27 June 2000

"From Charlotte to Crawfordsburn"

Day 2

 

I am just realizing now that our second day actually began according to London time, which is five time zones ahead of us, about an hour before we even boarded our plane in Charlotte. That means that what we should have considered our boarding time of 7:50 p.m. actually to be 12:50 a.m. where we would be sleeping that next night near Belfast. Anyway, we were supposed to depart from Charlotte at 8:25 p.m., but our Boeing 767 did not take off until around 8:45 p.m. or maybe even a little later. Outwardly it seemed as if they were having trouble accounting for all of the people, but they never told us the real reason that we were delayed. Jeremy and I sat in row 21, seats A and B. The pilot said that it would take us a total of 7 hours and 40 minutes to reach Gatwick Airport in London. Our actual arrival time is supposed to be 9:15 a.m. Tuesday morning; so, that makes it about 4:15 a.m. in Charlotte. I did the clock arithmetic, and it should be right.

I tried my camera again. A new roll of film does not seem to make any difference to the counter. But I am going to try to count up to 24 again. Hopefully the pictures will still come out since the little motor seems to be working. But who knows? We also discovered that there are a large number of college students traveling with us on this flight. The people behind us said that they were from Iowa and Nebraska. About 9:30 p.m. one of our flight attendants handed each of us a pair of headphones and a dinner menu. It seemed a little late to be eating, since it was really after midnight in London, but the menu looked good. We had a choice between lasagna or beef tenderloin. I think that I am going to go with the lasagna.

Just a few minutes ago the pilot told us that our flight plan would take us up the east coast toward Nova Scotia, and then we would turn east and fly over the North Atlantic. It is hard to believe that we are actually on our way to London. Actually the pilot just came on the loud speaker to tell us that we were already near Salisbury, Maryland, that’s about 500 miles from Charlotte, and that air traffic control tower had told us that we would soon be running into some turbulence. Maybe it is because this plane is larger, but I do not remember ever even feeling that we had any turbulence.

We just received a pretzel snack and a soft drink. Actually receiving it was a long drawn out procedure. The attendants really earn their pay as they move the snack cart up and down the aisle, serve the food and then collect the used cups and empty cans. It was difficult to write anything while they were giving us the snacks; so I decided to start listening to my headphones. The outlet for the plug is in the right arm of my seat. On this flight there are 12 different channels. Three have the audio to a movie that is being shown on a large screen that is about 10 rows ahead of us. The other nine channels have news and music on them. Right now I have started writing again and am also listening to Beethoven’s "Brandenburg Concerto." I like it. It sounds somewhat different than the classical music I usually listen to on our local public radio station; for it has quite a bit of harpsichord music in it. While I am sitting here listening to the music and writing, it almost seems like I am in a world all to myself, except when I look up I see 200 other people doing their own thing, too. Yes! We are all on our way to London. Jeremy has been doing some more reading and has also done some writing. All in all, even though I am starting to become tired, I have really enjoyed our trip together so far. But I am sure that after a few days I will make the adjustment to the time change. In fact, we hope to be able to rest after we get to our hotel in Crawfordsburn, Northern Ireland.

I did dose off a little as we flew over the North Atlantic and awakened about 7:55 a.m. London time and began writing again in my journal. At that time we still had about one and one-half hours still to go before we would land. My supper meal of lasagna was very good, considering that it was served on an airplane with several hundred people at the same time. It was served with green beans and a roll. Speaking of time, we actually did not get to eat until what was for us about 4:00 a.m. in the morning. Following the meal I waited in line for my first trip to the lavatory. It was not too bad, a little tight but big enough to do what needed to be done. Shortly, after I walked back to my seat, the flight attendants turned off the lights and most people, including myself, tried to sleep for the few hours still left on our flight. 

Our breakfast was a bagel with cream cheese, cranberry orange nut bread and a fruit dish with a few pieces of pineapple and strawberry in it. I had orange juice to drink and Jeremy had coffee. Since Jeremy had to get something out of his back pack, we switched seats and I was able to look out the window and see the beautiful sea of clouds below us. Jeremy said that the pilot had announced earlier that we were cruising at about 39,000 feet, some 7 miles above the ocean.

We landed in London Gatwick Airport about 9:15 a.m., left the plane and traveled by shuttle train to report to immigration. Just before our plane landed, we had been given a special card to complete that explained to the British government why we had traveled to London. We had to give this card to immigration along with showing them our passport. After going through the immigration line we then went to the baggage claim area and waited for our luggage to appear on the conveyor belts. Once we had our luggage we then went through the airport and took an elevator that then led us to the place where we could board a Speedlink bus. This bus would then take us to the London Heathrow Airport for our flight to Belfast.

When we finally found the Speedlink office, there seemed to be quite a lot of confusion there between the people trying to leave and bus officials who were trying to give them directions. Jeremy and I went inside, waited in line and bought our ticket. It cost each of us 17 British pounds to travel for about one hour to Heathrow Terminal #1. A Polish lady was sitting next to me and Jeremy sat next to a high school senior from Spain. I tried to talk some with the Polish lady, but she did not seem to know any English; so we did not have much of a conversation. Later, after most of the other people on the bus had gotten off, both Jeremy and I spoke with the young man from Spain. He had been an exchange student in Birmingham, Alabama this past school year and said that he was flying back to his home in Madrid. His visit had been a very positive one, enabling him to return, among other things with the ability to speak very good American English.

When we arrived at Terminal #1, we departed our bus and headed for the British Midland Airways counter inside to check in for our flight to Belfast. Next, we had to go through security. At this checkpoint we not only had to send our bags through the detector and remove any metal that was in our pockets, we also were frisked. We then went on down to the British Midland gates to await our flight that was supposed to leave at 1:20 p.m. Shortly we went onto the plane and waited and waited for it to take off. Eventually, after about 30 minutes of waiting we took off. We were not entirely sure about what caused the delay, but it seems like some people had checked in with their baggage, but had not shown up to get on the plane. So, for security reasons, the baggage people had to go through all of the baggage in the plane’s cargo compartment, find it and take off the baggage of those who had not taken their assigned seats. Also, just ahead of us, two people had been assigned to the same seat, and this had to be straightened out.. When we finally took off and landed in Belfast though, we were only about 10 minutes behind schedule.

On our flight from London to Belfast we sat next to a nice lady who had been born in Belfast, moved to Portsmouth, England with her husband and was now flying back to Belfast to attend her brother’s wedding. When I told her that Jeremy and I were visiting the C.S. Lewis sites in Belfast and in several cities in England, she asked me if I was speaking of the author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I answered, "Yes," and told her also that the reason we were headed specifically to Belfast was that this is where he had been born. She told me that she did not know that. When I asked her if she was familiar with the area know as Strandtown in East Belfast, she said, "Yes," adding that she had attended the movies there on Saturday mornings when she was a child. As I shared more about our trip, she commented, somewhat sheepishly and embarrassingly, that she had not visited any of the places that we were going to visit. This, of course, also happens to many in the United States as well, particularly in more rural communities.

After we arrived in Belfast and found our luggage, Jeremy and I went over to the Budget Car Rental counter to pick up the car we had rented. Along with discovering that we were not renting a car, but were, in British terms, hiring the car, we had quite a discussion with the clerks at the desk about whether or not we would have liability insurance in case we damaged another car. They said no and Jeremy stated that the agent who had reserved the car for us over the phone had said that we were covered automatically. Both of the ladies at the counter seemed frustrated with our problem because they kept saying we did not have liability coverage, but Jeremy kept saying that we did. Finally, Jeremy asked to see a copy of the contract, read through it and pointed out something in it that had not been offered to us, but was stated as being in the contract as something that was supposed to be offered to us. The supervisor, at Jeremy’s request, called her supervisor and Jeremy then talked to them. Everything was straightened out. Yes, we were covered, but next we were told that because we had not arrived by 10:00 a.m. to pick up our car that they had rented it to someone else. What we think happened is that the reservation agent had put down the time when we were to arrive in London and not the time of our arrival in Belfast. Anyway, at that point, there were no more automatic transmission vehicles on their lot. As a nice little serendipity, an automatic was returned to the lot, while we were talking to the clerks. It is possible that if we had not contested their information about the liability insurance that we would have had no choice but to have rented/hired a car without an automatic transmission.

Our next little surprise came when the clerk reviewed my driver’s license and noted to me that it had expired in May, my birth month. What a shock and what an embarrassment for me! In addition to needing to renew my license when I arrived at home, this also meant that I would not be able to help Jeremy with any of the driving. In the end though, this also turned out for the best as well. For since the British all drive on the left hand side of the road, I would now have the responsibility of making sure that Jeremy kept to the left instead of to the right, especially as we went around what the British called "round about’s." At first, having to drive on the left, indeed,  was a little nerve racking, especially as we headed into more traffic. But Jeremy did a really excellent job and we arrived at our hotel after a beautiful, but sometimes hectic trip right through Belfast.

I have included below the word-for-word directions from the airport to the Old Inn that my new friend, James O’Fee, a native of the Belfast area, sent to me just two Saturday’s before we left on our trip. I read these to Jeremy as we traveled from the airport, and of course we had a road map as well. But I believe his directions put into words, better than my own memory, what it was like to drive to Crawfordsburn on that Tuesday afternoon of the 27th.

 

Dear Richard,

 

My advice has been for you to hire a car on your visit. Should you do so here are a few directions.

From the Airport, you will take the signs for Belfast. You travel on a fairly narrow, but fast and good road. This widens and then leads on to the motorway, the M2. You will see a ridge and pass through a break in these hills/mountains, from where you will see water glinting on Belfast Lough and the County Down shore beyond. You speed downhill almost to sea level and the motorway turns to the right. You will see the cranes and buildings of Belfast.

As you approach the city, be sure to take the signs for Bangor. This leads you to the newly-built M3. You cross the River Lagan - don't blink, or you'll miss it - and come to the County Down shore. You will then come to the 1950s-vintage 'Sydenham Bypass' [bypassing residential East Belfast], built on reclaimed land (as was the M2 on the County Antrim shore). This passes 'the 'Queen's Island' with the giant cranes of the Harland and Wolff shipyard, the Bombardier Shorts aircraft works, and Belfast City Airport [for commutor planes]. At the Airport you will see the tower of St Mark's Church to your right, dominating the skyline.

As you drive on you will see the block of the Holywood Hills straight in front of you. At the end of the Bypass [close to the Hills themselves], you have a choice. Either turn right up to St Mark's Church and Strandtown - Little Lea will actually be very close at this point, but just watch the traffic here if you do, and the turn is a little tricky, with traffic lights and all. Or continue towards Bangor.

If the latter, you pass by Palace Barracks, Holywood - largest Army base in Northern Ireland - and then through the small town of Holywood [you by-pass the main street, in fact].

The scenic way to see this area of North Down is to take the train from Belfast to Bangor, a beautiful trip through leafy glades, with glimpses of the Lough, the small County Down Hills and even a viaduct. You can think of CSL's first train journey in England, where he conceived an 'immediate hatred' for that country.

Unfortunately, you're travelling by car on the busiest road in Northern Ireland, which lacks scenic qualities. After Holywood, the road deteriorates, and loses its 'duel carriageway' nature. Unfortunately there seems no prospect that the road will be upgraded, even though a motorway was once proposed for this section. You enter the 'Gold Coast' and will notice many fine residential dwellings lining the on either side. After a few miles, note the turn-off for 'Helen's Bay', but don't take it. On the opposite side, off-set a little, is the 'Ballymoney Road' which could take you into the Holywood Hills. The turn-off to Crawfordsburn is next. You'll pass immediately into countryside and through a beautiful wooded approach into the village of Crawfordsburn. The Old Inn has a car park just past it. 

God bless and best wishes for the visit.

James

(O'Fee, James. ofee@nireland.com "Visit". June 17, 2000)

 

Such excellent and descriptive directions made our drive easier and much more enjoyable than if all we had had with us had been a road map.

Just twenty minutes from the heart of Belfast, The Old Inn in Crawfordsburn, where we are to stay for three nights, has claim to being the oldest inn in Ireland. It has been in constant use since 1614. Many famous and infamous people including Peter the Great, former President George Bush and C.S. Lewis have stayed here. After 1949, when Arthur Greeves moved from his East Belfast home, "Bernagh" to a home in Crawfordsburn, Lewis would stay here on his annual vacation trip to Ireland. This is also where in 1958 Lewis brought his wife, Joy Davidman Gresham, for a belated honeymoon. Everyone who heard where we were planning to stay told us how nice it would be and how well we would be treated. Our room is on the front right outside corner on the first floor and is named the "Mimosa" room. While we were in Northern Ireland, I did not see any mimosa trees, but the name itself brought back to me fond childhood memories of these trees in my home state of Virginia. Having stayed in many newer hotels in my travels in the States, I did not at first think that our room was necessarily all that great, but even from the beginning, the inn and the room had abundant atmosphere. Plus, its cost was fairly reasonable compared to some of the places in which we had already made reservations to stay in England.

After we had settled in at the Old Inn, we decided to take a drive up to Bangor and find a place to eat our supper. Not too far from the center of town we found a restaurant named McMillen’s, just across the street from Northern Irelands’ largest yacht marina. The food was delicious. Both of us had pasta for the appetizer, and then I had brisket steak with mushroom sauce for the main course. Jeremy ordered chicken fixed with a special sauce and noodles. I mention this restaurant not only for the food that we ate there, but also because here is where we first used some of our British money. Like most places where we would eat, when we could do it, we paid for our meal with our credit or debit card. But here we each also gave a one pound coin for a tip. We then walked back across to the marina area and took some pictures of the many sailboats. As we walked around the marina taking pictures, Jeremy told me how much Timothy, his dad, really liked sailboats and would enjoy seeing the pictures we were taking. Overall, the amount of time it took to walk around the marina was longer than I had expected it to be, but it was still an enjoyable stroll. It was especially nice to see so many families out with one another strolling in the area. On the way back to Crawfordsburn we stopped at a foodmart gas station, and we each bought a drink to take back to the hotel with us. The one liter Pepsi’s that we bought cost us 1 pound 5 pence or about $1.68.

When we arrived back at the Old Inn, I called and talked to Tony Wilson, Dorothy Rogers and James O’Fee in order to set up our next day activities. David Bleakley’s number did not answer, but the three that I did reach were really excited that we had arrived and seemed happy to hear from me. I had written all four of them before the trip and James O’Fee, whom I have already mentioned, was especially helpful in his suggestions. On Wednesday morning we were to drive over and meet Tony about 9:45 a.m. at St. Marks Dundela Church in Strandtown on the Holywood Road. This is the church where C.S. Lewis and his family attended worship services and where his grandfather Thomas Hamilton was the rector from 1874 to 1900. After Tony gave me the directions to St. Marks, I called Mrs. Dorothy Rogers, the owner of "Little Lea," Lewis’s childhood home. I then reached James O’Fee and shared with him about my conversations with Tony and Mrs. Rogers. Tony had suggested that we visit "Little Lea" about 11:00 a.m., after we had finished visiting the church, but Mrs. Rogers told me that she would not be personally available until after 4:00 p.m. I therefore made an appointment for us to meet her at 6:00 p.m. James suggested some other places for us to visit in the afternoon, possibly Downpatrick, where St. Patrick is buried, and also where there is an exhibition on the work of Christianity in Ireland form Patrick to C.S. Lewis.

After I finished calling these folks about our upcoming Wednesday activities, Jeremy called my daughter Laura and left a message for her to call him back. Amazingly, it was still light outside, about 10:00 p.m., when she returned his call. I talked with her also and told her how well Jeremy had done in driving us from the airport to the Old Inn, then to Bangor and back to Crawfordsburn. I really enjoyed talking with her. Jeremy then went on to bed while I watched some of the Wimbleton tennis tournament before I turned in as well. Our initial plan for the next morning was to eat breakfast there at the Old Inn at 7:30 a.m., but we actually did not get up until 7:30 a.m., but that leads me on into the next day.

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Last Updated: Sunday, September 02, 2001