Cultural overload at Ely Cathedral…

Here’s a question for you. What happened at Ely Cathedral 693 years ago, on Friday 13th February 1322?

OK history buffs – you’re right, the central tower fell down.

And by pure coincidence, I made my first ever visit to Ely cathedral on the very day of that anniversary – Friday 13th February 2015.

Fortunately for me (and everyone else), there was no repeat of the events of 1322, and instead, I had the most marvellous time, exploring the many attractions of this fantastic cathedral – including a trip up to the famous wooden Octagon tower, which was built after the 1322 disaster, and which is now perhaps the cathedral’s crowning glory.

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The day  was intended to be something of an artists day out, especially a visit to the RSN ecclesiastical embroidery exhibition, but there was much more to set your creative juices flowing. So much so, that by the time I came away, I really felt that I’d been well and truly topped up.

Whenever I visit cathedrals, I like to absorb their atmosphere – they vary so much. Ely I decided, was intent on making me smile. From the very start, entering through a small door, inset inside a larger pair, and finding yourself emerging into a breath-takingingly long nave, and then as you move from the austere Norman architecture, into the octagonal centre, I simply defy you not to be overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and magnificence.

Then there was the exquisite Lady Chapel, the intricate carved niches standing testament to their brutal treatment during the Reformation, the stained glass windows, drenching you in rich jewel colours, (the cathedral is also home to a superb Stained Glass Museum), the confection of the Gilbert Scot organ case – and on it goes. I loved the way a new wonder unveiled itself at every turn.

And of course, the Octagon Tower itself – a medieval wonder in every way.

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If you’d like to see the photos I took and read a little about the history of Ely Cathedral, then follow the link here to my Ely Cathedral page.

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But if you have the opportunity – go and see it yourself. I can’t wait to hurry back!

 

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Tintern Abbey, Gwent.

Our recent jaunt to Wales included a trip to Tintern Abbey.

We’d visited White Castle earlier on the same day, which I’d enjoyed enormously, it felt like such a rare find. Although both the Other Half and I had been to Tintern previously, neither of the Daughters had ever been, and as we were so close, we decided to drive there next.

I was a little nervous about it. I hadn’t been to Tintern for so long, I assumed it would have become an even bigger and more commercialised attraction than it had been way back in the 1970s (which was the last time I went). My experience with Fountains Abbey, where so much about the visitor experience has altered over the years, must have been playing at the back of my mind.

But when we got there, having hugged the route of the marvellous River Wye, I wasn’t disappointed. Tintern has retained its gothic charm.

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If I’m honest, Tintern doesn’t exactly ignite my heritage juices in the way some other ruins do. I’m not sure why that is, after all it has everything you’d expect, I just don’t seem to be able to ‘tune in‘ to the history there.

But there’s no denying the magnificence of the ruins or the scale of the building that must have stood on the site before the Reformation struck there in September 1536.

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But don’t let my peculiar vagaries put you off. Tintern, the first Cistercian foundation in Wales, which dates from 1131, is undoubtedly magnificent. I was particularly interested in the fact that you get a good appreciation of the buildings that adjoined the principle church, and this in turn gives you an excellent understanding of the way of life of the monks who lived and worshipped there in medieval times.

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For me, I think perhaps this was the best part of the visit, and the information boards here are very good, which does help stimulate the imagination.

The BBC have recently aired several programmes on a gothic theme. Well, Tintern could easily claim to have been a pioneer in the trend to establish the genre in the popular imagination. It has featured in the works of Wordsworth and Turner, and indeed many other artists and filmmakers ever since.

And I wonder if that is the special quality of TIntern. Many ruins are atmospheric for me, because they feel like portals into the past, whereas at Tintern, I get the feeling that although its original purpose has changed, it has gone on to have a new life. It may have started life in the 12th century, but it’s still fuelling artistic imaginations 900 years later. Tintern seems to look both backwards into history and also forward into the future.

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I must go back again.

For visitor information go to the Cadw site for full details.

There are lovely pubs and tearooms nestling beside the Abbey – still a great place for a day out.

Worcester Cathedral Cloisters.

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We found ourselves back at Worcester Cathedral at the weekend. Last time, I posted the pictures from the top of the tower, but on this visit, I spent more time in the cloisters.

I readily admit to being biased about Worcester, but the cloisters are particularly tranquil – even when there are dozens of bell-ringers around the place.

Does anyone else see the resemblance to Parsley the Lion from The Herbs in this little chap?

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But above all, it’s the windows that have me transfixed…

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If you visit Worcester, the cathedral is free to go in. It has the tomb of King John and Prince Arthur (Henry VIII’s elder brother and first husband of Catherine of Aragon) – plus lots more. But don’t miss the cloisters (and the cafe is in the cloisters too!).

St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

On top of the world…

In which we learn very little about St Paul’s, but thoroughly enjoy the views…

I went up to London last week with the Number One Daughter. We decided it was time to visit St Paul’s Cathedral.

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Well, we started off with the best of intentions – we tuned in to our audio-guides and dutifully followed the route it described. But oh dear me, it was so dull. (Whoever wrote that script didn’t have teenage girls in mind for the audience – or middle-aged history junkies for that matter – although if you suffer from insomnia, do give it a go…).

So you can imagine after half an hour, we were beginning to lose the will to carry on. But then, suddenly – who knows, perhaps an act of divine intervention – we spotted the sign for the galleries.

Now bell-ringers will always want to see how far up a tower they can get – and we’re both ringers, so naturally we followed the sign.

First we reached the Whispering Gallery inside the dome, looking down into the cathedral – very impressive of course. Then, we carried on to the Stone Gallery – this one is outside – look at the picture above and the Stone Gallery is at the bottom of the dome section before it descends vertically. Or click on this link here which shows you a cross-section of the dome construction.

The official website describes the views as breathtaking – I totally agree.

Well, you know what’s coming next don’t you. Yep, we went up to the Golden Gallery (that’s the one at the top, just below the square lantern) – 528 steps from the bottom apparently, although to be honest, we didn’t count.

Normally on historic visits, we think about the events or people connected with a location, but St Paul’s sits on what you might call the history epicentre of England. So much history has happened on that spot, or within the views from the dome, that you could fill a library with it. So instead, here are a few of the pictures we took from the galleries – let your own imaginations add the historical context of your choice.

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Looking across at the River Thames and the new footbridge which brings you right up to St Paul’s. But can you see The Globe over on the other side? I tried to imagine what London looked like when Shakespeare was alive…

IMAG3663Paternoster Square was flattened during the Blitz, now redeveloped and home to the London Stock Exchange and big names in banking – more information here.

IMAG3639The bells of St Paul’s are housed in these towers – you have to be very good at ringing to be invited to ring here (no never, since you ask…).

IMAG3648The city skyline has changed so much over the last twenty years, for me it makes connecting with the past very difficult. Dotted in there are post-1666 churches and the Monument, but you have to search very hard to find them. Oh and I hadn’t realised that Isengard was in south London, did you?…

IMAG3643Even the river has had to conform to human directions, but I suppose it is one feature that our ancestors would have recognised.

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Fascinating really – all those buildings, each with its own history – its own story – mind-blowing.

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It isn’t cheap visiting St Paul’s, but I’ll probably try it again because I really don’t feel we connected with the building and its history – but I think I’ll do my homework and take my own guide next time.