Friday, May 8, 2009

To the North

From suburban London we headed north, our destination Scotland, but on the way had several stops. On Ray’s advice we headed for Buxton using back roads. Our SatNav system was unhappy, but we managed to get ourselves there.

Our vehicle for this part of the trip is a Kia cee’d, a largish diesel powered hatchback. We rented from Alamo/National/Europcar, largely because they offered the cheapest internet rates. You get what you pay for and when I arrived on Saturday to pick up the car, not only did they not have a Global Positioning System for us, but the car was not at all what we had reserved. They promised me they would get us a GPS from Bristol and swap out the Kia for something more acceptable. We finally had to go to Bristol to get the Sat Nav and another car. They did have the unit, but long story shortwe still have the wretched car notwithstanding three attempts to swap it. They are to be avoided at any cost.

Buxton is another spa town, like Bath, but one which has not sustained its prosperity. They came to prominence, like Bath, in the Georgian era, grew through the mid 19th century, but faded by the early 20th century and are struggling to come back. Nonetheless, as you can see the crescent is lovely as are the gardens.

From Buxton, we headed to Hardwick Hall, built by Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury who, through her own efforts and four strategic marriages, rose to become the second wealthiest woman in England in the reign of Elizabeth I. The houses and grounds are comprised of the Old Hall, in ruins and the New Hall.

From Hardwick, we took the motorway to Durham to visit Clemence Schulze, who teaches at the University there and is a fellow Charlotte Mary Yongian with Sharon. In fact Clemence is the secretary of the orgnaisation.

The next day, Thursday, we toured the town, stunned by the beauty of the Cathedral which dates back to Norman times and is the burial place of the Saxon saint, Cuthbert as well as Bede. Sadly, the cathedral does not allow interior photography. For those who are interested the cathedral can be seen at One is aware of the great cathedrals of Christendom--Cologne, Notre Dame, Milan, and in the UK Salisbury, Wells, and St. Paul’s in London. Durham is less well known, at least outside England, but ranks right up there with the most magnificent of them. The Castle was closed to the public. We toured it late Thursday afternoon, but without camera, and dined in college with Clemence.

The highlight of our brief visit came in the late afternoon, when we returned to Clemence’s, quickly changing for dinner. As we were to be presented to the master of the University and were dining at high table, a tie and coat was required for me (fortunately I had anticipated this in my packing).

To start off with, Clemence gave us a quick tour of the Castle, which now houses the University College. Through the middle ages, Durham was an immensely wealthy and powerful see, ruled over by the Prince Bishop, who held both secular and ecclesiastical power. In the 1830s, as part of the reform, he gave the castle to establish the university, which is the thrid oldest in the realm. After Choral Evensong in the college chapel, we filed into the great hall where the undergarduates of the college were already seated. Following dinner the undergraduates all stood, one of their number came to the head of the room, bowed to faculty and visitors and were dismissed. Only then were we served our pudding, and afterward retired for drinks and conversation to the Senior Common Room.

The evening ended back at Clemence’s home where we got to know a visiting fellow of the college who is here from the University of Saskatchewan studying early 19th century British women writers and another friend of Clemence’s , a physician doing public health research in psychiatry in the National Health Service facility attached to the university. Giles, it turns out, is an extremely talented photographer who kindly showed us a collection of his recent photography, which might be titled “Reflections of Venice,” using the reflection of buildings in the canals there to create striking and often fantastical images of that city.

From here, we press on to Cumbria and Penrith, to see pen buddies Jane and Jim Marshall.

In Buxton, we stayed at a lovely B&B, the name of which right now escapes me, and had a lovely dinner at the Old Hall Hotel

The Pavilion and Gardens were designed in 1871 by Edward Milner, a pupil of Joseph Paxton, who designed the Crystal Palace.

The baths, adjacent to the crescent

Sharon was a good sport on this one, part of our continuing theme. For some reason this trip has driven home the fact that we are no longer young. Maybe it was the influence of our students and our colleagues, so much younger on this trip than we are. Maybe it was the long cold winter. For my part, I have worked to shed about 20 lbs during the trip and am resolved to lose the rest over the next year. Enough.

From here it was off to hardwick Hall, the home of Elizabeth of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury. If the Boleyn family suffered at the hands of the Tudors, Elizabeth's family did not.
Again, and understandably, no interior photography. But as much as any great home, Hardwick gave us a sense of the lives of the wealthy and nobility during the the Elizabethan era. There was a real sense of place, people, time here.
Hardwick Hall is actually two structures, the Old Hall which was partially torn down to provide materials for the family's "true" seat nearby, Chatsworth, and the NewHall. In common with several of my students, I discovered on this trip my inordinate fondness for ruins. Unlike them, I can no longer climb them, but I can photograph them.

From Hardwick, a two hour ramble through backroads took us to Durham. Apart from the religious see, the town emerged in the early 19th century as part of the northern mining district. Clemence's house, the brick fronted row house below, began is an unspecified factory in the early 19th century, was converted to miners' houses and then gentrified in the early 20th century.
The city itself, having grown out of the duchy and the bishopric, sits on a raised, defensible, peninsula surrounded by the River Wear.

The central square, bounded by cathedral and castle, is stunning.
I ended up with no really worthy shots of the cathedral
I did better with the castle exterior
The view from the cathedral cloisters

And beyond the cathedral and castle, the town and its square
And around the city, this lovely riverwalk, of which we traversed only a small part.

1 comment:

acp-p said...

Very enjoyable trip up north.

richk if and when you mange to shed those 20lbs pls let me know the methodolgy. i want to emulate ;-)

Keep on the descriptive trip reports.

I'm off to read your northern pens show piece. wish i could be there one of these years.