‘The Weird, Mystic Pull of Southwest England’

Tintagel, Cornwall

Tintagel, legendary place where King Arthur was born. Down below is Merlin’s cave, with its magic, flat stones. We had a few of those stones for years, placed on the coffee table in my parents’ living room.

At age 14, I spent six weeks based in Exeter, England with my parents and 17 other high school students. We spent long weekends exploring Southwest England, imagining ourselves participating in the legends of King Arthur, going on adventures with Sir Frances Drake and solving mysteries on haunted, howling, misty moors with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes in “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

That summer was idyllic. For four decades, I have longed to return. Rosie Schapp of the NYT Magazine explains “the weird, mystic pull of Southwest England: The area is a place of pilgrimage for late-model would-be knights of the Round Table, as well as mystical seekers of many stripes.”

“For the sort of person who watched “Excalibur” countless times as a child, and carried a tattered copy of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon” tucked under her arm as an adolescent, these places are also familiar enough that a first visit may feel like a homecoming.

“I am just that sort of person, and my plan was to bookend a recent trip to the region with those two sites steeped in Arthurian lore (accepting that the place we call Glastonbury was, in hazy long-ago times, part of the Isle of Avalon). It was in Avalon, the legend goes, that the sword Excalibur was forged, and Glastonbury Abbey is purported to be where King Arthur was buried.

“In the pseudohistorical but influential 12th-century telling of Geoffrey of Monmouth, it was at Tintagel Castle that Arthur was conceived….”

Bruce Johnson and I became lifelong best friends on that trip. He writes: “Tintagel is a truly amazing place. I remember thinking the autumn after we were there that at the end of my life the one thing I would absolutely want to do would be to see Tintagel again.”

Posted in England | Leave a comment

Lure of the Irish

I’m trying to persuade my son to spend a semester abroad in Ireland. This makes the case. “Poetry reviewer Tess Taylor has just spent the past semester teaching in Belfast, Ireland. She talks about how Seamus Heaney poems and visions of home swirled in her head.”


Posted in Ireland, Northern Ireland | Leave a comment

Wealthy London Vs. The Rest of Britain

“While much of the UK still struggles after the financial crash, one city is thriving. Money, companies and people are pouring into London like never before. Why is the capital so dominant? Is its success good or bad for Britain? And what should the rest of the country do? Evan Davis explores the story of the economic forces polarising Britain in this new two-part series for BBC Two.”

“Britain is becoming one country with two economies – London and the rest. In the second of two programmes, Evan Davis asks what the rest of Britain can learn from London’s success and whether we can create a city with the pull of the capital, outside the capital – a megacity of the north. Given London’s dominance, Evan Davis asks what can the rest of Britain learn from the capital’s success? And can we create a city with the pull of London, outside London – a megacity of the north?”

Posted in England | Leave a comment

Who’s Like the Scots?

“The average Englishman, in his home he calls his castle, puts on his national costume – A shabby Raincoat patented by Charles MacIntosh of Glasgow, Scotland.

“He drives a car fitted with tires invented by John Boyd Dunlop of Dreghorn, Scotland.

“At the office he receives his mail with adhesive stamps which, although they bear the queen of England’s head, they were invented by John Chambers of Dundee, Scotland.

“During the day he uses the telephone, Invented by Alexander Graham Bell of Edinburgh, Scotland.

“At home in the evening he watches his daughter ride her bicycle, invented by Kilpatrick MacMillan, A Blacksmith from Dumfries, Scotland.

“He watches the news on television which was invented by John Logie Baird of Helensburough Scotland and hears an item about the U.S. Navy founded by John Paul Jones of Kirkbean, Scotland.

“He has now been reminded too much of Scotland and in desperation picks up the Bible, only to find that the first man mentioned in the good book is a Scot – King James VI – who authorized it’s translation.

“No where can an Englishman turn to escape the ingenuity of the Scots, he could take to drink but the Scots make the finest in the world, he could take a rifle and end it all but the breech-loading rifle was invented by Captain Patrick Ferguson of Pitfours, Scotland.

“If he escaped death, he could find himself on an operating table, being injected with Penicillin, discovered by Alexander Flemming of Darvel, Scotland, and given an anesthetic, discovered by Sir James Young Simpson of Bathgate, Scotland.

“Out of the anesthetic he would find no comfort in learning that he was as safe as the Bank Of England which was founded by William Patterson of Dumfries, Scotland.

“Perhaps his only hope would be to get a transfusion of good SCOTTISH Blood!”

35 Great Quotes About Scotland and the Scots

Posted in Scotland | Leave a comment

Christmas Vacation in Europe

My son Matthew Buie-Nervik, his bride and not quite two-year-old son spent two weeks in Europe for the Christmas holidays 2016. “We just returned the tiny Fiat rental car today,” he wrote on Dec. 30. “We drove 3108 kilometers (nearly 2000 miles). France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy. A great trip.” Photo essays:

Posted in France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland | Leave a comment

Kilmartin Glen, Site of Ancient Ancestors


In Western Scotland, on our way to the isle of Skye, my siblings and I visited Kilmartin, a small village in Argyll and Bute where some of our ancestors came from. It has one of the richest concentrations of prehistoric monuments in Scotland.


Photo Essay https://goo.gl/photos/rYUv5qA2AxvCkEGt6


Posted in Celts, Scotland | Leave a comment

30 Places to See in Europe

Of the 30 places the UK Telegraph says one must visit in Europe, I have seen 17:

Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic; Gaudi’s Barcelona; Sistene Chapel, Italy; Acropolis, Greece; Aya Sofia, Istanbul; Blue Mosque, Istanbul; Sainte Chapelle, Paris; Red Square, Moscow; Brandenberg Gate, Germany; Colosseum, Rome, Italy; Ephesus, Turkey; Eiffel Tower, Paris; Alhambra, Spain; Pantheon, Rome, Italy; Versailles, Paris, France; Hermitage, St. Petersburg; Pompeii, Italy.

13 places I haven’t seen: Provence, France; Pamukkale, Turkey; Seville, Spain; Matterhorn, Switzerland; Loire Valley, France; Atlantic Road, Norway; Northern Lights, Scandinavia or Iceland; Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy; Tuscany, Italy; Lake Bled, Slovenia; Venice, Italy; black beaches of Iceland; Cordoba, Spain.

Compare this to the 20 places in Europe you must see in Europe before you die. It’s a very different list, and I haven’t seen most of them, only four.

Posted in European Overview | Leave a comment