Monday, September 24, 2007

Bicycle Trails in Colorado

With literally hundreds of miles of bicycle trails, Colorado must be one of the finest places in the world to enjoy a ride, especially at this time of the year.

The Rockies have so much to offer a cyclist. Spectacular views from the relatively low foothills to the impressive 14,000 feet summits. Whether you’re visiting Colorado on vacation or are a resident, you’ll find plenty of support from books to bike rental companies.

I personally love the ride along the South Platte River heading north to Denver. The approximately 6 feet wide trail is carefully marked similar to a road, e.g. dashed lines to indicate caution, double yellow lines to let a rider know there should be no passing, etc. The well maintained trail has regular mile markers so riders can easily map their course and there are places to sit quietly and have something to eat and drink. Since the trail follows the South Platte, there is plenty of wildlife. I have seen coyotes, snakes and of course a multitude of birds. I usually drive to Mineral and Santa Fe (85) and park in the ample parking lot. From this location, the trip by bicycle to Denver is about 17 miles, providing a round trip ride of approximately 34 miles. Along the way, you pass the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. Once again, it’s a great place to take a break, eat, drink or even visit the R.E.I store.

For more information on cycling in Colorado go to:

Monday, September 17, 2007

Alcatraz Island

In 1859, Alcatraz Island or The Rock as it is still affectionately known by some people began life as a military fortress and prison. From 1934-1963, it was a federal penitentiary and in 1969-1971 the site was occupied by Native American Indians who staged a protest. Today, Alcatraz Island is a State Park that includes historic gardens, bird colonies and of course an excellent tour of the prison.

It is not hard to imagine what the prisoners must have felt as they crossed from the mainland to Alcatraz Island. They knew that once on the island, escape was almost impossible because of the frigid water and the tides and currents in the San Francisco Bay. Nearing their destination, they would have seen the armed guards waiting on the dock, the imposing cell block atop the rock, and armed guards watching from the towers. Only the worse kinds of men were brought to Alcatraz. Men such as Al Capone “Scarface”, Robert Stroud “Birdman of Alcatraz” and George “Machine Gun” Kelley were just a few of the notorious inmates. The men had to abide by 53 strict rules of conduct while incarcerated, but I found rule #5 particularly interesting. "You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention. Anything else you get is a privilege.”

I highly recommend the ferry trip to Alcatraz Island, the tour around the prison grounds, the film show and a visit to the museum. Discount tickets can be purchased to include a variety of activities and events including the whole San Francisco Bay area, trolley cars, etc. I chose an individual ticket but I think I could have saved money by purchasing ahead of time and getting multiple activities. My ferry ticket and tour of the prison was just under $35.00 but once again, it was well worth the money.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Bodiam Castle

An excerpt from Extraordinary Places…Close to London.

Castle Bodiam in East Sussex, England rises majestically out of the moat like the legendary sword Excalibur. It is a romantic, magical castle that inspires fairy tale images of knights, princesses and sorcerers. In 1086, the Domesday Book notes a Saxon hall on the site, but it was Sir Edward Dalyngrigge who built the present structure 500 years ago. Construction started in 1385 and was completed in 1390. King Richard II granted Dalyngrigge a license to improve his manor house to “strengthen and crenellate…and make thereof a castle in defense of the adjacent countryside and for resistance against our enemies.” Instead of fortifying his current manor house against a possible invasion by the French, Dalyngrigge decided to build a castle suitable for a man of his station in life.

Dalyngrigge was a military man who had fought in the Hundred Years’ War that began in the 1300s and continued until 1451. The French had suffered disastrous defeats at the Battle of Crècy in 1346 and then again in Pointiers in 1356 when Prince Edward, otherwise known as the Black Prince, captured Prince John of France and asked for a ransom of 3 million crowns. The ransom was paid and Prince John was returned unharmed to his people.

Dalyngrigge returned to England in approximately 1380 with his new wife, intent on providing a loving and safe environment for his family. There were constant threats from the French in retaliation for the defeats they had suffered, so Dalyngrigge decided to improve his manor house and fortify it in readiness for an attack. He was already a wealthy man from an influential family in Sussex, but now his coffers were overflowing from the fortune he had brought back from France. He reconsidered the plan to reinforce his present manor house and decided to build a castle instead.

The overall design of the castle is unusual in that it is set in a rectangular, lake-like moat that is fed by the river Rother. Previously, there had been a bridge that turned at right angles to the octagonal stone-case island. The purpose of the right angle turn was to expose the right, unshielded, flank of any besieging force to the castle’s defenders. It would have been a formidable castle to capture because when a castle was under siege, one of the most common means of entry was tunneling. An invading army would travel underground until they reached an outer wall and cause it to collapse. Sometimes they would set a fire at the end of the tunnel to cause even more damage.

The owners of Bodiam castle were only called upon to defend themselves twice in 600 years and then from their own countrymen. On both occasions it was surrendered relatively easily. In 1483, it was briefly captured by the errant Sir Thomas Lewknor and taken from him by the Earl of Surrey for his king, Richard III. The second occasion was during the English Civil war when Roundhead soldiers (parliamentary) under the guidance of Oliver Cromwell directed that all the kingdom’s castles should be “slighted”. The soldiers almost completely gutted the internal structure but the exterior was not as easy to destroy and they had to leave the walls virtually intact.

Although the French did attack the towns of Rye and Winchelsea along the south coast of England, they never made an assault on Bodiam Castle.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Review of Extraordinary Places…Close to London by Patricia Pound

Elizabeth Wallace has produced a very informative, valuable and comprehensive book, a guide to some interest and historical places to visit all within easy distance from London. The book covers the Southeast of England and includes travels to the Counties of Essex, Kent and East Sussex all steeped in history with many a tale to tell. Elizabeth has relayed much information of the places not to be missed, their fascinating, historical past and the transport systems available to reach these destinations. Included are tips and information on where to eat and where to stay and what to see and look out for as you discover all that this region has to offer.

The author in this case has a particular qualification, enabling her to share her knowledge with the first time visitor to this area of England, for the information she offers is well known to her, as she was born and lived here before making her home in America. Taking with her a love of the history and the familiar countryside and expressing that love in sharing her knowledge with others that they too might enjoy to the full all that these places offer. A tourist with limited time to investigate the possibilities will come prepared having read this guide which will be a useful and valuable companion throughout your planned journeys. The book will make the difference from negotiating a complicated maze into a gentle and confident stroll around already familiar places. The book is a handy size to maintain a functional reference whether kept in a sensible travelling bag or stuffed into a copious coat pocket. There is an easy to find and follow index of particular subject matter which includes, Castles, Churches, Gardens, Historic Homes, Hotels, Inns, Museums, Pubs, Restaurants, Tea Rooms and much more.

The tourist from whatever part of the world who wants to visit little known villages and towns within easy distance from London and get to know a great deal about the history and present day facilities will be well served by this book. The English natives too, who wish to discover more about this part of the country could not have a better start than to read what this book has to offer and then to adventure out and find out a great deal more about what lies on their doorstep in the home counties. The information offered here will intrigue and surprise all who read the content and in the process learn much more about themselves and the beautiful English countryside within close proximity to London, which some of us are fortunate enough to call home. The reader is led on a journey by an author with a sure hand as it is clear she knows and loves her subject and the places she helps you discover will remain with you both before and after a visit. The visitor makes a journey which is both satisfying and an educational experience as the hidden history is revealed and explanations offered for the basis of country law and custom, tradition and folklore. Well worth a read even if your planned journey remains a pipe dream for the time being, it certainly will inspire many to turn those day dreams into reality and to start packing for a voyage of discovery and a real adventure in the English countryside.

Patricia Pound 2007
Author: Romford Pubs ISBN 9780752438412
Tempus Publishing