past Inuvik (also route of planned expansion)

. I heard echoes of the cold, dark winters, the struggle of snow and frozen expanses, but it was hard to imagine, seeing the sun flash off waves in the Five Finger rapids, or smell the calming, heady aroma of the tall, slim conifers.

As I sat at a bonfire one night, looking up into the dusky sky, I truly felt awed and at peace with our beautiful country. I have longed to go back since then.

We drove to Dawson City up the 2, us in an SUV, the newly married couple in an RV. As we neared Dawson City on the second day of driving, we passed a sign for “The 5”. Or, as it is also known, the Dempster Highway (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dempster_Highway and http://www.yukoninfo.com/dempster/index.htm). My boyfriend casually remarked “Someday we should drive that to the Arctic Circle”.

And thus the seed was planted.

20130627-133850.jpgThe Dempster Highway starts at the 2, a few miles South of Dawson City. It snakes its way up, up, up to the Arctic Circle, travels through Eagle Plains and Fort McPherson, ending at Inuvik. If you want to make it to the Beafort Sea, you have to go by plane, which will take you into Tukto20130627-133842.jpgyaktuk. The trip, one way, is just shy of 750 kilometres. Some basic info, from the Dawson City website is here: http://www.dawsoncity.ca/gettinghere/drivingthedempster/.

Current news on the highway is that the Government has earmarked a massive sum of money to extend the highway all the way to Tuktoyaktuk, which is another 140 kilometres. Construction was to start this year. Part of me would be excited to be able to take the road all the way up, but part of me would hate to travel with all that construction marring the peaceful silence that can envelope one when in such a place as the Arctic plains.

20130627-133859.jpgI used to say I wanted to hike the Dempster, but with the trip being around 1400k, plus travel to the start and back, I changed my mind to driving and camping as a more realistic goal, given that likely, whomever I do this with and myself would need to take vacation from work, and that is not unlimited. I likely would not bring my children, unless they were much older than they are now.

I want to be able to sit out on the ground, look up at the sky and see the stars, look out into the distance to the mountains, to the tundra. To feel the fresh air, the solitude that such an open space can provide. I dream of being able to experience such a different place than where I am now, to celebrate my country, and feel the connection to all the people who had gone before.

This is not my only bucket list item in the Yukon, of course. This place changed me, and I want nothing more than to go back and share it with my husband and children. help them feel the awe I did.

*Pictures courtesy Wikipedia.com, Travel Yukon, and yukoninfo.com