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Medieval Sampler: A Sweet Tour

Usilton with friend Stan at Land's End

 I think it was Forrest Gump who once said that life is like a box of chocolates---you never know what you’re going to get.”  While the title, “Medieval Sampler,” may have a confectionery ring to it and, therefore, conjure up images of a more famous “box of  chocolates,” it actually has very little to do with food.  “Medieval Sampler” is, rather,  a spring vacation tour of select cities and sites of historical importance in the British Isles.  Dr. Larry Usilton, medievalist on the History faculty at UNC-Wilmington, came up with the idea after serving as Resident Director of the University’s first Study Abroad Program at UC-Swansea (Wales) in the spring of 1991.  When he was not teaching, advising, or ferreting through research materials in the bowels of the Public Record Office in London, Dr. Usilton would spend much of his free time riding the rails, buses, and ferries in an attempt to get at the abundant castles, monastic ruins, cathedrals, and battlefields of the U.K. 



Such were the circumstances under which “Medieval Sampler” was born.  Each year in early March, coinciding with the University’s spring break, Dr. Usilton gives students and other interested parties the opportunity to partake of the numerous medieval delights of the British Isles.  The 1999 itinerary, which included stops in England, Wales, and Ireland, attracted forty-two participants from various states, while the 2001 “Braveheart Tour” sold out within three weeks without the benefit of advertising.  During eight such tours, Dr. Usilton and his companions have logged thousands of miles, much of it on foot, and enjoyed numerous adventures along the way.  Participants have walked in the footsteps of William the Conqueror in Normandy and at Hastings (more properly known as Battle), stood where Archbishop Thomas Becket was bludgeoned to death in Canterbury Cathedral, pondered the mysteries of Stonehenge, looked in vain for monsters in Loch Ness, kissed the Blarney Stone, walked amid the hauntingly beautiful ruins of Tintern Abbey, viewed the breathtaking beauty of Land’s End, hiked along the remnants of Hadrian’s Wall, and crossed the Old Stirling Bridge, site of William Wallace’s victory over the English in 1297.   

Although the pace is at times frenetic, there are ample opportunities at day’s end to kick back, relax, and sample the native cuisine and beverages in pubs with alluring names such as the Duke of York (Whitby), Greyfriars Bobby (Edinburgh), the Longboat (Tenby, Wales), the Malt Loaf (Conwy, Wales), the Squirrel Inn (Battle) and Twice Brewed to mention a few.  One group spent a night in a Gloucester hotel supposedly haunted by the ghost of Lady Jane Grey who stayed there briefly before she was executed in 1554.  Owing to its relatively low cost, the time of year, and the interesting medieval dainties, the program has become in a short time one of UNCW’s most attractive and popular international offerings. 


Medieval Sampler IX:  The Braveheart Tour  (Mar., 2004)

Medieval Sampler VIII:  In the Footsteps of William the Conqueror (Mar., 2003)

Medieval Sampler VII: Castles, Cathedrals, and Countryside (Mar., 2002)

Backpacking Along Hadrian's Wall (Oct., 2002)

Link to William the Conqueror Trip Pictures

Link to Backpacking Pictures

Link to Trip Pictures       

Link To Braveheart Pictures

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