Chichén-Itzá – not to be confused with chicken at Itsu.
How can you say that you have been to the Yucatán peninsula if you’ve not visited the archaeological site of Chichén-Itzá? Drag yourself away from the white powdery beaches of the Mayan Rivieraand you will be blessed with an education about the classical and post classical periods of world history. It provides answers to a curiosity about the rise and fall of the Mayan, Toltec and the Mesoamerica civilisations and cultures.
I’m struggling to learn and understand the history of my own homeland, let alone delve into the history of another country, but isn’t this what travelling does to us? We get opportunities to learn and explore different cultures that have evolved and then shaped the world in which we live today. I confess that prior to this trip that the Mesoamerican era meant absolutely nothing to me, which is surprising as I had visited this place before. This trip fed that inquisitive instinct to learn about new places. To my way of thinking I feel like the explorers and pirates of yesteryear who set off not knowing what was over the horizon. The French, British and Spanish discovered much of the east coast of the Northern and central America, but it was the Spanish who arrived, explored and conquered the Yucatán peninsula.
When the name Chichén-Itzá is mentioned or searched then the Temple of Kukulkan immediately comes to mind. The temple that everyone is obsessed with is in the heart of the Chichén-Itzá site. Chichén-Itzá provides an obscure look into the history of Mayan. The site is still an active archaeological site with discoveries being made continually. Speaking to locals and reading different sources of information will provide the enquirer with many myths and mysteries of the site. Carlos, our guide on this trip, seemed to have his own versions and theories of what might have happened here, so it is very hard to understand what is true or not. He would always refer to his ‘beautiful picture’. A phrase to which he would continually return when he wanted to show a picture to support his theory.
The Temple of Kukulkan is undoubtedly the showpiece to the whole site. Steeped in much history, it’s the one thing that everyone comes to see, and why not? I’ve not seen the pyramids in Egypt so I cannot compare. The temple has an ability to cause some to stand in open mouthed awe. It is also known as El Castillo (the castle). It rises imperiously to a height of 94 feet. The gloriously steep pyramid displays the accuracy and importance of astronomyto the Maya. The perfect astrological design includes 4 staircases each with 91 steps that face the cardinal points. At the top platform you’ll find one platform (a final step) add that to the simple maths of 4 times 91 and you get 365. This combined with other features give you the Mayan calendar. You were once allowed to walk to the top, that privilege was taken away as the result of spring break misdemeanours. Twice a year an optical illusion takes place at sunrise when the sun casts a shadow on the northern side, which looks like a snake is slithering down the steps. This equinox happens twice a year in the spring and autumn. Those pesky American college kids mean that climbing to the top and inside is now prohibited, a great shame as there are rumours that a smaller pyramid lies inside.
If you can drag yourself away from the one thing everyone has come to see, in the main area you will notice to behind it what looks more like a temple known as the Temple of Warriors. This rectangular building has steps in the middle up to an area where a sculpture rests in between pillars. Again, access is denied, but at the bottom of the steps are several pillars. It is rumoured that there is a pillar for each one of 450 warriors, but our trip was short so we didn’t have time to prove if this true. My guess is that this number is purely mythical.
At the opposite end to the Temple of Warriors, lies the ball court. It is said that this is the largest ball court in the Mesoamerica area. Upon entering the theatre, you will be immediately drawn to the two rings situated in the walls on either side. How the game worked I still can’t understand but I believe the idea was to get the ‘ball’ through the ring on the wall. I think I’m right in thinking that the rules meant that no arms or legs were allowed to move the ball and was also played in the dark. Very strange especially when it is realised that the losers became a sacrificial offering. Can’t imagine too many wanting to take up that sport. Glad that we have moved on from those times.
My two visits have shown me what everyone comes to see. Longer time would be needed to explore the full site and see why this became a significant centre of political and economic power. Suburbs were built around the site, with connecting stone roads. Sadly, I leave this place, one of the seven new wonders of the modern world. I wish I had longer to explore the site and delve into the dark underground world of the Mayabut as I was a tourist, I was caught in the rat trap of tour agendas. Had I been in traveling mode I perhaps would have learnt so much more. So, I say, “Adios, Chichen-Itza”, and look forward to visiting another wonder of the world in the near future.
Not a war time cry across the wireless but a phrase from the lyrics put together by ‘The Clash’ and with which its song leads I feel ‘London Calling’. The Clash would follow up their leading line with ‘to the faraway towns’, and this is so as I sit on the train back from this incredible city and return to my faraway town.
Some would associate London calling with the punk record or look back at memories of when it was the leading line on the wireless before the BBC would deliver reports on the darkest periods of World War II. Relaxing by letting the train take the strain I start to ponder how on earth I can write a single blog about the ‘greatest city’ on earth, that has become the laughingstock around the world recently’ apparently. I will stay away from the politics, after all this blog is about travel, London has been calling me for a while now, but though my mission to visit every city has taken a hiatus, everything now looks to be getting back on track.
A city like many others on this personal journey, it is steeped in so much of Britain’s history, which is infused through every nook and cranny of this metropolis. It was the Romans who first established this city some 2000 years ago, before many ups and downs created what is seen today. The Black Plague, the Great Fire Spanish flu and even the German Luftwaffe tried to destroy it, but she still stood firm. These are just a few periods of its incredible history that have shaped the city seen today and perhaps are reasons for so many visitors.
London lures many people to visit, to work or even to in live in, I’m included in that number. What is the reason? Politicians strive for power, investors and bankers seek their fortune, some people arrive for a glimpse of the monarchy, or others just like to find fame in that ‘Instagrammable’) location. The facts surely speak for themselves. Before the pandemic struck, some 18 million people came to visit the city every year. This is further evidenced by London being voted the greatest city on the planet on numerous occasions. This, of course, is open for debate.
Someone wise once said, ‘Why, sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’ Sadly, as I write this, I tend to disagree because, on this day, I am willing to leave London. Has the world changed greatly from the day that this was said? In my opinion it has greatly! In my eyes the hustle and bustle are okay for a day or two, but full time? Not for me! That’s a rat race I don’t want to win. Perhaps many Londoners shared the same view as they flocked away from the city during the pandemic. As I see it there is a call from afar of green and pleasant lands that offer a quality of life that the city can’t match. Full time bloggers dedicate their blogs to this city. I’m just an inquisitive individual trying to learn about these lands.
It’s that thirst for knowledge that has taught me London is two cities the City of Westminster and the City of London. The City of London is surely a far cry from the small fort the Romans would have established when they invaded these lands. When the Roman Empire fell and the Romans left these shores, the city has evolved from sticks and stones into the financial hub of the world (would need confirmation that this is still the case). Now referred to as ‘the square mile’. It is adjoined on the western boundary by London’s second city, the ‘bubble’ (sorry City) of Westminster (the chaos of that City is reflected in the daily news, and I will leave that for you to follow). These two Cities combine to form the central heartbeat (downtown – if you’re reading from across the pond) of what many people associate as being London. The gothic grandeur sprinkled throughout as modern & medieval architecture stand side by side complimenting each other is a sight to behold. London’s addictive atmosphere evokes curiosity & excitement. This is true for me as a visitor, but for those who live here 24/7 they may have other feelings. These two cities, together with 31 boroughs, combine to form the Greater London Area (GLA). Camden, Hammersmith & Fulham, Richmond, Southwark, Greenwich to name a few. Six of these boroughs do not have “London Borough” in their names: the City of London and the City of Westminster, and the Royal Boroughs of Kingston upon Thames, Kensington, Chelsea, and Greenwich. For someone living in the countryside its astonishing to think that an incredible 9 million people call London home which is more people than live in Wales and Scotland combined or the entire population of Austria. This amount of people surely gives the city its rich & diverse culture. Over a third of this 9 million were born abroad which means London is probably as international as it is British.
These cultures combine to give a mix of cuisines like no other city. Forget ‘the best of British’, as food lovers are spoilt for choice. When visiting or living in London people are spoilt for choices. There are a remarkable 87 Michelin star restaurants in the city and 3 at the highest 3* level. There are even rumours that there are more Indian restaurants in London than in Mumbai and that the food is better than can be found in that city. A quick troll through Instagram will show you some of the famous ones, normally accompanied by a rooftop view for drinks – they certainly are the craze these days. If food isn’t what you seek, then perhaps a pint maybe calling you. Pubs are part of the very fabric of Britain, and it is claimed that in London you are never no more than 7metres from one (again how true this is I shall let you decide). The capital boasts some 7,000 public houses and inns. Afternoon tea is another very British tradition, and London (where it originates from?) does it like no other. A visit to the Ritz, Claridge’s, Browns, Dorchester and The Berkeley are all worth the financial outlay.
But London is more than food & drink. It can boast an incredible 4 separate world heritage sites. It has 2000 years of history. Meaning it has something for everyone. The Romans established it, it survived the dark ages before evolving through the Middle Ages, and now as technology advances at a rate of knots who knows what she might become. The great British Isles are blessed with many castles, London incredibly only boasts one these days, The famous and much visited tower of London. At one time there were 9 castles surrounding the city, but the only one remaining is to the west, which is her late majesty’s resting place, Windsor. A town not so far away, only a day’s march back in the day is well worth a visit but shouldn’t distract you from the time that would be lost to the vast amount of museums London has to boast. You could spend a couple of weeks in London and still not visit all the museums, as there are over 170 of them. The best thing is that most of them are free! Half of the 2 millennia (of the Christian era) have been ruled by the monarchy. Westminster Abbey (along with the Tower of London) dates back to the Norman invasion. Westminster Abbey is where our kings and queens are crowned. There is a fascination with the monarchy from old to young and far and wide, and while it gives us our rich traditions, values and pomp and circumstance the whispers grow louder for its very existence. London’s more recent history has been absorbed in political infighting that has come off the back of pandemic management. As we leave the ‘pandemic’ London, like the rest of the Europe, survived as it did the great Plague and fire. During the great plague some 40,000 Londoners were wiped out in 1665 and a year later the great fire tore through the city, but she still survived. As the city evolved from the turmoil of an epidemic and then ash, it rose again. The present St Paul’s Cathedral is testament to this. It left the medieval ages and golden years and went on to become the modern masterpiece everyone seems to love now. The impression I have is that much of London’s success can be put down to the Victorians. There may be similarities with the here and now as Britain looks to carve its new place in the world post Brexit. Perhaps some inspiration can be gleaned from its great and long-standing history. London is also home to some quirky street names.
I mentioned ‘wannabe‘ social media stars flocking to the city for the perfect location for food or spending money in the city’s fashionable drinking and eating establishments. Their arrival is clearly the city’s business gains. London is also one of the 4 fashion capitals of the world and is home to more shops than Paris. Oxford, Regent & Bond Street are famous as are Harrods in Knightsbridge, Saville Row or, my personal favourite, Covent Garden. Fashion is so popular in London that it requires two weeks and not one in the calendar year for its fashion week. The city has also produced some famous names in the fashion world – Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss to name a couple.
With many people living, working or visiting the city, it needs a transport system like no other. Green taxes and overcrowded roads mean driving in London isn’t for the faint hearted. London is served by the largest city airport network in the world. The 6 airports that form this service to the city are Stansted, Luton, Southend, City, Gatwick and Heathrow. The London Underground with its famous map is an experience not to be missed when in the city. It’s the oldest metro system in the world, 402km long and boasts an incredible 270 stops. It is reported that 1.3 billon single trips are made each year on the ‘Tube’. It is also an interesting fact that more of the underground exists above ground. How could one write about transport and not mention London’s iconic Black cabs and red buses. They used to dominate the roads of the city, but now they are competing with uber, and bicycles as alternative forms of getting round. As the world looks to green alternatives, possibly the best way to explore the city is by foot. It’s certainly my favourite way to explore the place. You’ll hopefully be able to read my blogs soon of when I completed the Thames path which took me right through the heart of the city. The City is classified as a national forest. There are an estimated 8 and half million trees in the city with over 300 gardens. This equates to 40% of London being parkland.
So, as I draw this slightly longer blog to a close, I can only apologise for its length. Hopefully you can see how difficult I have found to condense this blog about the city, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. So, as I look to explore this great city in further detail, the capital of capitals, watch out for more and more blogs on this fascinating city. I will return to that famous quote ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’ I’m not tired and look forward to returning. Are you tired of London? Answers on a postcard (email) please….
Blissfully located in the northern environs of the Cotswolds and a stone’s throw from the town of Winchcombe lies the little known Sudeley castle. Ignore at your loss or take the detour to explore a castle steeped in history!! One can only imagine the grandeur and splendour this castle enjoyed in its heyday, as it seems to be a place that was unwanted throughout the centuries. There was a reluctance to retain ownership of it. Its occupants’ loyalty to the king during the Civil War and subsequent lack of caring owners for a couple of centuries mean that it has been left to decay over time. The site now appears to be a combination of a stately home and some castle ruins. Imagination is necessary on any visit! The ramparts and fortifications are long gone; any visitor is left to wonder at the true size of the castle from the ruins that remain. We must be grateful to local glove makers who purchased it and, along with their descendants, ensured its survival.
Sudeley is the only castle in the Cotswolds, which is an area of natural beauty in the UK and not to be mistaken with a national park. Much of its beauty and reputation lies in its famous wealthy villages and churches, and people from all over the world are attracted to this quaint region to capture the same images they have seen plastered over the gram. Thankfully, Sudeley seems to be off the beaten track such that it has not been subjected to this racket and has retained its freedom from Instagram fame.
This area of England boasted much wealth throughout the centuries, and this may be seen when visiting the area. The delightful stone-built houses are the subject of photos to adorn chocolate box lids. Sudeley, of course, fed off that wealth. It was established in the valley sitting underneath the wealthy town of Winchcombe. In medieval times, lands and wealth were associated with the church until midway through the 16th century when Henry VIII’s greed took over. The tithe barn that remains on the Sudeley site may have connections with the church and it may well be that local farmers had to give a tithe (tenth) of their crop to the church and this was stored in these barns.
Prior to Henry VIII becoming king, his father, Henry VII, united the Houses of Lancaster and York (their emblems being the famous red and white roses) when he married Elizabeth of York and inaugurated the Tudor dynasty. There had been a massive power struggle that had lasted many a year and culminated in the famous battle of Bosworth, where Richard III was the last/only(?) monarch to be killed on the battlefield in 1485 – ‘My horse, my horse; my kingdom for a horse’; Leicester car park and all that. Richard actually owned the castle a couple of times, as before he was the king, he was known as the Duke of Gloucester. His brother Edward IV had given him Sudeley Castle and estates and the Duke used this castle as a base during the famous battle of Tewkesbury (1471; another beautiful place to visit as there is a nod to those days everywhere). I guess as Richard got more ambitious, he then made the decision to move up north to pursue his dream and exchanged the castle at Sudeley for Richmond castle in Yorkshire (another tremendous place and, again, well worth a visit). No doubt it was a motive of becoming king that led to this move and the subsequent actions. On becoming King Richard III, he acquired the castle for the second time. He set about building the great banqueting hall and state rooms but all that remains today are scattered ruins.
When Henry VII defeated Richard III he became king of the land and set about healing the divisions. One of his main supporters was his uncle Jasper Tudor. Henry rewarded this loyalty with the Sudeley estate. Jasper Tudor died at Christmas time in 1495 with no children and heir and this meant that the castle passed back again to crown. It was perhaps Henry VII’s son and Jasper Tudor’s nephew, Henry VIII, who reigned from 1509-1545, of whom everyone has heard in connection with our history. He wanted to cut ties with Europe (similarities could be made to today) but his desire stemmed largely from a selfish motive to break from the Roman Catholic faith. His legacy, especially that seen in the established Church of England, still plays out in modern Britain with much of our pomp and ceremony associated with the state church.
Controversially, Henry manipulated people and circumstances so that he had 6 wives during his 55-year life. Divorce, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded survived, we all know the riddle. It was his third and sixth wives that perhaps are associated most with this castle. When Henry VIII had Anne Boleyn’s head cut off (he did visit Sudeley with Anne) he had fallen for Jane Seymour and she gave him the son he desperately craved – Edward VI. This meant that the family name (Seymour) grew in strength and power.
When Henry died, he left a widow – Katherine Parr (she died the year after Henry VIII), and a very young king. The new King’s uncles manoeuvred themselves to positions of strength with the elder (Edward – 1st Duke of Somerset) becoming Lord Protector of England for his young nephew (Edward VI). He granted his younger brother Thomas, the Sudeley estate and Castle, and granted him the titles of Lord Sudeley and later Lord High Admiral. Thomas was an ambitious man, which was also his undoing. He pursued the hand of the dowager queen (the Queen mother) and he married Katherine Parr in April or May 1547 a few months after the death of Henry VIII who had earlier claimed her hand in marriage ahead of Thomas Seymour.
Upon their marriage they moved to Sudeley Castle where Thomas refurbished the castle for his new bride and her massive entourage. Katherine Parr was wealthy of her own accord, a widow prior to marrying the king, she was also granted much wealth from the king on his deathbed. She also carried on caring for princess Elizabeth (latter to become Elizabeth I). She was to die at the tender age of 36 of puerperal fever shortly after giving birth to their daughter Mary, her only child in this her fourth marriage, who herself died at the age of 2. Katherine was laid to rest in the chapel of St Mary (located in the grounds). This makes Sudeley Castle the only private castle in the land to have a queen buried in it. Thomas Seymour was eventually executed for treason, as one of his many crimes was to try to marry Princess Elizabeth and pursue his own powerful agenda. This resulted in the castle passing to the crown and Mary I granted the castle to Sir John Brydges. Finally, the castle remained in the same family for about a century. During this time Queen Elizabeth visited on a number of occasions, the third and final time was a 3-day party to celebrate the victory over the Spanish armada (Sir Francis Drake and all that).
Elizabeth was the last Tudor monarch. She never had an heir, which leads us to the Stewart dynasty, another iconic part of our history as it was during this time that the only Civil War this country has experienced took place. King Charles I believed in the divine right of kings and this brought him into verbal conflict with parliament. This developed into something far uglier. He was ultimately unsuccessful in defending his crown and was beheaded early in 1649. Everybody picked sides, either Royalist or Parliamentarian, and the Brydges (Lord Chandos) backed their king. He left the castle in charge of armed tenants and servants to join the king at Shrewsbury in 1642 and the castle fell into the hands of roundheads (another name for Parliamentarians) who turned the church into a stable and slaughterhouse before Prince Rupert of the Rhine (nephew of Charles I), came back to take it into the Crown’s hands in January 1643. They lost it again in 1644, in the topsy and turvy affair that was the Civil War and Cromwell (he is the subject of another story) decided the castle should be ‘slighted’ or rendered untenable as a military post. This resulted in the castle being left to rot and fall into ruin for 2 centuries.
Then in 1837, Sudeley Castle was given a lifeline. The wealthy Worcester glove-makers, brothers John and William Dent, began an ambitious restoration programme. This was continued by the family and means that much of what one sees today is down to their hard work and good will.
Only a tenth of what was once a wealthy estate of 12,000 acres remains, but what is left leaves much to the imagination and fascination. ‘Sudeley Castle and gardens’ may seem like a misnomer as it appears more stately home than castle. The gardens are charming, there is an iconic church which is home to a famous grave, and a castle that has been battered with Britain’s history. It may not look like a castle (think Windsor or Warwick), but British history has decided that for us. We can appreciate what it is and the stories that it must tell. It is and will always be a favourite of mine.
It was the start of the new season. The autumn air that normally fills my lungs with joy was interspersed with the dark cloud of coronavirus. It is like a sword of Damocles hanging over us, but thankfully, protected as best we could have been, the sun finally broke through the clouds on our latest venture. Its warm rays provided the ignition to light that fiery display that this time of year provides, its crescendo some time off, as that pallet of orange that so normally splashes upon landscape views, was only a mere sprinkling of colour. Only the promise of the colour cacophony could be seen that day as the green leaves that provided lush memories of those warm summer’s days had started to fade away. This was no ordinary beginning to the autumn fall; we were escaping the restrictions of a national lockdown and entering a crazy new world. A weird world, where a pandemic had spread throughout it like wildfire, raging berserkly and evoking pendulum wide opinions. We all were imprisoned in their own homes and this had been absolutely necessary. Now we dared to still explore, governed by rules and regulations. These were not the sort of meanderings I’d ever experienced before. Pre-booking, ‘the new norm’, has taken away that spontaneity as military like agendas needed to be created to meet COVID requirements. We judged it best to meet these and at least get out of the house. It is a hard thing to admit but travel and adventures have largely, though not completely as there is a real need to venture out, lost their appeal in this new norm. And as we come to terms with what a future world might look like it is with a sense of despair and sadness that, perhaps, things will never be the same again. Not one to dwell on the future but to live in the moment, Berkeley Castle provided the first chance of freedom.
This unattractive, rugged structure provides a differing form of intrigue and illusion, one that such historic places create. The name of Berkeley is well and truly etched in every stone for the family name has lived here for almost 900 years. If only these stones could talk……. They could relive the battles they have witnessed or recalled the visitors that graced the place or even borne witness to a murder. For so much of Berkeley’s beauty lies within its ‘tales’.
The castle was first built as a Norman motte and bailey. A wooden fortress built on top of the mound, and throughout the centuries was alternatively strengthened and weakened. When Robert Fitzgerald’s loyalty to the crown was rewarded with the grant of the castle and estates in 1153, he set about building the stone keep at the heart of the castle that one sees today (and where one’s tour starts as one climbs the steps to the first floor).
Over the next 300 years the family was in and out of favour with the monarchy as most families seem to have been in their time. At one point the Berkeley family were one of 50-70 noble families who helped govern the land but as their fortune ebbed and flowed, so did their wealth and favour. They were given dubious responsibility of holding a famous prisoner. In 1327 the castle kept the deposed king, Edward II, who was then murdered here (as you enter the Kings Gallery (named after the family’s collection of paintings of kings of England) one sees where the not-so-pleasant deed was committed – allegedly). By now the castle was clearly being expanded and strengthened. The kitchens, butteries and great hall (displays a large flag which we missed on our first visit as we were drawn to the stained glass windows; we returned to this room when we came back from the kitchen and noticed it hanging there) were added, which are now part of the interesting tour that one embarks on when visiting. By the mid 1500s the castle was very appealing to some who wanted to get their hands on it, and upon the death of the fourth Lord Berkeley, an inheritance dispute took place, and with no direct heirs, it was fought amongst a couple of cousins, the crown and another earl wanting to get his hands on it. Years of dispute ensued. In between all of this it made its way into the hands of crown on a couple of occasions and Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite, the Earl of Leicester, most certainly took a fancy to it. He managed to persuade the queen to hand it over to him – the castle and estates were so valuable. It eventually made its way back into the hands of Lord Berkeley at a great cost (this throws into doubt the claim that the same family has lived here for 900 years). By now the Tudor dynasty was coming to an end to be replaced by the Stuarts (the Tudor period is referenced on the tour by the name of the room one enters when leaving the King’s Gallery – Drake’s room – which houses a number of paintings of ships).
The Stuart era was a fascinating period of English history as civil war broke out, the only time this country has experienced such turmoil, and Berkeley was no exemption as far as choosing a side to support was concerned. The castle’s location halfway between Bristol and Gloucester meant it was possibly a key strategic location. It changed hands an incredible 5 times between the parliamentarians and the royalists. Part of the successful Oliver Cromwell’s legacy ensured valuable and interesting items were destroyed as he went about rebuilding the land in his own image by removing any vestiges of Catholicism. Even the castle’s defences were destroyed, and one wonders why this should have been. I guess Oliver Cromwell sought loyalty from people in return for him giving back their lands; I guess he needed to know that the castle could never be used against him. So, Cromwell instructed the breach of the keep wall so that it could never be used as a fortress again. During the years the family has inherited some properties, estates and lands. Their most notable inheritance was Berkeley Square in London; sadly, this no longer belongs to the family as it was plundered during its ownership to service their lavish lifestyle but adds another point of interest to visit when returning to London one day.
As the sun was still shining it would have been rude not to explore the gardens – in many properties that is all that can be seen in these trying times. We went to explore what autumn had done to the foliage in the grounds. We followed the ‘new norm’ – the one-way system. Whether or not we followed it correctly was anyone’s guess, it was not that clear which way it went. The steepness of the steps going down meant that much landscaping of the gardens was difficult, and really all that is left is a walled garden. We managed to find some water features which led to a pond. This area provided a time to sit and reflect; I sometimes wonder in 20 to 30 years’ time how I would describe this year and I am left puzzled as to how I would explain it.
So, as autumn begins to warm my heart, I have to disentangle myself from the ever-increasing number of spider webs that now appear. It’s a favourite time of the year – we are so blessed to have 4 seasons. Its spectacular display of colour captivate my attention and I muse upon the fact that I should be preparing for the winter hibernation and not the start of our first travel plans of the year. I’m grateful for the history of this land, as it will provide me with distraction, and, thinking positively, welcome mental activity, during these lonely and scary times.
I love the Boatman for there I can eat in style. It is great to sit by the river in the grounds of the same pub mentioned in the piece on Windsor. I was in good company this time and the sun was shining. Lunch had been demolished and I toyed with the idea of indulging in some broken pavlova, mixed in with strawberries and lashings of cream. Instead I decided to cross over Windsor bridge and explore the town of Eton rather than indulge in its namesake dessert. My waistline almost expressed its gratitude for non-indulgence as I set about seeing if there was a link between the town and the dessert. It is rumoured that the dessert was to be served at some time during a cricket match between Eton and Harrow, it was dropped (hence the mess), and scooped up and served as it was.
I crossed the famous bridge, like so many have done before me. I expect that many visitors to Windsor have not gone on to explore the other side of river and the famous town but rather stay on the bridge and capture an image of the castle from there. Instead I left Windsor behind and started to make my way up the high street which is possibly like no other in the land but, sadly, on this day resembled more of a building site than a bespoke arcade. The ubiquitous British flags and bunting still adorned the street, providing much colour above as cars littered the street below. Whilst walking along the pavement I was drawn to some lonely books for sale outside a bookshop. I picked up one that said, “considered to be Dickens’ finest novel”. What a great purchase this may prove to be, as I look to create my own library and find a love of reading. Oh, where was this appetite when I was young? I went to purchase the book and grabbed a booklet regarding the “Eton walkway”. To my delight I was informed by the quaint man behind the desk that it was free. I was delighted that purchasing a book had resulted in the acquisition of a free guide to my afternoon of meanderings. So, I left with one of England’s finest works and a guide to show me the best bits of this town.
As I wandered up the high street, I was able to identify the points of interest as my step by step guide explained them all to me. A red pillar box, for example, once a common feature on the streets of our nation, only this one is a rare one indeed. Only 10 of these types of box exist in the country, and as a result it is grade II listed. A vertical slot for posting letters was puzzling to see. The guide took me further up the high street passing the Porny School towards Baldwin’s bridge. Just before the bridge are a couple of colourful shops that, on closer inspection, proved to be tailors. How does such a small town justify two tailors? Well this high street probably relies heavily on its ‘town and gown’ tag for just over Baldwin’s bridge lies Eton College.
The famous college was founded in 1440 by Henry VI and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. As one approaches the college from the high street the first part one sees is the chapel. Not looking like a chapel, one can only assume what it’s like on the inside. The windows in the chapel were destroyed in 1940 during the bombing raids on England. On the outer edge of the chapel and, unlike much of the college, able to be seen by all is a plaque regarding William de Waynflete, a former bishop of Winchester, who paid for the completion of the chapel.
From here one approaches the main gates to the school. It costs around £14,000 per term for education at the college. Originally 70 scholars were educated for free and provided with accommodation. Whether this is still the case in these financial times I’m not sure – I doubt it. Access to the school is very limited but a sneaky look through the grand gates will allow one to see the statue to the founding king in the centre of the quadrangle.
The college dominates much of the town, with 24 houses providing accommodation for over 1300 pupils. The mind begins to boggle at the finances this school operates with – oh how different to the budgets in state schools. On the other side of the road lies the second main quadrant of buildings for the school. Immediately you are drawn to what lies in front of the centre archway. What school do you know that has a historic cannon on display? A completely different world. It does provide wonderful photo opportunities as the marvellous stonework behind the cannon adds to the image.
The walkway then started to bring me out of the town. It was here that perhaps the finest view of the college was captured. As I stood there and took the picture I wondered if I was actually taking a picture of a college in Cambridge. Is there a link between the two establishments? It was also at this point I had passed some surprising iron rungs in the wall with my guidebook informing me that these are there to provide pupils access to the top of the wall to watch the ‘The Wall Game’. This takes place in the autumn term and is perhaps unique to this college.
The next part of the walkway involved me getting a little lost as I tried to pick up access to more of the buildings across the college’s greens. I eventually found my way back onto Common Lane which brought me back to the main college buildings and the top of the high street. It was here that I found ‘the burning bush’. Designed to help the boys cross the road safely, it was moved from its original location when the cannon was put in place. Now a significant landmark of the town and photographic opportunity, it also takes its place in front of a doomed building which bears similarities to that of Radcliffe Camera in Oxford.
Pressed for time, I return towards the river, passing some other points of interest which include the natural history museum and the museum of antiquities before coming across the church of St John. The church is now a shadow of former glories and has had to find a new way of surviving, the school coming to the rescue and converting it into accommodation and a local doctor’s surgery. Oh, how the religious landscape of this nation has changed.
My return to the river beneath Windsor castle completed the ‘Eton Walkway’. It had been an incredibly informative and pleasantly surprising walk. I left with another book for ‘my library’ and many happy memories. Anyone who visits Windsor must plan a longer trip than those arranged from London as they only give the visitor a couple of hours here. Windsor and Eton are worthy of more than a casual glance. Stay a night and spend some serious time here and you never know what you might find for across the river lies the town of Eton, dominated by a famous school and the town is associated with a dessert we all surely love. Why wouldn’t you want to explore Eton?
This global downtime has given me much time to myself, to ponder, reflect and reminisce. The future of the world looks uncertain, however, I can take stock and be grateful for the memories I have already created and hope that one day soon I will be able to create many more.
A visit to Vienna was one of the trips made and should have been one of my first blogs. Sorry. Time allows me to resurrect the photographic memories (both electronic and hard copies) from which I draw upon to write this blog. Five and half years later I’m finally putting pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard) and composing my thoughts on my meanderings to the Austrian capital. Vienna had only become a capital again when Austria regained its sovereign independence from allied control (another part of the history of this world that needs further exploration). Vienna’s interesting history shows that it has had its fair share of challenges, from the very start of its existence, surviving sieges and capture, to a city of palaces and society that entertained many. Like so many European cities its intriguing history is what inspires you to visit today.
What had lured me to this city I know not. Looking back, it was probably a combination of being given a number of travel guides and finding a cheap flight and the need to use up my remaining annual leave entitlement. Whatever it was that brought me here I can only be thankful as I left amazed at Vienna’s beauty. I waltzed around the streets of Vienna, uplifted by the glorious winter sunshine, and followed in the footsteps of illustrious musicians and royalty. The city boasts an abundance of architecture. Baroque buildings combine with several imperial palaces. Dotted around are museums and statues of iconic people associated with the city and mainly connected by the Ringstrasse.
In my recent meanderings around England (York, Chester) I’ve discovered how the Roman Empire expanded (and ultimately declined). I’ve learnt that the Romans had a good eye for setting up their outposts/forts. Vienna was slightly different as it was established by the Romans and called Vindobona. They may have got this one outpost slightly wrong as by the 5th century the barbarian invasions had reduced it to ruins. Its apparent weakness was its location on the edge of the Hungarian plains, but surely a strength was the mighty river that flowed nearby, the river Danube. This waterway must surely have been part of the success of the city as it evolved into a major trading centre by the 13th century. Vienna, however, knew its ups and downs. The same can be said for much of Europe. In the year 1683 it had finally defeated the Turks, and this is when the city really began to flourish, and it was that part of the city that I discovered and admired. The Hapsburgs ruled this imperial capital and developed it on the grandest scale. This brought with it much wealth to Vienna and its music began to thrive. Now known as the music capital of the world, its classical tastes are a far cry from the modern beats, inappropriate language and distasteful subjects. Europe looks to be reorganising itself once again due to Brexit and coronavirus. Clearly it has been here before. In the year 1814 the European powers that had defeated the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte met for the year to discuss how to restore the established order which had been thrown out by the Emperor. So, as you can see the city is rich in history that has fascinated me as I have discovered and explored more of the world’s history. Perhaps I didn’t do the city the justice it deserves in that the stay was short but hope (if I’m lucky enough) to return one day to explore further.
My first day was spent walking up into the vineyards of Vienna. I was perhaps trying to follow in my father’s footsteps when he brought us here when I was 11. There is a distant memory of getting off a boat in the middle of nowhere and exploring the city or so he thought. I had some sort of a plan for the day that involved walking up into the hills to enjoy the views of the vineyards of Vienna and the city. Rumour has it that there is no other city in the world that has vineyards in such close proximity to the city centre. At the time I didn’t appreciate the fine tastes of wine; oh, how I wish I was heading there now with these taste budslong to sample the wine. Instead I made it for the views and breakfast. I had no planned route but followed the signs that were placed on the pathways. My reward at the top of a hill was a glorious view of the River Danube adjacent to which the stunning part of this city is built. The sun hadn’t yet burnt off the morning haze, so the pristine clear views weren’t seen. It was still worth the effort; to the left from my viewpoint was the uglier side of the city that thankfully wasn’t going to get any of my attention. Lying beneath the morning mist was a city waiting to be discovered. My inquisitive mind and body were ready to explore.
After enjoying some refreshments, I returned back down the hills to edge of the river. I had a map but was looking for a route into the city to find the famous Ferris wheel that had been used in the Bond movie ‘The Living Daylights’. Had I reached there I would have immediately recognised it as the place where my dad was given lots of grief for the circuitous route he had made around the city. Instead I stumbled upon a number of football fans and mingled and walked with them in the direction they were travelling. I soon abandoned my plan and followed them in the hope that they might be headed to a game. It soon dawned on me that they were attending a local game. I quickly went to the ticketing office to enquire if there was a spare ticket and I was in. It set me back 32 euros as I got to watch SK Rapid Wien play SK Sturm Graz at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion. By the time the game had finished darkness had fallen upon the city. I did get to the Ferris wheel but had to make do with night-time shots. A wonderful first day in the city came to an end shortly afterwards.
My second and third days were spent exploring the city itself. What an absolute joy it is to look back at those photos taken and remember the grand imperial beauty of the city. At the heart of Vienna lies the 12th century Stephansdom cathedral (St. Stephens). Very little remains from its early days, and, like so many cathedrals across Europe, additions were made during different periods. When in Vienna you cannot fail to see the cathedral as it stands taller than all around with its stunning mosaic roof, which was laid to show the Royal and Imperial double-headed eagle and the coat of arms of the city of Vienna, sitting with pride of place on the skyline. It is quite distinctive and makes it one of the most recognisable churches in the world. Its famous spire, known as Steffl, stands at 450ft high. Inside the cathedral are many pieces of artwork, that survived a fire towards the end of World War II. That fire also damaged the potent symbol of the city known as ‘the Pummerin’. This bell reflects the turbulent history of the city and was made from the canons that the Turks left when were defeated back in 1683. The bell, like the roof, has since been restored. My walk around Vienna meant that I discovered many other smaller churches that were equally as impressive as the main one in the city.
I may have been a bit naïve as I did not want to spend money exploring the many museums and galleries the city boasts, but I could also add to that argument that the weather was too good to be inside. So, my youthful exuberance made for exploring the beauty that this city had to offer by foot. Being alone I declined the touristy Viennese way of getting around the city, the horse and carriage. These are iconic symbols associated with the city just like gondolas are in Venice or punts in Cambridge. A lot of money could be spent on these things.
I mentioned earlier the Ringstrasse which was a grand boulevard built by emperor Franz Joseph to separate parts of the city. Whether or not it still remains I’m unsure, but what looks to be the more modern development of it houses some of Vienna’s landmarks. Here I found the Neues Rathaus (new town hall) where the Christmas market was being readied. It meant capturing the perfect picture was difficult. Combined with the tall central tower it was almost impossible to get a full image. Also, in this area is the Burgtheatre, which has been restored following damage sustained during World War II. Its beauty from the outside must be admired but rumours of its internal grandeur, must remain just that. Another building that stuck out was the parliament building. You might be mistaken at this point for thinking that you were in Rome or Athens, as Greek and Roman statues adorn the building. In front of the building lies the Athenebrunnen fountain, dominated by the figure of Pallas Athene (the goddess of wisdom). Two final buildings worth mentioning (as they have remarkable similarities) sit mirroring each other. These are the natural history and Kunsthistorisches museums. Rumours are these might be one of the top attractions in the city. I, sadly, must report that I did not step inside them. I remember seeing these wonderful buildings as a child but only from the outside.
The Ringstrasse was designed to separate the Stephansdom and Hofburg areas of the city. The Hofburg area is named after the Hofburg palace, which is one of three that I visited in the city. This complex of buildings right in the centre of the city shows how it was built through the ages, as differerent rulers wanted to leave their mark. I can remember walking through here in the evening with my family and remarking at the number of flags dangling around (as a child I aimed to collect a flag of every country I visited). I can’t recall going inside the complex and exploring the library or state apartments. Instead, along with all the other tourists, I tried to capture images of the outside of the buildings, statues, domes and their architecture and decorative detail. One day….
Coming a little bit away from the centre of the city you reach the Belvedere area of the city. As I mentioned there were more churches visited than the cathedral and one of these was Karlskirche. A grand dome with columns either side of it make it rather appealing. Yet another fine example of the wealth of architecture the city boasts. My main reason for coming into this area of the city was to visit a second palace. The beautiful Belvedere Palace had splendid grounds with water fountains that had been wrapped up for the winter. I could only imagine how many people would have been present during the summer months.
The largely empty gardens gave a wonderful impression as they bathed in the winter sunshine. Again, I didn’t step inside, but found my way out the back where a large water feature provided that iconic shot. As the cold and night started to approach, I made my way towards to the opera area of the city. A glimpse was made of the state opera house, its grand entrance living up to the hype. I would have loved to have been a position to make an entry, and probably listen to the music of the city’s famous sons, but my tired and scruffy appearance would not have been welcomed in such a grand location. Perhaps when I’m older and can dress more suitably I could return and watch a performance of the highest quality. For now, I will have to just enjoy videos of the opera house that emerge of the inside on the internet and in movies.
My final day took me away from the city centre. A short train trip was made to the third palace of my trip, Schonbrunn Palace. What a day this was. The ticket I paid for allowed access to 3 areas if I remember rightly – the palace, the coach museum and the zoo. I made the customary visit inside but disappointingly I can’t remember anything of the inside which is a shame and as the rooms look incredible – perhaps photography wasn’t allowed. This might explain my lack of memory – how interesting it is that we need help to jog our memories. I wonder how much of what I remember is based upon stories that I was told by those who shared the occasion or photos/videos that were taken at the time. Enough of that for that is a vast subject. From here I went to the coach museum, where glorious carriages were on display in the former winter riding school. My afternoon was spent exploring the vast grounds, which boast an impressive green house and a zoo. I went into the zoo as my ticket permitted this, but soon left as the guilt of seeing these wonderful animals in captivity was too much to bear. I always say that once you’ve been on safari (in 2006) you will never want to visit a zoo/aquarium. The palace has a potent yellow façade which is best viewed when walking up to and from the Gloriette. The views were worth the walk. I took on liquid refreshments at Gloriette as it is now home to a café/bar. I can remember indulging in conversation with an old gentleman who was a resident of the city. It was a perfect end to my trip as I sat and talked away about my visit.
Hopefully I’ve manged to describe my trip to this beautiful city. Pictures have proved invaluable in enabling me to retrace my footsteps and put my memories into writing. I’m sure it will provide a delightful Facetime with my father when he reads it and we reminisce. As I’ve remarked before I have many regrets in life, none more so than not writing a blog/diary as a kid or of my earlier travels and all the trips that my parents took me on. So, as I sit and dream of days when travel may resume in a completely different form, I take the moment to remember that my early travel was never taken for granted but I considered it and still consider travel a privilege. It is something that I’m missing greatly.
There are good days and not so good days. There are early morning run days and there are other days. There are home days and away days. Today was a good day (in every sense of the word – weather, profitable, awakening, etc.), an away day and ideal for a run. I left my hotel and started running from Clifford’s Tower around the walls before finding somewhere for breakfast. In those heavy plods, my overweight body gasped at the fresh winter air and cleared my lungs; I was richly rewarded for such an early start. As the sun shone and warmed my sleepy muscles, I began to enjoy this newfound way to explore a city. I must surely look at the health and environment benefits of exploring places in this and other ways. Like many of these cities this was not a first visit, but again my memory, or lack of it, has let me down, for anyone who has been to York will remember it.
It was reportedly said by King George VI, “that the history of York is the history of England”. Whether he ever said this I will leave to those who wish to confirm or otherwise, but what I will say is that if he didn’t say it, I will! York, the capital of the north, a Christian stronghold, once Europe’s chief trading base, and England’s second city, it really does provide a snapshot of England’s history. Although not England’s second city now, it is home to an important diocese within the Church of England and the title handed to the second son of a given reigning monarch.
How it came to be known as York is a mystery to me. When the Romans arrived, they named it Eboracum, before the Saxons changed it to Eoforwic and the Vikings named it Jorvik. Like I’ve mentioned before the Romans had a good eye for establishing bases. York was no different. Its ideal strategic location on the conflux of the rivers Ouse and Foss was their chosen spot. It probably provided good transportation links as well as defences. Very little of Roman Britain remains in York – there is an odd pillar here and there. Rumours are that much of Roman York is buried under the city itself but it does lay claim to the place of the proclamation of the Roman Emperor Constantine (a statue dedicated to the emperor can be found outside the Minster).
As the history books will no doubt inform me the Romans’ influence declined and then it was the turn of the Saxons and Vikings. York is filled with museums documenting their time in the city. Those not wishing to spend time in these museums only need to look at the Danish street names for the influence left over from the Vikings.
Everyone knows how the Saxon/Viking era finished some 300 miles south of York in Hastings by the Normans in 1066 – and all that. The new king of the land set about touring his newfound kingdom and building defences and religious buildings. He arrived in York relatively easily with no resistance and was handed the keys. He quickly set about building its defences as he raised a motte and baily castle here. The building of structures used for religious purposes didn’t come for another 200 years, so was there something already here? The city had two castles built and Clifford’s Tower (where my run commenced) is one of them. As I did those runs up and down the stairs to the castle I quickly got an idea of how easy it might be to defend these hills. Clifford’s Tower is the only remaining castle – the other has long gone. It is named after Roger de Clifford who was hanged here in 1322. There is a museum opposite the tower which houses the cell formerly used by highwayman Dick Turpin. These first original defences built by William weren’t that secure as the Vikings returned to capture the city. William returned, and set about rebuilding the city walls and destroying much of the land between here and Durham.
York’s other military defences that can be still seen today are its perfectly kept walls. Whoever saved the day in the 18th century when most city walls were being pulled down must be praised. What is left is not all encapsulating as I got lost when the walls stopped. Like Chester’s walls they beg to be traversed. At just over 3-mile-long they provided perfect running space and dreamy views on an early morning. I was lucky enough to get pictures of the Minster, etc. Whilst walls provide a great way of stopping anyone from coming in or out, there was a need for gates to be included. These medieval gates are called Bars. 4 of them are placed in the walls but I did not find out whether or not they match the points of the compass. Their names are Bootham, Walmgate, Monk and Micklegate. Built between the 12-15th centuries these provided the collection point for city taxes. The final two on the list of 4 are now museums to Richard III (Monk) and Henry VII (Micklegate). When I return Monk Bar must surely be in line for a visit as I’m currently reading about Richard III. Perhaps I should devote as much time to Micklegate Bar as well, as the city’s most famous of Bars. It is said that the monarch, upon arriving at York, would wait at Micklegate and seek the permission of the Lord Mayor to enter the city. Micklegate Bar was also the place in which the heads of traitors and rebels were placed on display. This gruesome decoration was prominent during the ebb and flow of the War of the Roses and as each side took an upper hand, they would display how successful it had been by this means. Most distasteful.
Inside those protecting walls lies the glory of York, it’s Minster. York Minster has been described as one of the world’s most magnificent cathedrals. This is up for debate. I mean, it’s not even a cathedral but a minster??? So how can it be one of the most magnificent in the world. My visits to cathedrals recently haven’t endeared me to them, substantial financial costs for entrance a major problem, but also timing my visits with essential building works. York minster was no different, at an alarming £11.50 to enter. I was heartbroken to see that the middle of the church had been blocked off for the once-in-a-century tuning of the organ thus ruining my photos of the inside and meaning access to see the central tower ceiling impossible. My selfish desires to capture everything on one visit must be put aside as I sit down and remember the cost of maintaining these buildings but also marvel at the sheer size of this place. I’ve made many a mention about how on earth these religious places were ever built or how they were designed. There is such a vacuum of empty space inside, one can certainly feel lonely.
On such a beautiful day I didn’t really want to waste it on the inside, I paid an extra £5 to complete the tower tour. 275 steps later I was rewarded with the best views of the city in glorious winter sunshine and well worth the exercise. I finally dragged myself back down again and had a wander around. Did you know that the Archbishop of York is the second highest ranking clergyman in the land? I guess an archbishop comes at the top of the hierarchy in the church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury is the top man. The sheer size of the diocese of York also means that the archbishop is kept a very busy man. A step outside to admire the outside of the building in sunshine is much more appealing on this day.
After exploring the Minster, I stepped further into the city to be amazed at its preservation. You will find medieval, Jacobean and Georgian architecture now combined with the modern landscape of a city. There is so much to explore down winding and narrow cobbled streets. One street in particular is a favourite on Instagram, ‘the Shambles’. This crooked street with beautifully preserved, over hanging timber buildings provide the must take photo of the city. How many times has this street cropped up on Instagram pages? It is argued that it is the finest medieval street in Europe, and it is hard to disagree – people in Germany and in a city like Prague might have something to say. It really does feel like a step back in time, although its current shop holders don’t resemble the originals (a street full of butchers). There are many nooks and crannies to explore in this city and an overwhelming number of churches and museums. These museums also provide light to one of the cities more modern successes. Chocolate and sweets. We’ve all heard of the names Terrys, Cravens and Rowntree.
The success of these chocolatiers in the 19th Century owed much of its fortune to the links that the railway provided. We associate the railway with the industrial revolution, so it’s surprising that I mention it in connection with chocolate though this became an industry. The railway line gave it market access it could have only dreamt of. It also led to the beginning of the tourist trade that the city clearly thrives upon (second only to London on the number of visitors per year), as train loads of people arrived from around the country. At one point over 250 trains were arriving each day into the city. This of course led to the Victorians building a new railway station to manage the demand. By the end of the 19th century it was the railways and chocolate industries that were the biggest employers of the city. When in York, time must surely be made to visit the largest railway museum in the world. A former steam engine shed is now a converted home to some iconic engines – the Flying Scotsman, the Mallard, Stephenson’s Rocket to name but a few. Seeing these engines was a joy to see but felt a little dreary, for there is nothing more poetic than seeing these great machines in full working order. Visit the heritage railways and you’ll begin to appreciate what I mean.
York, perhaps ‘the capital city of the North’, whose fortunes rose and fell with its ties to the crown and church, was once England’s second city, and perhaps in some respects still is. I wish I had longer. There is so much that I still haven’t seen or learned about but as so many cities claim to be modern metropolises, York’s claim to fame is its warped beauty and it remains an ancient artefact with its history is its greatest asset. York, I long to be back and to delve deeper into your layers of history.
Fancy me being educated as I sat in the Boatman Pub by the River Thames and read William Woodsworth’s words on its wall.
How richly glows the waters breast
Before us, tinged with evening hues,
While, facing thus the crimson west,
The boat her silent course pursues!
And see how dark the backwards stream
A little moment past so smiling
And still, perhaps, with faithless gleam
Some other loiterers beguiling
Such view the youthful Bard allure;
But, heedless of the following gloom,
He deems their colours shall endure
Till peace go with him to the tomb
– And let him nurse his fond deceit,
And what if he must die in sorrow!
Who would not cherish dreams so sweet
Though grief and pain may come tomorrow
The beer helped wash down the good food as well. At the end of another day meandering and educating myself it’s always good to take stock of what I’ve seen. I’ve appreciated what I’ve learnt. History is a fascinating marker as we look to create our current and future lives. History never appealed to me at school – perhaps poor teaching and so many different historical eras were the issues. Of course, it could have been me to blame. I opted instead for geography and maybe links with travel was my thought process although I cannot recall having one!! I sometimes wonder how school may have been different had I made other choices than those made or shown the same enthusiasm as I have now.
I’ve been to Windsor countless times, yet I never tire of this place. My love affair with this town is perhaps shared by Her Majesty the Queen. Windsor’s evolution over time has been a result of its ideal strategic location. William the Conqueror first built a castle here as part of his western defences of London. Windsor was one of the 9 castles built around London to protect it from its enemies. Another of these 9 castles was the Tower of London. It is a day’s march between the two which was critical. William the Conqueror first built a motte and bailey structure. The castle now is no reflection of that former initial design. It is now an architectural masterpiece that takes centre stage and maybe takes your breath away upon first sight. A visit to the castle is a must, avoiding the coach loads of people. This is a difficult task but with unlimited visits for one year after the date of purchase on your ticket you will hopefully get a good visit should you return. Whenever you look at Windsor Castle (be that from the High Street or the river or wherever you choose in town) you see its dominating position. It has an ideal strategic position and its shadow is cast over the town. An exploration of the new town is a must and shouldn’t be ignored. This leads onto an enquiring nature of Windsor’s development as there is an old and new Windsor. The two towns are miles apart and downstream of each other with Old Windsor now a peaceful village along the river.
The castle is the oldest occupied royal residence in Britain. The castle has developed over its 1000 years of history from the time it was built by William the Conqueror in 1070 through many adaptions and alterations by different monarchs to surviving the great fire of 1992. King George V’s affection with Windsor resulted in his family’s surname change in 1917. His granddaughter, our current queen carries on the Windsor dynasty through to this day. A castle ticket allows access to the state apartments and St George’s Chapel. The state apartments boast a wealth of opulent furnishings and displays of artwork from the royal collection. Walking around these state apartments is at times mind blowing, the level of detail and beauty in each room being incredible. Modern life’s desire to capture everything on camera is strictly forbidden inside which I feel adds to its incredible charm. I would love to spend time capturing images of the ceilings that you see here, the angelic pieces of paintwork along with a room full of chivalric shields to name but a few. There are numerous amounts of weaponry displayed, all in pristine order. Also residing in the state apartments is the Queen Mary doll house. A truly remarkable and jaw dropping toy built by Sir Edwin Lutyens – it really must be seen to be believed.
After leaving the state apartments you walk around the iconic round tower. The tower is the centre piece of the castle and is home to the Royal Archives and photography collection. For a couple of months of the year you can pay extra for a tour which takes you to the top for incredible views of the castle, chapel and the town. When you leave the tower, you make your way into one of the finest churches of the land. Its incredible beauty was displayed in two recent, royal weddings that took place here. The chapel is the burial place of ten monarchs and if rumours are true then this will be 11 one day.
Whistle stop tours may drag punters by the bus load from London on crazy agendas, but I feel you could spend an age here exploring the history of the castle which is woven together with our rich national history. It is such a symbol of past Britain. When you can finally drag yourself away from the castle there is an abundance of pubs in which to enjoy a pint with the perfect view. Its amongst these pubs you find you will find Instagram’s favourite part of Windsor. The wonky house. Also known as Market Cross house, the following was taken from a visit inside:
Market Cross House leans quite a lot,
for eleven reigns it has stood on this plot.
No one knows why it tilts to one side.
could be the wood that never dried.
We like to think it’s a characterful tilt,
from 1718, when it was re-built.
From here walk under the arches of the Windsor and Royal Borough museum housed in the Guildhall, past the church of St John the Baptist on your left and one of the oldest post boxes of the land (dark green not normal red). Around the corner is a charming pub resting in front of the imperious gates that are the beginning of The Long Walk. Those not on a short trip should take the time to walk it as for some distance as you will get the best view Windsor Castle. Go the end of the walk (some miles) and you will get the iconic long distance view just like many have done down the centuries since Charles II formed the Long Walk. A copper statue of King George III upon a horse sits on top of the hill at the end of the walk and the statue has been made so that he looks back towards the castle. Is there a finer view in the land? Along the walk one passes through the royal deer park, and if the deer ‘play ball’ they provide great photographic opportunities.
After completing the walk return to the town and you’ll find an array of shops and eateries. Exploring the town will inevitably lead you to one of the two railway stations in the town. These brought further wealth to the town during Victorian times. The two stations are terminii. This proves that the railways and industrial revolution made its way to Windsor but there is no other further evidence to support this. Windsor’s wealth perhaps lies with its royal pardon in 1276. This meant that it didn’t have to pay any taxes to the crown. In 1840 a few years before the arrival of the railways Queen Victoria took up residence here and set about works on redevelopment of the castle. This brought a drastic change to the town, as it moved away from its sleepy medieval market past into a centrepiece of an empire. Heads of state were greeted and entertained here; a tradition that has long been continued to this day.
Windsor without the Thames is like bread without butter. Back in the day the Thames would have been the main travel link between here and London. A boat trip sheds light on the ideal strategic location of the castle. Much pleasure can be had from any pool of water. Sadly, not in ownership of a boat I had to forego cruising along in my own vessel. I have done the tourist boat trips, but these are normally a damp squib. Instead I would recommend a free walk along the riverbanks on either side (the Eton side gives the better view of the castle) and witness the huge number of swans, but not to be distracted from the picturesque view.
So, as I sit and enjoy a refreshing pint, I try and understand William’s words and appreciate a real warmth for Windsor and try to work out why visitors to these shores don’t plan longer to visit this royal town.
The first sight of Bradford was of a lonely chimney billowing out white clouds into the atmosphere. Evidently smoke was pumped from the many chimneys that once “adorned” this market and industrial town. The single chimney was a poignant reminder of the past and of the changes that this city has undergone. My expectations for this city were very low. It wasn’t one of those cathedral cities that are so rich in history and beauty. It was a town for many years before that wealth of 100 years ago brought about expansion. Nowadays Bradford is associated with its diverse cultural population and industrial heritage.
My arrival into the city did not endear me to the place – lorries, dodgy ring road (how do you know where the cars are coming from on these things?) An industrial heartland clearly devoid of any real beauty. Rumour has it that if you were to leave Bradford you would find some beauty on the Ilkley Moor or in Bronte Country. The drive in was atrocious as lorries vied to control the roads. Somehow, I managed to follow signs for the cathedral and escaped the mayhem of the dual carriage ways. I dumped the car which was relatively easily in the city centre in affordable car parking. A positive. The city is perhaps one of the country’s youngest. Up until 1733 it was merely a sleepy market town surrounded by trees. Oh, how those days are long gone! My first point of interest was the cathedral. One of England’s newest and smallest perhaps? It certainly wasn’t part of the blueprint that Henry VIII created all those centuries ago. In fact, this church didn’t become a cathedral until 1919 as a new diocese was created separate from that of Ripon, which in turn had been created due to the vast size of York’s diocese. There is no mention of Leeds here, so I wait with anticipation to see what that city delivers as Bradford clearly is more than a close neighbour. It is almost like two cities merged together.
As mentioned, the cathedral is more like a large church. It is no way like the glamourous cathedrals that this country boasts. From the outside impressions this was not going to be one that would become a favourite of mine. Perhaps its beauty was to be found on the inside. I stepped inside with intrigue and was immediately impressed to see the welcoming sign declaring no entrance fee! Well done. My visit inside interrupted some form of gathering, so I rather silently and fleetingly made my way round the edges. The inside is not the work of art that others boast; this was clean and pristine and almost new. It still had some fascinating stained-glass windows. One in particular was of interest as at the bottom it looked like Fountains Abbey(?). My whistle stop tour was brief unlike other cathedral visits; this one had no real appeal. The outside on one side looked like it had experienced TLC, the other side a polar opposite. Weeds and overgrown grass covered an unloved graveyard.
I left the cathedral in search of what might be the city’s charms. Would I find any, who knew? Its reputation didn’t promise many. But, isn’t that the fun of travelling and exploring? I immediately came across the main shopping complex, a modern monstrosity which somehow seemed like a clinically clean establishment in an otherwise dirty environment. I was immediately drawn to ‘to let’ signs in a window. Was this a sign of things to come or the ever-increasing confirmation that our high street is dying. You could say that the internet is the cancer that is destroying town life. Every now and then councils and governments give these towns a fresh hope of new life after a makeover, but slowly and surely their chances of survival decreases by the day. To get to the city centre I came around the Kala Sangam, an art centre. Lying in between the new mall and Kala Sangam a statue to the WE Forster (who he is – I don’t know; a search on the internet shows that he was an industrialist, philanthropist and generally good guy). In passing I read about another good guy (still with us) from further up country who is trying to revitalise a town, the name of which escapes me. In an interview he described the word philanthropist as a ‘vomit-inducing’ word. Very interesting coming from one who wishes to plough some of his wealth back into society. Back to Bradford. In glorious sunshine this statue gave a positive feel to the centre. A quick walk through the modern hustle and bustle and I was off to find the city park and town hall. It was here that you can begin to see where Bradford’s reputation lies. Buildings not in use, lost souls wandering the streets aimlessly, a prolific police presence. Now I was beginning to see where the city’s tarnished reputation came from. I felt like a foreigner as two distinct cultures are evident. I was amazed to pass a cycle shop that displayed a sign claiming that this was the city of cycling. A thousand bikes in Amsterdam or Beijing it was not. I can’t recall seeing anyone pedalling.
I won’t say this was my most treasured or favourite city walks, there was a fear that accompanied my every step. There was no clear heart and soul of the city. Instead a trail of mess, abandoned stores, homeless people and carefree individuals strolling about the place. Also throw in an evident mixture of cultures and it made for a diverse spectacle. I walked round, passed Bradford’s idea of the flatiron building from New York and made my way to the town hall which was something that you would associate with our friends across the pond than a city in England. This is clearly a focal point of the city centre. Next to it lies the modern enhancement of a Mirror pool. On arrival I thought it was a puddle left by the heavy rain, but it was put there on purpose. When the wind died down it did provide puddlegram opportunities of the highest order. A park in the city centre naturally attracts all that’s good and bad with a city, people happily mingle on lunch breaks on one side as rowdy and noisy kids boom out their modern rap music for all to hear. A pleasant and yet equally forgettable experience.
From here I made my way to the theatre Alhambra. Its appearance is more in line with that of a mosque than a west end theatre. It was perhaps surprising to see my favourite west end shows advertised on the outside – ‘The Lion King’. Directly next to it is the science and media museum. If more time was available this should be visited as it’s free to enter and has links to the city’s history of film and photography. Lying in between the two (the museum & the theatre) are the war memorials and a Victoria statue.
Bradford became wealthy in Victorian times. Perhaps they thought she was recognisable. The wool mills that made it a virtual capital of the world clearly brought wealth and prosperity. Sadly, this wealth looks a thing of the past. A visit to the industrial museum shows the power that once was associated with this place. Old machinery is now a thing of heritage keepsake as more modern advancements mean these machines are redundant. A visit to the museum shows the size of these enormous, “satanic mills” that were surely a death trap to most but, the sale of the products they made lined the pockets of a few. There are many information signs confirming the perils and dangers of working in such an environment. Children were sold to the mills in order to grow personal income. How times have changed! Health and safety, slavery, equality and working rights personnel, had they existed, would have had a field day. There were other exhibitions in the museum that provided insight to Bradford’s association with cars. It was a pleasurable to admire the quality of craftsmanship. My short visit gave me enough of an insight into the tough and hard upbringings that the people of the city must have endured.
So, my voyage into the unknown has provided me with much food for thought. With expectations low, a reputation it clearly needs to shake up, the city provided many a good photo, but that shouldn’t muddle the mind. For this is a place that shouldn’t be visited alone and with your senses focussed. It has given me some sight into the industrial revolution some 200yrs ago, but as we now encounter a technological & social revolution, the similarities with a past industrial revolution might soon be there for all to see with the demise of the high street.
As my meanderings take me around these green and pleasant lands, I arrive upon the palace most famously associated with Henry VIII. This is yet another day for learning. I have documented in previous blogs how Henry left more of a ‘legacy’ than the stories of his 6 wives. In breaking from Rome and the Catholic church, he redefined state religion in England and by doing so created further years of chaos, passion and war. His new-found place at the head of the church created new rules, dioceses, and instructions to build cathedrals, to destroy abbeys and the relics inside. This new country didn’t happen overnight, but you get the feeling that some of the seismic powerplays were made from his own court set deep in the heart of Hampton Court. His traumatic and chaotic reign, and his deadly pursuit of a male heir provided arguably the most well-known eras of our history. It seems to me that no one’s head was safe back then. It seems as well that there are plenty of people who are keen to write ‘faction’ based on the evidence that we have of things that took place in Tudor times. Moreover, there are plenty of people who are willing to read what has been written such is the high level of general interest in our land.
We arrived at Hampton Court in dull and dreary weather but being far from home we weren’t going to let a few raindrops spoil our visit. We bought our tickets and walked the up longish drive to the main entrance. It’s hard to believe that this was once a farm site. Its distance from the ‘city centre’ probably means that the rules that determined and regulated what was deemed to be situated in London back then made this area what we would refer to as a green belt area. The city we call London, massive in comparison to what it was back then, stretches as far as Hampton but the palace to Westminster Abbey is a distance of some 15 miles. The palace’s idyllic location on the river Thames is upstream from the more modern centre of London and raises questions in my mind as to the machinations and intrigue that belong to the creation, development and history of London itself. Surely more meanderings must take place to fully understand how our capital has been created over the centuries. On first appearance the palace didn’t look very grand, but this may have been a trick of the lack of sunlight!! As I saw it the palace itself is very basic. The gardens at another time of year would no doubt look spectacular and, of course, there is the famous maze. Perhaps it is true to say that the palace shows its age due to its basic design. Nothing is obvious at first glance that this was a palace fit for a king, and a flamboyant one at that. It is perhaps this palace’s rich history that makes it so appealing for tourists and UK based visitors alike. I mean it was the former palace to one of England’s most famous kings.
There were many colourful characters in Henry version 8.0. The first one to mention is the famous Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. What a cardinal is, I have no idea, but I know that a cardinal’s uniform back then and still to this day is a vivid red garment. Perhaps some study and a visit into a Roman Catholic church may help workout what this title means. Cardinal Wolsey rose from humble origins (he was born in Ipswich to a butcher to become the most powerful Tudor in Britain – a visit to Ipswich will show the many ways that he is celebrated including one superb statue of him on the edge of the town). He became one of the most powerful and wealthiest men of his era and had a great interest in education. They say that his college at Ipswich could have rivalled the Oxford colleges if he had not fallen from power. One of the reasons that he was the arch enemy of some was his preference to worry more about international affairs than those of a domestic nature. This created a country full of jealously but yet with international respect. His loyalty to the king was never in doubt – he kindly gave Hampton Court Palace to his majesty before his demise. Thomas had acquired it 1514, and quickly set about making additions so that he could entertain his king and foreign dignitaries. He added driveways, courtyards and buildings to make it a palace fit for a king such was the measure of his ambition. As a religious man it was no surprise to me that one of the additions he made was the chapel. He probably didn’t envisage it being as grand as it is presented today though there is some talk that he wanted his tomb, in a day when tombs and memorials were grandiose, to be decorated with gleaming angels. Sadly, he passed away some 16 years later with very few friends and all his riches gone. In passing the palace on to Henry, and subsequent to the fallout with Rome, Henry had licence to design his own chapel. He had the superb fan vaulted ceiling installed (how did they do that back then? How would we go about doing it today?). As with all such ceilings (there are a good number throughout our country) it is a thing of real beauty and immediately captures your attention when you walk into the room. More additions to its beauty have been made over time but I will say that it is up there with some of the finest I have seen. It is the jewel of Hampton Court Palace and is perhaps a hidden treasure to many as pictures aren’t permitted. How blissful not to see it on social media feeds. The intricate carvings make for a wooden maze across the ceiling that capitative your view. Now adorned in gold and blue its hard to know whether this was Henry’s design or someone else’s. The cherubs holding aloft the crown and swords on features like stalactites provide the finishing touches.
Once Hampton was Henry’s he set about creating a magnificent palace for his mistress and future wife, Anne. Vast sums of money were spent adding even more to the palace than Wolsey had. Unsurprisingly mistress Anne never got to live in the palace as her fall from grace is well documented and at the speed of building back then they were never going to finish in time!! The additions made to the palace were to accommodate everyone that would be needed to rule the land. Privy chambers were added for Henry’s own purpose, a chamber was added for central government and an expansion of the kitchen area to deal with the increase in numbers now living there. The privy chambers that Henry had installed were supplied with running hot and cold water, something so rare back then. Oh, how the times have changed. Henry’s third wife gave him the son he craved and was baptised in the chapel. Jane’s sudden death meant that Henry probably fell out of love with the palace and building works were stopped. The palace then was the scene for the infidelity of Katherine Howard who, like Henry’s second wife, lost her head. Henry’s final marriage ceremony took place here at the palace, and as the saying goes, she did survive.
The palace got passed through the hands of Henry’s heirs. Firstly, his son became the owner. He was too young to rule even and, consequently, his lack of years meant he had little impact on the place. His oldest half-sister, more concerned about a false pregnancy and slaughtering many good men and women than beautifying a palace, had a short reign before the other famous Tudor monarchy took over. The golden years of Elizabeth 1st reign had little impact on the palace. She was not fond of it but added more kitchens and a coach house. So, this drew to an end the Tudor dynasty. Its legacy has been far more lasting than it could have imagined.
After the terrible Tudor times, there were slight developments during the Stuart period. The next formidable development came under William III, a Dutch man who reigned over England for 12 years at the back end of the 17th century. This is a part of our history of which I know very little but am told that it is highly significant especially as far as the way our country is ruled in 2020. He was around at the time of the French Revolution and there was a very different revolution and outcome across the water. He turned to the famous Sir Christopher Wren to modernise, design and improve the palace. In any walk around the palace his work may be seen. The ceilings are captivating and true arts of work. He was famous for rebuilding London after the great fire. His work was never fully completed as the crown passed through different generations but as you explore the rest of the inside of the palace it’s the work done in this era that makes it start to look like a palace associated with a king. Those incredible angels adorning the ceiling at times give you neck ache as you stare at the work. The Hanoverians were the last generation of the monarchy to live in the palace. It was left to courtiers who were favoured by the kings and queens as apartments to live. The palace was left in decline, but in 1838 the palace was given a new lease of life, its abundant history clearly a fascination for those Victorians. A similar fascination remains today, and the palace is owned by the queen. Queen Victoria opened it to paying visitors, just like it is today. Henry’s history had clearly left its mark even with royalty.
No visit to Hampton Court Palace should be made without seeing the gardens and the grounds. A car show meant that we couldn’t explore half of it, and the cloud and rain meant that our visit wasn’t as enjoyable as it might have been. The pond and privy gardens are immaculately maintained, manicured even, as you would expect – the hefty entrance fee helps to pay for all this work. A walk along the gardens to the edge of the property gives the best view of the palace and one fit for a king. To be fair, the grand designs and façade of the building here makes the building look more like a palace. From this angle the building looks magnificent even in the damp weather. So, as we leave the gardeners to brave the elements and make our way to a much-needed refreshments, we trace our way back through the courtyards. The palace itself is blessed with a number of good viewpoints, but the base court is basic and boring. The fountain court shows off Henry VIII’s private apartments. The best court is the clock court. Its name gives a clue as the to the source of its charm. Henry installed an astronomical clock, now over 500yrs old. It was built to depict the earth orbiting the sun. It also showed tide times which were important for those using the river to travel.
So as the damp and wet weather continues, I leave without the wow factor. There are many finer palaces and houses in this land. Perhaps had the sun shone we would have seen it in a different light. We can’t always be blessed with sunny skies. We left to return home; I was certainly filled with a desire to find out more about the intrigue associated with such a decisive yet divisive character.
It was on a cold and wet winter’s day that I discovered Lexicography in Lichfield. By the time I had left I felt a warm affection for Lichfield. I still can’t believe that I have found another cathedral city. I thought I had visited most of them already, but this is another one to add to that list.
The term ‘city’ is a word we associate with large metropolitan monstrosities like Birmingham or Southampton, but England’s unique history allows for some truly interesting places to be called a city. How can a city with 10% of the required population for modern towns applying for city status be called a city?? A quick tour of Lichfield is just that. It is obvious to realise that it’s not very big but for a couple of centuries it had something its more illustrious neighbour didn’t have. When Henry VIII redrew the religious map, Lichfield was one of six towns which was given city status based on it having a cathedral. It now sits in the shadows of England’s second city Birmingham; whose growth and wealth meant its population of well in excess of 300,000 would ensure it was given city status. By the way, this rule was brought in by King Edward VII. Now hidden by its noisy neighbour it further illustrates the decline in religious power conceding it to that of commercial and population factors. Surely it is for this reason that the very existence of this charming place is known by only few people. I certainly knew nothing of it until I discovered it on a work trip and as part of my mission to visit every city in England.
The city itself has some interesting history associated with it. Once a prominent pilgrimage site, it was laid to siege three times during the civil war and is the birthplace of Dr Samuel Johnson. More on the cathedral and the good doctor later, but Dr Johnson claimed that Lichfield was a city of philosophers!!
Lichfield was founded around 600AD. There is some evidence to suggest that this was a trading post for the Romans on their way from London to Chester. Evidence is scarce for this hypothesis. St Chad later in the same century set up his bishop’s seat here. This led to it becoming a focal point of Christianity in the Kingdom of Mercia. Mercia was one of 7 Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the country and along with Wessex and Northumberland was considered to be in the top three. It is argued that its capital, Tamworth, was the capital of the whole of England at a time. As a result of its high profile the town of Lichfield becoming a pilgrimage site as the remains of St Chad were buried here.
When the Norman’s took over the rule of this country, they commissioned a Norman cathedral to be built at the site. This cathedral would evolve over the years and would appear to have been a fortification as much as a place of worship! It took over 150 years to build and is apparently one of England’s smallest. This is always hard to gauge when you visit these places. The vast size of them is awe inspiring and one dares to think about how on earth they were ever built. Walking around the cathedral you notice that the spire looks hollow. Perhaps it fell down and an alternative was put in its place. The front façade is captivating. There are 113 figurines that have been carved in stone. The people represented are a mixture of kings of the lands to bishops most of whom I had never heard. A visit inside this huge space makes you feel very small in such a vacuum. Henry VIII of course had to have his say – he removed the shrine to St Chad. Some of the relics destined for destruction at that time were preserved and can be found in nearby St Chad’s in Birmingham. Upon leaving the cathedral and directly opposite it is ‘the close’ which is a collection of old cottages. The cathedral is on a slight hill and it was no doubt built here as the higher ground was chosen to build a stronghold to wave off attacks. The town was loyal to the king during the civil war. The town had been a staging post since Roman times, so was of importance for conveyance of troops and supplies. The hardships of the war were evident. By now Lichfield had become a city and one that was fought over and bruised. The cathedral itself was no different. Throughout its long history it has changed hands more than once. Lichfield’s troubles during the Civil War were exacerbated by the fact that the people were loyal to parliament and the authorities loyal to the king. A visit to the cathedral is fascinating as tales are shared with rumours of shots being fired from the spire and evidence of damage to the spire by way of shots fired in retaliation.
I finally managed to drag myself away and make my way into the small city centre. At its heart is the guildhall which is now a library.
It was next door to the guildhall that I discovered a fascinating museum. The rain was pouring down now and heavier than previously making a tour of unpleasant. I was looking for some respite and the mention of free entry on the sign enticed me in. Lichfield is the birthplace of Dr Samuel Johnson. To my shame, I knew nothing of this man. The grade 1 listed building was a trader’s townhouse but is now a museum dedicated to the great man. In 1777 he had this to say, “Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
A pleasant man provided an enthusiastic welcome and I was in!! An informative video along with many information display boards meant for an educational visit as I learnt what a lexicographer is. Lexicography is the compiling of dictionaries.
The doctor was the son of an impoverished bookseller before he made his way to London to make his fame and fortune. Before he made that trip to London, he took on the role of a teacher. One of his pupils, David Garrick, was to go on and become one of the leading actors of that time. The theatre in the town is named after him I believe. The doctor made many other memorable sayings. There was one in particular that stood out and was quoted on the wall, “You can never be wise unless you love reading”. I will admit to never have loved either reading or wanting to be wise, but, in a depressing modern world, inspiration has to be taken from these philosophical words. I must make another visit sometime for further inspiration.
So as my time in Lichfield draws to a close and further travels have to be made, I leave with this thought taken from a conversation the doctor had with James Boswell (he wrote his biography – it is said to be greatest in the land and surely something to add to my reading list), “I lately took my friend Boswell and showed him genuine civilised life in an English provincial town. I turned him loose at Lichfield.” What a sensible and profitable thing to do.
My meanderings take me to another of these small and charming English cities, excellent Exeter. This city oozes much charm and packs a lot of character into its relatively small city centre which is enclosed by a wall. Comparisons could easily be made with other cities that have recently been visited in these shores – their similarities are startling. It’s surprising, that in my mission to visit every city in England, I haven’t been here sooner. About an hour’s drive from my current home, it is the birthplace of my mother and as a result was a regular destination for my school holidays.
Surrounded by beautiful Devonshire countryside, the city’s location has been founded and forged over the centuries close to the river Exe. Unlike other cities the river doesn’t run through its heart, but the river has still played a key part in the city’s rise and fall. Perhaps the city centre is on raised land that overlooks this river and would therefore provide a strategic position. A walk down to the quayside would confirm its elevation above the river. The river and quayside like most other places in England would provide much of the wealth and regeneration of the city over the centuries before the railways came.
Exeter’s wealth was built around tin in the 11th century and wool in the 18th century. Exports at this time relied heavily on waterways and ports. Exeter is a good way from the English Channel so use of the estuary (at Topsham) and eventually manmade canals gave it two thriving ports. The first port used in Exeter wasn’t the quayside that I had discovered in the city centre but at Topsham on the outskirts. If more time was available perhaps a walk from the city to Topsham along the river might be advised, to explore and learn about this key part of the city’s history. When the Romans arrived at Exeter, they used Topsham as the port, although the river was navigable into the city centre. Over time, arguments ensued, greedy people who owned the port did strange things (weirs, mills and the like), ownership traded hands, which eventually led to a canal being built in the 15th century. This was expanded and developed in the 16th century as trade with Europe had grown. Due to the canal bypassing Topsham its port was ignored, and boats now embarked at the quayside near the city centre. This resulted in the first brick building in Exeter, the customs house. What was once a place for weighing and paperwork of imports and exports, it is now home to a museum/activity centre documenting this part of the city’s unique history. Sadly, time or access didn’t allow me to visit it. The rest of the quayside represents nothing of a port these days, canoes and kayaks the only noticeable boats in the harbour but it has undergone regeneration as quirky shops, eateries and drinking establishments adorn the industrious quayside to amuse this modern generation.
The quayside was a fascinating discovery to make about the city. I’d imagine I had been as a kid but it’s an area that I have rather disappointingly overlooked in recent times. As you leave the quayside you have to walk upwards towards the city. This confirms the raised hill that would have overlooked the river. It is here that you get your first glimpses of the city walls. The charm of the city is encapsulated like other favourite cities by these protective city walls. Exeter’s walls certainly aren’t as glamourous or accessible as others seen. They certainly seem a thing of nostalgia and neglect. The best views of the walls can be found situated in between Northernhay and Rougemont gardens. I rather stumbled across this tranquil set of gardens as I tried to get off the bustling high street. It was here that I discovered Exeter’s castle. Not much to report as I firstly found signs and information relating to history of the Castle and the former gatehouse. Access beyond this wasn’t easily found and not much sign of a keep. The parks are a combination of the former city walls, flowers and several statues. I would imagine on a nice summer’s day a perfect spot for relaxation and views of the city. Sadly, on my rainy autumnal day the views were washed away and I had the place pretty much to myself, each and every cloud.
Exeter was thriving in the 11th century, tin trade brought wealth and prosperity. In turn there was a church established. This led to Exeter boasting as many as 30 churches in the city centre. Clearly not all remain as England’s turbulent history would impact on their legacy. I have discovered that as a result of this one of the streets in the city housed religious people and was referred to as ‘street of priests’. At the heart of the city lies its impressive cathedral. England is perhaps blessed with so much history. These cathedrals are a great demonstration of England’s turbulent and interesting past. The cathedral is surrounded by a close, entrances and walls. There is much to learn and discover about the cathedral and this particular area. It involves plots, executions and a royal visit to sort the mess out. As a result of that 12th century drama the building of a wall was commissioned by the King around the cathedral which had some 7 gates to provide access not only to the cathedral but the building yard that had caused the drama. A step inside the cathedral will lead to the discovery of a disappointing £7.50 entrance fee. The damp and wet weather outside meant that exploring this cathedral was a must, so payment was made to avoid traipsing around in the wet. Once the customary photos had been captured and the whole place had been explored it was time to get back outside. There is a green that surrounds one side of the cathedral which on sunnier days surely would be much more appealing. Along one side of the green is a row of houses that lead from one of the mentioned gates and merge into a warren of other buildings now housed in the city centre. A fire ravaged a hotel here recently (the oldest hotel in England?); building work has begun as it tries to return to former glories.
Exploring this intertwined maze of buildings is an absolute pleasure. Modern buildings hide the old ones. It is difficult to view these now as Exeter’s appeal for shoppers has enticed everyone in and people walk past carrying loads of bags. The new modern shopping complex is built a stone’s throw away from the cathedral yet has still managed to keep the ruins as part of its meandering landscape. Exploring here leads to many points of interest – alleyways, ruins, etc. – and my inquisitive nature leads me to explore some old churches and pubs. St. Martins church was a particular favourite and rumours are one of the oldest in the city. Its close proximity to the cathedral I found rather puzzling. The city has undergone some serious renovation in my short life time that I can visualise and remember. It is regarded as a excellent place to shop, wine and dine. How many of those enjoying those leisurely activities are blissfully unaware of the intriguing history and beauty in the city.
So excellent Exeter, a regular childhood destination, and place of former work has been added to my ever growing list of favourite English cities. I look forward to returning and exploring it again and again.
So, as I finally sit down and reflect upon the achievement of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, I’m left with a mixture of emotions. On the one hand there is the clear elation of success, of achieving something so crazily stupid that it defies belief, and thoughts of the vast sums of money raised by others for “good causes”. On the other hand, however, there is an aspect of the trip that causes severe food for thought. Was this an adventure to massage the ego, or an opportunity of an insight into a racial divide that still exists (for all the seeming progress that has been made in equality) or, worse still, was this witnessing slavery in the raw?
Firstly, let me thank those that supported us in raising so much money for our chosen charities. I hope and pray that the money raised can make a difference. The choices made of Cancer Research and St Margaret’s hospice didn’t have much meaning to me at the time. Perhaps it is through selfishness that I had previously ignored the world of cancer as I put up a shield of positivity to hopefully protect myself from the terrible world of pain it causes. That all changed just prior to the trip as someone very dear to me was diagnosed with the terrible disease. This trip suddenly took on a whole different meaning. It was no longer about ticking off another adventure but helping to support the efforts made by the others in raising money. Every slow and methodical plod was now being used to help raise every penny. The charitable cause now had a meaning to which I could relate. Oh, how I now wish I had been able to help more with the fundraising efforts. There are many arguments that could be made about the money raised. The kindness and generosity shown by many cannot and should not be ignored. This puzzled me on the walk and was mentioned by a minority – why does it take 3 men walking up a mountain to get people to make charitable donations?
If we don’t know already, we are lucky and privileged to live in such a world as we have to enjoy. If you consider that you don’t think you are lucky then travel and see the conditions that some people endure in order to survive. Had we not paid to climb up the mountain and instead put all that money to charity, we know the amount raised would been vastly increased. Is it not true of all of us that doing things for charity enables us to handle our guilty consciences? We only have to look at the greed and ignorance of this world and the people in it. Unfortunately, and disappointingly, this was highlighted by bad news shared with us from back home before we left. Members of the local hospice that we were sponsoring were appearing in court on fraud charges. Some were found guilty. What a tragic state of affairs and hardly the motivation needed for what amounted to a slog up a mountain. No man is an island and many others were affected and badly so by dreadful behaviour. Every step climbed and every penny raised was now for a cause close to my heart, and in the time of struggles, of which there were plenty, there was a stark reminder of the need to keep on going and ensure the summit was reached. I will say that I hope all money associated with this trip goes to its intended destinations, and that I can sleep easy. In conclusion, even the good feeling experienced by raising the money has been accompanied by other not-so-good feelings.
Secondly, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that we climbed to summit of Mount Uhuru, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world at 5895m. To put that into context, it’s almost 2000ft higher than Everest base camp, it’s 7 times taller than the highest man-made structure in the world ((Burj Khalifa – 2717ft)), or if you were to place the tallest 16 buildings in America on top of each other the resulting structure wouldn’t be as high as the mountain. For those who live in the UK it’s over 5 times the height of Mt Snowdon. Our voyage to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro was on the Lemosho route (8 days), the longest possible route to the summit of the mountain. Our guide was brilliant and provided us with so much knowledge along the way. He informed me that we weren’t even climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. The shock and surprise must have made for a priceless photo. He informed us that the mount was called Mt Kebo, which is one of 3 peaks in the Kilimanjaro park, the other two being Mt Mawenzi and Mt Meru. Mt Mawenzi (5149m) is unclimbable, Mt Meru (4565m) is climbed by some prior to climbing Mt Kebo (5895m). All the false advertisements and statements of achievement washed away by a moment of truth. We climbed Mt Kebo!!! Eventually the assimilation of all this info put a smile on my face. That said this was an accomplishment, when it is realised that we are only a century on from the first climb to the summit of the tallest freestanding mountain, and that since then only half of all the people that have attempted the climb have made it to the top. We were lucky enough to make it and to see the glacier on top which has shrunk 82% from its original size and that scientists believe will not be there in 50 years’ time. What we mustn’t forget is that the mountain is a sign of freedom for the people of Tanzania. In 1962 they escaped British and European rule and became their own country. The mountain therefore is called Mountain of Hope, and respect should be shown to it and its people. This concludes arguments for all that is good – now the arguments for the bad.
When Heins Mehr first climbed Mt Kebo in 1889 who would have known that so many would have followed in his footsteps (I’m still trying to work out what the appeal is, I can’t even recall what the appeal to me was). We were just like Hans, he was someone from the modern/western world accompanied by “local” guides (not much has changed). Whilst our success could be put down to ourselves (it is necessary to get out of bed in the morning), we can’t ignore the locals, who joined and supported our team (perhaps in the same way that similar people did for Hans) and had to suffer to ensure our comforts and luxuries were catered for. Surely part of the appeal of this trip was to escape the real world and not to live in luxury and be waited on hand and foot. I will admit to thinking a donkey was going to be used to support us up the mountain (stupid I know). Instead we had humans who were perhaps treated like donkeys. They joined in the gruelling climb up the mountain but also carried all our stuff. I was appalled at the sight of these poor men working so hard to satisfy my ego, in threadbare clothes and worn-out shoes (possibly handed down). This was recycling in its most necessary form and I felt a little sad in all the gear, fresh and new, and these guys struggling in barely nothing. Anyone who thinks they know what hard work is, can think again. This was surely the hardest of hard work that I had ever witnessed. I sat there as a fit man appalled at what I was seeing. I dread to think what they were paid, if at all. Slavery in its most camouflaged form?? Comparisons could be made to the debate about the zero-hour contracts and minimum wages being debated in connection with the general election back home, but this smacked of less than minimum wages and it’s no wonder these people are desperate to reach British shores. They clearly weren’t financially rewarded in the way they should have been. We had paid so much money to be there, but I doubt they saw even a tiny percentage of what we paid. Corruption?? From where I sat it seemed that way. We had a tip for them, which sadly couldn’t be given to them in person. It which went via the hotel manager, would they receive it? I hope and pray that they did.
In my opening remarks I pointedly referred to a racial divide. This was evident at every moment and in everything that happened on our trip. This was perhaps a confirmation of what is witnessed during travel but seemed ever so much more apparent here. From comments like, “white guy lets go” said in Swahili to noticing that all the support staff were black and all the people climbing the mountain were white. The black people worked very hard and almost seemed to beg for the white people’s money. The white people were for the most part and for most of the time blissfully unaware of the different world they were trekking in. Yes, it’s a way of surviving and making an income that probably isn’t afforded to them in another way but surely there must better ways to support these guys financially rather than dragging them up a mountain carrying us as they did so. I refer to the porters probably not being paid very much (I have no evidence apart from what could be seen with my eyes and I concede that things are not always as they appear), which prompted my comments about slavery. This whole feeling was perhaps the worst part of the whole trip in my eyes. It was an increasingly disappointing aspect of the trip. I know that our very presence there brings untold wealth to the area, an area that without the money brought in would be plagued by disease and poverty. There is a fine line between what is right and wrong; I cannot say on which side of the line we fell in our presence there.
So, as I conclude this blog, it’s with sadness in my heart that this trip has left me with so many mixed emotions. Achievements and success will remain forever, as friendships grew stronger and new ones were made, but deep down there is an underlying fear of the guilt and pain caused to so many. I certainly will think twice of such a trip again. There must be different ways by which I can raise money here. There must be better ways of improving these people’s lives. Lessons, many of them painful, have been learned. I have witnessed many things and experiences have been shared. If you’re thinking of completing the hike up Kilimanjaro then think twice and consider not only your sense of achievement, your health in both body and mind, and the wealth you bring to the place but the impact that your actions will have.
Getting to start of our climb We had agreed separate journeys to Heathrow, since I had to get my dog to my parents whilst Sam and Adge were to arrive by a combination of train and bus. Our meeting up at Heathrow was a joyous occasion. My ‘partners in crime’, clearly overjoyed with the excitement of the trip, were raring to go. I’d finally closed down work and was able to join them in getting ready to embark on our adventure. The offtimes-for-most boring wait at an airport only adds to my excitement of any trip. Heathrow is a good watering hole, and always gets me in the mood. For one person this was desperately needed to calm the nerves associated with flying for the first time in many years.
Excellent flights with Qatar Airways, whose personnel looked at our group and kindly gave us the front seats resulting in extra leg room. A couple of flights, nerves overcome, and some sleep for all meant a safe arrival in Africa. Kilimanjaro airport was a small building and runway in the middle of nowhere which appeared to be only a token gesture for the many visitors who flock here for the mountain and safari. Heathrow or Doha international it was not. Our pre-approved visas got us through the queue quicker than most. The small nature of the airport meant only one baggage claim conveyor that was half in the building and half not. Very easy to grab our bags and find our connection. T.I.A – this is Africa. Our taxi drive certainly opened the eyes of some in our party to the way in which life is different in other parts of the world. For me this was yet another fact confirming that there is much more to life than social media and technology that seems to be an alien on a mission to take over the planet. Next time you think you’ve got a problem take a second to mull it over and then think – do I really have a problem?
Finally, at the hotel after a good 18hrs travel, we needed a cold shower. Better still the hotel had a pool – how refreshing. Wait! Before we could dip in and refresh, we needed our brief. We grabbed a cold beer and sat down with what looked like other novices. We had missed most of the talk – looking back it doesn’t seem like we missed much. The important part of this was meeting our guide. Omari was his name! What his first impressions must have been I have no idea… a group of English lads smashing back beer and wanting to be in the pool more than listen to him. If that was his impression he needs to know that we listened to him intently; he was clearly a man of the mountain, oozing vast experience. We had struck gold. We would find this to be true in 8 days’ time. He did his checks, and left, I hope, happy rather than cursing his luck; I mean we weren’t a group of 3 beautiful women were we? We found out at this point we were going to adopt another member to our group. Mike, a solo participant, ticking off some things from his bucket list as he jumped out of a divorce and before the next relationship came along. We finally got that swim, enjoyed the hotel’s cuisine and a few more beers before an early night (the first of many).
Day 1 Morum Barrier Gate – MTI Mkubwa Camp 6km – 3.5hrs walking
So, bags packed in our 4×4, our driver the ever so happy DJ Khaled (not the famous one) was just pleased to have us in his vehicle. I would settle for the company of this DJ Khaled any day of the week. Our driver may or may not have had means to play music in the car and this suited us fine. He was no American rapper but he more than made up for it with a charming and welcoming charisma. How English society could learn from a guy like this. We couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. Our non-music drive was disrupted every now and again by our chief making the necessary phone calls or someone commenting on the view. It soon became apparent that we were no longer on our time but Tanzanian time as a short journey took longer than planned. A chaotic drive through the city centre, before having to overtake the slow and often over crowed motorbikes on the main roads slowed us down.
We eventually arrived at the Londorossi gate for the purposes of signing into the national park and for the team to complete their necessary checks. It was close to lunch time. We were given a packed lunch to enjoy while our team of helpers completed the necessary paperwork and got weighed. A tedious process it may have seemed but apparently this ensures the safety of the people supporting us up the mountain. All checks done and lunch eaten, we were back into the 4×4 for a 9km drive down to the start point (Morum Barrier Gate). Here we able to meet our team for the first time, as I gave away the biscuits in my lunch box to grateful recipients. We set off to complete the first day’s walking, whilst they got the final bits together. Whilst we slowly plodded along they came zooming past us, carrying and balancing far more than the health and safety boys would allow us back home. At this stage we couldn’t put names to faces as we had barely met. Our walk on the first day was through the jungle. It seemed slow and laborious. As novices go it was relatively easy. We followed a path all the way to the camp (MTI Mkubwa Camp). Our arrival into camp meant that we needed to complete our customary signing in. This was completed under the watchful gaze of a security guard carrying a rather large automatic rifle. We were informed this was to scare the local villagers from stealing our stuff. Not warning off animals?? Either way I think perhaps we were slightly scared. An introduction to the game of whist followed, whilst the remainder of our camp assembled.
The camp was finally ready to host our first evening. A lack of running water meant that showers and toilet facilities were non-existent and a sign of interesting experiences to be encountered on the rest of the trip. An evening in the main tent was shared by us all as we played a card game that was new to some and it being the only form of entertainment. We retired to bed earlier than any of us were used to for our first night’s sleep.
Day 2 MTI Mkubwa Camp – Shira 1 Camp 7km – 4hrs walking
A new dawn, a new day!
We woke, some more disgruntled than others by a disturbed sleep which may have come about by the snoring from others or the discomfort of sleeping on the floor. As for me I woke invigorated by my first night’s camping – I had enjoyed a tent to myself!! Breakfast was eaten before we embarked on a longer day of walking. We set off on our slow and methodical plod.
Sun cream and mozzy cream were applied to the full. The walk started off along similar terrain as that experienced the day before. How nice it was to almost relax and enjoy the surroundings around us. Surely more strenuous and difficult days were ahead of us. We left the rain forest after an hour and started to climb the edges of a peak. It was crazy to think we had barely climbed, and yet, we were already considerably higher than Ben Nevis back home. We peaked our climbing in thick cloud and rumours were that it was a quite a view that we missed. Never mind, I felt sure that better views would greet us on our trek. The only alarming thing to report from our walk today was a couple of groups blaring out loud music through a portable speaker. How rude to shatter my peace. I certainly made my feelings known to Omari, who concurred with my viewpoint. Isn’t travel meant to be an escape from the mundane and every day? This didn’t seem appropriate or respectful of the surroundings we were in. Our feelings at this time were generally good; some were frustrated perhaps at the speed at which we were walking. For me it was so nice though to be taking my time enjoying the moment rather than rushing around a place.
I was starting to lose my mind to the tranquillity and undisturbed beauty through which I had dared to walk. Such a change from the rush and keenness to explore as much of a place when travelling back home.
At the summit of our climb we weren’t blessed with good weather. The clouds had constantly swept in which was amazing to watch. So, we left the cloudy ridge summit, and were soon heading back down again. Surely, we were meant to be going up the mountain and not down, but the climb was a succession of ridges? We followed a rough rocky path to our night camp. Some people were amused to see a helipad, I was not that interested. Just wanted to get out of my sweaty clothes. Here we got our first view of Uhuru (what everyone believes to be Mt Kilimanjaro) still covered in cloud and looking a million miles away. Customary sign in process and mandatory photo before an evening playing cards was enjoyed.
I was first to arise, and, upon crawling out of my tent, was blessed with the most magical sunrise over fresh and frosty grounds. Not a cloud in the sky could ruin such a view. There were no clouds. I could finally see the mountain. Imperious to see, its very presence commanding my attention. A mixture of thoughts as I compared it to other mountains I had seen. Flashbacks to those moments in Canada recently, and further back in time to New Zealand. Peace and tranquillity, such a beautiful moment to experience, I stood there and appreciated all around me as my breath was taken away. Sunrises are a beautiful thing as the rising sun ushers in the start of a new day. A reminder that we should be lucky for each and every day and to take full advantage of it. The natural world gives a far more enjoyable experience than humankind can ever fabricate.
How nice to sit there and enjoy the view, with no connection to the world, and no need for social media satisfaction, with just my own two eyes to remember such beauty.
Our group arose in stages, slowly and each member complaining of the cold and lack of sleep. I was glad that I was up first. I didn’t need moaning as I was positively glowing, invigorated by life’s greatest show. We enjoyed our breakfast before getting ready to leave. Shortly into our walk Omari informed us that we could take our time and enjoy the view and take photos. We had been truly been blessed and spoilt with our day. We had the mountain path to ourselves, only shared when the porters came running by, enjoying each other’s company as we looked in amazement at the beauty of something that was perhaps going to cause us so much pain. It looked so imposing, our group like a tiny caterpillar slowly crawling its way up this monster of a mountain.
We were so lucky on this day, all alone and blessed with glorious sunshine, all those that we had seen the day before bombing onto the next camp as they wanted to reach the summit a little quicker. More fools them. How grateful I was and perhaps others too that we had that extra day to climb. I have mentioned before how that I am normally in a rush to see so much of one place when I travel. Thankfully this time the mountain was showing me everything it could as I took my time. Lessons to be learnt here perhaps. We indulged in the salubrious surroundings and some took full advantage with their cameras. We eventually arrived at the camp uplifted by what we had witnessed. Our camp was small this evening, with I think only 15 or so people. The older members of our group took some time to rest before the customary yet friendly rivalry over cards. I couldn’t sleep so found a perfect spot on the edge of a rock and sat and soaked up the view whilst trying to read a book. I soon couldn’t read as I was distracted by the incredible view. Words can’t describe how amazing the view was, to the left of my viewpoint I could see the white sea (a phrase used for describing the large number of clouds as one sat above them), to the right I could see the terrain we had covered getting here and behind me stood the monster mountain. I was eventually joined by my dear friend, Sam, and we sat and discussed the world in which we live. 3 days in and I asked as to what on earth we were going to go home to. We were completely disconnected from the cyber world. This wasn’t a fantasy world and we experienced a dose of reality. We decided to explore the camp and came across a couple of our helpers. Two lovely gentleman who would do anything for you out of kindness and probably for very little money. Their smiles so endearing. Conversation was difficult, language barriers and all that, and I wish we could have interacted more with these incredible members of our group. I will never forget Andrew and Nordin. So, we left our new found friends and made our way back to the main tent just as the others awoke in anticipation of an evening of cards as the sun set on perhaps the best day of the trip.
The first tough day was what Omari gave us warning about in his briefing at dinner last night. He wasn’t wrong in my eyes.
We were going to walk up to Lava tower to get an experience of altitude of 4600m and see how we would cope with altitude sickness. It all sounded easy; some were hoping to feel something on the way. As for me, I just wanted to enjoy the day and hoped I had no signs or symptoms at all.
It was cloudy as we set off. We were walking to some crossroads on the edge of the mountain. Yesterday it had been pointed out to us about another camp on a different route was directly opposite us on another ridge. During the day we were able to trace their pinpoint shapes on the horizon before we merged and joined the same route. It was here that we realised how lucky those previous, quiet days were as we went from 15 people to over 200 people now crawling up the mountain. A toxic combination of loud talking, colourful accents and loud music made for an unappealing part of our trip.
We finally arrived at heavily populated Lava camp. Personally, I was grateful to arrive and pop some pain killers and recuperate. The others claimed not to have experienced anything. I rather collapsed into my chair to rest and relax. We enjoyed a lovely meal, before meeting our chef who was cooking us some lovely meals on the mountain. I kissed him on the cheek as a way of saying thanks and he was slightly puzzled by this gesture!!
We went back to the welcome sign to get our regulation sign-in picture before setting off back down and round the mountain towards our evening camp. As we started our descent from Lava tower the cold had crept in and meant that we needed to wrap up warm. By the time we reached evening most of these extra layers had been peeled off. This was a downward stretch to the camp as we had gone up for an acclimatisation meal only and were going to spend the next 2 days climbing back up to the same height. As we approached our camp, it was carefully pointed out to us what the start of the next day’s route was. I didn’t think much of it, but it did look pretty steep. Others in the group were a little more concerned, and perhaps hiding fears they had. Our route to camp had become more appealing as there was more vegetation and trees and water seemed to make the landscape more beautiful than that to which we had become accustomed. Arrival into camp meant signing in, before ensuring we got a group photo and finding our tents. We weren’t pleased to see a group of 25 tents next to us, expecting a noise that would disrupt our evening. Thankfully their late arrival wasn’t noticed, their probably shorter route clearly taking its toll, they must have clambered into their tents exhausted and we barely heard anything from them. An evening of cards pursued before our newly accustomed early night for sleep.
Waking up, no alarm, what a place to be. Ours was one of the first groups up and ready. We wanted this and had planned it the night before to beat the rush up the cliff. It probably would have been a good idea to hand my daily diary for this day over to my good mate to describe the climb, not in a light-hearted tease but so that he could perhaps express the feelings in the best way, as we encountered what was for some, not only a severe climb but terrifying leaps of faith. Legs shook, bags were dispatched as what seemed like a fight for survival on our mission to get up this route proved rather challenging. The old man showed no signs of weakness (yet there was some apparently), I was surprisingly fine with it all and Sam was christened ‘shaky Sam’ as it was too much for him. After many nerve-jangling moments, lots of laughter and support we all finally made the summit of the cliff where we were able to take stock and relax. I went off in the pursuit of those photos with Mike and Omari. Izandini, assistant guide, stayed with the others who didn’t dare leave their perches on the safe ground. After a period of rest, we were ready to set off again as we went back down the other side of the ridge that we had climbed before climbing up the next ridge to our camp.
Along the way we were now much more relaxed and engaged in conversation with each other. We also joined in conversations with other groups going past as well as all the porters flying along the path. The sight of these porters working really is impressive yet cruel. We passed one who was struggling so we gave him all the food we had to give him the energy to keep on going. He didn’t take it just for himself but shared it amongst his colleagues. Their energy consumption must be so much more than ours yet were surviving on very little. Towards the end we had to go down an up one of the ridges to our camp. By this point I was now severely struggling with a flu bug and coughing up I hate to think what at every possible opportunity. We made it down and took rest at the river before the final climb up to our camp and watched as some of the other porters from other groups descended by different routes from ours. Incredible sight as they picked a route and just went for it, where’s the health and safety? Our porters were busy walking to and from the river to get fresh mountain water, our camp already made up for us. We arrived, exhausted from another big day, knowing that the next day was the last easy day before the biggest day of the trip. Sign in was completed and the customary photo was taken before an early night. Our dinner was accompanied by a vivid sunset. During yesterday’s briefing we were told to stop playing cards and staying up late for this one evening to ensure we were in the best shape possible. Promises were also made to Omari not to let him down, and, if we struggled, to dig deep. It wasn’t going to be easy…..
Day 6 Karanga Camp – Barafu Camp 4km – 3hrs
We woke up in stages again. Mike and I were the first risers. We set off with cameras to catch that magical morning sunrise. It really is a poetic and remarkable way to start the day, and one I wish I could experience more when I return to reality. Everyone now finally surfaced we all convened in the main tent for breakfast. Our walk today was to Barafu Camp or base camp! The final stop before we attempted to reach the summit. The walk was short but steep. We rested, as always, at different points along the way. At one of the last resting places we all remarked about a couple of Arab/French lads who we saw were rushing up the mountain. Perhaps they were in pursuit of an Instagram photo (it doesn’t always need to be instant!).
Rumours and whispers abounded as we doubted they’d make it! Later it was confirmed that they didn’t even make it out of the camp that night. All that wasted money on a trip to reach a peak and they were unable to do so. My advice to them would have been to respect the guides they were with and respect the mountain. We arrived slowly but safely into camp just before lunch. The camp was heaving as people were arriving in preparation for their ascent and people were descending off the mountain. A real smorgasbord of emotions was evident, as some people were clearly overjoyed at their achievement and those who were waiting had a sense of fear and trepidation at what was to come. Tales and rumours were shared as it suddenly dawned on our group that it was about to get real. We tried to spend the rest of the day sleeping and resting before our midnight ascent. Difficult when the tent was perched on the edge of mountain, with ever changing weather conditions and hundreds of people walking past.
We were awakened by the ever reliable porter. So, we started to layer up. Our advice for going up was to wear a minimum of 5 layers to prepare for the cold and to cover our water bottles in a sock to ensure that our water didn’t freeze. By now all clothes packed had been worn so a rather dirty and smelling sock was used to provide much needed insulation for the water bottles. Hygiene of a different kind. We convened in the main tent for the final prep, a cup of soup was drunk, coats were zipped up, gloves were put on and headlights were turned on.
We were all set and ready to go a little bit before midnight.
Day 7 Barafu Camp – Uhuru point – Barafu Camp – Mweka Camp 5km – 7hrs, 5km – 3hrs, 10km – 4.5hrs
So, our slow plod had begun, just like all the other campers that were at Barafu Camp. Guided by the expertise of our guides and small lights on our head, we had 1400 metres to climb in 4km. I probably would say that this is a steep gradient! Not long into our walk and the Gaffa was the first to break. He complained of struggling to breathe and coldness in his hands. Regular stops were made to accommodate him and looking after the old man and ensuring that he made it to the top with us. The other three of us seemed okay at this time. Not for long though. I eventually broke, two hours from the top. My body felt like it had nothing to give. Completely lacking in energy, I was now dragging myself up this mountain, looking at the stars to try to inspire and guide me. Those people who don’t believe that altitude sickness is a thing are very mistaken. How I made it I don’t know, and what I can remember is a slight blur, although Sam supported me very well up the mountain. I didn’t find his talking very motivational. And told him so!
We finally made our first target – Stellar point. Never have I felt so relieved at seeing a sign. I wanted to kiss it as the pain of getting there had been so much, my emotions clearly getting the better of me. Apparently, there was a sunrise happening around me. That was lost on me as I celebrated on making the top. I perhaps should ask the others for their feeling at this point. After a short rest we climbed the final 200m to Uhuru point. This was somewhat of an anti-climax after stumbling and crawling to Stellar point. The pain and jubilation of arriving here seemed more that the actual top of the mountain.
Gaffa was a little quiet and cold; all he wanted was the picture and to return. That dreaded altitude sickness badly affected him, but he made it. I had managed a second lease of life and although I had a banging head wanted to appreciate the surroundings I was in. We got that iconic picture under the sign before rather rapidly making our descent down the mountain.
A combination of running and skiing down got us down as quickly as possible. As we went down it was incredible to think that we had walked up this in pitch blackness. Such an array of emotions was overtaking us all. As we approached camp there was Andrew, one of my adopted favourites, to greet us back and carry our bags back. I don’t think he was expecting a proper man hug from me as I ran towards him. He was clearly very happy at our success. As we all arrived into camp the heavens opened. Sleet poured down on us. How lucky we were that it came then and not at any other point on the trip. A celebratory Coca Cola awaited us, which I declined (New Year’s resolution). The porters enjoyed the drink instead of me.
A quick pit stop allowed us to rest (apparently) and take off some layers and get ready for a wet walk to our final night on the mountain. Our spirits were clearly high. We felt over the moon though our mood was a bit dampened by the rain. Rather than rejoicing all the way down we were physically exhausted and stumbled down. I can recall having to pause at one point for Gaffa to throw up, the altitude sickness still taking its toll.
Walking on a considerable high yet with our eyes almost shut, our pace was slow. I think it is safe to say that we were exhausted. Eventually we crashed into camp an hour or so before darkness, Sam clearly feeling more tired than most and was already snoring whilst some of us took a wash. We had to wake him from his slumber as our guide had managed to surprise us with some birthday beers and a bottle of wine. What a perfect end to our mountain odyssey, we somehow managed to stay awake and enjoy good food, company and cards. We headed to bed probably a bit tipsy, our first alcohol in a week, and I will probably speak for all when I say we slept like logs.
Day 8 Mweka Camp – Mweka Gate 10km – 3hrs
All good things must come to an end. We woke up one final time in our now smelly surroundings. 8 days of no shower and reusing worn clothes had taken its toll. We stepped out of our unhygienic living conditions into similar glorious weather with which we had previously been blessed. A slight coldness was felt as we breathed under warming blue skies. The sun was shining and so were we! Smiles that couldn’t be wiped or washed off our faces as we woke from our well-earned slumber. We traced our steps back to the entrance to the camp to get that customary photo under the sign. It was time for our final meal – our chef Saidi had delivered excellent food throughout. Kabila the ever-reliable porter delivered our food, his limited English able to describe what we were about to eat. Normally, our daily routine would be getting our bags out and preparing for the long walk ahead. Today was different, we got our bags out, but were then walked over to a clearing in the trees. Here our 16 helpers came together to sing and dance and wish us on our way. Some of us joined in with the celebration while others observed. We said our thanks and after many high fives, hugs and pictures we got ourselves together for one final walk. A short 3 hour stroll from Mweka camp to the Mweka gate. The adopted member of our group, Mike, was more like walking spaghetti by now – shoe problems – but he was a member of our team, so we supported him just like he supported us up the mountain. For the three musketeers the promise of a bar was too much as we wanted to run down the remaining part of the mountain.
We eventually limped wearily to the gate. We had to complete the customary signing out procedures, as our chief also collected our certificates. During this time we had found our porters had overtaken us and were already in their van and sharing a well earned bottle of local vodka. We joined in their celebrations as we didn’t want to say goodbye. We finally collapsed into our van and made the short drive to a local outlet store. No DJ Khaled to drive us this time sadly. This was nothing like the designer outlets back home. It was a prearranged destination, considerably well-built when compared to the local neighbourhood. There was clearly an agreed deal to bring us here to part with our money. We had none! All had to be done on tabs and settled up later as we had been told not to bring any money with us up the mountain.
Spend we certainly did, gifts were bought for loved ones and drinks were bought for the many. Dollars spent, presents packed and a drink for the journey home. We finally crashed back to the hotel at lunchtime, with a new lease of life and ready to party! There was a much-needed shower, a pool waiting and a bar the contents of which needed drinking. We did all three, yet still came back to a new-found love of cards. Perhaps a perfect end to our trip as we indulged in a few more games and a bottle of red.
Lovely Lincoln – another city spanning the 2000yr history of Britain. Sounds familiar? Similar to the recent visit Characterful Chester. My job recently has taken me to all points of the compass of this land. I have questioned the logistics of this, and these trips haven’t always made me very happy, but on occasions it presents the opportunity to explore parts of the country not always accessible to me. Lovely Lincoln was my opportunity today; the sun was shining, and my appointment had cancelled. Not one to waste time but seize every chance offered to explore these green and pleasant lands I set off for the city of Lincoln. I perhaps should have completed some admin, but that can be completed in the evening when the sun isn’t shining. I’d heard rumours of its reputed beauty and that it was home to an impressive cathedral, but my knowledge of Lincoln was only its recent cup giant killing success as seen in the football on TV. I didn’t even have any childhood memories of being brought here. I’m sure that my father would correct me if this was the case. He has.
I parked the car legally in a car park adjacent to the castle. I had a quick scan of the local tourist boards to establish a route by which to walk. The car park I chose was ideally located close to the cathedral quarter which meant I avoided the modern metropolitan monstrosity that most people think makes a city. I, on the other hand, much prefer ancient architecture, an abundance of evidence of our history and charming shops and eateries. Lincoln somehow manages to play host to what I love and what I don’t love in cities. I set off at pace, with slightly cold fresh air filling my lungs and the autumnal sunshine beating down on my neck. The smile on my face gave it away. Fine weather on these ventures make me incredibly happy. Sunshine always helps when exploring and I find it adds to and enhances the intrinsic layers of beauty that some places exhibit.
Lincoln is a small cathedral city in eastern middle England. These small cathedral cities are rapidly becoming my favourite cities in England, if not the world. These cities were once the power houses of this country yet now they seem to play second fiddle to more modern places. There was good and bad that accompanied the Industrial Revolution. The Romans clearly had a good eye for a location as they laid down the first roots of this city. The Roman fort that was established on top of the hill has evolved throughout time, yet still remains after all the different eras of our history.
The perfect place to start was to examine the castle. Not until further exploring the city did it identify its perfect strategic location. It is not too far from the coast; was it perhaps the first line of defence for anticipated invasions of Britain? (I am reminded that no one has successfully invaded these shores since 1066) but back then the Romans may have thought so as they established a fort here. Once their era had finished and the Middle Ages commenced, it was time for the great influence of William the Conqueror, who invaded the city two years after his initial landings on these shores. He ordered that the castle and later the cathedral to be built on the former Roman fortifications. How lucky we were for his decisions, for the footprint he has left, which has survived the test of time. It is truly stunning. Perhaps things as they are now (decorative) are not according to the initial vision. The location for both on top of hill would have surely meant perfect defensive positions.
The castle to this day is immaculately presented from the outside. Its fortified walls every bit the castle image I had grown up to know. Strolling around the parameter of these walls there was no evident signs of a keep. A couple of round towers exist in the corners as expected to defend the wall. So with trepidation I stepped towards the main gate to enquire how much I may have to fork out to visit Lincoln castle. Both a pleasant surprise and unhealthy shock greeted me. Access into the castle and grounds was free… can you believe it, what a pleasant surprise? Then the shock… £8 to be allowed to walk around the walls. I almost dropped my camera. After visiting recent cities where city walls have been free to access, I couldn’t believe the fee that was being asked. No doubt they provide stunning views and need maintenance, but surely they cannot justify the price tag. Sorry Lincoln Castle, but no! A rather disheartening walk around allowed me to see the courthouse and Victorian building now located in its centre, but I ultimately left greatly disappointed.
Upon leaving the castle, with sun still shining I went in search of other charms rather than drag myself into the cathedral and lose that glorious autumn sunshine. I meandered my way along the cobbled paths that enhance the olde worlde feel of this part of Lincoln. Shoppers should delight in the unique boutiques and quirky shops that line the roads. Their bright, colourful facades even managed to tempt me in. Meandering around, my footsteps led me down Steep Hill – the connecting link between ‘downhill’ and ‘uphill’. A steep yet charming street of shops illustrating the point made above. Thoughts immediately turn to other similar locations that have been visited for comparison, with ones that spring to mind being in Quebec and Hovis Hill. Quebec, by contrast, is more steps than a steep pebbled incline, but similar in the range of shops and array of colours that adorn these streets. Hovis Hill can replicate the steepness and pebbled road aspect but is a residential area. In leaving the old behind I waltzed under the archways of the guildhall into the chaos of the new. Oh, take me to the old, narrow, quiet and charming quarter I had left behind.
But in search of visiting all of Lincoln’s history I had to grim and bear the hustle and bustle to get myself to Brayford waterfront. My route took me past the war memorial and an unloved church. Close by should be High Bridge, which is oldest bridge in Britain which still has buildings on it. Thankfully I managed to stumble upon that on my return back to more poetic surroundings. Some solace was found down by the Britain’s oldest inland port. Out of season waterways meant calming and undisturbed waters. These provided wonderful reflections of the city and highlighted the dominance that the cathedral plays in the cityscape, the castle hidden mostly by modern buildings. Now a hub of student life and modern entertainment there are still clear signs that this was once a thriving port. Many pleasure boats replace the steamboats and barges that would once have filled this port. During the 13th century, when Lincoln’s wool trade was thriving, so was the port. Decline set in but with every decline comes a resurgence. The connecting waterway was dredged and reopened which led to its heyday in the 18th/19th century. The port we see today would have been a much different picture back then. From here the decline came again as the railway arrived and the port was left to wrack and ruin. It now survived and has been turned around to a thriving pleasure destination.
So I left the waterways after finding the high bridge and retraced my steps up Steep Hill, past those appealing shops, round the corner and through the arches to the cathedral. Sadly, that grand entrance was greeted with the noise and clear disturbance of necessary renovation works. How annoying, but understandable, it must surely present a reason to return. A step inside one of England’s biggest cathedrals is a must, but a shocking fee of £8 to enter may put you off. I have to say I was put off by the fee and will add this as another reason to come back and visit. A wander round the outside confirms the enormous size of it and its unique design. Not like the other cross liked cathedrals in England, this Norman and Gothic combination is superb. Did you know that Lincoln cathedral was the tallest building in the world for 238 years? In 1311 the completion of the central tower replacement was done at 160m high. In 1548 this was blown down. Incredible bits of history on both aspects in the building of something so high and the fact it probably wasn’t very safe to be a builder back then.
So as I sit and enjoy the autumn sunshine, and compose the blog for this city I reckon that this is another jewel in the English crown that should be added to anyone’s itinerary and not ignored when visiting this country. I for sure will be returning to explore its history and surrounding area.
Here I was leaving Ripon after a pleasant evening spent there after work and blissfully unaware that I was leaving an English city until I walked pass a sign that said, “cathedral city of the Yorkshire dales”. On this mission to write a blog about every city in England I really should do some study and form a definitive list in order to start planning rather than just stumbling across these places. As I walked around, I genuinely thought I was in a small town that boasted a cathedral but had not got city status. My mind was a muddle as I tried to think about what gives a city its status and ultimately forgot that this might just be one. In an attempt to enjoy my evening, I wasn’t going to turn to my phone to give me the answer, although I did ultimately.
This small and charming cathedral city has left me a little dumbfounded. So small in size and in the middle of nowhere – how did it come about? Was it created as part of a religious area? How comes a large cathedral was placed here? There are no initial and clear signs of industrial links, albeit that as I left there, I could see a canal and railway. Could its existence be traced back through farming and markets? How blind to some things I had been as my eyes were focused on a safe arrival into the city much earlier. I have so many questions as to its creation.
Upon leaving my car, the first stop was the cathedral. It seemed small compared to some, simplistic even, with nothing grand about its appearance apart from the autumn sunshine gently warming its outer shell. This is written not to take away from Rippon’s cathedral but there are certainly more attractive cathedrals in these lands. I took those dreaded steps towards the doors to see if I was going to be charged to enter. Donations only!! Well done, but once inside one is immediately drawn to the way by which these places now have to find a way of surviving – in Ripon’s case it was an art gallery on either side of the main aisles. Diversification.
Some time was spent around the cathedral capturing pictures and finally I was led to the crypt. Although I went around it backwards (entrance not that clear) I wasn’t that interested in what I saw. Upon completing some research later, I discovered that this was in fact a 7th century crypt!! Its small size meant pictures were not achievable, hence my lack of interest. Not one to fuss, I didn’t return to take a picture upon hearing rumours that this is the oldest in the land.
As these autumn evenings start to draw in, time was pressing and as this was a work trip in what I thought was a town, I marched on in search of dinner rather than fully exploring this charming Yorkshire delight. In my search of dinner, I came across the Market Square. Almost completely surrounded by buildings, there are modern roads that now enlarge the breaks in the complete market square vista. A tall and commanding pillar/statue guards the square around it. The city still to this day is full of tradition as at 9 o’clock town’s horn blower blows his horn to the four corners of the square. This tradition (the world’s longest-running unbroken daily ceremony) spans some 1100 years as is referred to as “setting the watch”. As I walk around, I notice a sign that states about rebels gathering in the square in November 1569, after capturing Barnard Castle. By January 1570 hundreds of these rebels had been hung in the square for their rebellion against Henry VIII’s dissolution.
Close to the city lies Fountains Abbey, something that must surely be explored upon returning to this area. This is a fine example of the footprint/legacy that Henry VIII left on this country. The ruins that remain still show the sheer size that abbeys/monasteries once were and, consequently, the power they once had. I would imagine that if they could be lined up against each other that Fountains Abbey would dwarf Ripon’s cathedral. It adds a layer of intrigue and one that must be explored upon returning. Was the cathedral created after the destruction of the abbey or do their histories coincide? Clearly there are signs of a church being at the site of the cathedral for many years. I look forward to discovering more of this history.
So, as I sit and write this blog, I’m still in shock that I have managed to visit another city without realising I was even in one. I’ve already stated my desire to return to Yorkshire and explore this part of the country in greater detail. Ripon has given added incentive as clearly there are some delightful areas to explore within a 10-mile radius. So, as Ripon builds to be a part of the cycling world championships, I hope I find the time to be able to recognise it on TV as the cyclists fly by. Ripon Rising I look forward to returning.
It has taken two thousand years to create the Chester of today! The Romans established it as a port some 2 millennia ago and set up a fort here. The area was the ideal location for a gateway to the north. A lot has happened in Britain in the intervening time but there are still some Roman remains to be seen throughout the city. Parts of the wall are 2 millennia old. An amphitheatre can just about be made out along with some foundations in another location. Notes by one area close to the present town hall declare that the ruins on display are the remains of the heart of the fortress located at Deva.
My knowledge of English history prior to 1066 is much weaker than that of the post 1066 era though this says very little. It was in Saxon times that Chester’s first cathedral was built; it remains to this day but in the form of ruins next to the St John the Baptist church. Entry to these ruins is free and there are notes on display boards to assist people like me who have little understanding of this part of British history.
What was incredible to believe, as there was no evidence to back it up, was that this was once a key port! Chester sits on the river Dee which back then had not silted up, so it was accessible by boat. It was possible to reach Ireland by boat from here. During these times the city of Liverpool was nothing but 7 streets so, at that time, it was strategically more important than its famous Mersey neighbour. I have no idea what silting is (the dictionary says, ‘the process of becoming filled or blocked with silt and further says that silt is fine sand, clay, or other material carried by running water and deposited as a sediment, especially in a channel or harbour), but this was the main cause of the decline of Chester as a harbour. As a result, docks were removed with the last one going as late as the 1960s.
The river passes around half the city and the city’s racecourse. This charming setting seems to be slightly neglected. There is a noticeable lack of waterfront pubs and eateries which mean that there are not large gatherings of people here. That is to be considered as an advantage. Perhaps this will come. After walking along the riverbank for a short while, the path and banks are overgrown. Perhaps this is the reason for people staying in the city centre. I can see that improvements could be made along these banks to entice folks away from the hustle and bustle.
In spite of this there are some iconic bridges to explore. The Grosvenor bridge, from which, incidentally, a superb view of the racecourse is possible, is impressive. It is one of 3 main bridges across the river Dee with the majority of traffic crossing into the city via this Grosvenor bridge. Walking across the Old Dee bridges gives a view of one of the four gates through the city walls. The city boasts the most complete walls in the country and are a wonderful way to start exploring the city as they give an idea of its size, structure and layout. With all walls there must be entrance points, and as my meanderings grow, I will begin to learn more about this, but a common theme might be that these gates are located at the points of a compass.
And so to the walls. As I trod along these walls it made me think about their very existence. Were they built to keep an enemy away and protect all that was encompassed by them? Why have they not remained in all cities? When walking these walls don’t be afraid to leave them for you never know what you might find either side of them. A castle? A blue coat hospital? Cannons that were used long ago? Walking along the walls as best as I could (repair works while I was there) I came across a round tower in the north eastern corner. It was constructed during the reign of Charles I, and now aptly named King Charles Tower. The city was loyal to Charles during the Civil War during the 17th century. It is alleged that Charles stood atop this tower and watched his army defeated at the battle of Rowton Moor. It would be difficult see as far as Rowton from this vantage point, but it may well have been that back then he saw soldiers returning from the affray.
Inside the walls is where Chester’s true charm is to be found in, believe it or not, its distinguished shopping area!! The iconic black and white, half-timbered, buildings have lower levels that are shops. It is almost as if delightful architecture and functionality have become entangled through dreamy, though no doubt deliberate, design and that these buildings have stood the test of time. The double delight of the 700 year old row galleries captivate your immediate attention. Their brilliant design was surely light years ahead of its time. These black and white façades still remain in the modern dysfunctional British high streets. Chester seems to have a lure for shoppers and results in busy and overcrowded streets. As these old designs have remained, they were clearly not designed for the amount of people that now overcrowd these streets and there is a definite sense of being hemmed in.
Not one for shopping and always pressed for time in these city visits I made my way to its cathedral. These cathedrals are located at the centre of most cities, and what were once the places where the heartbeat of the city was felt, now, sadly, sit as mausoleums. Chester’s cathedral was not one of my favourites. It is dark, dingy and ugly and could do with a good sandblast. Inside its dark nature owes much to its Victorian ‘restoration’. It’s home to colourful windows and is perhaps famous for its choir. It has weekly organ recitals, but, sadly, my visit tied in with some rather loud and dreary practice. A dour organ practice aside, there was the dreamy shopping mall, still sturdy walls that give the city a real sense of stronghold and leaves you captivated. A city etched with parts from the whole of Britain’s 2000-year history is really a ‘must do’ visit for all.
The mission is to blog about every city in England. It has gathered pace recently assisted by my work taking me to “Central Coventry”. The title of this blog has been chosen as it is to do with the most central city in England.
As my meanderings take me around the country to see each city, I’m sure that there will be winners and losers. My views for each place may not be shared by all but here goes as far as Coventry is concerned which I rank down at the bottom of the list of best cities. Perhaps it was depression brought on by the rain bringing a damp end to the finale of another summer or an emotional state brought on by the civil war and battle lines that MPs were drawing up at Parliament. Whatever the cause, Coventry did not do anything to ameliorate the situation and was a major disappointment. Perhaps another visit in more favourable light and with stability in the political world to bring the mind on an even keel may do it justice….
I had been many times before. There is a family friend who lives there, and an educational childhood meant that I had been privileged to see the place from earliest days. Sadly, memories of the city itself do not abound (where is that childhood blog?).
I managed to find some free parking. As an aside, free parking in city centres might make people more inclined to visit. I strolled towards the city centre via an underground pass presumably under the ring road. It was here that the first impressions were made. One never gets a second chance to make a good first impression. Coventry’s first impression made a lasting impact and left me feeling rather uneasy and, for the first time in a while, unsafe. Homeless people were living in the shelter provided by the pathway under the road. Their ‘beds’ were made up and, clearly, there were no facilities. Obviously, there was no bathroom and the stench of urine was pungent. Their contribution to this walkway was to leave needles for, no doubt, drug habits. What a terrible sight. As I discussed with a friend the other day, how did our society let it get to this?!
Rapidly leaving what seemed like a crime scene, I followed the signs to the city centre. I noticed a half-battered statue which looked like it had seen better days. This was another proof of the ignorance of our past. I had some strange looks as I tried to get a picture. Further investigation showed the statue to be of James Starley, creator of the bicycle. Coventry became a major bicycle manufacturer which then led to Coventry becoming a major centre in the British motor industry. This led to the formation of a British brand of car, Rover. I can still recall seeing many of these cars on the road when I was younger but as more countries have created their own car brands, so the British ones have almost disappeared, as we now import cars from all over the world. There are still some surviving parts of this legacy; Jaguar has its headquarters in this area and the transport museum shows the motor history associated with the city.
The city centre is now a polar opposite to bygone days with shops selling modern fashion brands, intertwined with coffee shops and abandoned stores. There are people off their heads screaming and shouting about needing a toilet for all the word to see and hear. All round homeless people lie waiting for the generosity of many, yet so few of that many are prepared to give. People are connected like robots, but, alarmingly, with an inability to switch off and see what is all round them. Where did it all go so wrong? What can be done? I was very harsh about Vancouver having this problem, but I also said that this city didn’t stand alone in this world.
At the heart of the city centre is a statue to Lady Godiva. Legend has it she rode through the city naked, only covered by her long hair to stand up against the taxes her husband placed on the city. The event took place circa 1066-1086, and the statue is there to remind the interested visitor the history behind the city. Although history is perhaps a big game of Chinese whispers, the legend has been remembered to this day. Leaving this statue you are immediately drawn to the dominating features of this city, the last remains of part what was once England’s finest medieval city. Hitler and the Nazi air raids led to the “Coventry blitz” or “operation moonlight sonata” and this onslaught put paid to the major part of Coventry’s past as the blitz was one of the most destructive of its kind. Coventry’s central location and supplier of many things required for the war meant it was a prime target. The devastation caused is particularly shown by the old cathedral the remains of which still stand. Sadly, a lot of the damages caused were beyond repair and a new city needed to be rebuilt.
Perhaps the best way to describe the old cathedral is walls but no roof. It is as if the roof has been blown off with the outside wall structure being defiant. Perhaps this has been left as a reminder of not just the human life that was lost in the war, but the devastation of lands. The city decided that instead of rebuilding the cathedral it would build a new one next to it. A step inside this soulless modern monstrosity confirmed my opinion that we really must appreciate those incredible cathedrals that have survived time, and carve such an identity on our cityscapes.
Located around the edges of the cathedral lie the 14th century guild hall and Holy Trinity church. Both buildings are excellent displays of ancient architecture. I would appeal to anyone to visit both, not just for a civic ceremony but to witness such architecture.
So it is with slight sadness in my heart, that Coventry didn’t steal it, but instead left me questioning the state of the world in which we live.
Whisper it quietly but I think I have just discovered one of England’s finest towns. As I’m on a mission to blog about every city in England it was surprising that I ended up here. What a surprise it was to discover this place. I am torn between broadcasting Tewkesbury’s virtues and whispering about this place to help preserve its excellence and keep it one of Britain’s great secrets. This town has a beautiful waterside setting, at the confluence of the rivers Severn and Avon. Go and learn, discover even, about the town’s rich and vibrant history. It has certainly inspired me to explore another part of England’s intriguing history.
At the heart of the city lies the imposing feature of the town scape. The Abbey! A step inside immediately blows your mind, as it’s almost as impressive as the abbey near to my home in Sherborne. As I’ve mentioned before, when you think of abbeys in this country you would think of them all being ruins as a result of the dissolution, but not this one. It has retained its relevance at the heart of the city with its Norman tower, 12th century ceilings and stained glass windows. The abbey’s survival is, in large part, down to the town buying the abbey from Henry VIII for 435 pounds.
I’m not going to write a history lesson about the War of the Roses or the main people involved. This is mainly due to the fact I need to give myself a history lesson first of all. I know that it was the red versus the white rose. I can remember the name Richard III as being king in this era, and I’m aware of a saying, ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.’ So the only real knowledge I have is of the passionate cricket match that is served up, it seems, at least twice a year between Yorkshire (white rose) and Lancashire (red rose) and how this has been more than just a sporting rivalry stretching back some 600 years. Some serious research must be made to discover more about yet another fascinating part of our history. Perhaps if those people in Hollywood who can’t think of any decent films to make could start looking at British history for inspiration rather than subjecting us to all their remakes.
Tewksbury was the location for a significant battle in the War of the Roses. It surprises me that these two northern counties fought here for supremacy and not closer to their home, but this might have something to do with the return of an exile from France. Something else to research and try to understand – were the shires much larger back then? Or were there less of them than the current number of counties in England. The scene of the battle was played out to the south of the town. The area where the battle took place is known to this day as ‘Bloody Meadow’. Each year the site plays host to re-enactments of the event although they are always scheduled for a time in the year after the anniversary of the actual event no doubt to draw the most crowds. Surely a return visit to Tewkesbury in July of next year is a must, as the medieval town comes alive with wannabe actors reliving those famous tales.
I presume that such a festival brings about an incredible display of colour as a large number of flags relating to the noblemen who fought in that battle adorn shops, inns and houses throughout the town. Does this splash of colour remain all year round? The Tewkesbury Battlefield Society is responsible for all of this colour and information and has done a fine job.
These streets are Tudortastic. Anyone who loves old architecture should strive to visit this time warped town. The layout and buildings have been preserved. The town seems to have barely altered throughout the ages as black and white timber framed Tudor buildings line the streets, their upper storeys overhanging lower ones to create a truly special high street. Throw in the colourful flags and you have quite the picture. I was amazed at how many different buildings there were and upon a little research was blown away to understand there are some 345 listed buildings in the town. It was also noticeable that the high street had no ‘to let’ signs out. We must surely be looking at what this place does right to ensure filled shops.
The fact that the town is surrounded by flood plains, rivers and meadows means its expansion hasn’t happened and it has retained its long and narrow profile. Instead it has left a tiny footprint of times gone by, and one of the land’s finest townscapes! I beg everyone to discover this wonderful town; you will probably be blown away just like me. For now, though, I will posit that not enough of our incredible history is covered in our education system (I can understand why people don’t want to complete an exam in history, but as we need to reidentify ourselves as a nation, we shouldn’t ignore our past. Perhaps British history should be made a core subject throughout all year groups). I will go now to discover its history and secrets for myself, and, as a local old couple remarked to me, try not to attract too many visitors here.