Richard's Trip to England & France, May - June 2010

Click on the title to see the log.

After returning from my deployment to Afghanistan in January and then being on post-deployment leave until the middle of March I returned to the office ready to get back to work.  One of the first emails I got was from a clerk asking how I was planning on using my 17 days of remaining vacation before 1 July.  I had originally planned on going to visit Sue and Keith during my post-deployment leave, but for several reasons, not least of all being that England was going through one of its coldest and snowiest winters in living memory, I had put it off.  With 17 days of vacation to use, I picked up the phone and they graciously agreed to host me for three weeks.  Below is a selection of the photos I took while gallivanting around England and France.


Sue and Keith live in Diss, Norfolk so one of the first things Keith did was to take me to see the big city.  Give or take 10,000 people Norwich is about the same size as Kingston, population wise (although I think its catch basin is greater), so it was interesting to see how the two cities developed.  In the middle ages Norwich was the second largest city in England, after London, but with the dawning of the industrial revolution it started to loose out to other cities with greater access to transportation routs and energy supplies.  It feels like a bigger city than Kingston, mainly I think, because it seems to have a much higher population density which has kept the downtown a busy place.

Norwich Cathedral

As part of the tour of Norwich we had to go the the Cathedral which had just built a new visitors' centre.  To get there we had to go around to the side entrance because the front entrance had a big red inflatable ball in it.  Evidently this was art.  The Cathedral was built in the late 11th and early 12th century and is very much in the Norman style.

Norwich Catholic Cathedral

The Catholic Cathedral is almost as impressive as the Church of England Cathedral, but was built in the late-Victorian era.  So while it has the look of a medieval structure it also has some distinctly Victorian elements as well.  I find it a little ironic that they have used Frosterley marble from Durham which is embedded with thousands of fossils.  Kind of the counter Genesis argument embed in the very structure of the strongest symbol of the church.


Although it had been sunny and warm for the first week I was in England, the day we went to Southwold it was back to good old English grey cloudy skies.  With a strong wind coming of the North Sea it made the day quite chilly, but that didn't stop one family from spending the day at the beach.  The pier itself had a few shops and restaurants as well as an arcade.  I bought a few souvenirs to bring back home with me, before we walked back into town to have tea at one of the local pubs.


Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, the Tower of London, among other things, is the home of the Royal Fusiliers.  Keith being a Fusilier was able to arrange for us to stay over night in the regimental apartment.  After arriving and settling in we went around and met some of the Regimental staff.  I was very honoured when they pulled a display box out of the safe and showed me the Regiment's collection of Victoria Crosses.  Being so rare it is unusual to see a single VC in anything but a picture.  To see twelve together was amazing.  After being allowed to watch the Ceremony of the Keys, where the Yeoman Warders lock up the tower for the night we were invited back to the Yeoman Warders Club for a pint.  Most people don't realize that there are a considerable number of people who live in the Tower, and we had a great night chatting with some of them.

The next morning, after saying our good byes, we headed out to the city and did some shopping.  On Sue's advice, I went to Harrods (which these days after losing its royal charter is seen as quite declasse), Harvey Nichole's, and Fortnum & Masons.  All had terrific food stuffs and I bought a selection of various condiments to bring home with me.


During the planning phase of the trip Sue had mentioned a grate restaurant just outside of Calais that they liked to go to.  I mentioned that if we were going to France I would like to see Vimy.  So, we ended up planning a two day side trip to France, staying overnight in Arras.  Doing a battlefield tour in the region reminded me not only of all the sacrifices that Canadians, and many others, had made, but also that our history is really of a war fighting nation of some renown.  Although we have never started or instigated a war, we have helped finish several in our short history.


While the battle for Vimy Ridge many not have been the most important Canadian battle from a military perspective, it was from a political perspective.  It provided the cornerstone that Sir Robert Borden used in his fight for Canada to be seen and treated as an independent nation.  The memorial itself is as much a hopeful symbol of peace as it is a remembrance of martial sacrifice and courage.  I recently wrote, "the death of every Canadian patriot leaves a scar on the heart of our nation."  If that is so, Vimy reminds us of a time that scared our heart in numbers that are unimaginable today.  Remembering the fallen is of great importance; remembering the lessons from their sacrifices is even more important.


After our return from France, Sue had arranged for us to be house guests of a friend of hers from her nursing days.  The drive across southern England to the boarder of Wales showcased the varied geography of the country.

Castle Acre

After returning to Diss from Gloucestershire, Keith and I took a drive through Norfolk to visit Castle Acre.  The village is situated on the River Nar some 4 miles (6.4 km) north of the town of Swaffham.  The village is best known today for the twin ruins of Castle Acre Castle and Castle Acre Priory, which lie immediately to the east and west of the village respectively. Both were founded soon after the Norman Conquest by William de Warenne, the first Earl of Surrey. At its heyday, Castle Acre played an important role in the affairs of the State, with many visits from royalty. Castle Acre itself was once a fortified town and still possesses one of its gates, the Bailey Gate. When first established, Castle Acre was one of the finest examples of Norman town planning in the country, and much of this can still be seen.

North Norfolk

Sue dipped into her store of friends, this time Jo in Norwich, to keep me entertained.  Jo, also an avid armature photographer, was tasked with showing me around the north of Norfolk.  My payment was to cook dinner for Jo, Sue, Keith and some others who joined in.


Just before I departed, Keith took me for a short trip to Tivetshall St. Mary.  A small village in the middle of Norfolk that was too far out of the way to be much influenced by things like the Civil War.  As a result the small church was mainly unaffected by the politics and the Rood Screen still bears the arms of Queen Elisabeth I and some other interesting nuggets of history.