England’s Peak District

This will be a short post, to atone for some of those longer ones.  The Peak District National Park is UK’s first national park, so we were kinda expecting it to have some of England’s more spectacular scenery.  Mountains always cause my blood to quicken, so I’m looking forward to seeing this area.

As it turns out, we end up traveling through the northern part of the Peak District National Somewhere near the top of the Peak DistrictPark multiple times, taking highways going to other places.  Each time we expect to get a glimpse of the park, whetting our appetite for more.   Wishful thinking!  This is England in winter.  The views on our previous trips through this northern region?  A typical example is shown here.  Every time.  Nada.  There may be peaks out there, but they’re shy.

OK, this time we’re going to the Peak District from the south, starting from Sheffield, home of the famous stainless steel.  Some of Sheffield’s impressive buildings are shown

above.  Our first stop is Castleton, which is near the center of the Peak District.  There’s been a village Peveril Castle, from 1086here since 1086 when the Normans built Peveril Castle, shown to the left.  One can still see parts of the town ditch that surrounded the medieval village.  In the 1700’s lead mining was the main industry; impressive caverns related to the mining are nearby, and several miner’s cottages can still be found in the village.  A glimpse of the town is shown below, but we’re off to see better things, the scenery of the Peak District.

As you can see above and below, conditions are not exactly optimal …gee, it’s raining!  How novel!  Some views nonetheless.

Sigh.  We’ll try again another day.

This is another day, and although it is not exactly clear and sunny, it isn’t raining.  The left picture below is looking at the same area as the last picture above – a clear improvement!

Like the pictures above, the two below constitute a panorama.  It is rural splendor, isn’t it?

Below are more pictures from the Peak District.

The Peak District National Park is pretty, in a green and pastoral way, but at least from what we visited, in no way does it compare with the more mountainous Lake District (post England’s Lake District) – and it’s a far cry from something like our Rocky Mountain National Park.  In fact, the highest peak in this park is just 2,000 ft tall.  To be fair, this national park is called “Peak District”, not “Mountain District”, so some of my unmet lofty expectations are due to semantics.  I would suggest a better name is “Big Rounded Hills National Park”, but maybe that would be disrespectful to this glacier-scoured country.  I don’t think they know better.  For movie buffs, I’m reminded of Crocodile Dundee’s “That’s not a knife”.

Next post – one of our favorite cities (our most favorite city?) – Barcelona, Spain.

South Wales II: St. David’s Cathedral

Heading north to St. David's CathedralAlas, it’s raining.  Ugh.  Although we’re here in South Wales to hike some of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, today is definitely not the day!  So we’re off to St. David’s Cathedral, which is located nearby on the most westerly point of Wales.

Time for a little history, of which St. David’s has seen a lot!  It goes back almost 15 centuries.  St. David (patron saint of Wales and one of the earliest identifiable figures of Welsh history) founded a strict monastic community here sometime before his death in 589.  The community survived frequent plunder by Vikings over the next 500 years – a number of bishops were killed – while steadily achieving renown as a religious and intellectual center.  After William the Conqueror subjugated England, he visited St. David’s as a pilgrim in 1081.  In 1123 the Pope decreed that “Two pilgrimages to St. Davids is equal to one to Rome, and three pilgrimages to one to Jerusalem”, making St. David’s one of the most important shrines of medieval Christendom.  A new cathedral was quickly constructed in 1131.  King Henry II visited in Illustration of St. David's Cathedral and the Bishop's Palace in the 1500's1171, leading to an increase in pilgrimage and necessitating a larger cathedral; the present cathedral was begun in 1181 and swiftly completed.  King Edward I conquered Wales (post Northern Wales I: Conwy) and visited St. David’s in 1284.  In 1328 the reigning bishop of St. David’s started work on the impressive Bishop’s Palace, shown in the illustration above.  St. David’s Cathedral was further modified over time, with St. Mary’s College and cloister added in 1365 and the Holy Trinity Chapel in 1509.  An inadequate foundation and the effect of an earthquake in the mid 1200’s caused the walls of the west nave to lean outwards; ultimately the ceiling was replaced with Irish oak, in 1530.  In 1648 during England’s Civil War, Cromwell’s forces all but destroyed the Cathedral and stripped the lead from the Bishop’s Palace roof.  200 years later, in 1862, the Cathedral was restored.

Magnification from the illustration of St. David's complex in the 1500'sEnough history -let’s take a look at this very interesting cathedral!  Its overall appearance is nicely captured in the picture to the left, which is a magnification from the illustration above.  The entrance gate to the compound is in the upper right corner; the wall in the illustration no longer exists, but the massive gate, dating to the 1300’s, remains, as shown below.  After passing through the gate, your way down to the cathedral takes you past a cemetery (conventional wisdom said the closer you were buried to a church, the better your chances for heaven; I suspect the church benefited from that notion).  The picture to the right, below, shows a sprawling Cathedral; the

additions over subsequent centuries are very apparent.  Also in view as we approach the Ruins of the Bishop's Palace, built in 1328Cathedral is the ruined Bishop’s Palace.  It would have been spectacularly beautiful back in its day.  I’ll show you more a bit later.

The left picture below shows Ginger entering the Cathedral from the underwhelming south side entrance, the “Porch”, which leads you to one side of the nave.  It’s today’s entrance, but I rather suspect that the original – or at least intended – entrance was the more impressive west entrance, shown in the right picture below.  I say that not only because the

west entrance is so much more impressive, but because it gives a frontal entry into the nave; and the nave, the oldest surviving part of the cathedral (1100’s), is stunning when viewed from the back, as shown in the left picture below.  It’s built in Transitional Norman style (ie, they experimented with some pointed arches).  Originally the nave had no seats.

The pulpitum, the stone screen shown at the back of the nave, separates the chancel (domain of the clergy) from the common people and is from the 1300’s.  A detail of that screen is shown in the right picture; it’s also gorgeous.  This nave is so very different from your usual Norman cathedral (for an example, see post Durham and its Norman Cathedral).  It is also spectacularly beautiful (in the nave picture above, ignore the raindrop on my lens, smudging the organ).  The impressive Norman arches marching down the nave are each carved in a different pattern.  However, what really gets the WOW! effect is that surprising ceiling.  Yeah, maybe it doesn’t quite fit – the oak ceiling is from the 1500’s and is anything but Norman; it’s in 3D, ornately carved, maybe even frilly – yet it’s still stunning.  Somehow the combination works, perhaps because the arches in the ceiling mimic the stone arches.  Details of the ceiling are shown below.

Original survey of St. David's cathedral church in 1715The layout of the Cathedral, shown here, is from a survey of the main part of the Cathedral in 1715; missing from the survey is the cloister and associated buildings.  Beyond the nave the survey shows a number of rooms and chapels that were added later (as mentioned earlier).

We’re off to see these additions.  Each is beautiful, and, surprisingly, each of them has a radically different floor and ceiling design!  Below are some of the different floor patterns

with their ancient tiles; some floors are intact and complete, others are made with restored pieces.

Leaving the nave, we enter the choir.  The pictures below look back through the pulpitum into the nave.  The murals are remnants of an earlier screen from the 1100’s.

Now the choir!  It was built from the late 1400’s into the 1500’s.  It’s a very open structure, as shown below, with some very nice wood carving (we’ll come back to that 3rd picture

later).  The nicely carved misericords (“mercy seats”, discussed in the post The Lincoln Cathedral) are from the 1500’s; a few examples are shown below.  At the edge of the choir is the carved Bishop’s Throne, where the Bishop sits when officiating special ceremonies.

OK, now we’re going to look up, into the Cathedral’s tower.  Wow.  It’s gorgeous.  The

back end of the choir looks into the high altar, as shown previously in the pictures of the choir (3rd picture).  The high alter is really impressive!

The mosaics behind the alter are exquisite.

The stained glass windows are beautiful.

And then there’s that incredible ceiling.  This area is soooooo impressive!

There are a few more chapels to show.  The pictures below show the south aisle and, at its end, the Chapel of St. Edward.  That roof is only from the early 1900’s; the original had

fallen into disrepair after Cromwall’s troops had stripped its lead in 1648.  Behind the High Altar is the Holy Trinity Chapel with fabulous fan vaulting, shown in the left image

above; the right picture shows the very interesting ceiling of St. Andrew’s Chapel that you glimpsed earlier from the choir.  The Chapel of St. Thomas BecketThere are two more chapels.  The Chapel of St. Thomas Becket, shown here, was built in the early 1200’s but remodeled in the 1300’s (the ceiling is from the 1300’s).  In the layout schematic of 1715 shown earlier, this room is called “The Chapter House”.

The remaining chapel, St. Mary’s, is shown below. It was originally constructed in the late 1200’s, modified in the 1300’s, and a vaulted roof added in the 1500’s.  Cromwell stripped away the lead roof in the 1600’s, leading to the collapse of the vaulted ceiling in the 1700’s.  It was restored in the 1900’s.  In spite of its travails, the chapel’s many medieval features have been preserved.

I’ll finish the Cathedral with the cloister, mostly for completeness; it’s not very exciting.

Just beyond the Cathedral are the impressive ruins of the Bishop’s Palace.  It must have been quite beautiful.

Alas, the weather does not change from rain and strong winds, and there is no respite in sight.  So our desire to hike the Coastal Path of Wales will be unrequited.  Too bad!  We think it would have been fabulous.  Next lifetime?

Bridge across the River SevernThis last picture is us leaving Wales across the very beautiful bridge that connects to England.  It’s still raining.

Next post – England’s Peak District.



South Wales I: Pembrokeshire and the Coastal Path

Well, the plan was to visit South Wales, see the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, and hike some of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path.  The Coastal Path is mostly at cliff-top level and goes for 186 miles, with a total of 35,000 feet of ascent and descent; so maybe we won’t do all of it!  In 2012 the travel guide Lonely Planet rated the coast of Wales No. 1 in its “Best in Travel: top 10 regions”; pictures of the Coastal Path from the Pembrokeshire web site are shown below; oh yeah!  We have high expectations.

Below are pictures of Welsh countryside as we enter the region – pastoral splendor!  It’s


Road sign in South Wales, maybe for those pesky tourists clear that farming is a big deal here.  It’s also clear that the Welsh have a very dry sense of humor – that or they’re incredibly anal, as suggested by this sign at the edge of the road.

We decided to splurge and stay in a real castle; how cool is that!  The Roch Castle was built by a Norman knight in the 1100’s as an outer defense of “Little England”, an English-speaking and English-culture region within Wales near Pembrokeshire.  As shown below, it’s a real castle in all respects but remodeled to be very comfortable on the inside.  We loved it!

The views from the castle ramparts are impressive.  Long-term readers of this blog (should there still be some!) will know that I am enamored by how changes in sunlight and clouds affect the colors and moods in which we see the world.  In a small way that effect is shown below – pictures of the same general areas, taken from the castle ramparts, a half-hour apart.  Set 1 is here, before sunset:

Then, in the glow of sunset:

Small but beautiful changes!  Not bad views, with a glass of wine in hand.  In a  castle.

The castle’s breakfast menu is shown in the first picture below.  Yum!  Laverbread, by the way, is a Welsh national delicacy made from a particular seaweed, coated with oatmeal and fried; it’s healthy and really good.  That evening we had dinner at the castle’s

associated restaurant, a complimentary taxi ride away to the nearby town using Wales’ two-way one-lane roads.  Don’t drink and drive!  Our meals are shown above; the Welsh eat pretty well!

We’re off to Porthgain, a small city within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and on the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path.  It would be nice to do a hike along the coast, but it’s

raining and windy and pretty awful.  Maybe it’ll clear?

Porthgain was a prosperous industrial harbor in 1850, when it exported slate from its own quarries and several others.  It had a water-powered mill that sawed the quarried slate slabs before shipment.  In later years it turned to brickmaking, and later yet to crushed

roadstone, until in the 1930’s it could no longer compete in the modern world.  Today the harbor is dominated by the ancient large brick hoppers that were used to store the crushed roadstone.  In that last picture above, the large opening there at the left is a tram tunnel.  When the quarry got too deep and it was difficult to extract the slate and waste, this underground tunnel was built to deliver it to the harbor.  Doing all that tunnel digging by hand – through rock – boggles my mind.

The harbor is still home to local fishermen.  We stop at The Shed, a small bistro on the harbor, where we have a simple but quite impressive late lunch.

We decide to walk along the harbor past the ancient hoppers; it’s getting late and it’s still overcast and gloomy, but the rain is at most a thin mist.  The wind, however, is strong and

gusty, and that’s a problem.  A cliff-edge walk in strong winds, with a pounding sea below, is maybe not a great idea.  Indeed, a number of locals have warned us not to be on the Coastal Path in windy conditions.  Still, we’ve come all this way, and just past the hoppers there’s an access path going up the ridge to a gate marking the Coastal Path.  How can we not do that?  Against Ginger’s better judgement, we take a quick hike up the ridge so we can at least see this Coastal Path.  The track up is muddy and slick, and Ginger decides to stay put at the top; I want to explore a little further – I’ll be careful, and be back soon.  Ginger asks for the car keys, just in case ….

One striking observation is the number of abandoned stone houses along the path.  They are each pretty isolated, and obviously old.  Although Bronze and Iron Age settlements and

Norman castles can be found along the Coastal Path, I suspect that most of the abandoned houses I’m seeing are from the more recent slate mining period.  But doesn’t that building in the middle picture look a bit like a castle?  Alas, no time to stop and poke around.

The coastal scenery is twilight-gloomy but very impressive, as shown below.  Those white pillars on the headlands are called “The Beacons” and were built to guide ships into the

narrow entrance of the harbor.  That abandoned building/farm that we saw earlier in that previous set of pictures is also shown in the last picture above.  It looks interesting and I’m drawn to it, in spite of the fear of going on.  No, I’m not fearful of dying by being blown off the cliff; I’m afraid Ginger is gonna kill me for taking too long.

The abandoned building/farm is shown below.  It’s pretty big!  Nearby is a small

abandoned quarry.

Well, it is time to trot back to the waiting Ginger.  Yep, in good weather this Coastal Path would be outstanding.  As I head back, I see a lighthouse that has come online (shown below).  Finally there’s the path down to Porthgain; hopefully Ginger is patiently waiting below, but she did take the car keys ….

Next post: if it’s raining, we’ll visit St. David’s Cathedral.


The Cotswolds: Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-Water, and Broadway

The Cotswolds consists of a number of small towns, each uniquely charming and Hobbit-like cute.  We had visited the area many decades ago during our first foray into England.  This time we’re actually traveling to South Wales, but the Cotswolds are in the way.  Darn!  Guess we’ll have to stop at the fringes (where we haven’t visited) and look around.  That’s the nice part about traveling as we do: planning is optional, adventure happens!

First, some perspective.  During the Middle Ages, thanks to a breed of sheep known as the Cotswold Lion, the Cotswolds became prosperous from the wool trade with Europe.  A saying from the 1100’s – “In Europe, the best wool is English.  In England, the best wool is Cotswold.”  Wool money built fine houses and towns from locally quarried, golden-colored Cotswold limestone.  Then the cotton gin was invented, the wool industry collapsed, and the Cotswolds’ economy tanked.  There was no money to upgrade the houses, locking them into wonderful time-passed charm in pristine English countryside.


We’ll start with Stow-on-the-Wold, population about 2,000.  The name means “meeting place on the uplands”.  Stow is situated on a high (800 foot) hill, the highest point in the Cotswolds.  It was the site of an Iron Age fort and later a Roman garrison town.  Seven major roads cross here, one of them being the famous Roman Fosse Way that went pretty much the length of England (see post “The City of Lincoln“).  The current town was founded by Norman lords wanting to take advantage of trade on the converging roads.  In 1107 it hosted an international fair for its wool, but the town struggled financially; trade with those passing through was unpredictable.  To remedy this problem, in 1330 King Edward II set up an annual 7-day market in Stow’s town square (shown below), which

Edward IV replaced with two 5-day fairs in 1476.  Stow became established as a major place to trade, and as the huge annual fairs grew in fame and importance, the town grew more prosperous.  At one 19th century fair 20,000 sheep changed hands.  As the wool trade declined, people began to trade in horses, a practice that continues today.  Here’s a ditty about Stow (and its exposed spot on the hilltop):

“Stowe-on-the-Wold, Where the wind blows cold. Where horses young and old are sold, Where farmers come to spend their gold. Where men are fools and women are bold and many a wicked tale is told. High on the freezing Cotswold.”

The large market square shown earlier attests to this town’s former importance.  That cross in the square, shown above and below, is more than 500 years old; it’s a market cross, used throughout England to designate the monarch-bestowed right to hold a regular fair – and to remind the Christian merchants to “trade fairly under the sight of God”.  At

the other end of the market square is an original town stock where public ridicule was used as punishment.  The surrounding shops and inns are all built of local Cotswold stone.  Although this market square goes back many centuries, it’s still the focus of town life.  We love that physical connection with the distant past, so typical of Europe.

Our lodging in StowLike so much of the Cotswolds, the town buildings have a lot of character.  We’re staying at this lovely hotel that’s loaded with old English charm.  It faces the town square and was built in the 1700’s for a local family, but for most of the 1800’s it was the rectory of the nearby St. Edward’s church.  We’re here at Christmas time, which adds to the charm of the place, but in the pictures of the buildings below you should imagine how beautiful they would be with the vines and greenery in bloom.

Nearby is St. Edward’s church, shown below, built in Norman times (the 1000’s).  It exhibits a mixture of architectural styles due to additions and renovations lasting into the 1400’s – the tower was added in 1447.  I love that entrance to the church in the lower

right picture, closely guarded by those venerable yew trees!  Don’t you expect Hobbits to come skipping out?  Many think this door was the inspiration for Tolkien’s door into Moria (the west entrance to the great dwarf city).  The door to St. Edwards church is shown again, below, along with illustrations for the movie.

The windows in this church are impressive.  Most of them date from the 1300’s and 1400’s, but there are also some from the 1800’s.  Alas, I don’t know which is what –

the pictures above look too good for medieval, but it’s possible.  The last window is clearly from the 1800’s.  On a more recent historical note, the funeral of the Who’s bass player, John Entwistle, took place at this church in 2002.

We decided to stay longer in Stow, but had to move to new lodgings (that’s the occasional downside to traveling without plans).  We chose the Porch House, which dates back to the middle 900’s!  It’s very interesting and quirky – eg, the door to our room opened to steps going down(!).  Don’t come home tipsy!  The sink was in the bedroom (it wouldn’t fit in the bathroom).  Old wood beams were everywhere.  Pictures shown below.


Don’t you love the way the English name their towns?  How about San-Francisco-on-the-Bay?  Detroit-on-the-Ropes?  Ohhhh, I’m bad.

Bourton-on-the-Water is called “the Venice of the Cotswolds” due to its petite canals and low bridges.  It often has more visitors than residents during peak tourist season, but Tea, crumpets and clotted cream - yum!luckily Christmas is not that season.  The buildings of the city are not the oldest in the Cotswolds, mostly dating from just the 1600’s.  We’ll start with a tea room break – one of England’s wonderful customs, tea and crumpets with clotted cream.  It is sooooooo good!

So let’s see some of this “Venice clone”.   As you can see below, it’s far from being Venice!  Still, it’s an attractive place.

The town itself has quite a few typical Cotswolds-gorgeous houses.


Broadway, population 2,500, takes its name from its wide grass-fringed main street.  It’s unusually wide (for England!) because two small streams used to run on each side of Broadway and its main street (from the internet)the original dirt road, and people built their houses behind the streams (now the streams run underground in pipes).  The road is lined with red chestnut trees and honey-colored Cotswold limestone buildings and is referred to as the “Jewel of the Cotswolds”.  We don’t take such hype seriously – remember “Venice of the Cotswolds”?  In this case, however, the hype might be right.  We think the city is gorgeous, primarily due to the incredible old Arts & crafts shop, Broadwayvines that cling to the cute houses.  This is Christmas time, with little blooming; we can only imagine how beautiful this city would be in spring!

First a little history before showing off the pretty houses.  Broadway was a thriving village in the 1000’s.  It prospered in the wool trade and by the 1600’s had became a busy stagecoach stop.  However, the introduction of the railroad eliminated stagecoach travel and Broadway became a backwater – but also a haven of peace and tranquillity that was attractive to artists and writers during the Arts and Crafts movement in the late 1800’s.  Broadway became home to quite a number of luminaries, among them Edward Elgar, John Singer Sargent, Vaughan Williams, J. M. Barrie (creator of Peter Pan) and William Morris (leader in the Arts & Crafts movement).  Today Broadway is still a center for arts and antiques.

So off to the pretty houses!  Like Bourton-on-the-Water, a lot of them are from the 1600’s, including the historic Lygon Arms Hotel shown below.  In 1651 Oliver Cromwell spent the

night here, the next day defeating the invading King Charles I of Scotland (post Stirling Castle) at the Battle of Worcester.  King Charles had used the building earlier to rally his royalist supporters.  The hotel is spectacular, inside and out.

The houses below are adorned with serious vines that add considerable charm.

There are lots of houses with charm of their own.

Some close-ups.  Isn’t it a cute town?

This is England, so of course there are hedges everywhere in every shape.

Finally, we visited St. Michael & All Angels church.  Built in 1840, it’s relatively new.  We decided to visit it because the original 12th century Broadway parish church that we really

wanted to see (St. Eadburgha) is a 35 minute walk away (before Broadway became a major stagecoach stop, the center of Broadway stood in a different place).  The church does have some nice stained glass windows.

Henry James stayed in this town, and remarked “Broadway and much of the land about are in short the perfection of the old English rural tradition”.  So I’ll end with a picture of a Broadway street going into the surrounding countryside, and a quick picture of that countryside.

The Cotswolds are indeed a pretty place, dotted with quaint towns surrounded by green rolling hills that are populated with happy munching sheep.  Hope you enjoyed seeing the few towns that we visited.

Next post:  South Wales, and St. David’s Cathedral


Northern Wales III: Beaumaris

Beaumaris is on a big island, the Isle of Anglesey, and like Conwy it was a castle town, an English enclave surrounded by Welsh guerrillas.  Begun in 1295 in response to a revolt a year earlier, it was the last link in King Edward’s “Iron Chain” of castles enclosing Gwynedd, the former kingdom of North Wales.  Beaumaris Castle is a high point of medieval Beaumaris Castle (photo of a picture)castle design.  Built on flat marshy ground with no natural defenses, the castle incorporates concentric rings of fortifications – a double ring of walls surrounded by a moat.  The innermost wall is higher than the outer, providing greatly increased firepower.  A fortified dock was built to give sea access, allowing the castle to withstand sieges (as shown in the picture, the sea is more distant now).  However, problems in Scotland shifted the king’s priorities, and the castle was never finished.  An artist’s concept Artist concept of the completed Beaumaris Castleof what the castle would have looked like, had it been finished, is shown to the left.  The picture shows a much more imposing structure that would have been twice the height of the squat one we see today.  The inner walls look particularly impenetrable.  The south gate seen at the lower right faced the sea and was the main castle entrance as well as the dock.  A magnification of this artist’s rendition is shown below, along with a picture of the way it looks now.  The red arrows point to the dock’s

door to the castle.  Rather than using a harbor, this man-made dock used a wide shipping channel (now covered over) to deliver supplies.  Ships up to 40 tons could sail in at high tide and unload goods through the castle wall doorway.  The dock would be defended from the Gunner’s Walk, which can be seen to the right of the arrow in the left picture above, as well as at the top of the castle schematic Schematic of the Beaumaris Castleshown here.  Beneath the Gunner’s Walk was a corn mill for self-sufficiency, the mill turned by differences in water level between the moat and the sea.  Whereas the water in the dock was supplied by the sea, the water in the moat was supplied by a freshwater stream; the level between the two was regulated by a sluice gate in the Gunner’s Walk.  How clever!  The town wall started from here, but wasn’t finished until 1414.

The main entrance to the castle, shown in the paired pictures above, is to the left of the dock and was very well protected.  First there was the moat, then a drawbridge, then the outer gate.  If you got through that, there were the multiple defenses of the inner gate, with every stage having high- and low-level arrow loops.  The inner-wall gatehouse was defended by a barbican, then by three successive pairs of barred gates and portcullises.  Further, the outer wall south gate was off-set from the inner gatehouse, so attackers moving between gates would be exposed from more sides to archers waiting above.

Pictures of the outer walls, which form a rough octagon, are shown below.  The walls had 15 towers, and with arrow loops at two or three levels there were over 300 shooting

positions for the archers inside.  And of course the taller inner walls provided yet more firepower.

From the schematic of the castle shown above, you can see there isn’t a lot of space between the inner and outer walls – it’s function was to be a killing space.  As shown in the pictures below, the inner walls look forbidding, but imagine them being twice that height

had the castle been finished.   The inner walls are 16 feet thick, with inner passageways – and plenty of latrines!  The inner walls sometimes have 3 levels of latrines, examples shown below.

OK, let’s enter the inner ward!  Beaumaris would have been the largest of King Edward’s

castles, and the intended accommodation within the inner ward, shown in the first picture below, was planned on a lavish scale.  It would have had first-floor stables, kitchens, great hall and private chambers.  Both gatehouses were planned to have grand arrangements of state rooms for the king and his family, an example shown in the second picture below.

The last picture above shows the unfinished north gate dominating the courtyard.

The castle also has a chapel; it’s in one of the inner wall middle towers (called the chapel tower, of course), and is accessible either from the inner ward or from the inner wall passageway.

We’ll close with beautiful views from the castle across the Menai Straight to the

Snowdonia Mountains beyond.

Next post – Stow-on-the-Wold, and more, in the Cotswolds.




Northern Wales II: Caernarfon

Oh, there is history here!  The Romans built the first fort nearby, from which Caernarfon derives its name; in Welsh, the place was called “y gaer yn Arfon”, meaning “the stronghold in the land over against Môn”.  Following the Norman conquest of England, William the Conqueror turned his attention to Wales.  When the person nominally in charge of (northern) Wales was killed by the Welsh (1088), Norman control was re-established by building 3 castles, one of them here at Caernarfon.  It would have been a motte and bailey castle – the easy-to-build but militarily formidable fort of the time, with a protective ditch and a timber palisade enclosing a courtyard (bailey) and wooden keep on a raised earthwork (motte), similar to that shown at Lincoln Castle (post “The Lincoln Castle, Bishop’s Palace, and the Magna Carta“).  The Welsh recaptured the area in 1115, and this original Caernarfon castle became the property of the Welsh princes – until war broke out between Wales and England in 1282.  England’s King Edward I invaded and marched through northern Wales, capturing Welsh castles and starting his own at Conwy.  Several months later in 1283 the last Welsh castle fell, and Edward began building a new castle at Caernarfon, replacing the pre-existing motte and bailey structure.  The castle was intended to be the definitive chapter in King Edward’s conquest of Wales, constructed not only as a military stronghold but also as a seat of government and royal palace.  The defenses were built on a grand scale with a deliberate link to Caernarfon’s Roman past, the striped and angular walls designed to echo those of Constantinople, the imperial power of Rome.  The pictures below are from the internet.

Part of the castle’s fame comes from its association with the English title, “Prince of Wales”.  According to legend, Edward got the angry Welsh to submit to the Crown by promising them he would name “a prince, born in Wales, who spoke not a word of English”.  To the surprise of the Welsh, his son Edward II was born at Caernarfon in 1284 (speaking not a word of English – or any other language), and was created Prince of Wales in 1301 with control over Wales and its incomes.  Since then the title has traditionally been held by the eldest son of the monarch.  Prince Charles was “invested” with the title in Caernarfon Castle in 1969.

A schematic of today's Caernarfon CastleA schematic of Caernarfon Castle is shown here.  As you can see, it’s all walls and towers; construction was stopped in 1330 before it was completed.  Although there were once interior buildings, none have survived.

The main entrance to the castle, shown in the left picture below, is the town-facing King’s Gate; the right picture is a drawing of the unfinished

rear of the King’s Gate.  Had this twin-towered gatehouse been finished, it would have been protected by two drawbridge, 5 sets of doors, 6 portcullises, many murder holes above, and arrow loops to the side.  You can see from that drawing above that there was a chapel above the gatehouse passage.  It had double sinks for holy water, and slots in the floor to allow raising of the portcullises.  The whole second floor was intended to be a large hall; the windows and remains of finely sculpted heads finishing off the roof supports show that it was designed for stylish living.

Closer views of the castle walls are shown below.

High-tech arrow loop with slanted slitsArrow loops are everywhere in the walls, creating a veritable medieval machine gun.  These arrow loops were high-tech for their time: not only were they angled to allow each archer to cover a wide area, they also had an angled central pillar in the center of each loop to provide extra protection.

The impressive walls of the town and castle survive largely intact, but all that remains of the buildings within the castle are the foundations.  In part that’s because the buildings within the castle were never completed; money for construction was diverted to repair town walls damaged in the Welsh revolt of 1294; more money was diverted for Edward’s invasion of Scotland (post, Stirling Castle); and Edward died in 1307.  Further, when the Tudor’s (of Welsh origin) ascended the English throne in 1485, the Welsh were treated better.  Hostilities eased, castles became less important, and consequently they were neglected.  By 1620 only the Eagle Tower (shown later) and King’s Gate had roofs, and the domestic buildings had been stripped for building material.  Still, the interior is impressive!  The two pictures below look toward the unfinished Queens Gate.  In the first

picture, the large bare rectangle on the right is where the Great Hall once stood.  In its heyday the Great Hall would have been impressive, featuring fine architecture.  On the other side of the courtyard, the three joined brown rectangles are the foundations of the kitchen.  During the castle building, these kitchens would have fed up to 600 people.  A

large part of the diet was boiled meat (doesn’t that sound English?); the kitchen had fitted cauldrons and running water supplied by pipes from the Well Tower, as indicated above by the illustration and the picture of the ruins. There was also a waste disposal chute that went through the castle wall.

Inside Caernarfon Castle, looking at the Queen's GateReturning to the Caernarfon Castle overview, re-shown here, the jutting structure behind the kitchen site is the unfinished rear of the King’s Gate, and across from that the Chamberlain Tower, with the North-East Tower, Watch Tower and Queen’s Gate in the background.  The pictures below look in the opposite direction toward the huge three-

turreted Eagle Tower.  In the first picture, the leftmost tower is the Watch Tower, then the Chamberlain Tower and the Eagle Tower.  Note at the left edge of the right picture above, and in this The Granary Tower on the right, the North-East Tower on the left; note the notched walls that were unfinishedpicture of the Granary and North-East Towers, that there are notched walls ready for an expansion that never came.

Although the castle was never finished and never really used, King Edward (and other officials and overseers) did visit and were housed in completed royal lodgings on the upper floors.  When Edward and wife Eleanor visited in 1284 to have their son, the Eagle Tower was likely completed (up to the 2nd floor) and had the grandest

apartments.  Had Caernarfon been completed as intended, it could have contained a royal household of several hundred people.

City and castle walls are shown below.

When we were there, Caernarfon had a street fair.  Nice!  Among the highlights were a really cool (and momentarily convincing!) velociraptor moving through the crowd, and a

very cute calf.  Awwww!  Can I take him home??  And how about dining on super-fresh street seafood at the harbor under the shadow of a castle?  Crab anyone?  This kind of

experience is why we tolerate some of the discomforts of traveling.  Are you jealous, stay-at-home readers?  I’ll finish with pictures of the Caernarfon harbor.


Next post – Northern Wales III: Beaumaris

Northern Wales I: Conwy

Wales is a crescent-shaped peninsula jutting out from the England’s west side; it is relatively small, 170 x 60 miles.  Like Scotland, it’s part of the U.K. but not part of England, thank-you-very-much.  Their distinctiveness is evident in the pervasive presence of the Welsh language, which many speak, proudly.  Welsh is definitely not a dialect of English; its words look like an unpronounceable random assembly of letters, and it sounds like Elvish from Lord of the Rings.  It’s one of Europe’s oldest languages, written down around 600 A.D. and spoken 300 years before the existence of French or German.  All commendable, but let me give you an example of its challenges, like the name of this town a mile away from where we were staying.  As shown in the left picture below, the town’s name is “Llanfairpwllgwyngyll”.  Go ahead, pronounce it.  You see what I mean.  And

actually, that’s a compromise for the road signage.  The town’s real name is shown on the railroad station terminal, shown on the right picture – “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch”.  In Welsh, it means “St. Mary’s Church by the white hazel pool near the fierce whirlpool with the church of St Tysilio by the red cave”.  You couldn’t pronounce the short version so don’t even try the full name!  The good news is that everyone in Wales speaks English.

A little history of Wales is needed to add context to what you’ll see.  Wales, like England, was conquered by the Romans.  When the Roman empire fell, the Germanic Saxon tribes conquered England but could not overcome the wild warriors of Wales.  The various medieval kingdoms of Wales were unified in 1216, but the country was independent for just over 60 years – in 1282 England’s King Edward I invaded and soon conquered the country.  To maintain control in the troublesome North Wales, he built 17 castles that were masterpieces of medieval engineering, with many having sea access to negate any siege.  Most castles were built simultaneously with a walled town that was then filled with English settlers – English islands in the midst of angry Wales.  Except for a rebellion that started in 1400 and lasted for several years (Conwy Castle was itself captured and held by the Welsh for 3 months), Wales has remained under English domination – a domination that at least in the first few hundred years was harsh and punitive.  Today Wales, like Scotland, enjoys some measure of self-rule within the UK; it was granted its own parliament in 1999.  The Brexit vote puts a new spin on Wales’ future, possibly giving it independence again after 700 years.

North Wales is more scenic than the south, with more mountains and less population, but

for us its allure is its high concentration of castles, some of the best in England.  We’ll do three of them, starting with Conwy.  Nearby is also Mt. Snowdon (not shown), taller than any mountain in England (it’s a whopping 3,560 feet; should be fun to climb!).

Before we go to Conwy, let me show you the Menai Suspension Bridge that we have to cross every day.  Built in 1826, it had to be a suspension bridge to allow passage of the tall-masted sailing ships of that time – particularly the Royal Navy.  It’s 100 feet above

sea level at high tide, and at 580 feet long it was the longest bridge of its day.  It was an engineering marvel, and is still used today for local traffic.  The hardware, particularly the huge Lego-like chain cables, are massive!  The view from the bridge isn’t bad either.

When King Edward I invaded and captured Northern Wales in early 1283, he built Conwy and its castle as a garrison town.  The area was a crossing point over the River Conwy between coastal and inland North Wales and was the site of a century-old Cistercian monastery (Aberconwy Abbey) favored by the Welsh princes.  As a powerful symbol of English power, he chose that site to build his English castle and walled town, uprooting the Welsh abbey.  It took only 4 years to build the castle and city walls.

Although the town itself is ordinary, it does have a good sense of humor, as shown in the store-front picture below.  It also has the best medieval walls in Britain, and a hulking,

still-awesome castle.  A representation of the (impressive!) city in 1287 is shown in the right picture.

So let’s see this castle!  The left picture below shows an entrance to Conwy through the city walls – the picture was taken from the left-most entrance to the city shown above in the representation of 1287.  The picture of the city street shows the problem of incorporating

a medieval city (with walls!) into the automobile age; you have to squeeze through that gate, and as you might surmise, yes, it’s a one-way road (actually, this is an exit from Conwy).  The right picture is a shot over the city wall showing the impressive castle in the background.  Doesn’t it look like an Eskimo art sculpture of a castle?  Solid; earthbound; compact.  And in this case, impenetrable.

Below are representations of the castle in 1287, and what it looks like today.  The entrance today is steep, but not like it was!  Then, as shown in the left picture below, you first

walked up a steep ramp that no horse could climb, then crossed a drawbridge, passed under a portcullis, stepped through 2 sets of doors (all protected with murder holes and arrow loops), and then entered the killing ground of the barbican.  The upper right picture isCastle walls from the side a good overview of the castle.  Notice that it’s divided into two sections, a front and a back.  The front was the working part of the castle; the back had the royal apartments.  The castle was at the cutting edge of military technology, with thick walls, rounded towers and turrets providing lethal fields of fire, a solid rock base, and royal apartments that could be defended separately.  Well supplied with fresh water from a spring-fed well, 91 feet down, and with its own dock, it could withstand sieges indefinitely.  Nothing on this scale had been seen before in Wales, which at that time had no real cities.  The last picture above and the picture to the left show how intimidating it still is.

The pictures below show the working part of the castle, viewed from the ground and from

the castle wall.  That doorway in the middle of the upper right picture went to the chapel Representation of the chapel and dining hall in the 1280'sand the Great Hall dining area, shown in the lower right picture.  A representation of how the chapel and dining hall looked in the 1280’s is shown here on the left.  People ate here regardless of rank; status was indicated by distance from the top table (and the further away, the plainer the food).

Below is a look at the living quarters, in this case the multiple apartments in the turrets and towers.  The floors are long gone, but you can see that each apartment had a window

and a big fireplace – and would have been quite cozy, if a bit compact.

Now to the royal apartments.  People of power protected their privacy, even in a castle.  As shown in the first representation below, entry to the royal apartments was barred by a

gatehouse, including a drawbridge!  Access from the castle walls was blocked by two doors, shown in the adjacent magnified image.  The royal apartments themselves are quite

spacious; in the 1280’s they would have been opulent and luxurious.  Today they’re one of the best unaltered medieval royal apartments in the UK.  Pictures of one of the apartments

are shown above.

I’ll finish this post by sharing a little Conwy history, and then some views of this pretty area.  The town buildings are not medieval, but the streets do have some history.  The street just outside the city walls is “Town Ditch Road”, named for the dry moat that was the first line of defense for the city.  The street running along the harbor by the castle is still “King’s Quay”.  Within the city walls there is a street that has a changed name; “Berry Street” was renamed from “Burial Street” – it had been a big ditch for mass burials during the plague in the 1600’s.  Shifting gears from that gruesome note, below are pretty views of the Conwy area from the castle walls.

Spiral fractures; be careful in castles!Not all went well on this trip to Conwy; descending a castle stairwell, perhaps foolishly in sandals, I slipped on a wet step and fell backward.  I protected my camera, but alas, not my hand, as shown in the x-ray.  I apparently sat on the hand, and the buns of steel did the rest; two fingers with spiral fractures.  Broken fingers are bad enough, but worse, that’s the end of the plan to climb Mt. Snowdon.  What a disaster!  So back we go to poor Britt in Lincoln.

I underestimated how delicate one’s fingers are; a year later I still need to do hand exercises.  Nevertheless, it’s only a wee blip in our adventures, and after a few months of healing we will return to this pretty area of Wales!

Next post – Caernarfon Castle!

The Lincoln Castle, Bishop’s Palace, and the Magna Carta


Lincoln Castle in the backgroundYou may remember from our first Lincoln post (The City of Lincoln) that in 1068 William The Conquerer built Lincoln Castle as a very visible symbol of power at the top of Steep Hill.  This picture, taken from the Lincoln Cathedral, shows the Cathedral’s Exchequer Gate in the foreground, and in the background, the walls of Lincoln Castle.  It may be a small town, but it is not a small castle!

The main castle entrance is imposing, as shown in the pictures below.  The double-gated

barbican would have been deadly, but after artillery was developed in later centuries a barbican became irrelevant; today its interior court features incongruously elegant rooms.

Model of Lincoln CastleThis model of the castle shows how roomy it is inside the walls.  The barbican entrance shown above is on the right side of the model. The castle has been re-purposed over the centuries, and nothing on the inside, other than the walls and towers themselves, looks anywhere close to its 1068 roots.  Below is the view of the courtyard from the castle wall above the main entrance.  That building straight ahead is the Courthouse, built in 1826.  Lincoln Castle was always a seat of justice,

and even today criminal cases are tried here.  In the 1800’s, trials for serious crimes (murder, arson) were a spectator sport, with fences built to control the crowds.  That last picture above shows Lincoln Castle’s beautifully preserved Victorian Prison; the ladies’ prison and associated exercise yard are in the foreground.  The prison was designed for the “separate system”, an isolating regime that kept inmates away from the corrupting influence of their fellow prisoners.  The Victorians believed that separation would encourage prisoners to reflect, repent, and more importantly, to reform.  Separation even

continued in the chapel, where prisoners sat in walled cubicles with a view only of the elevated pulpit (this chapel is the only original of its kind left in the world).  From 1848 to 1878, men, women and children as young as eight were held here for crimes ranging from

murder and highway robbery to stealing a waistcoat and Bible.  During this time seven murderers were hanged at the castle (again, a spectator sport) and their bodies buried in Lucy Tower (which we’ll see shortly).

One can walk the entire circumference of the medieval walls and enter the few towers.  The pictures below show the wall walk leading to the Lucy Tower, which was built in the late

1100’s.  Originally it was the castle keep, a fortified tower/residence and refuge of last resort (should the rest of the castle fall to an enemy).  It sits on a motte, an artificial mound that in this case is exceptionally high.  Keeps on a motte were a common building practice at the time of the Norman Conquest.

Finally, let me show you Cobb Hall, the small north-east tower dating from the 1200’s that housed the dungeon.  Entry is from ground level, with the dungeon underground.

Hey, as dungeons go, it’s small and would be dark, but I’ve seen worse!


The Bishop’s Palace, built in the late 1100’s, was the administrative center of the Lincoln Cathedral and was one of the most important buildings (and grandest residential structures) in England.  Both Henry VIII and James I were guests of bishops here.
Alas, the palace was sacked by royalist troops during the Civil War in 1648.  Today it’s just an evocative ruin (shown below).

THE MAGNA CARTA (and Charter of the Forest)

There are only 4 copies of this iconic document in existence, and Lincoln Castle is the only place in the world where an original 1215 Magna Carta and a 1217 Charter of the Forest can be seen side by side.  The story of the Magna Carta is fascinating.  One of the more celebrated documents in history, with enduring worldwide influence, it played a central role in England’s political life and greatly influenced our American Constitution.  Yet it is a complete political myth, ignored as soon as it was written, annulled by the Pope, and distorted 400 years later in order to oppose the divine right of kings.  So let me tell you the real story!  It’s a bit long, I’m afraid; my apologies: history is like that.

We start in the early 1200’s, when King John (following his predecessors) ruled England through a feudal system of laws and the principle of vis et voluntas, or “force and will” – the king’s executive and sometimes arbitrary decisions.  The king had waged war for many years trying to reclaim ancestral lands in Normandy, France, financing this effort with heavy taxes on the English barons.  Following a decisive defeat in 1214, King John was forced to sue France for peace and to pay compensation.  He was already personally unpopular with many of the barons in England, and his defeat galvanized “rebel” barons to organize resistance to his rule; they renounced their feudal ties and formed a militia that marched to London and Lincoln.  In order to avoid a civil war, John instructed the Archbishop of Canterbury (with other bishops, including Lincoln’s) to work out a peace agreement.  The resulting charter (let’s call it the Charter of 1215) promised protection for church rights and protection for the barons regarding illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on taxation and feudal payments to the Crown.  Importantly, it created a council of 25 barons to monitor and ensure John’s adherence to the charter, with the council empowered to seize John’s castles and lands until amends were made.  In return the barons agreed to dissolve their militias.  Although both sides agreed to the charter, neither stood behind their commitments.  King John appealed to the Pope for help, arguing that he signed it under duress and that the charter compromised the Pope’s rights as King John’s feudal lord.  The Pope declared the charter to be “shameful and demeaning … illegal and unjust” and the charter was “null, and void of all validity for ever”; further, under threat of excommunication, the King was not to observe the charter, nor the barons to try to enforce it.  Violence broke out, leading to the “First Barons’ War”, and the rebel barons offered the English throne to the French for their help.  That war, and its conclusion with the treaty of Lanbeth in 1217, was described in the earlier post (The City of Lincoln).  Following the war, a new council was called to re-assess the Charter of 1215 (actually now the Charter of 1216; King John died during the war and his son had issued a new and shorter charter eliminating some of its more radical content such as the council of barons).  The new council issued the Charter of 1217, which resembled that of 1216 with some additional clauses added to protect the rights of the barons over their feudal subjects and to water down restrictions on the Crown’s ability to levy taxation.  Because there were disagreements concerning the management of the royal forests, this issue was separated out as a complementary Charter of the Forest, and issued at the same time.  It pardoned existing forest offenses, imposed new controls over the forest courts, and established a review of the forest boundaries.  To distinguish between these two charters, the term magna carta libertatum, “the great charter of liberties”, was used to refer to the larger document, which in time became known simply as Magna Carta.  Both documents became part of English political life and for generations were renewed by each monarch in turn.  With time (and the advent of the English Parliament) they lost significance as their content was replaced with new laws.  However, 400 years later in the 1600’s, when the Stuart monarchs invoked the divine right of kings, the Magna Carta was revisited and (incorrectly) reinterpreted as a champion of individual rights that placed the king under the law, rather than above it (the “divine right of kings” argument went away with the English Civil War of the 1640’s and the execution of the Stuart King Charles I).

The Magna Carta that is commonly remembered today is the Magna Carta of King John, with the commemoration date of 1215.  That many clauses were omitted or redrafted, and new ones inserted, has made no difference in the collective memory of this venerable document.  The swindle is that the original 1215 charter (and the 1217 charter) concerned the medieval relationship between the monarch and the powerful barons; it did not mention the rights of ordinary people.  However, the political myth of the Magna Carta as a protection of everyone’s ancient personal liberties persists and forms an important symbol of liberty today – “the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot” (Lord Denning).

The pictures below show the 1215 Magna Carta and the 1217 Charter of the Forest.  The

charters were written on parchment sheets using quill pins, in heavily abbreviated medieval Latin, which was the convention for legal documents at that time.

Next post – Wales, U.K.

The Lincoln Cathedral

Cathedral Model, 1300's - 1500's

Cathedral Model, 1300’s – 1500’s

In 1072, William the Conqueror ordered that a Cathedral be built at Lincoln.  Construction of the first Lincoln Cathedral was completed in 1092; it was rebuilt and expanded after a fire destroyed its timber roofing (1141).  Destroyed again by an earthquake (1185), it was rebuilt on a magnificent scale beginning in 1192 using local rock; only the lower part of the Cathedral’s front and its two attached towers survive from the original Norman structure.  The choir, eastern transepts and central nave were built in Early English Gothic style, but the rest followed architectural advances of pointed arches, flying buttresses and ribbed vaulting.  Its crossing tower, completed in 1311, was an amazing engineering feat for the time.  With a spire giving it a height of 525 ft, Lincoln Cathedral became the tallest building in the world, and the first to surpass the pyramid of Cheops in Egypt which had held that title for 4000 years.  That honor, however, was lost after 238 years when the heavy, lead-coated but rotting wooden spire collapsed in a storm (1549).  The spire was not replaced, a symbol of Lincoln’s economic and political decline at the time (see previous post, “The City of Lincoln”).  Still, the cathedral is the third largest in Britain (in floor space) after St Paul’s (London) and York Minster (post of Jan 22, 2015; The York Minster).

Sitting on top of a hill, Lincoln Cathedral is visible for miles around and absolutely

dominates the city in an awe-inspiring, gorgeous way, irresistibly drawing your eyes.  It’s a high point of medieval architecture, and also a navigation beacon; where are you in the city?  Look for the Cathedral.

Let’s take a walk around the Cathedral.  The overall plan is shown below; we’ll start with Lincoln Cathedral planthe west-facing entrance. The previous Norman churches were short and thick-walled, with small windows resulting in dark interiors.  The Gothic style made churches bright and spacious, but during the building of the Lincoln Cathedral the architects were writing the rule book, and it was literally trial and error (you’ll see some of this in the interior).  As shown in the picture to the left, the The Exchequer Gate blocking the viewExchequer Gate that was the main entrance to the Cathedral close (arrow) does a great job of blocking the view of the stunning front of the Cathedral – particularly the preserved Norman (lower) structure.  Further, as you can infer from the picture, once inside the gate you’re too close to get a good overview.  Ah well, here’s the best I can do for the Cathedral entrance.

Let me show you that entrance in detail, top to bottom, Gothic to Norman.

Again, the lower part is from the early 1100’s, now set within the harmonious upper region from the early 1200’s.  The art that decorates the front entrance is impressive, from the Gothic repeating arch motifs in the first picture below to the many Norman carvings, two of which are shown below.  The next-to-last picture shows the faithful being rescued from the mouth of hell (far right), the detail in the last picture showing that hell is not a nice

place.  At the corners of this west-facing entrance are small towers that frame the front screen while continuing the arch motif – shown in the first 2 pictures below from the south side of the Cathedral.  And we can’t leave the entrance view of the Cathedral without showing the commanding towers that flank the nave just behind the entrance.

The south transept also has an entrance to the Cathedral, shown below.  In that last

picture, look at the base of the central column between the doors – it’s being hugged by

little devils, shown above.

The south side of the Cathedral is also highly decorated, with some interesting statues, many of them restored (Cathedral restoration costs $1.3 million/yr).

Then we come to the beautiful east side, and the chapter house.

The north side is more of the same, first picture below.  It’s a stunningly beautiful

Cathedral, and inside it’s impressive as well.  The first picture below is from near the entrance showing the many stained glass windows; the next pictures are from the nave looking inward and then looking back to the entrance.  In that last picture, the blue overtones highlight the preponderance of blue in the stained glass!

Notice in the pictures below how the vaulting changes going down the side aisles.  The vaulting was experimental during the building; it varies between the nave, aisles, choir and chapels, particularly in how the vaulting interacts with (ignores or enhances) the

Cathedral’s bays.  The transept crossing that separated public access from the choir and alter is pretty spectacular.  In addition to the tranquility of repeating designs, as

shown in the first picture below, there are interesting (and playful) carvings everywhere.

The choir dates from 1360-80 and is amazing, with beautifully carved wood stalls and bench-ends.  I wasn’t happy with my capture of the choir, so I cribbed that last picture from the internet.  It shows the “pulpitum”, the wood choir screen that separates the choir

from the nave; it dates from even earlier, the 1330’s.  In addition to the intricately carved bench ends such as the one in the first picture below, the choir has 62 fascinating misericords or “mercy seats”.  In the early medieval church, prayers were said standing,

Detail of the misericord carving, a lion fighting a dragon

Detail of the misericord carving, a lion fighting a dragon

and seats were constructed so they could be turned up.  However, the seat underside could have a small shelf (the misericord), shown in the right picture above, which allowed the user to slightly reduce discomfort by leaning against it.  The seats and carvings are in oak, all different, and delightful.  Most of the seats were unfortunately in the down position (and the lighting was poor), so I bought their book and took some pictures of misericords from it, and I’ll share a bunch with you – they’re just that cool.  I was told that the folding parts of the seats were installed as single blocks of oak, and each misericord was carved in place.  No mistakes allowed!  I didn’t believe that story at the time, but when I looked closely at the carvings, I could see that the wood grain in the seat and the carving line up!  You can also see that in some of the figures below.

If you look back at the pictures of the choir shown earlier, the upper-right picture looks into the beautiful east end of the cathedral, completed in 1280.  Other views are below.

The central region behind the main choir is called the Angel’s Choir because the upper arches are framed by stone carvings of angels playing medieval musical instruments.  I’ve shown some of them below.  That first picture is an angel playing a guitar precursor

The Lincoln Imp in the Angel Choircalled a citole.  A famous stone carving in the Angel’s Choir is the Lincoln Imp.  According to legend, two mischievous imps were sent by Satan to do evil work; after causing mayhem elsewhere in England, the imps came to Lincoln Cathedral where they smashed furniture and tripped up the Bishop.  An angel appeared in the Angel Choir and ordered the imps to stop.  One imp sat on a stone pillar and threw rocks at the angel, whereupon the angel turned him to stone; there he now sits.

Before I show you the cloister, let me backtrack to the transept crossing to look up at the Cathedral’s massive central tower from underneath.  It’s gorgeous, but because I didn’t quite capture what I wanted to show, I’m including a

picture from the internet.  Isn’t the geometry beautiful?

Corridor to the cloisterNow to the cloister.  Access is via this impressive windowed corridor that duplicates the cloister design.  The cloister itself (shown below) has a recent history – it was used for filming The Da Vinci Code, standing in for Westminster Abbey (which refused to permit filming).

What is impressive is the view of the cloister against the magnificent Cathedral (and its “Dean’s Eye” north transept window), shown below.  And there is an added bonus; part of the floor in a corner of the cloister is a mosaic from the Roman fort that occupied this hill!

At last, now the stained glass windows!  There are a lot of them, including some fabulous medieval glass.  We’ll start with the west entrance, pictures below.  Beautiful, yes?

A few of the windows in the naveThere are many, many windows in the nave.  Like most churches, the stained glass is mostly from the mid 1800’s, following a rebirth in its popularity.  There’s too much to show, so I’ll just do a little (which will still be a lot).  Although the windows do not present the life of Jesus sequentially, it seems that all the stories of the New Testament are here, examples shown below.  The windows are gorgeous, aren’t they?

You didn’t think we were done with the nave windows, did you?  There’s also the Old Testament, and monk history, and ….

Now let me show you the gorgeous east end windows.  The first picture below shows most of that east wall, overwhelmingly in blue.  The next three pictures show the left and right side windows in normal light; then I’ve shown the right side window at night, lit by the outside lights of the cathedral.  The windows are beautiful in any light!

The large, central – and very blue! – window is simply spectacular, commanding attention.  It is one of England’s largest windows.

At last, the good stuff!  Although stained glass reached its height as an art form in the Middle Ages, there isn’t that much of it left; huge numbers of windows were destroyed in the French Revolution and Protestant Revolution (for instance, the English Parliament ordered all images of the Virgin Mary and the Trinity removed from churches; Protestant mobs were less selective).  Until its revival in the mid 1800’s (600 years later), stained glass was a lost art.  Colored glass became scarce, necessitating the painting of white glass.  The little decorative glass that was produced was mostly small heraldic panels for city halls.  Lincoln Cathedral has some examples of stained glass from this time in one of its side rooms, shown below.

The medieval stained glass in the Lincoln Cathedral resides mostly at the ends of the transepts.  Each transept has a rose window, an uncommon feature in English medieval architecture.  The north transept has the “Dean’s Eye”, shown below, which depicts the Last Judgement.  It’s part of the original structure of the Cathedral, finished in 1220.

Underneath the rose window are a set of 5 windows with gorgeous geometrical designs,

and below them these final two windows.


The south transept has the “Bishop’s Eye”; it too was built in 1220, but rebuilt around 1330.  It’s one of the largest examples of curvilinear tracery in medieval architecture, and was a challenge for the designers (and glass artists).  The window from outside the Cathedral and from inside the transept is shown below.

Most cathedral windows during this time displayed biblical images; that’s hard to do with such curvilinear shapes, so the window is instead a mosaic of color.  I was told that within the window there are images of the saints Paul, Andrew, and James; if so, it requires imagination!  The Bishop’s Eye is shown in more detail below.

Details from two of the lower windows are shown below.

Goodness!  Could there be more to show of this majestic cathedral?  Of course!  But we never caught the chapter house when it was open.  There’s also lots of treasure, but I’ll only show two pictures.

Enough is enough!  I will simply end with a view of the The Lincoln CathedralCathedral at night.  It is stunningly beautiful.

You masochists that have waded the whole way through this long, long post, I salute you!

The next (shorter!  Promise!) post will finish the fair city of Lincoln, and will include the Lincoln Castle, the Magna Carta, and the Bishop’s Palace.


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.