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 soring 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 walk back to the car took us past Roly’s Fudge Pantry. The sign claimed to have crumbly fudge so we through we’d test them out. It is true, their fudge is crumbly. Unlike some of the gooey sort you can buy, this took me back to my childhood when I would be boiling sugar, water and cocoa in a pot on the stove to make chocolate fudge form the ‘Day to Day Cookery’ book. Mum must have had minor conniptions whenever I was taken with the urge to bake. Some of my more inventive creations (especially when I decided to deviate from the recipe) were, well, the only way to describe them would be ‘disastrous’.
Fudge in hand to fuel us for the next leg of our road trip, we headed for Peterborough, and another cathedral. Like many structure 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, including the original wooden ceiling, completed between 1230 and 1250 (the only one of its type in England, and one of only four surviving in Europe – according to the ‘Eastern Cathedrals’ website). One of the other features are the perpendicular work and fan vaulting in the east end of the church. This was allegedly designed by John Wastell who went on to work on Kings College Chapel.
It truly is a magnificent structure and I was again taken by the towering columns, fan vaulting and magnificent painted ceiling. As you start the tour of Peterborough Cathedral there is a display explaining the history of the cathedral and its construction. 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 (not by the Catholic Church) 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 consequently was 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 of the cathedral. 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.
We continued on towards York. The only address we had was “Primrose Hill Farm, Deighton, York”. We knew approximately where it was, but Paul couldn’t pinpoint the location for the GPS, so he consulted Google Earth, found the precise location and plugged the coordinates into the GPS. It took us straight to the barn.
With our stops along the way it was after 5pm when we finally arrived. Our accommodation was a true traditional B&B; our hosts, John and Sue. When they retired, John and Sue 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 ‘rustic’ home with 1 ½ foot deep external wall which mean the building is extremely well insulated. We later discovered that for insulation purposes, this is not unusual in the UK.
When we pulled into the yard Sue came out to meet us and I had the immediate feeling that we had made an excellent decision to take the spare room in their home.
The farrier was onsite, shoeing one of the horses, and by the time we had taken our gear upstairs, the horse was shod and the five of us sat around the kitchen table with a cup of tea. I think York is where I picked up the habit of a cup of tea to mark morning or afternoon tea, or late evening supper, or just an excuse to sit around and be sociable.
The closest village is Deighton, but our farrier friend had recommended the Black Bull in the next village (Escrick) for dinner. So after our cuppa we jumped in the car and travelled the few miles back along the York Road to the village. 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. This is a small country pub with a small bar that is the centre of social interaction, some tables and chairs in the front bay window, and the rest of the open space around the central fireplace is set for dining. It is warm, cozy, and friendly, and they serve good tucker. The bitter ales come straight off the keg and the lagers are chilled.
Paul had bangers and mash, and I had a ploughman’s lunch. Thankfully Paul’s meal wasn’t so large so he had room to left to help me out. My meal came out on a huge plate; ham, cheese, chutney, pickled onion, an apple, and bread. It was 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.
It was a beautiful sunny day so the washing dried on the line. We went for a walk down to the local servo/Spar for some groceries, and had a kindy nap in the afternoon.
John and Sue usually have fish and chips on Saturday. There is a fish and chip shop at the end of the drive, on the York road. Paul and I had decided to try it out for dinner. It was also John and Sue’s traditional Saturday night takeaway dinner venue. Tonight, instead, John and Sue invited us to fish and chip with them in a village called Helmsley, about 30 miles north of Primrose Hill Farm.
Helmsley is one of the prospective villages that John and Sue might retire to. On the southern edge of the North York Moors National Park Helmsley is in a stunning setting in the hills. Everyone was out and about in the town square, enjoying the sunshine. We went for a short stroll around the village, to the old castle ruins, past a communal village vegetable garden (tended by the local school, a charity group, and a private gardener), 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, being 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 stand stately, yet eerily, one of the most complete abbey ruins in England.
After dinner we took a different route home, past Castle Howard, and I decided this would be my destination for Sunday.
Day 28 – Sunday 1st June
Sunday was the first day of summer and it was a spectacular York summer day – warm and sunny. Paul had decided to visit the Yorkshire Air Museum, just around the corner from Primrose Hill Farm. He also wanted to come to Castle Howard. So he and John headed off to the museum while I took another stroll to the servo for some additional supplies and prepared a picnic lunch on my return.
Salad, rolls, fruit, biscuits, and thermos packed, we ventured north again to Castle Howard. Unfortunately the car GPS maps didn’t extend that far and we had to navigate the old-fashioned way. Fortunately Castle Howard is signposted, and when you start to encounter ruins of walls through which the road travels, and large columns in the middle of the road, you know you are close.
The castle is still inhabited by descendants of the first earl. 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. (but not close enough to detract from the ambience of the estate setting)
You can buy admission to the house and grounds for £14.50, or just the grounds for £9.50. It is obvious a lot of people avail themselves of the second option and take the family out for a picnic and day out in the magnificent grounds. 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 bought the house and grounds ticket. 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 vegetable 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. I fancied that a beautiful prospect would be looking over to the house from the far side of the lake with the Prince of Wales fountain in full flight. I should have done it there and then. Sadly, by the time I got down there later that day the fountain had been turned off and the sun was behind the building so my photos are not nearly as spectacular as I had planned, but the view was stunning nonetheless, and I couldn’t help but imagine Darcy walking by and diving into the lake. Wrong house, but it did motivate me to research which house was used as Pemberley in the BBC 1995 miniseries of Pride and Prejudice. Lyme Park is now on my to-see list.
We left the ornamental garden for a tour of the inside of the house. 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. Some genealogical history: the 1st Earl of Carlisle (also Charles Howard) was the great grandson of Lord William Howard, the youngest son of Thomas, 4th Duke of Norfolk. The 3rd Earl was Charles’ grandson.
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. Simon Howard and his family 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 the most distinctive architectural features of the house. 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.
The rooms are spectacular and ornate and there are not enough pages in my journal to chronicle them here. Needless to say, 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.
After touring the house we joined the other picnickers and lunched in the South Partere, looking back at the stately mansion. At one stage I thought I might be lunching alone as Paul had discovered that the local Rolls Royce club had congregated in the car park and it was difficult to drag him away when we went out to retrieve our lunch from the car. Perhaps he realised this would be detrimental to maintaining good marital relations…
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. Irrespective of the nomenclature of the building type, it was a perfect way to spend a perfect English summer day.
We took a long route home, mistaking ‘Shipton’ to the north of York with ‘Skipton’ to the west, but it was still a pleasant drive through country villages and winding country roads. We had worked up an appetite after our day in the English countryside, following in the footsteps of the English aristocracy, so we dined again at the Black Bull in Escrick. We were still becoming accustomed to the long English summer days. With the aid of daylight savings, it was still light when we returned to Primrose Hill Farm.
Day 29 – Monday 2nd June
Monday was set aside for exploring York. In the UK there is an excellent ‘Park and Ride’ (P&R) system where you drive your car to the car park and then catch the bus into town. On the south side of York, the P&R is in the car park of the Designer Outlet (similar to a DFO). The Designer Outlet haven’t caught on like our Westfields in Queensland, and don’t charge for parking, so for £2.70 you get a return ticket to York.
We stopped at the railway station and Paul headed for the Rail Museum while I spent a few aimless hours wandering around the centre of York. If any city would benefit from a P&R it is York.
York is a small medieval city with narrow winding streets and a rich heritage dating back to the Romans and the Vikings. The York area has been inhabited since the Neolithic period (c.4000-2000BC), however, much of the surrounding area is believed to have been unsuitable for settlement because of heavy clay soil and poor drainage.
Parts of York, however, sit on a ridge of high ground and it is in these parts that relics from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages (c.2000-750BC) have been found. Little is known of the history of York during the Iron Age (c.750BC-AD71), however, it is known that when the Romans arrived in 71AD the land was already cultivated.
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 fact that Eoforwic ends in ‘wic’ is significant as this seemed to indicate a centre of commercial significance in each of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Others included Lundenwic (London) and Gipeswic (Ipswich).
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. Jorvik became the capital of the kingdom of the same name and roughly corresponds with today’s Yorkshire.
In 1068 the Normans arrived when William the Conqueror marched on York. William the Conqueror built two castles and York became the only city outside of London to have more than one castle. 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.
York’s prosperity waned under the reign of Henry VIII. York was a significant seat of Catholicism so it stood to lose a lot with the reformation of the church.
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.
With such a rich history it is little wonder that a stroll through York takes in an eclectic mix of the old and the new.
The centre of York is encircled by stone walls, the most complete example of medieval city walls still standing in England today. One could mistakenly assume, like I did, that the walls would hark from Roman times, but the stone wall that survives today was erected in the 13thand 14th centuries. It replaced the wooden palisade erected by the Vikings over the top of the original Roman wall, so I wasn’t entirely wrong.
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 (one of the best preserved in the world). 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. The name shambles is thought to derive from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘Shammel’ for the shelves in the open shop-fronts.
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.
After lunch we walked towards 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. We walked around the outside, but didn’t venture in. Of all the cathedrals we could visit in England, this is probably the one we should have had a good look at. However, we knew from experience that once we paid the admission and walked inside it would be a good couple of hours before we came out, and it was already nearly 4pm.
I guess also that it would take a bit to top Peterborough Cathedral for me, with its fascinating stories of Katharine of Aragon and Mary Queen of Scots, and of course, Old Scarlett. I was content with appreciating the external grandeur of York Minster so we put the inside on the list for next time.
There was still much of York to see so we continued on our way, out the Bootham Bar to the Museum Gardens. I had spent a little time there earlier in the day and wanted Paul to see them. I also needed wifi to book our ferry tickets for Belfast (sadly Vodafone’s data is not up to the standard that we are accustomed to with Telstra), and there is free wifi in the 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 similar aged minster as an architectural masterpiece.
Even now, its former grandeur is obvious.
After lunching in a tea room we thought it would be appropriate to take our evening meal in a traditional English pub. We narrowed it down to a choice of two; “Ye Olde Starre Inne” (York’s longest continuous license), and “The Golden Fleece”, located on “The Pavement”. It is a narrow building squeezed in beside Jones saggy tudor-style clothing shop (the building was saggy and tudor-style, not the clothing) at the end of the Shambles.
We walked over through the Shambles. At the junction of the Shambles and the Pavement stands the Golden Fleece. I liked the look of this place and I had been figuring this would be the spot for dinner. When we entered and asked to see a menu we were sent through the pub to the dining area. The music playing in the front bar was rubbish, loud rubbish, and it was no better in the back. We didn’t even bother with the menus, instead, to end the assault on our ears, we bolted for the front door and headed for the Star.
The Star is accessed through a narrow laneway off Stonegate. Its location is identified by a solid banner that spans the street. This banner has apparently been in place since 1733. A stipend is paid to the owner of the property it is attached to across the street, but the agreement states the rent has to be spent in the company of the landlord of the pub.
The interior of the Star is understandably old (rustic even), and charming. We sat in a quiet, dark alcove set with a number of tables. The music was far superior to the Golden Fleece, though I can’t speak for the menu, our flight from the Fleece being too rapid to take in that detail. Being York and all, I had convinced Paul he should have roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for dinner. I live vicariously through him nowadays as far as gastronomic delights are concerned. Instead he opted for a Beef Wellington; basically his roast beef was wrapped in a giant Yorkshire pudding. Oh well, that was pretty close I guess.
Day 30 – Tuesday 3rd June
John and Sue had recommended a visit to Bolton Abbey, so that was our destination. 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. As Paul drove to Bolton Abbey, I periodically wound the passenger-side window down to photograph sheep in a field; a farmhouse in ruins; wind turbines with cows grazing below; green fields separated by dry stone walls; farmers riding quad bikes through fields of rape oil seed (canola); impressive stone houses and farm buildings with slate roofs; and even the RAF Menwith Hill radar installation.
We had spent the morning preparing for tomorrow’s departure from York so we didn’t arrive at Bolton Abbey until about 12.30pm. Thanks to John and Sue’s flask, we had a cup of tea and a biscuit before walking over to the priory.
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.
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 acreas 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 good 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.
The graveyard in the grounds of the ruins contains graves from mostly the 18th and 19th centuries. At least, those are the legible ones.
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. Paul walked across, and to my shame, so did a brash young fellow probably a quarter of my age.
I had been looking forward to seeing the stepping stones after hearing Susan’s 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 mapthat 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.
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 another issue 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, with its deceptive qualities luring the adventurous or foolhardy into such peril.
We pushed on through the ancient Strid Wood and finally made it back to the priory car park at 5pm. We had a late, and much deserved lunch which included a couple of pork pies, traditional English delicacies that Susan had given us that morning.
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 Peugot 2008.
While we had been walking along the river we had a couple of times heard the whistle of a steam train, at which Paul’s ears had pricked. Just a few hundred metres down the road to Skipton we discovered the source of the sound, the Bolton Abbey Station. We had to stop.
Today steam trains run between Embsay and Bolton Abbey, seemingly more a labour of love for steam train enthusiasts than as an essential public transport service. We had missed the last train of the day but we were invited to take a look around. 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.
There is an appeal to restore and reopen Platform 2, so we gave a donation and continued on our way.
I had been looking forward to seeing Skipton. The approach road 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.