The City of Lincoln

Why visit Lincoln, you ask?  This backwater city of 100,000?  It’s not on most tourist’s maps, but the city was important historically.  It has an amazing cathedral (English Gothic, 12th century), a castle (Norman, 11th century), a medieval Bishop’s Palace (12th century), one of only 4 original copies of the Magna Carta, a Christmas market and an annual Steampunk Festival, so it does get some tourists.  More pertinent to us, however, is that it is home to younger son Britt and family, and we can visit!  And visit.  And visit.  Little did poor Britt know that we would be there for an extended time.  After Ginger and I left to visit Barcelona (Spain), I separated my shoulder trying to tackle a would-be camera thief on marble stairs (a topic for a future Barcelona post), so back to Lincoln we went to recover.  There I fell and broke (badly) 2 ribs, and as I was recovering, Ginger needed major abdominal surgery.  So we basically moved into Britt’s house for quite a while.  Newly recovered and off to Wales, I slipped in a castle stairwell and broke two fingers (badly; spiral fractures); so back to Britt’s we went.  Soooooo – let me show you some of Lincoln!  It’s actually a very interesting town.

The Witham Shield, a 4th century decorative bronze covering for a wood backing

The Celtic Witham Shield

First some Lincoln history – and there’s lots of it.  We’ll ignore the early part, such as the arrival of Homo heidelbergensis (500,000 years ago) or the Neanderthals a bit later (Europe has HISTORY!).  Lincoln the city began as an Iron Age settlement of round wooden dwellings in the first century BC, established at a river (Witham) by a deep pool (Brayford Pool) at the foot of a large hill.  The origin of the name “Lincoln” likely comes from Celtic for pool, Lindon.  After the Romans conquered this part of Britain in AD 48 (using 40-50,000 soldiers), they built a fort on top of the (steep!) hill overlooking this settlement and at the northernmost end of the Roman road (Fosse Way) that went across England all the way to its southwest peninsula.

With two rivers accessible from the sea, the settlement flourished; when the Romans left, the city waned until the arrival of the Vikings, under whom it became an overseas trading center.  In the late 800’s, with an influx of Danes, Lincoln’s economy took off.  In 1068, after the Norman conquest, William I (The Conquerer) ordered Lincoln Castle to be built on the site of the Roman fort, for the same strategic reasons as the Romans.  Four years

later he ordered a cathedral to be built, completed in 1092.  Subsequently the diocese of Lincoln grew to became the largest in England, with more monasteries than the rest of the country put together.  By 1150 Lincoln was one of the wealthiest towns in England and soon became its 3rd largest city, with an economy based on cloth and wool (known especially for their scarlet and green cloth; Robin Hood wore woolens of Lincoln green).  In 2014, English barons rebelled over high taxes spent on King John’s failed wars in France and his arbitrary exercise of power.  The Archbishop of Canterbury (plus a Lincoln bishop) was appointed to organize peace talks, leading to the Magna Carta; when that document was repudiated, the rebel barons aligned with France and the First Barons’ War began, a dynastic war for the throne of England.  The turning point in this war was the Battle of Lincoln in 1217.  The French forces of Louis VIII breached Lincoln’s city walls and occupied the city, but English loyalists successfully held the castle.  The arrival of a loyalist relief force subsequently overwhelmed the French (and pillaged Lincoln on the pretense that the town was loyal to the French).  After the French tried to replenish their forces but were defeated at sea, Louis VIII signed the treaty of Lanbeth, relinquishing his claim to the English throne.  Lincoln’s fortune thereafter continually declined, particularly in the 1500’s after Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries cut off a major source of income.  Buildings were destroyed in the 1600’s when Lincoln was caught between factions during the English Civil War.  In the late 1700’s, however, with the arrival of railroad links and the Industrial Revolution, Lincoln bloomed again.  During WWI Lincoln invented, designed and built the world’s first tanks.

So enough history!  Let me show you some of Lincoln, starting with it’s Roman heritage.  A cool thing about Lincoln is that a lot of its major roads still go through Roman or medieval gates.  Newport gate, shown below, was the walled city’s north gate in the 3rd century.

A few sections of the Roman wall and foundations of its towers are still present.

The Lincoln Cathedral had its own walled perimeter, or close, and some of those walls and a number of gates remain as well.

Lincoln’s allure lies less with its Roman ruins than with its medieval heritage, not just its castle and cathedral but also its medieval buildings (and a few streets).  For instance, of the 3 buildings in the first picture below, take a look at the timbered building on the far right.  Gravity has not been kind to this house – it’s called “The Crooked House” for good reason!

The oldest buildings in Lincoln date from the mid 1100’s and are associated with the Jewish community in Lincoln (before they were expelled en mass in 1290).  The Jew’s House shown in the first 2 pictures below is one of the earliest town houses in England, built from local limestone in the Norman (Romanesque) style and dating from about 1150.  Part of the façade survives; the elaborately carved doorway, the remains of two

double-arch windows, and much of the stonework on the upper story.  Next door is the Jew’s Court building, dating between 1150 and 1180, although the medieval stonework is mostly at basement level.  It was originally built as a duplex.

The Norman House, formerly known as “Aaron the Jew’s House”, dates between 1170 and 1180 and is another example of Norman domestic architecture.  I do love the way

the stone intercalates with the brick of the adjacent building.

Another interesting building/gate is the Lincoln Guildhall and Stonebow.  The Stonebow arch is located where the southern gate to the old Roman city once stood.  The Tudor Guildhall, finished in 1520, was built on top; in the medieval period the Lincoln guilds met here to administer the city government.  The pictures below show the front and back.

Other interesting houses are a merchant’s house of 1543 – the Leigh-Pemberton House (now the tourist office), and timbered shops (including the fabulous Stokes High Bridge Cafe) built on the west side of the High Bridge in 1540.  The High Bridge was built over

the River Witham about 1160 and is the only medieval bridge in England with houses still on it.

There are many, many other interesting buildings in Lincoln, and I’m showing just a few in the pictures below.  In the first picture note the filled arch in the middle of the building (left of the blue door)!  Such reworked facades are common.

Alas, I neglected to take pictures of some of the really cute bars in old houses along the river (who takes a camera to a bar?).

I’ll finish this post on Lincoln with a description of Steep Hill.  The 4th picture at the beginning of this post is the city plan of Roman London, which shows an “uptown” (the Roman fort) and “downtown” (the associated city); and that plan is not too different from the structure of Lincoln over the ensuing 2ooo years.  Uptown, at the top of a steep hill, was the location of the castle, the cathedral, and the rich and powerful.  Downtown was everybody else.  Connecting them then and now is a main shopping street (High Street, downtown) that becomes a medieval street called Steep Hill, lined with cute shops and restaurants.  The Jew’s House, the Norman House, the Guildhall and Stokes are on those streets.  The pictures below show the upper part of Steep Hill heading downtown

(gentle slope).  The following pictures show a middle section of Steep Hill (and also the Harding House, from the 1400 and 1500’s).   It’s hard to capture steepness in a photo, but

the upper right picture showing pedestrians walking ahead of me gives you a good idea.  And that’s not the steep part!  The really steep part begins where the road veers to the right (and drops out of sight), shown in that last night picture.  Alas, I don’t have a picture of the steep part so I had to crib one from the internet, left picture below.  Again, its

steepness is hard to capture in the photo; it’s steep enough to merit a handrail, as well as park benches for the out-of-shape to avoid cardiac arrest. You can buy t-shirts that say “I survived Steep Hill”.  The last picture is from further down Steep Hill – why, it’s almost level!

Guess that’s enough introduction to the city of Lincoln.  An interesting place, yes?  And you haven’t seen anything yet.  Next post will be about the fabulous Lincoln Cathedral.



England’s Lake District

From Glasgow we’re driving to the small city of Lincoln in England, but we’ll take a short detour.  I once asked several English couples where they would choose to live in England if they had their choice.  The consensus was “The Lake District”, and we’re passing close to it.  For you poetry buffs, this is William Wordsworth’s stomping grounds (as well as Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey).  It comprises an area of only 30 miles x 30 miles, and we visited just the less-touristy northern part around Keswick, avoiding Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter sights (although we’re Wordsworth fans).  As you’ll see, The Lake District, with a patch of brightthis pristine area juxtaposes a lush green countryside with treeless hills reminiscent of the Scottish highlands – quite a fascinating mix!  However, getting that lush green comes at a cost; rain, mixed with occasional “bright spots”.  Alas, the pictures below should show brilliant colors (it was fall when we were there), but “gloom” and “brilliant” don’t coexist easily.  Still, there were occasional bright spots like that shown above – which, by the way, was absolutely spectacular, in spite of the gloom!

Near Keswick is the Castlerigg Stone Circle, built in the Neolithic period around 3200 BC.  A little quick math says this circle is 5,000 years old, which is going back aways.  It’s one ofAerial view of the Castlerigg Stone Circle, picture stolen from the internet the earliest stone circles in Britain and possibly in Europe.  From that aerial picture, it contains an unusual rectangular inclusion, called the “sanctuary”.  You may recall our previous encounters with similar stone circles in Scotland and Ireland (Isle of Harris and Southwest Ireland Tour and Traditional Irish Music I).  All these stone circles were built on a relatively high hill or ridges, with a view of the mountains in the distance – presumably in order to align the stones with mountain landmarks and the rising or setting sun at particular times of the year.  Since the heaviest stone is estimated to weigh 16 tons, hauling that sucker uphill must have been a chore, not to mention positioning it (Oops!  Nope.  Another foot to the right, please).  This Castlerigg circle is in a beautiful setting, as you can see below.

The Castlerigg circle lies on a line that would connect the two highest peaks on the horizon.  The 2 front stones face due north, toward a cut in the mountains.  Presumably

the stones served as a celestial calendar for ritual celebrations.  The sanctuary points to where the sun rises on May 1, the ancient (northern hemisphere) spring festival.  Some stones in the circle have been aligned with the midwinter sunrise and various lunar positions.  As in all these (thousands of!) stone circles, their true function is unknown.  Some archeologists link this circle with the nearby Neolithic stone axe industry (ah, early Capitalism!); the circle may have been a meeting place where stone axes were traded or exchanged.  Ritually deposited stone axes have been found all over Britain, suggesting that their use was more than functional (is that the original “bury the hatchet”?).

The day is getting short but we decide to do a quick hike up Latrigg Peak for an overview of Keswick and the nearby Derwentwater Lake.  The mountaintops are pretty much treeless, so there will be good views; but first you have to get there.  The ascent isn’t hard, but it’s

also not short.  The view, however, is worth it.

Now we just have to hike out of here in failing light!  Our reward as we stumble out is the view of cozy lights from the windows of the hillside farms.

Our B&B is in the Newlands Valley just west of Derwentwater Lake, and the vista that greets us is a nice “G’morning, isn’t this gorgeous!”, even though that “bright spot” in theNewlands Valley, from our B&B picture isn’t shining on us.  Today we’re driving a loop that goes through a lot of Lake District scenery: Newlands Valley, Buttermere Village, the Honister Pass, Borrowdale, and Derwentwater Lake.  We’re heading west, and our two-lane road quickly becomes a single lane, as shown in the first picture below (although the road does have turnouts).  The subsequent pictures show picture-book idyllic scenery.

Then it’s up to Newlands Pass, going up treeless mountains as shown in the first picture below.  At the top is a nice waterfall!

And then there’s a colorful descent down to the hamlet of Buttermere and its scenic lake.

As shown below it’s a pretty lake, but even better, it comes with a mountain-high cascading waterfall!  You can barely see it through the mist in the first picture (left side),

but it’s nicely shown in the next one.  The beauty of the long lake is offset by strange denizens – some of the ugliest, shaggiest sheep we’ve ever seen, a breed called Swaledale.  The poor things look like they’ve been assembled from a variety of leftover animal parts.

As we travel further we encounter another waterfall, even more beautiful than the last one!

It’s coming from the cirque above, probably from a small lake.  If that weren’t enough beauty, a little further along the road are a few more waterfalls coming down the

mountains!  That last picture looks back at the previous waterfall.  This is an awesome area!

Looking back on the way to Honister PassWe’re now heading up to glacier-carved Honister Pass.  This picture also looks back at our previous waterfall, far in the distance.  The river adds a new element to this pretty area.

The scenery going to the pass is treeless, stark and otherworldly empty; for perspective, the tiny white dots in the top right

picture below are grazing Swaledale sheep.  Near the top of the pass is England’s last still-functioning slate mine, which one can tour, but we decide to press on.  Going down is steep, but pretty; we have trees again.

Back at the valley floor there are scattered hamlets, and the scenery is again bucolic.

You remember Derwentwater Lake, seen from above during our hike yesterday (shown earlier), right?   When we climbed Latrigg Peak?  Well, now we’ve circled around to the lake’s southern end, at lake level.   The forest is gorgeous in its fall colors, the lake is choppy and gray but still interesting, and we decide to take a short hike along its shore.

Back on the road, the valley is enchantingly beautiful.  In the pictures below, the green of that grass seems impossible, but it’s real.

A few more stops to enjoy the view, shown below, and then we are back at our B&B with

not much of the day left.  Beautiful isn’t it?  The 2nd picture below is our

greeting the next day – another stunning “G’morning”.  Alas, we must leave this magnificent Lake District.  The next post will be from Lincoln; it’s not really on the tourist trail, but it does have a magnificent cathedral.  You’ll see.


Glasgow III – Glasgow Cathedral, Provand’s Lordship, and the Antonine Wall

We’ll finish with Glasgow by showcasing the really old.  The Glasgow Cathedral and nearby Provand’s Lordship are among the very few surviving buildings from Glasgow’s medieval period.  The Cathedral is the oldest building; Provand’s Lordship is the oldest house.  And the Antonine Wall?  Never heard of it?  We hadn’t either; it was the real northernmost wall (at least for awhile) that separated Roman Britain from those pesky Scots.


The Glasgow Cathedral is a superb example of Scottish Gothic architecture, and the most complete medieval cathedral on the Scottish mainland.  The first picture below shows the Cathedral as it looked in 1820 (from a watercolor, “The Saving of the Cathedral”); the following picture shows how it looks today (the front towers seen in the watercolor were

demolished in 1840 as part of a grand restoration scheme that was never completed).

The history of the Cathedral begins with the construction of a small wooden church around 550 AD when St. Mungo started a religious community.  That structure was replaced by a stone church which was subsequently badly damaged by fire in 1136.  The walls of the nave in today’s church, up to the windows, are from the rebuilding that took place in the early 1200’s; the rest of the Cathedral was built in the mid 1200’s.  The Cathedral survived the Protestant Reformation relatively unscathed (as depicted in the first picture) not because the reforming mobs of 1560 were less zealous in Glasgow but because the organized trades of the city took up arms to protect it, the defenders outnumbering the attackers.  The title “cathedral” is now historic, dating from the period before the Scottish Reformation.

The cathedral interior is impressive, with a roof made mostly of wood.

Below are more views of the interior.

The many ceiling bosses of carved wood are all different, beautifully done, and colorful (and difficult to get in focus), as shown below.

There are lots of interesting carvings in nooks and crannies throughout the cathedral (see below).

Another fascinating feature is the lower church beneath the Cathedral.  The land on which the Cathedral was built slopes, which allowed a lower church containing a crypt to be built beneath the choir; the crypt contains the tomb of St. Mungo.  It’s a large area, and

beautiful in a very different way than the soaring upper Cathedral.  The stone bosses are also pretty cool, each one different.

Finally, there’s the beautiful Blackadder Aisle, built around 1500 on the site of  St Mungo’s original church and designed to be part of a transept that was never completed (it’s hard to tell from the introductory pictures, but the cathedral has no true transepts).  The beautiful,

stately, arching white ceiling is highlighted at intersections with very interesting and brightly painted carved stone bosses.


Provand's Lordship, near the Glasgow CathedralThis house, the oldest in Glasgow, was built by (and near) the Glasgow Cathedral in 1471.  It likely reflects “the lifestyles of the rich and famous” for that time.  It was originally the home of one of the 32 canons who managed a part of the Cathedral’s vast diocese – in this case the land at Provan (the other 31 canons were similarly housed).  By the 1600’s it had become a private home; by the 1700’s, and for the next 200 years, it was used as an inn, with rooms on the upper floors and a wide range of shops on the ground floor.  A small extension housed the city’s hangman.  It’s a pretty cool place, all stone with massive, rough-hewn, low-hanging beams and fireplaces everywhere.  The entrance opens into the

kitchen – where it’s very obvious that cooking was not a big production!  And of course a

dining room.  The rooms upstairs are old-time, rustic gorgeous.  The room shown below belonged to a canon from 1501 – 1513; he was both a priest and a lawyer.  The room would have served as a living room, bedroom and office.

Other rooms are shown below.

Provand’s Lordship houses one of Scotland’s best collections of furniture from the 1600’s. The chairs below are examples.

Provand’s Lordship also had medieval stained glass windows (now obtained from elsewhere).  The windows below were from England in the 1600’s and commemorate marriages between notable families.

The window below shows 3 saints: St. Nicholas, St. Paul and St. Peter.  It was made in the Netherlands in the 1500’s; the trefoil and 2 quarterfoil panels at the top are from England, made in the 1300’s.

The windows below are from the 1300’s.  The left window has panels depicting an angel, St. John the Baptist (from France) and an unidentified female saint (from England).  The second window depicts an unidentified male saint (from England).  Strangely, there were no stained glass windows from Scotland.



What?  Never heard of it?  Interesting how history does that to us.  Yet you’ve heard of Hadrian’s Wall, right?  That northern-most demarcation of Rome keeping those pesky Scots at bay?  Actually, that northern-most border was the Antonine Wall.

We discovered the little-publicized Antonine Wall when we visited a museum at the University of Glasgow; it’s a gorgeous university, as shown below.

Just for review, as noted in our Hadrian’s Wall post (Hadrian’s Wall), that wall was built in 122 AD; it was 73 miles long, went from coast to coast, and was built 15 – 20 feet tall from quarried stone (in the middle of nowhere), with 80 stone forts along its length.  Probably as a result of continued attacks from Location of Antonine Wallthe unconquered north, in AD 142 Hadrian’s successor Emperor Antoninus Pius ordered a new wall built about 70 miles further north of the existing wall.  Again these clever Romans somehow knew where the shortest distance would be, and the wall was built from the river Clyde just above present-day Glasgow to the Firth of Forth just west of present-day Edinburgh.  The wall was 39 miles long, about 13 feet high, and 16 feet wide; it took 12 years to complete.  It was built of turf and earth on a stone foundation.  Like Hadrian’s Wall it had a deep ditch on the north side and a military road on the south.  A wooden palisade is thought to have been on top.  It was protected by 17 forts with about 10The Antonine Wall and forts “fortlets”, very likely on (Roman) mile spacings.  In spite of the effort it took to build the wall, it was abandoned only 8 years after completion (162 AD), the garrisons being relocated back to Hadrian’s Wall.  Following a series of attacks in 197 AD, the emperor Septimius Severus arrived in Scotland in 208 to secure the frontier.  He ordered repairs and re-established legions at Antonine’s Wall (after which the wall also became known as the Severan Wall).  Only a few years later the wall was  abandoned for the second time and never fortified again.

Apparently the ruins are not much to see; the turf and wood wall have largely weathered away.  Still, the various legions that built the wall commemorated their finished construction and their victorious struggles with the natives (called the Caledonians) in decorative local limestone slabs, called “Distance Slabs”.  The slabs were set into stone frames along the length of the wall.  Dedicated to the Emperor Antoninus Pius, they identify the legion, the length of the wall they built, and with symbolic imagery they depict the might of the Roman army and the native population in defeat.  In the largest known slab (shown below), the inscription reads: “For the Emperor Caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius, Father of his Country, the Second Augustan Legion built this over a distance of 4652 paces.”

Other examples are shown below.

A number of stone statuary items from the bath houses and fort buildings attest to the Romans’ love of art even at their furthest outposts.

Other artifacts like coins and leather shoes were of course also plentiful.

That’s enough on Glasgow!  Next post is a change of pace, on England’s Lake District.