Chapter 19 Watford
On our way to St Albans to see Roman ruins and excavations, we took Margaret as far as London to visit some of the friends she had met on the ship. We then continued to Watford to stay with our friend Ruth Pipe who was organizing this outing for the Interchange teachers, her 'thing' being archeology, and she had invited us to stay once again.
"Did you meet your cousin without any trouble? And what did you think of the Festival Theatre?" she asked as she made us some supper on the Friday night.
"Yes, we did as you suggested. The theatre is impressive, but uninteresting compared to the other things we have seen. Margaret has found a job with an experimental research farm near us. She works long hours and the work is routine, but she likes outdoors. You know, she did one year of university at home, before she realized she didn't know where she was heading. She decided to travel first and go back to her studies when she knows what she wants to do."
"And the garden party? And you must tell me all about your plans for the summer. When do you start your holidays?"
"School finishes next week. I've been organizing clothes and food, and making arrangements for insurance and so on. We've booked from Dover to Calais next week, and from Norway back to Harwich in September. We'll be on the last ferry back, so I've been calculating distances and working out how long we can spend in each country. Of course we're going to see Grandma, then head north."
"Not being a driver myself, it sounds very chancy. But I'm sure you'll cope with it all. It would worry me, all the responsibility."
We met the other teachers in the ancient cathedral, which was founded as an abbey in 793 AD, and rebuilt after the Norman Conquest, using material taken from the Roman city. The Roman bricks were easily distinguishable once Ruth had pointed them out. Inside there were many objects of great antiquity and uniqueness, and the guide was familiar with the exciting, diverse history of the relics, and the Shrine of St Alban, martyred 303 AD.
Then to the 'Waterend Barn' for lunch. As we waited to be served, we looked at the two sections of the restaurant, the big barn and the little barn, now reconstructed in St Albans, their original sixteenth century timbers helping to create an atmosphere.
"I'm having chicken, we haven't had roast chicken for ages," said Peter without hesitation, and the other two agreed. I wanted something a little different. I could wait for roast chicken until our return to Australia. In the meantime I chose Vol au Vent.
After lunch we met again at the 'Fighting Cocks' Inn, still with its pit where the cocks gave sport to the onlookers leaning over the rail, but now minus any cocks, only hotel past times, like drinking and talking.
A little further down the hill was the greatest attraction... ruins of the Roman city, Verulamium. The remains include an amphitheatre, a mosaic pavement, remnants of the surrounding wall, a holocaust, and a museum of relics. The postcards I bought showed the city as it was in Roman times. It was rather hard to conjure up walls and buildings from the grass covered mounds. The whole area was a parkland.
Nearby were ponds where children sailed boats. Not having far to go, we stayed after the other exchange teachers and their families had left. We looked at the gardens. Ruth bought the children expensive ice creams.
"You're spoiling them as usual."
"Are you sure you won't have one? I have to watch my weight, but you don't have that problem."
"No thanks, I'd rather wait until we get back and have a cup of coffee. It's lovely relaxing here in the evening. Everyone seems reluctant to leave although it's already eight o'clock. Last month in Scotland, we noticed it wasn't dark until ten o'clock. That was very handy for sight seeing, although of course the museums and so on shut at four or five. We often planned to travel for three or four hours in the evening and I expect we will do the same on our big trip. But of course, the longest day is past."
"Yes I'm afraid you won't get the benefit of very long evenings much longer. Well, shall we go now? I'm so slow as you know, we won't be eating before ten if we don't move."
After supper, Ruth and I discussed the possibility of a different route back to Maidstone in the morning. We went through Chienes, a little olde worlde village, Beaconscot (the miniature trains were working) St Giles, where John Milton lived and Gray wrote 'Elegy in a Country Churchyard', Eton, where the boys wore black suits and huge stiff collars even on Sunday.
Walking across an old bridge, now closed to traffic, we came to Windsor Castle, the largest inhabited castle in the world, covering twenty-four acres. It was like a city within a city, having a chapel, shops (for souvenirs) many separate towers and buildings all within the high walls. We inspected the State Apartments and Queen Mary's dolls' house and the marvellous collection of dolls. There were long queues waiting to enter nearly every place of interest, and ticket sellers to collect the money at each one.