This Month’s Most Important Cup of Tea

I have no flower paintings to show you this week, my Dear Readers — because Dear Reader Felicia (in her Comment, last week) has provided me with a perfect excuse to digress from this blog’s usual thrills of watching paint dry to discuss what I did on my Summer vacation. It all came down to a cup of tea. In fact, it came down to this month’s Most Important Cup of Tea:

And here it is:


Every cup of tea is a journey, or is the beginning of a journey, or maybe it’s the end of a journey, I forget what the philosophy about tea and journeys is.

Today I want to tell you about this cup of tea (see above) and the story of the journey that brought me and this fateful beverage together on the afternoon of Wednesday, September 9th. It’s a spiritually uplifting story of struggle, hardship, determination, victory, wine, and the life-changing magic of the Japanese art of tidying up, or at least one of those things.

This epic life-changing journey began on a cloudy and cold day in the city of Newcastle, a dreary, truly morose city in Northumbria, the northern-most county in England. This is not a photo of Newcastle:



That was a photo of our first experience of Northumbrian countryside, west of Newcastle.

This is a photo of the Bed and Breakfast where Top Cat, my beloved husband and traveling companion, stayed, our first night out in the Northumbrian countryside:

P1030057North Houghton Farm is where I met Scamp, Rascal, Sally, and Biscuit, who live to mooch treats from the kitchen (a room they are not, strictly speaking, allowed to enter):


This is also where we (Top Cat, my dearly beloved husband, and I) came across a portent of things to come:


In this two-pub village in Northumbria is where we found the beginning bits of stone wall that would be, for the next six days, the raison d’être of Top Cat and I’s reason for being in England:


And that is how we, Top Cat and I, began the journey of twelve-forty-billion steps, a once-in-a-life journey to fulfill a life-long dream we’d had for the past, oh, four or five months, of Walking Across England Along Hadrian’s Wall.

We walked along this wall, built by a Roman fellow named Hadrian (hence its name), or along non-continuous bits and pieces of it, or in its ditch (see below)  for 97 miles, through low-lying pastures and fields …


… and atop mighty mountains (see below).


It  was whereupon in such alpine climes we moseyed alongside Hadrian’s mightiest gathering of stones, the true “wall” part of the wall, and also where we climbed up even loftier mountains …


… which we climbed down upon in order to climb up upon other truly bothersome peaks …


… from whence we saw nothing but miles and miles and miles of pain-in-the-ass upping and downing …






It was basically one damn hill after another …



Luckily, along the way, there were plenty of fine farmhouse B&Bs to rest our weary feets:








And we were never in danger of going thirsty:




So we were still in fine fettle when we reached Cumbria (see below), the western land of gentle rolling hills and a Roman wall that could only be surmised by the topography of the land…



… until we reached the North Atlantic coast whereupon the wall became, for all intents and purposes, purely imaginary:


At last we came upon the village a the sea …


…where we verily mourned that there was no more Roman wall to conquer, and wept like that Grecian chap in that poem, and took souvenir photos of ourselves at The End:



And then we tramped past the churchyard…


…and smote the fierce hound savagely guarding the inner sanctum of the Wallsend Inn…


…to enter the teaarium…


…where we celebrated our journey and vanquished our thirst with the beverages of our choice:


Mine was tea:


I should add that our English journey actually began in Edinburgh …


that’s Edinburgh Castle, on that hill in the center

… and ended with a 143-mile cab ride from Glasgow to a small village in the western highlands of Scotland:


Long story. But take it from me, when your Virgin Train from Carlisle runs too late for you to catch your ScotRail connection in Glasgow, Richard Branson will put you IN A CAB and drive you the rest of the way.


Where I had this month’s Second – Most Important Cup of Tea:


The western highlands is where you go if you want to watch the sun set over the Inner Hebrides (we saw three sun sets over the Inner Hebrides):




It was on the train ride back to Edinburgh that I had this month’s Third – Most Important Cup of Tea:


Not because it was all that great…


…but because of the miles and hours of scenery that passed us by. All you have to do is point the camera out the window and shoot:


And that is the Story of Tea for September, 2015.


22 Comments, RSS

  1. I took a massive open online class about Hadrian’s wall this summer!

    While I knew the Romans had “been in England,” way back then, I had somehow failed to grasp that England had been in Rome — as in — England was part of Rome, for hundreds of years………….

    We learned a lot about how the wall was built, and by whom (soldiers from far-flung parts of the empire worked on it). We saw the broaches that held cloaks on shoulders, and the metal bits and pieces that held belts firm around waists. We saw some of the precious wooden tablets, detailing daily lives, which were recovered in Vindolanda. We saw the wall from ground level, and from drones flown through the air….

    A really cool class.

    I’d never thought about Hadrian’s wall before the class, but now…….. I might go see part of it, and even walk part of it. Some day.

    Thanks for taking us along on your trek!

    • Vivian

      I know! I had no idea that the Romans “had” England for 400 years until I started reading about the old Empire for our walk. Those Romans were magnificent administrators as well as engineers and soldiers.

      I went to a museum in Carlisle, the biggest “city” on the western end of the wall, and saw many of the kind of Roman artifacts that you mentioned — the brooches, shoes, rings, necklaces, etc. — much as I’ve seen many times at the Met in New York (the Met has a fabulous collection of Roman jewelry, BTW). The difference being that these pieces were all cataloged as being “Found during road repair on X Street”, or “Unearthed in X family backyard”. Imagine, digging up dandelions in your garden and finding a Roman bracelet!

      It is entirely possible to drive up to the best parts of Hadrian’s Wall, the bits in the middle (where the hills are the highest), park your car, and walk for a day. There’s a bus that will bring you back to various car parks along the way. We were in the bit that has the best views and the huge remains of a fort (the place is called Housesteads) on a brilliantly beautiful Sunday, and whole families — parents, babies, grannies, ad their dogs — were out walking. It’s wonderful.

  2. janet b.

    what a glorious armchair trip you treated me to this morning with my second cup of (dare i say it) coffee. beautiful. you two really know how to travel. thank you for sharing these scenes and moments.

    • Vivian

      I’m glad you liked the tiny tid bits that I showed! In two weeks of travel there are so many “moments” to choose from, so I decided to gather my story around memorable cups of tea — but really, there were equally memorable moments when there was nary a beverage in sight. For instance, we walked to the top of the ancient volcano that looms over Edinburgh, and it was harder than anything we had to deal with along Hadrian’s Wall, and, it being Scotland, we walked up into a cloud…and let me tell you, clouds are wet and COLD.

  3. Marg-o

    Your blog is a box of chocolates. Just when I thought I’d be reading about pink tulips, you write a story about Tea and the adventure thereof. Sigh. It looks wonderful. And after reading Vicki in Michigan’s Comment I also want to learn about roman wall building and I want to walk across England. But for now, I’ll probably just get a box of chocolates and reread this story again. I’ll even make a pot of tea.

    • Vivian

      I hope to save you some time, or trouble — you can only really SEE Hadrian’s Wall in the walk between Chollerford and Gilsland . . . or, if you are walking West to East, between Gilsland and Chollerford. And it’s a whole big controversy, deciding which direction to walk in.

      Either way, a visit to The Twice Brewed Inn (in the village of Once Brewed) is a MUST. We had Sunday diner there and it was won-der-ful.

  4. As always, you share your experiences in such a delightful way, even though you express a bit of skepticism about what’s going on. I enjoyed the photos of the ups and downs!

    • Vivian

      In truth, I really didn’t mind the upping, since I knew what we were in for when I signed on for this walk, but the downing was HARD. That’s another reason that I endorse the East-to-West walk: often I would turn around at the end of a down-climb and look at what I had just climbed down from, and be thankful that I didn’t have to go UP that monster.

  5. Wow — what fabulous country. With views like that I might even walk it and not get in too much of a mood! I’ll bet you had really good shoes and no heel spurs… just a hunch! And how nice to rest your weary bones in such pretty spots! Big sigh!

    All this tea talk has me thinking it’s time to make some on this cool fall morning! So, is the next book on England?!!! (Ack! Next book?, she screamed….)

    • Vivian

      Funny! “Next book”! What a scream. You’re right, I am in happy retirement from book-writing at the moment…although I must admit that I am at loose ends without a project simmering on my brain.

      BTW, I bought spiffy new hiking shoes for this walk, and it turned out that the accounts of “hard” walking that I read about on other blogs were vastly overstated. I am NOT a hiker, but I had rather little difficulty on the route. Boredom was my biggest challenge — I felt most tempted to bail when we went through bits that were on paved road.

  6. Thea

    Thank you for sharing. Enjoyed seeing the inside of pubs and the beautiful skies. The last photo is a stunner.
    I do believe the Anxious Gardener did some part of the Hadrian’s Wall walk sometime past. Neither of your accounts tempt me to emulation. It’s a HIKE and it looks forever. However, the pubs and the B and Bs, I could be convinced to attempt those. So happy you did the Wall for me, and shared.

    • Vivian

      Yes, you are right! The Anxious Gardener DID do part of this same walk, and he made several great blog posts about it. He went in early Spring, and traipsed through truly foul weather, and took marvelous photos and made acute observations on the terrain and the history. I loved his take on that part of the wall.

      I also thought that I’d be viewing much of the walk through the windows of timely tea rooms and pubs, but found that I liked the walk and the WALKING! I also learned that “tea room” only means “snack shop”, really, and not the stuff of dreams that I’d envisioned. And, on the one afternoon that I diverged from Top Cat and let him walk his detour while I took the direct route to a pub, I lean red that one little glass of afternoon wine will sap all your desire to walk the final miles of the day. So I admit it here: I took a cab from Greenhead to Walton, while Top Cat walked on. But hey, it was a 19-mile day for T.C., and I did 9.5 of it before I answered the Call of the Pinot Grigiot.

  7. Melissa

    You walked NINETY-SEVEN MILES and rewarded yourself with TEA? Girl, you’re a better woman than I. I would have insisted on a box of truffles.

    • Vivian

      ha! That’s funny! And at the end of that day, when we got back to Carlisle (via bus), there was not only a nice bottle of chilled white wine for me at our cosy little B&B, but there was ROOM SERVICE, and my favorite BBC quiz show*** on the telly.

      ***Pointless. You can look it up on You Tube.

  8. bunny

    truly amazing, will my life be transformed, if I give my 3 cup a day coffee fix, and switch to tea? OMDOG as I’ve heard it said….gorgeous, you’re a dream come true.

    • Vivian

      You know, switching from coffee to tea just might be a life-changing experience. The main thing is, I don’t drink coffee so I can’t compare the two, but there DOES seem to be more poetry around the tea table then the coffee urn.

  9. Catya

    Thanks so much for the mini-trip, Vivian! Chris loves going on ‘Pub and Castle’ tours (which I love to participate in), and walking (at least part of) Hadrian’s wall is on our list. So wonderful to get a sneak peak at the history/pint show! It’s always nice to have a trip in ‘planning’ stages. Thanks for the tip about the Twice Brewed Inn, too. And the east-to-west endorsement. 🙂

  10. Kirra

    I love this post, thanks for sharing! I hope when I’m older I’ll still be making awesome overseas trips like this, and drinking as many cups of tea (I’m not a coffee drinker either). Enjoy your retirement from book making….for the moment 😉

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