Well, I’m a bit behind with my journal. I’m about 3 weeks behind with my writing, and nearly 2 months behind with transcribing from my journal to the computer…
This post is our York leg. It wasn’t until I was writing the York section of my journal that I realised just how much I had fallen in love with this part of England.
Day 26 – Friday 30th May
Friday we departed Cambridge for York. It was a leisurely drive. Our first stop was not far up the road at the historic city of Ely. Our target was the Ely Cathedral.
The cathedral is an impressive structure with its high octagonal tower, with two smaller round towers to the south. Standing as it does in the large open space overlooking the village green just adds to its stature. The building dates back to 1083 when construction was commenced by the first Norman bishop. It was built in the Romanesque style, but Gothic arches were added later to support the weight of the walls.
It is renowned for its painted timber ceiling and soaring octagonal tower which stands 215 feet high. Ours was just a fleeting visit so we didn’t take the full tour of the cathedral, but we got a taste of the interior, looking through the entrance and long narrow central nave with its ornate timber ceilings. Ornate, but not opulent.
Our next stop was Peterborough, and another cathedral. Like many structures of this ilk, the first abbey at Peterborough was established when years were counted in hundreds, not thousands, in 655 AD to be precise. The original building was destroyed by the Vikings a couple of hundred years later in 870 AD.
The present cathedral was begun in 1118 and consecrated in 1238. The structure of the building today is much as it was on completion.
It truly is a magnificent structure and I was again taken by the towering columns, fan vaulting and magnificent painted ceiling. However, for me, the real treasure of this cathedral is not the magnificent architecture, it is the stories that are buried beneath its stone floors.
Peterborough is the resting place for Katharine of Aragon; the first wife of King Henry VIII was buried here in 1536. The daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Katharine was a cultured and dedicated lady who, by virtue of the unfortunate death of her first husband (Arthur, Prince of Wales), found herself married to his brother, Henry.
After failing to provide a male heir to the king, Katharine was banished and Henry chose to have the marriage dissolved on the grounds that her original marriage was consummated, which would have meant, according to lore, his marriage to Katharine was unholy and destined to be childless (obviously only male children counted, as they already had a daughter). Katharine was adamant that her first marriage was never consummated, and given the state of Arthur’s health this may be true.
The story of Katharine’s life as depicted in Peterborough Cathedral is of a lady who acted with determination and dignity in the face of insurmountable opposition. Despite her powerful connections with the Catholic Church, Henry VIII was renowned for getting his own way, by any means.
Mary Queen of Scots was also originally buried at Peterborough, but was subsequently relocated to Westminster Abbey by her son, James I.
Her story is possibly even more tragic than Katharine’s but might have ended differently if she had been less stubborn. The quandary that Queen Elizabeth I found herself in with Mary was a difficult one. Despite offering Mary opportunities for a more diplomatic outcome, Elizabeth was virtually forced into executing her cousin after another plot to overthrow the monarchy was directly linked back to Mary. Mary refused to refute the story, and was consequently beheaded.
Perhaps my favourite story of Peterborough Cathedral is the first one, just inside the entrance. It is a memorial to ‘Old Scarlett’. Robert Scarlett was the sexton at Peterborough Cathedral. He died in 1594 at the age of 98. During his time at the cathedral he buried two queens (Katharine and Mary). In his honour, a portrait of him dons the wall above the west door. Below his picture is the following epitaph:
You see old Scarlitt’s picture stand on hie,
But at your feete here doth his body lye.
His gravestone doth his age and Death time show,
His office by thes tokens you may know.
Second to none for strength and sturdye limm,
A Scarebabe mighty voice with visage grim.
Hee had interd two Queenes within this place
And this townes Householders in his lives space
Twice over: But at length his own time came;
What for others did for him the same
Was done: No doubt his soule doth live for aye
In heaven: Tho here his body clad in clay
This is, I guess, the third reason why Peterborough will remain my favourite of all the churches we have visited.
With our stops along the way it was after 5pm when we finally arrived at Primrose Hill Farm. Our accommodation was a B&B; our hosts, John and Susan. When they retired, John and Susan had sold off their farm, all bar the dilapidated barn and enough land for their horses. They had converted the barn into their home with two bedrooms and a granny flat up one end.
The result is a really tastefully decorated home with 1 ½ foot deep external walls which mean the building is extremely well insulated. We later discovered that this is not unusual in the UK.
The closest village is Deighton, but we decided to dine at the Black Bull in the next village (Escrick) for dinner. It had been a long day in the car, and we needed to stretch our legs. The sun doesn’t set here until after 9pm, so with a few hours of daylight left, we parked outside the pub and walked back down to the local church for a look.
The church is on the main road to York, but I was told it hasn’t always been there; in the 18th century it was relocated by being dismantled and rebuilt on its present site.
Like many other country churches, the graveyard is in the church grounds. A friend had told me how interesting it was to wander around cemeteries. My initial reaction was that it was probably not my cup of tea, but this evening I changed my mind as we wandered among the headstones reading of the people interred below. The earliest legible stone I found was from 1789. It read:
to the Memory of Thos Burnifton
of Efcrick who departed this life
October the 12th 1789 Aged 66 years
HERE alfo depofited the
remains of Mary Burnifton
wife of the above Thos Burnifton
who departed this life May the 29
1795 in the 73:ͩ Year of her Age.
They were Mutual in their Affections
Indulgent Parents and
Chearful companions to all who knew them
Alfo near this place lies the remains
of Thos Burnifton son to the above
who died Sep:ͭ (?) 26:ͭ ͪ1787 Aged 29
I noted the old English use of ‘f’ as we would now us ‘s’, and the shortening of the words with what we call ‘superscript’ in our Office software applications, for example, ‘Thos‘ instead of Thomas. Perhaps, like the old fashioned telegram, epitaphs were charged by the letter.
Our appetites suitably stimulated by the wanderings among the dearly departed, we walked back up to the Black Bull for our first feed in an English pub in 10 years and it was worth the wait.
Day 27 – Saturday 31st May
We hadn’t had our usual Monday rest day so we decided to stick close to home on Saturday and catch up with some domestic chores, writing, photo processing, and most importantly, rest.
For dinner John and Susan invited us to fish and chip with them in a village called Helmsley, about 30 miles north of Primrose Hill Farm.
On the southern edge of the North York Moors National Park, Helmsley is in a stunning setting in the hills. We went for a short stroll around the village, to the old castle ruins, past a communal village vegetable garden, and shops such as ‘The Beck Tea Room’ (‘beck’ means a stream), and ‘Peter Silk Helmsley’ (an interior design shop and studio). They shared a rough clay brick building with clay tile roof. This was a common feature of the architecture of Helmsley, with an occasional Tudor style building to add variety. It is a pretty, quaint village.
Our fish and chip shop was ‘Scotts of Helmsley’. Here Paul and I were introduced to an English delicacy; fish, chips and mushy peas.
On our way to Helmsley we had stopped at the nearby Rievaulx Abbey. During the English reformation of the church (in 1539) the Catholic Monasteries were shut down and most were laid to ruin. Rievaulx Abbey fell victim to the reformation and much of it was destroyed as villagers raided the buildings for stone to build their own homes.
Now the abbey stands in ruins; while much of the structure of the Presbytery remains, most of the surrounding buildings no longer exist. Rievaulx Abbey was once one of the wealthiest monasteries in Britain, now it stands stately, yet eerily, one of the most complete abbey ruins in England.
Day 28 – Sunday 1st June
Sunday was the first day of summer and it was a spectacular York summer day – warm and sunny.
Salad, rolls, fruit, biscuits, and thermos packed, we ventured north to Castle Howard. The Castle Howard estate is in the Howardian Hills, 15 miles north east of York. It remains a working estate, comprising 3561 ha, about 69% of which is farmland, 24%, woodland, and the remaining 6% is parkland. For all its working land, and the obvious tourist attraction of the house and grounds, Castle Howard’s most profitable enterprise is a caravan park situated on the estate not far from the main house.
Sunday was a spectacular day for the start of summer and families were out in their droves, picnicking, relaxing, or kicking balls around the lawns of the estate. How marvellous it was to see the finely manicured lawns being used for recreational pursuits. It contrasted with Cambridge where every college had signs warning people off the lawns. Then it had seemed a shame that beautiful grassed areas could not be enjoyed and were only there to look at. I felt this even more keenly seeing how the lawns at Castle Howard were enjoyed to their full potential.
We started in the Rose Garden, a walled garden filled with beautifully pruned rose and other plants. The garden was laid out in the early 18th century as a kitchen garden. There are still some vegetables and cut flowers, but the rest of the garden is roses. Many of the benches and lawned spaces in here were occupied by other visitors having a picnic lunch, cup of tea or just taking some time out.
We migrated from there to the main house and the grand lawns and ornamental garden of the South Partere, on the southern side of the building. I felt as though I could have been in a Jane Austen or other period piece. A broad staircase leads down to the lawns and water features bordered by finely trimmed hedges. The centrepiece is the large Atlas fountain, commissioned in 1850 by the 7th Earl. The fountain features a kneeling Atlas with the globe on his shoulders and surrounded by sea gods. To the east is the south lake with a fountain installed by the 5th Earl.
Construction of Castle Howard started in 1699 and took over 100 years to complete. It was the creation of the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, Charles Howard. Today the building is still inhabited by descendants of the 3rd Earl. The Hon. Simon Howard now lives in the house with his family and administrates the estate. They live in the south wing of the main house; the rest of the house is traditionally furnished and open for tours.
The house has endured much, including a fire that destroyed nearly a third of the interior as well as the dome, which is one of its most distinctive architectural features. Castle Howard has also twice been the site for filming movie and television versions of the Evelyn Waugh novel, ‘Brideshead Revisited’, in 1981 with the TV series, and 2008 for the movie.
We wandered through the bed chambers, dressing rooms, antique passage, great hall, libraries, music room, dining room, long gallery and chapel, and drank in the history of the building. It was not difficult to imagine 19th century aristocrats taking 15 turns of the long gallery for exercise during winter. 30 lengths of the gallery is equivalent to one mile.
Castle Howard is a spectacular mansion and estate. I am bemused, however, by the title of ‘castle’. I had always envisioned castles to be large stone buildings with towers, turrets, and moats.
Day 29 – Monday 2nd June
Monday was set aside for exploring York.
York is a small medieval city with narrow winding streets and a rich heritage dating back to the Romans and the Vikings. On two separate occasions York was the centre of the Roman Empire, first in 208-11 when Emperor ‘Septimius Severus’ lived in York, and subsequently in 305 when Emperor Constantius arrived in York. The following year Constantius’s son, Constantine (Constantine the Great) was proclaimed emperor when his father died.
The city of York was founded as a garrison called ‘Eboracum’ built by the Romans in 71AD. It was used by Hadrian as the base for his northern campaign. After the collapse of the Roman Empire Germanic immigrants, mainly the Anglo-Saxons, settled in the town and renamed it Eoforwic.
The next major invasion of York was when the Vikings attacked the city on 1st November 866. It was All Saints Day, an important festival in York, and many of the town’s leaders were probably in the cathedral, setting the ideal conditions for a surprise attack. After a series of bloody battles over subsequent years, the Viking Army rebuilt York, renamed it Jorvik, and cultivated the land around it.
In 1068 the Normans arrived when William the Conqueror marched on York. At the beginning of the 13th century power passed from the Sherriff of Yorkshire to York’s citizens when, in 1212, for £200 and some horses, King John sold them the right to collect and pay the annual tax to the Crown; hold their own courts; and appoint a mayor. For the next 762 years York was a self-governing city under its own mayors.
Being a significant seat of Catholicism, York’s prosperity waned under the reign of Henry VIII.
The 18th century (Georgian period) was a quiet one for York, and it was only the construction of the rail line through the city that prevented the city’s stagnation. In 1840 the first train ran direct from York to London. By 1888 294 trains arrived daily. This opened the city to new markets and by the latter half of the 19th century York had entered the industrial age and was a major centre for manufacture of rail carriages. It also became a centre for the production of confectionary and cocoa.
The centre of York is encircled by stone walls, the most complete example of medieval city walls still standing in England today.
The perimeter of the city was over two miles long and has largely survived moves to demolish the walls to enable expansion of the city during the 19th century. The ‘barbicans’ (towers) at three of the four main gates were torn down. The main gates, known as ‘bars’, are Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar, and Middlegate Bar. We took a short stroll along the wall at Bootham Bar.
Within the walls a spider-web of narrow streets run between ancient and newer buildings standing side by side. We walked up and down romantic old streets such as “Stonegate”, home to York’s oldest pub, “Ye Olde Starre Inne”, and “Whip-ma-Whop-Ma-Gate”, York’s shortest street. And, just to make things a little confusing for the uninitiated, gates are called ‘bars’ and streets are called ‘gates’. Thankfully, pubs are still ‘pubs’.
We lunched at the Earl Grey Tea Rooms in the ‘Shambles’. The Shambles is famous as one of York’s best preserved medieval streets. The street was mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book of William the Conqueror. Many of the buildings date back to around 1350-1475.
The Shambles was originally predominantly butcher shops with slaughter houses at the rear. The meat was hung up outside the shops and laid out for sale on the shop window-bottoms. The raised pavements on either side of the cobbled street form a channel where the offal and blood were washed away twice weekly. The buildings all have overhanging fronts, and in some parts of the street you can touch both sides of the street with outstretched arms. This served the purpose of protecting the ‘wattle and daub’ walls below and also shading the hanging meat from direct sunshine.
At the end of the Shambles is a Tudor-style building (now “Jones’ Shoe Shop”). Apart from its distinctive dark timber and white wattle and daub filling (not unique to this building), it also has a substantial sag in the middle of the first floor. The too is not unique, but this was definitely the saggiest building I have seen in England.
One of the most famous landmarks in York is the York Minster. This is a mighty and imposing structure that dominates the northern corner of the ancient city. The cathedral is the largest medieval cathedral in northern Europe.
Another landmark is the Museum Gardens. One of the features of the gardens is the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey. It was another victim of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Its riches were confiscated and the building taken apart and left to collapse. The abbey was founded by the Normans in the 11th century and became the richest monastery in the north of England. An elaborate church, built in a similar style to the Minster (with sweeping arches and large stained glass windows) and about 120 metres long, was completed in 1294. Apparently, until its demise in the 16th century it rivalled the similarly-aged minster as an architectural masterpiece.
Even now, its former grandeur is obvious.
Day 30 – Tuesday 3rd June
John and Susan had recommended a visit to Bolton Abbey, so that was our destination on Tuesday. The abbey is in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, to the west of York.
The day started out overcast and the drive through the English countryside was under dense high cloud. Just driving in this area is beautiful.
The “M” roads are major motorways, usually at least three lanes each way, and the speed limit is 70 mph. The “A” roads with low numbers are major roads, usually dual-carriageway with a speed limit of 60 mph. The “A” roads with higher numbers are generally single carriageway, speed limit of 50.
On any A roads there are round-abouts only a few miles apart; there are towns and villages where the speed drops down to 20 or 30; and there are often larger vehicles abiding by their lower speed limit, or farm vehicles that can’t go any faster anyway, with a large queue of cars behind them and few places to overtake, so you are rarely doing the speed limit for long.
One of the advantages of the slower travelling speed is that you get to see a lot of the countryside and take endless photos out the window of the car, with the added advantage of feeling the inevitably frosty outside air.
In 1120 a community of Augustinian Friars known as the “Black Canons” was founded at Embsay, near Skipton (to the west of Bolton Abbey). In 1154 the Canons were gifted land and resources to establish themselves at Bolton by Lady Alice de Romille of Skipton Castle. At its peak there were 26 Canons resident in the monastery, and 200 lay-workers. They derived their income from sales of wool, from tithes and rents of farm land, lead mining, and mills. From the ruins it would appear the abbey prospered, up until the reformation of the church in 1539.
Then the furnishings were stripped out and the protective lead removed from the roof. The only part of the original structure that remained intact was the Nave. It was retained as a parish church of the Church of England.
Today the Bolton Abbey estate encompasses 33 000 acres which includes the River Wharfe, an ancient Oak woodland call “The Strid”, and apparently 80 miles of walking tracks.
We didn’t cover the full 80 miles, but we gave it a nudge on our afternoon stroll.
We started in the priory. Like the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey in York, it was easy to see that Bolton Abbey had previously contained some majestic buildings. The Monastic estate had contained barns, granges, workshops, orchards, and a mill, bakehouse, brewhouse, and a tannery. It was a regular self-contained money-making enterprise.
While the ruins are magnificent, Bolton Abbey estate contains so much more.
Just down from the monastery the River Wharfe is crossed by a series of stepping stones. Susan had told us stories of her granny crossing the river at night by the stepping stones to go to the local dances. I guess in those days, with limited entertainment and no other options for crossing the river, Susan’s granny was fairly motivated and just took the stones in her stride, and some of them required a fairly long stride. In 2014 there is also a bridge. I opted to use the bridge.
We continued along the eastern bank of the Wharfe. Our target was an aqueduct about five or six kilometres along the river. We had a basic map that we had been given when we paid our entry to the carpark. The measurements on the map were rudimentary at best.
My initial estimates of maybe a couple of hours walking turned out to be four hours. Thankfully, it was a beautiful day, still overcast at first, but pleasant and, importantly, not raining for our first walk in the English countryside.
We crossed at the aqueduct and made our way back to the priory. We spent some time down at the Strid, an infamous narrow stretch of river in the Strid woodland, where the river funnels through a gap in the rocks which, at its narrowest would be less than two metres wide.
Susan had warned us that a number of young men had been killed there, trying to jump from one side to the other. It is so narrow, and I’m sure that under ‘normal’ (or more likely ‘abnormal’) conditions even I could jump the distance. But the rock is covered with thick mossy weed, so while reaching the other side may not be an issue, being able to grip the rocks on landing would be something else altogether.
Below, the water spits and boils ferociously over the rocks and then becomes eerily calm and black. With the dark tannin of the surrounding woods colouring the water, I couldn’t tell how deep it was. It was a beautiful place, fascinating, and a bit scary.
We pushed on through the ancient Strid Wood and finally made it back to the priory car park at 5pm.
It was late, and we had a big day of travel tomorrow, but we opted for a quick run up to Skipton before heading home. Skipton is six miles from Bolton Abbey. On her wedding day, Susan’s granny and her future husband walked from Bolton Abbey to Skipton, got married, and then walk back home. I know that they had little choice, and necessity breeds resilience, but our leisurely stroll had been less than 12 kilometres, Susan’s grandparents walked 12 miles (nearly 20 kilometres) to get married. I felt hopelessly inadequate, cruising the distance in our comfy little Peugeot 2008.
Just a few hundred metres down the road to Skipton we discovered the Bolton Abbey Station. We had to stop. The station is small, quaint, and much as it probably would have been in its heyday, with an ad for “Wills ‘Capstan’ navy cut cigarettes” at the entrance; a sign declaring “Midland Railway, Tickets must be shewn, Derby. Jan. 1909. By order” in the station building; luggage trolleys piled high with ports and metal chests; and old fashioned scales similarly loaded.
The approach to Skipton was pretty, and from a distance the town looked orderly. On closer inspection this is due to row after row of grey-roofed, brown stone row houses. It may be orderly, but it is not pretty.
A quick look around and we headed back to Primrose Hill Farm.