Britain’s Best Views – Cheshire

During my trip to the UK, I visited Beeston Castle in Cheshire with my friend Jack and his mom.  We were interviewed by two guys from The Guardian who were putting together a story as part of a series on Britain’s best views.  The article has now been posted online and I’ve copied it from The Guardian’s website below.  It’s pretty good, although Jack and I are not necessarily referred to 100% accurately (which is fine).


Britain’s best views: Cheshire

Right in the heart of Cheshire – county of cheesemakers and footballers’ wives – Martin Wainwright finds two reminders of a wilder west that provide fantastic panoramas from their hilltop vantage points

Martin Wainwright

Martin Wainwright, Saturday 25 December 2010 00.01 GMT

A fortified peak is the best kind of architecture, where crags and a castle combine to make an eagle’s nest, a place for desperate sieges and last stands.

After centuries without invasion or civil war, such places may sound unlikely in Britain, with its gently beautiful countryside and political tradition of compromise.

But here is one, a miniature Masada or Montsegur right in the heart of Cheshire, county of cheesemakers and footballers’ wives. Rising abruptly from the plain and its hobbity world of thatch and narrowboatsBeeston Castle is every warlike child’s dream.

Even today, you need to check English Heritage’s opening hours – unless you have a scaling ladder or ballista in the back of your car. The gate through the lower wall shuts off the entire hill and the inner bailey on the rock summit has another great door, surrounded by precipices and the deep half-moon of a dry moat.

“I love it for climbing and hiding,” said one of a gang of children out with their Mum for a pre-Christmas walk as the snow lurked visibly over the Welsh mountains to the west. A Cub Scout leader showing an American friend round picked up the theme, leading the way to a dog-sized hole in the base of an otherwise windowless, doorless bastion on the summit.

“We crawled in there when we were kids, and no grown-up could get in after us,” he said. “The Cubs do the same nowadays.” He counts them all in and counts them all out; and when they get back to English Heritage’s gatehouse, with its shelves of desirable toy swords and armour, the staff have another revelation, nicely suited to getting cries of Gross and Yuck from the children.

“You were right underneath the castle’s garderobe,” they say, going on to explain how the neat little hiding place would once have been knee-deep in poo. Then there’s the well; at 370ft, one of the deepest in any UK castle. A pebble takes almost seven seconds to clunk on the pile far below.

Beeston never saw any blood-curdling sieges or heroic stands. It was obviously too difficult to spend time on, although this led to its one, humiliating capture. On an icy December night in 1643, nine Royalist soldiers helped by a traitor crept inside the inner bailey. The Parliamentary garrison commander was so astonished to see them there that he surrendered his much larger force on the spot.

Most of Beeston’s nine centuries have been spent much more peacefully, and after purchase by the Tollemache family in the 19th century it became a marvellous icon ofthe Picturesque. The first Earl Tollemache (pronounced Tollymarsh and a fake but grandiose name for a family originally called Halliday) was responsible for the beautiful landscaping of the site, with conifers, miniature copses and a circular woodland walk with takes in the 350ft sandstone cliff faces, woodpeckers, buzzards and some excellent caves.

Tollemache was Cheshire’s biggest landowner, outdoing even the nearby Duke of Westminster at Eaton Hall, but he made himself a name for liberalism and rural improvement. He adapted the Chartists’ demand for “three acres and a cow” to “three acres and a cottage”, housing his many workers with such efficiency that the Prime Minister William Gladstone called him “the greatest estate manager of the day”.

Tollemache was conscious of his own importance, however, and that is why the hamlet of Beeston, remarkably, boasts not just one hilltop castle, but two. At a cost of over £5 million in today’s money, he built Peckforton Castle on top of the second local cliff, a fake fortress to go with his adopted name. Touring the enormous pink sandstone complex in 1858, Sir George Gilbert Scott called it aptly “the very height of masquerading”.

After a spell as what must have been a memorable children’s home, Peckforton is now a cheerfully spoof-ancient hotel with marriage ceremonies featuring owls trained to fly down from the Great Hall’s rafters with the ring. However fake, the endless bustle – from piles of laundry to giggling chambermaids trying to manoeuvre a floor polisher down a spiral stone staircase – is probably truer to genuine medieval castle life than Beeston’s beautiful, silent ruins.

Peckforton has one advantage over Beeston in view terms, too. From its battlements you get an awesome close-up of the genuine castle, almost toppling from its rocky perch. Even better is the panorama from the high point of the 37-mile Cheshire Sandstone Trail at Stanner Nab above Peckforton. Both castles stand proudly in the foreground.

Beeston’s own view would justify any siege. Because the hill rises so abruptly from the plain, the foreground looks tiny, a children’s book world of miniature trains and tractors, but with the grandest of backgrounds stretching for miles. Wales’ mountains are one buttress, the snow-capped Pennines the other. To the north, the Dee estuary’s refineries and chemical plants frame the far-distant smudge of Liverpool cathedral.

The great goal for Cheshire viewers, though, is Jodrell Bank, the radio telescope whose eye into infinity has the county bursting with pride. “There it is!” shouted one of the clambering children. “No, there!” said the Cub leader. The final attraction of a wonderful place, the faraway disc’s visibility depends on its tilt, as the astrophysicists in charge change the angle of their peering into outer space.

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Winter Trip 2010: Post #7

Well, my trip is over now and I am back home.  I may post some of my overall thoughts/conclusions on my trip in a separate post.  This will be my last post summarizing my activities in England.  It was an amazing time and I am very happy that it happened.

The section of my time in England was significantly affected by a snow storm that occurred Friday night.  While it was only a few inches of snow, it is considered the worst snow storm in England in 18 years and combined with the cold temperatures that followed, the coldest winter in 25 years.  Snow was not cleared in most areas and the “grit” (sand/salt) that was used on the snow in some areas was considered in short supply.  London Heathrow airport basically shut down and when I left several days later, only 1/3 of flights were occurring.  I was concerned that I would not get out, but I got lucky.  Many people spent 2-3 nights in the airport and reports were that if your flight was cancelled or delayed, you likely would not be able to leave until Christmas Day at the earliest.  I heard horror stories in the airport.

Even with all of this happening though, I still had a great time.  I owe my friend Jack major thanks for making my time in England such a great experience.


Our plans changed significantly.  We were supposed to go to the Liverpool football game Saturday night (we already had the tickets) but the game was cancelled due to snow and we reworked the plan for the day:

  • Jack lives on the outskirts of Bunburry.  We walked along the path he used to use to go to school and walked around the village including the village green (Scout building, bowling green, etc.) and saw the church that goes back 700+ years.
  • We had lunch at his house.
  • We drove to Birkenhead to take the ferry across the Mersey river to Liverpool.  It’s the most famous ferry in the world.
  • While we waited, we walked to Birkenhead Priory and walked around the remains and rebuilt sections of the priory from 1150.
  • We walked around Liverpool.  We tried to go to a Maritime Museum and a Beatles Museum, but both were closed due to snow.
  • We walked around the Albert Docks and Livepool One – a shopping area in the center of the city.
  • They have these crazy statues all over Liverpool called Super Lamb Bananas.  They are combination lamb and banana.  Weird.
  • We saw where The Beatles started.
  • We went back across the Mersey River and visited Jack’s cousins and his grandma.  They were quite fantastic.
  • We went back to his house for a late tea (dinner) and hung out there.


  • We took a train from Crewe to London.
    • Our original train got cancelled so we took another train.
    • We had to wait at a station because of work on the lines.
  • In London, we took the tube back to Jack’s house but had delays due to issues with snow and someone who threw himself under a train.
  • We went to Greenwich to see the time line and go to the museum.  The museum was closed though.  We did go to the Greenwich Market, which was really neat.
  • We met one of Jack’s friends at a pub in London, near the Bank of England.
  • We walked to Brick Lane.  It has a line of Indian restaurants where people stand outside offer you deals to try to convince you to come to their restaurant.  I know of nothing like it in the U.S.  We ate a good dinner and went out with Jack’s friends.


  • We spent the morning at the Tower of London – easily one of my favorite places we visited.  We took a tour and then explored some of the buildings including the Crown Jewels, artillery, torture, etc.
  • We met one of Jack’s friends and went exploring all afternoon throughout London.  Unfortunately, it seems that you cannot actually go into many of the popular sites.  Among the places we went were:
    • Trafalgar Square
    • Picadilly Circus
    • Buckingham Palace
    • Harrod’s – a huge department store like nothing I have ever seen
    • Big Ben
    • Parliament
    • Westminster Abbey – but did not go in as it was closed
  • We went to the London Eye, a huge ferris wheel on the Thames River that overlooks all of London.  It really made me appreciate the city.
  • We went to dinner at a pub called The Mad Hatter.  Across the street, there was a billboard for Alice in Wonderland.  Ironic?
  • We went back to Jack’s place and I got ready to head to the airport the next morning.


  • We got up early to make the trek to Heathrow.  Online, it said my flight would be leaving, but we still were not 100% certain.
  • I took the tube to the airport.  Jack went with me part of the way (had to switch trains a few times) and then I went on myself.
  • When I got to the airport there were barriers up in the terminal.  Security was only letting people with confirmed bookings on confirmed flights through to check in.  There were lines of people laying down/sleeping under silver foil blankets.  It was madness.
  • They did not want to let me in – we were told that unless your flight was leaving in less than 1.5 hours, you had to wait outside under a tent that had been set up.  Luckily, I was able to get through anyway – although when I checked in, our flight had still not been assigned a gate.
  • The flight did leave, about 1.5 hours late, but that was nothing to complain about.
  • I flew through Philadelphia back to St. Louis.

The whole experience was great.  I am extremely grateful for everyone who contributed to the success of my three weeks abroad.  I am indebted to each of you for this amazing opportunity.  I hope to be able to travel abroad like this again soon.

Winter Trip 2010: Post #6

I’m in England now.  I’m a big fan of the United Kingdom everything looks so classy.  The cities we have visited (I am traveling with my friend Jack)  are beautiful and everything is done up for christmas so many places look like they could be in a card.

I’ve realized that I have tried to fit too much into one week.  I wanted to see as much of the country as possible, but in order to see all of the sights I should have really chosen a part of the country to stick with.  It’s okay, though because I am seeing different parts of the countryside, meeting Jack’s friends, exploring,  and still seeing some cool places.

Here is a brief outline of what we have been doing.  It’s more condensed since I have a tighter travel schedule.

Tuesday – Part 2

  • After several delays, I finally got on a plane to Berlin.
  • I basically ran through the airport to get my plane to England, which it turns out, was also delayed.
  • Wen I arrived in London, Jack and his friend picked me up.
  • We drove around the city for a while to see the sights at night.


  • We drove from London to Windsor.
  • We walked around Windsor, walked around the castle (didn’t go in), and visited the Build-A-Bear Workshop UK Headquarters.
  • We drove by the Ascot Raceway.
  • We visited Stonehenge.  It was quite interesting and in the middle of nowhere.
  • We drove through Bath on the way to Bristol.
  • We went to a few pubs in Bristol with Jack’s friends.


  • We woke up a bit late as we were exhausted.
  • We drove into Wales to visit Cardiff, the capital.
  • We walked around the city and met Jack’s friend for lunch.
  • We visited Cardiff Castle, my first real castle.  The castle is from before 1100.  It was great.
  • We went to a fancy dress shop – i.e. a costume store to get costumes for the Christmas party at the Cub Scout meeting we were going to.
  • We went to Cheltenham, where Jack went to University, met Jack’s friend,  and went to a Cub Scout meeting.  They had a Christmas party and played games I’ve never seen in the U.S.  It was pretty exciting.
  • We went out after Cubs and I got my first authentic Fish & Chips.


  • We drove to Bunbury, where Jack is from.  I’ve now met his family.
  • I saw Jack’s family’s chickens 🙂
  • We ate lunh at Jack’s home.
  • We (me, Jack, Jack’s mom) went to Beeston Castle, near Jack’s home.  Some of it is still standing and other parts are in ruin.  It was quite large and interesting.  While there, we (well, Jack and his mom) got interviewed for a series on Britain’s best views in The Guardian to be posted online.  Quite exciting.
  • We went to the Ice Cream Farm.
  • We went to Chester, a nearby city, and walked along the Roman walls.  The walls are the most complete set of Roman/Medeval walls in Britian.  We explored some of the shopping in the city, etc.
  • We went to Jack’s best friend’s house and talked to Jack’s best friend’s mom and sister.  I had my first English tea.
  • We went back to Jack’s house and then went to a nice pub with the family for a great dinner.  I had a fish pie.  For desert, Jack and I shared a cheese board.
  • I’ve been talking with Jack’s parents.

We’ve been listening to BBC Radio 1 on the drive.  It’s much more entertaining than most stations I have listened to in the U.S.

Saturday night, we are going to a Liverpool game.  Sunday we had back to London and will be there until I leave on Tuesday.  It is quite a busy/fun trip.

Repost of the “Right Time”

I am finally making plans for my trip to Israel and England this Winter Break.  It is unlike me to have bought a plane ticket without solid plans, but I did so as to not pay double the price.  Now, I am in contact with friends to develop my plan.  I came across the following post on my Facebook profile.  I got home from studying abroad on December 26, 2008.  I wrote the post on December 28, 2008.  As I think about where I am going to be in Israel, this post certainly brings back memories.

I am hoping for a great trip, without the worries this post describes.  Hopefully, new memories will be made and I can rekindle old friendships.

Coming Home at the Right Time or the Wrong Time?

by Joel Portman on Sunday, December 28, 2008 at 12:51pm

I got home from Israel on December 26. On December 27 Israel launched a retaliatory operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip for its rocket bombardments against Israeli citizens, including 80 rockets in one day. Hamas’ rockets can now reach Be’er Sheva, the city I was in.

Here is an email I got on the security situation from the Director of the Overseas Student Program at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev where I was studying:

Dear Students,
The semester is over and some of you have left Israel, others are still here for a while. As you probably have heard, a little more than 24 hours ago the Israeli Airforce began its bombardment of the Gaza strip. This is the first phase of a military operation that is intended to restore normalcy to the Jewish towns that are adjacent to the Gaza Strip. As I write this, casualties on the Palestinian side are upwards of 230, the vast majority of which are men in uniform. On the Israeli side there has been one casualty in Netivot and 4 injured there. There is no indication at this time as to the extent of this operation. The range of Hamas rocket attacks have expanded their range to include areas that have previously been unaffected: Towns of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, Rahat and as of this morning Beer-Sheva too, are now in the Home Front Command “at risk” category. This is not a cause for extra or new alarm, but for those of you who are still in Israel it requires the following awareness and know-how: If you can plan to be elsewhere in the country for the upcoming week (Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv or their suburbs) it is advised. If you are in Beer-Sheva or any of the other abovementioned towns and you hear a waving siren or a “code red” (“Tzeva Adom”) or big explosion search out and enter the nearest designated sheltered area (a “miklat” or “mamad” or “ezor mugan”). Most likely everyone around you will be hurrying to these locations. In their absence, go to internal rooms with fewer windows or staircases. Do not stay in a bathroom when a siren is heard. After five minutes it is permitted to leave the protective areas if no other instructions were given. To those of you who are still here I suggest all to get familiar with the instructions posted (in English) in the Home Front Command website at: There is good reason to be alert and informed, but there is absolutely NO reason to get anxious or panicky. If you are still here you have noticed that the Israelis around you are calm and they stick to their daily routines.

I urge you all to contact your parents and maintain in regular contact with them as they most likely are being informed by international news agencies (CNN and the like) which tend to paint a disproportionately dire picture of Israeli reality at times like these.
Feel free to contact me, Tzipi, Hila or Inbal with any question you may have.

All the best,

If you are interested in updates in what is going on, check out:


Brooke Depenbusch


December 28, 2008 at 1:03pm
  • Kerrie M. Rueda

    Just glad you’re safe and sound. Looking forward to hearing about your amazing time in Israel.

    December 28, 2008 at 1:32pm
    Miles Brennan
    For the sake of science we need to test the association between your presence and peace in the Middle East: Accordingly, fly back to Israel, and see if the shooting stops
    December 28, 2008 at 4:12pm
    Tabi Southall
    Glad you’re safe Joel
  • December 28, 2008 at 6:17pm
    Barney Katzerman
    im at the airport now. Nitay and I went to the old city, apparently there were riots going on while we were there and didnt know it.  Glad to see your home. its really not as bad as it sounds, but a lot of ppl dont want their kids in uniform…
    December 28, 2008 at 6:45pm
  • Tess Cromer

    Wow, that’s intense…I’m so glad you are safely home.

    December 29, 2008 at 11:32pm
  • I’m Going Abroad!

    I’ve been wanting to go back to Israel and travel elsewhere and last night I bit the bullet and bought a set of plane tickets!  From November 29 to December 21, I will be traveling to Israel and England!

    Winter Trip 2010 Flight Map

    Hopefully, I will have a job when I graduate and so after saving during the school year and throughout the summer, I decided to take the opportunity my long winter break presents and go abroad.

    In Israel, I will be going back to some of the places I saw when studying abroad, going to some of the places I missed, seeing new things, and visiting friends.

    In England, I will be staying with a friend (he is serving as my tour guide as well) who I worked with last summer at Boy Scout camp.  I will be going around London (hopefully including places my grandma remembers hearing about from my great-grandma who was from London), traveling the country, and perhaps briefly checking out Scotland and Wales.

    I am very excited to this trip.  Now I need to relearn Hebrew.  I think my English will suffice!  Any input on places to visit is definitely appreciated. 🙂