30 June 2000

"From Belfast to Great Malvern"

Day 5

Since we had to leave for England this morning, we both packed our luggage before we went to eat breakfast. I decided to just have scrambled eggs and bacon with the potato bread. Today Jeremy decided that he would order the "Ultster Breakfast" that I had had yesterday. The breakfasts here have been so good that they probably have spoiled us for the rest of the trip. I hope not. Anyway, I let Jeremy finish eating and went out to take some pictures of the  "honeymoon cottage" where "Jack and Joy" spent their belated honeymoon. It’s right next to the room in which we had eaten our breakfast each morning. I also stopped by the clerk’s desk and picked up a letter that had been left for me by James O’Fee during breakfast. Unknown to me he had brought me the address of Cecil Harwood’s son who lives in Grasmere. Maybe we can meet him. C.S. Lewis was his godfather. Shortly, I paid the bill and then went out to the car. 

From Crawfordsburn we then drove to the A2 and then went onto the motorways that go toward the airport. I think that they were the M3 and then the M2. Once we were off of the main road and close to the airport, we had to stop and buy gas. To fill up the tank it cost us 37 pounds, making it over $3.50 per gallon. Just before we arrived at the airport, we stopped at Budget to return the car with the clerk then driving us over to the airport.

The first thing we had to do at the airport was to go through security, as well as being frisked again. Then we went to the check counter to get our seat assignment. At the ticket counter the clerk asked us if we wanted to volunteer to be bumped to a later flight and possibly receive 50 pounds a piece for our delay. If we somehow did not get bumped, then we would automatically move up to the business class on the original flight. This setup also allowed us to wait in a special Diamond Club lounge reserved only for the business/first class ticket holders. Since our train was not supposed to leave London until about 4:30 p.m., we decided to volunteer. As it happened, we were not bumped, but we did have refreshments and snacks on the house and a whole lounge virtually to ourselves for the next 30 minutes. Once we were on the plane, we sat in row 4 up front and were given a brunch of bagels, fruits and juice with a piece of salmon. We were not sure if the fish was cooked or not, but we thought it was.

The flight went real well, and I worked on my journal for what time was left after the meal. When we arrived at Heathrow Airport, we picked up our luggage and went looking for the Heathrow Express to the Paddington Train Station. But before we could do that we needed to have our BritRail tickets validated at a ticket office in one of the terminals. Having forgotten this, we had to backtrack a little to find a ticket office. In order to validate the tickets we had to show our passport and actually sign the tickets in front of an agent and then have it stamped. We then walked back to the tracks to catch our train. Amazingly, it was only 7 minutes before it arrived. 

The Heathrow Express train was a positive experience - very up-to-date and plenty of room. We almost had a whole car to ourselves. When we got off the train at Paddington Station, all pandemonium seemed to brake loose. Trains, tracks and people were everywhere. Originally we had planned to leave London at 4:48 p.m., but as we were looking at the departure monitors, Jeremy noticed that a Thames Train was leaving within 4 minutes; so, he suggested we try to find it and take it. We hustled to find both the Thames Train area and our specific train and rushed to get on it. The only possible problem with our choice of trains was that we discovered that part of the train would be uncoupled at Oxford with the rest going on to Great Malvern (pronounced Mall-vern) where we were headed. We were not sure which section we were on. Soon though, an announcement came over the public address system telling us that the front 2 cars would uncouple at Oxford and go up to Stratford-upon-Avon, and since we were in the back of the train, all we needed to do was just stay put. When I was finally seated, I began visiting with an elderly lady who was complaining about the train service. Jeremy was sitting across the aisle from her and I was just one seat behind her. She told us that she had come to Paddington Station from Norfolk and had had several complications along the way. Trying to get things back on the positive side, I looked her straight in the eye and told her in my Virginia accent that I had been born in Norfolk, and then she looked at me real funny-like. Then, I added, "Norfolk, Virginia, over in the States." She smiled and we continued to visit a little longer. She was traveling to the Cotswalds, to a city called Kingham. It was a little difficult for me to understand all that she was saying with her accent. She was now retired but had been a teacher in the Far East (Hong Kong, etc.) for the British Diplomatic Corps.

The train itself and our car specifically was almost completely full. When we finally did get settled into our trip, I was able to spend some time writing in my journal, trying to catch up on the last day or so that we had spent in Northern Ireland. Just before we reached Oxford several people moved up to the front cars which were then uncoupled and left us. Several more cars were then added to our two, and we began our journey again. I moved up and to the right to some seats which had a small table beside it, making it a lot easier to write in my journal. Shortly, and I forget exactly how many stations along the way that this happened, the man in the seat next to me stood up to leave and a dog jumped out of his seat as well. Nothing was wrong. It just kind of startled me. He had gotten on the train before we did and the dog had been a perfect passenger. I just had not noticed it.

Two teenage girls remained in the seats across from where the man and dog had been. Upon first seeing them I had thought that they might have been traveling with him as a family. As I continued writing, I heard one of the girls say something to the other one about reading the Harry Potter books. My ears pricked up, and I asked them if they liked Harry Potter. One of them said, "Yes." So, I asked her if she also liked the Chronicles of Narnia She seemed to not understand my question. So, I followed up my question by sharing with them that Jeremy and I had been visiting places that were associated with C.S. Lewis, the author of the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, one of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia series. She then smiled and told me that it had been read to them by their teacher at school, going on further to tell me that when their class had visited Malvern, they were taken to see the ‘lamp post" in Malvern that supposedly had inspired the lamp post in Lewis’ book. I went on to ask them if they were familiar with Malvern itself, and they said that they attended school at Malvern College. I then reckoned that they might know something about where certain places were in Malvern; so, I asked them if they knew where The Foley Inn was or if they knew of any good places to eat. They gave me an answer, but I was not able to understand exactly what they were describing. Moments later they departed from the train at Malvern Links, and we traveled on to Great Malvern.

When Jeremy and I got off of the train a few minutes later, we looked around at the hills, saw some taxicabs nearby and decided that we would take a taxi instead of walking to our hotel, The Foley Arms. I think that it was first used as a hotel almost 200 years ago. It might be even older than that. The cab ride cost us 2 pounds 3 pence. After paying the driver, we went on into the hotel to register. At first there a little confusion because they were not able to find my reservation. Finally we discovered that instead of being reserved under my name, the reservation was listed as Thomas James. Our room 12A was on the second floor. Since the town of Great Malvern sits on the side of one of the Malvern Hills and looks down and out over the Severn River Valley, the scenery through our open window was beautiful, but again, like in Belfast, somewhat hazy. 

After unpacking and getting settled in, I wanted to contact George Sayer, close friend, biographer, and former student of Lewis, as soon as possible. Since there were no telephone books in the room,  I called down to the desk clerk and asked if they could find his telephone number for me. In a few minutes they called back with the number, and I then called and reached his wife, Margaret.Sayer. Having written to them several weeks before, she knew who I was the moment I introduced myself, but she was very apologetic to me about her husband being very sick and not able to see us. In fact she told that he had only recently had a heart attack and seems, at 86 to have become, according to Mrs. Sayer, senile. She had apologized because she thought that her husband had answered my letter and explained the situation to me, but she was not sure. Anyway, I expressed to her how appreciative I was of his work related to C.S. Lewis and told her that we understood and would keep both of them in our prayers. I did take a few more minutes to ask her about other things to do in Great Malvern, in addition to visiting the college and walking on the hills. Plus, I asked her if she would suggest a good place to eat. She suggested that we be sure to visit the Priory Church and the Abbey Gatehouse Museum and also mentioned two restaurants. One was not too far away, down near the Abbey Gatehouse. I thanked her for her help and hung up the phone.

Jeremy and I then decided to take a walk around town, looking at the same time for a place to eat supper. On the way out of the hotel we picked up a  map from the desk clerk, went out the door, took a few pictures of the  hotel and promptly headed the wrong way up the street. Once we realized that we were headed the wrong way, we turned around and walked back toward the hotel and then over to the Malvern Priory Church. We arrived at the church about 6:00 p.m. and discovered that we could still look around inside until 6:30 p.m. It is hard to describe in words both its outward beauty and its overpowering massive size. At first sight, both inside and outside, it almost startled me. On our tour inside we discovered that this church has been a place of worship for some 900 years going back to Norman times in the late 11th and early 12th centuries. Just before we came out the caretaker shared with us some information their services and I also paid 1 pound for a booklet about the church to help me remember what we had seen. Jeremy and I then went outside and took some pictures. We also took time to sit on a nearby park bench to quietly meditate on the building’s overwhelming size.

Our next adventure led us down the road a ways to visit Malvern College (more like an American prep school). We came to the college grounds and began walking around the campus, hoping to meet someone who might give us directions. Sure enough, we were soon met by a lady about my age who looked like she might work there, and she asked us if we knew where we were going. We admitted the obvious and began to share with her who we were and why we were there. This led to her making two comments, one about George Sayer and the other about C.S. Lewis. She also told us that she was unaware of the lamp post story that the teenage student had told to me on the train. She did know about George Sayer being ill and shared with us her understanding of his involvement in helping to get Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings published. According to her Tolkien had had difficulty having it published and had almost decided to throw it away and burn it. But somehow George Sayer made a persuasive visit with a publisher that he knew and the rest is history. I will have to check on the details of this when we get back home. 

As for C.S. Lewis being a student at Malvern College, she mentioned that while he was there, his mother was very sick and that he did not like being there very well. (I said nothing at that moment, but told Jeremy later that Lewis’ mother had died before he ever came to Malvern College.) Anyway, I then mentioned that I knew that because of his genetic thumb problem – one of the joints did not move, Lewis did not do well in or participate in or like sports. He did though, enjoy being in the library where he could read and write. This led to her comment that she understood that playing sports at that period in the college’s history was a very important part of the school’s emphasis and not liking sports could be a problem, causing Lewis not to fit in. As for the library, she told us how to get there and we thanked her for her help, and said goodbye. She never did give us her name when we introduced ourselves to her; so, I still do not know who she was. We then  walked down to the main college buildings and took some pictures of the central large building that looked out over a lawn and a sport’s field. Walking further we tried to find the library, but not having a map of the college with us, we were not sure of what was what. According our same lady-friend Lewis used to sit at the library and look out across the Malvern Hills and the Severn Valley, meditating on the landscape and scenery that would stay in his mind and one day be an important part of his Narnian Chronicles.

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Last Updated: Sunday, September 02, 2001