It’s a long trip by car — about four hours — from Haslingden to the region around Bath where we headed next. Leaving first thing in the morning following our wonderful excursion the day before into the Yorkshire Dales, Gareth had to navigate through the snarls of traffic around Manchester and then Birmingham — the two largest cities in England after London. Our first destination was to be the stone circle at prehistoric Avebury, where we arrived about midday.
Avebury is of course less well-known than Stonehenge, but I had heard from more than one person that the latter site was a disappointment, mostly because visitors must view Stonehenge from a distance. At Avebury, on the other hand, the stones are located right, smack in the middle of a little village, and you can go right up and touch them if you like — and I made sure to touch a bunch of them!
Please refer back to this post for a couple of Greensboro Public Library’s holdings on stone circles, if you’re interested.
We lunched in Avebury at an ancient tavern with a thatched roof called The Red Lion. The lovely barmaid had one of those perfect peaches and cream complexions the English ladies are so famous for.
After Avebury, we headed for Glastonbury — the famous site associated with Arthurian legend. Though we had lovely weather, this time of year the days are unfortunately quite short — it was getting dark by 4:00 or 4:30 — and we needed to make it to our bed and breakfast destination near Bath by sunset if at all possible. Glastonbury was a bit of a detour and Gareth had to endure countless roundabouts to get us there while there was still light, but get there we did and I managed a few nice snaps of the Tor.
I can’t say why I’ve long been so fascinated by Glastonbury Tor. I’ve frankly never been particularly interested in Avalon, King Arthur, etc., though these are familiar stories from the time I was a tiny boy. Sometimes I think my interest in the Tor stems from a resemblance to North Carolina’s Pilot Mountain, though of course the tower on the Tor is manmade and the hill has been terraced. The Tor also dominates the landscape for miles around as you approach Glastonbury, much as does Pilot Mountain from Highway 52.
If you want to read more on King Arthur and Glastonbury, Greensboro Public Library has got just the book: Geoffrey Ashe’s King Arthur’s Avalon; The Story of Glastonbury.
By nightfall we had reached our final destination for the day: Bathford (just a few miles outside Bath) and a mid-18th century manor called “Eagle House,” which presently serves as a bed and breakfast.
Next morning, after a light breakfast, we took a taxi into Bath. Our first stop was a spa that Heidi and Gareth had read about. While they enjoyed a two-hour treatment, Frank and I wandered about town and were fortunate enough to happen upon the Armistice Day ceremony at Bath Cathedral. Every year of course, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day (the traditional ending of World War I) the English honor their veterans, just as we do on our own Veterans Day.
Meeting back up with Heidi and Gareth, we spent the rest of the day walking about Bath, enjoying especially the fantastic Georgian architecture — most notably the Circus and the Royal Crescent.
I also got to visit the home of the famous astronomer Sir William Herschel, whom I remember reading about so much as a teenager, when astronomy was an interest of mine. Herschel was one of the greatest astronomers of his age. The discoverer of the planet Uranus, he also excelled in telescope making and succeeded in building Newtonian reflectors which were unprecedented in optical excellence and size.
Greensboro Public Library has lots of books on the history of astronomy, if you’d like to read more about Herschel. Try The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes, or Michael D. Lemonick’s The Georgian Star: How William and Caroline Herschel Revolutionized Our Understanding of the Cosmos.
Following a second night at Eagle House, it was back on the road: our next goal the splendid ruin of Tintern Abbey, known to many perhaps from William Wordsworth’s famous poem, “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey.” The site is actually located just inside Wales in the gorgeous Wye Valley. Though the situation is not as picturesque as Whitby Abbey’s locale on the edge of a North Sea cliff, Tintern Abbey is better preserved. In fact, about all that seems to be missing is the roof.
By the way, if you need a travel guide to England and Wales, Greensboro Public Library has usually got some copies of Fodor’s England on hand.
After Tintern Abbey and the Wye Valley, we made our way back to Haslingden. Next day, we were to catch a train at Piccadilly Station in Manchester for a day in London.
When I was planning my trip to England I discovered — thanks to a traveler’s atlas one of my colleagues loaned me — that the little town of Settle nestled in the Yorkshire Dales was fairly close to Gareth and Heidi’s home in Haslingden, Lancashire.
This was of particular interest to me, because one of my mother’s grandmothers was a Suttle, and genealogical research indicates that Settle and Suttle are related surnames. To make a long story short, researchers of the family’s history believe the Settle/Suttle Family actually originated in this quaint Yorkshire Dales village.
Anyway, I was keen to go there, so Gareth planned a short train trip on the Settle-Carlisle Railway through the Yorkshire Dales. Beginning at the Hellifield station, we rode the line as far as Appleby, where we especially enjoyed the old parish church, then on our return stopped at Settle and had lunch at Ye Olde Naked Man Cafe.
The mountain scenery in the Dales was absolutely spectacular, though a little forbidding and desolate as well — the landscape was dotted with numerous abandoned cottages made of stone which I took to be quite old. But we all enjoyed particularly the crossing of a viaduct built in the 1870s, and said to be something of an engineering marvel.
The Settle area is known for its caves, but we just enjoyed walking around the town a bit. Above it rises a picturesque limestone cliff or crag known as Castlebergh, about 300 ft. in height.
For others interested in the Yorkshire Dales, Greensboro Public Library has Great Walks, Yorkshire Dales by Frank Duerden.
On the way back, we had some fine views of Pendle Hill, an impressive peak which Heidi, Gareth and some of my other friends have had the good fortune to climb. Later that evening, we had delicious meal at the home of Gareth’s parents, Dave and Carole, located in Heywood.
Next morning, it was off to Bath. More about that in our next post.
Sunday morning we woke up in a bed and breakfast called the Grosvenor in the romantic, seaside Yorkshire village of Robin Hood’s Bay, the situation of which is truly superb, nestled as it is on the side of a cliff near the sea.
Just after sunrise and before eating pretty close to the full English breakfast (i.e., save for blood pudding, which I couldn’t muster the courage for), I took a few snaps of the village and Ravenscar Cliffs, located just a few miles to the south. Though I got some great pictures, the North Sea maritime climate here is unpredictable, and I was caught in a rain shower and got pretty wet. When I returned to the Grosvenor for breakfast, seeing my wet coat an amused native quipped, “Welcome to Yorkshire!”
It was then off to nearby Whitby, which is just as beautiful as Robin Hood’s Bay, though quite a bit larger. This town is known for its ruined abbey, which I found absolutely enthralling, as well as for its associations with Captain James Cook, one of the great navigators and explorers of the 18th century, and Bram Stoker’s immortal Dracula.
Greensboro Public Library’s holdings include recent books on both Capt. Cook and Bram Stoker: Sea of Dangers: Captain Cook and His Rivals in the South Pacific by Geoffrey Blainey (2009); and Bram Stoker’s Dracula: A Documentary Journey into Vampire Country and the Dracula Phenomenon, edited by Elizabeth Miller (2009).
And, if you’re interested in the breathtaking Yorkshire coast like me, the library has James Herriot’s Yorkshire. Better know for his All Creatures Great and Small, a collection of delightful stories about Herriot’s experiences as a veterinarian in North Yorkshire, the former volume is a guided tour to this lovely region, which Herriot knew as well as just about anybody. James Herriot’s Yorkshire is especially rich in information on Whitby.
After Whitby, we headed for York to see York Minster Cathedral and walk what remains of the ancient city walls. It was Sunday and the streets of York were bustling with tourists and visitors. Though time and hunger pangs did not permit a tour of the Cathedral, it was, needless to say, absolutely gorgeous.
We also enjoyed walking through “the Shambles,” a street of ancient buildings (some as early as 14th century) once known for its butcher shops, and nearby stumbled upon an antiquarian bookshop where I was able to purchase a mid-19th century engraving of Robin Hood’s Bay. From there, we made our way to an excellent tea room where we drank Earl Grey, and I had a jacket potato topped with delicious chili-con-carne.
By early evening we were comfortably ensconced in Gareth and Heidi’s home back in Haslingden, Lancashire. Gareth made a fire, and we dined on beef pies and mushy peas from the local “chippy.”
The next day was a wash day, though later in the afternoon Gareth and Heidi took me to the town of Ramsbottom, where I enjoyed sorting through a bucket of old English pennies, chiefly minted during the reigns of George V (1910-1936) and George VI (1937-1952) and bought a few to take back home as souvenirs.
Frank and I have now made our way to the North Sea Coast, thanks to our able companion and guide, Heidi’s husband, Gareth Schachtschneider-Williams.
Our first stop Saturday was to see the port city of Hull’s Humber Bridge, said to be the fifth largest single-span suspension bridge in the world.
If you’re also interested in the great bridges of the world, Greensboro Public Library’s holdings include the recent Bridges: The Science and Art of the World’s Most Inspiring Structures (2010).
Later, in the old part of the city, we visited the William Wilberforce house and museum. Wilberforce was of course the English politician who fought relentlessly to abolish slavery in England during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
His efforts were the subject of the recent film Amazing Grace, and the library also has an excellent biography of Wilberforce by William Hague called William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-slave Trade Campaigner (2007).
After Hull, we proceeded north up the coast, but took time to visit the parish church of the tiny village of Rudston where one can see a giant neolithic monolith (26 feet high) that was erected over 4000 years ago. Our stop in Rudston also included an excellent lunch at a local tavern where the barman regaled us with amusing stories.
If you’d like to read about megalithic monuments like the one at Rudston, try Bronze Age Britain by Michael Parker Pearson (2005) or Great Stone Circles: Fables, Fictions, Facts by Aubrey Burl (1999).
By evening we had just made it to the splendid seaside village of Robin Hood’s Bay, which is quite simply one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever had the good fortune to see. But more about that in our next post.
For Americans it’s Halloween, but for the English it’s Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night.
Though Bonfire Night originated as a tradition of giving thanks for the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, when a group of Catholics led by a man named Guy Fawkes conspired to assassinate King James I, historians and anthropologists also find in the annual observance of Guy Fawkes parallels with the Celtic, or more exactly Gaelic, harvest festival of Samhain — which under Christian influence was later transformed into All Hallow’s Eve, or what we know as Halloween in the United States.
Anyway, on the evening of Friday, November 5th, Frank and I were able to participate in the Guy Fawkes celebrations held at Heaton Park in Manchester. Thousands milled about the fairgrounds there enjoying rides and food, while others assembled on a hill above to watch a fine fireworks display followed by a bonfire during which an effigy of Guy Fawkes was burned.
Greensboro Public Library has got a couple of books on the history of Halloween, if you’re interested. These are Nicholas Rogers’ Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, and David Skal’s Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween.
As I write, we’ve just started on the road to Humberside (the North Sea Coast) to visit Hull, our main object there being to see the William Wilberforce home and museum — Wilberforce of course being the English politician who fought relentlessly to abolish slavery in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Two GPL Librarians in England, Post #1: Fantastic Manchester Libraries: John Rylands, Deansgate, and Chetham’s Library
Frank Barefoot and I are now on holiday in the UK visiting former Greensboro Public Library colleague Heidi Schachtschneider-Williams and her husband Gareth, and yesterday we were lucky enough to see two very fine libraries in Manchester: the John Rylands Library, Deansgate, which houses one of the UK’s finest manuscript and rare books collections, and Chetham’s Library, which has the distinction of being the oldest public library in the English-speaking world.
The Chetham’s Library is particularly ancient-looking. Dark and even a little foreboding, its shelves are filled with thousands of old leather and vellum tomes. A reading room display even included a bookcase in which books were chained down so as to discourage theft, a practice which was apparently common from the Middle Ages until the 1700s. Crude but effective, I would say!
The John Rylands special collections are housed in a magnificent example of gothic Victorian architecture built about 1900. The collections include important incunables (or examples from the first century of printing, 1455-1500) such as the Gutenberg Bible and the work of William Caxton, England’s first printer.
In the Rylands exhibit area, I was lucky enough to see the second edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, printed by Caxton in 1483. There we also saw a tiny piece of Greek papyri from the 2nd century which is believed to be the earliest surviving fragment from the New Testament.
Also, believe it or not, there was a book on exhibit in the John Rylands reading room which had been bound by a designer bookbinder from Greensboro! This was a copy of Andrew Marvell’s The Garden and Other Poems; the exhibit included work by bookbinders from around the world.
Frank and I are having a great time. More posts from our journey will follow, including some pictures from Manchester’s Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night, a huge event at the city’s Heaton Park which was held on Friday, November 5th, and attended by thousands.