Once in a Blue Moon

On July 31, 2015 we witnessed a Blue Moon.

According to Wikipedia, a “blue moon” is an additional full moon that appears in a subdivision of a year: either the third of four full moons in a season, or a second full moon in a month of the common calendar.

When two full moons occur in one month, the second is called a Blue Moon. Owing to the rarity of a blue moon, the term “blue moon” is used colloquially to mean a rare event, as in the phrase “once in a blue moon”. 

We have been on the road for over 6 months. It was a rare event for us to quit our jobs, sell most of our possessions and start to travel. We’ve been in Ecuador, Colombia, Alaska, Portugal, Scotland, and England and will be in Spain by the time you’re reading this. Traveling like this still feels like a very rare, and special event. Start here for the whole story.

Exploring Hadrian’s Wall

On July 21, we pointed our rental car south towards the border between Scotland and England to seek the old Roman frontier border. Marching from sea-to-sea across dramatic country is the World Heritage Site of the northwest frontier of the Roman Empire known as Hadrian’s Wall.

Oh, look! Is that Hadrian’s Wall? I exclaimed. It was totally awesome to suddenly come upon the stoney remains of Hadrian’s Wall right next to the road!

In this area alone there are over two dozen sites with survivng portions of Roman wall, turrets, milecastles, towers, granaries, temples, bridges, forts, gates, latrines, baths, ovens – as well as visitor centers, exhibits and museums. The wall was patrolled for 300 years until 410AD. What a sight to see 2000-year-old earthworks snaking across the land. It’s miraculous that any of it remains as many of the stones have been recycled and reused in other construction projects through the ages.

Birdoswald Roman Fort, known as ‘Banna’ was constructed on a hill overlooking a river and has the best-preserved defences of any major fort along Hadrian’s Wall.  It was garrisoned by a thousand Roman soldiers.

The view from the fort looking south (into the Roman Empire) where they could see for miles.


The longest continuous stretch of Wall visible today is at Birdoswald (top photo.) Some enthusiasts actually walk the wall. There are footpaths and camp sites all along the wall. The terrain is rugged and some of the sites are only accessible by foot. Standing atop the Wall at Housesteads Roman Fort looking across the frontier to the ‘Barbaric north’ and the wall continuing into the distance (lower photo.)

Housesteads Roman Fort, known as ‘Vercovicium‘, sitting high on a dramatic and windy hilltop is the most complete example and best preserved of the Roman forts in Britain. Begun in AD 124 it was one of the 16 forts supporting Hadrian’s frontier system.

The remains of the fort’s gateways and a turreted wall. The artist’s rendering helps to visualize it.


Does ancient plumbing interest you? Top left shows the floor supports to the bathhouse that allow hot steam to heat the room. Top right shows the multi-seater communal lavatory with trenches of running water and basins. It was conveniently built on the wall so the sewers carried the waste outside the wall. The lower photo shows some of the barracks that housed 800 soldiers.


A civilian town grew up around Vercovicium. The aerial photos actually show the footprint the Roman presence left on the countryside.

We had to try the local speciality: fish and chips.

That night we had a lovely room at the Best Western Walworth Castle Hotel in Darlington, England. Our room was in the more modern (lower left) wing.

York:  England’s Second City

The city of York was founded by the Romans in 71AD and named Eboracum, but the Romans withdrew in the 400s leaving it open to Saxon invaders.  Under Ivan the Boneless, Vikings captured the city in 954AD and renamed it Jorvik (The “J” has the “y” sound) thus the present name of York.

We started our visit at Clifford’s Tower, perched high atop an earthen mound raised by William the Conqueror in 1068, and climbed to the rampart walks to take in the 360-degree view of York and the surrounding countryside. The keep (tower) outside the walled bailey (courtyard) is an unusual design. The wooden timber tower predating this tower was burnt in 1190 when York’s Jews committed mass suicide to avoid massacre from the mob. The present four-lobed stone tower was built in the 1250s for Henry III and has housed a mint, the King’s Royal Treasury, and a jail.

York Minster. The first Minster was built for Saxon King Edwin of Northumbria. The first stone Minster was completed in 640 and dedicated to St. Peter. Construction on the present Minster began in 1220 and was completed in 1472.

Historical York is very picturesque. In 1314 Edward II based his court in York and in the 1390s Richard II made it the capitol of England. King Henry VII married Elizabeth of York, thus ending the War of the Roses or Cousins’ War.


St. Mary’s Abbey (above). The Church was the wealthiest landowner in England. King Henry VIII separated from the Catholic church and confiscated their lands so that many of the beautiful Abbeys and Priories are in ruins today. Medieval walls (below) constructed on top of the Roman walls with the red brick. The Romans walled the city which were partially buried when the Vikings built their wall on top of the mound. In the middle ages a wall was built presumably over the Roman wall, but they missed and in some places all three have been excavated.

Romans, Vikings, and Soviets…oh my!

Remember the Cold War? After WWII, the West lived in fear of the Soviets and nuclear disaster.  The York Cold War Bunker is a time capsule of recent history with original monitoring equipment and furnishings.  For 30 years volunteers across England trained and watched and awaited nuclear Armaggedon in these bunkers.

During times of crisis (such as the Bay of Pigs incident) 60 men and women voluntarily left their families (or would be militarily escorted) to these concrete bunkers to track incoming nuclear explosions and radioactive fallout. The support system was designed to last just 30 days.

A Tiny Taste of London

London is said to be one of the world’s most expensive cities. So how do budget travelers do Europe’s largest, and most expensive city?  In 30 hours!

The first hurdle was getting to London, 2+ hours away from Suffolk in East Anglia where we were starting a new housesit. I researched trains, overground and underground, overnight parking, The Tube (London’s subway system) and it’s myriad and ridiculously confusing ticketing possibilities – only to be ever more confused.  (Really, London, you could make it simpler for the folks.)

Driving to the outskirts of the city, we left our car at Stratford Mall, walked to the Stratford Underground station, bought our Oyster cards, loaded them with funds, and were on our way to The City.



First stop: Tower Hill. We walked around the Tower of London to the Thames River to view Tower Bridge.

It was a very rainy day, so we headed to the London City Museum which documents the history of London from prehistoric times to the present.  It gave us a great overview and understanding for what we hoped to see.  Later that evening we visited the British Museum which was open until 8:30pm.
Most of London’s world class museums are free, maybe because they have to compete with so many other London attractions.  This is wonderful for the budget traveler, since EVEN THE CHURCHES (St. Paul’s and Northminster Abbey) charge high admission fees, although one can enter at no cost if attending one of the many scheduled services.

Part of the original Londinium Roman fort viewed from the London City Museum.

The next morning dawned clear and sunny, perfect for our All-in-One London Walking Tour with London On-Foot, a “free, gratuities appreciated” tour. See here. Our guide Margaret was fantastic, entertaining and extremely knowledeable. We toured with her from 10:30AM to 5:00PM (with a lunch break) – from Buckingham Palace to the Tower of London – learned a lot and loved it!

A little sunshine can make all the difference in the world. Iconic London sights from our walking tour.

Exhausted, we retraced our steps to the Tube, returning to the mall where we found our car just as we left it, and drove back to our new home.

Thirty hours was not enough time to do London justice, but it’s all the time we had.  Samuel Johnson said “…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” 

Someday I may say, “Once in a blue moon we visited London.”  

Received a text recently that read, “Where are you guys?” We have been on a 2-week housesit in Kelsale, Suffolk, England and just this week are starting a new housesitting assignment in southern Spain.

Coming soon on the blog:  July Travel Expense Report

Thanks so much for reading! 

Until next time when I’ll Meet You in the Morning.