Friday, October 29, 2010

Hereford and Wales

From Rushock I headed a bit south to Hereford to spend the night. I'd heard that the Magna Carta (1215) was on display in the cathedral so I had to go look. Also there is the Hereford mappa mundi. Both were in a darkened room, behind glass. No photos allowed but I did sneak one of the Magna Carta while the official guard, I mean guide, wasn't looking. Terrible photo though. The document itself is quite small. Nevertheless, it's probably the most important document in the history of constitutional government.
There's a lot of renovation work going on at this cathedral: scaffolding everywhere. While that's inconvenient for photography it's excellent to know that the old places are being cared for.
From Hereford I headed into Wales for a couple of days. Cymru to the locals. I think that translates as "cold." ;) Beautiful countryside though.
I based myself at Aberystwyth on the central coast for a couple of days.
There are plenty of castles in Wales - built mostly by Edward I during his campaigns to subdue the Welsh princes and add Wales to his empire. I checked out three of them: Aberystwyth, Harlech and Caenarfon. The first is little more than a ruin, just a few broken towers and such like. Lovely setting though, overlooking the Irish Sea. I must say though, it's a very chilly wind that comes in off that sea!

Aberystwyth Castle

The remains of Harlech are more substantial. It's a concentric castle, ie., it has two sets of defensive walls. The inner walls in such castles are always much higher than the outer walls so that defenders can shoot from both walls without fear of the outer guys getting an arrow in the back from the inner wall guys. I climbed the spiral staircase in one tower and the view from the top was pretty nice. Between the castle and the sea is now a golf course.

Across the irish Sea....

Harlech itself is a smallish village/town. Most buildings are built out of dark grey stone - that seems to be the standard material in the Welsh areas I saw. I found it a bit depressing to be honest. Houses in Irish towns are often painted in different colours which is much more cheery to look at.


I stopped in at the pub in Harlech for a coffee to try to warm up. There was a real coal fire burning away. I haven't seen a proper coal fire in decades. Like everyone else I've spoken to in the UK and Ireland, the publican knew someone in Australia so we had a bit of a chat. One interesting thing she said was that it was cheaper for her to buy her lamb from Australia than to buy the local produce. Bit sad for Welsh farmers.

I also had a quick look at Caenarfon castle, further north. This is where the Prince of Wales is invested. I mainly wanted to have a look because I have vague memories of a family holiday there way back in the Dark Ages. I know there's an old photograph somewhere of either Peter or Paula, or maybe both, sitting on the cannon in the castle grounds. So, of course, I took a pic of the cannon.

Caenarfon cannon

One of the main reasons for going to Wales was to try to find the cottage of Bron Yr Aur - where Jimmy Page and Robert Plant stayed (1970 I think) to write most of the material for Led Zeppelin III. I got as far as the bottom of the road that leads to the cottage. There's a sign at the bottom saying "Road not suitable for motors". I thought about trying to drive up anyway but decided against it - what if I got the car stuck and couldn't get down, etc etc. I also thought about walking up but it's a very very steep hill. Eventually I decided it wasn't worth risking a heart attack for the sake of a photograph. Bummer.

So, instead, I went for a drive up though Snowdonia National Park to Yr Wyddfa, Mt Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales. It was bloody cold up there (average temp at the top is 2.5C) but the views were worth it.

Mountain lake

I think Snowdon might be the inspiration for Misty Mountain Hop.

Misty Mountain Hop

So, from Wales I headed back to Liverpool, where I am now. I've had a yucky cold all this week so have done bugger all. On Monday, however, I'm heading south to the Cotswolds - got 6 nights booked in a B&B in Chipping Campden. I plan on doing several day trips - Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, Blenheim Palace, Bath, etc. Should be good!

Right then, I think I'm finally caught up.



I forgot to mention that I also visited Canterbury, specifically the cathedral, while I was down in Kent. Another huge, impressive piece of architecture.

Canterbury Cathedral

Inside is a wonder of vaults, arches, buttresses, stained glass, etc. Unlike the pretentious (mercenary?) lot at Durham, photography is allowed inside.

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury is the spiritual home of the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the most senior cleric in the Anglican church. While Durham has the Venerable Bede, Canterbury has Thomas Beckett. Not many archbishops have been murdered and fewer have been murdered in their own cathedral. He may be the only one but I'm not sure of that. It occurred because of a power struggle between Church and State - Henry II, the king of England, frustrated by Beckett's attempts to increase the power of the church, and said some words he probably shouldn't have. The actual words are debatable but the result was that four of his knights took off and, when Beckett refused to go to the king, murdered him at the altar. (1170)
Canterbury, of course, then became a shrine to Beckett and a place of pilgrimage. The shrine in the centre of the cathedral and the altar where the murder happened were both destroyed, sometime in the 1500s, on the orders of Henry VIII during his own power struggles with the church. (That struggle led, of course, to the formation of the Church of England.)
A new, small, altar has been placed at the scene of the crime with a quite dramatic sculpture above it - four swords, to symbolise the killing and Beckett's martyrdom.

Thomas Becket

In place of the shrine there's now just an empty space with one candle perpetually burning.
There's also another perpetually burning candle, in another part of the cathedral, dedicated to prisoners of conscience. The sign says: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing." And also: "as a reminder of prisoners of conscience and all those who suffer unjustly for their beliefs and actions".

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.

I thought it was good to see a church recognising such injustice. It makes a change from most (all?) religious organisations with their "there's only one way and it's our way" approach.

Anyway...... after the cathedral I tried to get into what I thought was the castle. Haha, got stopped at the barrier by a uniformed bloke telling me I couldn't go in. Turns out it's not a castle but a school. The King's School. One of the most elite in the country apparently. I was there as kids were getting out and being picked up by parents - never seen so many expensive cars in one place. Tory Central. When the revolution comes......

From Canterbury I did a quick jaunt down to Dover to have a look at the White Cliffs.

The White Cliffs of Dover

I could just make out France across the Channel. Might be all I see of France if the strikes and protests don't get sorted out soon. You have to admire the French for standing up to their government but really.... their timing is terrible!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Update #2: Pilgrimage

From Kent I decided to go back to Liverpool via Wales. But first I headed to a little church (St Michael's) in a tiny village (Rushock) in Worcestershire to pay my respects.

John Henry Bonham

I'm not ashamed to admit to shedding a few tears.


Been longer than I thought. Sorry folks.
Since I left Sweden I've been in the UK, where it's getting colder by the day.
I didn't do much for a week or so once I got back to Liverpool. After a month on the road I was in need of some rest. I did have a day out in Chester. I really like Chester - it's an old Roman town and there are still some Roman ruins there. Plenty of medieval stuff too. Lots of history wherever you look - just what I like :)
Too many people though!

Just a quiet Saturday afternoon in Chester

Next stop was Blackburn to stay with my uncle Brian (and Ann) for a week. Blackburn itself isn't much to look at: a north-western industrial town. I was taken to a club one night - one of the local haunts. The band was okay but the so-called comedian was atrocious. Apparently there are no laws against racial vilification up there.
The surrounding countryside is lovely though. We did a couple of day trips around the area: Ribchester, Whalley, Chipping, etc.

Whalley Viaduct

We also had a day in Manchester. Nothing to write home about there. The refurbished docks looked plain and boring compared to Liverpool's. The old buildings have been torn down whereas in Liverpool they've been cleaned up and turned into shops, restaurants, galleries, etc. The Albert Dock area in Liverpool really is a nice place to spend the day. I did think about looking for The Hacienda and Factory Records but we didn't know where they are, or even if they still exist. Maybe some other day I'll go do that pilgrimage.
Brian and Ann then took me up to their daughter's place near Durham. We had a look at the Angel of the North - another Antony Gormley structure. It overlooks the motorway at Gateshead and is huge! It's an industrial angel sort of thing and is meant to remind us to keep imagining angels. I like the idea of that. The angel itself is very imposing. Lots of people don't like it but I think it's interesting.

Angel of the North

We also went to Durham Cathedral. The cathedral was originally founded in 1093 and is regarded as the finest example of Norman architecture in England. It's very impressive inside but, sadly, they don't allow photography. The reason I was given is a load of bollocks really. I was told it's because it's a place of worship and cameras distract the worshippers. I looked around and saw hundreds of people - all tourists, nobody was praying. The clerics and volunteers were all busy shepherding tour groups around. Really what they mean is "no photos because we want you to buy our merchandise". Pfftt!
From there we headed north towards the Scottish border to check out Hadrian's Wall. I only saw bits of the wall but we did have a lengthy look at the remains of a Roman fort at Chesters (not to be confused with Chester). I wandered around taking lots of photos of grey stones :)

Chesters Roman Fort

The fort is 2000 years old, give or take a few years, and was originally built by the Romans to protect Hadrian's Wall where it crosses the Tyne river. Clever people those Romans.

On the way home from Blackburn I decided to pay the Iron Men at Crosby another visit:

The Watcher

Next stop was Kent to visit Joan and Jim, another aunty/uncle. I drove down from Liverpool - motorway driving is pretty damn boring. Kent is lovely though - they call it "The Garden of England" and not without cause.
I spent an excellent day with Bridie, a friend from Melbourne. We drove around the countryside and had a look at Hastings and Brighton. Brighton is a big seaside town which used to be "THE" place for the rich and famous to go. It's also home to fearless doughnut thieves too. After wandering up and down the pier, we decided to get some doughnuts. Next thing you know, a seagull swoops over my head from behind (actually hitting my head on the way through) and stole Bridie's doughnut right out of her hand.
While in Kent I also visited Chartwell (home of Winston Churchill), Hever Castle (home of Anne Boleyn and, later, William Waldorf Astor), and Knole (home of the Sackville family - important royal cousins in Tudor times).

Hever Castle

The grounds at Chartwell and Hever are spectacular. Chartwell is traditional English with rose gardens and sweeping lawns. Hever has that too but also has an immense Roman garden, established by WW Astor. Impressive.

Hever Castle

To be continued........