Jane Lane and Charles II

Jane Lane and Charles II

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The journey begins!

A slightly jarring start to my journey as when I landed at Heathrow on Saturday the Piccadilly and Jubilee lines of the underground and the Docklands Light Rail – all of which I use in the usual way of getting to my old Isle of Dogs stomping grounds – were shut for repairs. So in a somewhat circuitous route that took me on a tour of the East End and culminated in a walk of half a mile or so from Island Gardens on the north side of the river through the foot tunnel to Greenwich, I finally arrived at my little hotel, which proved to be somewhat like Fawlty Towers – well intentioned but lacking in the execution. It was fine for a couple of nights, and the church of St. Alfege’s – and its bells -- were just outside my window.

On Sunday I had a lovely lunch in Greenwich with old friends – great to be back among them.

Monday morning I had a driving lesson! To acquaint me with driving on the left side of the road in a car with the steering wheel on the right. It was quite disorienting, and driving in London is complicated by very narrow streets, many vehicles double-parked, and many pedestrians.

Immediately after, I met my friend and traveling companion Alice at Canary Wharf, and off we went to Heathrow to collect our rental car, and made our way to Martley, a small village outside Worcester, where we spent a very agreeable night at the Admiral Rodney, a seventeenth century inn that is still keeping the locals and travelers happy with great food, comfy rooms, and welcoming hosts.

Upon hearing that I was tracing the path of Charles II’s escape after the Battle of Worcester, Landlord Des Campbell told us that Cromwell’s men had stayed in the inn in the days leading up to the battle – and one of them I still there! It seems that when he and his wife first took over the property, the gas to the beer kegs would mysteriously be shut off – when no one could possibly have been in the cellar to do it. It happened almost daily, but then less frequently. Until they hired a new bar man – and then he, too, found the same thing happening. Des said that once when he was in the cellar he felt a tap on his shoulder, and looking to the side of whatever he was working on, he saw a pair of men’s legs in high boots of the kind worn by 17th soldiers. His bar man, who had dismissed outright the notion of ghosts, admitted he had seen the same thing…..

Up this morning and we made our way – with me driving! – into Worcester, the site of the battle at which the royalist cause was lost. Charles spent the early part of the day at the top of the cathedral tower, where he could the enemy’s position and give direction. Later he was in the thick of the battle himself, which by afternoon had turned into hand-to-hand fighting in the city streets, and barely escaped the city through the St. Martin’s gate, the last remaining way out that was not held by Cromwell’s troops.

The tower is reached through a seemingly endless and gradually narrowing circular staircase. As we made our way down, I couldn’t help thinking about poor Charles, and how, in making that descent, he knew his life and throne were in jeopardy and that whatever followed would be difficult and dangerous.

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